Pranayama. What is it? Why do we do it?

Pranayama is the fourth limb of the eight limbs of Yoga.

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word meaning extension of the breath or more accurately, “extension of the life force”. The word is composed of two Sanskrit words, Prāna meaning life force and āyāma, meaning to extend, draw out, restrain, or control

More simply, Pranayama is a series of breathing techniques or breathing exercises.

Breathing is a normal part of our life, and we often forget to pay attention to it. It is the body’s natural inclination to hold the breath whenever we feel physically or emotionally challenged. Pranayama teaches us the proper way to breathe: slowly and deeply. Breathing this way increases the capacity of the lungs, brings more oxygen into the body and stimulates the Vagus nerve. The Vagus Nerve stretches from your brain stem down to your abdomen. When the Vagus Nerve is stimulated it activates the parasympathetic nervous systems to slow your heart rate, relieve stress, and heal your body.

“When the breath is still, so is the mind.” this basic yoga concept tells us that, with breathing, we can help to either calm or excite the entire nervous system. When the breath becomes irregular and unsteady, so is our mental state. When the breath is steady so is the mind.

You might not always have time for a yoga class but you can always find a few minutes a day to practice Pranayama.

To practice Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing): Sit comfortably with an easy straight back and close the eyes. Fold in the pointer and middle fingers of the right hand. Use the thumb to block the right nostril and the ring finger to block the left nostril. Gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale through your left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. exhale slowly through the right nostril. Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it, and open and exhale slowly through the left. This is one cycle.

The ancient yogis measured a person’s lifespan not by years but by the number of his respirations. They believed that everyone is allocated a fixed number of respirations in his or her or her lifetime, which differs from person to person.

Breath is life and life is breath. Keep breathing…

Healthy Veggie Burgers.

Finding a healthy “veggie” burger is a lot harder than it sounds. Sure, you can find one on just about every menu. But when is a veggie burger not really a veggie burger? When the ingredients look something like this:

water, soy protein concentrate, wheat gluten, contains less than 2% of methylcellulose, salt, caramel color, dried onions, yeast extract, sesame oil, hydrolyzed wheat protein, natural and artificial flavor (non-meat), disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate

These are the ingredients in one of the better burgers out there. For most the list of ingredients gets longer and a lot harder to pronounce. When it comes to food I have to agree with Michael Pollan, if I can’t pronounce it, I certainly don’t want to eat it. For most of these burgers soy in some form is a key ingredient. Many non-organic soy products contain traces of the neurotoxin hexane. Soy processors use hexane to divide the beans into fat and protein. The beans are cracked, heated, and rolled into flakes, which are then soaked in a hexane bath to extract the oil. All of these products are made from gmo soy. Which raises an entirely new set of concerns. I looked at the countless options of “meat-free” products in the grocery store and couldn’t find one brand that was both organic and used non GMO soy. Ditto for the health food store.

So what is a girl to do when trying to find a worthy healthy companion for the carrot dog? You guessed it: make your own.

The following recipe is a slightly modified version of the slider burger recipe from Raw Soul. The great thing about this burger is that it can be eaten raw or cooked. Either way, absolutely delicious.

Burgers
3 cups soaked walnuts (soaked overnight)
½ cup sprouted green lentils
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes (soaked 2 hours)
½ minced onion
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 large minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup flax meal
Water as needed

In food processor, pulse all ingredients, except parsley and flax meal until smooth, adding water if needed. Move to bowl. Add parsley and flax meal. Mix well and form into burgers.
Dehydrate for about 6 hours on a teflex sheet. Turn over and dehydrate for about 2 more hours. Don’t over dehydrate, they should still “give a little” and be moist on the inside.
If you want to cook these, the best way is to pan sear them on each side and then cook over medium low heat for about 5 minutes each side.
They keep in the fridge for about a week.

To Sprout Lentils:
Soak lentils in a bowl of water overnight, rinse
Drain into a colander with a fine mesh screen
Place Colander over a small bowl and cover with a dish towel. In a day or so they will have sprouted little tails like the photo above.

