Off Your Mat

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


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The Practice of Having Fun: The Work Pose

In a world where technology has made things so easy, I’m always interested when someone takes the longer road to accomplishing a task. It isn’t always necessary but it is refreshing.

I spend my days like most people in my part of the world, tapping the screen of my phone, instantly connecting and communicating, pressing buttons for heat, lifting faucets for water. Life is easy. However, I still enjoy sitting down and hand writing a letter or growing my own food from seed or playing the telephone game using two paper cups and a string with my daughter. It requires some work but it’s so much fun.

I appreciate when someone decides to shy away from cutting edge technology and try something a little old school.

Kiesza2014

Kiesza

In light of that, I’m sharing a video called “Hideaway” by an up and coming star named Kiesza. Her music could be classified as techno-pop or house. The amazing thing about the video is that they shot it all in one take. Like Dillon’s Subterranean Homesick Blues or Weezer’s Sweater Song or Feist’s 1234 before it, the artist lets the camera roll through one full performance. No cuts, no edits. It is what it is.

In the video we follow Kiesza dancing down a NYC street. In her choreography she pays homage to early Madonna, Michael Jackson, and if I’m not mistaken, Solid Gold dancers. We even get treated to a little roger rabbit, running man and What’s Happening? ReRun style pop and lock. This girl knows her stuff and executes her moves beautifully.

I challenge you to watch this and not smile. Whether Kiesza’s music is your cup of tea or not, the amount of coordination, technique, talent and joy that went into this video cannot be ignored. It obviously took work.

The end result reminds me that a bit of extra work can be so much fun.


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The Powerful Pose: Practicing Gratitude

gratitudeThere is power in giving thanks.

The act of saying “Thank you” to someone acknowledges the effort or thought that person put into you. It makes that person feel appreciated. They understand that you understand what they did. It strengthens the relationship and paves the way for more positive interactions. ScienceOfRelationships.com does a good job of exploring that dynamic.

But, what about offering up thanks to the universe? Why is it so important to say “Thank you” to a higher power?

Expressing gratitude validates all the fate, luck, fortune, blessings that arrive at your door. When we stop to acknowledge what we have to be grateful for, we give ourselves the ability to see what is positive in our lives. Just being aware of what is good, draws more good to you. That is powerful.

Gratitude is not about the material. It is about training the mind to see what truly holds value. buddha quote

Practicing gratitude is a form of self love. It is a moment to appreciate all of the good in all of the winding ways it has come to you. Just like thanking people in your life for their help or thoughtfulness builds trust and love, practicing gratitude creates an ability to more readily recognize the positive. Like any skill, if it is not practiced it can become weak or forgotten.

If you don’t stop to consciously be grateful, you might very well overlook something worthy of your gratitude. That would be a shame.

Initially, moments to be grateful for do not always look like good fortune. They can arrive unexpectedly, sometimes in the form of a complete disaster. Often it is those disasters that shed light on tremendous strength or understanding or truth. Only when we stop to reflect and be grateful, can we decipher the value.

gratitude

Here are 6 steps to a daily practice of gratitude:

1. Pick or create a quiet moment.

2. Envision one thing for which you are grateful.

3. Let all other thoughts fall away.

4. Allow yourself to feel the joy related to that thought.

5. Say aloud (or form a complete thought), “Thank you for _____________.”

6. Repeat daily.

 


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The Nishime Pose: The Practice of Waterless Cooking

nishime vegetablesLast May I wrote a post about cooking with a clay pot. I discussed the discovery of cooking for myself in my 30’s, inspired by a gift from my sister. It was a cookbook called The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics by Jessica Porter. As a result, my first foray into cooking was 100% macrobiotic. Now, I am an omnivore, although I eat more like a vegetarian than a carnivore. I spend the majority of my cooking time with vegetables.

