Friday, August 30, 2013

The (Sort of) Secrets to a Complete Asana Practice


It's been quite a week for teaching: three classes Tuesday, and one each Thursday and Friday!  If you didn't make it out to one, no worries!  There's lots more where those came from.  Follow me on facebook and twitter to get word as soon as I do when I'm subbing and where.

My Friday classes at Bella Vita are my Total Request Yoga classes: I have a facebook event page up that I encourage people to RSVP to, and use to tell me their requests, not just for yoga poses or body part focuses, but mudras, philosophies, mantras, and tracks for the playlist.  Of course, the truth is that all my vinyasa classes are open for requests, but getting the requests in advance gives me time to polish up on that area if I don't already have plenty of tricks up my sleeve to address it.

I can get away with taking requests two minutes before lass starts because A.) I don't come in with a sequence ready to rock; I'm generally as surprised by where the class ends up as my students are, and B.) Yoga is all about balance.  If I follow the general format of different types of poses you're supposed to squeeze into every class, it's basically impossible for me to not satisfy any request, at least in some small way.

I don't think anyone ever consciously chooses to keep this information sort of close to the vest, but doing so does sort of increase the yoga teacher mystique.  I think that since a big part of what yoga teachers are trying to do is make you comfortable enough with the classroom practice to start your own at-home, all-by-yourself practice, which, yes, is a really hard, and sometimes anxiety-provoking thing to do, it's information we should maybe be consciously sharing.  With that introduction, here it is: the master class sequence I build on, tweak, and sometimes chew up and spit out.  You have no idea how interesting it was for me to articulate it, since i built it over time and never consciously thought it out.  Hopefully I won't be like the centipede who, when asked how he walked with all those feet, suddenly couldn't figure it out either and was stuck!:

Opening class: We sit, we settle...I usually gab for a bit about some philosophical idea, then there is usually a chant: just one Om, or something much longer and more complex, just depends.  If you're opening your own home practice, keep it simple.  Just sit for a minute to disengage yourself from your daily routine and arrive on your mat.  Chant Om if you like to.

Spinal warmup: This rarely varies: cat/cow is such a staple, and it's also easy to do safely and effectively.  I like to do hip circles while seated, or seated side bends or twists sometimes, too.

Sun Salutations: For me this is mandatory because of the lineage I came through in my early teacher days.  For other teachers it's just a time suck.  It's a great way to move and warm up the whole body, and get you focused on those simple shapes we're going to repeat over and over: standing with stacked bones, lunges, and of course, the vinyasa itself.

Vinyasa breakdown: This happens for me over the course of a couple chaturangas, and it's not necessary if you're practicing yourself at home, because you should be able to do this safely alone before you try that.  I workshop the three basic vinyasa viarities: knees-chest-chin to baby cobra, lowering all the way to the floor for either baby cobra or upward dog, chaturanga to upward facing dog.  I tend to talk till I'm blue in the face about not letting your hips touch down before your chest does, but since the endgame is to find this shape where the hips are way higher than the shoulders, it's really hard to get that to sink in.

Warrior Sequences: Again, this is something I do because of my lineage.  It's not really required.  The lunging standing poses do fire up those big muscles in your body, and ask your joints to bear weight in a way that does encourage an increase in bone density.

From here on out, these things don't necessarily fit into a neat and tidy order.  I might mix them into Sun Salutations, in between Warrior Sequences, or do a few all together after Warriors.

Twisting: from those tough standing twists while in chair pose or while in a hgigh lunge, to that pre-Savasana staple, the reclining twist, you can squeeze these in anywhere, and you always always should, because giving your organs a squeeze, and encouraging your spine to find its full range of motion, is super-good for your body.

Balancing: One way that doctors measure how quickly you're aging is by looking at your ability to balance.  It's a big one that has to do with how quick you can think, how quick you can react, and how toned your standing and walking muscles are.  Tree Pose, Dancer's Pose, Warrior III, Half Moon...there are lots of choices ranging from appropriate for a newb to big time challenges.  Ever try Bird of Paradise?

Stretching: A lot of yoga poses stretch one part of the body while working another, but since flexibility is the single best indicator of longevity, I like to devote at least a little bit of time to opening up the big muscle groups in the body: hamstrings are a popular choice, but shoulders generally really need it, too.  And speaking of flexibility...

Hip openers: Some people have naturally open hips, but most of us don't.  Since it's common to store tension in the hips, getting in some good hip openers is a good way to find that deep, satisfying emotional release that a lot of people keep coming back to yoga for.  A pigeon pose to transition from active shapes to savasana is popular for a reason, but since it's good to stretch the hips in lots of different ways, don't let that be the only one you ever do.

Back Bending: You know what they say: You're only as old as your spine!  You can sneak a backbend into pigeon, offer one during each sun salutation (before diving forward), or take a couple camels.  There are lots of other options, too: bridge, wheel, bow pose...

Forward bending: Here's your chance to open your hamstrings, too.  I like to offer a few choices: star pose, bound angle pose, and a simple forward fold are all satisfying.

Core work: Everything comes from your center!  I try to emphasize working from the core throughout the whole class, but especially if your stomach isn't that strong, it's good to take a couple minutes for boat pose, or my signature (get a) hardcore eagle wrap crunches.

Inversion: Getting your hips over your head for a few minutes gives your body a break from business as usual, and can encourage your brain to run a system check, finding old injuries or infections that still need to be taken care of. Bridge pose is great for a gentle choice, and of course, shoulder stand and headstand are the classics.  Make sure you learn those two from an experienced instructor before trying them on your own!  Legs up the wall is perfect if you need to rest and restore.

You can start to see how different aspects of a yoga class lend themselves to the end, when we're winding down, and other lend themselves to the high energy time in the middle of class.  Once you've fit it all in, it's time to let it all go and take the mmost essential, non-skipable pose of them all:

Savasana!  Minimum five minutes, ten is much better, please!

Take your time coming back, sitting up, and closing your practice, maybe with another Om.  Namaste!

