Vegan Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cookies

I got inspired to make these Quinoa Chocolate Chips cookies from a recipe by Peggy Kostopoulous.  With no processed sugars or traditional ‘fats’, these cookies are a fantastic treat that boost your nutrition.  The blend of proteins and fiber help make these a medium glycemic treat which is ideal for post-exercise recovery as well as an intra-meal snack.  I particularly appreciate that this recipe is vegan and super easy to do.

Vegan Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 large ripe bananas (mashed)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup cooked quinoa

1/2 cup dry oatmeal

1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/8 cup chopped 70% chocolate

1/8 cup chopped dried dates

1 tbsp raw hemp hearts (optional)

1 tsp unpasteurized honey or coconut sugar (for vegans)

pinch of salt

Steps

*preheat oven to 380 C

*mix all of the ingredients in a bowl until well combined

*spoon onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or silicon sheet

*bake for about 25-30 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack

*yes, it is that easy!

Notes

*the quinoa, oatmeal, coconut, and banana act as a cookie base … therefore, you can mix in extra ingredients to create your unique recipe (ie add in cacao powder, nuts, seeds)

*you can substitute agave nectar for the honey (you may find the bananas offer enough sweetness to not add in any honey especially if you add in the chocolate, dates or other fruits like raisins)

*these cookies come out soft in the middle tasting like a combination of banana muffin/chocolate chip cookie/macaroon

For Peggy’s original recipe, click here.

Knee Integrity in Warrior Yoga Poses

A variety of Hatha Yoga poses provide a wealth of strengthening and endurance conditioning. Many Standing Yoga Poses like Virabhadrasana (warrior pose) or lunging Yoga poses require proper knee alignment to allow for complete flow of energy and to maintain strength, safety, and stability in your Yoga class.

Two main alignment issues should always be addressed when attempting Yoga poses that place the forward leg into a deep knee bend over the foot:  

1) Hyper flexion of the Knee Joint

*Our muscle fibers contain microfilaments that crossover and generate contraction or shortening of the muscle. To help visual these microfilaments, think of Velcro! When you completely line up a section of Velcro, it is very strong in maintaining its’ grip. If you line up only half of the Velcro, it starts to lose its’ ability to hold together. Lining up only a small fraction of the two pieces of Velcro leaves the Velcro very weak. Our microfilaments act in a similar way. As a muscle is stretched longer and longer, the microfilaments crossover less and less, and they have reduced ability to contract or sustain the endurance when the muscle is loaded.

This is quite evident for the knee joint. When going into Warrior poses, the knee is place over the heel and knee bends to about 95 degrees. The quadriceps (thigh) muscle is elongated while also contracting (this can be considered an eccentric contraction). The microfilaments are still at a sufficient crossover placement to allow one to hold the pose with ample endurance. When one bends the knee below 90 degrees (thigh bone is moving below the level of the knee), the microfilaments have very little crossover and the muscle begins to loose its’ ability to sustain the contraction.

Since the muscle cannot sustain the contraction sufficiently, stressing energies move down the thigh into the quadricep tendons and into the knee joint. The pose moves from control into struggle and negative feedback signals are transmitted back to the nervous system. A similar alignment error in lunging Yoga poses is having the knee traveling far forward over the toes as the knee bends. From a side view, one can clearly see that the knee is over flexed (hyper flexed) well below the 90 degree point. Even though kneeling lunging poses do not have the same energetic loading as Warrior Poses, the quadricep muscle is still required to contract to maintain knee stability. With the knee traveling too far forward and hyper flexing, stressing energies also move into the quadricep tendons and knee structures. Therefore, always observe that the knee is placed directly over the knee in these Yoga poses and avoid placing the thigh/hips lower than the knee level in Virabdrasana.  

2) Lateral Tracking of the Knee

*Very common in Warrior Yoga poses is to see participants have the forward knee slightly or excessively falling inwards in relation to the forward heel. This places an imbalanced energy in the quadricep muscles and can send a chronic or acute injury into the knee. We have 4 muscles making up the quadriceps – an interior line (Vastus Medialis), an exterior line (Vastus Lateralis), a superficial middle line (Rectus Fermorus), and a deep middle line (Vastus Intermedius). These muscles join together into one tendon that inserts into the top of the knee cap (Patella). This connective line continues from the bottom of the knee cap into the patellar ligament to the top of the leg/shin bone (Tibial tuberosity).

