My Handcrafted Natural Energy Drink!

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The life of a yoga teacher can be more physically demanding than people realize. For example, I practice Ashtanga 5-6 times a week and teach up to 15 yoga classes a week. Yet, in spite of my best efforts to eat balanced nutritional meals and drink lots of water, I have shown alarming physiological signs of nutritional depletion. I stopped into Co-Opportunity, my local, organic market and health food store, and had a chat with Ken Ohashi, (Assistant Wellness Manager). He said that my grueling practice and teaching schedule was draining my body of essential minerals and nutrients and suggested a few natural food sources for supplementation to help with rehydration and replenish the electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals that are lost through excessive perspiration.

I told him about the concoction I was already drinking in the morning–coconut water, lemon, lime, water, chia seeds and a scoop of collagen with Vitamin C. He said that blend was okay but I could use something more potent. He recommended: Himalayan Pink Salt, Organic Unsulphured Black Strap Molasses, and Apple Cider Vinegar.  Furthermore, he said, I was most likely stressing my adrenal glands and the physical symptoms I described were signs of excess cortisol production. He then also recommended an herbal blend formula to help support the adrenal glands (with Holy Basil, Siberian Rhodiolia, Ashwaganda Root, Wild Oats Milky Seed, Schisandra Berry).

I purchased all the ingredients and immediately went home to make my first batch. In addition, I decided to do a little research on the food sources he recommended and was surprised to find out how powerfully sustentative they were and concluded that, yes, my body was indeed short on many key nutrients.

After sipping on this homemade concoction for about a week, I decided an ingredient was missing so I added Spirulina, which made the brew just right! I’ve been consuming this handcrafted energy drink for a couple of weeks and I’m feeling much better. I’m also noticing some positive changes: sustained energy throughout the afternoon; calmness and mental clarity; feeling less tired when waking up in the morning, and some of the physiological symptoms seem to be dramatically reversing. This homemade beverage is better than many of the energy drinks on the market, which are loaded with chemicals, sugar or artificial sweeteners, caffeine, and artificial coloring. My homemade superfood elixir is also substantially less expensive, costing just pennies for the many ounces I’m drinking per week!

HAND CRAFTED ENERGY DRINK

I make this blend to drink in the afternoon, either after my practice or when teaching back –to- back classes. It’s actually very pleasant tasting and has a subtle richness almost like chocolate and just as satisfying. In fact, I’m craving less sugar in general. I drink this instead of consuming a typical sweet snack in the late afternoon (chocolate, popcorn, trail mix) all of which have more calories.

Put the following ingredients into a 20oz container:

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1 rock (pellet) of coarse Himalayan Pink Salt

1 tbsp of Organic Unsulphured Black Strap Molasses

1 tbsp. of Apple Cider Vinegar

1 tsp. of Spirulina

Natural Spring or Filtered Water

Put all the ingredients in a sealed container and let sit until the salt is dissolved.  Shake and drink. When you are left with about 1oz of residue at the bottom of your container, refill with water and drink the rest. Enjoy!

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS OF FOUR SUPERFOODS

Himalayan Pink Salt: Apparently, there are 84 trace minerals in pink salt including, potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulphate, and sodium chloride. Among its many benefits when ingested, pink salt can help with hydration, muscle cramps, replacing key minerals lost during perspiration. Although the benefits of Himalayan Pink Salt are debated in some sources, I’m willing to try this for a while to see the results.

Organic Unsulphured Black Strap Molasses: I vaguely remember black strap molasses from my childhood. My mother would give us a spoonful now and then saying it was high in iron, explaining that she was given this a supplement when she was a child. This dense, dark syrup is the residue of boiled down sugar cane, and is high in iron, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium, chromium, B-vitamins and protein. Black Strap Molasses is an overall health tonic with many vitamins and minerals that are antioxidants that help the body with energy and cell-production, as well as, calm the nervous system.

Although 1 tbsp. provides a multitude of nutrients, it also has 13 grams of sugar—(please consider this if following dietary restrictions). I’ve been too active to experience weight gain from the sugar in this drink. Furthermore, since I’m extending my recipe out over two 20 ounce containers, I’m essentially diluting 13 grams of sugar in 40 ounces of water.