One of my favorite dishes that has stayed with me from my macrobiotic days is Nishime Vegetables. Every time I have served this dish my guests have marveled at this smooth, buttery, sweet, salty, vegetable dish. They simply cannot believe it doesn’t have any butter in it. For those of you unfamiliar with macrobiotic cooking please do not be put off by the use of mildly exotic ingredients. They are the key to the perfect comfort food result.

Here is a quick cheat sheet on a few of the less familiar ingredients:

Kombu: a sea vegetable that comes in thick wide strips. It helps to soften the vegetables and adds to the buttery consistency of the dish. I buy mine at Whole Foods.kombu

Daikon: a long white root vegetable, also known as a Japanese radish. If you eat a lot of sashimi you will often find it shredded on your dish as a condiment. In macrobiotic cooking it is believed to help dissolve fat in the body.

diakon

Parsnip: Ok, ok. You know what a parsnip is, but I feel like giving this often over looked root vegetable a little love. They are easy to throw into recipes like mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables. Next time you are in the supermarket grab some of the carrot’s cousins.

parsnips

Shoyu: the Japanese word for soy sauce. Here is my favorite brand.

shoyu

I am sharing Jessica Porter’s recipe word for word because I have never found a reason to tweak it.

Nishime Vegetables

Also known as “waterless cooking,” nishime-style cooking involves hearty, sweet vegetables steamed slowly in their own juices. What results is a potful of chunky, delicious, fall-apart vegetables that go down like butter. This dish has a centering effect on the body and mind and is unbelievably simple given the level of satisfaction it produces. If you are feeling scattered and out of sorts, use nishime to come home to yourself. Make nishime vegetables at least a couple times a week, using different vegetables depending on the season.

  • 1-inch piece dried kombu
  • 1 medium onion, cut into thick wedges
  • 6 inches diakon, cut into thick rounds
  • 3 medium parsnips, cut into thick diagonal slices
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch “logs”
  • Spring water
  • 1/2 teaspoon shoyu

In a heavy pot with a heavy lid (preferably enameled cast iron) place the dried kombu. Add the onion. Layer the diakon, carrots, and parsnips, respectively. Pour roughly 1 inch of spring water into the pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer 10-15 minutes or until carrots are soft. Season with shoyu and simmer 5 more minutes. Remove the kombu and discard or slice into thin strips and return to pot. Serve.


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The Tao Porchon-Lynch Pose: The Practice of Living

tao porchon-lynch

Tao Porchon-Lynch posing for Robert Sturman

Tao Porchon-Lynch. You have probably heard of her. She has become the yogini face of aging gracefully.

I have recently become preoccupied with her story. I watched a video of Tao speaking at a TEDx event. It was titled “There is nothing you cannot do.” She was fascinating. Her natural enthusiasm was contagious. Her lithe movements and physical ability defied her age.

I googled her and discovered hundreds of current photos and links to articles about her advanced age. But that wasn’t what I was interested in, I wanted to see her in her youth or middle-aged. I wanted to see a 30 or 40-something Tao Porchon-Lynch. What did she wear? How did she move? Did she care for children? Did she work?

I researched and got answers to my questions. I also came upon this photo.

tao porchon lynch

Wowza

I was delighted. I mean, this is a woman with some chutzpah. The more I read, the more I found her age to be the least interesting thing about her. Everyone is subject to aging, it is the decisions and the choices she made throughout her life that makes her fascinating to me.

Looking at the way she lives her life, it doesn’t surprise me that she is thriving at 96 years old.

At the age of eight she came across some boys practicing yoga on the beach in India. She joined in. At the time, her Aunt (who was raising her) discouraged her from practicing yoga, stating that it was for boys and not a proper activity for a girl. She didn’t listen and pursued the practice anyway. Was she just being a defiant child or did she intuitively know the direction she wanted to take? I don’t have the answer and I’m not sure it matters, but that decision began a pattern.

Each time she was given a standard or an expected limitation, she disregarded it and carved her own path. She made choices that allowed her to defy statistics and beat odds. She is amazing and not just because of her age.

