Svatantrya – the art of movement

I have watched this video more than a few times this week.

Break ton Neck from Alex Yde on Vimeo.

I’ve wanted to move like this ever since I was a little kid, stumbling crazily over the lawn, so knock-kneed and pigeon-toed I couldn’t even step over the garden hose. I so badly wanted to move like this when I was dismissed from gymnastics class (permanently) because I still couldn’t do a cartwheel at the age of 10. And this is how I wanted to move when I took up rock climbing, and ultimately bouldering. Which is where I finally got my first taste of the art of movement as freedom. Now I feel it in my yoga practice, sometimes. There is nothing like moving my body with ease, grace, precision and power to feel a deep-seated sense of freedom and delight.

This is why I roll my mat out everyday, at home, alone, in the dark and cold here in Downeast, Maine. This is why I put on the best dance beats I can find and get crazy with my kids every Saturday night. And in case they ever ask, you can tell my beloved future teenagers, that this is why I do all of  those potentially awkward, usually dorky looking positions, over and over again. Because I can.

I am in love with the art of movement. Yours and mine. And I want to fly. Or at least I want to feel like I am flying. A cartwheel would be amazing too . . . but I’d settle for jumping across the room in a one handed handstand while in lotus  . . .

Carving a New Groove

It is not easy to carve a new groove. The old groove is so comfortable, so familiar and dependable. We like what we like and we assiduously avoid the rest. Over time our groove gets narrower and deeper and the less there is to like. In fact, we can get so deep into our habits that it starts to feel kind of lonely and dark way down there at the bottom of the canyon. That’s when we start to have inklings that we are bigger than our groove. We feel a longing for freedom, daylight, fresh possibility! We feel the lure of new terrain, an alternative to our groove sounds exciting and fun!

So off we go, stumbling down a new path, filled with optimism and excitement! Until suddenly, there it is, the thing we don’t like. The thing(s) we did such a great job at avoiding on our old path. Ugg. Wouldn’t it be easier to drink the coffee then to suffer a migraine? Or eat the chocolate then feel the lonely sad feeling, or avoid eye contact and not risk rejection, or hold back from speaking the truth and avoid the consequences? And so we are dragged down by gravity and habit, back into our old comfortable groove. And the pain disappears. Kind of. Because now we know, we’ve seen another view, we’ve seen another path, and as wild and daring as it felt to step out of our groove the first time, we are sure to wake up again with that nagging longing to know the full freedom of our being. And so we start out again, tiptoeing, even bushwhacking down the new path, leaving the old one behind a little longer this time. But again we meet the uncomfortable thing. Again we crawl back into our cozy dark pit of despair. Until we climb back out, again lured by the sunlight and wind and the fresh smell of pine underfoot . . . And though we encounter new, previously unknown discomforts, each time we venture forth the new trail gets clearer and longer. One day, as we sit back to admire the view, we realize the new trail is our new groove.

My Own Groove

One of my own dark and miserably comfortable canyons has been sugar addiction. As long as I can remember I have anxiously circled the sugar bowl like a trained lab rat securing my next fix. Ironically, I often go to pains to explain that my mouth-full of mercury fillings is due to the acidic well water I grew up drinking not the sugar I ate as a kid. Because I can assure you that in my hippy back-to-the-land childhood there were no cocoa puffs, chewing gum or root beer. I might be the only kid I know that liked lima beans and spinach and dutifully drank (stinky) raw goats milk. So what’s up with the sweet tooth? I’ll admit that I used to wonder if calling my mother by her first name and the lack of casual comforts in our “benign neglect” childhood left me looking for love in all the wrong places . . . bad boyfriends, coca-cola and dark chocolate. But now I think sugar is just like any other drug, it cuts a deep groove, quickly.

I have frequently felt the pain of my addiction – trapped by the walls of a sugar-frosted canyon. Even as far back as high school (when my enlightened rowing coach gave me a copy of Sugar Blues) I longed to quit. And I have, often for months at a time. I’ve felt the sunny freedom, even stopped worrying about where I’d get my next fix. I’ve felt the clarity and firmness of living sugar-free, the wonderful sense of personal integrity. But then something hard comes along. Some obstacle I never dreamed of (morning sickness for 8 months!) a hardship previously unfathomable (nursing a newborn and pregnant again!) utterly unpredicted (working full-time, raising two kids, melanoma, training for triathlons, starting my own business!!!). And out of fear, I dove head-long back into the sugar groove. For the safe, warm comfort, the clean biting flavor and the pure sweet delight when joy feels far away.

