AHIMSA + ALMOND MILK

Hello, dear ones!

Just a heads up, this one gets a tad heavy. If you're just here for the almond milk (no judgement), scroll your way down there and get going on some zero-waste homemade earth-friendly nutty goodness! Otherwise, read on. I love you. 

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There is so much violence in our world. So much that it feels totally overwhelming at times; I often back away from this reality because I feel so completely impotent when confronted with it. And of course, there's not only the physical violence we humans commit against ourselves and one another, but also intense emotional violence. Not to mention violence against our stunning, abundant, fragile planet and the beings we share it with. I'm ridiculously privileged not to have experienced or witnessed much of this devastation firsthand, but it's so palpable, isn't it? It's in the news, images and reports of violence on scales from individual to global. It's in the air we breathe, the roads we travel, the screens we stare into, the reflections we admonish in the mirror.

That's a bit of a bummer to start out with, but it's important to acknowledge. Feeling powerless is an uncomfortable challenge for me (hi, my name is Jaimie and I'm a control freak), and sometimes leaning into that sense of chaos and finding peace there is right and good. However, there's inhabitable space between "completely ineffectual" and "fully in control of what happens in the world." Meaning, there are plenty of concrete actions we can take against violent acts (standing up for someone who's being bullied, voting for people who care about protecting the earth, refusing to buy into industries fueled by brutality, breathing love/acceptance into ourselves so we can shine it out to others) without taking on the responsibility of ending all horrible things. There's a lot of us and what we do matters, even the small things. 

Here's where ahimsa comes in. Meaning physical/mental/verbal "non-harming" or "non-violence," ahimsa is the first yama (or restraint) in the Yoga Sutras. It can be distilled down to a few key principles: 

  1. Violent thoughts breed violent actions, and we have the capacity to develop a level of control over our thoughts. As my teacher said when lecturing on ahimsa during yoga school, "You cannot perform an action of violence if you have not thought about it first." 
     
  2. Judgements, criticisms and projections onto others all constitute violence. Eek! Yeah, of course we all do this, but the first step toward cultivating love instead of conflict is to notice these tendencies and gradually replace them with compassion and connection. Fun fact: yoga means "union," as in recognizing the nature of our oneness with all creation. Violence directed externally = violence directed internally, and vice versa.
     
  3. Turning violence onto ourselves can take many forms, like pushing too hard physically, eating things we know are rubbish for us, and being overly self-critical. Asking yourself, "Where in my life am I not honoring myself or my body?" is a good place to start investigating how this might show up in your habits. When we are compassionate toward ourselves, it really does spill over into our interactions and relationships. 

When I learned about ahimsa, my teacher spoke about viewing asana practice (yoga poses) through a lens of nonviolence, starting with the breath. She directed us to breathe fully and expansively, but so gently that the flow of air in and out of our nostrils was barely perceptible. This was such a profound change that rippled out into my whole physical reality during that class. If you know me or have read words on this blog you'll know this: any shift from effort into ease is a real world-rocker for me, because strain is pretty much my default setting.

Okay, so where does almond milk factor into all of this? 

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Ahimsa is actually the root of the Hindu practice of vegetarianism. Though that tradition doesn't necessarily extend to refraining from dairy, living out a principle of non-violence inspires me to look at all my choices more discerningly. Sorry to say it, but the modern dairy industry is rife with brutality. Cows are repeatedly (often forcibly) impregnated to keep milk flowing, calves are separated from their mothers, boy calves are slaughtered for veal, dairy cows’ lives are short and stressful, and intensive milk production can result in illnesses like lameness and mastitis.

Our environment also suffers violence for the sake of dairy milk. Almond milk definitely deserves its bad rap for being a resource-intensive product; almonds require a lot of water to grow, and almost all the almonds grown in the U.S. come from drought-ridden California (don't worry, you can use pretty much any nut or seed in this recipe if almonds bum you out). However, the dairy industry is just so much worse on this front. Between water for growing feed, water for hydrating the cows, and water for cleaning dairy facilities, the water footprint of milk is significantly bigger than that of almonds, especially because when you dilute almonds into milk, you’re consuming less overall.

This is honestly not about pushing my vegan agenda! I completely respect everyone's dietary choices; food is complex and emotional and encompasses so much more than simple nourishment. But this is one way I find ahimsa in my life, by assessing and changing habits that I see as unsupportive of peace. There is an absolute ton of that to find and root out, and I'm by no means even close, but taking small steps in a positive direction makes me happy. And of course, it's good ahimsa practice to be gentle with ourselves and let go of perfectionism on this journey. "The perfect is the enemy of the good," as the saying goes, and I constantly need reminding of this because my Virgo-brain is very stubborn . 