Aparigraha. (or my computer crashed)

It happened. My computer crashed. Just a blue screen. On it were countless photos, music, folders, esaays, and a few pie charts and spirographs. It is one of those things that is probably inevitable in the age of fast moving technology. I should have been prepared for it. I wasn’t. Although I did have a nagging feeling a few weeks ago when everything seemed to be running a little slower than usual. I thought I should back everything up, I even said it out loud, but I didn’t. How much info will be able to be retrieved and what is lost I am not sure yet, I will have to wait and see.

While waiting for the result my mind immediately turns to thoughts of one of the Yamas of Yoga: Aparigraha.
There are many interpretations and applications for Aparigraha, this being one of the more literal translations; Non grasping. I may lose all my “stuff” and if so I have to let go of it. This idea of “non-attachment” can be applied to tangible objects as well as to our thoughts and ideas. If we practice Aparigraha we must carefully consider which objects and ideas we choose to hold onto. We must prioritize how our time and energy is spent. Maybe I was spending too much time on the computer, maybe there were too many thoughts tucked into too many folders. When we practice Aparigraha by letting go of something, someone, or some idea we create space for the things that are truly important. We create a space for possibility and begin to understand all that is truly important to us. The important things are those that cannot be lost. A generous heart, a kind spirit, a quiet mind.

It is not fun when a computer crashes, but really, in the overall scheme of things what is lost? Maybe it is time to simply let go of the old to make room for the new.

Carrot Dogs on the Grill

It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy……… It wouldn’t be summer without hot dogs and hamburgers right? No, not your traditional variety

something a littler fresher, a little healthier, and so much more delicious: Carrot Dogs. I must confess,these are not my invention. I tasted my first dog almost 5 years ago in the Brooklyn backyard of my dear friends Kristina and John. These were John’s specialty and I have to say they have haunted me ever since. So hot dog like (but in a good way) and so easy. John generously shared his recipe which I think originated at a place called Mr M’s pub in Omaha Nebraska. It isn’t a crunchy veggie place just a regular pub that happens to have carrot dogs on the menu.

Seeing these on a traditional menu is one of those things that makes my heart sing. I have tweaked the marinade a bit, so that it has just the right amount of salty and spicy. One of my favorite ways to have these is with homemade sauerkraut and mustard. Yum. They can be grilled or not it is up to you but it IS summer after all, so fire up the barbie while you can and enjoy this happier healthier dog.

Carrot Dogs
6 medium sized carrots, with the ends cut off
Marinade:
Whisk together
1 cup Nama Shoyu (available at most health food stores) you can sub low sodium soy sauce if Nama Shoyu is not available
1 cup water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 clove of minced fresh garlic
Directions:
Steam the carrots until they are tender; you should be able to pierce them with a fork.
They should be cooked through but still be a little “al dente”
When tender, drain the carrots and place in an ice bath. Drain again.
Transfer the carrots to a glass storage container. Pour the marinade over the carrots and refrigerate. 4-6 hours or overnight is best.
Remove from marinade and serve, or place on grill for about one minute.

The July Full Moon. Guru Purnima. The Full Moon of the Guru.


The Full Moon falls on Friday, July 15th, 2011, at 2:40 AM EDT.

The luminous full moon represents prosperity, abundance, and healing energy.

This full moon day in July is observed as the auspicious day of Guru Purnima, a day sacred to the memory of the great sage Vyasa who edited the four Vedas, wrote the 18 Puranas, the Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavata.

Our Gurus are to be honored and revered on this day by remembering their life and teachings.

The word Guru translated means: remover of darkness and ignorance.  In Sanskrit, “Gu” means darkness, “Ru” means remover.

Also known as Hay Moon, this day is also of great significance for farmers, as this is when the period known as Chaturmas (Four Months) begins. Farmers welcome the advent of the rainy season and the abundant life that the much needed water brings.

Drink some jasmine tea or infuse the air with jasmine oil, Jasmine has a special correlation with the moon.  It is a wonderful time to take a healing bath made with mineral salts and essential oils.

Guru Purnima is a day to illuminate our lives with knowledge; to be inspired, to overcome limitations, to recognize the abundance we are surrounded by, to be receptive to a life of wonderful possibilities.

It is a day to realize your full potential.

Celebrate and let your heart and your mind shine like the moon filled with love and gratitude.

