Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Friend: Assessing His Life

[Via an email regarding the disparity between a day job and spending time with his precocious niece and nephew].

I can't deal with these kinds of questions:

Can you get me the matrix on that?

Need to see that spreadsheet.

Can you stay late tonight?


I CAN deal with these questions:

Can we get Chips Ahoy?

Is Dora on?

Is Honey Nut Cheerios a "bad" cereal?


New Year's Eve is a time to take stock, reflect, resolve, and re-prioritize. We all have our own way of engaging in this process, and to help you make the most of your healthy goals this year, I'll provide further details, tips, and resources in the days and weeks ahead (nobody resolved to start smoking, right?).

Given that you probably don't want to be bogged down with too much too soon (better to simply focus on kissing 2008 good-bye today), I thought I'd share with you the witty, reflective ruminations of one of my pals (above). We'll keep his identity secret, but it might be worth noting that he is indeed a "he," proving that young, professional guys as well as gals struggle to balance aspirations of having and spending time at home with a family and the need to keep the lights on.

Moreover, it goes without saying that a clear window into someone else's world can often illuminate and inspire our own goals (else there would be no blogosphere). So, have a candid conversation with yourself today, and decide what you "can stand" and what you can't in the year ahead. Then, consider how you might close the gap between the two. Relishing in the power of possibility is the first step down a bright, beautiful, inspired path in 2009. May it be filled with light, love, and, perhaps, the occasional, indulgent bowl of "bad" cereal.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Benefits Of An Economic Crisis (No, Seriously)

The housing crisis. The auto bailout. A different newspaper going belly up each week. A soaring unemployment rate. Not to mention countless examples of the current economic crisis experienced by each of us, in small ways, during the course of our daily lives. Even if your job is secure and your home is not in danger of foreclosure, the current perfect storm of economic conditions is enough to rain on anybody's parade or, at least, make life a bit more challenging.

Even grocery shopping, for example, is more of a challenge. On a recent trip to the grocer, I bought a bottle of honey that cost me nearly $10 dollars. Let me be clear: I didn't buy a bushel of goji berries imported from Tibet or a sushi platter big enough to give Jeremy Piven mercury poisoning. I really, truly bought one measly bottle of HONEY for a whopping $9.45 (and I wasn't even at Whole Foods!). Sure, this is completely trivial in the scheme of things, but it's a tangible example of just how bitter the situation has become: even the buzzing, industrious honeybee, a universal symbol of productivity, seems to be afflicted by the economic slowdown. Sad.

But, wait . . . Is that fair? To join the public outcry of people claiming that the world, as we know it, is collapsing before our eyes and we are helpless to stop it—let alone sweeten our tea in any kind of conscionable manner? Could there be a glimmer of opportunity buried in all this buzz, a sweet little dollop of perspective to help navigate our way through the negativity?

With all these leading questions, you can bet I'm headed somewhere. Hence . . . The Benefits of An Economic Meltdown (No, Seriously).

Smarter spending. With boom times comes a propensity and implicit permission to spend exorbitant amounts of coin on unnecessary things. In recent years, conspicuous spending became the standard, trotted to the fore on the heels of Manolo Blaniks and driven to popularity on the wheels of massive SUVs built to tackle muddy ravines on safari in Kenya—which is no different from a mall parking lot, assuming your local mall is located in a muddy ravine in Kenya. Call me old-fashioned; call me low-budget; call me a throwback to the days of our parents and grandparents who maintained their frugal sensibilities long after the Great Depression passed, but I think spending your money on stuff you actually need is an advisable way to allocate your quan, at least, for a while. Maybe you genuinely need a big, bruising vehicle to ferry around children or lumber or whatever, but maybe you could stand to downsize a wee bit. Indeed, non-essential purchases make life a little brighter, cozier, better accessorized, and more fun, but, there's no harm in revising our financial ideology to reflect the cash-flow we actually have , rather than the cash-flow we wish we had. Remember: your worth doesn't reside in your wallet, and, thank heavens for that. I’m not saying it’s time to sell our earthly possessions and wear only clothing we can weave ourselves; I’m simply suggesting that an emphasis on smarter, more sensible spending might do the country some good.

Dining in helps fatten your wallet and slim your waist. Any diet is apt to dish the same advice: the more you dine out, the harder it is to keep an eye on your nutrition, which is actually good news during a recession, wherein people dine out less. So, channel your inner Top Chef; save your pennies, and soon enough, you’ll be dropping unhealthful eating habits faster than the Dow drops points.

Unemployment initiates introspection. With the unemployment rate climbing to its highest level in decades, many people find themselves without jobs or anxious that they might be without jobs in the weeks and months ahead. It’s a scary prospect. Believe me; I’ve been there- during the economic crisis that followed 9/11- however, it’s also fertile ground for discovering and redrafting your ideal career path. Over the holidays, I caught up with a recently pink-slipped pal at a holiday party who is doing just this kind of self-evaluation. “I didn’t even like my job anyway! I just wasn’t ready to quit on my own” she confided. During recessions, people are more likely to change careers or go back to school, which is another way of saying that they get better aligned with their true talents and passions. As my friend's statement suggests, unemployment can bring a new found freedom to make career moves that previously seemed too brazen. The security of a steady job is a blessing; however, without it, there’s often more room for new opportunities to unfold.

Ideas percolate and later: prosper. While a recession is fun for no one, it just might provide enough of a respite from the hustle and bustle of busier economic times for you to develop the brilliant business plan that’s been knocking on the back door of your brain for years. Intellectual currency is even more valuable right now because, put simply, an idea that can withstand the scrutiny and lack of resources that characterize our chilly financial forecast is destined to heat up down the road. In other words, the old adage rings true: “scarcity is the mother of invention." So, get cracking, Edison!

Time and energy remain the most valuable resources. We all have less money than we did a few months ago (although the losses vary greatly from person to person and family to family). Nevertheless, we still have the same number of hours in the day (24 the last time anyone checked); therefore, let the tightening of some of your resources (i.e. funds) underscore the importance and potential of the others (i.e. time and energy). In other words, treat your time as a precious commodity. Share it with those you love. Skimp on spending money on nights out, and rejuvenate “game night” or get-a-good-nights-sleep-night. Having less is NOT synonymous with being less loving, interesting, creative, caring, compassionate, or happy. In fact, sometimes it’s just the opposite.

How are you weathering the chilly financial forecast? How can we make the best of the recession? What helps you look on the bright side when the financial news is bleak?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Quote: What To Do With The New Year

"Go into the world and do well, but more importantly, go into the world and do good."
-Minor Myers jr.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Om Gal Resolves To Help You Get Healthy!

Tune in tomorrow (Saturday, December 27) to WRKO, Boston's Talk Station (680 AM) or online via the website to hear me talk about getting healthy and achieving your wellness objectives in the year ahead. Want to join the conversation or ask a specific question about healthy changes you're hoping to make in 2009? Give us a ring: 800.876.4123; host Mariellen Burns and I would love to hear from you.

When: 3:00-4:00 p.m.
Where: 680 AM, Boston's Talk Station
Why: To hear me dish up easy ways to revamp or refine your health in 2009.


Have a topic you want us to cover? Tell me what it is, and we'll address it on-air.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa's Cookies Get The Slimdown

You need to leave Santa the requisite cookies; however, you don't need to bore the guy with ho hum Chips Ahoy. Instead, try baking your own favorite, slimmed down recipe. Here's a great, low fat version of peanut butter cookies.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Shopping For A Yoga Teacher?

Recently, a thoughtful reader inquired about what an appropriate gift might be for a student to give a yoga teacher for the holidays, so I promised to weigh in.

Receiving gifts from students around the holidays is always a pleasant surprise. More than anything, your sentiment in the form of a card or a personal Thank You is the greatest gift. However, if you'd like to brighten your favorite teacher's holiday with a present, consider three easy criterion first.

1.) How much would you like to spend?
2). What is the extent of your relationship with this teacher? (For example, if you take private lessons and spend large quantities of times with this person, a more substantial gift makes sense).
3). What kind of clues can you pick up from the teacher's style in class to inspire a creative gift-giving idea? Is your teacher always drinking tea before class? Does he/she play music? Does this teacher reveal clues of being a Red Sox fan or a fledgling cook?

