Sunday, June 29, 2008

Skipping Town Om Style

You know that reoccurring nightmare where you find yourself half naked amidst a sea of strangers? Or, the one where you're actually at sea, in danger of being consumed by a tidal wave? Suddenly, you're pummeled into the sandy bottom, face first, then, caught in a whirlpool of gasping and thrashing. . .

There's also the fortuitous possibility that the two nightmares could merge- so that you're simultaneously being battered by giant waves WHILE in danger of losing your bikini in front of a beach full of onlookers.

And, this might not be a dream at all but, rather, a snapshot of my weekend spent vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, where a glorious day at South Beach went from frolicking in the waves to near naked death trap, forcing me to choose between protecting my life or my dignity. I chose dignity, clutching my bathing suit as a 10 foot wave crashed over me, driving my face into the shore with so little warning that my mouth was open, and I literally ate sand. Yes, the freedom of my hands to brace myself against the waves or tread back to safety would have been helpful, but even ex-lifeguards put a certain amount of credence in keeping a hold of their clothes, because let's face it, an accidental flash is one thing, but losing your suit at sea makes for a long walk back to your beach towel and a possible, very awkward run in with the law.

"I swear, officer; the public nudity was an accident."

Recently a reader of The World According to Om Gal requested that I recommend an active vacation for her and her beau, and with the holiday weekend on the horizon, I thought the topic of travel seemed a timely one. Now, body surfing is certainly active; however, I'm guessing that incidents like mine might provide a bit too much action. Given my track record, I can see how you might question my credibility when selecting athletically enhanced getaways- which is why I'll recommend two pals who specialize in active vacations as resources.

First, my om gal pal, Chanel Luck, a very talented yoga teacher and delightfully adventurous spirit, is leading a trip to Peru later this summer (mid August), where yogis will hike Machu Picchu and practice yoga twice daily. What's more, a portion of the trip supports a local orphanage in Peru. For details, visit Chanel's website.

Second, add a little refinement to your rustic getaway by taking a deluxe bike tour of Europe, where you'll not only cycle through unmatched vistas, but you'll stay at luxury hotels and savor gourmet food and wine. The summer schedule provides a wealth of exciting options, including trips to France, Italy, Switzerland, and more. Local, longtime yogi Andy Levine founded the company. Learn more at the company's website, Duvine Adventures.

Finally, you can take the DIY approach and plan your own active vacation by picking a locale and packing the appropriate gear. My favorite trips include long walks on the beach or through the mountains, yoga on a sunny deck (overlooking the ocean is ideal), and any number of other athletic endeavors (e.g. biking, swimming, running, golfing, etc.). The best resource, here, to making the most of a self-made retreat is a like-minded pal or group of pals.

You may not want to eat sand or risk losing your suit, but all things considered, my weekend on MV was amazing, with lots of walking (a car on the island is a nuisance!), a stellar, solo, outdoor yoga session, swimming, and more. Finding a place to stay can be tricky, which is why (again) I recommend the help of experts like MV Reservations, who specialize in finding vacant rooms on the Vineyard and Nantucket. Of course, the options always broaden for those who embrace the unexpected. If you like adventure and can forgo luxe digs, try camping or staying at a hostel. The Vineyard- believe it or not- has both.

Now, get packing! Word to the wise for my om gals out there? Perhaps include a one-piece suit if you plan to body surf . . .

Friday, June 27, 2008

What I Learned From Stevie Nicks

It's not every day we get to see a living legend in action, someone who's mastered his/her craft and left an indelible and original mark on the world. Stevie Nicks has been making her mark on the world of music for decades, both as a solo artist and as a member of Fleetwood Mac. At 60 years old (her birthday was last month), she's still every bit as captivating as she was in the years that made her a superstar.

The tickets to her concert, last week, were an unexpected boon. The experience, an unforgettable event.

Here are a few life lessons that came to mind while watching the leather-and-lace-wearing songstress in action. . .

Cultivate Creativity. While introducing a hit song that she wrote in 1973 (which was a great year for her writing, she noted), Stevie referenced her days as a waitress, when she'd return home after a long shift and delve into her music. Kind of makes you take stock of your own dreams and the attention you give them, doesn't it? Surely, we're all familiar with working long shifts, paying our dues, and toiling "for the man" [apparently, when writing about 1973, one is also compelled to use the vernacular too- sorry about that]. Yet, it's important to keep a vigil for the creative endeavors that fuel us. Each day, do something that feeds your soul.

Share Success and Show Gratitude. Stevie acknowledged her band at one point, revealing that many of them have played with her for decades. Her gracious recognition of the people around her made me realize how essential it is for all of us to build our own rock bands, small, loyal units of people who sustain, excite, and support us.

