Wednesday, February 25, 2009

For the Record: Om Gal Will Not Give Up Sugar This Year

It seems it's that time of year again; today is Ash Wednesday . . . Perhaps you recall last year's harrowing tale of my dependency issues with sugar. In the end, I made it through my Lenten promise to forgo my fix of choice, however, not without some serious withdrawal symptoms and stockpiles of dried mango. I'm due to make another sacrifice for the next 40 days, and I could use the astute feedback of my readers. Any suggestions? Will you be giving up anything for Lent? Not Catholic? How about supplying the straight dope on how you're faring with last month's New Year's resolutions?

C'mon friends, give up the goods on giving up your vices. What habits have you successfully kicked? How did you do it?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quote: Possibility

"A possibility was born the day you were born, and it will live as long as you live."

-Marcus Solero

Friday, February 20, 2009

Got Weekend Plans, Boston Yogis?

Om pal, Karen Fabian, teaches a 2-hour "bootcamp" style yoga workshop at Charlestown Yoga (Saturday, 1:00-3:00 p.m.). It promises a challenging practice, a reprieve from the chilly temps outside, and plenty of Karen's signature positivity.

Also on my yogi radar this weekend:

  • Newly minted A Little Yoga, in Wellesley, which opened its doors earlier this month.
  • Prana flow with Chanel Luck at Sports Club/LA, Saturday, 8:30-10:00 a.m.
  • Power yoga with Roman Szpond at Inner Strength, Saturday, 7:15 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 4:00 p.m., and Coeli Marsh, Sunday, 9:00 a.m.
  • Slow flow with Emily Phillips, Equinox Fitness, Saturday, 9:00 a.m.
  • Gyrotonic classes at The Movement Center, Saturday, 1:00 p.m., and Sunday, 11:30.
  • The new running line at Lululemon. I heart yellow, and there's lots of it cropping up for spring.
  • Viparita karani, a pose in which I intend to spend some serious time this weekend.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Remember NYC Gal?

Perhaps some of you recall NYC Gal, the yin to my yang, the Beirut beer game to my root vegetable receipe? This is the type of thing she sends me on a quiet Thursday afternoon, just for kicks . . .

While her sports teams might be sub-standard, and her city, in general, resembles the frenetic, sophmoric, younger sister to a more refined Boston, she is funny. You have to hand her that.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Quote of the Day, Actually, Make That Bumper Sticker

Spotted in Cambridge: You Are Not What You Own.

Right on, dude . . .

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fiscally Friendly Fitness

One thing has become abundantly clear to all of us of late: Our country is in the midst of a devastating recession. Psychologically speaking, this news effects people in many different ways. Some become anxious, others opportunistic, and, still, others resigned. Yet, despite the variances in our emotional states, there's one pragmatic thing we all have in common- a heightened level of scrutiny surrounding our spending habits. We're not spending as much or as often. We're looking for ways to streamline our budgets, protect our assets, or simply stay afloat financially. We direct this scrutiny toward a greater number of purchases each day. What began as "Do I really need a vacation this year?" has become "Do I really need the brand-name cereal versus the generic one?" in just a few short months.

Our spending on health and wellness is shifting too. People used to inquire where they should go to practice yoga. Now, they often ask me how they can do it at home. While gyms still seem crowded, spas do not. One well-established yoga teacher pal recently lamented that her private client list has been dwindling for months. Another confessed that she's been practicing solo more often than attending classes at a studio; she's watching her finances more closely, and, in a pinch, she figures she may as well teach herself.

However, not everyone can be his/her own yoga teacher, personal trainer, or nutritionist. City apartments hardly double as health clubs, and DVDs can't replace your favorite teachers and coaches. Still, there are ways to streamline your fitness budget without expanding your waistline and defray costs without fraying your nerves for lack of a healthy outlet for stress (economic or otherwise).

Curtail Extraneous Costs: Rather than sacrifice your workout of choice, simply pay more attention to the nonessential costs you accrue while participating in this activity. For example, are you bleeding funds on periphery costs that provide little payback, such as buying water when you could bring your own water bottle from home (for free), paying the parking fee in the garage of your swish gym when you could walk, or renting a yoga mat each class rather than bringing your own? Think about where the price of your workout could stand to slim down and make a commitment to nipping those expenditures- like an overpaid CEO relinquishing his private jet.