She inspires me to reflect on my own choices and ask: When have I let other’s expectations set my standard?  Have I blindly done what was expected of me simply because it was expected. Or worse, when have I decided that I couldn’t do something because of someone else’s limits? These questions are helpful. Especially now, with middle age settled resolutely on my doorstep. Often there is a predisposition to consider pushing boundaries the territory of youth. Tao Porchon-Lynch reminds me that healthy rebellion and good gut instincts can thrive at any age.

I think the lesson we should be learning from Tao is not how to age, but how to live.


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The Flash Fiction Pose: Not My Typical Post

In my yoga practice, I try to switch things up to keep it interesting. When I find myself less than mindful or engaged in my practice, I do something to re-inspire myself. I might try a new studio or seek out a different type of yoga. I try to breathe some new life into it by creating change. It works.

This weekend I found myself less than enthusiastic about my blog. I was uninspired. I thought about drumming up a guest blogger or finding a reason to skip a week. Those options felt like a cop out. I needed inspiration. So I went to my fellow bloggers and looked at what they were doing. Sure enough, I found what I was looking for.

My inspiration came in the form of The Tipsy Lit Flash Fiction Contest. Tipsy Lit is a blog that seeks out gritty, raw writing – something very different than what I have been doing here. The challenge to Flash Fiction is that it is short with a 500 word limit. Below you will find my submission, a figurative splash of cold water on the face of my sleepy blog.The Flash Fiction Pose

Timothy’s Escape

The room came slowly into focus as Timothy surfaced from his nod.  Seeing the low drop ceiling with creeping stains he remembered he was in Yvette’s sagging bed. To his right, he noticed she had gathered his works on the night table in a neat pile.  Last night had been a desperate sweating scramble to get his dope.

Getting up, he was careful not to wake Yvette, whose wet snores ripped through the room.  Everything about her repulsed him.  Her stick thin, bruised legs and ridiculous choice of crop tops that allowed her bloated mid-section to bunch and jiggle with every move. Her stringy ponytail worn on the side of her head in an effort to appear youthful that only succeeded in making her look demented. The way she clung to his arm, throwing back her head in a throaty laugh that exposed her missing molar and ended in a wheezing cough.  And especially the way she would turn her fleshy and worn face to him thrilled and expectant.

Her apartment harbored the aroma of cat pee cloaked in cheap air freshener.  There was a cat that lived there but Timothy had yet to see it. It hid under the couch and let out a low growl if anyone came near.  A cage in the living room housed two parakeets that constantly squawked and furiously batted their wings.  Then there was Butch, an old crooked dog with cataracts and breath like a sewer. When the animal was awake, he shuffled behind Timothy from room to room.

Since they met, Yvette clung to Timothy. She shared her disability checks and rationed out her dope.  He came and went as he pleased and she never complained as he drank all her beer.  When he showed up on her doorstep at 3 a.m. shaking for a fix, she welcomed him in.

Now he needed to get out of there.  Timothy moved into the kitchen where she kept her purse and flipped on the fluorescent light. Squinting in the winking glare he found her wallet and pulled out the bills. Stuffing them in his pocket he reached for the light switch and stopped short.

“Jesus, Butch, I almost stepped on you.” Butch was laying on the kitchen floor panting hard.  His water and food bowl were empty. Timothy crouched down, folding his tall bony frame to scratch the old mutt behind the ears. “You thirsty buddy?”

He filled one bowl with fresh water and scooped kibble into the other.  While he was at it, he got water and food for the cat and the birds too. He felt for the animals. He couldn’t imagine being trapped like that.

When he was done he moved quietly back into to the bedroom and eased open Yvette’s top dresser drawer.  He found the white baggy he was looking for and tucked it in his sneaker. Without looking back, Timothy walked through the fetid rooms fleeing into the fresh pink dawn of the morning.


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The Uncopyright Pose: The Practice of Sharing Wisdom

I wish I could take credit for what is written below, but I can’t.

