Diet as Practice – The Sustainable Body

It’s been a month since I wrote here. While I was unable to finish the online class, I continue to practice. For me, yogic practice is about yoga and meditation, but it is also about diet. While many yogis practice an Ayurvedic diet, I wanted to make sure my diet would be something easy for me here on this mountain.

Two trusted people have started a work called The Sustainable Body. You can read more about it at the CreatetheLeap Facebook page. This week they had a 5 Day Challenge and I am fortunate enough to be part of the challenge. The challenge has been testing for me for many reasons, the number one reason has been lack of self-discipline.

For example, today’s challenge was to prepare a meal using organically grown food.  This week I’ve been sick with a cold as well as iced in.  Because of that, I had to think of what I had on hand to fit the bill. Ravioli from a can sounded good. That didn’t meet the group’s criteria however.

Instead, I took half a sweet potato from the 2nd day of the challenge, one cup of Basmati rice, a chicken breast,  and rescued a local apple near forgotten in the refrigerator. I have Thyme Leaf Tea there because it had been recommended as a healthy choice by a different friend. Personally, I feel like I’m drinking spaghetti sauce, so it’s not a favorite. But if it will help me get rid of the cold, I’m game. I put a jar of tahini out in case I wanted it in the rice, but it was imported, so it didn’t really fit the criteria either.

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I wanted to try my new CopperChef pan recommended by Chef Jen *.  Decided I would cook the chicken some way in the pan rather than using the microwave. One of the things we’ve been doing in this class is listening to our body. What is our body telling us we need? In particular, what is MY body saying it needs? This has been hard for me because I want to do whatever is fastest and less messy. My body decided it wanted to go with everything but the tahini. I wasn’t sure what I would put on my rice (besides butter), but knew I would figure out something.

My final decision was to cut the apple up and put it in butter along with the chicken. My former mother-in-law would put apple in her chicken salad and I was surprised at how the tastes complemented one another.  I let the apples and chicken cook on a medium-low heat until the chicken was done.

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The chicken was cooking slower than the rice, so I decided to eat my potato and rice together. I had hoped for a cool picture, but I was hungry and don’t like eating cold food. Still the colors in this look pretty.

 

 

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In previous writing, I’ve mentioned the need to cut excessive sugar out of my diet. As a result, I did not put any sugar on the apples or on the sweet potato. That doesn’t happen for me and I usually eat both the apples and sweet potato as a desert.

I was surprised when the sweet potato and rice went so well together as a duet of taste. It was good enough that I was concerned that the apple was going to clash with the flavors.

Polite

Birdie hoped that there would be some chicken for the dog. This is her politely sitting in the kitchen. She also helps with clean up. Anything that is dropped on the floor she will take care of. Birdie eats a good diet on her own. All of her food is organic, and she never overeats (the show off). I was glad when the chicken was ready.

The chicken wasn’t tough because of the apples and had a light apple flavor.  A fork of chicken, apple, rice, and sweet potato was delicious! I didn’t take a picture of that because I was too busy eating it!

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The preparation of the meal, the thought put into it (no stress), and taking time to sit down at the bar (instead of the couch), made my meal relaxing and filling spiritually and physically. Thanks to Ashley and Randi for the challenge. Because the chicken breast was so large, I even have leftovers! Yay! Here’s to more sustainable eating and a more sustainable body!

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*Chef Jen is also Jennifer Lynn, the artist who designed my book cover. Check out her art at The Jennifer Lynn Gallery. Tell her Robin sent you!

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Yoga Anyway

Birdie in the frost

After the last post, I did go to the mat even though I didn’t want to do that. I had contacted my yoga instructor saying I didn’t want to do anything since the class was canceled. She reminded me (like any good teacher) that even a little practice was better than none.

It reminds me of the messages given by my music teachers throughout the years. They said it was better to practice for 10-15 minutes every day than to do it in one big chunk. What I didn’t understand as a youth was that what those few minutes of practice did was to train muscle memory. It is only through years of playing guitar that I began to understand muscle memory.

