Dining yogically at Sutra

I never forgot about the blog; I just managed to make it two months or so without writing on LIF. I'd like to pretend it never happened, but time stamps don't lie. But three days before Thanksgiving seems as good a day as any to set an intention to re-commit to this little blog. Pinky swear.

With that, I'd like to talk not about yoga, but tell you about a restaurant called Sutra. On the eve of possibly the most ridiculous eating holiday on the planet, though I do love it so, Sutra is at the center of a more civil, sane and gentler kind of food indulgence. I'd hear murmurings about Sutra from food friends, particularly vegetarians, and I also heard about it from yoga peeps. Like Ubuntu in Napa  (where I ate the most incredible vegetarian meal my tasteybuds have ever had), Sutra is both yoga studio and restaurant.

It is a darling little spot on the main drag in the Wallingford neighborhood, and the restaurant works very hard to be efficient. Its open kitchen, which lines the side of the small dining area, churns out vegetarian verging on mostly vegan and limiting diners to two prix fixe ($35) seatings a night to cut down on leftover food getting tossed at the end of the night. All the wine is local or organic. Our water also came purified and free of chemical impurities or something like that.

All very well indeed, but what matters to me is the food. Oh, the food. If I was the violent type, I would beat myself up repeatedly for not making it there sooner. The meal starts with a ggggooong from Chef Colin, who introduces dishes with titles like New England and Red Kuri Pumpkin-Leek Soup with a Garlic and Marjoram Gremolata Served with a Pickled Treviso Radicchio-Roasted Yellow Beet and Shaved Fennel Salad. Despite its name, the first course won me over immediately, with the tart acidity and crunch of the pickled radicchio cutting the sweet richness of the smooth, lightly creamy pumpkin-leek soup. But then the second course -- Lemon-Basil Cashew Cheese Stuffed Pimiento Pepper Served with a Beluga Lentil-White Chanterelle and Porcini Ragu -- arrived, and I was smitten again, convinced I could eat this dish every day of my life. The in-house, lightly fermented cashew cheese, both chewy and light, was encased in a perfectly spicy and completely adorable petite little pepper. I wanted to cuddle it.

But then there was a third course. Curses, Sutra, can't I just be happy with the dish I just ate? But the gnocchi (technically Celery Root Gnocchi with an Ambrosia Apple-Heirloom Tomato-Peach & Limon Habanero Caponata Served with Fresh Arugula finished with a Balsamic Reduction and Truffle Oil) was a fantasy of pillowy gnocchi snuggled next to chunks of fruit married with luscious tomatoes and the pop of habanero. The fresh arugula salad with its simple balsamic dressing provided a lovely, peppery balance. It is in contention for Nicole's Top Dishes of 2010.

I adored the fourth course, but the bar had been set very high. Plus I had trouble wrapping my brain around how the chef made a dairy-free truffle taste as sumptuous as the kind with heavy cream. Coconut was the alternate, vegan-approved fat for Sutra's version and the Raw Cacao-Dusted Madagascar Chocolate Cardamom Truffle had that intense hit of chocolate any self-respecting chocolate addict craves. A delicious tiny cup of fresh ginger apple cider was served on the side.

I came away the kind of full I always wish for, neither too full nor convinced I will be hungry again in an hour. The gong, and perhaps the dish titles, are the only elements that give the place a slightly cheesy vibe. In fact, the restaurant is so elegant and its food so sophisticated that the yoga elements become incidental. At the same time, my nerdish yoga self was happy to know how much care was paid to the vegan food, how much attention was paid to minimizing waste and to how damn delicious it all was.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 gongs


Rocked to my Cahillian core by Krista and Brock

I let Krista and Brock Cahill have their way with me over the weekend, and my shoulders still ache in the most glorious way.

Krista and Brock are L.A.-based yoga teachers, and they traveled to Seattle for a weekend workshop. They are, basically, sensational. Not only are they gorgeous, fun and mesmerizing to watch, but they, to quote Brock quoting a student, also make "what seemed impossible merely challenging." (Yoga is so much the same as life, LOVE IT.) Leaping into handstand from downward facing dog, jumping into crow from down dog, taking crow to handstand, taking one legged crow to handstand (see a theme yet?). For the first time, those impossible transitions seemed possible. I've been working on my jump forward from down dog for a few months, focusing on engaging mula bandha (root lock) and thinking it was mostly time to increase my strength to land like Holly Golightly. But after two intense sessions with them, I am leaping so much more airily, with so much less fear and so much more joy. I feel like I will have it in no time at all. Crow to handstand? Sure! Some day.

I was grateful to hear it took Brock one year (of obsessive practice) to hold handstand; Krista five. It took her 12 years to master the jump-through. It's an inspiring future.

But it's not just the graceful lifts into handstand (and down to crow and back up and hovering in between). It's the way their words landed in my body. Krista in particular has such a clear understanding of physiology and way of communicating what to do. One of my studio owners said the difference between good teachers and great is how their words translate, and that's absolutely true with the Cahills. Other teachers have taught me the jump forward, but Krista explained how to keep the spine straight and the shoulders integrated into the sockets when still in down dog, knees bent deeply, positioning the body perfectly for handstand alignment before springing forward. After a few powerful bursts, all of a sudden I was flying and holding myself up, if only for a few seconds. Yowza! I can't wait to get back on my mat to do it again, and again, and again.

Their class also was a blast back to my first year of practice. I practice Baptiste power vinyasa flow yoga almost every day and my body has adapted to the strength required for that flow. But Krista and Brock pushed me to entirely new levels of physicality, and I found myself getting incredibly tired, resisting their instructions and dropping my arms out of exhaustion during Warrior II, something I haven't felt the urge to do in years. I woke up aching all over. The experience was a powerful reminder about empathy as a teacher and also for my own practice, for how far I've come and how far I still have to go.

Krista and Brock were at yoga festival Wanderlust the last two years, but I wouldn't say they're household yogi names like Shiva or Seane Corn. Yet. I have total confidence in their ability, like the good yogis they are, to change the world, one handstand at a time.


Perspective among the rocks

The brochures say Bryce Canyon is one of the most photographed places in the world. I believe the brochures.

My favorite angel formation
It's sort of cheating to say you gained perspective when you go to places like Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah. The rocks are big. Really big. The clouds are big. The sky is the biggest. You are small. Lesson learned.

But before I went to see those big rocks, I went to a dharma talk with Ajahn Sumedho, a revered monk who lives in England but grew up in Seattle. I listened to him speak at St. Paul's Cathedral on Capitol Hill, the same church where he grew up attending. Now he was back, head shaved, robed in orange, talking about meditation and the human condition. I know, it's weird. But what was not weird was listening to him speak and somehow finding myself relating to this monk. I have never lived in a monastery nor washed my layers of robes every day nor eaten from a communal bowl of glop collected from kind-hearted villagers who support the monks by giving what little they had. What I have experienced is the judgmental mind, the mind that resists eating food that looks unappetizing, that judges the reasoning behind washing the robes every day, the mind that relies on external approval to gauge whether one is a good monk. It's so easy to be unsatisfied with our lives. But that's the human condition, he said, to think collectively in a particular way. In the American way, we tend to think that we don't have enough, we criticize others, we judge our lives. But he was clothed, he was fed, he had no reason to hate washing his robes. Once he saw he could change how he thought about it, he did.