When it comes to this particular small step, it's pretty convenient that homemade almond (or any nut) milk is easy, economical, and bonkers delicious. 

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ALMOND MILK

A quick note on soaking: do it. It makes the milk milky and it's essential for neutralizing phytic acid, making the nuts easier to digest and their nutrients more available to your bod. A longer soak time will yield creamier milk, but you MUST drain/rinse/cover with new water at least once a day, or things will get real funky real fast. 

ingredients

1 cup raw almonds
water for soaking
3-4 cups water (use less for thicker, creamier milk)

optional extras

1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 date, pitted (or a drizzle of honey or maple syrup)
pinch of sea salt

directions

Put your almonds in a quart-sized mason jar and cover generously with water. Allow to soak for 8-48 hours, draining, rinsing, and covering with new water at least once a day. 

Drain and rinse the soaked almonds. Place in a blender along with 3-4 cups water and any additional flavorings you'd like. Blend on high until everything's nice and pulverized (about 1-2 minutes). 

Using a nut milk bag (or cheesecloth or clean t-shirt), strain the liquid back into your jar, squeezing out all the goodness you can. The pulp that's left should be quite dry!

Keep your almond milk refrigerated and use within one week. It will separate as it sits around (no weird emulsifiers here), so just give it a shake before using.

The best use I've found for the leftover pulp is as a body scrub: mix 1 cup of pulp with 2-3 tablespoons liquid oil (olive, almond, sesame, whatever you want) and get ready for insanely soft limbs. Make sure to keep it in the fridge and use within 2 days.


And there you have it, groovy people! One delicious way to practice ahimsa as you go about your days. The next time you experience a situation with potential for violent thoughts, words or actions, see if you can react with softness and clarity, remembering that we are all connected.

Namaste,
Jaimie

EASE

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." 

-Anais Nin

I have a complicated relationship with ease.

What I mean is, I struggle to seek ease. I have always equated ease with laziness, and associated effort (tense, tight, forced) with rightness, with a proper work ethic. This is certainly cultural, to an extent, but I think theres an extra dose of this ideal running through me on a subconscious level. And even intellectually understanding that this isn't so, theres a kernel of my mind that simply can't contend with not trying, and trying hard. 

I have a sharp, short memory of myself at eight or nine years old in elementary school track practice, poised at the starting line for a race. Coach Joanie was showing us proper starting technique, arms bent and staggered, ready to spring into motion. Wanting to show her that I was trying, really trying, that I was doing it right and therefore I was good and worthy of praise, I clenched my fists and tightened all the muscles in my sinewy girl-arms. Coach Joanie stopped near me and said something simple and corrective like, “Relax. Don’t work so hard.” I did as I was told (of course), but my mind protested; why wouldn’t I work as hard as I could? Wasn’t I in acute control of every inch of my body in that moment, shaping it to match the form she showed? How could I possibly be doing it wrong?

I didn’t get the message. Fast forward to countless voice lessons and yoga classes and acting workshops, where this scene has been replayed in all sorts of variations:
In theatre school, as I struggled to react with truth and presence because some part of me couldn’t shake the idea that whatever came to me in the moment couldn’t possibly be better than my pre-planned, calculated acting choices.
In my early-morning yoga practice before university classes, as I tightly contracted every muscle in extended side angle pose when I felt the teacher’s gaze on me.
In voice lessons and performances, as I stood outside myself and critiqued each wobble and imperfection while I sang. 
In yoga teacher training, as I dramatically swelled my abdomen, ribcage and upper chest to demonstrate my mastery of three-part yogic breathing, instead of simply allowing the breath to fill space. 

The overarching instructions were always focused on letting go of tension and control, and though my eager-to-please self took in and understood and parroted this directive, my body and other facets of my ego stubbornly refused to obey. 

There’s a fear deeply rooted somewhere in me like an old, stuck weed that says if I stop trying, pushing, fighting, I will fail by default. And failure would place a stamp on my forehead reading, “UNWORTHY OF LOVE.” This fear is very sure that I am not enough. My perfectionism forms an armor which protects me from exposure and vulnerability. Truth and goodness are messy (and beautifully so). Life and love are wild forces which don’t submit to control by the likes of me. These forces require a loosening, a crack to slip in through, if we are to live with presence and fullness and joy. I know this, but it scares the shit out of me. 