Think you can remember all that, keep mixing it up with different variations, and fit it all into an hour?  And make sure everyone has proper alignment and is working safely? Well guys, that's why they pay me do this stuff. ;-)

Live Omily,
~em

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Eating Omily: A Dinner Packed with Raw Nutrients...and a Fishy Gaze

 So, last week I told you about the classy dinner we were going to have, and assured you that this week I'd show you how I did it.  Don't remember what was on the menu?  It was raw red bell pepper and beat soup, and whole baked porgy with heirloom tomato, nectarine, and tomatillo salsa.

The first step is to peel and roughly chop a couple beets.  I used two.
Of course, you have to seed and roughly chop your red bell pepper, too.  I used one big one.
Pope your veggies in the blender, add a splash of water, and fire it up.
 It'll look like this.  Pretty, right?  I didn't add salt to mine, but you certainly can if you think it'll wake up the flavors.
 Next, I started chopping the big heirloom tomato for my salsa.  Since I was using a nectarine, and not a fuzzy peach, I didn't have to fuss with peeling it, which saved me some trouble.  I just chopped the nectarine, tomatilla, and tomato and tossed them in a bowl with lemon juice and salt.
 I also stirred in a couple spoonfuls of this secret ingredient.  I loved how it enhanced the sweetness of the salsa, while packing a respectable sizzle to dance a tango of tastiness with the nectarine.
 And then of course, it was time to work with the fish.  I pulled the porgies out of the bag, and gave them a once-over.  They had already been scaled, and gutted, which made my job easy.  Just because it made them look cool, I gentle raised their dorsal fins, and spread out their tales, then I spread them with coconut oil, thinking that slightly tropical flavor would go nicely with the sweet-spicy salsa, then sprinkled them liberally in salt, and Old Bay seasoning (which I am obsessed with.  Get it, and put it on popcorn.  Immediately.)
 They just had to be put on a baking sheet, and slid into a pre-heated 350 degree (or so) oven.  The fish monger told me to pull them within ten minutes, maybe eight, but after seven, their eyes were still perfectly clear, a dead give away that the fish is still raw, and they ended up taking nearly twenty minutes.  I think that's because of my crappy oven, though.  I would definitely check them in seven or eight minutes to be safe.  Another easy way to tell the fish is raw is if you try to insert your fork to see if the skin flakes, and the skin is too tough for the fork to tear easily.  Don't bother forcing your way though it: you're going to find raw fish.  If the eyes are opaque, and the skin easily tears, then you're looking for skin that easily flakes apart, and also looks opaque.  You don't want overcooked, dry fish, but fish can carry nasty parasites, so thorough cooking is important.
 Here's an example of an underdone fish: the flesh looks really wet, and almost gooey, not clean and flakey, even though the eye is opaque, and the skin didn't give me too much trouble at this point.

When your fish are done, you can start plating everything.  I had these sweet clear glass dessert bowls that I used to serve our soup in.  I dolloped in some plain whole milk yogurt in a little bit of a pattern, for both creaminess and presentation.
 I served the salsa in the yellow bowl I mixed it in with a big spoon for serving, and put each fish onto its own smallish plate.  It's a shame I didn't have a medium plate, since the tails were hanging off the side a bit!
 Since these were whole fish, we had to carefully eat around the bones, which made pouring the salsa over the fish not such a good idea.  I added organic blue corn tortilla chips to our menu at the last minute, which rounded out things nicely.

We pulled the fins out, and, avoiding the head, carefully flaked the meat off the fish.  It was delicious, and of course, the Old Bay was the perfect seasoning.  Porgies are oily fish, which means they've got lots of omega three goodness for you, and at $3.99 a pound at the Farmers' Market, you really can't go wrong!
Of course, if you take those fish carcasses and turn them into tasty, nutritious fish broth via a gentle simmer with some veggies and herbs, you get major bonus points!  Think you'll try this menu?  It's perfect for enjoying the bright flavors of Summer without breaking a sweat!  Let me know how it goes!

Nom nom nom...

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Omily Tarot: Your Reading Schedule

 If you're learning to read the tarot yourself, odds are good you read for yourself pretty frequently in the process of testing out spreads, decks, questions, and ideas.  Hopefully you're absorbing all the stuff you're learning about yourself in the process and are starting recognize patterns of behavior, and thought processes in your life, and you're growing as a person because of it.

If you aren't reading the cards for yourself...or even if you are, really...how often should you get a professional reading?

Well, there's definitely such a thing as too often.  If events and cycles in your life haven't had time to progress, the tarot isn't going to have anything new to tell you.  And trust me, no matter how often you ask, the tarot is never going to sacrifice the truth to tell you what you want to hear.   Rewording the question, and asking again in a week is not going to help.

BUT, there kind of is such a thing as not often enough, too.  Sort of.

You see, the tarot can only tell you so much in a single spread, and your reader is only going to be able to go through so many spreads in a single reading, so the tarot has to prioritize to make sure you get the info you need now.  And that might mean blatantly ignoring your question about taking the job at the new company that just opened in favor of telling you that it's long past time for you to reconcile with your sibling and heal that relationship, or even vice versa.

You can come into your first tarot reading in years with a specific question...but know that you might not get it answered, and that's not because your reader isn't reading the cards right.  If you want specific answers about specific issues, you'll likely need to plan on having a couple readings in a row done, so you can work through the stuff you've been missing, and get to the thing that you think is important. 

And don't waste everybody's time by tuning out the first few readings, just waiting for the cards to start talking about something you care about.  Until you start integrating the info the cards are giving you, they very well may not have much else to say. Of course, they'll give up sooner or later, but a tarot deck that's being ignored is going to develop a bad case of tarot snark at the least, and meaningless gobbledigook at the worst.

In order to avoid that tarot info traffic jam, I recommend getting readings about every three months.  Giving it enough time for the seasons to change generally ensures you won't be going over stale old ground, but keeps it recent enough that you're still fairly up to date on your issues, and the issue that you think is important is what the tarot is going to think is most relevant, too.  Of course, if something big happens just a few weeks after your last tarot reading, and you're left completely reeling, it's totally legitimate to book another reading, as long as that isn't the only thing you're doing to cope, learn, and move forward.  Don't let the tarot become a crutch. 

