The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


Yoga Book Review — Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses

Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses, by Claire Dederer (2011), is a memoir of a mother and wife, but also of a yoga practitioner (she doesn’t like the term “yogi”), in which she weaves in threads of yogic wisdom she’s gleaned from her teachers over the years.

Yoga Book Review

She also scatters bits of the history of modern yoga throughout the book, yet it never gets bogged down by these facts. The book moves at a fast pace through her present life as a mother of two young children, and wife of a writer. She sprinkles bits of her own history in as well, and the book suddenly turns into an exploration into the modern woman and her ideas on marriage and family life. This was a happy surprise for me as a reader. Reading this book in the days leading up to my own wedding, I was giving a lot of thought to this topic.

Dederer, came to yoga, as many of us do, a skeptic, but looking for a cure for something. (For her, it was anxiety and tremulous nerves.) What she found was not that, yet so much more than that. Dederer offers us her experience of yoga, not from the perspective of a guru or teacher, but a humble practitioner, which creates a really refreshing and honest perspective. In her easy-going and humorous style, I found myself laughing with her, remembering some of my own thoughts and judgments while attending my first yoga class. She doesn’t pretend to be holier-than-thou, openly admitting to the things we all do in a yoga class –looking around to see what everyone else is doing, comparing ourselves, judging, longing, wanting.

These stories are all cleverly organized into chapters revolving around a specific yoga pose that further moves along the theme and/or narrative. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether a yogi or not (in fact, maybe especially not). I love a good memoir that lets me peek into the intimate details of someone else’s life journey, while enticing me to probe into my own. This book does that for me.

I’d like to end with this lovely little nugget Dederer discovers while attempting wheel pose:

It was easy to think of yoga as a cure, a program, a teleology. You were going to end up somewhere really great if you just stuck with it. I often thought about what yoga would give me: yoga butt, open hamstrings, equilibrium, a calm mind, that mysterious yoga glow…The idea was, you got better, looser, stronger while you were at yoga, and then you exported that excellence to the rest of life…What if, as [Boulder yoga teacher Katharine] Seidel said, we just enjoyed the way our bodies and minds were when we were at yoga, and stopped freighting it with expectations? What if the whole point of yoga wasn’t getting ready for the future, but was instead finding whatever pleasure we could in the present?

What do you think? What is the purpose of yoga for you?

Sidenote: Some of you may have noticed my infrequency in posts as of late. I have to admit, my focus has been elsewhere lately. You can find some of my other projects at my other blog, Creating, Cate’s Way. And for the month of November I will be participating in NaNoWriMo again, so you may not see much of me then either. But I hope to return to a more consistent posting schedule after the holidays. Hope you are all well. I have enjoyed hearing from some of you and about your own yoga journeys. Namaste.


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Food, Self-Care & Yoga for Great Skin, Part 1

This time of year our skin can be going through a rough patch –between sun, heat, sweat, salt water, chlorine. Here are a few things you can eat, and do for yourself, and some yoga you can try for radiant healthy skin.

First, take a moment to draw your attention to it. Sit still and bring focus to the skin itself, to the sensations you feel on it.

Generally we don’t think of it this way, but the skin is the largest organ in the body. Physically, it is the first line of defense, or protective barrier of our bodies. It is where we experience sensation, and where temperature is regulated. Skin also insulates us; stores and synthesizes some nutrients, like Vitamin D; controls fluid absorption and retention; and helps with elimination through sweating.

One way to look at skin problems is through underlying causes. According to some Eastern teachings (and, if we think about it, make sense to our Western medicine-based thinking as well), health of the skin is related to the lungs, kidneys, and liver. So doing things to support those organs will also support the skin.

