Day VII, Phase I, Week I: Friday Pizza Night

There’s a Friday night tradition at our house. Friday night is Pizza and Beer Night. There’s nothing better than a medium sized Half-Vegetarian/Half-Mushroom lover from the Palo Alto Pizza Company washed down with with a bottle (or two) of a nice IPA.

As you might imagine, this past Friday was a challenge.

I pulled out bowls of leftovers from the fridge. On my counter sat a sad collection of black beans, roasted sweet potato and mustard greens. Even the chickpea crepes looked uninviting. It was Pizza Night and my taste buds were not prepared to water for anything less.

Ben (who’s been riding shotgun on this detox/flush/reboot adventure) and I looked at our options. We could “cheat” and have the pizza and beer. We could cobble together a meal from our leftovers. Or we could find a compromise.

We found a compromise. We ordered a cheese-free vegetarian with a gluten free crust (it’s dangerous when the best traditional pizza in town is right across the street). Believe or not, it was good. I’m as surprised as you. Somehow it managed to hit all the right pizza notes. I didn’t even miss the beer – at least not that much.  

There are, however, better ways to get a gluten-free vegan pizza. One of my favorites is making my own pizza dough with Bob’s Red Mill mix. I add a basic tomato paste, sliced veggies and Miyoko’s Vegan mozzarella. It takes time but is worth the wait.

But as I move into Week II even dreams of gluten free pizza will have to be put on hold as I think more about portion control and keeping a sparkling clean diet. That means more fresh, raw veggies, organic grains, nuts and seeds. It’s a mindfulness practice that has me considering where my food is sourced, how it’s prepared and the nutrient density of each morsel. I want the biggest nutritional bang for my buck that I can get.

When we think about it, any program that asks us to adjust our diet and lifestyle is a mindfulness practice. 

Seven days in and I’m feeling good. The most difficult part (besides the thought of a pizza-less Friday) are the supplements. But more on that later.


Day III, Week I, Phase I: My Nemesis Sugar

If reports are true, Dr. Evil and his cat have nothing on the sugar industry. Last week I read it was the sugar industry that gaslighted us into believing all fat was bad. And, as a woman who struggles with weight and comes from a family of women who struggle with weight, I believed the conspiracy. I turned my back on fats but didn’t dare pass a jar of jelly beans without grabbing a handful. There were commercials, paid for by C & H, touting sugar as a fat-free, natural alternative to cyclamates, aspartame and saccharine. 

Saccharine. Just typing that word brings back memories of the small plastic bottle of little white saccharine tablets my mom carried in her purse when I was a kid, in the event we stopped at Woolworth’s. This was when we still thought it might cause bladder cancer but my mom didn’t care. She wasn’t going down without a fight and battled our predisposition for weight gain valiantly. Her order at Woolworth’s was a tuna melt and a cup of black coffee into which she’d drop her two white pearls of artificial sugar. I’d have my favorite: peanut butter and banana pie. To this day she still drinks Diet Coke or maybe Tab if she can find it. And if you offered me a slice, I’d still eat the peanut butter and banana cream pie.

In my commitment to the six-week Detox, Flush & Reboot program I’m determined to remove added sugar from my diet. But there’s a problem.

Sugar is addicting.

I went to my favorite resource, Dummies, to find out why. It turns out that sugar stimulates a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in charge of the pleasure centers in our brain. In other words, sugar makes us feel good. And we all want to feel good, right? 

Unfortunately, after awhile we become sensitized to sugar and need to consume more to reach the same level of pleasure. To make matters worse, as our dopamine receptors become more desensitized our prefrontal cortex begins to slow down. That’s the part of our brain that helps us make rational decisions…(which may explain why I wore striped socks with sandals paired with a plaid flannel shirt and rolled up jeans on Tuesday.)  

So what’s a sugar addict to do? I know all the obvious places sugar lurks, like the Bowls of Temptation at Samyama – the glass bowls filled with ginger chews or Starbursts. So I need to find strength and discipline. Ok. I can do that for six weeks.

But sugar is stealth. It turns up in the weirdest places. Like catsup. Or the soy creamer I’ve been using for the past month. Plus it uses aliases, like sucrose, fructose and glucose.

Then there are the other sugars, like honey and maple syrup and even agave syrup. Don’t be fooled. Under that hippie exterior lurks the same old sugar.  Don’t forget, a sugar by any other name tastes just as sweet…and is just as addicting.

I don’t think it’s wise for me to go cold turkey. I’ll begin by finishing the soy creamer and then switching to unsweetened. I’ll close my eyes when I pass the bowl of Starbursts. I’ll remain mindful – considering my choices and doing the best to make the right one.