Cost:
If you're hoping to streamline your costs, take the easiest, most direct route to good cheer: A $10 ($15, $20) gift card toward yogi-approved goods and services, such as Whole Foods, Starbucks, iTunes, or a bookstore (particularly if your teacher shares favorite passages and readings during class).

If you have a little more cash to spend, giving your yogi an experience during which he/she gets to receive the care and attention of someone else for change is always a welcome treat. Bodywork, for example, is a generous way to pamper hardworking instructors whose bodies often take a toll from the endless activity, hours on their feet, extensive practice, and, often, heated rooms that can deplete energy.

Relationship:
It's also nice when the gift reflects something about you. One of my most dedicated private clients was a big foodie, so he saw to it that I was able to take a pal for a swanky dinner on him when the occasion warranted it by generously giving a gift certificate to a posh, local restaurant. This is a huge treat for yogis. However, you'll want to be mindful of your instructor's eating habits if possible. To be safe, choose a restaurant that will have vegetarian options. Steer clear of steakhouses, just as a precaution. Another time, a female student of mine revamped my whole toiletry selection in one fell swoop- she worked for Lancome, so I was, literally, showered with soaps, lotions, lip glosses, eye creams, and the like. Another student was a tea enthusiast who stocked my cupboard with some rare and fancy brews to savor.

Personal Preferences:
Finally, if you know your yogi shops at Lululemon (and you'd be hard-pressed to find one of us who doesn't), swing through a local store; take the guesswork out of the sizing and stick to accessories or certificates. Or, maybe you've heard your yoga teacher chit chat about being a movie buff, aspiring cook, or having a green thumb? Movie passes, a hefty, healthy cookbook, or a blooming houseplant will make the teacher's off-duty hours more fun.

The key is for your choices to reflect the level of familiarly that you have with this person. In general, keep gifts somewhat yoga or wellness-related, and do maintain sensible boundaries (think: aromatherapy candle, not sexy-smelling perfume). Most yogis are easy to please, and remember, your presence in class is "presents" enough.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Elf of Health: Live Better, Stress Less

Saturday, Tip 20: Need someone to keep a watchful eye on your nutrition choices but can't pony up for a professional? Lance Armstrong's Livestrong organization has a great tool on its website to help you track your food choices and evaluate where improvements can be made. Befitting its function, the microsite is called The Daily Plate and gives health-savvy users a daily handle on what our bodies need to function best.

Sunday, Tip 21: Wallet looking a little too slim this season? Fear not; Shoestring Mag doles out brilliant, budget-friendly tips on everything from dining to design and fashion to finance, so that you can live "the good life for less," just as the site's mantra suggests. See, I bet you're feeling less stressed already . . .

Overheard: Humorous Holiday Party Banter

Friend Kathryn (to her brother, David): "David, this is Rebecca- my friend who teaches yoga that I've told you about."

David: "Oh, wow, HI! Vastisthasana is my favorite pose . . . on the right."

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Boston Yogi Advises: "Pahk the Cah"

Here in Boston, we're hunkering down for a developing snowstorm. Last night, I vigilantly watched the news ticker, awaiting the cancellation of my classes today- until I realized that I'm no longer in school, which made for a disappointing experience all around. . .

We expect road conditions, traffic jams, and stress levels to be a bit of a bummer as well. So, why not park the car and walk as often and as far as you can until this thing blows over? Adding extra steps to your daily activity level is good for your booty, heart, and mood. Bundle up, and get out there!

What if you're reading OmGal.com from afar, like our Intent.com friends (many of whom live in balmier climes)? Pick the farthest parking spots and skip the escalators at the mall as you polish off (err, perhaps, begin) your holiday shopping this weekend. Walking is the simplest, most natural form of exercise we have. Just because the season gets busy or blustery doesn't mean you have to miss a step.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Throwback Thursday: Tis The Season To Shred

For those of you who missed the athletic folly and emotional assault on my ego that characterized my introduction to the sport of snowboarding last year, here's the grisly recap (not to worry; it has a happy ending, with my bones managing to stay in tact and all). Perhaps you, too, are gearing up to hit the slopes this season? If so, good luck, and don't forget to stretch!

I recommend the following yoga poses for skiers and boarders:

Utkatasana: Generates strength in your legs.

Uttanasana: Relieves tight hamstrings and relaxes your back (bend your knees slightly). Snowboarders opt for pada hastasana to give your wrists added protection.

Half-pigeon: Keep hips limber and knees protected. (Fun fact: If you go to the link, the model in the Yoga Journal photo is my former roomie).

Viparita Karani: Removes lactic acid from your legs after a long day on the slopes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stop Shouldering Your Burdens

Stress can settle just about anywhere in our bodies, manifested in countless forms- from a tense lower back to a crick in the neck to chronic headaches. For many, we literally carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. To help relieve tense shoulders, try gomukasana or cow face pose. Also, at various points throughout the day (perhaps while standing in line to make your holiday purchases or sitting at your desk), lift your shoulders up toward your ears and then roll them back. It's a simple movement, but it works. In turn, it will help improve your posture and ensure that your shoulders are fit for toting fun stuff, like yoga mats, hiking packs, and small children. As for that heavy burden you've been schlepping around? Set it down for awhile, if not, forever.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quote: Pema Chodron

"Mindfulness is the ground; refraining is the path. Refraining is one of those uptight words that sound repressive. Surely alive, juicy, interesting people would not practice refraining. Maybe we should sometimes refrain, but not as a lifestyle. In this context, however, refraining is very much the method of becoming a dharmic person. It's the quality of not grabbing for entertainment the minute we feel a slight edge of boredom coming on. It's the practice of not immediately filling up space just because there's a gap . . . If we immediately entertain ourselves by talking, by acting, by thinking- if there's never any pause- we will never be able to relax. We will always be speeding through our lives."

-When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron

Today, despite the countless opportunities to speed through your life, take a few, deliberate moments to "refrain." Refrain from a useless, additional half-hour of TV; disengage from idle or gossipy conversation; shut your cell phone off. Reconnect with who you are without all the cultural accouterments. Breath deeply. Feel the immediate healing and rejuvenation that comes with this practice, even if for only a few, stolen, solitary moments per day.

Giving Feels Great!



Tonight, I was a proud member of the Big BENefit staff at a toy-drive sponsored by Kirsten and Benjamin Watson's charitable organization, One More. (Psst, not in-the-know about sports? Ben is the tight end for the New England Patriots). However, tonight, he was schlepping boxes and toting toys for 84 families who otherwise would not have gifts to open on Christmas morning. (Psst, the significance of the number 84? It's the same one emblazoned on his jersey each game day).

Earlier in the evening, I also swung by a holiday-themed open house at another one of my favorite nonprofit organizations, Artists for Humanity, which teaches and employs teens in the arts.

In both cases, I felt humbled and inspired by the goodness, creativity, energy, and compassion with which I was surrounded. It seems Om Gal's got a case of holiday spirit, and the prognosis looks good. I may even make it through the rest of the holiday season sans an all-too-typical (albeit occasional) case of the bah-humbugs. (C'mon, folks, you know the feeling; all it takes is one trip to the mall gone wrong). Similarly, all it takes is one good deed to snap any scrooge out of his/her miserly mood. Donate a toy to Christmas in the City or a local organization in your community that celebrates the season. Heck, that celebrates any worthwhile cause!

Sure, the economy is tanking, and it's easy to get swept under by a tidal wave of worry and negativity; however, it's just as easy to infuse your life and someone else's with a sparkle of positivity. Have your own spiritual salute or act of kindness to share this holiday? Post a comment; give a shout-out; tell the masses . . . We're listening, and we're thinking, "Game on!"

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Slim Down Secret For Santa?

Even the man who eats countless cookies on Christmas Eve and chums around with gaggles of saccharin elves (who presumably provide him with a steady supply of sweet treats to keep the big guy's energy up in the toy factories of the North Pole and such) could whittle his middle with this cardio/cross-training kick butt workout. Give it a try; let me know how it goes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Show Some Love!


'Tis the season to be merry and bright, right?

