Today, my yoga practice was one that is always a little difficult for me: not going to class. I decided that I needed a day off because all the signs were showing that I was not letting myself slow down. Clothes are piling up, my dishes aren't clean and my eyes have been drifting closed at work because I usually end up writing later at night. All good signs that today is an off-day. It's always one that is a little hard for me because I still have the old runner's mentality that says you can't miss a day of running because you'll fall behind: you're body is going to get stiff, your muscles are going to get weak...Which is crazy because it's only one day. Even one of the most intense yoga practices that I've seen (Mysore Ashtanga) has a regular day of rest, sometimes 2 when there is a Moon Day (either a full or new moon). And if you're a lady then you're even luckier because their view is that you should rest more during "that time of the month;" it's even called a "ladies holiday!" Furthermore, if you believe in this faith, even God gave Himself a day of rest back when the world was being created. I'm not a Christian and religion is still an undecided and confusing topic for me, but if we can be open to the idea that even a higher being needs a day off, then maybe it won't kill us if we take one too :-)
On the physical level, your body needs tie to rest, recover and rebuild. I learned that in my weight training classes back in high school: you are supposed to space out your workouts because when you workout you're literally breaking your muscle down so that it can grow back stronger. But it's hard for something to grow and rebuild if you keep breaking it down and never give it a chance to rest! These kinds of days can actually reveal a lot about what other areas of your life need attention, if any, because you have to rely on them instead of your physical (asana) yoga practice. It also gives you a chance to see how your asana practice is effecting your body. One of the biggest things I usually tend to notice is how food effects my body. If I eat too much junk food and I haven't had a physical yoga class, I can really feel how much it weighs down my body. It literally feels like it gets stuck in my body. And not just in my stomach, but also in my arms, neck, legs, back...everywhere. Which makes sense when I remember something a friend (who is also a yoga teacher and holistic health counselor) told me: "your food literally becomes a part of your body." So when you fill it with junk, that is going to be coursing through your veins and muscles. Does that mean that I never eat junk food? Of course not. Just like my friend and pretty much everyone else that lives in the U.S, I live in the "real" world where sometimes I run late and forget to make my food; or I want to enjoy a tasty sweet or go out for food with friends (or family when I am with them). But I've also really started to notice that if I eat too much of it, I start to get cranky and my body doesn't feel so good. That's even more apparent when I haven't been to a yoga class where I can bend, twist and sweat the toxins out of my body. So after a lifelong diet that rarely included vegetables and cooking my own meals but always included highly processed and sugary foods, this is always an area of my life that I am working on.
I recently completed a 21-day detox which was the longest that I had ever been able to keep sugar and processed foods out of my diet. At one point, there was a giant platter of my favorite cookies hanging out in my office at work and I didn't feel the urge to even eat a little bite of them. I felt pretty incredible. My moods were more stable and even if I couldn't notice too many other changes in my body, there was no mistaking the benefit it made to my yoga practice. I could get deeper into my twists and it was easier to access the muscles in my abdominal area. And then "life" happened. I knew it would and I tried to hang on as long as I could, but it was causing me more stress and discomfort to keep resisting than to just let myself be knocked off balance for a little while. The "life" I'm talking about was a whirlwind trip to visit 8 family members in 2 states within the span of a week followed by moving to a new apartment with 2 complete strangers. All the traveling meant that I wasn't cooking and the foods my family and I were eating were definitely not the most healthy. I've done this process before: kicking out the sugar and junk food for a while, something happens and it slips back in, and then I have to try and balance it back out. I'm still in the balance it back out phase. Because cooking is still very new for me, I'm super self-conscious about cooking in front of people (especially when one is a good cook, like one of my new roommates) because I'm afraid that I'm doing it wrong. Which is an odd idea since cooking is all about experimenting and discovering what is best for your body. And both of my new roommates are very open and non-judgmental people. But I still get really self-conscious and feel like I'm being watched and judged; and then I kind of just give up and resort to my old comfort foods: bagels and cereal. Both of which seriously lack in any real nutrition. It's a process that is made even more difficult when you take into account the fact that sugar is addictive and I react very strongly to it, especially when I'm frustrated with other important areas of my life (like my job). Adding in the fact that it is included in the vast majority of pre-packaged and processed foods that are readily available for those who are "on-the-go" makes it very difficult to knock myself back out of this habit. So, I think it's time to bring back my new, easy, simple and healthy "go-to," comfort food: kitchari. Kitchari is wonderful. It's simple and it's a very complete meal. I've also used it as a sort of foundation to move from, adding a few more veggies or switching up the grains, etc. Here's the recipe that my Mysore teacher gave us when we did an Ayurvedic cleanse last year:
"1 c. Basmati Rice
½ c. mung dahl (Split mung dahl is yellow color and can be purchased at Asian and Indian groceries. If it has added coloring, rinse double well in cold water and soak for a few hours before cooking, or overnight)
1 c steamed vegetables of your choice (one at a time)
1 Tbsp ghee
1 tsp each as you like, whole or powdered: cumin seed, fresh ginger, fennel seed, coriander, turmeric, salt.
Fresh cilantro (optional)
Cook the rice and dahl together with  c. water. White rice takes about 20 min. On the side sauté the spices in the ghee (except turmeric, you just add this one at the end) a few minutes, until you can smell them. Don’t burn your spices. These will be added along with salt before eating. If the veggies steam quickly you can throw them in with the grains and spices, stir with fork and cover for the last 5 minutes of grain time. If they are longer cooking, cook them on the side and add in with the spices for the last 5 minutes."
On her blog, she said to use 6 cups of water, but when we did the cleanse, she said 3. I imagine that 6 would make it more like a soup, which would probably taste just as good. Either way, it's super simple and it tastes pretty fantastic. I find the philosophies and teaching of Ayurveda intriguing and very important to American society because in this view, food is medicine. My teacher always reminded us that "Food and the act of eating is sacred. Sit down; connect with your meals. Chew. Relax. Enjoy." I think in modern society where we are growing increasingly disconnected from the foods we eat, that idea is an important one to remember.