Monday, September 23, 2013

Easy paleo-friendly meals

I'm still processing my feelings about my month-long quest to not procrastinate, so I thought I'd put up a post on my favorite no-think paleo-friendly meals. 

 Chicken thighs and salad
I love chicken thighs. They are so tender and juicy, and nearly impossible to burn in the oven. W00t! I know conventional wisdom says don't eat the skin, but paleo says have at it! Fat does not make you fat, and thank goodness. The meat on the chicken stays tender, while the skin gets crispy. For the salad buy your favorite mix of greens. I went with a kale mixture because kale is a powerhouse when it comes to nutrients, and added some carrots and bell peppers for sweetness.
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • Salt, pepper, and dried garlic to taste
  • Salad greens
  • Any vegetables you like
  • For dressing I usually get a good aged balsamic vinegar and some olive oil. This is a good Texas balsamic vinegar.

1. Heat oven to 350º
2. Liberally season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and garlic
3. Place chicken in oven for 1 hour.
4. Go do whatever else you need to do. Clean house. Write novel. Watch kids. Whatever.
5. When timer goes off, turn off the oven and turn the broiler on high. Leave the chicken in there until the skin turns golden brown. Take it out of the oven when you're satisfied with the crispiness.
6. Put together salad.
7. Enjoy.

 Eggs and veggies on the go
Okay, I admit this is not as pretty as the last picture, but I did take this at 4am or some other ridiculously early hour in the morning. This is my go-to lunch for work when I don't have time to put something else together. I usually boil a dozen eggs at the beginning of the week, and use them as quick protein throughout my work week. This is simple, healthy, cheap, and good. Bonus, you won't regret eating this at the end of the day. If you need something to dip your veggies in, there's always some baba ganoush, pesto, or if you're not doing paleo, hummus. Enough said.

Spicy Italian sausage with brussel sprouts
I didn't grow up eating brussel sprouts, so I don't have a kid-like aversion to them. If you havne't tried them in a while, might I recommend you take another go at them. This recipe is so simple. I love the way the fat from the sausage gets on the brussel sprouts, helping them to caramelize in the oven. So good.
  • 1 package spicy Italian sausage
  • brussel sprouts (I'd say about ½ cup per sausage, they will shrink a little in the oven)
  • olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste
    1. Preheat oven to 400º
    2. Cut bottom end of brussel sprouts off, and cut them in half.
    3. Season with salt and pepper.
    4. Put a liberal amount of olive oil on and mix together.
    5. Place sausage on top of sprouts.
    6. Cook for 30-35 minutes, or until sprouts are sufficiently tender and crispy

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Don't Procrastinate. Relax Now! My first two weeks without procrastination.

When I decided to go a month without procrastinating, I failed to take into account one critical factor: I have a Type A Personality. As such, I tend to be unapologetically goal driven. I spent the first couple of days avoiding TV and leisure, deciding instead to do more practical things such as laundry or meal prep, tasks which are generally considered good ideas, but rarely bring me joy. By the third day, I had to give myself permission to sit down and relax. It was honestly the best thing I could have done with my time, otherwise my sanity levels may have plummeted (although, I knew going in that down time was not procrastination, this important piece of knowledge somehow got lost in my goal-driven mindset).
© Freeze | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is sit and be still

Before beginning my month-long experiment, I thought a lot about what I might take away from the experience. A cleaner, more organized house. Five pounds lost. Several more chapters written/edited. An appreciation for how much stuff I could get done if I stopped thinking about doing it and just did it. The list goes on. One of the more surprising things I found is my need for mindfulness. I find myself often checking in with how I'm feeling, what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it. For example, now when I watch TV, I ask myself am I doing this because my mental resources are spent, or because I am avoiding doing an unpleasant task. Even more surprising to me (although probably no one else) is the amount of stuff that didn't get done. Not because I was procrastinating on doing it, but because I just didn't have the time to do it right away. It's validating to learn that I wasn't being unproductive, but rather just had too much to do. I sure this gem shocks very few people. For many people, this seems to be the new American lifestyle.

But, at the risk of being preachy, let me say this to everyone reading (myself included): give yourself a break. If you’re hard on yourself for not getting more done because you decided reading a book or watching TV was more pleasant, honor that taking time for yourself might be exactly what you needed and was the best thing for you to do with your time. Besides, who cares if you get loads of stuff done, if you’re miserable doing it all?

