Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rebooting: Mind, Body, Soul

Hopefully, in your neck of the woods, spring is in the air. Here in Northern Illinois, sometimes it's spring, sometimes not...ahhh, Midwest living...you either love it, hate it, or accept it. But after a relatively long winter, it's time to open up the windows, breathe in the clean fresh air, and re-energize your mind, body, and soul. For me, that means so many things.

Spring time is proof that dormancy is a must. It gives the creatures and plants of this world time to rest. If you're like me, I tend to view the last month of winter as God's joke. Are we being put to the test to see if we have what it takes to get through? Or is this a reminder that we still need our rest before we begin the re-awakening of life. Sometimes I wonder...do animals feel cranky at having to slow down? Or do they appreciate the break? Humans do not have that luxury to shut down in the winter. We work, pay bills, all to keep our families healthy and safe. Is it OK to not feel guilty that we do not have the energy needed during these months? I'm learning to appreciate the battening down the hatches of winter. This past winter, for me, has been one of the best in recent memory. I allowed myself that time to rest, and now that spring is here, I feel ready to move on to the next big thing. Whatever that may be.

Although I do not get this right on a daily basis, and I do not want to give the impression that I always practice what I preach, I do know, however, that I have tools to reboot. Here is my list:


  • Start the morning with my yoga practice, reminding myself that yoga is not a regimented practice, but a where-you-are-at-at-any-given-moment practice, giving myself permission to have slow days and vigorous days. 
  • Reflect on my past, pray for strength for the day, and give thanks for all I have (I do this while I drive to work).
  • Greet each person with respect, even those you feel do not deserve it. Because by acting respectful, you are filling your higher purpose. I need to be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and know that I did the best I could (which many times is way less than perfect).
  • Remind myself that hardships are temporary, as is ease and happiness. Be grateful for all experiences...they make up who we are--and aren't we all complicated?
  •  Practicing mindfulness in all aspects of my life. How I choose to act is in my control. Being reactionary is self-destructive. Difficulties in relationships happen. It's how you choose to respond that defines who you are.
  • Garden! I can't get enough. What a way to reboot! Getting my hands in the dirt and planting, weeding, pruning, gives my mind, body, and soul the lift it needs. In fact, I just planted kale and cauliflower. I'm sure looking forward to fresh salads from my organic garden.
  • Biking! I got a new recumbent bike that I love! The back support gives me the pain-free ride my body needs. And exercising outside! What could be better?!
  • Walking! Love it! Enough said.
  • Spending as much quality time with my family as possible. As a mom and a wife, I sure do make mistakes...it's how we move on and accept ourselves as we are, and love each other...warts an all.
  • Reading. That is something I do all year long. Especially in the winter. It refuels me at so many levels.
  • Creating. I make jewelry, crochet, and dabble in soap making--though this hasn't happened in a few years...maybe it's time to get back to that. To me, being able to create something with my hands allows me the meditative experience needed to keep me grounded. And what an expression of your soul.

I sure could go on and on. Maybe on those days where just getting out of bed is a chore, I will read this list and remember: practice. Life is an ever changing adventure. Nothing stays the same! Enjoy spring! Namaste.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Indie Author, M. Rae: With Grace Under Pressure

I had the pleasure of meeting indie author, M. Rae, during a summer writing workshop in 2014, and was excited to read her new book With Grace Under Pressure. As I was so taken with this beautiful story, and wanted to share it with as many people possible, I asked if she would like to be interviewed. My hope is that after you read the interview, you will purchase this gem of a book. You will not be disappointed.


With Grace Under Pressure is your first book. This is an eloquently told story of five women, who through different reasons, come together eventually to run a half-marathon. Would you talk about the experiences that led you to write so eloquently about each character?

