I have recently been invited by the Greenpoint Gazette to contribute health and lifestyle education and tidbits through my column “Life in Balance”. Below is my inaugural article detailing the history and benefits of coconut water – the ultimate summer refresher.. Enjoy!
Life in Balance: Much Ado About Coconut Water
Aug 04, 2011by Alana Kessler
The Greenpoint Gazette welcomes Alana Kessler’s monthly nutrition and lifestyle column
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you have come across some version of coconut water. And with good reason.
Although coconut palms can be found in a wide variety of places, most brands use the water from early coconuts native to Malaysia, Polynesia, and southern Asia.
I have been an advocate of coconut water for years as a natural sports drink, hydration source and beauty aid. Nutritionally, coconut water is low in fat, calories and naturally occurring sugar. It has no added sugar, no cholesterol and boasts a natural balance of sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium- making it a healthy electrolyte drink. Coconut water can also act as a natural digestive aid for feeding infants (it contains organic growth promoting compounds), reducing intestinal disturbances.
In addition to being delicious and refreshing, coconuts are anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-microbial, helping to prevent intestinal gas while removing toxins and increasing the digestive tract’s ability to absorb nutrients. Coconut balances acid levels due to its alkaline nature creating a serene internal physical environment. This makes it a perfect beverage for the hot summer months when we tend to overheat both physically and emotionally.
The calming and cooling benefits of coconut water also offer relief for a variety of clinical complaints in postmenopausal women, including burning sensations and hot flashes. These benefits also makes it an excellent choice for liver and cardiovascular problems, hepatitis or inflammation and due to its diuretic, arterial and fluid balance properties and has received a reputation for being a natural stress buster.
Since it helps regulate the functioning of the intestine by removing toxins expressed through the skin, coconut water promotes a smoother and clearer essence to the skin as well.
All in all, you really can’t go wrong with fresh coconut water as your beverage of choice for summer!
Summer Coco Cooler
2 cups tender coconut water
1 cup coconut meat
1 cup watermelon
1 tbsp lemon juice
Blend the coconut scrapings and melon
Add coconut water, lime juice and blend again. Chill well.
Tuesdays 6-7pm and Sundays 12-1pm
with Alana Kessler
In this class you will begin to learn the traditional Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga. We will introduce and explore the foundational postures sequentially in a slow, safe and instructional manner ensuring proper development and understanding on both a physical and subtle level. As proficiency and ease of breath increases, the student can advance into the Ashtanga (led style) class with confidence.
Primary series, also known as Yoga Chikitsa, means yoga therapy – a program that when done regularly cures your ailments and purifies the physical body, lengthening the backbody and strengthening the front body to prepare for deeper yogic practice — both physical and meditative.
Alana Kessler MS RD CDN CYT and is the founder of Sangha Yoga Shala, a community nutrition, yoga and conscious living space located in New York City. Steadfast in her passion for healthy living, she continues to deepen her knowledge through her many teachers and life itself, which she firmly believes is the greatest teacher of all. Through the integration of nutrition, yoga, mindfulness, and a dedicated personal practice of over a decade, Alana provides individuals with the practical tools they need to live more balanced and meaningful lives. She founded Sangha Yoga Shala as a way of reaching a greater scope of individuals on a deeper level.
Eternally grateful to the people, experiences and education which have helped shape her practice and offering, Alana is currently influenced by Ashtanga Yoga as taught by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and is dedicated to a daily mysore style practice at Ashtanga Yoga New York with Eddie Stern.
Personally transformed by the cleansing and purifying sequencing of Ashtanga yoga, Alana’s classes are taught directly from her own personal practice, offering an intelligent, compassionate and physically challenging environment. Students are invited to embrace and transcend limitations by connecting breath with movement in a dynamic meditative flow.
As a Registered Dietitian and Certified Ayurvedic practitioner with a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics from NYU, Alana complements her teaching by encouraging and supporting individuals and groups to integrate nutrition, mindful lifestyle behaviors and yoga as an effective means to nurture and achieve their goals.
Alana is the author of “Life in Balance”; the nutrition and lifestyle column in the Greenpoint Gazette.
I had a conversation the other day with one of my students. Although he has been practicing yoga for a year and change, he only recently began to commit to a regular weekly Ashtanga practice at the studio. We began discussing why this particular practice is so challenging. I explained that although the poses can be difficult to attain, its the repetition of the sequence in combination with the preconceived expectations surrounding the achievement of the posture and how that relates to your ego that is the true challenge. As humans we identify with an idea of who we believe to be and what behaviors serve us and don’t serve us.
As we move through our lives, we create experiences to validate those beliefs not recognizing that while we live to serve our ego, we may be committing to a lifetime of going in circles and ultimate suffering. Its confusing though, because as objective as we try to be with our choices and decisions, the mind inherently will steer you in the direction of satisfying the ego, only to leave you in a cycle of excitement, nervous anticipation, action, dissatisfaction, blame and then searching for the next thing to pacify the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system ..Its scientific really.. not so dissimilar than any other kind of addiction.