Wish me luck.


Day I, Phase I, Week I

What I hate about the word ‘detox’, as in ‘doing a detox’, is that it implies we’ve done something wrong – that we’ve deliberately filled our bodies with impurities. But if we make reasonable decisions regarding our health and wellness then our organs of elimination – the liver, skin, kidneys, lungs and intestines – do a great job of filtering impurities and protecting us from environmental dangers.

And so you will never hear me say, “I’m doing a detox.” You might, however, hear me say, “I’m rebooting.”

I’m rebooting.

It all began last Friday when I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Diane Fong and Adrienne Chhoeuy. Dr. Fong is a Naturopathic Doctor and Medical Director of NaturalStart Medicine. Adrienne is the team’s colon hydrotherapist and lymph drainage expert. Despite my initial skepticism, I was won over by their enthusiasm and expertise. The team at NaturalStart believe that a ‘detox’ is more than changing your diet and drinking more water. A reboot has to incorporate a mind/body component that speaks to our spiritual imbalances and the energetic blocks we encounter as we move through life.   

At the end of the meeting I was invited to participate in their six-week Detox, Flush & Reboot program. Curious by nature and in desperate need of something – anything – to help me regain my enthusiasm for life I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’.

This past Saturday I joined fifteen other participants. We squeezed into the light filled lobby of NaturalStart and for the next few hours reviewed the program, gathered our supplements, enjoyed delicious green juice courtesy of Pure Juice Organics and were given a functional health assessment by Dr. Fong.

And so it begins. For the next six weeks I’ll be working with my diet, choosing fresh vegetables and whole grains while reducing gluten and caffeine and eliminating sugar and alcohol. I’ll reduce my screen time and spend more time practicing the mindfulness I try so hard to teach.

There’s more to this reboot than diet and exercise and as the weeks go by I’ll do my best to share the experiences with you. I’ll share some great recipes, too. All while wearing tis gorgeous new accessory:


Social Media is Making Me Sick

jOCjulUCT0q30hFW6gbywgDiscovering that a friend from high school – a quiet boy that I had a crush on in 1974 – served in the military after graduation, met hid one true love later in life and now spends time traveling around the world with her filled my heart. 

Finding family on my father’s side – a man I never knew – and now preparing to meet a cousin who can tell me about the half-brothers I didn’t know existed until a few years ago would have much more difficult to do before 2006.

Keeping up with people I’ve known through my life or clicking the crying emoji when a friend I’ve never met loses a beloved dog, sharing New York Times articles about the plastics found in the belly of a whale or Nikolas Kristof’s latest opinion piece (and believing that means I’ve done my part) these are all the reasons why I love and loathe social media. And it’s why I’m letting go of my personal social media accounts.

Don’t get too excited. My personal accounts will disappear but social media’s sticky tentacles will still have me in a stranglehold. Where would I be without social media as a marketing tool? I use Facebook to advertise my classes and to showcase the personal essays that land on your feed in ever dwindling frequency. Without Facebook I’d be posting fliers on telephone poles and sending long holiday letters to the few dozen folks who subscribe to Practically Twisted. In other words, I’m like the guy who lists all the many ways his life has improved since giving up Facebook but still has an Instagram account for his dog. 

And that’s just it. On the surface, Facebook seems innocent enough. After all, who doesn’t want to know what the girl who sat behind you in seventh grade algebra is doing these days? Before Facebook all we could do was guess. Before Facebook, I hoped that at least one of the kids who tormented me in 1972 – when my name was Robbie Myers (long story and no, I’m not in a witness protection program) – would find my name on the masthead of Elle Magazine and believe I was the editor. Without Facebook, how would they know that although we share the same name and even the same birth month, that I am not the Robbie Myers that found success in New York City’s high powered publishing world?

Other social media platforms don’t vex me the same way Facebook does. I’ve opened and then abandoned countless Twitter accounts and don’t really get the point of Instagram. So leaving them behind is painless.

But Facebook? Loosening Facebook’s grip is no easy feat. After all, in the beginning Facebook was the gentle and omniscient narrator of our lives. We were having too much fun to see the truth – Facebook is a beast of a business. Its primary purpose is to succeed and success is not measured in how many virtual friends you have. It’s measured in money.

But, like many things in our twenty-first century lives, it’s complicated. 

