Today is the big day. My band Samadhi will be playing at a non-yoga studio venue, the Honeysuckle Tea House. This is kind of a first for us. It's exciting. It's scary. I worry about the things that could go wrong, just because that is what I am used to doing. A couple of nights ago I had promotion for this event to do, some catering estimates to write up, this newsletter to start, loads of dishes in the sink, and a new course that I wanted to start studying... So naturally, in the face of all those pressing tasks, I picked up the book that I am currently working through, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, by Dr. Daniel Amen.
In case you didn't already know, I am a neuroscience nerd. I have had a lifelong interest in psychology and brain function, yet my interest was taken to a whole new level and ignited into a passion by Dave Stringer, a well-known artist in the kirtan music world. In 2014 I participated in a 4-day training program in the art and performance of kirtan, led by Dave and his team of expert musicians.
In addition to teaching us the history of kirtan, tips on musicality and team (band) dynamics, Dave talked about the neuroscience of kirtan. Kirtan doesn't just soothe the emotions and the spirit; it has physiological benefits, specifically for the brain.
Now, it has been medically studied and proven that silent meditation has profoundly positive effects on our brains and even our DNA (check out this cool Harvard study here). There have also been several studies on the healing benefits of singing, especially in groups (TIME ran a great article on this). Yet to my knowledge, no one has yet conducted a formal study on the health benefits of singing meditation, performed in a group (which is exactly what kirtan is). Based on his experience of chanting with thousands of people in dozens of countries, Dave began noticing certain universal phenomenons and experiences with his audiences. These observations prompted him to start his own layman's research on kirtan's ability to stimulate both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in an extremely therapeutic way.
I knew without a doubt that kirtan was healing for me, personally, but I couldn't articulate why. Given my penchant for analysis, finding out why became essential. Kirtan is a group experience, the call and response chanting of sacred mantras, accompanied by music. When one takes these same mantras and chants them individually, often keeping track on a set of beads called a mala, this practice is called japa. Honestly in the 20+ years I have been endeavoring to practice japa, it has been a serious struggle for me. I don't sit still well; I take almost twice as long as most other folks do to chant, and given the inordinate amount of demands on my time... well you get the idea, I just don't do it as much as I would like.
In fact there are many, many activities that take me much longer than most people. After all these years of living, I discovered just yesterday that I have a classic, full-on, yet undiagnosed case of ADD. This discovery came from reading Dr. Amen's book. I first picked up his book because someone very close to me was struggling with a mental health issue, and wanting to help, I needed to understand more. Dr. Amen talks about how mental health can be better understood as brain health. When the systems of the brain are under or overactive, people exhibit symptoms that range from irritating or slightly problematic to downright psychotic.
As is often the case, those around us act as mirrors for us, reflecting back to us those things that we most need to work on. After months of intermittent reading and study, trying to understand what was going on with my friend, I came to the chapter about the prefrontal cortex and the most common dysfunction of the pfc - Attention Deficit Disorder. OMG. Let me say it again. Oh. My. God. It was like lightning bolts coming from the sky, casting brilliant flashes of light on episodes of my life, past and present. At the end of each chapter Dr. Amen gives a checklist where you can self-evaluate your health in that particular brain system. Answering "frequently" or "very frequently" to more than 5 of the listed symptoms indicates a high likelihood of an issue in that part of the brain. I answered "frequently" to over half of the symptoms listed for pfc dysfunction...
The revelation is too new for me to say what exactly I will do to improve my brain health (and the state of my life). However, what I can say for sure is that I will be at the Honeysuckle Tea House today from 1-3 pm, singing... for my health.
This Week's Menu:
Entree #1 - Zucchini Kofta in Tomato Coconut Sauce **Please note that there is a price change for the kofta. After much repetition of this dish, I have had a reality check as to how labor intensive it is. It is kind of like that woman who spends an hour and a half+ in the bathroom and emerges looking like a divine goddess - all that beauty doesn't just happen instantaneously. Similarly, the amazing flavor of kofta emerges thanks to some serious behind-the-scenes effort. For those of you who are not yet kofta fans, let me tell you that in India, shredded vegetables that are held together with a spiced batter of chickpea flour and then deep-fried to golden yumminess, are called kofta. But wait! The deliciousness does not stop there! These savory little balls are then soaked in a spiced tomato-coconut milk base before serving. Without exception, these kofta are our #1 most requested entree. Once you try them, you will see why! *GF, soy-free
Entree #2 - Bengali Royal Rice This rice is about as fancy as rice can get. Made with a bevy of mouth-watering spices, nuts, raisins, and cubed pan-fried tofu, this rice is complete as a stand-alone meal, though she is also happy when draped over the arm of succulent dishes like kofta. For those of you glycemic index counters who might be wondering, we do make this dish with brown rice. *GF, can be made without tofu upon request
Entree #3 - General Tso's Chickpeas This Asian-inspired dish is kind of like a stir-fry with chickpeas, covered in an incredibly flavorful sweet & spicy sauce. It is also an irresistible intro to broccoli for those who are normally squeamish (yes, I discovered that even adults feel this way) about eating little green trees with their meals. *GF, this dish normally runs a little spicy, if you prefer the mild version, let me know when ordering.
Asian Confetti Slaw with Peanut Dressing - $6/lb. Just as Pushpanna Rice and Kofta have become menu soulmates, this beautiful Asian-style salad has come to be the expected mate of General Tso's chickpeas. It is as flavorful as it is crunchy and fun. The finely shredded veggies, the pops of color and flavor from the edamame and the cilantro, the crunchy flecks of sunflower seeds, it all just looks like confetti for your mouth! One thing you must know is that I am as much a connoisseur of fine lines as I am of fine dining. The author of the blog where I found this recipe compared the appearance of this salad to party confetti, and well, I just couldn't let that metaphor slip by unborrowed. *GF
Banana "Creme" Pie - $4/slice, $24/pie. I tried this recipe out for the first time exactly a couple of months ago. I expected that it would be good, since the Minimalist Baker is known for her excellent, well-tested recipes. Let me say, I was unprepared for the level of sheer deliciousness that emanated from this pie. First of all, as I said before, the recipe was good. Secondly, my helper, Radha, who is an excellent chef, was making it. Thirdly, unbeknownst to me, banana creme pie is an American classic with a long and rich history of being one of the country's favorite pies. Just saying "banana creme pie" automatically generates expectations of yum in many people's minds. How satisfying to be able to at last offer you a vegan version! *GF, soy-free