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Mindful Cooking: Enjoy Your Time in the Kitchen

Sometimes it seems impossible to drum up the time and energy needed to cook a healthy meal. And what happens to dinner when mommy (or daddy) has had a long day?  In our house, we usually end up ordering a less than nourishing take-out dinner. What if there was a way to embrace cooking, even on the challenging days, and actually find contentment in it?  Recently someone at in my mom's group mentioned Mindful Cooking. My ears perked up! I am a big advocate of mindful eating, so why I had I not thought to bring mindfulness to the kitchen as I prepared the food? As I started to read up on it I realized I already was practicing mindful cooking in many ways.

Mindfulness in its self is the state of being aware and present in the given moment. It is in those moments, when we allow ourselves to let go of that constant babble in the mind, we can find true contentment. “Be here now.” I often repeat this mantra to yoga practitioners when I am teaching. It’s easier said than done, but those moments of mental stillness can help us slow down and appreciate what is right before us. 

The kitchen is the perfect place to practice mindfulness. There are so many opportunities to keep the mind actively engaged in the here and now. By tuning in to the smell of the food, the heat of the oven, the sounds of chopping, and the sight of our creations we can learn to enjoy the experience of cooking. Instead of feeling burdened by a meal, one can actually find it therapeutic and relaxing!

Try these simple exercises in the kitchen.
*Before you get started on any of the exercises below, put all screens and electronic devices out sight. ;)

Express Gratitude:
This one works well if you have a lot of prep involved in your meal. With each ingredient whether you are chopping, seasoning, mixing, try to visuals and acknowledge the origin of that food. Did it grow from the ground? Or in a tree? Did it walk or swim? Breathe? When we see our food as having an existence other than on our plate we can truly appreciate it. Take a moment to express gratitude for the nourishment that each food will provide.

Use Your Senses:
If you are cooking something on the stove or in the oven take a few minutes to sit quietly nearby. Experience the fragrances, sounds, and sights of your food as it cooks. Notice the subtle changes in the room. Notice how those changes affect your body.
If your mind starts to wander off, gently bring it back to your cooking meal without criticism or stress. Allow yourself to appreciate the sensations that the impending meal drums up in your body and mind.

Infuse With Love:
Have you ever noticed that a home cooked meal prepared by a loved one just tastes better? Your mom’s Thanksgiving stuffing?  Or your grandfather's apple pie? It’s almost as if you can taste the love. Many people believe that food can take on the energy of the person preparing it and then be passed along to those who consume it. Next time you are cooking for your family acknowledge how each food will nourish those you love the most in the world. If you want to take it further, create a mantra to go along with it… “I am cooking with love.”

If you are interested in learning more about Mindful Cooking, read "The Mindful Cook: Finding Awareness, Simplicity, and Freedom in the Kitchen"  by Isaac Cronin.

Do You Have a Dumb Ass?

There are major incentives to using your buttocks properly....not just to look good in your favorite jeans. If your glutes are firing properly they can improve posture, increase pelvic floor strength, and protect your joints. We live in a very "seated" society which tends to create "dumb" asses. They just don’t know how to engage because we have not taught them to do so. Sitting for long periods of time can re-position the natural tilt of the pelvis and stretch out already weak gluteus muscles. Compare the tribal poteriors below to a typical western booty. It is easy to tell which one is going unused. I am just being cheeky and overgeneralizing a bit, but keep reading to find out if you have a dumb ass...

Test Your Ass

While walking normally, place your right hand on your right butt cheek. Ideally your gluteal muscles will be working while you are walking. If you do not feel the muscle engaging as you walk, then your buttocks is probably not firing properly. Most likely you are pulling yourself along with the front leg and putting most of the work in the quadriceps (front of the thigh). Repeat on the other side. You also may notice that one side is much better at engaging than the other.  You can use the same touch test when doing a lunge.The gluteus muscle of the back leg should feel firm and engaged to the touch.

