Thursday, September 28, 2017

You Rock

You rock! It's true. While my next post attempts to make us feel better by judging others (an admittedly favorite pastime), this post actually makes us feel better through positive thought and action. When I was in high school, our English teacher once asked us, "when a 16 year old girl is mad, what does she do?" To be honest, I had no idea what, specifically a sixteen-year old would do (retail therapy?) nor did I have any idea why our teacher was asking the question but I was intrigued by the response. According to Mrs. Teacher, a sixteen-year old girl would often run upstairs and lay down in the fetal position. It was my first indication that what can bring us comfort in times of stress is a reversion back to our younger selves... perhaps a time when we were safer before having to pay our own bills or something. And yoga can sometimes key into this notion, placing us in poses that hearken back to our younger days.

Happy bay-bay.

Soon after we spent time in the fetal position or womb, we were often rocked. We were rocked in rocking chairs, we were rocked while our parents likely paced the house at 3 a.m., we were rocked in one of those baby swings we'd all like to own as adults. And rocking, just like every parent knows intuitively can have a calming effect on the body. According to Pasadena Villa, "rocking triggers the brain [to] release this feel good chemical (endorphins)." Furthermore, the article points out that author David Givens has stated, "rocking, whether back and forth or side to side, simulates the 'vestibular senses,' referring to parts of the inner ear and brain that regulate eye movement. These senses are closely aligned to the part of the brain that manages pain and stress." This, frankly, is why we might see those in really down-and-out situations rocking back and forth on a stoop. And even if we're simply experiencing problems which are more first worldish, its helpful to rock our selves a little bit for good measure... in yoga, we would attain such action through the very aptly-named, "happy baby" pose.

Happy baby pose is one of those postures which hearkens back to our infantile years, not only through its employment of a gentle rocking motion but also through its similar appearance to a pose held by most babies. When we're young, we're generally a bit more flexible which is why we can rebound more quickly after an injury and/or chew on our toes. As we age, through stress, growth or whatever, our flexibility lessens which is why we do yoga and other unpleasant endeavors. However, while yoga can be a boon at times with its heat and uncomfortable stretches, it can make us more limber and appear incresingly young. As such, happy baby pose is one to do on the daily, giving us a gentle stretch and reminding us that we're young at heart. Below is a video which helps to demonstrate the pose. Enjoy!

Once you get past the woman's voice, the pose is very calming!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Boiling A Calf in its Mother's Milk

When I was in Hebrew school (for what seems like a million years), there were a series of pictures on the wall. From what I could tell, the series featured images of what we were not supposed to eat... a small image of a pig surrounded by Hebrew letters, a lobster and some other shit. But towards the bottom of the images, there was a calf standing close to a cow and although I was specifically in Hebrew school to learn some of the language, I could not for the life of me make out what that image meant. I had seen my relatives eat red meat and veal and I knew we weren't supposed to eat our young so when I asked my teacher what it meant she claimed that, "we don't boil a calf in it's mother's milk." Still unsure what that meant but likely unwilling to stay in class longer than I had to, it was a few years before I learned that within the Jewish faith, one was not supposed to eat meat and dairy in the same sitting. And while I'm not going to go down the path of whether what's kosher is deemed so for health over religious reasons, the rule does seem to make sense from a nutritional standpoint. However, as my father began to leave Judaism for Eastern religion and vegetarianism by proxy, I began to eat more veggies as well and pretty much proverbially began boiling a calf in its mother's milk on the daily.

While veggies can be better for our hearts and waistlines than a daily T-bone, they can be lacking in flavor when eaten raw or without seasoning. As such I like to drench my veggies in veggie based dressings, essentially boiling a calf in its mother's milk (or dressing). While a trip to the farmer's market can leave us with an abundance of veggies we may or may not need, veggies sauces or dressings can be a great way to stretch such products in unique ways. Below is a bit of a matrix which attempts to pair veggies with a veggie-based dressing that complements it.

Note: When it comes to veggies, if you want to go clean (and boring) the healthiest thing you can likely throw on them is some salt and lemon. However, since you're eating veggies to begin with, I've tried to include recipes below which are a bit more decadent. Enjoy!

Roasted Brussel Sprouts: I loooove Brussels Sprouts. As stated in Food is Family, I'm a brassica kinda girl. As such, particularly in winter when I'm bored with the potato, such sprouts are my go-to. Here, the New York Times provides a recipe which is simple enough to be paired with the more decadent dressing by Heidi Swanson.
An Exceptional Ginger Carrot Dressing Recipe: I love this dressing. I love anything Heidi Swanson puts out. Made with coconut milk, turmeric and brown rice vinegar (among other ingredients), the recipe creates a balance of flavors which provides new dimension to the basic but beautiful brussel sprout. 