The above photo pictures me and Om Bro smooching our grandmother last Christmas. Today, for the health of your heart and the nourishment of your soul, show an unexpected amount of love (generosity, joy, attention, care) to someone in your life. Plant a surprise smooch on a loved one; drop a kind, handwritten card in the mail; pay for a pal's yoga class, or take a friend out for a wholesome meal. Embrace the act of giving for its own sake, and experience all the joy you receive in return. It's not a feeling you can wrap with a bow, but if you're lucky you might capture it in a photo.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

2 Tips To Keep Om Pals Feeling Fine This Holiday Season Weekend

Today's Elf of Health tip is a two-for, mostly because this little elf was a oui bit busy and neglected to post one yesterday. My apologies. It won't happen again. Here are two healthy thoughts to tide you over till tomorrow:

Tip 12: Observe the "Kitchen's Closed" rule. I'm convinced that holiday-inspired meals and functions are not the biggest detriment to staying fit and feeling energized during the season of merrymaking. Instead, I tend to think that it's the leftovers, gift baskets, baked goods, and countless candy bowls lurking around every corner that cumulatively chip away at all the good choices we otherwise make. Much of this idle nibbling occurs in the evening. How often do you find yourself making leisurely trips to the kitchen to further whittle away at that leftover casserole or graze yet another dollop of frosting off that wedge of cake? To help contain this aimless eating, I like to think of the kitchen (and, subsequently, my stomach) as having "Hours of Operation." For example, my kitchen "closes" at 10 p.m. each night. After that hour, I make sure my work is done there (i.e. nothing is in the oven, no dishes left to put away, no reasons for being in there, and the lights are off). For many, this hour might come earlier; however, I keep late hours and often do not eat dinner until 9 p.m. For me, 10 o'clock is realistic. I've never been a fan of dietary advice that advocates not eating after 6 o'clock. Who are these people, and in which century are they living? You'll find that once your body gets into a rhythm, it's far less inclined to keep noshing after its standard hours of operation. Bottom line: enjoy your indulgences but contain them, in quantity and frequency.

Tip 13: The holidays provide plenty of opportunities to get glamorous, look dapper, and sport your finest- from head to toe, which means your feet start to feel the effects. Kick off your sparkly stilettos, knee-high boots with the sky-high heels, and sharp-looking albeit stiff loafers, and try toes pose today. It's tough at first but one of the BEST poses to add to your regular repertoire as a way to maintain happy feet.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Meditate For Mental Health


Elf of Health Tip of the Day: stop and take 10 deep, meditative breaths right NOW. Close your eyes if you can. Sit or stand up very straight. Relax the muscles in your face. Count: 1, 2, 3 . . . 10. There, don't you feel better? This is the simplest way to begin a meditation practice. Start with as little as 10 breaths but, ideally, 5 minutes per day. Build from there. It will change your life.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Elves Dig Green

Today's Elf of Health tip is simple: eat your vegetables! Many people over-complicate their nutrition plans by villifying certain foods, stocking up on others, and generally sucking all the intuition and enjoyment out of eating. Here's a useful barometer: eat what's closest to the earth first. If it was plucked from a tree or harvested from the ground- go for it! Of course, there are countless healthy foods that endure a bit more work; however, the more natural it is, the simpler its voyage onto your plate, the better off you probably are. So, today, get plenty of greens . . . or carrots or broccoli or tomatoes (you get the idea).

How Do You Stay Warm?

The arrival of winter ushers in certain seasonal preparations for all of us. We scurry into closets, trunks, and storage units to reveal nearly forgotten hats, scarves, gloves, and mittens. Some take bicycles out for one last spin. Others do very practical things like stock the garage with rock salt and a sturdy snow shovel. I do impractical things, like walk around the apartment in my snowboarding helmet (I haven't had a chance to wear it yet; I'm practicing- or insane- depends how you look at it).

Given last winter's foray into the world of shredding powder- or eating it- depends how you look at that too, my ritual of testing out my first helmet at home is a new one. My ritual of digging up specific pieces of literature during various seasons is much older, and probably more socially acceptable . . .

Each year, like clockwork, right around the time that I drag out my sleeping bag with sleeves (translation: long puffy coat), I also retrieve an old college textbook from one of the shelves and revisit a poem that, for me, perfectly suits the season. In it, the narrator recounts watching his baby son sleep, on a cold, quiet winter night, with the snow falling outside. It's called Frost at Midnight, and it's written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Here's the best part:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Sure, it's possible that the above stanza alone prompts the onset of narcolepsy for some. It's okay. My wintry escapes don't have to be yours. However, you should embrace your own rituals and activities to keep you warm and happy this season. Whether it's snowboarding or knitting or wearing the snowboarding helmet while you knit, there are plenty of ways to melt the ice for us all.

What are yours?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Catch Your Zs

Sleep is the body's way of healing itself. During the holidays, it's tempting to skip your standard amount of shut-eye in favor of all the merrymaking. However, consistent lack of sleep really takes its toll- fiddling with our appetites, coordination, mood, and much more. Just check out an article that appeared in Outside magazine back in June on the subject. Partly because it's intriguing and informative, but mostly because it's time for me to get some sleep . . .

Monday, December 8, 2008

Happiness Starts with an H(2O)!


This week: Be sure to stay hydrated. The act of drinking plenty of H2O has profoundly positive effects on one's health and mood. Being well hydrated will help you flush out toxins, avoid overeating, and stay energized on a daily basis and, ultimately, throughout the holidays. I love my Sigg water bottle. It's a great, eco-friendly way to get your guzzle on.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Holiday Recipe Hit: Tofu Pumpkin Pie

Today, the "Elf of Health" is giving up the goods in the kitchen. I made the following recipe for tofu pumpkin pie last night (just click the link for the recipe) and toted it along to a holiday fete filled with yogaphiles, posh health club personal trainers, and other healthy types with discerning taste buds, and the results were unanimous: this low fat, seasonal treat takes the cake, err, pie. While the recipe is vegan approved, plenty of non-vegans gave it a thumbs up too, including our friend, Tom, who claims he was born in a sub shop and weighed on a meat scale . . . Give a yogi a glass of wine, and you'll be amazed by the fantastical tales that flow freely.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Holidays Turning Your World Upside Down?

Today, I received an email from new om galpal, published author, and fellow yoga teacher, Josephine Selander of Sweden. (Together, we're planning a private retreat in January, when she'll next visit the States). I had to laugh at her succinct way of rounding up the frenetic pace of the holiday season by saying, " . . . you know how time has an interesting way [of moving] faster than ever sometimes."

Well said.

If this is the case for you, then chances are your yoga practice is feeling the time crunch too. Thus, "Elf of Heath" tips 5 and 6 will focus on maximizing what precious little time you might have to spend on your yoga mat. (My apologies for the lapse yesterday; the Internet Elf owes my apartment a visit to remedy some current technology issues).

Tip 5: If you simply cannot get to yoga class or manage a home practice (even an abbreviated one), one of the best ways to shift your energy, clear your head, and regain energetic balance is to do an inversion for five minutes, thereby flipping your world upside down. A headstand, for example, will give you energy before a holiday fete, while viparita karani soothes frayed nerves after a shopping trip at the mall. Both are highly potent, so just a few minutes will work wonders. In both cases, substituting an inversion for a complete practice is an accessible and effective way of staying centered.

Tip 6: Similarly, if you want to give your asana practice a serious "kick" (no pun intended), try kicking up into handstand (against a wall). This pose can charge up a shortened home practice or jump-start a practice at a studio before class begins. Since this movement is extremely invigorating- and, yes, meant only for veteran yogis- it quickly heats the body and readies the senses for an energized practice. Starting off a practice with 3 rounds of 10 breaths in each repetition of handstand will initiate a clarifying and strengthening outcome. Remember, your time during the holidays might be scarce, but your yoga inspiration need not be. Just keep checking back in with OmGal.com every day!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Smart Noshing at Holiday Functions

Countless health publications and experts continually underscore the importance of not arriving at a holiday fete famished, as a way to curb overeating. Instead, we're encouraged to eat an apple, drink some V-8, or nibble a handful of almonds to stave off the likelihood of arriving at the party and immediately chowing through the cheese display, thereby leaving a path of destruction and bread sticks behind us.

As practical and realistic as this tidbit is, we also need to account for the possibility of not having a healthy stash of produce in our handbag. It's the holidays, folks; some of us just can't manage that kind of planning. If it makes you feel any better, I realized I was wearing my clothes inside-out at the gym the other day. True story.

