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Spring Salad with Roasted Veggies and Tahini Sauce

One of the few restaurants that we frequent is Pita Jungle. The menu isn’t completely vegan, but includes a few delicious items that are. This recipe is inspired by their Wood-Fired Vegetable Salad, which is my go-to grab-and-go when my day is running long and I’m too tired to cook. My version is simple to make and incredibly yummy, just like the original!

But is it healthy, Lisa? I’m sure you’re asking. (Joking! I know that you know it must be healthy if I’m sharing it!)

But I will tell you in what ways it’s healthy. Its rainbow of colors provides for an abundance of whole body benefits. (See this post for more on that.) And although I started reading about the health advantages of mushrooms many years ago, research continues to reveal added value; they are anti-allergic, anti-cholesterol, and anti-cancer, according to a recent write-up from the National Library of Medicine. The raw garlic, lemon, and olive oil in the dressing are packed with immune-boosting nutrients and lots of digestive-friendly enzymes. And according to an article from Healthline, super-nourishing tahini, or sesame seed butter, is good for the health of the kidneys, liver, & brain; contains a load of healthy fats, antioxidants & anti-inflammatory compounds; and can help protect against chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

If the idea of warm vegetables on a bed of romaine doesn’t appeal to you, feel free to make a wrap instead. Either way, I believe you’ll enjoy this combination of textures and flavors as much as we do.

Yield: 4 servings

Salad Ingredientsuse organic and/or non-GMO whenever possible
1 head of romaine, chopped for salads
2 med carrots, cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds
1/2 med eggplant, diced small
2 med zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
2 med yellow squash, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1/4 lb med baby bellas, stems removed & left whole
1/4 lb large cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Mineral salt & fresh-ground pepper to taste
2 – 4 tbsp avocado oil
Dressing as desired (recipe below)
1 – 2 Lemons, halved (in addition to those needed for dressing)

Dressing Ingredients (Makes just over 1 cup)
2 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup tahini (sesame seed butter)
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
2-3 tbsp warm water
1 tsp mineral salt

Directions
Prepare plates with beds of romaine.

Place cut veggies on a large, oiled baking sheet, adding more oil on top. (No need to get them all on a single layer.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, turning halfway through, adding more salt & pepper after turning.

Meanwhile, whisk all ingredients for the dressing together, adding just enough water for your desired consistency. Taste for salt, adding more if needed.

Arrange veggies on top of romaine leaves, adding generous amounts of dressing & hefty squeezes of fresh lemon. Enjoy!

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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8 Quick Morning Practices to Supercharge You for the Day Ahead

I remember well the morning rituals of my days working in an office. Jump out of bed, no time for breakfast, shower & dress, and rush to work, often arriving flustered & grumpy, feelings which could linger for hours.  At the time, it felt as though there was nothing I could do about it, as if my morning routine was running me.

Now I know better.  Through the years, I’ve learned lots of little methods that help me prepare myself for a day in which I feel enthusiastically in control.  Getting up a little earlier is required, but the gains outweigh the pain.

Northern Nevada

Working with Nature, both inside & outside us, is key.  Remembering to connect with the foundational aspects of our being each morning supercharges us.  I want to share with you some quick, easy ways to accomplish this.

  1. Meditate.  Or if you’re not a meditator, take 2 or more minutes to sit or lie quietly and breathe deeply.  Try this technique I learned & honed through yoga classes and books through the years: Begin your inhale by filling your belly, then expanding your ribs, and finally lifting your collar bones.  Exhale, using your abdominal muscles to squeeze every last bit of air from your lower lungs.  Breathing deeply in this manner works to keep lung function healthy, calm the nervous system, alkalize the blood, massage organs, and eliminate gunk from the lymphatic system.  
  2. Close your eyes & visualize your day, as detailed as possible, going swimmingly.  Visualization, a process I initially came to understand thanks to Shakti Gawain’s book Creative Visualization, is widely used by athletes and others looking to accomplish specific goals.  As I wrote about in this beach post, imagining that we are performing a task “tricks” the brain into providing us benefits as though we were actually executing the task.
  3. Express gratitude: for this miracle within which you live, for your family, friends, and other blessings.  An article from Greater Good Magazine shares, by making gratitude a habit, we can begin to change the emotional tone of our lives, creating more space for joy and connection with others. The article also offers great ideas for various gratitude practices.
  4. Observe natural beauty.  Let the first thing you really focus your eyes on each morning be part of Nature’s beauty, like the sunrise, a flower, a tree outside your window, a bird, a stream, or a mountain.  And wonder about its aspects: was the sunrise this lovely hours ago on the other side of the country?  I wonder how far this bird flies each day?  
  5. Take 5 minutes to stretch, and don’t forget the side body, lower back, hips, and forearms.  Because stretching elongates fascia, it helps keep our physical bodies from becoming chronically stiff and painful.   And due to fascia acting as our inner irrigation system, stretching helps with the deep hydration of cells, making us more energetic.  
  6. Foam roll your back, shoulders, and any areas that feel tight or sore.  For me, this takes the place of regular chiropractic visits.  It’s like an addendum to stretching, and brings new blood (and therefore increased oxygen & other nutrients) to the areas that need it most.  For specific foam rolling exercises that improve alignment, check out this article from SELF.
  7. Hydrate to eliminate.  Before consuming anything else, drink enough room-temperature water (mineralized with fresh lemon, cucumber, or Himalayan salt) to empty your bowels.  Unless you’re constipated, in which case you’ll need more, you’ll find it takes about a quart, according to Cate Stillman, author of Body Thrive: Uplevel Your Body & Your Life with 10 Habits from Ayurveda and Yoga.  This practice allows you to enter your day fluid, light, and clear.  You’ll experience more energy, clarity, and flexibility, she explains.
  8. Consume raw plant foods.  When I’m not drinking a breakfast smoothie with fruits, veggies, nuts, & seeds, I enjoy fresh fruits and raw nuts or peanut butter (made only of crushed organic peanuts.)  If you opt for oatmeal, toss plenty of fruit & nuts on top, and if you eat eggs, maybe add half an avocado & other fruit on the side.  Raw foods, with their high nutrient load including enzymes, are the perfect way to rev your body’s engine for a busy day.
View from Bear Mountain in Sedona, Arizona

Of course, I’m not suggesting you try to incorporate all of these methods into your mornings.  (Not at first, anyway!)  Just try one or two to see if they help you feel clearer, livelier, and more in control.

Healthy early morning rituals can have far-reaching effects, starting with a positive sense that we’re at the helm of our actions, which sets the tone for the whole day. Taking time to connect with Nature on a daily basis can truly be a game changer.

Montana

Supercharged Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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5 Merits of Wonder

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand. ~Neil Armstrong

Earlier this week, I was watching Dr. Gay Hendricks, psychologist, body-mind therapist, & author of over 40 books, in an interview, and the concept of wonder came up.  Human beings thrive on wonder, he said, and gave examples of his clients utilizing wonder with outstanding results. 

Psychology Today shared an article with a delightful definition of the term: Wonder is a complex emotion involving elements of surprise, curiosity, contemplation, and joy. It is perhaps best defined as a heightened state of consciousness and emotion brought about by something singularly beautiful, rare, or unexpected—that is, by a marvel.  

After exploring further these last few days, I’ve read several times that it is an emotion that is ever-present in us as small children, but by the time we get to high school, it’s all but gone.  Due to its profound advantages, many of which I’ve experienced first-hand, I’d like to share some reasons to reintroduce wonder to yourself and your older children.

The happiness of the bee and the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it. ~Jacques Cousteau

  1. It can help with relationship issues.  After Dr. Hendricks’ interview mentioned above, I searched the internet for more from him on the subject, and found these statements addressing relationships: Wonder is the opposite of blame. Wonder opens all your brain and body intelligence powers to make new connections.  Wonder takes you out of the state in which a problem gets generated, an Einsteinian move.  
  2. It fosters environmental protection.  Rachel Carson, author of The Sense of Wonder, among other books promoting environmental ethics,  writes of the ways in which we have insulated ourselves within the artificial world we have created, yet we are quietly and desperately eager to believe we (including the natural world) have a future.  The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders of the Universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction, she urges. 
  3. It prompts learningWikipedia shares that historically, wonder has been seen as an important aspect of human nature, specifically being linked with curiosity and the drive behind intellectual exploration.  And the Greek philosopher Socrates set forth the idea wisdom begins in wonder.  It must be the reason little ones ask so many questions.
  4. It promotes prosocial behaviors.  A study published in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology reports that the experience of wonder we feel in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world encourages lovingkindness, altruism, and generosity.  It’s like falling in love with all of life.
  5. It improves mood & mindset.  This point comes from my experience of being on hiking trails and witnessing amazing sites like wildlife, larger-than-life trees, and landscapes so bedazzling that I am stopped in my tracks. A sudden childlike feeling sweeps over me, bringing me into to the present moment, replacing concerns with a sunny disposition.

Cultivating wonder opens a world of possibilities.  Marveling at the mysteries in which our lives are immersed can make us smarter, more loving toward all of life, and happier.  What could be a better way to live?

If this is the way the world is: extraordinary, surprising, beautiful, singular, mysterious and meaningful; then this is how I ought to act in that world: with respect and celebration, with care, and with full acceptance of the responsibilities that come with my role as a human being privileged to be a part of that community of living things. Wonder is the missing premise that can transform what is into a moral conviction about how one should act in that world. ~Kathleen Dean Moore, Writer & Professor of Philosophy, Oregon State University

Blessings for Wonder,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Kinship in the Wild West

Taos Mountain

I’ve recently read Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations, Volume 1, Planet, edited by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gavin Van Horn, and John Hausdoerffer.  It’s a beautiful little collection of short essays by ecologists, philosophers, professors, and others sharing information and stories from different viewpoints on our kinship with all of Nature.  There are 4 other volumes in the series that I can hardly wait to read!

The ideas set forth in the book stirred so many personal memories, and caused me to realize that there are numerous others who believe not only that we are a part of Nature, but also that other forms of life are just as important as ours.  We didn’t evolve to decide the fate of those often considered lesser lives such as animals, trees, soils, rivers, and oceans by our short-sighted endeavors.  We are here to protect them as much as they protect and provide for us. Our forgotten ties with Nature are addressed in a particularly touching essay by Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist & professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry.  She writes that we have always been fed, provided for in every way, sung awake in the morning, sung to sleep at night, and taught by Nature. Since the beginning, she explains, Nature has loved us, but we’ve failed to recognize it.  (For a bit more on this, check out my post Does the Earth Love You? based on Kimmerer’s delightful book Braiding Sweetgrass.)

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs & Spa clinging to the warm high desert cliffs

Another of Kinship’s essays that really spoke to me is by Bron Taylor, professor of religion & environmental ethics at the University of Florida.  He writes about the ways in which we establish feelings of kinship with Nature. Direct, visceral, sensory experiences in Nature – including experiences of awe and wonder at the beauties, mysteries, and sometimes terrors – are a common pathway to kinship sentiments, he explains. 

The Rio Chama alongside the road from Taos to Santa Fe

Spending time in Nature, encountering majestic landscapes & wildlife, was certainly the catalyst for me.  And it all started in the wilds of Northern New Mexico.  The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, in the southernmost part of the Rockies, are found in this region that stole my heart.  Its highest peak is found in Taos Ski Valley, which reaches an elevation of just over 13,000 feet.  Hiking in the ski valley during the warmer months is a visual treat.  Dense aspen trees and conifers hug the trails, and the aspen leaves change from a gentle green in Spring to brilliant reds and golds in Fall.  

My favorite little village in the region, Arroyo Seco

Much of the northern part of the state is either lightly developed or not at all.  Taos Pueblo, a multi-level adobe complex about a mile north of Taos proper, is the longest continuously-inhabited community in the US.  It is said to have been built between the years 1000 and 1500.  Like the Great Pyramids and the Grand Canyon, it is a World Heritage Society site, one of our planet’s most significant historical cultural landmarks. The few Native Americans who still live within its walls have no running water or electricity.  Currently, the Pueblo is used primarily for sacred ceremonies and is open for tours on non-ceremonial days. During my visit, I purchased sage and cedar smudge sticks that had been freshly rolled by an elder. This divine scent is quintessential Northern New Mexico to me.  

Pan, Greek god of the wild, as portrayed by a local artist

There are other aspects of the area that take my breath away.  Unforgettable sunsets over its sliver of Rio Grande and skies with double rainbows. Rivers and streams flanked by mountains, cottonwood trees, and vibrant wildflowers.  Piñon trees growing close enough to the roads that you can pull over and fill your pockets.  And if you’d rather view the loveliness from inside your car, a plethora of scenic drives, including the Enchanted Circle and the High Road to Taos, await you.

Heading north

It’s an area replete with adobe houses, earth ships, and other unconventional set-ups that its residents call home.  It has a long history for being artsy, and there are loads of musicians, writers, painters, sculptors, and artisans to keep that history alive.  Downtown Taos, and the tiny villages in its proximity, have a great many galleries, from the fancy to the simple.  I believe the beauty of the area works to inspire its artists, in the same way it inspires me.

The iconic Taos Cow, serving coffee, lunch, and all-natural ice cream

As a result of experiencing this and other exquisite natural beauty, I know in my heart that we are one, neither superior nor inferior, with all other life.  Like the first Kinship volume sets forth, protecting Nature and allowing all other forms of life to flourish reciprocates the love and care She’s always provided for us.

Kinship Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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The Science Behind Eating the Rainbow

The makings of a smoothie

You may have heard the phrase eat the rainbow many times.  And you might have realized that it’s referring to the varied colors of fresh fruits & vegetables.  But have you heard an explanation of why it’s beneficial to adopt this strategy?  

In his book Conscious Eating, Dr. Gabriel Cousens writes the color of foods is a silent communication from Nature about the characteristics of Her gifts to us.  Each of the rainbow colors relates to a specific subtle energy center (or chakra) in the body and its associated glands, organs, and nervous system plexus.  He gives the example that green foods are high in nutrients, like vitamin K, folate, and magnesium, that protect the (green) heart chakra. (For a deep dive into the connection of food & chakras, I encourage you to check out another of Dr. Cousens’ books, Spiritual Nutrition and the Rainbow Diet.)


In addition to their individual specialties, plant foods of all colors are good for boosting immunity and reducing risks for diabetes & cancer. But according to this report by the Nutrilite Health Institute in Buena Park, California, approximately 80% of Americans don’t get enough of any plant pigment.

