Leaning into Acceptance 

   
Before I discovered Kripalu yoga, I had a deeply rooted discomfort with my body. I constantly tried to force myself to go on diets, limit my calories, write down every single morsel of food that passed my lips, run until my knees hurt and my head throbbed, and on and on. None of these practices made me more satisfied. If anything, my anxiety about my body grew worse. I couldn’t relate to my physical self in any way other than with mean thoughts and criticism. I was always looking for the ultimate rule book, something to keep me contained, as if, left to my own devices, my body and my life would go horribly awry. I thought if I had control over my body and my weight, somehow I’d have control over what was going wrong in my life (even if it had nothing to do with me). When my mom told me she had breast cancer, I felt helpless. I almost instantly reverted back to my old ways. Somehow, controlling my food intake and exercise in a drastic way (aka disordered eating) deluded me into believing I had things “handled”, and life would go exactly the way I wanted it to. Gripping onto idealized outcomes in this way only adds to suffering. If such is true, then the only other path to take would be that of acceptance.

 

Accepting painful circumstances is challenging. Allowing ourselves to feel emotions fully is something we tend to writhe away from, especially when these emotions make us feel vulnerable, or angry, or sad. But when we ride these waves of emotion and senses that arise, especially in the safe space of yoga practice, we can eventually release them. We can learn to trust our inner compass, the brilliance of our physical body, that is constantly trying to keep us in a place of homeostasis, or balance. 

 

When did I learn such mistrust for myself? I stopped listening to the innate wisdom of my body, which tells me when I am hungry, when I am full, when I need a nap, when I need to go for a walk, when I need to retreat to nature. I’ve gripped on to perfectionism for so long. I’ve thought on some subconscious level that the more I achieve, the more I push for results that seem to indicate success, the happier will be, or the more I will like myself. That, also, is not true. We all deserve happiness regardless of achievement. 

 

I encourage you to remind yourself of the below affirmations. You may choose one to focus on, or attempt to incorporate all of them in your day:

 

“Today, I am redirecting my energy away from perfectionism. I will commit myself to quieting the inner critic, who tells me I am not “enough”. I will reframe those thoughts into ones of worthiness. I will extend warmth and sweetness toward myself and others.”

 

Namaste,

 

Xo Steph

Buffalo Roasted Chickpeas

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I’ve always been a snacker. I could put away a bag of Pirate’s booty in a sitting, dominate some Cape Cod potato chips. I decided to finally try roasting chickpeas as a healthy snack, and now I wonder what took me so long! These little babies are bomb. Seriously, if you like crunch, they’ve got it. And you can jazz them up anyway you like (make ’em sweet with honey and cinnamon, or savory with olive oil, kosher salt & thyme). Plus, they’re super simple and low-maintenance.

Ingredients

Can of chickpeas (or 2, depending how many you want)
Olive oil (I use my Misto sprayer to cut down on the fat content)
Kosher salt or Himalaya salt
Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain chickpeas, rinse with water, and let them dry on paper towels, patting them before placing onto a baking sheet. Spray baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray, and spread chickpeas out on tray. Toss with olive oil and salt. Bake in oven for 40 minutes, until chickpeas are crispy. Take out of oven and toss with a couple teaspoons of hot sauce. Place bake in oven for another 10 minutes. Voila! Crispy, crunchy, yummy, fiber-filled snacking!

Enjoy.

Xo Steph

Boyfriend-Approved Cauliflower Crust Pizza

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I have absolutely nothing against Paula Deen. However, I was skeptical when I found this recipe. A Paula Deen recipe with no…*gulp*…butter?? Healthy, even? It’s true. And I have to tell you…this Cauliflower Crust Pizza is the chiz (for lack of a better adjective). It’s easy to make, too. Also, I’d totally promote it as an arm workout, if you switch arms halfway through grating the cauliflower.

Anyway, just try it when you get a chance. It won’t disappoint.

Ingredients

Nonstick cooking spray
2 1/2 cups grated cauliflower (approx. half a large head)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Pizza sauce of your choice
More cheese and your favorite pizza toppings (I like black olives, peppers, mushrooms, and spinach)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a pizza pan with parchment paper.

Grate the cauliflower with a box grater until you have 2 1/2 cups. Place in large bowl and microwave for 7-8 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Once cool, mix in the beaten egg, mozzarella, Parmesan, and salt and pepper. Once combined, press into a pizza pan. Spray lightly with nonstick spray and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Top the pizza with sauce and your favorite toppings. Bake in the oven for another 10 minutes or so, until bubbly and beautiful. Enjoy!

Tofu Pad Thai

So, several years ago I attempted making homemade Pad Thai. Let’s just say, it wasn’t so great, and my brother has never let me live it down.

I finally made it again using a recipe I found on the PETA website, and it. Is. Phenomenal.