Another thing to note is the position of your pelvis. In our seated society we are often tilting the pelvic bowl backwards and losing the neutral tilt of the pelvic bowl. This not only takes the work out if our glutes, but puts strain on the pelvic floor, the lower back, and the hip joint. The illustrations below show the correct, "neutral" position of the pelvis. If the pelvis is positioned correctly, then your glutes will be properly firing.

Cultivating a Smart Ass

If you feel your ass needs some educating (many people’s do), then you can start by consciously engaging your glutes on a regular basis. When walking or running think about pushing off the back leg instead of pulling yourself along with the front leg.  If you work out or practice yoga, engage the glutes of the back leg whenever you are in any lunging pose (Front/back lunge, warriors, high lunge, low lunge). When doing squats (or simply standing up from a chair) put your weight way back in your heels, don’t over tuck the tail, and imagine your sits bones are pulling away from one another.  You should feel your buttocks engage!

You can also work on finding the neutral curve of your lower back. Make sure you are not super tucking your pelvis on a regular basis.  If you have to sit for long periods of time at work, take breaks to stand and walk around.  Try some cow/cat tilts by extending and flexing your spine.  You can do this movement seated, standing, or on all fours.  If you stand sideways in front of a full length mirror you will be able to observe the tilt of your own pelvis. The goal is to have a slight curve of the lower back. Try not to over tuck or over arch.

With time and patience a dumb ass can be taught! And a smart ass looks good in jeans too… so fire up that booty. 

Exercise Your Resolution

January is almost here! Have you decided on a resolution for 2016? If so, maybe you can bulk it up to see lasting change in the new year. Folks often feel disappointed in themselves come spring (or sooner) for failing to be resolute. Maybe it’s not the person who is to blame, but the resolution itself? Lose weight, eat better, make money, stop drinking, start saving… These are common (and empty) resolutions that do not lead to success. I often talk about how specificity is key when establishing and reaching goals, so when came across this resolution exercise I just had to share! It solidifies goals and allows the individual to truly define what their ideal vision of the future should be.

Here's what you do…

Write a letter to yourself to be sealed and opened on January 1st, 2017. Make sure to store it in a safe place. In this letter outline everything you wish to accomplish this year. Try to write down your goals AND the actions you are planning to take to reach them. Get detailed = Big goals, little goals, fears, excitements, obstacles.

Then describe what the ideal outcome would be. What is your ideal vision of YOU? And how does it feel to be living that ideal? Create a clear picture of what you want your life to look like by this time next year. Again, be as detailed as possible!

When you are finished, your letter will act as a map. You have to have a route to get where you are going before you set out on a journey, right? This exercise can propel you past the general “lose weight” or “eat better” goals and set you up for concrete results. There is also the added pressure of knowing you will be the one re-opening the letter next year.  Don’t let your future self down! Give it a try and happy new year!

"Acting" like a Business Owner

Once upon a time I was an actor. I worked hard, networked, created, studied, and struggled along with all the other actors in the industry... But gradually, like the slow tearing off of a band aid, I gave up performing. I found that my work as a personal trainer and yoga instructor was not only paying my bills, but it was a more rewarding path for me personally. Part of me thought that I was about to let all those years of dedication to the performing arts go to waste. But as I built a business, I realized that the skills I used as an actor were helping me succeed. I attribute my business’ success on the principles I learned as an actor (and hiring others who share the same principles). What is it that translates from the performing arts to the fitness industry so well?

As an actor I was taught that if you are not 5 minutes early, then you are late. I had 50 other talented and qualified actors waiting in the wings to take my job, so I was sure to professionalism a priority. Performers are, in fact, running a small business. They carry marketing materials such as head shots and business cards everywhere they go. Their style, attitude, and commitment to the profession is key. They have to be on time, organized, and ready to execute on the task at hand. Either that or they are replaced.
This way of thinking has benefited me as I have grown Mind Body Fitness from the ground up, and this level of professionalism is what I look for in the people I hire. That's why I can proudly say that we have grown from a one woman show to a 11 person cast in a few years. We could not have done that without being hyper-professional.

