Blogging Break

Looking to focus my attention elsewhere for the time being.

Hangs “We’ll be back soon” sign on door.

OSHO, On Getting Present

By Osho



How much longer will you go on

letting your energy sleep?

How much longer are you going to stay oblivious

of the immensity of your self?

Don’t waste time in conflict,

lose no time in doubt –

time can never be recovered,

and if you miss an opportunity

it may take many lives before another

comes your way again.

What’s a Girl To Do?

I get territorial about music.  I’m a firm believer that nothing is any good if everyone likes it, yet I’m quick to jump back from obscure-for-obscurity’s sake hipster junk food.  This lady, Bat for Lashes, strikes the perfect balance.  She’s brilliant during a yoga practice.  Her music dredges up that mysterious, witchy-woman vibe that we don’t always get to play with.  You know, all sidelong glances and shit.

But please don’t steal her from me and make her a big star.

The Art of Home Practice

Originally, I’d intended to write this post about the home practice blues.  When you’d rather stay on the couch than unroll your mat.  When you have dinner to make (and you’re hungry).  When you worked late last night and can’t find the energy to get up early and squeeze in a practice before rushing back to work.  Home practice can be a challenge just to fit into your schedule – and this is supposed to be easier than getting to a studio class!

If you create a beautiful space, have your props on hand, cue up some tunes, (and forgive yourself when you don’t have the yoga in you), you can develop a home practice.  I started my home practice because studio classes were too expensive and inconvenient.  I get to class once or twice a week and try to keep up my home practice another two or three days.  Like everything else, it’s a balance.

Here are my tips for developing a satisfying home practice.

Set up a sacred space.  Well, ‘sacred’ is subjective.  I practice in the living room because that’s where I feel most comfortable.  I tried the logical places:   my office or the finished basement, but it just never felt right.  I like to be where the action is, where the big windows are, where the fireplace is, on hardwood flooring, etc.  Find a space in your home where it feels right.  You might search for a space with a hard floor and an empty wall.  Don’t give up – try new spaces if the most obvious ones don’t work.

Have your props ready to go.  It’s a good excuse to say, “Well, I can’t practice Revolved Triangle because I don’t have the blocks I need.”  Not good enough though.  Get yourself the basics:  2 blocks, 1 strap, 1-2 Mexican blankets, and a mat.  Keep them out in plain sight, not hidden where you’ll forget about them.

Amuse yourself.  When I’m setting out for a serious practice, I’ll put on music or work it out in silence.  Check out my Top Ten Sexy Yoga Tunes.  But if I’m just interested in fifteen minutes of quick sun salutations before dinner, I’ll admit to practicing in front of the TV.  I know, y’all hardcore yogis are gonna be pissed, but it’s the truth.  Roseanne, Trailer Park Boys, Parks and Recreation, AbFab, 30 Rock, whatever.  True, you should embrace silence and use pranayama to stabilize your breath, but it’s YOUR home practice.  Do whatever works to get you practicing.  Also, the consistent, glowing telly makes rolling off the couch and onto your mat a little easier.

OK, you got your space, your props and your tunes.  Now what?  If you’ve never had a home practice, it can be hard taking what you know from class and applying it all by yourself.  That can be remedied by doing A LOT of yoga in classes.  Eventually you’ll learn what sequences you like and you’ll have a mental encyclopedia of go-to poses ready to pull from.  Plus, you’ll understand alignment so you can keep yourself safe when you practice at home.  Some people like using yoga videos to bridge this gap (lots of people seem to like Shiva Rae’s videos), but they’re not for me.  Books are more my style.  I like Gary Kraftsow’s sequencing in Yoga for Transformation.  And you can do what my teacher Tom does and just try to cram as many poses from Light on Yoga as you can into an hour and a half.  Web-wise, there’s a new crop of sites providing online video yoga classes, some with well-known teachers.  Yogaglo is one of the best.  Since I’m a total Type A, here’s my nerdy yoga organizational secret:  I keep a three-ring binder with clear page sleeves filled with sequencing, pose breakdowns, target area exercises (core work!), poems, mantras, articles, photos of beloved teachers, etc.  I tear out the “Home Practice” section from Yoga Journal magazine, or print out stuff I like from the internet.  It all goes in the binder, which I keep right at the top of my mat during practice.  This keeps my asana flowing.  When I finish one pose, I know exactly where I’m going next.  I don’t need it called out.

