Saturday, May 31, 2008

Change is the Only Constant

Recent Reader Query: I had a new experience in yoga class yesterday. I have been practicing for a number of years and have always enjoyed the time on my mat. However, yesterday was the first time I truly wanted to run out of the room. The heat was the same. The teacher was the same. And, heck, the postures are basically the same. So, why the change?

But, you are not the same . . . we never are on our yoga mats. The beauty (and, in this case, the "curse") is that our minds and bodies are in different states each time we step onto the mat. My guess is that something in class triggered a feeling that already existed within you. So, the question is- what, in your life, is making you want to bolt for the door right now?

The other possibility is that you've hit a plateau. Instead of venturing back to the same class, with the same heat and the same teacher, why not take your mat outdoors, visit a different studio, try a new style of yoga, or throw on your iPod and "freestyle" a little bit during your own home practice?

Most importantly, don’t get too hung up on your unsettling practice. Remember, it’s just that- a “practice.” It’s not a performance; it’s not a task to check off your list or a challenge to conquer. It’s a window into your life, an opportunity to hone your vision and clear away mental debris and physical toxins. The temptation to recreate your yoga in the image of the rest of your life is tempting. Instead, reserve your mat as a place of absolute truth and non-judgment. Relinquish the urge to find immediate answers to the questions that arise or make things look tidy and neat at all times. This exercise will serve you far more than the moments and practices that feel fluid and flawless.

Finally, I’d like to share the following passage from Rainer Maria Rilke. I think you’ll see why.

“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Freedom Meditation Brings

Before being trendier than baby bumps and bob haircuts, yoga in America was a New Age endeavor practiced in church basements, recreation centers, and, in my case, an old firehouse in Woods Hole, one of the last bastions of hippiedom- not boho chic, not hippie haute couture- I'm referring to authentic hippies sans shaved underarms, with a reverence for Birkenstocks and sure indifference for Birkin bags.

At college in the south, I happened upon a "yoga school" not far from campus, which met in a church function room to practice Ashtanga every Saturday morning (yoga studios as we know them were still a few years away). I'd set out for class right around the same time the frat boys in the neighboring apartment would begin their morning tailgating festivities in our shared front yard. If I had a dollar for every time someone offered me jungle juice en route to my makeshift ashram, I'd have at least enough money to buy some pre-cut fruit at Whole Foods.

By my junior year, I was thrilled to be going abroad but slightly anxious about leaving the routine of my Saturday morning sanctuary. What's more, I wasn't headed to a far off land where yoga was widely practiced. In fact, I was headed out to sea to study aboard a ship for a semester. How on Earth, err, ocean, was I supposed to continue my new found regular practice without my regular class, teacher, or a ground that didn't move? Fortunately, I shared this quandary with my teacher, who imparted the following piece of wisdom, "The great thing about yoga is that you can do it in a prison cell." Then, to underscore his point, "You have a mat, right?"

Indeed, he was right. Not only did I bring along my mat and begin practicing yoga daily, but I also started teaching my peers, sometimes as many as two hundred of them, at once, on the top deck of a ship at sea. It was breathtaking.

I've never forgotten the sensibility of my former teacher's insight. The truth is, you can practice yoga any time, anywhere- even in prison- although, God willing, the need never arises.

However, for some people, practicing yoga and/or meditation in captivity is a reality. Check out the trailer for Dhamma Brothers, an intriguing story of eastern philosophy meeting western society's prison system in the deep south. For me, it's a eerie illustration of the lesson my teacher touched upon nearly 10 years ago- and it will, no doubt, constitute my plans for this weekend. The documentary seeks to reveal the freedom and healing that can be found through the study of meditation- even in the most unlikely settings. For screenings, click here.

"What I Must Do . . ."

"What I must do, is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness.* It is the harder, because you will find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

*Meanness, here, refers to being small-minded/inferior, not "mean" as in lacking kindness.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Desserts That Won't Derail Your Diet

I tend to steer clear of the word "diet." For many, it calls forth experiences of deprivation, intimidation, boredom, and pining for dessert- and, as many of you can attest, my reverence for dessert is well documented. [Psst, look close at the accompanying photo where I'm pilfering the toppings off a friend's birthday cake].