While eating more vegetables and fruit is always a good idea, focusing on eating a variety of colors will increase your intake of different nutrients to benefit various areas of your health, an article from Healthline reports.  In an effort to encourage this in some small fashion, I’d like to share an abbreviated description of each color category, including the ways in which they go above and beyond.

Red – Tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, pomegranates, red grapes, red bell peppers, and other reds help destroy harmful free radicals and reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. A write-up from Food Revolution Network explains that lycopene and ellagic acid are two of the powerful phytochemicals at work here. 

Orange – Foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, oranges, pumpkin, and apricots assist with healthy joints & skin as well as eye function.  A wealth of beta carotene is found in these foods.

Yellow – The phytonutrients in lemons, yellow bell peppers, corn, butternut squash, papaya, & other yellows reduce inflammation and help our bodies detox.  Flavonoids and vitamin C are responsible for these benefits, according to The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Green – Chlorophyl, the green pigment found in abundance in foods like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, avocados, kale, limes, spinach, and asparagus, signals us to the potential for increased vitality, healthier blood, and stronger muscles & bones.  Chlorophyl and human blood are similar in chemical composition and both carry oxygen, so it’s no wonder that eating green things makes us feel clearer and stronger!

Blue/Purple – The health-giving functions of blue and purple foods like blueberries, plums, prunes, figs, eggplant, and purple cabbage include reducing free radicals, fighting inflammation, and helping with our anti-aging efforts.  An article from the British Heart Foundation notes that the pigments in these foods, anthocyanins, are powerful antioxidants, which have a role in protecting cells from damage

White/Brown – Veggies in this category, like mushrooms, cauliflower, daikons, onions, and garlic, assist the body by removing excess hormones and carcinogens.  Even though they aren’t as brightly colored as the others, these crucifers, alliums, and fungi offer a host of health-promoting advantages.

Increasing your color intake is easier than you might imagine.  You can toss lots of color into a smoothie, create a beautiful new soup, or chop up a fun salad.  Trying new fruits and veggies is a great way to expand your palate and boost the health of your microbiome & overall body function.  And if you don’t like a new vegetable raw or stir-fried, try roasting it.  Or sauté it in a good olive oil with plenty of garlic.  That makes everything tasty! 

The color-coding of plant foods broadcasts Nature’s goodness.  Choosing to include a wide assortment of these colors in your daily intake can be most beneficial.  Even when you don’t know their specific merits, eating a variety of colored fruits and veggies helps you achieve your best possible health.

Rainbow Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Smoky Mixed Bean Burgers

You may remember me saying in a post a while back that veggie burgers are my favorite thing to cook.  That’s because homemade is always better than store-bought, and I have found a number of fun ways to prepare them.  This recipe combines ingredients from 3 of my favorites. It’s quick and absolutely delicious!  The final product is firm to the bite, and you get to decide whether to bake them (takes longer, but healthier) or fry them (quicker & makes them taste closer to a regular burger.)

You also get to choose how to eat them: on a bun, in a lettuce wrap, as a fillet, or my favorite way: broken up over a salad.  Crumbling one of these burgers over a bed of romaine & adding brown rice, avocado, and red onion with a bit of Himalayan salt makes my heart, and my belly, happy!

Beans (or legumes, really, including lentils, chickpeas, & soybeans) are almost daily fare in our house.  Besides the fact that they are versatile & tasty, they are super healthy. As vegans, we get much of our protein and iron from beans.  They are also loaded with fiber, folate, magnesium, and potassium.  A publication out of North Dakota State University explains that due to their high concentration of health-promoting nutrients, consuming more beans in the American diet could improve overall health and also decrease the risk of developing certain diseases, including heart disease, obesity and many types of cancers. 

I hope you’ll give the recipe a try.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Yield: 6 burgers

Ingredients (use organic or non-GMO whenever possible)
1 cup cooked pinto beans, drained, liquid reserved
1 cup cooked black beans, drained
3 shallots, minced
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup oat flour
2 tbsp sriracha
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp Himalayan salt (or more to taste)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Avocado oil for baking or frying
fixings for eating on a bun or salad

Directions
Place beans in a large bowl, smashing about 2/3 of them with a potato masher. Add the next 9 ingredients (through smoked paprika.) Mix the ingredients together, first with a spatula, and then with very clean hands. If the mixture feels too dry, add some of the reserved bean liquid, a little at a time, until the mixture is burger-worthy. Test for salt, adding more if needed.

Form 6 burgers with slightly wet hands and either:
-place on an oiled baking tray and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, turning them over at the halfway point, or

-fry in a bit of oil for 8 – 10 minutes on medium heat, flipping after the first 4 – 5 minutes.

If you’re eating on buns, add ketchup, tomato, onion, lettuce, & avocado to reach burger nirvana, and make it a heavenly meal with spiced, roasted potatoes.  Enjoy! 


The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness
.

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5 Little-Known Tips for Seasonal Allergy Relief

Seasonal allergies affect up to 30% of the world’s population, according to an article from The Conversation, an independent, worldwide publisher committed to sharing academic research for the common good. Fueled by warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide levels, pollen seasons are now longer, and pollen counts are higher, the article explains. Continued climate change, experts believe, will make matters even worse.

For those of us who suffer with sneezing, itchy eyes, and congestion in Spring or Autumn, conventional methods for managing symptoms are not ideal.  Anti-histamines can result in dehydration of the entire body leading to drowsiness, and the process of taking allergy shots can last up to 5 years.

There are gentler, natural ways to address seasonal allergies, and I’d like to share the best ones I know.

  1. Improve hydration. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, M.D. & water researcher, writes that the overproduction of histamine is a result of mucous membranes drying out.  For example, many of us become dehydrated as we sleep and wake up with a stuffy nose, making us feel our allergies are worse in the mornings.  Hydrating better by adding the natural electrolytes of fresh lemon juice to drinking water can help control histamine production.
  2. Eat more quercetin.  A study published in the journal Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology explains that quercetin has anti-allergic functions that are known for inhibiting histamine production and pro-inflammatory mediators. Quercetin foods include apples, blueberries, citrus fruits, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, onions, and green tea.  Tossing several of these in a daily smoothie makes it easy to get plenty of this plant pigment. (But save the onions for something else!)
  3. Eat locally according to the season.  Food grown in the area you live offers a much better boost to your immune system than that grown & shipped across the country (or across the world.)  Also, eating with the seasons and including local raw honey in your diet can act in a similar manner as an inoculation.
  4. Use essential oils.  Diffusing or putting a few drops of an essential oil like eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree, or peppermint in your bath water gives the water an electrical charge, according to a write-up from the Hydration Foundation. This charge acts as a liaison for hydration by helping water move across the cell membrane and get inside each cell.  Essential oils also help calm the inflammation of your mucous membranes.
  5. Try a nasal spray or rinse.  Using a simple saline spray or neti pot hydrates your sinus passages and helps get the gunk out.  If you’re unfamiliar with neti pots, Cleveland Clinic has posted a great article describing them and explaining how to use them.

Regardless of what side of the world you’re on, seasonal allergies may be making you crazy right now.  Trying one or more of the above tips may ease your symptoms.  As the planet gets warmer and pollen production increases, having an array of reliable remedies at your disposal might not be a bad idea.

Seasonal Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Nudges Along the Path

The road through King’s Canyon, California

Last week, I commented on a few lovely photos of footpaths in the woods and started thinking about all the pictures I have taken of rural paths and roads through the years.  There is something reverently hopeful about the sight of them; I suppose that’s why we have so many sayings like take the high road, the road less traveled, finding your own path, and the idea of being at a crossroads.

LaSalle Loop Road, near Moab, Utah

I am not one to push my philosophy of life on others; I appreciate the right of everyone to believe differently. But for the purpose of this post, I’d like to share mine:  Each of our individual paths is leading us to the same destination with unlimited opportunities for detours of our choosing.  Love toward ourselves, our family, and our friends often suffers when we are on detours for long periods. (For example, working at a soul-sucking job, being in an unhealthy relationship, feeding addictions, or other situations that we know in our hearts are not right.) Lucky for us, if we are paying attention, we are often nudged to return from these self-sabotaging detours.

Look at every path closely and deliberately, then ask this crucial question: Does this path have heart? ~Carlos Castaneda

View of the San Francisco Peaks from O’Leary Peak in northern Arizona

I arrived at this philosophy through study (during college and beyond), observing others, time in Nature, living & working at holistic centers, Sunday morning lessons, and other personal experience.  Looking back, I can clearly see the nudges provided for me, and they turned out to be huge blessings.

A quiet trail in Sedona, Arizona

In my early 20’s, I took a job at an investment banking firm.  After 3 years of learning the ropes and getting registered, I began working with a seasoned financial advisor who would prove to be the most difficult person I’ve ever known.  Regardless of how busy we were, if things went wrong, he often stormed out of the office, leaving me to figure out how to fix them while conducting business as usual. And some of our individual clients allowed the Dow Jones Industrial Average & the price of their stocks to dictate their moods, phoning several times a day.  When the market was down sharply, they could be really vicious.  I hated – and I do mean hated – every day of it, but did it for the money while self-medicating with alcohol, unhealthy food, and bad relationships.  One day, 11 years in, we were on a conference call to the back office to learn about a new tax deferral possibility for a favorite client. I was familiar with some of the info, and due to the way I conducted my part of the conversation, I was accused of leading the back office person to an unfavorable outcome for our client.  That was it.  That was the nudge I needed.  I handed in my notice a few minutes later.  And it turned out to be the perfect decision, even though, at the time, I didn’t have a clear idea of what came next.

It is important to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed. ~Ram Dass

A butterfly and some cheerful wildflowers line a hiking trail in California

After a period of licking my wounds, I struck out on my own in a very different field – holistic healing.  I had earned my Doctorate, and I was eager to use my knowledge to help others.  I did one-on-one consulting, conducted group discussions, wrote articles for a local health magazine, lectured at various venues, developed & taught classes and workshops, and practiced reciprocal marketing.  Although I worked long days, usually 12 – 14 hours each, I had to dip into savings every month to pay the bills.  During this 2-year span, relationships with my romantic partner, my best friend, and my ministers fell apart.  I began to feel like a failure in every way.  I wallowed in depressed isolation for a while, until another much-needed nudge came in the form of a spiritual epiphany. It inspired me to sell my home and most everything else in exchange for long-term travel.  (Read about that adventure in my post Escaping Normal.)  Again, the outcome couldn’t have been more perfect. (And happily, I have reconnected with my minister friends!)  

Hiking at elevation in Nevada

I sometimes hear people talk about the things they would go back and change on their life path if given the chance.  I wouldn’t change anything.  I’m happy with where I am and who I’ve become, and I know all of my ill-advised detours and redirecting nudges have been necessary components. 

Have you had similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them if you’re willing to share!

A path to a mountain lake in Wyoming

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. ~Guatama Buddha

Blessings on the Path,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Beauty in the Desert

Earlier this week, I met up with Janet from This, That, and the Other Thing on her stomping ground near Phoenix.  Janet is a photographer with an eye for the unique, often employing wit with her daily posts.  After chatting a bit at a coffeehouse, we visited the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch.  Janet has shared many lovely images from the Preserve on her blog, and I wanted to see it for myself. 

The 110-acre Preserve was developed in 1999, using waste and reclaimed waters.  According to their web page, approximately 298 species of birds have been identified on the site, and many insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals have found homes there as well.  The area also offers an ethnobotanical garden, a paleontology dig site, gardens for pollinators including a hummingbird garden and butterfly garden, plus a state-of-the-art observatory and hilltop outdoor classroom.  It is a photographer’s paradise, an opportunity for up-close learning, and a sweet respite from the concrete and hurried pace of the nearby metropolitan area.

The sky was overcast and the temperature in the low 80’s, making it a perfect day for strolling around the lovely sanctuary.  (That evening, we had snow in the northern part of the state, so it was a quick, warm escape for me!)  We saw many rabbits and birds.  In fact, I’ve never seen so many bunnies & mourning doves in one place.  There were also fish, turtles, honey bees and what we believed to be plump bumblebees.  And the colors of the blooming plants and trees ranged from yellow to orange, red, pink, and fuchsia. If your image of the Sonoran Desert is drab and lifeless, the Preserve will forever change that. 

The number of bird species was astounding, and Janet commented that there weren’t nearly as many as usual.  There were various ducks, cormorants, egrets, pelicans, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, sparrows, noisy grackles, and some birds we couldn’t identify.

One area of the Preserve hosts tall-growing saguaros, surrounded by rocks, flowers, and other cactus plants.  We stopped there for a long while to watch birds flying in and out of the holes they had fashioned in the cacti to serve as entryways to their homes.  I was surprised by the number of woodpeckers; I had seen them only on trees.

There were other areas near the water where a cotton-like substance covered the plants and ground.  It was so thick in places, it looked like a white, hairy mold.  And then we noticed little pieces floating through the air.  It was falling from the trees above. 

After admiring an abundance of natural beauty and snapping a considerable number of photos, we went for a delicious vegan lunch.  It was great seeing Janet again and visiting one of her favorite sanctuaries of the Southwest.  We talked of possibly meeting in the sublime red rocks of Sedona for our next get-together. 

The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch kindled our fascination and brought us lots of smiles.  The beauty in this part of the desert is unique and unforgettable.  I hope you’ll enjoy the photos here, and check out Janet’s blog for more.

Desert Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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What Makes the Standard American Diet SAD?

In 2020, the US ranked 35th on the Bloomberg Global Health Index, indicating that the populations of 34 countries are healthier than ours.  Even though we spend almost twice as much on healthcare, our life expectancy is lower than any other developed country, due in large part to 3 out of 4 American adults and 1 out of 5 children (ages 6 – 19) being overweight or obese.  According to an article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, obesity is often accompanied by coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea and other respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, and other conditions.  What one chooses to eat is not the only determinant of poor health and early death, but the Standard American Diet (SAD) plays a starring role.

The average calorie breakdown of the SAD, according to a 2009 graph from the USDA Economic Research Service, is as follows: 63% from processed foods, 25% from animal products, and only 12% from plants.  (My guess is, the first 2 percentages have increased & the third decreased since the graph data was compiled.) The dominance of nutrient-poor refined grains, fried foods, red & processed meats, and food additives results in biological chaos in our bodies.

