The Secrets of Sticky Fingers’ Sweets – Book Review

Sticky Fingers bookOn Valentine’s Day, we visited our local vegan distributor, Pangea. The largely online store has limited Saturday hours for those of us lucky enough to live nearby. When we are free and running errands in Rockville, MD we stop by and replenish our supply of vanilla chocolate chips and cheese sauce.

My hubby picked up Doron Petersan’s book, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets, 100 Super-Secret Vegan Recipes, so I bought it for him. I didn’t know she had a recipe book! I’d recently seen the news about her opening a second bakery in DC. Somehow I’d missed the book from 2012.

For the last 17 years our family has baked without dairy and eggs due to extensive food allergies. It took me six years to perfect a chocolate cake. Although people have a prejudice against vegan foods, I know that my baking is better than most others and sells out quickly at any bake sale. However, I also know that the sheet cakes and cupcakes from Sticky Fingers sweets & eats are scrumptious. Every bite melts in your mouth and she has won over non-vegan bakers in Cupcake Wars.

Now I can know her secrets!

The first thing I noticed is that she uses all of the same base ingredients as I do only in slightly different amounts. We use Earth Balance margarine and shortening, So Delicious coconut milk, and Ener-G egg replacer . My perfected chocolate cake depends on cocoa powder, vegetable oil, and vinegar too.

She emphasizes following the order of her directions. Looking through all the recipes, I agree with her methods. Usually I need to rearrange a recipe for it to work well. This point was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago, when my youngest was following one of the recipes I use and I had to explain the changes to almost every step. Her recipes make sense.

The first recipes I tried were the Sugar Cookies and icing for our Valentine heart treats. My sons friends loved them without being told they were vegan and our family ate the whole batch. The lemon oil in the dough and larger quantity of vanilla in the icing made a difference in what was otherwise my regular recipes for both. After all these years, the book has reaffirmed my methods.

Although I cooked with tofu for the last 35 years, I haven’t been using it as much lately. Tofu seems to be one of the secrets to great creme and I can’t wait to make the Tiramisu Filling. Last year I started experimenting with coconut milk for puddings and hot chocolate and now I have some other ways to try it.

I love her bakery and now I love her book! Watch me gain another ten pounds.  Regardless, I am at the feet of a genius.

Thinking Not Mind Wandering

Thinking This week after one of my chair yoga classes, I said, “thinking not mind wandering”. This seemed to be a new concept. Here was a group of seniors in their 70′s and 80′s and they had never pondered the difference.

I told them it’s okay to plan and learn with their brains but they needed to be aware of when they were allowing their minds to wander.

Studies have shown that when we are lost in thought, we usually aren’t happy. Our brain thinks back in endless loops or imagines worries which might not occur.

This is why even if my students can’t do every pose, the class is still so very beneficial. By concentrating on the breath and breathing deeply, the mind is made to think about the present moment. Adding the yoga poses and movements forces the brain to think about what the body is doing so there isn’t a chance for the mind to wander. This is why yoga makes you feel better. Yoga helps you escape the brain and think about what is really happening.

Benefits of Upside Down Yoga

Downdog croppedDo you know why raising your arms, lowering your head, or lifting your legs is so beneficial during yoga? These inversions help your lymphatic system clear out the waste in your bloodstream.

We all know that our heart pumps our blood around our bodies bringing oxygen to the red blood cells and nutrients to our plasma. When our blood flows to the capillaries, the oxygen and nutrients enter through the fluid surrounding our cells.

An exchange is made as the waste products leave the cells. Most of the “waste” goes into the capillaries but some enters the lymph vessels. Our lymph nodes act as filters which remove the bacteria and viruses from the lymph vessels. Sometimes the lymph nodes become swollen with fluid and infection.

We know that if our ankles become swollen, we elevate them to help the lymph system get the fluid back into circulation. Our lymphatic system doesn’t have a heart pumping the fluid through our bodies so gravity helps. This is why yoga poses are so beneficial. We turn our bodies and limbs upside down and move the fluids around helping to remove all the unhealthy waste.

IMG_4767 If you can do handstands, headstands, and shoulder stands, you are turning your world upside down in a healthy way. Many other poses such as fan, tree, downdog, and legs up the wall can also move the fluids around your body. Using a chair can insure the benefits of inversions if all these poses are not available to you.

Your brain also benefits by seeing things differently from a whole new perspective. Perhaps this new world view will manifest in other positive ways when you leave the yoga class.