Be Authentic. I'm gonna go out on a limb, here, and say that most of us should steer clear of wearing gypsy dresses, shawls, and full-length leather gloves in late June. Yet, you have to respect a woman who crafts a look in the 70s and continues to rock it more than 30 years later- and looks amazing and authentic rather than kitschy or outdated while doing so. How refreshing to know that there isn't a stylist, publicist, or puppeteer cultivating Stevie's image- and there never was. Her creativity is what makes her well worth watching for as long as she wants to keep rocking. Not to mention, she sounds as wonderful as ever.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Going Out on Top This Week

Ready to shift gears and embrace the weekend? Look to headstand pose (sirsasana) as a potent way to move energy. Believe it or not, headstand is one of my favorite ways to start a yoga practice. It's invigorating and grounding at once, strong and graceful in equal measure. What's more, it's the perfect way to internally generate heat, if, for example, you enjoy hot yoga but need a way to warm up quickly during a home practice.

If you're new to headstand, you're in luck. The summer season works in your favor. "Head" to a beach or grassy lawn this weekend and experiment on a surface and in an environment that's less daunting than a yoga studio. Be playful! Forget about "doing it right." Just enjoy being light.

Have a favorite pose to recommend? One that never fails to shift your mood or clear your mind? Give us the scoop.

The Simplicity of Faith

Decades ago, my grandmother and I invented our own language. Part English (my first language), part Portuguese (hers), all of it spoken directly from the heart. If we stumbled on words or intended meanings along the way, we made due with hand gestures and facial expressions. Sometimes, words were extraneous, so we substituted them for big hugs and loud kisses (one on either cheek). Over the years, we’d often sit for hours, gabbing away like this—the chatter interspersed with cooking demonstrations, two-person knitting parties, and frequent cups of tea or bowls of steaming homemade soup. I’d smile with pride when she’d finally realize that I’d kept her up way past her usual bedtime.

My grandmother was more than a role model for me growing up; she was the cornerstone of my faith. You might guess that, given my early exploration of yoga and the study of Eastern religions as a teenager, I had a few questions, err, concerns about the religion in which I was raised—Catholicism. In many ways, I set out to find a new faith. I studied, read, reflected, and inquired a lot, and I discovered religions, philosophies, and ways of thinking that engaged my interest and excited my soul. Still, none of them contradicted what I already knew simply by observing my deeply spiritual grandmother.

Thomas Merton once put it this way, “Life is this simple: We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time.”

That’s how it is around my grandmother. God, the essence of creation, spirit, divine love-whatever you want to call it- it’s in everything she does and everywhere she goes. Her embraces hold special warmth. Her soups bubble over with love. She knits tenderness into life and mends split seams with her joy. I've never seen her treat anyone unkindly or judge anyone, for that matter. She laughs more often than not.

Once, while we were sitting on my parents’ deck, in the sun, on a perfect summer day, she turned to me, as if answering an unasked question, and said, “Rebecca (pronounced with her thick accent: Ha-becca) . . . God don’t sleep.” I had to laugh at the simplicity of this statement of faith—and her feigned solemnity (she's rarely serious). Yet, this is how we speak. Part English. Part Portuguese. All heart.

At a certain point, I had to take more of the lead in our conversations, and she would accidentally slip into long detours in her native tongue without realizing it. When these linguistic detours began, I would nod and smile and cling to as many familiar words as possible. On some level, I knew what was happening. Mostly, I just couldn't bear the thought of a conversation with her that didn’t make complete sense to me.

My suspicions were confirmed when one day, while, again, sitting in the sun on my family’s deck, she asked me if I wanted her to cook me a hamburger. While thoughtful, this was odd for a couple reasons. First, I hadn’t eaten red meat since I was nine (and was 26 at the time). Second, it was 9 o’clock in the morning.

Soon, doctors confirmed her Alzheimer’s. For the next year or so, she was mostly herself with only a slight jumbling of information and identities. For example, during a conversation not too long ago, this deeply religious, apolitical woman somehow forgot who Mother Theresa was (one of her life’s great inspirations) but saw that I was reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope and offered without hesitation, “He’s a senator.”

Lately, it’s become apparent that more information is escaping her, so the time came, this week, to move her into an assisted living facility, where there’s no chance that she’ll leave an oven on or wander in a direction that fast becomes unfamiliar.