It is true, we can be addicted to things that are “good for us” according to society’s standards. Exercise for example is theoretically always healthy, but in relation to this conversation I am going to disagree. It always goes back to the intention. I will share a story…
I had been a runner since high school. Barring my two knee surgeries and the time it took to recover, I had a strong attachment to running as a means to stay fit. I loved the feeling I would get as I finished a run.. legs wobbly, red face, heart pumping wildly, all this resulted in an idea of assurance that I would remain in good shape… For a while I didn’t notice the effect it was having on my yoga practice. And by yoga practice, I don’t mean ‘asana’ practice. My iron will allowed me the ability to “do” everything in class if I willed myself to without much attention to the essence of the pose. In fact, the subtle nature of anything wasn’t really interesting to me. I was more enamored by the end result—was I able to get my legs up in headstand or not. How I got there didn’t really matter, whether it was by sheer momentum or if I was holding my breath.. In that moment in time, that was success.
I relayed this story to my student as I continued to on to explain how I gave up running altogether. Although the yoga was helping my running, the running was limiting my yoga as it relates to the values of non harming, detachment, and engaging with the subtleties of nature. You see.. although running isn’t necessarily “bad for me”, my practice had led me to the real practice.
So often in classes we talk about these concepts of the yamas (societal ethics), niyamas (personal ethics) and kleshas (obstacles) .. almost expecting that the shedding of layers will consist of letting go of habits or patterns that our ego agrees clearly don’t serve us and practice will help us gather the strength to do so…however, the kicker comes when our consciousness contradicts with our ego and the practice serves as the mirror to the witness… the objective self equipped with the clarity, courage and faith to choose the action that truly serves our higher intention without judgement, rationalization or attachment to preconceived expectations.
To choose to leave things behind, especially things, people, actions that we have identified and defined ourselves by for so long is hard to do. For me its been the hardest part of my practice and I mourn and celebrate the loss of my old self every time I let another thing go. But the space has been easier to sit in over time and has never proven to be anything but fruitful and exactly what I had been looking for all along.
In yoga, there is theory and there is practice. Theory opens your mind to a teaching, raising new levels of awareness, whereas practice allows you to integrate that teaching through an experience – creating a physical pneumonic device so to speak. In my Ashtanga classes, I have the gift of teaching faith to my students every day (at least once a day), in Janu sirsasana C. Often known as the toe-breaking pose, this posture instructs the toes of one foot to be flexed on the floor, while the leg of said foot is bent to the side at the knee. The toes are facing the knee while the heel is pressing into the navel.
It is not uncommon that when we arrive at this pose in class I am met with sighs and “are you crazy” expressions. The truth is, this pose is hard. When beginning to do the pose correctly it hurts your toes.. a lot! It should hurt your toes, so it doesn’t hurt your knees. It takes many months and years of practice to access this pose even remotely without compromising the alignment of the hip, knee and ankle. And flexibility is not favored over those lacking in it, because sometimes unlearning the habits of your flexibility is more of a challenge than waiting for the body to open up. The redeeming factor to remember is that with consistent courage to practice the pose it will hurt until doesn’t anymore, and that I can guarantee.
But this is exactly what I love about this pose. There is an opportunity for everybody (literally) to learn the lesson of faith.
Practice and all is coming – Sri K. Patthabi Jois
4-5 whole dates
1 cup whole organic milk (preferably not homogenized), can replace with almond or rice milk
2 pinches cinnamon powder. Boil the milk until it foams once. Turn off the heat.
Add a bit of rose water
Blend the milk, cinnamon and dates in an automatic blender until the dates are finely ground.
What is a pose?
In my understanding, a pose is an opportunity to explore deep rooted patterns and expectations. A physical tangible experience in which one comes face to face with all the realities avoided by creating other experiences in which to distract oneself with. This can be numerous things.. most commonly recognized as victimization, denial, busyness, defensiveness, unhealthy relationships, and the list goes on. But these aren’t necessarily bad things.. just part of being a human. A perfectly imperfect being and there is no getting around that simple truth.
Its been very freeing for me to accept this. Its amazing how compassionate and forgiving the world looks when choosing to view life, yoga, and everything in fact as a vehicle to examine the lens in which we view the world. What happens though when given the opportunity to change the prescription and the perspective? Its an uncomfortable place to be.. in that space between reaction and transformation especially when there is no road map leading to “Shift in Perspective.”
This is where I have found my practice to be most beneficial. Not only am I cultivating the intuition to sense a familiar scenario happening whether it be in actions or beliefs, but the willingness to investigate a self imposed understanding of a posture or situation creates a new imprint in my mind. The imprint of pause and exploration without judgement.
We can only transform when respecting the transitions- whether that be as simple as breathing freely and completely during vinyasa without rushing, bending a knee an inch more in warrior two and experiencing how that simple act opens up a whole other level of awareness in the lower body and spine, or trying to stretch your chest forward and straighten your legs and arms a little more in tortoise pose before making the transition to bind. Because even if you can bind and maybe cross your legs behind your head, there is so much more to be learned and gained by taking the time to respect the process and investigate that “drive by” element of the posture even if it is hard and “you can do it anyway so whats the point”. It is the belief that we have figured it all out already that keeps us stuck in old patters and suffering. Choose to embrace the opportunity to explore another point of view in posture so you can apply that habit to your life thus creating less likelihood of learning the same lesson over and over again.
That being said, once you have been courageous enough to pause in your practice and allow new levels of awareness and physical openings to arise, often we need outside help in the form of an adjustment in posture or objectivity in conversation to authentically integrate this fresh consciousness into our lives and truly transform. Cultivating the humility to seek out a trusted teacher and ask for help – whether it be a yoga instructor, mother, best friend, or colleague is essential to truly achieve the benefits. Ultimately we are all teachers and students of each other offering something unique and special.
Some people practice yoga to see what they can do.. others practice to see who they are. Lets be the latter.