Friday, June 25, 2010

T2C ~ Mantra Musings

Jen ~ Philadelphia

When I think of mantras, two types come to mind ~ words/phrases that are commonly repeated (usually in my head) – both positive and negative – and the sacred and mystical utterances that are capable of creating transformation. It seems that the latter would help with the former, at least as far as clearing the mind and creating a loving and non-judgmental space. After all, negative “mantras,” the repetitive and undesired self-talk, need to be put in their place…and not given so much weight.

In an earlier post I blogged about The Power of Now and an exercise I tried on watching the mind and monitoring one’s thoughts. Sometimes one negative thought can lead to another and soon enough there’s a chain of them and you can find yourself in a downward spiral, feeling not-so-great and wondering how the heck you got to that low place. “I’m not good enough”, “I could work harder on x, y, z…” etcetera, etc. But if you can observe and identify these thoughts early on, you’ll save yourself from a toxic nosedive. And adding some reaffirming mantras will do the trick too!

I remember vividly the time that this worked best. I started to seriously doubt a person I had deemed a “special someone” and believed, based on his actions, that it was only a matter of days before things were going to unravel. And there was nothing I could do about it. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night on the verge of a panic attack, consumed by fear and anxiety. When I couldn’t get back to sleep I sent out vibes, begging for everything to be ok and asking the Universe for “peace, serenity, and calm.” I repeated these words over and over and over again…until I drifted off to sleep. It was the only thing that worked.

Luckily, I haven’t seen another situation like this to warrant that kind of mantra. I now use them when running ~ “You will get there. You’ll make it to the finish line” (this mantra goes on for long time) ~ and when I’m at the office ~ “Make it Work!” Note: the Tim Gunn “Make it Work” bobblehead helps with this one.

What mantras work for you?

Olivia ~ Seoul

I used to feel ambivalent about mantras. On the one hand, they seem like New Age hocus pocus–even to my New Age loving self. On the other hand, mantras have helped me through difficult situations since I started using them in the past year, which makes me inclined to keep up with them in the future.

Om Mani Padma Hum

When I first began exploring this mantra thing, I turned to Google for some research. (Because nothing says “inner peace and contentment” quite like the world’s largest search engine, right?) I was curious about what mantras people have been using for centuries, and figured that if it was good enough to help thousands of others center themselves, it was good enough for me. I eventually settled on two classics: Ham-sa, which means “I am that,” and Om mani padma hum, a classic Tibetan Buddhist prayer. I love the former because of how perfectly it fits with free-flowing breaths; when I really need to focus, I think ham on the exhale and sa on the inhale. The little effort required to invert what might feel the “natural” coupling ham/inhale and sa/exhale helps me really bring attention to the moment. I have a little yellow post-it tacked up over my desk with this mantra on it, and it serves as a gentle reminder a few times a day that I am what I am, and I am what I do, which helps me refocus my attentions on what truly matters. Om mani padma hum is a mantra I use less often, but find springs into my mind from time to time when I’m feeling…off. I love the sound, even though I likely say it incorrectly, and find the script beautiful.

Lately I’ve been branching out into other mantras I can use in more targeted situations. In a recent email exchange, my friend Liz shared what gets her through difficult workouts, be it a long run or a challenging yoga class: “I choose to do this.” As soon as I read those words, I was struck by their power. I could write a page on that mantra alone, but what really strikes me is the truth that if you choose do something, you can choose not to do it, so if you choose to continue, you might as well accept the gifts the challenge is offering you. Angela, over at Oh She Glows, has shared her race mantra, which she pins to her shirt during events: “You are so much stronger than you think!” I have definitely appropriated this for some of my own runs when I felt like quitting. And you know what? It’s always true!

Lanterns with prayers for Buddha's birthday.
Mine would have said: "I am healthy. I am strong."

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to put a new mantra of my own making to the test: “I am healthy. I am strong.” Somehow, and we still can’t figure it out, gluten sneaked into my diet, the hows and whys of which I want to explore in a future post. On Saturday I was presented with the situation of needing to go to work (luckily, it was only a five-class day instead of eleven or twelve) while suffering from intense pain through most of my body, though, thankfully, my right leg was spared. I do have one narcotic pain pill that I carry just in case, but taking it would have made it impossible to teach (it puts me to sleep), so I was forced to rely on Motrin and my stubborn disposition. Lucky for me, I can be really stinking stubborn. But it still took most of my power to sit in class–standing and writing on the board were out of the question–and lead a coherent discussion; I couldn’t help but think of the pain pulsing through my muscles, joints, bones, and skin. Clearly, thinking “It hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts” wasn’t helping; in fact, it likely fed the pain, or at least my consciousness of it. So I chose to spend my energy on what it was I wanted to manifest. I am healthy. I am strong. I am healthy. I am strong. Only the good stuff was allowed to cycle through my thoughts. When I told Michael that I was trying to mantra my way through the pain, he immediately “got it,” and filled in for me when I seemed to be wavering. There’s something incredibly powerful about having someone you love adopt your mantra for you: You are healthy. You are strong.

