Give in to Comfort (+ Recipe)

O’ tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy… I’ve never stopped to consider these lyrics before, but giving a nod to a holiday classic, I’d have to say that word choice here is key. Tidings of comfort can allude to many things, such as that of family, of warmth – both physical (hanging fireside with hot cocoa) and emotional (open hearts and widespread generosity), of abundant food and ideally of relaxation. To feed yourself [and others], to love yourself [and others], to celebrate love, life and gratitude for all that you have. For an old church hymn, they’ve covered a lot of ground. (Good work, ye merry gentlemen!)

Of course, like any good celebration, the holidays come with their fair share of temptations and frustrations (and did I mention, expectations?). So, if you’re like me, the pre-Thanksgiving time is marked by a bit of anxiety. Excitement for a season of family and friends [with their respective social outings and get togethers], and a looming hope that you don’t get too carried away – with your holiday shopping, long-nights out and working overtime, heated dinner-table discussions with relatives, or double chocolate fudge [martini] indulgence. How do we walk the fine line between indulging in the comfort of the season and not over-indulging? It’s a difficult balance made much simpler by approaching the season with mindfulness – remembering that indulgence foremost means caring for yourself.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look forward to the comfort and joy of the holiday season! (And to relieve any lingering anxiety over all the goodness yet to come…)

Bubble baths. To me, bubble baths are the ultimate form of indulgence. For you, it may be something else – perhaps reading a book or having a glass of wine by the fireplace (actually, I change my answer…) Take time during your time off this holiday season to indulge the way you want to. Too often in the past, I’ve felt the holidays have come and gone without allowing myself any time to relax. But I’m giving you permission – you can even put it in your calendar! – to make time for yourself, as often as you can, to indulge this holiday. (I’m talking bubble baths, candles, home facials and red wine…) You’ll be just as grateful come January, when you return to your routine feeling rested and rejuvenated 😉

Taste everything. As I’ve said before: Food is love! And you deserve only the best. But, of course, the best includes Gramma’s seasonal batch of double chocolate fudge and late-night pizza with high school friends. Don’t deny yourself a single thing this holiday, but do allow yourself [in most cases] just a taste. (Don’t panic – for me, this translates as one piece of fudge or 1-2 slices of pizza. Make it as realistic as it is delicious.) Ultimately, you have control over how much of what ends up on your plate. Start off with a taste of everything you want – one or two spoonfuls (use your judgment) – and then pick the thing (or two) you liked the most and go back for more! For dessert, go for that big ol’ slice of pie – but be kind to your body, pick just one (big) or two (small) things. And if you’re feeling bummed about missing out on a second piece of pie or that other tasty treat in the back, take one home for tomorrow or split with a friend. (I sometimes have to remind myself, there will be many more chocolate chip cookies in my future. No need to eat them all now!) Allow yourself to indulge in all the comfort of the season, while remembering to care for yourself foremost. This is key to avoiding next-day belly aches and painful hangovers at the holidays – and throughout the year, tried and true!

Stay Well. A lot goes on during the holiday season, you could even say it’s gained a reputation for stirring the pot. High emotions – of grief and loss, of being over-worked and exhausted, of frustration and anger, of fears and expectations for the coming year – often associated with the season are compounded by high stress, a natural derivative of the holidays. Acknowledge this, and even excuse yourself in advance. If and when things do come up, let them and then let them go. Take care of yourself and care for others. Greet stress  with as much compassion as you can muster. Remember that over-indulging in one thing, won’t relieve the burden of another. Give yourself the courtesy of acknowledging what you’re feeling as it comes up, and then take a step back and check out the big picture (“I’m really exhausted from being so busy.” Or, “I just miss my family, a lot.”) Then, from that place, decide how you’ll react. Take a nap, cook dinner for a friend, call a loved one, or hit a yoga class; indulge in a way that’s constructive and that won’t further aggravate yourself or others. Give yourself some love, and stay well.

Coincidently, these three are also a recipe for joy. I didn’t fully understand the meaning of joy, nor did I take much interest, until I challenged myself to follow these steps to the best of my ability, everyday (about a year ago this holiday). Since then, my constant belly aches have gone away, stress has become more manageable, I get sick less, I feel better, and I eat everything I want (but usually, just a taste). Caring for yourself is foremost. Once you can sustain a healthy balance of giving unto others (i.e. work, friends & family) and giving in to comfort – there is only joy. (Although, I’ll be the first to say this is an ongoing process, it’s certainly a commitment worth making to yourself, and for others.)

Live well and be well! ‘Tis the season of comfort & joy! I’m looking forward to spending quality time with friends and family in the coming weeks and wish you all of the comfort and joy that this season brings!

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As the weather gets cooler – and the urge to curl up on the couch gets stronger – I thought I’d share a recipe to put aside for your next night at home. Just keep a box of Annie’s handy and add other goodies as you see fit! Bon appetit…

This is a favorite variation to spruce up my favorite comfort food. I encourage you to add, subtract and modify to make it as delectable for you.