Think of these muscles like 4 ropes pulling on the knee cap when contracting. If you pull harder on one rope more than the others, the knee cap will be pulled more in that direction. This brings us to Warrior Pose. When the knee is placed slightly falling inwards, the outer quadricep line (Vastus Lateralis) acts more energetically than the inner line (Vastus Medialis). The biomechanical line of this imbalanced energy creates an outwards pulling motion on the knee cap. Some individuals can be prone to having the knee completely shift or dislocate outwards (Lateral or Patellar Tracking). To avoid this imbalance and type of injury to the knee, insure that the knee does not fall inwards or towards the big toe in Warrior Pose. When you look briefly down to check your alignment, a good guide for knee placement is that you are able to see the big toe and inner edge of the foot.

As you maintain the pose, accessory muscles help maintain this knee line: outer shin muscles (Peroneal muscles) help ground the outer edge of the forward foot and draw the shine bone (Tibia) outwards / outer hip muscles (Abductors and Lateral Rotators) help move the thigh bone outwards as well. The benefit of this knee placement is that the quadricep muscles maintain balanced support and energy on the knee cap and knee joint, and the outwards motion of the thigh bone places a more effective stretch into the groin muscles. Knee placement and integrity is just a small portion of alignment aspects for Warrior Pose.

Observe and study the whole body as you attempt these poses and move into a place where the body feels light, balanced, and confident.

Kapalabhati: Using Pranayama as a Kriya Yoga Cleanse


Kapalabhati is a highly energizing abdominal breathing exercise that acts as a kriya or a yoga cleanse. The vigorous exhalations act in many ways to yield benefits beyond the energetic qualities of this advanced yoga breathing exercise.

One important way that Kapalabhati acts as a kriya is that it helps clear mucous from the lungs. As air moves into the throat, it travels down the superior portion of the airway called the trachea. The walls of this single tubed airway consists of several layers. The inner most layer is lined with cilia cells. Cilia are microscopic grass-like, projections that continually beat and propel mucous that trap dust particles, bacteria and debris. This mucous is propelled by the cilia toward the pharynx where it is released by coughing or swallowing. Smoking inhibits and ultimately destroys cilia. When function is lost, coughing is the only method of moving accumulating mucous out of the lungs. With the aid of cilia, we clear and swallow over 2 million dust cells per hour.

In Kapalabhati, the force of the exhalations acts further on debris-filled mucous in the lungs and trachea. These additional forces work with the cilia and help move the mucous more readily up the airway against gravity. Coughing after Kapalabhati is common and welcome as it is a sign of successfully releasing of these impurities. Another method of Kapalabhati acting as a kriya is the massage generated by the abdominal contractions. With each vigorous exhale, the abdominal walls draw inwards applying pressure on internal organs. This pressure helps increase the circulation of blood flow into and out of abdominal organs. This massage also sends a direct pressure into the digestive system helping move remaining food and fecal matter through the intestines and colon. Kapalabhati can be a useful tool in reducing the incidence of constipation. With this increased circulation of blood and material in the internal organs comes a release of toxins as well.

The process of Kapalabhati uses forced (controlled) exhalations and passive inhalations.  Each exhalation draws the abdomen towards the spine expelling air, thus creating a vacuum in the lungs.  By relaxing the abdomen after each exhalation,  air is passively pulled into the lungs.  When first learning Kapalabhati, one can start with a couple dozen repetitions at a moderate pace in order to build awareness to the sensation and technique of the exhalations and inhalations.  Over time and consistent practice, one can increase the number of repetitions and also the pace of the breathing pattern.  To avoid gastric discomfort and strain, practice Kapalabhati with an empty stomach.

Click to view an introduction video on Kapalabhati Pranayama.

Kapalbhati is an advanced breathing exercise and should not be practiced by those:

a) Suffering from heart disease

b) High blood pressure

c) Hernia

d) Should never be practiced when an asthmatic attack is in progress.

e) If pain or dizziness is experienced.

As one’s hatha yoga practice progresses, the next natural stage is to incorporate Kapalabhati and other pranayama. This addition of yoga breathing exercises will stimulate greater flows of energy along with the wonderful benefits of kriyas.

Committing to Your Whole Heath Nutrition Plan

So you have decided to take the plunge into a more healthy and nourishing nutrition plan?  Back up these great intentions with some simple strategies and tips to keep you motivated and make this a long-term routine with success.

