Instead of caffeine, try this

A friend and I were talking about health, sleep and food (yes, this is what we talk about for fun) and she mentioned that the midday slump has been killing her since she gave up caffeine.

I asked if she'd tried maca powder and she said she has some in the cupboard but hasn't used it. I went on to tell her how I'd been using maca and several other superfood powders for about a month and a half and my last period was a breeze, especially compared to the torture I often go through.

She gave me the look that said, You know you have to post about this, right?

So here we are. 

I've been collecting research and reading about this newest round of hyped-up "superfoods" for a while and slowly integrating them into my daily/weekly protocol, partly for energy, partly for nutritional value and partly for hormone balance.

After about six weeks of consistent use (I even packed pre-measured doses for my travel), I'm reporting positive effect.

I like a little "boost" after lunch and wouldn't it be great if that was something more healthy than a cookie? I usually do chai, but the caffeine can mess with my sleep, even if I have it in the morning. So I was curious about these energy boosters.

My other big motivation was hormone balance. My cycle is mostly regular but incredibly painful -- PMS, bloating, digestive issues, intense cramps and migraines. I'd been reading about several of these adaptogens to help ease these symptoms. But more on this later....

The three supplements featured here are for energy and focus (among other things).

 

Maca Powder
Maca is a root vegetable similar to a radish, native to the Andes of Peru. It has many claimed benefits including increased energy and stamina without the jitters of caffeine, improved memory and focus, elevated mood and improved hormone and sexual health. It also is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Here is more information about maca.

After much research, this is the brand I purchased and have really liked (the raw one).

 

Rhodiola Rosea
A common herb in Chinese Medicine, this supplement is known by many names, like king's crown and golden root. The major health benefits of rhodiola are said to be energy boost, mild stimulant, it combats stress and fatigue and supports the nervous system, cognition and mood.

Two articles on Rhodiola. One note -- I chose rhodiola with 3% rosavin over salidrosides, since rosavin is reported to correspond to the neurotransmitter serotonin, being more stabilizing and regulating (vs salidrosides corresponding to dopamine and being more stimulating).

This is the brand I went with after my research.

 

Mucuna Pruriens
The last herb in this feature is mucuna pruriens, which also goes by other names and is used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is said to support the nervous system, improve energy and stamina, increase cognitive function and support the reproductive systems.

More on mucuna pruriens.

And here's the brand I've been using.

 

How to use these?

I used to do capsules for everything, but I started making balls that called for some of these fancy ingredients and it was a real mess to cut the capsules open.

Powders are also most economical and direct.

Plus, I like using these as flavor and thickeners in my oatmeal, smoothies, chai and yogurt.

A few ways you could try these:

  • Add to a beverage, like chai, a mushroom tea or golden milk for a midday pick-me-up.
  • Stir into hot breakfast cereal.
  • Stir into coconut yogurt for a snack.
  • Blend into smoothie.
  • Mix with a tablespoon of honey and just eat it.
  • Make balls.

 

How much to use?

  • Because these are stimulants, start small and slowly increase the serving if necessary. I started with half the suggested serving size.
  • Always be conservative, since you don't know how your body will react.
  • Start taking one at a time so that, like any good scientist, you'll have more data on how your system responds to each.
  • Take them in the morning in case they are overly stimulating for you.
  • Take a break once a week from the supplements.
  • You may feel the effects quickly, or you may not notice the effects until you stop taking them.
  • Take notes! Maybe one product doesn't do anything for you, but another gives you pep. You'll want to remember which did what.

 

I've read that people have used these single herbs (or in combination) to help kick everything from nicotine to caffeine. These three herbs have been used for thousands of years in other cultures/countries and have enormous nutritional value as well. Let me know if you have tried or decide to try any of these!

 

Social Contagion and a Values-Aligned Life

Social contagion is the well-researched idea that we "catch" emotions and behaviors from other people. Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, gives a couple of examples:

You step into an elevator and the person in the elevator is on their phone. You are likely to get out your phone as well.

If you are on an airplane and your seatmate buys candy, even if you do not know that person, the research shows that you are 70% more likely to buy candy.

Even more shocking, if people we know by acquaintance, or even by 2-3 degrees of separation, get divorced or put on weight, it significantly increases our chances of getting divorced or putting on weight.

We unconsciously start wanting things other people want or normalizing behaviors we previously would not have engaged in.

That's some powerful suggestive influence.

So what can we do to stay aligned with our own deeply held values and not be unconsciously swayed by the actions of other people?

David's advice is something she calls Values Affirmation - spending even 10 minutes every day thinking about your values, what type of person you want to be in relationship, as a parent, at work and so on.

