Monday, April 28, 2008

Greatest Hits

I've learned a lot about you recently. You, being the reader. I've learned that you find a few yoga poses totally loathsome and certain books utterly lovable. Many of you are humorous. Some profound. All candid. Your insights are refreshing, your questions thoughtful, your wit engaging.

It's just a shame that I am often the only one who gets to enjoy your insight. So, here's a selection of some of my favorite pieces of feedback and inquiries directed to I've concealed identities but encourage you to keep sending your input, posting your thoughts, and asking great questions.

Some of the site's greatest hits:

"I sometimes tell folks. Yoga is to India as U2 is to Ireland. Originally
from one country, but now the property of the universe. No?"

-A Friend from India

"Just read the blog comment recommending M. Oliver's "Wild Geese." A former student, on hearing of my diagnosis two years ago, cut this poem out, pasted it to the front of a blank postcard and mailed it to me, hand decorated with little scrolls in brown ink. It was so powerful that I actually recite it while my "head" is literally trapped in the MRI machines up at Brigham, and lots of other times too. A great, longish mantra."

-A Former English Teacher

"Took Karen's bootcamp today at Charlestown yoga and was introduced to my new least favorite pose, Bird of Paradise, which I shall lovingly refer to as Vulture pose as I felt like falling over and dying at that point in the class. Seriously- legs, one up and one down- arms bound behind the back and beneath the thigh/knee and back straight!?! I didn't think it could be done, but I just watched an Internet video on it leading me now to conclude that there are aliens out there posing as yogis . . . "

-A Yogi, Runner, & Thoughtful Reader

"I very much dislike half pigeon. Especially when the instructor pushes you to bend forward and put your forehead to your mat. I see the red light telling me to stop almost every single time I do this pose. Disclaimer: I also happen to not care for real flying pigeons on the street. This may be a factor as to why I can't stand this pose."

-Comical Reader "Kate"

"The first cut is the deepest; the darkest hour is just before dawn, and the first step is the hardest. Get your shoes on and out the door- the rest will take care of itself."

- Running Coach & Former Winner of the Boston Marathon

Thursday, April 24, 2008

How Does Your Garden Grow?

"Every single one of us at birth is given an emotional acre all our own. You get one, your awful Uncle Phil gets one, I get one, Tricia Nixon gets one. And as long as you don't hurt anyone, you really get to do with your acre as you please. You can plant fruit trees or flowers or alphabetized rows of vegetables, or nothing at all. If you want your acre to look like a giant garage sale , or an auto-wrecking yard, that's what you get to do with it. There's a fence around your acre, though, with a gate, and if people keep coming onto your land and sliming it or trying to get you to do what they think is right, you get to ask them to leave. And they have to go, because this is your acre."

- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Pose You Can Part With

Okay, the jig is up. I love yoga. It's well documented, but I have my quirks. There are a few, select poses that I could stand to obliterate from the yoga canon with zero remorse. Well, actually, maybe just one. Camel [right].

I have a friend who loathes tree pose the way most people loathe the center seat on a crowded airplane while flanked by a crying baby and someone who brought their own tuna sandwich.

Sometimes, there are justifiable reasons for why we dislike certain poses. For me, camel doesn't provide anything that other, more enjoyable, less painful backbends do. Sometimes, it's purely emotional. For a time, triangle pose made a fellow teacher friend of mine want to run out of the room, which is a bit of an occupational hazard for a yoga teacher. She's over that now, proving that there's probably hope for the rest of us too. The bottom line is that our tastes change, and yoga poses are no different. The key is to stay open-minded, find something enjoyable about the posture, or modify it. Running out of the room is not recommended.

What's your least favorite yoga pose and why?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Running List: 6 Rules of the Road

I've never run a marathon- not yet, at least. Still, my love of running stretches across many years and miles and through lots of well-worn sneakers. I'd characterize it as an on-again, off-again love affair, usually contingent upon the weather, and at this time of year, I'm completely smitten. In my head, my jaunts along the Charles River, around Castle Island, and on Cape Cod tend to get philosophic, given the scenery and newly breaking weather. I was feeling particularly reflective on Monday, following the Boston Marathon, so I started making a mental list of the life lessons I've learned as a runner and enthusiastic spectator of other runners (yes, friends, that was me, who scaled a lamp post on Comm. Ave to get a better view as you trekked past, en route to the finish line).

