Oh fall! As I sit here staring out my window, there is a single branch of fading orange set against a backdrop of gray sky and even grayer bark. With muted desperation, I try to soak it in and truly appreciate this last show of color.
This season of change is my favorite. It is both brilliant and bittersweet. As the shocking colors of orange, yellow and red begin to light up the countryside, I know that it signals the plunge into months of cold, wet and gray days.
As warnings of the impending Polar Vortex once again leads the news, it is pretty easy to fall into despair. I can feel the resistance to the long winter and cold weather growing. I can feel myself slip into the comradery of complaining about the weather. Most of us welcome the transitions to spring, summer and fall, but the plunge into friged temperatures is a hard sell for many!
As much fun as communal complaining can be, notice the subtle shift that begins to happen. The habit of resisting change can produce patterns in our minds, even our bodies. The story we tell ourselves about winter being dismal, cold and miserable can work against us. It sets a pattern of negative thoughts and associations that often changes our behavior. But perhaps more importantly, when we resist change, when we define change as bad, we deprive ourselves of growth and transformation and set ourselves up for a boring existence.
So the challenge is to find the change you resist and work to flip your perspective. Work to notice the advantages that come with the change. See the beauty in the transformation. Embrace the opportunity for growth. Afterall, without the long gray winter, spring would not seem so sweet. Keep the change.
There are few things that I love more than yoga, but cooking is one of my other true passions! Baking homemade bread is one of my favorite meditations. The smell and taste are intoxicating! However, pick up a book on bread baking and one can get a bit overwhelmed by the shear enormity of flour and time required. So I was truly excited years ago, when I discovered Jim Lahey’s (founder of Sullivan Street Bakery) method of producing quick, no fuss, minimally laborious rustic bread. This method has made bread making much less intimidating and has since been adapted by Mark Bittman to be even faster when needed.
Just this past week, I had the privilege of taking my daughter to hear Mark Bittman speak at Indiana University. He was asked, what one thing could a person do to make an impact on our food system and culture? His answer was simple. Cook. His answer was brilliantly simplistic and possibly a disappointment to those who wanted a call to action that would involve organizing, legislating or protesting.
Cooking your own food is not unlike the call to action in yoga. Both require that we look inward and take personal responsibility. We tend to want a magic pill, someone to tell us how we can be happier, feel better and be stronger. If you want to make an impact on the current food system, stop buying things that aren’t real food for the sake of convenience and time. Start buying or growing the best food you can afford and prepare it yourself.
Below are the two recipes. . .
Lahey (12 – 18 hr version)
3 cups flour*
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp instant or active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups cool water
cornmeal, wheat bran or additional flour for dusting
Bittman (quicker version – let rise minimum of 4 hrs)
3 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 packet active dry yeast or 2 1/4 tsp loose yeast
1 1/2 cups cool water
cornmeal, wheat bran or additional flour for dusting
Mix together the flour, yeast and salt, then stir in the water.
Dough will be shaggy and pulling away from sides of bowl. Next, drizzle a small amount of oil around the sides of the bowl and flip the dough ball several times to coat the outside of the shaggy dough ball. Cover with plate, wrap or moist towel and set in warm area to rise (either the Lahey version – 12 – 18 hrs, over night works great or the Bittman version, minimum of 4 hrs)
The dough will be wet, flour a cutting board or other work surface, turn out dough – it is quite normal for it to be stringy, this is the gluten forming. Try not to add too much flour, just enough to keep your hands from sticking as you fold the outside edges into the center and tuck the dough in to make it into a round, dome shape. Flour the top and sides and cover with a light weight cotton or linen towel. (a large bowl or the saran wrap you used to cover while rising works too – remember, this is no fuss!)
Let sit again for an hour (and up to two, until it has doubled in size. If you live in a warm, humid climate, it will be on the shorter side. If left too long, it gets a bit out of control!)
Preheat a glass casserole or iron pot with lid (note: if using Le Crueset, the interior can discolor at high heat) in the oven with lid on at 475 degrees for about 30 minutes – you are making an oven within your own oven. (Don’t stress about this either, my friend uses a heavy duty glass bowl meant to withstand heat and a lid from another pan that fits tightly).
Once the oven and pan are preheated, you can begin to transfer your dough. You can use a dough scraper to aid in the transfer to the hot pot or the towel you covered it with. Place the dough gently into the hot pan – being careful of the hot sides – and re-cover. Bake on 475 for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue to bake another 15 – 30 minutes depending upon how dark you like your crust. The longer you bake, the crispier and crunchier the crust. Be careful not to burn.
Once baked, remove from pan with a towel or mitts, place on a rack to cool. You may notice a cracking sound called “singing” as the cool air hits the bread and some expansion occurs. This is a fabulous sign! Allow the bread to cool before slicing.
*NOW FOR THE FUN PART. . . EXPERIMENTING!
I have found either method to be rather fool proof! Be adventurous – you can use bread flour or plain white (which I found worked well in higher altitudes). I often use a blend of flours; organic white, wheat, barely, oat, rye, cornmeal etc. Remember with the heavier flours, a 2:1 or smaller white flour to darker flour ratio is helpful to keep the “crumb” (texture of the bread) from getting too dense and heavy.
I often include some sort of natural sweetener when using the darker flours. A few tablespoons of molasses or honey mixed into warmish water to dissolve will add dimension and flavor. It also feeds the yeast, which lightens the loaf a bit.