Ajahn Sumedho was not so bold as to ask us to put a screeching halt to our Western way of thinking and to stop us from wanting more in our lives. But he hoped we could see the distinction between what we need to be fulfilled in life versus what our culture has conditioned us to want, the things we think will make us happy. The clothes (more lululemon!), the relationships, the homes, the right job, the list goes on. But humans can endure quite a bit of sacrifice (even a life without lululemon) and while we can't always control what's going on around us, we can control how we think about it. Instead of worrying about non-delicious food or uncomfortable robes, welcome life as it is. "Life is like this," he says.

It's not the easiest idea to practice. It's a bit much for my not-so-calm and not-so-Zen mind to consider. I want a lot of things. But to know that this rather incredible human being struggled that much with the same concepts was both encouraging, then exasperating because he clearly has overcome them to some degree. But he was undoubtedly inspirational, just like those rocks. Yes, we're back to the rocks. The rocks remind me not to be buried in the little things. The little things, the drama, the junk, they don't really matter.


Bethenny does yoga, her way

If you squint, you can see Bethenny Frankel of Bravo's "Real Housewives" fame on the left. To the right is a yoga teacher (and apparently model) named Kristin McGee. I don't claim to have standards when it comes to television -- "Jersey Shore" and "The City" are DVR staples  -- but I can't get into "Real Housewives," to the disappointment of one of my friends. She very badly wants me to love the show, but I don't, so she is instead trying to convert me to the brand of Bethenny.

It's working, sort of. I like Bethenny's website and tips on healthy eating. I watched half an episode of her new show, "Bethenny Getting Married." I'm oddly enamoured by her personal story and the way she spells her name. And I did her yoga DVD, "Body by Bethenny with Bethenny Frankel."

My Bethenny-loving friend is new to yoga, so I helped her with confusing poses. Because despite Bethenny's supposedly helpful subtitles -- "Warrior Three: Hamstring and lowback strengthener" -- her yoga was not accessible for newbies. The video is set up as a class, with Kristin "teaching" Bethenny, a long-time practitioner with fairly good form, a flow series. Kristin's yoga is hard, like intermediate hard. The level makes it easier for Bethenny to play the part of friend, chatting up her favorite pose (triangle), suggesting bring-your-boob-to-your-knee asana, and showing a few modifications. I could have used even more. Kristin dives right in with upward dog, with no discussion of a standard modification, low cobra, until Bethenny shows it to us. Kristin moves on speedily through some warrior series, including this flow:  chair -> warrior 1 -> warrior 2 -> reverse warrior -> triangle -> warrior 2 -> forward bend -> pyramid -> warrior 3 -> half moon -> standing split. Not easy at all.

We broke a sweat in the 55-minute DVD. Bethenny utters some very yogic themes, such as "You can't have an ego about yoga." There also are a couple of odd choices, like doing back bends after core, in reverse of the order intended to help neutralize your back post-back bend. Kristin does nothing new or earth-shattering in teaching technique or her flow, although I suppose that would steal too much thunder from Bethenny, our real yogi star. Still, I've gotta give the housewife credit for spreading the gospel of yoga, even if it did introduce some cringe-inducing, aerobics-style attitude. It can't even come close to ranking among great yoga videos, but it's not supposed to. Rating: C-


Sunsets, naps, yoga and Al Green

I'm way into this picture of the sunset I took on a Fourth of July backpacking trip to Cape Alava and Sand Point on the Olympic Coast. If you need directional help, I was in the remote part of Washington where Twilight is based, just north of Forks. See? Now you know where I was.

Such beauty inspires a lot of joy. Go Lauren!

The coast was the best place ever for coolly perfect naps in the sun.

The long drive to and from Ozette Lake also left a lot of time to listen to music and ruminate about playlists. I no longer suffer from panic attacks about my playlists, but I still obsess about trying to mix it up more in yoga class. When I'm fixated on a song, I'll play it on on repeat for months at a time. I'm afraid I've lulled my early morning class into an indie stupor with my repeats of Beach House, The Cave Singers, Belle & Sebastian and The xx.

I knew I needed change, but hadn't found anything that struck me as particularly novel. But after the backpacking trip, I was fiddling with my playlists and noticed one titled "an R'n'b flow." What's this? The playlist was unfinished, but it included gems like Ginuwine, B2K and Ja Rule. (Those are gems in my book!) Most importantly it featured Al Green. His mellow, soothing classic "Let's Stay Together" is hardly a new idea, but who can resist Al Green? No one! And he's never made an appearance in my class. I quickly elevated Al to a new playlist that may or may not also include Kylie Minogue. Let's groove.

Al Green, "Let's Stay Together."


Review of Nala Seattle pants

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I am lululemon addict, otherwise known as a lululemming. It's embarrassing to be so sucked in by the fancy, shmanciness of it all. I cope by refusing to wear the clothes outside of yoga class (except for getting there and back). The problem is I have yet to find better yoga pants or tops. The fit of the Power Y and Scoop Neck tops are almost perfect, and I pretty much worship the Wunder Under pants, which never ride up (or down) and make everything look slim and cute with its flattering cut.

But one of my studios recently offered teachers a discount on a new brand, NaLa Seattle. At the time, I had added on a lot of assisting and teaching on top of regular practice, and I didn't have enough yoga clothes to get through the week without doing laundry. But my budget grew cross at the idea of dropping another $68 on lululemon pants, so sight unseen, I took the plunge with NaLa and ordered some harem style black pants and gray, ruched cropped tights.

I adore the harem pants, but maybe for the wrong reasons. They're a soft cotton, with a folded over waistband and a loose leg and tight ankle that can be worn long, M.C. Hammer style, or pulled up just below the knee. Worn that way, they are just a little baggy and are ridiculously comfortable. They are the best for lounging around the house. They're not, however, all that great in the studio. The loose cotton sticks in patches when I sweat, and the cotton doesn't wick, so the pants feel heavy. But when repurposed as sweatpants, they're awesome.

 NaLa Seattle

The gray crops (pictured above in black), however, aren't working out at home or in the studio. The pants are a nice, rich gray, fit snugly with cute ruching detail along the sides and are flattering. But the "wicking" material has got to go. Instead of feeling soft, they feel like polyester. As for fit, to be quite explicit, the crotch (oh-so-important in yoga) is slightly off-center. It's just plain uncomfortable when you're in crescent lunge, in three-legged dog, half-pigeon or even when I'm just walking around while teaching. Needless to say, they didn't score a spot in the regular rotation.

I love supporting local companies, but NaLa also is priced about the same as lululemon (the gray crops cost $78), so I can't even make the case that they are more affordable. But I'm still curious to see what other yoga clothes are making the case in the battle to knock lulu off its yoga pedestal. What are your favorite brands of yoga clothes? I'm open to suggestions!


Embracing gratitude via barbecues and sunshine

If we cannot be happy in spite of our difficulties, what good is our spiritual practice?
- Maha Ghosonanda

I have been feeling especially cranky recently. At first I blamed the terminally gray skies, but then it was sunny and things still didn't change. I came up with a lot of other reasons on top of the weather: work, lack of vacation, getting up early to teach yoga, not practicing enough yoga, teaching too much yoga. Irrational much?

So I foisted the problem on my yoga classes. Well, I had better intentions than that. I set gratitude as my theme for classes the last couple of weeks, hoping to help both them and myself out. I love it as a theme, and I particularly love the meditation of gratitude, when we spend time noting what we are grateful for and let it sink in. It was a semi-effective mini-lecture to myself. But apparently my funk was deeper than this yoga teacher could fix, and as soon as I walked out of the studio, the rain washed away the positive and I was back where I started.