Lesson #1: Running from your problems is healthy. I started running from mine around the time that problems loom pretty large, freshman year of high school. At the time, I didn't go far- a couple miles to start- but it was enough to provide some much needed distance from the stuff that made me anxious or glum (also known as, being a teenager, come to find out). I can't recall what I used to think about, but I know that by the time I returned home, most of what bugged me had dissipated. I still run to sort out my thoughts and find it to be a meditative process. I don't actually believe that I'm running from my troubles as much as I am hurdling over them, learning to leave them far behind . . . until I am just a tiny speck waving at them from a distance.

Lesson #2: Tread lightly upon the Earth. If you run among nature (i.e. outdoors), chances are you contemplate it on occasion. Maybe you're not drafting sonnets in your melon as you hightail it through the Common, but you've, no doubt, soaked in a sunset or two, observed new leaves or blossoms, or inhaled deeply while passing said blossoms. I find that running and walking are great ways to connect to the Earth, appreciate it, and revisit how we can help preserve it. This weekend, I used my old running shoes to help protect the environment- by recycling them, of course! Simply drop off your unwanted kicks at Niketown. Any brand is permissible, Nike or not. It's a small gesture, but you'll feel lighter for having done it- so light, in fact, that it might be tough to discern whether you're running faster due to the new sneakers you'll inevitably buy or the good deed afforded by your old ones.

Lesson #3: Invest in the success of others. Boston's current reign as the best sports city on the planet is well documented (Take that, NYC Gal). However, while watching several friends and thousands of strangers achieve their goals of running the marathon, I was reminded of how much we excel as spectators as well. At any crucial point along the marathon course, people watching the race become completely invested in the success of total strangers. If a runner begins to cramp and visibly lose heart in Kenmore Square, the entire block erupts in cheers to help fuel him/her along. It's an amazing demonstration of intention and energy. Suddenly, people find themselves wholly committed to helping unknown, sweaty, and near delirious runners dig deep into their own reserves and draw out some remnant of energy to propel them to the end. What's more, the marathoner isn't the only beneficiary. Consider: what if you treated the dreams of others (even strangers) with as much care and concern as you do your own?

Lesson #4: Share the road. Sure, some days tunnel vision is comforting and necessary. We gaze straight ahead and preserve our energy by avoiding the distractions around us. Yet, it can also be reinvigorating to share this portion of your day with others. Wave to your neighbor retrieving the paper; chuckle at the disobedient dog who insists on following you, not his owner; smile at a fellow athlete braving the early morning hours or relishing the last ones of dusk. Sharing enhances our lives. We learned it in pre-school; we just tend to forget it as adults.

Lesson #5: Boost your own mood. You can seek external forces, but, ultimately, "Happiness is an inside job." Call it endorphins, a "runner's high," or the satisfaction of fitting into your favorite jeans; running makes you happy. Don't believe me? Try it. A total rookie? Even better! Start by running 5 minutes and walking 10. The next time out, run 10; walk 5. Build up your running minutes steadily. Soon, you'll feel your confidence do the same.

Lesson #6: Keep it simple. Lots of sports require lots of gear. Running is as simple and pure as it gets. Buy great shoes; get moving.

Congratulations to my friends Jennelle, Jack, Chris, Mike, Matt, Kevin, Jason, Di, Amy, and everyone on the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Running Team.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Do You Walk the Walk?

"All know the way; few actually walk it."


Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Treat For Your Feet

You may recall that I recently bought a pair of TOMS shoes (not the ones at left, though, those are Tiny TOMS- insanely cute, right?), by which a pair was also given to a child in need. If not, here's the post.

Perhaps you're considering getting a pair or 2, or 12? If so, enter the following code at checkout and receive $5 off your purchase:



Monday, April 14, 2008

Zen and the Art of Relationships

It’s often been said that death and taxes are the only things in life of which we can be certain; however, I’m willing to bet that relationship woes could be added to the list with little objection from anyone. I won’t pretend to solve this age-old conundrum in a blog post, but you asked, so I weigh in.

O.G. Recent Reader Query: Can you talk about the concept of [Buddhist] non-attachment as it relates to relationships? I have trouble with that.