So, what is a gal or guy to do, having crossed a threshold into the land of copious amounts of food and drink, salivating at the sight of each temptation? Proceed directly to the vegetable and/or fruit display. Fill up one small plate. This will help take the edge off your hunger. Follow the veggies or fruit with a glass of water or seltzer. What you do after that is up to you, but at least, you've given yourself a healthy base and, ideally, avoided the tendency to fill up on the nutritionally empty items first.

Your goal should not be to skip temptations all together. You're human. It's the holidays. Enjoy yourself. However, taking a little extra care when it comes to making decisions will help you weather the season with greater ease and better health.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tip Tree, Oops, I Mean, "Three"

Tree pose is a basic balancing posture that can take on new meaning during the holidays. Now, I'm not suggesting that you drape yourself in tinsel and wear a star on your head; however, you might consider the comfort and iconography of trees during the winter season and, of course, within the Christmas tradition.

Moreover, embrace the steadiness of a tree with deep roots; recognize a tree's ability to weather all seasons and adapt to its surroundings, and use the asana as an opportunity to pay homage to all the favorite trees in your lifetime. Perhaps you had a treehouse as a child or sat beneath your own "giving tree," to collect your thoughts and escape the world.

In order to make the holidays more joyful, spend time honoring the season outdoors. I live in one of the coldest climates of them all, Boston, but I am vigilant about getting outside every day. The fresh air and emphasis on natural surroundings- during a time that tends toward commercialism and material possessions- will help keep your spirits up and body active. The fringe benefit, of course, is that a 15-minute walk snuck into your lunch break or walking with your children to the bus stop in the morning helps stave off the extra calories you might be consuming in cookies, candies, and other holiday fare.

Finally, if you do celebrate Christmas and decorate a traditional tree each year, let the symbol of the season also be an inward symbol of your own yoga practice. We don't practice yoga simply for its own sake, on a mat, in a studio, isolated from the world. We practice yoga so that we're better able to embrace, honor, and experience the world. Trees included. All year long.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Elf of Health Dishes Tip 2

Treat an om gal or guy to yoga: Giving the gift of yoga is a perfect way to streamline your giving and put a healthy twist on visiting with friends this season. Instead of meeting a pal for a meal or drinks, suggest that the two of you grab a yoga class (pilates session, rock-climbing lesson, etc.) on you. If you want to catch up after class, opt for a nutritious meal or comforting cup of tea. The time spent will be good for the bodies and souls of you and your bud.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Om Gal on Your Side This Holiday Season

On one hand, the holidays are a magical time of year filled with the company of those we love, a spirit of generosity, and an annual opportunity for reflection and gratitude. On the other, it's a collective calendar hijacking wherein we lose weeks from our lives, spent battling the hoards at the mall, socializing with people with whom we otherwise wouldn't, over-indulging in less than wholesome food and drink, and forfeiting the routines and daily rituals that generally keep us sane. Overstatement? Perhaps.

Nevertheless, it's safe to say that at some point during the month ahead we'll all wish we had an elf or two to help us bear the load of our myriad holiday rites and responsibilities. A shopping elf to decipher who receives which sweater, toy, or trinket; an entertaining elf to stock the fridge, place flowers just-so in a vase, and bake the perfect dessert; or, perhaps, a simple handwriting elf, to mail the countless cards with nary the dot of a "i" from us.

While I possess some pretty sleek penmanship, I think it's best if I stick with what I know; therefore, allow me to introduce myself: The name is Om Gal, but for the purposes of your peace of mind this holiday season, I am your "Elf of Health," committed to bringing you one healthy, wholesome, om-savvy, yoga fabulous, fitness-inspired, life-simplifying tip, each day, throughout the holiday season. As always, feel free to add your own tips along the way.

Today's Tip: Volunteer to bring the veggies. Holiday parties don't have to be nutritional land mines, particularly if you have a hand in what's served. Bear in mind that what you eat the other 22 hours of the day has a greater impact on your body than a couple hours at the neighbors' house spent sipping egg nog; however, it's best to temper your indulgences with wholesome choices. If it's a house party, forego toting along a bottle of wine, and bring a large salad instead (include dried cranberries or figs for seasonal flair). Middle-eastern hummus platters are also cost effective and delicious options for feeding a group. Finally, bake crowd favorite No Pudge Brownies, and watch your list of friends multiply. Yes. They are that good. I don't lie about topics as serious as dessert.

Stay tuned for a new tip every day. I'll keep them short and sweet, just like, you know, elves.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

This Is Not A Video

You're smart people. It would be tough for me to dupe you. If I didn't know you so well, I might attempt to coax you into believing that the new video camera that I bought last week has already enhanced all our lives by giving me the ability to post insightful, instructional, and entertaining videos, here, on OmGal.com. I might even ask if you enjoyed Sunday's post, which I spent three hours filming, featuring an effective ab-blasting, yoga-inspired exercise in time for Turkey Day. Or, perhaps you got a chuckle out of my brother, Reece (Om Bro, as he aptly named himself), using our parents' kitchen as a make shift gym on Thanksgiving morning. From your prolific comments (you remember writing those, right?), I gathered that some of you found tricep dips using the kitchen counters quite innovative; others thought we were a bit daft (and you are entitled to think so). I bet you loved today's clip, especially the crafty, DIY types, looking for cheap, eco-chic ideas for holiday gifts or projects for the kids, using mostly recyclable ingredients.

Alas, we are all resigned to a different fate today. Despite three separate, investigative visits to Best Buy, hours of Internet research; incessant polling of people who knew a lot (my pal who heads up the video component on Madonna's tour right now) or next to nothing (the "Geniuses" at Apple- lovely young folks, all, but no help regarding the compatibility of their computers with camcorders); and endless internal debates in my own, limited brain; I clearly landed myself in exactly the predicament I sought to avoid . . . I have a new high-tech toy but can't play with it.

Or, rather, I can play with it; I can take video clips, but then, I'm limited to watching them on the gadget's four-inch screen. Um, sweet.

I'm not sure what the zen lesson is in all this. Perhaps it's don't throw a nutter on the phone with the nice customer service representative (I didn't). Or, life is a journey not a destination, which is fine by me since the files never made it to their final destination- my computer- anyway. Be in the present moment, rather than trying to capture it for eternity on film? I'm still unsure which revelation might deliver me to a state of enlightenment and understanding, so for now, I'm headed back to Best Buy. Wish me luck.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"Hometown Glory"

Sitting in a quaint coffee shop in my hometown, working on a post for Intent.com, I just noticed the following quote on a gift card for sale, "What you are now is what you have been. What you will be is what you are now." I feel absurdly peaceful right now, so that's a good sign. I'll go with it.

And, now, I'll be getting back to my tea and tapping away at the keyboard.

(By the way, the title of this post was borrowed from the title of one of my favorite songs by up and coming artist, Adele. Highly recommend- no wait, insist).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Even Om Gals Get the Blues

Even om gals get the blues on occasion, which is why sometimes we turn to others for a little pick me up. This one came from my brother, channeling one of his former lacrosse coaches. Given the current climate (economic/bleak, weather/dreary), I thought some of you, out there, might appreciate it. Enjoy!

As the great Coach J. once said, "Hey ya know what? Hey ya know what? Don't let those clouds bother you. The clouds are OK. The rain is OK. Know why? Because beyond those clouds . . . The sun's still shining. Oh baby! The sun's still shinin'! You got that Ross?"

"It's Reece."

"Okay Ross, oh baby!"

-Om Bro, Reece Pacheco

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Postures of Gratitude

Certain poses evoke certain feelings. Some make us feel powerful, like Warrior II. Others bring us comfort, such as Child's Pose. Inversions can energize, and hip poses clarify.

So, in light of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I'm wondering which poses give you an "attitude of gratitude." My personal favorites for when I need an outward expression of inward thanks?

Parsvottanasana: This forward bend, particularly with hands in anjali mudra (anjali appropriately means "offering"), evokes an image of bowing and offering gratitude to the world (or, at the very least, the person behind you in yoga class).

Fish Pose: More subtle than other backbends, Fish Pose opens the place in our bodies where gratitude resides, our hearts.

Sivasana: Whether you're grateful for your yoga practice or just the opportunity to rest on the floor afterward, sivasana embodies the essence of yoga, the ability to "still the fluctuations of the mind." And, who wouldn't be grateful for that?

