Tiny Bites

Meditating with my Tomatoes

You may know that I volunteer at the Orange Home Grown Education Farm and I love it! I’ve become a big gardening enthusiast and look forward to our Friday morning volunteer work days. I’ve been trying to sprout seeds for the farm, and it’s been a mix of success and failure. I bought a starter tray with 50 little cups, a heating pad and some soil. My friend entrusted me with some precious seeds she had purchased at a gardening conference, and I enthusiastically began. I learned that my cats think anything growing in dirt is for their entertainment. After seeing a few plants dug up and also eaten, I discovered the top for the tray.

Now the seedlings are safely behind plastic and
away from the jaws of the beasties.
I was super excited when the seeds began to poke up through the soil. Every morning and evening I’d visit them, celebrating every millimeter of growth. Weeks passed. The stems got taller, but were super skinny. They weren’t developing any leaves beyond the first two that came out of the soil. More weeks passed. I got worried. I made sure they were watered and warm, and tried making a few other changes, but just skinny stems and two leaves.
Eventually I found a YouTube video explaining that several hours of DIRECT sunlight is very important. It helps your plants move from the germinating stage into the growing mode. The symptom of too little sunlight is long skinny stems, just like the ones I was growing. My plants have been getting filtered light, not direct sun. Simple, right? I’ve relocated them to a sunny spot and they’re back on their way, growing and developing normally.
This made me think about how often in life we find ourselves not thriving,
and how meditation can help to address the issue.
There are many different approaches to meditating. When I get into conversations with people, they often say, “That’s not for me, I can’t handle trying to get my mind to do nothing.” Lots of people assume that meditation means clearing your head of all thoughts.
Because they know how busy their minds are, they are pretty sure they can’t do it!
While some traditions of meditation emphasize a still or empty mind, yoga meditation operates differently. We provide students with techniques that teach them how to direct their attention and keep it focused on a concept or an object, such as water, for example. Yoga meditation is usually designed by a teacher for a particular student.
In living our life, various experiences, and also things we frequently think about form sort of a link that influences us. In some cases, those links can become sources of stress. In others, they can provide insight or be nourishing.
Much like giving my tomatoes the proper sunlight, linking our attention to
an appropriate object can have a beneficial influence on our state.
Some people may need to link to calm, others may need to link to something energizing, and others may just need a way to contemplate and do some self-discovery. Whatever the need, yoga has a means of responding to support the person, and your teacher can assist you in this process.
It’s funny how I was giving my tomatoes what I thought they needed to grow and it wasn’t working. It wasn’t until I got information from an outside reference who had actual experience in the process that I found the right solution. It’s the same in yoga. Having a guide to help you is instrumental in your growth and progress. It’s certainly been true for me.
Meditation is a lifelong pursuit, and can provide profound benefits, but it’s not a self-taught kind of thing.
I work individually with students interested in going deeper with their yoga. I teach yoga as a therapeutic practice for healing on all levels – physical, mental, and emotional. Often, I pair yoga as a support to people making changes to their nutrition and lifestyle. My training as a holistic health coach helps me work with clients to identify what areas of life they want to work on, and together, we develop achievable goals. For information about classes and mentoring, I invite you to schedule a free 15-minute call with me.

Developing Discernment

I heard some women talking today while I was at lunch, and they were sharing about what the new year means to them. It was as you might expect, new beginnings, a re-set time, renewal and growth. We all come out of the holidays feeling a bit weathered, but then we turn our eyes forward and start thinking about what we want to do next. For many of us there’s a surge of urgency to get moving, and really start accomplishing things. After all, we’ve been distracted for the past two months! That’s how my January started.