Thinking on yoga, we are working with different muscles, but like in the practice of an instrument, we are teaching our body (and mind and spirit) muscle memory. In most instances (for me anyway), the muscle memory that is being learned is that of relaxing muscles. This relaxing into downward dog or keeping the shoulders down in another position is one that empowers us to let stress go from the body.

Tuesday was the day that I didn’t want to practice anything. I was so focused on my grief all I could do was cry. Then, after the teacher said to practice a few minutes, I went to the mat. Doing yoga can be quite challenging with a pet. This time, instead of a cat in my face or a dog licking my face, Birdie decided it was time to play with her yellow tennis ball.

Downward dog looked like play pose to her. She was happy I wanted to play. The beauty in this is that she made me laugh. As I moved to warrior, she thought my propped up knee was for her to stand on and offer me her ball. As I moved to a new position, I did pause to throw the ball. It gave me a chance to move without a little black dog underfoot.

Should Stretch into Cat/Cow

As I stretched out in child’s pose, a tennis ball was dropped between my hands. The sweetness of it melted me into the pose more. I moved into the Box (Cakravākāsana) pose that stretches my shoulders tossing the ball as I changed positions. While stretching, Birdie tried to drop the gift of her ball into my open hand. Again, I laughed and relaxed.

The yoga I practiced may have been more than 15 minutes, but I doubt it. I started out merely going through the motions. Then, the yoga remembered itself in my body. Because of the yoga and the silly dog, the dark mood that had haunted me all day lifted.

Wrong Time for Yoga

This morning as I thought about yoga class and what I was going to do since my local class was canceled, I wondered if it is the wrong time for me to be participating in a yoga online class. At least when I miss the physical class, I know it’ll be started again on Thursday. Having to write a blog, and be responsible for that in addition to the physical yoga class is more challenging than I expected. There’s accountability in a physical yoga class, but I don’t have to think about my feelings. In the physical yoga class, I just have to show up. The main responsibility is the teacher’s really, not mine. At least it is the teacher’s responsibility to plan which moves shall be made.

I must admit that our teacher is so good that she does talk to us about things we can do at home. I can remember some of them. It’s odd how I forget some of the easiest ones when at home. I think there are so many distractions here and today I am very distracted. In checking a to do list, it points out that I have forgotten to check in on my breathing and posture over the past two days. I’ve been caught up in activities and thinking about the future. Or at least the future for the next two weeks.

Then there is the grief of my recent move. Out of nowhere it seems sadness descends upon me. Tears rain down my face and out of my broken heart. I learn an older friend may be dying and because she too has moved, I cannot go to her side. I cannot say my goodbyes. We prayed together. Plans fall apart for my trips and the first thing I think that need to give up is this class. This online yoga class that is asking me to look At the inward effects of yoga and not only the physiological effects of yoga.

I want to take this class seriously. Most of all, this is one of the classes I want to finish. Finishing this intensive work in six weeks however seems too much right now. There are so many changes in my life, how can I add this on top of it all? How can my soul catch up with the pace of assignments in only six weeks? Walking through the day, I try to remind myself that I am one who is auditing the class. I can stretch the class out as I need because I don’t need the grade. But I do need the transformation.

I take a deep breath and now will move the dog off of my lap. I will go to the mat. Like my writing, I have to show up. It is up to me to put my derrière on the mat. Perfection is not the goal, but Practice is.

Resisting the Yoke

One of the readings for the class talks about the meaning of the word yoga. It discusses about how yoga was seen as a yoke. The part that strikes me as I read the article today, is how the meaning of yoga was described as a “warrior dying and transcending into heaven.”

“White notes in his paper that the term “yoga” in the Vedas actually refers to a yoke, as in the yoke over animals — and at times a chariot in the midst of battle. Interestingly, in some of these very early writings, yoga was used to describe a warrior dying and transcending into heaven, being carried by his chariot to reach the gods and higher powers of being.”

