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As I sit to write this blog, after months of total writer’s block, I can’t help at laugh at the irony of my topic.  I have struggled lately to focus my attention long enough to write anything of merit, so ironically today I choose to write about the power of attention.  Recently I became aware of a disheartening statistic: the average American only has an average 20 second attention span. That means that at this point in my blog, the majority of people reading will already be off doing or searching something else.  Quite disheartening to this former journalism and communications major.

But since I tend to be someone who challenges norms and attempts to change people’s common habits and perspectives, hang with me a little longer.  Let’s dive deeper into this sorry state of Attention Deficit Disorder, a somewhat new (in the past 20 years) diagnosable disorder that has continued to see an upward spike in cases.  As society moves to a faster and more immediate need for gratification, we should step back and explore the immense power of the mind.

photo-9Our mind is created, according to Ayurveda, of three main energetic qualities; sattva, rajas, and tamas.  Sattva, the purest form of creation brings us the qualities of stability, harmony, and virtue of being.  Sattva gives us the experience of being content, and is the underlying principle behind our intelligence. Rajas, the second guna of the mind, gives us the quality of distraction, turbulence and activity.  It it the energy behind our self-motivation and is the principle of energy.  It can create pain and suffering when overly stimulated.  Tamas, the third guna, gives the quality of dullness, darkness and inertia.  This is the heavy and obstructing energy that contributes to decay and death.  Tamas causes illusion and is the principle of materiality. By learning to observe the subtle nuances of our mind, we can then begin to shift from living a life of illusion to one of pure potentiality.  We begin to notice how our thoughts take us through an emotional roller-coaster. However, by practicing the art of mind-control and manipulation, we can create the qualities of self-contentment.

Our mind imitates its environment.  As people become more accustomed to the speed and frequency of life through technology and instant communication, the mind struggles to keep up with this need for speed.  Our mind needs space – visual, inner and cultivated – to give the Self the sense of true freedom.  What is true freedom?  It is experiencing life as the master of your own power of attention.  If you don’t claim your own power, someone else will for you.  We experience this daily with our media.  They decide what is important (well, corporate interests decide, pundits repeat, people listen, and judgement is made.  But that is a rant for a different day.), and our mind clings to those opinions and ideas.  The instant reporting of “world” events almost never have anything truly relevant to our current life situation, yet they have an incredible power to create a deep sense of fear.  Suddenly we find ourself living a rushed life, competing with time, making decisions based on fear, and forgetting how to live peacefully.

So how do we cultivate a steady peace of mind?  First and foremost, by connecting back with nature.  Go outside.  Take a walk without your phone.  Disconnect for one hour a day, or better yet, one day a week.  Choose your friends wisely, and only surround yourself with people of pure heart and intention, whenever possible.  If someone exudes negativity in your life, or literally sucks the energy out of you, quietly send positive energy back to them and walk away.  Turn off the TV.  Don’t engage in negative and visceral gossip or “news”.  Choose your words carefully, and listen more.  Most importantly, never give up your independence of judgement.  Cultivate your own inner voice and as my esteemed teacher, David Frawley says, “never let someone else’s thoughts, judgements or perception into your ind who you wouldn’t let into your home.”

As we teach ourselves, and most importantly our children, how to slow down and cultivate kindness, we may find that our self-fulfilling prophecy of attention deficit disorder is created by our lifestyle, not our genetics.  If we slow down, find gratitude in everything, and give our mind the space it needs to just be, without creating a story with our thoughts, we may find our mind to be like a peaceful and placid lake, where even the largest rock thrown only creates a temporary ripple.  And then maybe, just maybe, we might read to the end of the story!

 Peace and Namaste… ps….looking for a peaceful all-levels yoga, ayurveda, live music beach retreat?  Join me Feb. 27 -March 5 at Maya Tulum Spa and Resort in the beautiful Yucatan Peninsula.  Easy flights to Cancun with a shuttle 90 minutes south to Mayan Paradise.  Check out my events page on my website or email more for more info.  I have a few cabanas still available!!!  Photo below is from a local artist from Tulum….

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I’ll be honest – I don’t really think anyone wants to read yet another article about New Year’s Resolutions.  But I feel I have an obligation to share with you what I learned years ago that has proven time and again to truly work.