Still, it's important to balance sweet indulgences with a healthful nutrition plan and lifestyle. It also helps to have a canon of low fat recipes at the ready . . . or, simply, bookmark this blog. Om Gal promises to continue to scour the sweet possibilities in attempts to unearth your new, favorite dessert, such as the following super easy and scrumptious peanut butter cookie recipe from Self magazine via Fresh Dining in Burbank, CA.


1 egg yolk
1/2 c. natural peanut butter
1/2 c. low fat cream cheese
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. Splenda
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients. Spoon rounded tablespoons of batter onto a cookie sheet. Bake until golden (about 9 minutes). Share with friends! My fellow Om Gals provided their approval at a gathering over the holiday weekend.

The Skinny: 55 calories per cookie, 3 g fat, 5 g carbs, .4 g fiber, 1.7 g protein.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Can We Be Funny?

Saturday Night Live has been making people laugh for decades. Sometimes with slapstick acuity, at other moments with precise political parody, and then, there was Eddie Murphy, in a class all his own- "delirious," "raw," and ridiculous.

Following September 11, laughter was hard to come by. For many, it was impossible. Yet, SNL's first show back, following the tragedy, helped signal a new phase in the healing process, namely, permission to laugh. Executive producer Lorne Michaels was careful not to take any liberties, thus making official the foray back to funny by asking then mayor of New York City, Rudy Guiliani, "Can we be funny?"

The perfectly pitched response from Guiliani, "Why start now?" gave us all a collective breath of a relief. People smirked. They chuckled. They glimpsed happier days ahead.

Similarly, local comedians, Sandy Asai, Shaun Bedgood, and Joe Wong, are, now, signaling that it's okay to laugh following the recent earthquakes in China as a way to help heal some of the widespread devastation (the death toll is expected to exceed 50,000 people). Moreover, these comedians are yucking it up in order to send funds to those in need. Their aptly titled show, Laugh for Relief, takes place one week from today in Cambridge at the YMCA Theater. All proceeds benefit the American Red Cross: China Earthquake Relief. The event kicks off at 8 PM, Friday, May 30; tickets are $15. For more information, call 781.859.9093 or email

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Om Gal Addresses Road Rage

Reader Query: Being nice: what a novel idea. I was driving on a little country road (okay maybe not a little country, but a lot country and no rock and roll) when I saw a small speck on the road ahead of me. It turned out to be a snapping turtle trying to get to a pond on the other side. Without thought, I stopped the car in the middle of the street to help it along. Remember OG, this isn't Comm Ave. People in the country can stop their cars and it doesn't result in massive honking. Or does it? After setting the turtle carefully next to the pond, I realized that a car approaching from the opposite direction was screaming words, saved only for rush hour road rage, in my general direction. I guess that they didn't read your blog. Any advice on how to handle situations like this?

Perhaps you should start packing water balloons or eggs on your trips down charming country roads? Or, you can take a more zen approach, which would include seeing this deranged driver through more compassionate eyes. This practice isn't easy, but there are two key Buddhist principles that are sure to serve you well on your travels, namely the first two Noble Truths. They are as follows:

1. Suffering exists.

2. Ignorance and desire are the root causes of suffering.

I should note that "ignorance" is not synonymous with stupidity, although sometimes, the latter follows the former. Ignorance, in this case, denotes a lack of knowledge. Put simply, people are hurtful because they lack the knowledge or skills to act otherwise. It's possible for people to know that what they're doing is hurtful, impolite, brutish, or downright evil, even while doing it; however, some portion of their fragmented brains makes them carry out these harmful actions anyway.

Your goal is view the situation from a less personal perspective. Consider the following . . . A few years ago, I was teaching in an inner city school and decided to take a breather around lunchtime. I was crossing the street, headed to Walgreens, when I politely smiled at a woman walking toward me in the crosswalk. Instead of returning the smile, she said the following, "Don't you f*cking smile at me, ________!" [I've omitted the last expletive for your delicate eyes].

Imagine, being verbally attacked for smiling at someone? Kind of like being harangued for saving a turtle, right? At the time, I took no offense. Here's why: she was clearly a lunatic. Let me be more diplomatic; she was visibly unstable, which made it pointless to get angry. It's no different than when a baby yanks your hair. Even if it hurts like heck (they can tug hard!); the baby isn't being malicious. He/she doesn't know better. Eventually, our goal is to cultivate the realization that everyone is doing their best, in a given moment, the best they know how. But, don't take it from me. Here's what the Buddha would tell you . . .

