Resolve & Clarity

There was a time when New Year’s resolutions meant everything to me. This is how it typically played out:

  1. In December I begin to create a list of goals impossibly long and non-specific
  2. By mid-January I’m inching toward failure
  3. February arrives and the goals and aspirations I imagined for myself in December are forgotten
  4. Guilt ensues

I’m not alone. By February most resolution loving humans have become fickle wrecks, rationalizing all the reasons why the promises we made to ourselves were broken. Why no amount of good intention was enough to realize change.

After many decades of repeating this pattern I decided resolutions were a fools errand and stopped torturing myself. Until now. This year, 2021, is different. I’m not certain why. Perhaps  the chaos and commotion of 2020 has left me feeling untethered and the only way to anchor myself in the present is to build a framework for the future.

I’ve read that one of the reasons why our resolve fails after a few short weeks is because the goals we set for ourselves are not specific enough. For instance, it’s not enough for me to tell myself “In 2021 I want to be published.” What does ‘be published’ mean? Do I mean a letter to the editor of my local newspaper or a feature in O Magazine? It’s more helpful for me to set this intention: “In 2021 I want to be published in the Readers Write column of The Sun.” That still may not happen, but the specificity of the intent allows me to create a plan of action that moves me forward toward that goal.

In the past, like many, ‘lose weight’ and it’s sidekick ‘exercise more’ has made an appearance on my list of resolutions. Even when my weight was well in the realm of ‘average’ and I was hitting the magic number of steps. It landed on my list this year but I had to wonder why. And so, it’s been helpful to take time to consider what I actually mean when less weight and more exercise land on the list. It hasn’t taken long for me to realize these goals are really not about weight loss and exercise. They’re about health and wellness. They weren’t about fitting into the embossed leather pencil skirt a friend outgrew and passed on to me. They’re about living life with vibrancy. With clarity. Besides, can you see me teaching yoga in an embossed leather pencil skirt?

So how do I find vibrancy? Where is the clarity I seek?

Last year began with the death of my mother. She was an alcoholic. As was my grandfather.  Two months after the local post office lost and then recovered my mother’s ashes (it could only happen to my mom) we shut down and the life we knew became The Before Times. Overnight we were strategizing new coping mechanisms. 

My coping mechanism was wine. What became a glass or two on weekends morphed into a couple of glasses on weekend nights and a glass or two over the course of the work week which eventually morphed into a glass or two every night of the week. Every now and again I took a break for a few days – just to prove I could – but the next COVID graph would send me back to the Pinot. The amount I was drinking was more than I should but I was convinced my nightly habit relieved the pressure of coping in the weird time in which we live. And besides, I only poured the Pinot as a nightcap before climbing into bed. When I started climbing into bed at 7:00 PM I had to ask myself, ‘how much drinking is too much drinking?’

And the cheap Pinot was not supporting the vibrancy and clarity I want for my life. And so, here I go, walking into this new, amazing year as a non-drinker. I’d like to say this is permanent but I don’t know if that’s true. I want it to be true but I’m just a humble and flawed yoga teacher. So we’ll see.


Pandemic Poundage and the Mystery of Self-Care

I’ve joined Noom, the diet app that changes our relationship with food. For the uninitiated, Noom is an online health and wellness coaching app focused on weight loss. It includes all the typical elements of a healthy eating plan: tracking food and weighing in. But it also includes daily lessons that teach me about my triggers, how to maintain motivation and the benefits of positive reinforcement. Noom also provides an online coach who checks in daily. I’ve yet to determine whether my coach Jessye is a real human or a bot but given the specificity of our conversations I’m leaning toward human. 

For the past two years my body has been gently expanding and the pandemic has accelerated this loathsome process. Given that I’m at the beginning of life’s ‘chapter three’ I know that in order to enjoy the rest of my life story I need to be the best version of me I can muster. What’s the best version of me? The best version of me is:

  • an advocate for her yoga students and coaching clients
  • a woman who demonstrates compassion and caring
  • someone who is not afraid to laugh with gusto at bad jokes and loves fearlessly
  • a person who takes time to nurture the parts of her that makes the heart sing: writing, creating and simple stillness

If I want those visions of who I am to shine, then the best version of me must also be this: 

A strong and healthy woman.

And so, a day after my 62nd birthday and two days before the start of the American Food Fest that we call the ‘holiday season’ I joined Noom. Timing is not my strong suit.

It’s too early to tell if I’ll shift my Pandemic Poundage and while that’s a priority it’s not the priority. The priority for me is not shifting the weight, it’s shifting my attitude about how I choose to take care of myself. 

What is Self-Care?