This Strikes me as important because of the place where I am in life now. I am a disabled person. I am older, close to 60. Recently I had to move to a new place because of the loss of my marriage. The crying and the sadness has felt like dying. I have lost my dreams. My home. My town, my church, and most importantly my dreams of the days to come with the person I love most. No hope of reconciliation has been given. In a sense, I am dying to the second part of my life and being prepared for the third portion.

There is no sense or understanding of where this path is going. There is only my now. It’s why I lose track of days and time. My now may be a moment of joy at communing with the beauty around me. I’ve become aware of all that is around me. I am surrounded by extreme beauty. There is also grief. Not only my grief, but the grief of those around me for losses of which I do not know their name.

Because suffering is no fun, it seems I seek to avoid the yoke that will give direction on the the new path. This path I am on now is not one of my choosing. This path was born out of necessity. I needed a place to live. I needed an affordable and safe place. The move put me in a town that I do not know. It is a good town, but it is still one I do not know. When surrounded with so many unknown known factors, one often feels disoriented. I don’t feel particularly lost.

However there is a sense of total unfamiliarity . As a result, one does not know if it is a good path or not. That can only be discerned later on. As a result, there is another form of suffering. The suffering of not knowing. This is addressed in the another part of the article.

“The first value involved analyzing one’s own perception and cognitive state, understanding the root of suffering and using meditation to solve it. The mind was to “transcend” bodily pain or suffering in order to reach a higher level of being. The second aimed to uplift or broaden consciousness, and the third involved using yoga as a path to transcendence. The fourth was using yoga to enter other bodies and act supernaturally — perhaps the strangest and most mystical one.”

This second quote best summarized where I feel that I am now in my yoga practice. Through this practice, I am being led through each stage of a transformation. Yoga asanas are still in place, though daily practice of the asanas isn’t yet integrated into every day. Meditation is becoming more a part of the daily rhythm; as is breathing and checking on posture. The past two days have shown me that when stressed, I still am not attentive to breathing or posture. There is a lot to learn and absorb. Sugar intake has been reduced and overall diet is improving, though not Ayurvedic.

Now it seems an understanding appears in my heart and mind. If I must die to the life that made me happiest, if I can move on without that, I can let go of these habits and ways of living that are less beneficial. Today, while we were practicing the tree pose, I could my foot clinging to the earth like the tree picture here.

The practice of yoga is changing and transforming my life, not just 1 or 2 hours. Yoga is freeing me from anxiety as I allow myself to be yoked to its guidance. Yoga is relieving my body of certain pains as I die to old ways of being in the world. Yoga connects me to the tree, but yoga also connects me to me.

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Quotes are from the article on

A Brief History of Yoga

Practice Interrupted?

That sounds like a do not disturb sign doesn’t it? Or a detour sign. In reality, it is a question about whether or not our practice can be interrupted. Is our practice interrupted or is it really a process of being and becoming more aware? Yoga is about more than the asanas as I understand it. It is about finding a way to make ALL of our life a practice of a different sort.

Each day we are to write a journal about the practice of yoga as we read assignments and learn the asanas. This also means rearranging our life or schedule to fit something in. And this something is the practice of yoga as physical movement and meditation. This is the seventh entry about Practice though there should be more journal entries for the days passed.

I am not sure at the moment how many days have been missed in the journaling. All I know is that it is now. Today is Saturday and it’s currently raining. Have I missed a day of asanas? Yes. But I have been focusing on the breathing, awareness of feelings in body, heart, and mind. In addition, I have until yesterday been careful about sugar intake. I keep forgetting to check my posture.

When we decide to take up the practice of anything, we must give other things up. Yoga is no different. Yet, like fitting practice in for a musical instrument, we must complete our commitments made prior to taking up the practice. Though at this moment I am unsure of yoga’s position on a statement of integrity, I know that every yogi or yogini I have ever met has been a person of integrity.

Perhaps, because of practice, they present as assured in mind body and spirit. Their integrity is in their body their mind and their spirit and so it comes across to us intuitively. But it can also mean that when a person takes care of these practices, it empowers one to take care of others in a different way. By others, I also include our natural world of earth, animals, and space.