To orchestrate the move, my family convened, like a beehive. We buzzed back and forth, from one place to the next, hauling belongings, moving furniture, sifting through clothes and kitchenware, and, finally, recreating a newer, safer, more comfortable place for her to live. My dad bought a new mattress. My mom displayed her saints just so. Countless friends and relatives lugged and lifted, ordered and organized throughout the day. Perhaps because my grandmother admired her or because I was so grateful for everyone's help, I kept remembering the following wisdom from Mother Theresa, "There are no great things, only small things done with great love."

I was spared most of the manual labor in favor of keeping my grandmother company and shielding her from the confusion of seeing all her things scattered about, boxed up, and displaced temporarily. We walked. She napped. I showed her photos on my computer of us at a wedding just last week (she'd forgotten she was there). Mostly, we talked.

As the long day of moving wound down, my grandmother grew tired, so she prepared for bed, slow but steadfast, until she tucked herself in and said her rosary. I hugged her multiple times and then let her drift off.

Sitting by the threshold in her new home, hunched over a book, with a small lamp lighting the words before me, I smiled at my post. I must have looked part studious college roommate burning the midnight oil (despite the fact that it was only 8:00 p.m.) and part watchdog. My family would return soon from ferrying the last items from across town, but for a time, the beehive was still.

“God don’t sleep,” I thought, before returning to my book. The only detectable sound was the soft, level breathing of my grandmother, asleep on her new mattress.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tune into the Buddha Channel

"Even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile, we have to try. Just as when we wish each other Good morning, it must be a real Good morning. Recently, a friend asked me, How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It isn't natural. I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow, because we are more than sorrow. A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn the Buddha on, we are the Buddha. If we turn sorrow on, we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. We have the seed of everything in us, and we have to seize the situation in our hand, to recover our own sovereignty."

-Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I Heart Yoga!

Review: Anusara Yoga, Julia Novina at Equinox in Back Bay (Boston, MA)

What it is: According to its founder, John Friend, via his website, anusara yoga's heart-oriented Tantric philosophy has become "one of the fastest growing hatha yoga systems in the world." Until last week, my exposure to this practice was extremely limited. I knew fellow teachers who trained with Friend, had a sense of its heart-centric approach to poses, and, while I acknowledged the system's legitimacy, I had little interest in trying it. For me, it seemed a bit redundant. Doesn't all yoga originate from the heart? Nice philosophy, I thought, but what makes the asana practice any more inspired or special when taught within this set of warm and fuzzy parameters? Put simply, I was biased, skeptical, and- ok, you got me- prone to some unbecoming yoga snobbery.

Then, I ate crow . . . kind of like the time(s) I told every sports fan in my immediate vicinity that Danny Ainge was a dunce, on course to ruining the legacy of the Celtics. Mmmm, as it turns out, crow tastes lovely- a bit like chicken.

Why you'll love it: I'll be the first to admit that one teacher's interpretation of a style of yoga is not an accurate or thorough evaluation of the whole system. A teacher, more than any other aspect of the practice, influences the experience of students within a yoga class. For the system of anusara, this is a very good thing, when Julia Novina is teaching.

I walked into class with few expectations. I was unfamiliar with the practice and the teacher (which, for someone who's life is inextricably linked to Boston's yoga community, is somewhat surprising). Both, however, turned out to be good things. I didn't know what I was getting- creating the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.

From the first time Novina addressed the class, I recognized her maturity, intelligence, sincerity, and skill. (As a general rule, a seasoned student can tell the skill level of a yoga teacher within the first five minutes of a class, and that time frame is even more condensed for fellow teachers). My favorite quality of Novina's teaching was its level of confidence, clarity, and authenticity. I'm inclined to think that she might be a newer teacher (say, with less than 3 years of full-time teaching experience) but carries a natural air of experience and authority.

All too often, less experienced teachers intentionally or unintentionally ape more experienced teachers. It's understandable enough; any good student seeks to embody the qualities of his/her mentor; however, if taken too far, it can result in diluted, disingenuous, or mediocre teaching. Novina, by comparison, isn't aping anyone. She didn't seem affected; the doses of philosophy with which she peppered her class were original, tales taken from her own life, not hackneyed New Age cliches plucked from someone else's lexicon. Her emphasis on the heart was just as technical as it was metaphorical. Overall, the class enhanced my awareness of my heart as a physical and emotional power source and refined alignment points with which I hadn't realized I'd become lax.

Veteran yogis will enjoy Novina's no nonsense approach and willingness to integrate advanced poses. Newbies will appreciate her thorough instruction and steady sequencing. You won't leave feeling out of gas, but you will be challenged. More importantly, you will enjoy yourself, appreciate her watchful eye for the finer points of alignment, and, yes, leave with a lighter, happier heart.