My advice is to always turn your world upside down! Find a safe way to invert your body.

Review: Buoy Seat Is a Healthier Sitting Option

Bouy Seat

When my teenage sons wanted their own rooms, I gave up my office and created a space in the master bedroom. My little corner was transformed with a corner desk but I couldn’t find an appropriate seat. I wanted to keep our antique rocking chair under the window and add a seat in the small space in front of the desk. What could possibly fit?

My back also couldn’t take sitting in a traditional office chair. I needed to move, stretch my back, and open my hips. I saw a tv segment on the Buoy Seat by Turnstone. At first I thought the $200 price tag was too much. As I researched different types of chairs and obvious rip offs of the Buoy Seat, I decided the only thing I wanted for Christmas was a Buoy Seat. From their website:

We’ve all seen the research.
Excessive sitting doesn’t do anything to boost your wellbeing. Luckily, experts say that combatting negative sedentary effects can be as simple as interrupting your day often and making frequent posture changes.

That’s where Buoy comes in. Pneumatic height adjustability gives you 5 inches of play, allowing you to sit comfortably at your desk. And with up to 12 degrees of tilt, core muscles fire up as you lean in and swivel, while legs work to keep you balanced, upright and focused on the task at hand. Perfect for quick tasks, Buoy will revolutionize the way you sit.

The Buoy Seat experience has been pretty good. Granted the first time I sat on it I fell over onto the rocking chair and hurt my arm. Although it looks flat on the bottom, it really does pivot on one point. You need to be careful! My lower back doesn’t feel compressed even when sitting for longer stretches. You can adjust the height of the seat and I find myself changing it occasionally to use the balls of my feet more. Since my yoga and gym routines provide a pretty good core workout, I’m not sure if the seat will increase my core strength but it certainly forces me to use my core more and sit up straight.

I’m happy with the Buoy Seat. My office space finally feels complete and I enjoy sitting at the laptop now.  With the Buoy seat I can bend, rotate, and spin. Since I teach chair yoga, sitting is all about moving!

Breathe For Two Minutes

Breathe Grand Teton Canyon sidesThis year I can’t seem to take on a whole New Year Resolution and think we would all be better by embracing a New Year Habit. I firmly believe that small changes in habits can lead to major life changes. For instance, losing weight is all about making one small change each week and sticking with it.

For meditation, you only need two minutes. Two minutes! Start simple and stick with it.

Sit down and notice your breathing. Your breath comes in. Take as much breath as you can make it deep. Then pause and slowly exhale noticing when all the breath is gone. Repeat. If your mind wanders, reel it back in. Back to the breath.

Research backs up the benefits, as Harvard-trained happiness researcher Shawn Achor states:

“Here’s what we found: For two minutes, watching their breath go in and out — literally two minutes — it gave their brain a new pattern,” he says. “[It went from] multitasking to single-task… Their happiness levels improved, their stress dropped and, amazingly, the stress of the people around them dropped as well. It starts to cause this chain reaction.”

You will be happier. Whenever you are aware of stress, or find your brain sending bad thoughts, just stop and breathe in this manner. In the car, at your desk, at the stove, during a walk, or in a long line. Make it a habit!

A Thankful Yoga Practice

Yoga and the Spirit Summer Scene

My Yoga and the Spirit classes fill a void in my yoga practice by combining my Christian religious beliefs and yoga. This Gratitude Practice highlights appropriate Bible verses and poses which can be incorporated into a special Thanksgiving yoga session at a church.

To begin:

Ephesians 5:20 “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Practicing gratitude can lessen depression and anxiety so that you feel and sleep better. Since yoga also has these benefits, the combination is a match made in heaven! Since the holidays can be stressful and lonely, practicing thankfulness can help.

Easy pose with hands made into a bowl (pinkies and thumbs touch while fingers spread out in a bowl shape). Fill the bowl with gratitude for loved ones and all the challenges in your life that can actually help you grow.

Conscious Breathing: appreciate the very gift of life.

Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and your eyes closed. Take deep, slow breaths. Once you feel centered and present, mentally list five things you are grateful for in your life by moving each finger. Say thanks to those people and/or things after thinking of each one.

Psalms 118:24 This [is] the day [which] the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Child’s pose: Can you be like a child in awe of everything?
Think about when we were kids and could curl up and fall asleep anywhere. Be thankful for the ways we feel secure in our lives. Accept and be thankful for the times when we slow down and rest rather than being busy.