But then. But then, I had a housewarming. Right up until the party I was still a bit antagonistic, but then the day of the party itself was rather amazing. Gathering people from all walks of your life in one place is such a beautiful thing. I've never had a space large enough to entertain more than three or four before, but my new place, rather my new backyard, easily holds 20 and could probably handle 30 to 40 without too much strain. It's a lovely place, my backyard, particularly when the sun is shining.

Photo courtesy of KJ's Hipstamatic

Preparing for the bbq started the upswing. I was so happy to buy fixings for farro and fruit salad, for barbecue chicken and for grilled asparagus. I couldn't wait to share cupcakes for dessert. I was practically humming cleaning my floors. Once my friends arrived, everyone in their sandaled, summer best, bearing loads of food, drink and lawn furniture for my empty backyard, I knew gratitude again. Gratitude for their friendship, for their smarts, for their kicky senses of humor, for their love of Seattle and sun, for toes in warm grass, for their generosity, for their openness to others and for community. The thing is, life is so easy once we make it so. Thanks to you all.


The Yoga Panic Threshold

The sure sign that my life is a little too frazzled for my own good is when Yoga Panic sets in. It doesn't take a lot to send the alarm bells shrieking in my head. This week, the alarm went off on Friday when I realized that if I didn't squeeze in a lunch-hour class that day, I would only practice max three times that week. ALERT. Yoga meltdown on the horizon!

How did I get to this (admittedly) mental place? Yoga is kind of funny like that. It used to be three times a week was OK. It was not ideal, but I could live with it. Then that number crept up to four. Then five. Now it's six. In my perfect world, I cut my body a break one day a week and stay sane the other six. I'm not sure how I got to this point, but yoga is sorta sneaky. You start off thinking, "Oh, I'll go a couple times a week, yoga will help me get more flexible, yay, that sounds great." Then all of a sudden you look around and you're practicing six times a week and teaching and it's like, whoa, what just happened?

Yoga Panic also is a useful barometer for me to see what's happening in the bigger picture of my life. It lets me know if I'm overbooking (almost always), working too much or generally not making enough time for myself so the people in my world do not have to duck and cover to protect themselves from a raging yogini. For all those who have suffered, knowingly or not, I beg for your forgiveness. But I know I'm not the only one. Do you have a Yoga Panic Threshold? What sets it off?


A walking meditation in the San Juans

Memorial Day weekend in the Pacific Northwest did not get off to a very good start. It was raining buckets on Friday, and then it dumped even more on Saturday. Rain rain rain.

My friend Maria and I were headed to the San Juans for a weekend camping trip. Maria, being a scientist, explained the rain shadow effect, which I'm incapable of repeating because I'm a writer and my brain is a sieve when it comes to science. Essentially, she said it was much less likely to be raining there than in the city, which was all I needed to know.

Except it was still drizzling when we got to the Lakedale Resort on San Juan Island. We considered upgrading to a canvas tent to try to keep ourselves from freezing. I regularly vote to bail on backpacking in favor of camping, but full-on glamping in a fancy canvas tent was another, expensive story, so we stuck with our original plan. Camping at Lakedale is still pretty swank. A sink to wash our dishes in? Yes, please.

We needed it to clean up from our dinner: burgers, asparagus and whisky.

We both wished we had thought to get a clam-digging permit. Look at this cute cockle Maria dug up on the beach. Mm, tasty. Next time.

Moving on. On the first day, Maria and I went for a long walk at "American Camp." The camp is located on the southeast corner of the island, and if there ever was a place that looked straight out of "Wuthering Heights," these wind-swept cliffs were it.

We saw a lot of foxes that were not scared of us. We don't know why.

Wandering the windy bluffs also took me back to meditation. My meditation practice has dwindled to practically nothing, though I think about it frequently. But this remote, windy field looked like the perfect place for a walking meditation. The wind roared past, hawks glided overhead and the ocean crashed into the coves below. The sounds were incredibly rich. It seemed such a shame to waste it by living in the past and present drama of life. Although it's almost addicting to let go of meditation and not try to keep the brain in check. It's so much easier to just get lost in the mind's constant murmurings that are always either hung up on the past or hung up on the future. All those thoughts seem quite reasonable when there is nothing to say stop. But I know I don't want to live that way, which is why I am going back to meditation class next week. And on Saturday, for a few steps at a time, I absorbed the beauty of those fields, the beach and the wet grass and, especially, the sound of the wind for a brief moving meditation.


Flowing with Sarah Tomson Beyer

It has been a long time since I blogged, and I'm sorry. The blog took a backseat to moving and a work deadline. Practicing yoga even went on pause for six days. It was not pretty.

But I'm back. I'm practicing again, and I'm even meditating. So let's start this post off with a confession. I was wrong. So wrong. Wrong, wrong and wronger. I mocked teacher Sarah Tomson Beyer a few months back. I couldn't stop myself. Her video with the fans blowing her blond mane around, the mesheekyness of the little skirts worn over yoga tights, everything about her branding turned me off.

But then she showed up in Seattle, I practiced with Her Mesheekyness, and I am eating humble pie. Sarah, I was wrong, and I'm so, so sorry. I love you.

Sarah was much more unassuming in person. At first, I didn't recognize her. She wore very normal black yoga clothes, although the mesheeky skirt should have tipped me off, had no entourage and didn't resemble the blond goddess on her website. She checked with all of us to see if we had any injuries and gave a nice, warm talk about herself and her life in Park City, Utah and how an isolated, small yoga community helped unleash her authentic, creative self. She was down-to-earth and totally relatable.

Then we started to move. We started off with a lot of stretching before she brought us into her flow. She's not big into breathing with movement and instead wanted us to breathe the way that came naturally as we moved. Her sequencing was creative, inspiring and freeing. I could see Shiva Rea's influence in the way she moved and it was stunning to watch Sarah show us the sequence in its entirety as she rolled elegantly around the floor in her yoga dance. We took away the mats for the peak flow, and I felt so open in my body. I am inspired by teachers like Sarah who are able to really get us out of our heads, unleash our inner creative physical being and to help us just let go.

I loved the class so much, I almost succumbed to mesheeky. I live in my yoga clothes on weekends, and I don't like running around in yoga tights post class, with all my "bits and pieces hanging out" as Sarah says. The skirts were cute in person, and seemed like a good solution. But $58 was a bit steep for a coverup. I drank the Sarah juice, but just half a cup.

Anyway, the point of this post is, Sarah is still making a name for herself so you should practice with her if you can. She doesn't travel nearly as much as the big master teachers, but when she does, her classes are small (ours was only 15) and also affordable. Check her out before she gets swept up into the big time and the only time you can practice with her is with hundreds of other people at Wanderlust.


Day of silence at Bastyr University

Hi cute turtles. These turtles are the unofficial mascots of Bastyr University. They can be found in the school's courtyard. They clearly enjoyed Saturday's sunny weather along with the rest of Seattle.

I traipsed out to Bastyr in Kenmore Saturday with a yoga block and cushion packed in a bag, ready for my introduction to a full day of meditation. Our Day of Silence was the culminating exercise in our introduction to meditation series I've been taking the past six weeks. I wasn't sure if I would love it, but I was interested to see how I would respond to a full day of silence. Would I be bored? Would I get irritated? Would I hate it? Yes, yes and no.