Now, your turn. For which poses are you grateful, or which ones help you express gratitude?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How To Have A Wholesome Holiday

This week, a succinct inquiry arrived at "O.G. H.Q." (otherwise known as the kitchen table, where my laptop resides- it's a complex operation; let me tell you). A one-liner included in a friendly email that wondered aloud, err, in print:

I'm curious how to make the holidays more wholesome.

So, I gave it some thought, hearkened back to my most wholesome holiday experiences, and compiled a few notes. Here's my take on how to make the season of giving a time of year that replenishes rather than depletes and remedy a mistletoe-induced meltdown without snorkeling in a vat of egg nog.

Falling into the Fray Will Fray Your Nerves: While holidays are meant to be shared, yet the constant exposure to crowded malls and festive gatherings of friends, family, coworkers, and the like often leave us needing a reprieve from all the excitement. Temper your commitments to others with opportunities to unwind by yourself or with a like-minded pal. For example, when one of my favorite pals visits her family in Boston from her home in San Francisco, we often bypass cocktails or exchanging fudge and fruitcake in favor of catching up with a yoga class or healthy lunch at our standby Thai restaurant in Cambridge. Ultimately, you need to find holiday activities that allow you to enjoy the season with your pals without losing your sanity by being subjected to constant over-stimulation, over-spending, and over-eating.

Address Expectations: Over-spending provides one of the largest sources of stress during the holiday season. While it’s tempting to stretch our means in the name of impressive gifts, this slippery slope often leads to buyer’s remorse, big bills, and, ugh, resentment. Here’s the bright side, friends: you’re not alone! Chances are many of your would-be recipients feel the seasonal strain too, which is actually a good thing since it can help you both escape the giving gauntlet this year. It’s early enough that you can easily give appropriate people the heads up that you think you should skip gifts and get together for a cookie-baking party, knitting group, nature walk, or Jenga tournament instead. What’s more, you might gather together to do something good for others, like sign up for a 5k race to benefit a charitable cause or log some hours at a local food pantry. It will be a gift you’ll both treasure—way more than yet another scented soap or box of chocolates. Can’t fit the quality time into your schedule or simply love the opportunity to wrap up a thoughtful bauble for your bestie? Define a price limit in advance, and stick to it. The peace of mind will be an additional gift to you both.

Pen Your Present: No matter how large or small the gift, it will have a valuable and lasting impact if accompanied by a thoughtful, hand-written card. (I know, so Martha Stewart of Om Gal). Consider a holiday card a chance to reflect on the last year of your relationship with someone and thank them for all that they give you year-round.

Celebrate the Season, Naturally: Stop buying pine-scented candles and faux green wreaths. Get outside and inhale the natural scent of the season. Bake the cookies from scratch. Indulge in the actual “fruits of the season” by stocking up on pomegranates, clementines, and other festive produce. For entertaining, seasonally appropriate, and healthful recipes via video, check in with my Canadian nutritionist pal, Meghan Telpner, who advocates Making Love in the Kitchen.

Have Silent Nights:
End-of-the-year revelry is expected, and it’s fun! However, you’ll avoid the likelihood of waking up on January 1 with a 2-month-long hangover, countless lost brain cells, an exhausted complexion, and no recollection of what a yoga mat does (Wait, there are other uses for the cushy floor piece than a place to pass out, after a night at the Liberty Hotel?) if you maintain a few nights to yourself sans the bubbly and boisterous atmosphere. Choose a regular yoga class; begin a meditation practice; treat yourself to 20-minutes in the steam room at your health club, or for heaven’s sake, read a book! Cozy up on the couch with your laptop to compile a kickass playlist or start a crafty Etsy-caliber project. Remember: small doses of solo activity will keep you feeling “whole” without missing the merrymaking.

Create Your Own Traditions: My friends and I enjoy a sushi meal on the eve of Christmas Eve each year. I go for a run on Christmas day. New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite days of year to practice yoga. Pick a positive activity that you’ll enjoy over the long-haul; share it with your favorite peeps, and consider making it an annual ritual.

Spend Time With Elves and Wise Men: Whenever you feel a case of the bah-humbugs coming on, spend time with people much younger or older than you. Their bright-eyed cheer or worldly grace will help you reconnect with the soul-nourishing nature of the holidays.

Bamboo, Not Bamboozled:
The holidays feature plenty of dining out and over-indulging, so put a little emphasis on the meals you do cook at home. I love my bamboo steamer, which makes crisp, steamed, nutrient-rich vegetables in a snap (just add the healthy sauce of your choice). Pair with tofu, chicken, or other lean protein, and you have the perfect, well-balanced meal. Don't be duped by the misconception that the holidays require you to abandon your healthy habits. What's more, you can even create new ones.

Feed Your Brain: Delve into a good book while traveling to visit relatives by train or plane. Pick up a new activity, like Acro Yoga or playing the guitar, to kick start the New Year. Take in a performance at the symphony. Seek out ways to keep your mind active and engaged rather than consumed by shopping, visiting, and entertaining.

Warm Your Heart: The best way to feel whole during the holidays and all year-long is to make life a little better, easier, or brighter for the people around you (call it hokey, but it’s the truth). Your gesture doesn’t need to be grand, but it should reflect who you are and what’s important to you. Feel strongly about supporting inner city youth? Find a local organization or charter school and lend a resource (e.g. time, money, ideas). Believe that sports save kids from the streets? Scour through your garage or storage unit and donate your gently worn baseball gloves and lacrosse sticks. Love animals? Offer to walk dogs or cuddle cats at your local ASPCA. Think no one should go to bed with an empty belly? Get thee to The Food Bank, and grab an apron. The options are endless—just like the genuine spirit of the holiday season.

Have a suggestion of your own for how to make the holidays happy and wholesome? Share the love; post a comment!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

6th Annual "Saluting the Spirit" Event



Today, I'm teaching a portion of the 108 sun salutations that participants in this benefit class will complete in support of yogaHOPE and Pathways to Wellness. The event takes place at the Sports Club/LA. Hope to see you there!



[Photo above taken by "Om Bro," at Put Your Money Where Your Mat Is last month.]

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Peeking at the Poses of Others



Last week I joined some pals for a yoga class at Exhale, taught by Amy Leydon, who recently confided that I was one of her first yoga teachers, as many as seven years ago, here, in Boston. Small world, eh? So it was quite a treat to take the yoga journey full circle and attend her upbeat and graceful class, as a student. Moreover, I was happy to join my friends, who are all serious runners, in an activity that I love so much. Throughout the past year, some of them have, in turn, provided running tips, pieces of insight, and motivation- particularly when I was training for Reach the Beach.

With my mat positioned next to Jack and behind Barry, Sarah, and Chris, I enjoyed the experience of being surrounded by friends while absorbed in a solitary activity that, more often than not, provides me with quality introspection. I tuned into my pals only long enough to notice that they weren't nearly as stiff or inexperienced at yoga as they'd let on. In fact, they looked like seasoned students to me.

Still, when class ended and we huddled together, sharing our collective post-sivasana bliss, Jack joked that practicing next to me left him feeling slightly, yogically inadequate by comparison. To which I responded, "Well, if that's the case, none of us would ever bother putting on running shoes again." You see, Jack once won the Boston Marathon. Therefore, if we follow the logic of comparing each other's yoga poses, we could just as easily fall into the trap of comparing our mile paces (not to mention our bodies, bank accounts, and . . . the list goes on) with similarly dissatisfying results.

I believe it was the Buddha (or perhaps a middle school teacher of mine many moons ago), who said, "All unhappiness comes from comparison."

In other words, heaven help us all, if we base our own capacity to lace up a pair of New Balance sneaks and take a trot along the river, bopping to Rihanna while envisioning ourselves crossing the finish line, before being draped in a foil blanket and adorned with a champion's laurel wreath, on the standards set by someone else. Sh*t, why bother we might say?

Yoga, among other things, teaches us to turn inward and turn off the tendency to peer over at our neighbors, sizing up their downward dogs or dancer's poses. It's not an easy task, but it is just as much a part of the practice as lengthening one's hamstrings or steadying one's drishti.

Years ago, I took a workshop with Bryan Kest, who I recall telling the class, "You should not know what the person next to you is wearing [in a yoga class]," which I think is a helpful rule of thumb. Perhaps you admire someone else's level of experience for a moment or you're a beginner who learns visually; however, avoid getting too swept up with anything that's happening anywhere other than on your mat or in your shoes.