Many of us experience plenty of stressful emotions during the holidays for myriad of reasons.  We may feel overwhelmed and stressed from travel, company, or excessive shopping; we are nostalgic or depressed IMG_1461for those we may have lost or miss; we feel exhausted and guilty from excessive imbibing and/or the breaking of our routines.  Therefore, the chance to redeem ourselves as we turn the calendar to another year gives us hope, and stamina, for a healthier and happier future.

But how many past “resolutions” do you remember making?  How many of them did you actually fulfill?  The one resolution in my past that I actually remember, and that I have followed through with to this day, was in 1992 when I resolved to quit drinking soda.  I was never a huge soda drinker, but living in Atlanta, home to Coca Cola, with an abundance of those adorable little chilled glass bottles in the fridge, I am sure I drank my fare share.  I remember my reason for giving up soda was stated something like, “drink more water to improve my health”.  My then-recent diagnoses of Crohn’s disease the previous year had already seriously taken its toll on my health and I was open to whatever I could do to have the upper-hand in my well-being.  I believe the success of that resolution came in the way I thought about it and spoke of it – in both the positive and in the present tense.  Instead of saying, “I am going to quit soda”, I instead stated that “I drink only what nourishes my body and keeps me healthy.”  Does this mean I never fell off the wagon?  Nope.  But it did slowly sink in to my sub-conscious, and in a short time, and to this day, I stopped liking the taste of soda.

Positive intentions create a positive reality.  A summary of Lao Tzu’s teachings stated that “our thoughts become our words; our words become our actions; our actions become our habits; our habits become our character; and our character leads to our destiny.”  Let that sink in for a moment.

So how do we create true positive intentions that ultimately create our destiny?  We use words that are positive, present-tensed, and personal.  Instead of pushing our desires into the future, state them as if they are happening now, even if it sounds silly.  Do so with a positive spin vs negative.  For example, instead of saying “I’m going to stop eating junk food and lose 15 pounds”; rephrase this to say “I will maintain an optimum weight for me by eating only healthy and nourishing foods.” See the difference?   Keep it personal by stating, for example, “I live in peace by surrounding myself with positive and peaceful people within my environment”.  This replaces a vague wish for world peace, or a desire to stop being negative all the time.  These semantical differences have a large impact on our psyche, which eventually sinks deep into our conscious and creates real change.

Over the years I have practiced and lived by these principles.  My life has not unfolded simply or easily, but the dreams and aspirations that I have held close to my heart have come to fruition in more beautiful ways than I could have ever planned or dreamed.  I believe we can all use more personal, positive and present-minded thoughts and intentions in our lives.  You can’t change the past, but you can change the direction of your future.  Why not start creating the life you truly want to live now?

Namaste….

ps…If you would like to create a positive vibe through the use of a beautiful universal mantra for peace, join us for Shanti 108.  This is a community event practiced in the sanctuary of your own space.  A 108 day practice for peace realization. 10 minutes each day consisting of chanting the Om Asatoma Shanti Mantra 8 times and then 8 minutes of stillness as you receive and give the powerful vibratory affect of this mantra in silence.

Click here to hear it chanted by  Deva Premal and Miten:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lh5XjWHJivk)

Om Asatoma Sadgamaya – In realization of our infinite peace and connection, I am led from the unreal to the real.
Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya – From the darkness to the light.
Mrutyoma Amritamgamaya – From the poisoin to the nectar.
Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi – Om Peace Peace Peace

The last line repeats the word peace three times to deepen and expand our experience of peace from heart to heaven and everything in between. Peace in your heart, peace in your relationships and community and realization of the universal peace that never ends.

This is a beautiful experience of present, positive and personal intentions for peace.  Thanks to Stephanie Adams of Flow Yoga, our community in the Gorge and throughout the world is beginning this today, 1/8/15.   You can start anytime!

