Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Sneak Peek at a Fitness Flashback

I just arrived home from a fun photo shoot for ShoestringMag.com, which featured sporty looks inspired by famous fitness icons such as Jane Fonda and the movie Flashdance.  Here's a sneak peek before I climb into bed (right after washing off all this makeup).  Do you have a favorite "fitness flashback?"  Richard Simmons rockin' knee socks, Olivia Newton John getting physical, Cindy Crawford stepping off the catwalk and into our living rooms with her 90s workout video, or Billy Blanks and his total Tae Bo domination?  Do tell!  

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Healthy Summer Salad

From the famed Moosewood cookbook, this vegetarian recipe is incredibly easy and healthful. While I adhered to the recipe pretty closely, I think tossing in additional veggies or legumes, such tomatoes or white beans, might work really well too.  

Bunch of parsley
3 cups shredded carrots
Clove of garlic (minced)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
Sea salt

Chop the parsley, and combine it with the rest of the ingredients.  Voila!  This dish is amazing on its lonesome or as a refreshing accompaniment to your favorite garden burger.  Parsley is excellent for digestion.  The salad keeps well in the fridge and can be enjoyed for 3-4 days.  Given the lightning-quick prep time, it's also a perfect option to bring to your 4th of July cookouts.     

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thanks For The Music, Michael!

"If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a CHANGE."  

-Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror

Since Fridays at OmGal.com are about what we love: Which song by the King of Pop do you love most?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

3 Quick Yoga-Inspired Tips For Shaking A Funk

For many, these are difficult and dim days. Literally speaking, the eastern seaboard has been awash in rain and endlessly grey skies for weeks. The Boston Globe reports that June is currently making a run for the Dimmest Month on Record in my fine city, with no sign of the sun since June 5. An estimable honor no doubt, less so for those who live here. Meanwhile, the nation's economy continues to falter, with unemployment rates climbing upward, and consumer confidence remaining dormant. Certainly the news abroad, clamoring to frightening levels of unrest, only adds to the maelstrom of collective stress. So, it's no wonder that you've wandered over to this corner of the blogosphere where top priority is given to your sanity and well-being.

Ideally, yoga and meditation serve as outlets of healing, peace, and clarity during times of uncertainty and sorrow- or, perhaps more accurately, when the proverbial sh*t is hitting the fan. Yet, for some, attending (and paying) for yoga classes isn't possible right now, and sitting down to meditate, even for those with the best intentions, proves too challenging. If so, it's important to integrate yoga into your life in other, smaller ways throughout the day.

The Sanskrit word yoga translates to mean "to yoke or harness," "to join," or, simply put, "union." *Early on, the word was applied to suggest a "spiritual endeavor," specifically the control of the mind (manas) and senses (indriya). This usage is first found in the Upanishads, which date back to the second millennium BCE. While yogis in the U.S. largely think of yoga as a physical practice, made up of various poses or "asanas," the poses are simply one route to reeling in a wayward mind and calming an anxious spirit. One can make the case that the benefits of yoga are accessible through any number of other spiritual endeavors as long as they unite our bodies, minds, and spirits in a state of balance. This is good news, suggesting that yoga can happen anywhere, anytime, within the world- not just on a yoga mat, tucked away in a serene studio. In other words, it's an inside job, and you should feel at liberty to create your own small rituals and daily practices to harness your personal power and inner peace.

On days when getting to class isn't feasible or physical asanas aren't enough to dissolve the inordinate levels of stress, which you may be feeling of late, try incorporating smaller doses of Zen throughout your day. Here are 3 suggestions (no yoga mat necessary):

Share: Karma yoga is perhaps the easiest and most accessible form of yoga for any of us to practice. It simply requires that we be of service to others. Yogi icons such as Gandhi and Mother Theresa made this practice a way of life. However, the "yoga of doing good deeds" doesn't need to be all-consuming. Small gestures, such as offering to babysit a friend's child, sending an unexpected note expressing gratitude, cooking dinner for someone, or volunteering to help those less fortunate than you, are all within our karmic reach. No matter how busy, overwhelmed, or cash-strapped we are, there are countless ways to put yoga practice to good use within the world. The best thing about karma yoga is that the benefits are compounded; you benefit as well as the person whom you serve. On your mat, in a conventional asana practice, the benefits are more insular. Off your mat, your yogic reach is limitless.

Learn: Fewer things are more healing than engaging your mind in a new venture that brings you joy or a piece of wisdom that brings you comfort. On a daily basis, actively seek knowledge from sources that rejuvenate you. Be present as you do this, and you'll be more apt to view this part of your day as meaningful enrichment rather than aimless information overload. Recently, I needed a lift of sorts, so I dug up the following excerpt about Joy and Sorrow in Khalil Gibran's The Prophet:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your
laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your

And how else can it be?
The deeper the sorrow carves into your
being, the more joy you can contain . . .