Then slowly, I climb back out. I am writing this now because it is possible that my prolonged attempts to carve a new groove are finally starting to take shape. A faint new trail is appearing. All those obstacles  – those are my life. Instead of diving down into the canyon of sugar to avoid my life I am starting to tiptoe straight through it. Right into the arms of my children, my beloved husband, even my mother, who sometimes I even call “Mom” . . . And I feel a lot sweeter for it.

P.S. For me, no other sweet taste compares to the pure rush of cane sugar. Agave, yacon, maple, stevia, lacuma, brown rice syrup, mesquite, honey, dates, grapes  . . . I’ve tried them all. They might be mineral rich or low glycemic and they might even taste good to you, but to me they are chalk dust compared to the real stuff.  Just sayin’ . . . 

More Spicy, Less Raw – Transitioning to Fall Part II

After picking apples all morning we arrived at the Maine Grind with raw fingers and red noses. Given the luxury of choice of  we opted for the warm squash soup over raw vegetable sandwiches on gluten free bread. Warm, moist, pungent and a little sweet are all excellent qualities to help soothe the aggravation caused by dry, cold wind.

To help the girls transition from the primarily raw fruit and vegetable diet we’ve enjoyed over the last four months I’ve been adding more spice to our daily diet. Specifically toasted turmeric powder (in soup and mixed with honey into balls), triphala* and now that it is colder, trikatu**. I also sprinkle ground up and toasted cumin, coriander and fennel seeds on our cooked vegetables and add it to soups to provide a rich flavor. All of these spices (and spice blends) help awaken and focus the digestive power in the stomach and allow us to better assimilate the nutrients of heavier cooked foods.

The way I see it, the digestive power and life-force provided by living foods is excellent for super-charging our bodies with pranic-intelligence. But, I have yet to figure out how to nourish my children with a robust living foods diet through the long, cold Maine winters in a way that keeps their little growing bodies appropriately rooted and nourished.

Living foods are sometimes called "sunfoods" because they are the most direct source of nourishment from the sun's energy.

We are both energetic and physical beings (one and the same really). So for half the year we celebrate the energetics of sun and sky with the leafy green and juicy sweet goodness of local living foods, and for the other half of the year we root ourselves into the firm earth with warm cooked roots and grains (and plenty of spices!).

Spices awaken the life force within us, igniting the power of digestion and assimilation. It is best to cook with spices and taste them on your tongue as the body is brilliant at using taste to inform digestive processes.

*Triphala is a combination of three fruits (amalaki, bibhitakti and haritaki) that are dried and ground up together to make a potent digestive panacea. It can be taken after meals as a powder mixed in a small amount of water or as a capsule.

*Trikatu is a combination of three peppers (white, black and long) that help focus the fire in the stomach, which helps insure that food is well digested before it passes to the small intestine.

Get Oily not Dry – Transitioning into Fall Part I

Yesterday morning we woke up to clear blue skies and an icy skim on our puddles. My throat was dry and Lucy kept complaining about itchy eyes. So before getting dressed for school both girls gleefully stood in front of the fire (our first of the year) so I could oil them top to bottom with straight-up unrefined (untoasted!) sesame oil. I massaged their feet, legs, hands, arms, ears, eyes and noses with oil and then gently toweled them off before getting them dressed. My children LOVE this morning ritual though I admit it takes some time and we were a little late getting to school – which was ok because it was apple-picking day.

When we arrived at the orchard, frigid arctic air blasted down the rows of apple trees and I was grateful that I had taken the time to give them and myself an oil massage. To me oil massage (“abhyanga”) is like a much-needed warm hug that lasts all day. I can pile on the layers but if I leave the house without oil on my skin, I feel naked – like a cat without my fur on.  So, for those of you that have wondered, it’s not that I stop washing my family’s hair in the winter, it’s just that sometimes it gets a little oily – sesame oily. Are you less worried about us now?