_MG_3241 I love yoga.  I love to practice yoga, I really love to teach yoga, and I love how yoga has changed my life.  There is no shortage of articles written all over the internet singing the praises of yoga, or, as I lately read in the online publication Elephant Journal, dissing yoga.  The most recent controversial article that I read was titled something like “Why I Left Yoga”, and it was written by a native of India living in the US.  In this dismissive essay the writer takes issue with the Americanization of the ancient practices of Yoga.  She makes some valid points (the $100 LuLu Lemon yoga pants…which I have honestly never worn or owned),  but most of her reasons focused on what she refers to as the trend of white upper-middle-class women practicing yoga as a trendy entitlement rather than a true holistically beneficial practice.   I immediately questioned this classification – what is wrong with people of financial means to feel a deep connection to the ancient and time-tested truths of yoga?  Who really cares if a person is so moved by their practice or experience that they choose to have a sanskrit tattoo imprinted on parts of their body?  It’s not my thing, but I hardly feel the need to judge others’ choices.  What difference does it make if someone has felt such a resonating truth from the lessons of self-realization that they choose to spend their money on a trip to an ashram in India?  We live in a free country, thankfully, and it is one’s own prerogative how they choose to live, believe or spend their money.

I do think that yoga in America can feel hip or trendy, and that many studios have become “a scene” like a new club in Brooklyn might be “a scene”.  But that is what makes America so diverse and interesting.  Just as the sub-continent of India is home to an incredible variety of beliefs, religions, and languages, so too is this country.  Just because people with financial means are flocking to their local studio, or planning their next vacation to a yoga retreat, doesn’t mean that their practice, or their journey, is any less meaningful or justified as the single mom on a limited income wage.  In actuality, many communities have studios, gyms, churches and outreach programs that offer yoga for free, or for donation, to those who want to learn the art of stress-relief and mind-mastery through the practice of yoga.  Do all studios follow the principle of seva, or service?  Of course not.  This isn’t a perfect world and not everyone is in the business for altruistic purposes.  However, from my experience, most yoga instructors (myself included) teach because they want to help people find a better way to manage their stress, improve their health and live their lives more fully.  I don’t know many teachers who teach yoga only for financial gain.

So why do I love yoga?  I love yoga because it is a practice that anybody can experience anywhere.  There are no necessary tools or equipment (a mat and loose fitting clothes are helpful).  You only need your intention and your will-power to enter the world of yoga.  Of course, there is a learning curve that starts with letting go of a piece of your ego so that you can walk into that first class. Wearing designer clothes, having an understanding of Sanskrit, or bowing down to the archetypes of Krishna, Shiva or the energy of Kundalini are absolutely not required.  You just need an open mind, a willing body (ok, maybe only partially willing), and a beginner’s attitude.  Although I have been practicing for over 16 years and teaching for eight, it still require a willingness, desire, and discipline to stay with it.  That doesn’t mean that every single day I practice for hours – I don’t.  It doesn’t mean that I expect others to practice specific dietary restrictions or suddenly take a vow of austerity.  I don’t.  I love yoga because ultimately YOU are your best teacher.  Only YOU have your life experiences that formed your psyche and your body.  Only YOU truly decide what you need and want out of this life.

Practicing yoga requires a letting go of pre-conceived ideas about what poses should look like and how they should feel.  It changes day to day, and even from pose to pose, within one session.  It’s tuning into your inner knowing, that felt-sense of how your body and mind, and most interestingly your breath, responds to challenges.  Do you become restrictive and inflexible when things are difficult or out of reach?  Or can you allow the tightness, the discomfort, or the heaviness to move through you without clinging to reaction and discomfort?  Yoga teaches us to pay attention and to be the witness to how we respond in all situations of life.  It is the ultimate metaphor of learning how to navigate life with grace and ease.

So often we begin the new year with aspirations and resolutions.  We play hard during the holidays, or we languish in sadness and stress, with true plans to start fresh in January.  The time constraint that we place upon ourselves, along with sometimes unrealistic expectations, can cause even more stress or imbalance if we set ourselves up for failure.  Instead of concentrating on the purity of creating a healthier life for ourselves, we make to-do lists full of things we are going to stop and start “doing”.  Sound familiar?

Many of us have healthy habits that we have implemented in our lives.  Maybe these include eating healthier, invoking a more active lifestyle, or reducing the amount of stimulants and/or depressants in our daily routines.  But how many of us truly focus our attention on the personal betterment of our mind and body?   How much time do you spend incorporating mind/body practices such as yoga and meditation into your life?  I often hear people say that they plan on starting yoga, or that they wish they could meditate, but they just can’t find the time.  Many people tell me they try and make good food choices,  and they try to get plenty of exercise, but they are too busy.  Nourishing ourselves has become equated with luxury, not necessity, which is counter-intuitive to our evolutionary history.