 Apple Cider Vinegar:  Apple cider vinegar is rich in minerals, like potassium, sodium, chloride, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium, and trace minerals, like, copper, fluorine, as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, and E, bioflavonoids, and pectin. I prefer to use “Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar” which has a significant amount of “mother” the beneficial enzymes and bacteria that settle at the bottom of the bottle.

Spirulina:  Spirulina has significant amounts of Vitamin A, calcium, niacin, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins and iron. It also has essential amino acids (protein) and antioxidant health benefits, which have been proven to aid in the body’s recovery from excessive exercise.

RESOURCES

Himalayan Pink Salt

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/02/19/the-amazing-benefits-of-himalayan-pink-salt/

Blackstrap Molasses:

http://www.processedfreeamerica.org/resources/health-news/287-the-many-benefits

http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/15-health-benefits-of-blackstrap-molasses.html

Apple Cider Vinegar

http://www.md-health.com/Health-Benefits-Of-Apple-Cider-Vinegar.html

Spirulina

http://www.livescience.com/48853-spirulina-supplement-facts.html

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Eating in Tokyo: Favorite New Foods From Adzuki Beans to Wakame

Japanese food is quite delicious, but figuring out what to eat in a restaurant or purchase in a grocery store, can be quite daunting, especially since the language presents a barrier that makes selecting food purely a visual choice.  However, I was a bit more daring with my culinary experiments this time. People often ask me what I ate in Tokyo–always assuming lots of sushi. I tell them “no,”  in fact,  what’s commonly eaten isn’t what most Westerners think. There are so many clichés about Japanese food and so much to learn and discover.  I came to realize that you will consume copious amounts of  bean curd in hundreds of dozens of forms; soba and udon noodles; miso and fermented foods; a myriad of things from the sea including fish, sea urchins, seaweed and many things I’ve never seen before; adzuki beans and lots of raw and cooked vegetables  and eggs.  I was also surprised to see a proliferation of coffee shops around the city and that tea is consumed privately at home.

Nevertheless, I developed a taste for some dishes, which became some of my favorite new foods.  At home I routinely prepared: raw or cooked cabbage with vegetables and black sesame seeds, sprouts, topped with bonito flakes and sesame dressing.  Additionally, a savory barley miso, was the base for soup I made almost every day with seaweed.  Soba noodles were consumed on an almost daily basis, but I particularly liked a lunch of cold udon noodles with sesame dip and a side dish of crispy chicken.  Colorful bento boxes  filled with a variety of small bites could always be bought daily in the grocery store.

Furthermore, Japanese curry is fantastic– fragrant and rich with flavor and hints of chocolate, leaving a delightful taste that lingers on the palate for hours.  I fell in love with all things matcha, from lattes to Meji Matcha ice cream.  Sumptuous fanciful deserts with a french flair, were a regular indulgence, as well as, tempura lunch specials.  I even tried to acquire a taste for Natto (pungent, fermented soy beans), but not sure if I ever will.

Overall, the cuisine is very healthy and remarkably good for my body–I slimmed down effortlessly and many persistent aches and pains subsided.  I’ve discovered through some research, that many of the foods have anti-inflammatory properties.  I always come back from Tokyo feeling and looking younger and physically lighter and hope that I’ll be able to take a cooking class on a future occasion. Meanwhile, although its difficult to replicate Japanese cuisine, I do my best to keep up with my Japanese diet while here in Los Angeles.

“Letting Go” @ La Casa De Maria

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I recently hosted a retreat with Indira Shekerjian at La Casa De Maria in Montecito, California the weekend of September 22 & 23. This was our second retreat together,  we first teamed up with Megan McCarver for a sold out weekend at White Lotus in Santa Barbara, May 2011. I’ve been to LCDM a number of times over the past few years as a guest yoga teacher for a series of retreats held by Dorothy James.  As a satisfied guest, I always desired to hold my own retreat there someday.

