Friday, July 27, 2012

Maybe I'm amazed...

Just as I am reflecting on how quickly this week/month/year/life are flying by, I learn that we can slow down time. Well, our perception of time can slow down. Researchers at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota found that being in awe enhances our lives by slowing down our perception of time and by positively affecting our ability to make decisions! 

You can read more about the study at Science Daily

I guess I should start meditating in awe-inspiring places. Suggestions welcome. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hey! Remember that time you had a blog?

It was a long, deep slumber away from the blogging world. I have enjoyed abundant happiness, seemingly insurmountable struggles, fruitful endeavors, revelations, etc., but I just found myself "too busy" to blog. The reality is that life is never too busy for that which you prioritize. I am glad that the thrill of technology and the idea that anyone actually reads this ("What is a horseshoe? What does a horseshoe do? Are there any horse socks? Is anybody listening to me?") finally pulled me back.

I promise to share the laughter, light, and love that seems to be joining me consistently these days. For today, happiness is creativity... creativity and a juicer. My mother gave me an old juicer we had back in the 1990's. Being the frugal and nutrition-savvy nerd that I am, throwing away the pulp is not an option. I have finally perfected a muffin recipe using the carrot/apple/ginger goodness that is leftover from juicing. Wish me luck as I enter it in Ellwood Thompson's Half-Baked contest!

[Follow up: I won!]

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dance Your Cares Away

I fell in love with Zumba a few weeks ago. Considering myself a decent dancer who knows a beat, I was surprised at my lack of coordination and difficulty keeping up with the steps... and that's exactly how I became addicted. Because the class was not about being good, it was about feeling good. It was about being in the moment and paying attention to your every move.

My two favorite things, body-mind connection and music, intertwine in a fun and sweaty workout. You listen, you watch, you dance, and you laugh. What is it about dancing that makes us healthy and happy? The endorphin surge is obvious. The laughter as well. The transcending feeling of enjoying the music and forgetting space and time. Here are some fantastic thoughts about dance:

Shiva Rea discusses a long history of suppressing freeform movement and what she believes is a revival of what we were all born to do:

Mallika Sarabhai discusses how art, specifically dance, is a universal language to breakdown barriers. The ultimate theme is how entertainment education can change the world for better:

 The title here says it all: "Ananda Shankar Jayant fights cancer with dance."

Gabrielle Roth discusses how dance brings you closer to yourself and the truth:

I still don't know how she turned her shirt inside out, but Lady Gaga was onto something:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Vegetarian Creativity

BBQ Tempeh "Wings"
Mashed Cauliflower
Collard Greens

Delicious and took less than 45 minutes to make!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Food, Visualization, and Choices

A recent study conducted at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, concluded that children are more likely to choose healthier food if exposed to images of that food. Photographs of vegetables were placed on lunch trays, and the students choices were tracked. Consumption of green beans and carrots increased significantly (two-fold increase for green beans; three fold increase for carrots) compared to the control day without photographs. 
The findings are not surprising, especially in the context of visualization. This is more than just whimsical musing of "The Secret." There is actual science behind the concept of just thinking and visualizing something (a task, general success, or, in this case, food) and then successfully seeking and obtaining it. 

Food could be considered an ultimate visualization factor because our digestive system anticipates food before it even enters our bodies. The cephalic, or anticipatory, phase of digestion occurs at the thought, sight, or smell of food. A neural reflex, involving the activation of the vagus nerve, sends excitatory signals to the enteric nervous system (part of the nervous system that controls gastrointestinal function). The signals cause the release of digestive hormones in the stomach. Our bodies are ready and willing to eat what's coming. 

Imagine if billboards and television advertisements were filled more often with photographs of healthy foods. Instead of denying sugary cereals of their cartoon mascots, advertisements could focus more on glorifying grains, fruit, vegetables, etc. Instead of magazine covers and billboards focusing on the outcome of a strong and fit body, focus on the source. 

A cursory Google image search for fast food billboards does not demonstrate any of the healthy options (e.g. apple slices for a side substitution at McDonald's or Wendy's, salads, etc.). Also try to recall the last time you saw a savory plate of a healthy homecooked meal on your television screen. 