What I can do is share a valuable list that I find myself revisiting over and over. It comes from Zen Habits written by Leo Babauta.

Today I found myself reading through his list of 12 Indespensable Mindful Living Tools again.  I decided I would reach out to him and request permission to share it on my blog. Searching through his site for contact information, I came across a tab that read: uncopyright. I discovered he has released his copyright and put his work on the site into public domain.

Amazing. Refreshing. Delightful.

Thank you, Mr. Babauta, for making it so easy to share your wisdom.buddah

Leo Babauta’s 12 Indepensable Mindful Living Tools

1. Meditation. Meditation is where mindful living starts. And it’s not complicated: you can sit still for even just 1 minute a day to start with (work up to 3-5 minutes after a week), and turn your attention to your body and then your breath. Notice when your thoughts wander from your breath, and gently return to the breath. Repeat until the minute is up.

2. Be Awake. Meditation is practice for being awake, which is not being in the dream state (mind wandering into a train of thought, getting lost in the online world, thinking about past offenses, stressing about the future, etc.) but being awake to the present, to what is. Being awake is something you can do throughout the day, all the time, if you remember. Remembering is the trick.

3. Watch Urges. When I quit smoking in 2005, the most useful tool I learned was watching my urges to smoke. I would sit there and watch the urge rise and fall, until it was gone, without acting on it. It taught me that I am not my urges, that I don’t have to act on my urges, and this helped me change all my other habits. Watch your urge to check email or social media, to eat something sweet or fried, to drink alcohol, to watch TV, to be distracted, to procrastinate. These urges will come and go, and you don’t have to act on them.

4. Watch Ideals. We all have ideals, all the time. We have an ideal that our day will go perfectly, that people will be kind and respectful to us, that we will be perfect, that we’ll ace an exam or important meeting, that we’ll never fail. Of course, we know from experience that those ideals are not real, that they don’t come true, that they aren’t realistic. But we still have them, and they cause our stress and fears and grief over something/someone we’ve lost. By letting go of ideals, we can let go of our suffering.

5. Accept People & Life As They Are. When I stopped trying to change a loved one, and accepted him for who he was, I was able to just be with him and enjoy my time with him. This acceptance has the same effect for anything you do — accept a co-worker, a child, a spouse, but also accept a “bad” situation, an unpleasant feeling, an annoying sound. When we stop trying to fight the way things are, when we accept what is, we are much more at peace.

6. Let Go of Expectations. This is really the same thing as the previous two items, but I’ve found it useful nonetheless. It’s useful to watch your expectations with an upcoming situation, with a new project or business, and see that it’s not real and that it’s causing you stress and disappointment. We cause our own pain, and we can relieve it by letting go of the expectations that are causing it. Toss your expectations into the ocean.

7. Become OK with Discomfort. The fear of discomfort is huge — it causes people to be stuck in their old bad habits, to not start the business they want to start, to be stuck in a job they don’t really like, because we tend to stick to the known and comfortable rather than try something unknown and uncomfortable. It’s why many people don’t eat vegetables or exercise, why they eat junk, why they don’t start something new. But we can be OK with discomfort, with practice. Start with things that are a little uncomfortable, and keep expanding your comfort zone.

8. Watch Your Resistance. When you try to do something uncomfortable, or try to give up something you like or are used to, you’ll find resistance. But you can just watch the resistance, and be curious about it. Watch your resistance to things that annoy you — a loud sound that interrupts your concentration, for example. It’s not the sound that’s the problem, it’s your resistance to the sound. The same is true of resistance to food we don’t like, to being too cold or hot, to being hungry. The problem isn’t the sensation of the food, cold, heat or hunger — it’s our resistance to them. Watch the resistance, and feel it melt. This resistance, by the way, is why I’m doing my Year of Living Without.