Hmmm. Where do I begin? It’s as though you’ve asked me simultaneously to recite the alphabet, with which I feel very comfortable, and the contents of the entire periodic table in reverse alphabetical order, in Mandarin Chinese, while balancing in headstand, on a raft in the Pacific, which would require a lot of time and additional tutoring, not to mention a raft.

Let’s start with the truth- which tends to be the best place- everyone has trouble with their level of attachment in relationships. Some can’t quite surrender themselves enough to be fully committed, while others swan-dive in with abandon, and, typically, the thing that is abandoned is themselves.

We’ve all watched this happen from the outside. Your girlfriend who meets a guy at a bar and plans their inevitable honeymoon during the cab ride home (again). Or, your pal who finds fault with his female companions before they’ve had a chance to open up and be real people (you know, as opposed to the I-have-no-problems-graceful-laid-back-gals-who-don’t-snore-or-argue-with-their-families-and-always-make-brownies-on-Sundays variety, which can survive for up to the first six months of a dating). From our rational and removed posts as friends, we see it all happening as if in slow motion. We understand combing through banal emails for any sign of hidden meaning and the terror of being a real person, who snores and is ornery at times, in front of another real person, who snores and is ornery at times, and so, therefore, remains guarded and vapid, seeking other people who are guarded and vapid. We don’t fault these friends. We love them. We talk them through their obsessions; we advise but not too much; we reassure. We know the outcome of the game, but we encourage them to suit up anyway. Because we recognize that, eventually, they’ll figure it out, and the time on the field will be well spent. Every loss, a lesson. Every fumble, an opportunity to find more finesse.

Yet, when we’re the ones in love (or lust, or like), we lose it. Some heartless bastard bulldozes the lofty perch of logic afforded to us by the friend perspective. We feel ourselves becoming obsessed and deranged, ambivalent and self-absorbed, and we wonder . . . “WTF?”

So, here it is . . . my one, accessible, insightful piece of advice on this topic, as best I can figure it: Be a better friend to yourself.

The Buddhist principle of non-attachment does not mean that we keep people at arm’s length in order to avoid possible suffering. It means we objectively watch ourselves in our interactions with others. We look after ourselves just as we would a good friend. We’re clear-thinking and kind, forthright and forgiving. We enjoy relationships for what they are, in a given moment, rather than where we think they might go in the future, as a result of our previous hopes or hurts.

To put this into practice, consider how you might treat yourself if you were your own trusted confidante. Would you advise against the “drunk dialing?” To what level would you tolerate wallowing? At what point does one, gently, say, “Move on, honey?” How would you look upon yourself? Probably with much more compassion and clarity- which is exactly the idea.

Spring, Skin-Baring Stress Solved

Warmer weather signals the necessity to rotate our winter wardrobes and break out the lighter layers. For some, it also brings varying levels of anxiety, typically originating from perceived pallor and/or flabbiness and the shock that can come with new fashion trends. Admit it, you initially cringed when skinny jeans and tulip-bottomed skirts appeared in your favorite stores a few short seasons ago.

First, pallor can be addressed overnight. Proceed to your local pharmacy or cosmetic counter and pick up a moisturizer that contains a bronzing agent, like Jergen's natural glow. Slather it on before bed. Pesky nightmares of shorts and swimsuits should dissolve within days.

Second, listen to me, here; this is important: YOU ARE NOT FLABBY. Even if you feel less toned than you would like to be, no good comes out of you looking shamefully upon your body. Drive less; walk more. Pepper your workout with some sensible weight-lifting. Throw in a few sets of push ups or sit ups on the sly during TV commercial breaks. Make warrior pose your new best friend.

Finally, wear clothes that make you feel good. Choose colors and shapes that flatter your body. Discard last season's trendy clingers-on, and focus on the beauty of the season rather than the breadth of your wardrobe.

Bonus: Need a simple, waist-whittling abdominal exercise to get started?
-Sit on the floor, knees bent, feet flat, arms reaching straight overhead. Lift your feet off the ground and lean back slightly. Start to pedal your legs, as if riding a recumbent bicycle. Pedal for one minute; change directions; repeat.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Entertaining Om-Style

O.G.’s B.F.F. recently had her first baby (my god-son) and celebrated her first birthday as a new mom. Given the happy chaos that comes with a newborn, I felt it my duty to host a fabulous fete fit for all—mom, baby, her single pals in the city, fellow young moms with little ones, and one mom whose lovely little girl is no longer very little but, instead, a somewhat smaller but equally insightful and joyful companion to all of us. It’s an inspiring collection of women, who all intersected, at various stages, in a yoga studio. Husbands and boyfriends, though loved dearly, were banished for the day.