Give yourself Savasana.  Don’t skimp on Savasana (or any pose) because you know you can get away with it.  In class or at home, yoga is not about competition or achievement.  It’s about love.  And sitting with what’s uncomfortable, even when it sucks.  Try not to shortchange your breath, even in a challenging pose.  Keep your holds as long as you can.  In class, you’d keep that hold – why shouldn’t you at home?

Practicing at home brings yoga into your personal life.  Your husband walks by when you’re in Wheel.  You have to move framed art off the wall to work your Handstand.  You have this amazing opportunity to listen to your body’s wisdom.  It’s like eavesdropping on the natural universe, and at home, you can keep yourself even more grounded.  Relinquish the need for external approval.  Free from criticism (or flattery), you can practice freely and cultivate witnessing awareness.  Take with you only what you need.  And relax, ’cause you’re at home.

What are your secrets for a successful home practice?  Any sequencing resources you care to share?

How to Piss Off a Chef

A Vegetarian’s Questions for a Professional Chef

My best friend makes my favorite food. Deceptively simple flavor profiles, lots of comfort. Justin and I have known each other since high school. We met in a graphic design class and right away I knew he was an awesome weirdo like me. Almost immediately it was a brother-sister friendship. Many funky parties ended with Justin in the kitchen, half drunk, trying to make something tasty from whatever was left over. I remember lots of creative omelets and pastas. Once at a restaurant, Justin had a pasta dish with a really unique sauce of pureed broccoli, garlic, olive oil and cheese. He went right home to duplicate it.  One of his great inventions is using coconut milk in mashed potatoes.

By the time we grew up and were able to appreciate really fine food, we had moved in opposite directions. Now I’m on the East Coast and Justin’s in the Midwest, but we still talk food. I turned out to be a vegetarian yogini and he’s a meat-loving chef. I was wondering what chefs think about vegetarians, so I asked Justin.

YSTD: How would you describe your food?

JJ: It’s a regional hodgepodge. I lean towards the rustic foods of Italy, France, and the Mediterranean. I constantly cook for my family so there’s lots of crowd-pleasing pasta. Even these daily dishes are carefully prepared – I really enjoy a slow braise when I have the time. I usually serve my meals with homemade bread and a simple dessert.

YSTD: How does living in St. Louis influence your cuisine?

JJ: Well I have to say there’s a lot of meat out here, so amazing produce can fly under the radar. As a chef, it’s fun to cycle through produce as the seasons and menus change. In terms of cuisine, St. Louis has a surprising variety. We have great neighborhoods with awesome Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. We have a big Italian district (where I work) which covers the culinary spectrum of north to south Italy pretty damn well. The pizza and eggs in the south; the cured meats of Tuscany; the risotto of the north – all in St. Louis.

YSTD: Where/how do you source the best produce/ingredients?

JJ: Whenever I get the chance, I love to get down to the farmer’s markets and actually meet the growers. These guys will tell you everything about how they grow their produce, but only if you ask. You can really tell some of these guys have a passion for it too. My favorite farm market is next to a great micro-brewery, and one of the guys with the best veggies you’ve ever seen will sit on the back of his truck gnawing on a raw chunk of bok choy. No supermarket can deliver that.

YSTD: What do you think when diners request meat-free versions of menu items? Does it piss you off?