Just 10 minutes a day of focusing on your core values will help protect you from social contagion. 

Obviously this requires clarity around what your values are. David urges us first to come from a place of compassion and care for ourselves and our emotional bodies. She also has a free test on her website that can help you determine how well you are living a values-aligned life and ways to be more emotionally agile. 

If you're interested in more on this topic, I recommend the author's interview with Rich Roll. She covers a lot of ground:

  • practical examples of what it means to live a values-aligned life
  • the difference between values and goals
  • why will power doesn't work
  • the danger of bottling or brooding on your emotions
  • the myth of "negative" or "bad" emotions

I enjoyed this podcast so much, I've listened to it twice! Let me know what you take from it.

 

Amazing Ants

New York City is a wonderful example of how no system works in isolation.

(We'll get to the ants in a minute.)

The city of Manhattan, like all cities, has main systems that keep things running smoothly -- water, garbage, sewer, electricity, import/export and traffic, to name a few.  It may seem that these systems are separate and autonomous. 

But consider this: if any one of those systems gets clogged or shut down, it will affect many if not most of the other systems.

If the electricity goes out, that affects traffic lights, and traffic jams affect the timely and efficient transport of the garbage. If long term, the overflow of garbage might eventually impact the sewage or even water systems.

Or if the water system shuts down, that's going to wreak havoc on pedestrian and auto traffic, as well as the import and export of goods on/off the island -- people trying to get water already on the island, other people trying to get water to the island, still other people trying to get off the island. This would impact the garbage and recycling systems with an increase in plastic bottles. That extra processing could affect the electrical systems with an increase in energy. 

And on and on.

new york city ants

Here's where the ants come in. Did you know that for every human on the planet, there's over a million ants?

And ants make up their own system in New York City -- Waste Removal.

Those ants in New York City eat the equivalent of 60,000 hot dogs a year!

Isn't that amazing!?

Watch this two-minute video from National Geographic on how vital ants are to the ecosystem of Manhattan.

So what?

Well, if you watch the video, you heard that it is conceivable that without the ants, there would be more rats and pigeons in New York, and they can carry disease. So maybe disease goes up. Or maybe the means of controlling the rats and birds causes other toxic issues. Yikes!

What's the larger point?

Our bodies are just like this. No system works in isolation. From digestive to respiratory to endocrine to cognitive to sensory to skeletal to spiritual. All communicate and affect one another. Whole body, whole person, whole health.

This is a friendly reminder that every part of you wants and needs loving attention and conscious care in order to keep running optimally. You can't "make up for" eating poopy food or forgo some amount of healthy movement every day. What you put on your body and in your home counts too.

What you do matters.

So, like the ants, let's keep doing our best!

 

Anytime Biscuits

I love biscuits. My mom used to make biscuits like these, free form and oversized, for breakfast and we'd slather them with butter and honey.

There are for sure things that I just have to accept are going to be "different" in vegan form.

Ice cream. Angel Food Cake. 

Different meaning not as good. And I'm ok with that.

Because honestly, anything you can make, I can make vegan. And it's almost always just as good or better. (If that hasn't been true for you, let me give you some better recipes!)

And the great news is, I don't have to skimp on biscuits!

I saw this recipe last week and started craving them. So Saturday morning, I made them with all 5 ingredients, and they were AMAZING.

While they were cooling I cut up some fresh strawberries from the farmer's market and cooked them into a little saucy-jam. 

So really, I had strawberry shortcake for breakfast.

To be honest, these would be great with soup or throw some sage or rosemary in there and you'd have a lovely savory biscuit. These biscuits are for anytime!

If you love biscuits, try them. If you don't love biscuits, I don't know if we can be friends.

 

Vegan Biscuits

Ingredients

vegan biscuits

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup rice milk (I used about 3/4 C almond milk and filled the rest with water)


Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

vegan breakfast

2. Line a sheet tray with parchment and set aside. I cooked mine in a glass dish smeared with a little Earth Balance.

3. Mix flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, mix oil, and rice milk until just combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and combine with hands. Do not overmix.

4. Form biscuits and place on lined sheet tray. I made 10 biscuits.

5. Cook for 20-30 minutes depending on size. Biscuits should have a light, golden brown color.

vegan strawberry shortcake

 

Recipe adapted from VegNews.

Doing it differently: Yoga School

yoga props

"Because that's the way it's always been done" is a terrible reason to keep doing something the same way.

As is, "but that's how everyone else does it."

For about a month now, I've had this persistent nudge to change the format of the current "Teacher Training."

Yes, I've trained many teachers and will continue to do so in the upcoming program this fall.