The thing is, the Day of Silence wasn't all that silent. I only spoke out loud twice over seven hours, so I suppose that is rather quiet. We spent most of the time alternating between a half-hour seated meditation and a half-hour of walking meditation, which I always did outdoors. We had a break for lunch, and I ate alone. But when you spend all your energy focused on being present, there's always something to listen to. The wind gusting through the trees, different kinds of birds chirping noisily, the crunch of gravel beneath my shoes, cars driving in and out of the university and the sound of other people.

How did it go? I definitely had moments when I was impatient. I sometimes tired of paying attention to my breath or to every step as I walked and would look at my watch and sigh. I succumbed to sleepiness a couple of times. By the end of the day, I was more on the side of cranky than blissed out.

And yet.

Teacher Rodney Smith points out that boredom prevents a return to simplicity in life, that it is kind of insane that we are bored so easily when life in its present moment always has something riveting to offer, that meditation allows us to live a continuous life instead of one that is always about living in the future or living in the past. I know he's right. "The basic ingredient of meditation is patience," Rodney says. Being patient is hard.

At the end of the day, a man who had been in a group session with me introduced himself. I had asked about a particular kind of Metta meditation, where you repeat a mantra. It is tough for new people, and I wondered when I would know I was ready. Larry said he has been meditating for 20 years and he still struggles with it. Wow. It was reassuring, if scary. I knew it would take longer than six weeks to master meditation, even though I sort of secretly hoped that's how it worked. Instead, I know what is ahead - returning to seat and my altar over, and over, and over again.


The start of a meditation practice

It was hard not to be in a fabulous mood this morning in Seattle. The sun was shining fiercely, I taught an early yoga class, and I had a fun, flirty sundress on (truly, you can't underestimate the importance of fun sundresses in life.) I practically danced on my way to work. But by midday, the weather had turned, and my mood had turned sour with it.

One of the toughest topics that has come up in meditation class is dealing with emotion. Teacher Rodney Smith has been talking to us about learning to sit with emotion instead of blaming moods on others or situations. Think road rage. If you're angry about a bad driver, you can blame the other driver, stew and get pissed. Or, you can let yourself feel the anger instead of blaming the other guy. Once the driver is gone, the rage will pass.

I do that all the time - the blame part, not the letting go. Today, I blamed lame things for my mood, like a friend changing plans. I could just as easily have thought of the very long list of things that are great in my life, but picked wallowing. If I had done it Rodney's Way, I would have let myself feel out of sorts, placed no blame and let it pass. Why? To live a conscious life and to see how much control we have over our thoughts. In a conscious life, we're aware that we cause our own suffering. Stay connected, stay conscious, take responsibility for your own suffering and the way you see the world will change. I really like thinking other people make my life hard. The problem is I know better.

Tonight was our last class in the intro series, and I am having a little separation anxiety. The good: no more meditation homework. The bad: no more meditation class. Thankfully, we still have a day of silence Saturday at Bastyr University, with seven hours of guided meditation, and I am nerdily excited. I was also happy to learn Rodney leads guided meditation Tuesday nights for more advanced practitioners. It's kind of amazing, but in six short weeks, I no longer can see a life without a weekly meditation practice. I already knew I was a yoga junkie, but am officially adding meditation junkie to the list. 


Piles and piles of meditation homework

Shiva Rea is big on altars. She had a traveling one that her assistants set up every day during teacher training. She inspired me to clean up mine and make it even prettier for my nightly meditation.

My favorite things.

I haven't been here nearly as much as I should. My daily 30-minutes meditations have been sacrificed for work, television, dinner with friends, etc., although I am getting in 30 minutes a day at least four times a week. *Pat pat pat.* But now that we're on Week 5 of 6 of meditation class with teacher Rodney Smith, there is so much meditation homework, I can hardly keep up. Here's the running list:

  • Meditate 30 minutes a day.
  • Sleep eight hours a day.
  • Do one thing mindfully a day. (I'm still sort of mindfully brushing my teeth.)
  • Be totally mindful for an hour a day.
  • Do something kind for yourself once a day. (Rodney was very specific that this does not include eating chocolate.) 
  • Develop compassion by seeking out pain in the newspaper or people you see who are suffering. Put aside defense mechanisms like avoidance or saying they deserved it and instead see the suffering. Feel their pain, feel your own vulnerability and whenever you encounter pain, offer the phrase: "May you be free of pain and sorrow."
  • Perform simple actions that demonstrate the difference between language and experience. Touch something that is soft, think about how to describe it to a friend, then forget the description and feel the experience, not the words. How can thought inform but not determine your relationship to the world
  • Are you still with me?
We're supposed to be adding another mindful thing each week, so I am technically up to five mindful things per day. I sometimes call yoga my mindful hour, but frankly, my head is floating in the clouds for a good chunk of my practice. The compassion meditation was particularly rough. I have been exposed to my share of people experiencing life at its traumatic worst and felt their pain cut through me. I didn't think I was an avoider. But I realized during the week of compassion meditation that I avoid the eyes of the homeless woman wrapped in a yellow rain jacket who stands at the same corner every day during rush hour. She makes me sad, so I look away. This week, I looked.

Rodney had some profound words tonight. I always thought the 15-minute walking meditation, when our focus is each step and nothing else, was simply a physical exercise in being present. Tonight he clarified: What is movement like when it is not about where you finally arrive? When we live life outside the present moment, always thinking about the future or the past, the current moment never feels complete. Meditation gives us sanity, allows us to be satisfied with the here and now and helps us to feel our own sense of completion instead of looking outward for the answer. With meditation, we walk fully grounded.


Shiva Rea + Steve Gold = perfect yoga weekend

I don't like superstar yoga teacher worship. It feels wrong and a little icky. It didn't used to matter for me with master teacher Shiva Rea. The last two times I practiced with the surfing goddess yogini, I didn't dig her style. She was hard to follow, I couldn't hear her over the music and I couldn't relate to why people loved her so much.

I changed my mind.
  Shiva loves to dance.
Photo credit: Kelly Davidson via Yoga Journal 

After a 20-hour weekend teacher training with her, I still find her directions unclear. When she discusses yogic rituals, yoga's cultural roots and other elements of spirituality, she is sometimes incomprehensible. She throws out Sanskrit like nobody's business.  

Despite all that, Shiva unleashed some powerful realizations in me that took me by surprise. She encouraged us to jumpstart our creative juices in simple ways, like dancing in bed in the morning (truly), in the shower and even putting on headphones and grooving at work (It really works.) During the creative flow, she pushed us to drop any preconceived ideas we had about our practice, feel the music and let our bodies guide us. It was an amazing rush and release through music and movement and an intense reminder for me of how easy it is for me to hold back my authentic self out of some sense of propriety and concern about what others think. It's nonsense.

 You can't see the sacred ash smeared on my forehead above the red, which represents fire. You had to be there.

To build off of that day of inspiration through movement, that Friday night there was inspiration through song. Steve Gold was back in Seattle for a session of kirtan singing. I adore Steve and his wife Anne-Emilie. I still remember a retreat in 2007 during a kirtan session around a fire pit in the North Cascades when Steve, then a landscape architect, talked about the moment when he realized his true path was creating community with music. Look at him now, playing music full-time and traveling with Shiva Rea. Singing with Steve is so rejuvenating and I felt relaxed, free and open. Life should be like this all the time. Be yourself, let the creative juices flow, dance and sing with joy.


