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_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.

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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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edited beet soupBeets are one of those vegetables that tend to create an immediate ‘yum’ or ‘yuck’ response in most people.  I often chuckle, while roasting beets for friends or family, when I am inevitably told that beets are gross.  “I don’t eat beets!” is something I hear a lot from clients when I recommend that these power-house vegetables be consumed for their health.  It is quite enjoyable for me to see the surprisingly pleased expressions on the faces of those who actually try the beets that I have lovingly prepared for them.

My teen-aged daughter has even evolved to eating entire trays of roasted beets before I can manage to place them atop her salad.  I have to admit, I didn’t like beets as a child.  Perhaps it was due to the odd can-shaped gelatinous compound that jiggled on a plate that repulsed my taste buds.  However, if you can forget  the canned beets of your childhood Thanksgiving dinners you will discover the rich, delicious and wonderfully beneficial qualities of these multi-colored back-yard garden delights!

A few of the reasons to eat beets are that beets cleanse and cool the blood, nourish the liver, and improve the eyesight. Beets are good for anemia.
Beets are high in flavonoids, known as ‘nature’s biological response modifiers’.  Generally, bioflavonoids show anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-cancer activity.

Beets contain high levels of nitrates, which produce nitric oxide in the blood, causing blood vessels to widen and thereby deliver more oxygen to the brain.

In a study published in the American Heart Association’s Hypertension journal, researchers found that drinking just one glass of beet juice significantly lowered blood pressure in patients within just 24 hours. Another study at the William Harvey Research Institute in London found that beet juice lowered blood pressure as effectively as nitrate pills.

There are many ways to enjoy the benefits of beets.  Juicing is one way, but it can be aggravating to some people, especially if they have a tendency towards excess fire in the gut such as acid reflux or gastritis.  Roasting beets make them easier to digest and offers several culinary opportunities as a side dish, soup, or salad topper.   Here is an easy spring soup recipe I like to share:

Spring De-tox Beet Soup

3 -4 large medium beets, scrubbed and trimmed (leave on the roots)

2 celery stalks chopped

1 -2 cloves garlic peeled

1/2 – 1 lemon

1/4 sea salt

1 ts. cumin seeds (dry toasted and ground) I use a mortar and pestle, but coffee grinder works

1/2 ts. mustard seeds dry toasted til they pop

1/4 ts cardamom seed powder

1 ts. ground (or 1 TB fresh chopped) sage

dash cayenne pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

1 TB Sunflower or Safflower Oil

1 cup Vegetable stock or filtered water

The beets can be cooked one of two ways: My favorite is to roast them in a 350 degree oven, covered tightly in a pan with a small amount of water to cover the bottom. Leave the skins on and they will slide off after roasting for about 30 – 40 minutes. Otherwise, you can peel them raw and chop and saute them in the oil with the garlic and celery. I prefer to roast because I love the flavor, but you can choose depending on how much time you have.

In a soup pan heat the Oil and add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the celery and garlic and cook until soft. Either add the beets and cook together, or after cooked let cool while the beets cook in the oven.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet dry toast the cumin for about three minutes. Grind the cumin (you can make more than you need and store it in a small bowl next to the stove for future seasonings).

Once the beets and celery are cooked and combined in the large pot, add the cumin, sage, cardamom and cayenne pepper. Add water or stock, bring to just a boil then turn to low and simmer for 15 minutes uncovered.

You can either leave the soup chunky as is, or once it is cool enough, puree in blender to make a smooth consistency. Add the lemon, parsley or cilantro and salt to taste before serving!

Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds and/or a few sprigs of spring micro-greens!

Remember that our liver has a hard job filtering out the toxins in our food, water and environment.  Give this essential organ a big boost cleansing your body through the nutritional benefits of beets.  Bon Appetit!

Namaste…

http://newsroom.heart.org/news/drinking-cup-of-beetroot-juice-daily-may-help-lower-blood-pressure

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080205123825.htm

Ayurveda, Yoga, Healing, Nutrition, Columbia Gorge, Health, Crohn’s Disease, Food,

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