But what if you don't want to be a teacher? What if you just want that level of education, support, commitment and, frankly, fun?

In the past, I've tried describing Teacher Training as Life Training (as many past students have called it). I make the language as welcoming and permissive as I can to those who don't want to teach. This program is for everyone.

But why should they have to pay the same amount and have the same intensive homework and requirements? I created a yearlong program (The Daily Craft) with the intention of giving a similar opportunity to non-teachers. But nothing is like the 5 month immersion of TT.

So...the persistent nudge was, how can I make this available to people who don't want to teach?

Sometimes the answer is obvious, in plain view, just behind the veil of but this isn't how it's done.

I'm so pleased to announce a rename and restructure to the Yoga education program I'm offering.

It's called Yoga School. There are two tracks: Personal and Professional.

Check it out.

 

Super Simple "Monster" Cookies

You're simple and sweet
Why do they call you monster?
You do not scare me!

tahini monster cookie

These debuted at class last week and somehow I agreed to write a poem about them. I can never resist a haiku!

"Monster Cookies" generally have a bunch of goodies in them with a base of a nut butter and oatmeal. According to a quick google search, they are "the Frankenstein's monster of the cookie world - a mashup of different components."

What I love about these -- besides the super moist texture and perfectly balanced flavor -- is how simple they are to make. Even for the "non-bakers," this one is doable.

 

Super Simple Monster Cookie (vegan + gluten free)

Ingredients

3/4 cup tahini
3/4 cup coconut sugar (I used a little less)
3 1/2 tablespoons almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cups gluten free oats
1/3 dark vegan chocolate chips (these are my fav - nut, soy and diary free)

Other optional add ins: 1/3 cup raisins, 1/4 cup nuts
And if you aren't a fan of tahini, try another nut butter like almond or sunflower

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, add tahini, coconut sugar, almond milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and salt and combine until well blended.

Add oats dark chocolate and any other add-in; mix until all of the ingredients are incorporated.

Using a spoon, scoop the batter onto your baking sheet  Bake cookies for 10 minutes and let cool for another 10 minutes.

Enjoy!


See other vegan cookie recipes.
See other general vegan recipes.

Photo and recipe adapted from About to Sprout.

 

7 New Habits for Earth Month

Many of us consider every day to be "earth day." Still, it's good to have an even brighter spotlight on ways we can improve.

It's easy to get down about the state of the environment, so I go back to a trusty mantra and tell myself again and again, What You Do Matters. It's all a drop in the bucket. And if we all believe that and do even a little bit, together it makes a difference.

 

In that spirit, here are 7 ideas for Earth Month.

IMG_6343.JPG

1. Mail old mascara wands to the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge's Wands for Wildlife program. The brushes are repurposed to help groom rescued animals. How fabulous is that?

2. Choose the right appliance for the job. Electric kettles use less energy than stovetop ones. A toaster oven uses up to half the energy of a conventional electric oven. An electric slow cooker makes soups and stews using less wattage than a stove. It truly pays to pick the right appliance.

3. Buy cardboard-packaged products rather than plastic. Something in a box is better than a bag when you have the choice.

4. Stop junk mail. Technology is making it easy to opt out of unwanted ads and offers. Opt out of credit or insurance offers, one click will cancel catalogs with Catalog Choice and I can't wait to try the Paper Karma app -- just take a picture of the junk mail and it will unsubscribe for you.

5. Plant a pot of Milkweed. It's a favorite of our bee friends.

6. Allow foods to cool completely before putting them in the frig. This saves energy and reduces the opportunity for bacteria growth.

7. For you gardeners... 

  • Sprinkle cornmeal gluten around plants to keep weed seeds from germinating. Just don't use it in the veggie garden -- it keeps all seeds from germinating. 
  • A pinch of salt at the base of a weed will kill it naturally.
  • Use up your old petroleum jelly around the edge of pots and planters to help keep snails and slugs out. (Just don't use petroleum jelly on your body -- it's ew!)
  • Use epsom salts as fertilizer for greener, brighter, more growth and flowers.
  • Grate a bar of Irish Spring soap around plants and sprouting perennials to deter unwanted furry friends. (That one sounds pretty weird, but if it works!)

 

Of course there are the basics -- 

  • buying only recycled paper products (like TP and paper towels, plates and napkins if you have to use them),
  • using non-toxic (which means non-mainstream) green cleaning products,
  • taking your own shopping bags
  • carrying your own water bottle (no bottled water!!)
  • and obviously eating no/fewer animal products :)

But we can do better than basic. Remember, what you do matters.