Why you might not: If you're enamored with a faster flow or more vigorous approach, you might feel anxious to pick up the pace. Also, die-hard yogis who seek a kitchen sink approach to practice, wherein all body parts are addressed with equal emphasis, may want for a greater variety of poses, covering more ground.

Verdict: Give it a try! Your heart will love you for it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Quieting a Chaotic Mind

Recently, I received the following pointed inquiry from a pal: I need some advice on how to relax a mind that over-thinks.

Hmmm. Have you thought about illegal substances? Gratuitous sex with strangers? Or, you could try copious amounts of good old-fashioned alcohol. If that's too potent, what about vats of Chunky Monkey ice cream? Plenty of people seem to find these mind-numbing methods to be highly effective.

[Insert dramatic clap of thunder, floods, fires, and the sound of a Tibetan gong awakening us all back to reality].

Woops. Sorry, friends. I thought I was answering the question from the perspective of the misguided masses. Okay, here goes . . . my best shot at a holistic, productive, and accessible antidote to quell the kookiness in all our heads. Whether it's racing thoughts before bedtime or an inability to relax without the aim of a tranquilizer dart, there is hope. Like anything, the ability to "still the fluctuations of the mind" gets easier with practice; it also happens to be the fundamental purpose of yoga and meditation, as cited in the Yoga Sutras.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, my stillness-seeking comrade is a former professional athlete who knows a thing or two about practicing a skill until the point of proficiency. I like to remind athletes (and non-athletes) that they already know how to meditate. If you've ever had the feeling of being completely absorbed in a particular activity, from throwing a fastball to watching the steady flicker of a campfire, you intrinsically possess the skills needed to slow down your thoughts. Meditation, when done regularly, trains your brain to become quiet. I should mention that you won't stop thinking all together, nor is that the goal; however, you will eventually find serene spaces between your thoughts. In these spaces, you will discover previously unimagined levels of restfulness, peace, and balance.

Here's how: Sit comfortably; crossed-legged on the floor or upright in a chair are easy options to start. Set an alarm, egg timer, or stopwatch for 5 minutes (you can increase duration as your focus improves). Close your eyes. Rest your hands in your lap; the mudra shown in the photo above is one of my favorites (touch all ten fingertips together; your hands will form a tepee shape). You might also try yoga mudra (thumb and pointer finger touch, rest the backs of your hands on your knees, palms face upward).

Whenever you get distracted, antsy, bored, irritated, or tired, return to the steady flow of your breathing. A helpful tip is to count your breaths, one at a time, without breaking your focus or sequence. Be sure to sit up tall, and let your hands anchor your attention. For another meditation exercise, with more heart-opening properties, click here.

Another trick of the trade that I find very helpful is my own, on-the-go version of aromatherapy. This method of achieving stillness or, at the very least, a brief reprieve from your hectic head games is incredibly simple. Invest in a few essential oils (available at Whole Foods) that prompt you to breathe deeply, smile, or hearken back to a childhood spent running through grassy meadows, filled with rainbows and bunnies . . . you get the idea. I recommend lavender, or if that seems too feminine, try rosemary or sandalwood. I love peppermint as well, but bear in mind, peppermint is a lively scent that, while calming, has more awakening properties than the others. Feel free to use it, although it might be better suited for the daytime, when you need an energy boost. Simply open the tiny jar or vile in your car, and leave it uncapped in the cupholder while on carpool duty or en route to a big meeting. Placing drop in one palm and rubbing your hands together also works. Before bed, try dabbing one drop on each temple. Your sense of scent is powerful, capable of transporting you to other places and times. Pick a few fragrances that trigger an instant unwinding in your brain- the way fresh cut grass does or the smell of the ocean. Use as needed.

Finally, I am a huge advocate of bodywork as a way to release the pressure valve in your dome. If you don't have a stellar massage therapist, find one. Never tried acupuncture? Give it a whirl; it can't hurt. (Seriously, the needles are like wisps of hay; you barely feel them). Plus, insurance companies often offer stipends to cover treatments. Also, places like Pathways to Wellness have sliding scale pay structures, so peace of mind can be a financially blind benefit.