The concept of self-care has always been, for me, a bit of a mystery. Is it a quick mani/pedi or a long soak in the bathtub? Maybe it’s a glass of Pinot at the end of a long, hard day or a new pair of shoes worn once and then donated to charity. In the Before Times self-care fell under the category of ‘unnecessary gift’ – a small and perhaps selfish indulgence to soothe a bad day. I didn’t see the connection between self-care and good health. 

But during a coaching session a few weeks ago my client arrived at an awareness that is changing both our lives:

My body is my friend. Would I treat a friend the same way I treat my body?

When I heard that simple truth and all the best versions of me that I envision aligned. They challenged me to reflect on my somewhat debauched pandemic behavior and re-affirmed the importance of self-care.

Self-care, it turns out, is more than a new pair of blue suede shoes. Self-care is a deliberate act of nurturing that supports our mental, emotional and physical health. A good self-care practice improves our outlook on life. It reduces anxiety. It improves our relationships. Placing a priority on self-care is like putting the oxygen mask on first. Once we can breathe we can help others to do the same.

What Does My Self-Care Practice Look Like?

  • It has it’s own rhythm and flow that moves with my needs and instincts
  • At the same time, it’s a practice that needs to be planned
  • A self-care plan adds and subtracts: I might add more exercise and subtract my habit of checking emails first thing in the morning. I’ll add cut flowers to my environment and put my phone in another room at dinner.
  • My self-care practice includes Noom, which is reminding me to make good (not perfect) nutritional choices.
  • It also includes good sleep hygiene. Like Ben Franklin, I’m early to bed and early to rise. While it might make me healthy, there’s no guarantee it will make me wealthy or wise. One can always hope, I suppose.
  • A self-care plan includes movement. When life pressed ‘pause’ in March I began a walking program that, until a nasty fall, had transitioned to jogging. I’ve now settled on brisk walking. My walks – typically an hour – bring clarity and focus. Even at a brisk pace they relax and unwind me.
  • Most importantly, my self-care plan includes spending quality time with the man I love. With the pandemic keeping us working from home you would think that would be easy. It’s not. Ben and I make certain to eat at least one meal together and to take longs walks together on the weekends. 

Self-care plans are as unique as the individual.

What does your self-care plan look like? What habits no longer serve you? What new habit will bring you closer to the best version of you?


Election Day

Four years ago I didn’t realize how much I needed to see a woman in the White House until it didn’t happen.  And when it didn’t happen I was bereft. I was also afraid for the future of our country. I had taken the election for granted and was too ill-informed to understand how it could have possibly happened that we elected our current President. I remember feeling dazed and finally falling asleep, well past midnight, on the couch of the house where I happened to be cat sitting.

The following morning I headed to Samyama Yoga Center to teach my 8:15 AM class.  I wasn’t convinced that, under the circumstances, anyone would arrive ready to unroll their mat. But they did. Shell-shocked and slack jawed, their eyes swollen from crying too much the night before. 

I hope that tomorrow, when I open my Zoom class, that we are all crying again. This time for joy.

We are so close. So close. But I still have some left over sorrow from 2016 so I’m not going to raise my hopes. I’m going to be patient. And whether it takes a day or a week or a month I’ll be ready to celebrate and ready to thank all the women who came before me. The women who fought for the right to vote and the women who fought – and still fight – for equality.

Today is a very big deal and I’m trying my best to stay calm.

Cooking keeps me calm. I’ve been cooking. Alot.

On Sunday morning I filled the refrigerator with food for the week: rice and lentils, quinoa salad with toasted hazelnuts, congee and sweet potato chili. I filled the freezer, too. On Sunday afternoon I finally took a chance with the ‘yogurt’ button on my Instant Pot Duo and made the cottage cheese we ate with slices of fresh off the vine tomatoes we nurtured on our porch through the summer. Yesterday I made yogurt. This morning I spooned its creamy whiteness into cheesecloth bags and set them up to drain through the day. By this afternoon it will be labneh thick and ready to spoon over berries or baked potatoes. Right now, not even 9:00 AM, I’m caramelizing onions in my cast iron pan. I can freeze some to use later but I have a feeling they won’t last long enough. Most of them are going to grace the caramelized onion and mushroom pizza I’m making for dinner tonight.

Most of my typical Tuesday schedule has been canceled. Peer coaches I had arranged to meet pressed pause for the day and my mentor canceled class today in order to fight the good electoral fight on the streets of New York. I’m teaching a class this afternoon for the pain group in San Mateo and have a meeting with my trauma study group at about the same time as Brian, Rachel, Nicole and Joy begin to report early results. After that you’ll find me eating pizza and streaming MSNBC.

The onions are, at last, caramelized (it took an hour!) and now I’m headed out for a very, very long walk. I might head down to Shoreline but it’s more likely that I’ll speed walk my way around the neighborhood. 