1 10-oz. package rice noodles or ramen-style noodles
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, whole
1 package extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into chunks
4 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. peanut butter (I used Teddy’s Super Chunky)
Juice of 2 limes
3 Tbsp. sugar (or less)
Sriracha, to taste
Sliced green onions, for garnish
Chopped peanuts, for garnish

· Cook noodles according to package instructions.
· In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic cloves and tofu chunks. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce over the tofu and sauté until golden brown.
· In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, lime juice, sugar, Sriracha, remaining soy sauce, and 1 cup of water.
· Add the cooked noodles and peanut butter mixture to the tofu and cook through, about 5 minutes.
· Garnish with sliced green onions and chopped peanuts and serve right away. Enjoy!

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How I Stay Fit

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A friend I grew up with, a gorgeous young mother, asked me today if I have any other workout regimen other than yoga, and how do I stay fit. This opened up a can of worms, at least in my own mind 😉 To answer that question: I mostly practice yoga and walk our 2 doggies for exercise. A jog once in awhile is a nice supplement, but that’s pretty much my cocktail of exercise right there – yoga and walking.

So, I decided it might be helpful to provide a list of tips that I use for maintaining balance and a healthy lifestyle, without restricting myself. Disclaimer: this is by no means a comprehensive list! But I’ll throw out some ideas that help me find balance, and add more in future posts as they become available to my memory (haha).

Keep an abundance of healthy foods in the house.
This may seem self-explanatory. But if you allow yourself to become ravished, chances are you’re going to go for the quick and convenient, which often means fatty, sugary, salty snacks. I always have oatmeal, eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, peanut butter, carrots, apples, and more on hand in my house so that I have the opportunity to fill up on healthy stuff. Alternately, and this is important, do not keep crummy foods in the house! By crummy foods I mean processed gunk. Packaged cookies, cakes, and snacks are typically a no-no in my house. Just check the ingredients. If there are many ingredients you can’t pronounce, or high-fructose corn syrup, or trans fats, chuck ’em. Or don’t buy them in the first place. If you have a sweet tooth, try making oatmeal with bananas, cinnamon, and some pure maple syrup. Another favorite of mine are smoothies! Or make your own dessert from scratch. Pinterest has tons of amazing recipes for healthy desserts made with pumpkin, applesauce, greek yogurt, black beans, etc. Give them a whirl!

Use Cinnamon.
I don’t know how I missed the boat on this for so long, but cinnamon is truly a miracle spice. Cinnamon is my new bestie. I put it on EVERYTHING. Well okay, maybe not everything. But truthfully, I use it in my coffee, chai or spiced tea, on cereal, oatmeal, rice cakes topped with peanut butter & banana, apple slices, you name it. It is so warming and comforting. It tastes delicious. And I haven’t even told you about the benefits yet. It has been known to stabilize blood sugar and reduce sugar cravings, and may be effective in treating Type 2 Diabetes by lowering blood sugar. It can be a remedy for headaches and migraines. In Ayurveda, it is believed to aid in proper digestion. It fights E.coli and inhibits bacterial growth, which means it’s a preservative. Honey and cinnamon together are said to alleviate arthritis pain. Simply the scent of cinnamon can boost memory and cognitive function. Isn’t that unbelieveable?! I know, I really nerd out when it comes to nutrition. But seriously. Start using cinnamon.

Eat Mindfully.
This is one of my favorite practices, and quite frankly it’s probably the most potent for stabilizing weight and staying fit. Most of us have busy lifestyles, I totally get that. But eating without paying attention to our food is wreaking havoc. I invite you to at least try mindful eating once. Maybe start on a weekend morning when you can actually sit and enjoy breakfast. Begin by sitting with a long, tall spine. Posture is important. Next, observe the food in front of you. Really look at it – colors, textures, elements. Where did the food come from? Did you prepare it yourself? Think about where the fruit/vegetables/eggs came from. Are they local? Think about all the effort it took to get this food to your plate, from cultivation to transportation, to you buying it, chopping it, etc. Now smell your food. Really take in the scents wafting into your nostrils. What feelings do these scents evoke? And now taste your food. Chew it slowly. Take sips of water or juice in between bites. Be with your food and the experience of eating it. Give thanks. This is a simple practice of mindful eating. It makes such a difference to eat this way, than to gobble our food down…sometimes not even remembering what we consumed. A consistent practice of mindful eating will naturally allow you to eat less, and actually be more satisfied.