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Brown Sage Butter: This recipe seems to straddle both categories of providing a vegetable based dish with a vegetable (or herb) infused sauce. Gnocchi is one of those things on my bucket list to make, perhaps as a weekend project within the fall months. Based on its relatively small list of ingredients and hands-on methodology, it also seems like a good recipe to prepare with kids (or  your boyfriend). And, according to the recipe's creator, not only will you end up with a delicious sauce but will experience some aromatherapy in the process!

Roasted Broccoli: As I've gotten older, I've had to come to the realization that I like (or only have time for) simple foods. And this is not to be meant in the trendy sense of foods that are fresh from the ground and need little seasoning. I'm mean dishes like hummus that can be made from throwing things in a blender and take two minutes to blitz. As such, I don't mind a good (vegetable) roast... throwing things on a sheet pan and doing laundry while they're in the oven. Here, I enjoy broccoli... roasted so that it's a little softer and more flavorful and topped with a lota marinara.


Marinara Sauce: Recently, there was a video on Funny or Die (link here) which featured an "Italian spelling bee". Here, contestants, had to spell, phonetically, Italian words such as mutzadel (a.k.a. mozzarella) and madanad (a.k.a. marinara or, according to the video, the stuff your mother cooks for five hours cooking every Sunday). And while the previous recipe included pasta, I tend to enjoy my marinara on... brussel sprouts. But I also enjoy it on broccoli or brocly raaaab (as it might be spelled in the above spelling bee). Above, I've included Mario Batali's recipe for the sauce because, while it's not as much of a classic Italian recipe as Marcella Hazan's recipe, it includes more veggies (think carrots). And if you're getting tired of all the veggies featured, it's also a great sauce in which to braise chicken thighs.

So there you have it. A few combinations to keep you vegetabundant or such. Not only can such recipes keep the presence of flavor in your diet, they can also be mixed and matched to suit your tastes as fit. And, of course, they're kosher. ;)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Attention Economy

There is nothing so disobedient as an undisciplined mind.
There is nothing so obedient as a disciplined mind.

Note: This post was to be written in the dog-days of summer with light content to match the lightness of the days. However, with the beginning of the school year, the post has become heavier and more dense like our own schedules of the season... Enjoy!

As a teacher, I'm still unsure as to the purpose of education. Is it to teach content? Is it to teach youngsters how to think? It is to babysit people's kids? Like any good question, there doesn't seem to be one good answer but as my own preference seems to dictate, I prefer the "middle way" or the middle option of teaching students how to think while getting in some content and babysitting on the side. But whichever way we choose to teach students, it's of little doubt that school is where we have our minds trained. As painful as it can be (like any good workout class) we can't help but get our mental wheels turning through the papers we write, the lectures we attend and/or the discussions we carry on. And there does seem to be this discrepancy in society which posits education as something elite and "other" (although the two things are almost mutually exclusive). In general, education may not make you a better person but for better (not worse) it often gives you a stronger mind, a facet completely necessary as we move into our brave, new world.

Several months ago on Real Time with Bill Maher, a guest named Tristan Harris (pronounced Trist-on) was featured and spoke about something coined "the attention economy." While I had to break through my initial judgement towards both his name and occupation (he formerly served as a design ethicist at Google), I found he truly had some relevant things to say about what appears to be a new and emerging "market." According to our friend, the attention economy is the new battle for our individual attentions. Having broke free from the chains of regularly scheduled programs, we, the consumer, are at liberty to search a multitude of sites, social media platforms and such other things for entertainment. Knowing full well that the foxes must now chase the hounds, companies and other entities, are in fierce competition to grab our attention where they can get it. And as quickly as our interests might veer from site to site, their entreats for our fixation and ultimately, our cash, must be increasingly catchy. But while the products sold by such companies come at a cost, so might their marketing strategies.

When I was younger, I once found my father watching Zorba the Greek. Intrigued by the fact he was sitting and relaxed while the sun was still up (not one of his typical past times), I sat beside him and watched with curiosity what had grabbed his attention. Growing bored with the black and white film, however, I was about to get up when I heard my father murmur to no one in particular, "they don't make films like the used to. Now scenes have to be short and full of action. They just don't let the story unfold." While I still walked away, I was intrigued.