And in fact, before you book that next reading, take a look at the pictures/journals that resulted from your last reading.  (Oh, are you not taking pictures of the spreads that come up at your readings, and journaling on them later?  Clearly I'll be writing about that next...)  If nothing in that past reading seemed to point to this event, you should e-mail or call your tarot reader, and ask her or him if the reading indicated anything like this.  Your tarot reader should also have photos/journal entries regarding your reading, but you can always e-mail him or her yours if not.

Of course, it's entirely possible that your last tarot reading didn't indicate anything like this.  The future is constantly changing, and how far the tarot is looking ahead is a direct function of how crucial the present situation is, and how big of an impact your present choices are likely to have on your future.  If that's the case, then I'd say, yes: book anther reading.  Figure out what the context is for this situation, and figure out how to make the most of it.

Other times I strongly recommend getting a reading are around New Year's.  Choosing your card for the year is a great way to have a concise road map of the challenges you'll face, and the lessons you should be learning in the year ahead.  I really find it indispensable.  So much so, in fact, that if you are signed up for my newsletter (which you can do by clicking here), you'll receive a discount on your New Year's reading.  So, you know, get on that.

Birthdays, as sort of a personal New Year's, are also a great time to get a reading done, and as such, tarot readings make awesome birthday gifts, and along those same lines, anniversary gifts for couples, looking to get a clear view of their relationship, and the lessons they should be learning and applying through their interactions with each other.

So, think about scheduling four tarot readings a year: one per season.  If possible, have two of those readings coincide with the New Year, and your Birthday.  If you're in a long term relationship, you can also think about scheduling one around your anniversary, if your partner is receptive to the idea.  You can always throw in a couple extra for the year if circumstances warrant it, but if you're living a fairly uneventful life, four to six should really do you.

And if your tarot reader happens to be weird about you whipping out your cell phone for a picture of a spread before its cleared, or e-mailing him or her weeks or months after a reading to ask if a recent event or situation makes sense in the context of your last reading, you might want to consider switching to a reader more willing to help you make the most of your tarot.  Like, you know, me...and I hope someday, yourself! :-D

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Four Stages of Learning, Or, The Most Obnoxious Thing to Type Repeatedly Ever

I'm having lots of fun designing my first ever newsletter, and spending time at the front of the room at Om Factory showing people the ropes...well, the silks actually.  I feel like I'm embarking on a whole new frontier.  Teaching aerial yoga is definitely putting me back in my beginner frame of mind, complete with nervousness, the inability to keep track of lights and music as well as students, and over-self-criticalness.

I'm getting positive feedback from my students though, and in that, I've learned something important: it takes a lot longer to feel like a great yoga teacher than to be one.   Looking back at my early days teaching vinyasa, I'm realizing this is a lesson I already should have learned, but somehow it went right over my head.  I spent months buzzing around the room trying to keep everything in control, trying to understand what the hell 'holding the space' for my students even meant, and then, after class, feeling exhausted and inadequate, students would thank me, and tell me what an amazing class I had just taught.  This disconnect confused the hell out of me.  I just never got it.

It comes down to the four stages of learning:

Unconscious incompetence
Conscious incompetence
Conscious competence
Unconscious competence.

When you learn a new skill, or try to advance to a higher level at a skill, the first thing you have to learn is that you don't currently have that skill.  You go from thinking you're pretty ok, to realizing you're awful!  It's not that you're getting worse as you begin to practice, is that you're beginning to understand what being skilled really means, and it's becoming apparent to you that you don't yet measure up.  That's going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence.  It's not a fun place to be, but it's a necessary stage of growth.

Once you realize that you're actually pretty bad at what your'e trying to do, hopefully you'll be motivated to work that much harder at getting better.  You'll be super cognizant of your progress, noticing every right move, and every mistake.  Through your hard work and hyper vigilance, you'll seriously improve, until you can handle this new skill pretty well.  That's the transition between conscious incompetence, and conscious competence.  Because of your hyper awareness, and the human tendency to focus on the negative, and be too hard on ourselves, you'll likely think you're in the conscious incompetence end of the spectrum for much longer than you actually are.  That's where I'm pretty sure I am.

With continued practice, you start to trust yourself more. The skills you're practicing start to feel more natural and automatic. Eventually, your guard comes down. You don't need to be hyper vigilant or critical of yourself to do a good job, or even to keep improving. That's the transition between conscious competence and unconscious competence. That's where I'm at with vinyasa. I know I can walk into a room full of yoga students, or with just one or two, and without any pre-thought out lesson plan, work with the bodies in front of me to craft a beautiful, fun, challenging class. Of course, I've been teaching yoga for nearly four years, so getting to this point did not happen over night, and I know that over the years I'll continue to get better and better.

If you're getting ready to do a yoga teacher training, or gain any kind of new skill really, look for these stages of learning, and when you notice them, remind yourself that they're normal, and inevitable, and that everyone goes through them.

Of course, writing fun content is something I'm definitely at the unconscious competence stage with, so writing my newsletter has just been super fun.  There's still time to sign up, and receive the  first one ever!  Just scroll to the top of the page, and look for the link on the right that says, "Get Omily E-mails!".  Click it, fill out the sign-up sheet, and you're in!

I'm really excited about being in touch with my readers/yogis/fellow tarot geeks/etc. via e-mail.  Not only will I be able to keep you guys constantly up to date on whats going on with me, but you'll have an easy way to get in touch with me, too: just hit 'reply'!  The more I hear from you, the better content and services I can provide, which is something else I've been learning recently!