JJ: Not especially, unless they ask me to create a dish that isn’t up to standards in terms of flavor. Nothing worse than being in a busy kitchen and someone orders a dish with no salt, pepper, butter, meat, fish, cream or oil. I have had this request many times over the years. Simple tips for special diners: don’t make up your own dish when ordering, and don’t order something at my restaurant that you’ve had somewhere else. These are things that make us chefs angry. As chefs we know how to make something good. We can deal with health and allergy issues, but be reasonable.

YSTD: What do you think of the vegan diet? How about “raw” food?

JJ: I don’t disapprove of a vegan diet, but personally I love cooking my proteins too much. I can’t think of what I would do if I couldn’t hear the sear of a good scallop or a portion of fresh tuna. Raw food? My job would be pretty useless once people learn how to cut their own veggies…

YSTD: What’s “macro-biotic” food? Give us an example.

JJ: Macro is all about simple grains and local fruits and vegetables. That’s it. This could be a simple quinoa pilaf with local leeks and some lightly dressed greens. Lentils, beans and tofu are the main sources of protein, but they’re used sparingly.

YSTD: Can vegetarians really know good food? How about vegans?

JJ: I think anyone can know good food if they are open to learning about it. Being open to trying new flavors, styles, and cooking techniques will really pave the road for anyone who wants to get into good food. I also recommend gardening for anyone who wants to know their food better. It’s a great way to see what goes into the growth process and you’ll have pride of ownership. Plus, it saves a bunch of money at the store.

YSTD: What’s your most popular meat-free entrée?

JJ: At work, it’s a whole wheat pasta with sautéed veggies (zucchini, squash, broccoli, roasted cauliflower, and tomato) cooked with olive oil and lots of garlic, topped with fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts. At home, no one can beat my vegetable ragout. Whatever I have on hand I turn into a fragrant stew to serve over my famous fluffy mashed potatoes.

YSTD: Which chefs do you like?

JJ: I’m a big Tony Bourdain fan. His books paint a great picture of the industry culture and of the different people that wander in and out of the kitchen. I also like Jacques Pepin. I enjoy how he really tries to impart the value of his years of apprenticeship.

YSTD: Most memorable meal?

JJ: There is an amazing restaurant in Maui that will blow any food lover’s mind. It’s called Mama’s Fish House. It’s a model for using the freshest, most authentic ingredients, like day boat fish. Add to that the most impeccable service I have ever had, plus a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean – nothing’s better.

Justin Johnson is a classically trained chef, specializing in Italian cusine and expert seafood preparation. While working as a Sous Chef at a popular Italian restaurant in St. Louis, Justin also teaches cooking workshops and is developing a private clientele. His mother, wife and best friend continue to nag him to open his own food truck.

Breaking Up With Mat

I finally splurged on a nice mat.  I’ve had a steady practice for about six years and had been using a couple of $12.99 mats bought at TJ Maxx.  As my practice is growing, I figured I should start using a “real” mat.  But which one?  I don’t see myself as a Manduka girl – they’re so tough and expensive.  It’s what all the big cock Handstand guys use.  And rich middle aged women who just started practicing and figure they deserve the best. 

In the end, I went with a super-thick Jade mat.  I like their corporate philosophy (planting trees, natural rubber, no synthetics, made in the US, etc.), and lots of excellent teachers and students use Jade.  How could I go wrong?

I used my new mat for the first time at last night’s class.  At first, it seemed magnificently sticky.  But once I got my sweat on, I started to slip ever so slowly.  Maybe it just has to get a layer of grime on it, I thought charitably.  I want to love this new mat.  It was expensive and investing in a mat like that is a stepping stone on my journey through yoga.  Halfway through class, one of the Handstand guys says to everyone, “Hey, does it smell like chemicals in here?”  Oh God.  I knew right away it was the rubber in my new mat.  “Yeah,” a chatty, baby-voiced girl chimed in.  “It smells like someone has a new mat.  Come on!  Own up to it!”  I could almost see the stench reeking out of my mat like a heat mirage.  I just smiled coyly and decided to focus intently on the exact placement of my shin for Pigeon.  The accusatory chatter died down and after a few Wheels we all took savasana, which I spent trying assauge my guilt for asphyxiating my classmates.  After class, I admited my new mat culpability to my teacher Tom.  He laughed and gave me a fist bump.  I heaved the stinking ten pound mat into my car’s backseat and sped away like I was pulling a bank job.

