Butternut Squash Chili

A fall favorite with a little twist. Vegan, or vegetarian (with sour cream and cheese on top), or carnivorous (with ground turkey,) totally up to you!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Pound Butternut Squash
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • 1 Orange Bell Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Ginger, Minced
  • 1 Yellow Onion, Diced
  • 5 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Can of Black Beans, Rinsed and Drained
  • 1 Can of Great Northern Beans, Rinsed and Drained
  • 1 Can of Diced Tomatoes, Petite
  • 2 1/2 Cups Veggie Stock
  • 1 Teaspoon of Cumin
  • 2 Teaspoons of Chili Powder
  • Cilantro, Chopped

Directions

  • Cut up all veggies, and throw everything together.
  • I cooked mine slow, in a dutch oven, on low for about 2 hours. A crockpot would also work, but you may have to cook it longer. Keep stirring and check the consistency of the squash to know for sure when it’s done. Tender, but not mushy.
  • Let it sit for a while so the flavor melds together. Great for reheating whenever you are ready to eat! Top with salt to taste and cilantro.

Enjoy!

Namaste Y’all!

The Best Movements for Lower Back Pain

Studies show that 80% of American’s will complain about low back pain in their lifetime. Let’s face it – that’s basically everyone.

What does that mean for athlete’s or yogi’s? It usually means taking it easy, no back bends, and to remedy the problem – forward folds as your stretching solution.

But are forward folds the best option to relieve low back pain?

Let me answer that question the best way I know how… with an anatomy lesson.

Most of the population has an exaggerated anterior curve of the pelvis. To simplify that – imagine someone standing with a major curve (towards the front) in their low back, and their butt sticking way out behind them. That’s an anterior curve of the pelvis. This causes all of the muscles in your lower back to shorten. In order to stretch a muscle, you need to put it in the opposite position that it’s currently in. This means you would need to put rounding in the lower back… but we know better than that right? This puts some serious pressure on your lumbar vertebra.

Now about those forward folds – if we are doing them correctly, we are actually flattening our lumbar spine, not rounding it right? So are they actually stretching those muscles in the lower back? Probably not to the extent we need them too if you are a part of that 80 percent.

THEREFORE, instead of a forward fold to reduce shortening of the muscles in the lower back, twisting and lateral movements are going to be key to lengthening these muscles.

Here’s more anatomy – most of the key muscles in your lower back that are contributing to this pain connect from the top of your pelvis to your spine. If you put your spine into a lateral flexion (leaning to the side from a neutral position) all of these muscles will open up, without compromising your lumbar vertebra. A similar thing happens in a twist. Think about moving your spine away from the top of that pelvis bone in order to lengthen that muscle tissue.

The yoga postures that will open up your lower back include triangle pose, extended side angle, and a seated twist.

Happy practicing.

Namaste Yall.

 

Peanut Butter, Chocolate Granola Bars

Peanut Butter.

Chocolate.

Seriously, what’s better?

Ingredients

  • 4 Cups of Traditional Oats
  • 1 Cup Natural Peanut Butter
  • 1 Cup (Possibly Dairy Free) Dark Chocolate Chips
  • 1/2 Cup of Mild Flavored Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Natural, Local Honey
  • 1/2 Cup Chia Seeds

Directions

  • Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Stir it up with your hands, seriously, it’s fun.
  • Line a deep-ish baking dish with parchment paper. Mash the mixture in there for desired depth. Push down until it’s even all the way across.
  • Bake in the oven at 200 degrees for 7-10 minutes. Just make sure it’s heated all the way through so the chocolate and peanut butter are soft.
  • Pull from the oven and place parchment paper on the top. Push down to mush everything together again. Leave paper on top and place in the fridge. Let cool for a few hours before removing the paper and cutting into desired size bars.

This makes a pretty large batch, so store in the fridge and eat off them all week!

Happy noshing.

Namaste Yall.

Drishti and the Room Around You

Our drishti, or our gaze, is such an important part of our practice. It helps us focus our minds, and can help us align our bodies in any given posture.

I always notice that when my drishti is on point, I am not worried about what is happening around me, and it allows me to turn inward without actually closing my eyes. What a beautiful thing this can be.

Anatomically, (you know I was going there,) focusing your gaze can bring your cervical spine into the appropriate alignment to coincide with the posture at hand. Familiar cues would include, “Take your gaze over your right hand,” “Look up at your thumbs coming together,” or something as simple as “Take your gaze down.” These cues can be very effective in placing a student’s gaze, and alignment in place.

NOW HERE’S THE DANGER –

When teacher’s cue their students, “Take your gaze out in front of your mat,” “Look up towards the ceiling,” or “Turn your gaze towards the back wall.” Why are these dangerous? Because not every student is going to be in the same place on their mat, in the room, or in their practice.