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

Remember, you have much more important things to do (and turtles to save!) than to get offended by a stranger's misplaced rage. In other words, you, my big-hearted, nature-loving friend, are way too good for that sort of b.s.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Memory Lane

The last time the Celtics were this good, I didn't yet blog, do yoga, or know how to read, but don't hold it against me; the Internet didn't exist; I was more into Big Bird than pigeon, and I hadn't been to school yet. Still, I knew enough about the world around me to understand that another type of Bird ruled the floor. I was too little to keep all their names straight, which led to some lifelong confusion surrounding Tiny Archibald's real name; it was ingrained in my young mind as "Archie Tiny Bald." Don't ask. I was about four. Later, the Kevin McHale "milk" poster adorned my bedroom wall. I was never allowed to puncture my walls for the sake of any other imagery; somehow, McHale was the exception.

Befitting the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend, I'm strolling down memory lane a bit, as you can plainly see. Surely, the holiday weekend is meant for more somber remembrances, but I thought the topic of memory worked for today's post.

People often wonder why they can't "stop thinking" during yoga and/or meditation practice. Their minds are flooded with memories, visions, ideas, grocery lists, and the first line of the next great American novel.

The Truth is (in addition to being Paul Pierce), you're not expected to turn your brain off during yoga. Yes, the goal is to "cease the fluctuations of the mind," but, often, waging war against your thoughts just gets you further entrenched in the mental minefield. I like the following visual exercise as a means of dealing with pesky interruptions to your peace of mind:

Imagine that your thoughts are clouds, passing over you in the sky. It's okay to notice a particular cloud, perhaps you acknowledge its presence, get a sense of its shape and size, but then, you let it keep moving. The same goes for your fears, emotions, and doubts. Don't judge them; don't expend unnecessary energy trying to ignore or justify them. Simply, notice, acknowledge, and let your fears keep moving. Return to the sound of your own breath and, eventually, the stillness of your new found, quiet mind.

It's a feeling that may take practice to recreate, but it's impossible to ever forget.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Look, Feel, Do Good

In order of importance, a few activities, products, places, and events that get raves right now . . .

Looking Good

Chisel'd class at Equinox Fitness: It's fun, effective, and challenging. Think varsity try-outs in high school, provided your sport was more basketball than badminton.

Neutrogena shows you how it's done with a microsite that features makeup tips from a pro for any occasion. Not overly commercial, totally useful. Check it out.

Cozy, yoga-inspired clothes, often made of eco-friendly fabrics, such as bamboo, OMALA's apparel looks and feels fab. Plus, the customer service is super. (Tip: sizes run a bit big).

Feeling Good

Go raw in the North End. Healthy, indulgent, and exquisitely in season, the new raw food restaurant, Grezzo, achieves the lofty feat of serving decadent cuisine with no chance of derailing your diet- unless you order multiple brownie sundaes, which is tempting.

The Mark Morris Dance Group is in town. See a performance. Feel moved.

Doing Good

Boston's Run to Remember, May 24-25

MSPCA Spirit of Kindness Auction & Dinner, June 26

School's almost out for the summer; however, it's never too late to get involved with a stellar institution in your area. One of my favorites, City on a Hill.

Feel free to add your own raves or promote your own worthy causes.

The Yoga of Being Nice

Turns out, the featured yoga pose today, isn't actually an asana at all. It's a good deed.

Many yogis in America (an estimated 15 million) don't realize that yoga practice as we know it, involving poses of the standing, seated, twisting, binding, and balancing varieties, represents only one form or "branch" of yoga; there are 7 others. Asana practice is known as "hatha" yoga, but today's "pose of the week" derives its inspiration from karma yoga.

The word karma translates to mean "action," and karma yoga encourages a "disciplining of one's actions," a commitment to being selfless, a willingness to do something meaningful for others without regard for the reward.

So, here's a suggestion- however hackneyed it may be- do something meaningful this week, no matter how small and with no interest in how you might benefit. That's your yoga. It's not glamorous. It won't make you look better in a bikini. You'll never see giving up your seat on the T to an elderly passenger on the cover of Yoga Journal.

But, it's the most important type of yoga that we practice. This week, practice often.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

No Commercial Breaks, Here!

