Friday, November 28, 2014

The benefits of being a child.

Accept all that is with an open heart.
The more grateful you are,
the more life with bring.

Balasana is another key pose in all yoga practices regardless of the style of yoga being performed.  Balasana also called Child's Pose is one of the most common resting postures.  Anytime during your practice, when you find it necessary to re-connect with your breath, you are invited to take Child's Pose.  Please do not feel it necessary for your teacher to instruct you into the pose. 

  • Gently stretches lower back, hips, thighs, knees, and ankles.
  • Relaxes spine, shoulders, and neck.
  • Calms the mind, reducing tension and stress.
  • Alleviates headaches by increasing blood circulation to the head.

  • From Table position, bring your knees and feet together and then sink your hips to your feet.
  • Fold your torso over your thighs and rest your forehead on the floor.
  • Rest your arms along your sides.  Palms are face up near your feet.
  • Completely relax your head and shoulders.

  • If you feel tight, try separating your knees hip-width apart while big toes continue to touch.  This will give you more space in your chest.
  • If your hips don't reach your feet, you can place a rolled-up blanket, mat, or bolster between your heels and your hamstrings.
  • If your forehead doesn't reach the mat, place a block to bring the ground closer to you.
Play around with this pose.  Some people prefer to keep their arms extended in front of them, some prefer their hands back by their feet.  Find what's comfortable for you; where you can relax and re-gain control of your breath.

One reason I believe we find Balasana to be such a soothing force of nature is because it is ingrained in our body's muscle memory.  Whether you realize it or not, you've been performing Balasana since before you were born. 


No matter what modification(s) you choose for your child's pose:  knees together or apart, hands by your feet or extended in front of you, it is important to rest your forehead either on the mat or a block in order to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system.

The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating a variety of body functions:  heart rate, breathing, sweating, and digestion.  It works in conjunction with the sympathetic nervous system.  The sympathetic nervous system provides quick responses to immediate needs and is often referred to as our "fight or flight," response.  On the opposite end of the spectrum lies the parasympathetic nervous system.  The parasympathetic nervous system helps to slow the body's reaction, thus allowing for less urgent processes to occur, often referred to our "rest or digest" response.


It wasn't until I was fully engulfed in yoga teacher training that I even knew a pose called Balasana existed.  Crazy...considering I just told you this is a key pose in all yoga practices, right!?  But it's true. Over the course of several years, at least a hundred classes, and multiple teachers, never once did I hear the right pronunciation of the pose.  I always heard Valasana...with a V!  I finally discovered the correct name for Child's Pose when I was reading a book that kept referencing Balasana.  Imagine my shock, when I googled this pose I'd never heard of and Child's Pose appeared.

But regardless if you call it Balasana or Valasana, be comfortable in Child's Pose and always remember it's your practice, not your neighbor's practice or your instructor's practice.  Yours and yours alone.  Happy resting!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Shanghai'd Thanksgiving

I originally wrote the following article in 2007 after a disastrous first Thanksgiving spent living abroad.  It was later published in an anthology titled Thanksgiving Tales: True Stories of the Holiday in America.
Three years into our expat assignment, I finally realized Thanksgiving is not about the food being served, it's about the people you spend the day with.   
Today we are back on U.S. soil, but still far from home.  I feel particularly grateful for the community we've cultivated over the past couple of years. In Sanskrit, the word Kula has several meanings: herd, flock, clan, tribe, family, habitat, gang, which when pared down all mean "community". Tomorrow, we will celebrate Thanksgiving with our Kula.  Fortunately for all involved, I am not responsible for cooking the turkey this year! 


It had been just three months since we boarded a plane bound for China, and transitioning to life in Shanghai was going much smoother than anticipated.  It wasn't until confronted with the impending arrival of Thanksgiving, a truly traditional American holiday, I realized just how far from home we were. 

For me, Thanksgiving meant spending the day with family, eating and eating and eating until it became imperative to change into pants with an elastic waistband.  I was determined to re-create that tradition with my own children, but in order to accomplish this, I first needed to find a turkey.  Without a turkey, Thanksgiving might as well be on a Tuesday in July.  It cannot be celebrated without a turkey.  Period.

