Raw Foods, Real People, and Cold Weather

Dear Ones —

I made a mistake last night — ate homemade beef stroganoff w/ noodles for dinner. It tasted great, was filling on a cool autumn evening, and was SO not right for my body! Not that I felt “wrong” this morning — just — not so “right.” There is a feeling that we get when we eat the right foods, at the right time — we feel “lighter and brighter.” And this wasn’t it.

So I promised myself that today would be — at least mostly — a “raw foods” day.

Perhaps I’m inspired by finding the Raw Divas’s website last night. That was a nice treat! A whole lot of advertising and promo-blather, but their hearts are in the right place, and if you read and click far enough / long enough, you do come across some useful (free!) information.

And before going further — a brief pitch for my fave raw-food read; Raw Food, Real World. Co-authors and raw foods restauranteers Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis both motivate and inspire with their youthful and bouyant energy, and delightful recipes. (A word of warning: Their suggestions are rarely for those short on time, and some of the most interesting options require both a dehydrator and substantial advance preps. Barring that, the pictures and recipes are inspiring and might get some of us “over the hump” of having to devote extra time.)

As a sidebar, now that people are getting much smarter about intermet marketing “methods,” it becomes progressively difficult to wade through sites that are mostly promo-pages, with a whole lot of fluff, and very little behind them. MOST of what you would desire to find can be obtained from your local library, for MUCH cheaper than the various e-books, e-zines, and other items hawked on the net.

For example, I recommend going to the library first for your raw-food reads. Take home a bunch of books, load up on the most attractive and vibrant fruits, greens, and veggies you can get from either a farmer’s market or your most trusted food store, and find out what you REALLY do over the next week or so. A week or two in the “real world” of your own kitchen will let you connect ambition with reality. Then, and ONLY then, decide on what books you REALLY need for your long-term private libary, and what internet thing you REALLY must download, at the cost of pulling out your credit card.

That little diatrabe aside, back to raw foods — something that we dancers all need, because they deliver high-quality energy, especially if done right.

I’ll admit to being motivated — at least in part — by reading about fashion designer Donna Karan’s experience Donna Karan’s experience with a raw-foods diet. She both lost weight AND improved her energy level! Donna was mentored in her new approach by Jill Pettijohn, live-foods advocate and chef.

But, as the Karan article notes, not all of us can afford live-in chefs.

In the “real world” in which many of us live, we have two challenges when it comes to increasing the raw/live ratio of foods:

  1. Finding the time in the first place — the big challenge for all of us, and I’ll address it in a minute, and
  2. Now that it’s cold, the LAST thing we want are a bunch of cold, raw veggies. Most of the time, we can scarcely get excited about them in the summer — but who wants cold and raw when that’s exactly what we face when we go outdoors?

The time challenge first — because that is often the biggest stickler in our lives, and with holidays coming up, the last thing we need to do is to make our lives more complicated.

I have found, through sad experience, that going to the farmer’s market is an uplifting and inspiring event — so inspiring that I will often come home with MUCH more than I can use in the reasonable future. What is worse, I too often have not “connected the dots.” Between the joyous and exuberant sensory stimulus of all these wonderful fresh market things and the actual act of eating these lovely items, there is some necessary preparation. And left to my own devices, such preparation gets postponed indefinately … until I wind up chucking those once-lovely veggies that have gone well past their “use-by” date.

There are three steps that I’ve found that help me get on track, and stay on track, with the veggie-intensive approach to living. Because they work well for me, they might also work for you!

(1) Have something of an action plan before going to the food store / farmer’s market. I’m not saying that you need to be rigid — but put things together in your mind before you shop. For example, if you’ve checked the weather, and know it will be cold, windy, and rainy, you know that you will want something warm. Something that will SMELL good when you come into the house. Think about how you want to nourish yourself emotionally and sensually as well as physically.

Think also about your time-plan for the week ahead. Will you be coming home tired and late, and just want to eat and relax? Then you know you need at least one crockpot meal. Will you have an evening where you’ll come home, have a half hour or so, leave for an hour and a half, and then come back for dinner? Then think about something that can do a slow-bake in the back of the oven.

As you form up your major strategies, think through how you’re going to use your leftovers — what you want to make in extra quantities so that you have plenty for lunch or dinner later in the week. Now — the “raw” part: Around these time constraints, factor in where and how you’ll add in the “raw foods” (or those given a bare-minimal saute). Sometimes this will happen, sometimes not.