Stomach Prayer: Lie down on stomach up on elbows with hands in prayer position for these readings.

Psalm 100:4 “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
Colossians 3:17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Tadasana: with hands together in prayer position. Take a moment to feel your heart. Breathe with even rhythm. Allow a sense of gratitude to reside within you. Reach your arms up to the sky and acknowlege what is truly possible. Clasp your left wrist with your right hand, step you left foot behind your right foot wide to the side, roll to the outer edge of your left foot, engage and spread your toes, lean into the pose, and stretch the entire left side of your body with power and strength from the foundation up to your hands. Take 5 deep breaths. Switch sides.

Low lunge: Extend your arms out wide to the sides of the body with the palms facing forward. Open the line through your arms and heart.

Revolved Lunge: When we twist, we get to physically look back. Think about the gift of hindsight. 

Psalm 116:17 “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the LORD.”

Psalms 107:1 O give thanks unto the LORD, for [he is] good: for his mercy [endureth] for ever.

Warrior I: Be grateful for your strength for those tough times we will inevitably face.

Downdog and Fire hydrant: bend your knee and open up the hip and thigh into external rotation. Imagine you are sending  love from your heart into the world as you stretch open.

Wild Thing: with hand on heart instead of extended. Your entire body is an expression of gratitude in your life. Think of the people you love and someone who has helped you.

Half Moon: The world is always changing so appreciate the change of the lunar cycles and seasons.

Tree pose: Tree pose teaches us gratitude for the earth that grounds us and for our ability to grow.

Bridge: open yourself up physically and your mind will wake up.

After savasana:

Philippians 4:6 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Dear Lord God,
Simply, thank you. Help me to recognize the goodness around me each day. Give me the strength to keep my body healthy so that my mind will follow. Remind me to find silence each day to and calm my mind to appreciate all your gifts.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

If you would like a Gratitude Yoga Session at your church in the DC metro area, please contact me.

Best Morning Routine

Best morning routine scrape tongueOver three years ago, I started a simple Ayurvedic routine upon waking each day. Although you can do much more, consistently repeating a few reasonable actions will not be overwhelming and can start the day right.

  1. Wake up
  2. While laying on stomach, bring one knee and then the other knee even with the hip and feel the hips opening.
  3. While laying on back with shoulders relaxed on the bed, twist bent legs from one side to the other and notice how your spine feels.
  4. Sit up and remember to be grateful for a new day for just a moment.
  5. In the bathroom, take a stainless steel spoon and scrap the tongue from back to front several times to remove bacteria and stimulate the organs.
  6. Bring water to the mouth and swish it around, spit, then splash water on your face and eyes fully experiencing the temperature change.
  7. Feel the touch of the towel as you dry your face.

The important part to is really pay attention to what you are doing. For me this isn’t a fad but rather a habit. Sometimes we can go on auto pilot with habits but don’t fall into a mindless routine. Pay attention to seeing your body, hands, and face. Notice the temperature of the water and room. Feel the touch of the towel. Hear the morning sounds and flowing water. Use all you senses for these few short moments then open the door and start your day. You will be refreshed and present in each moment.

Tiny House on Wheels

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IMG_5809This summer our family of four headed across our inspiring country in our ten-year-old camper van, driving from Maryland on the east coast to Wyoming and Colorado in the western mountains. Along the way, I couldn’t help but compare our Roadtrek 190 Versatile to a covered wagon!

IMG_5388Although we had gone on substantial trips before, this was the longest journey we ever planned. As the tiny house movement expands, I wanted to decide if it would really work for a family.

People are always amazed to learn that our van sleeps four and has two dining areas which seat eight. We can invite guests for dinner! Tucked into every available space are a sink, two-burner stove, refrigerator, freezer, microwave, toilet, shower, DVD player, flat screen tv, couch, generator, full-size air conditioner, furnace, and hot water heater. The teenage boys brought their Xbox 360 for added entertainment.

IMG_5387After three weeks together without a hitch, I know we could live in a tiny house. The length of the van and fold-out doors offer enough space and privacy for everyone. Although we stayed in campgrounds and used their showers and sometimes put up a tent, most of our hours were spent in the Trekker. When we pulled into a national park, we had all of our possessions so we could change into bathing suits or hiking boots as needed. We made our meals when we needed them and had unbelievable views when dining. We were home no matter where our location.

IMG_5391I’ll admit that I’ve expressed my love of our van by hugging it. This mere machine has always provided our family with an immense feeling of freedom and adventure. The best part is that the whole house fits in a regular parking space!

