Open Your Hips & Learn to Fly ~ Malasana > Bakasana

I began the week with a nod to the Mala for my #MeditationMonday blog at ShineYoga.com. A Mala is the strand of meditation and prayer beads that you will often see adorning a modern yogin’s wrist or neck. Malasana or “garland pose” is a deep yoga squat that helps you to begin to open your hips, lengthen your spine, strengthen your core, and improve flexibility and balance for your legs. Deep squatting is an essential component in my PreNatal Yoga classes for it’s myriad benefits during pregnancy and it is generally a great pose to use to aid digestion. Malasana can also help you develop the the strength, flexibility, and coordination necessary for many of the fun yogic arm balance poses. Malasana can be challenging if you have knee issues or tight muscles in your legs. While many of the yoga poses will cause sensation in your body as stretch and strengthen, joint pain or sharp shooting pain should always be observed and responded to with loving modifications.

Watch the slideshow for both therapeutic modifications/variations – and to see how Malasana can be a launchpad for some adventure in your yoga asana practice.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Low Back Attack

Often when you strain or injure your back, the back muscles and muscles that support the back, seize up in an attempt to brace your back and prevent further injury. This natural reaction is a good thing. But… sometimes the muscles have a hard time letting go of the tension. When you add chronic tension to a low back strain or injury, a chain reaction is enacted where stiffness, tension, and pain get caught in a feedback loop that limits mobility and slows healing. This short exercise or sequence allows the back to rest supported in it’s natural alignment without strain. It also allows the muscles to rest in their contracted state. Once the tension begins to dissolve in their protective contracted state you can begin to encourage greater movement and length in the muscles that is necessary for everyday comfort and ease. As is in all things, nothing works for everyone 100% of the time. Use your intelligence, pain as a guide, and your doctors recommendations to promote your fullest healing/recovery.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To perform this therapeutic Yoga exercise…. Lay on the floor with about the thickness of one or two yoga blankets long against your spine – so your hips are on the floor but your low back curve, spine, and head are supported on the floor. Best to let your head rest back onto the blanket without additional height. Keep your knees bent and try to get your body to trust you as you hold steady and make space for any chronic tension or spasming to release. Once you feel yourself relax and as long as you are 100% pain free – start to stretch one leg very slowly towards straight – it might only be 2 inches to start. This will help your psoas to relax and lengthen so you don’t have unnecessary tension in your low back.

To begin the leg extensions, gently engage the muscles of your leg and begin to stretch it towards straight. Use pain & tension as a guide. If either arise go back to the start position and practice resting easy before you move again.

If you are able to extend the leg straight, keep your  muscles gently engaged and ground the back of you leg into the floor to extend it fully straight at the knee. This will gently lengthen the muscles on both the front and back of the leg and help them release their grip on your back.

Only if you can extend your leg fully (with no pain!) allow the leg to relax and rest for a few minutes. Repeat the sequence on the other leg and then give it a try with both legs. It may be helpful to use a rolled up towel under your knee if full leg extension is not comfortable.

Back pain is tough – I hope you feel better soon! Namaste

Harvest Chard

harvest chardA little bit sweet, sour, and spicy. Rainbow Chard is one of my favorite vegetables because of it’s dual nature with the crunchy stems and leafy greens. One vegetable seems to take on the life a full salad. Chard is dressed up with fortifying fall flavors in this quick-fix warm salad. Because the chard leaves cook down so much, this recipe should be doubled if serving more than one. This recipe makes enough for a main dish salad with a little leftover for later.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tb. oil – I’m using Walnut Oil for this recipe but anything will do
  • 1 small Shallot – small dice
  • 1 bunch of Rainbow (or other variety) Chard  – strip leaves from stems, chop stems and leaves separately
  • 1 small Apple diced – reserve a few Tb. of chopped apple to top salad
  • a handful of Golden Raisins
  • Mix together — 1 Tb. Apple Cider Vinegar, 1 Tb. Water, 1 tsp. Dijion Mustard, pinch of salt, pinch of Chili Powder
  • Handful of chopped Walnuts

Preparation

  1. Saute shallot in oil, and when softened a bit, add the Chard Stems, 3/4 of the Apple bits, and Raisins over med/high heat
  2. Cook for about 8 – 10 minutes until Chard Stems and Raisins have softened slightly
  3. Add Chard Leaves and Cider cooking water to steam the leaves – cook just until tender – only a couple of minutes
  4. Top warm salad with remaining apple pieces and chopped walnuts

