Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stinky Sweaty Strong Yogis in Ann Arbor

Bikram Yoga. What is that? It sounds intimidating. Bikram. Yoga. Hrm. A quick Google search takes you to, a fire colored website with a beautifully muscular man at the top of the page. That man is Bikram Choudhury, founder and teacher. He developed a series of 26 postures that " every part of the body, to give all the internal organs, all the veins, all the ligaments, and all the muscles everything they need to maintain optimum health and maximum function.  Each component takes care of something different in the body, and yet they all work together synergistically, contributing to the success of every other one, and extending its benefits." (from Bikram Yoga) The studio pamphlet from Bikram Yoga in Ann Arbor tells me that "Bikram Yoga uses heat to heal & strengthen". Bikram Yoga is done in front of mirrors in 105 degrees of steamy, sweaty, stinky heat. You have to look at yourself throughout the entire 90 minutes - really look - and go through the postures. For first timers, the goal is to just stay in the room.

When I lived in Massachusetts, we had a Bikram Yoga studio right in front of my apartment, Bikram Yoga Amherst. I'm so disappointed I never went. I was scared to do something new by myself. Yoga studios intimidated me and a studio full of people (the parking lot was ALWAYS full) in a practice I had never seen was even more terrifying.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to check out Bikram in Ann Arbor about a week ago. I've been practicing Vinyasa/Power Yoga since August and I felt like I could handle the adventure. Plus, I was encouraged to try new things! That made a world of difference. I was intimidated, but I asked around prior to going, and was mostly prepared. Mostly. Wear very light clothing, bring a towel, bring a water bottle...maybe another towel. 

I walked into the room with my bath towel, hand towel, mat, and water bottle. Immediately I felt like I had entered a sauna. My brain said uhoh but my body said LETS DO THIS - BRING IT ON! Setting up in the front row, directly facing the mirrors, I took some time to adjust to the temperature and breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Looking around me at the jacked up beautiful muscles around bikini tops and bottoms, I felt a bit worried, but tried to shrug it off. The teacher walked in and introduced herself and we began.

You think focus on breathe in Power Yoga is necessary? It becomes an even more immediate concern when you're staring at your body in front of a mirror, sweating like a friggin horse after a race, drenching your towel and mat, and attempting to go as far into the postures as you can, with a drop-kick version of vinyasa and then savasana between postures. 

The 26 postures are mostly detoxifying postures. Serious detox. Whenever I go into a detoxifying posture, I always think of the old candy commercial from when I was a kid - "just squeeze the candy out of it!" I definitely squeezed all the candy out in that 90 minute class! There were a few times when I felt like I may throw I laid down...only to feel like maybe I should sit I focused my mind and tried to make it stop screaming at me. 

It was intense. It was detoxifying. It was a work out. It was beautiful. Folks with S and M tendencies in their yoga will fall in love with Bikram. Bikram Yoga is an incredible practice. If you're looking for an intense practice to mix up your yoga, check it out. Don't let fear of a new practice, edge or experience keep you away. And afterward, drink a whole lot of water and grab some incredible food in town knowing that you can afford the calories. 


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Faux Fettucini: Asparagus, Shrimp and Tomatoes

I've spent the weekend in Chicago to help my friend Kate with the last bit of recovery for an extensive eye surgery. We've had a good time hanging out! I've had a weekend filled with yoga and cooking. We wanted to make her about a week's worth of food to have in the freezer. This would enable Kate to simply open the freezer, pick something, and heat it up. Enter Friday night's dinner.

Faux Fettucini with Asparagus, Shrimp and Tomatoes

This creation almost isn't a recipe. It is like writing a recipe for spaghetti - cook noodles, add sauce and eat. First, I cut up the asparagus into one inch pieces and set it aside. Then I gutted and diced two roma tomatoes. I ran the frozen shrimp under cool water to defrost and set them aside as well. I boiled a pot of water and added the 100% durum wheat pasta.