Meditation and mindfulness with an assist from Spoon

Two years ago, I tried to see Spoon at the Showbox. But there was very little planning, so the night involved my friend Lauren and I wandering First Avenue in downtown Seattle, hoping to find someone selling tickets to the sold-out show. We did not find said person, just a lot of other people doing the same thing. We gave up and got drinks at Chez Shea. This year, we were determined not to let that happen again. We bought tickets to Spoon (with incredible openers Micachu & the Shapes and Deerhunter also on tap) months in advance. On Saturday, we finally saw them at the Moore Theatre, and were rewarded with a fantastic, amazing show.

Picture courtesy Nasty Little Man via starpulse.com

I tell you all this long story about Spoon because it ties into the weekly meditation class that is kicking my ass, big-time. I decided during this very loud concert that I would be really present during the show. The goal was to do nothing but listen. I'd been excited about this show for a long time, so it seemed like a great idea. It was, in theory. I was lucky if I lasted 30 seconds before my mind wandered. I'm scared to think what decibel level is required to keep my mind present.

Our homework this week was to be mindful for an hour a day. I was barely keeping up with the two minutes of mindfully brushing my teeth at night, let alone the half hour of daily meditation. I've been trying to stay mindful during my 45-minute morning routine and have succeeded in roughly 15-second spurts. Teacher Rodney Smith also elaborated on identifying and detaching from emotions. For example, instead of taking feelings of loneliness down the rabbit hole and turning it into, "I'm lonely, I'm sad, I'll never meet someone, I'll be alone for the rest of my life," etc. (you know you've been there), he said just feel lonely and then it will go away about 15 seconds later. Everyone has feelings. Feel them, then let go. It sounds so simple, and it is so hard.

During a walking meditation in class, Rodney told us to focus on each step, how our weight shifted, how the carpet felt beneath our feet, how my jeans brushed against my legs to keep us present. He then said: "This is your life, right now." It's been my mantra for the week.


Yoga for Dudes, sometimes known as Broga

I saw this video the other day called "Three Reasons Why Men Should Practice Yoga." I can think of a lot more reasons than three, but I appreciate the effort. Most men I know still don't practice yoga. I ran into a friend awhile back who proudly announced he had checked out one of my studios. Me: "Great! Did you sign up?" He sheepishly said he didn't make it in the front door. He was stopped in his tracks by a picture of a guy wearing spandex. "Do I have to wear spandex to yoga?" he asked plaintively.

 It's my old friend Rodney Yee. Don't pay attention to his clothes.

For the record, a T-shirt and shorts are easy and just right. But for that reason plus many more, there's still a serious lack of dudes in yoga classes despite all of the guys who are interested in healing injuries or working on flexibility. One male yogi once told me he wanted to start "Broga" to help guys focus on poses more specific to their body type and, just as importantly, to eliminate the very distracting landscape of hot women in spandex. Touche.

Yoga is scary for women too. When I started five years ago, I was anxious about what other people would think of me in class, that yoga had swept the world and I missed the train, that I was not flexible enough, and it would not be enough of a work out. Wrong-o on all counts! But I suspect male emotions toward yoga are similar. I don't know if any male yogis are even reading, but if you are, what was the scariest part of stepping into your first yoga class? Or, guys, do you want to try yoga and you are just very, very afraid?


Review: Salvation via the Saka Pinda backpack

This is me, toting my mat with the Saka Pinda backpack. This is me, smiling because I love my new backpack.

I promised to follow up on the Saka Pinda backpack ($79), so here I go. After reading the accolades that rained down on this bag, I ordered one and hoped it was as great as everyone said. The dark blue yoga mat backpack showed up on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago, and I already wonder how I lived without it. My shoulder was suffering mightily under the weight of a huge canvas bag where I stashed all my yoga gear, and it already feels better. The shoulder straps are cushy and comfortable, my mat straps right in and I am so much more organized now thanks to all the handy pockets. There's even a little pocket on top that is perfect for a Caveman bar, my favorite between-yoga-class snack.

(I am quite obsessed with Caveman bars, an energy bar made in Washington. They are produced in small quantities, and my favorite, the coconut almond bars, has just three ingredients -- brown rice syrup, coconut and almonds. I even started buying in bulk at the Ballard Farmers Market just so I could have a constant supply. I'm that crazy, and they're that good.)

Look, more pockets.

I don't have a lot else to say about this bag other than if you're looking for a yoga mat bag, get this one. The main compartment is narrow and a little small, and I also would prefer a waist strap to keep it snug to my back, but maybe that's just habit from hiking. It would be nice if there were colors to choose from. Regardless, they are minor, minor criticisms. I adore this bag, and I would get it again if that wasn't completely illogical. I am happy to carry this bag every day.


Meditation homework is hard

Look at my new meditation corner. Isn't it sweet and cozy?

It's just one part of my meditation homework. I'm one class into a six-class series on meditation through the Seattle Insight Meditation Society and the homework is already intense. 1) Sleep eight hours a night (ack.) 2) Meditate 30 minutes a day (double ack). 3) Do one thing mindfully every day, be it brush your teeth, eat breakfast or comb your hair. OK, this one I can do.

OK, I can do them all. What did I expect from a meditation series? One class and I'd be sitting with a calm, clear mind? I kind of wish that was how it worked. But 30 minutes a day is a commitment. I already set an alarm on my phone to remind myself to do it every day. We are supposed to put a little note next to our toothbrush or whatever activity we choose to focus on for this week that says "Be mindful." Then do it and really shut everything else out except for that activity. My teeth are going to be very clean.

Teacher Rodney Smith said it's easy to intellectualize meditating, but you can't absorb its lessons until you actually do it. And Smith, a former monk, is serious about the process in the nicest way possible. But I am excited. He walked us through the proper supported seat, talked us through a 5-minute meditation, then introduced us to walking meditation. It's much harder than it sounds. Meditation is about taking the unconscious to the conscious, and letting the flow of chatter that talks incessantly all day long in our heads become secondary instead of primary. It's about understanding our minds and the fears tucked into the nooks and crannies. He addressed a lot that's been going through my head lately about leaving the past in the past and the future in the future and living in the present. It's a lesson I think about and fail at almost all the time. Smith says we all do, some intentionally and most of us absent-mindedly as we think about everything else in life except for what we are actually doing.

Much of what he said I learned and absorbed during my teacher training. But listening to him talk tonight reminded me how far away I have drifted from my training, just six months later. Sitting those 30 minutes a day might be the toughest thing I do every day, but being a nerdy yogi, I am into having homework. I actually do homework. Meditation nerding out to commence now.


Indulging in meditation and chocolate

My progress toward actually attending a meditation retreat is going about as well as my progress on cutting back on sugar. That is to say, it's not going very well.

Last night, my friend KGB and I ate popcorn and pizza at Central Cinema on Union Street and laughed hysterically at the cheesy, melodramaticness that is the movie "Purple Rain." I had never seen the movie and KGB, among others, considered it a major gap in my pop culture education. I sort of loved it. Prince makes everything, including his own bad movie, better.

We were stuffed from dinner, but after the movie ended, we both craved a little sugar. KGB suggested we stop by Dilettante Mocha Cafe on Capitol Hill. We scored majorly on parking, with a spot on Broadway on a Friday night, which KGB deemed a sign we were supposed to have chocolate.

