8 Ways to Develop a Home Yoga Practice

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Yoga can transform your life if you let it become a daily part of your lifestyle.  Here are some ideas to develop your own home practice:

  • Doesn’t need to be very long – 20 minutes/day is fine
  • Doesn’t always need to be asana (posture) practice – seated or walking meditation is also very powerful.  Also take time to study yogic texts, online resources, do art, write in a journal, or anything else that brings your inner essence out and is nourishing to you.  Practice flow activities; practice mindfulness.
  • Try sun salutations – 3, 6, 9, 12 of them, etc. – play around with variations to keep it interesting (Sun Salutation A, Sun Salutation B, Dancing Warrior, etc.)
  • Choose one pose each week (or month, depending on difficulty) to work on/incorporate into your practice
  • Have a dedicated spot for your yoga/meditation.  Tell others in your household what you are doing so you won’t be interrupted.
  • Do yoga together with others in your household!
  • Practice awareness of your body’s current state and choose where to go from there … maybe relaxing moon salutations are more appropriate than activating sun salutations sometimes … feel what your body needs and proceed accordingly – do you need relaxation or stimulation?  Do you need to open your hips or stretch your quads?  Where are you holding tension?  What poses will support its release?  Let your intuition guide you.
  • Try a DVD – there are so many.  My teacher, Shiva Rea, has some great DVDs with practices you can customize to be as short or long (and as challenging or restorative) as you want.  

Have fun with it – yoga is not just another exercise routine that you grudgingly force yourself to do.  Yoga is a beautiful way of living, which allows you to become your best self!  Do you have any other suggestions?  Feel free to comment or ask questions.  Have a great day!

Something to meditate on…

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Through yogic practices, can we recognize as our true nature, the unchanging Self that experiences or – more appropriately, perhaps – witnesses our ever-changing emotions/conditions of being?  Accepting that this Self exists permanently, shining beneath all of our ephemeral states, our higher intelligence can remain steady in times of difficulty and not get carried away with or grasp for pleasure, knowing that all of these cognitions are impermanent.  The Self alone remains unfazed as pure consciousness.  Awareness of this Self brings peace.

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Moments of Mindfulness

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Being mindful in daily life has such a positive effect on the psyche.  We begin to notice the beauty that surrounds us and develop gratitude for just being alive.  So often we wander through life not fully awake.  We do tasks and chores without thinking.  We worry about the future and lament about, or long for, the past.  We don’t really listen to others when they are talking – we are busy thinking about our response or our next action.  Have you ever unconsciously commuted to work, for example, and almost forgotten how you got there?  

We often wish we were somewhere else, in some future or past place imagined to be more pleasant.  The current moment is truly all there is, though.  This moment, now, is life!  Practicing mindfulness is an excellent way to embrace being alive and learn how to really enjoy living.  When we bring our attention to the now, we cannot worry or experience other negative emotions.  We are fully immersed in whatever we are doing, which also means we will be more effective and efficient.  Meditation on the breath is a great way to develop mindfulness.  It is not the only way, however.  Here are a few ideas to bring mindfulness into your daily life. 

  • Stand by a sunny window or go outside, close your eyes, and feel the warmth of the sun.  Sit or stand in the sun for a few minutes (or at least one minute).  Focus on the feeling in your body.  If thought intrudes, just notice; take a deep breath, and relax into the sun’s light and warmth.
  • Eat or drink something mindfully.  Take a few minutes to simply enjoy.  Notice the temperature, texture, flavors, smell.  Don’t talk, look at the computer, read a book, or do anything else.  Be fully immersed in the sensations.
  • Take a mindful walk.  Feel the pavement or, better yet, the earth beneath your feet.  If it’s warm enough, walk barefoot in the grass.  Feel the cool blades of grass between your toes.  Feel the air touching your skin: is it warm, cold, somewhere in between?  Is there a strong wind or breeze?  Hear the sounds.  Cars, birds, people talking.  Be here now.  If you get lost in thought, just notice, and then bring your attention back to what’s happening around you.
  • Be quiet at the beach.  Whether you are alone or with someone else, don’t talk, just direct your attention to the beauty surrounding you.  Watch the waves – stare out into the ocean (or a lake if you are not near the sea).  Be in awe of the power and energy (or let the tranquility of a calm lake relax you).  Play in the sand.  Feel the tiny grains slide through your fingers.  Build a castle or collect shells and rocks.  Create a design with them.  Notice the different colors and textures.  Remember what it was like to be a child playing at the beach. 
  • Place your full attention on your companion.  The next time you get together with a friend or your significant other or child – anyone, really – truly be with them.  Listen to every word they say and resist thinking about your response or how you feel.  Try to notice how that other person feels.  Notice body language.  Really listen.  Experience that person for who he or she is, not what you expect or want them to be.