Could this be a part of the equation for people to start making healthier choices? Just daily visual exposure of healthy food. It's so simple that it might just work.

Immersion vs. Resolution, Part Deux

I failed to mention one very important resolution/immersion...

Twenty twelve: No rules. Keep on dancing till the world ends. 
Not in a let's-break-all-the-rules-and-be-chaotic kind of way, but in a "dance like nobody's watching," go-to-Zumba-and-embarrass-yourself-and-not-care kind of way. 

In honor of Aimee Yowell's Prana Flow (with freeform movement and dancing a la Shiva Rea) at Ashtanga Yoga Richmond tonight, here's your dance inspiration for the day:

"Why are you dancing?"
"Because I'm happy."
"You should always be happy."

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Immersion vs. Resolution

February is a time to evaluate New Year's resolutions for a few timely reasons: Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine's Day. You're either throwing back a few brews and eating a ton of dip, wings, and chili or drowning your sorrows (oops, I mean celebrating love?) with wine and chocolate. I focus on these because most resolutions deal with this concept of losing weight, eating better food, etc. What if the resolutions focused more keenly on underlying goals and needs?

Rod Stryker, in the book The Four Desires, shares interesting insight about resolutions: "It's critical, however, to note that research shows that at least 80 percent of us do not achieve our resolutions. A recent study found that 'four out of five people who make New Year's resolutions... will eventually break them. In fact, a third won't even make it to the end of January!' Other studies have shown that the number of people who do achieve their resolutions is even smaller, perhaps as little as 8 percent... What explains this failure of at least 80 percent of us to fulfill our resolutions?... we often focus on fulfilling our desires without giving much thought to how our desires serve the greater meaning and purpose of our lives... [and] there is a science to the process of manifesting our intention" (81-2).

I used to think New Year's resolutions were cliche or for those who lacked motivation and control throughout the regular parts of the year. But then I realized that resolutions are much more than that. They are about setting goals and intentions to improve your life in some fitting way. A close friend has completely given up something new each year (french fries, soda, alcohol, you name it), year after year, just to prove to himself that he has the will power to do it. These are not regular indulgences he seeks anyway, but the resolution provides a special challenge for the times when he could lack will power. A few years ago, I resolved to not get any parking tickets (trust me, the cities of L.A. and Santa Monica were rolling in the dough from me alone) with a deeper goal to shut off my auto-pilot and be more aware of my surroundings. Another reason I got over the resolution reluctance is because who cares if people make them once a year but do not fulfill them? Intention is the first step; action completes the path to success. As Stryker notes though, greater purpose should be the focus. 

My main resolution this year was to explore the more philosophical aspects of yoga. A few reasons behind the resolution include: 1. heritage, 2. stress from last year forced too much emphasis on the physical exercise, 3. plans to incorporate it within my future career. The science of manifesting intention seemed like synchronicity since my local yoga studio organized a "30 Day Yoga Immersion" program. The program is a personal commitment to explore yoga practice by doing one or all of the following: meditation, physical asanas, and spiritual readings. The instructors explicitly said that it is not meant to be a resolution or physical challenge, but an exploration to aid in personal growth. 

Excitement for the program, which started last week with over 50 of us enrolled, has been enhanced by the notion of an "immersion" rather than a resolution. Aside from the funny mental image of submerging myself into some yogic vat and emerging at the end of the month as a shiny and sparkly new yogini, the word immersion is much more powerful than the idea of resolving to do something. Even the etymologies of the words imply the very idea that Stryker has about why most resolutions fail. Resolution is derived from the Latin term "resolvere," which means to loosen or to reveal. Immersion is derived from the Latin term "imergere," meaning to sink into. A resolution reveals what you want; an immersion requires you to dive in, head first, and experience it fully. Perhaps if those 92% who do not achieve their resolutions developed the underlying reason to sink into, we could have greater success with our resolve to improve ourselves.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Celebrating International Integrative Medicine Day- January 23, 2012

Today, January 23, 2012, marks an awareness day for the most interdisciplinary topic: integrative medicine. International Integrative Medicine (IIM) Day strives to promote holistic understanding, discourse, and practice of health through collaborative efforts of research and education about medicine. A brief glance at the list of partners and ambassadors on the IIM Day site demonstrates the wide variety of medical professionals who believe in integrating their knowledge for the greater good.