Live Omily,
~em

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Eating Omily: Take Back the Kitchen. Take Back Humanity

In case you were wondering, my obsession with Let's Get Real with Erica Wides is still on-going (two and a half episodes yesterday; more on the docket for today! It's the only thing that will get me to mop the floors).  If you missed the blog post where I informed you that you, too, should be obsessed with this show, and with the entire Heritage Radio Network, see this post (and scroll past the first part about pantry-stocking, unless you haven't read it yet in which case, pay attention!).
Erica Wides has been building this concept in the last several episodes (that I've been listening to; I'm way behind, at like, episode 22 or something...) that she calls the 'foodiness firewall'.  I know, 'what the hell is that?' This is why you need to listen to the show.  First of all, she uses the word, 'foodiness', the same way Stephen Colbert uses the word, 'truthiness.'  Foodiness is stuff that we're being told is food, healthy food even, but it's not food.  It's packaged, colored, flavored, processed, and just.  Not.  Food.

Alright, but what's a 'foodiness firewall'?  The foodiness firewall is something that these massive foodiness companies are purposefully constructing between you and your food, and the younger you are, the more thoroughly that structure was in place from early childhood on.  The foodiness firewall stands between you and real food, and prevents you from having a concept of what real food is.

Erica Wides uses the example of the students she used to teach in Cullinary School going to the refridgerator and looking for a tub or can in order to add whipped cream to a recipe.  They had no concept that whipped cream is just that: cream that has been whipped.  They also went there looking for bottled lemon juice, instead of for lemons.

This does not make them bad people!  It's not really their fault!  They were trapped behind the firewall!  But what's mind blowing about this example is that these are CULINARY STUDENTS: people who, at least theoretically, are really into food.  Your average high school student may never have thought about where whipped cream comes from, but, really?  Someone who's paying the big bucks to go to culinary school and work in the cooking/food business?

Basically, the Foodiness Firewall is where these companies keep selling us these convenient, pre-made versions of foods long enough that we forget where the foods actually come from.  Think about it: can you tell me what's in granola?  Did you even know that granola is a thing, all by itself, and that companies like to add lots more sticky sugar syrup to it, and then smash it into a bar, to make it easier to eat, hence, the 'granola bar'?  I distinctly remember learning that 'granola' isn't an ingredient, a single kind of grain or something, but was actually a baked snack made up of many ingredients, with thousands of different kinds, depending on the tastes and budget of the baker.   Of course, the guys making our granola these days generally have huge budgets...and yet the granola we're getting is the cheapest, most run-of-the-mill bland stuff you can make.
And it gets worse.  Think about juice.  How many millions of children have grown up with their only concept of juice being colored, flavored sugar water?  How are these kids supposed to know that juice is the liquid inside of fruits and vegetables?  If these kids are ever offered a healthy green juice, they'll likely reject it because the only juice they know is the crap foodiness kind.

When I started putting this idea together, I felt so, so angry.  These food companies are taking away from us a huge part of what makes us human: learning to cook foods like meat, grains, and tough vegetables is what allowed us to get enough nutrients to grow big brains and become humans as we know them. And now these companies are forcing us backwards.  They don't want us to know how to cook rice, chicken (or beans), and broccoli, all at once, so that they're done around the same time, and all fit together into a whole healthy meal, because if we know that, we might not buy their more expensive, less healthy crap frozen dinner version.

Every time you buy a pre-made meal, or snack instead of applying basic skills and creativity to some ingredients, you're allowing the food companies to move us just a little further away from our humanity.

That may sound extreme.  I mean, why would the food company want us to be less human?  What's in it for them?

Well, if we knew we could just buy cream, one ingredient fro ma cow, and apply a whisk, and maybe some sweetener, we may not buy the tub of chemically altered hydrogenated oils instead.  We may think to ourselves, "Hmmm...non-dairy whipped topping?  If it's not dairy...what the hell is it?  I don't think I want to eat it..."  But if we don't really know that whipped cream starts as cream, from a cow, in the first place, the idea of whipped, sweetened hydrogenated oils doesn't seem so strange.

If we don't know how to cook, if we can't tell ingredients from prepared food items anymore, we'll have no use for the produce aisle: we'll be completely dependent on these companies to feed us, companies who don't care even the slightest iota how healthy and happy you and your families are.  How scary is that?

So, there's much more at stake than supporting your local economy, and getting the best, tastiest, healthiest food available.  We as human beings are at stake.  Even if you have to go to a grocery store, buy some honest-to-goodness unpackaged FOOD, and make something for yourself. You can do it.  It's not that hard.  Click the 'recipe' tag in the right hand column of this blog to get some seasonal, affordable, and easy ideas.

Tonight we're having whole baked pogy fish served with tomato-tomatilla-nectarine salsa, with raw red beet and bell pepper soup as a starter.

It sounds complicated and fancy, but two of those items only need to be chopped, and the third only needs coated in oil and stuck in a preheated oven for under ten minutes.  Seriously, you can do this.  Next week, I'll give you the whole rundown with pictures.

Good luck!  You'll be great. :-)

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Omily Tarot: But My Ticket Was for California! And what the hell are these weird cards??

There are so many different tarot decks out there, and I love drooling over them at different crystal shops, book stores, and that cute, witchy spot in Alphabet City.  Many of them are modeled off of either the Waite-Smith deck, or the old French tarot styles.  It's easy to experiment with those, since the only deciding factor with whether you can use them is how the imagery resonates with you.

There are many many thousands of card decks though, and more of them proliferating every day, that are made for the same purpose as the tarot: for spiritual growth and/or fortune telling, but without following a familar tarot format.  Not even close.  Sometimes these are called 'oracles', ie, the Angel Oracle, the Flower Oracle, the Virus Oracle...ok, I made that last one up.  But I'm copyrighting the name because it would probably be a big seller.
Sometimes a novice reader, or someone who hasn't tried to read yet at all, but is curious about it, will pick up one of these decks, and have no idea what to do with it, or how to interpret it.  If you've never seen a tarot deck before, you don't percieve the lack of order that a tarot aficionado does, and will likely just sort out of your own method of using the oracle, but if you have a method down for using the tarot structure, and are suddenly faced with a complete lack of that structure, you may feel strangely cheated, or like you meant to fly to California and ended up in Japan.  Oops.

And then you may ask me questions like, 'Do these weird oracle decks work?'  'Are these real tarot cards?'

