Yoga Anatomy Newsletters

Yoga, Poses, Stylized, clip

Yoga thought for the day: “There is never any reason to rush or force oneself into a yoga pose.” – Ray Long, MD FRCSC and Chris Macivor, 3d Graphic Designer/Illustrator, The Daily Bandha: Scientific Keys to Unlock the Practice of Yoga

“You can’t integrate the pieces until you can differentiate them, and that for most people is a big deal – most people don’t even register on a sensory level that there’s a distinction between their shoulder blades and their upper back.” – Leslie Kaminoff, internationally acclaimed yoga instructor and author

Yoga should never hurt. Now that I am a yoga instructor, one of my principal concerns is ensuring students’ safety. I encourage them to learn to listen to and honor their bodies. This takes practice. I want to help each student find the best expression of the pose for her or his body. I try not to overwhelm students with verbal cues regarding alignment and anatomy, but I do want continually to improve my own knowledge about these crucial subjects to better serve my students.

Two online resources I have found especially useful and interesting for understanding what’s going on anatomically in yoga poses are Ray Long and Chris Macivor’s email newsletter, which you can sign up for at http://www.dailybandha.com/ and Leslie Kaminoff’s weekly email newsletter, which you can sign up for at http://yogaanatomy.net/.  If you are not already familiar with the work of these experts, you may want to check them out. 

Yoga remains ever fresh and exciting for me because it is a never-ending adventure in learning – about myself, others, and the marvelous universe we inhabit. Needless to say, cooking and baking also provide endless opportunities for discovery. And now with summer vegetables at their peak, it’s time to explore and enjoy your creativity in the kitchen.

Philip and I are fortunate to have a friend, Mark, who has an extraordinary organic garden. Recently, Philip returned from a visit to Mark with several bags full of gorgeous melons and vegetables. I took the time to take photos of these wondrous gifts before they went under the knife, but was not so good about taking the time to take photos of the finished dishes. We were just too eager to eat!

Nevertheless, I would like to share this recipe for an incredibly good curry I made just one week ago that featured Japanese eggplant and fresh basil from Mark’s organic garden, along with brocoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms from my neighborhood farm stand, which features mostly organic or pesticide-free local produce.

Eggplant Curry

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • vegetable broth, about one cup
  • 1 Japanese eggplant, cut into cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh broccoli florets
  • 1 1/2 cups fesh cauliflower florets
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, halved or quartered, depending on their size
  • 1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

For the sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1 tablespoonlow sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk

Instructions: Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the eggplant and 2 tablespoons vegetable broth and sauté, stirring contantly for 2 minutes. Add additional vegetable broth by the tablespoon as necessary to keep the eggplant from sticking to the bottom of the dutch oven. Add the broccoli and cauliflower and 2 more tablespoons vegetable broth. Sauté, stirring constantly, 2 more minutes. Add the mushrooms and 2 more tablespoons vegetable broth. Stir to combine well. Lower heat and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms release their juices.  Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Combine the red curry paste, soy sauce, and agave nectar and then whisk in the vegetable broth. Add sauce to vegetables. Add the lentils. Stir to combine well. Add the coconut milk. Let come to a boil, stirring frequently. Lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook 20 to 30 minutes, untl lentils and eggplant are soft. Check frequently and add water, if necessary, in small amounts, to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the bottom of the dutch oven and to provide enough liquid for the lentils to cook properly. But don’t over do it, because you want the curry to be thick and creamy. Stir in the basil before serving. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. I like to serve this over a blend of couscous and brown rice, or couscous, brown rice and quinoa.

Note: The yoga image used in this post is in the public domain.

 

Tools for Yoga – Tools for Cooking

Yoga thought for the day: “Props enable you to achieve a more natural alignment so you can deepen your pose by paying attention to the subtle aspects of the pose (not just to screaming or burning muscles). They also allow you to stay in the poses longer so you can feel some of their deeper effects. . . . As always, use your yoga practice as an opportunity to question and change your habits, to play and explore and learn. Ask yourself: how does this prop (or lack of it) affect my body, my mind, my emotions.” – Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow, Yoga: The Poetry of the Body (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002)

We use tools all the time in the kitchen as we go about our cooking and baking exploits. We don’t even think about it. We reach for the wooden spoon, the rubber spatula, the food processor, instantaneously recognizing the usefulness of the particular utensil, implement, or machine. But in yoga, many of us hesitate – do we really need that block, that blanket, that bolster? Won’t that betray our poor flexibility, coordination, mobility?

First of all, we really need to accept, not just intellectually, but emotionally andpsychologically, that our bodies are exactly where they need to be right at this moment. In the next moment, they might change ever so slightly or maybe a lot, and once again they will be exactly where they need to be right in that moment. And so on, and so on for each moment, which is always the present moment.