We are what we eat, what we digest and what we think.  We do create our reality by the thoughts that loop through our minds, by the stories we tell and re-tell, and by our opinions that have been shaped and formed by our experiences.  True inner-growth can only blossom through stepping outside of our comfort zone of thoughts, opinions and habits and looking at our lives and the world around us with fresh eyes.  Today, much energy and time is spent trying to have a younger looking body, but how much time and energy is spent keeping the mind young and flexible?  What limits have you set for your own self, in terms of physical and mental flexibility?  Can you over-ride your pre-conceptions of what you can or can’t accomplish in this life?  Can your search deep within your own self and find your inner bliss?

There is a constant bombardment of information around us that reminds us of how toxic our environment is today.  That is true, but we also have the tools to reduce and to cleanse that toxicity out of our mind and body.  Our five senses (sound, touch, sight, taste and smell) are our personal windows to the outside world.  What we choose to take in through those windows is mostly up to us.  What we listen to and watch on the news, or in the form of movies, tv shows and video games, creates a reality within our mind that shapes our opinions subconsciously.  What we eat creates the cells that form our organs and feed our brain.  Who we spend our time with shapes our behavior and sometimes our thoughts.  What we put on our skin, our largest organ and our most obvious representative to what is happening on the inside of our bodies, can create either a cancer-rich or a cancer-fighting environment within us.   So I say again, you are what you eat, what you digest, and what you think.  Since we have so much to offer our body and our mind, why not keep it pure, clean and positive?  Your future body depends on the choices you make now.

Instead of resolutions each new year, I focus on a word.  My word for 2014 is Rejuvenation, also known as Soma in the world of Ayurveda.  Imagine the eternal search for the nectar of life, the fountain of youth, the Holy Grail; all of these are symbols of the universal human search for immortality and youthfulness.  Soma is, according to David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) in his newest book Soma in Yoga and Ayurveda, “the symbol of a deeper knowledge and awareness and of the spiritual quest overall….[it] also means ‘bliss’, and reflects our lifelong seeking for happiness, which is intimately related to our seeking of immortality as the hightest form of happiness.”

January 31 was the beginning of the Chinese New Year.  It is the Year of the Yang Wood Horse and symbolizes new beginnings, optimism and purposeful action. How exciting is that!  Gone are the unsettling years of darkness, negativity and degeneration.  We are now in a cycle of recovery and inspiration, so create some space in your life and in your mind, sit in stillness and silence whenever you can, and unlock the door deep within yourself to follow your intuitive path to bliss!

namaste…

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Every year it seems I have such good intentions for the holidays.  My first intention always involves creating a delicious feast for friends and family to enjoy while we share precious time together.  Then I move into the more crafty and creative realm with my ideas for home-made gifts and decor.  My inner dialogue runs commentary of all the things I am thankful for, and I plan to share with my guests an inspirational tribute to all those gathered of how much they mean to me, and how blessed and thankful I am for having so much abundance in my life.

But then the week of Thanksgiving presents itself, in the midst of the everyday tasks and commitments in real life, and suddenly I find myself feeling more stressed and anxious than peaceful and grateful.  In short, life happens.  Suddenly, it seems the whirlwind of the kickoff to Christmas is over, our family and friends have all returned back to their homes, the fridge needs refilling, and the laundry is piled up high again.  Kids go back to school, work schedules return to normal, and the days continue to get shorter and shorter.  My inner dialogue of gratitude, along with some well-earned exhaustion, returns to the front of my awareness.

Gratitude is such a powerful tool for healing.  The mind/body connection can either be detrimental to our health, or it can be a positive catalyst for change.  If we get stuck in negative thought patterns, revisiting the same old sad stories over and over, our body aligns with this cynical diatribe and creates imbalance, inflammation and dis-ease.  When we take time to pause, breath, and truly review our list of abundance in our lives, our body aligns with inner harmony, balance, and clarity.  Things brings us back to a state of equilibrium wherein our body and mind is in balance with our true nature, our unique spirit.

