Monday, March 14, 2011

Back to Nature

Happy Monday, faithful readers-of-my-blog!  I'm writing earlier in the week than usual to guard against the insanity that I know is in store.  I'm working all day at Karma Kids tomorrow and then starting on Wednesday, I'm back into the wonderful world of Thai Yoga Massage, where time - mainly free time - seems not to exist.  I'm doing well so far on my one-entry-a-week thing I've got going on, and I don't want to spoil it.  I'll also do a Monday entry next week, right before getting on a jet-plane to sunny California!  I'm super excited about that, and to celebrate I'll be doing an entry on Bolthouse Farms.  The why's and wherefore's of which you'll just have to wait for...

I got such a wonderful response from my gluten-free entry - I can't thank everyone enough for the support and encouragement!  It's been an interesting week and a half so far.  On one hand, I'm making an effort to include more fresh fruits and vegetables and just to generally shake up the food rut I was in.  On the other tortilla chips and guacamole cannot be my meal three times a day, no matter how free of gluten and delicious they are.  (It doesn't mean I don't try to make it so)

I've also read/been reading three different books for the last three weeks, all related or semi-related to my glutenous issue.  I was thinking of picking one and doing a book report on it, but I'd like to just ramble a little bit about each one, if I may.  And it's my blog, so I say I may.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler, MPH. 

This book should be REQUIRED READING for every single woman.  For men, too, who are curious about the mysteries of the wacky female body.

I've made the decision to go off hormonal birth control for a variety of reasons (related to the gluten adventure, which is how this all ties together - in case you were wondering how we suddenly got from food to fertility).  I always remember one of my teachers, Lauren Hanna, mentioning during my teacher training that she didn't think hormonal birth control was a good idea for women.  I remember thinking that was a nice sentiment, but not very realistic for a huge majority of women, regardless of marital status.  Generally, the invention of the pill is looked at as a great liberating moment for women.  It put the power of pregnancy, or lack thereof, in our hands and gave us sexual freedom.

The downside is...well, the downsides.  Side effects.  Some of which you may not even be aware of until you go off of it, and some that can be life threatening.  We all know the commercials that end in a cheerful rattling off of all the horrifying things that can go wrong if your body happens to react one way or another.

This book is not about the rhythm method.  It's a biologically based - fact-based - guide on how to chart your cycles so that you are aware of what's going on with your body on any given day.  It's something that takes a lot of practice, patience, experience, and a lot of referring back to the book, but it's been highly recommended to me by my doctor and physical therapist.

Regardless of whether the method of natural birth control interests you - and in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I've also been warned against it by a teacher whose opinion I greatly respect - the book is worth a read anyway.  It's dense with information and 400+ pages, and I read it in four days.  It's as riveting as it is packed with things you never knew you didn't know.

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and The G-Free Diet by Elisabeth Hasselbeck

The first book is probably a better known and more widely read book than the second, but they're both endlessly fascinating to me.

I'm in the midst of The Omnivore's Dilemma right now, and I'm at my favorite part - Pollan's at Polyface Farms in my native Virginia and explaining to us how the farm works.  One of the most important things this book does is de-mystifies what goes on behind closed doors with our food.  Where does it really come from?  What to labels mean?  If you're like me, your ears perk up at the mention of, "cage-free," "grass-fed," "free range," and the like.  Sadly, not everything is as it sounds.  The depressing food about food today in our country is that it's all marketing.  Anyone can slap a happy looking cow on a carton of organic milk, but that doesn't mean it's all that different from the conventional milk in terms of how happy each cow actually is.

One of the most important and difficult parts of the book is hearing the truth about how industrial farming has changed the country and the way our food gets to us.  A steak fifty years ago is not equal to a steak in present day, whether you get it at Wal-Mart or Whole Foods.  This book is unbelievable at promoting awareness and mindfulness about what we put in our bodies.  And really, what could be more important than that?

I read The G-Free Diet in a little over a day.  I wanted more information about this adventure I was embarking on, even if it's only for a short time, and I liked the idea that I was reading about one woman's journey.  It wasn't medical, it wasn't a cookbook - it was a real person's account of all of those things, which made it easy to read and easy to relate to.

That said, the woman did her research!  She's been living with celiac disease for years and has become a bona fide advocate.  This book was a meticulous guide to living completely, 100% gluten free - which is not, I'm sorry to say, as simple as saying "no thank you" to the bread basket you get before the meal.  It turns out, due to the way our food is processed, gluten can sneak its way into just about anything, whether it's an actual ingredient in the product (who knew soy sauce and chicken stock could have gluten?) or through cross contamination.  For example, if I were being more strict with myself in my gluten free-ness, I wouldn't be able to eat the aforementioned blue corn tortilla chips I love so much.  On the bag, in fine print we've all read before, it tells me this product was produced on machinery that also processes wheat.  That little bit of cross contamination can cause people who are extremely sensitive to gluten a whole lot of heartache (and bellyache).

The main common thread I noticed in all three books is a searching and desire to go back to a place - or forward to a place, I suppose - without so much over-processed, overly artificial, overly technological things inside our bodies.  Whether it be processed food or synthetic hormones, we should all take a big step back and a serious look at our practices and habits.

I'm not trying to advocate for a false "purity" - I touched on that topic in my entry about detox diets last year.  Nobody is perfectly pure or perfectly healthy.  We're humans beings.  Life is messy, we make mistakes, we get dirty, we encounter disease and we all eventually die.  The obsession with detoxifying and purification can be as warped and unhealthy as an obsession with fast food.  The important thing is mindfulness.  In yoga, we are constantly striving for union between body, mind, and spirit.  You can't have union without full awareness and mindfulness of what you are composed of, physically, emotionally - every which way.