You can find essential oil of jasmine at Nantucket Natural Oils:

https://nantucketnaturaloils.com/category.php?currentCategory=49&ProductCategoryID=50&page=4&Keywords=&StartLetter=

A lovely bath can be made with:

Masada Dead Sea mineral bath salts with lily and jasmine

http://www.amazon.com/Masada-Dead-Bath-Lily-Jasmine/dp/B0044V6LX6

Welcome Summer. Happy 1st Anniversary to Ahum. Juicing Fruits and Sugar.


Happy Summer! July marks 2 important occasions: The official start of summer and the one year anniversary of AHUM.   After a brief hiatus, I am happy to to be sharing some thoughts on all things yoga.  If you are new to the blog, Welcome!   There is a great archive of past posting to read.   If you are a current  subscriber welcome back!   Here we will PRACTICE.  EAT. and  LIVE.

Thank you for joining me.

Namaste

(“The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra.  the gesture is an acknowledgement of the soul in one by the soul in another.  “Nama” means bow, “as” means I and  “te” means you.  Therefore, Namaste literally means “bow me you” or I bow to you.”  Aadil Palkhivala)

I am a HUGE fan of juicing.  Especially during these hot and humid days, it is a great way to hydrate the body.  I was recently asked about the sugar content in fruits and the effect that the sugar may have on the body.  Great Question.  ( although I do find it kind of funny that someone could eat a lunch of a coke, a burger and fries and no one would blink an eye, but have a fruit juice and something must be awry  :)

First and foremost when it comes to juice and food it has always been my firm belief that you have to listen to your body.
Everyone’s body is different and it is important to ask yourself the question “How do I feel” after you eat or drink something.

Juicing is and always has been an excellent way to get a concentrated source of nutrients, both vitamins and minerals, into the body in an absorbable form.

Since your body absorbs and digests the nutrients faster, it has more down time for repair.  When your body is not busy digesting food it is on the lookout for ways to heal itself.
When you juice,  you are feeding your body and repairing it at the same time.  Fruit juices in particular are known as “cleansers”.

Yes, when we juice sweet fruits, we are eliminating the key component in slowing down the absorption of the simple sugar fructose. This key component is the pulp, Pulp is an insoluble fiber that slows down the absorption of fructose in the gut by the body.  The rule of thumb for what is an allowable amount of sugar to take in on a daily basis varies tremendously.  The best answer I believe is the following:

“In petitioning for labeling changes regarding sugar, CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), joined by dozens of leading health experts, also wants the FDA to set a maximum recommended daily intake (Daily Value) for added sugars of 10 teaspoons (40 grams) and require labels to disclose the percentage of the Daily Value a food provides.”There are many naturally occurring sugars such as sucrose which is a combination of glucose and fructose (or fruit sugar), lactose (from milk), maltose and galactose. You don’t want too many of the simple sugar glucose, but you can have a few more of the complex ones. If you digest too many simple sugars, your body gets swamped and the excess that is not used by your body gets stored as fat. Also useful to know is that sugars enters your cells using the same pathway as Vitamin C – so, too much sugar and your body does not absorb Vitamin C as well.  However, you can eat or drink natural sugars in moderation – say up to 100 grams a day (like orange juice which contains quite a lot of fructose). ”

As a frame of reference, on average,  a glass of fresh orange juice has about 30 grams of natural sugar, keeping you well below the amounts discussed above.

In a nutshell, processed sugar is to be avoided, natural sugar is fine in moderation.

In yoga, with food, and in our lives it is always about finding the balance.