Thank you for your kind words.  The characters in With Grace Under Pressure have some very different challenges to face and overcome, most of them being situations I have not personally experienced.  However, the things they all share, are also things I, and many of my readers share.  As a mother, I have certainly felt the ambivalence of Eva, the protectiveness of Japlo, the camaraderie of Gracie.  As a daughter I can relate to the undying support of a parent-- father and mother.  As a runner, I have ebbed in and out of the many reasons these women run: to compete, to clear my mind, to escape worries, to lose weight, to raise money for a charity.  As a friend, I have felt the incredible acceptance of that one person who just won’t let you fall, no matter what.  These moments are unique to each of us, but, as is true with so much in life, they are also the thread that weaves us all together in the human struggle to find meaning and inspiration.


I couldn't help but notice your literal and metaphorical use of the word run throughout the novel. Mindful of not giving away too much, briefly talk about how you see the characters as individual runners and what running means to them.

Running is the activity that brings these women together, but as individuals, the word holds connotations of power, independence, survival, organization, and even a bit of a revolution.  It is through this physical activity that each woman is able to attain her greater personal need for self-realization.


My blog focuses on yoga, healthy living, and living with chronic pain in safe and positive ways. Understanding that you are not giving medical advice or endorsing any program, per se, what would you say to my readers about running?

Running changes everything.  It changes your body, your health, your adaptability, your “grit”, your relationships.  It makes you strong in many different ways.  It is impossible to not get better, especially if you are new to running.  You just need to get out the door on a regular basis, and let your feet take care of the rest.


Now a technical question. One of your characters is portrayed as a new runner. She decides she needs new running shoes, since she has nothing at all to run in, and she is surprised to find a piece of equipment that is used to choose the shoe she will 
wear--she doesn't choose the shoe, the shoe chooses her. Does this technology exist and what can you tell us about this?

I am so glad you noticed that!  This is, in fact, a wishful version of a piece of technology that I have seen in stores (although it may be less wishful by this point).  I have had running shoe stores use a variety of computerized tools to choose a correct shoe style for me, but I have not personally seen that it suggests a particular shoe brand -- I imagine that might be difficult with all of the changes that shoes go through year to year, but it sure would be nice!   


How do you fit running into your life with your busy schedule? As much as you are comfortable, help us to get to know you.

I have found that running is one of the most time-efficient exercises for me.  The hardest part is truly making the decision to run “now”.  If I can run in the morning, before work, while most of the world is still asleep, I feel the best all day, and I don’t need to wonder if I’ll get to it the rest of the day.  Admittedly, it is hard to wake up early, but once you make it a habit, your body just responds.  
I also try to have running gear on or with me if I think I might have an extra 20 - 45 minutes during the day.  Lunch time, soccer practice, post-work/ pre-commute are pockets of time that are just begging to be filled with a good run instead of a latte and web surfing.
Running with a group or a buddy is a great way to make sure you have a reserved time for your run, with someone who will expect to see you there and will push you to get going, keep going, and finish strong.  
If you remove lounging, chatting, complaining and fussing from the whole process, you find that it is over in a very short time.  And of course, the faster you run, the farther you can go in that amount of time!  


What didn't I ask you that you would like to share with my readers?

While this novel focuses on women, and running, I do not feel it is a book about women running.  I hope that men and women, runners and non-runners, will find this to be a story of strength, community, and dedication to making our human experience one of ease, even as we face challenge.  
As Anna tells us,

“our greatest joys and deepest despairs are never ours to bear alone.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Yoga is for Everyone. Even You!

Last March, HealthLine.com's  journalist, Leslie Vandever,  wrote this article It Doesn't Hurt: Natural Ways to Treat Pain as a guest contributor to my blog. This year, Ms. Vandever has contributed another guest-blog post about Yoga.  I am honored to host HealthLine.com and Ms. Vandever. I do hope you enjoy! Namaste.

Yoga is for Everyone. Even You!

By Leslie Vandever

What image does the word “yoga” conjure in your mind?

If you imagine a slender, attractive young woman bending her lithe, flexible, perfect body into pretzel-like positions with an expression of blank tranquility on her face and a Mona Lisa smile on her lips, you’re not alone.

Most people associate yoga with people who are young and in peak physical condition. They don’t have flab, weak muscles, love handles, or double chins. They don’t suffer from a chronic illness or have chronic pain. Their bellies are pancake flat and their legs are long and steely. They have perfect behinds and prefer bean sprouts and chickpeas to cheeseburgers and french fries.