Do you use mantras? Do you use time-tested phrases or your own creations or a mixture of both? How have they helped you? Have you ever invited anyone to join in you mantra with you? I would like to official offer myself as mantra-supporter. If you need a little extra nudge of support and faith from someone, drop a comment or email with your mantra of choice, and why you’d like me (and your fellow readers) to come along for the ride. Let’s support each other in every way we can.

Friday, June 18, 2010

T2C: A Day in the Life...

This week, Olivia and I decided to tackle the subject of temptation. What does a typical day in the life of a health nut look like? Here's how we make it through a regular (which often means stressful) day while still staying in the nutritional black.

Olivia ~ Seoul

For a long while, I attempted perfection. I would pledge myself to weeks or months of…whatever I thought I should focus on next. Yoga every day. No sugar. Not surprisingly, this approach almost always backfired as I burned myself out and went clamoring to the cupboards or the couch.

So now I’m learning to balance virtue and temptation. Oh middle path, you’d make Buddha proud. Treats are awesome and perfection is boring, but it all needs to be balanced. This means that a treat must truly be a treat; I have to enjoy it, savoring every moment.

When virtue and indulgence meet:
A pause during a long bike ride to enjoy some wine (and yes, it's wine in a can).

Curious as it may sound, this means planning. How many times have we been tempted by Starbucks/a Snickers bar/insert-craving-of-choice because we were exhausted or hungry or just having a snack attack? I don’t want to waste my treats on situations on like this. I want my indulgences to be about pure pleasure, not a lack of preparedness.

To help make this happen, I try to set up my life to make the healthiest options the easiest ones.

At work: I keep healthy snacks that are likely to satisfy cravings at my desk: packets of toasted & salted seaweed sub in for potato chips, a bag of apples helps me combat a sugar slump, and a container of homemade trail mix gives me a protein boost when I need it.

At home: Our fridge is (almost) always organized with the good-for-you stuff easy to grab. A salad lives on the top shelf with a freshly made bottle of dressing. Everything I need to make my green smoothies is corralled into one part of the fridge door so I can whip it together when I’m still half-asleep.

For fitness: Running shoes are left out, and I try to do a load of laundry when I’m down to my last sports bra or pair of running shorts. The yoga mats stand at the ready against the wall of the living room. If I’m on the fence about going to the gym during a break at work, I bring the sneakers.

Does this mean I always make the healthful choices? NO! In fact, the last 24 hours have been particularly indulgent. But when I splurge, it’s because I want to, not because I’ve left myself without any other option. So today when I left my hummus-topped salad in the fridge at work and headed to Kraze Burger with my fella, it’s because I really wanted to split some damn cheese fries (and drink a Coke, a very rare occurrence), not because I scampered out empty-handed this morning. And I did still get a salad.

I’m not perfect. But I am pretty darn healthy while still leaving wiggle room for some of the less virtuous parts of life.

How do you handle temptation? Do you plan for it? Are you able to resist cravings?

Jen ~ Philadelphia

Although I’ve gotten used to going without coffee (for the most part), processed foods, alcohol, dairy (for the most part), and meat, I still feel tempted on a daily basis. Perhaps it’s the fact that for many people, these elements are commonplace in their diet…and I’m surrounded by subsequent opportunities to cave. It starts the minute I get out of bed when I’m visiting the folks and smell the coffee brewing (and see the non-dairy creamer in their fridge). On a workday, it starts when I reach the office waiting area. Co-workers can be found mingling around the coffee maker while I find myself sometimes pining for joe. If I’ve made it to 10:00 a.m. without succumbing, it’s just a matter of hours before the next hurdle approaches. Lunch is only hard when I haven’t prepared food in advance. There are a few options (emphasis on few) otherwise; my university has great vegetarian options but most are laden with cheese. 3:00 rolls around, the hunger hits, and the bad snacks at work call my name. Dinner is good if I have the energy to make food or if I’m not tired of take-out burritos, salads, or tomato pie (and that’s if the pizzeria has made any that day).