Taking all this into consideration, the following foods may be beneficial to include in your diet:

  • Unrefined sesame oil, and raw almond oil (great to add to home-made salad dressings or in smoothies)
  • Beta-carotene/Vitamin A rich foods, like carrots, winter squash, and dark leafy greens, such as kale, spinach and chard.
  • Cooling foods, like cucumber and mint
  • Beets and yogi tea are great liver cleansers
  • Avoid  spicy, fatty, greasy, and processed foods, as well as sweets, and citrus fruits

Here are a couple recipes for the skin:

Yogi Mush –A Recipe for Clear Skin (from The Aquarian Teacher)

Ingredients:

4 celery stalks

1 bunch parsley

4-5 medium zucchinis

1 sprig mint

½ tsp ground black pepper

1 cup cottage cheese

Steam celery, parsley, zucchinis, and mint for about 15 minutes until soft. Puree with black pepper. Serve with cottage cheese. Makes about 2 servings.

This dish is very mild in flavor, it just feels cleansing. When eaten regularly, according to Yogi Bhajan, it will cleanse the intestines, clear the skin, and help you lose weight.

Smooth Skin Smoothie

½-1 frozen banana (for texture and sweetness)

Handful of dark greens

1/3-1/2 cucumber

3-4 mint sprigs (stem and all)

1/3-1/2 papaya (if not available fresh, can sometimes find in a tropical fruits medley frozen)

6 drops Vitamin E oil

1 tbsp chia seeds (if available)

½-1 cup water

Mix all ingredients, except the chia seeds, in a blender until smooth.  Then add the chia seeds. Drink immediately. Or, if you are like me and like that gelatinous coating the chia seeds get after sitting a bit in liquid, store in fridge for a few minutes. I use this time to put ingredients away and clean out the blender.

Tip: Making smoothies for breakfast can be really easy. I cut up my bananas when they are getting a little riper than I like, and then store in the freezer to always have a stash on-hand. Freezing the banana really makes the smoothie. Clean that blender right after you use it –it’s so much quicker and easier that way!

The importance and Use of Water

Showerhead

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Of course, staying hydrated by drinking lots of water is one of the best things you can do for your skin.

Another great thing? Cold showers.

Ah, the time has finally come to talk about the yogic practice of taking cold showers, ishnaan. Perfect timing for me too, as I had fallen out of the practice, and just started up again. In doing so, I remembered the benefits, and, I kid you not, how good it makes me feel!

Why Cold Showers?

Cold showers keep your skin radiant, keep you young by keeping the blood chemistry young and healthy, and stimulating the healthy secretions of the glandular system. They also open up the capillaries, and flush the organs.

How, exactly, do you do it?

  • Before going under, rub your skin vigorously. You can also rub it with an oil, like almond or jojoba.
  • You’ll want to avoid getting cold water directly on your thighs. This can disturb the calcium-magnesium balance in your body. You can wear cotton shorts to prevent this.
  • Dance in and out of the stream of water as you rub your body. Chanting a mantra or singing at this point is helpful! The cold water really does draw your internal heat out, so that after a bit, you really do start to feel warm -honest!
  • Continue for at least 3 minutes. Set that ipod on an upbeat song or mantra that’s about 3 minutes long, or fast forward until you have 3 minutes left.
  • Don’t get your hair and scalp wet.
  • Tip from the approximate yogi (i.e. not the traditional by-the-book method, but what works for me): The purpose of this shower isn’t really for getting clean. I need to get clean, so I do soap up and wash some of my body. I then turn the water a little warmer (you’ll find you don’t really need it as warm as you used to), and wash the rest of my body and my hair. And wearing shorts really does make it easier.
  • Don’t find an excuse! I live in Maine and have even continued this through the winter –in fact, I feel it keeps my body warmer throughout the day. Starting this practice is the hardest part, maintaining it is a lot easier. But a hot summer day is the perfect time to start!
  • Avoid cold showers when you have a fever, rheumatism or heart disease, or, if a woman, if you are menstruating or pregnant.

Why do it?

For me, the cold shower is the quickest way to wake my body up in the morning. No need for caffeine! And amazingly, this awake feeling really sticks with me. I’m not just awake –I’m alive, my mind is clear, I’m ready to go! And what courage it brings to the day! I just faced a cold shower, what else you got for me, day? Bring it on!

If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can read more about it in the articles listed at the end of this post. The last one (“Ishnaan: The Science of Hydrotherapy), is in Yogi Bhajan’s own words.