But this image of the average yoga practitioner is wrong. You don’t need to be young, healthy, strong, thin and ultra-flexible to practice yoga. All you need is your body—in whatever shape and condition it happens to be in at the moment—and a desire to learn, along with an open mind.

Don’t forget that most yogis and yoginis (male and female practitioners) don’t start out strong, lithe, and fit. Just like you, they came to yoga with a not-perfect body. They, like you, approached it with a sense of curiosity—and a rather serious doubt that they would ever be able to bend like that, because at the time, they couldn’t. But with patience and calm perseverance, their bodies learned, adapted, and changed, growing strong and fit. Yoga is a mind/body practice, one that changes with the individual.

Created in India more than 5,000 years ago, yoga is a meditative movement practice that branched into many styles over time. The most common style in the U.S. is hatha yoga. It combines breathing techniques, physical postures (or “asanas”), and meditation, aiming for physical strength and stamina, mental peace and balance, and good overall health.

Yoga incorporates a philosophy, taken from Buddhist and Hindu teachings, that promotes spiritual growth and mastery over the body and mind. It is not a religion and it doesn’t challenge your beliefs or require you to change them.

The practice of yoga will help you become more flexible. It will stretch and strengthen your muscles and increase the range of movement in your limbs. It will teach you to breathe so that every breathe counts, and improve your balance. You’ll increase your endurance and stamina, as well. And if you have pain, a chronic illness, or you’re overweight, with modifications yoga can still fit your needs. It may even reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. It may lessen anxiety and depression. It can improve overall physical fitness, relieve stress, and enhance your quality of life. Yoga can fit almost any physical limitation, and it can help relieve pain and improve physical function.

Almost anyone can do yoga. Fat, thin, young, old, middle-aged, male, or female, it can work for you.

Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.

References:
·         Haaz, S. and Bartlett, S. J. Yoga for Arthritis: A Scoping Review. (2010, Dec. 3) Rheumatic Disease Clinics. Retrieved on March 11, 2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3026480/
·         Yoga for Health. (2013, June) National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on March 11, 2015 from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga/introduction.htm

·         Yoga 101; The Beginner’s Guide to Practice, Meditation, and the Sutras. ( 2014, Oct. 7) Yoga Journal. Retrieved on March 11, 2015 from http://www.yogajournal.com/article/beginners/yoga-questions-answered/

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My New Blog about Writing

I am so thrilled to have a new blog about writing. I have worked with my students on all academics ranging from listening skills, reading, writing, algebra--basically all areas of literacy and math through Advanced Algebra. A wonderful friend of mine has been nudging me for quite a while to get started on a writing blog and share my ideas. Well, on March 10, I finally took the plunge. If you are interested, I invite you to visit my new blog Make it Happen Write Away! Youthful Yogini is still alive and well...just flexing my teacher muscles for a change! Enjoy!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Reflections on "13 Poses to Break Bad Habits" from Yoga Journal

In the January issue of Yoga Journal (2015) is a fantastic article on how to break bad habits through a series of yoga poses. The title of the article is
13 Poses to Break Bad HabitsThe article suggests you give this sequence 40 days to really get your willpower working and your energy increased. I was particularly intrigued since it focused on setting intentions, or sankulpas, and since its the new year, I thought why not give it a try!

I began on January 5 with vigor. It didn't take me long to realize that I've really let my core muscles go. I was able to do all the asanas; however, not at the duration they suggested. As of today, I am close to the duration of the core strengthening poses, and I feel terrific. My stamina continues until bedtime. Usually during the week, if I can sneak in a short nap, I take it. My body seems to not need it now. I have not had a nap since mid-December!

A couple of nights ago, I was cuddling with my oldest son before bed and we have this lovely ritual that we do nightly. He asks me how my day was and the best and worst parts of it, I then ask him the same thing. For four days in a row I did not have a bad part of my day. He would nudge me and tell me to really think, but I came up with nothing. He commented, "Wow, Mom, four days in a row!" Could this be a coincidence? I think not!