I was full of intention to get busy, find new clients,
launch new programs.
And then I realized that I was just making myself busy without any clear direction. It felt good. I had a lot of ideas, but as I began working on various things, a sense of frenetic tension set in. Things felt stressful, and I was just getting started. I only have so much time, so I decided to step back and really prioritize what would support my goals in both my business and my life. That night, I fell ill with the sore-throat-cold thing that’s been going around. I can only tell you my disappointment and frustration at being set on the sidelines for what turned into 10 days.
I’ve been forced to rest.
A few times I felt well enough to write and look at my work, but I only had the energy to do the bare minimum. I couldn’t even think! I’m much better now, and trying to return slowly to business activities. I’ve noticed that my energy reserves were depleted and I want to make a full recovery.
In my impatience and frustration over having to rest, I became painfully aware of my need to be busy, and constantly doing. This information is useful for me. I have a habit, a pattern of being busy, and that makes me feel like I’m successful. But in reality, I think I can work much differently and be even more successful. The 10 days of rest have not been wasted. I have intentionally been quiet, trying to avoid too much TV and internet. I’ve practiced and meditated as best I could, and surprisingly, I was able to breathe every time. Now that I feel better, I am finally able to start writing down what I view as important. I will mindfully consider the ideas that come, both by their merit from a practical view, and also how these things “feel” to me.
Anything having that frantic feeling of stress
attached to it gets crossed off the list.
In the past year, I’ve encountered a lot of crossroads. My personal practice of yoga and meditation has taught me how to tell when I’m doing things for the right (and wrong) reasons. This process of discernment is a direct result of daily practice accompanied by meditation. It’s also been helped by a relationship with a primary teacher who can mentor me, and by sharing in online classes with other sincere practitioners. These group discussions and study of the ancient texts has been a profoundly supportive process.
As I consider this year’s goals, I’m cautiously relying on
the discernment that I have developed.
I know from my own experience what it feels like when I’m acting from a place of habit, fear or insecurity. I can also sense when I’m being overly aggressive and forcing things. Then there is the sweet feeling of sattva, which sits somewhere in the middle. It’s a place of profound space, clarity, and quiet. Not empty and vacuous, but solid, real, and stable. The ideas that resonate with this stability and calm are the ones that I will develop into actionable goals. Based upon my experiences, I have confidence in the process and am encouraged to continue moving forward in this way.
This is the fruit of a consistent personal practice.
We all can use yoga to help refine our discernment so that we can trust ourselves when it comes to making important decisions. Instead of going to an occasional group yoga class, maybe it’s time for you to consider investing in your personal transformation and growth by developing a personal practice, too.
I work individually with students interested in going deeper with their yoga. I teach yoga as a therapeutic practice for healing on all levels – physical, mental, and emotional. Often, I pair yoga as a support to people making changes to their nutrition and lifestyle. My training as a holistic health coach helps me work with clients to identify what areas of life they want to work on, and together, we develop achievable goals. For information about classes and mentoring, I invite you to contact me or visit my website.
Wishing you much success as you endeavor to spend your time well!

Is Summer Really Over?

NOOOO, say it isn’t so! Being from New England, fall is one of my favorite times of year. It signals a reboot. I haven’t cleaned my house (don’t judge) since June because I was doing fun stuff outside. We can open our windows because the mercury has dipped below 70. Heck, we might even be able to start a fire in the fireplace.  

Food is definitely one of those things that changes when fall rolls around. The kids are back in school, and vacations are a pile of sand in the back of the car. Our lives are more scheduled than they were three months ago. With all of this change, our eating habits change as well. All of the sudden, we don’t have time to prepare dinner and we cannot get everyone to sit down together at the same time. The produce doesn’t look as it once did. The corn has vanished, and don’t get me started on the end of tomato season. 

We tend to reach for more convenient foods quicker. I was in a store recently and a woman was buying a vegetarian (pre-packaged) sandwich and juice box. When she got to the register, she explained “the sandwich and juice were for my son. I’m just getting back into the swing of things and didn’t have time to make him lunch”.  

It made me think. Why did she feel compelled to “explain”? Are we making people feel bad, because they didn’t put a four-course lunch together for their kid? I wanted to hug her and tell her it was ok. Have you watched the movie “Bad Moms”? I have watched it four times already. If you get a chance, get it. I think it hits home for a lot of us, kids or not. The premise is we cannot do it all, all of the time. We do what we can, the best way we can.   

I will come clean. I bought Trader Joes spicy pork sausages a couple of weeks ago, I LOVED THEM. I grilled them with white beans, rosemary and white wine, then put it all on top of Boston lettuce leaves. Think lettuce tacos. I cannot remember the last time we had sausages. Eating those sausages didn’t kill us, but if we ate them all of the time, it wouldn’t be good. At all.

Eating whole foods regularly allows us to venture off the tracks every now and then. Even though the produce section isn’t as colorful as it was a couple of months ago, there is still great produce, it’s just different. Cooking is actually easier to do in the fall and winter because everything is so freezer friendly. You make one big meal, eat what you can, then freeze the rest for later on! I love nothing more than opening my freezer and seeing a slew of food that I prepared just waiting to be thawed, heated and then joyously eaten with little to no clean up.

We may be entering fall, but even in California, we can still “bulk up”. Our freezers, that is. Preparing whole foods couldn’t be easier during this time of year, really. Don’t let those funny looking squashes get the best of you. They are super nutritious, filling, and easy to prepare. That goes the same for beans, lentils, beets. In our October class, we are making a red curry lentil soup. It is amazingly simple and delicious. I hope to see you there.

If you have any questions or thoughts, I would love to hear from you: chefjennoc@gmail.com

Thanks for stopping by, Jenn

Whole Foods & Farmers Markets

What a week. My heart is heavy at the passing of Aretha Franklin. I grew up on her music. I saw an interview with Stevie Wonder who talked about his relationship with Aretha. At the end of the interview, he mentioned the cancer she had and said something that I think resonates with all of us. “What we do and what we eat affects us and everything around us”. This is even more prevalent when we, eh hem, start moving a bit slower.

Eating whole foods isn’t a diet. It is using your local produce (and boy, do we have a lot of it here in California) and a bit of imagination to sustain you and your family. A great place to start is your local farmers market. You can purchase the makings for an entire salad and probably make a friend or two. Grab your coffee, some bags and behold the beauty.

If going to a farmers market is new, start out with a salad. I walk around first, to see what is available and maybe get a couple of samples on the way. My next walk through is for purchasing. I always try to buy something I have never worked with and that looks interesting.

