Stubbornness is a Fluorescent Pink Cast

Last week,  while filling the baby’s water bottle in the kitchen, Hannahmy spunky 3-year oldraced into the house crying that her arm hurt.  I asked her what happened and she brushed by me withholding a response.  She melted into the couch in an inert and extremely-unlike-Hannah stupor.

My husband returned home shortly after Hannah’s mystery accident.  Despite our cajoling, coaxing and bribery-filled interrogation, Hannah refused to even admit that her arm hurt anymore nevermind providing any clues as to what happened.  Even though she could muscle her way through every range of motion, she exhibited signs of something-not-quite-rightness:  using her left (eg. non-dominant hand) to eat dinner, demanding assistance while changing her clothes even though she swaps dresses and shoes multiple times within an hour, and relentlessly protesting in the form of epic meltdowns at any mention of doctor or hospital.

After consulting my dear friendalso, conveniently a pediatric nursewe put Hannah to bed with the intention of  visiting our own pediatrician in the morning and avoiding, at all costs, an ER situation.   After nearly a full day passed between a doctor’s office, the x-ray clinic and finally the orthopedic wing of the Children’s Hospital, Hannah was garbed in a fluorescent pink cast extending from shoulder to wrist.  She never cried, developed her alibi, nor did she confess that she felt any pain.

cast

On one hand, I’m awestruck by my child and the scope of her will.  She sucked it up, muscled through the agony and steadfastly clung to her story that she felt OK.   She refused to let emotions get the best of her and she, all-in-all, made a beautiful spring day stuck in a hospitable a bearable, if not pleasurable, experience.  On the other hand, her stubbornness and downright relentless refusal to disclose her story and admit that she needed some help worried me.

In my tough-as-nails Hannah, I caught a glimpse of my mother, my aunt’s, my sisters and of course, myself.  We are the strong-willed women who never say no to anyone’s request, can’t sit down during dinner parties because we incessantly prepare and clean, and would rather totally sabotage a situation before asking for help.   In Hannah’s determined face, 31 years of my total, utter and unforgiving stubbornness flashed before my very eyes.  “Uh-oh!” I pondered to myself during my epiphanic vision, “I’ve got to help her break this cycle.”

I’m proud to have an offspring who, though she may look like her father, clearly takes after moi.  I mean, I like me and I’ll forever cherish the episodes where my tenacity and persistence have worked in my favor.   For example, the resilience and unwavering strength I demonstrated during my two drug-free, totally natural labors.  Or, the fact that I’ve remained consistent and committed to teaching and practicing yoga over the past 10 years.

But I’ve seen the other side of the coin while fighting with my mom or my husband and in those super heartbreaking fall outs with dear friends.   In excess, stubbornnessthe kind that swallows any hint of vulnerabilityis strength’s evil twin.  When unmonitored, stubbornness is nothing more than stiffness in thought and body;  it’s impermeable rigidity that creates boundaries inhibiting acts of love and kindness from entering or exiting our being.

Since this incident with Hannah, I’ve been reflecting on the qualities of strength and stubbornness and the difference between resilience and rigidity.  Strength, strong-will and even stubbornness, when applied appropriately, make change possible. If individuals never embraced and utilized their strength (stubbornness included), situations could never change; growth might never occur.  An unchecked or excess of resiliency is rigidity; strength gone awry. Rigidity results from a lack of discernment; namely, the ability to discriminate between an event that requires strength and that which demands a softening and a total surrender to the grace and love of others.

Our yoga practice is a perfect illustration of this concept.  One of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras reads, “Sthira sukham asanam.”  (Ironically, Hannah has this one memorized). In english, the asana (=posture, seat) should be both steady and comfortable; balanced between ease and effort.  Building mental and physical prowess takes time and patience. The pursuit of strength is a worthwhile endeavor.  However, strength is a double edged sword.   If we consistently grunt through our practice (or any exercise), stick to a strict agenda that compromises and over-stresses our alignment, our comfort and our mobility in the name of strength, we will become rigid and immobile; injuries will prevail.   Mobility, freedom of movement and the ability to be fluid AND strong exemplify the balance of the stability of sthira and the freedom, happiness and comfort of sukha.  Strength that cannot breath is stiff; it’s lifeless.

Stubbornness basically means we’ve made up our minds before entering into the situation. Out of fear (probably) or some equally comfortable-but-unhealthy aversion, the narrative in our heads is set in stone and we close ourselves off to any other alternate outcome.  Simply put, we’re not present in the moment or available to anyone including ourselves.    Our practicedefined by our journey into intention and attentionprovides a space to develop and cultivate discernment and bring new layers of perspective and presence to our lives.  Equipped with the lense of discernment, we won’t necessarily stumble into our stubborn autopilot-like habits or replay the same old, out-dated (sorry-but-it’s-a-pretty-lame-excuse) story.   Instead, we approach the situation wholeheartedly and appropriately, recruiting the right tools and the most effective attributes.