Add this to your knowledge of what is seasonal, what feels good to you right now, make a mental list and/or jot down a few notes. If you’re thinking about shopping at a Saturday morning farmer’s market, take time Thursday or Friday evening to look through your recipe books to see what inspires you. Make note of any special ingredients, and try to pick them up on the way home from work — so that you don’t expend valuable weekend time on extra shopping.

Next — and this is a big one — plan on taking at least twice as much time for your “food shopping adventure” as usual. When you get home, and AS YOU UNPACK (except for getting the things that need to be cold into the fridge), prep your foods before you stash them.

For example: If you buy onions and mushrooms, with the intention of folding them into three or four different dishes over the week, cut up the onions right away, and start sauteing them in olive oil or butter. While they start to brown, cut up your mushrooms, throw them in. Then store your pre-cooked onion-mushroom mixture, not the “raw” raw ingredients. (Yes, I know this post is about raw foods. We draw the line at raw onions. Raw onions do not enhance intimacy later in the day.)

If you bring home a cauliflower, pull off the leaves, and cut out the core. If you know that you want cauliflower “florets,” cut a bunch of them NOW, while the thing is in front of you.

This takes time. The benefit is that you increase your likelihood of actually using and eating these wonderful foods!

Third point — all on the “time-challenge” end of things. In some areas, you’ll be better off buying things that are at least semi-pre-prepped. For example, you might buy a package of cut-up butternut squash pieces. Saving yourself fifteen minutes is worth the extra expense. You be the judge.

Now, on to the REAL challenge. It’s winter. We want warm, rich foods. Not cold salads.

Step 1: We can tolerate a fair bit of raw if it is cut up small and covered in a nice, rich sauce. This is NOT a time for fat-free! (Such an idea is an insult to our system, especially in cold weather.) Remember that fats carry flavor, and fats carry fat-soluble (not water-soluble) nutrients. And we need both; the first nourishes our psyche, the latter our body.

So invest in good salad dressings, cut your veggies up small, and take both with you to the office, along with some easily-added protein — a can of fish, or a little left-over salmon, or some of those pre-cooked chicken pieces. Add guacamole or raw pine nuts for a little extra richness and flavor, and you have a totally acceptable year-round meal. Perhaps a little soup, maybe a few crackers or nuts, and you’re ok. Allow your raw-veggie salad to come to room temperature before eating; that will also help on a cold day.

Space your foods out during mid-day; a lot of our cravings come from system-crash when we push too long without nutrients.

Second, make it easy for yourself — spout some nuts (yes, get raw nuts, such as almonds, and let them sit in water overnight — then drain, and store in the fridge). Use these as a snack. Year-round, they give you not only the “raw,” but the “live” food experience. Add sprouts to your salads / sandwiches; another easy way to get “live.”

Sometimes we just need cooked foods — some foods might be too dense to be enjoyed raw; brussels sprouts come to mind. Also the heavier winter squashes, and the denser and darker greens.

Sometimes, a little saute is all that is needed. Sometimes, we must do more.

Right now, I’m learning how much I need to cook foods in order to bring out their flavor, and make them enjoyable as well as nutritious.

I’ll share my findings, and please — feel free to post a (useful) comment — especially, link us in to good books and recipes!

Great exercise to help with knee strength

Dear Ones —

This Sunday’s (Oct. 19th, 2008) Parade magazine had a Special Report about Women’s Health by Claudia Wallis. She opens with:

“When I ripped a ligament in my knee on a ski-slope last winter, I had no idea that I was joining a limping sisterhood. A torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) ranks among the most common sports-related knee injuries. But women are five to sevn times as likely as men to sustain this kind of athletic damage.”

Ms. Wallis continues with an interview with Dr. Laura Tosi, director of the bone-health program at Children’s Natioanl Medical Cneter in Washington, DC. Dr. Tosi, and studies that Ms. Wallis has read, point out that “girls tend to run, jump, and turn with straighter legs and less bending at the knees and hips than boys.” This, and other factors, make us more susceptible to knee and other joint injuries.

Ms. Wallis is not alone in her experience of knee problems — I have them myself, and so do some of my students. (The older we get, the more likely we are to have this as a problem area.)