Here’s a simple example –

Everyone is in plank. All the students are working hard, breathing well, hips are level, shoulders are engaged, and then the teacher says it, “Take your gaze out in front of your mat.” So what happens? Some students crane their neck up, because they are farther back on their mat then others, while some pull their necks in because they are so far forward that they can’t even see the top of their mat from where they are. So no one actually knows where their neck in supposed to be and cervical spines are out of alignment all over the place, and it’s absolute ANARCHY.

The solution is simple. When focusing on drishti, instead of cuing to align it with the room around you, come back to the cues that keep them practicing within their own body – looking at their hand, or their thumbs. In this way, you are aligning the student’s (or your own) gaze with your body, and not external sources.

Sometimes students will not be able to turn all the way around and look at the back wall, and that is okay. Focus instead on anatomical and alignment based cues that turn them properly, then allow their neck to fall intro proper alignment FOR THEM, and ask them to focus on what they see in front of them.

Drishti can be such a powerful tool in our practice, but we don’t want to gain that tool at the cost of our cervical spine health.

Happy gazing!

Namaste Yall.

 

Curried Lentils with Asparagus and Kale

Craving Indian flavor without a lot of fuss? I got you. This dish could easily have chicken added too it, or enjoy the plant based version!

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup of Green Lentils
  • 1/2 Medium Yellow or Sweet Onion, Chopped
  • 3 Cloves of Minced Garlic
  • 1 Tbs of Freshly Minced Ginger
  • 1 Tbs of Curry Powder OR Paste
  • 1 Bunch of Asparagus, Sliced into 1/2 Inch Pieces
  • 1 Bunch of Kale
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Cilantro
  • Avocado Oil for Sauteing
  • S&P to Top

Directions

  • Cook lentils via directions. Add salt to your water!
  • Add avocado oil to a heated pan and saute onions until they start to brown. Add asparagus and cook until it’s bright green.
  • Add ginger, garlic, and curry. Saute for about 2 or 3 more minutes until you add the kale. Cook about two more minutes and then pull it from the heat.
  • Mix veggies with the lentils, and top with cilantro and salt and pepper!

Happy eating! 

Namaste Yall.

A Breakdown of Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svasana, is probably the most commonly known posture in the yoga asana practice. We usually see it many times in the midst of a flow, or use it as a resting posture to come back, center, and find our breath.

So much is happening in this posture and the benefits include, but are not limited too –

  • Strengthening shoulders, hip flexors, and abdominals
  • Stretching the entire posterior chain
  • Increasing blood flow and energy by taking the head below the heart

Including this posture in a flow, or even just a stretching routine, is absolutely essential… but so is doing it correctly to receive these benefits, and to stay injury free.

Here’s what’s happening in this posture, as well as a few modifications along the way –

Feet: In dorsiflexion, meaning the toes are pointing up towards the shin bones to draw the heels down towards the mat.

Knees: Ideally, the knees are neutrally extended. However, this may not be the case if the hamstrings are really tight. Bending the knees and drawing belly towards the thighs is a great option to protect the lower back until the flexibility becomes available.

IMG_3855
Downward Facing Dog with Knees Bent

Hips: In flexion, lengthening the hamstrings and larger gluteus muscles.

Spine: In a nice long, neutral extension. The biggest misalignment we see in this posture is an over curvature in the lumbar spine (lower back). If the hamstrings are tight, they will pull on the pelvis and create this curvature. This causes excess strain on the hamstrings, as well as excess pressure on the discs in your lumbar spine. If this is happening, that bent knee modification previously mentioned is essential!

Shoulders: In flexion, with arms alongside the ears. If shoulder flexion flexibility is low, the bent knee’s modification should allow you to shift your weight back enough to align your arms and ears.

Elbows/Wrists/Fingers: Elbows should be neutrally extended, wrists are hyper extending, and fingers should be gripping the mat. Weight should NOT be in the ball of the hand! This leads to wrist issues! Shift that weight to your fingers and grip your mat so hard that your teacher should not be able to lift your fingers if they tried!

Neck: Your neck should be very neutral! Not flexed (looking behind you, between your legs) or hyper extended (looking up at your teacher.)

Fit this posture in to your practice, your stretching routine, or whenever you feel you need an energy boost during the day!

Namaste Yall.