Are there other mindfulness techniques that have worked for you?  Please share in the comments section if so!  Have a great weekend!

Yoga Moods is Nominated for The Liebster Award!

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What a nice surprise I awoke to today!  The wonderful blogger, fellow yoga- and food-lover, Jen, from Sweet Green Kitchen has nominated Yoga Moods for The Liebster Award!  I am so thrilled and honored!

The Liebster Award allows us to express appreciation for other bloggers.  It was also created to increase readership for blogs with fewer than 500 followers.  

Following are the official rules:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

2. Answer the questions you were given.

3. Nominate other blogs with fewer than 500 followers.

4. Post questions for your selected nominees to answer.

5. Tag and link the nominees and post a comment to let them know you have nominated them and appreciate their hard work. 

Jen’s questions for me and my answers:

1. 5 foods you’d wish for if trapped on an island?  

Avocados, Bananas, Pasta, Pizza, and Salad

2. Where is your dream destination/vacation?

Costa Rica!

3. What’s your favorite room in your house and why?

Hm … that’s a tough one … of the 3 rooms in my apartment, I’d have to choose the bedroom.  It’s where I rest and relax with my Love, it’s where I usually meditate and do yoga at home, it’s where my books are, and it’s the most reflective of my personality.

4. Favorite book or author?

Yikes, another tough one.  I was an English major!  I’m gonna have to go with Gabriel García Márquez.

5. What is your favorite fancy/special occasion dessert?

Wedding Cake … lots of layers, whipped cream frosting, and strawberries!

My nominees for The Liebster Award (in no particular order):

1.  Flowing Yogini

2. Thoughts on health, yoga and food

3. Yoga — Against All Odds

4. Flying the Good Flight

5. Candace Thoth

My questions for the nominees:

1. What are 3 things you love about yourself?

2. What is something you were afraid of doing, but did anyway, and would you do it again?

3. Where is your favorite place to replenish yourself?

4. What is one skill you’d love to learn?

5. What are 3 little-known facts about you?

Yoga for Kids!

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Do you have any little ones in your life?  What better gift than to introduce them to the practice of yoga?  Kids these days are under a lot of stress, and sometimes adults are not aware of that.  If we can give them tools to deal with this stress, they will live healthier and happier lives – both now and in the future!  (Not to mention this may lead to fewer tantrums for you to deal with…)  Teaching the kids in your life yoga not only enhances their lives, it can also be a bonding experience you share.  Yoga and meditation can be fun and playful, and they will enjoy showing off what they have learned.

Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Teach them simple pranayama, such as nadi shodhana, “blowing out the candle” (clasp hands with index fingers together pointing up a few inches in front of your mouth, and pretend you are blowing out a candle), and the cooling breath (breathing through a rolled tongue).  Explain that they can use these practices any time they feel upset or just want to relax.
  • Tell a story as you teach.  Pretend that you are at a farm or in a jungle, for example.  Teach kids poses such as cat, downward dog, cow, and cobra, and ask them to imitate the animal sounds as they do the postures.
  • Read yoga books with them, such as this great one by Giselle Shardlow.  A few months ago I gave this book to a 9-year-old girl.  She liked reading the story and imitating the poses in the pictures.  Whenever I see her now, she has a new pose to share with me! 

Kids are natural yogis.  They love it!  They enjoy getting into different shapes and portraying animals and objects.  They like doing what you are doing.  And they feel empowered when they can control their reactions to stress.  As the awareness of its benefits grows, yoga is increasingly being offered in classrooms around the world.  I hope this continues – I can only imagine how much easier my younger years would’ve been had I had this practice.  And kids love teaching others what they know, so chances are if you show them some yoga tricks, they will share!  That means better focus, fewer tantrums, and happier kids who will become more balanced adults. 