I celebrated today by fulfilling my morning pranayama and stretching routine, reading and studying for my biochemistry and neuroscience courses, and attending a Yin and Yang yoga class at Project Yoga Richmond!

Did you have a chance to celebrate Integrative Medicine today? If not, here are some ideas you could try this week/month/year/life:

Educate yourself: Preconceived notions of the unfamiliar are inevitable, especially when it comes to what you think you know about your health. This piece from The Atlantic last year aptly-- and somewhat objectively--describes the trend towards mainstream medicine meeting alternative methods. 

Try a local yoga or tai chi class: YouTube also has a number of demos if you want to try it at home!

Experience mindful meditation: The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center provides free mp3 downloads with instructions. 

Prevent winter sickness: I got that dreaded feeling today like a cold is trying to invade its way into my busy schedule. This means I will be upping the ante on my typical proactive routine: 1. Adding clove buds and honey to my morning tea. Yogi Tea "Throat Comfort" is also one of my favorites. You can find it at most Kroger stores, Whole Foods markets, and Trader Joes. 2. Increasing my neti pot usage from weekly to almost daily (be sure to use distilled water or boil your tap water to ensure clean water). 3. Increasing my normal daily Vitamin C intake. Bolthouse Farms C-Boost is incredible! 1200% Vitamin C is excessive, but the juice might be the closest thing to ambrosia you can experience. 4. Being more vigilant about getting the right amount of sleep (striving for 8 hours per night).

Eat a healthy meal (as suggested by IIM Day): Plenty more recipes and nutrition insights ahead. For now, here is a simple recipe inspired by yesterday's cold and dreary winter weather. Realizing my cupboard and fridge had enough inventory, I threw this meal together for lunch.

Carrot Tomato Soup
Toasted Kale and Cheese Sandwich

Carrot and Tomato Soup
6 oz. Tomato Paste (buy the kind with 100% tomatoes; no salt)
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 large carrot, shredded
1 cup vegetable broth (try a low sodium kind with minimal preservatives) 
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4- 1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4- 1/2 tsp. coriander
1/4- 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. flaxseed meal (optional!)

In a small to medium size pot on medium heat, add all ingredients in order listed and stir until well mixed. You might need more or less vegetable broth depending on your preferred consistency. All spices should be done to your taste preference. (Next time, I'd like to try an italian-inspired version with basil, rosemary, etc.) Adjust to lower heat once mixture begins to bubble. Cover pot and simmer until carrots are close to tender. Stir occasionally. Recipe yields about 4 servings.

Toasted Kale and Cheese Sandwich
2 slices whole wheat or whole grain bread
desired amount of kale, rinsed
shredded or sliced cheese 
cayenne pepper
Italian spice mix

I'm pretty sure you know how to put a sandwich together. The toaster oven at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes was perfect for toasted bread, just tender kale, and slightly melted cheese. A note on the cheese: I use an almond-based shredded cheese alternative out of personal preference. Should you desire regular cheese, try a low sodium, low saturated-fat type like part-skim mozzarella.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

"Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy."

At the impressionable age of 17, a close friend at the time gave me the gift of a journal. The greater gift was Max Ehrmann's prose poem attached to the inside of the front cover. The words, especially the last few sentences, had a profound impact on my view on life and the world. I wanted so badly to possess that cheerfulness at all times and spread it to those around me. Years later, my immersion into yoga (both asana and the overarching philosophical practice) slowly let this guidance resonate more meaningfully in both my personal and professional life. 

Defining Desiderata (meaning "desired things" in Latin) is a new chance to use Ehrmann's words. How? By sharing knowledge and creating dialogue about a variety of topics that support that crazy little thing called happiness. I am excited to share information on everything from science to philosophy to nutrition. Hope you enjoy it!