Past celebrations for my friend have included trips to Miami, elaborate dinners at uber-cool Boston restaurants, and chilled champagne sipped on Miami Beach or at an uber-cool Boston restaurant. So, what I’m saying, here, is that the bar was set high, in my mind, at least. My friend insisted that anything resembling the merriment of the past was unnecessary. Nevertheless, I was determined to create a party that reconnected her with her pre-baby, sociable self, while being mindful of the new set of circumstances—you know, the kind that require stroller parking, meltdown management capabilities, and lightning quick access to a diaper-changing area, napping area, sink, trashcan, etc. Plus, I had a limited budget, so annexing a chic restaurant for the day was out of the question, not to mention asking a nice waitress to wash off the pacifier that would, likely, fall, err, be thrown on the floor, thirty-two times in the span of two hours. (This is an approximation, of course). So, I started with what I knew, which was the following:

Come hell or high water; there would be champagne.

Not because this group needs champagne or imbibes more than two glasses, each, at a pop (yogis are notorious for having extremely low tolerance levels), but because it says something festive and celebratory about an occasion. It’s a perfunctory way of saying, “You may have traded in that sassy handbag from Saks for one that schleps diapers, but you are still a sparkling, bubbly glamazon.”

Next, I needed a menu that was easy [O.G.’s catering skills and time are limited], cost-efficient [O.G.s budget is slender], healthful [Om gals don’t do nachos, people], and fun. Check it out for yourself; post a comment if you’d like me to share any of the recipes:

Thai fresh rolls, which are fairly simple to make; however, in the interest of time, I ordered these two days in advance from Duc Boa in Brookline.

A massive garden salad, served in my signature, monstrosity of a salad bowl by Isaac Mizrahi for Target. It’s huge, hip, and always a hit at parties.

Veggies and peanut dip, from our favorite non-militant vegan friend.

Brown rice, made while in the shower and racing around in attempts to make myself and the apartment look presentable and, if possible, fabulous.

Cornmeal encrusted chicken tenderloins, either served atop the salad or dipped in mustard (the kid-friendly choice).

Fruit salad, courtesy of a yoga teacher pal via Whole Foods.

A vegan tofu chocolate pie, made the night before, in a flash; it tastes completely divine. Even my foodie friend who authors the blog Dish This Boston would approve. Right hand raised, “Swear.”

No Pudge brownies, baked in heart-shaped tins and made especially for the birthday girl who shares my obsession with them- among other things, like, say, Diane Von Furstenberg frocks.

Lemon meringue pie, from High Rise Bakery in Cambridge, delivered by another yoga teacher pal.

Chocolate covered strawberries, also known as, "Heaven."

Finally, I wanted to customize a few elements to make the whole scene more entertaining and special, ideally, acting as a reflection of its guest of honor and the people who love her. Here’s what I decided to do:

Personalize a play list. This is an easy offering to any group of likeminded friends. Compile a CD that includes a little something for everyone and underscores the theme of the gathering. Decorating the CD’s cover adds an extra touch of creativity and color. I find clipping gorgeous images from travel or fashion magazines works best.

Select small yet meaningful parting gifts. I opted for seedlings in mini clay pots, which will yield basil, strawberry, or marigold plants in the not too distant future.

Enlist an expert, in this case, an ace psychic: Through the recommendation of a friend, we sought the astute services of Boston Intuitive for two hours worth of individual readings for each guest. A huge treat for all.

The Saturday afternoon, kid-friendly affair didn’t feature cuisine by celebrity chefs or extravagant gifts, but it was more nourishing than the former and enriching than the latter. If entertaining at home intimidates you, take a cue from the Zen-preserving options shared, here, and give it a whirl. Moreover, if your best friend tells you to skip the birthday fanfare, I encourage you to defiantly ignore her.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Om Gal Answers A Reader's Question About Yoga Tunes

Recently, fielded a question about the music played in yoga studios, and the question went something like this, "Hey, Om Gal, I love the music I hear when I enter a yoga studio but have no idea what it is. Can you help me out?"