Fresh veggies & brown rice with cubed tofu & homemade peanut dressing

If you are uncertain as to what processed foods are, think prepared & packaged, with added salts, sweeteners, preservatives, colors, and other chemicals.  Examples can include frozen pizza, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, french fries, tv dinners, canned soups, ice cream, snacks, breads, pastries, and soda & other sugar-sweetened drinks, even most juices.  Fast foods make the list, as do meals from “slow food” restaurants that utilize highly refined substances like artificial flavor enhancers, poor quality cooking oils, white flour & sugar, and sauces made with genetically modified corn syrup or other chemical additives.  

Prepackaged foods are often stripped of their nutrient content to extend shelf life.  Although they count toward the calories we consume (an astronomical 2775 on average daily) they don’t contribute a great deal to nourishing our cells.  It is common for food manufacturers to add plenty of cheap refined sweeteners, salt, and unhealthy fats to improve taste, mouthfeel, and encourage addiction. 

Veggie burger made from scratch & fixings

I’ve talked to many people who are unable to accept that the US government would allow food items to be sold here that cause harm.  But according to this report from the National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer, more than 2,500 chemical substances are intentionally added to foods to modify flavor, color, stability, texture, or cost. There has been no requirement to perform tests to determine carcinogenicity for most of them. Presently, over 43,000 research articles can be found on PubMed when searching food additives and disease.

If you eat a lot of processed foods, you might find that you don’t like the taste of fresh, home-prepared veggies.  Manufactured foods change the population of our gut microbes that control cravings and establish taste bias. (It is possible to change your taste preferences, if you’re wondering. Regularly trying new-to-you, healthier foods and doing a physician-approved 1-day water fast can help.)

Green breakfast smoothie preparation

The 25% of food from animal products eaten as a part of the SAD are not often stellar choices, either. Most livestock raised for commercial consumption in this country receive regular antibiotics and other chemical injections to hasten growth and promote survival within the deplorable conditions in which they live and die.  Further, according to the ASPCA, due to bovine growth hormones, unnatural diets, and selective breeding for increased milk production, a single dairy cow now produces 50 – 100 pounds of milk each day, a 10-fold increase from a few decades ago.  Personally, I believe the chemical exposure and inhumane treatment of these animals must contribute to the inflammation and disease caused by eating red & processed meats and dairy products.

Southwestern bowl with kelp

The Standard American Diet does not in any way promote well-being.  Taking responsibility for improving your health by eating fewer processed foods and animal products can result in a longer life with less risk for a debilitating disease.  Eating more of the Earth’s gifts of plants can help protect you from the SAD, the number one cause of death in the US.

Blessings for Health & Longevity,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Awaken Your Healer Within

Reflections of Downtown Chicago
Our capacity for self-healing reflects our Divine origins

I have begun rereading The Healer Within: Using Traditional Chinese Techniques to Release Your Body’s Own Medicine by Roger Jahnke, Doctor of Chinese Medicine and the Director of the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi in Santa Barbara, California.  This book contains a wealth of information that really spoke to me.  Reading it the first time left me considering its teachings for months afterwards, until finally I bought it.  (You may remember me referencing Dr. Jahnke’s work in previous posts on favorite asanas and nudges for optimal function.)

The methods in the book, borrowed from Qigong, include gentle movement, self massage, deep relaxation, and conscious breathing.  The simple formula for self-healing is awakening the medicine within, the author writes, and one of the most effective ways to activate this formula is the regular practice of the four essential self-care methods.  (In addition to healthy eating & hydrating, I would add!)

Dr. Jahnke reports on research out of the New England Journal of Medicine stating that 8 out of every 9 deaths are preventable.  It has been shown that increasing physical activity a small amount has a powerful disease-reducing effect, he writes.  That applies to everyone, even those of us who are completely inactive.

Reflections at Yosemite National Park in California

The good doctor shares that thousands of people have learned these techniques, and many have experienced dramatic health improvements, often within two weeks’ time.  Commitment to a daily practice, albeit short and simple, is necessary, he says.

Now, on to the specifics.  All quotes below are from the book.

Method 1 is gentle movement.  Not to say that we should give up our regular exercise routines.  But in addition, or for those who are not really active, a few minutes of gentle fitness practice increases levels of healing internal resources that will not be gobbled up as fuel by hungry muscles.  Gentle movements help push water deep into our cells, increase oxygen and nutrient circulation, build strength, enhance balance, and accelerate propulsion of lymphatic fluid.

Method 2 is self-massage.  This, of course, is in addition to the benefit of a massage therapist if you are so inclined.  Daily self-massage, especially of the ears, hands, and feet, can aid sleep (I can confirm that!), hydration, & PMS symptoms, and address addictions.  This practice soothes the sympathetic aspect of the autonomic nervous system, which controls the function of the organs, resulting in the release of restorative neurotransmitters and the reduction of adrenaline.

Reflection from a shop window in Rome

Method 3 is deep relaxation, including meditation.  Research shows that many diseases can be caused or exacerbated by stress, and deep relaxation can resolve or neutralize the effects of stress on the body and heal disease.  This is accomplished by lowered brain wave activity, reduced blood pressure, dilated capillaries, and enhanced production of healing hormones.

The final method Dr. Jahnke shares is conscious breathing.  Inspiration (meaning to breathe in) is what we call the force that impels us forward into life with enthusiasm; it is the divine influence that brings forth creativity and vitality.  Breathing deeply in a calm fashion can also give us a sense of control. This practice pumps lymphatic fluid, causes neuropeptides to be released, increases endurance, and shifts the nervous system toward relaxation.

Rearview mirror reflection of the setting sun on Route 66 in Northern Arizona

The book provides a good number of examples, including illustrations, for each of the above techniques.  And if you’d like to experience a free Qigong practice that incorporates all 4 methods, check out this page on the website of The Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi.

The human body contains an amazing internal pharmacy, if only we learn to activate it and keep it in good running order.  Dr. Roger Jahnke’s The Healer Within serves as an instruction manual, offering simple suggestions with profound effects.

Healing Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Cozy Roasted Veggie Polenta

I first tried polenta in a swanky little restaurant on Las Olas Boulevard in Downtown Ft. Lauderdale.  The small, uniform pieces had been baked and grilled, then topped with sautéed wild mushrooms.  It was delicious.  That was years ago, and I have prepared this staple from Northern Italy many times in a variety of cuisines since.  The recipe below is an adaptation of one of my favorites from Mollie Katzen’s The New Moosewood Cookbook.

Mollie refers to her version as a deep-dish pizza with a thick, crunchy cornmeal crust.  Before becoming vegan, I enjoyed her recipe with its 1/4 pound of mozzarella many times.  But I’ve learned that plant-based cheeses can be just as tasty and much healthier.  For my adaptation, I use vegan parm instead of mozzarella, and the dish is more casserole-like.  It’s one of those dishes that’s hard not to nibble, even after eating a full lunch or dinner portion!

Vegan parmesan

Stoneground polenta yields larger grains and retains more nutrients than regular cornmeal.  Look for organic or non-GMO certifications, especially in the US, where most corn is grown from seeds modified in a lab and their stalks heavily sprayed with toxic glyphosate.  The nutrition in polenta includes complex carbs that are slow to digest and thereby assist blood sugar levels; carotenoids that can help prevent cancers and eye diseases; and the minerals iron, zinc, and magnesium that are essential to many bodily functions.

Cremini mushrooms, aka baby bellas, are teeming with nutrition.  In addition to having a variety of minerals including an abundance of copper, needed for energy production, and selenium, required for healthy thyroid function & DNA synthesis, they also contain a host of B vitamins and protein.  Furthermore, the enzymes and good bacteria in creminis boost immune function.  Their bold flavor makes them my favorite among domesticated mushrooms.

You won’t soon forget the flavorful presence of zucchini in this dish.  And its health benefits abound, too.  Its water content provides for hydration and electrolytes, while its bevy of phytonutrients help protect against inflammation and oxidative stress.  The science of Ayurveda considers zucchini a tonic for upset stomach, bloating, constipation and acid reflux.

Don’t let the number of ingredients stop you from trying this delicious, nutritious recipe.  The preparation is simple and moves along quickly, and you might just find the result as irresistible as I do. 

Yield: 5 – 6 servings

Ingredients (use organic or non-GMO when possible)
6 heaping tbsp almond meal
1 heaping tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp Himalayan salt (or more to taste)
——————————————
1 cup polenta
1 tsp Himalayan salt (or more to taste)
3 cups water (or as much as your polenta package calls for)
——————————————
2 tbsp avocado oil for pan (olive oil will work, too)
1 yellow onion, med diced
8 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced thin
6 baby bell peppers, various colors, trimmed & sliced into 1 inch pieces
6 – 8 med brussels sprouts, trimmed & quartered
2 med carrots, sliced into nickel-thick rounds
1/3 med head cauliflower, cut into small-medium florets
2 med zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
10 med cremini mushrooms, cut in half
handful of grape tomatoes, cut in half (optional)
1 more tbsp avocado or olive oil for veggies
2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp Himalayan salt (or more to taste)
———————————————
avocado or olive oil spray for baking dish
1/4 tsp paprika

Directions
Prepare the vegan parmesan by combining the first 4 ingredients (almond meal – salt) in a small bowl and mix well. Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.

Cook 1 cup of polenta according to your package directions (water could be more or less than 3 cups), whisking often & using a lid to partially cover between whisks.  (If you’ve never worked with polenta, I’d suggest wearing oven mitts the first time due to its potential to pop out of the pot & burn you while simmering.)  Be sure to include a teaspoon of salt, and taste for salt once it’s done cooking, adding more if needed.  Replace the lid and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Oil the bottom and sides of a baking pan.  Add the cut veggies & additional 1 tbsp oil, and toss around until the oil is well distributed. (They can overlap – no need to get them all on 1 layer.)  Add basil, oregano, crushed red, black pepper, and salt.  Bake for 20 minutes, until firm-tender, just a bit less firm than stir-fried veggies.  You don’t want them soft – a little crunch after baking under the polenta is the goal. Taste for salt when you take them out of the oven.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 10″ x 13″ baking dish with oil.  Place the roasted veggies in the dish.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the vegan parm evenly over them.  Cover with the cooked polenta, using a wet rubber spatula to smooth out the top, covering all the veggies.  Sprinkle with the paprika.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10 mins, then turn the oven to broil for 3 – 6 mins, or until the polenta topping becomes a little tan in spots.  (Of course, watch it closely once you turn on the broiler.  What takes 6 minutes in my oven might take only 3 minutes in yours.  And you don’t want to burn it, after all that preparation!)

Enjoy your yummy creation, adding a little more parm once divided onto plates.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Smellscapes

Have you ever noticed how a familiar smell can sometimes take you back to childhood?  How the scent of roasting coffee beans can cause you to close your eyes and deeply inhale its lusciousness?  And how the odor of stinky garbage consumes your attention until you can get rid of it?  In addition to our sense of smell evoking memories and providing for pleasure or its opposite, its impact is surprisingly extensive.

The term smellscape was devised in 1985 by J. Douglas Porteous, Professor of Geography at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, to describe the totality of the olfactory landscape in a specific environment.  It  is a concept used liberally now, to characterize both urban and rural environments.  For the purpose of this post, we’ll focus on the kind of scents that embrace you when surrounded by trees, flowers, garden veggies, ground cover, and other outdoor elements.

According to an article from Science Direct, various studies show that aromas, smells, and scents all set off bodily reactions, they serve as connections and codes, and produce new means of engaging with space; an odor often defines a setting.  Further, smell is a crucial factor in how people experience spaces of health and wellbeing.

A Pub Med article entitled A Review of the Benefits of Nature Experiences: More Than Meets the Eye explains that the olfactory system is connected to emotions, and problems with that system can result in depression.  The sense of smell affects mood, cognition, and behavior. This suggests a clear avenue through which nature benefits could be received via smell.  I always feel elated when smelling Autumn leaves, fresh herbs, tomatoes on the vine, and night blooming jasmine, don’t you?

A write-up on Frontiers in Psychology tells us that pleasant natural scents can evoke the feeling of joy and have a calming effect.  When separating the visual, auditory, and olfactory nature stimuli on stress reduction, smells seem to have a more profound effect than visual and auditory stimuli.  So maybe when we are feeling stressed, walking through a sweet-smelling meadow could do more for us than listening to calming music.

In the early 1980s, the Japanese National Ministry of Forestry saw a need to decrease the pressures of modernization in the country, and began to promote forest bathing on its public lands.  Shinrin-yoku, its proper name, involves mindfully walking through a forest, taking in the experience not only with your eyes and ears, but also your nose.  Research shows that various pine trees produce olfactory compounds that positively affect blood pressure, heart-rate variability, salivary cortisol, alpha-amylase and oxygenation of the prefrontal cortex. (They also) stimulate immune system function, in particular the innate natural killer cells that are famous for destroying tumors and viral-infected cells.  Three mindful hours spent in a forest can positively affect natural killer cells for up to 30 days, a 2010 study shows.  I don’t believe any pharmaceutical could provide such significant benefit.

The smells of green landscapes offer an abundance of health advantages.  If you enjoy the outdoors, you now have another reason to get out there.  If time outside has never been your thing, maybe you’ll reassess.  The delightful fragrances of our Primal Mother await you with perks.

Bouquets of Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Healing Gone Wrong

South Carolina
These watery images called to me while writing about the fires of inflammation.

Last week’s post, Heart Matters, touched on the concept of chronic inflammation and its association with the majority of chronic diseases.  In addition to cardiac disease, these include cancers, Alzheimer’s, auto-immune disorders, pulmonary disease, diabetes, and bone & joint diseases.  Some of your comments inspired me to want to share more on the subject.  This post, therefore, is a sort of addendum.

You may be thinking, isn’t inflammation a good thing?  Yes and no.  On his website, Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, says inflammation is the cornerstone of the body’s healing response, bringing more nourishment and more immune activity to a site of injury or infection. But when inflammation persists, it damages the body and causes illness.  This type of illness often lasts for years, taking away from the quality of our lives until finally it takes our lives.

South Florida

Persistent inflammation is the body’s immune response to toxins as it works to “purify” itself, according to this write-up from Cleveland Clinic.  As our exposure to pseudo foods, polluted air & water, and overall stress increases, our bodies’ toxin levels rise, setting the stage for chronic inflammatory disease.