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Have you taught yoga or meditation to kids you know?  What has your experience been?  I’d love to hear more ideas!  Have a great day!

 

Start Your Day With Sun Salutations and Feel Great!

Sun salutations (surya namaskar) are a series of asanas (poses) included at the beginning of many vinyasa yoga classes.  Learning these poses is a great starting point for a beginner.  They are also a great way to warm up the body, which is very important at the beginning of yoga practice (for new and experienced yogis alike).  The poses included work and stretch all of your muscles and prepare you for more advanced postures.  They offer an aerobic workout as well, but you can modify the intensity depending on how quickly you do them.  

Sun salutations are also a wonderful way to start the day!  They have been very helpful for me in maintaining a daily home yoga practice.  I can almost always find time to do a few in the morning or after work, even if I have a lot going on.  I admit I don’t always do morning sun salutations, but when I do I notice a big difference throughout the day.  I have more energy, feel more grounded and happier, and my body feels more flexible and fluid.  Sometimes I challenge myself to a month of 12 sun salutations first thing in the morning every day, no matter what.  I always feel healthiest during these times!  (I think it’s time for one of those challenges now.  After a long, cold winter of getting up a little later and limiting practice to morning seated meditation, I’m so ready to welcome and embody the life of spring and move!)  Sun salutations have a few variations.  I will introduce you to the version with lunges, my personal favorite.   As always, remember your long, deep ujjayi/ocean breath!  Without the breath, it’s not yoga.

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Infographic by Health Perch http://www.northwestpharmacy.com/healthperch — check out this site for lots of great health and wellness information!

The Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche

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There is a current of love-energy that flows

between Earth below and the Sun above.

The central channel of the spine is the riverbed.

The streaming is as delicate and powerful

as the tingling touch of lovers.

Entering there,

radiance arches between the above and the below.

The whole attention resting in the nerve,

tingling delicately in the center of the spinal column,

tracing that current between earth and sun,

become magnetism relating all the worlds.

From The Radiance Sutras: 
112 Tantra Yoga Teachings For Opening to the Divine in Everyday Life
A new version of the vijnana bhairava tantra by Lorin Roche

Quick Yoga Breaks at Work!

Lots of us work very sedentary office jobs.  It’s pretty standard these days:  arrive early in the morning, turn on the computer and stare at it for about eight hours, then drive home.  Yes!  Finally, we can do some yoga (or other exercise, preferably outdoors) to reverse the long day of sitting.  Lots of us don’t do that, though.  For various reasons we don’t make time for exercise.  We may not get outside for fresh air after a long day in the office.  Instead of going out for a bike ride or a hike, we make dinner and turn on the TV, only to sit on our butts for a few more hours before going to bed.  We feel so much better (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) when we move!  Luckily, it’s easier than we sometimes think.  We don’t need to get to the gym every day in order to be in good health.  We can find many excuses to move throughout the day.  We can even take quick yoga breaks at work!

Yoga asana practice is not only the 60- or 90-minute class you encounter at a studio.  It is most effective as an every day pursuit, even if it’s only a few minutes at a time.  It’s great to dedicate an hour or two to a full practice, but yoga can be incorporated into your day any day, no excuses.  Here are a few great stretches to try throughout the day.  Have fun with it, be creative, and share!  Others can benefit as well — and then they won’t be wondering what the heck you are doing if they see you sitting there with your arms over your head.

Seated Poses

Seated Twist.  Sitting with both feet firmly on the ground, place your left hand on the outside of your right knee.  The right hand can rest beside you on the armrest or seat of the chair.  Inhale and lift your spine while relaxing your shoulders down your back.  Exhale and turn to the right, looking over your right shoulder.  Breathe, and with each inhale feel yourself lifting through the spine from the tailbone to the crown of your head.  With each exhale twist a bit deeper (these can be micro-movements).  Let the breath create space between your ribs, between your vertebrae.  Feel the inhale expand your lungs completely.  Let the exhale release any tension.  Come back to center when you are ready.  Switch sides and repeat.