Enjoy and Namaste ~Kate

2015 Harvest Moon Eclipse

I stayed up late to watch and meditate on the moon magic happening in the sky last night. Read on below the slide show if you’re interested in a few of my contemplations. Otherwise, just enjoy the show;-)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The first of my two big insights last night related to how it seemed as if I was watching a whole month of a moon cycle happen in two hours. As many traditions encourage connecting intentions & wishes with the cycles of the moon, I decided to do a little intention setting for some things I’d like to see happen a little quicker than the casual route. The other insight goes along the lines of understanding that our perception of the world is made of light and shadow. When the light is shining bright we sometimes miss the more subtle details of things. You can see in the pictures when the light is so bright we miss a lot of really beautiful detail. The eclipse can be a time to let ourselves go into our dark corners in order to understand what’s happening deeper beneath the surface of our lives. There is great beauty even in the dark corners of life for those who have the courage to open their minds to that perspective. Shine Yoga’s Meditation Monday is to open your heart to your own dark shadows and those of others. It is only in cultivating acceptance that we can create harmony between life’s complementary opposites.

Meditation Monday – Sankalpa Mudra + Clear Mind / Open Heart Meditation

San Kalpa Mudra

Sankalpa Mudra in Gomukhasana Variation.

I’ve been working through a series on meditation techniques for my yoga studio blog @ shineyoga.com. I’ve been working through a few mudras (hand gestures) that add significance to meditation practices. This week I decided to showcase Sankalpa Mudra. This was the first mudra to really pique my interest in that I felt the hand placement create a dramatic shift in my awareness. I first practiced this mudra with my teacher, Sianna Sherman, in my second level teacher training more than 15 years ago. I believe that it was passed on to her by our philosophy teacher, Douglas Brooks, and may have it’s roots in Tantric Philosophy. As usual, I am not too particular about the physical roots of things because I believe they all come from the same spiritual space. I believe it’s up to us to explore the unique practices of yoga, honor to the best of our ability the teachers who practiced and evolved the techniques, and ultimately to fine tune the practices to meet our individual needs.

Sankalpa means resolve. It’s an amped up version of intention setting. When practicing sankalpa the idea is to connect to your most essential self in order to realize what it is you most need and want to manifest in your experience of life. This practice asks you to sit quietly in order to connect deep within. With awareness of your highest aim, you cross your right arm over your heart, bringing the right hand to rest in the left. Sankalpa is a gesture of remembrance and of resolve. It is a seal of intent. An empowering aspect of a life in alignment, is that we each get to decide how we  will show up to greet each day.

If you feel disconnected from your heart’s deepest intentions, you might choose to do this heart clearing meditation/mudra practice before setting a clear intention with the Sankalpa Mudra. Today’s heart clearing practice uses a non-traditional kriya (repetitive body/energy flow). Hold your hands in front of your heart with Ganesha Mudra (click here for more details). Take a moment to hold in your mind all (or some;-) of the blocks that prevent you from feeling free and clear in your inner vision. Maybe you are angry, or afraid. Maybe you’ve been hurt or feel stuck. Allow yourself a moment to hold your blocks with as much acceptance and even love and you can. Take a deep breath in and then with your exhale stretch your arms out wide. Envision letting go of all the energy that blocks your heart and mind at this time. Imagine a great internal clearing. While we can not change all of our outer circumstances we can release the energy that shuts us down. Breathe in with courage to stand true in your life at this time. As you begin to feel more calm and clear, set the seal for the energy that you want to hold and give back to life with Sankalpa Mudra. Namaste ~ Kate

An Amped Up Favorite – Bok Choy Power Bowl with Ultra Miso Dressing

I’m working with a new food book – while there is a little cooking in the book, the main focus is on fresh plant food – so it’s more of a slice, dice, and sprout kind of book. The contents and the authors of “The Plantpower Way” are incredibly inspiring. This book is worth a look!

Their Asian Dressing got me thinking about an update to one of my favorite basic recipes. With the afternoon off, I stopped at the market to amp up this classic favorite. Today’s recipe is all for me. It will make two bowls – I will eat them both – and that is totally ok! If you have a few more mouths to feed just magnify the recipe.