The moment we stepped inside, both of us went into chocolate shock. The walls are painted a rich, chocolatey hue, which frame a counter with a dozen tempting kinds of cake on display and rich chocolate truffles, chewy chocolate caramels and other decadent chocolate morsels. The menu included several kinds of hot chocolate, ice cream with chocolate truffle sauce and many, many variations of chocotinis. It was a chocolate frenzy.

KGB settled on a milkshake with Frangelico and brandy ($8), while I chose a sundae ($6.50) with Molly Moon Scout Mint and espresso ice cream topped with chocolate and cream caramel sauce and chocolate bits. Once I took my first bite of luscious, almost chewy caramel and chocolate sauce mixed with melty, cold ice cream and crunchy chocolate bits, I was ready to die in a chocolate and ice cream-induced coma.

Hm, this post was actually intended to be about meditation. How did I get so off track? Ahem. A couple of months ago when I started leading meditation, I hoped I would somehow find the gumption to go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat. That gumption, like my willpower, is nowhere to be found, at least not yet. But I'm not a total wimp: I decided to take an intro meditation series from the Seattle Insight Meditation Society, which starts Monday. I need another commitment like I need the pair of gray patent oxford shoes that just arrived (they are really so very pretty), but I think the six-week series, led by Rodney Smith, will be a huge step toward deepening my meditation practice and guiding my students on a weekly basis. I have really fallen in love with leading meditation and the space it opens for other people, and I hope this meditation series will help me with my own practice. I roped my friend KNA into it, and I am happy we are both putting aside some regular time to just sit and breathe.

I'm having some technical issues today but will post pictures of aforesaid desserts as soon as I can.


Joining the yoga teacher sub circuit

I always knew in theory that teachers get subs. My friend Karen teaches high school, and unlike most of us, calling in sick requires getting someone to take over her classes. After a few go-rounds of the yoga teacher sub circuit, I finally get why she lives in fear of getting sick. Getting sick = finding a sub. At 6 a.m. While hacking up a lung.

I haven't been there yet. But try finding someone who wants to teach at 6:15 a.m. I don't even really want to get up. That's where yoga sub lists come into play.

The sub list is its own universe that I never even knew existed. The sub list is generally the first step to picking up a new studio. Sub a few classes for a few grateful staff teachers, and perhaps you'll pick up a coveted teaching slot. But the thing about yoga studios is there is no set way to get on a sub list. With the four studios I have approached to date, I have gotten four different answers. Let us count the ways.
  • One local studio put me on its sub list based on my current teaching gigs.
  • Another had me come in for an interview and "audition" by leading the director of yoga through 10 minutes of flow. I passed and made it on the list.
  • One of Seattle's biggest yoga studios advised me to take a class with the owner and talk to her afterward about getting on the master sub list.
  • The studio where I assist requires most teachers go through an extensive assisting program and multiple practice classes, where you teach an hourlong class to fellow teachers and assistants and sit down afterward for a half-hour of feedback. Sound scary? That's because it is.
    I had my first practice class this past Sunday. I am much more relaxed about teaching than when I started, but my brain played some crazy tricks on me on Sunday morning. The group of seven are people who have been supporting me through the entire teaching process, have heard me teach and were there to help. I knew that, in theory. But it was all I could do to keep the flow on track whenever my Mexico roomie Val would stop mid-flow and write down notes. At those moments, I was not quite overflowing with gratitude.

    But, of course, when we sat down in a circle and they gave me feedback, it was amazing. They lauded my lightness (yay!), my grounded presence and my flow. I moved well and had confidence. They loved my assists. My alignment cues worked. They asked for more fire, adding more modulation and energy in my voice. They cautioned me about "yoga teacher voice," a disembodied version of Nicole that descends when I'm on auto-pilot. (Guilty as charged.) They noticed I sometimes roamed the room instead of being present with the class. They advised I use the word "your" instead of "the" when talking about parts of the body, like your foot, or your shoulders. They noticed my filler words. "And then" is my yoga albatross. Really.

    A lot of feedback is small, simple things, but they translate big in class. Saying "the" instead of "your" distances me the teacher from the students, even if I am being authentic and real. "And then" is a verbal crutch. It is ridiculously hard for me to stop saying that dumb little phrase. Modulating my voice more shifts the energy of the class. One of my teachers says we are ultimately always responsible for the energy in class, not the students.

    So, there you go. Not all studios are so rigorous, but this process is also extremely helpful and gratifying. I've got another practice class with the studio owner, and if all goes well, I'll earn myself a spot on her studio's sub list. Keep your fingers crossed!


    Solving shoulder pain with the Saka Pinda

    If the New York Times loves it, and blogger Roseanne at It's All Yoga Baby loves it, then I firmly believe I will love it too.

    I am talking about the Saka Pinda Yoga Backpack. Until today, I didn't do the fancy yoga mat bag thing. I'm mostly low maintenance about hauling my stuff to and from class. I owned a mat bag once, but got annoyed squeezing the mat into the bag all the time. It also didn't fit what I considered a very minimal amount of clothes, so I ditched it.

    That was a few years ago. Since then, I have just tucked my mat under my arm and scoffed at the people with fancy mat bags. Last year, I went out on a limb and bought a mat strap, and carry everything else -- on the weekdays, it swells to two changes of yoga clothes, work clothes, sneakers, a journal and a water bottle -- in a massive green and white beach bag.

    But that canvas bag weighs a ton. And my right shoulder is paying for it. It hurts a lot and the pain has made me extra cautious about binds and other intense shoulder openers in my practice. But until I read this post, I didn't think I could fix this problem beyond trying to lighten the load and use my left side, with minimal success.

    But then I saw the Saka Pinda. Look at it. Doesn't it look comfy? I love that you can just Velcro the mat in instead of wrestling it into the bag. There's pockets and space for clothes. The NYT calls it "absolutely the No. 1 bag hands down." Roseanne said it was amazing. I got online immediately. I can't wait to use it and share what I think. Shoulder pain, begone!
    (Image from nytimes.com)

    And for the word of the week. This week, my word is "lower." That's an easy one, right? But I got feedback that I use the word "drop" and while it works to drop the head or drop all thoughts, it's not really that smart to tell an intro class to drop body parts like their knee or arm. It lacks intentionality. So instead, my dear students are being asked to gracefully and mindfully lower.


    Spacing out to the music

    Our minds space out all the time. We space out while driving, in yoga class and while talking to people. But have you ever spaced out while on a stage in front of 2,000 people. *Raises hand*

    I started playing violin when I was 8, and having played pretty consistently since, I can tell you there's something to that muscle memory thing. During orchestra rehearsals and also sometimes in concert, I am capable of reading music, moving my bow and fingers and also spacing out so much that I have no memory of how I got through a page of music.

    It's much worse in orchestra than it is when I play in small chamber groups. I have a really hard time shaking it when I'm playing relatively easy music. But my community orchestra has been working on a difficult Bartok piece, which we performed today. There was no spacing out during the "Concerto for Orchestra." Bartok is neither easy to play nor easy to listen to, and it was tough to get the challenging piece ready in just seven rehearsals.

    Hi Maestro! I'm paying attention!

    But in the same way that I love challenging yoga classes that are so tough it's impossible for my mind to focus on anything but the poses, I love complex music like Bartok that engages the mind and makes it difficult to go super spacey. Every time my mind wandered while rehearsing, I would get hopelessly lost. So instead, I paid attention. Yup, imagine that. During our performance today, I paid attention almost the whole time. It was a big day.