Years ago when visiting a little nephew he told our brother-in-law that he felt sorry for our sons because they didn’t have any room for toys in our house. It took a few seconds to realize he thought we lived in our van permanently. Now that they don’t have as many toys, it just might work!

Business Success With Yoga

The Power Conference Program 2014

At The Power Conference yesterday a session promised to “Unleash Your Authentic Voice for Success”. As Dana Theus engaged the audience, I realized everything you needed to know about being successful could be found in a committed yoga practice.

Dana held her throat and talked about not being able to speak because we often worry about saying something wrong. We hold back out of fear. She advised taping into deeper levels and staying in an energetic space where the words almost didn’t matter. Underneath we have our real story which we need to tell with meaning and the best way is to state, “I believe ______.”

One of the foundations of yoga is to reach this energetic state of “being in the moment”. An inability to speak is symbolized by a blockage in the throat chakra. Before we can communicate, we need to feel grounded, be creative, digest ideas, and have compassion, then we are ready to truly share. A regular yoga practice helps to stop the overwhelming stimulus from the world and our brains. We learn to observe that what is happening to us is not us. In this way we find a better energetic state and can share our beliefs.

For me, noticing my breath and concentrating on fuller breaths is the most basic way to be in the moment. The more you do it in yoga, the more you’ll find yourself doing it throughout your day. This is the way to start your journey away from powerless and defeating behaviors.

The keynote speaker, Katty Kay, also touched on some yoga principles during her talk about confidence. Confidence is the stuff that turns our thoughts into actions. Although partly genetic, it is a choice and something any person can build by taking risks without fear of failure. As we try to learn yoga, we often spend many hours slowly attempting to move our bodies in a certain way. Some students are much more willing to fail, fall, and start again. In this way, yoga can help you find your edge, add challenges to your days, and become confident in failure.

She also talked about “ruminating” and gave the example of successfully hosting a three-hour show only to spend the next three weeks with her brain constantly bringing up the one wrong question she asked. During meditation, we learn to become the observer of these types of thoughts. I tell my students then may have to observe a certain thought over and over again a hundred times in one short meditation session. The more you practice yoga and meditation, the more you will realize how much your brain is constantly trying to force you to feel bad about the past or worry about the future and you can work to stop it.

Katty suggests you think three good thoughts for every “Negative Automatic Thought” (NAT). It takes that many. Every time you notice the bad thought, force yourself to repeat three positive outcomes from the same situation.

I couldn’t help but to think of gnats flying around my head. These negative thoughts are exactly the same. I’ll use the image during meditation with my students. Observe the gnats and bring your mind to a better place.

Connecting your body and breath with yoga will improve your work and fulfill your personal life. As a yoga coach, I hope to help people be successful in all that they do.

The Zombies Are Already Here

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You see zombies all over the place. They walk with a distracted, slow gait. Their bodies are hunched over. They’re unresponsive and looking down. I have no doubt that the zombie apocalypse has begun!

Last night I was walking home from a school meeting and a guy almost walked right into me because he was bent over his phone. As we drew near, the woman with him had fallen in behind to let me pass but he had no idea someone was on the sidewalk. Sadly he wasn’t paying attention to me or her.

Whenever I’m walking I see the same situation. Zombies are everywhere. People notice me at the last second and look up. The worst zombies are the moms and dads pushing baby carriages. This generation will grow up thinking it’s normal to ignore the world around you.

As a society we are becoming much less mindful. Our brains are addicted to electronic distractions. We never take a few minutes to notice our breath and remove ourselves from the unimportant details of the day.

My exercise walking route goes through two parks. These spring days have been uplifting. The herons, geese, turtles, birds, flowers, trees, sun, and sky can boldly bring me into a wonderful present moment. Walking can be a terrific meditation if you keep your mind on each detail of your surroundings, senses, and breath.

Although it’s illegal to use a phone when behind the wheel of a car, more than half of the drivers I see are illegally on their phones. Yesterday’s worst offender was a woman in her large SUV driving down our street holding the phone near the windshield. I guess she thought she could text and see the view in front of her large and deadly vehicle as she maneuvered down a residential street.

This is obviously dangerous but it’s also illegal to text while stopped for red lights. Each stop provides an excellent chance to bring your attention to your breath. Feel it filling your body and rest the mind. This is the much needed opposite of what a phone offers.

Whether walking or driving, avoid a zombie infection!