Just like an actual economy, the attention economy seems to be based on the concept of scarcity. Since, theoretically, there are not enough goods to go around, how we chose to distribute them warrants its own field of study. In the attention economy, however, it is our attention which lies scarce in comparison to the onslaught of information from news and social media and the advertisements which give both platforms a general reason to exist. In this sense, news stories, stories on Snapchat and/or advertisements must become increasingly exciting, provocative and/or interesting in order to grab our attention when so many other things are reaching for it. And while competing for our attention can be innocent enough in its own right, appealing exclusively to our limbic systems or upping the level of stimuli to our brains can take its toll on how we process the world around us. 

Within the aforementioned show, Tristoooooon stated that within this new "economy", since information is so vast, news sources (and the advertisers who support them) find that, showing quick, sensational stories which confirm our beliefs garner more attention than complex stories which leave us with more nuanced versions of reality (a.k.a. stories which make us think for ourselves). And while this can leave us in the dangers of our own echo chambers of political divisiveness, it's ability to spark addictive behaviors can be even more of a hazard. Since we are playing the roulette wheel when we open our phone (perhaps we've gotten a text, perhaps we'll see a salacious article, etc.) it can become an addictive entity. So where does this leave us? As I believe, it comes full circle to the issue of education. 

Perhaps education is, like reality, an ever-shifting experience without one particular purpose. While we don't teach much in the way of agriculture now that we exist in a more tech-based environment, perhaps it is prudent to strengthen students' attention spans in an age when so many sources are reaching for it through technology itself. While one could argue that companies are not looking to do explicit harm through their ads, their loyalty (I've heard) lies more with their shareholders and less with their customers. Ergo, between the food companies who seem to stop just short of addiction with their products and advertisements which don't require much more than a reptilian brain to interact with, we owe it to ourselves (and our students) to maintain our independence against forces which don't appeal to our greater goodness. But what to do? Here is where my simple idea from the summer comes in...

As I spend much of my time in the car, driving between school and tutoring, a simple trick I employ to expand my bandwidth of attention is to simply listen to a song in its entirety. Much like the news and social media, Sirius XM (while a great product) has opened our listening experience to a multitude of stations. And often, when I'm bored with a song on Hip-Hop Nation, I know there's a good chance that I'll like what they're spinning on Shade45. But with such ease of having our attention satisfied consistently, it's easy to forget that life outside (in the literal and figurative sense) does not cater to our desires so readily. So, in efforts to guide my attention through the excitement and boredom of a single song, I try to listen the whole way through and I've found it helps. Recently, I've been letting my mind languish through a song rather than click click away. I've also noticed I've chosen songs to listen to which I otherwise would have dismissed (think Regulators over Gin & Juice). So it's quite an experiment. I like it... a little challenge for the car ride. 

So, congratulations! You've effectively sustained your attention through one of my longer (and more boring) articles. Well done my friends. Stay woke, as the kids say and jam on...

Figured we'd (appropriately) end with a twelve-minute diddy.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Mind Over Body

In Things You Say To Yourself In a Bikram Yoga Class, I mentioned how it's often my body that demands attendance in a yoga class. Once there, however, it's often my mind that takes over... mentally pushing my body towards limits it otherwise "thought" impossible. As Ghandi once said, "[h]armony can be attained when the body, heart and mind are in alignment," or something. And it's true that at the end of yoga class, your mind and body are in both esoterically and physically aligned... too tired to really reach conflict over what to do. But at the beginning of class, my mind usually plays the annoying cheerleader which guilts my body into holding poses when it'd rather run for the door. And so it is in the warm up series that my brain uses one pose to show my body who's boss.

I spoke about Awkward Pose a bit in previous posts and it is broken into three separate postures, the last of which I use to put the kibosh on any predilections towards laziness. To preform the posture's finale, one stands up a bit on their toes, places their knees together and lowers into a seated position to the count of ten. Holding the pose for several seconds, one then ascends up the way they came. And while I often, simply stand up, neglecting to rise slowly like a good yogi should, I do try and go down as slowly as possible... fighting with my body along the way to remain at the points that cause discomfort.

You can perform the posture too, whether done within the scope of the Bikram series or done in isolation. The point is to simply place one's mind over the body, guiding it through discomfort for the sake of future benefit (i.e. that cool triple muscle you get in your thighs when worked hard enough). Done at the beginning of the day, it's a gentle reminder that we can get through what is painful or scary with a little focus. To get a better idea of the posture, you can watch the professional below or you can watch the amateur. Enjoy!

Profesh... and the posture done in its entirety.

 ... and amateur hour.