Remember, each of us has our own finish line, with a champion's laurel wreath, in just the right size, awaiting us during our own personal moments of triumph.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quote: Kubler-Ross


"People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within."

-Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Monday, November 10, 2008

This Weekend: Bostonians Saluting The Spirit



Moments like this rarely happen in traditional yoga classes . . . Taken at the Global Mala event in Boston in September, the candid shot above shows me (foreground) and two of my favorite gal pals, Chanel Luck of YogaThree and Bonnie Argo, Boston's resident acro-yoga expert, getting a bit silly on our mats. While one could argue that I'm not quite doing yoga, it's evident that I'm still having a ball. Chanel and Bonnie, to their credit, are at least doing or assisting the poses being taught.

When I opened this photo for the first time, yesterday, it immediately made me smile and recall the special day that gathered yogis together around the globe for the benefit of a cause greater than ourselves. Boston's event supported Trees for the Future and the Food Project, and as you can see, the poses we practiced were quite secondary to the fun we had, blessings we shared, and positive energy and intentions we sent toward our brothers and sisters in need.

This weekend, in Boston, another opportunity arises to practice yoga for the benefit of two other, hugely worthwhile causes, YogaHope and Pathways to Wellness. Held at the swanky Sports Club/LA, the sixth annual Saluting the Spirit event, joins together some of the best yoga teachers in the city, for the purpose of creating a memorable practice that raises funds to support wellness, yoga, and holistic health programs for those in need. I'm teaching alongside many friends and countless respected colleagues, including but not limited to Chanel, Coeli Marsh, Roman Szpond, Jane Cargill, Taylor Wells, and Sue Jones.

This class will lead students through the symbolic and challenging practice of 108 Sun Salutations [No, I didn't stutter. Yes, you CAN do it], and I can guarantee moments like the one caught above- where the poses are secondary, if not almost irrelevant- will abound. I hope you'll join us for the fun, fundraising, and collective saluting of all our spirits.

[Photo taken by Deborah Perkins.]

Om Gal Joins the Patriots for the Pre-Game Stretch



Whether you're headed out for a run, preparing to take your squash opponent to school, or limbering up for the season opener of the company bowling league, you likely have a preferred pre-game stretch, a few signature moves and motions that help you loosen up and get ready to play. My pro-golfer pal, Joe Horowitz, uses twisting poses to simulate his swing, for example. Meanwhile, you can find my friend, Karen Fabian, an avid runner, in viparita karani before a race. Professional cyclist and regular OmGal.com reader J. Alain Ferry opts for lunges as a way to fire up the muscles in his legs before the starting gun fires. New England Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson cops to Om Gal that he's not a big stretcher, but he's mindful about lengthening his hamstrings with plenty of forward bends before a game, ideally with the help of a teammate or trainer to get a deeper stretch.

For football players, like Watson and his team, pre-game poses of choice depend upon the position of the player. Receivers, such as Watson and, say, Randy Moss, also benefit from twists, to mimic the game-time action of reaching around, receiving a catch, and then, continuing a forward motion. Offensive lineman, given their need to be very grounded and low to the earth, are best served by standing poses, like warriors and utkatasana- which appropriately translates to mean "powerful pose." For defensive players, I might recommend balancing asanas, forward bends, and some protective work for the shoulders. Likewise, a quarterback would benefit from shoulder work, hip postures such as pigeon (which also serve to protect precious knees), and some pranayama to boot. Think about: if you were about to endure four hours of the biggest, strongest, fastest men on the planet trying to clobber you at full speed- you'd need to spend some pre-game time breathing deeply too.

So, what's your favorite way to limber up?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hey Yoga Teacher, Play That Funky Music

When it comes to playing music during yoga classes, students and teachers tend to have a jukebox rotation's worth of differing opinions, preferences, and advice. Some vehemently swear against it on the grounds that music provides a distraction from meditation- a mental crutch- while others see their playlists as extensions of their teaching talents and an added resource for helping students to achieve a certain mind/body experience.

Both sides have a point. Students shouldn't need a soundtrack to achieve yogic bliss. Instead, the breath, known as prana, serves to set the pace of the practice and lull the mind into a meditative state. Teachers, too, need to be able to engage a class and deliver a memorable, inspirational, and effective sequence without the help of Krishna Das or Durga Das or Madonna Das. (OK, so I got carried away with the Das). In short, there is no substitution for the experience of stripping away all extraneous stimulants (the chatter of other people, cell phones, TVs, radios, iPods, etc.) and connecting to sound of one's own breath, on a yoga mat, with no agenda other than being in the present moment and appreciating its potential.

On the other hand, I don't think anyone denies that music is a powerful form of expression, capable of setting a mood and evoking specific thoughts and feelings. How often have you heard a piece of music and felt transported emotionally? In its most basic form, music is a transmission of energy; it's a vibration. It can literally move us, which is why it comes in handy when you're absorbed in an activity that involves- you guessed it- movement.

I'm not one for insisting upon stringent rules when it comes to peoples' teaching styles or personal preferences during class, and to borrow the oft-used phrase and title of a book written by a fellow yogi and Intent.com contributor, who also happens to be the CEO of Def Jam Records, Russell Simmons, you need to "Do You!" In other words, march to the beat of your own drum (or lack thereof) while on the mat.

My love for music is well documented; however, when teaching, I typically use music only under special circumstances, such as lengthy workshops or private retreats, for example. I cut my teeth as a yoga teacher by working in health clubs, which often present many acoustic and environmental challenges (like, say, the Tae Bo class in the studio next door or the blaring techno music on the gym floor), so I frequently used music to help camouflage the disruptive noise around us (get this- I used cassette tapes back then!). Later, I taught at a studio that prohibited music during classes. As in, play the music, and you can expect that whatever tune you play will be your swan song . . . Buh-bye. As a result, I am comfortable teaching with or without a soundtrack. Nevertheless if those of you who are teachers decide to play that funky music, here are a few tips to consider:

1.) Never allow the music to undermine your ability to create a meaningful experience for your students. In other words, have control of your class, first, before relinquishing the energetic reigns to Madonna and the like. As a general guideline, begin class with silence and pepper in your chosen jams when appropriate.

2.) Be sure the music matches the movement. Don't expect your students to have a restful sivasana if you're bumpin' No Doubt during it. Similarly, pick upbeat music for sun salutations and other energizing asanas.

3.) Bear in mind that not everyone loves your taste in music as much as you do. This is tough to swallow for all of us, but just because you think the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the rock n' roll equivalent of a Tibetan gong (ah, the sound of pure zen), doesn't mean your students will. Take their sensibilities into account. Approach your playlists from the standpoint of aiming to enhance the students' experience rather than entertaining yourself with your latest iPod masterpiece.

Yogis: Let's hear your take. Do you like to practice in silence or with a soundtrack? Teachers: Do you play music, and if so, what's on heavy rotation right now?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Quote: Goethe

Before you can do something, you must first be something.
-Goethe

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Quote: Bhagavad Gita


"A lamp does not flicker where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi, who controls his mind, intellect, and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him. When the restlessness of the mind, intellect, and self is stilled through the practice of yoga, the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfillment."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Night at the Museum



A scary surgeon, a blue-haired rock star, and Cleopatra at last night's Institute of Contemporary Art fete . . . I hope everyone enjoyed the spooky day. Have a candy hangover? Try twisting poses (gently!). How about a good old fashion hangover-hangover? Try viparita karani and drink-lots-of-water asana.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumpkin Soup From My Pals


Happy Halloween!

What better way to celebrate the kookiest holiday on Earth than with an earthy, healthful recipe for pumpkin soup? For this, I'm deferring to my friends north of the border, Canadian nutritionist and disarmingly charming fellow blogger Meghan Telpner and her dad, a topnotch advertising executive, who crossed paths with Om Gal en France and was duly converted into a dedicated yogi on the spot. However, for the purposes of their Halloween themed video clip, they're "cat burglars." Enjoy, and please share your thoughts if you give the recipe a try. I'd make it myself, but my pumpkin was stolen two nights ago. Dangerous neighborhood for a pumpkin, you know?

Click here for the entertaining clip and uber easy recipe.

[Postscript: If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of Rebecca Pacheco's pumpkin, please post a comment or email askomgal@gmail.com].

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Quote: Thoreau


"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this."

