Monday, October 26, 2009


It was recently suggested by Jennifer Oliver that I write something about breathing exercises and I thought it was such a good idea. One of the quickest and most effective ways I know of to either calm down or perk up is through breathing technique.

First, here's my favorite stress-release breath that I learned from reading Dr. Andrew Weil's work. It's perfect for times when you've been pushing through a deadline and you've stopped for a break. Standing, sitting, or lying down, gently straighten your back so that your entire breathing system, from your nose to the bottom of your belly, has plenty of room. Now inhale through your nose to a count of 4, hold your breath without tightening your throat (this is important!) for a count of 7, then softly exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Wait a second or two and repeat 3 times. The length of time that passes for each count isn't important, it's the ratio of 4:7:8 that makes this breath work.
When you're doing the breath-holding part, be sure you're not creating a lot of tension or increasing your blood pressure too much by holding in too much air or by clamping your throat shut.
This is good when you're stuck in traffic or waiting in a line somewhere that's trying your patience.

Next, a calming/balancing breath that employs a cool visualization. Again, from whatever position you're in, gently straighten your back, then inhale through your nose. Imagine that the breath slowly floats down a line that goes from your heart to the bottom of your pelvis (called Sushumna). Imagine that the base of your pelvis is a trampoline that, on the exhale,slowly sends the breath back up the same line it came down to "fan" your heart from the bottom up.
Do this for at least 5 or 10 breaths. If you have time, you can do this for as long as you like. It's a good breath to use while you're doing stretching exercises that you hold for longer times because it relaxes your body into the stretch in a very natural way. I love using this breath. I'm convinced that it's one of the fastest ways to get a nice dose of happy chemicals from your brain whenever you want it.

The perking-up breath is sort of like a dog panting, except it's just in and out of your nose. But the idea is to breath in and out very quickly with short little breaths. You'll be using your stomach muscles to accomplish this. It can take a little time to get those muscles to be coordinated enough to do this smoothly for more than a few breaths. So start with just a few of these panting breaths and end with a deep exhale. Build up slowly to do 10, 20, or 30 of these quick panting breaths before the deep exhale.

Thanks for the inspiration, Jennifer!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Coconut Lentils

Marc Scheff, one of the participants in our recent artists' retreat,
not only took this crazy photograph, titled "Exquisite Boris", but also
made a huge (really huge) pot of Coconut lentils for everybody. The aroma
of fresh garlic, ginger, and jalapeno peppers was magically delicious.

COCO LENTILS by Marc Scheff
A goopy lentil dish made with coconut milk

I don't measure much, so most of this is approximate. Adjust ingredients for more/less lentils, and more/less spice. It's quite simple to make, despite my verbose directions.

If I were to guess at amounts I'd say

* 1 package lentils (I think they're 8oz)
* 2 ears corn, or 1 can
* 2 zucchinis
* 1 bag spinach
* 4 carrots
* 1-2 jalapenos (to your own levels of bravery)
* 1 onion
* 4 heads of garlic or more (I use as many as 8, I love it!)
* 1-3 inches of ginger

1. Soak lentils for ~8 hours (if you're making this for dinner, put them in a bowl in the morning with a few extra inches of water)
2. Drain lentils and place in a fresh pot of water
3. Bring to Boil, simmer for maybe 10 minutes

4. While waiting for lentils, chop up whatever veggies you want
I use carrots, zucchini, corn, onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeno, and a green like spinach or kale at the end
Experiment with other veggies like mushrooms, or peppers if you like
5. Take a pan with some oil and bring to high heat
6. Turn heat down and drop diced/sliced carrots in (carrots take longest to cook, so they get extra time)
7. Heat until carrots are getting crisped and a little soft

8. Drop in as much garlic/ginger/diced jalapeno as you like, and the diced veggies
This is where I add stuff like zucchini and onion that needs a little, but not a lot, of cooking time
9. Give a few squirts of Bragg's Amino
10. Cook until veggies are mostly crispy and/or cooked

11. Drop in corn and lentils. Add lentils slowly and stop when you have the right veggie/lentil balance for you.
12. Add 1 can of coconut milk and a dash more Bragg's to taste

13. When the dish tastes right and is cooked, add spinash or kale
14. Stir until kale/spinach is cooked

15. If you need it to be goopier, add more coconut milk and Bragg's

16. Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Barn Fitness

Every year in the fall (for the last four years), we go to a beautiful place in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts where we spend a week with a group of our artist friends painting, laughing, eating s'mores, stuff like that. Aside from the s'mores (which are terrible for you on the physical plane, but the absolute peak of health food on the fun plane), we keep it pretty healthy. It's good to get away from your usual fitness routine here and there and give your body a break. Too much of the same exercise for too long without a change tends to create tendon soreness that just sort of lingers on and on. So here are some exercises if you ever find yourself with only an old New England barn and a bunch of friends as your equipment.

Pull Ups are a good exercise to start with. They mostly work your upper back, biceps, and rear deltoids. Keeping these muscle groups strong and toned is important in holding up good posture as well as creating an athletic V-shape to the upper body. Any exercise that requires you to pull weights (rows, bicep curls, etc.) fits into this category.

Demonstrating Pull Ups, left to right: Anthony Palumbo, Justin Gerard, Marc Scheff, David Palumbo, and Winona Nelson. Standing by are Dave Seeley, Dena Obeza, and Arkady Roytman.

Next is Push Ups. Push Ups are the perfect "opposite" exercise for Pull Ups. They work chest, tricep, and front deltoid muscles. Any exercise that requires you to push against weight (bench press, shoulder press, etc.) fits into this category.
Boris is demonstrating Push Ups for us here. He didn't have any s'mores while he was at the barn, preferring to save himself for his favorite snack, Suzy's Flatbreads.

Moving on to a great leg exercise, we have Jumping Lunges. Start in a lunging position and jump straight up, switching the position of your legs. At the top of the jump, tighten your knees and quadriceps. This exercise is great for overall strengthening and toning of the legs as well as working on your balance. If you do this exercise with respect for your knees and don't lunge too low, you'll strengthen your knees and keep them healthy.
Justin Gerard is demonstraging Jumping Lunges for us. He was thinking of the Silver Surfer when he was doing this.

And when it's time to wind down, pick a partner and make some swords out of tin foil. Exercise is so fun!
Anthony Palumbo and Winona Nelson are demonstrating their fencing skills here.