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.
Looks yummy! Love those spices, I must try to make this:) Curious…what book were you reading??
It was so good, my first attempt with rice pudding 🙂 I read Carré Otis’s memoir- she was the model in the 80s who was married to Mickey Rourke– it’s called “Beauty Disrupted”. I love biographies and am a sucker for all of them. Another good one from the non-serious variety is “Guts” by Kristen Johnson from Third Rock.
Looks delicious! Love that you’ve embraced yoga – namaste
Thanks so much ML, the best!
Namaste. I can’t imagine life without yoga. So happy that you’re a convert. The Indian rice pudding looks divine. LOVE those spices.
Yummy this looks so delicious! Have you ever made a brown rice pudding? I’m dying to try to make a healthy brown rice pudding but haven’t had the guts just yet! Love that you use coconut milk in this recipe.
This rice pudding looks super yummy! So flavorful!
Thanks for the book recs, I’m a sucker for a good biography too:)
Kheer of a different invention, but nonetheless delicious I am sure.
Glad you found Sivananda – a Vedantic organisation. Due to once-a-week visits between us, it may have escaped notice that I am a Vedantaacharya. “Yoga” means union. There are four ways to attain union with The Self; karma (dedicated and thoughtful action), bhakti (devotion and reverence), Hatha (healthy body, healthy mind) and Jnaana (knowledge). Without the last, the first three are incomplete but nevertheless beneficial to those who persevere!
Have a wonderful holiday – no doubt we’ll get ‘postcards’ in due course! Blessings, YAM xx
Sounds and looks very interesting and yummy, I may just have to give it a try.
Thanks for sharing!
Ok, now I am a convert. Like you I tried yoga many years ago…. to no avail. Anything that I can pair with food works for me. Also, love your sense of humor!!
I’m drooling and just want this dish now.
Haha! I share your story. Yoga was never quite my thing until I found a class that mixed in meditation and taichi. It’s not so hard that it takes from the relaxation. As for bikram yoga? I don’t even want to go there!
I love the rice pudding! Sounds delicious and not so unhealthy 😉 my mum used to make it with half skinny milk.
Haha I love your experiences with Yoga, and I am the same, I like it, but always feel like an awkward baby giraffe who cannot bend in the right places and keeps falling over!
This sounds like a great pudding for me!
I. WANT. THAT. I love coconut milk in my rice pudding. I cant wait to try this one out.
Very interesting. I love rice pudding, and could live without yoga as well! Thank you for joining us at the Oh My Heartsie Girl Wordless Wednesday! I look forward to seeing you again next week!
Jingle Jangle Jungle
So glad to have stumbled across you and your space! Your photos are absolutely STUNNING! We love the simplicity of them.
Will be trying this recipe soon — can the whole milk be replaced by another form? One of us eats dairy-free.
We are a huge fan of rice pudding. This version is look and sounds interesting. I never thought about putting pepper in it. Def going to have to try this. Thanks for sharing.
Living Intentionally Simple