-Henry David Thoreau

Monday, October 27, 2008

Broken Can Be Good


One morning, not long ago, I pulled my sweatshirt over my head, caught my mala bracelet in the sleeve, snapped the elastic, and watched the beads shoot into the air, shower down onto the hardwood floor, and scatter beneath the bed, radiator, and dresser. A mala bracelet, as you may know, is a talisman of sorts. The word "mala" translates to mean prayer, so they're prayer beads, in effect. Similar to a rosary, only, admittedly, more en vogue.

When mine broke, leaving me to crawl under the bed, helplessly collecting all the beads I could find (those suckers caught some serious air!), I immediately wondered whether it was a good sign or a terrible one. Auspicious or ominous? Was it an indication that my prayers had been answered or God was surely smiting me? So, I settled this spiritual quandary in the most practical way that any om gal could fathom. I sent a text message to my pal, Chanel. Given that I purchased the bracelet at last month's Global Mala event, which she organized, I thought she might be able to help.

"Eek, my global mala bracelet broke! Good luck or God smiting me??" I rapid-fire texted, adding multiple question marks to punctuate the seriousness of my situation.

Fortunately, Chanel, being the come-through-in-the-clutch friend that she is (she once broke into my apartment for me, after I locked myself out), promptly responded, "LOL. Good sign. When the mala breaks, it means its medicine has done its job."

Well, thank heavens! I was bracing myself for seven years of bad luck and the need to stock up on lots of sea salt, to throw over my left shoulder (or is it the right?) in any moment that warranted it.

TIME OUT: As I finished typing that sentence a LADY BUG just landed on the floor next to me! Talk about auspicious. People, I can't make this stuff up.

OK, where was I? Oh yes, broken bracelets . . . Here's the crux of what I'm trying to say: sometimes broken things are positive. Granted, our initial reaction is always to scurry around on all fours, trying to recover the pieces, but what if we surveyed and respected the wreckage, instead? Isn't life a constant dance between destruction and creation anyway? And, what better lesson than to understand that when something shatters, like a relationship or the economy, for example, it might not necessarily be a bad thing. In fact, it just might be a sign of positive things to come- the universe's way of assuring us that certain baubles, ideals, or life paths no longer serve us.

However, if you insist on scurrying under the bed, perhaps you'll at least consider grabbing a flashlight when venturing into that dim territory.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thank You, Yogis!

A huge heartfelt THANK YOU to the yogis who supported Roxbury Prep yesterday! After the workshop, I requested that yogis send along their thoughts on the experience, if they felt inclined. Here's the first piece of feedback I received, last night, following the festivities:

You asked for feedback, so I wanted to share. I thought class was amazing. I've heard so many great things about your teaching but unfortunately I hadn't found the yoga community until after you "retired." So I feel blessed that I was able to take class with you today. I have to say my favorite part was your sense of humor. It made yoga even more fun than usual. My second favorite was your music selections. I've definitely never taken yoga with fun, modern music that I was familiar with. But more importantly, I was able to do poses today that I've never done before and never thought I would be able to do. I'm not sure if it was the motivation of the room and you or if it was just the right moment, but whatever it was, it was perfect. Thank you so much for doing this and supporting the schools in our community. I volunteer for the Big Sister Organization and I can see no better charity than children. I hope you do many many more of these workshops.

-A fellow om gal, via askomgal@gmail.com.

Did you attend Put Your Money Where Your Mat Is? Feel free to post your own comments here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Raffle Winners at Today's Workshop

Winner 1: 2031055

Winner 2: 2031080

Winner 3: 2031014

Winner 4: 2031085

Email me @ askomgal@gmail.com

Friday, October 24, 2008

It Takes A Village!

Thank you in advance to the people and organizations that helped orchestrate and support tomorrow’s workshop (and talked me down from the ledge when I wasn’t sure we could pull it off).

I am thrilled to teach a creative and uplifting class for such a great cause and among so many big-hearted yogis. If you’re planning to attend, be sure to bring your own mat and block. Parking is available onsite. The uber-easy directions are available on Roxbury Prep’s website. Walk ins are welcome, but only those who have signed up in advance can be guaranteed spots.

Before we do any yoga, I need to bow down and say “Namaste” to the following om pals:

Reece Pacheco, Overtime Media
Julie Joyal Mowschenson
Jami Therrien & Will Austin, Roxbury Prep.
Cynthia Pham Gordon
Elena Taurasi
Lauren Morgado
Lauren Clark
Coeli Marsh, Inner Strength
Roman Szpond, Inner Strength
Emily Phillips
Chanel Luck, YogaThree
Abby Erdmann
Jenn Welch
Kirsten Watson, One More
David Pearlstein, New England Patriots
J. Alain Ferry, Unlose.It
Robin Hauck, Misstropolis.com
Marlo Fogelman, Marlo Marketing & Communications
Julie Parker, Mosaica Bead Co.
The Loft
The Movement Center of Boston
Fireside Catering
Lululemon
Equinox Fitness
Boston magazine

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tips for Teachers: Part II

At the grand opening party of the Life in Synergy Studio in Boston this week, I ran into an aspiring yoga teacher and OmGal.com reader who mentioned that she enjoyed an August post called Tips for Teachers. Turns out, there's more where that came from. Here are a few additional rules of the road that have come to mind. You'll notice that they're more ideological than technical, this time, because I think both types of feedback are useful. Please feel free to add your own insight by posting a comment.

Practice What You Preach: Of course, this is easier said than done, but I firmly believe that how you conduct your life off the mat is just as significant, if not more so, than whether you can develop a sweet sequence of poses or recite the Bhagavad Gita during class. Sadly, there are lots of yoga teachers who fail to "walk the walk." They might laud compassion in one breath and speak hateful words with the next or chastise students for the same very behaviors in which they engage when no one is looking. Yet, yoga teachers are human too, so none of this should be surprising. Nevertheless, if you want to teach yoga, your aim should be to live it- with your words, thoughts, and deeds.

Speaking of deeds, engage in spiritual politeness and spiritual activism: Two esteemed teachers shared those terms with me recently; Patricia Walden coined the first, while Lama Surya Das introduced the second in his keynote address at this year's Global Mala event. Neither needs a definition as their meanings are intuitive. Get a jump start on your spiritual activism by attending this weekend's workshop, Put Your Money Where Your Mat Is, at the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School (near the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).

Honor the Tradition: Yoga is several thousands of years old. It originated in India. Its purpose is not solely to chisel your butt cheeks (my apologies if this comes as a shock). If you want to teach yoga, you simply have to pay homage to the yogis, luminaries, seekers, and sages that came before you. You don't have to agree with them. You don't have to make your poses look like theirs, but you need to acknowledge their teachings and acquaint yourself with the origins of this sacred art. Think of yourself as an artist, chef, or scientist. Before you re-write the rules, you need to study the classics, learn the fundamentals, and understand the work of your predecessors.

Set Healthy Boundaries: Yoga can be pretty touchy-feely; [meaning, closeness is fostered among strangers quickly; either because there can be a mere postage stamp-width separation between your mat and someone else's or the personal nature of themes and feelings often discussed in a studio setting- thank you, Juan, for the prompt to clarify], which is fine. However, the openness of the environment should never be misused or abused. You, as a yoga teacher, set the tone for the class and studio. If you're giving some chicky in the front row googly eyes (again), you better believe you're generating a certain, ahem, undercurrent. If teaching yoga is going to be your profession, treat it as such. Act professional.

Support Your Peeps: It's a shame when yoga teachers go all "downward dogfight" on each other. Instead of undermining one another, talk up your colleagues, trade ideas, and help each other grow- not just within your own studio but across studios, styles, and state lines. You don't benefit from discouraging students from studying with other teachers; instead, you appear territorial and insecure, and you dilute the path of your students' study.

Infuse Poses With Purpose: Make sure each pose that you choose has a purpose, and infuse the flow of your sequence with a sense of purpose as well. Don't worry about waxing poetic or providing the perfect assist. Have a plan for your class, and enjoy the way you build it before the eyes of your students. Your job is to give them an enlightening experience from start to finish. To that end, you need to be mindful of how the class is developing at all times. Avoid languishing in an asana too long for little to no reason; skip flourishes that aren't built upon the fundamentals, and, above all, communicate consciously. Explain the purpose of a pose, and occasionally tie that purpose to a larger theme. It's the best way to help students unite their minds, bodies, and souls, which is, coincidentally, the objective of yoga.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jason Varitek Wants You To Go To My Workshop on Saturday



OK, so that headline is hugely misleading. In fact, it's an outright lie- at least, to my knowledge. (But, you never know; Tek might be a huge OmGal follower, who really does think you should attend my workshop this weekend). Truth be told, I thought I'd share this photo, which I snapped of the Red Sox captain, tonight, at a charity event for Kevin Youkilis Hits for Kids, as a means of piquing your attention on behalf of another great cause, the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, the beneficiary of this weekend's workshop.