As I make room for a life filled with Practice, there will be times that it feels as though I am failing. Perhaps I am in a moment of grief or joy, but that doesn’t mean Practice is over, but that I begin again and again and again. Each time we miss Practice, we keep practicing the asanas, the meditation, breathing, diet, until it becomes automatic to pick up the Practice and odd that we would set it aside.

For some, it will be easier to practice in this class because they have been interested in yoga for a long time and making room for it. For some, it will be a great imposition because time is short and it’s unclear what is needed to be given up. For others life events continue to happen while we add this practice to our daily life. That means it feels like Practice is interrupted, when indeed we may only be trying to find out how we incorporate practice into daily living. That too takes practice.

While my journals have been lacking, I have continued to work through the things we are working on in the class. Yes I have missed a class of yoga asanas, but I have continued to focus on paying attention to feelings both internally and externally. My breathing practices are becoming more regular. I also have continue to limit sugar intake. So I’ve been practicing these yogic exercises as I learn to live a Practice. The main discovery is that of all the things we would pay attention to, paying attention to posture is the most difficult for me.

In the short time that sugar has been limited in my diet, it has already begun to be a positive practice. Yesterday, I decided to eat a cinnamelt at McDonalds. Before I got halfway finished (maybe a little further), I found myself thinking, “This is too sweet.” I have NEVER said that about cinnamon rolls or anything bakery. As soon as I recognized the thought, I saw a positive effect coming from practice for this class, Yogamooc.

I had already begun to recognize feeling stronger from the asanas, and at many times I feel taller, even if I am not. It leads me to think that as the days of asanas go on, I won’t have to “think” about posture. Yoga as the practice of meditation and asanas will change all of me, aligning my energies for a better life.

Today I will practice

Breathe

Practice standing tall

Relax

Day 6 – Breath and Practice

As I went through the day yesterday, I realized that asking questions about how I was feeling was easy. It is my nature and has long been my interest in finding ways to pay attention in life. To find ways to be aware of what I am thinking, feeling, and now as a disabled person, what my body is feeling.

Because of my disability, I have to be aware of how much my activities tax my body. If I don’t, then I have days like today. Today I slept late, went to yoga, and then could only sleep the afternoon away. I don’t like to sleep so that is not a good thing for me. Sleeping through a day like today feeds the negative messages that my mind generates to torture me.

It was through the practice of trying to still my mind that I realized my mind is a tyrant. I had been practicing meditation and trying to clear my mind. It took about 20 years of practice until I finally quieted my mind one day for ten minutes. At first, I was happy. Then I was exasperated that it too me that long to “get it” and what it meant to still the mind. Then, I discovered why history calls it meditation practice. One has to do it again and again.

As a guitarist, I can go without practicing and still play the guitar. However, when I practice, I continue to improve. The experience for me improves as well as my accuracy and ability to convey a mood through music.

The legendary cellist Pablo Casals

was asked why he continued to practice at age 90.

Because I think I’m making progress,” he replied.

Meditation and yoga take practice. When we skip or miss the physical practice,  our muscles both tighten and weaken. We lose balance. When we skip or miss meditation, our mind takes over and we lose balance.

Yesterday I did what I had to do. Physically, it took a toll. Emotionally however, being able to “do” felt good, even if I knew I would be in pain. Taking care of myself gives me self-esteem. While doing that work, I found the practice of paying attention to mind and body easy. As I mentioned, I have been practicing and working on it.

Upon reflection today, I realized however that I was not paying attention to breath and posture. Breath and posture are hard for me. I get lost in my head thinking of life or a new story to write or the problems of the world. This causes me to hold my breath and I become hunched over.  Because of this, I am adding this question to the list of questions: “How is my breath? Am I breathing?” I also want to pay more attention to posture.

When I practice better breathing and better posture, two things happen. Better breathing prevents anxiety and helps me to make better decisions. Better posture makes me feel strong and tall in a world that wants to belittle. The overall emotional tone of yesterday was a feeling of strength. Now,

I will breathe to have a clear mind.

I will stand where I can breathe and feel strong.