Body Awareness
For any performer, the body is your instrument. It needs to be fine-tuned. Health, self-care, fitness, and nutrition are priorities to the intelligent performers. If the body is not functioning correctly, then the performer is out of work.  Not only do they know how to care for themselves, but they also know how to carry themselves, move through space, and use correct alignment. When I am teaching a yoga class I can always spot an actor or dancer before they even mention it to me. They have true body awareness. This is an essential trait for anyone working in the health and fitness industry. Our clients look to us for guidance and inspiration.  The ability to demonstrate and lead by example is a must. 

Ability to connect
The beautiful thing about actors, dancers, and singers is that they often have the ability to genuinely connect to those around them.  They make friends with others. They make people feel comfortable, and they create an atmosphere of acceptance, collaboration, and encouragement.  I truly believe that’s why a majority of our clients stick with their program. They enjoy the time spent with their trainer.  It is not a chore. It is not torture. Instead, it is an enjoyable part of their weekly routine.  They are working together with their trainer to create a work of art… Themselves!

I am so grateful for all my life experiences, and how they help me to grow. There are some things I miss about my previous career.  One day I may revisit the stage, but for now the work I am doing is fun, rewarding, and a continuous learning process, much like life as an actor.  

Be a Part-Time Vegetarian

I love me some steak (and chicken, turkey, ham, fish…and BACON!). I always have and always will, but over the last few years I have made a conscious effort to cut down on my meat consumption. I don’t eat meat for breakfast or lunch. I also plan for 1 dinner with meat and 1 dinner with fish each week. Red meat is reserved for a once a month indulgence. Why have I cut back? There are real benefits of eliminating meat from our diets (at least some of the time). For the meat lovers out there like myself it might seem like a daunting task, but being a part-time vegetarian is a good way to help your body, your bank account, and the planet.

Here is why I am a part-time vegetarian…

My Health
People who eat little to no meat have a decreased risk of obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, and certain cancers. Studies of more than 900,000 women done by the Archives of Internal Medicine have shown that women in their 20, 30s, and 40s who ate red meat or processes meat on a daily basis were more likely to develop breast cancer. And even more recently the World Health Organization announced a direct link between processed meats and colon cancer.Although the effects of meat consumption are not thought to be as harmful as say cigarette smoke, the findings are enough to make me cut down, especially with the processed meats! Bye bye bacon.:(

My Finances
Meat consumption can totally break the bank, especially if you are trying to eat organic, grass fed, free range products (the “healthy” meats). Compare a $14 organic chicken breast to a $5 package of tempeh or beans. Or a $29/lb cut of organic beef tenderloin?! If you opted for the plant based protein, you would be cutting out a major chunk of change from the grocery bill. I save a minimum of $50 per week eating the way I do. Sorry, Whole Foods, but you already take enough of my money. I am going to sauté some tempeh tonight!

Our planet
Word is spreading about how the livestock industry is one of the leading causes of global warming on the planet. There are a lot of percentages being thrown around by environmental experts. The facts seem to differ depending on who you talk to, but one thing they all agree on is that meat consumption is harming the planet and will continue to do so if we don’t change our eating habits. According to World Bank environmental advisor Robert Goochland, it has been estimated that up to 15% of the worlds greenhouse gases are produced by livestock and 61% of those gasses come from cows. With a growing population and demand for more food it is estimated that the world’s carbon budget will be exhausted by 2050. What?! That’s terrifying. According the US Department of Agriculture each American eats 125 lbs of meat per year, so I try do my part by making meat a once in a while indulgence. At the risk of sounding super corny and idealistic here… Just think of the difference it would make if we all cut back just a little bit?!

That being said… The part-time vegetarian life style has worked for me so far. Could it work for you?  I have some really great recipes for plant based protein meals if anyone is interested.  Contact me anytime! [email protected]

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