In addition to a challenging and uplifting yoga class to support local inner city youth, this workshop, Put Your Money Where Your Mat Is, will also feature a few additional perks that I'd like to mention:

Jason Varitek will be there! OK, sorry, I'm fibbing again . . . But my brother will be. That's gotta count for something, right?

Each yogi receives a gift bag containing fabulous, little treats.

Raffle prizes, include:
-An Equinox spa package and complimentary 1-month membership.
-Gift certificates to some of the best local restaurants.
-A beauty package from award-winning Newbury Street salon, The Loft.

Signing up via Pay Pal is the best way to ensure your spot in the class; however, walk-ins are welcome (first-come; first-served). Please bring your own mat, towel, and block. Directions are available on the Rox Prep website. The school is about 1-mile away from the Museum of Fine Arts. Shoot me a line if you have any questions.

See you there!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Om Gal Inquires: What Brings You Clarity?



When seeking answers to life's big questions, we all have our preferred approaches. Some venture into the woods- others, the watering hole. Many retreat into solitude; some conduct running polls of their friends, family members, and, even, the trusted bartender at said watering hole. Different individuals and situations prompt different needs for adequate reflection and evaluation. What are yours? Where do you go for an infusion of clarity- the mountains, a beach-front sanctuary, a local park or garden, church? Whom or what do you bring along- a book, a journal, a straight-shooting pal, your loyal canine companion?

I tend to retreat inward. Usually my yoga mat comes along, and most often, I have my most profound moments of "Ah-ha" (the sound of an epiphany, not the 80s band) when I'm surrounded by nature. The fresh air makes me breathe deeper, listen more carefully, and think through the issues rattling around in my brain with fewer obstructions.

What do you do? Where do you go?

Om Gal On The Farm


I just finished teaching a 2-hour session to some treasured om galpals in this "yoga studio," formerly the dairy on this farm, at which we are staying and creating a retreat. Our playlist included the Jackson 5, Matisyahu, Jack Johnson, Madonna, and many more. The uplifting and invigorating sequence featured anuloma pranayama, lots of fabulous flow, arm balances, and happy hips, including gomukasana or "cow face pose," which is quite fitting on a farm, in a converted dairy, no?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Om Gal Positively Giddy: Go Sox!



Last night's historic Fenway celebration (no team within the last 79 years had overcome a 7-run deficit to win a playoff game) as it erupted. Some fans missed the revelry since they filed out of the ballpark in the 7th inning, with dashed hopes.

Lesson learned: No matter how grim it gets; never give up. And, never leave Fenway in the 7th inning in October . . .

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Economic Crisis: This is Your Time To Be A Yogi

My first yoga teacher was fond of saying something to the following affect, "Anyone can meditate in a quiet room with scented candles; the question is whether you can meditate in the midst of chaos, when it all really hits the fan."

Presumably, we can count the current economic crisis as an example of the aforementioned you-know-what hitting the fan. People losing their homes, banks collapsing, the stock market crumbling, the value of the U.S. dollar vanishing before our eyes, stable jobs transforming into the contents of a cubicle or corner office emptied into a cardboard box overnight- suffice to say it's getting a little wacky out there. It's enough to make any guy or gal anxious. Compound all this economic ageda with the idea-nay, the fact- that we are still at war, and it's downright panic-inducing.

However, you simply cannot put panic in the driver's seat. What good is any spiritual practice- be it yoga or meditation or playoff baseball- if it doesn't provide a source of steadiness during times of uncertainty? I don't know about you, but my spirit is relatively low-maintenance while traipsing through life on a gloriously sunny day, after having just finished a dish of gelato and crouching down to pet a puppy.

I agree. Panicking is justified- natural, even. But, it's not the only way, and frankly, it's not the most effective way. This is not to say that you should bury your head in the sand and convince yourself that everything is groovy. That's disingenuous and, if left unchecked, dangerous.

The best approach to chaos is to see it clearly. Take it all in. Assess the situation for yourself and your family. By all means, inform yourself, but don't let the economic climate taint your entire world-view. Countless people before us have weathered worse. You, in your lifetime, have probably weathered worse. Being a force of positivity and light in the world doesn't mean that you ignore difficult situations. Rather, take them and transform them into moments of opportunity. Delve deeper into your spiritual practice, encourage the people around you who feel defeated, get more savvy with your own goals and intentions, be creative with the resources you already have, teach the next generation how to be resilient and resolution-focused.

An Hopi elder once said,"We are the ones we've been waiting for," which, to me, is the ultimate statement of power, positivity, and, yes, pragmatism.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Om Gal Gets You to Yoga This Week


People talk to me about yoga . . . a lot. Over dinner, at birthday parties, at the gym, in the doctor's office, on airplanes, at Red Sox games, etc. They ask for pointers on poses, inquire about whether I can put my leg around my head, and ask if I can do Pose A that they saw in Movie B. Next, they might request that I teach them to do Pose X that they saw in Magazine Y. They coo that they loooove their yoga teachers or gripe that they can't stand them and, therefore, stopped going to class. I'm questioned, confided in, and entrusted with precious, personal information. Yes, it's perfectly okay to cry during class. Perhaps you should lay off the chili?

Most often, my confidantes- friends and strangers, alike- lament that they simply don't have time to get to a yoga class. They have children and jobs and commutes. Some need to save money; others are intimidated by other challenges and obstacles real or imagined.

Believe me when I say, I hear you. I'll save you the details of how I've recently questioned whether it's possible that I left my brain at the baggage claim in France. I've double and triple-booked myself so many times of late that I'm beginning to wonder if I have multiple personality disorder- except, of all the intriguing things a few alter egos could do, they decide to overlap meetings? C'mon, I'd like to think they'd be more creative than that . . .

For over-programmed, multi-tasking, hereandthereandeverywhere yogis, I often suggest starting small by weaving a few poses, per day, into their lives. Yet, even this can be daunting, if you're not sure where to start. I recommend starting with what you know: child's pose, downward dog, 1/2 pigeon, then, call it a day. Don't get tripped up by fancy sequencing. Just practice a few asanas that feel good.

Here's a quick sequence (about 20-30 minutes) that I created in France, which you might try this week, when getting to yoga class seems unlikely. It's particularly nice if you've been swimming upstream, chasing your tail, or running on fumes lately. It also happens to be an effective post-workout/run/bike stretch, since it focuses primarily on the hips.

Anuloma pranayama

Upavista/Parsva/Pavivrtta Konasana: Essentially, this is a seated straddle-leg stretch with feet flexed. Reach to one side, the center, and then the other side. To access a wonderful stretch along the side of your body, reach overhead, toward one foot).

Prasarita (twisting is optional).

Pivot to your left and lunge deeply. Do your favorite lunging variation, back knee is resting on the floor; hips sink down (hold 5-10 breaths).

Pivot to your right and lunge.

Return to center (prasarita) but interlace your fingers behind your back this time.

Standing 1/2 pigeon.

1 sun salutation A, lowering from chattarunga to lie down, on your belly.

Danurasana (3 repetitions).

Downward dog.

Lie down on your back.

Abdominal sequence of your choice.

Supta baddha konasana.

Reclining half pigeon.

Supine twist.

Sivasana.

Have a fail-proof pose or sequence of your own? Post it here.

Quote: The Soul

"The soul is not a physical entity, but instead refers to everything about us that is not physical- our values, memories, identity, sense of humor. Since the soul represents the parts of the human being that are not physical, it cannot get sick; it cannot die; it cannot disappear. In short, the soul is immortal."

-Harold Kushner

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Marky Mark, Make Us Laugh!



Within the canon of sacred yogic texts, this SNL sketch has no relevance. It won't usher you to the doorstep of enlightenment or improve your asanas in any discernible way. However, it will make you laugh, which is something we should never overlook. Enjoy!