At first it was the time-suck that got to me. And then it was the sense of false connection we feel for people we’ve never met and the underlying loneliness that false connection hides. Pile on that the trolls, the bots and the anonymity that fuels mean-spirited commentary. Finally, the evil that was live-streamed from New Zealand. Offering infamy to twisted souls shouldn’t be as simple as giving them access to a camera, an internet connection and the ability to live-stream (of course, the counter argument to that is Philando Castile’s brave partner, who live-streamed his murder by a police officer in Minneapolis. Who would we have believed if she hadn’t had access to her phone and Facebook’s platform?). 

It’s complicated. I knew it would be. But social media is making me sick. It steals my time, makes me angry and breaks my heart. And so, anyone who needs me knows where to find me. And if you don’t know where to find me, you don’t need me.

 


Change and the Hope of Being a North Star

fullsizeoutput_596My favorite sweatshirt is from The Lost Whale, a bed and breakfast near Trinidad, California. On the front, in bold blue Times New Roman, is the word ‘lost’. On the back, of course, is the word ‘found’. 

I was much better at being lost when I was younger. I thought nothing of exploring foreign cities or wandering off marked trails when hiking the hills near my childhood home.

I now prefer leaving the getting lost to others. I want to believe my resilient and brave self of the past now clings to safety – clings to what is known – because the world has changed.  But as much as the world has changed, so have I.  My fearlessness has been tempered by sixty years of life experience. It emerges from time to time but for the most part I enjoy cheering others as they take great leaps of faith.

Months ago I had a conversation with a student weeks away from graduating from a 200-hour yoga teacher training about how it feels to be lost. This student was filled with deep uncertainty and considered leaving the teacher training and abandoning his yoga practice. Reading a recently published book about yoga in the West triggered deep self-doubt and distrust in a tradition thousands of years old. He felt lost.

My advice? I counseled the student to stay true to himself. I told him to read more books and to embrace feeling unmoored. To trust the unknowing and to not be afraid if he found himself wandering from a well-trod path.

I don’t know if my advice was sound but I can empathize with his dilemma. How do we continue to teach yoga when the practice we love evolves into something that feels far removed from what we understood yoga practice to be when we first began? Change is constant. Are we obligated to be carried along? It can be a positive force but change can be detrimental, too. So how do we discern the difference between change that elevates our practice and change that dilutes the power of our practice?

polaris-2-15-2013-Ken-Christison-NC-sq-e1463582304603Remaining true – living authentic lives – leans against the change that arrives unexpected and uninvited. It leans against the change that is slow and stealth*. Leaning against the latter – against the change that can’t be felt until we look behind and see how it all once was – requires a steadfast awareness of who we are as individuals and what we offer as yoga teachers.

We’re encouraged to ‘be the change we want to see’. That’s nice advice. But what if we turned it around. What if we decided to be a North Star? What if, as teachers, instead of riding change and trends what if we became a shining light? I guess what I’m trying to say is this: be true north for your students. Keep studying. Keep learning. Understand the depths of the tradition we teach.

*the rise of the YIC (Yoga Industrial Complex), the need for yoga teachers to also be adept at creating mix tapes, the presumed need for Yoga Alliance, the glut of factory-like teacher training programs, the focus on asana at the expense of seven other limbs, the revelations of teacher misconduct and the assumption that if you see the words ‘guru’ or ‘master teacher’ in front a name then it must be so, the loss of humility…


Don’t Dream It’s Over

The suitcases are back down in the storage locker, the laundry is folded and tucked away. The photos have been filed and the promise to have our favorites made into a Shutterfly book is written on that long ‘to do’ list.

fullsizeoutput_ccfIt’s like a dream. The only reason why I know for certain I was there is because of the sense of familiarity that welled inside when I saw images of the protests that occurred in Kerala in early January. A wall of women stretched the length of the place I had just been and deep in my soul I could feel the heat and hear the traffic and smell the layered perfumes of India.

I’ll be honest. I don’t want to be writing this. The deeper my last post about the backwaters of Kerala sinks into this blog’s history, the further away I am from that magical land. That’s how wonderful those ten days were.

I know plenty of people who look forward to their two-week holiday every year. Friends, students and private clients let me know they’ll be missing class or canceling appointments. They organize the cat sitter, hold the mail and stop the daily delivery of the New York Times. The kids are piled into the family van for a road trip or a race to the airport for a bargain priced flight to parts unknown.

glglq8tkrey3i1gqy+kx2aOur ten days in Kerala were a first for Ben and me. Over the past five years we’ve enjoyed time spent with family back east and long weekend breaks to Half Moon Bay and Arcata, but we’ve never had an extended holiday all to ourselves. Even worse, there’s never been a time when we’ve taken a so-called break and didn’t take work along as if it were a third traveling companion. (And if I’m being totally honest, on my first day in Bangalore, while Ben was finishing his business meeting, I worked on Samyama’s monthly newsletter, Prana Pulse).