 

 

 

Day 4 & 5

Day 4, Saturday – I was sick. Felt I was coming down with a cold or flu. I use Saturday as my day of rest anyway. still, the overall tone of emotion was gratitude for dear friends.

Day 5, Sunday – The morning started with my being in full body pain. This included my insides being in pain. Because of past experience, I knew some kind of front was coming in.

A friend who also has arthritis and fibromyalgia was also in a lot pain. Bill called our bodies weather vanes.  Soon, the reason for the pain became clear.

I took that photo while walking the dog. With each step we had to be careful because the rain from Saturday made a sheet of ice. Once back inside our warm hermitage, we both fell asleep on the couch. This is always the way for Birdie.

I read my devotion from the Christian tradition, then sought to meditate. The pain took everything out of me and soon I fell asleep instead. When we awakened, the world had turned white.

While thankful that we were warm, the overall emotion tone was that of sadness, loss, and grief. My life is still in transition since moving here in August. This is a beautiful place, but I miss my life in Sylva, NC.

My journal for these 2 days is private about the feelings of loss. If the yoga instructors of this class wish to see the journal entries, I will share via private email, but not here.

While willing to be open to the changes yoga can bring in my life, and vulnerable to others taking the class, I reserve the right to privacy. Some things are too sacred to be shared with blind trust.

Om

Om Symbol in Sanskrit

Day 3 Sunlight, Deer, and a Friend

Here are the questions we are to ask ourselves three times a day and then journal about:

How am I feeling?

How am I feeling on the inside?

Is there an overall tone?

How is my posture?

How is my posture making me feel?

Just notice.

No judgement.

Journal any recurring themes.

I answered the questions to myself yesterday. Yoga class took all my energy for the day, but the recurring theme was calmness. Because of yesterday’s yoga class, my insides felt weak, but my posture was good. At the end of yesterday’s class, we stayed in child’s pose for a long time. It took a while before my back muscles began to relax. At the end of the class I felt taller, even though I wasn’t.

There is no yoga class on Fridays. Today I met a friend who wanted to treat me to breakfast. We talk about many things and I told her about our class and how I wished she could join us. I knew she couldn’t because while Blowing Rock is only 12 miles away, it is an hour’s drive. Our roads are curvy or there is congested traffic on them. She said there are a lot of classes in Boone, but there are waiting lists. There are no classes in Blowing Rock. She too is a meditative person and our class would be a perfect fit.

If it seems that I am avoiding the questions for today, it is because I am. The hardest thing about asking the questions is the practice of “no judgement”. I must first decide if I am willing to answer the questions for the class (or reader) to see. The practice of no judgement is easy towards others, but hard for myself. I would rather focus on the light of the day, the friend, the deer in our town.

I will ask myself the questions as assigned. And I will also journal about my response as best as possible. It is a season of grief and loss for me. But at least I have the sunlight, the deer, my little black dog, and friends who bring me soup. Those same friends are willing to travel the road with me, even if we don’t know where it ends.

Day 2 Thinking on How Yoga Changes My Life.

Today it was freezing when we all left cozy homes for the short trip to the Rec. Center. The gym is where we practice until after Halloween. Tuesday’s Class was cold, but this time the gym was warm. It wasn’t quite hot yoga…except that we are a class of post-menopausal women. Our instructor is the youngest.

Kate Prisco teaching yoga at Buckeye Recreation Center

This first photo is a movement to Warrior III. I was taking a photo because my vertigo would not allow me to try this pose today. This was the second attempt at Warrior III for the class, so I knew to capture the picture then. Kate is an excellent instructor. She is patient with each of us and our ability or inability to strike a pose. She regularly reminds us to relax. Since relaxing has not been a gift in my life, it’s been a hard lesson to learn for me. Yet, my disabilities require that I rest. Most of the time relaxing drives me nuts. Yoga is the exception.

I usually take a spot in the back of the class because I am self conscious. Having tried aerobics and weight lifting classes in the cities, I always felt alone, intimidated, and physically the klutz. I never made it long in those classes because it felt competitive both in the ability to do the movement correctly, but also to compare beauty standards. That is just not my way, so I exercised at home, in the garden, on my bike, or on the church ball field. I was fit.

