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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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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.

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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