Whole wheat pasta can be very off putting for many people because of the ridiculously chewy texture. I'm not a big fan of whole wheat pasta unless it is cooked very thoroughly. I'm also not a fan of enriched pasta. I don't need white flour enriched with B vitamins and folic acid and whatever else the food companies think I may need in my body. No. I'm a fan of what is typically considered to be Italian pasta - 100% durum wheat pasta. It looks yellow so it more closely resembles the enriched pasta most Americans are used to. The texture had great bite and it isn't too chewy. Read the boxes of pasta at the store! I suggest selecting one that has the fewest ingredients possible (this is my general rule on ALL processed foods). I'm a big proponent of making your own pasta because it is cheap, easy, and you know what went into it. However, this is not always practical, therefore you should take time to find a pasta you enjoy.

Moving on to the juicy part! While the pasta is cooking, saute one minced garlic clove in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add your asparagus and cook for 2 minutes. Cook the asparagus longer if you must. I like to maintain it's snappy integrity. Add the tomatoes and cook 3-5 minutes. Reduce the pan to a low simmer and add about a cup of half and half and a handful (half a cup or a bit more) of parmasean and/or asiago cheese (use the real stuff! Dust inside of green shelf stable containers doesn't count. A little real cheese goes a long way towards making your dish pop with flavor). Simmer and reduce.

When the pasta is almost finished, add your shrimp (as many as you want! We used about 15) into the asparagus/tomato/cheese/half and half mixture. Add a bit of freshly ground black pepper. I omit any salt here because of the natural saltiness of the cheese, but, add a pinch if you must. Cook the shrimp until they just turn pink - they'll finish cooking in the heat of the dish and you don't want to overcook them and end up with chewy shrimp.

Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Using tongs, gently mix the pasta in with the sauce. Turn off the stove. Let sit 5 minutes to absorb sauce and finish cooking. Serve. Devour and enjoy.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Inspecting Yoga in Lansing: Plan B


After settling into our apartment in Lansing and getting the internet connected, I immediately began doing research on yoga facilities in the area. There are a lot of great options to choose from. Based on website class descriptions, cost and yoga teacher biographies, I chose Hilltop Yoga. My first class was a Yoga Basics class in Haslett. I don't remember who taught it but I remember my hips feeling better and my soul feeling more connected to my body. I immediately signed up for the $30 for 30 days of yoga beginner deal.

I went to a class every other day in Haslett, not realizing that the studio in Old Town was actually closer to my apartment. It took me a long time to muster up the courage to try a class in Old Town! The space is welcoming but it also felt intimidating because Haslett had become familiar. Class every other day really whipped my muscles into shape -  I was sore on the days between and felt my muscles and tendons stretching. It was wonderful.

Luckily, I got a job as a recruiter within these 30 days...but I was also sad because the deal had ended and money was (and still is) tight. I joined Fitness USA because the gym fee is only $20/month and they have a pool, hot tub, dry heat room and steam room. I started a small home practice every few days. I went without yoga classes for a few weeks. My hips went back to hurting from sitting on my butt in a computer chair 6+ hours a day. I gained 5 lbs within the first two months of the new job. In addition to cardio at the gym, I needed my yoga.
I went back and started attending the free and $5 classes at Hilltop Yoga whenever I could. I took advantage of the incredible open house weekend (free yoga for 3 days straight!). My hips didn't hurt and I felt so much better. Through Hilltop Yoga I met incredible teachers, including Belinda. I started networking in Lansing and adding local folks to Facebook. That is how I found out about Just B Yoga, Belinda's brain and soul child. Just B Yoga is a donation-based, community-driven studio in REO Town. Working up the courage to try something new in a new space and in an area of town I had never been to before...I came to her free community class one Wednesday night.

Loved it. Loved the people, the joy, the carefree and easy going attitudes, the music and vibe of the room. Because Just B Yoga is donation based, it was affordable for me to go to classes at both that studio and at Hilltop Yoga. The entire group was welcoming and had all different levels of yoga students. There were people who had never touched a yoga mat before and those that looked like they had been practicing for a decade or more. Belinda was able to teach the class to all levels without making anyone feel uncomfortable or nervous about not being able to do a tough pose. It was wonderful.

Being friends with Belinda on Facebook led me to notice that she is a very busy woman! One night after class I asked if I could help her with anything. I was volunteering with Habitat Lansing and the Grand River Connection, but I still had spare time to donate. I have yet to ask what she thought about that offer, but, she took me up on it within the week! Weeks of brainstorming, marketing, writing, and oh yeah...more brainstorming, led to me needing a title. People would question my affiliation with Just B Yoga in the Twitterverse and in email communications. I asked Belinda for some kind of a title...and she came up with Promotions Manager. 