Now I’m in limbo.  Do I give myself more time to get used to the new mat, or do I return to the safety of my old mat?

Your yoga mat is your ticket to asana.  You trust your mat to hold you in jump throughs; to cushion your head in Headstand.  You pour your blood, sweat and tears into this thing.  You invest in it your challenges and your hopes.  Sometimes, it’s the only witness to your growth.  It’s your partner in crime; your beloved.  Sometimes, you just can’t break up with a mat you trust.

Anyone have any tips on breaking in a Jade yoga mat?  Any good mat recommendations?

Body Movin’

When Your Practice Gets Sexy

Just when I think I know my own practice it surprises me.  This weekend, I noticed an unexpected yoga on my mat.  A sexy yoga.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that yoga can be sexy.  It can be spiritual, athletic, even therapeutic.  It can be funny, serious, light, heavy, depending on your focus, your food, or your stress levels that day.  Your practice is ultimately your supreme teacher when you allow it to reveal its myriad qualities, facets, twists and turns on the journey – it reveals you.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to discover my own sexy practice.  A vigorous yoga practice has a lot in common with sex:  you’re sweaty, breathing heavy, and moving with fluidity in heightened awareness of the sensitivity of your body.  You’re effortlessly combining grace and strength.  Sometimes you don’t know which way is up – you’re weightless, like turning somersaults in water.  Not to mention some poses are positively sexy.

If this sounds too out there for you, consider this.  Regular physical exercise – ANY exercise – encourages a healthy libido.  If you have a daily (or consistent) yoga practice, don’t forget to take advantage of ALL the ways this is helping your body and have yourself a sexy practice.

The right music helps.  Here are my top ten sexy yoga albums.  Pick one and get your body movin.  Then get your body high.

Sexy Yoga Music – Top Ten Albums

Jeff Buckley, Grace

The hottest tragic hero ever.  He drowned in Memphis during a spontaneous night swim, wearing his boots and singing Led Zeppelin.  Later, his lyrics about being pulled down in undertow took on new meaning.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, I Learned the Hard Way

This is actually the album I was listening to when I discovered my own sexy practice.  Get on the Sooooul Train, people.

Cirque du Soleil, Alegria

There’s lots of Cirque albums (soundtracks to their shows), and like almost everything, the older ones are superior.  Alegria is one of the last great ones.  I pop it on during a fast vinyasa flow and imagine I’m high up on the trapeze.

Sade, any album works (I’m into her latest “Soldier of Love”)

The grande dame of sensual music.  She’ll take you there.

Nick Drake, Bryter Layter

Sweet, sad, seventies.  Great Sunday morning music.

Neko Case, The Virginian

If my husband hadn’t met and married me, he’d be going after Neko Case.  Dusky, dulcet tones over alt-country.  The modern Patsy Cline.

Portishead, Dummy

“It Could Be Sweet” is the sexiest song on this entire list.  It was my soundtrack during college.

Badly Drawn Boy, The Hour of the Bewilderbeast

Alternative, electronic, punk.  This album, all about highs and lows, has a dreamy narrative.  Give it time.

Maxwell, Blacksummer Night’s Dream

No surprise here.  (Maybe the surprise is that I went with Maxwell over D’Angelo.)  The horns on this album are sick.  “Pretty Wings” is delicate and soft.

Broken Bells, Broken Bells

Their first album, a collaboration between Danger Mouse and that dude from The Shins, is chill to the max.  Drowsy, a little intergalactic, and decidedly retro.  Take the trip.

Does your practice still surprise you?  Have your own go-to sexy yoga playlist?  Please share.