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Eagle Arms.  Again with both feet planted firmly on the ground, inhale and feel the spine lifting.  Exhale and feel the tailbone drop down.  Lift both arms in front of you, with elbows bent, hands facing one another (like you’re about to clap).  Now bring the right elbow on top of the left, and snake your right hand around so palms connect (wrists are crossed).  Next, lift your arms upward while simultaneously relaxing the shoulders.  Breathe into your upper back.  This feels great!  After a few breaths, release the arms down to the original position and repeat on the opposite side (left arm over right).

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Seated Pigeon.  Here’s a seated version of the great hip opener, pigeon.  Start out as in the previous poses, feet planted.  Then, lift the right leg with the knee bent, bringing the ankle to rest on the left knee.  If you look down, you’ll see a triangle between your legs.  Flex the lifted foot.  Inhale and feel the spine rise, exhale and fold forward over your right leg.  Just let the arms hang in front of you.  After a few breaths return to the original seated position and switch sides.

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Standing Poses

Tadasana – Uttanasana.  Begin in Tadasana, Mountain Pose, by standing up straight, feet hip-width distance apart, shoulders rolled back, palms facing out in front of you.  Your chin is level with the floor; imagine your head balancing effortlessly at the top of your spine.  Release the jaw, relax the eyes, gaze softly at a point in front of you.  [Rather than staring sharply, which could increase tension, this soft gaze (dristi) allows you to be steady and balanced while also relaxed.]  Pull the belly in and lengthen the tailbone toward the floor.  Breathe.  Feel for any tension and see if you can release it with the breath.

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From Tadasana, move into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend).  On an exhale, hinge at the hips (not at the waist) and fold forward, bending the knees as deeply as necessary to let the entire upper body drape over the lower body.  The lower body is doing all the work in this pose.  The upper body effortlessly cascades over the lower body.  You can imagine it as a waterfall’s downward flow if imagery works for you.  Either be still in this forward bend or sway gently from side to side.  You can grab a hold of opposite elbows with opposite hands.  You can gently shake the head as if you’re saying “yes” and “no.”  When ready, come back up into Tadasana with a long spine.  Bring your palms to your shins and, extending the spine tailbone to crown, slowly come up on an inhale.  Keep the hands connected to the legs to increase body awareness/connection.  You can repeat these two poses a few times, running the hands down the backs of the legs as you come into Uttanasana.

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Tree (Vrksasana).  Tree is a great pose for balance and focus.  It strengthens the entire body, particularly the core.  Start by standing in Tadasana.  Next, bending the right knee, bring the right foot to rest on the inside of the left leg.  It can press against the leg anywhere from ankle to inner thigh, except for the knee.  Place your hands on your hips, or in prayer pose at your heart center.  Breathe deeply and set your dristi (softly focus on a point in front of you).  When you feel balanced, you can lift your arms up and outward like the branches of a tree.  You can even play around with lifting your gaze or closing your eyes!  Come back to center after a few breaths and change sides.

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There you have it, a few poses to get started.  I’ll write about more in the future.  I’d love to hear your suggestions as well!

Some final thoughts if you do work in an office…

Get up as often as you can at work, even if it’s just to quickly stretch every half-hour or so.  Walk over to talk with someone rather than emailing, take the mail to the mailbox, take a lunch walk outside (whether it’s for five or 50 minutes).  Some offices have the “eat lunch at your desk” culture.  You don’t need to fall into that!  By making your health a priority, you will be a more productive and happier employee.  Don’t worry about the eat at your desk culture.  Set boundaries, do what you need to do for you, and you will be more focused and set a great example for your co-workers.  In my experience working for a few different companies with this culture, no one has ever questioned my lunch break.  I’ve been happy and employers have been pleased with my work.  I’ve seen lots of other people exhausted and ornery by 2:00 pm (usually before then, actually) because they feel they cannot take a break.  It’s up to you to look out for yourself, and it’s so important to do so!  If you’re in this type of culture and feel you can’t take a break, I’d encourage you to try some of these poses to help with the stress on your body and mind.  Try taking a lunch break and see what happens.  I can almost guarantee it will be your increased productivity and happiness, not anything punitive!  We all deserve a break.

