Last night was the third training sessions in my new Tai Chi (Yang, short form) class. It’s been over 5 years since I was last in a Tai Chi class and it feels great to be back in training. Even with only half an hour of actual exercise — and that was with very gentle movements — I can still feel those little-used muscles at the front of my thighs starting to burn. It always amazes me, too, how such gentle-seeming movements can really warm up your insides. It feels like your sweat comes from the center of your being.
The instructor, JC, puts great emphasis on strengthening muscles to provide balance. Most of the exercises we have learned naturally strengthen the legs, especially the thighs. To build upper-body and back strength, he’s asked each of us to prepare a weight-training tool called a Roll-Up. It’s devised from simple implements: a 12” dowel, a wood screw, 7ft. length of nylon cord, and hand weights (1 lb. to start). He told us that one could purchase similar pre-made devices at a few of the national franchise gyms, but you get the feeling that making one for yourself is part of the discipline of the training. Two of his long-term students were on-hand to do demonstrations, and I had a chance to look at their Roll-Ups. After 2-3 years of daily practice, each had been burnished a dark brown from its original sandy color. I hope the Roll-Up I’ve made will one day testify to my adherence to such faithful practice. For now, doing 10 Roll-Ups brings a intense burn in my upper arms and I’m trying to push past that to 15.
I’ve been good about doing the warm-up exercises, called 8 Brocades, every morning. Each “brocade” is a set of movements with lyrical names like “Push the Sky,” “Circle Wind,” and “Cow Turns Face to the Moon.” The challenge is not only in learning the sequence, but also in timing movements, and coordinating movement with breathing. JC tells us to also pay attention to the body’s position (feet and hand placements, whether a movement starts from the waist or the thighs, etc.) and how it responds to a given movement — feel the stretch, knee twisting, can you keep your balance on your toes? It’s a wonderful morning routine because it has such gentle flowing movements, but it really does get your blood moving and your mind focused.
After completing the Brocade set eight times (takes 20-25 minutes), I often go directly into a Reiki session while still in the standing Wuji position (feet shoulder width apart, knees soft). I decided to try this once as a way to maintain the Wuji stance and develop leg strength, and was surprised how relaxing it was to do Reiki self-healing this way. The session ends with long-distance healing for friends and family who have requested it.
The best part of this routine is that the day starts with healing and gratitude. Healing for my mind and body with these gentle exercises and meditation, then in gratitude sending healing out to people (and animals) I love, and for whom I am grateful to have in my life.
So if we’re training our muscles, mind and spirit this way, seems a shame to spoil it all with a breakfast of fried eggs, sausage/bacon and biscuits/bread/rice. (Don’t get me wrong, I love portuguese sausage and fried rice, and Belgian waffles as much as the next person — but these are “treats” not routine meals.) We have oatmeal almost every weekday morning, and this feels like a natural complement to follow the exercise-Reiki set — warm, filling, nutritious, and oh-so-tasty.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve had home-cooked oatmeal, then you owe yourself the favor of rediscovering this old gem. Forget the instant stuff, they’re packed with all kinds of preservatives and who-knows-what. And they’re expensive to boot. A tub of old-fashioned oatmeal (cooks in 5 minutes or so) and water are the basics, but oh-yo-can-have-so-much-fun with the flavorings! Have a different flavor every day. We add fresh, dried and frozen fruits (apples, pears, plums, peaches, mangoes, bananas, cantaloupe, blueberries) while the oatmeal is still cooking. Want chocolate oatmeal? — add your favorite chocolate drink mix (recommend the less-sweet European Ovaltine) to the cooked oatmeal. How about apple pie? We add fresh apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pat of butter to the pot, and sprinkle brown sugar on the cooked cereal. (Yes, this one is a bit decadent with that pat of butter, but you’d be amazed how much it does taste like pie.) Another favorite is double blueberry: frozen and dried (sweeter) blueberries cooked in, and maple syrup poured before eating (T is from Maine so the blueberry-maple syrup connection was a natural for him). For applesauce oatmeal, sweeten the cooked oatmeal, then stir in home-made or natural applesauce. When we lived in Germany, our hands-down favorite was Pflaumenmuss oatmeal. Pflaumenmuss is thick homemade cooked plum sauce — kind of like apple butter, but not as highly spiced. The point is, put in the flavors you like. There are so many possibilities: nut butters, fruit preserves, fruits, spices, sweeteners (brown sugar, condensed milk, honey, maple syrup, flavored “coffee syrups”).
I like cereal or muesli and milk (or yogurt), too. I often have that as a snack or lazy-persons lunch. But there’s something comforting and soul-satisfying about starting your day with a warm bowl of cereal. It sets the tone for the day in a different way than cold cereals do. Maybe taking the time to cook something for yourself in the midst of a hectic morning intuitively says to yourself, I’m worth this effort. Maybe it’s the deep glow you feel as the warm cereal makes its way down the gullet. Maybe it’s just the fun of feeling like you’re eating apple pie or chocolate when you’re really eating oatmeal. Reclaim breakfast! Don’t just feed yourself. Nourish your body and your soul.
3 ¼ c. water (up to a ¼ cup more if you’re using only dried fruit)
1 ½ cup”old-fashioned” oatmeal (label usually says “cooks in 5 minutes” — “quick”= “cooks in 1 minute”)
½ tsp. sea salt (you can omit if medically necessary, but sea salt has less
sodium than table salt; and salt will really round out the flavor of your oatmeal)
2 Tbl. wolfberries (aka goji berries)
Bring water and wolfberries to a hard boil, add salt and oatmeal and anything from the following list or as your imagination calls forth, and cook for 6 minutes on medium high heat without a cover. Turn off heat, cover and let rest for at least 2 minutes. Serve. This will make 2 servings of the “heart-helathy” amount recommended to reduce cholesterol — at first, a single serving may look quite daunting, but you’ll soon adjust.
To this you can add any thing your heart desires. Some suggestions:
- 1 c. frozen and ½ c. dried blueberries (this combo gives you the juciness and rich color of the frozen berries, and the intense flavor and swetness of the dried)
• 1 diced apple, or half diced apple and ½ c. cranberries, AND ½ tsp. cinnamon OR pumpkin pie spice
• 1 diced pear and ¼ c. candied ginger
• ½ c. or more your favorite mixed diced fruit, raisins, cranberries, mangos, etc.
• 1 overripe banana and peanut butter or chocolate
If fruits are cooked in, often additional sweetening is not necessary. If you want a touch of sweetness, try:
- Ovaltine (less sweet European blend is available in Oriental markets), Milo or Horlicks chocolate powders
• Peanut or other nut butters
• Maple syrup
• Malt or brown rice syrups
• Agave syrup
• Brown sugar
• Fruit preserves and butters
• Nutella (Hazelnut-chocolate spread)
• Flavored syrups (Often sold as coffee or soda sweeteners — just be wary of ones with high-fructose corn syrup HFCS)
• Condensed milk or dulce de leche (check for the HFCS)
Instead of milk, try
- soy milk
- rice milk
- almond milk
- going bare — no milk at all!