Christmas Cookies

Photo via Smitten Kitchen.
Tis the season for holiday baking!

I'm getting so excited to bake with my mum-in-law and twin sister over Christmas. I think we'll make classic chocolate chip cookies, plus a few other new recipes.

This is hands down the best recipe for chocolate chips I've ever had (thanks to Wendy, whose kids I used to babysit, for sharing!). Enjoy!

Wendy's Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1.5 c sugar
1.5 c brown sugar, packed
2 c crisco (can use a bit less, or substitute butter)
3 eggs

Beat above ingredients until they are creamed together.

1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking soda
3 tsp vanilla extract

Blend in to mixture.

Finally, blend in 4.5 cups flour, adding a bit at a time as you go. Fold in a bag of chocolate chips. Scoop spoonfuls of dough onto a cookie sheet and bake 7-10 minutes or until edges are golden.

Here are the other two recipes I can't wait to try:

Gooey Butter Cookies from Lottie and Doof 
(or really any of their recipes from the 12 Days of Cookies!)

Russian Tea Cakes from Smitten Kitchen

Pigeon Pose and Christmas Morning

Photo via Flickr.

A while ago I was reading about the emotional reactions we have as yogis during certain asanas. Many of the statements weren't surprising: camel pose and other heart-openers can release a rush of emotion or anxiety, forward folds and asanas like tortoise generate calmness and new energy.

But then I came across something that said pigeon pose can give you the same comfort and joy as you feel on Christmas morning.

Photo via MomFilter.

Of course my first reaction was, Wait, what?! No way. I thought back on all the times that intense hip openers like pigeon have felt a bit painful or uncomfortable. Sometimes I'd even dread trying out this pose if a teacher called for it, as pigeon is a great reminder of the flexibility I don't have (or haven't been working on consistently).

But then I tried pigeon pose with this thought in mind. The comfort and joy of Christmas morning.

It's true! If you concentrate your energy on what's happening as you slowly enter the asana, there is something very comforting and relaxing about pigeon pose. The gentle twist happening in your body, the way your head rests on your hands on the floor, the letting go that you must do in order to open the hips... it all adds up to a sense of well-being, relief, and solidity.

Photo via Yoga Chocolate Love on Tumblr.
Photo via Pinterest.

Many yogis aren't shocked to hear that yoga helps release stagnant energy; in fact, a lot of us are grateful to enjoy the blessing of having a regular practice because yoga actually helps us work through the emotions within. Remember to be open to the positive energy and healing you may find even from the hardest postures, like pigeon.

Yoga Kids

Photo by Adele Enersen, the genius behind Mila's Daydreams.

Do you guys share your yoga practice with your kids? Or, if you're like me and you don't have any little ones yet, your nieces and nephews, cousins, or maybe the babes you babysit?

I love the idea of enjoying a yoga flow with my children someday. 

Photo via FYeahYoga. Check out their legs in lotus pose!

PS Check out the world's youngest yoga teacher from India. Isn't she incredible? xoxo

Happy Wrists

Are you working on your handstands yet?

Whether you're hanging out upside down a lot or you just want to strengthen your hands, palms and wrists for a more steady downward dog, this video has some great tips. (Warning: her boobs are a bit much at certain points, but it's still worth watching for the movements and instruction.)

For another great wrist move, try Sadie Nardini's wrist clear. Or do her supersets to build overall body strength (works wonders for inversions, bow and standing bow, as well as full wheel.) Enjoy!

Building Strength for Handstands

Photo via Hearts Expanding.

It can be a long haul getting upside down. Inversions -- handstands in particular -- are tricky as far as yoga poses go. But don't be scared of this asana... you can build up strength to prepare for it.

My favorite trick? Hold your legs up the wall at a 90-degree angle from the floor, with your arms stacked directly under your shoulders. (Like the photo above, if she brought her palms back a bit. If you're a beginner, start with your hands more forward. Then as you get stronger, go for that long line from palm to tailbone.)

Once you've mastered that stance, you are just about ready to bring your legs up for a handstand! Be careful... and have fun balancing :)

Wholesome Eating

Photos via Orangette.

After spending Thanksgiving on a farm in Minnesota for the last few years, I find myself thinking more and more about the importance of eating whole foods. The difference between a healthy, homemade meal and a boxed dinner is tremendous. Plus once you've tasted broccoli grown in the garden and eggs from the chicken coop, there's just no going back.