    The best, most perfect kind of vacation

    New York beckoned and I answered its siren call. Who could resist a day and view like this?
     City Hall and Mayor Bloomberg are over there.

    And this?

    The stunning Woolworth building

    And this?

    Corned beef sandwich at 2nd Avenue Deli

    By the time I arrived on Friday, the previous weekend's snowpocalypse had long ago melted and blue skies, skyscrapers and Tom Colicchio beckoned. (I know I should shut up about Tom Colicchio, but I really am obsessed with "Top Chef". If Padma Lakshmi had a restaurant in NYC, my dad would not have gotten his pastrami sandwich at 2nd Avenue Deli, birthday or no birthday.)

    In the scheme of family vacations with my sister and parents, I would rate this among our best. We bickered almost never and we all were infatuated with every step of the weekend which was designed for my dad, ably planned by my sister and aided by little sis. Activities included a dinner of slurpy soup dumplings and magnificently mysterious fish head stew at Joe's Shanghai, tender, tender pastrami sandwiches at 2nd Avenue Deli, a weepy, joyous experience watching "Billy Elliott" on Broadway (if you want real inspiration, go see those little kids who play Billy leap around the stage) and a luscious meal of suckling pig, meaty duck and a flaky pear tart at Craft. There was, sadly, no sign of chef Tom, but then the hostess handed us each a beautiful little carrot muffin to go after dinner, so all was forgiven.

    All that divinity, plus post-dinner drinks with my college friend Leigh, required some serious recuperation on Sunday with the New York Times. I adored lying in bed reading the Sunday Styles section in the city that produces that awesome paper.

    But I needed one more thing to call the weekend/day complete. Sunday was my first trip to Kula, my sister's regular yoga studio. Kula is a down-to-earth, lovely studio located at the top of three steep flights of stairs in Tribeca. There's no sign. My sister warned me that Nikki's two-hour class would leave me in a puddle on the floor. Mission mostly accomplished. Nikki took us through some serious backbending to start, and wove standing balancing poses into a flow that occasionally was reminiscent of Baptiste and Ashtanga series, but mostly went where Nikki wanted it to go. My mind twisted in circles trying to follow her path and remember some of it for my classes while still trying to do some of what she was asking, which wasn't easy to begin with. And really, I wanted to sit and watch. There were some really lovely advanced practitioners in that class, who do many things I still aspire to, like hold a handstand as long as they want, arc gracefully into chaturanga or do the splits, or hanumanasana, while holding their back leg. My body rejects splits. I have overcome many physical barriers since I started practicing yoga, but my body won't budge on splits. At least it makes life more interesting.

    We followed class with a sun-soaked stroll to brunch with some of my sister's yoga friends. I love seeing yoga in action, building community and intention with lots of love. Her community is vibrant and amazing. But it also made me eager to return to my own supportive, incredible yoga community. New York, you were pretty great, but my heart belongs to Seattle.


    Fruit cleanse: the aftermath

    If life had gone according to plan, I would have followed up my very cleansing weekend with a super indulgent weekend of pastrami sandwiches at Second Avenue Deli, soup dumplings in Chinatown and roasted meats at Craft. I was going to throw in yoga for good measure, too. New York was on my agenda, but Mother Nature buried the plan in some big, fluffy drifts of snowcrazy.

    After all our flights were canceled, my family managed to reschedule my dad's entire birthday celebration, cutting and pasting the plan and moving it to another weekend. I am positive my upcoming New York weekend will still include pastrami sandwiches, Chinatown and Tom Colicchio singing happy birthday to my dad because that is my fantasy and don't you dare ruin it for me.

    But in case you were worried I followed up the fruit cleanse with immense amounts of healthy eats, two days after it ended I found myself at Toulouse Petit in Queen Anne for my dear friend Amber's don't-hate-me-because-I'm-moving-to-New-Zealand (but we do, Amber, we do) going-away party. Amber and I started off with happy hour, when we polished off tuna tartare with a quail egg and a bottle of Prosecco. During dinner, I was dazzled by chicken and duck liver terrine with pickled onions and cornichons and crawfish etouffee, then finished it off with hot, puffy beignets dipped in crazy amazing coffee-ish sauce. I also might have had a huge bowl of Szechuan beef noodle soup at Toy's Cafe in Bellevue yesterday. Cleanse? What cleanse?

    Nice and clean

    Just plain delicious.

    I blame it on the fruit-induced hunger. Fruit digests fast and I ate all the time. I couldn't wait to eat filling food again. But despite the cranky stomach, I liked the cleanse. I liked it better when it was over, but I'm proud of me and Angie for pulling through. I'm far more in tune with food cravings, and I've mostly avoided eating cookies at work since, except for the time a coworker brought over a huge, home-baked chocolate chip one. I was just being polite. Aaaaand I might have eaten all the sugar in my house (mochi ice cream, chocolate) just to get rid of temptation. But in one major triumph over my stomach, I bought mangoes and almonds at the store over the weekend instead of chocolate and crackers, though it's highly possible this uber-healthy trend will be short-lived. We are talking about me after all.

    Yoga word nerd alert: I missed last week, but I haven't forgotten about the Word of the Week. This week I am fixated on the word rhythm. As in rhythm of the breath. I love listening to the breath in class, and letting the body naturally flow in time. Listen to the rhythm and see where it takes you today.


    She's coming! Flowmotion in Seattle

    Remember Sarah Tomson Beyer? She of the flowy blond hair, uber abs and crazy bendy moves? She'll be in Seattle in May! Along with her yoga clothing line, mesheeky! According to mesheeky.com, the clothes take you from the studio to the street. Tomson Beyer is the Chief Executive Sheekynista. I did not make that up.
    Photo credit: MeSheeky

    MeSheeky sells mostly skirts, and there's a mention of covering up your "sheekycheeks" on the Web site. I won't be sheeking my sheekycheeks in their skirts any time soon.

    Despite all the mesheekyness, if I can work out my teaching schedule, I'd really like to take Tomson Beyer's workshop on May 15 at Shakti Vinyasa East. As yoga evolves, I believe her creative dance-like flowmotion is the direction vinyasa flow is headed. She's inspired by teachers including Shiva Rea. Superstar Shiva doesn't rank among my favorite master teachers who have come through Seattle -- Bryan Kest easily wins that prize -- but I admire her creativity, and many of my favorite local teachers have been influenced by her. Shiva will be back in the Pacific Northwest for a weekend teacher training in April, and I'm considering taking the plunge.

    It'd be awesome if Tomson Beyer did a training here, but since she hasn't reached Shiva star status yet,  it may take a couple more years. In the meantime, I'll leave you with another Tomson Beyer video.


    Bowing down to Alton Brown

    On the last night of the fruit cleanse, Alton Brown seems like an appropriate topic. The host of Food Networks' "Good Eats" -- also a host on "Iron Chef" but "Good Eats" is way cooler to a nerd like me -- recently lost 50 pounds and he laid out exactly how in an episode titled "Live and Let Diet."