 

 

 

 

No-Cook Pasta Sauce

That’s right… no cook pasta sauce. This recipe is fresh, tasty, and so, so easy. It’s the perfect Saturday night treat with a glass of red wine. It does taste better with white pasta (I know, I know, but it’s okay every once and a while in moderation) and make sure it is still organic. Throw it together, let it sit for a while, and enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 Pounds of Ripe Tomatoes (I used Campari tomatoes because they were ripe at the time, but any variety you like and have a good strong flavor will do!)
  • 2-3 Cloves of Minced Garlic
  • 3 Tablespoons of Red Wine Vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
  • Torn Basil, However Much You Like!
  • A Few Generous Pinches of Sea Salt
  • Organic Pasta (Spaghetti or Other Long Noodles)

Directions

  • Dice up the tomatoes in a big bowl with all the tomato juice. Throw in all other ingredients and mix well. Let it sit for about an hour and taste test for preference. The longer it sits the better!
  • Cook up your pasta when you are ready. Put sauce in the bowl first, throw hot pasta on top, and let it sit for a minute to steam up the sauce on the bottom.
  • Pour yourself some wine and enjoy!

Big thanks to my sister-in-law, Lauren, for passing this along. It’s definitely a new favorite.

Namaste Yall! 

 

Tofu Peanut Noodles with Blanched Kale

This recipe comes from Thug Kitchen, an amazing and hilarious plant based cookbook, aimed at the not-so-easily-offended crowd. The original version called for tempeh, but I used tofu – because it was what I had. Chicken would also be a good option, if meat is your thing. It is easy to throw together, and some parts can be made ahead of time, and stored in the fridge for an easy late night dinner (the peanut sauce and tofu.)

And the LEFTOVERS… they are so good cold, straight out of the fridge the next day.

Tofu Peanut Noodles with Blanched Kale

Ingredients

Peanut Sauce

  • 1/2 cup of creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of maple syrup or agave syrup
  • 1 teaspoon chili-garlic paste or Asian-style hot sauce

Noodles & Veggies

  • 12 ounces noodles (I used buckwheat soba noodles)
  • 6 cups of kale, sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 teaspoon of avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or refined coconut oil
  • 8 ounces of tempeh, tofu, or chicken
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup sliced green onions

Directions

Peanut Sauce 

Whisk the peanut butter and warm water together first. Then add other ingredients and whisk well. This can easily be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for a quick dinner later, just be sure to give it another stir before you serve.

Noodles & Veggies 

Cut tofu (or chicken) into small pieces and fry in a pan with your high heat oil of choice. Add garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and rice vinegar.

Cook the noodles according to the directions. During the last 30 seconds, drop the kale in the water. Move noodles and kale into a strainer, and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

Mix noodles with kale and tofu into your bowl first, then add peanut sauce and mix it up well. Top with green onions and serve!

Happy cooking!

Namaste Yall.

 

 

 

The Mindful Athlete’s Personal Story

“My mission in life not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou

I remember the first time I actually noticed my mom had a drinking problem. It was after her and my dad had split, and my little brother and I were at her house for the weekend. It was a small place in a not so great part of town in Richmond, Virginia. This was probably the fifth or sixth place she had lived in the last three years, but was actually one of my favorites. It was relatively clean, had a little eat in kitchen, and a big window in the front room to let a lot of light in.

It was about 2:00 in the afternoon, and I was thirteen years old. My mom had passed out on the couch that was just perpendicular to the big sunny window, and snoring loudly as she always did. I noticed an empty cup on the floor in front of her that reeked of vodka. My little brother seemed to pay it no mind, but he was only ten or eleven at the time. I called our dad and asked for him to come pick us up early. When we arrived back home, he said “Why did you have me come get you?” The only response I could muster was, “Mom drinks too much.”

Less than a year later my mom called me one day at my dad’s house and asked where I was. It was early afternoon on a Tuesday, and we only saw her some Wednesdays and every other weekend, so I explained to her that we were supposed to be at dad’s. After a few minutes of conversation she was still confused, but decided I suppose to let it go for now. That was the last conversation we ever had.

She was sent to the hospital, and on life support for nine days before the doctor told us there was nothing to be done. Her death certificate said Sirosis of the liver.

My dad was a champ. You would never know that prior to these events, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and had been undergoing chemotherapy. While not only providing for my little brother and I, he fought cancer, and never missed a softball game, a play, or a Sunday night dinner.

After years of watching him go back and forth to the hospital, lose his amazing ponytail to the side effects of chemo, and be carried away in an ambulance more times than I can remember, a bone marrow transplant was the next step.

We had Christmas early, and shortly after he was sent to the hospital for the procedure while my brother and I tried to carry on with our lives as best as we could.

After a few weeks, some complications ensued, and he was moved to the ICU and placed into a medically induced coma. I visited every single day after that. They told me they weren’t sure if he could hear me or not, but I spoke to him anyways. I told him all about my day, what we could do together when he got out of there, and how I couldn’t wait to be back on his 2005 Road King Custom Harley Davidson that waited for him back home.