My attitude is quite a bit brighter than it has been the last couple of years and the level of energy that I've been able to sustain hasn't happened since I was in my 20s. I truly believe this practice has shifted my view on life and has motivated me to continue. I will definitely make this a part of my practice--for much longer than 40 days. Namaste.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Year in Review

Looking back at 2014 actually seems exhausting to me right now. When I'm honest with myself, I can say that many good events and changes took place. When I'm feeling down, I may say that the year was tough and days were difficult to get through. I have a couple of people I know who are battling different types of cancer, and there by the grace of God go I. Really I am blessed and not dealing with a life-threatening illness. It is hard to keep that in perspective, however.

There is a wonderful saying that I think about in times of pain and stress: "Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind." Bruce Lee.. Many days I am the stiffest tree--in fact more than I'm comfortable with. It's when I notice that I'm being rigid that I need to get busy and change my patterns of behavior and my attitude.

I've begun again listening to Rod Stryker's Four Desires meditations. My favorite is the Bliss Meditation. It gives me the relaxation I need, the peace of mind, and the practice gets my head in the right place. If you haven't tried meditation, I suggest you do. Rod makes it so very easy with his soothing voice and simple instructions. It does take time to get used to sitting still and clearing your mind, but with patience and fortitude, you will get all the benefits promised.

At times I think I'm going backwards with my growth. When things do not go according to plan, I feel I am slipping. Not so, I have to remind myself. Maybe my soul/spiritual guides/God have decided that I'm ready to deal with the difficult situations that have needed to be addressed, and now, with the skills and tools I've gained, I'm ready to confront them.

What I do have going for me is that I am a willing participant in my life. I find ways to better myself through doctors and a therapist who makes me take hard looks at myself, but does so in a very gentle way. For anyone who has ever considered or wanted to try therapy, I fully recommend it. Honestly, if anyone has ever told you that it is shameful to go to a therapist, then you absolutely must change your thinking. My sister once said to me that people had often asked her why she chose therapy years ago, and she said, "Why wouldn't you?" And those simple words got my butt into therapy all those years ago.

Here are some of my wishes and suggestions for anyone who has taken time to read this: You are the most important person in this world. It took me years to figure that out. If you are not healthy in mind, body, and spirit, then there is no way you will be your best with your family, friends, and colleagues. Take the time out of your busy schedule to take care of yourself. In the long run it will be worth it. When I had my first child, I was afraid to be away from him. Going to work after my maternity leave was one of the hardest things I had to do. A dear friend of mine saw the struggles I was having and told me to get into an exercise program. I didn't have time and I didn't want to be away from my family. She actually told me I was doing my family no good in the state I was in. She was dead on right.

Please do not get the idea that I get this right all the time. I don't. Not even close. You teach what you most need to learn--not sure who coined that aphorism, but it is true. So looking to the new year, I will continue my self care and discovery, and my wish for all of you is that you take the precious time you need to refuel and re-energize your life so that you can live it to the fullest. Namaste.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Live Each Day as if it were Your Last!

Is it just the start of fall, the beginning of the school year, or the impending snow that inevitably gets me into a funk every year? I have seen this occur with many of my friends, so I do think the seasonal variations definitely have something to do with it.

This is my 22nd year of teaching. I can't believe it. Where has the time gone? And I feel this itch that I need to be doing something a bit different. I said to Jeff, "I wish being a yoga teacher paid as well as a public school teacher." Because quite honestly, I'd get my yoga certification in a heart beat.

But honestly, what is keeping me from getting it now? Most likely the cost factor. I have looked at the 200 hour courses and it seems to me to be cost prohibitive at the moment. My heart is truly there...but, knowing what I do about mindfulness, I need to be present in my life right here, right now.

This past summer I attended a program offered through the Illinois Writing Project. It changed the way I view myself as a writer and how I teach my students to value their ideas and get them on paper. This also has gotten me to think of offering professional development to different school districts, but you know that thing--Money?! Seems that school districts, too, are hanging on to all they have, like me.