Consider Your CPW: Some workouts are pricier than others. Plain and simple. Not to mention, when you consider the information above, there are a host of trivial expenses that can creep in, making any activity even more expensive than necessary. The key is to invest in efficacy. Buying a yoga mat, new pair of running shoes, or shiny new snowboard might seem indulgent when you're trying to cut corners; however, when you divide it by the usage you will get, you arrive at your "cost per workout" or CPW, as I like to say. Rather than habitually rent equipment, consider investing in your own. If you know that a sharp pair of sneaks will kick-start your running program (no additional costs there; the streets are your playground!), then fork over the cash and feel good about it. Sometimes, a more cost-effective approach to health in the long-run begins with a worthwhile wellness investment up front.

Double-Book Your Workout and Social Appointments: Dining out at fancy restaurants with friends is fun. Sipping a $4 latte while gabbing with your BFF is a ball. Swilling wine or imbibing a few brews while catching up with pals are meaningful activities that I would not begrudge anyone (plus, it's a good way to support small business in your area). However, you can spend precious time with your pals without the guise of buying goods and services as an excuse to rendez-vous every time, and you can even get some exercise simultaneously. Go for a walk; play a game of hoops; take a jog, or allow your schedules to coincide at the yoga studio. You can still dine and drink together if you like, but bear in mind, you can also spend time together without spending money. Moreover, you can get some exercise too.

Om Sweet Home: People often ask me how they can start practicing yoga at home. There's no divine secret here. You simply have to START. One of my first yoga teachers was fond of hailing yoga for being so portable and productive that you can "do it in a prison cell." He had a point . . .

Be Resourceful: Now more than ever, we are living in an age of superfluous information, and much of it is free. To keep yourself motivated, get sound advice, and access workout options on the cheap, scour podcasts and blogs. Call your local community center. Swing by your favorite sporting goods stores or yoga apparel retailers and ask what kind of promotions or partnerships they have on the horizon. Niketown has a weekly running group. Lululemon often offers yoga, dance, or other fitness classes for free in its store locations, either before or after closing. The universe is teeming with health experts who want to help you achieve your goals (myself included!). Find a few resources on which you can depend and use them regularly to keep you atop your fitness game.

Have an Exit Strategy: Investors are fond of this term, as it describes the point at which they terminate ownership in a company and recoup the capital they've invested. If you find that your financial situation has changed dramatically (e.g. you've lost a job or taken a pay cut), then you may not be able to eek by on bringing your own water bottle. In truth, you may feel the need to cancel your gym membership or sell your sweet road bike. Yet, for the purposes of preserving both your physical and mental health, you might benefit from devising a strategy that dovetails from your foregone fitness activity of choice into a newer, cheaper option. Can you pick up a few workout DVDs at Goodwill, as my pal at recommends, borrow your roommate's bike to commute to work, or begin attending a yoga class that accepts donations rather than charges a fee or charges a reduced rate if you can overlook certain amenities? If you contemplate the impact of a recession on your health in advance, you'll be better positioned to manage the changes in your routine and, even, benefit from the creative solutions you might find.

Work "In" Rather Than Workout: Ultimately, there are many, many more important things to worry about other than how you'll get by without private Pilates sessions. Yet, exercise is essential to being equipped to deal with the adversity that life presents. Sure, your booty benefits from a gym membership, but more notably, you need daily exercise to keep your ticker happy, blood pressure in check, and stress levels under control. Perhaps you've heard that the "only thing constant, in life, is change." Times of economic uncertainty are no different. However, while this recession plays out, you don't have to lose your sense of playfulness. And, if, for whatever reason, you can't summon the motivation to exercise while tending to larger, socioeconomic issues, turn your attention inward and try to meditate, even if for a mere 10 minutes a day. I promise this simple activity will pay dividends over time.

Postscript: Om Gal devised this post in her head while running along the Charles River in her New Balance 993 sneakers ($139.99). If she runs a minimum of 4-times per week for 6-months, the sneakers will cost $1.45 per use.