Hannah is a small child, she responds to instincts and she imitates.  As her caretaker, she subconsciously relies on my discernment and my reactions.  The way I handle situations that involve her or situations she observes leave impressions on her judgement.  I’ve got a lot of work to do as her mother and for myself to break this cycle of stubbornness.  I aspire to demonstrate acts of honorable stubbornness (eg. in matters of human rights and social justice) and to also show her that I can humbly ask for help.  For the next three weeks, that enormous hot pink cast will remind me to discern before acting and try on vulnerability for size, to practice functional and breathable strength and to, ultimately, let my story change, evolve, feel and become more inclusive.     

sidebend

Forbidden Fried Rice (vegan and gluten free)

“Forbidden Rice” sounds so naughty, so enticing.  If you aren’t familiar, it’s chinese black rice.  It tastes sort of sweet and has a hearty texture.  It makes for a great savory dish, salad or even a dessert.  We frequent a local restaurant in Buffalo, Sun, because they offer a black rice menu including sushi,Thai and Burmese dishes and my favorite-of-all-time black rice salad!   Until my love affair with Sun, I was always curious about the black rice in the bulk section of co-op, but never brave enough to cook with it.

When I prepare dishes with black rice, sometimes I mix it with brown or jasmine rice if I want to soften the texture a little bit.  But this variation, which is pretty heavy on the veggies with the rice almost peppered in, I let the black rice fly solo.  My husband and I gobbled this down for dinner the other night.  The next day, Kate and I added some fresh red cabbage to it (for an extra crunch) and ate it for lunch.  Make extra because it’s even better as a leftover! Continue reading

The Great Yoga Smackdown

The late, great Sri Pattabhi Jois once said “Yoga is an internal practice. Everything else is just a circus.” I read those words a long time ago and understood them with my brain, but not at all with my heart. To me, in those early days of asana, yoga was a circus. I was learning how to do some crazy stuff with my body, and even crazier, it actually responded to those things with a little work and a lot of persistence. In my fledgling years as a yoga practitioner, I was like a sponge. I soaked up every style and every teacher and I was ceaselessly amazed by a) the rigor that yoga demanded of my body and 2) that my body could live up to and exceed that rigorous practice with ease.

This is the circus part.

This is the circus part.

There were minor injuries along the way, of course. An over-stretched hamstring here, a tweaked knee there…but nothing that would slow me down for long, and certainly nothing that ever kept me away from class or that made me question the practice. It was the relationship of a lifetime. I was in LOVE, and I was in love BAD. Continue reading

No-bake Peanut Butter Cook-bars Recipe (gluten free and vegan)

Every morning when I arrive to pick up my son from his school, he gleefully races up to me and once I pick him up he whines the words “cook-bar, cook-bar…”  I wish that his excitement was for me, not a cookie or granola barcook-bar is Rhys-speak for anything sort of sweet that he can eat in the carbut I can’t complain because he’s so awesome.  To appease my tired children and to keep them awake in the car, I always have a stash of Lara or Kind bars tucked away in my glove compartment.  Everybody wins; they get their sweet treat and remain happy in the car and I am guaranteed a break during their afternoon nap.

 Our cook-bar budget is astronomical and they leave behind an embarrassing number of wrappers, crumbs and leftover half-eaten pieces lingering around my car and purse.   We keep dateseg. nature’s glazed donutsin the house at all times and I have no excuse for buying cook-bars instead of making them.  So finally, today, I spent a whopping 10 minutes whipping these babies up.  They are guilt-free, SUPER easy and adaptable and absolutely wrapper and packaging free.  I even made them itty-bitty so that I have less leftover chunks smushed in their car seats.  Seriously though, I will have to let you know if these are any less messier than other bars… kids (and their messy parents) are just gross.

 Peanut Butter Cook-bars

 2 ½ cups pitted dates

¼ cup salted peanut butter

1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

dash of sea salt (or two if you like a little bit extra)

1 tsp vanilla

Place all of the ingredients into a food processor for two minutes.  Roll them into little balls and place on parchment paper.  You can keep them in a ball shape or add the peanut butter cookie fork marks for fun.  Kids are really good at helping with the the rolling and fork impression part!  Place them in the fridge for a couple of hours.  Depending on how much “dough” you eat, .you should yield about 15-20 cookies

pbcookbar

 

 

Kapotasana Sanskrit for “the mother of all backbends”

…It’s not the sanskrit translation, not even close.  I just wish that the translation was as epic as the pose itself.  Read on for the actual, rather humble, name of the asana!

kapo

Kapotasana… translate from the sanskrit to pigeon.

Back in 2008, while living in Paris and meandering through Europe, I dropped into a Bikram yoga class in Rome taught by a beautiful, italian speaking Swede.  After the first round of ustrasana, she asked me if I wanted to try full, advanced expression.  Having NO idea what she meantbut embracing the “when in rome” mentalityI consented.  She draped a towel around my back like a hammock lifting my upper back as I dropped back. As if she had several arms, she lengthened my back and assisted me in catching my heels.   Her support never faltered, and upon returning to my knees, I inconspicuously wept.  She didn’t hurt me, not at all, she guided me into the deepest backbend of my life (at that point) and I was moved.  My tears were cathartic and sweet.

