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How Yoga Helped Me Prepare and Recover from Open Heart Surgery

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I started Bikram Yoga after moving to Stockton in August 2010. But it took me about six months to become completely dedicated to this practice. In January I signed up for the studio's 60 Day Challenge, started attending class at least 6 days a week and gave up running. I haven't look back.

I used to be a fitness instructor, so I've tried a lot of different exercise programs. I have never found anything more effective than Bikram Yoga. The magic of Bikram Yoga is that it's more than just a workout. Not only have I eliminated my minor back pain and gotten definition in my abdominals (which I never thought possible), but I am also a better person. In the studio I sweat, I breathe, I stare at myself in the mirror, and I let go of all my stress, worry and tension.

We all bring baggage to our yoga practice - both physical and emotional. Yoga gives us the opportunity to confront and accept this baggage. When I was six days old, I had a life-saving open-heart operation in which a surgeon repaired one of my heart valves that wasn't allowing blood to flow properly. The surgery was successful and I lived a relatively normal life until April 2011 when I received some bad new from my cardiologist. After 26 years, my valve was now too "leaky"- meaning the valve wasn't properly transporting blood and my right ventricle was severely dilated. Even though I felt fine and was able to do as much yoga as I wanted, the doctor said that I needed a valve transplant surgery in the next three to four months.

My heart defect was major baggage. I felt quite helpless and scared for my life and my future. Nevertheless, I realized that while I couldn't control the fact that I was born with a defective heart valve, I could control how I reacted to facing another open-heart surgery. I continued my yoga practice with a renewed fervor- to become the healthiest and strongest I could possibly be so that the surgeons could operate effectively and so that I could rapidly recover. It was scary to stare at myself in the mirror during yoga class while thinking about the imminent surgery, but at the same time it helped me to accept and prepare for it mentally.

I am thrilled to say the surgeons successfully replaced my tired valve with a fully functional pig valve. Recovery was mentally and physically rough, but not nearly as bad as I expected. I truly believe that all the yoga that I had accrued in my body prior to surgery paid off tenfold. Even though I was still in quite a bit of pain, I was able to return to yoga about 6 weeks after the surgery. It was like coming back to an old friend. I tried to approach my practice from a place of patience - not being attached to what my body was able to do prior to surgery. As a result, I have been amazed and humbled by how quickly my body opened up. The heat and the poses were extremely detoxifying and therapeutic for my pain. After a week of returning to yoga I was virtually pain-free and I felt like I had my body back.

I am unbelievably grateful for my yoga practice and for the Bikram Yoga Stockton instructors that have guided me through and incredibly challenging time in my life. Even though I have only been practicing for about a year, I can't imagine my life without yoga.

My advice to you is that no matter what you may be going through, your strong yoga practice can be an invaluable part of the solution. Rededicate yourself to your practice today in order to ensure that you can face any challenges that lie ahead.

Update: This photo was taken 2-3 months after her surgery. It has now been 6 years since Veronica's open heart surgery. Veronica says she is continually grateful to her practice for getting her through all the ups and downs of life. And she is also grateful for all of the healers in her life including Nicole from New Leaf Ayurveda, Dennis Wong, and Dr. Moore from UCSF. She also can't believe how short her hair was in this picture!

Zesty Arugula Pesto

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Try out this yummy pesto recipe! And check out Trader Joe’s red lentil pasta--perfect if you’re looking for a healthier alternative to traditional pasta. This recipe makes about 8 servings. Consider freezing any remaining pesto in an ice cube tray so that you always have it at the ready.

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Aloe Juice + Turmeric Tonic

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Aloe juice is fantastic in the summer for its cooling properties. It’s is good for the skin, digestion, and your immune system. Turmeric has been used for thousands of years as an anti-inflammatory. Combined together, they create a tonic that is both refreshing and healing. Ayurveda practitioners recommend drinking this daily before bed.

Ingredients:

¼ cup aloe juice
Pinch of turmeric powder

Directions:

Combine the aloe juice and turmeric powder in a small cup and drink.

Veggie Quinoa Salad by Veronica

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A light but nourishing dish, this makes a great lunch or dinner. This recipe makes about 4 servings.