The theme for our weekend., “Letting Go” was based on certain aspects of the Fall Equinox where there is a perfect balance between “day and night,” the “sun and  moon.“ This is also applicable to the literal definition of Hatha Yoga: Ha”–sun, “tha”–moon,  and Yoga –“to yoke.”   Through the practice of yoga we strive to strengthen  and reinforce the connection and balance between the mind and body.   Therefore, it seems appropriate that as nature shifts into balance, we too, should try to do the same.  Furthermore, Pantanjali advises us in the Yoga Sutras to observe the niyama, Santoshacontentment (2.42)  and  abhyasa vairagyabhyampracticing non-attachment (1.12).    Indira pointed out in our group discussion, that we typically  start off the year making our “to do lists” and then over the ensuing months, keep pushing the agenda.  But, do we ever stop to see what we’ve accomplished? Is it enough?  As the year winds down, what can we “let go of?”

This welcoming center provided the appropriate setting for deep reflection.  LCDM is spread out over 26 acres covered with large shady oak trees—there’s even a towering 500-year-old eucalyptus tree on the property.  An eclectic assortment of  old Spanish Mission Style structures are situated around the estate. Each dwelling built at various times, has its own unique traits. For example, The Immaculate Heart Center, a stoic stone mansion built by a wealthy businessman in 1930, evokes the style and craftsmanship of an old world European manor, its rooms filled with antiques old paintings and religious artifacts.  Other facilities on the property include comfortable and soothing Retreat Rooms; Casa San Yasidro, a dormitory that accommodates more than 20 people, mostly youth groups; and there are houses, Casa Teresita and La Casitafor smaller groups or individuals.  The center has been undergoing renovation with an emphasis on energy conservation. While most of the buildings are being outfitted with solar panels, they still retain their historic charm.

The food is simply excellent whether you’re eating meals prepared by a private chef at the Immaculate Heart Center, or cafeteria food at LCDM, it’s all fresh gourmet mostly vegetarian/vegan fare that ‘s made primarily from produce grown on the property or from nearby organic farms.  A large orchard of fruit trees and a sizable garden further support the Center’s direction towards environmental sustainability.

This interfaith center has an interesting history  dating back to the Chumash Indians who once inhabited it, planting many of the trees, then later over the years privately owned.   The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, A Roman Catholic religion purchased the property in 1940 and after breaking away from the Catholic Church in the 1960s & 70s, turned the estate into a non-profit organization.  What I like most about the center is that it’s off the radar for popular yoga retreat destinations.  It’s a retreat and conference center that harmoniously hosts many types of groups and non-profit organizations,  with “programs focused on meditation, spirituality, personal growth, community service, environmental awareness, education and art.”  Many individuals also go there for silent retreats, to write or create.

I also experimented with a new retreat format–an intimate sized group of 10-12 people and the option to spend the weekend or come up for one day.  Most traditional yoga retreat centers typically require twenty people minimum, putting pressure on teachers to get these numbers when in fact they may be happy with around 12-15.  This format  gave everyone the opportunity to connect in a profound way that isn’t possible in larger groups bringing a lightness and calmness to the weekend that proved to be refreshing.

Our group of eleven people occupied the cavernous “Lounge,” one of the meeting rooms on the property, with lofty wood beamed ceilings and a grand stone fireplace. In all, they had an excellent time participating in a well-rounded program of yoga, restorative and meditation classes and a provocative workshop and discussion led by Indira and I.  Everyone also had ample free time to hike, swim read, draw or simply take a nap!

Nevertheless,  LCDM is a good place for serious heartfelt discussion and contemplation. You’re given a rare opportunity to move inward and connect to your innermost self in a supportive environment that encourages you to open up,  reveal and  “let go.” We were all graciously taken care of.  I’ve finally found a “retreat home” and I hope you and others will join me there sometime in the future.

The Third Workshop: “How to Address Common Injuries in the Classroom”

YogaPlus Teachers

The third and final workshop on the agenda was held on May 29 at the Gotanda studio for all of the YogaPlus teachers.  To my surprise there were at least 30 in attendance that morning and when I sat down in front of the room, I broke out into a serious case of nervous perspiration!  In the days leading up to the workshop,  I struggled with how to present this broad topic, “How to Address Common Injuries in the Classroom.”   I had previously asked some of the teachers at the studio what they would like to focus on, some said, “How to use props“,  “How to do chair yoga” or “Back pain.”   Finally, I  decided that it would be best to ask the participants questions at the beginning of the workshop and then work out a sequence based on the most common injuries that came up.  After a brief discussion, questions regarding a common assortment of injuries arose: back pain, shoulder, wrists, etc.  Since most of these injuries are associated with repetitive motions from vinyasa classes, misalignment in standing poses, transitioning in and out of poses or improper set-up for inversions,  I thought it would be best to teach a general sequence to address most if these issues.