On January 23rd, 2008, I slept in. I had ceased going to school weeks earlier despite it being my senior year, but decided to get just that one or two extra hours. I had already been up getting ready to make my way to the hospital when my grandmother called and said I needed to come as fast as I could. When I arrived, my family was in a small room closed off from the world, and Granny told me he was gone and hugged me so fiercely I was unable to collapse to my knees like I wanted. This was the moment the trajectory of my whole life changed.

I had always worked hard in school to get good grades and go to college. I took Latin for three years, because I knew I wanted to be a science major. I had plans of joining the Peace Corps, traveling the world, seeing great things. I played sports, did theater, padded that resume… I had been accepted to Old Dominion University, where I really wanted to go, but it didn’t feel the same. When I received the letter, I was packing up the house I had grown up in, and I was alone. I was still mourning the loss of my dad and not understanding what to do as a 17 year old with no parents.

I moved in with my aunt to complete my senior year of high school, and went off to O.D.U. for one whole semester. By then, I hadn’t realized it yet, but the depression had really set it. I quickly came home, and bounced between my aunt’s, my (older) brother’s house, and living with boyfriends. Although my family was the MOST supportive they possibly could have been, and I mean the MOST, I wasn’t ready to climb out of this hole.

I couldn’t explain it, but I was in a fog. Depression will do that too you. It clouds you, and convinces you there is nothing you can do to make your situation any better than that  shitty little dark place you are in right now. So I went down deep. I was partying hard, drinking a lot, doing drugs, staying in unhealthy relationships, unable to finish classes at a local community college, alienating friends and family as best I could, and blowing through the very little inheritance money I had received. This went on for YEARS.

The first time I moved into the city and got an apartment of my own, the fog began to lift a little. I realized I had no idea WHO I WAS or even what I liked anymore. What kind of music did I want to listen too, what activities did I enjoy, what food do I even like? It was a time of rediscovery for me, but that didn’t mean I was suddenly not depressed. My parents were still dead, and I still relived all the traumatic things I went through as a child.

Then I went for a run.

I was always sporty all through high school, and enjoyed working out as a teenager when I could. Renting my first room in the city, while not making a lot of money, meant no gym membership for me… but I could use some old tennis shoes to put one foot in front of the other and get to know the city I had just moved into a little better. And it felt good.

I was… happy? What was this feeling? This lighthearted, not so bad, maybe you will continue to live after all, feeling? Everything was brighter. It was like I was seeing color again for the first time in years. It was incredible. Naturally, I sunk myself into it and it felt better than any antidepressant I had ever been on.

I was finally beginning to go from merely surviving, to thriving.

I was working front desk at a spa at the time, not for any other reason than they were hiring, and I needed a job. After getting to know the massage therapists there and learning more about what they actually did, I quickly decided, I wanted to do that too.

My journey gained momentum quickly and led me to pursue certifications in massage therapy, personal training, yoga teaching, and health coaching. I now strive to share this information with the world.

Mindful Athlete Yoga & Wellness was born out of this story, out of disparity to not merely survive, but to thrive.

Namaste Yall.

*This blog post accompanies Ep.1 of the Mindful Athlete Podcast – “Surviving or Thriving – The Mindful Athlete’s Personal Story.” Find the SoundCloud link on the Podcast page of this site.

 

 

Plant-Based Coconut Curry

This dish will satisfy ALL your cravings in one bowl, and warm you from the inside out. It is a little salty, a little sweet. Turmeric dusted tofu alongside curry give it an earthy, grounding taste, while crispy vegetables and rice noodles keep it light enough to eat more than one bowl…  and trust me, you’ll want seconds.

Ingredients

For the broth –

  • (2) 14oz cans unsweetened coconut milk
  • 32oz vegetable broth
  • 3tbsp red curry paste
  • 1tsp garlic powder
  • 1tsp curry powder
  • 1tsp onion powder
  • 1tsp raw sugar, or honey if preferred
  • 1tsp sriracha hot sauce (optional)
  • 4oz of uncooked noodles of your choice (Chinese wheat noodle, Japanese rice noodle, etc.)

For the veggies (chopped to size and quantity of your preference) – 

  • Red Cabbage
  • Snow Peas
  • Celery
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrot
  • Green Onion
  • 1tbsp avocado oil

For the tofu – 

  • 6oz tofu, cubed, and dusted with turmeric and salt
  • 1tbsp avocado oil

Directions

Combine all of the broth ingredients in a medium sized pot and heat to a simmer.

In a skillet, heat the avocado oil over medium heat. Add tofu and saute until desired browning.

In a large skillet, combine 1tbsp of avocado oil and 1/2 cup of water. Add the veggies and saute over medium heat until desired tenderness.

Drop the uncooked noodles into the hot broth to cook them slowly. Once they’re tender, combine everything in your desired proportions in large soup bowls. Top with fresh green onion.

Happy eating! 

Namaste Yall.