Well, for the first question, let me refer you back to this post about how the tarot works.  And for the second, I'll just say that you can use any everyday playing card deck you can get your hands on for all the same things you can use a tarot deck for.  In a word, yes.  Find a deck, or five or ten, that work for you.  Use them.  Use them all the same, use them all differently...it doesn't matter.  The tarot only stands in as an interpreter and amplifier for a conversation that's happening between your subconscious wisdom and your consciousness.  As long as you can understand your interpreter, it doesn't matter what it looks like or if there's a book telling you what it means.
There.  There's your short answer.  That said, I do feel your pain.  I, too, have had that landing-in-Japan experience, and it's not fun.  I like structures. I like routines.  I don't like having a deck that feels and works totally differently from my other decks.  So I don't have any of those funky oracle decks.  But that's not because there's anything wrong with those funky decks.  It's because they don't resonate with me.  And, there's no reason to think I'll never stumble across one that I'll really like (THE VIRUS ORACLE!!!).  As I grow and develop as a reader, and my technique becomes more internal and fluid, I may find that I really like abandoning the familiar tarot structure.

Do you have, or have you used oracle, or different funky card decks that you love?  Have you ever tried working with regular playing cards?  Make sure you've got your elemental and numerical significances down first! 

~em

P.S. Scroll to the top, look at the right column, click 'Get Omily E-Mails!', then fill out the form to get Omily E-mails! Simple, no?  I'll be sending out my first Omily Update in the next week or so, and I can't wait to share my teaching schedule, latest blog posts, important updates, and special deals with all my favourite little Omilers...so get your asana on the list!  Ready, go!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Taking a Dip

It's been an exciting last couple weeks: accepted into Om Factory's aerial yoga teacher training program (Woohoo!), starting to sub there, starting to sub at Jaya Yoga Center, our upcoming trip to South Korea, and of course, launching my newsletter. 

This will be my first teacher training since my vinyasa training that got me started back in October of 2009.  I'm really looking forward to being back in that student mindset.  Toward the end of my first teacher training, one of our teachers, Sam Chase, was talking to us about transitioning out of our student mindset, and into a teaching one.  He described these textiles made in an exotic country:  they're woven, then soaked in dye for days, then left out in the sun till the color has almost completely faded, then the proccess is repeated until the sun is unable to fade the many layers of dye.  It's been four years since my last training, so I can only assume my vibrant, soaking color has faded in the spotlight at the front of the room, and it's time for another dip.

I look forward to approaching my classes with a whole new arsenal of ideas in my toolbelt, and with a refreshed, enthusiastic attitude after the training.  I won't be able to jump right back into the schedule though, because the day after the last day of my training, I'm flying out for our two-week South Korea trip! I'm so excited to experience such an incredibly different culture on the other side of the world, and it's going to be even more amazing because one of my closest friends is living there teaching English as a second language right now.
Hehe, sorry, I'm being silly!  But it IS in South Korea, and they ARE donig yoga!
I think, in its own way, an adventure like that is another dye dip, so when I get home in October, I'll be ready to enjoy the Autumn sunshine, and a nice, long fade sharing what I've learned with all of you.  You'll have lots of opportunities to take different kinds of yoga with me all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, and of course, if you want to keep up with when and where you can catch me at the front of the room, you should sign up for my newsletter.  I'm working on getting the opt-in links up on my websites, but if you don't see one here, just head on over to my facebook page, and send me a message with your e-mail asking to opt in.  The messages will go out no more than once every other week, and it'll be a great way of making sure you don't miss any blog posts, too!

September is such an amazing time to take stock of where you're at, and jump into learning some new things...and I'm pretty sure this is going to be the best September ever.  I hope you're around to share it with me, and to share the amazing things you're learning, too!
Live Omily,
~em

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Eating Omily: Veg Out This Summer!

Ok, guys, I promised you a vegan post, and I am going to deliver!  As you have almost certainly realized by now, I am not a vegan, or a vegetarian, but I am really picky about the animal products that I eat: they come from the Farmer's Market.  I buy them directly from the farmers who work with the animals throughout the animal's lives.  The animals live outside, and forage for grass, bugs, and other things that they like, have natural hierarchys, and, as is often the case in the wild, are killed by a predator, but as is never the case in the wild, they are killed in the most stress, fear, and pain-free way possible.  In other words, they have it pretty damn good, and I feel not the slightest twinge over enjoying the incredible nutrition present in their tissues...BUT,

most of the meat people are eating and buying in this country is living in atrocious, miserable, unnatural, and diseased conditions you can imagine, and they die in a state of pain and terror, and they are then proccessed into meat by ill-trained illegal immigrants who aren't being paid a fair wage and are being forced to work too quickly to do a good job, causing the meat to be contaminated with bacteria that's antibiotic resistant since the animal was force-fed massive doses of antibiotics its entire life to make it grow bigger, faster.

Who in their right mind would want to eat that stuff??  I 100% support your choice to not eat that stuff, and, in my mind at least, to sponsor the poor souls who are eating that stuff by eating none of it, instead of treating yourself to the humane, healthy meat-treats at your Farmer's Market.

SO, if you're vegan, what do you eat?  Everything except animal products.  Here are some tasty ideas that I'm a fan of:

Refried beans (homemade, or read the ingredients if you buy them canned: they're often made with pork fat for flavor), guacemole, and salsa with chips.  Simple, light, and delicious...AND gluten free!

A hearty vegetable soup or ratatoulli served with crusty whole-grain bread drizzled with fruity olive oil.  This is the time to make this one!  The summer veggies filling the market are just begging to be cooked all together in one great big pot of love...

Baked tofu with veggies.  Now, this is one I just discovered.  I like to keep sprouted firm tofu around, because it's so easy to add to stir-fries and soups as a quick source of protien.  Farmer's Market meat is expensive; we only eat it around twice a week: dinner one night, and breakfast Saturday morning.  Word on the street is that sprouted is always better for you, and doubly so for tofu, which has been getting its stellar rep questioned as of late.  If you can find it, go for it!  And always always always choose organic tofu!  The vast majority of the tofu in this country is GMO, and you do not want that.  If it's labeled organic, it cannot be GMO.

