I had planned to dedicate February to the heart. Not just because Valentine’s Day happens to be in February or that February is Heart Awareness month, but invite conversation around different experiences that we have. It didn’t go down the way I was envisioning because on January 22nd, 2013, my sweet Pops had a heart attack bringing new meaning to heart awareness on every level and ironically paving the way into the February heart theme in a very surreal and ironic way. I left for Seattle the next day to be with my parents. My sister flew in from Houston; older brother from Brooklyn; my little brother & sis-n-law live there, so they were holding down the fort until we got there.
I won’t go into all the details of the layers involved with this experience, but I will share some of the take aways that I am still digesting. Here I go…
I have always bowed deeply to this hard-working machine known as the heart, with our lungs basically tying the hold for me. Besides it actually doing the main job to keep everything running in our bodies, I am forever amazed of how sensitive and equally strong our heart is. We can enhance it by increasing physical activity; nourishment, medicine and fuel through food. What we put into our bodies is literally what we are made of. I think of our body as this shell. We are predisposed to many things depending on our heritage for starters and there’s no escaping that one. We have to choice to entertain what we are born with or not.
There is nothing that we put into ourselves that won’t manifest into something else down the road whether its something healthy- aiding in increasing longevity, or something not beneficial. The ‘not beneficial’ part… lets just focus on this one for a sec before moving on…
Up until January, I would allow myself to indulge almost every day in chocolate. (Gasp!) I justified it with how great it is for you: the benefits of lowering LDL, antioxidant-rich flavonoids, and the euphoric mood boost I get. The only thing is, most of us, including me, have a little too much sometimes… every day… A little too much of one thing means a little of something else somewhere else, like if you eat enough of it and your body gets used to burning less fuel than what you ingest, you may experience a little muffin-top action. The biggest thing that I understand clearly, is that our organs, our little mini-machines in our body, are constantly working to process and they get worn out. The constant inundation of sugar for example… You may be thin, not carry excess weight, and seem to ‘afford’ the extra morsels, but what about the effect of our pancreas? The constant and unnecessary action of insulin constantly being released to reign our body back to equilibrium.
This lesson is something that was a constant theme while I was away. Could my dad have had a heart attack because of the way he cared for his body, or could it be from how we live our lives? Both. For sure. Its called stress and we all entertain it in many ways, not just food.
We know how stress affects our lives when we are not able to manage our responsibilities, but have you ever checked in on your heart to see how it is responding in those present moments? Try it. Try it when you are in conversation- positive or challenging and tune into your heart. How are you breathing? Many of us commute. Tune in while driving- especially those moments that you get passed unexpectedly, tune in to see how you feel. Hot, erratic, did your middle finger start to unravel, and your teeth begin to touch your bottom lip to offer up a well-rounded, f-bomb?
What about when you are happy? Bring yourself back to when you first started dating your sweetheart, or for you padres out there, held your child for the first time? Remember how you felt? All of that counts for conditioning your heart to where it is right now. Nothing, absolutely nothing, doesn’t affect the heart- or come from it.
Only 30 [continuous] minutes of cardio exercise is the general consensus for raising your heart rate and increasing your cardiovascular health. Compared to what we demand of our body to carry out our daily grind, this is a modest request from our heart. Walking briskly, running or jogging, jog-walking (for those of you who want-to-love-running-but-secretly-don’t), swimming- summer is coming!, & of course yoga- vinyasa styles of yoga in specific. But, since I touched on moderation above, the same goes with our exercise. Definitely exercise, but not cross the line past the loosely used, ‘edge’. Shift your perspective to making the goal to give your heart a good flush. I have adopted this mind-set more when I am trail running eliminating other traditional ‘goals’, i.e., duration of time, finishing a specific trail. Besides this, I made peace long ago with the fact that I am not a competitive runner. Keeping the intention of the heart while I run which allows me to find the joy in the beauty that I am running in, not just through.
Skip this next paragraph if you get offended easily. A warning that I am standing on my favorite podium and you may not be interested… 🙂
I am a very strong advocate for whole foods. Not the store, (though I do go there), but whole foods, like an actual apple versus one that was pulverized, given preservatives, thickening agents, and a shiny plastic wrapping. I put in a full effort on a daily basis to understand where my food comes from. I’m not talking about my CSA delivery or Whole Foods. I’m not even talking about the farmers, (whom I am so grateful to), but the ground it came out of and if it was hosed with chemicals or not. Pesticides is what is liberally referenced, but chemicals are what they are, and they are not good for you. I am no food scientist or nutritionist, but a passionate constituent and ayurvedic student who loves to nerd-out on topics like these. I know there are many out there that don’t think about specifics like this, but if I would have one request, its to start to… Just a touch. For yourself, your kids, your family, each other. If there was a specific reason within this, maybe because just like how you exercise your heart, what you put in your body matters also. Notice a withered plant next time after you water it. It rehydrates, is more alert, and does it’s selfless duty of being presentable, radiating its inner beauty while cleaning the air around it. Think of your body this way. Food is straight up nutrition and our body responds the same way a plant does. Eat whole foods- foods that aren’t packaged- especially the ‘healthy’ kinds, such as ‘whole food’ bars, (Lara, Raw Revolution, etc). Eat a piece of fruit. In its whole form, the entire fruit is digestible and recognizable by your body to break it down and use it 100%. The bars may be digestible, but they are still processed and not fresh. (I actually made up a small batch recipe for Lara ‘like’ bars. They turned out awesome; I knew what ingredients were in it, and they were made with love, not a machine. Email me if you want the recipe). Being part of the process is also priceless. The quality goes up just because you are going slowly. I experience this every morning during my coffee ritual. My coffee becomes this sacred thing and I end up nursing it to maintain that perfect warm temperature up until the very last drop.