To those of you who tuned in to my guest appearance on the radio yesterday with Mariellen Burns on WRKO- THANK YOU! There was a last-minute shift in the timing, so I ended up on air earlier and wrapping sooner than expected. No matter, though, it was a blast, and I I felt honored to "throw out the opening pitch" for the Red Sox coverage that followed immediately after us.

Still, the 45 minutes during which I was on air went by in a flash. Here's an expanded version of what I said about getting in shape for the summer, particularly if it's an intimidating endeavor. My apologies for not being able to provide you all with samples of the No Pudge brownies and Tofu Chocolate Pie that I brought to the kind and candid, Mariellen; a sweet, culinary complement to her analysis of Sweetiegate.

Three Tips For Getting Summer Fit:

1.) Get Seasonal
Emphasize seasonal fruits and vegetables in your diet. Embrace summer's lighter cuisine by ordering up more salads, seafood, and other water-rich dishes.

Take your yoga mat with you on weekend getaways, and practice OUTDOORS. Once you do this, you'll be convinced it's how yoga was meant to be practiced (example: photo above).

Plan fun, fitness-related events in advance. I suggest starting with a private lesson or recruiting a skilled buddy to maximize your chances of success. Kite-surfing, golf, crew, cycling- set your sights on the experience and the fitness will follow.

2.) Get Moving
There's no need to fight the elements, so it's the season to extend your time outdoors. Park far away- in the garage, if possible. Walk during your lunch break. Bypass the gym in favor of a jog. Take the T or drive to a neighborhood with which your only mildly familiar and get "lost" in its charm on a gorgeous day.

3.) Get Savvy
Sneak exercise into your day in ways that enhance rather than hinder your enjoyment of this luxurious time of year.

While killing time at the kids' soccer matches or in between Little League Games, offer to go on a coffee run for the other parents and jog there. Skip the cab; walk to the bar. Hit dance clubs more often than sports bars.

Be smart about your celebration of the season. Summer grilling is great; frozen pina coladas- not so much. Play a game of "what's better" with your indulgences. If you swoon over s'mores, then scale back on the daiquiris. If beer quenches your thirst best, decrease the number of dogs at the ball game; nix the nachos.

If you're hitting the beach, pepper in additional action by walking as far as the eye can see and then, farther. Play more Frisbee; swim to a point that ekes out a little more energy than usual; pack an amazing, alfresco, healthy lunch sans processed snacks like chips and cookies.

Meet fewer friends for happy hour, more for a round of golf, walk around Castle Island, window-shopping on Newbury, etc.

Have stealth summer workout tips of your own? Tell us. Need a few shortcuts? Check out last week's post on looking swimsuit svelte in less than two-weeks.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Foodie, A Yogi, and A Foodie/Yogi Go to Dinner . . .

Upon hearing that a new restaurant was opening in Boston's North End, I barely batted an eyelash. As home to some of the best eateries in the city, one more establishment dishing (albeit delectable) pasta wasn't about to blow this gal's hair back. However, when I learned that the new locale would forgo pasta in favor of a completely raw menu, I was intrigued.

For those of you requiring a bit of background information; here's the scoop, er, the dish:

Raw and Living foods are uncooked, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouted grains. These raw foods can be eaten whole or combined to make the healthiest, most delicious meals.

-Alissa Cohen, author of Living on Live Food

While sushi, for example, is technically raw, it doesn't pass muster, here. No flesh, friends. Got that?

Truth be told, I am no longer a vegetarian and never had a prayer as a vegan. I still err, largely, in the direction of a non-meat diet; however, I've found, over the years, a collection of eating habits that work for me, and occasionally, these include poultry or fish. I knew I had to try Boston's new raw restaurant Grezzo, but with whom? What fun are culinary adventures when experienced solo?

O.G.'s S.O. was S.O.L., as he's allergic to nuts, and the risk of accidentally offing him was too great in a place where a majority of the menu features nutty ingredients. He may tick me off, but I doubt it's grounds for murder at the hands of a cashew. So, I had some criteria. I needed a dinner companion who a.) wouldn't die and b.) might enjoy the unique fare.