Nix Liquid Calories.
The primary beverage we drink should be water. And a lot of it. Like, more than you thought possible. Our bodies need and want it desperately. If you hate water, try flavored seltzer. There are some pretty delicious flavors out there…black cherry is my personal favorite. If you need to have beverages with calories, let that be a special treat. Like a cup of hot cider or chai in the fall, hot cocoa in the winter, an occasional glass of wine, a freshly-made margarita with only tequila, lime, and triple sec (sour mix is the sugar devil!), or whatever your poison is. Just let it be in moderation. (Hmmm, where have I heard that before?) Seriously though. I like beer, trust me. It takes awhile to wean off. But now I can have one beer and be truly satisfied.

Well my friends, that’s all for now (this post is getting quite lengthy). I do have many more ideas and practical ways to stay healthy and balanced, I’ll post more soon!

Namaste, Jai Bhagwan, Om Shanti –

Steph
xo  (P.S. for more fit tips and to follow my journey/be in the journey together, enter your email address below – thank you!)

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Being vs. Doing

I’ve been told that I’m a ghost lately on my blog and Instagram. Which is entirely true. Sometimes, or oftentimes in my opinion, a post that is born out of a spontaneous, organic thought is more sincere than a contrived one. I’d rather have my writing be authentic than forced. So if I don’t feel an urge to write, I don’t. Hence the gaps in posts. But, I did write something the other night (on paper in a notebook…old school; the way I used to exclusively write) that I think is worth sharing:

It’s become imperative that I figure out how to cultivate a kindness toward myself. For the health of myself and my relationships with others. When I become irritated with my boyfriend John, I believe this to be a direct reflection of the way I’m feeling about myself, or treating/responding to myself..which is often with irritation and impatience.

Impatience with my body especially. When or where this inclination toward perfectionism reared it’s ugly head and became so ingrained in my mind, I may never know. But I’m establishing the work of “undoing” the need to be perfect. It’s begun unraveling, in the best possible sense. We as a culture are under constant pressure to produce, produce, produce, to the point where 24 hours in a day just isn’t enough, and we’re left cutting into our time to rest and sleep, which I truly believe are essential to health and well-being. A lot of people say, “you can sleep when you’re dead.” I don’t necessarily agree with that philosophy. It may work for some people, but personally, my body needs sleep in order to function properly and to be able to enjoy life fully and with ease.

I recently watched an interview with Rodney Yee and his wife, Colleen Saidman Yee. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, Rodney Yee is sometimes referred to as “the godfather of yoga.” He said:

There’s a certain anxiety that comes with the impermanence of our existence. So naturally, it becomes an impulse we have to do as much as we can…cramming activities in what little time we have that seems to pass so quickly.

Produce. Perform. Achieve. What about just being? Is this something we’ve completely forgotten to do? In yoga, we sit with ourselves, and see what’s there. It’s amazing what emotions and sensations bubble up when we turn our awareness inward.

Personally, it’s become rather harshly evident that somehow, to my core, I have not learned to accept myself completely. I notice it especially when I’m practicing yoga. I push my body, silently scolding it for not deepening into a posture the way I think it should. I become frustrated with injuries that hinder my progress, and actually end up blaming my body, rather than being patient with it. I insult it when I focus in on flaws – for example, my muscular arms that I secretly wish were long and sinewy like a ballerina’s. If beating myself up were a major in college, I would have a PhD by now. Then of course, I become mad at myself for not being confident. So you see how easily the critic can swoop in and just take over.

I think that the expectation to produce and push often sets us up for our own critical review – which can end up being a roast on ourselves, spelling disaster for our self-esteem and emotional well-being. Sometimes we need to opt to push the pause button on production. Stop the assembly line. Be deliberately gentle with ourselves. For example – tonight I had a to-do list. I put this internal pressure on myself to accomplish these tasks in a certain period of time. After creating this list, and returning to it for my next task, I felt a sense of anxiety swarm and settle in my chest. Because if I don’t complete this list, suddenly I’ve fallen short.

So what did I do? I deliberately dismissed the list. I gave myself a break. I watched an inspirational documentary on Netflix (First Position; about a select group of young ballet dancers pursuing their dreams. Brought me to tears. I highly recommend it).

Why should we always measure our worth in achievements and accomplished goals? How about measuring in moments, in seasons, in our capacity to love, in our simply being human? How easy it is to forget that who we are, right now, in this very moment, is enough. More than enough. And on that note, I’m going to go have some popcorn. 🙂

Om Shanti,

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Mission: YOGA

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Soon I’ll be going off on an adventure. What type of adventure, you may wonder? Well, I’m chasing my dreams. They’ve been beckoning me for some time now. In a mere month, I’ll be living and learning at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. I’ll leave my hometown behind for awhile, as well as my corporate job (hopefully forever), to pursue what my spirit wants and what the world needs. This 200-hr program for my yoga teaching certification will be intense. From 6:30 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days a week, I will be quite literally living and breathing yoga.