If you practice this hydrotherapy, I would love to hear about it in the comments section.

And remember,

True beauty exists when the radiance of your soul permeates your physical appearance. By claiming your inborn divinity, and matching it with an outer projection and presence that represent your soul, you will experience true beauty…Beauty is the natural, balanced state of being and projecting yourself as the graceful, radiant woman you are. (from A Woman’s Book of Yoga, by Machelle M Seibel, and Hari Kaur Khalsa)

Stay tuned for Part 2 later this week, where we’ll explore yoga techniques for the skin, and the emotions associated with the skin.

*I feel the need for a disclaimer today: I have been trained in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, which does include some training on yogic lifestyle. I have not been formally trained in diet and nutrition. Any information I provide is from my own reading, research, and personal experience. Take it for what it’s worth. If you have serious skin issues, seek medical advice from a professional.

Resources & Related Articles:

The Aquarian Teacher: Level One Instructor Textbook, by Yogi Bhajan, PhD

A Woman’s Book of Yoga: Embracing Our Natural Life Cycles, by Machelle M Seibel, MD, and Hari Kaur Khalsa

Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition, by Paul Pitchford

Human Skin, Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_skin

Cold Showers for a Radiant Glow http://www.3ho.org/3ho-lifestyle/women/radiant-health-and-beauty/cold-showers-radiant-glow

Yogic Lifestyle: The Amazing Cold Shower http://www.spiritvoyage.com/blog/index.php/yogic-lifestyle-the-amazing-cold-shower/

Ishnaan: The Science of Hydrotherapy http://www.3ho.org/3ho-lifestyle/health-and-healing/hydrotherapy/ishnaan-science-hydrotherapy

Anti-Infammatory Cranberry Smoothie http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10298/anti-inflammatory-cranberry-smoothie-recipe.html

Skin Saving Summer Smoothie Recipe http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-10176/skin-saving-summer-smoothie-recipe.html

Go on and Glow Girl! ~Recipe: Breakfast #97 (planmylife.org)


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Potent Potatoes –My Irish Roots Meet Indian Flare

I am so excited about this recipe I had to share it immediately! It’s like the yogic equivalent of potato skins. 012 (2)

The humble potato really gets a bad rap. Maybe because it is white, and is associated with other white starches that are bad for you like white flour, and sugar. Or maybe because it is so yummy and comforting. But probably because how we cook the potato often involves doing very unhealthy things with it (think potato chips and french fries). But the potato itself actually is healthy. Potatoes are a great source of Vitamins B6 and C, copper, potaseum, manganese, antioxidants, and fiber, as well as a nice dose of protein (about 4-8 grams, depending on the size).

And here’s a healthy recipe that keeps this tuber’s integrity. This recipe has its roots in traditional yogic cooking. The spices help to purify the blood, stimulate digestion, and increase energy. And it’s delicious! I’ve had the recipe for a while and I’m not sure why it took me this long to make!

Potent Potatoes (from The Aquarian Teacher) 009

Ingredients:

4 large baking potatoes

1/4 -1/2 cup ghee or vegetable oil

2-3 onions, chopped

1/4-1/2 cup ginger root, minced

1/4 tsp. caraway seeds

1-2 Tbs. garlic, minced

1 tsp. black pepper

3/4 -1 tsp. turmeric

1 teaspoon cayenne or crushed red chillies

8 whole cloves

1/2 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

2-4 Tbs. soy sauce or salt to taste

1/2 pint cottage cheese

Optional:

1/2 lb. cheese, grated (really, is cheese ever option?)

1 red or green bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup chopped pineapple, drained

1. Scrub potatoes, rub with small amount of oil, and bake at 400 degrees F, until well done (about an hour).

2. Heat ghee or oil in large skillet. Saute onions and ginger until they begin to brown, then add garlic and spices and cook for 4-5 minutes longer. Add a little water if necessary (it wasn’t necessary for me). Add soy sauce or salt (optional). Stir and remove from heat.

3. Cut baked potatoes in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the insides and combine with onion mixture. Add cottage cheese. Mix well.