If your physician hasn’t tested you for chronic inflammation, ask if she/he will order a lab test for CRP or IL-6.  (Be aware that your insurance might not pay for it.)  If the result falls above the normal range, you’ll know that you need to make some lifestyle changes.

Oregon

There are many ways to assist your body in decreasing inflammation and improving, often even reversing, chronic disease. The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public Health published a 10-page Patient Handout that gives a lot of great info for those wanting to make changes.  Their guidance includes the following: daily physical activity, stress management, restful & plentiful sleep, spending time with loved ones, managing your weight, and eating in a way that increases nutrients and decreases junk & fried foods, simple carbs, processed meats, and food allergens.

An anti-inflammatory diet is not a diet in the traditional sense.  It’s a way of eating that should be adopted for a lifetime of health.  The Mediterranean Diet is a perfect example, with its abundance of whole foods, including fresh fruits, veggies & beans, healthy oils, fish & other omega 3 foods, whole grains,  nuts & seeds, herbs & spices, moderate wine consumption, limited red meats & dairy, and no processed meats.  According to Michael Greger, MD, founder of NutritionFacts.org, emphasizing whole foods, and not supplements, is essential.  For example, antioxidants found in fresh veggies are shown to reduce inflammation, but antioxidant supplements are not.  The same goes for spices: studies show ground turmeric is beneficial, but not turmeric supplements.  Another reason to focus on whole foods, Dr. Greger says, is that not all plant foods are anti-inflammatory.  If all you do is boost your intake of less healthy plant foods, like juice, white bread, soda, and cake, you can end up even more inflamed, he writes. 

Maine

Of course, your new healthy lifestyle won’t bring results overnight – it’ll take time to change the years of abuse your body has endured.  An article on Livestrong.com explains that after a week of changing your habits, you might have lost 1 pound, feel less bloated, and find your triglycerides have dropped.  Two to three weeks can bring lowered blood pressure, a bit more weight loss, & positive changes in overall bloodwork.  After a month, you might find that your mood and energy have improved, and you have fewer aches and pains.  Sixty days into it, endurance will have improved, and you may see several more pounds have fallen off.  In 90 days, your A1c levels can drop, which is proof of a healthier functioning pancreas, liver, and small intestine. Also by that time, your new lifestyle has been habituated long enough for you not to worry about falling off the wagon!

It is my hope that you’ve found this information helpful.  Chronic inflammatory disease doesn’t have to be a part of your life.  Making lifestyle changes now can be the key to helping you avoid an illness that can steal your chances of a happy, healthy existence.

Blessings for Health,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Heart Matters

💕photo credit: Cocoamoni 💕

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for about 1/3 of all deaths, according to the World Health Organization. This frightening stat has been attributed to high blood pressure, high low-density lipoprotein (LDL), diabetes, smoking & secondhand smoke exposure, obesity, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.  A small percentage of us inherit genes that predispose us to the disease. But the great majority of us put ourselves at risk due to lifestyle choices.

Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, in his important book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water: You Are Not Sick, You Are Thirsty, writes that cell membranes require water to hold them together.  When the body is not sufficiently hydrated, cells produce cholesterol to take care of the job.  This, he says, can contribute to high cholesterol, which often correlates with heart disease.  (Just one of the myriad of reasons that proper hydration is so vital.)

Caldwell Esselstyn, MD, is a surgeon at Cleveland Clinic. After decades of performing operations on patients with heart disease, he began researching preventative measures.  Now, Dr. Esselstyn, no longer working as a surgeon, heads the Esselstyn Heart Disease Program at Cleveland Clinic, where he counsels on lifestyle choices (that) contribute to the development and progression of cardiovascular disease and how to slow or reverse it.  His primary recommendation is plant-based eating.  Within 12 weeks of committing to his program, patients’ symptoms have diminished or disappeared, and within a few months, angiograms have shown a widening of the coronary arteries — a reversal of heart disease.

Dr. Dean Ornish is another physician who has developed a program for reversing heart disease via lifestyle measures.  His program has been so successful that it is covered by patients’ Medicare benefits.  According to Dr. Ornish, it is the combined effect of four lifestyle elements that make the transformative difference: nutrition, fitness, stress management, and love & support. 

Love and support, you say?  Really?  A meta-analysis on Frontiers in Psychology reports on 1,187 studies done with more than 1,458 million participants on the roles of love and social support in health and longevity.  Their importance, the write-up concludes, is equivalent to that documented for other risk factors such as smoking or obesity.  Amazing, wouldn’t you say?

Dr. Zach Bush, my favorite triple-board certified physician, on the heart page of his website, shares information on the role of chronic inflammation in heart disease.  Those with chronic inflammatory diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, COPD, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders (most of which can be improved or reversed with lifestyle changes, according to many sources) are shown to have an elevated risk of developing heart disease. Further, lack of exercise, poor diet, lack of sleep, and stress are associated with chronic systemic inflammation and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  

I think most of us believe that heart disease starts later in life, or at the earliest, in young adults.  That was my assumption until a few years ago.  But in the early 1950’s, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on research that had been done on the autopsied bodies of 300 Americans killed in the Korean War.  Almost 80% had visible evidence of coronary atherosclerosis, and some of them had artery blockage of 90%.  The average age of these soldiers was 22.  Related studies are reported in an article shared on the US National Library of Medicine indicating that the beginnings of heart disease shows in children as young as 1 month of age.  And according to Dr. Michael Greger in his NY Times Bestselling book How Not to Die, Italian researchers who examined the arteries of miscarriages and premies that died shortly after birth report that the arteries of fetuses whose mothers had high LDL levels were likely to contain arterial lesions.  Therefore, beyond prevention, we should work to reverse the heart disease (we) very likely already have, Dr. Greger writes.

The choices you make each day create your lifestyle, and your lifestyle often dictates your tendency toward cardiovascular disease.  Take time to consider the foods you eat, your sleep, water intake, physical activity, stress management, and social support, and make changes as needed.  Don’t put yourself at risk for dying from a largely preventable disease.

Blessings for Healthy Choices,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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6 Ways Gardening Can Elevate Your Life

My Aunt & Uncle’s tropical garden of limes, oranges, mangoes, avocados, and bananas in Cocoa, Florida

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. ~Alfred Austin, English Poet (1835 – 1913)

Some of my earliest memories involve sights of rich, dark soils, green leaves that seemed to go on forever, plump black and yellow bumblebees, and sweet smells of tomatoes on the vine.  I couldn’t estimate the number of times I ran barefoot on the cool, fragrant soil path of my Grandmother’s vegetable garden or the hours I spent alongside her picking beans in the searing sun.  On the warmest of days, she would cut a freshly-picked watermelon or cantaloupe beneath the giant twin oak trees of her backyard, and we would devour the sweet, cooling, sticky fruit with great delight.  I guess you could say I am nostalgic about gardening.

From my small garden last year

Although I’ll always cherish those memories, the idea of horticulture has taken on a more urgent meaning for me through the years.  During my childhood, most everyone we knew had a garden. Both small- and large-scale cultivation was a clean, healthy way to work with Nature and harvest good food. Ideas of genetically engineered seeds and herbicides & pesticides that destroy the Earth’s soils and harm human health had not yet hit the radar.  Now, after decades of folks devoting less time to growing, (and often suffering the effects of industrially-grown foods) home and community gardens seem to be making a comeback.  Below are a few ways gardening can bring more joy and health into your life.

Blooms!

Plant so your own heart will grow. ~Hafiz

  1. You choose the growing methods.  If you need to amend the soil or protect against pests or weeds, you decide what products or practices to use.  You may choose to go organic, or at the least, avoid harsh chemicals.  The microbes in your soil and your gut will benefit as a result.
  2. Good stewardship of your little piece of Earth affects the whole.  You might seed plants that attract bees, hummingbirds, or butterflies that can help pollinate your garden as well as others.  Plants produce oxygen and absorb carbon, so you’re reducing global warming on a small scale (imagine if every one of us gardened!)  Flowers can improve the look of your plot of land as well as your neighborhood.  And the fragrance of some blooming trees can enthrall anyone within a stone’s throw.
  3. Working in a garden is good for your mindsetSue Stuart-Smith, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and author of The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature, writes about researched effects of gardening programs on those suffering from trauma, depression, & anxiety, learning-disabled children, and prisoners.  The positive differences gardening makes for these diverse populations is nothing short of amazing: mood, confidence, and self-esteem are boosted, and chances of recidivism are reduced.  When we work with nature outside us, we work with nature inside us, the author says.  
  4. Protect yourself from food and nutrition insecurity.  In the US, supply chains have been slow for many months.  Purchasing healthy food has become more challenging, especially in heavily populated areas of the country.  In addition, a CNN article entitled The US Food System is Killing Americans states our food system is our country’s pre-existing condition that leaves us all at greater risk (for Covid and its possible consequences.) Having home-grown veggies at the ready, along with a few simple recipes, can help you change that.
  5. Get your good, green exercise!  Exercising in the great outdoors (and rest assured, gardening is exercise!) is doubly beneficial. Alive Magazine, a leader in natural health publishing for almost 50 years, shared a write-up encouraging outdoor exercise due to its ability to enhance vitamin D levels, which can help us avoid cancers and heart disease.  Furthermore, due to outside sights and sounds being more interesting, outside exercise increases the chances that we will stick to our routine. When you find you’re short on motivation to move, gardening might be the perfect fix.
  6. Nothing tastes better than freshly-picked fruits and veggies!  I believe I first became a foodie at a very young age, after eating almost exclusively the crops planted and harvested by my Grandma’s hand.  When produce is pulled from the earth, vine, or tree and eaten soon after, it has more nutrients and much more flavor than that which is shipped for hundreds or thousands of miles for distribution.  I encourage you to test this for yourself!
More beauty from the garden in Cocoa

Breathing in the scent of Mother Earth stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, the same chemical that promotes bonding between mother and child. ~Robin Wall Kimmerer, from Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Gardening is an endeavor that benefits mind, body, and spirit.  Whether or not you are nostalgic about it like me, planting a garden is making a stand that you will protect the health of the Earth and your family, and that you trust in your connection with Nature to help sustain you.

Blessings for Happy Cultivation,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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5 Tips for Eating Based on the Science of Life

The healing system of Ayurveda (meaning knowledge or science of life), dates back thousands of years and is still widely practiced in India. A primary focus of Ayurveda is to find and maintain balance of mind, body, and consciousness through lifestyle, including environment, activity, and diet.  According to this ancient medicinal system, poor digestion is at the root of all disease, and modern science, widely researching the microbiome of the gut in recent years, is starting to align with that position.

Digestion involves so much more than nutrient breakdown & distribution.  The waste products of the gut’s microbes, largely a result of the foods that are digested, play a role in informing the brain of gut health, and the brain responds by altering bodily processes.  Research is showing that poor gut health is directly related to brain issues such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and autism.  In addition, I’ve shared past posts on the importance of the gut’s microbiome in the processes of weight loss and boosting immune function, both of which are important in maintaining or restoring health.  Further, a poorly functioning gut is involved in chronic inflammation, a condition, studies show, that is often found in abundance with diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, liver disease, and autoimmune disorders.

Below, I’m sharing 5 of the precepts of eating based on Ayurveda, which can help you find balance and thrive.

  1. Eat in a manner that supports your dosha type.  In a past post, I shared a very brief write-up on doshas, also called constitutional types.  Most of us are primarily vata, pitta, or kapha, and the foods we eat or avoid can have strong effects on our body’s balance.  For a more thorough description of the dosha types, check out this guide from the Ayurvedic Institute.  And for a good idea of the foods you should eat or avoid based on that info, go to this link.
  2. Stay mindful of your digestive fire.  Make lunch a larger meal than dinner, because agni, or digestive fire, is strongest when the sun is high in the sky.  And according to this article from Chopra.com, eating a light dinner at least 3 hours prior to bedtime, when agni is weaker, assists sleep, a time when the body repairs, heals, and restores while the mind digests thoughts, emotions, and experiences from the day. If the body’s energy is diverted into physical digestion, the physical healing and mental digestive processes are halted. 
  3. Hydrate with warm, or room temperature water throughout the day.  This helps with lubrication of the digestive system. Dr. Pratik Bhoite, an Ayurvedic physician in Mumbai, says cold drinks should be avoided because the body must first heat it to body temperature before it can digest it. 
  4. Eat fresh foods & avoid prepackaged. Erin Easterly, Ayurvedic Therapist & Educator, writes that the best way to nourish yourself is to increase your prana, or life force.  Foods with abundant prana come straight from the Earth. Their prana has been derived through the mingling of sunshine, water, and earth energies, she says.  Therefore, seasonal, local veggies are optimal.  
  5. Shoot for getting each of the 6 tastes at every meal.  Ayurveda recognizes the tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, & pungent as distinct informational energies for our cells.  Incorporating each taste in meals gives us a full nutritional energy palate and, according to this article from US News & World Reports, boosts overall satisfaction.  For sweets, think sweet fruits, nuts, or carrots.  Sour fare includes fermented foods & citrus.  Seaweed is a good salt source in addition to mineral salts.  Bitter foods include kale and spices like turmeric.  Beans and dark leafy greens are astringent.  And ginger, garlic and onions fall into the pungent category.

Working toward balance in your life can lead to increased health and well-being.  Changing up your eating habits can be a super-important aspect of that balance for reversing or preventing disease.  I hope the tips above inspire you to thrive by bolstering your body’s digestion based on the science of life.

Ayurvedic Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Curried Winter Vegetables

I learned to make this dish during my travels.  It was at a hostel in Moab, Utah, where I first had a Thai curry so tasty that I decided I had to learn to make it myself.  It took me several attempts, but I managed to create one that hit all the right notes.  My go-to recipe has evolved over the years, influenced by the distinct flavors of many Thai restaurants and recipes, as well as the seasons, but the sweet & savory complexity remains. A good curry is like a warm hug on the inside.  And the health benefits abound.

If you’re familiar with some of the other recipes I’ve shared, you’ll know that I cook with a lot of garlic. I sometimes joke that my stove won’t turn on unless there’s a pile of minced garlic beside it!  Studies show that regular garlic eaters reduce their risks of stomach and colon cancer by about 50% as compared with those who eat little to none. 

Spices in curry are good for digestion.  In addition to adding fabulous flavors, black pepper, cumin, and coriander are all good for the gut in various ways.  Yummy and healthy: what could be better?!