So far I’m not really doing a good job of selling this vegan lifestyle thing, huh?

Thankfully times have changed (since last week). I’ve gotten a buddy on board with food shopping and prepping on a weekly basis. We now meet up with vegan and balanced recipes to vote on, money to split the grocery bill, and sculpted biceps to whip up batches of food to get us through the week. Why didn’t we think of this before?!!

The temptations for coffee and dairy still continue and occasionally I partake. But with support of a fellow health junkie, I’ve got plenty of scrumptious meals on hand that are not only meat and dairy-free but my antidote to gratuitous indulging as well. Once you start eating whole plant-based foods on a regular basis (even in just a few days), you’ll notice your tastebuds and body wanting more!

How do you keep temptation at bay?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Battle in Seattle ~ by Ed

The quest for good food wasn't nearly as serene as this lake.

My sister earned her masters degree in public health last week from the University of Washington, and that called for a celebration. Ten family members and one family friend headed out to Seattle to congratulate her. This was my first week away from home since I had dropped meat and many dairy products. Traditionally, vacations have meant a license to eat junk food and lots of meat. I was determined to be healthier this time around, going so far as to pack a blender; but as anyone who travels knows, it is not easy eating green in a new city. This was going to be a fight against old habits amongst carnivorous relatives who have a voracious appetite for meat.

The trip didn't start out well with a long flight out West. Airport "food" just flat out sucks, moreso if you are vegetarian. Not even the salads are appealing. I grabbed a pretzel from Auntie Anne's, hoping against hope that I could get something better during a layover in San Francisco. But my flight left late and I ended up spending the night at the airport with all the eateries closed. The best I could do the next morning was to get some crackers and water from a convenience store for the flight to Seattle. After my arrival and a long nap, my sister took us to a gourmet pizza place in the city, which was tasty, but decidedly unhealthy. For dinner at a seafood restaurant, I had a salmon burger (I still dabble in fish), which I couldn't finish since I was falling asleep at the dinner table. So travel and Day 1 in Seattle seemed to be a complete bust.

After taking a long run the next morning, I felt completely regenerated. For lunch, I resisted junk food urges and picked up a quinoa salad instead, which was a little too salty but good. My sister's graduation was that night, and mercifully, it was catered with plenty of vegetarian food. I enjoyed rice wraps, salad, and Greek spinach quiche. Unfortunately, I continued the cheese-eating the next day at lunch (and drank too much beer) on a boat ride in Puget Sound. Dinner was better that night, as we were treated to Salmon with diced tomatoes and onions and asparagus.

The next day was by far the healthiest eating wise. I put the blender to good use and tried the excellent recipe for Sweet Strawberry Pie that Jen recently blogged about. I had trouble with the crust, but it was an overall success. My cousins loved it and even my Allegedly Healthy Aunt, who is in many ways healthy but doesn't believe that meat and dairy could be bad for one's health, couldn't believe raw pie could taste so good.

One of the highlights of the trip occurred that evening, as I took my sister out for a meal at Cafe Flora, an award-winning vegetarian restaurant in Seattle. The design alone was amazing, as we were seated next to a fountain in an atrium. The menu featured all vegetarian options, many of which were also available vegan. I opted to enjoy some of my sister's avocado salad as an appetizer and selected the portobello wellington, the house specialty, served with outstanding mashed potatoes and asparagus. The mushrooms were cooked to taste as though it were meat. It was incredible and I highly recommend the restaurant should you ever find yourself in Seattle.

The next few days were not as good on the food front. My aunt took the cousins to a Seattle fast food joint appropriately called Dick's. When I was asked what I would be getting, I replied without thinking, "I don't know, I can't bleeping eat anything here." Alas, my pleas for them to give up meat had fallen on deaf ears. I did get a laugh when a cyclist shouted out, "Eating at Dick's is like putting poison in your body" while they were eating their meat. I went home and packed some fruit and a pb&j sandwich for a hike scheduled the following day. Too tired to make anything as my sister went out, I had some more strawberry pie for dinner. On the flight home, I had a couple of protein bars since, again, there was nothing but poor food options at the airport.

Overall, I was pleased with how I ate on the trip. If I had to do it again, I would have packed better food for the flights and worked harder to make food at my sister's place. However, things could have been a lot worse. I'm happy to say the meatless challenge is still going strong for me. I was less successful in convincing relatives to drop meat and dairy. One cousin even remarked that if milk is so bad, why do the sell it in schools? Good question. But that's a story for another time...