Spring Planting

Spring has officially sprung. The bulbs are peaking up through the cold ground, buds are visible on the apple trees, and the birds have started chirping. From the moment we spring forward into daylight savings time, my mind turns to thoughts of planting our vegetable garden.  There is nothing quite like walking out into the garden and eating something freshly picked.  I could not LIVE without it. At this time of year cold hardy seeds can start to be planted. Cold hardy seeds would be any kind of pea or lettuce, leafy greens like kale or spinach.  It is a great way to get out of winter hibernation and start thinking warm weather.  Bartlett’s Farm has a wonderful selection of all kinds of organic seeds to choose from.  With the garden center now officially open, browsing though the seed packets and chatting with some of the super knowledgeable garden staff is sure to inspire.  If you haven’t done so already think about designating a small corner of your garden to edible plants.   It is easy to build a raised bed from scrap wood or a pre made kit, then start planting your favorites.   Maybe you don’t have room for a raised bed and can’t bear to give up your flower bed?   A dear friend of mine plants his flower garden by intermingling his favorite herbs and vegetables throughout the patch.  It is a truly beautiful and unique way to plant.  It is easy to be overwhelmed at first when thinking of planting a vegetable garden, start small and branch out from there.  If seeds aren’t your thing, think about edible landscaping.  Why not plant a fruit tree, or a blueberry bush?  The time and effort spent digging will be well worth it when you can pick a fresh apple and taste the difference.  I was asked once to name my favorite vegetable.  I started by saying asparagus.   Of course anyone who knows me knows that it is impossible for me to choose just one.  My favorite is ususally the one that I have just finished planting or eating.  I probably picked that initially because when I think of asparagus I remember digging the trenches with my husband ( it took hours), I remember being covered in mud (it was cold and wet),  I remember seeing the first stalk emerge in the spring and I remember waiting 3 years to eat any (I forgot about that part).  The first stalk I ate was the most delicious stalk of asparagus I had ever tasted.  We planted it together, we waited, we were patient.  There is a real joy in growing your own food.  Great stories emerge, laughter ensues, and a delicious meal is sure to be had by all.   Happy Spring. Happy planting! A great resource for pre-made raised beds: http://www.gardeners.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-Gardeners-Site/default/Link-Product?sku=34-381RS

The Importance of Enzymes

The food we choose to EAT is one of the most important decisions that we can make when it comes to maintaining our health.  The more fresh fruits and vegetables that we can incorporate into our diet the healthier we will be.  In fruits and vegetables there is a life giving element that exists: enzymes.

There are 2 groups of enzymes: exogenous; those found in raw food and endogenous; those produced within our bodies.

Enzymes are one of the most essential elements in our body.   Life itself depends on them.  We need enzymes for every bodily function.  Every breath you take, every move you make, every thought you think and every action you take requires enzymes. Enzymes are an absolute necessity to life.  They are your body’s workers. They assist in keeping our body in top form by lowering cholesterol, cleaning the colon, breaking down fats, strengthening the immune system, detoxifying the body, cleaning our lungs, and building muscle.

When we feed our bodies with enzyme-deficient food, our body systems start to slow down and deteriorate.  Cooking food destroys 100 percent of the enzymes in that food. When you eat cooked or processed foods your body must produce ALL the enzymes required to digest that food.  When we are born we are given a limited amount of enzymes.  This is like an enzyme bank account.  If you don’t make regular deposits into your account by eating foods rich in natural enzymes, you start to deplete your account and use up your enzyme supply.

After a prolonged period of depleting the enzymes in our body it starts to work overtime to produce more enzymes, causing extra stress which affects our immune system. This lowers our ability to protect from and fight diseases. Our digestive system eventually slows down causing food to be undigested. This undigested food stays in our system creating a toxic environment that saps your energy, clouds your thinking and is a breeding ground for illness.

The good news is that with the simple addition of fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet we can prevent the depletion of these enzymes.  All fresh and raw foods have naturally-occurring enzymes. Start by adding a fresh fruit or vegetable juice into your daily routine.  Carry bananas, apples, or avocados with you for a snack.  Start dinner with a salad instead of bread.

Start slowly, changing old habits with new fruit and vegetable inspired choices, and welcome the feeling of newfound energy with the addition of these life giving enzymes.

Practicing the king of all poses. Salamba Sirsana or Headstand.

Salamba Sirsasana or Headstand is known as the King of all Yoga Poses.  The reasons are many.   It affects every system of the body: the cardiovascular, lymph, endocrine, and digestive systems. It reverses aging, increases blood flow to the brain, regulates pituitary and pineal glands, enhances circulation and creates mental clarity and calm.  It allows you to literally turn your world upside down to gain new insight by changing your perspective.

Even with all of these benefits there are times not to practice headstand: You should not practice headstand if you have high or low blood pressure, any serious eye diseases, compressed cervical disks or neck injury.