She will be teaching a series of FREE yoga classes in Boston at Lululemon, Prudential Center at 7:00 p.m. on the last three Sundays of March. All are welcome.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dear Cupid . . .

We need to talk . . . It occurs to me that you’ve coasted along on your reputation for centuries with nary a question about your credentials.  Sure, your mom was the goddess of love, Aphrodite or Venus (depending on whether you’re feeling Greek or Roman and, presumably, whichever one is more lenient with your cell phone privileges that week), but we put a lot of credence in your powers, and I’m wondering just how prudent that is.     

Should people really peg their Valentine’s Day hopes and dreams on a guy who forgets to wear pants?

Furthermore, you are most often depicted as a child, wielding dangerous weapons.  Now, some people claim that is risky, but I beg to differ.  Hoping to be struck through the heart with one of your arrows seems far more reckless.  I also question your endorsement deals.  With your image emblazoned on everything from chocolate boxes to greeting cards to goofy-looking pajama pants, I have to wonder if your branding message is losing its luster.  If you’re such an advocate of true love and swooning romance, then why not pay us a visit more often?  Surely, people would greet you with more enthusiasm if you didn’t just pop by in time to hit pay dirt every second-week of February. 

Forgive me, Cupid, if I come off a bit harsh.  I’m all in favor of love—dizzying, ecstatic, embarrassing, gushing love.  My affinity for chocolate, too, is well-documented, and I believe love letters are an art form; poetry, a prerequisite.  Yet, I have trouble celebrating such a clich├ęd day.  To me, red roses are positively ho-hum, and elaborate dinners, even in a boom economy, are a little silly.  The expectations are out of hand, and the intention is somewhat misguided; can we agree on that? 

Why not tell the masses to skip the fanfare and do something small that sends their hearts aflutter, today?  Acknowledge that pitchers and catchers report to spring training this weekend (it’s enough to make all of Red Sox nation weak in the knees).  Spend time with a favorite small child, showering him/her with affection and maybe Hershey Kisses.  Gather up a bunch of fabulous singletons and toast the relationships you do have, rather than bemoan one you don't. Partake in a heart-pumping workout that spikes your endorphins, or spread some love by making a donation, even a small one, to a charity that warms your heart.  Spare your sweetie a corny, mass-produced card and make a kooky, handmade one, instead.   

Love cannot be manufactured.  It can’t be bought or sold.  It doesn’t wait for the calendar to indicate when it should make its next move.  Sometimes, apparently, it doesn’t even wear pants in public.  Right, Cupid?  Indeed, love is fickle.  

xo Om Gal  

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday the 13th: How Do You Spook Yourself?

I'm squeamish when it comes to scary movies. For Halloween, I eschew costumes featuring fake blood in favor of those that require heavy eyeliner (a la Cleopatra). I couldn't even get through the DaVinci Code with all its references to self-flagellation and such. In other words, I'm a bit of a chicken.

Still, I understand the value of a good dose of fear once in awhile. It helps us grow by prompting us to delve deeper into our personal well-spring of courage and possibility. What's more invigorating than looking down into a deep, unknown abyss and diving in, only to emerge on the other side thinking, Gee, that wasn't so bad? I choose to tempt fate (or, at least, adrenaline) through athletic activities, as outlined in my "Letter to My Friend, Fear" following a bicycle trip in France last fall. More recently, I've committed to taking up the sport of snowboarding, despite feelings of sheer terror and nausea on the chair lift up the mountain and a quivering lower lip while standing at the top looking down a daunting slope. OK, so maybe it was the bunny hill; look, fear is relative, people!

That much is certain. Fear is indeed relative. Millions of people loved the DaVinci Code, and yours truly couldn't get past the first 40 pages. I have a pal who plays professional football, wherein some of the largest, fiercest, fastest athletes in the world literally attempt to flatten him into the ground (hmmm, sounds like my snowboarding wipe outs) on a weekly basis, and you know what terrifies him most? Clown makeup. Yup. He can handle the rubber nose and the floppy shoes, but my brawny friend is overcome by waves of anxiety when people paint their faces. He once had an altercation with a college teammate who went a little too far with the eye black just to yuk it up in the locker room.