You bet! Of course, the music played at studios before and after class varies greatly, but here are a few staples that yoga teachers tend to use in heavy rotation, followed by a few of my personal favorites that when peppered into a playlist, immediately infuse it with some added soul and spunk, which can also make for a great soundtrack for a home practice.

The Staples:

Krishna Das- A western interpretation of traditional Sanskrit chants. He's prolific, so there are plenty of albums from which to choose. Breath of Heart and Pilgrim Heart are the most popular.

Buddha Bar- You're also inclined to hear one of these smooth, funky compilation CDs at an Asian-inspired bar or lounge (hence the name). At this stage, there's a gaggle of options. Give a few songs a listen, and pick the album that resonates most.

Sacred Spirit- A Native American-inspired album that works particularly well in the opportune moments when you might want to listen to music during a practice.

Honorable Mentions: Wah! and Jai Uttal

The Stand-outs:

Madonna- An avid yogi, this former material girl can liven up any collection of yoga jams.

Alicia Keyes- Soulful and positive, she's a good pick to help rev up a long practice.

Coldplay- Mellow, a bit melancholy, and a great, user-friendly rock selection.

Red Hot Chili Peppers- Use sparingly and err in the direction of the more subdued songs, such as Tear (By the Way), Wet Sand (Stadium Arcadium), and Hard to Concentrate (Stadium Arcadium).

What are your favorite yoga grooves?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sports and Yoga

Sports and yoga make a beautiful pair, like Tom Brady and Giselle Bunchen, Tiger and the au pair, Laird Hamilton and Gabrielle Reece . . . you get the idea. My love affair with each was instant- the sports and yoga, that is. Although, for the record, my vote is for Laird and Gabby (photo right).

My parents brought me home from the hospital days before the Falmouth Road Race (now, one of the most celebrated races in the country). We lived along the route, so the excitement of the race was audible to our newly formed family of three through the open windows on that hot, August day. My mom still recalls cooing over me that I might run the race too, eventually, and, of course, I did, as though mom's suggestive whisper had been hardwired into my impressionable brain from the start. Similarly, I can navigate the rest of my life through a mental road map of my athletic endeavors. As a child, I recall, most clearly, summers spent swimming, sailing; racing through the woods behind our house; riding bikes within earshot, and leaping through the sprinkler. I lived for ballet classes during the school year and soon became enamored with organized sports. I played nearly all of them, excelled at some, and was even recruited to play a couple in college. I opted for field hockey, the sport at which I was less promising but had the most fun. After two years at the D-1 level, I "retired" my game jersey to the rafters (as white as ever, since it didn't see the field much). Right around this time, I started to get serious about my yoga practice.

In high school, I dabbled in yoga, attending classes in an old, converted fire station on the Cape. The youngest person in the class by decades, I probably would have felt awkward about being there had I not felt so comfortable with the actual yoga practice from the start. The style was nothing like the style that I practice now, gentle and slow as opposed to rigorous and flowing. Still, I loved it. Mid-way through college I discovered a yoga studio, which in the late 90s meant a group of people convened and paid a teacher to teach; we didn't actually have a "studio" in which to practice. The basement of a hair salon and a church function room proved to be our favorite spots. During my senior year, our teachers opened a real studio. That year, I also attended my first power yoga workshop, with Bryan Kest, and the exposure to a more vigorous, athletic style of practice opened up a brave, new world for me.

Let me be clear, though; what drew me to yoga from the beginning was the physical experience of it, not the results it could achieve. At the time, it was very gauche for teachers or students to practice yoga or promote its benefits from a strictly superficial sense. Today, the landscape is different; yoga has become increasingly westernized, making references to toning muscles or burning calories more acceptable. I'm not criticizing or downplaying the physical benefits of yoga, but I do want to underscore that if we practice yoga in order to look good in our jeans, then we aren't actually doing yoga. We might get a good workout, but yoga requires and encourages a working inward.

What made my heart sing, then, and still does, now, is the ability to be completely absorbed in an activity that demonstrates your potential to the universe . . . not unlike sports. True, Tiger likes to win. He embraces the results of his efforts- the green jackets, the crystal trophies, the monstrous endorsement deals- but he doesn't practice golf the way he does (the way he has his entire life) because of those quantifiable results. Tiger is a yogi; most athletes are. I'm not referring to whether they actually do yoga, although that is the case with many athletes today; I'm drawing the parallel between yoga and meditation and what the sport's world might call "being in the zone."