    He refuses to call what he did a diet, but instead walks viewers through a practical guide to how he lost the weight. Food is fuel and instead of choosing fuel that is devoid of nutrition, like donuts, he ate nutrient-rich fruits or nuts, he says. In many ways, his menu is similar to what the "clean" days of the fruit cleanse call for: whole grains, leafy vegetables and fruits and nuts. To my delight, he also advocates oily fish like sardines. I love sardines, and I hereby apologize to anyone at work who has ever been there when I heated up sardine pasta at work.

    Alton's list of once-a-week foods addresses red meat, desserts, alcohol and pasta. It's not really surprising, and on the last day of the fruit fast, it makes more sense than ever. I have felt energized since I started the cleanse and realized how much food I was mindlessly eating every day. Yes, cookies, you. I'm not overly concerned about my love of pasta and pizza and like occasional rich meals at restaurants, but the cookies have to stop. I'm a healthy eater, but the cleanse has confirmed I'm a slave to my sugar cravings. So I have resolved to adopt Alton's once-a-week rule, eat fruit whenever I want cookies or chocolate, and see if it sticks. But this is a big resolution that calls for a higher power. Magic 8 Ball, can I really do this? Absolutely! (Yes!)

    I have Alton on TiVo but if you need more convincing, see for yourself. 


    And so the fruit cleanse begins

    The fruit cleanse hadn't even started and I was already dumbstruck. All it took was one meal of brown rice, steamed chicken and rainbow chard for me to realize I eat like crap. I'm not sailing through the drive-through at Mickey D's, but I have not been leading the healthiest lifestyle. Seconds on cake, Chinese fried chicken, Korean barbecue? Instead of intentional eating, it was more like intentionally indulging all the time.

    The first day of clean eating was hard when all I saw was cookies or SweetTarts and all I thought about was how I couldn't eat them, but I was better prepared with food on the second day and it was pretty easy. The three-day fruit cleanse started today and instead of being anxious, I'm now excited and happy about it. I can't even believe I'm saying this, but I'm not interested in the cookies.

    The cleanse focuses on fruit because of the high-water content, which is much easier for the body to digest and gives the digestive system a break. Today's menu includes bananas, pineapple, coconut water, a blueberry smoothie, guacamole, cucumber chips, a tomato and avocado salad, and possibly more bananas and an apple. My refrigerator is a cornucopia of fruit, and I'm still contemplating picking up more.

     I also am learning so much about fruit. I apparently knew zilch about the fruit family. You probably know tomatoes are a fruit, but did you know zucchini, jalapenos, cucumbers, peas and avocados are all fruit? If you did, you're smarter than me. Those additional choices make for a rather delicious weekend. Since I love avocados, it'll be pretty easy to go raw all weekend, although there are recipes out there for zucchini spaghetti with tomato sauce. I'll pass.


    Doing half moon like you're Johnny Weir

    The Olympics are awesome. If it wasn't for early yoga classes, I'd be up late every night. Ice skating is particularly awesome. I had a not-so-glorious run as a competitive ice skater as a child -- I quit when I was 13, drill team or no drill team -- but I still have a deep attachment to the sport. My friends claim they can see my ice skating roots when I am in half moon. Today, I told my yoga class to imagine themselves performing on ice while holding half moon. I hope they envisioned themselves clad in a furry, Johnny Weir-ish costume as they soared around the ice. Why isn't there more (faux) fur in yoga?

    Photo credit: Elaine Thompson, AP

    But I have a general Olympics fever that extends to snowboard cross, cross-country skiing and almost anything NBC airs except for ski jumping. Ski jumping is incredibly boring, fyi.

    In my Olympics mania, I also stumbled across this story about snowboarder Shaun White. I think of Shaun White as a superhuman Carrot Top. It's the only explanation for why a man would grow his red curly hair to such lengths and also hurl himself down a half-pipe and do tricks my mind can't comprehend.

    But the coolest part of the story was learning White and other snowboarders feel fear. I always innately knew they must get scared, but I reasoned that Olympic-caliber athletes weren't totally normal and thus not nearly as scared as the rest of us. They are. Snowboarder Louie Vito: "You know you're scared, but you use that fear to drive you. You just have to put your head around it and go for it. You tell yourself that, no matter what, you're going to do it. Because, if you don't commit, that's when the big accidents really happen."

    Take out the possibility of broken bones or concussions and a few other exceptions like writing about terrorists, and I agree with that philosophy. My yoga teachers say fear is just a feeling. The rational side of me nods yes. The irrational side clings to it. It's easier to be afraid and do nothing than it is to go for something that seems scary. I'd even say that big accidents happen, figuratively of course, when fear is the driving force. What will really happen if you have that talk with a friend or loved one, you ask your boss for a raise or you step in front of a room full of yoga students? It never is as bad as envisioned and often is something we needed to do. As Jacky Kornfield would say, identifying the fear is the first step to letting it go.


    Preparing for the fruit cleanse with a pre-cleanse

    The fruit cleanse has begun, or it feels that way. I don't start the fruit-only menu until Friday, but I have made lots of lists about fruit, bought fruit and made more lists about the "clean" food I'll be eating pre- and post-cleanse. The verdict so far: cleansing is exhausting.

    I'm relying on Baron Baptiste's "Journey Into the Power," which has a loose guide to cleansing. He recommends eating "clean" two days before and two days after the cleanse, eliminating rich meats, dairy and sugar and instead eating steamed or baked lean proteins, lots of greens and whole grains. My schedule is harried this week, so I started early and made my favorite vegetable soup on Sunday. It's a basic Italian white bean soup, built on a base of onions, carrots and tomatoes and hearty with wheatberries and kale. Dried morels add an earthy, savory touch.

     Cleanse-approved vegetable soup

    I ate the soup for lunch, then that night went to a wedding and ate prime rib, coconut shrimp and pink champagne cake.

    For good measure, I threw in a rich meal of Shanghai noodles, salt and pepper crispy chicken and dry-cooked green beans tonight at one of my favorite restaurants, Chiang's Gourmet. Now that my body is officially oversaturated, cleansing can commence.

    I often go veg when I have overindulged on rich foods so I'm happy about the "clean days" when I plan to eat a meal of steamed chicken thighs (I'm cheating a little, but thighs taste better), rainbow chard and brown rice and one night of tomatoes cooked with corn and tofu and quinoa. Fruit feels a little harder. But I have a game plan of sorts, which I'll lay out later this week.

    In the meantime, because I'm a word nerd, I want to start sharing new yoga words here. I spend a lot of time in class listening for new ways to describe where I want a pose to go. With a new "word of the week" I hope more of these words sink in and emerge from my mouth. This week's word: channel. As in channel your breath, channel your energy, channel your thoughts to the present.

    Or, channel your thoughts to vegetable soup. For anyone looking for a great, hearty vegetarian soup, I highly recommend this one.
    Farro Soup
    Modified from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian."
    1/4 c. virgin olive oil
    1 large onion, chopped
    2 carrots, chopped
    1 tbl. minced garlic
    1 c. dried white beans, preferably soaked overnight
    1 c. farro, spelt, wheatberries or rye berries
    2 c. chopped canned tomato, including liquid
    Handful dried morels, soaked in 1 c. hot water, chopped, preserving liquid
    6 c. water or vegetable stock
    Handful fresh parsley or basil

    Put oil in a large, deep stockpot over medium heat. When hot, add onion, carrots, salt and pepper. Cook until the onions have softened, 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir, add farro, beans, tomato, morels, soaking liquid and stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour until farro and beans are tender, adding stock or water as necessary. Stir in chopped parsley or basil. Optional: serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan.
    Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr