This week hasn't been too bad. I’ll say that about half the time I drive I start out breathing and can pretty much eliminate the distraction of other drivers annoying me, and the length of stoplights making me angry. I will consider this great progress. I’d like to consider it consistency, but I’ll take progress for now.
Speaking of distractions, I played and sang a funeral today for the father of one of my yoga students. It’s strange at such an event to feel sad, on one hand, for the situation, especially of someone I know, and on the other hand, to feel good that I can provide a service to them at a time like this. People have asked me how I can possibly sing at a funeral with all the sadness and emotions associated with the event. I sang and played at my mother’s funeral. I’m not a crier in general, so I can’t say that it’s difficult to be able to breathe and sing while other people are very sad and the situation is distracting in that way. Perhaps after performing at somewhere well over two thousand funerals, I’ve learned how to focus my attention on the task, or away from the emotions present in the room. I’ve been able to focus in such a way for many funerals of people I knew, family of friends, victims of tragedies, suicides, 911 victims, and the like. Of all of them I can only recall one where I had to stop singing because of emotions. An infant had died shortly after he was born. The father and mother were distraught. Generally they don’t recommend having a funeral mass for an infant, but they insisted. The young father, mother, and their two other children were dressed in white. The infant was in a small white coffin at the front of the church. I kept telling myself, “Don’t look at them.” I got through singing at the entire mass in this way until the end, when I looked up while singing the closing song just in time to see the father pick up the small coffin and carry it up the main aisle with his family following him. I choked up and had to stop singing. That’s the only time that I can recall becoming distracted in that way.
So if I can focus my attention that well in those situations, then TV, driving, and overeating should be a piece of cake!
You win a few, you lose a few. It only took 21 days, but today I was driving to the library to teach yoga, and I started breathing before anything distracted me and annoyed me. I did that for the whole 20 minute drive there. I couldn’t believe I made it there. I didn’t shout at anyone, I let people pull in front of me. I didn’t get upset waiting at lights. I opened the windows and turned off the radio. I felt great by the time I got there. I didn’t get anxious looking for a parking spot close to the building. I don’t think it took me any longer to get there. I think I have to do this again.
I haven’t done a lot to get rid of the belly. I had cake yesterday, as planned. I had pizza tonight. Oh well. Let’s see what the rest of the week brings.
Saturday was a busy day. We took the dogs to the dog park. That was fun. Talk about distractions. Try finding your Corgi in a sea of 24 other Corgis. It was amazing that I could always recognize their barks even though it took me a while to pick them both out by sight. I think that’s a lot like picking my breath out of the sea of other sounds, sights, and other things that could take my attention away. Last night I went to a barbecue. I do not usually like parties. This was a big party outside with lots of families with kids. Screaming kids. I kept my cool for about two hours. I tried my best to keep the pained look off my face and talk to people. A lot of my energy at a barbecue is to find things to eat. I’m being taken out tonight for my birthday. The restaurant (that I picked of course) has lots of vegetarian things to eat and a great wine list. Look for a post in my blog about that place, for sure. It won’t be easy for me to be distracted or annoyed! I think I will have a piece of cake, however.
I had a day off and it was a stunningly beautiful day. Last year I vowed to get to the beach before September, which was the first time I got there last year. So I went. Several things helped me be less distracted by annoying things. I wasn’t alone, so that helped. Driving is much less of a pain when there is someone in the car to distract you. Also, I was going to the beach on a gorgeous day! Who could be distracted when that happens? I started to get distracted at the beach. Who was smoking. Who had a radio playing. Who put their blanket too close to mine. But they faded very quickly. The waves were fantastic. It wasn’t too hot. Driving home I was in that beach zone. Too chilled out to worry about anything. So how can I drive all the time as if I was just at the beach?
I seem to be developing a new habit, and that is good. The habit, however, is not the one I planned. I seem to get annoyed at pretty much anything, and then do the breathing exercise to undo the effects of getting annoyed. My plan was to do the breathing first. But I will take this as a step in the right direction. I’m going to try something. I’d like to go a day, an hour, OK five minutes just letting things happen and not getting distracted and annoyed by them. I think they escalate. If I can start out and let one thing happen and completely accept it as not a malicious intent to annoy me, then I think that will be progress. If someone pulls out in front of me, what harm is there in letting it happen? I leave early enough for work that I’m not in danger of being late. If I factor into my day all of the people who will pull in front of me, knowing it will happen, and knowing that my reaction to it will not affect them in the least, and certainly won’t teach them a lesson in proper behavior, but may convince them that I’m the one behaving poorly, then I think I will have accomplished something.
On another note, I got through dinner tonight without eating any bread. And I haven’t had any alcohol all week. The TV is off. The normal position for the car sound system is “Sound System Off.” A few weeks ago I didn’t even know how to turn the sound system off. I haven’t had the air on in the car since Sunday afternoon. The only thing I’ve eaten lately with refined sugar in it is 85% cocoa dark chocolate. I have a few more days of this to find more things to eliminate. Wish me luck.
My plan was delayed. Well, ok, I forgot about the planning ahead to stop the distractions before they happen until I was already on the road. And the distractions were the plagues that they usually are. There must be some way of reminding myself. Some way of making it a habit to head off the distractions before they present themselves. I will set a reminder on my phone for 6:30 tomorrow morning so that when I get into the car, my phone will say, “Breathe!” I will do one of my favorite breathing exercises as I drive: Inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4. That will set me up on a good foot. Maybe a Post It note on the dashboard, too. Since driving is one of the most stressful, distracting things that I do, that’s a good place to start. iPhone out.
Day 14 was a rather busy day. So I’m just going to combine it with Day 15. The TV is on. My husband is watching Judge Judy. Yes, it’s a distraction. I want to watch it, but I’m looking forward to finishing this post and going upstairs. I taught yoga in my garage today with the doors open. It’s been raining and storming all week. I love thunderstorms. Those I don’t find distracting. I find them oddly comforting. At the end of class, during the final relaxation, when I would usually turn up the music, I turned it off and just let the sound of the rain and gentle thunder lull everyone into a deep relaxed state.
Yesterday one of my tasks was to go to the dentist. Ten years ago this would have been a major distraction. Well, more the anticipation. I would have not been able to keep my mind off the worries of the visit. See my blog post about blood for more information, but I don’t think I thought of it once before I got in the car to go there. I find getting my teeth cleaned to be oddly relaxing, just like thunderstorms.
This morning on my way to work the distractions were everyone else on the road. The cars that pulled out in front of me. Who wasn’t driving fast enough. Who didn’t turn fast enough. Who was talking on the radio. So I just shut it off, opened the windows and accepted whatever fate came my way. There was no hurry. I don’t know why I need to be in such a hurry every time I get in the car.
I filled out a survey today that asked if I were happy. I said that I was. Perhaps the word should have been “content.” I am content with my life. There are times that I’m happy. There are times that I am not happy. But I am content. And I can easily keep things like drivers, the TV, the radio, and the weather from being distractions. I have the tools. The breathing, the focusing, the fact that if you ask me, I’m happy. Pain that has not come is avoidable. So why wait until things become distractions to try to eliminate them. Tomorrow morning.
I took a couple of days off for my birthday. I didn’t turn on the TV. It was on in the diner we went to after bowling on Friday. I kept looking at it for no reason other than it was on. After a while I stopped and focused on enjoying my dinner. It faded into the background. This coming week I will try to find out how many other distractions I can either eliminate, or reduce the effect of. TV was a major one. Let’s see how I do.
Plans can be a distraction. Yesterday I planned to head off distractions. That will have to wait for another, less distracting, day. I think I’m becoming attached to my sore throat. It’s been eight days. It’s finally letting up, and I keep swallowing to test if it’s still there. It’s given me something to constantly focus my attention on, day and night.
I can’t believe it’s day ten and I haven’t turned on the television. I wonder what it will feel like when I finally do. I am really getting used to the quiet. Well, relative quiet. I used to think my neighborhood was quiet. It is, really. But I hear so much going on outside. I hear the neighbors coming and going. I hear cars and trucks, mostly that seem very far away. I hear different clocks ticking throughout the house. Now, as long as I don’t get attached to that as well.
I thought about giving up refined sugar this month. And so far I’ve been very good about it. The staff took me out for my birthday today. No one ordered dessert! So I was off the hook. Not that I have a problem being the only one not eating dessert. However the waiter brought me a wine glass of ice cream with a candle in it. So I had to eat it, right? Isn’t it always good to eat ceremonial ice cream? I was distracted by his singing of “Happy Birthday.” My instinct told me to sing with him so that he wouldn’t keep modulating instead of reaching the high notes. That would have been bad. I should just let it go.
So what were today’s distractions and how can I overcome them?
My throat is still sore. It’s been sore a week now. That’s a big distraction. Mainly because it hurts. How to overcome it? Trust that it will get better I suppose. But then there is worry. What if it doesn’t get better? What if, what if… That’s a hard one.
There’s a section of the road that I take to work where the radio fades out. I start blaming the radio station, a Public Radio station that I contribute to. I start worrying if my antenna is broken. Solution – turn off the radio (see yesterday’s post). Turn on a CD or listen to the music on my phone.
During my yoga class the neighbors were having a storm door put in. The sounds were distracting. Solution – tell the class that it’s good practice to focus away from the sounds and more intently on their breathing. Turn up the music in the room.
Without the TV on the silence can be deafening. Solution – enjoy it. What am I doing as I write this without the TV on? I’m listening to Pandora on my laptop. I never do that.
I think tomorrow I will try to head off the distractions before they occur.
sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkāra-ādara-āsevito dṛḍhabhūmiḥ
Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.
I rode to work today with the windows open and no radio on. It was fantastic. I heard so many things I never would have heard with the windows shut, the air on, and the radio on. So many unique sounds. I also paid more attention to the things I saw. I paid more attention to my driving. I was less aggravated at the other drivers. I saw a black Civic Si coming toward me on the road and his window was also open. When he passed me I yelled, “S. I!” at him. I drive a black Honda Civic Si six-speed manual transmission. There aren’t a lot of them on the road. So I was excited. Now I never would have done that with the windows shut. Well, actually I would have, but no one would have any chance of hearing me. I noticed that a few times I wanted to complain out loud about other drivers, but I didn’t because there was a chance, with my windows open, that they would have heard me.
I see that if I keep with this a long time there will be some differences that take root.
Tatra Sthitau Yatnah Abhyasa
Of these, effort toward steadiness of mind is practice.
So this isn’t just an experiment. If I’m going to achieve this less distracted mind, I’m going to have to stick with it. Train my mind. I can’t just do it once and then reap the benefits. Just like keeping my body in shape, I’m going to have to work at getting my mind used to being steady, less distracted, more focused. In for a penny, in for a pound I guess.
I taught two yoga classes yesterday. I’ve tried to be less distracting to the people who come to them. I’ve tried to talk less. I just need to give guidance and then let people breathe and find their focus on their own. I can easily become the worst distraction to their practice. Guide and then trust they will progress.
I’m going to try something on the way to work tomorrow. I usually listen to Public Radio. I don’t often listen to music unless I’m on a longer drive. It’s not too hot. I’m going to roll down the windows, leave the radio off and see what happens.
Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah
These mental modifications are restrained by practice and non-attachment.
I made it a whole day yesterday without going on any of my chat apps. That took some practice. Actually I failed three times. I opened one up, but then realized what I was doing and closed it right away. I have to say I wasn’t very attached to going through with it. It didn’t possess my mind the way I thought it would. I didn’t ache to find out who had messaged me. Perhaps I should pick something more alluring to practice my elimination of distraction. Hmmmm….
I finished the Misadventures book and am now on to Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I must say that my whole distraction elimination exercise brought that about. I probably wouldn’t have started and finished the first book in such a short time without some extra time on my hands.
I’m sitting here at lunch. I thought about the TV. But I came here to write instead. I’m getting less and less attached to the TV. I’m even less attached to my chat apps today than I normally would be. I just hope I don’t eat more instead.
I think I’m also noticing more things about myself during this time, that TV and chatting would have take my mind away from. Some things are good. I think more about what I’m doing if the TV isn’t on. I also notice everything good or bad about my body. Every little ache. Every little discomfort. I suppose I should do what I do in yoga. Breathe into the discomfort. Get comfortable with the discomfort. Accept what about it won’t change, but allow the body to relax and adjust to a new place to be.
pramāṇa viparyaya vikalpa nidrā smṛtayaḥ
Insight, error, imaginings, deep sleep, and recollections.
These are the five kinds of mental modifications mentioned in yesterday’s sutra. The mental modifications that we restrain with yoga. Some of them are pleasant, some of them painful. All of them are distractions. I think some are obvious. If I were to try to concentrate on something, remembering that it’s lunchtime, or that I have a chocolate bar sitting on top of the fridge waiting to be opened, can get in the way. Often. I’ll have to think about the others.
The thing about being sick is that it pretty much forces me to get sleep. I was in bed for 12 hours last night. I won’t say that was all sleep. But I didn’t get the urge to get up until it was rather late for me. I hope a lot of that was deep sleep. Then I won’t get the urge to get deep sleep while I’m trying to work today.
Since the TV has been off for several days, I read a great book. Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, by Brian Leaf. Great read. Very funny. Very insightful. Oh, no. Is that a distraction? This insightful book was a distraction from my distractions. I highly recommend it, even if you have no experience with yoga, or the Garden State. Unfortunately, Brian lives and practices in Western Massachusetts, otherwise I’d have to pay his New Leaf Learning Center a visit.
Not watching TV allowed me to spend time out on the deck with my husband, enjoying the cool July air. We also played Beatles songs and played with the dogs. Not that we wouldn’t do that with the TV, but the activities were more focused. And it got us out of the family room for longer.
There’s another distraction I eliminated today. Ok, think what you will, but I am on Scruff, Grindr, Growlr, and Jack’d. It’s fun to chat with guys all over the world. My profile picture is obviously a yoga pose. And I talk to a lot of guys about yoga. If guys are local I try to get them to go to my yoga classes. Not many of them do. Many of them say they are going to, but a very small percentage of them make it. I’m so glad I’m not dating these guys. It would be very frustrating. I didn’t go on any of those today at all. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I did go on my Facebook app. What I did do more of than I normally would have is text friends. It was nice to have continuing conversations with people I knew.
I’m off early to hopefully get some deep sleep so that I can focus on work tomorrow.
vṛttayaḥ pañcatayyaḥ kliṣṭākliṣṭāḥ
There are five kinds of mental modifications which are either painful or painless.
So these distractions can be painful. That’s pretty obvious. I’m trying to think of the ones that are painless. I suppose they are all painless when they happen, but the results can be painful. If they take my mind away from something I really need to do, the consequences are painful.
The house is so quiet, but then it’s so full of noise. All sorts of noises that I don’t really hear very often. The dogs playing with toys. The sound their feet make on carpet and on tile. How thunderously loud the refrigerator is. Today is a holiday. I was at home alone all morning because I’ve had a cold and didn’t go with my husband to visit family. The TV stayed off. I read quite a few chapters in a book. I even had a rather focused yoga practice which has been avoiding me lately.
We went to visit friends for dinner. I left before dessert. Mostly because I’m trying to get over my cold, but also I need to reduce the distraction that refined sugar becomes. Aside from the belly issue, I don’t think my body responds well to the surge of immediately available sugar from something like cake. I know before I eat it that I shouldn’t. I can’t stop thinking about it. I talk myself into having it. I regret it and beat myself up for doing it. Let’s see how long I can avoid that whole thing.
It seems very pleasing that as I start to eliminate things from my life I see how much more is there.
At other times the self assumes the forms of the mental modifications.
I hear often that we are what we eat. I think more often it’s true that we become what we pay attention to. It would make sense then, that we would avoid becoming what we don’t allow our minds to fixate on. What others think of us. Gossip. Alarmists.
We also get attached to things. Some things we should get attached to, like remaining calm, breathing deeply, eating well. But we can become overly attached to those as well. They should happen. Getting attached to them would cause us to obsess about them. We do them because they are good for us. That’s all.
I will be the first to admit that I have a belly. And I don’t have the body where it looks natural. It’s out of place. And probably very unhealthy. I tend to fixate on it. However, lately I haven’t done a lot to get rid of it. I think I’ve become attached to it. Maybe I keep it to give myself a distraction from other things about myself that I should be focusing on. Or maybe I just like having it around for company. Needless to say, it’s a distraction. Not because I care about what other people think about it, but that it matters what I think about it. And I think about it. It’s time to let go of it.
On another note, the TV has not been on all day. I don’t even know where the remote is.
tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe-'vasthānam
Then the Seer (the self) abides in his own nature.
Yoga Sutra number three. It’s at the beginning, so it must be important. Yesterday’s was number two.
I’m here in the family room. I finished teaching for the day. I’m having a bite to eat. My husband is out. It’s raining. So what would I normally do? Turn on the TV. Of course! I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to look on the Optimum app guide to see if Law & Order is on. I’m not even going to justify watching TV by turning to the History Channel. What the TV does for me at this point is make me feel less alone. It would take my mind out of anything that was going on in it, and put it directly into someone else’s drama. I think that’s why TV is so alluring. It relieves me of the obligation to live with my own thoughts. Some people call that entertainment. I’d like to be entertained by bringing me deeper into my own nature, not by being taken out of it and into someone else’s.
The really neat thing about not having the TV on is that there is a thunderstorm going on right now. I love thunderstorms. I can hear the thunder. The shades are up so I can see the lightening. And the best part is that I can hear the rain. I buy CDs of rain to play. And here it is happening right now, causing me to love it all the more.
And I’m doing laundry. I can hear the machine and I know what part of the cycle it’s in without having to check it.
And I can hear the dogs licking their paws. I notice their breathing. I don’t notice that when the TV is on. I wonder what they think of TV. I wonder if it adds stress to their lives as well. My husband came home. He eventually turned on the TV while I was in the laundry room. My neighbor texted me and suggested that we sit in the garage with the door open and watch the thunderstorm. Somehow that’s not the same kind of distraction as watching TV.
I thought tonight was going to be difficult. I kind of like this.
yogaḥ citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ
The ancient text, the Yoga Sutras, or threads about yoga, says that yoga is the restraint of the modifications of the mindstuff. For the sake of some simplicity, let’s say that yoga is lessening the effect of distractions. That’s one of the most basic things you can say about the practice of yoga. Yoga is linking the breath with movement, linking the mind and the body, focusing the attention on something as simple as breathing in and breathing out. Training the mind to focus on an object of choice and not on whatever thoughts come into it. The thoughts come anyway, but choosing not to follow them is part of the training.
Back in June I decided to experiment with intentionally trying to reduce the clutter that goes into my mind so that the task of training my mind to focus on something like breathing, or on trying to eat more healthily, or on trying to be a better friend, or on trying to drive without shouting at the drivers in front of me, would become a bit easier. I decided that during the entire month of July I would see how many distractions I could reduce.
Today is July 2, 2014. Yesterday I decided to try to enjoy my job more. I tried to find the many things about my job that I enjoy, and focus on them, and enjoy them for the great things that they are. I played and sang at the 8:30 AM mass, which is part of my job. I love singing and playing. I tried to play as well and as thoughtfully as I could. I tried to breathe well and sing with feeling and the best sound that I could make. I chant the Psalms from the front of church as a part of the readings. I love doing that. Sometimes the words are awkward, or difficult to convey. So I tried to get into the text and sing it in a way that made sense. I went back to my office feeling good and ready to tackle whatever tasks I encountered.
At my desk I often use my phone to check email fairly often. I decided that email could wait, and I focused on the task I was working on until it was finished. Surprisingly I finished several more tasks than I had planned to do that day. I decided to go to the main office for no reason other than to say hello to the other staff working that day. I didn’t stay long, but it was nice talking to people at work when there was no work to talk about.
I went home for lunch. Most of the time I would get something to eat, then turn on the TV to watch reruns of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (Can one ever get enough of Christopher Meloni?) or the news. I decided that during July I would try to eliminate TV. Talk about clutter. Back in about 2004 I decided to stop watching the news in the mornings because during the day I was thinking about all of the murders and political woes that I had heard about in the morning. Let’s see if I succeed in not watching TV for a month, and let’s also see if it can reduce the distractions in my mind.
Later that day as I was preparing to teach a yoga class I sat on the floor in front of the TV and found it very easy not to turn it on. I finished my planning rather quickly, and without a Christopher Meloni Marathon to distract me, I had plenty of time to play my bass guitar. I even had some time to read a couple of chapters in a book I had sitting on the nightstand waiting to be read.
After my yoga class, at about 9 PM, I came into the family room to find my husband watching “Bewitched.” Ok, I gave in. I watched the remaining 15 minutes of the episode because it was nice sitting there petting the dogs and watching with him. Ok, I also watched an episode of “All in the Family.” What can I say? But at 10 PM I asked my husband to play some Beatles songs with me on guitar. It wasn’t easy for him to say no. At 11 PM I went to bed, but I read one more chapter.
I felt good about my decisions. I had the option of sticking to my plan of no TV, but I opted to watch because my husband was watching. It was weird not eating while the TV was on. But I was happy with my choices. Let’s see what today brings.
I love eating out locally. Two friends and I were at a meeting near my house and we were looking for a place near home to eat. I remembered going to Maloney’s Pub & Grill in Matawan a while back and suggested it. One of the most distinctive things about Maloney’s is that they have over a hundred beers on tap. It’s a nice neighborhood kind of place. We sat at a high top right at the front of the restaurant at a section open to the sidewalk. The sun, shining right on our table, was just about to set over the Attractive Tattoo building on Main Street, when I went twice to have my horseshoe earrings put back in. It was a good place to sit.
I started out with a T’ Smisje Kerst, a Belgian strong dark ale. I ordered the French Onion Soup. It was outstanding. Yes, I will eat soup made with meat stock. If I didn’t I wouldn’t get to eat out very often. It’s a compromise. Did I say it was good? It was. Just the right amount of cheese and bread with a very flavorful but not too salty stock. One of my friends ordered the Black and Tan Onion Rings. I will admit I had one of those too. And it was beyond good.
The vegetarian entrée options were limited. I decided on the veggie burger. I asked the waitress about it. She explained that it was made in the restaurant with quinoa and black beans. When she brought it to the table she said, “Hold on.” It came on a bun with roasted red peppers, pickles, and what looked like a little dish of mustard. I also got the broccoli instead of fries or Tater Tots. Good choice. I’m not overly wild about broccoli, especially if it’s just steamed, crisp, and without much added flavor. This broccoli was perfect. It was sautéed until just slightly wilted, and loaded with garlic. Before I stared eating, out came one of the cooks to explain that the burger was made with quinoa, black beans, red peppers, carrots, and butternut squash that had been cooked to a paste to keep the burger together. And that it did. I hate when you bite into a homemade veggie burger and it spills out the other side of the bun and into little lumps on the plate. Worse yet all over your lap. This burger held together and was delicious. The “mustard” wasn’t mustard. It was a Pommes Frites sauce of curry and kind of a mayonnaise. It was spectacular.
I wasn’t driving, so while I ate I had a Boaks Abbey Brown. The sun had set. The food was good. My friends were happy.
Maloney’s Pub & Grill is at 119 Main Street in Matawan.
Liquid summer. That’s what I call gazpacho. Either that or liquid lunch, but that’s something quite different. Gazpacho is a Spanish cold soup. It’s best when you make it in the summer because it is cool, and it’s best made with local fresh produce, especially tomatoes. There are as many different recipes for gazpacho as there are ways to pronounce “tomato.” This one I developed to my taste over several years of making it different ways. Take a stab at it. If you change things around, let me know how you did!
2 large cucumbers
2-3 green, red, or yellow bell peppers
4-5 stalks of green onion (scallions) with or without the white part
Several sprigs of fresh basil
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
2-3 jalapeno peppers
Splash of apple cider vinegar
¼ cup or more of organic cold pressed virgin olive oil
The juice of 2-3 limes
Freshly ground black pepper
Bottled vegetable or tomato juice
Take two or three cucumbers, preferably from the garden or the local farm without wax on them. If they are from the grocery store, they are probably covered in wax among other things, so you should peel them. If they are unwaxed, I leave the peel on. It gives a little more complex bitterness to the taste. I hear there are vitamins in the peel as well. Cut them in half lengthwise. Take a spoon and scrape out the seeds to create a long trough in the cucumber half. You can eat the seeds. Otherwise compost them. You can leave the seeds in the soup, but your gazpacho will be seedy. Cut the cucumbers in two-inch chunks and place them into a food processor. You might need to process them in two batches. Chop them rather fine, especially if the peel is on. Place the chopped cucumbers in a big bowl and return the processor bin to the processor.
Take 6-10 red ripe tomatoes, preferably from the garden or the local farm. I like to use plum tomatoes for a thick soup. They can be the ugliest, ripest tomatoes you can find. My farm market sells “Ugly Ripe” tomatoes in a basket in the back of the store for a drastically reduced price. These tomatoes don’t need to look good. Slice them in half and process them to a fine almost liquid. Again, you will need to do this in small batches. Place the processed tomatoes into the bowl with the cucumbers. Some people like to take the seeds out of the tomatoes beforehand. Again, they might lend a slightly more bitter taste to the soup, but I find they add complexity to the flavor.
Remove the membranes and seeds from 2-3 bell peppers, cut into chunks, and process until fairly fine. Add to the bowl.
Place in the processor 4-5 green onion stalks (the white part adds a pungent onion flavor), several sprigs of fresh basil, 2-3 cloves of chopped fresh garlic, 2-3 jalapeño peppers with seeds and membranes removed, a splash of apple cider vinegar, and ¼ cup of olive oil. Process very fine, almost to a liquid. Add to the bowl.
Stir the mixture and let sit open for under and hour, or covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.
When ready to serve, add to the bowl the juice of 2-3 limes, sea salt, and freshly-ground black pepper to taste. Stir the mixture well and add bottled vegetable or tomato juice to make the soup redder or more liquid to taste. The soup can be served with chopped fresh basil or parsley as a garnish. Add more vinegar or lime juice to taste, and serve.
I love eggplant. And it’s a good thing. Since I do, I have a lot more options for eating at a restaurant, a diner, and at other peoples’ houses. One of my favorite eggplant dishes is the Middle Eastern dip, babaganouj.
2 rather large eggplants
2-3 chopped cloves of garlic
Sea salt to taste
1-2 T. tahini
Juice of 1-2 limes or lemons
Extra virgin olive oil
Take two purple eggplants of about the same size. Wash them. Take a fork and stab through the skin, straight in, about twelve times all over the eggplants. This is an important step because once the eggplants get hot, they could explode if you don’t prick them to allow the steam to escape. Put them on a medium hot grill. Watch them, and turn them each time the down side turns somewhat black and gets grill groves on it. You want to cook the eggplants evenly on all sides. Once they start to soften, you should be able to position them on the grill on various sides to ensure that they cook through evenly. Once they are somewhat soft, with no hard spots anywhere, take them off the grill with tongs and put them into a bowl. Let them cool until you can take them out of the bowl with your hands. Don’t let them get cold. They should be fairly warm.
Cut off the top part of the eggplant, the stem and surrounding leafy cap, and discard. Then cut the eggplant lengthwise and open up so that the flesh is facing up. Be careful, because steam may shoot out of the eggplant. Cut each half in half lengthwise again, and allow them to cool until they are easy to handle, but still warm. Peel off the skin and scrape the flesh away from the peel with your thumb. Put the flesh into a bowl and discard the skin. Don’t worry if little bits of the charred skin remain with the flesh. It adds a smoky flavor.
Place the flesh in a food processor along with two or three chopped cloves of garlic, some sea salt, one or two Tablespoons of tahini, and the juice of one or two lemons or limes, and momentarily engaging the pulse button, just chop up the flesh. Don’t leave the blade to rotate much so that the flesh doesn’t turn into a whip or a paste, but remains chunky. Place the mixture in a bowl and pour some extra virgin olive oil over the top. Scoop with bread, chips, crackers, tortilla chips, sliced peppers, sliced cucumber, or leaves of Belgian endive.
Why Do I Make Yoga Videos?
I started making yoga videos and putting them on YouTube to inspire guys to do yoga. I figured if they could see another guy who’s not young, who’s not thin, and who’s not very limber doing yoga and explaining some simple yoga moves, then a few of them might start doing some of the breathing and moves at home, and maybe even attend a class. I intended some of the videos to be funny, some to be informative, and some to explain a little further some of the things we do in yoga classes.
Back in February a man sent me a message on Facebook. You know how Facebook is if you try to contact someone who’s not your friend. This message when to my “other” message box. I didn’t even see it until a month later when I just happened to look in that box. There was this message. The one below. This is why I teach yoga. This is why I make yoga videos. This is what he sent me:
Hi Steven, I am a 38 year old 300 lb guy who recently sprained my back and had recurring difficulty sleeping from pain. I found your videos on YouTube and I have thanks to your very easy instruction begun to practice yoga. I just wanted to thank you for posting those videos they have really opened up for me the chance to do yoga and I am slowly beginning to improve. In the last 2 weeks since I started I can do simple poses and I have lost 20 pounds. I will begin a class next week and it is possible because your videos inspired me and even helped teach me I can do yoga. Thank you
What Does a Vegetarian Eat for Lunch? Guacamole
I love guacamole. And when you make it at home it’s so much better than the kind you can buy premade in the store. Plus, think of all the preservatives and other things they add when it has to sit on a shelf for a week or two before you buy it and eat it. I know, I know, avocados are high in fat. I usually hear that from people who have no problem eating a rack of pork ribs, a Big Mac, and a frozen mocha latté. Avocados have good fat in them. Much better fat for you than animal fat.
It doesn’t take much time to make fresh guacamole at home. The best thing to make it in is a molcajete, which is a bowl on legs carved out of lava rock. The first one I ever had a friend brought back to me from Mexico. My second one came from a fancy cookware store at the mall. Just last week I saw them for sale at Costco. My have we come a long way. And how cutting edge was I back in the 80s when I mashed my first guacamole in lava stone?
Chop up about a tablespoon of onion and put it in the molcajete. Chop up one or two cloves of garlic and add them. Take out the seeds and membranes from one or two jalapeño peppers, then slice them into long strips, then crosswise into little cubes. Add those to the molcajete. Sprinkle on some sea salt and some ground black pepper. Take the masher that comes with the molcajete and smash the contents into a paste. Leave as much chunks as you like when you eat guacamole.
Take a ripe avocado, the flesh of which will give in slightly when you press into the skin with your finger, and cut down to the seed with a knife from the pointy tip to the bottom and then around the other side and up to the tip where you started. There will be a full circle cut down to the seed all the way around the avocado. Place one hand on each half of the cut avocado and twist until the halves come apart and the seed is stuck in the center of one half. Then take a big knife and chop it just enough into the seed so that when you rotate the knife the seed pops out stuck on the knife. Take a spoon and scoup out the greenish yellow part of the avocado leaving the rind clean of green flesh. Place in the molcajete and rough chop the avocado with a spoon. Take the masher and lightly mash leaving the avocado fairly chunky.
Squeeze the juice of one lemon through a strainer and into the avocado mix so that the seeds get stuck in the strainer. Chop up a tomato or two and add. Mix lightly with the spoon until all of the tomato chunks get covered with the avocado.
You can scoop with tortilla chips, but I like to use the leaves from a Belgian Endive. Serve it right in the molcajete.
When you think of vegetarians and eating at restaurants you might not think of an Irish pub. I’ve been going to Tumulty’s in New Brunswick since I was a student at Rutgers in 1988. Of course it’s the perfect place for a pint of Guinness. I’ve been there many times since becoming vegetarian. I’m always pleasantly surprised at how well I do there. Last Sunday evening, after a performance at the State Theater, several of us headed to Tumulty’s. From their website: PS: The family says “TUM’-ul-tee” but we don’t mind how you say it, as long as you come and visit for a while.
I started out with their famous “Heart of Lettuce - A time-honored steak house tradition.” It’s a big wedge of iceberg lettuce with your choice of great dressings cascading down the sides. You cut it with a steak knife. What a great way to eat a salad.
I then had “Tumulty’s Double Veggie Burger - Two special recipe patties grilled and stacked with lettuce, tomato and onions.” As veggie burgers go it was pretty good. It had an interesting texture, which I liked, and above all, didn’t fall apart when you bit into it. I hate when you bite into a veggie burger and half of it slips out the other side.
On previous visits I have had:
Black Bean Nachos Grande - Black bean veggie chili, guacamole, black olives, sour cream, lettuce, tomato and melted jack
Grilled Vegetable and Mushroom Quesadilla - With roasted red peppers and jack cheese
Roasted Vegetables, Mushrooms and Bowties - Lightly sautéed with tomatoes, olive oil, vegetable broth and fresh herbs
Grilled Vegetable Wrap - With zucchini, squash, carrots, spring mix and roasted red pepper mayo
And various specials.
It’s nice to have a variety of offerings. It’s also a great room, with model trains running above your head. The crowd is usually a mix of Rutgers students, townies, and old folks like me in town for an event.
Tumulty’s is at 361 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
I love going to Indian restaurants. I love flavor, spices, and hot food. Since I’ve become a vegetarian I like them even more. I can always count on lots of flavorful vegetarian options. One of my favorite restaurants in Central Jersey is Urban Spice in Iselin. I first heard about it from a coworker who is from India. He recommended it to me not only because of the great food, but because it has a full bar.
I went there just this past Saturday night. The six of us got a table right away, but we had reservations. The upbeat, exotically decorated dining room soon filled up with happy diners. Three of us talked about starting out with a fantastic cocktail that we have had before, the Chili Martini. Peppar Vodka, crushed jalapeño peppers, with a hot chili on the rim. To our shock, it wasn’t on the drink menu! One of my friends got the waiter to ask the bartender to make him one, but the other two of us were talked into what was on the menu, a chili margarita. I should have gone with the martini. Next time I will remember to.
We all ordered appetizers to share. I wish I had ordered them all for me. One was one of my favorite dishes of all time: Kuri Bhendi - Crisy Fried Okra, Spices. I can taste them now. Thin, crispy slices of okra. If you’re not an okra fan, just try one of these. They are incredibly good. I love okra anyway, but these are great. Another app was on the special menu – thin slices of small eggplant rounds with a peppery onion sauce. The third was new for me, and came with an apology from the waiter when he described it. I assured him that all of us really LIKED cauliflower! It was Lehsooni Gobhi - Crispy Cauliflower, Tomato Garlic Sauce. Lightly breaded and fried cauliflower florets with an incredible silky smooth tomato garlic spicy sauce with pomegranate seeds. Out of this world good. I tried not to scrape the whole plate into my mouth before anyone else could get any.
My entrée was Hyderabadi Mirch Ka Salan (Spicy) - Green Chilies, Tamarind, Nigella, Cumin, Coconut, Sesame. This was under the Regional Indian Fare- Vegetarian section of the menu. The sauce was incredible. I ate all of the sauce and the vegetables, dipping it all up with garlic nan. I toyed with eating some of the green chilis, but the dish was plenty hot and I did not need the extra challenge! Maybe next time when I don’t have to work early the next day.
This is a fun place. The Channa Masala (Spicy) - Chick Peas, Fresh Herbs, Spices, is one of my favorite dishes. Yes, it’s spicy. That’s why I go to a place with Spice in its name. The other diners at my table all had great meals of varying spice levels. But I was sweating. The top of my head drips when I eat certain kinds and amounts of heat. Maybe it’s just because I don’t have hair on the top of my head to hide it. I’ve also had the Bhindi Masala - Okra, Onion, Spices. Mmmmmm. I love okra. I’ve enjoyed the Baingan Bharta - Smoked Eggplant, Onion, Tomatoes, Spices, and the Mushroom Do Pyaaza - Mushrooms, Onions, Spices. The next time I go I’m going to have the Shaam Savera - Spinach and Cottage Cheese Dumplings, Tomato Gravy.
Urban Spice is at 42 Marconi Ave., Iselin, NJ 08830
Call: (732) 283-1043
Monday-Thursday 11:30 - 2:30 PM, 5:30 PM - 10:00 PM
Friday 11:30 - 2:30 PM, 5:30 PM - 10:30 PM
Saturday 11:30 - 3:30 PM, 5:30 PM - 10:30 PM
Sunday 11:30 - 3:30 PM, 5:30 PM - 10:00 PM
Lunch Buffet is available Monday to Friday (11:30 am - 2:30 pm)
Grand Lunch Buffet is available Saturday and Sunday (11:30 am - 3:30 pm)
Full Bar Service Available
Last night five friends and I went out to celebrate a couple of birthdays at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Central New Jersey, El Meson in Freehold. The place has been there for many years. I’ve enjoyed sitting outside next to the sidewalk watching people pass by on Main Street on a warm summer night. You can get a six pack of Negra Modelo down the street at the corner liquor store and enjoy your burrito with the hot hot sauce, or maybe even the pretty hot medium sauce.
They have several vegetarian options. You can always get a burrito or enchilada with beans and cheese (unless you’re vegan, of course. Then your options are limited). Last night I had the “Vegetarian Platter.” It was a burrito stuffed with black beans and mixed vegetables, mostly broccoli and carrots, and finished with melted cheese. I was very happy it wasn’t zucchini. I hate zucchini, but that’s another blog post. The burrito was accompanied by a twelve-inch flour tortilla stuffed with melted Monterey Jack Cheddar cheese and mixed vegetables.
I ordered the platter covered in the medium green sauce, a delicious tomatillo with a nice kick. I asked for the hot hot sauce on the side, and then tempted myself to dip into it when the sweat on the top of my head subsided.
I decided not to order the Quesadilla Vegetoriana, initially because it had zucchini in it. However the menu description for this vegetarian dish listed cheese, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, pico de gallo, and salmon. Perhaps the salmon was vegetarian. I meant to ask the waiter about it, but got too involved with the discussions at the table and forgot.
El Meson is at 40 W Main St Freehold, NJ 07728 Their phone number is (732) 308-9494.
One of my favorite things to do is eat out with friends. It’s always interesting to explore the various restaurants in New Jersey. Equally interesting, sometimes exciting, and sometimes awkward, is discovering the vegetarian and vegan options at various restaurants.
I love Fiddleheads Restaurant in Jamesburg. I’ve known owners Brian and Dan for years. They’ve had three really great vegetarian options on their “special” menu for a long time. I’ve had each of them several times and they are always good. Recently friends suggested we go there. While I was in the car on the way I was going through my mind, trying to decide which of the options I was going to have. I don’t even think I decided. We got to the table and Brian was quick to show me the new vegetarian item on their “specials,” a Flatbread Lasagna. I was not only excited but intrigued. I ordered it, of course, and was delighted. I couldn’t stop raving about it to my dining mates and to Dan, the chef.
I asked owner Brian Blatz to tell us a bit about the process of developing and offering vegetarian items. Here is what he said:
Our vegetarian items are listed on our “specials”…they’re not really specials per se, we always have them. You can find them on our Web site at
We started featuring specific items targeted to vegetarians about a year after we purchased Fiddleheads, finding that there were a number of requests for them and we had found ourselves cobbling together vegetarian items from whatever we had in the kitchen, which was stressful and did not really honor the customer. We started with a vegetarian jambalaya, which we had for a couple of years, and then once we invented our “Zucchini Cakes” appetizer we got a lot of requests for an entrée version of that, and the Fabulous Vegetarian Plate was born. (Of course a gay-owned restaurant would have to give that name to a dish!) We added the Crispy Tofu with Gingered Vegetables around that time, and even though we are not a pasta restaurant and try to avoid it, we decided to have one pasta dish, so we added the Walnut Penne Pasta. The Flatbread Lasagna is a recent addition, and is my personal favorite…it is made with a lavash bread rather than semolina pasta, and it has crispy baked edges that I just love. Our smoked-tomato bisque is also vegetarian and is not made with any chicken base like most soups, and we have things like the cheese plate and baked brie and lots of fish items that appeal to vegetarians.
Our brunch has a lot of vegetarian options: asparagus eggs benedict, vegetable egg scramble, French toast, cheese plate, baked brie, Tortellini with Mushroom Sage Sauce, and so on. Our lunch has yummy things like the Ciao Bello sandwich, the Zuni Sandwich, a tofu stir fry, an Eggplant Napoleon, and a quiche of the day that is sometimes vegetarian.
One thing we are not is a vegan restaurant. We find that our demographic has minimal demand for such items, and it is not what people expect of us when they find us. Vegetarians generally do not seek us out; rather, we are an indulgent restaurant for people who want fine upscale food with lots of complex flavors, and the vegetarian items usually are for other people in the party who also want to enjoy Fiddleheads and so we cater to them so that everyone can find something they like on the menu. So, vegetarian is a secondary feature of our restaurant, so that we can serve as broad a population as possible. If there were greater demand for it we would rise to meet it; however, it is not our focus. We are happy to have these dishes available for all tastes.
If you check out Fiddlehead, which you should, vegetarian or not, let me know!
27 East Railroad Avenue (Rte. 522)
Jamesburg, NJ 08831
- Daily specials
- Free WiFi
- Takeout available
- Call-Ahead Seating/Ordering
- Party alcove for up to 20 people
- Customized Menus
There are a lot of things yoga people do with their bodies that are wild and crazy. They stand on their head, on their hands. They twist their bodies into pretzels. A lot of people think that in order to do yoga you have to do all those wild and crazy things. Don’t get me wrong. Wild and crazy things can be a lot of fun. I love to stand on my head. I never imagined I could do it until at yoga teacher got me to try it. I never imagined that I’d enjoy it. Granted, you have to have a good neck. Any neck issues and it’s not a good idea. Any blood pressure issues and it’s not a good idea. But I really to enjoy it. It feels great. Handstands are great, but they take a bit more arm strength. I can easily do one against a wall. If I get away from the wall, I lose my nerve or something. I can’t stay up there. And twists, well they do wonders for my insides.