There really is a difference between the food we buy in chain stores and the good, wholesome organic stuff.

I have a huge passion for eating well, but sometimes I am limited by specific resources. Generally my budget for groceries is a little lower than what Whole Foods costs, plus the amount of time I have to spend in the kitchen dwindles when work gets crazy (as it has been lately). Being an apartment dweller makes it nearly impossible to grow my own vegetables... although I am determined to try my hand at a porch box garden at some point!  And then there's the planning factor, and a lack of creativity sometimes.

Excuses aside, I've decided it's time to work harder to eat well.

Here's my plan.
  • Plan meals around healthy ingredients. Check out Whole Food sales, and then look up recipes based on what I can find for cheap.
  • Cut as much corn syrup as possible. Start read the labels a little more closely for this.
  • Utilize the crockpot! I'm definitely going to be relying on this incredible blogger, who used hers every day for a year.
  • Watch more documentaries. These never cease to inspire. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead was such an eye opener.
  • Get back to the juicer! We have fallen off the bandwagon what with all those crazy flavors. My friend at work is going to share a few more palatable recipes to try.

Do you guys take care to eat clean, nutritious foods? I'd love your thoughts on the simplest ways to do this :)

PS Everyday meal planning from Real Simple, plus some important cancer prevention tips.

Yoga Teachers to Be Grateful For

Photos via Lululemon on Flickr. 

What do you most admire about your favorite yoga instructor? Is it his calm voice to bring you in and out of the asanas? Her strong and compassionate presence throughout class?

What draws you to the classes you keep returning to? Whether you practice Bikram or Ashtanga, Vinyasa or Hatha, it makes a huge difference how your instructor leads you through the postures. They could be celebrity teachers on a DVD like Rodney Yee, Seane Corne, Shiva Rea, and Rod Stryker, or the owners at your neighborhood studio.

What do you love about their teaching style?

I'd love to hear :)

Stories from a Bikram Yoga Teacher

Photos courtesy of Shavon Hutchinson.

One of my favorite Bikram bloggers recently returned from Bikram Teacher Training. Congrats, Shavon! You are rockin' the hot room already :)

I couldn't resist sharing Shavon's story about how Bikram yoga has changed her life for the better. Even in the few weeks since Shavon returned from the Yoga Bubble, she says she's noticed a difference in the way she feels and how people perceive her. Plus, she's started to make the world a better place, one person at a time. How amazing is that?!

People Talk to Me

By Shavon Hutchinson

It is interesting. People, even strangers, talk to me now. I've noticed this since being back from training. 

 As I was reminded by a fellow trainee Facebook friend, Boss told us our friends, families and relatives will see us differently after training. I think this is true, especially since I feel so different after training. 

 I still can't quite put my finger on it, but there is something different about me now and I like it. I feel softer, calmer, more at peace with me, flaws and all.

So I am back to a day job now. A coworker of mine came to talk to me about stuff and it got me thinking. She was saying how she wants to be a better woman so those characteristics would reflect in her children. 

I immediately thought of yoga of course and then also about my negative world views. See, I think there is a lot of change that our society can benefit from. 

If we were a closer knit community of people rather than a bunch of individuals then I think we would treat others and the earth differently. When people have a regular yoga practice they often take the principles they learn in class off the mat and into the real world. 

That's what so cool about yoga is that it makes you better so you can go out into the world and treat others better.

Qualities like patience, acceptance, tolerance and focus can't help but foster and spill over into our everyday lives. We could all benefit from a little dose of those qualities from time to time. It is nice to see I am possibly projecting those qualities outward. Making the world a better place one person at a time.

Namaste to you, beautiful lady. Keep it up!

Do you have a story about Bikram yoga teacher training you'd like to share? Email me at aliveinthefire at
gmail dot com today!

Hug Your Mom

Photo via Andrew and Carissa.

Something about being a little under the weather has me missing my mom extra this week. When is the last time you gave your mom a good hug?

Nothing says I love you better :) xoxo

Photo via Andrew and Carissa. She is seriously an awesome mom! 
If you're considering adoption or want to be inspired by adoptive parents with hearts of gold, read their story.
Photo via RosenCrown.
Photo via Andrew and Carissa.

