Walking for Mindful Awareness

Autumn weather is usually pleasant and mild— making it a great time to practice yoga outdoors. After your asana, taking a walk is one way that you can welcome mindful awareness. It’s no secret that when our thoughts are racing, we can feel stressed. Walking outdoors can help you restore balance between your mind and body. The rhythm of walking can help you clear your mind, order your thoughts, and bring awareness to the present. It can even aid in unlocking creativity or helping you see how to overcome obstacles.

In addition to helping balance the connection between your mind, body, and spirit (in Sanskrit: the purusha and prakriti) here are 10 physical benefits of walking.

  1. It can help improve your mood, help you feel relaxed, or lower your blood pressure.
  2. You may experience better sleep.
  3. It could help your immunity.
  4. When you walk, the cadence between your right- and left-body can benefit your brain.
  5. You could feel less hungry, which may be beneficial if you are trying to lose weight.
  6. Walking has been proven to be good for your heart.
  7. It may help you maintain bone density.
  8. As you age, walking can help you keep a broader range of motion than if you are sedentary.
  9. It may help you avoid developing varicose veins.
  10. Walking and sharing thoughts with a friend (4-legged or 2-legged!) can also help us feel more connected to those we love!

Essential Oils for Your Body Type

New to essential oils? You may be wondering where to begin. I always tell people to think of Christmas: start with smells that bring you “comfort and joy!”

Smells are powerful. They can transform you– taking you to a memory from the past, helping you relax, and invigorating your senses. That’s because essential oils stimulate the limbic system (the part of your brain that controls emotions and memories.) Smells can affect your mood, helping you to feel energized or more relaxed. In Ayurveda, oils can be used to help balance our natural constitution (or doshas.)

Vata doshas: take a look at earthy, woodsy notes like cinnamon, patchouli, orange, geranium, myrrh, and sandalwood.
Pitta doshas: consider mints like peppermint, spearmint, and wintergreen. For floral notes, consider trying Ylang Ylang, gardenia, and jasmine.
Kapha doshas: introduce yourself to ginger, clove, juniper, angelica, or marjoram. When my kapha is low, I enjoy a blend of eucalyptus and tea tree.

Always consult with your health care providers before beginning any new healthcare regimen, including the use of essential oils. The above is a personal opinion and should not be a substitute for professional medical advice.

Autumn Ayurvedic Spices

Autumn is a Vatta season! It is cool, crisp, windy, and filled with prana—that’s why we recognize that we can smell the autumn air. Here is a list of spices that pair perfectly with this season’s bountiful fruits and vegetables.

Allspice, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg are great for baking. Their warmth and spice bring out the sweetness in baked goods, especially with pumpkin and apple. They can be sprinkled over root vegetables or blended into your coffee.

Saffron brings brightness to any dish. It easily lends flavor to rice, cous cous, or risotto. It pairs well with dill, and my favorite way to use saffron is to stir it into yogurt or crema. It is the perfect touch to Mediterranean recipes.

Turmeric is the earthiest spice. Since autumn is the best time ayurvedically to enjoy fatty proteins, turmeric’s rich, deep yellow color is a welcome addition to egg salad. It also lends color to soups and stews with vegetable stock as their base. My favorite way to incorporate turmeric is in a big bowl of vegetarian chili!

Consult with your physicians before beginning any new healthcare practices or changes to your diet.

Sign me up for seasonal recipes!

The Health Benefits of Pumpkin

Fall is here, and that means pumpkin has found its way into coffee creamers and baked goods. Let’s look at a few of the benefits.

Pumpkin, bitter melon, and other gourd seeds and fruits are loaded in vitamins and minerals. They are used across ayurveda to treat vatta imbalances. Among gourds, pumpkin is the most popular. It is earthy, grounding, and comforting. That’s likely because it contains tryptophan. This can make you feel relaxed and calm. After eating a bowl of pumpkin soup or a handful of pumpkin seeds, you may even notice that you sleep better. Cinnamon and nutmeg are warming spices that often accompany pumpkin. To balance its flavor profile in savory dishes, fat from coconut milk or acid from balsamic vinegar can change it up and make it more interesting.

Pumpkin is also pacifying for pitta doshas. Like other orange vegetables, pumpkin is rich in beta carotene which means it is rich in vitamins A and D. These vitamins have been shown to aid in eye health, asthma, heart disease, and certain types of cancers. Studies have also shown that it can be helpful in regulating blood sugar and blood pressure. Last, it can aid in weight loss. It is low in calories and filled with fiber, which can help you feel fuller longer.