This ability enables Big Papi to be one of the biggest clutch hitters of all time; it's the difference between Kevin Garnett being a basketball player and a basketball event to watch and, likely, why Venus and Serena became tennis sensations while playing on ragged courts in a ragged neighborhood in Compton. Sure, all of these people are exceptionally gifted, genetically blessed, etc., but they've also taken their knocks. Still, they set an intention to be focused on a certain path, and they have refused to relinquish it, not in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two strikes, not with a city's expectations on their shoulders, not with crime and criticism calling out to them, literally, from behind the fence that enclosed their beat-up, inner-city court.

This path is comprised of millions of "present moments," flashes in time in which a person is wholly awake and engaged in only what is happening here and now. It's a dedication to channeling one's energy into a singular task. If you can catch an athlete in this zone or experience it for yourself, while on your mat or running along a country road or sinking your own impossible putt, you'll feel the meditation in it. You'll witness the triumph of the mind over an otherwise daunting situation, and this triumph won't occur because the mind talked anyone through the challenge or figured out how to meditate. The mind will be observing too, and it will also find that basket, run, drive, touchdown, or pitch breathtakingly beautiful.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Om Gal Has A Confession

Shhh . . . Om Gal has a serious addiction. Until now, I've spared you the harrowing details of the rehabilitation program that I recently completed to address my dependency issues. I opted for a time-tested, no frills approach, foregoing the fancier treatment programs of stars like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. You know the ones, which sit high atop mountain ranges in Utah or Aspen, staffed with supportive teams of counselors and providing endless alternative activities to drug use, like hang-gliding and [insert feigned gasp of surprise] yoga! My program was a bit more bare bones than that; I call it "Lent." My substance of choice? White, powdery, high-octane sugar.

Like most things in my life, I don't over-indulge, but I do feed my sweet tooth with small doses of sugary satisfaction on a regular basis. You can keep your pizza and fries; I'll bypass your chips and beer; pasta and movie popcorn have zero seductive power over me. But, cover anything in chocolate- strawberries, almonds, pretzels, graham crackers- and I go weak in the knees. Say the word "caramel," and I hear angels sing. Mention the country of England, and my first association isn't the Queen, Big Ben, Prince William, or The Bachelor, but rather Cadbury's Dairy Milk.

Over the years, I've refined my habit to be less damaging, like a "social smoker," for example. At home, my stash might include crystallized ginger, No Pudge brownies, fudgicles, or So Delicious dairy-free dessert (which earns the highest OMG accolades). I'm of enough sound mind to avoid the hard stuff, as in, ice cream, absurdly over-processed candy in colors that do not occur in nature, and cake, mostly because, in the case of cake, I just don't like it. Does nothing for me. I'd rather get my high elsewhere.

For Lent, I ventured into uncharted territory. All chocolate, candy, dessert, and sweets would go. To be candid, it was hell. During the first couple weeks, the withdrawal symptoms were fierce. I daydreamed about chocolate pudding, stared longingly at dessert menus, and finished each meal with the thought, "If I could, I would have [fill in the blank]." I'd given up chocolate before and survived, so I figured upping the ante was somewhat obligatory. Whereas I previously would forgo chocolate and have some fruit sorbet, instead, now, the land mines were everywhere- bowls of hard candy on receptionists' desks, sample stations at Whole Foods, even my healthiest friends couldn't be trusted. At any moment, hard candies emerged from purses, errant cookies were purchased at Starbuck's by an unwitting pal with whom I was having tea, and colleagues breezed into my office casually enjoying and offering the latest acquisition from the vending machine. It was enough to drive a gal mad.

About 3/4 of the way through my 40-day penance, I considered jumping ship (ideally, into a sea of chocolate). What harm was my addiction doing anyway? Who would want to sacrifice such gifts from the sucrose gods? And, finally, the real kicker, I'm not even that Catholic! Yes, I was raised Catholic. I like church. My heart swells when we get to say "Peace be with you" to one another. I pray. A lot. But, c'mon, couldn't I just lump my Lenten delinquency into the category of all the other Catholic beliefs and practices with which I disagree, like disapproving of gay marriage, for example? (Tsk, tsk on that one!). In the scheme of things, really, It's just a fudgicle, people! I wanted to say. Where's the harm in such an innocent frozen confection?