What are you doing today?


La-La-Latke Land

Despite my mother’s insistence, and the evidence I found in her belongings, 23 and Me insists I’ve not a drop of Jewish blood. In other words, it’s highly probable that I don’t have the DNA to make a good latke. I tried anyway.

I had a few things going against me. Some my own doing.

  1. They needed to be vegan.
  2. Rather than using two potatoes I decided to use one potato and one white-fleshed yam.
  3. I was of the opinion that latkes were nothing more than Jewish hash browns. What could go wrong?

It turns out, quite a bit can go wrong.

If vegan latkes means no eggs to bind them what will keep them from falling apart? The choices are varied: chia seed, flax powder or aquafaba. Ben’s brilliant sister – who knows her way around the kitchen – squeezed the water from her shredded potato, allowed it to settle, and then used the starch at the bottom of the bowl plus one half of a banana to bind. My sad choice? Flour. In my defense I was referencing a recipe I found online. I said to myself, “That’s odd” but pulled the organic flour from the back of my kitchen cabinet anyway. A more skilled cook might have gotten away with it. Me? Not so much.

It was going well at first. I grated my tubers (the joke goes latkes are “Grate, Grate, Great!”) and spooned the results into a milk bag to press out as much liquid as possible. I returned the dried lump of spud and yam (spam?) back to a bowl and added half of a finely chopped shallot, a bit of baking powder, a splash of plant milk, salt and pepper and, of course, the flour. I can’t provide precise measurements for two reasons:

  1. I don’t have precise measurements.
  2. I referenced the online recipe. I didn’t exactly follow it.

Over-confidence got the better of me. When I could turn my batter into little patties I thought to myself, “I’ve got this.” When I put two test latkes on a slightly oiled griddle and watched them  turn golden brown I smiled. But something wasn’t quite right. Instead of my latkes looking like this:

After they were fried they looked like this:

Although Ben insisted that all latkes are different and some even look like mine, I didn’t believe him primarily because I could serve the darling man baked brown paper bag and he’d insist it was the best brown paper bag he ever ate. 

While they were somewhat crunchy on the outside, they had the consistency of grade school paste on the inside. Next year? This Gentile is sticking to hash browns.


Pressing Pause: The Joy of Hot Water and Lemon Water

Let’s just say I’m holding steady. My schedule won’t allow me to ease into phase two for another week, which is fine by me.

Each day I’m surprised. I’m surprised by how easy I’ve found this process. I’m surprised by how well I feel. I’m surprised by how my response to day-to-day stress seems to have shifted toward something resembling calm. Ever the skeptical inquirer, however, I continue to question.

How could a few shifts in my diet, coupled with a supplement regime, produce results in just a few weeks? Besides, didn’t I cheat once or twice (or thrice)?

The point of the practice, I suppose, is to create the conditions by which I am consistently mindful of what I am putting into my body. That means being mindful not only when I’m making good choices but being mindful even when my choices are less than helpful. It also means cultivating good habits – like beginning the day with a mug of hot water and lemon juice.

But mornings can be hectic in my household and the simple act of boiling the kettle, pouring hot water into a mug and then adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice squeezing the lemon into it can fall down the list of priorities when there are showers to take, a litter box to clean and emails to answer.

My solution is to set myself up for a good morning the night before. Before bed I fill my forty ounce Mira thermos with hot water, the juice from one whole lemon and – as suggested by NaturalStart’s Detox, Flush and Reboot program – a little pinch of cayenne pepper. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of grated fresh ginger, too. In the morning my hot lemon water is ready for me. I drink a large glass when I wake and sip the rest throughput the day.

But why? Why is this is healthy habit? An internet search will offer a list of reasons, some more dubious than others. I found a balanced explanation on Wellness Mama but I’ll be honest- I don’t really need a list of benefits that may or may not be true. I can report that I’ve noticed an improvement in my skin tone. It’s possible the dark circles under my eyes aren’t so obvious. But mostly it just feels good to begin my day with a glass of lemon water. I don’t really need any other reason to keep this healthy habit.


Day VIII, Week II, Phase I: Oops, I Did it Again

I’m an emotional eater. Always have been. What does that mean? It means when something comes along to jangle my equilibrium – a quiet disagreement, a perceived slight, difficulties at work or even just the voice in my head chipping away at my self-esteem – I eat.

And believe me, I’m not stuffing my face with kale salad. Nope. Remember, sugar is my nemesis.

I reach for ice cream.

I knew there was a half eaten pint of Talenti gelato in our freezer and with a little foresight I would have either finished it or thrown it away before the start of this reboot journey. But I didn’t. You can figure out the rest of the story.