Turmeric is such a beneficial spice that I sneak it into everything I possibly can, including morning smoothies.  I’ve read a lot about it helping with chronic inflammation. But, according to this article from Healthline, studies show it also helps prevent Alzheimer’s, heart attacks, and cancer.

Now that you have the low-down on just a few of its health-giving properties, you can feel good about enjoying this wonderful dish.

Yield: 4 – 5 servings

Ingredients (use organic and/or non-GMO when possible)
2 tbsp coconut oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp Kaffir lime leaf powder, or 3 lime leaves
2 stalks lemon grass, inner yellow fleshy parts only, crushed
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 – 1/4 tsp cayenne (to your heat level)
1 tsp salt (or more to taste)
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 medium yellow onion, medium diced
2 medium carrots, cut into coins
2 medium red or yellow potatoes, small diced
1/3 head med cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 head small Napa cabbage, sliced into thin ribbons
water as needed
1 14.5 can coconut milk
2 tbsp coconut sugar (optional)
lime zest for the top

Directions
Melt coconut oil over med-low heat. Add garlic and ginger and stir for 1 minute. Add the next 8 ingredients, lime leaf powder through black pepper, and stir for 3 minutes. Add the next 5 ingredients, onions through cabbage, and increase the heat to medium. Cover and sauté, stirring regularly, for 10-12 minutes, adding small amounts of water as needed to keep from sticking. Once the veggies are tender, stir in the coconut milk and bring just to a simmer. If your coconut milk is unsweetened, add the sugar and stir to combine. Check for salt.

Serve on brown basmati rice topped with a little lime zest. Enjoy!

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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7 Lifestyle Touchstones from the Healthiest Person I Know

Over the years, I have learned that regularly investing in the health of my mind, body, and spirit is vital.  I don’t want to live forever, but I do want to feel good, enjoy life, and thrive as long as I’m on the planet.  When I go to my annual doctor’s visit for a check-up and blood draw, I remind her with a smile that I am the healthiest person I know!  There are certain lifestyle elements that I feel are essential to maintaining optimal health, and below, I share them with you. 

  • Hydration is one of the most vital processes in my body, and I have control over it.  When I haven’t adequately hydrated, I become forgetful, I have no energy, I get headaches, and my body temperature goes unregulated.  (I can suddenly get way too hot or cold, and stay that way despite my efforts.)  After having worked in a lab, I’ve seen first-hand the way blood cells clump together when they aren’t dispersed with enough water.  Anthony William, author of Liver Rescue, among many other books, says that this thickening of the blood caused by dehydration results in the heart and liver being forced to work harder.  I believe it must force all our organs to struggle.  The human body simply cannot function properly without good hydration.
Inner Basin view of the San Francisco Peaks
  • Spending time outside is one of the most important things I can do for my mental well-being.  When I’ve been inside for too long, I can get lethargic and grumpy.  Studies show that being outside has loads of beneficial effects.  For me, going outside can be like flipping a switch: I instantly feel happier, more grateful, and energetic.

  • Working with the microbiome in my gut is one of the best ways to ensure my continued good health.  According to Dr. Zach Bush, a triple board certified physician, each of our bodies is an ecosystem through and through colonized by bacteria.  The majority of that bacteria resides in our guts, and we have a symbiotic relationship with it.  By eating fibrous, non-GMO whole plant foods, avoiding antibiotics whenever possible, consuming probiotic food and drinks, and breathing in diverse ecosystems by visiting lakes, waterfalls, mountains, oceans, & deserts, I keep my microbiome healthy and happy, which in turn keeps me healthy & happy.
Eat this, not that processed stuff!
  • Regular exercise, including stretching, strengthening, and cardio, is essential not only for my physical health but also for feeling good about myself.  Climbing, hiking, biking and yoga classes are my favorite forms of exercise, but we have a workout room at home for the days we can’t do our preferred activities.  Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Brain Maker, asserts that exercise can be just as effective as anti-depressants.  I can attest to that!  (Of course, you shouldn’t go off anti-depressants without working with your doc.)
Hiking in the snow
  • Focusing on the positives in my life helps me stay positive.  When less-than-pleasant ideas start to dominate my mindset (like when I get bad news), I step back, refocus, and recall my blessings & belief that everything happens for a reason.  According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, New York Times best-selling author, the term emotion can be thought of as energy in motion, and it goes wherever you place your attention.  Rather than worrying and dwelling on negatives, I find I am much more productive and cheerful when I am in a state of gratitude, expressing love for my life and the beautiful world around me.
  • Being generous opens my heart unlike anything else. Expressing compliments, sending a card to a far-away friend, sharing home-cooked food, focusing my full attention on one with whom I’m speaking, and giving small gifts are all great little ways of showing generosity. Research shared by UC Berkley’s Greater Good Magazine shows that giving releases feel-good endorphins, activates a part of the brain associated with pleasure, results in a helper’s high, and provides a myriad of long-term health benefits.  
  • Continuing to travel and learn about health, spirituality, cuisine, the planet, and other animals feeds my soul.  It also keeps my brain functioning optimally by forming new synapses.  You know the old saying use it or lose it?  That applies here.
Lake Powell, Arizona

An important caveat: as soon as I realize I’m feeling off, I assess.  What have I eaten?  Have I taken in ample water & electrolytes?  When did I last exercise?  Where have my thoughts been focused?  I want to feel good in mind, body, and spirit all of the time.  Figuring out the reason I’m not up to par is critical to getting back on track as soon as possible.

To me, feeling good on every level means thriving in a world teeming with love & beauty as opposed to enduring a joyless existence.  Staying conscious of the touchstones that support my health are of utmost importance.  My hope is that you may benefit from my experience. Regardless of your age, investing in your health and well-being is always one of your very best endeavors.

Blessings for Health,

Lisa

This was one of my most popular posts from last year. The original version was first shared in January of 2021.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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6 Benes of Winter Hiking

I hiked one of my favorite winter trails a few days ago.  The abundance of volcanic rock in the area reflecting the heat of the sun makes it one of the warmest hikes around.  Snow and ice still covered over half the footpath, courtesy of a weather system that enshrouded parts of northern Arizona for over a week.  Ascending the slick ice was a little frightening (foolishly, I didn’t wear my Yaktrax).  But, lucky for me, the sun had cleared the descent.  The beauty of the entire mountain was transformed due to the snow, causing me to stop at times and assess if I was still on the trail. 

My trek through the winter woods elated me with picturesque views of the earth, crisp air, and azure sky.  I began thinking of other benefits Nature was conferring on me, and the idea for this article was born.  In addition to the enjoyment of exploring a seemingly new landscape, with its snow, ice, and leafless deciduous trees, below are 5 more benefits of hiking during winter months.

  1. Weight loss. A Scientific American article reports that brown fat, mitochondria-containing adipose tissue that converts calories into heat, is activated and increased with exercise & in cold temperatures.  Recent research reveals that brown fat can reduce excess stores even in the obese, due in part to its browning activity of white fat.  The article also says this calorie-burning phenom can lessen chances of metabolic syndrome, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, making cold weather hiking a great formula for weight loss and physical health in general.
  2. Increased fitness levels, faster.  If your heart is healthy (and only if your heart is healthy!), trekking in cold weather can make it even stronger.  Cold temperatures cause arteries to tighten, restricting blood flow and reducing the oxygen supply to the heart, a WebMD write-up states.  These factors cause the heart to work harder, improving endurance and respiratory functions.
  3. Enhanced immunity.  According to this post from the ION (Intelligence of Nature) blog, founded by Dr. Zach Bush, a physician specializing in internal medicine, endocrinology, and hospice care, Respiratory infections are especially prevalent in the winter months for two reasons: enclosed spaces and (lower) humidity.  These conditions (as well as the holidays) often result in us eating more, exercising less, and failing to consider hydration.  Hoofing it in the cold, mineralized water in hand, allows us to mobilize our tissues, deeply hydrating our bodies.
  4. Improved mental health.  Hiking during winter can help with the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  An article from Mayo Clinic suggests on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially within two hours of getting up in the morning, and further, exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, thereby reducing SAD symptoms.
  5. Heightened sense of awe.  Greater Good Magazine, published by the University of California, Berkeley, reports researchers are uncovering the benefits of awe for clear thinking, good health, and close relationships. Witnessing the splendor of deer, birds, and weasels (among many other animals) who change colors in winter induces wonder and delight.  Once during a cold weather hike, I saw a small herd of deer wearing lovely dark chocolate-colored coats. Spotting these beauties in their winter finest filled my heart with gratitude.

Although the weather is not presently balmy, it’s an ideal time to get outside and do some hiking.  I hope one of the benefits mentioned above piques your interest & motivates you to get on a trail.  Nature has a profusion of benefits just waiting for you.

Blessings on the Winter Trail,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Biorhythms: Wisdom or Hooey?

Although circadian rhythms have been observed by scientists for centuries, they never gained much footing in the Western medicine paradigm, and therefore seem to be on the periphery in terms of importance.  This shouldn’t be the case.  In this post, I’ll share some beneficial reasons for learning about and supporting these internal cycles that are tied to Nature.

Derk-Jan Dijk, director of the Surrey Sleep Research Centre in Guildford, UK, explains in an article for the international journal Nature that the human body is a house with clocks in every corner, yet in one way or another they work in an organized way.  The timing of our internal clocks profoundly influences metabolism, immunity, and many other critical functions, he goes on to say.  Pretty important, wouldn’t you agree?

A fact sheet from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences describes the body’s various clocks.  Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral (processes) that follow a 24-hour cycle. (They) respond primarily to light and dark and affect most living things, including animals, plants, and microbes.  We also have biological clocks, which regulate the cycling of our circadian rhythms.  And then there is the master clock found in the brain which helps keep everything in sync.   

In a past post, Nature Interrupted, I mentioned the importance of these biological time keepers.  Disruption of circadian rhythms, whether through jet travel, shift work, or sleep disturbances, is a known risk factor for several types of cancer, states a release from the Public Library of Science: Biology.  Additionally, a paper from Aging-US indicates many physiological processes such as hormone production and the sleep-wake cycle are under direct control of the circadian clock, and interferences in these cycles are linked to various diseases. 

Over the years, I’ve read a lot about how psychological issues can be brought on or exacerbated by poor sleep.  A Harvard Health Publishing write-up reports a person’s circadian tendency can affect their choice of emotional coping skills, such as assertiveness or rationalization.  And an article from the National Institute of Health asserts the disruption of circadian rhythms can contribute to depression.

Disturbances in our biological rhythms can contribute to premature aging, as well.  The fact that several different components of the circadian clock are involved in the regulation of aging supports the idea that an intact circadian clock is important for longevity, and disruption of circadian oscillations may lead to the acceleration of aging, according to this research paper out of Cleveland State University.  

As for metabolism, Dr. Michael Greger’s site nutritionfacts.org reports on a most interesting weight loss study. Two groups of women were given the same number of calories throughout the day, although the timing of the calorie loads differed: one group was given a 700-calorie meal for breakfast with a lighter lunch & dinner, while the others got a 700-calorie meal for dinner, and fewer calories for breakfast & lunch.  The group that ate most of their calories early in the day lost 11 pounds more than the other group.  This, the article says, is due to the power of biological timing.  I’ve read from various sources that lunch should be larger than dinner, but breakfast as the most calorie-dense meal of the day?  Fascinating!

Supporting healthy biorhythms is pretty simple, but requires habituation. Viewing the sun as it rises and sets, spending time outside during the day, and shutting down devices a couple hours before bedtime are good places to start. In addition, this article from The Holistic Ingredient suggests trying to stick to a pretty regular schedule of sleeping, waking, eating, working, and exercise. Keeping a schedule can help you maintain your internal rhythms, even after a restless night’s sleep, and your focus and attentiveness will improve because your body learns how to get ready for (your planned activities), the article states.

How Western medicine can virtually ignore the significance of circadian rhythms is beyond me.  Taking steps to keep our bio-clocks in sync with the rhythms of our primal Mother Earth appears to be of utmost importance for a healthy mind and body, as well as a long life. 

Blessings for Biorhythmic Sync,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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My Journey to Veganism

 . . . Or maybe I should say, “back to veganism,” as I believe I was born vegan.  I never liked the taste of meat or milk or eggs as a kid.  My grandmother would slather my scrambled eggs with mustard to get me to eat them.  The only milk I would drink had to be flavored with chocolate, because I found the taste of white milk repulsive.  And meats?  I was coerced into eating them by threat of punishment.

Once I was old enough to decide for myself, I seldom ate flesh foods. Years later, in my doctoral studies, I learned a lot about the ways various foods can affect the human body. Gabriel Cousens, MD, broadened my knowledge of important concepts like pH balance, enzymes, and Ayurveda through his book Conscious Eating.  

The same book motivated me to end my animal eating altogether.  I wish I could tell you it was due to ethics, because I do love animals and Nature in its entirety, as you know.  But my motives were selfish: I did it for health reasons. Dr. Cousens’s text presents an abundance of information that made me think more than twice about the harm flesh foods could be causing my body.  Some of that info includes: Since World War II, farm animals have been inundated with a brew of pesticides, hormones, growth stimulants, insecticides, tranquilizers, radioactive isotopes, herbicides, antibiotics, and other assorted drugs.  He also quotes Dr. Carl Telleen, a retired USDA veterinarian, who wrote, Chicken carcasses contaminated with feces, once routinely condemned or trimmed, are now simply rinsed with chlorinated water to remove stains.  Further, Dr. Cousens asserts, Eating fish is potentially dangerous because of the widespread, ever-increasing pollution of the waters of the world. The biggest contaminants are mercury and PCBs, which are among the most toxic chemicals on the planet.  And now, we can add to that the dangers of micro plastics.

For years afterwards, I ate only plant foods with occasional cheeses and boiled eggs.  That is, until I enrolled in a Certification in Plant Based Nutrition course.  Much of the learning in the program is based on The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health, by Drs. T. Colin Campbell and Thomas Campbell.  The book shines a light on the harmful effects, often carcinogenic, of animal protein on the human body.  Before the course was over, I gave up animal products completely.