Pretty much any organic, unrefined cooking oil will work. Remember, your skin is your largest organ – never put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t put in your mouth!

Try it yourself: coconut oil, sunflower, mustard seed (pungent but warming) and sesame are all good options. Dedicate a towel to the project and oil yourself before taking a bath or shower. If you don’t have time to rinse off simply towel off. Or coat yourself with flour and lightly sauté. Just kidding.

Check out Transitioning to Fall Part II for tips on how to transition from summer leaves to fall roots.

 

Nature condenses to start anew, how about you?

The exuberance of summer is folding in on itself.

Condensing into an array of gorgeous and exquisitely designed fall seeds. Now, these perfect little seeds settle back into the humble dark earth. Pause. Exhale. All life begins in the dark. Here the seeds wait, holding a clear vision of their future form.  Waiting. Winter solstice comes, and the soft light stirs the seeds. They stretch. Yawn.  And begin a slow and steady unfolding toward the clear vision they hold inside.

Nature condenses to start anew. How about you?

This fall is an opportunity to draw into yourself. To hone the crystal clear vision your heart’s desire. How will you unfold next spring?

Join my Fall Cleanse and clear the dust off the mirror of your heart. Condense the potency of your heart’s desire until it sparkles like a diamond-seed.  Like the sparkling gold of a monarch butterfly’s chrysalis. You are that beautiful, that potent. Why not feel it for yourself?

Dreaming provides the template for our unfolding, but monarch’s don’t get anywhere without milkweed. So yes, you’ll learn plenty about food too.  By the end of this cleanse, you will be as smart as a caterpillar – which foods help you stay true to your vision, which block your heart, and which will nourish you through the dark pause of winter and into the slow unfolding of spring.

Join me. Worst case – you’ll arrive at Thanksgiving with a pair of wings (or cotyledons!)

Four of the six monarch chrysalis that we are tending to this fall.

 

Finishing the 2011 Lobsterman Triathlon Barefoot

Staying on the white to keep cool.

This was my third year competing in the Lobsterman Triathlon but my first time running the 10k completely barefoot. Even six months ago I wondered if my foot pads would be able to weather that much asphalt but I figured I had plenty of time to toughen up. I was worried when early summer came and I was still maxing out at three miles before I had to put on my trusty Sockwas. Then, seemingly overnight, in mid-July, my once tender pads turned a corner – I was able to run 8+ miles on pavement blister and pain free. I was even comfortably kicking along at a 9 min/mile pace, which is a minor miracle for me.

Two weeks to go to my first 10k barefoot road race . . .

Two weeks before the race I was half-way through a “brick” workout (a 20 mile bike ride followed by a 3 mile run) when my inner calf muscle cramped-up in searing pain. I turned home slowly, running and then walking backwards and sideways, tail between my legs, trying not to cry.

Anusara Yoga to the Rescue

Fortunately as an Anusara yoga teacher I have a good understanding of how sports injuries occur and lots of healing techniques to fall back on. That first night lying in bed with my leg throbbing I realized that my overly fatigued soleus (calf) muscle had likely pulled away from the tibia and was thus inflamed, if not slightly torn. A tired muscle tends to fall away from the bone and this relaxing actually makes it more prone to injury. Tight and dehydrated muscles tire more easily, and muscles that are working over-time to compensate for other tight or tired muscles are also more vulnerable.

The Miracle of Muscular Energy

In Anusara yoga we spend a lot of time learning how to engage our muscles by hugging them closer to the bone (“muscular energy”). We are in effect providing our own compression wrap while we safely stretch and strengthen our muscles. However, if engaging the muscle is not possible (because the muscle is weak and injured) external compression also works wonderfully.

Remember RICE – Rest, Ice, COMPRESSION and Elevation

So I limped to the bathroom, found an old ace bandage and did what I consider the most important of the First Aid acronym: Compression. I wrapped my calf tightly, hugging muscle to bone all the way from ankle to knee. AHH, much better. That night, before gingerly climbing the stairs to bed, I rolled out my feet, hamstring and quadriceps muscles with “The Stick“. Then I took every herbal anti-inflammatory I could come up with: turmeric, boswellia, Traumeel, arnica . . . and drank a quart of water.

