Practice, Practice, Practice Alone

Practice Alone Do Not DisturbI just completed a month-long Personal Yoga retreat so I thought I’d share a few insights while they’re fresh in my mind. I still had my day-to-day responsibilities to attend to but I managed to raise the bar of my practice. I also did a social media fast (well, except for Pinterest – does that count as social media?)

Taking a month to withdraw gave me a much needed break. And it helped to raise my awareness of the challenges of being a modern day sadhaka. A sadhaka is a Sanskrit term for someone who follows a particular sadhana (a spiritual practice or way of life).

Practice Alone Flowers

According to B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most famous yoga teachers of all time, a sadhaka uses yoga to gain knowledge, light and liberation. It also helps to purify the body and soul. – Yogapedia

Challenge #1: Practicing at Home

Some of the obstacles of maintaining a home practice are a result of, well… being at home. Home isn’t the gym, or the studio, or any other designated place for exercise. So we have to consciously make it into one, which takes work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started my practice only to have a “to-do” flash through my mind.

“Oh I forgot to change the laundry over, put the leftovers away, etc.” 

“Darn it, I meant to turn off my cell phone.”

“Oh man, I really need to shave my legs.”

It can be tricky to navigate the transition from housework or home office work to doing our home practice. My best advice is to stay on your mat. You’ll be able to take care of all of these things afterwards.

Challenge #2: Shared living spaces.

If you have housemates or family members around you may have to work at communicating your boundaries.

“I’m going to be practicing from now until such-and-such a time. Do you need anything before I get started?”

“I’d like to practice for the next hour. Could you please use headphones if you want to watch TV or listen to the radio?”

Practice Alone Purple FlowersChallenge #3: This path can be lonely at times.

We may or may not have a community (sangha) of practitioners to support us in our journeys. It’s okay though – you’ll feel far more connected, centered and whole after you practice.

Challenge #4: Interruptions

It’s very important to choose a practice time when you won’t be interrupted. The people you live with may or may not realize what you’re doing. I’ve had people walk in and start talking to me when I was in a extraordinarily expansive meditation. It’s incredibly jarring to the nervous system to be disrupted when you’re in that state.

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, “Useless Talk” is one of the 6 Destroyers of Yoga Practice.

Hopefully you’ll remember to turn your cell phone off. You can also minimize unexpected guests or workmen by telling people you work from home and can’t be disturbed.

Practice Alone MandalaIf you’re thinking about doing a personal retreat or just want to start a home practice, my very best advice is (to echo the words of the master himself) – practice, practice, practice alone. Try to practice when you won’t be disturbed. You can avoid many of these obstacles simply by making good use of your alone time.

As someone who used to dread the idea of being alone, I can tell you that practicing alone is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself. And when you do your sadhana (translation – good for you) you’ll have more than enough energy to extend to others.

Practice Alone Tea Cup

Home Rituals – Berry Walnut Muffin Bread

Berry Walnut Muffin Bread 2

The warm weather has returned to the Western Slope of Colorado, which means that outdoor training season is officially here! I’ve made a commitment to working out in the mornings before it gets too hot. I usually eat a big mid-morning meal (breakfast like a king) so I’ve had to switch up my diet and lifestyle a bit.

The solution? Muffins! Hearty, wholesome and packed with good ingredients. These babies are a great mid-morning snack and carry me though until lunch. This week I played with a new recipe: berry walnut muffin bread (all the goodness of individual muffins in bread form).

Berry Walnut Muffin Bread 3

So just to clear up a few things. The ingredients in this recipe might raise a red flag for some people and to those folks I say (with love in my heart…)

Don’t like wheat? Don’t eat it. 

Don’t like sugar? Don’t eat it. 

Don’t like dairy? Don’t eat it.

But to those of us who can enjoy these foods unabashedly I say mangia! Eat with the confidence that comes from choosing the most beautiful foods. Wheat, sugar and dairy are incredibly powerful foods so long as they haven’t been tampered with.

For this muffin bread recipe I used organic non-GMO flour, organic milk and butter. The butter was on sale, otherwise I’d have used any conventional rGBH-free variety. I also used organic frozen mixed berries and non-GMO sugar.

The media has been working overtime to demonize sugar (remember when they tried telling us that butter was bad for you?) Sugar is a superfood in its own right. Sugar is listed in the Materia Medica of Chinese Herbal Medicine as a Qi (energy) tonic. And sugar, wheat, milk and butter are all recommended foods in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:

64. Wheat, rice, barley, shastik (a kind of rice), good corns, milk, ghee, sugar, butter, sugarcandy, honey, dried ginger, Parwal (a vegetable), the five vegetables, moong, pure water, these are very beneficial to those who practice Yoga.

So let’s get cooking! This berry walnut muffin bread is fantastic. It’s almost like eating cake for breakfast. The tang from the buttermilk compliments the sweetness of the berries. I made my own buttermilk by mixing whole milk with a little vinegar (lemon juice works too) and letting it sit for five minutes.

I didn’t want the bread to be soggy so I used raspberries, blueberries and blackberries (and cut up the blackberries into smaller pieces). And I always toast nuts before baking with them. Toasting kills off any molds and enhances the flavor of the nuts.

Berry Walnut Muffin Bread 1

Berry Walnut Muffin Bread

1 Loaf

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of flour (1 cup whole wheat + 1 cup all purpose)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk + 1/2 Tbsp vinegar)

1  1/2 cups frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 Tbsp sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan with butter or coconut oil.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a small bowl.
  3. Place frozen mixed berries in a small bowl. Add 1-2 Tbsp of the flour mixture and toss to coat. Cover bowl and place in freezer.
  4. In a medium-sized bowl cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla.
  5. Add flour mixture a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk.
  6. Fold in the berries and walnuts and pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  7. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp sugar over the top of the batter.
  8. Bake for 60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or toasted with lots of butter!

*** High Altitude baking note: decrease the amount of baking powder to 1  1/2 tsp. ***

Berry Walnut Muffin Bread Slice