 

Side note, I signed up for the Sierra Club's Nationwide Hike on Earth Day (April 22nd). You can join a group or do an easy solo walk through the park. It's just a way to use our bodies, celebrate being outside and know we're doing it collectively... all for a cause. Check it out.

 

Resources: Nature Moms, Real Simple, Veg News

Magic Spring Sauce

It's not a pesto, it's not a chimichurri, it's a magic sauce perfectly suited for spring.

Make it and put it on everything. Roasted veggies, toast, pasta, burritos or tacos, a veggie burger -- I mean, anything.

No need to be super precise in measuring...personalize it according to your flavor preferences.

 This is a terrible picture. It's better than it looks.

This is a terrible picture. It's better than it looks.

Magic Spring Sauce

1 bunch flat leaf parsley
1-2 bunch(es) cilantro
2-4 cloves garlic
1 avocado
Lime juice (lemon would do fine)
1/2 C (or so) oil (Thrive Algae Oil is my favorite for health reasons)
Optional 1/4-1/2 C nuts -- pistachios or walnuts would be great
Optional jalapeno or chili pepper flakes if you like some kick

Put everything in a food processor or blender and mix it up!

Mine was thicker, more spreadable and sauce-y.
   It could also be a pesto-like dip by adding more oil after blending
     or a thicker veggie dip with less oil
       or a salad dressing by adding a little water.

You know I'm a fan of getting extra nutrients in super sly ways, so you could also play with adding a spoonful of miso or some white beans or a little nutritional yeast...and then adjust the oil/water for desired thickness.

The Magic Sauce has limitless potential!!

Let me know if you try it :)


 

Four Favorite Poetry Books

...and one poem.

Yesterday was a day of poetry.

I've been sharing a poem at the beginning and/or end of class on Sunday mornings again recently. Poetry used to be as important to me in class development as the asana, but as happens with the cyclical nature of things, that practice had fallen away for a few years.

It's so lovely to see how people respond to a poem...
The "mmm" murmured after a poem is read.
Coming up after class to ask for the name of the poem.
Wanting to share their favorite poet or poem or line.

It's like we're all a little bit in the closet about poetry, but once we know we're in safe company of fellow lovers, we can pull the tattered paper out of our wallets and compare notes (I carry a few hand-written lines of Rumi, gifted long ago by a friend).

Poetry is delicious medicine that has helped me make sense of life since high school. I have many old poetry collections published by Hallmark that were my grandmother's, one of which is in the Favorite Four below.

 

The second poetry moment yesterday arose out of the online philosophy class I'm teaching. We are exploring Yoga Sutra 2.1 and yesterday the discussion was around Svadhyaya, the practice of Self Study.

There are a couple of notable aspects of Svadhyaya:

  • Foremost, it is the regular practice of self-reflection and personal growth.
  • Drilling down even deeper, we get to the heart by studying ourselves in the context of sacred texts and teachings.
  • Since we are limited in the objectivity we can have with ourselves, it generally is done with a teacher, which could be a study group, a therapist, a mentor or other trusted guide.
  • For the purpose of knowing ourselves more deeply.

Homework ideas for the month included journalling, reading or memorizing poetry, reading other spiritual texts, group discussion, therapy or mentorship. 

All for the purpose of knowing yourself more deeply.

Several people in the group were interested in exploring poetry as a practice. Since it can be hard to know where to start, I offered to share a few of my favorite poetry books.

Here are four favs, with a kitty photo bomb.

poetry books

Poet Healer edited by Chip Spann
Sadly, this book is out of print, but there are a few on Amazon. It was compiled as part of a project through Sutter's Cancer Program. It is my favorite collection of poems and would be my desert island book of poetry.

Red Bird by Mary Oliver
Oliver's poems are nature and simplicity and awe. All of her books are wonderful, I just have a special affection for this one.

Poems of Awakening edited by Betsy Small
Another great compilation of spiritual poetry. From Kabir and Hafiz to Anna Swir and May Sarton, almost every page in my book is dog-eared.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
I've lived on this book like food for periods of my life. This is my grandmother's copy and it lives on my nightstand. Out of use, it falls open to the writings On Love and On Pain, which sound strangely similar. "And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast." (That's On Love!)

 

The other request I received was for the poem from class -- Below Our Strangeness by Mark Nepo. As you know, Mark is a favorite poet and writer of mine. What a lovely poem for our times.

Below Our Strangeness

I've come to believe that we were
all broken from the same nameless
heart, and everything wakes
with a piece of that original heart
aching its way into blossom. This
is why we know each other below
our strangeness, why when we fall, 
we lift each other; or when in pain, 
we hold each other; why sudden
with joy, we dance together. Life
is the many pieces of that great
heart loving itself back together.

