Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.


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The Cooking Pose: Clay Pot Practice

Clay Pot Cooking and Yoga.

They are ancient. They are earthy. They are delightful.

Both require patience and hydration.

The pots themselves are a lot like yogis.  They come in all shapes and sizes and each is unique.

I stumbled onto cooking with a clay pot when I came into the possession of a Romertofp Pot along with a little recipe book.  Having never seen one before I was intimidated, so I let it sit in its box, tucked away, until I uncovered it during a move.

My clay pot

My clay pot

At the time I discovered the pot, I was experiencing my own little cooking renaissance.  Until then, I had never considered myself much of a cook. Anytime spent in the kitchen was for organizing salads or reheating someone else’s dish. Throughout college and the years following, I depended on other’s culinary skills and the miracle of take out.

On New Year’s Day in 2005 I checked my office voicemail from home to learn that the company I was working for had declared bankruptcy and the entire workforce was laid off.  Suddenly, I had a lot of time on my hands.

Sitting on my couch, avoiding my job search, I thumbed through a macrobiotic cookbook given to me by my sister.  It was my jumping off point.  Before I knew it, cooking became a daily obsession.  I loved hunting down hard to find ingredients, bringing them home and following the happy formula of the recipe.  Nothing gave me pause.  I cooked with seaweed, umi plum vinegar, kuzu root and miso paste.  I got bolder and started examining other cookbooks.  Soon I was steaming my own bagels, roasting beets and whipping up chicken tamale casseroles.  By Mother’s Day I had the culinary confidence to cook a full meal for 10 people.

It was around this time I found the clay pot, never unboxed, sitting in a lonely corner of my basement.  This time, I saw it with new eyes.  Finding the clay pot, earthen and humble, all but forgotten, reminded me of getting my first bike.  I had never ridden before, but I was dying to take it for a spin.

What does this have to do with taking our practice off our mat?

First, the word practice. I had weeks of cooking practice under my belt.  My practice gave me confidence to try something new, something that had previously been indecipherable and intimidating. Just like yoga.  As we build our practice on our mat, the impossible becomes possible.

Second, one of my favorite yoga instructors has a great way of articulating an instruction.  In class we will be holding a particularly long pose and she will invite us to take the pose to the next level by saying “because you can.” For example, we will be in a side angle bind, holding through a long count of 5 and she will say “Let your heart shine to the ceiling, because you can.”  Speaking those three little words, she is empowering us to take advantage of all our abilities. You’ve got muscles, strength, flexibility and will. Use it. Because you can.

Looking back, rediscovering my clay pot was a “because you can moment.  I didn’t worry about my lack of experience or the baffling simplicity of the pot itself.  I had the pot, I had an oven and I could cook.

Taking your practice off your mat isn’t always a conscious thing.  It is something you just do  – because you can.

Click here to check out an unbelievably delicious Clay Pot Indonesian Beggar’s Chicken recipe.


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Advanced Yoga: The Swimsuit Pose

I was 40 minutes into my interval strength power hour at my local gym. Twelve other women and I were completing a series of walking lunges followed by weighted squats that left my legs quivering. The teacher called out, “You all know why we’re doing all these squats, right?” Right on cue, in breathless unison we answered, “Swimsuit season!” Privately, I was a little disappointed in myself.

Swimsuit season. I have mixed feelings on the subject. It is right around this time of year, the snow melts, we start walking outside without coats, the trees begin to bud and this phrase gets used over and over again. You turn on the TV or open a magazine and someone is gleefully letting you know with a heavy hint of trepidation, “Swimsuit season is coming!!!! Are you ready?”

Every time we reach for a second helping or decide to skip the gym, we hear it. “Tsk. Tsk. Maybe you ought to rethink that,” a well-intentioned friend might intimate with a knowing tilt of the head, “you know, swimsuit season.” Or maybe, like me, it is just the voice in your head.

I’m assuming that you too, have a voice similar to mine that will occasionally bark out your worst fears or weaknesses. It might murmur at you about your lack of industry during a binge watching marathon. Or it might nag at you about your terrific ability to procrastinate when it comes to cleaning the bathroom. Swimsuit season is the voice’s time to shine. The voice, unfortunately, focuses on the negative and is not much fun.

This is one of those moments that I lean heavily on my yoga practice to stop myself from giving too much power to the voice. I could spend and have spent an enormous amount of energy berating myself and my ancestors for my short-legged genetics.

Instead, this is a perfect opportunity to take our yoga practice off our mat. It is important to recognize when the negative chatter in our minds is causing unneeded anxiety. Let’s use our yoga practice to turn this negative ship around and head for kinder waters.

“Practice gratitude”

How do you become grateful while we are baring it all in a swimsuit, under the brutal glow of fluorescent lights in a department store dressing room?

You do it by practicing gratitude.

Think of all the amazing places your body has carried you. Your body has been there for you. It might have stretch marks or be thicker than you wish, but think about all it has done for you. It has fought for you through illness, tingled for you during pleasure, hustled for you to keep your schedule, wiggled for you when you wanted to dance and let your heart pound when you fell in love. Thank your body for being there. Don’t shame it for showing signs of the life you are living. So maybe your arms aren’t perfect or maybe your hips are wider than they were when you were sixteen. So what? Honor your body by throwing back your shoulders, straightening your spine and letting it enjoy the summer.

Nice, right? It feels good to feel good about you. But maybe that little voice isn’t ready to surrender to positive thoughts. Maybe it has some more ammunition.

You have been there, sitting by the pool and she walks by. It doesn’t really matter who she is. It’s the fact that she looks stunning in her bikini and to add insult to injury, she is carrying her nine month old child on her cellulite free hip.

In a flash, the little voice can gain the upper hand. It might cause you to question your choice of swimsuit. You might start to shame yourself for not covering up your belly that day or choosing a suit that showed your thighs. You might suddenly feel embarrassed on your walk from your chair to the water.

How do we tap into our inner yogi at that moment?

“This is not a competition”

Swimsuit season is not a competition. Let me repeat. Swimsuit season is not a competition. This can be a confusing statement because here in America, we have been brought up on bathing suit competitions. (Thank you Miss America, Miss Universe and countless other pageants.) Everywhere you look online or on TV people are being judged on their appearance. It is the reality of our culture.

Yes, that woman at the pool has been dealt the perfect hand in the genetics department. You might not have been. But unless you have the celebrity status of Gwyneth Paltrow or Hillary Clinton, no one will be comparing pictures of the two of you on the pages of a national magazine. You are the only true judge in your life.

When you enter the yoga studio you learn very quickly that different people have different abilities. There are some poses that will come naturally to you, there will be others that you will always be working toward. For example, arm balances are a challenge for me. I marvel at other’s ability to effortlessly tilt into crow. Their ability does not make me feel less about my practice.

Let’s take that attitude to the pool. Do you really want to follow the negative train of thought that somehow, on some level, this lovely woman is better than you because she looks better in a swimsuit? No, you don’t. You and your body are better than that.

Think about the favorite people in your life, the people you truly admire. The people who changed your life for the better or made you who you are. Picture them in your mind. Think about why you love them.

Are any of them your favorite because of how they look in a swimsuit?

I’m hoping your answer is a definitive “No.”

Let’s take this swimsuit season off your mat. Practice gratitude. Remember this is not a competition. Our bodies deserve that and so do we.

You or your little voice might be thinking, “Easier said than done.”

That’s true, but aren’t most things worth doing easier to talk about than to actually put into practice?