There, now, don't you feel better already?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

For the Love of the Game

The analogies are endless. I could tell you that the Boston Celtics played out of their shoes and out of their minds. They were in the zone. They were in the moment. I could recount the ways in which this game karmically righted the wrongs we felt the morning following this year's Superbowl. I might espouse the importance of faith- because I certainly had none in Danny Ainge after watching him dismantle a decent team in favor of a catastrophic one, en route to a magnificent one. We could koombaya about the importance of teamwork or evaluate the effectiveness of mantras, particularly when thousands of people throw their whole souls into chanting them ("Beat LA" worked like a charm, no?). There are plenty of opportunities to wax poetic about Paul Pierce's drive or KG's passion or Ray Allen's finesse. Perhaps I'd make a clever pun about hOMe court advantage, sealing the deal at home sweet "om," or I could quip that O.G.'s S.O. has taken to calling Boston "Athens," as in the greatest city of its time.

Or, I could just say this: I love sports because, in their best, purest, most distilled form, they are an expression of love. Love for a game, a team, a town, and a common goal.

It's often said that there are truly only two human emotions on the planet- love and fear. At any given moment, we're operating out of one or the other. I'd like to think that it's love that wins championships.

Know Thyself!

"Ninety percent of the world's woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves."

-Sydney J. Harris

What's Your Mantra?

Commercials are usually annoying, sometimes witty, and occasionally inspiring. Rarely are they ever witty and inspiring. I have to admit, though, I'm digging the ubiquitous GMC Denali commercials that have been on heavy rotation during the NBA Finals. One, in particular, serves as the inspiration for this post- on a day when the Boston Celtics could bring home the championship, thereby reinstating normal sleep patterns to groggy fans across the city and beyond. (Sadly, for late-night, sleep-deprived bloggers, there's little hope in sight).

The spots feature an actor as parking attendant talking to an unidentified baller who rolls up to "the players' lot," presumably before a game. My favorite involves the gregarious attendant telling the player behind the wheel (of a Denali, duh!) that "Never let up," should become his mantra*. Check it out.

Do you have a favorite mantra? "Om" is a great place to start, but "Dear God, please help me; help me now, pleeeease" works just as well, too. Tell us what works for you!

*Mantra: thought or intention expressed as sound. The word mantra denotes prayer, hymn, spell, counsel, or plan.

Monday, June 16, 2008

What's on the Menu, [BB]Cutie?

Tis the season for outdoor barbecues. Many will involve sizzling grills, chilled cocktails, and desserts with Cool-Whip, and most of these same gatherings will feature bikinis, shorts, strappy sundresses, and other skin-baring threads.

Summer attire and nutritional know-how need not cause you to forgo the festive fare. Instead, simply incorporate a few healthy options into your next backyard BBQ. Here's a sample menu including some of my favorite go-to dishes:

Garbanzo, Tomato, and Cucumber Salad: Toss one can garbanzo beans with 1 small carton grape tomatoes (or a few chopped Roma tomatoes), and 1 large cucumber (chopped) with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, and ground pepper to taste.

Whole Wheat Corn Bread: I've adapted this recipe from the Brand Name Light & Natural Cookbook, and it is scrumptious. Enjoy a slice for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It even gets raves from O.G.'s S.O., who's never met a grilled slab of meat he didn't like and is a reliable barometer of whether I'm able to pull off healthy revisions to recipes without sacrificing flavor.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix together the following dry ingredients:

1 c. cornmeal
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

Add the remaining ingredients:

1/4 c. honey
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. unsweetened, all natural applesauce (or use oil)
1 c. skim milk
2 eggs

Beat all ingredients together, vigorously, for two minutes ("Holy forearm workout, Batman!"). Pour into a greased 8-inch square pan. Bake for 25 minutes. Heavenly when served warm.

Main Course
Turkey Burgers: Click here for the recipe.

Tofu Chocolate Pie: I never throw a party without it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Four Lessons From My Father

My parents were never big on toys. They claim this was an intentional and strategic parenting tactic to cultivate creativity and imagination within me and my brother. In this regard, they were thoroughly successful; however, I'm inclined to believe that their opposition to Barbie's Dream House and Nintendo 64 can also be attributed to the fact that, when we were growing up, they were young entrepreneurs who probably didn't have gratuitous toy budgets. The truth is my brother was partial to emptying the contents of a kitchen cabinet and making blissfully improvisational music with the pots and pans, while I relished the nights when my dad, an aspiring chef, brought home dozens of green, plastic cartons- the kind in which strawberries were sold- for me to construct whimsical castles of my own design. Plus, my makeshift blocks were so light (read: soundless) that I could gleefully knock them over without fraying my mother's last nerve.