Veggie Bomb [Buffalo] Mac n’ Cheese
(Makes enough for two, or one with leftovers!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Box Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese (I love the “white shells,” but you can use any brand or variety you like. I’d recommend sticking with organic or whole wheat, if possible.)
  • Buffalo Sauce (Franks or any variety. Hot sauce works, too!)
  • Almond milk (or soy or organic dairy. I wouldn’t recommend using coconut milk here, as it’s consistency isn’t ideal for the “n’ cheese” to follow)
  • Kale and/or Spinach (or any dark leafy green in your fridge)
  • Celery, 4 stalks chopped
  • Consider adding: chopped tomato, red, green or hot peppers, onion or broccoli, as desired

Protein, optional:

  • Tofu (firm, cut into cubes), boneless chicken (thin tenders are easiest) or chicken sausage

Directions:

  • Cook pasta according to box. Chop celery and put aside.
  • In a frying pan, layer the bottom with buffalo sauce (no oil necessary, but optional) and allow protein to cook in sauce. Tofu can be heated 5-10 minutes; chicken may take longer or can be pre-cooked. Add celery to frying pan and let simmer.
  • Once pasta is cooked to taste and before draining water, turn off stove and stir in leafy greens as desired. (The hot water in the pot will cook up the greens without overcooking the pasta. If you forget and drain accidentally, that’s all right – just add greens to frying pan with celery.)
  • Drain water, add milk n’ cheese, stir and let sit a minute or two for sauce to thicken.
  • Combine all ingredients and enjoy!

Also – if you’re in need of any ideas for your Thanksgiving potluck, I’ll be cooking up some California Oatmeal Cookies with cranberries and dark chocolate chips 😉

Stay Well ❤

Amy

Personal Photo: Santa Monica Pier summer concert series, circa 2013

Drop the Baggage

A common theme of my last several posts has been the importance of feeling. And this morning, at a lecture and asana class with founder of Off the Mat and Into the World, Hala Khouri, she emphasized a similar point: “Yoga is a process of becoming – by feeling the sensations in our body.” By this she means feeling in the fullest sense. Yoga is about allowing ourselves to feel the discomfort, fear, anger and anxiety in our lives, of past traumas. Yoga is about letting things come up, feeling them fully for a brief moment and then, letting them go. She followed this idea with, “Of course, if we told people that yoga is all about “exploring your grief and misery,” nobody would come!”

How many people are affected every day by past traumas? We know how past traumas affect us personally, many of us living under the rule: Never make the same mistake twice. You live, you learn. And, like anyone, you pick up (or rather, pack up) a bit of baggage on the way. These past traumas soon surface in other ways. Body aches and physical tightness (muscle tension), depression, social anxiety, binge eating, domestic violence – and school shootings. Undoubtedly, our past shapes who we are in the present. So it stands to reason, that only once we’ve come to terms with the past can we be our happiest and fullest selves, in the present.

This is how yoga is described as a “process of becoming.” It’s about fully realizing your [True] self, or the best version of you. In the science world, yoga as a healing modality is increasingly considered a viable method of somatic psychotherapy. Recently, yoga has begun planting its roots in Western science, working its way into physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, counseling, and even physician’s offices throughout the country.

What happens when we feel? How much better can we be? Hala explained, for her kids feeling means running outside to the trampoline or hitting the punching bag, instead of hitting their brother. Rather, “This is progress.” To recognize a feeling in your body, instead of reacting impulsively or burying it away. To consider the best reaction – whether or not we express that emotion, and how. And to consciously choose a healthy way to release the feeling of tension, distress or anxiety from your body, without harming yourself or others. (Pretty impressive for a six-year-old! And a great example of applying mindfulness.)

To feel something in its fullest expression, to allow yourself to let it out, is to know yourself without the baggage. Whether it’s running over a squirrel (as was Hala’s recent trauma) or the death of a loved one, a car accident or betrayal by a friend – it’s often easier, and cooler, to just put it away. But when we hang on and never allow ourselves to surrender to what we’re feeling about a given situation, it shows up in other places. Insecurities, eating disorders, cheating, anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, perhaps even ADD. How different would our world be, if we were raised to express every feeling – in a safe, deliberate, mindful way?

Yoga is one way, but this kind of yoga is done off the mat. It’s a way of thinking, non-judgmentally and with compassion, patience and mindfulness towards yourself and others. It’s a practice and a process; it helps you let go and be free, to easily become our best [kindest, warmest, loveliest & most lovable, thinnest, trimmest, funniest, happiest, etc.] selves.

Everyone has trauma, small ones and big ones, that they carry with them. What are our real reasons for holding on? What happens when we let go?

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to explore somatic psychotherapy and yoga for trauma from the best in the field. My dream (in its ever-evolving form) is to bring this knowledge to all of you. Because how different, how good could our world be? Could our community be? Could our corporate leaders and politicians be? Could you and I be, if we dropped all the baggage and lived mindfully?