Still, I persisted. I managed. I occasionally "fudged" my way through with questionable substitutions like hot chocolate with "No Sugar Added" and the aforementioned holy grail of healthy desserts, So Delicious dairy free "ice cream," but I stayed the course because I'd committed to doing so.

Today, I'm back on "the stuff" and quite pleased about it. My ability to moderate cravings was enhanced by the experience. I've learned that two Hershey kisses are always preferable to 12 lbs. of dried mango as an alternative; the latter might be natural, but it packs some serious sugar and, consequently, calories. I've also realized how many attractive options there are, which will help you get your fix without blowing your nutritional practices of choice. Finally, I've yet to cause myself or others any real damage by being hooked on the sweet stuff . . . provided, of course, no one steals my chocolate sorbet. Then, you better prepare to duck and cover from the wrath that could ensue.

As homage to my post-Lent, corralled dependence on sugar, here's my new, favorite, simple recipe for what I like to call Tofu Chocolate Cutie Pie.

Blend one block silken tofu with 2 Tbs. vanilla soy milk. Melt 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (vegan ones work beautifully too). Fold the melted chocolate into the tofu mixture. Pour the creamy mix into a pre-made graham cracker pie crust. Chill overnight. Share with your sweetest friends.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Train Your Brain

Meditation is the practice of quieting the mind, and cultivating this skill allows us to live fully in the present moment, which is the only one over which we have any influence. The past is gone and unalterable, while the future is mere speculation.

Recently, a reader wrote to share some of the challenges associated with his new meditation practice and request some reading recommendations to might support the process. Here's a cursory collection of books that have served me well in different ways, at different times. Some act as portable therapists imparting sensible wisdom along the way while others sit sage-like on my shelves, eternally highlighted and underscored, as timeless references. Meet your new spiritual entourage:

The Original Life Coach: The Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Indian text that follows the young soldier, Arjuna, into battle under the guidance of Krishna, who explains, "Your own duty done imperfectly is better than another man's done well."

The Peace Prescription: The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh captures the simplicity and pragmatism of meditation.

The Philosopher: The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav is distinctly more metaphysical but no less inspiring than the previous two. It's an original and heartfelt commentary on relationships, among other things.

The Healer: A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson is a healing text. For a time, it traveled everywhere with me, and I often shared passages with my students during yoga classes. The author often references A Course in Miracles, but it's not necessary to have read/completed that book in advance.

The Shrink: The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck brought me clarity and courage, just like a good therapist-- and the bill paled in comparison.

The Paramedic: When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron is your lifeboat, antidote, and panic button bound into a book by a Western Buddhist nun. As the title suggests, it's not afraid to address our darkest hours with a refreshing lack of drama. It's forthright, forgiving, and smart. While anyone can learn from it, I find it particularly helpful to those who are grieving in some way.

I welcome your own recommendations. Happy reading!

Quote of the Day: Happiness

"Happiness is an inside job."

-William Arthur Ward

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What Brightens Your Day?

To help you kick off the month of April, I'm sharing a few small pleasures that are brightening my days right now.

Music: "Ode to Sunshine" by Delta Spirit. The title says it all. Delta Spirit, come to find out, is the band behind the song, which inspired one of my first posts, "All You Soul-Searching People C'mon." By some delightful twist of fate, I saw them perform last week in Cambridge (they're from California), and they blew everyone away. They're talented, stylish, slightly quirky, original, and multi-dimensional. The only thing more impressive than their music is any gal's ability to pay attention to it rather than fall prey to daydreams of becoming the ├╝ber-cool Gwenyth Paltrow to the lead singer's handsome Chris Martin.

Yoga: Inner Strength Yoga Studio in Watertown. Master teachers Coeli Marsh [dear friend disclaimer!] and Roman Szpond deliver skilled, strong, and sincere classes. Practicing there is a new found joy.

Beauty: Smashbox Under Eye Brightener. The best way to look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when a good night's sleep isn't readily available (mostly because you stay up late blogging).

Brains: East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I'm only a quarter of the way in, and the genius sparkles on every page.

What small joys will brighten the sometimes drizzly month of April for you?