I’ve always been a little weak in the self-care department and until December I didn’t understand the point of vacations. Time away from work for me usually means I’m attending an IAYT conference or taking another training. But to just sit still? Until December this was impossible. Which is pretty funny considering how often I encourage clients to be kind to themselves. I guess it’s sort of a ‘do as I say and not as I do’ situation.

Besides its gentle beauty, the biggest blessing of Kerala were the blissful two days without wifi.

fullsizeoutput_aa6For those two days my brain turned the volume down on the endless chatter, my body relaxed in a way I didn’t think was possible, and Ben and I had a chance to bask in the love we share. We engaged with life, with the world around us and with each other. During those two days I was fully immersed in the life around me – the colors, the textures, the sounds and even the silence. I engaged with life, not with a computer. 

I was very lucky to be able to travel to the other side of the world and I don’t know when I’ll have that opportunity again. No matter. Ben and I plan on taking another vacation this year. It might not be extreme or exotic or even that expensive. But after this experience, after really feeling what it means to renew and recharge, our next vacation will be designed with kindness and self-care in mind.


The Backwaters of Kerala

fullsizeoutput_a24Winding our way down from Munnar to sea level the sky gradually shifts from blue to milk white. Not white like creamy full fat milk – more like the water-downed milk I remember from childhood. The milk I drank at Mrs. Dietrich’s kitchen table when I was a kid was so fresh and warm from the cow that she served it to her daughter and me on ice. As the ice melted the milk became thin and pale. That’s the color of the sky as we descend from Munnar.

Birdsong has disappeared. In its place are the blaring horns that sound like a million trumpets searching for the right key. Bass notes rumble from trucks and busses while the staccato sputter of three-wheeled auto-rickshaws adds rhythm. It’s a discordant lullaby for Ben, who easily falls asleep in the back seat. I can’t sleep. There’s too much color and life and I want to see it all.

+AVbGiiOQmW564wlhaw8PgWomen wrapped in colorful sarees ride side-saddle on scooters while on the road’s shoulder ancient men wrapped in lungis tucked in above their knees push carts balanced on bicycle wheels and piled high with wares.

In India, driving is a skill left to the fearless. An art form only for the brave. There are no discernible lanes on the roads and when by chance there is a stretch painted with a thin white line that line is largely ignored.  Traffic flows only with the overtaking of slower vehicles. Drivers pass one another on curves, hills and in defiance of any vehicle, no matter how large, racing toward them from the opposite direction. Negotiating small villages requires dodging pedestrians and the gentle street dogs that roam in small packs. Vehicles braid their way through intersections without stopping. 

And somehow, for the most part, it all kind of works. 

It would be easy to believe drivers who overtake on curves or don’t stop at intersections have a careless and cavalier attitude toward life. But I don’t believe that. I believe the one single rule of the road that informs Indian traffic is a healthy attitude toward death. The acceptance of what we don’t know – the time or place of our demise – is a freeing thing. 

We’re on our way to the backwaters of Kerala, to a place called Alleppey. From there we’ll spend a day and one night aboard a houseboat on Lake Vembanad.

IszyrQtvTTG7%%7VjZ+TGAThe four hour drive from Munnar to Alleppey is long and hot and bumpy but when we arrive at the houseboat all of that is forgotten. For the rest of the afternoon and into the first part of the next morning we’ll be on the longest lake in Kerala. We’re in a traditional houseboat. It moves almost without sound. I can hear the lapping of water and once again the sound of birds calling to one another. There’s an immense variety of bird life here – brahminy kites that look like bald eagles, kingfishers, parrots, flycatchers, darters, cormorants, egrets and herons all greet us as we move through the waters. 

IMG_3209The lake is life and livelihood for the people who live along its edge. Children are ferried home from school in wooden boats. Women wash clothes while their kids play in its waters. At sunrise lone fishermen, silhouetted in their small canoes by the red dawn, make their way to where they hope will be the day’s best catch.

I feel like an intruder. My Western sensibilities can not imagine what life is like for the people who live on the lake. Life means something different here, something I can’t define or experience. I’m a visitor – welcome or unwelcome – who will soon return to central heating, paved roads and hot water on demand. 4X+kzKIoSgGHjv7CeQx7zw

But I am swallowed up in the beauty of it all. I envy their connection to the water and the land. As I continue to watch and steal photos of people’s lives I consider how we all love and hate, live and die, work and rest, smile and mourn. Maybe the woman pounding wet clothes on cement and I have something the same inside. Different hopes but still hope. Different fears but still fear.