So does one have to do these wild and crazy things in order to practice yoga? No. Yoga is an exploration of each person’s breathing, focusing attention, and getting the body comfortable. It’s a very slow process, coaxing the mind and the body along in a safe exploration of possibilities. It’s also about getting to know the body’s limitations. Perhaps I should have said peculiarities. Every body is different. And not every body should do everything. Some movements will cause the body to react poorly. Others will stimulate good health. Yoga is the exploration of the body’s capacity, peculiarities, limitations, and possibilities. It is the exploration of the mind’s ability to focus on one thing and what that leads to. It is the slowing and deepening of the breath. Other than that, the wild and crazy things, which are not so wild and crazy after they have been explored, are part of those explorations. What one person does in yoga is not necessarily an indication of what another person should or shouldn’t do.
Comfort, safety, exploration. Such a wild and crazy idea.
You can call me a wuss. I’m fully aware of it. I don’t like blood. I don’t like to see it, think about it, talk about it. I remember the first time I had to have blood taken in my adult life. I was 37. I worried about it for days. It was the worst thing someone could do to me. Stick metal in my arm and take blood out. I told the nurse that I had to lie down, and that I was terrified. It was as if she were going to kill me. I had to look the other way, close my eyes. Then I started to feel faint. And she hadn’t even done anything yet. I sweated so much the paper on the exam table was wet.
It was very similar to the time that I banged my finger putting a 45-pound weight on a barbell. My fingernail turned blackish red and hurt like hell. I went to the doctor because I couldn’t stand the idea of the nail falling off and exposing all of that, whatever it is beneath your nail. She calmly explained that we might be able to save the nail if it were drained. Drained? The bottom of my stomach dropped out and I got queasy. She explained that she would drill (DRILL?) a hole in my nail to let the blood out. That’s it. No way. She grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t be a wuss.” Out came what looked like a pen and without even a bit of sensation there was a hole in my nail. I closed my eyes. There’s got to be a better way. I don’t WANT to be like this!
It was like that every time I had to do anything associated with blood until about ten years later. I was having acid reflux that wasn’t responding to drugs or diet. I went to an acupuncturist. How I got in the door I’ll never know. But by then I had become a pretty serious yoga student. I think in my mind the two things were similar. It was somehow comforting. The treatments were a breeze. Not only did it not hurt, I didn’t even feel them. Them. The needles. And soon after the treatment started I fell asleep. Yes. Asleep. With forty needles in me. I went quite a few times.The reflux disappeared.
Soon after that, when I had to have blood taken, I tried to strengthen the bond in my mind between acupuncture and yoga. I started to breathe deeply and slowly as one does in yoga. I started well before I even got to the doctor’s office. This first time I asked to lie down and the nurse kind of giggled. She said, “Really? It will be over before we can even find a place for you to lie down.” I kept breathing. I sat. I still closed my eyes. The strange thing was that without clenching and worrying the needle doesn’t hurt. Not at all. And instead of thinking about the gallons of blood that were being let out of my arm, I focused in my mind the way I do when I breathe in yoga. It was over. No pain. No sweat. No nausea.
Soon I was keeping my eyes open. Talking to the person assaulting me with the metal. I hate to say it, but it was almost like I was challenging myself. Then it became routine. MRI’s with contrast? Piece of cake. Surgery? Bring it on. One time I even remarked to the tech (of course it didn’t hurt that he was a cute bearcub, but I digress) that I had heard that I had good veins. He told me, “Buddy, you have PIPES!” The thought of my blood spilling out through pipes didn’t bother me in the least! I had overcome!
Do I still need the breathing? I don’t want to find out.
I think half the fun of doing something new is the anticipation in not knowing quite what is going to happen. Perhaps not everyone shares in that kind of fun. If not knowing what to expect is keeping you from attending your first yoga class, here are some of the things you can expect when you come to my class.
A warm room. Doing yoga in the cold is no fun. If it’s stuffy I will put on fans. But warmth will help you and your muscles, and maybe your inhibitions, to relax. It won’t be a hundred degrees. Maybe 75. Warmer in the summer or course. Drink water for a couple of hours before the class starts so that your body is hydrated.
Conversation. At least at the beginning as people are gathering. I’ll try to find out a few things about you, your experiences with exercise, spirituality, breathing. Don’t worry. There are no requirements except an open mind and the willingness to let go of expectations. I also encourage the people in the class to get to know each other. Don’t worry about that either. It’s common before class starts for some people just to sit on their mat with their eyes closed, or lie on their backs and stretch or warm up. No one should bother you if you need a little alone time to prepare for class or just to step back and soak in the experience.
Sitting. At the beginning and end of class we sit for a few minutes and I talk briefly, or we sit with eyes closed and spines vertical and just breathe. If you have tight hips I have blocks to sit on. If your knees need a little more care, sometimes people sit in a chair. A vertical spine is important in much that we do, especially sitting. Think of it as putting up an antenna. You would place it vertically for the best reception. So if there are things you need during the practice of yoga from the vast cosmos, a vertical antenna gives you a good chance of getting something that you need.
Kneeling. For some of the poses and movements we kneel. If you have sensitive knees you can double up the mat or use a towel, or just opt to sit or stand for that movement, and just move your arms or your body to the level that you’re comfortable. In yoga you don’t have to do anything (except breathe). No one will judge you for opting to adapt or sit out of something.
Standing. Sometimes we just stand and discover how much of the day we spend contorting our bodies unnaturally, and how we can let go and just stand relaxed and vertical.
Lying face down. Great for the back. Good time to have your own mat. When your face is in it it’s good to know where your mat has been.
Moving. Yoga links breath and movement. Move to your comfort level. There is no requirement to move part of you beyond where you know it’s good of for you to move it.
Sweating. People sweat. It’s ok. Be worried if you or the person next to you doesn’t. Bring a towel. Wipe off when you need to or put it between you and the mat or anything else that gets wet and slippery. You’ll be dry soon. And you’ll feel great.
Coming to new realizations. Maybe that yoga isn’t what you thought it was. Maybe that you can do things you never knew you could. Maybe that people aren’t paying much, if any, attention to you and your body, and that by giving up on that thought you can focus on what you’re doing. Maybe that you are an awesome person.
Singing. Ok, if you shut down when someone asks you to sing, consider it vibrating. Your vibrating vocal cords are important to your yoga practice. See above about realizing that the person next to you isn’t judging you nearly as harshly as you are yourself, if at all.
So it’s up to you to go to a yoga class and help me add things to this list of what others can expect at their first yoga class.