When you are joyous, look deep into
your heart and you shall find it is only that
which has given you sorrow that is giving
you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in
your heart, and you shall see that in truth
you are weeping for that which has been
your delight.

Some of you say, "Joy is greater than
sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is
the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits
alone with you at your board, remember
the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like the scales between
your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced . . .

Savor Silence: Speaking of being standstill and balanced, another easy way to take a reprieve from the onslaught of stress with which you might be faced is to take a few conscious minutes of total and complete silence each day. No cell phone, no iPod, no computer, no TV. . .You get the idea. This morning, I turned off the radio in the car en route to work; I stowed my cell phone away, and I drove to work in silence. It sounds simple and unremarkable, but it felt wonderful, even on a grey morning, preceded by a record-breaking amount of similarly grey mornings.

*Source: The Shambala Encyclopedia of Yoga, George Feuerstein, PH.D

Friday, June 19, 2009

Love Fest Friday: Hooray For More Rain!

Did I tell you I love the rain? Drizzle, downpours, a deluge, they all make me positively giddy. Remember how I said I loved summer a while back? I was kidding. Summer is for losers. Rain is where it's at this season, in New England at least. I'm assisting with the emceeing duties at the fashionable La Primavera fete tonight, and I plan to tell the Boston style set that rain is the new black.

OK, maybe not. I tried. You gotta give me credit for trying. "All that we are is a result of what we have thought," said the Buddha. So, I gave it a whirl. It's better than crying in a puddle, right?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Stylish & Soulful Events In Boston This Week

Despite my best efforts at inserting these images chronologically (i.e. the lululemon event occurs BEFORE La Primavera), they prefer to arrange themselves like so. Shame on them for not obeying my super savvy techie expertise, characterized by snarling at the computer screen and exclaiming "WTF!" Less effective than, say, the Genius Bar at Apple, I admit. Nevertheless, I'm venturing off my yoga mat, blowing out the aromatherapy candles, shelving the herbal tea, possibly rocking some heels, and joining the merrymaking this week. Both parties are for wonderful causes, and in a time of- how do I put this lightly- recessionary freak-outs of global proportions, you might as well stretch your entertainment dollar by passing the benefit along to others in need- and enjoy a healthy dose of karma to boot.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Reader Query: Alcohol

Dear Om Gal:
Hopefully the subject of this question doesn’t lead you to believe I should be in AA. On the contrary, I’m super active (yoga/running/outdoors), in a health care profession, and trĂ©s social. The last part has challenged me as I'm trying to up my mileage and train for this half marathon in September.

I love my friends, and we have a great time when we "go out," but I'm at a point where I kinda don't want to drink—for like, A WHILE. I've taken weeks off and still gone to restaurants/bars with friends and just had water or tea but never done it for more than a week or two. I'm just worried people are going to be like, "Where is Julie?!?!?" (I know, I know, I'm not freakin' Carrie Bradshaw, but there is a "scene," and with disdain and humiliation, I have to say I am in it and kinda don't want to be totally ousted). It's not like my whole social life revolves around drinking; I have friends I go to yoga with, a friend I run with, a few girls who will hit up a random Zumba class or art thing with . . . but in general I feel like my friends rely on me to "go out hard" every once in a while.

Do you have any advice on how to lay off the booze and keep my social network intact over the period of a month or two? I'm thinking of doing fast/cleanse/spiritual thing in the next week or two, which would be the starting point of a longer no-alcohol thing.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance,
Julie, 24

Hi Carrie Bradshaw, I mean, Julie:

I understand your dilemma and can offer a very simple resolution: Pretend you’re pregnant. I do it all the time.

OK, I’m kidding; however, I agree that being a non-drinker in certain social circles can require some creativity. While my closest friends are mostly yogis and athletic types who opt not to drink much, I also work in media by day (translation: an industry wherein some all but keep flasks in their file cabinets), so I can empathize with your fear of being socially “ousted” if you choose a path sans the sauce.

It’s a commendable and important practice to be able to oust alcohol from your life at will and for any given amount of time. At the risk of sounding incredibly reductive, the bottom line is this: If you don’t want to drink: Don’t. Furthermore, if your friends don’t think you’re fun or fabulous while sober, then- you guessed it- they’re not real friends. Nothing is sadder to watch than a group of friends who are incapable of socializing or bonding with one another without booze.

More than likely, your friends will be fine with your decision to detox, as long as you’re fine with it. If, on the other hand, the sober version of yourself finds your pals’ tipsy antics unbearable, then you’re better off sticking to social activities that don’t involve alcohol, such hiking dates and Zumba classes, at least for a while. Remember, it’s a personal decision not to drink; your friends should support it, but they don’t have to emulate it. If your pal wants to put a lampshade on his head and sing an off-key rendition of Po-Po-Po Poker Face, then let it ride. Preaching to drunk people that they shouldn’t be drinking is a lose-lose situation. You’ll become frustrated, and they’ll think you’re a total drag.