My friend and phantom foodie blogger Dish Gal was a natural choice (please note: she's not phantom to me; she is actually my friend, I swear). She's scouring the city for savory meals anyway; who's to say the next one can't be a cold soup? No sooner had D.G. and I saved the date when a pal sent a serendipitous email wondering whether I'd grazed at Grezzo yet and, if not, would I like to go? Thus, we became a happy threesome- a yogi (that's me), a foodie (that's Dish Gal), and a foodie/yogi, our unnamed friend who adores yoga, counts several celebrity chefs among her close personal friends, dines out more than Carrie Bradshaw, dresses a bit like her too, and has a seriously sophisticated palette. She's eaten blowfish soup, people. Blowfish can be poisonous. Hear what I'm saying?

The evening had all the makings of a raucous girls' night out, starting with the mojitos. Not to worry, dear readers and friends who have witnessed the debauchery that ensues after I have one meagre glass of wine (ahem, lightweight!); these mojitos were sans booze. Instead, they featured a tasty ensemble of fresh lime juice, mint leaves, agave, and kombucha tea over ice. The result was a slightly effervescent and super-refreshing concoction that I guzzled with gusto.

Next came an onslaught of creatively constructed and flavor-filled appetizers and entrees that were as artful as they were delicious. Several tricks of the mind occurred during this feast, including an exquisite looking salmon steak that was actually papaya; Dish Gal instinctively blowing on her soup to cool it, and my ongoing ruminations about how I would surely be a raw food convert following dessert. In fact, let me tell you about dessert . . .

The crowning achievement of a meal that had already significantly charmed our taste buds, our brownie sundae, not baked but adhering with the use of dates, nuts, and rich cocoa powder (or crack- one can't be sure; it was so addictive), was scrumptious. In hindsight, the two bookends of the meal- my mojito, along with the chilled squash and coconut soup and the sundae- took top honors.

The intangibles, too, exceeded expectations, with upscale surroundings, inviting staff, and a diverse, discerning, and stylish collection of dinner guests- no Birkenstocks in sight.

As the three gals emerged onto the cobblestone streets of the North End, brimming with good company and food, we assessed our experience and wondered aloud whether we could eat uncooked everyday. The consensus was that we might, if we had a cadre of able raw food chefs on hand to help and a gastronomic pardon on eggs. Grezzo is a must for its innovation, inspiration, and flavor.

Yet, as I walked home, shielded by a raincoat and pashmina from the chilly New England weather, with its gusty winds and drizzling, incessant rain, I thought of what perfect circumstances these might be for a steaming cup of tea and hot, hearty bowl of soup on any other cold, raw night.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Om Gal Hits The Air Waves!

Rebecca Pacheco (Om Gal) is making a radio appearance (do you say "appearance" even if listeners cannot actually see you?). Please tune in, and feel free to call the show with questions!

When: Tomorrow, 3:00-4:00 PM

Where: WRKO, 680 AM, Boston's Talk Radio

Coming Soon . . .

A foodie, a yogi, and a foodie/yogi go to dinner at new raw food restaurant Grezzo, in Boston's North End. You'll get the dish, here . . .

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Be Present

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, May 12, 2008

Get a Leg Up on Your Day

Reader Query: I am a devout reader of your inspiring and insightful blog! I am subscribed to a few blogs, and yours is always refreshing and to the point, perfect for a busybody such as myself. As a runner, surfer, and generally active person I usually stretch before bed and a bit in the morning as well. I was regularly practicing yoga at a studio (about a year ago . . . haha) but have stopped going due to lack of time and funds. I wanted to ask you if there are a few yoga positions that you could recommend to do in the morning, especially focusing on the legs/achilles. Any suggestions would be helpful!

Bravo to you, surfer/runner/self-proclaimed "busybody" gal! While you may not be "regularly practicing yoga at a studio," you clearly demonstrate a commitment to a yogic lifestyle that works for you, and, ultimately, that's the most important thing. Now, about those tight hammies . . .

Stretching in the morning is no easy task, so you'll want to take it slow. Here are seven (one for each sea!) gentle moves to help you greet the day and walk a bit taller for the duration of it.

1.) Supported rag doll: Hanging forward in a standing forward bend first thing in the a.m. can be difficult on groggy hamstrings, so be sure to soften/bend your knees. My recommendation would be to place a yoga block (or stack of books) under each hand; this creates the experience of lifting the floor up, so that you can relax into its support. A nice twist on the traditional move is to gently rock your hips in a circle (think of hula hooping), in one direction; then, switch directions.