Think about buying your salad for the week. A salad kept covered, refrigerated and not seasoned (no salt, pepper or dressing) should keep for the week. As the week goes on, you can add grilled/roasted chicken, a piece of fish, grilled steak, etc. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes (minimal, tomatoes do not like the refrigerator), carrot (ribbons, more on this later). The varieties of lettuces alone are staggering, and all have a different taste and texture. Sometimes, I buy iceberg and a more expensive lettuce. This mixture offers a nice variety of textures and colors and is economical. You can let the farmers help you pick. They are eager for you to like what they are selling and willing to give you a taste of anything before you purchase. The grocery stores generally won’t let you do that. The more you go, the more comfortable you will become in your purchasing, and you will get to know your farmers.

Get the kids involved. You may have to “nudge” them a little, but letting them pick out what they want to eat/cook is important. It shows them who grows their food and where it comes from. Have them help in making the salad.

On a recent trip home, my 12 year old niece was in the kitchen with me. I asked her to help make a salad for dinner. You would have thought I asked her for the nuclear passcode. Well, after some “persuasion”, she was making carrot ribbons (here it is: peel the carrot, cut the bottom off, holding the carrot at an angle, with the vegetable peeler, slowly peel carrot, viola, ribbons) like nobody’s business. She ended up finishing the salad with a high five from auntie and conversation! She took pride in that salad when we all sat down for dinner.

Incorporating more whole foods in your diet makes a difference. This is totally doable and doesn’t require a complete rerack of lifestyle or dieting. Visit your local farmers markets, they would love to help you out. Don’t hesitate to shoot me an email at: chefjennoc@gmail.com with any thoughts or questions and don’t forget to check out the listings for our cooking classes. This could be a great way to get started with those whole foods.

Thanks for visiting, Chef Jenn

Recovery from Chronic Pain and Stress

laine-webOver the course of a year, Laura taught me, a harried graduate student with severe neck pain, to learn how to breathe without pain or tension by meeting my body where it was, lying on my back, day in and day out, until it became natural. She listened patiently and warmly to what caused stress in my life and gave me the tiniest steps of breathing, shoulder movement, meditation and chants. She made adjustments along the way as new suggestions worked or didn’t for me, until those steps turned into bigger and bigger ones and I made progress. She also taught me to expect and feel happiness in a way that motivated me to make the bodily and psychological changes I needed to make to feel happiness more often.

If Laura hadn’t had the tremendous skill and belief that the tiniest changes can lead to a reorientation to life, I don’t think I would be the calm, happy person I am today. She is one of the most gifted, spiritual people I have ever met.

Laine Walters-Young


Holistic Healing – What Can You Expect?


I was stopped in my tracks by an interview I heard recently on NPR. In it, Bruce Kramer spoke openly of his struggle, according to him, to “live while dying from ALS”. He died on March 23, 2015. His story touched my heart and inspired me.

I was moved by his courage – first, to share so honestly. And further, by the strength he exhibited in his response to the disease. He chose to be vulnerable and discuss feelings that we all experience but are rarely able and willing to face.

I sometimes wonder how effective I can be when working with clients who are facing difficult disease conditions that are not expected to improve. Bruce reminded me of the great good we can do through yoga – to help people be fully present with themselves wherever they are and in whatever situation they face. By bringing people together in community, safety, and acceptance, we can create a space where internal healing of mind and spirit can occur.

Bruce spoke of such a place during yoga class even while in his wheelchair and needing others to bring movement to his uncooperative limbs. He was able to connect deeply with the music of his soul, heart and spirit. He said that he experienced joy. He spoke of ALS being his greatest teacher, without which he might never have embraced the life lessons he encountered.

Most of us don’t have a terminal illness prompting us to grow, but nevertheless, the lessons lay before us for the taking. Many of us experience other, ongoing chronic health conditions like diabetes and autoimmune disease. Yoga affords us the opportunity to heal on many levels. For some, physical healing will happen. Others will find acceptance. As we become observers of ourselves in action, we begin to hear the body and soul speak. With this gentle practice of self-awareness, we too, can experience deeper understanding and personal transformation. We can start to notice when our life feels out of balance and learn tools to bring things back to center.

At some point in the progression of the disease, he realized the need to forgive his body. How many of us need to do the same? To have courage, and look deeply within? He spoke of the shift that took place after he forgave his body for failing him. I related this to the concept that in yoga, we stop struggling, get still, and relax enough for a little space to develop. Life asks much of us. We try so hard. Yoga asks only that we surrender, let body and breath find one another, and once reunited, let the music within each of us come forth. The Yoga Sutras teach that in this space, true healing and transformation erupt – spontaneous, slow, and steady. It is our choice to come, practice, listen, and allow healing.

Bruce’s example encourages me to keep teaching – and practicing. Breath and movement is accessible to anyone, regardless of your health status. To learn more, visit the classes and workshops page.

To listen to the whole interview visit:


Results with Nutrition

I worked with Laura for a number of months with great success!  Laura went beyond the traditional approach of any other nutritionist that I had worked with in the past.  She helped me to understand the lifestyle patterns that were causing my downfall when it came to eating healthfully.  She also worked