If you are traveling, be sure to consult the Eating Well Guide for local organic goods and VegGuide for vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Happy Eats!

Meatless in Seattle

The proof was in the luggage...

My friend Ed recently traveled across the country to visit family in Seattle. I was both shocked and giddy when he texted me in route to say that he had packed his blender (I needed proof)! We had made a raw strawberry pie days before and he wanted to share the treat with family. He had shown so much commitment to nutrition since starting the meatless challenge (and now with packing a freakin' blender for a long-distance flight!) that I wondered how he'd fare being away from prepared meals for a week. Would it be anything like my bust in Baltimore? Fortunately, Seattle has lots of great eats for no-meat health junkies. Read more about Ed's experience in the blog post Battle in Seattle.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Macro Monday ~ Parsley Tea

I used to think of parsley as a garnish and I had not developed a liking for it until recently. My friend Emek used to make us fabulous Turkish dishes, many of which had parsley in them. But when replicating her masterpieces I left the parsley out. It tasted too bitter to me. I was a picky eater.

Fast forward years later and to an introduction to macrobiotic cooking. With the right combination, parsley fast became a fantastic and complimentary ingredient in dishes. My palate had readjusted and, dare I say, developed feelings for this leafy green. But when I found a recipe for parsley tea, which only consisted of parsley, I wondered if it could stand on its own.

Parsley has been the main star in juices and other elixirs for various ailments and health benefits. If anything, I thought, drinking parsley tea on occasion would be a good contribution to health. It also turned out to be tasty!

This recipe comes from Simon Brown's Modern-Day Macrobiotics:

Bring 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley and 1 cup water to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy!

*Note: Parsley and other select leafy greens may not be suitable for people with certain health conditions. See the first link above for more information.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

T2C: Losing Our Minds

A photo from Olivia's old apartment in Philly.

Your two favorite (wink wink) green health junkies are at it again. I’m teaming up with Olivia to launch a new weekly feature, A Tale from Two Cities (T2C), which will document various health and food adventures from our respective corners of the world: Philadelphia, PA, and Seoul, South Korea.

Our first blog title is not meant to announce an onset of psychosis or to imply that we have indeed gone bonkers. It’s true that our lives have gotten pretty darn busy (but extremely exciting) in recent months –an engagement and long-distance wedding planning from Seoul and a part-time gig with an awesome nutritionist in Philadelphia – and with such events naturally comes some stress and a need to unwind and just “be.” With that said, we’re focusing our first post on the very important topic of meditation and relaxation.

Jen ~ Philadelphia

I have always been a fidgety person. I still can’t manage to, well, sit still. My mind easily wanders and is cluttered with to-do lists, worries, thoughts of the future, and more menial wonderment of things like what’s going to happen on the next season of Dexter. And I imagine it’s this way for a lot of people. How can it not be? We live in a fast-paced culture with never-ending workdays, fast food at every corner, 24-hour news cycles, incessant tweeting and facebooking, and an urge to bring our blackberries with us on vacation. Oy! Where does all of this get us and what kind of world do we create for ourselves in the process? We need some room to breathe, people! And the only person who can help you is you.

Everyone will choose a different path to get to that breathing space. I’m not one for traditional meditation on a regular basis…not yet. I’ve tried it and it doesn’t appeal to me right now. In the meantime, yoga is serving quite nicely as my meditation and “me” time. I deem twenty minutes of it a day to be an accomplishment. My other current “go-to” inspirations for centeredness are passages from Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and Kris Carr’s recent vlog on taking mini-vacations every day.

I highly recommend Tolle’s chapter “Freeing Yourself from Your Mind.” Newsflash! You are not your mind! He recommends monitoring your thoughts as an outsider (without judgment) to observe thought patterns, especially those that are repetitive, negative, and subsequently destructive. In doing so, you can practice being fully present in the “now.” When I last did this exercise I felt as if a weight had been lifted…no worries…just happiness…just being. As for the mini-vacation exercise – that starts tomorrow. Got to start planning. Might simply entail a 15-minute break/walk during the workday or a 30-minute “check-out” at Starbucks with a girly magazine. How do you unwind? How do you get centered?

Olivia ~ Seoul

If someone told you they knew of something that would help you be more productive at work, sleep more soundly at night, and improve your overall happiness, you’d probably be clamoring to find out their secret. Especially when you found out it was free, could be done anytime, anywhere.