The pain was still pretty bad two days later. There is a tricky time after this kind of  injury when the muscle is still too weak to safely stretch, but too tight to allow for the proper alignment and circulation that let real healing to begin. So while rest is especially important immediately following an injury, weight-bearing exercise done with excellent alignment and muscular energy is the key to recovery. By the third day I was able to firmly engage my leg muscles to the bone while I stretched my hip flexors and hamstrings. I stuck to standing, weight-bearing poses and only stretched my muscles as long as I could keep the the muscles enganged. Finally, for good measure, I broke out the foam roller and worked my IT band. Ouch!

Back on the Road

A week after the injury (and one week to go before the race) I went for a casual walk-run to test things out. I covered 6 miles in 85 mins. I was both humbled and thrilled –  there was a good chance  that I could finish the race without being hauled off on a stretcher!

Barefoot at the 2011 Lobsterman Triathlon

Finally, race weekend. While packing I realized I hadn’t used my Sockwas all summer. Where were they??  I was worried the pavement might be blacker and the sun hotter in Freeport then it is Downeast! I finally dug up my husband’s barely used pair, stuffed them in my gear bag (and forgot all about them.)

After a rough one-mile swim (my goggles got kicked off by another swimmer!) and a casual 25-mile bike ride (I LOVE my new aero bars), I ran the 10k, slowly and pain-free. I ran as if there was nowhere to go, nowhere to be. Just a gorgeous late-summer day running in Maine. My feet got a little hot on one sunny stretch but I found staying on the white line was perfectly soothing and meditative.The more casual I was about my running, the more comfortable my calves were. Perfect. 60(!!!) other friendly runners passed me and everyone had something kind (or incredulous) to say. It was the slowest and most enjoyable race I’ve ever run.

Success! From Nike Frees to barefeet in one year

A year earlier I had set the goal of being exactly where I was right now, running the Lobsterman barefoot. And here I was supremely satisfied to be meeting that goal, one fore-foot landing at a time.

Coming down the finishing stretch.

P.S. For anatomy nerds out there – the cause of the injury: I realized that in my previous attempts to pick up my speed I had been tensing the top of my foot and lifting my big toe before each strike. This tightening of the anterior tibialis, (which is one of the antagonistic muscle to the soleus), was very  likely the source of my injury. In order to avoid a repeat injury I am keeping my feet a bit more floppy as I strike, and  even curling my toes as if to grip the earth as my foot moves under me. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

Yoga Adventure Retreats

Join Charlotte on a yoga adventure

 

And the winning cookie is . . .

This morning my daughters and I whipped up two of our favorite mineral-rich, prana-filled, kid-approved concoctions to enter into the No Bake Cookie Contest at this year’s Blue Hill Fair and we won! To be exact, my five year old daughter’s recipe won first place in the 12 and under category. Not to be sneezed at, this was a competitive category and she nudged ahead of at least 30 poopy-looking variations on the ever popular peanut butter, oatmeal, corn-syrup combo to win a substantial chunk of change and a gift card to the Blue Hill Co Op.

Raw, vegan and grain free, we made up our recipe this spring to replace the store-bought version my kids were clamoring for. Turns out it’s faster and way cheaper to make these at home . . . just one more reason we love home un-cooking!

Raw, vegan, almond lemon cookies

Proud first place winner!

LEMON-ALMOND DELIGHTS

Makes 12 small cookies

1. 1 1/2c    Almond flour (raw)
2. 1/2 c     Shredded coconut (raw)
3. 1 Tbs     Grated lemon rind (rind from 1-2 organic lemons)
4. 1/4 c     Lemon juice (juice from one lemon)
5. 1/3 C     Maple syrup
6. 1 tsp     Almond extract
7. 1/4 tsp   Sea salt
8. 1/2  c    Sliced almonds (optional, toasted)

Preparation:
1. Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well.
2. Toast sliced almonds (optional)
3. Roll dough into balls and coat with toasted sliced almonds.
4. Freeze for up to 60 mins if you like a more firm cookie.
5. EAT!!