That great saying that says 'Live each day as if it were your last'. Not sure I have the energy to do that. But here's what I'd do:

  • I'd practice yoga 1 1/2 hours a day in a beautiful, peaceful room in my house
  • Take long walks with my family
  • Watch funny movies often
  • Go to all the yoga retreats I could find
  • Explore all the exciting places in the U.S. with my family before my kids get too old to want to spend time with their parents
  • Learning more crocheting techniques. I'm 1/3 of the way done with my first afghan and I crocheted my first mitten--albeit it could fit the Hulk!
The list could go on and on. Remembering to do this is completely another thing all together. And here's the thing I really need to remember. There will be good days, bad days, days in which you are grateful that the day is over, and days that you wish were more of. What I do know is this: there will always be change. It's how I choose to react to it that will determine my peace of mind. Namaste.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New and Improved Gluten Free Bread Making with Video!

For the past two years, I have had some ups and downs with making my own gluten free bread. I have finally gotten to the stage when I can be creative and develop recipes that really go far beyond those gluten free breads you buy in the store. This process is indeed just that: a process. The money I spent, the frustration, the endless hours have definitely paid off. I believe I have perfected it. I've learned to have fun with it as well.

That being said, I've updated my recipe, which I've am sharing, and I've included a step-by-step video to help you see exactly the process. Maybe this will help you avoid the endless hours of frustration. Have fun, and let me know if you have any questions. I will be happy to answer anything I can.




(This is my own recipe, so if you re-post this, please make sure to site this blog as your reference.)


Dry Ingredients (Make sure all are Certified Gluten Free)

1 cup brown rice or sorghum flour
1/2 cup teff flour
1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup of potato starch (NOT potato flour. You can substitute corn starch.)
2/3 cup tapioca flour (sometime it goes by starch instead of flour)
1/4-1/3 molasses  (or more depending on how sweet you want this bread)
1 Tbls xanthum gum
1 scant Tbls sugar
1 tsp baking soda

I mix this ahead of time in gallon-size storage baggies with the zip--Ziploc works great. In fact, I mix the ingredients in the sealed baggie. Much quicker and neater than doing it by hand in a bowl. 

I store the baggies ahead of time and use them to make the process easier and less work. Make sure the flour is at room temperature (at least 3 hours out of the freezer/refrigerator)


Other Ingredients

2 XL eggs or 3 small
12 oz lukewarm tap water
1.9 oz. vegetable oil (sunflower oil works best)
1/4-1/3 cup honey or molasses (I prefer the molasses--add more or less depending on taste)
1 scant tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp dry active yeast
1 ½ tsp salt (last ingredient to be added)
Optional:
1/4 cup of amaranth seeds. (Toast them in an oven 350º or toaster oven (this works best) for about 3 minutes or until the seeds start to making popping sounds. Do not burn them. Watch carefully! Cool before you add them to the flour mixture.)

Putting it all together
  •  Place water and yeast in the bowl of a food processor (make sure you are using the attachment designated for dough) proof for 10 minutes (let it sit). Beat for 2 minutes on low speed.
  • Add molasses or honey and beat for another minute or so.
  • Add oil, eggs, and vinegar. Beat for another minute or so.
  • Add the flour mixture and pulse the food processor until the flour is mixed in. Then turn the processor on for 2 minutes.
  • NOW add the salt. Stir in well before you mix it again. Beat on low for another minute.
  • Let sit for 1/2 hour in the processor
  • When the half hour is up, beat again for another minute.
  • Transfer to a prepared loaf pan (I use cooking spray--make sure its GF!)
  • Cover with parchment paper and set in a warmish place for 1 1/2 hours.
  • A half hour before the bread is done, preheat the oven to 375º. Put a pan on the lowest shelf of the oven.
  • When the 1 1/2 hour is up, add a handful of ice cubes to the tray, remove the parchment paper, and immediately place the bread on the top rack of the oven.
  • Bake for 1/2 hour
  • Remove from the oven, cover the bread with aluminum foil, rotate the pan 180º and put back in the oven.
  • Bake for another 20 or so minutes. It is done when a knife inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan.
  • Cool for a few hours on a cooling rack. (I keep it there until it is completely cooled--at least 4 hours)
  • Once cooled, use a sharp bread knife to cut loaf. Separate each piece with a square of wax paper. Store in freezer. Your bread will last longer this way. Warming or toasting it first really brings out the flavor.