Next, step back into . . .

2.) Downward dog: Lifting one leg into the air while pressing the heel of your lower leg toward the ground will access your achilles even more.

Drop your knees to the floor. Transition into . . .

3.) Toes pose: Kneel with your toes curled under, and sit on your heels. Stay for 10 breaths. As a counter-movement, place your hands on the floor behind you, and lift your knees off the floor (you'll get a great stretch in the tops of your feet).

Roll onto your back . . .

4.) Supine utthita hasta padangustasana: For an added stretch in your hamstring, lift your head and shoulders up off the floor as you imagine touching your nose to your shin.

5.) Dead bug: Great for the hips, inner thighs, and achilles.

6.) Supta baddha konasana: This can be done with the support of a block under each knee/thigh or a bolster under your back. Rest here for one minute.

7.) Fish: It's a nice counter-movement for the forward bends. Plus, you're at home in the water- like a fish- so I thought you might like this one.

Be sure to spend a couple minutes in sivasana to conclude your practice (all the props that Rodney Yee uses in the accompanying image are not necessary). Feel free to pick and choose poses to suit your mood or morning schedule. Namaste!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

The following is a letter that I wrote to my six-month old godson, in preparation for his baptism, yesterday. To all mothers, the world over, looking after the spiritual and physical well being of their children (but particularly my godson's Mom and my own mother)- Happy Mother's Day.

Dear Matthew*:

You probably don't remember the first time we met. You were less than 1-day old and, as a result, pretty exhausted. I had to suppress my eagerness to scoop you away from your wonderful parents at the hospital. Thankfully, your kind and intuitive Dad sensed my impatience and gingerly nestled you into my anxious arms. It was the day after Halloween, and you were, at once, the greatest treat imaginable and a trick of human emotion. How could I possibly love you this much already? What is this feeling of muffled peace absorbing me, like snow banks absorb the sound of city traffic?

It's been said that "We're not human beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a human experience," so I guess it makes sense that you seemed spiritual to me from the very beginning. It also makes sense that I'm going to officially become your godmother today . . . but that might have more to do with the fact that I let your Mom be a raving lunatic when you were in her belly, causing her to act like a raving lunatic.

As any godparent knows, the particulars of my job are well established. Dote on you with affection and toys; indulge you with sweets; overlook the mud on your shoes and crumbs on the floor; encourage finger-painting, drum-playing, and staying up past bedtime, at which point I'll, of course, return you to your Mom and Dad.

Yet, in more traditional terms, my duties also include the support and cultivation of your spiritual well being. Surely, the merits of finger-painting and mud-tracking as spiritual practices are well documented; however, I should probably offer you some actual insight, as we prepare for the formal festivities.

I apologize, in advance, for the water on your head and odd circumstance of having lots of people ogle at you while wearing a dress (albeit a fashionable one, knowing your Mom's impeccable taste). There's nothing I can do about this. Your best defense is to have a big breakfast and hope to feel drowsy enough that the rites of passage at church don't bug you much.

In terms of your spiritual development following your baptism, I have only a few recommendations. Learn. Listen. Love.

Learn about the world around you. Study many religions, but also study trees and clouds and birds. Read books because they enlighten and excite you.

Listen to others, particularly the people who love you (at least until you're a teenager), the sounds of nature that surround you, and, most importantly, learn to listen to silence. It's during these quiet moments that God will speak to you most clearly.

And, finally- love. There are lots of feeble definitions of what God is, but the one I like best is the following: God is love.

With love,
Your Godmother

*Name has been changed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Upgrade Your Oatmeal

New seasons are exciting because they usher in welcome changes to our usual routines. We wear new clothes, watch different sports, and eat seasonal menu items. What's fall without football or summer without ice cream?

Chances are you're less inclined to eat an ice cream cone in February or pumpkin pie in July. Likewise, you may find that your hearty breakfast of choice in the colder months is less appealing now. Still, it's important to enjoy your whole grains and start off your day with a nutritious meal. My new fav alternative to a steaming bowl of oatmeal? Quinoa.

Quinoa is like oatmeal's brawnier, older brother. It's loaded with protein, packed with fiber, and one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. It's great for lunch and dinner but usually overlooked for breakfast. The consistency is lighter than oatmeal, the flavor nuttier, and it can be served hot or cold.