A Few of My Favorite Yoga Products

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I, like many yoga practitioners and teachers, am a bit disheartened by the commercialization of yoga.  So much of what yoga is really about gets drowned out by the media telling us how we should look and act.  Yoga is an individual pursuit for a higher consciousness/health.  What you wear, what yoga mat you use, and how much money you spend on props and other tools aren’t necessarily related in any way.  That being said, sometimes having a comfortable and flattering outfit enables us to more easily get to class.  Owning a yoga mat or a meditation cushion is great motivation for a home practice.  The following are some of my favorite yoga products, which I’ve discovered over the years.  I hope they will be as helpful to you as they have been to me!

Jade Yoga Mat

The Jade yoga mat is by far my favorite that I’ve tried.  I first purchased one years ago when I was practicing mostly hot yoga.  I was sliding all over my other mats, even the ones they rented out at the studio.  (Who wants to use one of those germ-infested things anyway?!)  The Jade mat is great — my hands and feet feel very stable and supported.  It does not get slippery, even when completely drenched.  It holds up after much wear and tear.  It is easy to clean and comes in attractive colors.  You can also purchase an extra-long one if you’d like (just be aware of the extra room it may take up in a class).

Gaiam Yoga Blocks

These are my favorite yoga blocks.  They are strong and stable yet they provide a bit of flexibility, making them comfortable to place under your head or behind your back as you relax into a pose.

Hugger Mugger Cork Yoga Block

These blocks provide a bit more stability but I find them a little uncomfortable to place under my back in Bridge pose, for example.  They are great for Ardha Chandrasana or other poses where you are just trying to stabilize your hand(s).

Prana Yoga Top

Prana yoga tops are very comfortable and come in beautiful colors and styles.  They provide plenty of flexibility while maintaining good coverage where you need it most.  This is a link to a women’s top because I specifically own this; however, I’m sure their men’s clothing is also excellent quality.

Bean Meditation Cushion

It’s great to have your own meditation cushion and spot in your home where you meditate (whether it be for five minutes or an hour) daily around the same time.  Just having the cushion in your spot and seeing it every day will help to establish a daily ritual.  Not only that, but it is so soft and comfortable, allowing you to relax deeply as you focus on your breath.

I hope this list helps you if you are looking for some great yoga products to enhance your practice!  I’d love to hear about your own favorites, as well.

Yoga & Food as Love

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What we eat can be a touchy subject.  We are so careful, counting calories, following the latest fad diets, trying to do the right things for our bodies, and suffering because of it.  We deprive ourselves, and then we overindulge and end up feeling like crap.  Food is a major way in which we nourish ourselves, emotionally and physically.  Yoga helps bring awareness to what we eat, and tunes us in to what our bodies really need.  It allows us to learn how to be moderate and it encourages healthy lifestyle choices.  Food should be celebrated and there are lots of very healthy foods that just happen to be delicious as well!

I struggled for years to eat healthfully.  In high school I spent hours in front of the TV snacking on processed junk.  Luckily, my mother cooked healthy meals and I was very active.  I guess this somewhat saved me from completely succumbing to my Snickers ice cream bar and Doritos habits!  I was never very overweight, but I never felt too good either.  After high school, I tried to improve how my body looked (based on what I thought was expected of me).  I exercised excessively at times and I ate lunches that consisted solely of raw, plain veggies, leaving me less than satisfied and my nutrient needs unfulfilled.  I was always sore, often tired, and probably too thin.  Through developing my yoga practice, I’ve come to cherish my body and try to take care of it in whatever ways I can.  I have learned how to listen to my body.  I give it rest when it needs rest, exercise of varying levels of intensity depending on the day, and always, perhaps most importantly, creative, healthy meals.  What we eat is so important and it affects so much — how we look, how we feel, how we behave…  I’m passionate about finding and creating healthy recipes that are also delicious!  This blog post will discuss the part yoga plays in all of this, and explore ways to incorporate healthy eating into our daily lives.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, yoga can help us create a healthier relationship with food.  It can contribute to losing weight and maintaining a healthy body and body image.  There are conflicting opinions on the weight loss aspect — some say yoga is not a good weight loss tool.  However, I believe it helps in a few ways.  First, active styles of yoga like ashtanga and vinyasa (particularly heated power yoga) can be quite strenuous and aerobic.  Practicing these styles of yoga absolutely burns calories and can contribute to weight loss.  Also, living a yogic lifestyle (including pranayama, meditation, practicing self-restraint, non-violence, compassion, etc.) brings you more in touch with yourself and others.  Aside from the practice of asanas (physical postures), yoga can help us embrace other healthy lifestyle practices, thereby ensuring our bodies are in top form.  It grows your self-love and desire to take care of yourself.  This naturally leads to eating healthy foods in moderation, sometimes allowing us to shed extra pounds.