4. Refill potato shells with mixture. Then cover each with grated cheese.

5. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly (a few minutes).

6. Can garnish with bell pepper and pineapple. serve with yoghurt.

Makes 4 potatoes.

My tips: Don’t leave out or substitute any of the spices. From my experience with other Indian dishes, the flavors just really aren’t the same. I did just make a couple alterations to the dish for ease and preference –I used a cottage cheese that already had pineapple in it, mixing it all in. I garnished with green peppers and scallions.

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add a simple salad and there you go!

Also, if you live with someone who is less than excited about the combination of cardamom and cottage cheese in a baked potato, like I do, you can easily make different editions of the potatoes. This is what I did for him: take some of the onion and garlic mixture and mix it with the potato, butter, salt, pepper, cayenne, Italian seasoning, and some of the grated cheese. Then stuff the shell with this mixture. Top with more cheese, scallions, and Tabasco. He, of course, said it was missing bacon, but I tasted it and it was still pretty delicious.

Enjoy this tasty and healthy treat!

I used cheddar as my topping cheese, which was great. But I don’t cook a lot with Indian spices. Can anyone recommend a more fitting cheese?


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How to Cook Tofu Even a Skeptic Will Love

It took me a long time to warm up to tofu, and that’s because it took me a long time to learn to cook it so that it tastes good. I owe this to an old roommate who took the time to teach me, and my tofu-lovin’ self hasn’t looked back since! The trick –cook it a lot longer than you think you need to, and precook it by itself before you add it to a stir fry or whatever dish you’re making. I thought I would share with you how I cook tofu (certainly not the only way to do it!) and my tofu veggie stir fry recipe.

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Nasoya Extra Firm Tofu

Some initial tips:

Make sure to buy extra firm tofu. The brand in the picture is what I use, mainly because it’s the only extra firm tofu my grocery store carries. Most grocery stores actually carry tofu now. You can usually find it in a refrigerated spot near the produce.

Open the package and drain the water out. You’ll need to press out the excess water. If I’m in a hurry, I do this with a cloth napkin or paper towel over the sink, squeezing between my hands until no more water comes out, but not too hard that the tofu breaks. If you have some extra time you can wrap it in the towel sandwiched between two dinner plates and put something heavy on it, like a tea kettle full of water and let it sit for a bit.

If I am making a stir fry for two, I only use half the tofu and refrigerate the rest for later in the week. So I would cut the block in half and only press that smaller block, and put the other in a container with a little water in it to help it keep.

At this point I usually start cooking the rice, so that I can just leave it alone until everything else is done. Basmati is a nice rice to use and is easily digested. I also like jasmine, or if I have a little extra time, brown rice.

Let’s get started!

Once pressed of its excess water, you can now cut the tofu into cubes. I like about 1 inch-thick cubes. While you’re cubing, you can turn the heat on high on a nice wok or non-stick frying pan with about 1 1/2 -2 tablespoons oil, just enough to thickly coat the pan – think puddle, not lake. Coconut oil is my favorite for tofu, but really any oil you have on hand will work.

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uncooked tofu just placed into hot oil

Check the oil with a piece of tofu, if it sizzles a little when you place it in the pan, then it is hot enough and you can add the rest. If you want to get fancy you can marinate the tofu in soy sauce, or another marinade, but if you don’t have time, don’t worry, it will pick up the flavors of whatever you are cooking it in.

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first side of tofu cubes browned, ready to be flipped

After about 5 or so minutes you’ll see the bottom side has begun to brown (see photo, although if using a different oil, like olive oil it may look even more brown). You can now flip them so that the other sides can brown. Wait another 4 or 5 minutes, then flip or toss again. I like to get 2-3 sides of the tofu cubes browned before I’m ready to add the other ingredients. So you need about an extra 10-12 minutes to precook tofu. The texture will be firm, maybe even a little spongy.