Don’t procrastinate. Relax now.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Start of My Month Without Procrastination

Procrastination is not the problem. It is the solution...” declared Ellen Degeneres at her 2003 Her and Now show. Her point was not that we should do nothing, but rather that we often are over-stressed, over-worked, and under-enjoying life. Ultimately, I agree with her. I find I often forget to stop and enjoy the moment.
This may seem an odd way to start a blog post about my month-long, no-procrastination experiment, but let me back up a little bit and explain. When I say a month of no procrastination, I do not mean my month- long slog to fill every waking moment with things to do. That would end with me as a puddle on my bedroom floor, frazzled into uselessness because I was so overwhelmed. There are always things that one could be doing. Instead, I mean to pursue each of my life goals without excuse or hesitation.
I want to know if I can have it all: good health and weight loss, an active social life, a strong marriage, a budding writing career, a great job in social work, and a clean house, to boot.
Can we have it all, or does something have to give?
I'll keep you updated.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bikram Yoga: Not for Beginners

I am fidgeting with my tank top and short-shorts which are entirely too tight and reveal more than I would like, but what else would I wear? I'm in a 105ºF room, with 40% humidity. The room stinks of stale sweat, and the heat is oppressive. I can deal with it. My body starts sweating before class begins. I can handle it. I'm in a Bikram Yoga class, and the only thing that really irritates me is the claims and directions of the Bikram standardized script, a script which is repeated almost verbatim in all Bikram Yoga studios. In this yoga room my back bends should hurt, a comment that I have never heard in any of my other yoga classes in nine years practice. In fact, all my other yoga instructors advised students to back off when they felt pain. 
Woman doing forward fold at Bikram Yoga conference
My spine hurts just looking at this
CC BY 2.5 by yanivmord
In this room, it's like a different yoga world. In here pyramid pose (called standing separate leg head to knee pose in Bikram) improves the functioning of my thyroid. In here, I should not keep a micro-bend in my knee to protect my ligaments and joints from tears. No. In here I lock my knee. I hear this command from the front of the room, and in my mind I can see my yoga instructors, their eyes wide and mouths agape. I am hyperflexible, and without trying I can hyper-extend my knee, increasing my risk of injury and damage to my knee joint.
In this room, wind-removing pose not only stretches my hip flexor, but also massages my transverse, descending, and ascending colon. Do I want my colon massaged? In this hot, sweaty room, wind-removing pose seems, at best, like a bad idea, and, at worst, a private joke played on the masses by Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga.
And why is it so hot in here? The script via the teacher says it's to remove toxins from my body. At these words, I find myself mentally rolling my eyes. “Toxins” is used as such a vague buzzword that it hardly has meaning. Is the instructor talking about exogenous or endogenous toxins? Heavy metals? Pesticides? Bacteria? Viruses? What kinds of toxins could she possibly mean, and does she even know? Is a system which is designed for keeping my body cool really a productive way of removing them?
At least a dozen times, I have gone through this or similar mental chatter while in a Bikram Yoga class, the same questions rattling around in my head.
I asked questions of my instructors after classes, once the mask and words of Bikram Choudhury have fallen away. Outside of class, they are more like the yoga instructors I'm used to; accommodating; understanding. Outside of class they seem to recognize that people have different bodies and different levels of skill. They are no longer barking half-instructions at me over a microphone. I immediately like them more after class. The answers are informative, but incomplete. The words I'm looking for don't appear in their speech --words like 'research', 'studies', and 'safe'. I know their answers would be only a jumping-off point even if they were more research-based, after all their livelihood is intertwined with Bikram Yoga's success. Thus I send myself deep into the bowels of Google Scholar, searching for studies on Bikram Yoga. The research is few and far between, although I am happy to see that the Bikram Yoga studio I attend works with The University of Texas to change that. I found a study that suggests Bikram Yoga improves pulmonary function and potentially blood pressure, but does not give adequate stimulus to change resting heart rate, or aerobic fitness [1]. Big deal? Other research has found that yoga that includes pranayama breathing exercises, like Bikram, improve lung function [1,2] and yoga in general helps control blood pressure [3]. Research on the effects of yoga on the thyroid show similar results. Rawal, for example, showed that participants released more thyroid hormones after they practiced yoga [4]. Anu S and Senthil Nathan showed that inversions in yoga increase blood flow to the thyroid [5]. However, there is no research saying how great an affect this has on the thyroid. And again, this is common to any hatha yoga practice, not just Bikram. I did find one intervention study that used women diagnosed with hypothyroidism as participants. The study found that doing yoga everyday for one month improved their quality of life [6], but not that it improved their thyroid.
Why then is all the sweating and heat necessary? According to a Bikram website, the heat “allows for deeper stretching, purifies the body, increases circulation and strengthens heart rate for a better cardiovascular workout” [7]. I've already stated that there hasn't been sufficient evidence to claim that Bikram Yoga is an aerobic workout. Heat does allow for deeper stretching and increased circulation, but if you're hyperflexible like me, is that a good thing? Experts say 'no'. The director of orthopedic and sports rehabilitation at the Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, Dr. Robert Golin says “[h]eat increases one's metabolic rate, and by warming you up, it allows you to stretch more...But once you stretch a muscle beyond 20 to 25 percent of its resting length, you begin to damage a muscle” [8]. The New York Times article in which Dr. Golin was consulted, goes on to say that any pose requiring extreme bending of the knee such as Bikram squats or fixed firm pose “are the most likely to cause tears in knee cartilage” [8]. The news just gets worse for Bikram lovers as far as the knee goes. The truth is, you should never hyper-extend your knee, not even if your quadriceps are engaged. Both the Yale Medical Group and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons advise not to lock your knee during weight lifting or stretching [9, 10]. As for those who are hyper-flexible and can easily hyper-extend the prognosis is worse. Hyper-extension of the knee can overstretch ligaments, stresses the front of the knee joint surface and weakens the quadriceps” [11]. Lee Staebler, a licensed physical therapist, says that “[l]igaments, tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones or cartilage at a joint, do not regain their shape once they are stretched out... A loose joint can be a like a loose door hinge that prevents the door from closing tightly” [8]. 
Bikram Choudhury doing toe stand
CC BY 2.5 by yanivnord
So while the heat does not help with cardiac function, it does allow for increased stretching, but that can damage muscle tissue. Surely there must be something redeeming about the hellacious heat. To all my Bikram lovers, I can offer you a few bones. Research done on sweat has shown that along with water, minerals, urea, and lactate, the human body does release heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic, lead, and mercury in sweat [12 ]. Thus, one can say that the heat does help remove toxins from the body. From personal experience, I can tell you that Bikram Yoga reduces my recovery time from Crossfit in a way I've never experienced in any other form of yoga. 
Bikram Choudhury standing on a student
CC BY 2.5 by tiarescott
I think my truth is that Bikram Yoga makes me nervous. I see in it a lot of my potential downfalls, such as its focus on flexibility, which I have too much of already, and the external world. In Bikram, students are not supposed to take their eyes off of the mirror for the standing series. This forces me to focus externally on how I look, as opposed to noticing my internal state or how I feel in a pose. Recently, The New York Times posted an article called “How Yoga Can Wreck your Body.” In it, there are some spectacularly horrifying stories of how bad yoga can be. Don't get me wrong, yoga has many many benefits, but these benefits come only if we are mindful of our bodies. As yoga teacher David Bauer said, “[w]hen you are in a hot studio filled with Hard-core Type A personalities, and everyone's adrenaline and endorphins are pumping, you're not feeling any pain... and it may mask how far you can go” [8]. This more than anything makes me nervous about Bikram; the thought indicates to me that because I am competitive and I do push my physical limits, I might hurt myself --badly.
Will I go back to Bikram Yoga again? Of course I will, my muscles feel better when I do. But I have nine years of yoga training to lean on to prevent me from hurting myself.
Would I recommend Bikram to someone who's never done yoga?
Not a chance.