9. Be Curious. Too often we are stuck in our ways, and think we know how things should be, how people are. Instead, be curious. Find out. Experiment. Let go of what you think you know. When you start a new project or venture, if you feel the fear of failure, instead of thinking, “Oh no, I’m going to fail” or “Oh no, I don’t know how this will turn out”, try thinking, “Let’s see. Let’s find out.” And then there isn’t the fear of failure, but the joy of being curious and finding out. Learn to be OK with not knowing.

10. Be Grateful. We complain about everything. But life is a miracle. Find something to be grateful about in everything you do. Be grateful when you’re doing a new habit, and you’ll stick to it longer. Be grateful when you’re with someone, and you’ll be happier with them. Life is amazing, if you learn to appreciate it.

11. Let Go of Control. We often think we control things, but that’s only an illusion. Our obsession with organization and goals and productivity, for example, are rooted in the illusion that we can control life. But life is uncontrollable, and just when we think we have things under control, something unexpected comes up to disrupt everything. And then we’re frustrated because things didn’t go the way we wanted. Instead, practice letting go of control, and learn to flow.

12. Be Compassionate. This sounds trite, but compassion for others can change the way you feel about the world, on a day-to-day basis. And compassion for yourself is life-changing. These two things need remembering, though, so mindful living is about remembering to be compassionate after you forget.


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The Opportunity Pose: A Less Stressed Holiday Season

Sometimes an opportunity is obvious, sometimes it can be cloaked by perception. Often opportunities can pass right by because they look like a problem. When fear comes into the picture it seems opportunities dry up all together.opportunity1

During my first few attempts at yoga I was afraid of looking foolish. The fear I harbored inhibited my confidence. I was thinking about all the things I hadn’t learned to do yet. I was looking at it backwards. I considered my newbie status to be a detriment, when I should have focused on the limitless opportunity of learning that stretched out before me.87577938

Luckily, I loosened up and figured it out. I relaxed into a practice were I can be realistic about my abilities, push my boundaries, try new things and understand that mistakes are not failures. As always, this lesson in my yoga practice allowed me to reflect on how I approach similar circumstances in everyday life.

I think the approaching holiday season is a great opportunity to take this yoga lesson out into the world.

keep-calm

There is a lot of anxiety that accompanies the approach of the holidays. People become stressed on so many levels. There are the logistics of gathering with family and friends, the extra expenses that come with gifts and travel, the extra responsibilities of cooking and entertaining and the less talked about family tensions that often come to a head at this time of year. It can be challenging.

But isn’t every challenge an opportunity?

Here are 6 practical tips to using yoga philosophies to create a less stressed holiday season.*

1. Acknowledge how you are feeling. The holiday season is built up to be an extra happy and festive time. For many people it is and that is terrific. However, if you find yourself feeling blue or down you should not force yourself to be happy just because it is the holidays. Do not bottle it up. Being human, it is normal to have a whole range of emotions. It is not normal to suppress emotions and pretend to be cheerful when you are not. Do not judge yourself and find a safe place to express yourself.

2. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.

3. Practice acceptance. Work to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress, too.

4. Take a breather. Find some time for yourself, even if it is just 15 minutes. A little bit of time alone can recharge you enough to take on the next “to do list.” Here are some relaxing activities you can do on your own:

Take a seated position. Ideally, your knees should be slightly lower than your hips and your eyes should be closed. Sit up straight and inhale for a count of eight. Pause when your lungs are full and then exhale for a count of eight, emptying your lungs completely. Repeat at least 3 times.

  • Take a walk
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Read
  • Nap

5. Practice gratitude. Yes, this time of year brings added stress but it is also a time to count our blessings. Often our stress is created by expectations we hold that are not necessarily based in reality. Let go of that stuff, enjoy the people you want to enjoy, take in the beauty of the season and let it all unfold.

6. Give back. This time of year is the perfect opportunity to practice altruism. That doesn’t necessarily mean writing a check. This is an opportunity to start a family tradition of donating time around the holidays.

I hope you love your holiday season. But if you don’t, I hope you take the opportunity to make changes so that you can create something that you do love.

 

*For a more in-depth list visit The Mayo Clinic.