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tofu’s nice and browned, ready for the other ingredients

Add Stir Fry Sauce and Vegetables:

Here’s my list of ingredients. I don’t measure, but I’ll give you an estimate of how much I use. I probably use different amounts each time, you can’t really go wrong here and it’s fun to experiment a little. These are the ingredients I typically use for an Asian-style stir fry, but even just using soy sauce will be delicious! I’ve found the type of soy sauce matters. When I’m using a generic kind, it isn’t as good. I like tamari sauce, which is thicker and richer than regular soy sauce.

Stir Fry Ingredients:

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ingredients I use for my stir fry sauce

  • Tamari sauce
  • Hoisin sauce (can omit, but I like the extra flavor it adds)
  • Thai chili sauce (could use Sriracha, or another hot sauce or omit all together)
  • Vinegar (rice wine, apple cider, whatever you have on hand)
  • Sweetener (I usually use honey, or maple syrup)
  • Fresh grated ginger, if desired
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Chopped vegetables (whatever you have in the fridge, I like broccoli, snow peas, green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, and sometimes I throw in a carrot)

I usually start chopping vegetables while the tofu is cooking.

After tofu is nice and browned, I add the vegetables, starting with the ones that take the longest. So for me, I add the broccoli and let it cook before adding the rest. With the broccoli, I add the sauce ingredients and may turn the heat down just a little. I put in several swirls of the tamari soy sauce bottle, about a small spoonful of Hoisin sauce, even smaller spoonful of thai chili sauce, splash of vinegar, swirl and a half from the honey bottle, and the ginger and garlic. (By swirl I mean I tip the jar upside-down and let the liquid come out, making a circle in the pan -very scientific measuring!) Mix together and let simmer until broccoli is cooked about half-way through. Add remaining vegetables, can stager if some still take longer than others. Cook until vegetables are done and sauce is sticky or syrupy, depending on how much you like. You can also add a little water to it, if you want extra sauce to coat rice.

The rice should be cooked and rested now. Spoon stir fry over the rice and enjoy. I’ve had several skeptical (frightened?) carnivores eat this up, and even say that they don’t miss the meat, or that it tastes like meat. The tofu really gets a great texture cooked like this. We eat this about once a week.

Then you can play around with the sauces. Sometimes I do a more Italian-style stir-fry instead of Asian, with herbs like oregano, basil, thyme, and add olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Do you have any other tips?001


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An Approximate Yogi Manifesto (Meditation for an Open Heart)

What I wish this blog to be –a place to share my life experiences connected to my yoga practice. I don’t claim to know all the answers, but rather want to share my observations, revelations, struggles, little joys, and blessings as I travel down the yogic path. I hope to share my discoveries in the moment as I’m exploring them, rather than from an expert’s point of view.

I will not pretend to lead a completely yogic lifestyle, because I do not, but I am moving towards one. Some days the movement is faster than others. It is definitely a lifelong journey. I’m not a pure vegetarian, but I do like to eat like one on most days of the week. Balancing life with a big-time bacon-loving meat-eater is a challenge at times, so sharing our compromises in the kitchen and a few good recipes is part of the plan for this space.

I am a yoga teacher, but firstly, a yoga student. I am certified in Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. This is the yoga I’m most drawn to, but I also enjoy other forms of yoga. I believe in the power of positive thinking and visualization, a philosophy that informs my life daily. Nature is a great teacher for me and continual spring of inspiration and rejuvenation, so sharing my findings and adventures in the natural world is part of my story as well.

Recently, I find myself going through many transitions in my life, and have come to realize that life is always transitioning, whether we are fully present for the ride or not. Time and time again I keep coming back to the importance of the present moment, focusing not on the past or the future, but living within each moment. Opening to the moment –sometimes a survival tool, sometimes a greaPicture 031t source of joy, always an act of balance.

As I open myself to this new adventure of blogging, I’d like to share one of my favorite meditations –Meditation for an Open Heart. It is a great one to practice if your heart is feeling closed off in any way. The mudra, or hand position/movement, is almost as if you are using your hands to physically open your heart space. As you chant the mantra “Sat Kartaar,” you open your heart up to the truth, or your true being. You can find this meditation here. Enjoy, and thanks for stopping by!