So what are you thankful for right now?  I bet you if you started a written list and you truly reflected on all that you have to be grateful for at this moment, you would spend the rest of the day writing.  First of course are our physical needs such as food, water, shelter.  Then we  move to the emotional needs such as love, friendship, and independence.  In this day and age most people can add those extra conveniences such as hot water, heat and air-conditioning, automobiles, cell phones, computers…. the list goes on and on.  Once we start this list it is easy to forget the things that just don’t seem to be working out right now.  Focus on the positive, set your intentions high, verbalize what you are grateful for, and experience profound peace in you heart and in your life.

IMG_0087   As a token of gratitude to the simple and nutritious delights in life, I’ve included a recipe that I prepared yesterday to lighten our family’s sense of heaviness.  Since many people likely experienced copious amounts of food and drink this past week,  switching to fresh juices and lighter meals might seem appropriate.  Here is a recipe for home-made granola with nuts, seeds and dried fruit.  I have adapted it from a wonderful cookbook called Green Market Baking Book by  Laura C. Martin.  It is a fantastic collection of recipes that highlights natural sweeteners other than sugar in baked goods.  This recipe can be altered to include whatever you may have on hand in your pantry.  It makes for a delicious snack with yogurt or milk, or just on its own for a quick energy bite while enjoying the great outdoors.

Coconut Flax Granola

4 1/2 cups rolled oats (not quick). For Gluten free use Certified GF Oats

1 cup Hemp seeds (usually in health food store and now at Costco)

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup ground flaxseed

1/2 cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

1/2 cup raw almonds chopped or whole (or other nuts)

1 ts salt

1 1/2 ts cinnamon

1 ts ground ginger

1 ts anise seed (optional)

1/3 plus 1 TB of organic unrefined Coconut oil

1/4 cup maple syrup plus 1/4 cup raw honey (or 1/2 cup either if only using one sweetener)

1 1/2 ts vanilla extract

1/2cup boiling water

1/2 cup or more dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, ginger, etc)

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1. Preheat oven to 300 F. In a large mixing bowl combine the oats, hemp seeds, coconut, flax, pumpkin seeds, nuts, cinnamon and salt.

2.  In small bowl combine the coconut oil, honey/syrup, vanilla, and water.  Whisk until the ingredients are well blended.

3.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry mixture and combine until all ingredients are thoroughly blended and coated.  Spread the mixture on one large (or more if small) rimmed baking sheet(s) and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so until the mixture is golden.

Store at room temperature in airtight container. 

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Ayurveda teaches that our bodies are a representation of the environment around us.  What we ingest through our five senses, and how we filter that information,  creates our thoughts, perceptions and realities that become the substance of our inner and outer lives.  We choose to either energize or deplete ourselves through our interpretations of the world around us.  Our personal and collective reality is based on the choices we make based on those perceptions.   So I ask you this, what would your ideal scenario of the world look like?  What can you do to help co-create that outer world so that you experience limitless peace, balance and vitality in your life?

 I am in love with nature.  I am in awe of the giant trees, majestic snow-capped mountains, crisp glacial rivers, wide-winged birds, fields of flowers, and most importantly, rich nutrient-dense soil.  Our lives depend on the healthy existence of nature and its symbiotic relationship with our life-giving sun, which not only keeps our earth at just the right temperature for life, but gives our food the actual energy it needs to nourish and sustain all living creatures.  Treating the earth and ourselves with respect and adoration is essential.

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(note: the following is a recent letter I wrote to the editor in our local newspapers)

As I was sitting in my yard in White Salmon this past weekend enjoying the warm sun and the crisp fall air, my attention was diverted to the sound of the train as it blasted it’s horn through Bingen. Although this is a common occurrence for residents of the gorge, the future effects of the increased train traffic are impossible to ignore.

We live in paradise here in the Columbia River Gorge. Our precious natural resources of clean air, water and soil are incredible gifts only dreamed of by millions of people throughout the world. The citizens of this area, along with those along the Columbia River east to Wyoming will receive no benefit from increased train traffic filled with open cars of coal traversing our lands day after day after day.

I spent a majority of my life living in Kentucky and the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and Georgia. I have seen the ashy, drab grey that covers bridges, buildings and homes.