Here's the simple recipe for baked tofu I threw together via a couple internet searches: drain your blocks of tofu, wrap them in several layers of paper towels, set them on a plate, put another plate on top, and weigh down that top plate with a few canned goods or something.  Let it sit for fifteen minutes.  The liquid absorbed into the tofu will have soaked the papertowels.

This step is important, because just like meat and fish won't brown and crisp if they're damp, tofu won't either, and since tofu comes to you floating in a bath, it takes more than a gently pat-down to get that moisture back out.

Now that your tofu has been pressed, cut it into bite-sized cube.  In a bowl big enough to hold all your tofu chunks, stir together some maple syrup (or honey if you can see your way clear to borrow some from happy bees who have not been drugged, or artificially inseminated and have a Farmers' Market to get honey from), some olive or coconut oil, salt, chili powder, pepper, maybe sesame seeds...you get the idea: yummy stuff.  Add the tofu to the bowl, and toss to coat.  Preheat the oven to 375 or 400, place the tofu onto the sheet with a little space between each one.  I don't recomend pouring the tofu onto the sheet; you don't want the extra marinade burning onto your pan.  Pop the tofu into the oven for about twenty minutes, turn all the tofu cubes over, vary carefully, so that the crispy yummy layer stays attached to the tofu and not the pan, bake another twenty minutes, and you get this:
Which, comeon, seriously? So pretty, and so delicious! You can serve the left-over marinade as a dipping sauce, or you can make a separate dipping sauce with flavors to compliment what you're serving your tofu with.  Veggies and rice is an easy accompaniment, of course.  These guys are just so tasty, the only problem I've found is that we never leave enough left over!   I have to make twice as much tofu as I do when I'm not baking it just so the husband can take some to lunch the next day!

I'm going to cheat a little bit to remind you that now is the best time of year for making a delicious, hearty dish that is vegetarian, but takes some tinkering to make vegan.
 And, personally, I could never be vegan in the face of brown, bubbling cheese.
Seriously.

If you're lucky enough to have a cast iron skillet, you can make this whole dish in one pan!  Which is pretty awesome.  Peel and slice one big eggplant, bread it, or don't bread it, or do I what I do and spread a little oil on it then rub some cornmeal into the surface for like, a little lazy breading.  Then saute the slices in more oil in the your cast iron skillet till they start to get tender, and brown.  Flip them over and do the same to the other side.  Get really really frustrated at the fact that eggplant sucks oil up like a sponge.  Seriously.  What the hell is up with eggplant?
Transfer the eggplant to a plate, and drizzle some tomato sauce into your cast iron skillet, or into a baking dish.  Add a layer of eggplant, top the eggplant with sauce and mozerella cheese, then repeat with the rest of the eggplant, more sauce, and more cheese.  Pop it into a 400 or 425 degree oven for twenty minutes to half an hour: basically till it looks delicious.  Be patient!  Let it sit and cool for a bit before you eat it!  Then enjoy.  Saucy, cheesy, and gluten free!   And if you have a reliable vegan cheese substitute, it can still be vegan!

Until next time, nom nom nom...enjoy Summer at the Farmers' Market!  The summer treats are rolling in, and amazing peaches, tomatoes, peppers, beans, blueberries, and eggplants await!

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Omily Tarot: Chakra Check-Up

It's Tarot time!  Who's excited?? This is a spread/reading that I just love.  In its own way, it'll tell you way more than the Celtic Cross, or even those crazy all-78-card spreads.  It's about the inner instead of the outer: turning the spotlight on the mover and shaker in your own life story, instead of the incidentils affecting it (that's be you, of course!)  It's fantastic as a diagnostic tool before any kind of body work or healing, a great way to do a gut check when you feel a little off but aren't sure why

It's a Chakra Reading!  The Chakras are the seven main energy centers in your body, running up your spine.  They each correspond to different functions and organs in the body, different lessons and challenges, and different stages of life.  Here's a brief summer of each one.  Feel free to skip it if you know this stuff already:

The root chakra is at the very bottom, handling elimination, feeling rooted and secure, and years one through seven.

The sachral chakra is located about a handspan below your bellybutton and handles your sexual organs, bladder and kidneys, sex, creativity, and years seven to fourteen.

The solar plexus chakra is located around your breast bone, and it handles your stomach, liver, and intestines.  It has to do with will power and control, and years fourteen though twenty-one.

The Heart Chakra is next, located in the center, near your physical heart.  It handles your connection to others, your heart, lungs, and your hands, and years twenty-one though twenty-eight.

The throat chakra handles talking, and listening, and purifying what comes into and goes out of the body.  It's associated with your throat, nose, mouth, and ears, and years twenty-eight through thirty-five.

The third eye has to do with your intuition: your ability to see beyond what's physically there.  It has to do with your eyes, and your pineal gland in your brain, that helps to regulate sleep, and years thirty-five to forty-two.

The crown chakra is the final chakra: the one at the top of your head, affiliated with your pituitary gland, and your connection to the divine, and years forty-two through forty-nine.

After forty-nine, the cycle may start over, or you may just have an awareness and ease with all of your chakras.  Of course, your chakras can't count.  You may start feeling throat-chakray at twenty-six (like I am), or you may linger in your sachral chakra a few extra years, resisting taking responsibility for your connection to others.

The chakras have cool Sanskrit names, sounds, colors, symbols, and more associated with them, but they're easy to google, so lets move on to the Tarot! This starts as a seven-card spread, laid out vertically, starting at the top, and going down to the root chakra.  Shuffle up the deck, and then, I like to touch the deck to each one of my chakras from top to bottom, aligning the energy. Once the cards are laid out, flip them over from bottom to top!  Take note of reversals: those tell you which chakras are blocked, closed, sluggish, or running too fast or hot. Take your time evaluating the cards as a whole: looking for patterns, then each individually from the bottom to the top.  You can almost pretend each chakra is its own querent: the root chakra is concerned with survival and safety, the heart chakra needs a balance of reaching out to love others, but protecting itself from bad energy, the crown chakra needs to grow toward the divine.