Dried fruit such as cherries, dates or raisins go well. If you add dried fruit during the first rising, remember they will reconstitute a bit. If you prefer, you can add the fruit when you turn the dough out the first time.
I have also used half water/half buttermilk, roasted garlic, herbs, cheese, cinnamon, nuts and various seeds.
TRY THESE COMBOS:
Cinnamon raisin, with Whole Wheat flour
Dried Cherries & Walnuts
Roasted Garlic and Cheddar, with Buttermilk
Cheddar and Dill. with Cornmeal
Olive and Feta
Rye with Molasses, Cornmeal, Caraway Seeds
Of the hundreds of breads I have tried only a few did not turn out beautiful! So go forth and create some of your own breadasana!
Whenever any yoga teacher suggests that I set an intention or focus for my practice, without hesitation, this is my prayer and meditation, “Give me grace and strength”. I am not always asking for myself. Often it is so I have the strength to be there for others and the courage and grace to sit in their discomfort and therefore my own.
When someone asks us what we want to do when we grow up, not many of us stand up and say, “I want to learn how to sit in someone’s discomfort and pain!”
Although, not only do some of us choose careers which require it; physicians, nurses, hospice care, funeral directors, counselors, therapists, priests – the list goes on! ALL of us need to cultivate this life skill for ourselves and others, because each of us face the trials of illness, failed relationships, challenges at work and a myriad of other discomforts.
One of the ways this plays out in yoga is through Tapas. Tapas, is not the “small plate” style of dining, rather it means discipline, austerity, internal fire or heat. Tapas is the discipline it takes to arrive on your mat each day or to take the break you may need. It is austerity with our efforts. Tapas is our desire or internal fire to reach a goal, even though there may be heat building in our bodies, irritation in our minds or obstacles from outside sources.
Tapas, when well cultivated on our mats, lead to a steadfast, mindful and determined practice. It is what drives us to know more, to explore and to sit with the discomfort that inevitably arrives in our bodies and minds.
Cultivate Tapas by noticing which postures, teachers or classes you tend to avoid and begin there. As a matter of fact, try it off your mat as well. You can actively seek out something that annoys you as long as it is done with awareness and safety. When you are confronted with a thought, a posture or some other annoyance, simply notice. Be aware of the sensations it brings to your body and the thoughts that come to your mind. Use your breath in the discomfort, slow your inhales and exhales.
With your awareness placed squarely on the discomfort or annoyance, ask yourself:
- Am I safe?
- Is this really a problem or have I allowed my mind to define it as negative – based on old experiences?
Give yourself the space and time to choose what comes next. Sometimes backing off is what is necessary. Other times, being willing and able to explore the irritability will build your self-awareness. It will allow you to decipher whether you are motivated to avoid discomfort as a habit or whether you have truly met your edge. It will build your self-control. And lastly, it will give you the ability to support others when it is needed and to sit with them when they are struggling.
There is a great line in one of my favorite movies, The Royal Tenenbaums in which Gene Hackman’s character, Royal is leaning out a window and shouts down, “I know you asshole!” to Owen Wilson’s character, Eli Cash. Eli simply stares back at Royal whose character is a deeply flawed husband and father and a bit of a cheat! Royal no doubt “knows” Eli because he is a reflection of himself. The line is a running joke among a few friends and it is often what I imagine my daughter is saying in her head when she glares knowingly at me with her enormous eyes (she’s done this ever since she was a baby – she has a way of seeing right through anyone’s BS).
Interestingly, as much as we think we “see” other people for what they are, as much as we observe, over-analyze and place judgment on others, how well do we really know ourselves?
The fourth niyama in the 8-limbs is svadhyaya, self-study. Svadhyaya asks us to turn inward and look at ourselves, every part. The good, the bad and the ugly – however, we are seldom able to do so fully and honestly and definitely not without judgment right?
Svadhyaya is a practice and it can be a really annoying practice! Observing our every thought, word and deed can be a chore, not to mention feel self-absorbed. In the long run however, it becomes a necessary step in growing your yoga practice.
Svadhyaya, like the whole of yoga, is a practice of self-awareness. Begin by taking just a few moments a day to check in with how you are feeling. Notice the quality of your breath and your thoughts. Whether judgment or contentment arise, simply notice. Rather than feeding either thought, feed your breath.
Once this process of checking in becomes a practice, work to extend it to several times a day. Then use it at work, on your mat, when you are with friends and family, even in your car. This is a very simple and effective tool to bring awareness into your life.
Whatever you do though, take the “asshole” out of it! Try to take the mental chatter and judgment out of the process. You will be amazed at how simply being aware of how you are feeling and the quality of your thoughts is enough to bring about change in your behaviors.
Want to go deeper? Consider journaling. . . I would love to tell you I do this daily, but it is a practice. I continue to do the work. It is a beautiful practice. All of this working to observe ourselves, to become more aware is great, but what in the hell are we supposed to do with all of the observations? Let’s be honest, negativity and judgments are bound to come up. Instead of allowing it to stay in your noggin – GET IT OUT, WRITE IT DOWN. It is a great way to move on.
And one last thing. . .
Don’t neglect to notice the good; the pleasant thoughts, the things that you enjoy, the things that bring you pleasure, what calms you. When you understand this aspect of yourself, you can more easily use it as a tool in your life. You can direct your energy into your passions. This is when “I know you asshole” can transform into. . .
“I know YOU”