I have heard the “romantic” horn of the train all day and night to the point in which silence becomes a distant memory. And I have smelled the acrid dust-filled air that fills our lungs with every breath.

My husband and I used to dream of living in a place with clean air and water. Years ago when our children were born in Louisville, Ky., our pediatrician encouraged us to move west for clean air due to our young son’s severe asthma and environmental allergies.

Every day we would read news stories about the negative impact of coal dust on the communities throughout Kentucky: asthma and serious allergies at all-time high levels due to the the air-borne dust from the coal trains, the waste from the burning of the coal, and finally the acid rain filled with minutecarcinogenic particles that fall from the clouds.

Now more than ever our community needs to join together and speak up, act out and stop the impending environmental disaster that will occur if we allow coal to be dug from our precious land in Wyoming and transported to China through this beautiful paradise we call home.

Once this project gets under way, it will be next to impossible to stop the constant noise, air and water pollution that will forever stain our land a bleak, drab grey.

Namaste….

Change is never easy.  We are conditioned in our habits, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.   We find solace in the regularity of our lives.  When something comes along to disrupt this regularity, we may experience obvious, or subtle,  forms of stress.  Travel, illness, house-guests, weather, and countless other examples can take us out of our “normal” sense of being.  But change is a normal and natural cycle of life.  The days change to night, the seasons change from summer to fall, our bodies change as they age.  How we accept these changes, or invite them into our lives, can have profound effects on our health and vitality.

Ayurveda, which means “wisdom of life”, is an ancient system of health and healing that provides us with information to understand our connection to the natural world.  All too often in our busy technology-driven world we forget that we all are a part of nature, made of the same elements that comprise mountains, oceans, trees, and stars.  The same forces of energy that govern our lives also govern all living systems .  When we are living harmoniously within the laws of nature, we feel energized, healthy and rejuvenated.  When we fall out of balance with nature, we feel depleted, ungrounded, and stressed.

As summer transitions to the cooler temperatures of autumn, our body simultaneously undergoes similar changes.  The cooler temperatures can contribute to feelings of fatigue and deficiency due to our blood flow becoming more constricted to preserve our inner core of heat.  We may experience dry skin, constipation, and a “run-down” feeling with the weather change and the typical busy October schedules.  Our ne

rvous system needs nourishing, grounding and warming foods to counter the cool, dry and mobile tendencies around us.

Have you noticed that butternut squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, apples, and pears seem to be overflowing at the market?  These foods, along with delicious warm spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg nourish our bodies and minds while increasing circulation and improving our digestion.  We start craving hearty soups, warm chai, and delicious apple crisps because these are the foods Mother Nature intended to keep us in rhythm with the cycles of energy that surround us.

So if you are feeling tired, worn out, frazzled, chilled to the bone (even though it hasn’t dropped below 50 degrees yet), consider applying warm, organic sesame oil to your entire body before your bath or shower, prepare yourself a delicious mug of spiced chai (recipe to follow), and curl up with a great book (might I suggest Perfect Health by Dr. Deepak Chopra) to learn how you can take control of your body, mind and soul through simple daily routines, healthy food, and a desire to live well.

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Warm Spiced Chai

This recipe can be altered to be caffeine-free using loose herbal tea or with green tea.

16 oz. cold filtered water

1 – 2 inchs of fresh ginger sliced into coins or chopped

1 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

1 ts. black or pink peppercorns

10 cardamom pods (or 1 ts. cardamom seeds)

3 – 5 whole cloves

1 ts. fennel seeds

1 TB orange peel (optional)

1 vanilla bean pod (optional)

3 ts. loose-leaf organic black, green or herbal tea (or 3-4 tea bags)

Sweetener – raw sugar, maple sugar, honey or jaggery

16 oz. organic milk (preferably raw) OR Almond milk, Hemp milk, etc..