Love for Little Ones

I recently discovered a beautiful blog by a family called The Colemans, Mindy and Daniel. They recently welcomed baby Isaac into the world. Isn't he precious?

The Colemans have a unique story to tell. Their baby boy has fanconi anemia, a rare blood disorder. 

Little Isaac has already undergone surgery and he faces a list of anomalies that will make for a challenging childhood, including kidney troubles, slow or stunted growth, missing thumbs, and an imperforate anus.

The Colemans could use your help! Please pray for them or make a donation via PayPal to their medical fund for Isaac. You can click the photo or link above, or go to their blog to learn more.

My heart and prayers go out to you, Colemans. May you continue to find strength during this difficult time, and may the small moments of joy with your son bring you peace. xoxo!

Throw a Yoga Party

Photo via Lululemon.

Have you guys heard of throwing a yoga party?

It's this fun idea where you invite a bunch of friends over, hire a yoga instructor to come to your place, and then enjoy a relaxing hour or two of asanas and meditation together.

What's great is that a party like this appeals to beginners and experienced yogis alike. Your friends who are already dedicated to their practice can spend time doing something they love, plus newbies can try out poses in a comfortable and non-threatening environment.

Here are some ideas to make your yoga celebration extra special:
  • Chat with the instructor you're hiring before the night of the party. Decide what sort of practice you want to host -- something easy and laid-back with restorative postures? Or something more energizing? By planning ahead, you'll be able to let your guests know what to expect.
  • Light candles for the practice. How cute are these ones?
  • Leave a few yoga books on your coffee table so friends can peek and learn more. I recommend the Bandha Yoga series, Stephen Cope's The Wisdom of Yoga or Bikram's guide. They are all fascinating!
Photos via Pinterest and Blue Kite Photo.
Sounds like a wonderful party to me!

PS How cute is this yoga party for kids?

With a Calm Face

Photos via Pinterest, here and here 

There's this little saying I've heard in yoga many times (especially Bikram classes). It goes, "You can't do the posture with your face."

As in: go ahead and relax your facial muscles, relax your mind, relax everything you can, all those muscles that you don't need to do the posture!

Because furrowing your brow and straining your forehead aren't going to help much. Plus, it's so much more calming to do a challenging pose if you can let go of tension in your face. It's a great little instant relaxation technique.

I was reminded of this during my bike ride to work this morning, as the wind pushed hard against me, taking my breath away and keeping me in the 1-5 mile per hour speed range. I realized, hey, I can't ride this bike with my face! and figured I might as well stop trying :) It worked -- I enjoyed the rest of the windy way there much more after that.

Photo via Pinterest.

PS For some other cool ways to relax, try a massage or let yourself drift far, far away in savasana. You can also choose not to suffer in the midst of chaos. Namaste.

Deepak Chopra and a Video Game for Yogis

It's rare to think of yogis playing video games... but there's one that's just been released by Deepak Chopra that may change that. 

Have you guys heard of Leela? It's a ground-breaking game featuring relaxation and meditation techniques which spotlight the chakras. Kinect technology also allows you to use the game to track and monitor your breathing during meditation and gentle, restful body gestures. Now I'm not usually a video game person, but that's one I'd love to try!

To celebrate the release of the game, Leela is launching a Mandala Creativity Contest through their Mandala Facebook app. If you enter a customized mandala drawing into the contest, you could win the Leela videogame or the Leela CD soundtrack.

Photo via SC Eyelines.

A “mandala” is artwork that expresses an individual’s unique essence and intentions. With the Leela Mandala app, you can create, customize and share your own personal mandalas with friends. Then, from November 15th 2011 to December 9th, 2011 you can submit your mandala to the Leela Mandala Creativity Contest for a chance to win prizes. Winners will be chosen each week by a committee which includes Deepak Chopra himself.

Photo via Leela by Deepak Chopra.

The Art of Flight

Have you had any adventure in your life lately?

After watching this inspiring -- and also insane! -- documentary, I am totally motivated to try something new and exciting. I'm not sure I have the daring to ride a snowboard down mountains in Alaska and Patagonia, but hey :) I figured I'll start small and maybe take an art class or try tai chi or Ashtanga at a new studio.

As star snowboarder Travis Rice says in the film, "Adventure is what you make it."

What sorts of daring things do you do, readers?