Bok Choy Power Bowl

Ingredients:

  • Toasted Sesame Seed Oil
  • 1 – 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 inch piece of peeled ginger
  • 1/2 head of Bok Choy – or a few heads of baby bok choy – sliced – separate the crunchy stems from the leafy greens
  • a handful of Mushrooms – sliced – today I used 4 Cremini and 2 Shitake Mushrooms
  • 2″ piece of peeled Daikon Radish (a few classic radishes would also work) – cut in half lengthwise and slice them thin
  • Handful of sprouts and seeds to top your dish (optional) Today I have Pea Sprouts and Sunflower Seeds

Preparation:

  • Coat a large pan with Sesame Oil and place over med-high heat
  • grate Ginger and Garlic into the warm pan
  • Add the Bok Choy stalks, Mushrooms, Radish – add bits of water while the veggies cook – just enough to keep them from sticking to your pan
  • Turn down the heat and prepare the dressing
  • Add the Bok Choy leaves and the Dressing – stir to coat the salad – and serve – top with Sprouts & Seeds if you like

Miso Dressing

  • 1 Tb. of mellow Miso
  • 1 Tb. Mirin (soy sauce)
  • 1 Tb. Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of Water
  • 1/8 tsp. of Garam Masala or Chinese Five Spice + a pinch of pepper (I just wanted a mild spice flavor — you actually could skip, add more, or add a bit of your favorite spice to the dressing)

Enjoy and Be Well!

Travel Yoga

It’s time! Road trips, vacations, and retreats are on our radar. As many of my students and clients are already on the road and in the air, I thought I would share this series. I consider these three moves, used regularly in my yoga classes, travel essentials that will help to help you unfold yourself after a long drive, flight, or even unwind the kinks that work their way in from sleeping in an unfamiliar place.

Click on the photos for a little description of each pose and how it helps.

Happy Trails!

Cherry Blossom photo credit: http://www.juliedoranphotography.com

While our vacation is still a bit aways, I am looking ahead to our summer trip. Every two years we meet up with some dear friends at our favorite beach spot. Each morning I wake up as the sun rises so I can catch some quiet time for a daily practice in a space that matches the expansiveness and freedom that I feel inside when I practice yoga.

Power Packed Veggie Burrito with Avocado Creme

Today’s recipe was inspired by Kristie’s “The Mostly Vegan” blog. Here’s the link to her recipe. http://www.themostlyvegan.com/page/4/.

I forgot to soak the cashew’s for her Chipotle Cashew Crema so as usual there was some improv happening in our kitchen. With the kids home for summer break, I’m trying to keep many balls rolling and am working while the kids are home. I was so happy to have my 11 year old step up and do the veggie chopping and cooking! Way to go B! Here’s what we came up with for dinner tonight…

Veggie Saute for Burrito Filling
In a large saute pan, layer in:

  • 1 Tb. olive oil
  • 1 sweet potato, small dice
  • once the sweet potato has softened add: 1 large zucchini, small dice
  • cook for a few more minutes and then add about 15oz. cooked & rinsed black beans
  • about 1.5 cups (non-GMO) corn kernels

Avocado Creme
Mix in a high speed blender:

  • 1 avocado
  • small handful of cilantro leaves
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • (many recipes use 1/2 cup of yogurt or sour cream – you can use some olive oil – or just skip)
  • 1-2 Tb. water to bring it to the consistency of your liking
  • a little heat – I like a few drops of Jalepeno Tobasco or Dried Chipotle Pepper – chili flake or black pepper all would be fine
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder – a fresh clove would be just as good
  • salt to taste 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. should do nicely

Wrap it up!
We went for tortillas but the healthier choice as suggested in the original recipe is a nice strong lettuce leaf.

Savor and Enjoy!

Embracing the Goddess

In order to support my great teacher, Sianna Sherman, along with Yoga Journal, who are kicking off the #yjgoddesschallenge, I wanted to take some time to share a little bit more about the focus of today’s challenge as well as make the most of an opportunity to share how goddess meditation & practice has been helpful in my life. Today’s challenge pose is Astavakrasana and in this challenge  is dedicated to the fierce and loving goddess, Durga. I offer my thanks to Erin for playing with the poses with me this afternoon at Shine. We laughed our way through this challenging arm balance and then created a modified pose to share that could be a nice alternative to embodying the qualities of Durga.