The makings for a delicious vegan omelette

During my first couple years as a vegan, I purchased a lot of prepared foods in delis and from the cold sections in markets.  Some were ok, others were disgusting, and some tasted fine but made me sick.  (Today’s pre-made items are much more palatable, but their ingredient lists can be far from health-promoting.)  Out of exasperation, I began looking for recipes to make my own vegan foods.  What a difference that has made!  My homemade preparations are not only tastier, but my yearly lab work numbers improved, as well.  (And as I’ve shared before, I lost quite a bit of weight.)  Other than tofu, tempeh, and coconut yogurt, I seldom feel the need to purchase ready-made items anymore.  I have found fantastic recipes for vegan sour cream, mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta, cheddar, and nacho cheese.  I’ve learned to use ground flax in water as an egg substitute for pancakes and baking, as well as chickpea flour with just the right spices for omelettes and frittatas.  I struck gold when I came across a formula for vegan meatballs – they are some of the best I’ve ever tasted (even compared to real meatballs!)  Same goes for “meat” loaves. The directions I’ve found for a smoky, crispy bacon substitute for BLTs is out of this world.  And burgers, oh my!  I have discovered so many recipes for a variety of delectable vegan burgers.  Even ice cream, sorbet, pudding, and fudge can be made creamy & delicious with vegan ingredients.  My point is, it’s quite possible to have healthy, varied, and flavorful vegan foods every day; they might just need a little more effort at times than non-vegan meals.  (Check out my Recipe Category for some simple, yummy preparations.  I post a new one every 6 – 7 weeks.)

Mouthwatering vegan meatballs

I realize being vegan isn’t for everyone, but if you are considering eating less meat and dairy for any reason, I hope my story has provided a bit of encouragement. My journey continues to be one of experimenting and learning, and its rewards are far-reaching.  In addition to being environmentally sustainable and harmless to animals, the foods I eat contribute to my body’s optimal function – all reasons that cause me to feel I’m making the best choice for myself and the planet.

Blessings on Your Food Journey,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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A Holiday Lesson

I’m pleased to report that I’ve just returned from a much-needed tropical getaway.  Sun, surf, humidity, and the expansive beauty of the Atlantic Ocean – what a treat!  Throw in a few visits with family & old friends, and you have a recipe for a super enjoyable & rejuvenating vacation.

The trip involved a 17-hour travel day going, and a 12-hour travel day returning, as well as many more hours of driving between destinations.  So lots of sitting.  Although I did quite a bit of walking & some daily yoga, it wasn’t enough to counter all the immobility and keep my fascia supple and happy.  As a result, I often found it necessary to do additional stretches at night to get out of pain and enable sleep.

If you’re unsure your fascia has ever been unhappy, an article from Johns Hopkins Medicine explains that a painful back or neck could be due to tight fascia rather than muscles or joints.  Too much sitting or other limited movement day after day can cause fascia to thicken and become sticky. When it dries up and tightens around muscles, it can limit mobility and cause knots to develop.  If restoring elasticity to the tissue helps you feel better, the article goes on to say, the problem can be attributed to fascia. 

In a past post, I mentioned a video clip by Dr. Gil Hedley, Board President of the Institute for Anatomical ResearchWorking with a cadaver, he shares The Fuzz Speech, demonstrating how fascia creates a fuzzy connection to muscles as we sleep (or are otherwise inactive.)  Stretching each day dissolves the fuzz, he says.  To forgo stretching can result in thicker fuzz and result in stiffness and pain.  The importance of regular stretching cannot be overstated.

Jaap van der Wal, MD, retired associate professor of Anatomy and Embryology at the University of Maastricht, Holland, refers to fascia as the integrating matrix of the body.  Further, he says the architecture of the connective tissue, including structures such as fasciae, sheaths and membranes, is more important for understanding functional meaning than is more traditional anatomy.  A pretty strong endorsement for learning to care for your fascia, wouldn’t you say?

A while back, I found a website called The Fascia Guide that goes into detail on all kinds of info about fascia, as well as research articles and a Q&A page with plenty of practical info. From this source, you can glean facts like fascia is the only tissue that has contact with all other tissues in the body and it contains collagen-producing fibroblasts in abundance. If you’d like to learn more about this fascinating connective network, I encourage you to spend a few minutes on the site.  You might be amazed!

I’ve also discovered a website called Pilates Tonic that shares free, short clips of really nice stretches targeting specific areas.  I find that the outside of my thighs (the IT bands) and my lower back need the most attention when I’m out of my regular routine. Yoga, varied exercises, cupping therapy, massage, and foam rolling can also help keep connective tissue pliable. 

Even with fascial issues, my little winter escape was a delight.  The trip taught me that carving out sufficient time for various exercises between long periods of inactivity is crucial for staying out of pain, an especially desirable pursuit during vacation!  Can I get a do-over??

Blessings for Pain-Free Holidays,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Pumpkin Ginger Truffles

Recently, a favorite cold weather gourd has made a frequent appearance among my kitchen preparations: in buckwheat pumpkin pancakes, warm pumpkin smoothies, Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, and now pumpkin ginger truffles. There’s just something about pumpkin that some of us can’t get enough of once the longer days of the year are behind us.

Unlike the ones that Godiva makes, these truffles don’t have a crunchy shell. (If you feel you must dip them in chocolate for that effect, you have my forgiveness blessing.) They are on the softer side, but with the addition of a pecan coating, they would be a little closer to having that firm, crunchy exterior.

These spicy gems are not just tasty, they’re also nutritious. Pumpkin is loaded with Vitamins A & C, potassium and iron. It also has a substantial water content and is low in calories. According to Healthline, the vitamins and minerals pumpkin contains can help with skin issues, weight loss, eyesight, immunity, and chronic disease risk, including cancer.

Ginger, writes Lauren Venosta at Chopra.com, is considered a superfood due to its wealth of benefits. In addition to helping control cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, it also aids digestion and reduces nausea. Its anti-bacterial properties are effective against drug-resistant bacteria, research shows. What’s more, it inhibits bacterial growth in the gums.

Cacao powder can be subbed for cocoa in many baking recipes to add more nutrition. Packed with flavonoids, fiber, magnesium, potassium, and protein, cacao powder may decrease chances of heart disease and diabetes, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and help with digestive problems, according to Web MD.

You get the picture: these yummy truffles are super healthy! I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

This recipe was inspired by a recipe from Nicole at VegKitchen.com called Pumpkin Pie Squares.

Yield: 12 truffles

Ingredients (use organic or non-GMO if possible)
2 tbsp cacao powder
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup pecan pieces
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly-grated nutmeg (ground nutmeg will work, but isn’t nearly as tasty)
pinch of ground cloves
7 soft medjool dates, pitted & chopped (soak in water for 1/2 hour if necessary to soften)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 can, or about 5 oz. cooked pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/4 cup additional pecans, chopped small, as a final outer coating (optional)

Directions
Sprinkle the cacao powder so that it covers most of a platter. (See note.) Set aside.

Spin the oats, pecans, chia seeds, and spices (cinnamon through ground cloves) in a food processor until the oats & pecans are in small pieces, stopping before they become flour-like. Add the dates, vanilla, & pumpkin and process until the dates are well broken down & combined. Test the consistency. If the mixture is too thick, add a tiny bit of water. If it’s too thin to roll, add a few more oats. Once you have your perfect consistency, roll into 12 golf-size balls using slightly wet hands if needed, placing each on the platter of cacao powder. Roll the truffles in the cacao, coating fully or partially, your choice. Refrigerate. This will make them a bit firmer. Enjoy!

Note: If you choose to use the additional pecan pieces as a final coating, combine them with the cacao powder prior to sprinkling on the platter.

Comments are not open this week.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Six Science-Backed Reasons to Get Outside

Did you enjoy spending time outside as a kid? I did. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember spending much time inside. I loved playing outdoors with pets we had over the years, including lots of dogs and cats, a couple rabbits, and a rooster that I treated like a baby. I enjoyed riding my bicycle and skateboard up and down the driveway. I reveled in turning cartwheels and doing handstands in the grass. I liked climbing trees and fishing with my grandmother at our little pond. I spent many hours on the cool ground looking for lucky four-leaf clovers. Sometimes, I’d link together the little clover flowers to make a crown garland. What are your most cherished childhood memories of being outside?

I don’t remember being sick very often as a child, and I think all the time I spent outdoors had a lot to do with it. Research shows time and time again how Nature makes us healthier. And increased vigilance due to ongoing covid concerns doesn’t preclude getting outside. In fact, being out in the elements can be a better bet than staying indoors.

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in. ~George Washington Carver

  • In an article on the Centers for Disease Control website entitled Are There Benefits to Spending Time Outdoors?, it is reported that, due to benes such as the opportunity to be active and the sun’s role in producing vitamin D, being outside may elevate your overall health and wellness. If those were the only significant findings from science in this area, they’re reason enough to get out in Nature, wouldn’t you agree? But there’s more.

  • From The Journal of Positive Psychology, Noticing Nature: Individual and Social Benefits of a Two-Week Intervention describes a 2-week study of 3 undergraduate groups assigned to focus on different environments: natural, man-made, and a control group with no change from the norm. The results of the study showed that those assigned the natural environment had more elevated experiences and felt more connected to others and life in general than the other groups. In just two weeks’ time!

The earth laughs in flowers. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • An article from Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, Trends in Research Related to “Shinrin-Yoku” (Taking in the Forest Atmosphere or Forest Bathing) in Japan, describes many study findings, including those on the smell of plants. Many trees release chemicals that, when inhaled, decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, and reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which works to stimulate fight or flight responses and regulate homeostasis. These bodily changes lead to feeling less stressed. We could all use some of that now, right?

  • In the book they co-authored, Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight & Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration, Gina Bria and Dana Cohen, MD, write about the ways our modern indoor work lives contribute to dehydrating us, which can result in chronic struggles within our bodies leading to pain and disease. Closed environments like offices, with bright artificial lights, screens and other electronics, air conditioning, heating, and even furniture and flooring, absorb vapor from the air. Transportation methods, including cars, trains, and airplanes, can have super-low humidities. Combine those factors with long periods of sitting that constrict the flow of fluids in the body, and you can see how you might become extremely dehydrated by the end of the day. According to the authors, in addition to consuming hydrating fruits & drinks, taking quick outside walks and bringing the outdoors in by opening a window and keeping a plant on your desk help you stay hydrated, providing your body with critical sustenance for normal functioning.

  • In her book The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature, Sue Stuart-Smith shares research done with diverse subjects in outdoor environments.  In prisons, she has witnessed the difference that gardening programs have made for inmates, in some cases offering them opportunities to find work as gardeners post-release, which has been shown to lessen chances of recidivism.  She also writes of a garden project done for inner-city 7-year-olds with a high rate of learning disabilities, which not only resulted in a sense of pride and accomplishment for the little ones, but also transformed their sense of self-esteem and motivation.  Additionally, she addresses the use of therapeutic horticulture for those with depression, trauma, and anxiety, as studies have shown that the benefits of regular gardening are similar to those of cognitive behavioral therapy.  

Spending time outdoors is not only fun, but also incredibly healthy on every level, according to science. Maybe the fact that it makes us feels so good accounts for the many hours we spent playing in trees, dirt, and water as kids. As we get older, outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking can take us out of our adulting mindset and put us in touch with a sillier, more playful part of ourselves. It can still makes us feel like carefree, healthy kids.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. ~Albert Einstein

Blessings for Time Outdoors,

Lisa

The original version of this post was first shared in July of 2020. Comments will not be open this week.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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**100**

This is post #100 on Micro of the Macro.  On each Friday since the blog’s inception, other than a 10-day Travel Photo Challenge for which I posted daily, I have shared write-ups and photos on Nature, health, travel, and recipes.  On one hand, it doesn’t seem possible that many Fridays have passed, but on the other, I began the blog just prior to this country’s initial spread of covid-19, so it feels like ages.  

I want to express my gratitude to each of you for reading, liking, following, commenting, and sharing my links with others.  Your ongoing kindness, support, and encouragement of my writing and photos makes me feel like I have found my tribe.  I appreciate hearing your stories and ideas, and I’ve learned a lot from you.  I am thankful for the laughs you’ve given me, the instances you’ve touched my heart, and your ever-present warmth.  The time you share with me is an indication of your generosity, and I am most grateful.

If you’re curious as to how the blog has fared, I’m including a few stats.  My most-viewed post to date is For the Love of Mountains: A Photo Odyssey.  The write-up that has received the most likes is Scenes from a Hiking Trail.  And my most-liked photo of the Travel Photo Challenge is this foggy shot taken in Big Sur, California.

Since starting the blog in March of 2020, Micro of the Macro has had almost 11,000 visitors and more than 21,000 views from folks in 110 countries. Over 4500 comments have been posted – half of them mine, of course.  And at present, the blog is closing in on 1000 followers.

Looking back, I see that Health and Well-being has been my leading category. The theme of the blog, recognizing and appreciating our oneness with Nature, underlies that category’s posts.  We are at our best on every level when in conscious relationship with Nature: eating fresh, whole foods, spending time in a garden or in the wild, feeling gratitude for the natural beauty in which our lives are immersed, and working toward environmental sustainability.

Going forward, I hope to continue writing content that you will find useful (or entertaining!) I’m also looking forward to a bit more travel that will inspire new photos, which of course I’ll share.  I’ll be cutting back on screen time (and sitting – see this for more on that!) so comments won’t always be open on new posts.  (The idea of not responding to your kind comments and reciprocating on your blogs feels wrong; I couldn’t do that to you or to me!)  I do hope you’ll stick around!

You have my sincerest thanks for all the good you’ve brought to my blogging experience. It’s a privilege to be showered with your attention, appreciation, love, and support each week.  I am super grateful you are a part of my tribe.  And here’s to the next 100 posts!

Blessings of Gratitude,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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6 Simple Lifestyle Changes for Healthier Eating

Roasted potatoes with lots of goodness on top, including cashew sour cream

As the holidays zoom by, we are faced with the idea of making new year’s resolutions.  We regard the new year as a fresh beginning, an opportunity to improve the habits and divergences that plague us.  I am not one to make & announce resolutions in January, as so many of my intentions have met with failure, causing guilt that worsened behaviors.  Instead, I like to quietly get a head start.  

Autumn veggie sauté

For most of my life, I struggled with bad eating habits. I went from eating fast food, processed foods, & refined sweets to eating so little of anything that nutritional deficiencies starting making themselves known. It wasn’t until I made some lifestyle changes that I was able to shift that.  Because these adjustments have worked so well for me, I’d like to share them with you now – before the start of the new year!

