Holistic health has been my interest, academic pursuit and lifestyle of choice since my first year of college. After experiencing some tough life lessons (such as ‘no, kraft mac and cheese really isn’t the best food to eat on a daily basis’). I went to California and became one of “those” Yoga studying, Deep Breathing, Juice drinking types. Very fortunately, I was able to study with some fabulous wise and learned teachers in San Francisco; primarily Donna Farhi – my first Yoga teacher, whose exacting and dynamic style that emphasized the inner body and inner inquiry still informs my teaching and practice of asana and movement today. I was also able to take incredible Holistic Health courses at SFSU in my undergrad, including Qi Gong, Meditation techniques, and Wellness in Aging from professors who were professionals in their fields and based their work on solid research and science. These courses, along with the Physical Therapy coursework in my program, helped shape my approach to health and well-being as an integrative, body-based approach. Body, Mind and Spirit being interconnected was a concept that made sense to me but I certainly had a mostly academic understanding of this idea. I practiced A LOT of yoga but didn’t have a very balanced diet or lifestyle. I did learn the Pilates Method from the incredible Madeline Black, who emphasized that Joe Pilates developed his exercise regime to heal his lungs and improve his immune system. My fascia and core were in great shape but my periods were a wreck! Back then, I knew that belly breathing and core strength could keep me healthy and I knew that certain foods worked better than others for me but I was like a collector of information that needed “digesting”. My life was forever changed when I experienced the cooking of Simran Kaur, a chef, meditator and one of the most amazing women I have ever met. She was a foodie before foodies were cool. She took Macrobiotics and made it fun – and easy! Simran showed me how my emotions, hormonal and immune system (among many other benefits) could be strengthened by eating “con gusto”; with pleasure and enjoyment; with less rules, more savoring and definitely more joy. It revolutionized my approach to eating for health. But…. I was still eating waaaaay too much fruit and raw salad and wondering why I was always cold and low energy when I met my husband who cooked for me on our second date. The meal was so sumptuous and yet simple; steamed chicken and steamed vegetables. I felt like Sheena after that meal – for many reasons:) My training in Oriental Medicine only reinforced this idea that the warmer and happier you are on the inside, the stronger your defenses are on the outside. One of the most amazing teachers I have ever had was my Eastern Nutritional Energetics teacher, Dr. Lisa Wilson, who managed to help us learn about how to implement an individualized Holistic diet for healing while keeping a sense of humor and unconditional acceptance towards ourselves and the patients with whom we work. Eating fresh, in season, whole foods in accordance with your individual constitution is ONE key to wellness. Being rigid is not. When I first began to work on my relationship with food, I experienced how much my diet affected EVERYTHING. It was easy to become very detail oriented (“crazy!”). Eventually, life changes, choices, foods, and moods, together with the passing seasons, tidal daily energies, and the needs of the young souls around me necessitated that I get back to basics, get organized and plan! Although there is no “right” way to eat, having a meal plan and good recipe ideas that inspire and appeal to me and my family makes the cooking and eating process a whole lot easier. Less scrambling and More Yoga! I find great food blogs and books and share ideas with other like minded folks around me; which is part of what food is meant to do; bring folks together. Being an “airy” sort of constitution, I do best with warm, protein rich meals. Eating soups and stews seems to keep the bugs away, keeps me grounded, and is a great way to show those around me that I care. I have had many soup mentors along the way. I once learned how to make a wonderful Miso soup from my rocker girl roommate who cooked a giant batch whenever any of us got a cold. Thank you, Leslie for the original probiotic soup! My acupuncturist Lifang Liang, in San Francisco, always said; “cook soup now!… and you won’t need makeup” and after cooking enough soup, my whole hormonal system normalized; much better than blush and mascara, believe me. Dr. Lisa showed me how to make bone broth to stave off flu and weakness and as a way to make other foods more nutrient rich and I share this technique with all my friends and clients. So many people are asking, “Should I get a Flu shot?!” That is individual choice, but either way, I say, “Cook Soup Now!”. And come to Yoga class! I am offering some great new group classes in a wonderful Zilker Zen healing arts studio so please check my schedule out on the Classes page. Stay well, and enjoy.