My personal relationship with the goddess energy has been one of the highlights of my spiritual evolution. Growing up in a strong Catholic household, spiritual practice was familiar from the start. We said our prayers, went to church, and took religion classes in Catholic school. As a child I found comfort in believing that God loved me, would support the good, and punish the wicked. It was hard to experience the dissolution of that viewpoint as my awareness of the world around me expanded. I developed healthy questions and began to wonder why I felt disconnected from spirit. I’m grateful for the world religion classes that we were exposed to in our Catholic religion classes. Even though I didn’t share my excitement with my friends, I secretly loved learning about the buddha and experienced the liberating revelation that there are many paths to soulful living. I appreciate the great wisdom that is passed down through the diverse spiritual traditions and particularly resonate  with the traditions who celebrate life and spirit in a more universal, rather than patriarchal system.

For me contemplation on different aspects of life, symbolized by the various deities (goddesses & gods) has allowed me to be more accepting and appreciate of the diversity of life. By taking time to look more closely at different aspects of life, we ourselves can learn to embody certain qualities in order to bring greater harmony into our lives and into the lives of those we share our space and time with. Over the years my understanding of the goddess energy continues to evolve as I both learn more from others and take time in meditation and practice to get to know the energy of each goddess.

If you are newer to goddess practice, you will quickly see that many of the deities share names and that many goddesses take different forms throughout the literature that has been passed down over time. Today’s goddess ~ Durga who also manifests in the form of Kali ~ holds a special place in my heart though for me I resonate more with Durga in the form of Parvati. Durga/Parvati embrace life both as a mother and as a spiritual warrior. Durga is fierce and loving, filled with the courage to do what is in service of the greater good no matter what the challenges are that arise in her path. For me Durga/Parvati is the ultimate earth mother. Fully awake and alive in the world, Durga asks us to dive deep into the ocean of our hearts, to remember what it is that feeds our soul, and to make a stand for love to take root in our lives.

If you are looking for some more insight into Goddess Yoga Practice, check out Sianna Sherman’s blog post on Yoga Journal here…. http://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/what-is-goddess-yoga/

My (current) Food Manifesto and Go-To Green Salad with Actual Avocado Dressing

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Recipe Below)

Recently someone asked me what my food blog slant was. My journey to a healthy relationship with food has been a winding road with many ups and downs. For now, these are my priorities in no particular order: Fast!, Healthy for our Bodies and Healthy for our Environment, Affordable, if it’s got to be fast – there’s also going to be an element of Ease – though I have learned a few tricks along the way to make fast food feel Special, of course Flavor, and Family Friendly. My kids are still in elementary school and though they have been through “taste bud boot camp,” I still like to be considerate of their preferences. We are mostly vegetarian here at home but the family eats meat on occasion, and….. with that being such a hot topic, I will save that conversation starter for another day.

Our relationship with food truly is the most intimate one we have. What we consume literally becomes a part of us and gives us the energy to thrive (or not.) I have a great respect for the power of food beyond it’s capacity to bring sensation to the tongue and belly. I would love to see food acknowledged more and more for what it truly is: a life force energy. In our Yoga practices we acknowledge that all energy including that which we consume through our mouths, eyes, ears, etc. is a form of prana – or life energy. A few years back I was inspired to add more Raw Foods to my warm* weather menus when I read Natalia Rose’s, Raw Food Life Force Energy. This recipe is likely very close to the original because it hits all the marks on my priority list.

Actual Avocado Dressing & Basic Green Salad
(With a high health factor and low energy use to prepare this meal, it’s a perfect recipe to share on this Earth Day – don’t forget to compost – or learn to compost your veggie peelings.)

Makes 2 Servings

In a medium bowl, add the following ingredients and mash them up

  • 1 peeled ripe Avocado
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • Drizzle of Honey (no honey for vegans! Stevia is a good alternate)
  • 2 – 4 Tb. of Water – the mixture should end up thin enough to dress your salad greens

Load your salad components on top of the dressing and toss well to coat the salad with this sumptuous sauce. I like to use a mixture of crisp Romaine and oxidant rich field greens with some cucumber for crunch and sunflower seeds to boost the amino acid complex which your body will use to make protein.

Enjoy! …..and feel good about and because of what you choose to eat.

*As I incorporate Ayurvedic principles in my personal diet, I save cold salads only for bright warm days to help keep my constitution in balance. 

Blog at WordPress.com.