However flexible, coordinated, and mobile you are in the present moment is the truth. And the truth is always good. If you want to improve your flexibility, coordination, and mobility, props might be just the right tool for you. But it all starts with accepting – truly accepting – where you are in the present moment.

Second of all, for anyone who practices yoga – from the seven times a week veteran to the twice a week newbie – props provide a different experience of the poses. It’s sort of like sometimes you ride your horse with a saddle and sometimes you ride bareback. You learn different things about yourself, your body, your practice, (your horse) in each case.

Whether it’s because our bodies are just not built that way or we’re dealing with an injury or fatigue from our other activities, yoga props allow for a positive experience of accomplishment, when not using a prop might make us feel inadequate. I know I’ve had moments when using a prop was exactly the right choice, and I experienced that “ahhhh” and “yessss” of gentle release and ease in my shoulder, hip, or back. And often, when we can let go of tension in one part of our body, the feeling spreads to a different part or through the entire body, and we feel ourselves open in a spot we hadn’t even noticed was tight.

So the next time you hesitate to grab that yoga strap, just consider whether you would hesitate to grab the can opener when you needed to open a can of kidney beans.

May all beings have enough to eat. Namaste.

Quiche Your Hunger Good-Bye

Yoga thought for the day:  “When we chant, speak or even just think the words lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu [may all beings everywhere be happy and free], if we include all the other animals with whom we share this planet in our concept of ‘all beings,’ including the animals we use for food, we can start to create the kind of world we want to live in – a kind world. The practices of yoga can guide us toward right action and a lifestyle guided by compassionate concern for the happiness of others. The first step toward understanding the link between how we treat others and our own happiness and liberation is to look at the deeper aspects of what the practice of yoga may be able to reveal to us.” – Sharon Gannon, co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga Center, adapted from Yoga & Vegetarianism

From when I first began to practice yoga I was drawn to both the study of yoga philosophy and the practice of yoga asana, that is, the poses and sequences of poses. I began to familiarize myself with the “yamas” and “niyamas,” which are the ethical principles or goals of living in the world associated with the practice of yoga. The first of the yamas is “ahimsa.” “Ahimsa” means to do no harm: to abstain from causing pain or harm to any sentient being or the environment. Ahimsa is the ethical principle of compassionate, nonviolent living, of refraining from hurting others, not just physically, but verbally or even through our thoughts. Ahimsa is the central teaching of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism – three religions that originated on the Indian subcontinent many thousands of years before the common era. Ahimsa is also embodied in the Judeo-Christian ethic of reciprocity. The Christian golden rule directs each of us to do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. And Rabbi Hillel, a Jewish religious leader and one of the most important figures in Jewish history, who was born about 110 years before the common era, is popularly known for having said “What is hateful to you, do not do to others: this is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn.” I was very taken with the idea of nonharm as a principle to live by.

Later, I began to learn about the treatment of animals who provide food and other goods; are used in medical, cosmetic, and other product research laboratories; and are otherwise exploited by human beings in this country and throughout the world. I realized that I could no longer tolerate the cruelty of many of my eating habits, the fact that some of the clothes and accessories I wore derived from animals, and my lack of consistent attention to the origin of the body care and household cleaning products that I used. As I learned more about vegan philosophy, I found that it accorded perfectly with my values and ideals. I felt the way I felt the first time I got eye glasses: it was as if I was seeing things for the first time and they were clear and in focus. It was as if all of a sudden I became aware of what had always surrounded me. When I learned that the motto of the American Vegan Society is “ahimsa lights the way,” it all made perfect sense to me.

I know that being vegan is not for everyone. I look forward to the day when all beings – human and animal – are happy and free. In the meantime, I will continue to make the best vegan food I possibly can and share it with as many people as I possibly can.

(Left – vegetarian crustless quiche; right – vegan crustless quiche)

On occasion, I make lacto-ovo vegetarian dishes. When I do, I use only “happy chicken eggs” and cheese that is free of animal-derived enzymes – often called, “vegetarian cheese.” (See the footnotes to my January 3, 2011 post for more about happy chicken eggs and vegetarian cheese.) Last week, for example, I made, first for Philip and later for an event at my yoga studio, Akasha Yoga (www.akashayoga.com), a crustless vegetarian quiche and a crustless vegan quiche.

Before (left – vegetarian; right – vegan):

          

After (left – vegetarian; right – vegan):

              

The vegetable filling for each crustless quiche was the same: lightly sautéed green and yellow zucchini, with a small amount of white onion and lots of fresh chopped dill. When I got the two thumbs up from Philip on both quiches, I made them again and brought them to our monthly community unity night at Akasha, where all are welcome, even, if not especially, those who are brand new to Akasha! Like Philip, my fellow yogis also liked both versions. They could taste the difference between the two quiches, but genuinely seemed to enjoy both.

I feel deeply grateful and truly joyful when people like my food. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu – may all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may my thoughts, words, and actions contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all.