Quick Quinoa Breakfast:

Mix a few splashes of vanilla soy milk and/or a pureed banana into cooked quinoa. Top with honey and fresh berries; feel your day begin with spring in your step.

A Mid-Week Reprieve

This pose is the sleeper hit of all yoga poses. It's easy, unglamorous, and extremely effective. Been on your feet all day? Personal masseur off this week? Feeling sluggish or cranky? Never done yoga? Viparita karani provides the rest and rejuvenation you need. It's the perfect antidote for achy legs, a sore back, an energy slump, or an ornery attitude. It may not look like much, but it's an exceedingly effective way to drain lactic acid out of muscles and, generally, recalibrate your body's flow of energy (consider- it's the opposite of what you do all day, which is stand or sit upright). Try it, and feel free to share your own favorite poses and rejuvenation tricks.

Viparita karani:
Sidle up to a wall.

Lie down with your butt close to the baseboard.

Elevate your legs up against the wall.

For added relaxation prop your hips up with a yoga block or pillow. A towel over your eyes is pure bliss.

Use this movement to conclude a yoga practice or a busy day. Remember to breathe deeply. If you fall asleep- sweet dreams!

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Skinny on Getting Swimsuit Ready

Reader Query: Question for your area of expertise: I'm going on a trip in less than 2 weeks where a bathing suit and skimpy clothing are required. I'm not TOO stressed, but just wondering- what are some last minute food tips/exercise tips/beauty tips that I might use to get beach ready?!

This question comes to us from the phantom, foodie blogger behind DishThisBoston, but I have a sinking suspicion that she's not the only one looking for a few tips to help ease the anxiety associated with shedding layers and showing more skin. Whether you're headed out of town on holiday or to the fitting room to try on some summer duds, looking and feeling fab in less is probably top of mind.

Of course, there is no magic bullet for bikini-clad bliss- particularly when you only have a 2-week lead time. Yet, there are ways to increase the likelihood that your scant wardrobe won't make you want to scurry into a dark corner.

Guzzle water. It helps flush out your system, including your skin. If you're going to bare more of it, you'll want it to be hydrated and happy.

Get thee to Chinatown, and buy a bamboo steamer. It's the easiest, tastiest, best way to cook the veggies that you need, now, more than ever. I'm not a betting gal, but I'd wage my karma on the fact that you don't get enough fresh vegetables. Allow these nutrient rich, delicious vegetables to make up the bulk of your dinner every night. Enjoy lean protein and whole grains as well. If this all sounds familiar, it's because it's the most healthful, effective way to eat. Period.

Fuel up with fiber. Add some additional fiber to your diet; this will help you stay fuller, longer and regulate your digestive system.

Check your expectations. It's unrealistic to think that you won't indulge. Instead, limit your splurges to one vice at a time. Instead of gorging on pasta, bread, wine, and dessert. Choose your favorite; relish it, and bypass the rest. It would be a shame to miss out on life's culinary gifts by being on a perpetual diet, but be judicious about your choices.

For the most bang for your buck, a jump rope reigns supreme. Buy one; start skipping. Alternate one minute of jumping rope (or jumping jacks if you're missing the Rocky gene) with one minute of a toning exercise like lunges, abs, or push ups. Do this for 10-20 minutes. It is an ass-kicker, but that's the point.

Leave the whip at home and walk. Keep a pair of sneakers handy (e.g. in the trunk, your office, your locker) and walk, instead of driving, whenever possible. It's not only good for your gams, it clears the brain as well and helps heal the environment.

Call me crazy, but I think medicine balls are fantastic. I have one at home; it makes commercial breaks more fun and me more fit!

If you're a yogi, be cognizant that you're not overlooking your practice in favor of a certain result. Instead, use your practice to be more focused and attuned to what your body needs (rest, healthy meals, fresh air) and doesn't (half a cheesecake, three frozen margaritas, and a bagel, egg, and cheese sandwich). Yoga often leads to weight loss, but understand that the physical benefits are truly secondary. We practice yoga to enjoy life more, yet there are plenty of miserable yogis in the world- and skinny people for that matter.

Hit the steam room. It's a powerful and relaxing way to detox your body, clear your head, and reveal your skin's natural glow.

Devise a tan. If your plans include less clothing, a little color helps. Get outside, or get a moisturizer with a bronzing agent. Two weeks is plenty of time to pull off a coup de pallor.