  1. Plan your week’s meals in advance.  And write them down or record them in your phone so you can refer back.  This is a foundational change that, once established, you’ll never want to give up.  This practice prevents you from eating on the fly, which is often dictated by what’s quick, easy, and often unhealthy, like pizza, fast food, & overpriced packaged foods.  Go to the farmer’s market or supermarket once or twice a week to purchase the items you’ll need for home-prepared meals. Planning and preparation are fundamental requirements for eating healthy, I’ve found.
  2. Find some healthy options at your favorite restaurants.  These may appear on your weekly meal plan or work as a plan B when you are unable – or unwilling – to stick to the original due to working late, crises, or other diversions.  Go online now to look at menus, noting the dishes that sound healthy and delicious.  Creating your own menu of restaurant options can assist you in prioritizing your health, even when you’re in a hurry.
  3. Prepare a few quick items at the start of each week.  Things like marinated tofu, cooked lentils, steamed or roasted veggies, roasted nuts, a big pot of rice or quinoa, and a special dressing or sauce require little active preparation time and can inspire you to look forward to throwing together your weeknight meals.
  4. Don’t buy candy, cookies or other junk foods that might tempt you.  Make eating the bad stuff inconvenient, and have nutritious snacks at the ready.  Whip up some healthy baked goods or truffles at home.  Or go with fresh fruit instead.  We enjoy dates with peanut butter.  And apple slices with sunflower butter.  Yum!
  5. Find a new healthy recipe to try once every few weeks.  Something about preparing healthy meals just feels nourishing, and sharing your tasty discoveries with friends can be great fun.  New foods bring diversity and excitement to your kitchen and to your gut’s microbiome.  Your happy microbes will reciprocate your good efforts.
  6. Express gratitude for your meals and eat in the calmest possible environment.  Feeling grateful on a regular basis alters brain chemistry for the better, studies show.  And eating in a stress-free environment, being mindful of the process, has been shown to benefit weight loss, mental health, and disease management.  Slowing down and paying attention wins again.
Roasted pine nuts

If you choose to forgo boisterous new year’s resolutions and attempt some quiet, December lifestyle changes instead, I hope you’ll include one or more of my healthy eating suggestions.  You may find that by the turn of the new year, you have already implemented healthier habits, resulting in beneficial changes in the way you look and feel.

Black bean & date cake with avocado-cacao frosting topped with fresh berries

Blessings for Good Choices,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Could This Be the Way to World Peace?

Surrender is faith that the power of love can accomplish anything… even when you cannot foresee the outcome. ~Deepak Chopra

The most brilliant rainbow I’ve seen

Recently, spiritual surrender has been a recurring theme in my life.  At  Unity of Ocala, Florida, my friend Rev. Lauri shared her story of the challenges that led to her living a surrendered life.  Dr. Betty, a Science of Mind friend here in Arizona, composed a beautiful fictional account of a surrendered humanity this week; its characters spoke of loving, sharing, healing, and peace, but its underlying theme was surrender.  Personally, I’ve had a couple situations present themselves recently that require nothing less than surrender and acceptance.  And I have other Florida friends who have been a living embodiment of surrender for well over a year now due to unfavorable circumstances. Considering all of this, I decided to blog about the topic.  Then, the realization occurred to me that my experiences have been intermittent. Do I understand the concept of surrender in navigating day-to-day life?

During the Unity service, Rev. Lauri read from Michael Singer’s New York Times Bestselling book The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. The author, who established a meditation center in Gainesville, Florida in 1975, writes that there is an ocean of love within each of us that can free us and nourish us, if only we open to it. Last year, in an interview with Tami Simon of Sounds True entitled Living from a Place of Surrender,  Singer explained the idea of surrender in terms of daily life.  Our fears and desires, the products of past conditioning, cause us to resist or cling to the new, which results in the witnessing of our reactions to events rather than the events themselves.  By letting go of self-serving thoughts, we return to our divine center, that ocean of love, where decisions can be made that are not ego-driven.  This allows us to experience the present unembellished. Regular meditation, yoga, time in Nature, and other mindful practices can help with this exercise of letting go.  The natural outcome of this process, Singer says, is service to others.

There’s something captivating about this skewed reflection

Trust your heart, give of your time and talents to your family, your neighbors, and your world. And don’t be afraid of the silence – it’s where guidance emerges. ~Dr. Betty Campbell-Henderson

Michael Beckwith, New Thought minister & founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center in California, has a great take on connecting with our divine center.  In a short video, he says the practice isn’t religious, it’s real, it’s waking up to reality, it’s beyond the perception of scripture.  Regardless of your religion, or lack thereof, it is possible for you to connect with your higher, wiser self.

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean

In a SuperSoul Sunday clip, Oprah Winfrey interviews Mark Nepo, bestselling author of The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have.  Due to a rare cancer diagnosis in his 30’s, Nepo writes and teaches about living fully within the embrace of the unknowable.  Acceptance of the oft-accompanying tough, uncomfortable stuff is an important part of surrender, he says, because it helps keep our thinking fresh and present.  And a relationship with what’s presently taking place, not our worn-out reaction to it, is what we’re shooting for, right?

They are the chosen ones who have surrendered. ~Rumi

From a Yoga Journal article, Many of us first experience spontaneous surrender during an encounter with some great natural force—the ocean, the process of childbirth, or one of those incomprehensible and irresistible waves of change that sweep through our lives and carry away a relationship we’ve counted on, a career, or our normal good health. My first experience was challenging, but one for which I’ll always be grateful.  After incomprehensible waves of significant change swept over me in the space of a few short months, I surrendered to the idea that the Universe must have a better plan for my life.  Although I was terrified, I decided to go in search of it. (Read a bit more here.) Once I fully committed to the idea, things became easy, as if I were being pulled, rather than having to push to sell my home & belongings.  And once my journey began, I was surrounded by natural beauty, which helped me stay in the present moment, centered in my ocean of love. This surrendered exploration of life resulted in considerable healing, rejuvenation, peace of mind, and reconnection.

High in California’s Sierra Nevada

I am blessed by friends who remind me of the importance of returning to my divine center.  And I am grateful to you for tagging along for my quick course of learning.  Surrendering daily to our higher selves can have far-reaching consequences, greatly benefitting us individually and collectively. It’s an idea whose time has come, especially for those unfamiliar with the process. It is my hope that each of you will join me in experimenting daily with the process of surrender, keeping in mind the optimistic outcome of Dr. Betty’s story, in which love and peace reign now and forever!

Blessings for Surrender,

Lisa

Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment… Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life – and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you. ~Eckhart Tolle

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Ayurveda Basics: Discover Your Specific Needs

Ayurveda (from the Sanskrit Ayur, meaning life, and Veda, meaning science or knowledge) is a healing system that dates back 3000 years. This ancient system is rooted in the idea that a healthy balance between mind, body, spirit, and environment creates an optimal state, giving us the opportunity for our best possible lives.  (And it was the inspiration for naming this blog Micro of the Macro. See my About page for a little more on that.)  The three doshas, or energy types at the heart of Ayurveda, govern the seasons, the days, and our lives, right down to the specifics of what’s beneficial for us to eat or avoid, our best possible work environment, and the climate that most suits us.  Knowing your primary dosha(s), or constitutional type, can guide your decision-making in creating a healthier, happier life.

The three doshas of Kapha, Pitta, and Vata are present in all of us from birth, but typically, one or two are dominant.  From Dr. Gabriel Cousens’ book Conscious Eating, A person’s constitutional type predetermines which doshas tend to become imbalanced more easily than others.  When in balance, there is a healthy psychophysiological state.  If the doshas are unbalanced, one may feel a disharmony in the body-mind.  If chronically imbalanced, disease may result. 

Kapha governs our earthy and watery attributes, and is associated with stored energy, heaviness, strength, stability, growth, and bodily fluids.  Some qualities of Kapha include a heavy bone structure, a slow, graceful gait, large eyes, thick hair, a preference for staying home, and a calm demeanor.  Their stress tolerance is high, and sleep comes easily. Those who are predominantly Kapha tend to gain weight easily and may struggle to lose it. They have a tendency toward colds and flus. Imbalances may occur if they become sedentary; eat a lot of sweets, fried foods, or dairy products; avoid emotional expression or creativity; or live in a humid, cold climate.

Pitta controls the element of fire in our bodies, along with a smidgen of our watery aspect.  This dosha is associated with balance, passion, intensity, and digestion.  A few Pitta qualities include an athletic build, a brisk gait, light-sensitive eyes, & fine hair; being organized, pragmatic, & competitive; and having a desire to travel and explore. If Pitta is your dominant dosha, your may have a medium tolerance for stress and fall into short but sound sleep.  Maintaining a normal weight may come easier to you.  You might find that inflammation is a common occurrence.  Imbalances can occur as a result of a stressful, competitive job; bullying others; associating with argumentative people; or consuming too many spicy or sour foods, red meats, or too much caffeine.  A hot, dry climate can also adversely affect Pittas.

Vata governs our ether and air elements, and is associated with change, movement, lightness, and creativity.  Qualities of a Vata-dominant person include a thin build, a fast, irregular gait, small eyes, dry & curly hair, and being impulsive, quick-witted, and talkative.  Vatas have a tendency to wander, both externally and internally, which contributes to their creativity.  They have a low stress tolerance and expend energy quickly.  Their sleep may be elusive. They may have a hard time gaining weight. They tend toward diseases involving the nervous system as well as joint problems.  Imbalances present themselves most when Vatas are in chaotic environments, are excessively physical, suppress feelings, engage in worry, eat lots of cold, dry foods, or don’t get enough rest.  A windy, cold environment does not work well for one who is Vata-dominant.

By these very brief descriptions, you can see that increasing an already-dominant quality in any form can result in imbalance.  For example, I am primarily Pitta, and adding an additional fiery component to my life isn’t often beneficial.  In past years, I held high-stress jobs in toxic environments that affected me in ways resulting in poor food choices, excessive drinking, and overspending. I don’t often get angry, but when I do, my blood seems to boil, so quickly talking myself down is a skill I’ve had to acquire. Long, hot baths are no longer an indulgence due to a tendency to overheat.  And the intense sun and low humidity of the Desert Southwest create a need for me to be hypervigilant with hydration & shade seeking, otherwise I can suffer from a splitting headache for hours. 

To learn your dominant doshas, you can take a quiz on this site.   I would love to hear any feedback you have.  There is so much more to the science of Ayurveda, and I will no doubt be sharing more in future posts.  In fact, I’m currently reading Cate Stillman’s book Body Thrive: Uplevel Your Body & Your Life with 10 Habits from Ayurveda and Yoga.  The author offers suggestions on simple, sensible lifestyle changes that prompt a deeper connection with life.

Finding balance between your mind, body, spirit, and environment can help you select the foods, work, and climate that best suit your specific needs. Determining your dosha type can assist you in making better decisions of all kinds, resulting in a healthier, happier you.

Ayurvedic Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Glazed Autumn Bake

During the Autumn season, the process of baking seems to take on additional elements of warmth, goodness, and celebration.  Maybe because I relate it to meals shared with loved ones during the upcoming holidays.  Do you think of Autumn baking (or roasting, as the case may be) in a similar fashion?

I shared a picture of this dish on last week’s post, and had a couple friends comment on it, so I didn’t want to delay the recipe.  This is one of those super-flavorful meals that I could devour directly from the pan.  It’s filled with Mother Nature’s love designed specifically for this season.  It also gets high marks on nutrition scales.

Brussels sprouts are loaded with vitamins C and K, and have a wealth of antioxidants, according to Healthline. They contain Omega-3 fatty acids, and may reduce inflammation and help control blood sugar.  From other sources, I’ve read that cruciferous veggies, the group to which the little cabbages belong, are different in that the more you eat, the more your body benefits. Most other groups have a ceiling, meaning once you eat a certain amount, the nutritional benefits level off.

If you’re unfamiliar with Delicata squash, they don’t need to be peeled, and they are easier to chop than other gourd squash. They are also more subtly flavored.  For these reasons, they have become my favorite winter squash.  Delicatas are rich in vitamins A and C, and have a good bit of iron, according to Nutrition and You.  

New potatoes have bioactive compounds including antioxidants that are found primarily in their skins, per this Potatoes 101 article.  They supply good amounts of potassium which contributes to cardiovascular health, and vitamin C, which is important for tissue growth and repair, as well as immunity.

For this Fall recipe, I owe a debt of gratitude to the creators of 2 other recipes, one from Simply Recipes and one from Deliciously Ella.  Elements of each are included here, along with the changes that suit my taste. Please let me know if you try it!

Yield: 4 – 5 servings

Ingredients (use organic and/or non-GMO when possible)
A bit of avocado (or olive) oil spray for pan
2 tbsp avocado or olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
1/4 – 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (to your preferred heat level)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 lb Brussels sprouts, stems and outer leaves removed, halved
1 medium delicata squash, unpeeled, seeded, quartered lengthwise &
cut into 1/4” crosswise slices
1/2 lb small new red potatoes, unpeeled & halved
3 large shallots, peeled & cut into thirds
1/2 cup hazelnuts (optional)

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly spray a large baking pan with oil. Spin the next 6 ingredients (2 tbsp oil – garlic) in a small blender cup until uniformly smooth. Place all of the prepped veggies in a pile in the middle of the pan and pour about 3/4 of the combined liquid on top, & use your (clean!) hands to mix well. Spread into a single layer and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven to turn the veggies, and add the hazelnuts if using. Bake another 10 minutes, or until the veggies are soft with a bit of firmness, and the hazelnuts are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and add the remaining glaze, stirring gently to coat. Taste for salt, adding more if needed.

Serve on brown rice, couscous, or small pasta such as orzo. Enjoy!

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Magnificent Autumn

Color against an ominous sky over the San Francisco Peaks

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core . . .

~John Keats

The first line of Keats’ lovely ode To Autumn always reminds me of a really funny scene in the movie Bridget Jones’ Diary.  Anybody else?

In the Northern Hemisphere, we are enjoying Autumn, without a doubt my favorite season.  The sun has become less intense, allowing for cooler temperatures, making it a perfect time for hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities amongst luscious scents and sounds of underfoot crackling.  The kids are back in school, and thoughts have turned toward planning for the holidays, prompting memories of years past.  And the leaves, oh the leaves!

Golden Aspen in Flagstaff’s Southside neighborhood

According to Wikipedia, prior to the 16th century, this season was called Harvest.  But as more and more people moved away from the countryside and into towns, the term gradually lost its reference to the time of year and came to refer only to the actual activity of reaping.  Afterwards, the season became known as Fall, referring to the fall of the leaves, or Autumn, which may have derived from a Latin word meaning increase.