In November in the United States, turkey is not only plentiful but cheap.  Many stores offer promotions, and if taken advantage of, the turkey is easily the least expensive item on the menu--not so in China.  Turkey, being indigenous to North and South America, are neither wild nor farmed in any part of Asia.  And although there are 19 million people in Shanghai, only a select group of expatriates want to eat them...and only once a year.  Therefore, the average 15-pound gobbler will set you back approximately $100 U.S. dollars.

In addition to the requisite turkey, the menu also included mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, corn, fresh vegetables with dip, and Jell-O.  Despite the simplicity of the ingredients, finding them required scouring five different stores over three days and cost a small fortune.  But I did it!  I found everything I needed, including the myriad of spices to make brine, which was sure to be the one thing that brought the simple bill of fare to five-star restaurant status.

Thanksgiving Day, after consulting with both Betty Crocker and, I determined the bird would take approximately four hours to cook at a temperature of about 350 degrees.  I carefully converted Fahrenheit to Centrigrade and decided to set the oven at 170 degrees.

While the oven was warming, my husband pulled the bird from the brine, which had been soaking up the lovely, savory flavors overnight, only to discover the pan I'd purchased was too small.  It was like trying to squeeze a size ten foot into a strappy, little size seven shoe.  It just wasn't going to work. 

In my shopping excursions that week, I noticed some of the stores stocked with disposable pans.  I crossed my fingers as I ran on foot to the closest little market.  I was in luck.  Covered in dust and tucked away on a back shelf, they had just one.  I snatched it up and ran home.

We were now ready to throw the main course into the gas chamber, but the new pan was too big for the tiny oven.  After performing a little origami fused with some karate chops on the cheap aluminum, the pan fit.

With the turkey safely roasting, I took the kids to the park for the afternoon.  When I returned, I started peeling the potatoes.  By my estimation, the bird would be done in 30 minutes.  I opened the oven door to check its progress. NO FLAME.  At some point during the day, the gas had blown out and while the temperature in the oven dropped, the tension in the kitchen soared. 

We had no idea how long the turkey had not been roasting, and this particular bird had no plastic indicator to let us know when it was time to carve, so we did the next best thing and stuck a thermometer in it.  My husband punctured the breast and watched while the temperature gauge rose.

"According to Betty, the thermometer is supposed to go in the thigh," I informed him after consulting the red and white checkered cookbook.

"Where's the thigh?" he replied.

"I'm not exactly sure," I said, "but I know that's not it."

He left the thermometer in the breast and we watched as it climbed to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  The kids were starting to moan and groan.  They were "staaaarving."  So I presented them with veggies and dip and we started to snack while we waited another estimated hour for the bird to reach a safe temperature to eat.

When the thermometer started to beep, indicating the turkey had reached temperature, I began to set the table.  While my husband whipped the mashed potatoes into creamy goodness and heated the corn, he snuck a bite of a dinner roll...and then promptly spit it out.  The rolls were filled with sweet cream and raisins.  We'd spent several hours the day before going from one bakery to the next in search of anything that resembled a dinner roll.  The little surprise inside of these was unexpected and unappreciated.

I remembered seeing a French baguette at the store earlier, so I put on my running shoes and sprinted there a second time.  Again, I felt very lucky.  No one else had purchased the single loaf of bread on the shelf.  I paid for it and raced back home.

Finally we were ready to eat.  The table was set, the candles were lit, and we said our prayers of thanksgiving.  Just as we were about to carve the turkey, in the the flicker of the candlelight, I noticed a lot of juice on the platter.  I jumped out of my seat and threw on the lights...BLOOD!  The entire ambiance was ruined as the bird was not even close to being edible.  Frustrated, my husband cut the gobbler wide open and put it back in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  He sliced off a large piece of breast meat, nuked it,  and sat down to eat.  I fed the kids Jell-O while I waited for the turkey to finish roasting.  At 8 p.m., I opened the oven door to check on the bird.  NO FLAME!

After eight hours of failed attempts to roast the perfect turkey, I surrendered.  I put everything away, did the dishes, and bathed the kids.  Once they were safely tucked into bed, I broke out the Pop Tarts.

Happy Thanksgiving to me!

Our third Thanksgiving in China, there was not a turkey in sight, just great friends and lots of laughs.  I was wrong.  While eating turkey is a nice addition to the holiday, it is ultimately who you spend the day with that matters most---not what's on the menu.