Get buff. Bliss hot salt scrub with rosemary and eucalyptus is practically a vacation, itself. Use it to exfoliate skin and soothe tired muscles.

Every single day, for the next two weeks (and beyond!) think of something great your body does for you. Mentally say "thank you" to your physical being for the ability to walk with a graceful gait, pick up a heavy toddler, or help a pal move into a new apartment. Focusing on the function of your body will enhance its form. You'll stand taller, breathe deeper, and smile bigger because you'll realize that your body doesn't just look good, it helps you live a good life, which is never more evident then when you are on vacation, with sand between your toes, fresh air in your lungs, and the sun warming your exposed skin.

This I am Today

This seemed a fitting quotation at the start of a new week . . .

"Up to a point, man's life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be . . . Everyone has within his/her power to say, this I am today, that I shall be tomorrow."

-Louis L'Amour

Sunday, May 4, 2008

10 Tips for First-Timers

Being a beginner at anything can be exhilarating and terrifying, intimidating as well as inspiring. First-time experiences spawn new hobbies, loves, and habits; however, they also send us scurrying back to the safety of routine if we're too unsettled or confounded by the new task at hand. Yoga classes confound people all the time. Lack of preparation, unrealistic expectations, and the occasional wave of nausea because no one told you to forgo the nachos before class can all throw your foray into yogic bliss waaaay off course, which is why I'm here to help.

The Top Ten Tips for First-Time Yogis

1. Know before you go. Is the class heated? How long is it? Can you rent a mat onsite, or do you need to bring your own? You don't need to play 20 questions with the studio manager over the phone before your first visit, but you do need to have a vague idea of what you're getting into. Studios and styles of yoga vary greatly. Some rules of the road are only learned through experience- like the social gaffe of wearing fur or leather to Jivamukti in NYC- but lots of information is available up front. Just keep reading . . .

2. Hydrate. Most unpleasant first-time yoga experiences and plenty subsequent unpleasant yoga experiences result from lack of preparation, particularly as it relates to nutrition. If you're venturing into a heated class, this point is especially important: drink lots of water. Similarly, watch what you eat. Yoga aids digestion; however, it can't do so if it has to compete with a latte, a burrito, two Red Bulls, and an afternoon vending machine raid.

3. Skip the mayhem; arrive early. A common foible among beginners is to arrive just on time or, even, a little late. This isn't a restaurant opening party, people. Get there early so that you can acquaint yourself with your surroundings and, perhaps, the teacher. The goal here is to beat the rush, so that the studio's staff can spend enough time helping you get situated before being overrun by throngs of yogi veterans.

4. Back row is best. As previously stated, it's not a swanky restaurant opening, nor is it a Black Eyed Peas concert. The front row is no place for first-timers. The back row is much better, as you'll get the gist of what to do by watching those around you (please note: this should not be confused with looking around the room and staring at others, see #8).

5. Dress the part. Skip the gossamer tank tops, booty shorts, and baggy mesh jerseys. Yoga poses demand a lot from your body and attire. You'll be up, down, upside down, and backwards. Make sure your clothes can comply.

6. Guys, this is important . . . Doff your hats. Sox cap, Yankees lid, Kevin Federline-inspired fedora- doesn't matter what it is- take it off. It's impractical and, frankly, embarrassing for all involved. Don't ask questions; just trust me, here.

7. Shhhh. Some things are sacred. You don't gab in church or chatter during your buddy's back-swing. Similarly, don't talk in yoga class. Yoga is the experience of reconnecting to yourself. If you want to catch up with a pal, it's better for everyone if the two of you did so at Starbucks.

8. Keep your eyes on the prize. Glimpsing around the room, initially, is somewhat necessary because you don't know the lingo yet so newbies need a visual point of reference. Looking around for interesting outfits, dating prospects, or a distraction from your practice is counter-productive. For more insight on the power and energy of your gaze, see a past post relating to "drishti" and snowboarding.

9. Experience gratitude. You can practice yoga for the rest of your life, so there's no need to conquer it all on the first try. Instead of fretting if you fumble with poses, be grateful that you have a healthy body that allows you to try new things, express yourself, and unwind.

10. Rest. Deep, meaningful rest is one of the greatest gifts that yoga practice gives us. Relish this from the start.