So, all you scaredy cats and Buffy the Vampire Slayer buffs out there, tell us: what spooks you most, or how do you conquer your fears?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Dalai Lama Is Not Following Me

I've had an ongoing fascination with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama since college. I've studied his life, read his books, and watched Kundun, the breathtaking Martin Scorsese flick about the man whom many consider to be the living reincarnation of Buddha, countless times. I've quizzed my friends who have had the privilege of meeting him, imploring them to share every detail. One of my dearest pals has a photo of the exact moment when she was in the presence of the Dalai Lama (he's smiling, of course; her head is bowed slightly; she wears a white scarf). The photo is framed and visible from her kitchen table, and I stare at it whenever I visit. We've passed several hours at that kitchen table, and I'm sure she thinks we have deeply meaningful conversations wherein I listen intently- but, truthfully, I'm gazing at "14," hearing nary a peep, and merely inserting a few well-timed nods when necessary. OK, slight exaggeration (particularly since my pal could be reading this). But, you get the point. I'm enthralled.

You can imagine my glee when the Dalai Lama, himself, joined Twitter last week and started following me. Surely, it was just an automated nicety, wherein he returns the favor to everyone that opts to follow updates and insights from the office of His Holiness (HH), but I still experienced a glimmer of joy knowing that the Dalai Lama or, at the very least, someone who manages his online image would possibly see an update from Om Gal. Maybe I'd give this person a chuckle (have you heard the Dalai Lama's laugh, by the way? It's phenomenal and famous all by itself). Maybe the throngs of followers of my favorite monk would tune into my "tweets" as well? No doubt, HH would soon be sending me a direct message ("dm") to see if I wanted to have a cup of tea and talk about world peace. Friends would visit my home and remark on the framed photograph on my wall, and I would nonchalantly say, "Oh, that one? That was taken at a Sox game. HH loves the Red Sox now."

Alas, these were the far-flung cyber-space dreams of a gal gone a tad bit ta-ta. Even the folks at Twitter sensed that something was up, so they investigated the identity of the profile claiming to be maintained by the office of His Holiness, discovered it was a farce (bad karma, dude!), and suspended the account. Check out the article for yourself, here.

So, I'm not following the Dalai Lama; I never was, nor was he following me. Instead, I'm probably receiving updates from some random, half-crazed fan, who toils away in the blogosphere day and night. I mean, what the heck would I have in common with a person like that?

Postscript: The Dalai Lama plans to visit Boston (Gillette Stadium, May 2) this spring. He has no plans to have tea with Om Gal.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Om Gal Hangs With A Woodstock Legend

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing Richie Havens perform and meeting him afterwards at the opening of the Regattabar Jazz Festival at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, MA. (Renee Zellweger happened to be attending a simultaneously occurring event downstairs, honored as Harvard's Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year on Thursday; sad to say, I didn't cross paths with Bridget Jones). Richie and I, on the other hand, hit it off. How could we not? What with both of us being fans of President Obama and turquoise jewelry and all. If nothing else, my brush with a Woodstock great confirmed something I often believed growing up: it's possible I was born in the wrong decade. My birthday even occurred during the historic hippie music festival- alas, one decade too late.

If you could live through any other decade or era in time, which one would it be?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Fitness for Seniors

In the waning days of 2008, I appeared on Boston's Talk Radio Station, WRKO, with host Mariellen Burns to discuss getting healthy in the year ahead. I shared tips on all the standard New Year's stuff like setting manageable goals and navigating toward success in a desired area of your life, whether it be fitness or flossing daily. I reassured listeners that resolutions are indeed advisable and effective, underscoring that this site,, is the product of last year's resolution. Then, I got harangued by "Bill from Hamilton." About what, I've yet to determine. Apparently, there's something highly offensive about encouraging people to exercise and eat healthy. Who knew?

In addition to Bill's colorful outburst, during which he actually used the word "gobbledy-goop," there were plenty of other high points throughout the hour that I was on-air. One of my favorite callers was a woman named Joan, who inquired about the best styles of yoga for seniors. Coupled with a reader query earlier this winter from a woman seeking to help keep her elderly parents active, Joan's question presents an opportune time to outline the best physical activities for seniors in a dedicated post.