You may want to lay out a few more cards: one for each reversed  chakra, asking how you can best help get that chakra back on track. If the card you laid out is reversed, this is only step one, and you have more to do to achieve a healthy chakra.  You can lay out another card now, or start with step one, and do another reading on that chakra later on.

If your heart chakra is in good shape, you probably won't have many other reversals.  Sort of like the E string on a guitar, if the heart chakra is healthy, the rest can align themselves to it and stay pretty solid.  Here are some of the chakra cards I got today:
 
 The Two of Swords at my Root Chakra: a card that can be about being as honest and objective as possible...or about avoiding an uncomfortable choice.  My career choice has, up to now, left me in a state of economic unsustainability.  If it weren't for the husband's steady job, I'd be bar tending or barista-ing with several roommates just to get by.  That'd be a serious stress load on my root chakra, and I think it's simultaneously thankful for the security the husband provides, but well aware of the fact that I'm not self-supporting...and you can only feel so secure when you're not self-supporting.  This card was upright, so the balance is tipped in favor of a healthy root chakra.  Some exciting opportunities are cropping up for me, so I'm optimistic that my root chakra will only spin brighter in the months to come.
This is the card at my Solar Plexus chakra!  This card was reversed.  Golden, sunny coins fit in well with this chakra, and the number seven is certainly relevant.   The seven of coins is about wanting things to be ready when they aren't quite ready yet, and the lesson that you can't force things: you put the work in, and then you have to wait.  Just thinking about that is making my tummy get all squeezy with anxiety.  Looks like my root chakra is outsourcing its discontent to my tummy, where my solar plexus chakra is picking up on it, and trying to force things to be better through sheer will power.   Hard work and determination are totally part of the equation...but so is backing off, waiting, and letting relationships ripen, before making your move.  I need to give my tummy some special nourishing love so this chakra can let go and trust the process a little more.  It may also help to direct my focus toward areas that I can do things in: planning out a solid aerial yoga sequence, prepping my binder for the serious influx of notes once teacher training notes, and marketing like a mad woman!

On a side note, my apologies for the crooked picture–I had to contend with this:

A mouthy, demanding foster kitten with an, I suspect, over-active throat chakra!
This is the card at my Crown chakra: the only magjor arcana card in the reading!  I'm feeling strong and confident in my abilities to control my lower impulses and keep myself on a path toward the divine.  Of course, those lower impulses are part of my divine nature, too, and they can wreak havoc if not allowed out for healthy play sessions regularly.  The chakras need to be balanced to be healthy, and I need to focus on staying balanced, too.

I laid out a couple cards for my two reversed chakra cards, and got this one in response to the Seven of Coins at my solar plexus chakra.
Chang O is the Chinese personification of the Yin principle: receptive, transformative, a woman who took the wrong pill and flew to the moon, where she met a hare who is still busy trying to compound a pill to fly her back home (Look up at the full moon and tilt your head: you'll see that bunny pounding away in a mortar and pestle!)  It's important that I give my solar plexus chakra something to do (like the hare in the story) so I can be receptive to the changes that are happening without succumbing to the tummy-centered anxiety I get sometimes.  Waiting patiently is exactly what I should be doing right now, so I can't let that anxiety make me doubt myself.

I had the other four chakras, of course, and two more cards for my other reversal...but you get the idea. Go do your own!  What'd you get?  What are you going to do about??  Fun, huh?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Teaching Yoga: Present Moment, or Prep?

  
When I first started teaching yoga, I'd take time well in advance of the class I was scheduled to teach to write up a sequence, and then road test it first on myself, and then on the husband.  I lived in fear of realizing I had half an hour of class time left to fill and was out of material, so I'd time it out carefully, and use song cues to know when to move onto the next section.  I would never dare enter a class without a solid, specific, plan. It worked.  Pretty well.

The trouble with being so regimented though, is when the people in the room don't match the people who were in your head while you wrote the sequence: maybe somebody has a broken toe and can't do standing balances.  Maybe an advanced student has wandered in who's looking for more than the standard warrior sequences.

When I started teaching at Namaste in Williamsburg, I still had my trusty notebook at my side...but a rule at Namaste was that you asked the class if there were any requests before you started...which could easily throw your pre-written sequence out the window if, you know, you actually fulfilled those requests.

That Fall, I decided my New Year's Resolution would be to be teaching notebook-free by the end of 2011.

The thing about free styling though, is that it feels good.  I didn't make it December before the notebook was left at home for good, and I needed a new New Year's Resolution.  Just as I had feared, every now and then, there was a moment of feeling lost at sea: unable to see clearly where we should go next.  But that wasn't nearly as big a problem as I thought it would be. I knew what to do.

"Come back to down dog...take five deep breaths..."

And by the fifth exhale, I had a new heading, and we were off.

Of course, plenty of teachers do write and follow sequences, and doing so has its perks: the class tends to all fit together and build toward a singular goal, which makes it more likely that at least one part of your body will feel different, probably in a positive way, by the end of class.

These days, I like to have a general theme in mind.  Often it's not a yoga pose, but more of a feeling or thought I want to explore on the mat, which will lend itself to certain types of poses.  It's easy to combine something that open-ended with requests, or the particular needs of my students, and as I take them through the spinal warm-up and Sun Salutations, which are very similar every time, I lay out a loose plan in my mind...usually.  Sometimes I just go for it, and sometimes...

"Exhale back to downdog, and take five deep breaths..."

Do you like yoga classes that are more freestyle, or open-ended, or do you feel more supported by a teacher who's checking in with notes and who obviously has a plan for your class?  Has a teacher ever used the 'five deep breaths' trick (or a similar one) so many times that you caught on to what he or she was really doing?

Live Omily,
~em

Monday, August 5, 2013

Eating Omily: This Post May Not Be Appropriate for All Readers: Discretion Is Advised.