The last point I’ll put out there is having control over my food/fuel, is really practicing food mindfulness. I feel aligned because I understand my food- where sourced and if it’s processed. My ‘processing’ is done in the kitchen with my cutting board, knives, and Blendtec, (worth the investment. Its amazing.) By taking a stand for my food values, I am not contributing to the industry we have become accustomed to. For me, it’s a pleasant, ‘F you’, to the food standards in place by corporations whose best interests are not in our best interests. What goes in my body is healthful not harmful and keeps me away from the other corporations known as the ‘health care system’. That said, I am human, so when I do choose to veer from this, I’m well aware that I am allowing this to happen. I don’t beat myself up for the occasional indulgence, but I do understand that veering off too often will be humbling down the road.
For those of you who skipped ahead, welcome back!!
The last thing I’d like to express is my gratitude for my family and friends:
My dad, mom > “Mamacita”, brothers, sister, basically-blood-sis-n-law, baby niece, (who was so awesome at reminding us of pure joy), and extended family. My family rocks- plain and simple. With my dad’s heart attack, we were tested and all stepped up. From the time we got the call about my pops, without question, us kids, hopped on planes and showed up: hospital shifts, in-care home shifts, everything assistants, and acted/ as caregivers from nursing, occupational/physical therapy, mental support, learning Medicare, (not going there)… the whole package. While we were all together, we worked so very hard to do the above, while shielding my parents from this backdrop so they could focus and embark on the very involved healing process. We had our moments where the adrenals were in high gear. My sister, an avid marathoner didn’t run for 2 weeks. I didn’t do a lick of physical yoga asana. The only yoga I did was stopping- which felt like every 5 minutes, to close my eyes, focus on breathing, the sound of my heart pounding the inside of my chest wall, and literally saying to myself, ‘deep breath, deep breath’. I was truly present though it felt like I was dreaming. My wise, yogi Uncle told me in conversation, ‘we are never given what we can not handle’. This became my mantra and still hits my heart strong.
My friends are also my family and they continue to prove it to me everyday. While I was gone, the yoga studio I teach at had my back. Studio Directors, Julie & Rachel, basically told me I couldn’t teach later that morning [that I got the call]. Julie tapped her inner “mama bear” and told me how it was. I’m grateful to you, Jewels, for being my southern ‘mamacita’. Rachel, thanks for calling me in between classes, subbing, and carpool. You guys are my girls. My yoga teacher brothers and sisters, karma yogis, students, and my friends were there for me as well. While I was away, it was always perfect timing when reading the sweet notes and voice messages of love and support- especially those late 2am mornings when I really was needing a little something. No expectation of a return message, just pure, authentic love coming from my peeps. That love filled the voids I was feeling while I was away and kept me strong. I love you all. Thank you for this gift.
‘we are never given what we can not handle’
Before I end, I want to dedicate a recipe I made to the heart, everyone who supported me, those who have been affected by heart issues, and of course, to my super awesome, sweet Pops. From one heart to another…
(I don’t measure, except for the dressing. Make the amount you would make for yourself & times it by the number of peeps. Scale up or down for the veggies. All ingredients are organic of course, and this is gluten-free).
Raw Carrot Ginger dressing:
1 Carrot, grated
2″ piece of Ginger, peeled & minced
1 tsp of Agave
2 TBS Brown Rice Vinegar
1/2 lemon, squeezed
2 tsp of Gluten-free Tamari
2 tsp of Toasted Sesame Oil
Sea salt, a pinch
So easy: put everything in a blender, puree, and prepare to be in love with this. You will be so happy. 🙂
Avocado Maitake Salad:
Romaine lettuce, rolled & cut 1″ wide
Lacinato Kale, rolled and julienned
Carrot, peeled, then peeled into strips
Red onion, thinly sliced
Broccollettes, steamed or raw
Green or red cabbage, cut super thin
Gomasio, optional, but so good. (You can make it, or buy it at most natural food markets).
Brown rice spaghetti pasta
1. Prepare the rice pasta, cool in an ice-bath, drain, and set aside.
2. Toss the salad with the Carrot Ginger dressing. Have your veggies ready to go in a salad bowl, along with your dressing.
3. Top with avocado & gomasio. My hubby loves this with grilled chicken marinated in seasame oil, chili, salt, & pepper.
I’m honored to continue to carry the torch for this website, the Atlanta Yoga Scene. I share yoga in weekly yoga classes and workshops, and love practicing yoga in my kitchen, while trail-running with my homeboys: hubby, and Ceasardo (fur-child), and nerding out on yoga philosophy. I love creating community and knowing my work lends to positive personal growth and spreading of the yoga tradition. isabellecasey.com