Most of us are well aware that staying active keeps the brain and body healthier longer. In fact, I recently read that people who play golf into their later years live, on average, five years longer than those who don't. To that end, here's a sampling of 8 recommended exercises for seniors, including the best styles of yoga and other genres of movement:

Yoga: Choosing the right style of yoga for seniors is imperative. For example, you would be ill-advised to bring grandma to a Bikram class, with its temperatures of upwards of 100 degrees. Not to mention, there's a viable risk of misleading Nana into thinking that shag carpeting is en vogue again, which we all know is not the case but merely one of the great mysteries of Bikram studios around the globe. With all that sweating, why the carpet? Ick! I'm sorry; I digress . . . The good news is that there are PLENTY of styles of yoga to suit the temperature restrictions and taste sensibilities of all of us; seniors are no exception. In fact, when I stumbled into my first yoga class at 16 years-old, I recall being surrounded by retired Cape Codders. My instructor, too, had been teaching yoga since the 70s and had a full head of silvery hair to prove it. (I'm proud to say she's still teaching, and yoga seems to have frozen time for her. She's as radiant as ever; silver hair and all). The style of yoga that we practiced was extremely gentle, billed as hatha, and perfect for maintaining flexibility and mobility, in addition to increasing mental clarity and creating a deep sense of peace.

Look for: Classes or DVDs described as hatha, restorative, or Kripalu. Reference the web for free videos geared toward seniors, such as this series on Expert Village. Access your local recreation center, community hall, senior center, or adult education facilities.

Pilates: With gaggles of svelte athletes, A-listers, movie stars, TV sirens, and tabloid princesses claiming that Pilates has reshaped their figures, it's enough of a trendy buzz to make us forget that this style of exercise was developed by Joseph Pilates while working with hospital bed-bound patients so that they could regain their strength and mobility. Thus, Pilates is a fantastic way for seniors to stay fit and agile.

Look for:
An instructor who's accustomed to working with all age groups, but particularly seniors, beginner-level DVDs that can be done at home, or books on the same topic.

Gyrotonic & Gyrokinesis: I would describe Gyrotonic as the lovechild of Pilates, swimming, ballet, and Tai Chi. I felt amazing after my session at The Movement Center in Boston and learned from Kathy Van Patten, the studio's owner and director, that many of her clients are well into their 70s and 80s. She swears that this system of movement keeps people so limber, healthy, and pain-free that their posture and activity levels betray their years.

Look for: Swanky studios that can afford the overhead associated with the pricey equipment.

Feldenkrais: My first yoga teacher (you know, the radiant one with the beautiful silver locks) used to integrate The Feldenkrais Method into our yoga classes on occasion. While my exposure to this method is limited, I can vouch that it's a very gentle and pleasant form of movement- perfect for seniors. Described as "somatic education that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning," Feldenkrais increases range of motion, improves flexibility and coordination, and encourages graceful, efficient movement.

Look for: A teacher near you on the Fendenkrais website:

Tai Chi: In 2000, I traveled around the world (literally circumnavigating the globe), stopping in ten different countries along the way. Vietnam was among my favorite places to visit. Put simply, it took my breath away. In every way possible. Some experiences cracked my heart open and emptied its contents onto the ground, while others gingerly placed it back together again. Among the most wonderful sights that I saw during my travels in Asia was sunrise in one of the town squares of Vietnam. Thankfully, one of my professors tipped me off to wake up before dawn and head down to the town center where I soon found I wasn't alone. In fact, it seemed everyone was there . . . exercising. The groggy sun had yet to join us, but every other resident of the town was awake and greeting the day in a silent, peaceful, and healthy manner. Large groups convened to practice the fluid movements of Tai Chi (an ancient Chinese art, practiced around the world) while others stretched, walked, or jogged. I even watched a man, who I would venture to guess was in his 90s, sit on a park bench and lift his legs up and down in a makeshift, seated, marching action. Along the Charles River in Boston, among throngs of cyclists and runners, this might look downright ridiculous, but the beauty of the entire experience was this: Nobody gave a hoot what they looked like. They were moving because it was the healthiest, most grounding, most naturally invigorating way to begin their day. They weren't wearing fancy clothes or evaluating themselves with watches that track time, pace, heart rate, mileage and caloric intake; they were working "in" as well as "working out." Moreover, I sensed a deep feeling of community and commitment from standing in the heart of a town and watching all of its citizens greet a day together. For me, Tai Chi is symbolic of that experience, with the only goal being to move deliberately and naturally and to give your body a form of expression that feels good.