This recipe is nutrient rich, filled with minerals and enzymes, creating a dessert that nourishes the taste buds and the body.

I had to fend off children, cats and husband to get a photo of the last two cookies of the batch.

 

Magic Forest Fun

The other morning I was dragging, feeling sleepy and low energy, unfocused, sad and alone. No particular reason, but I was out of sync. Fortunately my job working for a local land trust required me to pull on my muck boots and head out into the woods for a few hours.

At first I begrudged the humidity, deer flies, and poorly marked boundary line, but soon I started to settle and see. One step toward Shakti and she comes rushing at you like a golden retriever. First in the form of a tiny little wood frog the size of my thumbnail clinging to a cattail where I paused to take a photo. Then an unexpected spring bubbling up from the soft pine forest.  Then the rich smell of sphagnum moss and hay scented fern. Oooo, and there a giant pile of bear shit – almost entirely blackberries, shiny and fresh. And right above, a whole mess of (uneaten) blackberries hanging in plump bunches surrounded by pant-ripping thorns.

Bear Food

I made myself at home, picturing the bear, thick fur and soft paws reaching-in, mouthful after mouthful. Berry-stained and moving on up a hot hillside and over a hundred downed fir trees, a tangled mess of match sticks, some hold my weight, some don’t – it’s a game that takes me to the edge of a white cedar swamp where a red-eyed vireo is singing his endless summer song. Through sucking mud and back to the stonewall that lines the open field where I’d parked my car.  Transformed. Back in sync with the hum of trees, moss, damp earth, and water, I am lighter, smiling and filled with gratitude.

When I spend time in the forest, I sync up with a bigger rhythm, each cell, each part and particle of me is restructured the way the crystals in an iron bar line up when they are magnetized.  The sandpaper-on-brain feeling lifts and I feel this alignment as an ease, a sweetness, a smile.  With all the parts dancing together, I am no longer working alone. This is the gift of nature.

Now it’s your turn. Stand up, walk outside, and see what comes leaping at you. I promise you won’t regret it.

 

Flower Salads are Fresh, Wild and Beautiful

Flower Salad

Local, seasonal, fresh and beautiful

Nasturtiums, violets, rose petals, sorrel, dandelion, plantain leaves and seeds, lanvs quarters, fresh lettuce, raw corn kernels and cherry tomatoes. Dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sea salt.  Served in a bowl made by my dear friend Heather Stearns of Muddy Creek Pottery.

This is mid-summer perfection.

Beautiful, wild and nutritious

Use flowers and wild greens from your front yard to add color and vitamin A and C, iron and many trace elements, to your families diet. Our lawn is more of an open patch in the forest, it has never been sprayed with chemicals and the soil is shallow but rich in nutrients from glacial-era clay. The mix of sun and shade supports a variety of wild plants and a few raised beds where I plant the sweeter greens such as lettuce, spinach, chard and bok choi. Lambs quarters flourish there too.

I have my girls pick the greens and flowers for their own salads and I truly believe that they pick exactly what their bodies and spirits need to be optimally nourished in that moment. The other morning my playful 3 1/2 year old tried to make an “all flower salad” only to discover that it is more bitter than she hoped. So she added corn, and snap peas and left most of the beautiful petals sticking to the sides of her bowl. Later her kitten came along and licked the violet petals up, and she told Mouse “that’s purple, it’ll make your fur fluffy”. And she’s probably right.

We are lucky to live where there are very few native poisonous plants, and I taught my children early on to identify the ones they can’t eat (deadly night shade, poison ivy, fox glove . . .)

Walking Forest Salads are fun too

When we go on hikes the girls happily pick their way through the woods: bunchberry (aka crackleberry or Canada Dogwood), huckle and blueberries, wintergreen berries and leaves, wood sorrel (my five year old’s favorite) nettle (carefully picked and put into a backpack pocket for green smoothies later), blackberries, raspberries, strawberries . . . and if we are on the shore, seaside plantain and all kinds of seaweeds get nibbled too. Wild, abundant and beautiful, these plants have just what it takes to grow up on the wild rocky coast of Maine!