The class just flowed as  I wove injuries related to categories of poses into a seamless practice, stopping only to demonstrate or to reiterate a point:  Surya Namaskar A & B, Standing Poses, Inversions, Forward Bends, Twists—all the years of practicing, teaching and now leading a teacher training, seemed to provide an unexpected a wealth of knowledge.  I knew more than I realized—a three hour workshop quickly turned into four followed by an engaging question and answer… “How do you deal with….”What if you don’t have props“…”I have a student“….  we could have gone on at length for a considerable amount of time.  In fact, I thought this could be a series organized into separate topics.  I addressed the issue of class levels, modifications, sequencing, additional study outside of the classroom (anatomy, kinesiology ) and the importance of  a “self-practice.”  As teachers  all of this relates to the niyama svadhaya  “self-study” which is the ongoing process of examining yourself, the body, and literature that helps you to find the answers.  As our discussion was winding down I was starting to feel a strong  emotional connection with these young teachers who have such passion towards learning—it comes through in so many ways.  They embrace each person that visits them in Tokyo and just being with them makes me feel so appreciated. I love this photo of the YogaPlus teachers—it literally seems to vibrate with energy.

The Second Workshop: “Living a Better Life Through Yoga”

Part I: “The Physical Body”

In the meeting with the translators and programmers during my first week here,  I was also asked to create a couple of workshops for the public.  The staff had ideas of their own: they said they wanted me to come up with something to address common aches and pains, fatigue and stress–symptoms of urban life,  long work hours and surprisingly, the upcoming rainy season which can be the cause of depression for many. The workshops also had to be held in two parts over a weekend ( the one weekend I had off from teacher training) and each be 2.5 hours in length.  They said that ” Part I” should  somehow address the physical body and “Part II”, the mental.   We spent a few moments going back and forth over a few titles and then I blurted out “Living a Better Life Through Yoga”  they liked it–and so did I.  When I sat down a few days later it became the name for this blog.  I realized that this effort to “live a better life,”  is my primary reason for practicing yoga,  teaching and what I hope my students ultimately gain from the experience. The workshops held on May 12 & 13, were a success.  At first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hold the space or their attention for that amount of time, but the moments flew by and both sessions were followed by lots of discussion and questions.  Encouraged and inspired by the group’s response, I’m now planning to continue developing this workshop concept to cover a series of topics.

Part II: “The Mental Body”

Eating in Tokyo: Ootoya

Mixed Vegetables with Chicken, Rice, Cabbage Salad with Sesame Dressing, Miso Soup

Chicken and Rice Baked in a Clay Pot, Tofu and Seaweed Salad, Miso Soup, Pickled Vegetables

Food is a cultural highlight in Japan and much pride is taken in the preparation and presentation of meals. For me, the exposure to different and somewhat exotic dishes has become one of the most intriguing aspects of this trip. If you’re adventurous, you’ll experience real Japanese cuisine which may be some of this most delicious and interesting food you’ll ever have. I know have favorite places that I visit routinely and photograph the meals with unique visual appeal.  Some of  the meals have been disappointing, but some have been real standouts. Ootoya is a place I found during my first few days here.  It was raining and I had no idea where to go for lunch, I then saw a nice sign directing me upstairs. I’ve found this restaurant to offer the best value (large portions) for the price and the interior is comforting. You can also get as much green or barley tea with your meals. Each set photographed cost less than $10.00.

Grilled Mackerel with Horseradish & Seaweed, Mochi-Mochi, Pickled Vegetables, & Miso Soup

Grilled Mackerel with Horseradish & Seaweed, Mochi-Mochi, Pickled Vegetables, Miso Soup

Interior Scene, Ootoya

Counter by the Window, Ootoya