INSTRUCTIONS:

Place water and spices (through vanilla) in wide-bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and add the tea.  Steep for 5 – 8 minutes then strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl.  Add sweetener (if using honey, wait until the mixture has cooled to just above room temperature).  At this point,  I like to put the tea in mason jars if I am storing for later use.  If you are making this to drink now,  you can add the tea mixture back to the saucepan and add milk in a 1:1 ratio.  Heat until warm and enjoy!  Serves 4

And speaking of changes…. I’ve had my own experience with change lately.  Just this week my new business partner, Dave Martin and I opened Trinity Natural Medicine in Hood River, Oregon.  Our mission is to serve the community through education, counseling, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and lots of love and support.  Visit us at http://www.trinitynaturalmedicine.org  and/or http://www.joannematsonyoga.com.

Summer is beginning to wane as the sun sets at an earlier time and the extreme heat of the afternoon seems to lessen in severity.  School supply lists arrive by mail, kids begin complaining about the upcoming school year, while adults lament the end of summer.   But me, I love this time of year for the palpable changes in the air and the “permission” to slow down as the days come to a gentle, glowing close.

Gratitude gives peace to the soul.  Just as stopping to focus on one’s breath can center and ground even the most scattered mind, adding a heightened level of thankfulness to that breath gives us a deeper sense of calm.  The most challenging events in our life, especially the most disappointing ones, give us an opportunity to truly connect with a sense of appreciation for what life has given, or thrown, at us.

Recently I was trudging up the small mountain near our home with my dog Zen.  I caught myself deeply immersed in my thoughts, possibly to the extent of talking to myself, when I realized how much I was not “in the moment” of our walk.  The hot sun had parched my throat to the point of discomfort.  I slowed down my upward march, connected back with my breath, and relaxed my gaze.  Suddenly my senses were awakened to a delicious fragrance – blackberries!  I laughed out loud at the gift of nature before me and dove into the thorns to fill myself with these sweet delectable berries.  My thirst abated, my energy replenished,  and my attitude greatly improved.  Talk about gratitude!!!

Of course I return to the blackberry patches daily now that they are at the peak of flavor.  This amazing berry is full of anti-oxidants which help to strengthen our immune system.  In Ayurvedic teachings,  blackberries are classified as sweet, mildly sour, and cooling in energy.  Blackberries are thirst quenching and a beneficial aid in the building of blood in our body.  They are full of macro-nutrients which helps support a balanced diet.  They also have a good amount of fiber, carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fats.  Add to this the abundance of Vitamins A and C, along with calcium and potassium, and you have one of Mother Nature’s finest heart healthy sweet treats.

Blackberries can be added to fruit smoothies or sorbets, made into a healthy and delicious fruit crisp, or eaten straight up like candy.  Tonight I will be co-teaching a Holistic Cooking Class here in White Salmon and we will be highlighting these beauties in a quinoa salad with thinly sliced fennel, cucumbers, cashews and goat cheese tossed with a light citrus lemon dressing.  Bon Appetit!

Summer is definitely upon us here in the Pacific NW.  Temperatures have hovered in the high 90’s for the past week; quite a shift from the cooler days we experienced through most of June.  Just as quickly as the weather can change around us, so can the aggravating factors within our body change to imitate the external factors that surround us.

Ayurveda, a 5,000 year-old science that honors the symbiotic relationships between our body, mind and soul to that of the elements of nature, teaches us that summer is a season of excess fire (pitta).  Just as the heat outside can cause our tomato and basil plants to wilt if not watered and cared for properly, so too can we find ourselves spent from the excess heat of the long, hot days of summer.

The summer heat can cause subtle shifts in our internal systems:  our liver produces and excess of bile, whose heat and acidity can cause both internal (digestive) and external (skin) irritation.  As the heat intensifies internally, we may find ourselves feeling ill-tempered, cranky, or as they say in Kentucky, down-right ornery!  Even some of the words that can be used to describe these emotions emote a feeling of heat and acidity:  acrid, acrimonious, sour.

In Ayurveda and Yoga, we try and find ways to incorporate opposite qualities to our life so that we may balance out the excess in our body and mind.  If we are experiencing an excess of heat from the outside temperatures, for example, it makes sense to introduce as many cooling activities, foods and drinks as possible so that the heat doesn’t cause excessive damage or discomfort.

Mother Nature, in all her glory, has this figured out quite well!  The abundance of cooling fruits, herbs and vegetables this time of year are perfectly matched to balance the heat of our life giving Sun.  Melons. strawberries, cherries, peaches, limes…mint, tarragon, dill, parsley….cucumbers, asparagus, crisp lettuce, snap peas… Oh my!  Just thinking of these delicious naturally cooling and fortifying foods sends cooling vibrations through my body!