Don't get me wrong, my brother and I had toys, but they weren't the highly coveted ones for which parents stood in long lines on Christmas Eve because a second-grader's sanity was at stake, and there was no play room in our house, flush with games and gadgets on every shelf and spilling over the edges of trunks and chests. Instead, we were encouraged to play any sport or undertake any activity under the sun- particularly the ones with minimal equipment needed and likelihood of bodily injury. Swimming, ballet, theatre, baseball, sailing, ice hockey, field hockey, track, and lacrosse- collectively, my brother and I were like a two-person college athletic department. Some careers lasted longer than others. I played soccer on an all-boys team once, but no one passed to me, so that was pretty short-lived. Thankfully, my parents also privileged vacations over material possessions, which was okay by everyone.

My point is simple: my parents taught us to value experiences over things.

And, for this, I am eternally grateful. Even now, I'd rather hike a mountain with my beau than receive an expensive bauble from him. My best friend and I prefer to share fresh rolls and tom yum soup for under $10, each, over swilling $10 cocktails at a swanky, downtown bar. My favorite pair of evening footwear? Neigh a pair of Jimmy Choos but, rather, a pair of gold Dr. Scholl's wedges that I unearthed at Marshall's recently, the ultimate bargain shopping triumph. I literally did a victory lap around the apartment in them upon returning home from the expedition.

My parents taught me lots of other lessons too, like tying my shoes (so many footwear references, here, I feel like Carrie Bradshaw, albeit on a MUCH smaller budget!), using scissors, and not resting on my elbows at the dinner table. However, in light of Father's Day, I'd like to focus on a few lessons that I learned from my dad. There are lots of them, including driving and, consequently, speeding, but for the sake of brevity, I'll share only four.

1.) "Boys are a four-letter word." It's amazing that I would look upon this maxim of his with anything resembling approval or nostalgia, now, because during my youth, I cringed whenever I heard it. He would say it in jest, meaning boys, in our house, were a concept as vulgar as four-letter swear words. Eventually, dad lightened up, but I still think his wary eye helped me cultivate a belief in and reliance on myself, above all else. I'm dismayed when women, particularly in this day and age, await the rescue of prince charming rather than reach down for the reservoir of strength that resides within themselves.

2.) Do something right, or don't do it at all. Spoken like any self-made man or woman, my dad constantly underscored the importance of hard work. As a result, I've found that a superior work ethic rarely goes unnoticed, and when people take notice, it means you've made an impact. Make enough of an impact, often enough, and you become the master of your own destiny.

3.) The more you have, the more you give. When I was a kid, before my parents had much wealth to share, they gave rides, opened the guest room, provided jobs, and always offered an extra seat at our dinner table to someone in need. More recently, my dad has hosted golf tournaments for charity and donated to worthy causes when possible.

4.) Food is love. My dad is a chef. He can create gourmet meals in minutes, out of a seemingly bare cupboard. We often joke that you could give him a carrot, a Twinkie, and some wasabi and he'd somehow turn it into a gourmet meal. Seriously. I'm not kidding. I've seen it . . . Okay, maybe not the Twinkie. The lesson, here, is that food is a resource to be celebrated. Carbs are not the enemy, nor is dessert. Enjoy your food. Break bread with others. If you love someone, cook them a meal.

Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Go Loco For A Good Cause

What: Boloco Heartbreak Hill Grand Prix, including 5K and 10K running races, followed by pro-am bicycle races of 20-50 miles in distance.

Where: Beacon Street, Newton Centre

When: Sunday, June 29

Why: To benefit Livestrong, The Lance Armstrong Foundation

For more information: Visit the website.

Befitting the nature of the race, the founder of its beneficiary, Lance Armstrong, ran the Boston Marathon this year, thereby facing off against the legendary Heartbreak Hill for the first time. He also beat cancer several years ago and won some bike race in France a bunch of times . . . But perhaps you've heard this? If not- perhaps you are a martian? In which case, I'm thrilled you've found the blog. Welcome!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Align Your Thoughts, Words, and Deeds

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."

-Mohandas Gandhi

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Stories Our Bodies Tell

My left ankle makes disgusting grinding noises when I roll it in a certain direction. There's a sizable scar on my right elbow, and another- the shape of a crescent moon- that resides on my left shin. My toes are substantially mangled, my knuckles knobby and many of my fingers crooked. Half of one of my front teeth is fake.

Each of these flaws tell a story. I sprained my left ankle at field hockey camp in high school and prematurely began playing on it, too brazen and impatient to wait out the healing process. Just before falling overboard, I hooked my right arm around a cable on a sailboat in attempts to catch myself. Instead, some wayward wires from the cable sliced into my arm . . . I still fell overboard, in all my clothes, shoes too. The scar on my left shin happened while hiking in upstate New York; it's the most recent mark and occurred among a group of women friends that range in age from 28 to 60. We talked about almost everything on that hike, which is probably why I missed the slender yet sharp tree stump that caught me in the leg. My toes still bear the marks of a ballerina, even though I haven't worn pointe shoes in more than a decade. When I was 7, I slipped, chasing down a basketball while wearing my best shoes; I literally bit a gymnasium floor. One of my first adult teeth chipped on contact. For the five years that followed, until it was fixed, I only half smiled in every school picture.