~Mark Nepo

 

poetry month

Are you interested in receiving a poem a day?

April is poetry month, and as part of my spiritual practice, I am going to read, sit with and share a poem a day.

Get on the list to be a part of it. <--Click!

Starts April 1st.

Magic (the cat) will be there!

        

It's Just Yoga

After selling It's All Yoga last year, I realized that if I were to open a studio now (which I'm not and don't have plans to ever:), I would name it It's Just Yoga.

Not that the practice isn't a serious endeavor. Not that our practice doesn't sometimes feel like life or death. Not that practice doesn't make a huge difference in our lives.

In fact, I think the two phrases could mean something similar.

Like in the talk by Stephen Batchelor, the spiritual path can lead us to perplexity, wonderment, even doubt, rather than answers.

In the What is this? approach, the aim is to penetrate the Mystery. And in that, it becomes MORE mysterious, not less.

That's where the awe and curiosity and surprise live.

It's All Yoga feels solid and knowing.

It's Just Yoga is less certain, leaving room for discovery and the not-yet-known.

What do you think? What would you name your yoga studio? ;)

 

The practice of perplexity

"Part of the spiritual tradition is to unsettle us."

That's a line from a recent On Being podcast with secular Buddhist teacher and writer, Stephen Batchelor.

The discussion is about what Batchelor calls the immediacy of the mystery.  Many traditions have practices of perplexity, wonderment, astonishment, curiosity and even doubt at their core, connecting us to possibility and surprise rather than certainty and answers.

Yesterday I taught my last class at the studio as It's All Yoga. This week the name will change to Ritual. This is a change I knew was possible when I sold the studio last year, and still, there was sadness as I watched the new coats of paint being put on the building as I left class. Never a moment of regret...but, surprise...some sadness.

rose quartz

Batchelor spent months in deep meditation with the question, "What is this?" His experience of stillness and quiet with that question eventually led to a place where the words fell away and the question became a physical sensation, infusing the consciousness with a deep sense of curiosity.

What is this? is not a question in search of an answer. It is intended to help us penetrate the mystery more deeply so that it becomes more mysterious. Where every situation and experience becomes truly surprising. A place outside of our habitual views and conditioned responses.

A non-reactive stillness.

Softening the grip around what happens next.
Putting down the article on The 5 Steps to....  
Actively engaging in the art of not taking things for granted.

mark nepo

There is no certainty, there is just the Immediacy of the Mystery.
The possibility of continual surprise and wonder.
A way of life guided by engagement and openness.

The practice is here for us. All the time.

 

Under the sadness I find relief. Curiosity. Aliveness.

I'm excited to see how Ritual unfolds and what beautiful new offerings it brings to this community. And I'm delightfully unsettled and unanswered with how It's All Yoga will evolve in its next iteration.

So brilliantly described in the Long Way Home by Mark Nepo -- this is our practice.

long way home
 

Go-to dinner starter

One of my favorite "basic" meal starters is this base of mushrooms and a green.

I almost always have those two things on hand (they are a given on the grocery list) and I can make them into at least a half a dozen delicious dishes.

Here's one:

Mushroom Chard Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes

This was one of those "oops, I didn't plan dinner" nights. Thanks to my loyal mushroom/green stock, it was easy to throw something together.

mushrooms
chard

I used a butternut pasta that I got for Christmas. I had baby bellas and shiitake mushrooms, but any work. The sun dried tomatoes gave it a little sweetness. Walnuts and nutritional yeast pack in the nutrients. Of course a few cloves of garlic while sautéing the onions, and salt and pepper to taste. Greg likes things spicy, so he added chili pepper flakes to his.

The base of this dish is simple:

1. Onion or leek
2. Mushrooms
3. A leafy green like kale or chard

Just that is divine.

saute vegetables

The optional additions include:
Garlic
Nutritional Yeast
Sun-dried tomatoes
Walnuts
Miso
Other veggies like zucchini or carrots
Beans of any kind
Sprouts

I mean, anything would work -- whatever you like or depending on the season. I'm not creative in the kitchen, but I've had a surprisingly good time riffing off of this main idea.

Then, depending on what you have time for, what else you have on hand, your cravings, and a million other things, you can turn this into all kinds of goodness. 

veggie pasta

You can make it into a Buddha Bowl -- quadrants of mushroom, green, a bean and a whole grain. Add some avocado, sprinkle with sunflower seeds and drizzle with your favorite vinegar-style dressing.

Have it with a fresh green salad.

You could turn it into a soup (a miso broth would be delicious).

Or.... burritos!

It's easy and fun to pay around with this one. Let me know if you try it out!