I've learned a lot this past few years with the new people I've met, trainings I've taken, and the personal health struggles I've undergone.  I think the most important lesson so far is this: don't take things for granted.  Don't assume that what's popular - food, birth control, medication, hair products, anything - is what's right for you.

Okay.  I'm getting off my high horse now before this turns into a rant about not trusting The Man, and diving back into my books.  Have a wonderful week!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Meditation & Sleep - A Lazy Entry

Good almost-afternoon!  You know that feeling when your alarm goes off and you can't stop yourself from moaning, "No..." in protest because you're tired all the way down to your bones?  I've felt that every single morning this week!  Aside from being annoying, it's making me nervous for the upcoming Daylight Savings Time Change - which I'm really looking forward to, aside from the challenge of adjusting to it.  It'll be so nice to get another hour of sunshine in the evenings!

Anyway, this morning I gave myself the rare indulgence of sleeping in...and I kind of wish I was still in bed!  So today's lazy bones blog is me sharing some very interesting articles from Huffington Post this morning.

This article includes some tips on how not to be miserable during the time change:  How to recoup that stolen hour  

This one goes back to the touchy-feely basics of the benefits of meditation, giving modern science a rest:  The best non-scientific benefits of meditation

Happy Thursday, everyone...and stay dry, NYC friends!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

You are what you eat. Whatever that means.

In developing this blog, I’ve often debated with myself over how personal it should be.  I didn’t want to it to veer too far from yoga into random whining or pontificating about myself and my own life.  On the other hand, I simply cannot be authentic or a halfway decent writer if I don’t let my personal life – let alone my personality – through  to a degree.  As a person, I don't think I've ever had a problem letting my guard down with people or opening up in an instant - sometimes to a fault, as too much of anything can always cause issues.  A friend once urged me to, "Stop spilling your soul to everyone!"
However, as we’ve seen every time I have a, “So I was sick this week…” post, I just can’t help myself.  Yoga (and blogging) is such an intensely personal practice.  That’s why I love it and was drawn to it and in my opinion, you just can’t be a teacher without sometimes letting your life leak into your teachings.

The original plan for this week was to do a book report on Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success.  I’ll probably do that one at some point, but it was trumped this week by some personal stuff.  Hence my prolonged preamble.

Due to some personal health stuff (vagueness deliberate – I do have to keep up some boundaries!), my doctor has urged me to go on a ‘trial’ of being gluten-free for a month.

For some, this would be no big deal.  If you were a yogi who’s used to an austere attitude towards food, someone who has gone no or low carb in the past, or are just very intellectual about your food rather than emotional, this could be a simple scientific process of just swapping out and cutting out a few elements of your diet.

For me, however...

This is a HUGE deal.  I am very much a slave to my tastebuds.  I do eat sensibly – most of the time.  I feel like I’m moderately educated about what a healthy diet is and I always try my best.  I’ve made some healthy swaps over the years, drastically reduced some of the junk I used to live off of in my childhood and teen years, and discovered that fruits and vegetables are actually not the enemy I thought they were.   

However, I’ve always had one very strict policy.  I NEVER deny myself something full stop.  Nothing has been eliminated from my diet.  For example, I hardly ever eat Cheetos anymore, but the few times a year I’m at a party where there’s a bowl, you will be hard pressed to keep me away from it for more than a few minutes at a time.

Yet I’ve also always craved dietary discipline just as much as I crave buttery, salty popcorn.  As a ballerina when I was younger (and now as a yogi, which, you may know, is a community rife with vegetarians and vegans), I was immersed in a culture that had its own special relationship with food.  When I was younger I used to fantasize about being the perfect ballerina, who got up at the crack of dawn to practice and stopped only to nibble on the occasional salad.  Think Natalie Portman in Black Swan with out the extreme dark creepy elements.

Although that's what I wished I could be, I never really gave it a try.  Partly because when you're a kid, you eat what you're fixed, partly because I do have such a genuine love of all kinds of amazing and terrible food, and, perhaps most importantly, I was attached to my identity as a junk food junkie.  I still am.  I have a reputation for being a choco-holic, among other things, and I wear the badge proudly.  People always react when you change something about yourself, and the way we eat is a pretty big identifying characteristic.  Anyone who's ever gone vegetarian or vegan can attest to the intense barrage of questions and judgment rained down by close family and friends, who themselves are attached to their idea of you as someone who eats burgers (or whatever the case may be).

In general, it's easier to go with the status quo than to make a change.  It's easier to act on habit than mindfulness.  It's easier to fill your established role than to create a new one.

If it seems strange or melodramatic to you that I'm making such a big philosophical point out of the news that I have go to gluten free for a only serves as further evidence that food is a very, very big deal for me!

But - in my yoga teacher brain, I know that it is just food.  It doesn't truly define me.  Despite all the marketing and despite the many ways in which we've engineered food to taste like little rich pieces of heaven, it truly is only supposed to exist to fuel and nourish our bodies.  To keep us alive, and better yet - keep us healthy!  There is value to the pleasure that food can give us, but our health trumps even the most delicious chocolate truffle.  (In my choco-holic brain, I can't believe I just said that, but it's true.)

I've gotten the initial few days of freaking out under my belt, and now is the time to be a grown-up about it.  I'm choosing to view this as a liberation rather than a limitation.  I'm choosing to view this as an opportunity to make a big leap and embrace something resembling that healthy diet I fantasized about as a little ballerina.  Though I plan to eat more than just salads.

And besides - It's an experiment.  A trial.  A month.  We'll see how it works out and if we get the results my doctor and I are thinking we will from this. Even if in a month's time I'm back in an Italian restaurant, glorifying in garlic bread and glutenous pasta, I plan to take some lessons with me from this month.  Thoughtfulness, moderation, detachment, and health above all.

Resurrection of a blog (and a hip)

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