These marks will never go away. Some might be called ugly. Some are skin deep, some hidden below the surface. All of them are mine.

In a way, I am proud of these imperfections. They tell stories of adolescent stubbornness, childhood folly, and a life lived in motion.

It's easy to get wrapped up in society's tendency to focus on what our bodies don't do or don't look like and what we can do to fix, plump, polish, or shrink whatever that is. Instead, take a moment to recount some of your favorite flaws, beautiful battle wounds, and overlooked physical triumphs. Rather than bemoan the way your banged up knees look in a mini skirt, relish the fact that your legs kept you active enough that you could wipe out with aplomb. Rethink your back pain, so that it reveals gratitude for surviving that fender bender so many years ago. Curse a few extra pounds from time to time, or see them as the natural function of a healthy body that's enjoying good food.

Maybe it's because I just returned home from my swish health club with all its mirrored walls and magazine racks full of tabloids (which- don't get me wrong- I digest with voyeuristic delight on occasion, as well), but I feel certain that we, collectively, need to see our bodies (and the bodies of others) as more than imperfect play things waging war against gravity and time. Rather, let's attempt to make peace with the vessel that carries out our dreams, ideals, and good deeds.

Today, notice when you judge your body or someone else's. Catch the snarky thoughts and snide remarks, and substitute them with an inward expression of gratitude for your physical being.

Feel free to report back with your small triumphs. Ditching the negative self-talk today? Happy you decided not to straighten that snaggletooth? Embracing your curves? Boldly going bald? You deserve to sing your own praises and, by doing so, will inevitably empower others to do the same.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Why Do You Do Yoga?

Recently, a former yoga student and, now, current friend quipped, "You're probably the youngest yoga teacher, ever, to go into retirement." At this, I laughed and quipped back, "Giving me plenty of time to come out of retirement!" Truth be told, I have time to come out and go back in again, multiple times, a la basketball legend and one time Washington Wizard Michael Jordan and rapper/master quipster (and husband to Beyonce) Jay-Z, not to mention Roger Clemens- although, come to think of it- let's not mention him.

This is not to suggest that I belong in the same fraternity as these word-class athletes/celebrities; I just couldn't think of any recognizable corporate types (or yoga types, for that matter), who have peek-a-booed in and out of retirement. When was the last time you heard someone make a fuss over an accountant who got bored with golf and fishing and, therefore, rejoined the workforce? Just doesn't have the same appeal, does it?

To date, I've only come out of yoga teaching retirement on a few choice occasions, namely a large benefit class in conjunction with Global Mala and a few private classes, taught for small groups of friends when the mood has hit me, which was the case a couple weekends ago, when I led a collection of om gals through an impromptu practice on a beach-front deck in Maine.

The sequence and timing happened organically, as I found myself largely inspired by our scenic surroundings. Tree pose, for example, takes on a whole new meaning when you are practicing among actual trees, rather than sweaty fellow students crammed into a busy studio, huffing and puffing and ujayi breathing along with the hum of heaters, fans, humidifiers, outside traffic, and more. A yogi outdoors can't help but feel the influence of his/her natural environs. Each downward dog feels more playful if there's an elderly yellow lab lumbering around nearby. A bird of paradise blossoms more readily when given sunshine and fresh air. Eagle pose (shown above) sores more freely on an ocean breeze and appears more spacious from a panoramic view.

From our perch on the deck overlooking an expanse of sparsely populated beach, eagle pose, in particular, seemed like the most natural movement in the world. I recall mentioning to my class of weekend companions that eagles have keen eyesight, providing them the ability to see their prey from far off distances. Then, while holding the posture and staring out at the ocean before us, I stated the following:

We practice yoga in order to see the world more clearly.

I can't imagine that this organically occurring insight was wildly different from anything my friends had heard before, from their respective teachers in New York and London; however, it resonated with them and with me. Ultimately, I do believe that the greatest gift that a yoga practice can give us is the ability to see the world around us through a clear lens, to evaluate challenges with an uncluttered mind and open heart, and continually free ourselves from illusion and ignorance.

And, this makes me wonder . . . Why do you practice yoga?