If you are looking for ways to incorporate pumpkin into your diet, remember that fresh roasted pumpkin will have more vitamins and minerals (and fewer preservatives) than canned. The texture of fresh pumpkin is also fluffier– like a baked potato, whereas canned pumpkin can be off-putting. Consider substituting baked pumpkin in recipes that call for potatoes, sweet potatoes, or carrots. And if you’re already tired of pumpkin, consider substituting butternut squash, acorn squash, or sweet potatoes in your seasonal recipes–especially savory recipes!

Consult with your doctors before making any changes to your diet.

Get the recipe for pumpkin orange muffins when you sign up to receive Crosswork email.

The Health Benefits of Apples

In ayurveda, we eat seasonally. Nothing says autumn like pumpkins… or is it apples? Throughout the month of September, I am offering you ways to incorporate these two ayurvedic powerhouses into your menu. Let’s start with apples.

Apples contain Vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants like quercetin, catechin, and chlorogenic acid that are good for your brain and immune health. Raw apples help clean your teeth, tongue, and gums. They are rich in fiber and can aid in regularity. They are relatively low in calories (around 50 calories for a small apple) and their natural sugars can give you energy.

The cooling qualities of red apples pacify Pitta doshas, and the tart qualities of granny Smith apples are cleansing for Kapha doshas. But apples don’t agree with everyone; they can aggravate Vata doshas. If you’re a Vata type who longs for apples, consider cooking them down and adding a little cinnamon.

Whether you’re on team pumpkin or team apple, we’ve got you covered. Join our mailing list to receive healthy recipes featuring apples and pumpkin each week in the month of September.

I want recipes! Sign me up for Crosswork email.

5 Ways to Get Back on Track

Sometimes we get derailed. Your plans go awry. You had an idea of how your day would go, but something unforeseen happened and now you’re feeling frazzled. If you’ve got 5 minutes, here are 5 habits that can help you get back on track.

Breathe Pranayama is the yogic practice of intentional breathing. Begin with 3 calming breaths.

Hydrate You already know that your body is mostly water and that it depends on water for pretty much every process. Dehydration can lead to headaches or even changes in blood pressure, which can make a bad day even worse.

Remember Obstacles have the potential to make us more resilient. Instead of working against hindrances, try leaning into them. Ask yourself how you can harness this setback to come out stronger on the other side.

Move Exercise equals endorphins, and endorphins can improve our mood. Whether it’s a few seated twists at your desk or choosing to take the stairs instead of the elevator, step it up. Walk it off.

Focus So your plans were derailed. It happens. Take a moment to think on a few things that could still work out for you today: a run, a fantastic dinner, a frivolous dessert, a relaxing bath, or all of the above!

Shake It Up

When it comes to shakes and smoothies, most people are fans. Even if you’ve had an experience with the grainy or artificially flavored ones, chances are you’re willing to try again with a different brand in hopes of having a better experience. But many brick-and-mortar smoothie shop shakes are almost completely composed of ice. This can leave you feeling hungry. Some are not made from the highest quality ingredients, and others are outrageously expensive. Fortunately, there are some great shake options out there that you can make in your own kitchen or at work (which might actually be one and the same these days!)

Performance shakes are developed for those who are looking to take their work-out routines to the next level. They usually come in two varieties: pre-workout fuel or post-workout recovery. In the world of yoga, these shakes might promise energy for your asana. For energy, consider looking for shakes with fruit-based carbs. For muscle building, consider your protein content.

Weight Loss shakes are formulated to help you lose unwanted fat. Liquid and softer foods are also easier to digest if part of your weight loss program includes healing your gut. Some contain fat burners, while others contain protein to help you feel satisfied longer and keep cravings at bay. Natural fat burners like cocoa, green tea, and cinnamon are Ayurvedic alternatives to synthetic fat burners.

Meal Replacement shakes are intended to be a regular part of a healthy diet, unlike some weight loss products which indicate that they are for short-term use. Meal replacement shakes are easy to prepare and a simple, accessible alternative to high-fat convenience foods. Meal replacements are not snacks; think of them as a meal-on-the-go.

Smoothies are a great way to incorporate raw fruits and vegetables into your diet, so don’t be afraid to go rogue and make your own. When blending fruits and veggies, the best flavor palettes are going to come from sticking to the same color palettes. For instance, oranges and yellows (banana, mango, pineapple) or reds and purples (like cherries and berries) almost always partner well. To stave off hunger, nut butters are a great vegan source of protein.

Be sure to read labels and speak with your doctors before beginning any programs or making changes in your healthcare practice.

Stretch Yourself

Yoga is about flexibility of the body, but it’s also about flexibility of your mind, spirit, and strength. Flexibility is something that is achieved incrementally. Stretching just a little every day makes impossible yoga poses possible! Through Crosswork, you can apply yogic habits to other areas of your life, like your finances or writing goals. The incremental habit of saving $25 a week or writing 250 words a day will help you reach your goals of paying off a debt, taking a vacation, or writing a book.