In fact, one of my favorite dance teachers, Anahid Sofian in New York City, started learning belly dance on the recommendation of her physical therapist. In doing modern dance, she had overworked her knees, and was in pain. She sought help from her doctors, who then prescribed physical therapy. Her therapist recommended belly dance as a therapeutic exercise. She tried it, became entranced by the art form, and from there went on to become one of the world’s leading choreographers and teachers in this area.

Fortunately for us, we can ALL use belly dance as a therapeutic exercise. The key ingredient that makes this work? We dance in a “bent-knee” posture. ALL of our movements involve keeping our knees just slightly bent. This means that:
1) We strengthen our thighs AND our abs (we need strong abs to make this work),
2) We lengthen our lower back, getting our pelvis to align straight with the floor — this helps a LOT to release lower back tension!, and
3) We strengthen the muscles around our knees.

Belly dance is an ancient, beautiful, and sensual women’s art form. It is very likely the oldest dance form on this planet, although other “native/folk” dances (e.g., Polynesian, African) could have started around the same time. Because belly dance is such an old art form, it is very aligned with how our bodies are naturally designed to move. (In contrast, more recent dance forms, such as ballet, are much more “artificial,” and can actually produce joint damage.)

Our bodies were naturally designed to have – and work best when – we are in a posture where our pelvis is aligned with the floor, our knees are slightly bent (this helps with pelvic alignment), and our spine and neck are “lengthened” so that the top of our heads reaches towards the sky. This is the posture that we practise and use in belly dance.

We think of this as having “soft knees” – knees are very slightly bend; not locked in place. This not only reduces pressure on the knee joint, but helps to mobilize our pelvis.

This pelvic-aligned, soft-knee, spine-lengthened posture helps us be more naturally graceful and beautiful. (Not to mention, it gives the immediate impression of losing ten pounds!) With this as a framework, we create elegant and sensual movements — all while being non-impact!

For those that would like to add a fun way to strengthen their bodies, and feel and look much better, belly dance would be a great exercise alternative!

Copyright (c) 2008, Alay’nya. All rights reserved.

Related Posts: Creating a Youthful Presence Through Belly Dance

The Grail King Serves the Holy Grail

The Grail King Serves the Holy Grail

A Little Encyclical for my Goddess Daughters – October, 2008

My Dearest Darling God(dess) Daughter –

Have you come across the work of Byron Katie, simply called “The Work”? What fascinating, mind-blowing, rock-your-socks off thinking! What a radical approach to getting our lives back into a happy and healthy place, no matter what is going on! (Thank you, Maha Najeeb , for loaning me a CD set of Byron’s talks. Fabulous!)

Byron elicits breakthroughs in people by asking a series of simple questions, such as, “Do you really believet that? ” and “How can you know this is really so?” My favorite question is the “turn-around”, where she encourages someone to flip a belief on its end. So for example, someone might realize that instead of asserting “He should accept me the way that I am,” she might say “I should accept him the way that he is,” and even, “I should accept me the way that I am.”

Now let’s apply this very same wonderful process to one of the greatest tenets of our esoteric tradition. This is important. Even though our “esoteric tradition” holds the greatest “wisdom” available in our culture, this “wisdom” has been systematically eroded by about four thousand years of devaluing the Sacred Feminine, and exalting the Masculine. (Think “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” — where is the feminine in this concept of God?)

One of the most common elements in our esoteric tradition is told in the Knights of King Arthur legends — knights who pledged themselves to a sacred quest, to finding the Holy Grail. The idea was that when a knight came upon the resolution to his quest, he was to ask “Whom does the Grail serve?”. The answer, as we all know, was supposed to be “The Grail serves the Grail King.”. This answer would have freed the wounded Fisher King (wounded because he allowed himself to be led astray be a woman), and would allow the nation to be healed.

The tip-offs here are two-fold. First, blame for the “wasteland” of the kingdom is intrinsically placed on the archetypal woman, who seduced the Fisher King away from his duties. This is right in the center of the four-thousand year old tradition of blaming women. Second, the answer points to placingf the chalice, the Holy Grail, to service of a masculine ego — that of the “Grail King.”

Hasn’t this always felt to you as though something was missing, or incomplete?