If you are a seasoned Yogi, Down Dog is something you’ve done quite often. If you are new to Yoga, or even if you’ve done a million Dog Poses, you might be asking, “What does a Downward Dog do anyway?”. “What am I supposed to feel, and do to get it “right”?”. Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog Pose is technically a forward bend (but a very active and slightly upside down one) and is meant to create head to tail lengthening (called “axial extension” in the anatomy world). As my teacher put it, “the softer your joints, the lighter you’ll feel”, and in this pose it is especially true that slightly bending the knees and elbows can free you up to relax more into the pose. This is a hard pose! A great way to enter into this doggy experience is not on the mat but while you are in the kitchen (believe it or not). Try reaching your arms out in front of you first and draw the arm bones into your shoulder sockets and feel the “armpit” muscles” engage. Then place hands on the counter and lengthen back into a table top position with your spine; with feet under hips and soft knees; inner thighs toned up. It is a challenge to let go of the shoulder muscles – even at the best of times. Try releasing your neck and shoulders when all your weight is balanced between arms and hips. When you do Down Dog on the mat, you bend over, place your hands and feet about 4 feet away from each other, and lift your hips up and back (as in “wag the tail”). It feels really good to let the head snake out of the shoulders like a turtle out of it’s shell. Your shoulder blades draw up onto your ribs when your engage your “serape” muscles; the muscles that wrap around you from your sides and “tie” into your belly. Try keeping the elbows (and knees) soft, slightly bent as I mentioned; it makes it easier to play with the shoulder blades and get them to lift off the neck. There’s a tendency in this pose to lock out and try too hard. Put your effort into pressing the front arch of the hands and all 5 fingers firmly into the mat and deepen the breath into the ribs. When you exhale, imagine a gurney around your center pulling you up and let your belly be the force that “suspends” your weight. As you inhale, expand the ribs (and low belly) and open the waist. Your exhale can “squeeze” the ribs and engage your core from all sides. Yes, this will tone you up! Yes, this pose stretches the hamstrings. Yes, it is a good pose for energizing and waking up your energy. It is also a great detox pose. But use caution if you have any shoulder, wrist, neck, heart, eye, sinus or headache conditions as this is an inverted pose. Check in with a trained teacher. Check in with your inner teacher. You have one! Always keep checking in with your breath; is it getting too rapid or restrained? Slow the breath down and exhale through your mouth to cool off and “chill out” a bit. Feel free to to come down and rest with hips over heels and chest over thighs or on “all fours” as you need to re-group occasionally in this pose. What if your “Dog” did yoga? What Would Your Dog Do? Doggies naturally shake! Shake out tension and swivel side to side. Keeping your Down Dog Pose fluid will not only release joint, muscle and nerve tension, it will also maximize detoxification, lymphatic return, fascial release, and enjoyment! This will enable you to find that “happy place” in your pose. The sweet spot in your Adho Mukha Svanasana is when you can take an easy breath (or a few) and lengthen from head to tail, even while you stay playful. How “should” you Do Yoga? Sniff….Breathe…Streeeetch…..then Rest A LOT.
Tonight I’m making stock overnight so that in the morning I can cook up one of my favorite Yoga Soups in the crock pot while I go off to teach; Moroccan Lentil Stew. Here’s what goes in: red lentils, red onion, sweet potato, lemon, cilantro, and digestive spices like garlic, ginger, coriander, cinnamon and clove. This Soup is so nurturing and soothing it should be called Restorative Yoga Soup! I love soup because it loves me. It is easy to digest, easy to cook, easy to individualize; add a garnish, serve only the broth, mix with a whole grain; the possibilities are endless, just like Yoga. Perfect for this Fall season, and really easy to make. My youngster loves to slurp this one! I will attach a recipe very soon! Now it’s off to bed for a nice reclined Goddess pose (Supta Baddha Konasana) to unwind this cooks legs. While I put my dogs together, and let my knees gently open, the Yoga magic unfolds at the same time as the veggies in the stock cooking down in the kitchen release their delicious flavors. Check back for more on Moroccan Red Lentil Yoga Soup and Evening Goddess Pose!