Dare to dream,

Amy
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For more on yoga & somatic psychotherapy – an interview with clinical psychologist, Bo Forbes: Narrowing the Gap Between Insight and Change: Yoga, Psychotherapy, and the Body

Photo: Point Dume, Malibu, California

Food is Love.

Like many, I struggled for a long time with my eating. Although I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, I knew that my relationship with food was unhealthy, and that I didn’t want to live my life that way. I developed a regular gym routine, deprived myself of desserts and stocked my freezer full of Lean Cuisines; but never felt any relief from the stress of trying to be “thin.” (Sound familiar?) But still, I always had this itch inside me that insisted: There is another way, something better.

I started Bikram yoga in 2010, my sophomore year of college and the height of my “health” obsession. After three years of almost-daily practice, I felt great and was my instructor’s favorite, having seemingly mastered the 26 posture series. Of course, I hardly basked in this accomplishment, and instead sulked in my frustration that I needed to do more, be better and look better. How was it that I was killing myself in the hot room, and still didn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model? In my unceasing frustration, food became my solace – and my secret vice. My anger at myself for over-eating resulted in self-hatred, and the cycle continued. My “health” obsession – always grappling between not eating enough and binge eating – had become very unhealthy…and then, finally, something clicked.

I remembered a challenging time I’d experienced while studying abroad in Costa Rica. To help cope with my discomfort and anxiety, I had yearned for yoga. But there was no Bikram yoga studio in San Jose, so I took up classes (in Spanish) at a local vinyasa studio. Here, yoga made me feel safe and confident because, when there, I allowed myself to let go of my fears. This had never been the object or focus of my Bikram routine (which for those who don’t know, is a highly physical, half-naked practice in a 105 degree room, leaving few thoughts to ponder “letting go”). So, by shifting my attention and setting the intention to explore and let go of my fears, on and off the mat, I hoped to relinquish myself from nagging insecurities and food anxiety – Forever. This is when yoga clicked for me as something to dedicate myself to – not for the physical, but for its psychological promise: to be liberated and finally be comfortable in my own skin, just being me.*

What I learned in this process regarding my eating, is that diets don’t work. The nature of a diet is exemption or exclusion. They’re not saying what you can eat, they’re telling you what you can’t. And who wants to live their life being told what they can and can’t eat? Where’s the enjoyment in that? Think about it. I’ve done it, too and that’s no way to live. There has to be a better way.

I also learned that by confronting my insecurities, I was free to focus on caring for myself. What I live by now (and have lost 20 lbs doing) is simply practicing self-love when it comes to food. Think about your spouse or your children (present or future) – What would you want them to eat? Probably, things that are good for them. Food that gives them energy to sustain themselves for business trips and soccer games, but that also tastes really good. They deserve only the best. Well, so do you. And more likely than not, if you start feeding yourself this way, the one’s you love will soon follow. This display of self-love, and analysis of your own thoughts (about eating or otherwise) is the key to happiness, and is a living practice of yoga. More specifically in yogic terms, this can be considered a practice of ahimsa, or non-violence against yourself or others. (Read more about practicing ahimsa, here.)

Practicing ahimsa when it comes to food means creating a diet with no exemptions and no exclusions, but plenty of love and education. As a general rule, I discovered: things that come from the Earth will give you sustained energy and are jam-packed with nutrients to support your overall health, while things that come in a box or package are inherently endowed with chemical preservatives and sugar, or “fake” surge energy. So, learning about fruits and veggies is the only road to happy, healthy eating. But don’t worry, there’s way more out there than you find on your plate at the Olive Garden. And I promise, even if you’re “not a veggie person,” there’s plenty to learn and love. But still keep in mind: You’ve gotta live! Eat what you need, but also eat what you want. (A personal favorite in our house lately has been Tollhouse cookies. How can I say no?) Be smart, and care for yourself. Create balance, not restriction. Don’t limit yourself, just love yourself. It sounds corny, but I promise it works. And soon this newfound contentment will seep into other aspects of your life, and you’ll be brighter. And you’ll stop weighing yourself – and judging yourself. Because you’re happy, finally, just the way you are.

I feel incredibly blessed to have reached this conclusion, and I want this for everyone – especially my lady friends, everywhere. You deserve only the best. Feed yourself, love yourself. Food is love.

A post will follow with a recipe to get you started. I always encourage substitutions and new creations when it comes to cooking. Make it your own, from what you have at home, and make it something that you and your family will love.

In the meantime – Chow on, with love Xx

Amy

 

*Note for the Soul Seeker: What ensues when you make this commitment, to “let go” and allow yourself to explore your deepest fears, is a real challenge – but it is the real practice of yoga. Things come up, and you start to deal with what you might have otherwise, gratefully, left buried deep inside. To the soulful explorer, I’ll say – as was advised to me – just trust. This means letting go of knowing what the end result will be. Will this work (to address whatever vice you’ve developed)? Will you really be happier afterwards? Let it go. And trust yourself, that if you’ve taken this step toward self-exploration, then you know what’s best for you. And you do. So follow it, see where it takes you. And feel free to report back – the road ahead gets bumpy, no need to go it alone.*