“I’ll just have a spoonful,” I said to myself. Three spoonfuls later I said, “Just one more.” Thankfully, Ben was home and pried the carton from my cold, curled fingers before I could inflict any more self-harm. He and I both knew a few spoonfuls of creamy chocolate goodness wouldn’t derail the progress of my detox/flush/reboot journey. The guilt scheduled to arrive the moment that last spoonful hit my gullet would be my undoing.

What do we do when our best intentions take a back seat to our reflexive instincts?

One of the gifts that a yoga practice offers is self-regulation. Yoga teaches us to have a measured response – the ability to dial down the strong reactions we might have to external events. In other words, instead of reaching for the ice cream I might have reached for the meditation cushion.

But sometimes self-regulation defaults to stress-induced tantrum and before I know it I’m a sticky chocolate mess. When that happens – it’s time to practice forgiveness. When forgiveness opens my heart I remind myself that one of the gifts of this program is the opportunity to look at the small choices we all make each day. Approaching each choice with presence and mindfulness and – sometimes – a little bit of forgiveness is an act of healing.


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:


Death by Sugar

d689d520cd3e2d7653c5e1469e50ff90--liquorice-allsorts-floppy-hatsMy mother craved licorice while carrying the child who would become me. I blame her for my addiction.

Last week a client who eschews quests asked me if I would purchase a box of Barrett’s Licorice All-Sorts for her as she could not find them where she shops for groceries. This was a little bit like asking someone avoiding alcohol to pick up a box of pinot (a box, not a bottle – no cork screw required).

I giddily agreed.

I love licorice all-sorts and I know for a fact they are available for purchase at the store across the street from where I live. I know this because when I see them near the baked goods or stacked in the candy aisle I stare longingly. I marvel at the confection’s bright colors. I remember with affection their sweet and bitter taste. And I know that should I give in to temptation and bring a box of the candies home they will be eaten within the hour. I also know that it will be less a slippery slope and more an oil slicked slide. I won’t be able to stop and will continue to buy and eat licorice all-sorts until the inventory at Mollie Stone’s is decimated. Or I’m in a sugar coma. Whichever comes first.

Sugar is poison.

Is that true? The media loves an extreme headline almost as much as I love licorice all-sorts and as powerful as it is to label sugar a poison, it may not go far enough. I prefer to think of sugar – and by ‘sugar’ I mean sweeteners we add to foods as obvious as cookies and as surprising as spaghetti sauce – as a passive aggressive bully gaslighting me to ill-health. I’ll admit it, more often than not sugar can sweet talk me into those Panera chocolate chip cookies in the pain clinic’s staff room, the chocolate covered macadamia nuts at the yoga studio and even the half-pint of sorbet gathering ice crystals in the back of the freezer.

And while sugar is tickling my taste buds with sweet nothings it’s also contributing to weight gain and tooth decay, placing stress on my liver, heart, kidneys and pancreas, aging my skin and inflaming my joints.

The most recent nutritional advice is trading the theory that a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from for the more obvious and intuitive notion that it’s quality, not quantity.

In other words, one thousand calories derived from a balanced combination of fruits, vegetables and whole grains will beat one thousand calories derived from fruit rolls, potato chips and donuts hands down.
I told you it was obvious and intuitive.

A box of Barrett’s Licorice All-Sorts will not kill me. Death by sugar is more insidious. All it takes is a little label reading to discover sugar shows up in places we’d never expect.
Why am I firing up my sweet tooth with all this thinking about sugar? It’s New York Time’s David Leonhardt’s fault. He wrote this, which lead me down several internet rabbit holes to this and this.

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Last week I stood in front of the Barrett’s Licorice All-Sorts and weighed my options. In the end, I didn’t buy them. I didn’t even pick them up. Instead, I came home with a bag of Pontefract Cakes.

And I ate them all.

Nobody said it was easy.


Toxic/Not Toxic

This is toxic:

Unknown

This is not toxic:

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And that’s why I don’t use the word ‘detox’. Yes, it’s time for my yearly campaign to ban the word ‘detox’ and any associated eating plan that encourages us to either eliminate entire classes of macronutrients, requires a blood test before we meal plan or encourages us to subsist on lemon, cayenne and honey.

Why don’t we call what most of us are about to embark on in a few days’ time what it actually is: an opportunity to practice mindful eating.

The problem with a ‘detox’ program – or any strictly defined and limiting diet that promises more than it can deliver – is that it is finite. The rules and edges are so sharply defined that we are almost guaranteed to fail.

If instead we reframe our efforts as an opportunity to slow down and to consider our food choices, we allow ourselves room to explore, to try something new, to reset and – most importantly – to change our relationship to food, our bodies and the intentions we hold when we eat.