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.