During those years, I began to suffer seasonal asthma. It did not hinder my lifestyle or activity. During that period of life, my twenties and thirties I also became a workaholic, often working three part-time jobs and a full time job. As a musician, that meant I also had to practice and learn music to both play and teach. Most of my life I tended towards being a slight insomniac. Meaning, if I got five hours of sleep, I was good. I never understood why people loved sleep.

By my fifties, I could no longer run, bike, play ball, and often it was hard to breathe.

I got interested in yoga because of my long interest in meditation and religious texts. Yoga often came up. I began to teach myself some easy yoga moves from books friends had. Met with a yogi the first time after working with her at a women’s retreat where I was the musician and chaplain. She taught us the Warrior II pose and I hated it. It was an odd reaction. She showed us others but I remember Warrior II because my reaction was so strong to it and it made no sense.

The times I met with her, she said we were going to do breath work and until I could do the breath work, no asanas. I never got to the movements with her because I had such a problem with breath. In addition to the battle with asthma, we discovered that I often hold my breath when I am unaware. She had noticed it during the retreat I suppose. Because we were both interested in meditation, I told her how breathing prayers had shown me the same problem. One of us moved away, but I continued to work on breathing and noticing my breath.

Years passed and I began to try a few more moves that were easy. I finally attended a class in Charlotte and was greatly disappointed. It was at Gold’s gym, so I didn’t expect meditation to happen. What saddened me is that the competitive vibe was in the class and instead of reminding the class to relax, she taught with what I will call the push method of many athletic programs. You know, the no pain no gain method. Needless to say, I didn’t stick with that class either.

One of the things that stopped my trying yoga on my own was not because I pushed too hard. I tried to practice the few moves that I knew until a bad memory returned. When I stopped yoga and got a counselor, I told her I thought the yoga had released some body memory long repressed. She confirmed that was possible. It was years before I would try yoga again because I didn’t want my body to dredge up any more bad memories.

My partner liked to go to a certain instructor in our little mountain town on the other side of Asheville. I loved those classes because they were more meditative and the instructor often used a chant. My partner felt like she was being pushed by the class and instructor. I could see what she meant, but it was much better than the one in Charlotte. As my physical pain worsened and my asthma got more severe, I could no longer go. The yoga studio was not ventilated in a way that I needed to breathe.

I did try to continue the sun salutations for a time. My health deteriorated to the place where I had no energy for that.

Years later, my wife asked me to leave and my disability a major reason. I am able to take care of myself, just can’t be on the go.

Moving to Beech is starting over again. The thing that keeps me going is determination, faith, and yoga. The people in my class are kind and welcoming. Each of us has some physical challenge that we have to deal with in different poses.

Kate shows us how to be careful and gives alternatives that will empower us to get there eventually. She is good at explaining what each tool is for (the strap, the block, the cushions). We are free to ask questions about how to correctly do a move. Kate doesn’t assume we know everything, but she doesn’t patronize either. This class is my community here. Only time will tell how this yoga class changes my life, but I know that I am finding balance and gaining strength.

Yoga online week 1

I am using this class in addition to taking yoga at the rec center nearby. I also am using my personal meditation that I do every day as part of his class and hoping to further develop my practice of meditation. That being said, one of the things that I would like to do as my main goal is to improve my diet in these past six weeks by reducing sugar intake. I believe that yoga does help the overall body and mental health as well as spiritual health and I think that if I could take that out of my diet for six weeks I would feel better.

The many chickens sound like a good idea. Not only because of how it can affect meditation and keep oneself in a meditative frame of mind during the day, but also because you can also be more aware of what’s going on with your physical body. I have several health problems, that interfere with life. I got involved with yoga in the hopes that it will help all of that improve.

I don’t really understand how the wheel of awareness as a chart used alongside the journaling experience will help. I understand its concepts and its ability to help us understand this class. I don’t see how it can be informative as personal growth.