 When I began to practice ashtanga, I learned the name for “full camel” is kapotasana (=pigeon pose, not to be confused with eka pada rajakapotasana).  Kapotasanathe infamous, humbling, mother-of-all-backbendsis more than meets the eye.  Flexibility helps a ton, and I won’t downplay its role, but strength and integration are absolutely necessary to practice this asana safely.  Beyond the more obvious physicality, emotionally, the pose is terrifying as it flips your perspective and creates serious vulnerability with the front body open, exposed. Continue reading

Girls Night Zoodles with Peanut Sauce (Vegan and Gluten free)

Our girls nights are epic!  We meet up for some hardcore bootcamp (that may or may not involve pants peeing) before reconvening to unwind with wine, a feast and an offensive amount of peanut butter cups.   Last night, we stuffed our faces with these crack-tastic creamy and comforting zoodles.

I’m daydreaming about the leftovers that I will attack after I teach tonight.

In a word, peanut sauce is everything.  It’s like an edible hug; the kind that smothers you delicately and all at once, warming you up from the inside out.  It’s the epitomy of comfort food, harmonizing sweet and salty and topped off with a zing of spice. Oh, peanut sauce… je ‘taime.

Like all of the recipes I post, you can adapt and modifty this recipe to serve your needs and tastes.  But, I gotta be honest and warn you that this variation just might rock your world. Continue reading

As surely as there is a voyage away…

“As surely as there is a voyage away, there is a journey home.” – Jack Kornfield

Literally, I journeyed home on Friday from a week in NYC visiting family, friends, my beloved yoga studio and an amazing-one-of-a-kind-workout.   Figuratively, I journeyed home to my teaching, our teacher training and above all my personal practice.

In general, my life renders me a self-practice kind of yogi.  Fortunately,  thanks to being on the road, I’ve had the rare opportunity to take a heaping handful of led classes over the last few weeks. The common thread among the several teachers with whom I’ve practicedunanimously, in a number of studios in three different citieswas spring cleaning, namely, in the side bodies.

I love that I stumbled into a springtime yogic zeitgeist.  Everyone, including myself, was ready to melt away the winter blues and journey home to the open and fresh qualities of spring.   

I’m a firm believer that taking some timewhether seasonally or annuallyto approach the practice as a beginner student is critical.  Without a beginner’s perspective we risk disenchanment, embitterement or even ego inflation.  A trip away from your routine restores the wonder and vastness of the practice AND replenishes the passion for commitment.

My journey home to my role as teacher includes new sequencing, new challenges and of course a new playlist… I hope you enjoy this one!

Don’t Use Your Practice as a Weapon

I must clear my guilty conscious:  I confess that I occasionally disappear deep into an #IGyoga or #yogaeverydamnday rabbit hole.  Awe and inspiration seduce me into viewing copious accounts, countless videos and an obscene number of pictures.  What began as an innocuous sojourn into the realm of yogi imagery, in a matter of minutes, goes completely awry.   A cascade of relatively predictable reactions usually follows suit:  judgment, comparison and the laundry list of excuses.    My ultimate-go-to comparison (more like assumption) is that the other yogis—the ones doing the dope-ass tricks—just have more time, no kids and an overall more leisurely lifestyle than myself.  “I’m a REAL yogi,” I’ll profess in a moment of rockbottom-like weakness, “that is all just gymnastics and they are probably not even nice.” Continue reading

Breakfast Cookies: The New Wheaties

I am something of a cookie monster.  I know I talk a good game about all the peanut butter cups I eat and it’s true, those bad boys are my first dessert love.  But I don’t wait till dessert to indulge my cookie cravings.  I truly believe there is nothing better than sinking your teeth into a big ol’ dense, chewy, delicious cookie, then washing it down with a steaming cup of coffee.  For breakfast.  Move over, Wheaties.  There’s a new champion in town.

Now, since I’m pretty sure that somewhere, someone has done some fairly well-founded research that intense amounts of sugar and empty starchy carbs (read: triple chocolate chocolate chip fudge cookies) aren’t actually all that great for you, I’ve laid some ground rules for myself in these early morning forays into the cookie jar.  (I use the word “rules” loosely – I have, after all, found myself eating those triple chocolate chocolate chip fudge cookies with my morning coffee once or twice.)  Namely, whatever goes into these cookies has to be nutritious and filling enough that I’m not going to want a second breakfast before I’ve even finished the first, but tasty enough to trick me into thinking I’m really getting away with cookies.  For breakfast.  And what I’ve found is that as long as there is some kind of creamy nut butter and a banana or two involved, it’s usually going to taste just fine.  Continue reading

Kale and Cabbage Salad (Vegan and Gluten Free Recipe)

I love inviting friends over to my house for dinner.     It’s a cozy and informal way to socialize and catch up without hiring a babysitter.  I get to keep my slippers on, wear my comfiest clothes and know that my bed awaits me on the second floor.   My kids eagerly jump at the opportunity to show off for any and all adults who come to visit. Once in their beds, they  have no problem sleeping through the grown-ups-gone-wild shenanigans.

burningman

Hannah glammed out wearing a wristband like she is going to Burning Man.

Continue reading