Goals have greater success with PLANNING.

*keep a list of favorite recipes and meals planned in advance

*use your pre-planned meals to structure how you will shop and prepare meals and snacks so you are not tempted into settling for processed quick fixes

*understand how to integrate meals around work and exercise programs effectively – consider meeting with a nutrition specialist to discuss proper meal planning to suit your needs and interests

Cook with a STRATEGY.

*when preparing a meal, always think how you can utilize this time most effectively

*cook a larger portion that you can freeze for future meals or have for lunch the next day

*as you cut and prepare food items, prepare extra for the next day’s meals

*many food items can be precooked / soaked in advance to speed up cooking time for future meals

Never leave home without.

*make a habit of always taking healthy snacks with you when going out to avoid getting into the hunger trap

*raw nuts, dates, pumpkin seeds, fresh fruit – whatever is easy to carry – always leave the house armed with healthy backups

*lunch and work meals should always be brought from home – eating out is a sure way to fall into old routines

Do you really know what you are eating?

*if you really knew what was in chicken nuggets, you would never eat them again!  Educate yourself  on the nutritional value of foods – the more we know exactly what is in our foods and the impact on our health, the more readily we will choose the healthy alternatives and have more discipline to pass on the processed, chemical-laiden products

*explore the bounty of healthy super foods that seem foreign (powdered greens, sea weed, sprouted foods, ancient grains) – you may have some hit and misses with trying recipes, but this is the fun part of the adventure

But it feels like SACRIFICING!

*getting rid of our fatty, salty or sugary treats all of a sudden can feel painful and like breaking an addiction – block these cravings by finding healthy foods that you truly feel act as a treat and a reward for your efforts for cleansing your body

*be mindful that eating something ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ isn’t necessarily healthy – sugar is sugar, salt is salt, excess fat is fat

You are being MISLED the entire way.

*no lies about it, most food manufacturers do not want you knowing just how poor the nutritional quality of their products are and this is no more clear than their use of clever rewording of food ingredients

*read labels carefully and understand misleading terms:

-you want WHOLE GRAIN/CRACKED GRAIN versus whole wheat or wheat flour

-processed sugar is relabeled a tons of different ways

-fat is not the culprit, it is the type of fat you should be concerned about with special attention on trans fats

Take your nutrition into your own hands.

*control what is going into your body by cooking from scratch – focus on fewer ingredients and more whole foods

*say you don’t have time?  There are many recipes that can make a complete meal in the same time it takes to order in a pizza and as mentioned above, if you strategize your cooking, you can actually ‘create’ time for yourself and always feel prepared

Crank up your nutritional value of foods with ease.

*boost nutritional value whenever possible with simple, cost effective items:

-have fresh ground flax seed and raw hemp hearts on hand to sprinkle on cereal, smoothies, and salads

-add raw seeds like sunflower or pumpkin to soups, stews, and side dishes for some crunch and healthy oils

-drizzle omega oil mixes (ie hemp seed/flax seed) to steamed vegetables, soups, and stews

-add a little cinnamon here and there to boost anti-oxidant uptake

-shift to whole grain pastas, rice, couscous, and breads

-retain the fiber content of fruits by opting for smoothies over regular juice

-eat color!  every meal should have colorful vegetables and fruits

-keep it raw!  try to incorporate some raw foods throughout your day

You are what you eat.

*honor your body -  avoid additives, coloring agents, preservatives, and processed items as if it were a religion

*as you shift into a long-term clean nutrition plan, you body will become increasingly more sensitive to food items that are unhealthy and strip away vitality  – your body will crave healthy options and your ‘will-power’ to choose wisely will solidify

Be proactive.

*got little ones that cry in the cereal section wishing for the chocolate puffs?  try to shop alone so you have no distractions in staying on course with your plans – shop with a plan and shop alone unless family and friends follow your same discipline

*shop wisely – as much as it may feel like it is more expensive to buy healthier products, make organic, healthy food an investment – curb the ‘extra’ expense by looking for deals – shop for items that  are in season  –  if possible, grow food in your yard or on your balcony

We are bombarded by ‘easy’ food options every day.  We are compromising health for convenience each time we opt for these easy, processed foods.  The short-term efforts of following a healthy and wise nutrition plan pays off in huge long-term dividends.  A little planning and strategizing along with some support systems from family and friends can make your change to healthy eating  a more manageable shift towards greater wellness.