I don’t want to focus on weight loss per se; I mentioned it because it is a goal for many of us, and the US culture in particular is one of over-indulgence and instant gratification.  This has led to a health and obesity epidemic.  At the same time, we are inundated with messages that we must lose weight and be a perfect size in order to get respect.  Yoga can help us be at peace with who we are, inside and out.  To find our own unique “perfect size” without judgment or criticism.  Eating can and should be a joy.  It’s a ritual to be celebrated.  There are so many awesome, healthy, delicious foods out there — after years of research I am still learning new things all the time!  I’m amazed at the foods I’ve never even heard of until now, and excited to discover more.  Learning how to eat healthfully in a way that truly satisfies us, while not criticizing ourselves for how we look or whether we are perfect in our habits every minute, is well worth the endeavor.

Here are some ideas for incorporating healthy eating into our daily lives.  As always, a daily yoga practice also supports other healthy lifestyle habits!

* Start your day with warm water and the juice of 1/2 a lemon (but know this can cause tooth decay — use a straw and/or rinse your mouth afterwards, and don’t brush for at least 30 minutes to ensure enamel safety)

* Drink the GGS (glowing green smoothie) before eating anything else.  I definitely notice a difference in my energy level throughout the day when I do this!  It doesn’t have to be all the time; it can be just for a “cleanse” or just weekdays … whatever works for you!  When you do drink the GGS, though, you’ll be getting more greens into your diet than many people get in a week in one easy drink!  Pretty cool.

* Buy a Vitamix!  It’s an investment but well worth it!  I make my own nut milks, sauces, smoothies, hummus, soups, ice cream, salsas, and the list goes on and on and on.  I’ve discovered so many new foods and how easy it is to make your own items you would usually purchase healthier and cheaper.  I use it every single day.

* Check out some of the many amazing healthy food blogs!  They are so inspiring, full of good information, recipes, and links to other great sites.  There are far too many to list, but here are some of my favorites:  Oh She Glows, Deliciously Ella, Detoxinista, Food Babe, Green Kitchen Stories, Minimalist Baker, Mind Body Green

* Eat whole foods

* Create a rainbow on your plate

* Incorporate one new healthy meal and/or dessert per week.  This is so easy to do with the wealth of information and recipes available online.  It keeps it interesting and fun!  It’s a great activity to share with others, too.

* Practice mindful eating

* Eat when you are hungry and don’t eat when you’re not (eating small meals/grazing throughout the day may work better for you than eating three bigger meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner)

* Allow yourself to “indulge” once in a while!  If you feel you’re depriving yourself, it isn’t really healthy.  If we drown in guilt and shame every time we “cheat,” it is damaging and takes all the fun out of eating!  Let yourself have treats; don’t call it “cheating.”  It’s OK to indulge sometimes.  Everything in moderation.

So many people want to eat healthy but aren’t sure where to start.  There’s so much (conflicting) information out there it can be overwhelming.  Really, though, it’s not that difficult.  It can take time and patience, but the learning process is fun!  Enjoy it.  Every body is different, so you need to experiment to find out what works for you.  I personally eat a plant-based vegetarian diet including eggs (and occasional dairy).  I think everyone has different needs, though.  I have seen a great improvement in my health by eating mostly whole foods and making as much of my own stuff as possible (i.e., not eating processed foods).  I greatly limit dairy as it is congesting and difficult to digest.  I know, I hated hearing this at first and totally resisted it, but it’s true.  I can feel and see the difference, and don’t really miss it (shocking because I’ve always absolutely loved cheese, ice cream, and yogurt).  There are so many alternatives (vegan sour cream is my latest exciting discovery!).  At the same time, if I’m at a Mexican restaurant and I want an empanada with cheese, I’m not beating myself up over that!  I enjoy it and then continue with something healthier the next day.  I truly believe that the guilt and self-criticism we sometimes display after eating something less than healthy is just as (or more) toxic to our bodies as the food itself.  Food is love!

What about you?  Do you have other ideas?  Recipes?  Please share!  

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