Think about this. We know that men live through their ego. Their opportunity to evolve, to become more than themselves, is when they can submit their egos to a higher virtue. So if the Holy Grail, the greatest spiritual treasure of our planet, is to serve the Grail King, how does that really help him?

Let’s do the Byron Katie thing. Let’s turn this around. Let’s say:

The Grail King serves the Holy Grail.

Be with this for a moment. How does it feel? Doesn’t it, in some odd sense, feel more right to you?

Doesn’t this feel that there might be something here that has been lost, but that we’ve been longing for, and missing? Something that really makes sense at a very deep level?

If it does, read on. Because this is where we make this insight practical.

We women personify and embody the “Holy Grail.”

That’s right.

The “Holy Grail” is not just about the blood of Christ, or even the blood-line of Jesus. The “Holy Grail” is a chalice that contains divine energy — life-force energy — and that is what we women have in our bodies.

Let’s go beyond (basic) Western esoteric tradition to the broader range of traditions; the ones that know about cultivating and using personal energy; the energy that is called “chi” in kung fu and Taoist studies, and “prana” in yoga.

In Taoist energy-practice, women cultivate a special, “condensed” form of this energy, called “ching”. We store it in our “inner cauldron,” set right in our pelvic girdle. The essence of much Taoist energy tradition — and the deepest levels of both Tantra and Western esoteric tradition — is that we can learn to cultivate and use this energy. We use it for health, for energy, and to shape our reality. This really, really IS “life-force energy.”

Men need women as the source, or holders, of this energy. They have their own, yes, but the deepest level comes through accessing the energy that only women can hold. (We ARE the “Holy Grail.”)

Please keep in mind — this is VERY important — that when we choose to share our energy with a man, or use it in any way — this is not and should not be our own, “personal” energy reserve. Instead, we ourselves access a “universal” life-force energy, and simply channel it up and hold it and circulate it through our bodies. And we release it however and in whatever direction we choose. And when we do so, we are by no means depleting our “personal reserve”. (If we’re doing this right.)

So our job — for those of us participating in a women’s esoteric body/energy practice — is to learn how to access, store, and circulate this energy. If we choose to share this energy with another person, then we are acting as “Shakti,” or as an embodiment of the feminine aspect of divinity.

This all may sound massively esoteric (it is), and maybe a bit difficult. But this practice is not so out-of-reach.

Nor should it be that unfamiliar.

There are now many translations of formerly obscure esoteric works. We are able to learn how many different cultures have studied and dealt with this very same practice. (As two obvious examples, Mantak and Manaween Chia’s book, “Cultivatiing Female Sexual Energy,” is an extremely precise and detailed technical how-to book for doing exactly this process. And from another tradition, we can study kundalini yoga at the McLean Community Center, just a couple of miles away from this dance studio. In short, the information and teachings are all around us.

What we are doing in our Studio is something new; it makes us unique and different. In fact, we are (to my knowledge) the only place in the world where this is being done. (I’m sure that there are others; as they become known to us; we’ll link to them.)

We combine two ancient traditions. On the one hand, we learn how to dance. We learn the most ancient, beautiful, sensual, and expressive dance form in the world. One that is absolutely and intrinsically a feminine art form. On the other hand, we learn how to cultivate, bring up, access, and use our intrinsic “life-force” energy, or “ching.”

We then combine these two practices, yielding a (for this time-era) new art form. We have taken the (rather boring) mechanics of basic energy work, and encapsulated them within a dance form that allows us extraordinary emotional expressive range.

The end result is the most powerful, energy-rich, exciting art form in the world — one that is intrinsically suited to feminine energy, feminine sensibilities, and feminine strengths. This not only helps us look and feel sensual, gorgeous, and absolutely fantastic, but it allows us a very real and practical means to channel energy, and use it to shape reality according to our intentions. (Sharing this energy with someone else is optional.)

In short, we are re-capturing, re-claiming, and (since there are no text-books or traditions at hand) re-inventing the most powerful esoteric feminine body-art in the world. Truly, we are creating “Jedi for Women.” We are learning how to access and use “The Force.” (It’s just that we’re using it in a feminine context, rather than a masculine / warrior one. Just as powerful, but for us, much more pleasant!)

Join me. We’re learning and practicing this every week, right here in McLean, Virginia. And having a whole lot of fun in the process!

Yours in joyous, ecstatic, energy-rich and wonderful dance – Alay’nya