It is not a piece of cake


Imagine a chocolate chip cookie that is chewy with crunchy walnuts. Imagine a brownie that is fudgy and melts in your mouth. Think of a vanilla cupcake that is moist and with icing that is sweet and tangy. Delicious, right? Satisfying?

I don’t only experience this kind of satisfaction when I eat baked goods. I feel this when I do the baking itself. For several years now, I have benefited a lot from baking and I would like to share with you what are these benefits.

First benefit of baking, I get to try, fail and reflect.

My mom introduced me to baking when I was at a young age. She would let me help in separating cupcake liners. She would let me sift the flour to remove the lumps and allowed me to mix them with other ingredients.

I’m amazed when I see her make beautiful cakes of all shapes and sizes. With different flavors, chocolate, vanilla, mocha… For me, it was like magic – transforming dissimilar ingredients in to one delectable item.

Unfortunately, my mom didn’t allow me to do a full baking experience because I was doing it wrong and I slow her down. 10 years have passed. I decided that I want to try baking. Since I’m earning my own money, I can buy the ingredients that I need and my mom will not get mad that I’m using her ingredients for my baking experiment.

I browsed the internet for a cupcake recipe. Search, read, search, read and then I came across the red velvet cupcake. I never had red velvet cupcake. All I know is that it is red. I downloaded the recipe, went to the grocery store and bought the things I need. In the kitchen, I started to prep-up what I’ll use; follow the instructions; beat the butter while gradually incorporating the sugar; then mix the next ingredient as stated in the recipe. After all the measuring, sifting, beating, mixing and waiting, I pulled out of the oven my baking pan… and I saw my velvet cupcakes… but it wasn’t red… it was black velvet cupcakes. It was burnt. I was more amazed when it was overcooked on the outside and undercook in the inside. Talk about magic. I ruined 12 cupcakes right on my first try. I assessed why I failed on my first attempt. I bought quality ingredients, measured everything, mixed in one direction, used the right speed, etc. Then, I realized I missed the very first step indicated in the recipe when baking. Pre-heat your oven at 325 degrees Celsius. Now, I know why they place it before the prep-up.

Second benefit, baking for me is meditative. Any activity which takes your whole attention – especially if it’s simple and repetitive – can have a calming, meditative quality. The process of weighing out butter and sugar, whisking eggs, beating and folding creates space in the mind, and eases negative thinking processes. For a certain period of time in a day, I separate myself from all the worries, the arguments and the stress. I’m actually forced to think of baking only.

Baking didn’t allow me to do multi-tasking. A skill which I think is somehow abused because we have utilized it on every aspect of our lives – work, relationships and daily activities. In baking, I have to be focused. One time, I was thinking of something else while I baking and I lost count of how many cups of flour I have sifted which ended for me to repeat the process.

We’ve all been hearing a lot about mindfulness lately, which can help reduce stress and increase happiness. If you don’t have time to meditate, though, baking can be a substitute. “Baking actually requires a lot of full attention. You have to measure, focus physically on rolling out dough. If you’re focusing on smell and taste, on being present with what you’re creating, that act of mindfulness in that present moment can also have a result in stress reduction,”

The third benefit of baking and I would say one of the best things about it is that you can give away your creations and make other people feel happy – which in turn puts a smile on your dial. It’s a win-win.

One recipe can make 24 cupcakes, one whole cake or 32 pieces of cookies, which I don’t intend to consume all by myself. Baked goods are intended to be shared and to make others feel good.

It is also a way of communicating. It can be helpful for people who have difficulty expressing their feelings in words to show thanks, appreciation or sympathy with baked goods.

Cooking can be a doorway to connection. Food brings people together, there’s no question about this. It brings about discussion and curiosity between any two people. The adulation that you get from making tasty baked goods and just seeing someone else enjoy, appreciate and value your creation has major implications for rebuilding one’s self of worth and value.

I ruined more than 12 cupcakes but it didn’t stop me to explore baking. I tried again to bake the same cupcake and I’m glad I continued. Now, I can bake with a certain level of confidence and I get to enjoy the benefits.

Next time you receive home-made baked goods remember that it is not ONLY a piece of cake.

Journey


To begin, I’d like to ask you to do a short breathing exercise. We just need to inhale and then exhale. Count 1 to 4 for the inhale and another 1 to 4 for the exhale. Repeat 3 times. What you did is called controlled breathing. We do breathing everyday, but we don’t notice the energy that it gives us – awake or asleep, we breathe. Controlled breathing or Pranayama is one of the things I learned in the practice I’ll introduce to you, which is yoga.

Why am I deeply interested in this practice? There are several reasons but I’ll share with you four insights or I would say benefits of yoga to me.

Y – Yin / Yang (Balance)

It simply means for us as balance. In a yoga class, yang focuses more in developing strength through a set of active poses and sweat-dropping movements. When we talk about yin, the goal is to increase flexibility by staying still in one position for longer time. These create balance in a yoga practice. This is an insight that can be brought outside the mat, where I create balance in the different aspects of my life – family, friends, work, me-time, etc.

O – Openness to Opportunity (Learning)

Yoga opened up different opportunities for me.

Opportunity to be healthy and well. When I started doing yoga, I became more conscious of the food I eat as I became aware of what will be its effect to my body.

Opportunity to learn. There is a wide range of insights in practicing yoga – from having the right posture to how to deal with emotional struggles.

Opportunity to meditate. With the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, finding a quite place to meditate can be hard to practice. Yoga became one of my venues to do meditation and just let the ideas flow freely.

G – Gratitude

With a lot of things happening around us and various things I want to have and accomplish, there are times that I forget how to be grateful. Yoga helped me to appreciate life in general – the state of life I’m given, the family, the health/body, the friends, the career, etc. May it be in a class or doing yoga at home, I always thank God for giving me the strength to endure and finish it. This is the same prayer I have when I face challenges and uncertainty in my life. Being grateful doesn’t mean that I stay in my current state and not aim for my goals. Gratitude made me realize that what I have now or where I am now are just some of my aspirations before. If I didn’t strive before, I will not be here speaking in front of you.

A – Awareness/Acceptance

I’m not expert in yoga. I can’t do a handstand. I can’t do splits. There are days I can’t reach my feet. But, it is okay. One of the lessons teachers share to us, was to be aware of our capabilities. We have to know if we can do certain poses or not. The teacher will show different variations that would fit different students. Since it is a practice and if done regularly, there would be days that you can reach your feet! Accepting that what we have done is enough to progress in our practice.

And, those my friends, are my realizations with my yoga practice.

Yoga is not a performance. There is no stern rule of how each and every person in a class should look like.

Yoga is a practice. And that is why it is a personal journey. It is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self.

Namaste…