Obviously, there are no "right" answers. Feel free to offer up the poetic ("To cease the fluctuations of the mind") or the practical ("It's cheaper than therapy"). The reason for this inquiry is two-fold. First, I'm curious, and second, it's a valuable practice to consider why you do what you do. Recognizing why you're inclined to get on your yoga mat will likely enhance your focus, motivation, and flow while you're there.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Review Your View of Beauty

Chances are you scrutinize your looks, to some degree, on a daily basis. These routine critiques of our bellies and bald spots, thigh dimples and eye wrinkles drain precious resources, namely energy and self-esteem. Yet, there's no need to beat yourself up further for the judgmental perspective you've acquired over the years. Instead, consider how you might shake the negativity. To start, check out this video created by Dove , see the ill will toward your appearance for the illusion that it is, and then, "take two." You have the ability to star in the beautiful motion picture of your own life, the only one over which you have any control and, therefore, the only one that truly matters.

Time Saving Tip For Your A.M. Exercise Routine

I'm just returning from a morning workout and wanted to share the following time saving tip with a few of my fellow groggy gym and yoga studio goers . . . Sleep in your clothes!

Obviously, this tip presupposes that you exercise in relaxed, loosely fitting duds. (I wouldn't recommend sleeping in your leotard). This simple trick will shave valuable minutes off your morning routine, getting you out the door with less hassle.

Further preparation the night before is also key. Fill and place your water bottle in the fridge. Pick out your attire for the day, therefore streamlining the process of getting ready after hitting the showers. If you're running, walking, biking, or participating in any other outdoor activity, check the weather before bed, and plan accordingly.

Finally, infuse your early bird regimen with a dose of added fun so that the premature alarm isn't so daunting. Set your clock radio to wake you up with instantly entertaining music. Save a stellar magazine, like Outside, for the elliptical machine, or treat yourself to a new, special bath and beauty product, like a facial mask or body scrub, in the locker-room.

Have a tip that maximizes your workout during a certain time of day? Maybe you've mastered the lunch hour jaunt through the Common or relish catching Grey's Anatomy from the treadmill. Tell us!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Om Gal Recommends Running Tunes

In reference to a recent post on running, a request was made for some tips on workout tunes- at which point I went "radio silent," uneasy about the prospect of revealing such intimate details as my musical taste. [If I don't tread carefully, the fact that I dig that Miley Cyrus song might surface]. I secretly hoped that a fellow reader would take the reigns by recommending some foolproof jams to make you want to move your body, kick up your feet, and crank out an extra mile or two.

Alas, I'm destined to go it alone for the betterment of the blogosphere . . . Okay, not really, it just seemed like a good question with some fun, possible answers. Here are a few of the upbeat picks on heavy rotation on my iPod. Please add your own!

Crank it up:

Crazy, Alanis Morissette: You might recognize this one from The Devil Wears Prada or the 90s hit by Seal. Either way, it's fabulous.

Get Ur Freak On, Missy Elliott: Few do body movin' beats like Missy. It's impossible not to pick up the pace to this one. It's also near impossible to resist singing the saucy lyrics aloud- for me, at least.

Stronger, Kayne West: Say what you will about the size of his ego; his music is unmatched. Before making his own hits, he engineered beats for Jay-Z and others. The man's got talent, and the song's got you lapping that kid on the Big Wheel around Castle Island at least twice.

Hollaback Girl, Gwen Stefani: An irresistible rhythm and a message to boot. Om gals, if you listen to no other piece of advice dispensed herein, let is be thus: Be nobody's hollaback girl. Ever.

Umbrella, Rhianna: The perfect song to put a spring in your step in any type of weather.

Die Another Day, Madonna: Translation: Don't stop yet. Keep running.

I'm Shipping Up to Boston, The Dropkick Murphy's: Thanks to The Departed, Papelbon's Irish jig [see photo above], and, now, the Celtics, this testosterone-filled jam is getting tired for some. I'm still running on its fumes, which is particularly fun through the streets of Southie.

99 Problems, Jay-Z: This one is for the boys. There's nothing Zen about it. If you must swagger, this is the song, and a workout is the place to do it.

Always on My Mind, Pet Shop Boys: Confession? I swiped this one from the playlist of a spinning teacher at the Copley BSC. Crank it up; your feet will surely follow.

Cool it down:

Used to Love U, John Legend: A former Boston resident, this guy is equally smooth when performing in person. This song is a great transitional song- from running to walking or being in a relationship to breaking up, as the title suggests.

Snow (Hey Oh), Red Hot Chili Peppers: I simply cannot maintain an ornery or unpleasant mood if this song is playing. I challenge you to try the same.

Man in the Mirror, Michael Jackson: If you close your eyes, it sounds like 1988, and Jacko looks less startling.