Meditation, of course, is all of this, and more. So why don’t we all sit down and let go every day? Or, more precisely: why don’t I have a daily meditation practice yet, even though I’ve been practicing off and on for over five years and love love love the benefits?

The honest truth? I don’t know. So I’m letting this little write-up serve as a reminder for some of my favorite meditation tidbits. With any luck, this will inspire you to take five or ten minutes in your day to check in—or check out.

• Even five minutes a day can make a big difference

• If you exist, you can do it. You don’t need any props or special knowledge. You don’t even need a secluded space (though it can be nice).

• When in doubt, close your eyes and focus on the breath as it passes through your nose. If your mind is being particularly uncooperative, go ahead and count to a given series of numbers as you inhale and exhale. (For example, inhale to 5, exhale to 7.)

• If you do it before bed, it will help calm what I call “hamster brain”—that incessant racing of thoughts that you don’t want to be thinking.

• If (when) a thought keeps popping up, go ahead and acknowledge it, thank it for coming to the party, and tell it you’ll give it your full attention to learn from it later. But now is not the time.

• It provides many of the same benefits of a glass of vino (relaxation, a ritual for letting go of the work day, an increased likelihood of cracking a smile) without those pesky price tags/calories/toxicity.

Check Green Junkie Living next week for more resources and techniques to take your meditation practice to the next level.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Strawberry Seduction

Consuming this dessert will elicit incessant
"ooh-la-las" and multiple orgasms!

Sweet Strawberry Pie
Courtesy of Christina Pirello at Christina Cooks

2 pounds fresh strawberries, tops removed, quartered
Juice of one half lemon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup brown rice syrup
Sea salt
2 cups raw almonds
1 3/4 cups pitted dates

Combine strawberries, lemon juice, vanilla, rice syrup and a pinch of salt in a bowl and toss to combine. Set aside while you make the crust. Place almonds in a blender and pulse on high until they resemble bread crumbs. Empty into a 9-inch pie plate. Place dates in blender with about a teaspoon of water and pulse on high until will be a little clumpy.

Combine almonds and dates until they hold together and then press evenly onto the bottom and sides of pie plate to form a crust. Spoon berries generously into the crust, discarding any remaining liquid. Refrigerate for 2 hours before slicing into wedges and serve.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

State-Dependent Running

I finished (emphasis on finished) my second 10k trail race of the season this past Saturday in beautiful Wissahickon park. But it was by far my toughest run for several reasons: despite a good night's sleep, I was exhausted after a jam-packed workweek, my regular practice runs had subsequently taken a backseat to work, it was hot on race day, and there were inclines on the course I hadn't really trained for. All of these factors led to a less-than-desirable (ok, outright shi**y) situation: I almost passed out in the woods.

When I started feeling sick, desiring an IV or someone to whisk me to the finish line where I would have appeared to have beaten Ed, I was nowhere near a road. I was, in fact, half-way up a steep hill, which probably made matters worse. The only thing I could do was walk it out...walk towards help. My head was pounding and I was nauseous. Any minute now, I thought, I'll blackout. I wasn't too worried. There were plenty of runners around if I absolutely needed assistance and I knew I'd see a volunteer soon. I remember thinking that the feeling would eventually subside. But all I wanted to do was be done with the race and I was only about half-way through at this point.

I started putting out vibes to the Universe. "Please let me reach someone who can help me" and "Please let me get out of here as quickly as possible."

While I had pictured the help being a person with a walkie talkie, I soon met a fellow racer who had also taken a break from running the trail; we walked 1/4 mile together, commiserating about the heat, the course, and how baffled we were to be experiencing trouble after having finished the Broad Street Run just a month ago.

Surprisingly, I started to feel better after this talk. We both began a light jog and a 1/2 mile later I was running full-steam ahead. I couldn't believe that the pain/nausea has ceased and that I had any energy left. I had never run faster in the final stretch towards the finish line. Thank you, Universe!

In the end, I completed the trail with a time of 1:21. At the start of the race I had hoped for a time of 1:07 (the time of my last 10k trail run) but all things considered, to have just finished this race was an accomplishment. And I fared much better than the guy last year, who needed to go to the ER and get paddles to jumpstart his heart because he didn't hydrate during the race.

Ed ran fabulously on race day, finishing with a time of 52:35 and placing 72nd out of 449 runners. Congrats, Ed!

Next up: a military-style 10k, complete with mud and obstacle courses. Things are going to get dirty.