So, there you have it, from zero to Just B Yoga Promotions Manager. Ta da. Now to see where this winding path is taking me. I don't know where I'm going but I do know I'm going down this road with eyes and heart wide open, and my cup empty.

my new business cards!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

No Stress in Yoga - MA, MI, Home

Working at the Dow Chemical Company had some perks. One of those perks was a gym right in the corporate center with FREE classes. A free lunch hour class included yoga. Looking back on the type of yoga I threw myself into, it was Vinyasa, with a strict strict strict emphasis on posture and bandas. I was squeezed and forced into postures/asanas. I developed buns of steel. I sweated a bit during my lunch break. I got into graduate school at the University of Chicago and moved...

That was the end of my yoga for 4 years.

I don't know why I didn't pursue it in Chicago. I don't know why I didn't exercise in Chitown at all, besides my daily walks to and from campus, and some Yoga Booty Ballet DVD. When we moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, there was a Bikram Yoga Studio in front of our apartment for all three years we lived there. I was intimidated by the crowds of people that parked there on Saturday mornings. I wasn't sure where to go, how to start, what to do. I started going to the gym every day instead. I threw myself into cardio and screwed up my hip with what was likely a ligament tear or a stress fracture. I aggravated my old Chicago knee injury from tripping over a huge chunk of sidewalk. I needed a time out.

After the time away from cardio, I knew I could no longer force myself onto the elliptical machine for 40 mins a day. I needed something else. I needed to treat myself better. This, of course, coincided with our upcoming move home to Michigan. We were moving to Lansing so that my husband could attend law school at Michigan State University. I was stressed out beyond belief between moving, quitting my job, and trying to find a new one (with benefits) in the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country. 

I needed my yoga.

Coworkers went to a yoga studio about 20 minutes away from me - Florence Yoga. I went there for a 10:00 a.m. class with Michelle. I fell in love. Her adjustments were wonderful and well placed, there was not a heavy emphasis on form but more so on flow, and the class was jam packed. It helped clear my mind, maintain my focus, and reduce my stress. I talked with Michelle after class about how I was moving to Michigan and how sad I was to have only now discovered yoga in Massachusetts - just as I was leaving. She encouraged me to find a studio in Michigan.

Off we went on a 16 hour trip across the country - me and the cats in my car - my husband taking the semi-truck full of stuff. Home to Michigan. Home to find yoga.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Packzi Day

Today is Fat Tuesday. Today is a big deal in the Polish world I grew up in. Today, we get to eat PACKZI. No, not pack-zee, poonch-key! They look like jelly filled doughnuts. Real packzi are light, fluffy, airy, and have a not-too-sweet filling that melds perfectly into the airy dough. Real packzi make you happy to be alive and biting into them. Real packzi = love.

A look at REAL Packzi!
When I was in elementary school I made packzi with my Grandpa Dryzga for a school project. We made easy traditional packzi with a buttery dough and raisins. We ripped off chunks of dough, rolled them into golf ball sized pieces, and dropped them into hot oil. Heaven. Fresh deep fried deliciousness.

Traditionally, packzi are made with lard and were filled with prune jelly or rosehip jelly. It was a way to use up all of the tempting things Polish Catholics are not supposed to eat during Lent. Now, it's a day of indulgence and spreading a bit of the culture around the U.S.

When I lived in Chicago, there were packzi to be found. In Massachusetts, the only thing I could find was a sad excuse of a jelly doughnut impersonating a packzi. This year, I had a packzi from Roma Bakery. I had my doubts about buying a Polish pastry from an Italian bakery...I bought one apricot and one prune, both lightly coated in powdered sugar. My husband indulged in the apricot packzi and I devoured the prune packzi. Prune is was more of a plum jam filling.

It was wonderful. For those 5 minutes of packzi munching heaven, I recalled my Polish upbringing, my Grandpa and Grandma's 1950's kitchen in Bay City, Michigan, and my love of culture and food. Packzi. Try a real one!

Another wonderful story on Packzi can be found at Detroit Moxie!