The bottom line is that if you’re secure with your decision and able to let loose and have fun without alcohol, then by all means, put on your sassy sling backs and hit the club Carrie Bradshaw style!

Initially, it might take some fancy footwork to dodge the free drinks sent your way by the Mr. Bigs of the world, but over time, it will be a breeze, with the rewards FAR outweighing the sacrifices. In the interim, here are a few tips on how to stealthily skip the booze:
  • Be the D.D. and volunteer to drive. If your pals know they’re benefiting from your sobriety, then they’ll be less apt to complain about it.
  • Choose your signature “cocktail.” If I’m in social situations where there’s pressure to drink, I’ll order a club soda with lime but request that the bartender put it in the same glass as a cocktail so that it looks like a vodka soda or gin and tonic (often sodas are served in larger, more conspicuous glasses). Bartenders are happy to interact with sober people for a change, so they’re always willing to oblige. At a recent work event, a kindly bartender “mixed” my drink of choice, slid it across the bar, and even sent me on my way with a convincing, “Go easy on that one; I made it pretty stiff.”
  • Participate in the revelry. Just because you’re not drunk doesn’t mean you can’t let your hair down. Plus, at the point in the night, err, early morning when your crew is at their silliest, they can’t tell who’s been drinking anyway. In my experience as an observer of drunk people, some are happy drunks; some are mean drunks, but nearly all are egocentric drunks, which is not the same as being egotistical. It simply means that people whose senses are impaired by alcohol tend to focus their attention more squarely on their own personal experience: I am having fun. I want pizza. I think it’s a brilliant idea to steal Mike Tyson’s pet tiger. (While we’re on the topic of drinking, go see The Hangover, it’s hysterical, and the tiger reference will make sense). In other words, the more your pals drink, the less they’ll care how little you do.
  • Plan your exit. It’s likely that as your drinking decreases so will your tolerance for drunken behavior, which is why it’s important to have an exit strategy. Therefore, if you’re not interested in being around for last call or hitting the after-party or the after-after party, be sure you have the ability to duck out without stranding anyone or hurting feelings.
To borrow your terminology and in the interest of disclosure, I haven’t "gone out hard" in years. I'll have wine on occasion or a beer at a summertime BBQ or Sox game (that’s Red not White Sox, Ms. Chi-town). For me, this was a gradual decision that felt very natural, and to be fair, I was never a huge drinker to start. Moreover, the longer I practiced yoga, the better care I took of my body; the less sense it made to feed it with unhealthy food and drink. That’s not to say that I don’t have my vices (chocolate and caffeine, please!) or that my path should be your path, but I can relate to your desire for a new direction.

I wish you much luck and clarity on your new path and hope that you walk it in absurdly fabulous heels, just as Carrie would. Remember, "the scene" is about fun and connection, and as long as you're having fun, your friends will feel connected to you no matter what you're sipping.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Om Gals Gone Wild

It's possible that you won't think this video is funny, but there's a chance you might. So, here's a goofy tidbit featuring yours truly along with one of my best om gal pals, Chanel Luck of YogaThree, at a backyard BBQ, "smoking" organic carrots. Don't ask; just watch the clip shot by our friend Bonnie Argo, a talented Acro Yoga teacher.

Happy summer, friends. May your longer days be filled with plenty of farm stand produce and hearty laughter.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Party Like An Om Gal

Confession? I'm a bit of a square. I know, try to contain your surprise. You know when people say they want to get drunk and make some bad decisions (a la Vince Vaughn's character in Wedding Crashers)? For me that's two glasses of red wine at Sel de la Terre and a pledge to run the Boston Marathon. Yes, 2 glasses of wine = drunk, and the Boston Marathon = a good or bad decision, depending on the mile at which you'd ask me.

An undisputed good decision, however, is the opportunity to party like an om guy or gal at lululemon's first annual Kicking Cancer’s As*ana party next week in Boston. All money raised for this special, inaugural event will support the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In short, the center will combine ground-breaking cancer care along with trusted treatments that have been saving lives for half a century, including massage therapy, acupuncture, nutritional guidance, and more.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Century of Playing Sports

You may recall a recent post about aging, in which I recounted chasing "Roger" around the neighborhood on my Big Wheel when he would visit his grandparents, who lived across the street. Well, wouldn't you know, his grandfather, also Roger, though we call him Pepe, is featured today on Boston.com. He's 100-years old and still playing tennis as often as he can. Pretty amazing, eh? (Check out the video clip here).

If you live to be 100, what will your life-long athletic pursuit of choice be? Yoga, tennis, walking, golf, tai chi? In your opinion, how does being active help us age more gracefully? Please share your own thoughts, examples, and insights.

Quote: Creativity

"Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous."

-Bill Moyers

Monday, June 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Vavo!

In honor of my grandmother's birthday today, I dug up a post from the archives, for which she was the inspiration. It's about faith. Enjoy!

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.” [At the time, Obama was indeed the senator of Illinois and had not yet even announced his candidacy for President].

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.