When practicing headstand take as much time as you need.   The rewards of sirsasana are so great that even if you are not ready to do the full pose, you can benefit by preparing for it.  Whether you are just starting out in hare pose or working on a full headstand, patience is the key with this posture.   Just because you floated up with ease yesterday does not mean you will today.  Honestly assess where you are physically and mentally. The strength and concentration that is required may not always be there at first.  Breathe.   Pay particular attention to the neck, there should never be any pain; pain is very different from feeling challenged.

Becoming aware of the body and knowing when you are ready to move on to the next step is very important.   Headstand requires strength in the core, neck, and upper back, open shoulders and a flexible spine. To safely and properly prepare for headstand always make sure that you are warmed up.  It is not a posture to jump right into.  A recommended length of time for staying in headstand is 10 seconds for a beginner while gradually adding 5-10 seconds and working up to 3 minutes.  Always rest in child’s pose after coming down from headstand to give your body and the nervous system time to adjust to sitting right side up again.

It took me a long time to learn to do a headstand.   We all have “our thing” as I like to call it; our challenge.  Headstand was mine.  I suffered a head injury when I was 6 years old, when a lawn dart landed squarely inside the top of my head.  I had real fear of injuring myself while practicing headstand, a fear of placing any weight at all on the top of my head.   Slowly and consistently I worked.  It was a struggle initially; I found it difficult to breathe and I could only stay put for a few seconds.  All the talk of core strength seemed to go out the window.  When I made the move to try to lift my feet off the ground for the first time it seemed that I had none at all.  Every day I found time in my practice to devote to letting go of the fear.  And then one day it happened, I just floated up.  It wasn’t magic by any means, but a combination of consistent practice and determination.  Now, it is a joy to see the same thing happen with students who thought that standing on their head would never be possible.

If you are working on headstand go easy on yourself.  It may take months or even years to accomplish. It is the journey not the destination that is important here.  Be consistent with your practice and patient with your self and soon you will be embracing The King of all poses.

Yama of Yoga: Satya.

When I was in high school my mother gave me two wonderful little books of philosophy called Notes to Myself and How to Live in the World and Still Be Happy by Hugh Prather.  I read them over and over again throughout my life, his simple words always seemed to make sense, to calm and reassure me.  I carried the books with me until they were so dog eared and highlighted that they literally fell apart.  Even now, so many years later, his words are ingrained in my memory.   One of my favorite Hugh Prather quotes is:  “LIVE your life as if everything you do will eventually be known.”  Now that is a tall order.

Living a life based in truth is one of the Yamas of Yoga: Satya.  Literally translated it means truthfulness.  Practicing satya means being truthful in our feelings, thoughts, and words. It means being honest with ourselves and with others.

When we are honest we can be fearless, living life as an open book.  Honesty is at the heart of all healthy relationships. Practicing Satya in your words is a good place to start.  You might need to deliver the truth to a friend who desperately needs your input.  It may not be what she wants to hear at the moment but you can deliver those words in a supportive, honest and loving way.   Gossip and hearsay are a large part of this lack of truth in our daily lives.  If we were to think for a moment before recounting events in our day, being sure that the words we were sharing were absolutely truthful, we would probably have a lot less to say.  Sometimes, the truth hurts, so it is just as important to know when not to speak if it will cause someone else damage. This idea is stated simply and eloquently in the Mahabharata:  “Speak the truth which is pleasant.  Do not speak unpleasant truths.  Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear.  This is the eternal law, the dharma.”  Being truthful means that we must choose our words wisely.

Being truthful with ourselves is another aspect of Satya.  Becoming clear with who we are and what makes us happy.  This means we can let go of trying to achieve perfection and stop being so hard on ourselves.  We can let go of the desire to always please.  When you do things that are not a reflection of the real you, you cannot be happy with yourself.  You will become confused because you won’t know who to please or how.  Find the courage to say this is who I am and be okay with it.  Embrace your truth.  Don’t compromise yourself.  Many friends and relatives with the best of intentions might offer us advice.  Listen to them and then listen to your own heart, it will never steer you wrong.

Once you begin to act in accordance with your fundamental nature; the true you, you will find your intuition growing stronger, decision making becoming easier, and a sense of peace in your daily life. Making a commitment to truth is not always easy, but living without lies is ultimately very freeing.

Live in your truth and live a life of respect, honor and integrity.