Salads are a wonderful way to eat healthy without using the oven or stove.  Adding some raw (or I prefer lightly toasted in a small skillet) pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds (take a minute and learn about hemp and why we need to legalize it in this country http://www.hemphistoryweek.com/takeaction.php), sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and/or pecans adds vegan protein and healthy omega oils along with a nice crunch to your salad.  Dressings can be as easy as fresh herbs, a little lemon or lime, a nice fruity olive, hemp, almond (or blend of all three) oil, and a dash of honey or maple syrup and sea salt.  Shake in a glass mason jar for ease of storage and drizzle over your fresh bounty of greens, veggies, and fruits.

If you are looking for a healthy and cooling summer refresher, here is one of my favorites.  Please keep in mind that these recipes can be used as a guide; use what you have on hand and don’t worry so much about exact measurements.  Be creative!!!

Hibiscus and Lavender Tea

32 ounces of freshly boiled water

2 TB or more dried Hibiscus flowers or powder*

6 – 8 stems of dried or fresh Lavender flowers

4 – 6 sprigs of fresh Mint

1/2 a lime

(optional – 2 TB loose leaf black or green tea)

Raw sugar/sucanat/maple syrup to taste (about 1 1/2 TB)

Add the Hibiscus, Lavender, Mint (and tea if using) to boiling water in a medium saucepan. Keep at a slow boil (just above simmer) for about 10 minutes.  Add sweetener and let cool with the flowers and mint still in the pan.  Once cool strain into large mason jar or pitcher and add juice of 1/2 lime.  Cool in fridge (or add some ice for quick cool).  If you have any leftover Mint, add to the jar for some extra cooing color and interest.  ENJOY!!!

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It’s funny how busy we all are these days.  How often do we run into a friend and find ourselves repeating the same mantra, “its been forever since I’ve seen you!  We should get together…. it’s just been so busy!”  Sound familiar?

But then someone you love passes away.  Suddenly, nothing is more important than dropping everything and migrating to the place of mourning, to the center of the ceremony, to the final good-bye.  Everything in life is put into perspective at the time of a loved one’s death.  Meetings, classes, appointments, laundry, yoga…it all falls away when the impact of loss finds us and takes a strong hold of our heart.

I found this out again first-hand last week as my cherished Nana passed from this life to her next.  Although we all knew her time was near, and she had suffered for so long that this was a blessing, the impact of the words “Nana died this morning” were profound.  I booked my ticket to travel over 2000 miles home to my parents, put my house in order, and ensured that my kids were safe and secure.  Thankful for my ability to practice meditation and silent mantra almost anywhere, I flew cross-country with a peaceful yet grieving heart.  Part of me was actually excited to see friends and relatives that I see so rarely because of how “busy” life can be.  I pictured the reunion – the hugs, and tears, the telling and re-telling of Nana stories – and I found myself a bit excited; I actually felt …..happy.

And happy it was, at times, laden with heart-break, loss and sorrow.  Three generations came together to celebrate Virginia Lee Gassert as a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, and friend.  Small glimpses into her life-history were shared so that our younger generation can understand their roots and pass on her wisdom and “Nana ‘isms”.  I found myself stepping back at times and recounting how the love and union between she and my grand-father, her beloved Joe, helped to create sixteen individual and sacred lives.  A black and white picture of my grandparents, early in their courtship, shows them gazing into one another’s eyes, my Papa’s right arm around Nana’s shoulders, as in so many future photos to come.  The spark in their eyes is like the spark of life, as yet to manifest, but full of potential.  They were too young to understand that the power of their love would create and inspire so much love, honor, and individuality among their off-spring.

So the union of their love created life.  The preceding death of my grand-father had also brought all of the family together to celebrate his life.  The death now of our grandmother, mother, and friend again brought all of us together to celebrate her life.  So death awakens within us the need, the desire, the absolute clear intention that we all must pause, take a deep breath, and awaken within ourselves, the celebration of life.

Rest in Peace my dear Nana.  You will never be forgotten.

Balance of Light

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