Flexibility of the Mind Yoga helps to change your thought patterns and perceptions. Instead of ruminating over the past or getting lost in daydreams about the future, yoga helps you learn how to rest and be present in the moment.

Flexibility of the Spirit Yoga helps you learn to practice non-violence (or ahimsa) toward others and toward yourself. Self-compassion and empathy for others help you lean into thoughts like believing that good is coming your way. It helps you overcome self-limiting beliefs that keep you from reaching your goals.

Flexibility of Strength Yoga helps you build strength and flexibility in large and small muscle groups. For instance, inversions and handstands help build the hands, forearms, and shoulders. But they also help build your core and glutes. Even mild inversions, like wide-leg forward fold, increase your strength.

But there’s a difference between stretching yourself and stretching yourself too thin. Stretching yourself may be uncomfortable, but it leads to self-improvement and self-awareness. If you’re caught up in a hustle-bustle that leaves you feeling perpetually drained, chances are you’ve overextended yourself. The good news is, even if you find that you are currently stretched to-the-max, yoga also teaches us how to realign and begin again.

Why Meditate?

What do you think of when someone says meditation? Maybe you picture a person sitting crisscross applesauce, with their hands on their knees, chanting OM. Maybe you think of monks or others who have devoted themselves to a life of faithful practice. Or perhaps you think of someone who is completely tuned-out.

Meditation is concentration. In Sanskrit, the word is samadhi (suh-MAH-dee.) To meditate is to be still and think on something. It is the opposite of tuning out; it is a habit of intentionally focusing your mind and awareness. Mindfulness meditation is powerful. It is free, it can be learned by nearly anyone, and it can be practiced anywhere.

Meditation is powerful. Along with other practices, including asanas (or postures), breathing, and ethics, mindfulness meditation is one of the 8 limbs of yoga. Through meditation, many people have treated or reduced the effects of anxiety and stress. It can lower your allostatic and oxidative stress loads, diminish the signs of aging, and give you an overall sense of well-being. Meditation also builds neuroplasticity– or your brain’s ability to learn and adapt.

Meditation is free. Let’s face it: a clean, sustainable lifestyle filled with organic food and clothing generally costs more. Yoga, walking, sunlight, sleep, and mindfulness meditation are free. This makes them viable health benefits to nearly everyone.

Meditation is accessible. You do not need any special clothing, equipment, gear, or a specific environment to practice meditation. You can begin anywhere, any time. Mindfulness practices are safe for people of different ages and abilities. And perhaps the most significant facet of mindfulness meditation is that it gives truly different people a common bond.

Sarah teaches mindfulness meditation for stress reduction and chronic pain.

Good Bones

When it comes to wellness, a lot of emphasis is usually placed on nutrition, muscles, and regimen. What do I eat? When is carb day? Am I replacing electrolytes? How many reps should I do? Too often, bones get overshadowed by the attention that we give to muscle development. In fact, our bones are so dependable that (unless there is an injury) most of us don’t really think a lot about caring for our bones until advanced age. Here’s why you should.

Bones have a breaking point. Bones are tough, but they are not rigid—they’re porous. The fact that they actually bow enough to absorb shock when we jump and lift and twist is a miracle. Bones are really hard working. They protect your organs and tissues. They store minerals. They have an outside layer called the periosteum, and inside, they have bone marrow which produces red and white blood cells. They also create levers that our muscles work around so that we can move.

Bone density has its highs and lows. Bones grow with us, and they grow through stress! Not the deadlines and income taxes type of stress, the putting down the potato chips and getting off of the sofa to go play tennis kind of stress. A lifestyle of inactivity can actually contribute to bone loss. You can build bone density up until around age 30. Sadly, after that, you are already past the point of peak bone mass.

Bone density can be supported. While it’s nearly impossible to naturally build significant bone density after the first two decades of life, you can work to maintain your existing bone density. Here are three ways that you can care for your frame.

  1. Nutrition. Eating vegetables, protein, and getting enough vitamin D is good for your muscles… and your bones.
  2. Exercise. Specifically, weight bearing exercise. But you don’t need much. The weight of your own body during a brisk walk for 30 minutes each day is generally enough.
  3. Yoga. Yoga can increase our stability, which minimizes the chances of falls and bone breakage. It also increases proprioception (our internal awareness of where our body is at spacially) which can also lead to fewer falls. And studies* have shown that even beginning yoga at an advanced age can help maintain bone density in the spine.

* For further reading, check out this article from Harvard University.