Monday, May 12, 2014

My Dream Yoga Retreat

I have been looking into treating myself to a yoga retreat for my 50th birthday. I haven't been too dedicated since I have a year and a half to plan it. But last week, I found the perfect place advertised in the May edition of Yoga Journal. Before I tell you about that, I have to share with you a fantasy about the future I've been having.

A basic-style yurt
When I retire, I have this vision of becoming a certified yoga instructor who works with people with chronic pain. As a chronic pain sufferer myself, I know the benefits of yoga and how it can calm down even the worst pain. So I was telling my husband about having a house with a large piece of land that I could turn into a yoga retreat. I would like to have 3-5 yurts on the land to accommodate up to 15 people. One of the yurts (the biggest one) would be a dedicated yoga studio. Of course we'd need enough capital to get this started, but again, this is just a dream, and if we have a windfall of sorts, this is what I'm going to do.

OK, now back to what I found in the Yoga Journal. They listed the best retreats they found, and you know? This one happens to be in my home state! But better than that, it is a place where you garden and learn to live organically and fully. AND they have tents or YURTS! Man! I just found the perfect spot when quite frankly, I wasn't looking. It just appeared, and now I know. This place, Stonehouse Farm in Paw Paw, IL is just amazing! Check it out! It is also very economical. I can't wait to spend the weekend or a few days more nourishing my body and soul. This place is definitely calling out to me.

Hope all you mothers out there were spoiled rotten on Mother's Day. I know this mother was. Namaste.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Taking Each Day as it Comes

I am a deep thinker. Plain and simple. Not one to allow a thought to pass through my brain going unnoticed--nuh uh, not gonna happen--I will stop and wonder why on earth this thought decided to pop into my brain right at this very moment (sometimes at very inconvenient moments!) And, if I allow it, I will let it go and move on to the next thought.

There have been people (my therapist especially) who have thought it wise to make friends with my demons. This I struggle with, for I have no love in my heart for those demons. And maybe, unfortunately for me, therein lies the problem. What would happen if I did allow myself to extend love to those parts that I deem are wholly unworthy of my attention. My therapist feels that I would understand them better and let them go.

Looking back through my life I see that I have had many miracles happen as a result of the struggles.  Had I not chosen to marry my first husband, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to realize what I didn't want out of life. I wouldn't have been given a new life with Jeff and my two kids. The divorce was painful, but necessary. It took me years to forgive myself and move on. Rarely do I think back on it now, but when I do, the pain is much less.

Currently, as I have blogged about before, 2013 has been probably the most difficult year of my life. The Whelan family is still recovering, but the acute pain we experienced that year is now down to a dull ache, and improving every day. While I did not enjoy 2013, I was given many gifts as I mentioned in Starting to Emerge into Youthful Yogini. Still, I cannot seem to get past certain areas of my life that have me stuck. I wish I could bypass all the work that needs to be done, but I know that's the coward's way out.

An area where I struggle the most is trying to be good to myself without forsaking others. My guiltometer seems to run at full tilt. I would like to be able to relax into learning how to develop my individuality more deeply, rather than worrying about what I'm neglecting in the process. Whenever I take care of myself, I find that my relationships deepen. So why the worry? I honestly do not have the answer to that question.

Some of the people I admire most are those that "appear" to have made peace with their lives and have made no excuses for their choices. Usually these people are a few years older than me and have experienced life in more ways than I have. My biggest wish is to be able to adjust to my desires and embrace them fully with a zest for life in the process.

Maybe all of what has happened in my life has made me a better person. I don't know. Maybe one day I will learn to deal with my deep emotions and embrace them (warts and all as a friend of mine likes to say) and not be afraid to confront them and even "snuggle" with them occasionally. That I'm afraid will take quite a while to get used to.

Namaste.