Works Cited
1. Abel, A. N., Lloyd, L. K., Williams, J. S., & Miller, B. K. (2012). Physiological characterisitcs of long-term bikram yoga practitioners. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online15(5), 32-39.
2. Hewett, Z. L., Ransdell, L. B., Gao, Y., Petlichkoff, L. M., & Lucas, S. (2011). An examination of the effectiveness of an 8-week bikram yoga program on mindfulness, perceived stress, and physical fitness. Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness,9(2), 87-92.
3. Jayasinghe, S. R. (2004). Yoga in cardiac health: A review. European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation11(5), 369-375.
4. Alexander, T. (2011, May 26). Does yoga bridge pose help the thyroid gland?. Retrieved from
5. S, A., & Nathan, S. (2013). Doppler monitoring of thyroid blood flow before and after yogasanas.National Journal of Basic Medical Sciences3(1), Retrieved from
6. Singh, P., Singh, B., Dave, R., & Udainiya, R. (2011). The impact of yoga upon female patients suffering from hypothyroidism. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice17, 132-134.
7. Bikram Yoga of Ashland. (n.d.). Faq. Retrieved from
8. Kreahling, L. (2004, March 30). When does flexibile become harmful? 'hot' yoga draws fire. The New York Times. Retrieved from
9. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2009, February). Knee exercises. Retrieved from
10. Yale Medical Group. (n.d.). Simple exercises to make you limber. Retrieved from
11. Cole, R. (n.d.). Please your knees. Retrieved from
12. Sears, M. E., Kerr, K. J., & Bray, R. I. (2012). Arsenic, cadmium, led, and mercury in sweat: A systematic review. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, Retrieved from
13. Broad, W. (2012, January 05). How yoga can wreck your body. Retrieved from

Other Relevant Resources

Here is some research done by an Austin Texas Bikram studio, along with The University of Texas

This is a video done by Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy

Friday, March 29, 2013

Movie Review: The East

It's been almost 2 weeks since I went to go see the movie The East at SXSW, and since then I've been struggling with what I wanted to say in this post. Each time I wrote a draft it never felt quite right, so I will say my thoughts as plainly as I can, and hope it feels cohesive. Forgive me if my thoughts wander a little, it's just how my brain works. 
Alexander Skarsgard at SXSW. Copyright Katerina Bent, all rights reserved

I really enjoyed The East, which is about an eco-terrorist group that exacts revenge on several large companies for their harmful practices. The main character, Sarah (played by co-writer Brit Marling) is sent out by a private security firm to infiltrate and assess the threat of the terrorist group known as The East. However, Sarah finds herself sympathizing with their movement as the story goes on. (I would caution those who've read reviews that say Sarah's change of heart is due to her falling for The East's enigmatic leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). There is a very very small romance in this story, but it's not the main story). I found The East to be a well balanced movie in the sense that there's a lot of focus on the characters, and the writers still manage to tell a compelling story. The East has a freshness about it that Hollywood movies often lack. The actors don't lean on overused archetypes in their performances, and the writers don't give any easy answers. I couldn't guess what was going to happen, and when I tried, I was proven wrong. I think one of the things that contributes strongly to its feeling of authenticity is its moral ambiguity. As Alexander Skarsgard said in the Q&A, “I've watched this movie twice, and I still don't know who the villain is.”
I think The East is really well done, and I'm someone who regularly finds myself trapped between two worlds when it comes to finding movies I like. I don't like Hollywood blockbusters because they often focus on special effects, and forget the story. I don't love a lot of independent films because they often feel obscure and strange. I think The East hits a good medium. I found it relatable as a reflection of what people are feeling at this point in history.
There was a anecdote told at the Q&A that I wanted to share. While making the movie the director, Zal Batmanglij, and the costume department were having trouble designing clothes that seemed right for the counter culture terrorist group. Batmanglij had the costume department go out and “rent” clothes from those in the counter culture. As the actors were digging through trash bags full of clothes, one of the costume designers said, “oh, we'll have to wash all of these.” To which Batmanglij replied, “you will not touch these clothes!” Apparently Batmanglij felt that the smell and stains contributed to the authenticity of the costume. Ellen Page (who plays Izzy) commented that the black hoodie that she wore often in the film had a very distinct smell along with a bag of stale pretzels in the pocket, so she “had a good snack for between takes.”
Alexander Skarsgard at SXSW. Copyright Katerina Bent, all rights reserved

There was one part of the movie where I asked myself, “Does Alexander Skarsgard need to be naked here?” And then my resounding answer was, “Do I really mind?” No. No I didn't. By the way, I found myself slightly distracted during the movie because Alexander Skarsgard was in the theater, and I kept sneaking peeks at him, one row up, and halfway across the room.
My recommendation is to go see The East. It's an interesting and thought-provoking film. Hopefully you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Please let me know your thoughts on the film if you've seen it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Not Yet A Dead Blog

