A white-haired gentlemen calls out to me from across the gym,
‘You’re a yoga teacher, eh?’ He removes his racquetball goggles to wipe his forehead with a white towel and smile at me with a twinkle in his eye.
‘Oh…me? Yes. Yes I am.’ I say with a bewildered smile, having actually just rolled up my mat after teaching, my hair a fuzzy mess, and headed home with dinner on my mind.
‘So…you can put your foot behind your head, then?’ His cluster of elderly buddies stop talking and watch, waiting; apparently tonight is racquetball AND a show.
My first thought, ‘is this grandpa hitting on me??’ makes me smile broader, and I actually contemplate a demonstration but quickly come back to reality with a sobering mental image of my leg breaking clean away from my hip, Barbie-style, a cheerful, light-hearted ‘pop’ reverberating off the white walls. Yeah, that could only end in tears and I stand there trying to think of a witty reply, finally settling on,
‘Not really. I’m… a work in progress.’ The swell of liberation that accompanies those words is surprising and glorious.
Through college and early marriage days, as a young mother and continuing right up to the present, I have suffered from a most serious Mary Poppins complex. I wanted perfection so badly, and at times felt close enough in my pursuit to justify shopping for my own flowered hat, only to find my plans thwarted and my self-worth trampled. For years I was certain somewhere deep in my gut that if I only applied myself or created the right schedule or focused really really hard I could break through the brick wall of my failings to emerge on the other side with a triumphant victory lap. Destination became my fixation, and arriving an obsession.
Amazingly, it turns out that the Perfection Super Highway is actually a desolate and well-worn dead end. Children wake up in the night throwing off sleep schedules and thus workout schedules, undermining those control-the-chocolate-intake goals, and upping crankiness to meltdown levels (duck and cover, wee ones). Relationships with friends, coworkers, and family members hit speed bumps and occasional landmines, enticing us to pass on being patient, kind and compassionate souls, and reset the ‘days since a temper loss’ incident to zero.
How humbling is it to accept this sometimes mundane, sometimes monotonous process that is life, trusting that if we seize the daily opportunity given us to improve our ‘humanness’ we will one day see the glitter and growth we crave? And yet, how stunning is the simple, unlauded moment if we stop to be present rather than living for that perfect, future day?
This life, this process, has morphed from heartbreaking struggle to sincere delight as I have cultivated a shift in who I thought I should be to one in which I am authentically me. In the thick of these frustrating and lonely days of coming to grips with what I am—not what I used to be, or will one day become, but what I am at this very present moment— I have found strength in a few murmured reminders gleaned from inspiring yoga practices past,
‘You are stronger than you think you are…
‘We don’t do we practice…
'Build something solid and real instead of fast and shiny…
‘Whenever you step on the path is the right time…
‘I am a work in progress!’
So it isn’t the perfect track record or sugar avoidance or rising on a gentle wind, black umbrella in hand, to that gilded Utopia in the clouds. It’s coming back to the daily motions that better us. It’s piling up small, good things and loving ourselves in quiet moments. There is joy there and progress and value, even if we can’t see the glitter quite yet. Because it’s coming; it most definitely is coming.
The beauty of the crust on this chicken is that repetitive turn; back and forth and then again. Having moved as many times as we have, and living in some truly tiny places we have never owned a gas grill (one of these days…), but this technique is an excellent mimic with the bonus of only requiring a cast iron skillet and a sturdy set of tongs. Chop and prepare the salad ingredients before starting the chicken so you can give yourself the luxury of single tasking as you turn, turn, turn.
Practically Perfect Pan-Fried Chicken Salad
1 recipe spice blend
2-3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 Tbs. avocado oil
1 Tbs. butter
3-4 cups combination of chopped romaine, washed baby spinach, or mixed greens
2 sweet yellow peppers, seeded and diced
1 mango, diced
2 oz aged sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
In a 9x13 glass baking dish lay out the chicken breasts and coat them generously in the spice blend on all sides, using your hands to work the spices into the meat well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30-45 minutes.
In the meantime wash and tear the lettuces and toss together in a serving bowl. Layer the chopped peppers and mango on top and then the cheddar. Cover and refrigerate until service.
Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and butter and use a heat-resistant brush to evenly coat the pan. Using tongs, place the chicken breasts in an even layer in the pan and let them cook 1-2 minutes before turning them over. Again, cook another 2-3 minutes before turning again; add more oil as needed to coat the pan, a teaspoon or so at a time. Continue turning every few minutes, until a deep golden crust develops and the chicken is cooked through and reaches an interior temperature of 165 F, about 15-18 minutes. Using tongs, remove the breasts to a cutting board and allow to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing to keep the juices from running out and leaving the meat dry. Serve atop the prepared salad with a spoonful of Greek yogurt. Serves 4.