Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Let’s Change Things Up – NOT

The start of a new year, and the call for revolution—err resolutions—begins. Since we’re Americans, we usually want to make it something big or do something more.  But, really, it’s the small, consistent, daily changes that have the most impact. That doesn’t, however, make them easier. 

Much of my training for an Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist certification focused around the value and health benefits of establishing a nourishing daily routine.  Ayurveda (“science of life”) is a holistic self-healing tradition from India.  And dinacharya, or syncing your everyday activities with the natural rhythms of the sun, moon, and seasonal cycles, is at the heart of an Ayurvedic practice.  This creates balance, prevents disease, and supports a calm mind.

When treating individuals in an Ayurvedic setting, there can be a lot of resistance when asking them to change some part of their daily routine to benefit a targeted health concern.  As our instructor often reminded, “people don’t like it when you mess with their food” or most anything else for that matter.  I know I don’t.  A change in daily habits is nearly impossible without a mind makeover and persistence.  

Here’s Anne Lamott on the subject: “I’ve always said that everything I’ve let go of has claw marks on it." So, why cling to old habits when change can often produce such, well, wonderful results? 

Change—that which we seek and that which comes unbidden—tends to tip us off balance, creating at least in the short term an uncomfortable emotional or physical vulnerability.  Finding balance in these moments of transition can be practiced and supported through both yoga and nurturing physical activities.  And often, we need to be prepared to simply open and allow things to unfold. 

Add one or more of these to your daily routine to calm and balance the mind and body as you make your way through your own small revolution:
  • Daily nasya oil - this is simply applying an herbal-infused oil in to the nostrils. Since the nose is the doorway to the brain, it has the benefit of creating a sense of calm and clarity in the mind.  It also relieves dryness in the nasal passages, allergy and cold symptoms, and headaches.  This is a personal favorite in my daily routine with benefits that build over time.  Learn more
  • Alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana) – nadi shodhana is a cleansing and balancing breath that unlocks the flow of vital energy by passing the breath through one nostril and then the other.  This breathing practice, or pranayama, calms the nervous system, helps balance hormones, and is great as a prelude to meditation. Harmonizing the body’s flow of energy is a strong, daily stabilizing force.  Here’show to do it
  • Tree pose(vrksasana) – this is a powerful standing pose (photo above) that helps to solidify you (mind and body) to the earth, much like a rooted tree.  Use this pose to help stay grounded and confident in the midst of change. In tree pose, the muscles of the standing leg and foot are in a kind of dance to keep the body moving upward.  Balance, whether in the body or emotions, is a steady process of continuing to find your center of gravity.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tea Time

The U.S. State Department kicked off 2012 with the announcement of a “Make Chai Not War” comedy tour to promote American culture abroad. It features three Indian-American comedians and a seven-city tour of India.  In honor of this, let’s have chai.

I’m always in the process of perfecting my recipe for chai tea.  I’ve probably read and given a test drive to several dozen recipes—from yoga publications to Ayurvedic cook books to friends and strangers.  I’ve coaxed the secret recipe from my friend whose husband is Indian and rightly proud of his own version, which I drank with relish daily when I stayed with them outside of London a few years ago.  Oh, and the Himalayan Institute has a fabulous recipe.

But in the end, the beauty of chai tea is sorting through the clutter and creating the version that’s just right for you. So after much tweaking, here’s my recipe for the perfect chai tea—at least for now.  It’s complex, fairly spicy, not high in calories (like many version at coffee chains or on grocery store shelves, apologies to Big Train), and simple.  Makes enough for two cups--so share with a friend. 

3 cups of water
About two inches of fresh ginger (slice, or large rough chop)
A generous Tbs. of cinnamon chips (can use one cinnamon stick, but I like the cinnamon chips from Penzeys Spices)
4-5 cloves
4-5-ish pods of fresh cardamom (smash or rough grind with mortar and pestle)
½ - 1-ish tsp. fennel seeds
3-5 whole black pepper
Two bags (two teaspoons loose) decaf black tea (Red Rose)

  1. Place water and all ingredients except black tea in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. 
  2. Reduce to medium simmer and then add black tea.  If using tea bags, just wrap the ends around the pan handle so they don’t get lost and difficult to rescue when removing. 
  3. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and strain. 
  4. Pour into cups leaving room to add milk (non-fat, 2%, or whole milk) or a soy or almond beverage.
  5. Sweeten to taste with organic “sugar in the raw” or Turbinado.  Most recipes suggest sweetening with raw honey, which is good and has many health benefits, but for that caramel/molasses-like yummy-ness perfect for chai tea try Turbinado. 

Chai spices are mostly about aiding digestion, but they also balance and support emotional stability.  These spices also hit most of the six tastes Ayurveda identifies—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent—creating many health benefits and a sense of satisfaction.  

Ginger – immune booster, helps with digestion and unsettled stomach, reduces inflammation
Cinnamon – warms and circulates blood, helps with coughs and colds
Cardamom – beneficial for digestion, gas, detoxifying/cleansing; calms nerves
Cloves (bud) – improves digestion, soothes cough, reduces congestion
Fennel – a digestive used to treat anemia, gas, constipation, etc.
Black Pepper – enhances digestions and circulation
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