Embarking on something like this ignites passion in my heart, and inspires me to draw on all my faculties to soak in all the knowledge and wisdom I can. As I draw more and more inward to prepare for this experience, I continue to consider my personal values and mission.

Completing the application for entrance into Kripalu’s Yoga Teacher Training program required much self-reflection and deep thought into why I want to pursue this path. I wanted to share some of my answers to the questions on the application. These will help me in the future, as I compose my vision and mission statements for a studio one day.

Why do you want to be certified as a yoga teacher at this time in your life?

There is a great deal of suffering in the world, and in our communities. I’ve witnessed the transformative power of yoga, and its ability to create a sense of peace, understanding, compassion, and love in people of all walks of life. If I could offer a small piece of solace through yoga practice, and a safe space for people to gather and feel welcomed and accepted, that would be an invaluable life skill to me. I would be living a life of true purpose and meaning, and helping people on a level where they could empower themselves, and find comfort in the deepest part of themselves that perhaps they didn’t even know existed.

I’d like to help others let go of perfectionism, quiet their inner critic, and feel able to live as they were intended – free of anxiety and discomfort. And when they are feeling anxiety, discomfort, depression, and anger, they should be able to use yoga to validate these feelings and perhaps be able to let them go.

When I walk through the hallway of the insurance office I work for, I’ve observed that many people hang their heads low, struggling to make eye contact, or smile, or say “hello.” These people can benefit from yoga. Almost anyone can. If I can offer the gift of potentially guiding someone to find peace in themselves, easing their tension and anxiety, that is awareness I’d like to create for people. Manifesting the peace that is within us, bringing it to the surface, and sharing it with others contributes to an outpouring of kindness in our communities that I hope to see more of.

How do you plan to apply your yoga skills to your life and work?

I’ve always had the innate desire to reach people in a healing sense. Ever since I was a little girl, I struggled with an anxiety that I didn’t understand. As a result, I was shy, awkward, and just felt different, or somehow separate. I want to help people understand that what makes us different is what makes us beautiful.

I suffered from an eating disorder as a teenager and received outpatient treatment; in the rehabilitation center I attended, I met many wonderful, talented, lovely, spirited young women who unfortunately buckled under the pressure of society’s skewed standards of beauty. It was heart-wrenching to be surrounded by these young ladies (and gentlemen) who to me, were gorgeous inside and out, but weren’t able to see it through their own eyes or hearts. I’m grateful for that experience, because a deeper sense of compassion was born out of it. It became my mission to help people find their beauty and truly accept themselves and be kind to their bodies.

Yoga fosters self-love. Yoga helps us cultivate understanding, patience, poise, and presence (among innumerable other benefits). It is a powerful tool that largely contributes to self-actualization, and gently leads us to becoming the best version of ourselves. Applying yoga skills to life and work comes naturally when we nurture a lifestyle of devotion and dedication to practice. The application of yoga comes through our countenance and in the way we carry ourselves, the way we communicate with family members, coworkers, strangers; it changes our perspective on daily life, allowing us to let go of trivial issues and focus on the bigger picture.

Om Shanti

Namaste.

xo Steph

This Morning

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This morning as I drove to the office, I felt opposing forces at work inside me. A certain magnetism pulled me to the place I report to in order to receive a paycheck. The need for money is as unfortunate as it is pertinent. I felt a familiar sadness wash over me, as I realized I wouldn’t be seeing my love, my boyfriend John, for the next 5 days (we now have opposite work schedules and no longer see each other during the week), and that my life right now is dictated by a job that has, in my mind, no meaning.

The other magnet pulling me was activated by a delicious thought of a lazy drive through the Connecticut country – Litchfield county, to be accurate. Nothing but me, the road, some great tunes, open air, and a steamy, rich, coffee. This thought freed my mind and senses, and the dark melancholy looming over me loosened up and drifted off on the waves of newfound positivity. My want to step off the treadmill and explore my own unchartered terrain is incredibly strong, as is my inherent need to live actively, and in nature. This morning is something divine, as patches of sunlight dance on the emerald leaves, and the all the dewy fields on my commute to work glisten, and look so inviting.

To leave the morning outside in all its glory and enter the world of gray cubicles seemed sinful. Even my car was reluctant as it rolled into its parking space. I paused after turning off the engine, and gazed out over the lawn in front of me. I imagined myself in Warrior pose out in the field – solid, grounded, unwavering. I smiled to myself at the passing thought; it was a comforting moment with just me and my conscious mind.

I took a breath in, sipping it in through my nostrils in the same way I would during my yoga practice. Although the uncomfortable knowledge of the stressful and tedious day ahead felt intimidating, I gathered up the same strength that I feel in Warrior. Using that same quiet confidence and renewed energy, I stepped into the office, ready to face an army.

My Monday Mantra: Live Like a Warrior.
Namaste.

xo Steph