Yoga: A 5,000-year-old practice, beloved by millions the world throughout. Beloved, possibly, by everyone but me. Or so was the case until a few months ago.
My gripe with yoga had nothing to do with the practice itself; my fundamental lack of skill was to blame.
Yogis everywhere are shaking their heads right now. I understand that it’s called “practice” for a reason. It’s not called “yoga perfect”, there are no yoga champions; people don’t travel across the US to participate in timed yoga trials. Slap each other on the back after sweating it out through a particularly grueling yoga marathon. Yoga is not a competitive thing.
However, I recognized the purported health benefits and felt that I should give it some time. I tried my hand at Hatha, breathed my way through Vinyasa. I learned to salute the sun, mimic a warrior, pose like a tree, a frog, and a fish. I even experimented with Bikram (hot yoga) before realizing that any athletic activity that requires a mid-afternoon nap isn’t sustainable.
But I couldn’t get past one issue: I have the natural flexibility of a yardstick, and I just felt so completely incompetent.
So I dropped the practice, gave away my yoga mat, burned my pre-Lululemon bootcut stretch pants. I figured that I’d still have tennis for my later years. Maybe join a bowling league. But yoga wouldn’t factor, that I knew.
Fast-track 10 years and I was at the dentist, complaining of some jaw pain. A recent experience with a glazed donut suggested that my mouth would no longer open more than a crack without pain. I expected the worst: root canal, immediate tooth extraction, perhaps some invasive laser head surgery.
The diagnosis surprised me: TMJ.
“Have you been under a lot of stress lately?”
Er, I’m living out my dream of working with food and getting to spend time with my three lovely children…So I suppose that my answer would be no? How stress-derived TMJ was the culprit is still beyond me. But it was there. And it needed attention. Hiring a personal masseuse, however dreamlike, wouldn’t fit my budget. And talk about not getting to the root of the problem.
I was reading a biography at the time where the subject – at one time hooked on drugs and married to a dysfunctional Hollywood actor – found her salvation through yoga and meditation. And I realized that my old friend yoga might have the answer for me as well.
This time….things could be different. After all, I’m more mature, with a slew of folding elbow wrinkles to match. Being the least flexible person in the room wouldn’t be the worst of my problems.
I searched for yoga studios in my neighborhood that would emphasize the meditative aspect of the practice. I wanted to relax, focus less on strength, channel my energy towards mindfulness and inner peace.
I found everything on my checklist when I signed up for a membership at the Sivananda Center in Chelsea. It’s a sanctuary, quiet and undiscovered. Unassuming from the outdoor signage, indoors you’ll find a four-story brownstone with a kitchen on the first floor, and light-filled yoga studios on the second and third floors.
What I love most about this style of yoga – Sivananda – is the focus on breathing. At the beginning of each class, the teacher engages you in a series of breathing exercises that forces you to slow down and fill your lungs completely. And here’s where things morph into uncensored bliss: during all of this forced deep breathing, you’re inhaling the scent of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves as it trails up from the kitchen below.
I wanted to capture some of those same flavors and smells in my kitchen at home. I could have gone with a traditional Indian curry – I’ve made plenty, though authenticity might be questioned. But I was drawn to the idea of making something sweet. Something that I could shamelessly call breakfast. Or dessert. Something – perhaps not healthy – but a delight for the soul.
Feel good food to match my feel good practice. Yoga, you’ve converted me once and for all.
- 1/2 cup basmati rice
- 6 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper
- ¼ cup dried figs, chopped
- 1/2 cup sugar
- One 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts, divided
- 2-3 tablespoons of desiccated coconut
- 2-3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
- 2-3 slices of candied lemon (link to recipe in the notes if you’d like to make them from scratch)
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the rice, milk, and cardamom, cinnamon, grated ginger, and black pepper to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to help keep the milk from burning.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every so often. The rice should be nearly tender with a texture similar to runny oatmeal. Stir in the figs, sugar, coconut milk, vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the chopped walnuts. Cook for another 10 minutes until the rice is soft and the figs have become plump.
- Stir and turn off the heat and then ladle the rice pudding into bowls. You can either serve warm or chill them in the fridge overnight. Before serving, top the puddings with the remaining walnuts, a few large flakes of dried coconut and pomegranate seeds. If you’ve made the candied lemons, you can garnish the dish with these as well.
- If you'd like to make the candied lemons, you can follow a recipe like the one here: http://shewearsmanyhats.com/candied-meyer-lemon-recipe/ You can also infuse the candying liquid with more indian spices – try black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom and ginger.