Ingredients for the quinoa:

1 cup cooked quinoa
2 cups chopped mixed vegetables (zucchini, green beans, kale, chard, mushrooms, etc.)
1 cup garbanzo beans
Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
Chopped avocado (optional)
¼ cup toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds
Olive oil
Ingredients for the dressing:
¼ cup of olive oil
Juice from ½ lemon
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp turmeric
Salt to taste

Directions:

Cook the quinoa according to the directions on the package and move to a bowl. Cook the vegetables by sauteing in a little bit of oil and add to the bowl. Next, add the garbanzo beans, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, and parsley or cilantro. For the dressing, combine all the ingredients for the dressing and whisk until well mixed. Add the dressing to the quinoa mixture. Add the optional avocado. Serve and enjoy!

Cucumber Melon Salad by Katlyn

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This cooling salad is a perfect treat on a hot day!

Ingredients:

1/2 English cucumber peeled, cubed small
2 cups watermelon, cubed small
10-12 mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt
Juice from ½ a lime

Directions:

Place the fruit and mint leaves into a bowl, drizzle the olive oil, add a tiny pinch of salt and the juice of 1/2 a lime, stir, and serve cool.

Easy Mango Lassi by Veronica

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A delicious snack, this mango lassi recipe makes about 2-3 servings, depending on how much water you use.

Ingredients:

1 cup fresh plain yogurt
1 mango, peeled and pitted
2-5 cups of filtered water
Pinch of cardamom

Directions: Blend the ingredients together and enjoy! You can experiment with adding other fruit, such as dates, peaches, and banana.

Oatmeal Breakfast by Katlyn

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Start your day off right with this nourishing oatmeal! This recipe yields one serving.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup of old fashion oats
1 cup whole milk (or substitute with nut milk)
1 tbsp of ghee
Blanched peeled almonds, chopped
3 chopped dates
Handful of fresh berries
Maple syrup to taste

Directions:

Cook the oats in hot milk, add 1 tbsp ghee while cooking. Cook the oats until they are soft. Garnish with chopped dates, chopped almonds, blueberries, and maple syrup.

Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce by Veronica & Dave

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This works great for a delicious lunch or dinner. It may seem like a lot of steps, but this is actually fairly easy to make. Feel free to experiment with the spring roll and peanut sauce ingredients. This recipe makes 8 spring rolls, which is good for 2-3 servings.

Ingredients for spring rolls:

8 Spring roll wrappers
1 cup rice or 8 oz. rice noodles, cooked and cooled to room temperature
1 cucumber or carrot, peeled and sliced into thin strips
½ sliced avocado
¼ cup of fresh cilantro or parsley
8 oz. firm or extra firm tofu
High heat oil such as olive or avocado

Ingredients for peanut sauce:

¼ cup crunchy peanut butter
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar (may substitute rice vinegar)
1 tsp powdered ginger
¼ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp warm water

Directions for Spring Rolls:

Cut tofu into 8 slices roughly ¼-inch thick. Press tofu slices between multiple layers of paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. Pour oil into a medium-sized skillet to roughly a ⅛-inch depth and heat on medium. Once oil is hot (not smoking), add tofu slices. Cook tofu until golden brown on one side (roughly 4 minutes), then flip to cook other side in the same manner. Once cooked, remove tofu from pan and allow to drain on paper towels.

Soften a spring roll wrapper by submerging it in warm water for 10-15 seconds. Lay the wrapper on a cutting board, and place a portioned amount of each of the spring roll ingredients in the middle of the wrapper. Wrap the ingredients by folding the bottom up, then the sides, and then roll it away from you to close the wrapper. Repeat for other 7 spring rolls. The wrapping technique takes some practice, and it may be helpful to watch a video of how it’s done before you try it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pu1Pcf-adY

Delicious Date-Nut Balls by Veronica, adapted from a recipe in Eat Taste Heal: An Ayurvedic Guidebook and Cookbook for Modern Living

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Delicious Date-Nut Balls

These date-nut balls are great snack and a delicious way to add some protein to your diet! This recipe makes 10-15 balls, depending on the size.

Ingredients:

⅓ cup blanched almonds
⅓ cup shelled walnuts
⅓ cup sunflower seeds
10 pitted dates, preferably Medjool
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp powdered ginger (optional)
¼ tsp vanilla

Directions: Put all the ingredients into a food processor and mix until it’s thick. Put the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate for an hour. Using a spoon or disher, form the mixture into bite-size balls and place them on a plate or tray. Enjoy!

To the courageous and inquisitive: True You Hot Yoga is the healthy commitment that teaches discipline is the pathway to freedom.

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