I haven't written a blog in a while. I know. I recently moved into a new house, my husband's and my first house, in fact. My family visited three days after we closed, and then the holidays happened. I've spent the past two months going to parties, reading, and catching up with people. Now that I again have my head on straight, and don't feel as if I'm doing rapid-fire fun, I'm ready to get back to writing.
I wanted to write a little bit about memory. You see, memory is malleable. Every time we take a memory out from long-term storage into working memory, we have the ability to change that memory. Our brains are not video cameras. We do not recall events exactly as they happened, not even traumatic events, a point that is beautifully illustrated in the Robin Williams movie The Final Cut. Mr. Williams portrays a character who edits the film of people's lives for their funerals. people's recordings of their entire lives after they die. In one scene, at a funeral, a man comes up to him and asks him if he changed the color of the lamp to be blue. Williams replies, “No, I would never do that.” The man nods and walks away, mumbling something about how he could have sworn that the lamp was green. I'm sure we've all experienced something similar. We were sure we got the milk from the grocery store, or that the driveway was on the left and not the right. The point is, our memory is not perfect. (My own personal grammar Nazi put it beautifully when he said “memory is impressions, not details.”)
Memory is so changeable that even the mere suggestion that an event happened can implant a memory. In a research study done by Loftus and Pickrell(1995), researchers would give a booklet of four situations to the participants. Three of the situations did happen to the participants, the fourth didn't. The fourth situation described the participant as a five-years-old child being lost in a mall. The participants were asked to journal about what they remembered of these experiences, once a day, for five days. What researchers found was that the participants would recall vivid details about being lost in a mall, even though the situation described to them never happened. In essence, the researcher had only had to suggest that this incident did happen, and voila!-- a false memory. (This knowledge, along with a few other psychology tidbits, was enough to make me laugh heartily at the movie Inception).
Interestingly, even vivid events (those in which we are sure we remember exactly where we were, what we were wearing, whom we were with etc...) aren't specially protected by memory. Talarico and Rubin (2001) sent out questionnaires the day after 9/11/2001, asking participants where they were when they heard about the terrorist attacks. Months later, they sent out the same questionnaire and compared the answers. Surprisingly, even with such a memorable event as 9/11, people misremembered where they were when they first heard the news. Yet, over time (the researchers polled the participants a third time) the subjects became more sure of where they were (and with less accuracy). Now, don't get me wrong, there are cases of repressed memories that are true. People can remember traumatic events long after they happened. However, they are few and far between -- not at all the norm.
My point is: memory is malleable.
My second point is a little bit harder to swallow. I have a close personal friend who holds onto memories from her childhood. They cause her a lot of stress (they also strain some of her current relationships). I'll be honest, this is where my thoughts get sticky and hard to communicate fully. I understand that it can be difficult to let go of painful memories and experiences, and, if it were easy to let go, she would. My question to her and to others who are holding onto painful past experiences would be simply this: why? Why make yourself miserable over something that is not even real, anymore, and may be misremembered, anyhow? How does it serve you -- and your life?
When I was in college (although, now that I'm writing it, I wonder if it was when I was in high school) I had a professor talk about a story in which the main character was carrying luggage from one train to the next, and the next, and so on. The luggage was constantly burdening the character. The professor explained that the luggage was a metaphor for memories, memories which burdened the owner. At first I was appalled. I don't want to forget the past! My past is who I am! I've learned from my past mistakes. I need those memories! For me, I can see myself clutching at these memories that were painful and holding me back. Now I can think about my past with less emotional attachment (sometimes, not always), and I feel happier for it.
P.S. A few weeks after I wrote this blog, the universe slapped me in the face. I started to think about a friendship that ended badly. A person whom I considered a close personal friend stopped talking to me because of some drama that was going on with someone else I was close to. She was never mean or told me it was over. She simply stopped talking to me. I found myself thinking about her, wondering if she ever thinks about me. I think ultimately my feeling “stuck” in this past relationship has almost nothing to do with her, and more to do with my own feelings of inadequacy. My point is, I get that sometimes we do get stuck in the past. My question is still the same, though: Why don't we just let it go? It doesn't serve us to hold on.