Anyone else?

My fiery tendency toward effort over ease is not a missed mark so much as a tipped balance. In the right proportion, this energy is positive and powerful. The imbalance can be addressed from many perspectives. In Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, it’s a prevalence of Pitta dosha; in Taoism, it’s a case of too much Yang and not enough Yin. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a roughly 2,000 year old collection of aphorisms widely considered to be the authoritative text on yoga, reference this balance in a famous passage: Sthira sukha asanam. The first word, sthira, can mean firm, compact, strong, steadfast, static, resolute, and courageous. 

No problemo.

The second part of the passage is what I tend to neglect, at least subconsciously. The yoga term sukha can mean easy, gentle, sweet, pleasant, and comfortable. What an attractive definition! Sign me up. Of course, certain personalities tend to drift farther in this direction, favoring the smoothest and comfiest paths and eschewing nearly everything that looks like hard work. This isn’t balanced, either, but man oh man could I use some of that excess sukha. 

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We all make choices that lead us toward or away from balance. I’ve been conscious of my habit for forcing my way through this life for years, but have only experienced small spurts of balance between sthira and sukha. Recently, practicing yoga outdoors, I’ve taken inspiration from one of gorgeous nature’s abiding truths: trees don’t try to grow. Sprouts don’t muscle their way through the soil into the light, buds don’t burst open out of sheer will, and leaves don’t unfurl by contracting. Gazing at the leaves bravely and vulnerably opening themselves toward the sun, happily moving with the wind as their big mama trunk stands firm and strong, my armor cracks and softens. I am inviting in the experience of gentle expansiveness, and it’s working some potent magic in my life on and off the mat. 

It’s not that I’ve poured the proper amount of ease into myself and am now wholly balanced, but I’m becoming more and more aware of my reaction to each moment. Am I clenching or releasing? Am I closing or opening? What can I let go of that I never considered I could? And chink by chink, the wall comes down. 

The word “yoga” means union, between our selves and the eternal, between our inner and outer worlds, between breath and movement, between strength and softness. My journey lately is to pay more attention to the aspect of ease, gentleness, and softness in that union. But seeing sthira and sukha as two sides of one entity is useful and potent. Maybe it’s not about traveling away from what I tend toward, but turning to see what I’ve been ignoring just on the other side of it. 

My stubborn self is working her way toward finding more sukha, more ease, but you better believe it’s a slow slog. Even then, it’s softness that she needs, not frustration. Gentleness in the midst of struggle, to make space for all the possibilities we breed through the hard work of trying something different. For me, that's letting go. If, instead, you need some strong and steady sthira, make room for that.

I wish each of you playfulness and courage on your path toward balance today.

Namaste, moonbeams. 
Jaimie

NAMASKARA

Welcome! 

My yoga practice began in 2008, with my (truly inspiring and endlessly cool) friend Ben. He was home from NYU for Christmas and brought with him a podcast from the studio he frequented near campus. We didn't have mats, so we rolled out towels on his mom's living room floor. After a shaky, Bambi-legged hour of vinyasa, I was exhausted, euphoric and totally hooked. 

Since then, my practice has steered me back again and again to my truest self. It's uncovered for me a deep, ringing truth: that our power does not reside in force, but in ease. It's strength and softness, fire and vulnerability in equal measure which imbue us with power and grace. For me, this balance is extremely elusive. Maybe I find it for just a few moments, and then I scare it away by trying to catch and hold it! But those moments, that's where the magic is. If I'm still and open, it might just brush up against me again tomorrow. The truth is, yoga isn't about executing a perfect handstand, or even touching your toes. Yoga is in the journey, the steadfast and steady practice, detached from the goal of perfection or the finality of the outcome. 

Friends, I'm an an outcome NUT. A chronic perfectionist. My whole life has been a devoted effort to obtain the "right" results: good grades, praise from teachers, a standing ovation from the crowd. But...guess what? Focusing on the outcome almost invariably meant I was living with constant tension and self-consciousness, believing wholeheartedly in, and identifying with, my mind's chatter about whether I was good enough. 

Letting go of that voice, that rigidity, that push, is truly clarifying and freeing. I don't mean being passive or apathetic or abandoning all effort. There's a clearing between those two forests, and it's surrender

You are enough. Let's breathe into that space together, shall we?

Namaste,
Jaimie