WARNING: This post is about meat.  You know, flesh from animals that were purposefully raised in happy, healthy, conditions, and then killed as quickly and painlessly as possible, to enable us humans to enjoy these powerhouses of complete protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients.  If images of meat in raw and/or cooked forms disturbs you, I recommend you stay right here and enjoy this image of marinated, baked tofu.  I'll be doing a vegan post next week. :-)


Are the vegetarians gone?  Ok.  OMG, CHECK THIS OUT!!!
Isn't it beautiful?  It's a pork shank!  That's sort of the calf of the pig...but don't worry, it's still pork!   (Sorry, bad meat pun!)  That's the leg bone you can see there, full of delicious marrow, and generously surrounded by fat and connective tissue.  Tasty flesh surround that...another layer of delicious fat, and of course, the skin.
Yes, pig skin!  This is such a primal, close to the earth cut that there are still a few bristles (pig hairs) attached!  Can you see them?  Can you tell how excited I get about meat??  I just find it incredibly fascinating how much I can learn about anatomy by having meat for dinner.

So, what do you do with this guy?  This humble, inexpensive, bone-in cut of flesh is a perfect candidate for slow-cooking.  Do we know why?

Well, if I were to stick this guy in a skillet and brown him on all sides, well, first of all, it would take ages to cook it through the center, but once I did, it would be dry, tough, and rather sad.

If I take a beautiful filet mignon steak and pop it into my slow cooker with broth and herbs and veggies and leave it for six hours, interestingly enough, I get the same result.

What is this alchemy??  Connective tissue!  Connective tissue is really tough stuff.  If you've ever bitten into some gristle you know just how un-fun it is to chew on, but it's made of protein, and it is in fact edible.  It just needs time, and moisture.  Given those two things, the connective tissue will more than soften: it will melt, creating a protein and flavor-packed broth with incredible body and mouth feel.  The fat and the bone will also provide tons of flavor, given time to release their magic.

A lean steak doesn't have any of those things, so if you try to cook it slowly, there's nothing to keep the protein moist and tender, and it just dries up and gets tough.  Stick to your cast iron skillet for beautiful steaks; keep your slow cooker for cuts like your pork shank.

Even though this bad boy is going into the slow cooker, I can up the flavor ante considerably by taking the time to brown it on all sides before popping it in.  I crusted it with corn meal, since I had some sitting out, and browned it for a few minutes on all sides in coconut oil.
Mmmm...doesn't that look gorgeous?  Ok, pop quiz: what is that red stuff in the picture below?
Nope!  Blood is only in blood vessels, guys.  It is not dripping freely from our muscles.  That's just moisture that's saturated with protein that looks red when it hits oxygen.  When you see this happening on a burger or steak, you know it's getting close to time to flip: the coagulating proteins from the bottom where the meat is cooking are forcing the moisture up to the top and out onto the surface.  If this is happening, and you don't have a good sear yet, turn the heat up, and next time maybe pat your meat more dry before you begin.  In this case, I'm not trying to cook this all the way through on the stove, so it doesn't much matter.

So while my shank browned, I brought my frozen chicken stock up to a boil, and poured it into my slow cooker.  I added a big onion, sliced thin, salt, pepper, a bay leaf, and a dried lime.  SECRET INGREDIENT: buy some limes, let them sit on the counter or in the fridge till they turn brown, and are totally hard.  Throw one of them into the slow cooker with anything you want to have a subtle citrusy brightness: pork shank that will be used for tacos is a perfect  example, but anything could benefit from the flavor really, since it helps to cut through the richness of the fat and connective tissue.

I gently lowered the pork shank into the liquid, and wriggled it around till it was resting on the bottom, instead of on a bed of onions.  That way I didn't have to add as much water to bring hte level up to about half way up the shank.  In a stew, you'd cover the meat totally, but since a shank has so much fat, you don't end up having enough meat for a good stew, so a braise, where the cooking liquid because more of a sauce, is a better bet.
 Go, beautiful pork shank, go!
 Food porn...

So, six or so hours later, with our kitchen smelling ridiculously good, I opened the lid, and with the help of grill tongs, and a big fork, managed to lift the now literally falling apart pork shank onto a big plate, where the fat fell away in a blissful quivering mass, the meat shredded obligingly, and the bones fell apart, because there was no longer any connective tissue holding them together.  Yes, I really do think about meat this poetically.  You'll also notice how soft the lime has gotten from its slow-cooking adventure!
 My husband made pork tacos with  blue corn tortillas from Hot Bread Kitchen, my homemade picked red onions, and plenty of guac and salsa.
 I was way too excited about that gelatin-rich braising liquid to go that route.  I poured it into a pan, and boiled it down a bit, adding some extra salt, then I spread some shredded pork over a tortilla, added some pickled onion, and ladled some tasty, tasty pork braising sauce over it.
Don't judge me.  It was freaking delicious, especially with those ultra-slow cooked, falling apart onions adding an extra dimension of flavor and succulence.

We had enough left overs for pork for lunch for everybody the next day...but that was it for the meat, sadly.  Our braised pork shank adventures didn't end just yet though, because we still had braising liquid in the fridge, firmed up to jello consistency, and topped with creamy white, pure pork fat.
And seriously, you guys?  Dinner that night was the best, but having this stuff around is a close second!  I scoop most of the fat off with a spoon and throw it away, and then use the rich braising liquid as a soup base.  I add a little water, and and simmer some raw veggies right in the broth till tender, and there you go: delicious soup with lots of protein, and fresh veggie nutrition, with a texture and a flavor you will never ever find in a can or a box.  I'm already wondering what I'll slow cook next...but first...BURGERS!!!  Will you be doing some slow cooking? It seems counter-intuitive, but I find running the slow cooker all day keeps my apartment cooler than running the stove for half an hour!  And I don't have to tell you guys to get all your meat from small ranches and farms where the animals are allowed to live like animals, do I?  Farmers' Markets, or Whole Foods are your best bets.  Remember, better for you and your family, better for the animal, better for the planet.  Do it.

No worries, vegetarians, I'll keep my promise!  Vegan post next.  Until then...

Nom nom nom...