Look for: Groups that practice Tai Chi together in your area, perhaps along a river, in a park, or on a beach. Check the offerings at your local recreation centers and community halls. In a pinch, call a martial arts school and ask for their recommendation.

Swimming & Water Aerobics: Get thee to the Y [YMCA], and jump in! Exercising in the water is the best way to protect joints, which is imperative as we age. If laps aren't your thing, try holding the pool's edge and flutter-kicking; doing jumping jacks in the shallow end; walking, jogging, or treading water.

Look for: Local YMCAs, health clubs, or universities that have "open swim" times, classes for seniors, or "adult swim" sessions (we all love the kiddies, but nothing interrupts your zen-like state while working out in the pool like an over-enthused game of Marco Polo).

Wii: Nobody saw this coming, but the interactive gaming experience that's reached frenzied levels of popularity among "kids these days" has also received the senior stamp of approval. Assisted living facilities, like one in Virginia operated by the family of a college pal, have started offering this experience to their residents onsite (my friend tells me their residents are hooked!). From bowling to tennis to yoga and more, Wii simulates the experience for users in a fun, unintimidating environment- your home!

Look for: Grandchildren who want to teach their grandparents how to play, assisted living facilities who are open to new activities and technologies, or the nearest retailer (the gaming console runs around $250).

Remember our ultimate fitness goal is not to "get" fit, as if it were a task to be checked off our to-do list; our goal is to live a healthy lifestyle, enabling us to participate in activities we enjoy from sunrise to sunset, alone or in groups, today and everyday.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Things That Send My Heart Aflutter

As Valentine's Day approaches, I've been reflecting on what sends my heart aflutter. Surely, there are the obvious choices: yoga, books, chocolate, my godchildren. But, here's one kooky one for you: I heart sunglasses. They brighten my life, I swear. You can laugh, but apparently the fascination started young. I'm told about the age of 3. Most of the pairs I gravitated toward back then covered half my face (since they were my mom's). This hasn't changed much; the bigger, the better. I scored this pair tonight at my preferred house of fashion, Marshall's. (Yup, I adore snagging a stylish steal). These keepers were a mere, wallet-friendly $7.99. My heart skips another beat just by typing that. Plus, they're the perfect hue for Valentine's Day.

Come on, friends, which quirky finds, little trinkets, or guilty pleasures do you love?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Running" Footage of Om Gal's Superbowl Celebration

Most of us in New England could care less about the Superbowl today, and Lord knows we'd prefer not to recall one iota of last year's debacle. We're a sturdy breed; yet, last year's loss makes us want to find a quiet corner and collectively rock ourselves in the fetal position.

Given that I couldn't find a local event where people engage in that kind of self-soothing en masse, I settled for the next best thing: a 10K road race. The endorphins that runners experience certainly do ease one's sorrows, and that pleasure-inducing principle is compounded when you're running with a pack of other like-minded people, like say, 1,500 of them, as was the case this morning at the Super Sunday 10K to benefit the Livestrong Foundation. (Sorry, gals, no Lance in sight).

The whole experience, despite being somewhat chilly, was so much fun that I couldn't help spontaneously capturing the above "running footage" as I crossed the finish line. You should be forewarned that this clip isn't making it to Cannes anytime soon. In other words, the cinematography leaves something to be desired. Unless the cross between a wobbly, low-budget Blair Witch Project and the epic running flick Prefontaine is your thing (but, I'm guessing probably not).

A congratulatory Gatorade, sideline shower (you know the type bestowed upon the winning coach in the final moments of the game) goes out to my pals Robin, who ran her first road race today; Alain, the race director; and a special new mom, her Patriots player hubby, and the new baby girl they welcomed into the world yesterday.

Happy Superbowl Sunday, everyone.