Broadleaf trees of orange and yellow following Oak Creek, with Sedona in the background

An article from the US Forest Service explains the breathtaking beauty exhibited by the leaves of many trees this time of year. Deciduous tree leaves possess various pigments, including chlorophyll.  During warmer months, chlorophyll is dominant, causing green hues.  But as the hours of daylight grow shorter in the Fall, other pigments become more obvious, resulting in amazing palates of yellow, gold, orange, and many shades of red.  During this glorious time, a wall of tissue is formed beneath each leaf, stopping the flow of fluids, causing the leaves to eventually drop.  Here in Northern Arizona, those gorgeous leaves are seen on the ground much too early each year, an unhappy consequence of frequent high winds.

I was surprised to find that this is a good time to plant new trees.  From a piece written for the Arbor Day Foundation, Planting in the fall gives trees an extra growing season before the stress of summer. The combination of cooler temperatures and fall rain allows trees to establish their roots, making it easier on them to adjust to extreme heat or drought in the summer.  Further, the article says, there is no need to fear the effects of winter on the newly planted trees, because they, like bears and bats, sleep during the cold months.   

Yummy Autumn meal fixings whose recipe I will share in a future post

Nature’s timing also indicates the plant foods we should be eating now. Those that are best to consume during Autumn are crops that have been harvested recently and locally.  This is due to newly-introduced regional microbes that help our gut’s existing microbiome (and therefore, our immunity) transition to the changing climate. According to Dr. Elson Haas of the Preventive Medical Center in San Rafael, California, Nature gives us what we need, when we need it. This website offers information on what’s being harvested this season.

Aspens towering over Pines, inside the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks

Call it Harvest, Fall, or Autumn, I hope you and your family are enjoying the lavish delights of this time of year.  May the season’s sights, scents, sounds, and tastes bestow upon you beautiful new experiences and bring to mind joyful memories.  

Now, where is that Bridget Jones dvd?

Autumn Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Why Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death. ~James Levine, professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard the phrase sitting is the new smoking for years without really understanding it. Regular exercise is important, as we all know. But why has sitting been compared to smoking, a habit often started while young, that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, harms almost every organ in the body and results in more than 7 million yearly deaths worldwide?  Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, the site statesThat proclamation inspired an aha moment: the comparison is due to the vast number of resulting ill effects which can be prevented.

Hoping these images motivate you to do some moving outside! (Sedona, AZ)

From the Mayo Clinic, Research has documented that sitting for long periods of time is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression and anxiety.  Additionally, too much sitting leads to decreased hip mobility, tighter hip flexors, and weaker legs, the article says, setting the stage for falls in aging adults.  Further, a sedentary lifestyle leads to a thinning of the part of the brain where memory is formed.  Reading about all the harm I could be doing my body has motivated me to break up the time I spend sitting in front of my laptop. 

This big dude was surveying the lay of the land, maybe looking for a little lunch. (The Grand Canyon)

But that’s not all.  According to an article on Harvard Health Publishing, a newer study shows the more hours spent sitting at work, driving, lying on the couch watching TV, or engaging in other (sedentary) pursuits, the greater the odds of dying early from all causes.  This applies even when the subjects exercise regularly.  Pretty frightening, I’d say, especially with the constraints of covid that have dominated for almost 2 years.

Looking over Northern Arizona from the San Francisco Peaks

So why does prolonged perching result in so much damage?  The Heart Foundation offers a few explanations: blood flow decreases, the possibility for blood clots increases, fat processing slows considerably, and insulin resistance becomes more likely.  The Hydration Foundation offers another reason: the miles of fascia in our bodies, serving as connective tissue between all of our organs, joints, muscles, etc., also acts as our personal irrigation system.  It’s up to us to hydrate (see last week’s post for more on that) and help our fascia move that water to all cells for their daily processing.  When this is not done, our cells struggle and can malfunction, leading to the harmful/fatal effects mentioned above. 

Tree beauty on the edge of the Grand Canyon

So, what to do?  When you are unable to stand, moving your shoulders, neck, legs, & feet and stretching (see my post on favorite yoga poses, most of which can be done seated) are beneficial, because all movement contributes to healthy functioning.  But whenever possible, break up your sitting every half hour with a few minutes of marching in place, walking, or some other activity to get your blood pumping and your internal water moving deep into your cells.  This keeps your body happy and in active mode during waking hours, fostering prolonged good health.

I love this twisted tree. If you’ll look hard to the left, you’ll see snow in the background – a first for me at the GC!

Making daily efforts to move more and sit less not only adds years to your life, but also contributes to good physical & mental health for the present and future.  The power to prevent many undesirable outcomes is in your hands.  Whether you’re 25 or 85, don’t allow sitting to become your new smoking.

You can’t afford to get sick, and you can’t depend on the present health care system to keep you well. It’s up to you to protect and maintain your body’s innate capacity for health and healing by making the right choices in how you live. ~Andrew Weil, MD

Many thanks to our visiting family last week who gave us the opportunity to show off some of the immense beauty of this area! (And, some of these photos may have been taken by them, so thanks again!)

Kinetic Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Hydration – Does It Really Matter?

It’s a glorious, sunny day here in Arizona.  But it’s dry.  Always dry.  As much as I dislike the humidity of the East Coast and the South, the dry cold (and heat) is a challenge for me as well.  So as I write, I’m hydrating by drinking a huge breakfast smoothie made with lots of fruits, veggies, & coconut water.  

Due to unfavorable experiences brought about by exercising in this climate, I have in recent years taken a deep dive into the science of hydration.  During college, I read Dr. F. Batmanghelidj’s Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, and it made a lasting impression, with information on how chronic dehydration can result in high cholesterol, high blood pressure, pain, asthma, allergies, etc.  However, since I hadn’t heard anything in the media or read other books supporting these ideas, I concluded that the body’s need for hydration couldn’t possibly be that critical.  Otherwise, we’d all know about it.  Right? 

Wrong. Decades of studying holistic health, both Eastern & Western paradigms, has taught me that much of the information we most need is not very publicized or, if it does happen to make a media appearance, a campaign of propaganda is often initiated to cause us to believe otherwise. Many times this is done in the name of profit, and usually to the detriment of our health and environment.  Or, the propaganda has been around for a lifetime and it’s really difficult to believe anything different.  (Prime examples include the myths that we should all eat a high-protein diet and that dairy is essential for healthy teeth and bones.)  Dehydration creates a great many problems in the human body, driving the need for pharmaceuticals, a trillion dollar industry.

You may have read other posts I’ve shared touching on why proper hydration is such a big deal. Our body is composed of more than 2/3 water. Each one of the mind-boggling number of cellular processes that occur within us requires water, according to Dr. Gerald Pollack, at the University of Washington’s Pollack Lab. Hydration influences our abilities to remember & feel energized, our cells’ capacity to clear debris vs. generate inflammation, and our power of creativity. (Check out my post Water: The Miraculous Molecule for more on these benefits.) It is essential for strong immunity, youthful aging, and proper cellular communication. It works to space blood cells, assisting with heart and kidney functions. It helps with elimination. And due to the fact that hydration helps the body run more efficiently, it also assists with weight loss.

Dr. Zach Bush, a triple board-certified physician, says that virtually all of us are chronically dehydrated.  Pretty strong assertion, right?  At his clinic in Virginia, he offers a device called a Phase Angle that measures the ability of cells to hold an electrical charge, which translates into an individual’s hydration level.  Dr. Bush says typically, a patient’s results are less than 7 on a scale that tops out at 10, even those considered healthy.  His cancer patients generally show a result of 4.5 or less, and those scoring nearer the 3.5 mark are usually close to death.  And improvement is not something that happens quickly.  A full year of committed lifestyle changes may increase your score by only 1/2 point.  For me, this brings the importance of proper daily hydration to the forefront.  Does it change your thinking?

My understanding of proper hydration has been broadened by listening to The Hydration Solution Summit from the Hydration Foundation and reading the book Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight, and Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration coauthored by the podcast host, Gina Bria, and Dana Cohen, MD.  Interestingly, Bria is an anthropologist who has studied desert dwellers to learn their hydration secrets. The lessons from the podcast and the book are most practical, like the fact that (most) fruits & some vegetables like celery & cucumbers are more hydrating than plain water; fresh lemon juice and/or Himalayan salt added to water mineralizes it, making it easier for our cells to absorb; and placing your water in a glass in direct sunlight supercharges it, upping its hydration capacity. The eight glasses of plain water a day that most of us believe we need is no longer the best recommendation, Bria says. This is due to decades of heavy chemical exposure and tap water being forced through less than ideal city water systems & home pipes.  

Staying on top of your hydration needs is one of the best things you can do to assist your body with optimal function. If you’re suffering with health issues, there’s a good chance that getting and staying hydrated will help you feel better. You can’t always assume the media will share the health info that truly benefits you & your family. Don’t sell your health short: hydrate and thrive!

Blessings for Hydration,

Lisa

The original version of this post, entitled Hydration – No Really, was my first-ever blog post on WordPress, back in March of 2020. Thank you for reading (and if you’re reading for a second time, thank you for sticking around!)

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Working Toward Oneness: Empathy for All

I’ve just finished Dr. Aysha Akhtar’s book Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies. I had seen it referenced in other books I’ve read this year, and assumed reading it would be akin to reading poetry.  How I came to that expectation, I’m not sure, but it was most inaccurate; the author writes about animal & child abuse, the deplorable conditions of factory farms, and how violence toward animals is often commonplace for serial killers. The information is vital, the kind of knowledge that each of us should posses, but it’s hard not to wince at the recurrent brutality presented.

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. ~St. Francis of Assisi

My little climbing friend who believes the contents of the bird feeder are just for him! I think he enjoys entertaining us, too.

Dr. Akhtar has examined studies and done her own research on the direct correlation between savagery toward animals and violence toward humans.  In the chapter of her book entitled The Making of a Murderer, she describes face-to-face conversations with Keith Jesperson, a man serving life in prison due to the rape and murder of 8 women.  Prior to the age of 10, Jesperson’s father encouraged and praised him for killing animals.  He estimates that he clubbed to death thousands of gophers, sometimes with his dad laughing & recording the attacks on video.  Later, he moved on to strangling and stabbing domestic animals when they didn’t act in accordance to his will, and poisoning a flock of about 50 birds for soiling his truck.  Dr. Akhtar’s chilling accounts of these & other stories from Jesperson’s upbringing demonstrate a young mind being primed for murder.

Psychologist Frank Ascione, an authority on the connection between animal cruelty and other violent acts, says animal abuse may be part of the history of between 25% and 66% of hardened criminals.  A propensity for violence is common for those carrying out the sanctioned killing of animals, as well.  According to the university paper Slaughterhouses and Increased Crime Rates, areas with a high number of slaughterhouse workers have more than twice the problems with crime than areas with none.  In her book, Dr. Akhtar shares quotes from past and present employees of slaughterhouses that reveal the extreme attitude of indifference they had to develop during their job of stabbing or beating animals to death. More and more studies are showing that compartmentalizing such apathy is not possible: it spills over into our personal lives.

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. ~George Bernard Shaw

A beloved Aunt in Montana shared these cuties

Animal Clock is an organization that was created to bring attention to the incredible number of animals currently suffering on factory farms.  According to their calculations, over 42 billion animals have been killed for food in the US alone so far this year, including over 8 billion chickens, 23 million ducks, 36 million cattle, and 124 million pigs.  Dr. Akhtar writes, If there is a trait that truly distinguishes us from other animals, it’s this: No other species is as capable of self-deceit as humans.  We ignore what affronts our worldview.  We disbelieve what we can’t ignore.  We rationalize what we can’t disbelieve.  “These things happen.  They’re necessary.  It’s not as bad as we think.”  And most dangerous of all, “it’s normal.”

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men. ~Alice Walker, American novelist & social activist

Our empathy is divided: the thought of eating our beloved pets is outrageous, but a slab of flesh from another species is a different story.  Many of us still buy products that have been tested on lab rats.  We purchase leather items, never pausing to think of the animal who unwillingly donated that skin.  It is important to realize all animals are sentient creatures: they love, experience joy, support each other, learn, get excited, mourn, and console as needed.  By purchasing meats and other animal-derived products, we disregard their endearing, human-like qualities and cast a vote for continued violence. 

Our Symphony with Animals shows that animal abuse is often found along the same path as human brutality.  I believe Mahatma Gandhi was spot-on when he said the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. Holding ourselves accountable for respecting the lives of all animals could be the panacea for reducing overall violence.

Blessings for Empathy,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Nature’s Supreme Design

Is it your face
that adorns the garden?
Is it your fragrance
that intoxicates this garden? Is it your spirit
that has made this brook
a river of wine?
Hundreds have looked for you and died searching
in this garden
where you hide behind the scenes.
But this pain is not for those who come as lovers.
You are easy to find here. You are in the breeze
and in this river of wine.
~Rumi

I started taking an online gardening course a few weeks ago, and the new learning has inspired an abundance of thoughts on the attributes we share with plants, including an ultra-intelligent design.  In their work of supporting other forms of life, including ours, plants breathe, age, make hormones, reproduce, and employ highly developed means for adapting to environmental conditions. The overarching theme here at Micro of the Macro is recognizing our oneness with Nature, and in this post, I want to share a few specific thoughts on the ways in which we imbibe this intelligent design we’re so blessed to inhabit.

Crater Lake, Oregon

In the spring, we had our backyard landscaped.  Tiny plants were placed in the soil, so small that I thought they would need a couple years before growing large enough to really add to the aesthetics.  Although they are irrigated daily, I didn’t notice much growth until our monsoons started.  And even though the rains were light this year, the plants shot up, sometimes inches a day.  I’ve never seen anything like it!  Nature’s watering system seems to be the preferred moisture of our green, rooted friends.

Unfortunately, we are already dealing with plant-decimating pests. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants reveals how pests were controlled by Native Americans prior to the advent of pesticides.  (Learn a bit more about her beautiful book in this post.)  The secret was The Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash planted together, surrounding other plants; various bugs were attracted to the sisters and attacked each other, leaving the plants to thrive. I don’t believe most modern-day landscapers consider such methods. And the current widespread farming practice of mono-cropping attracts pests for the singular crop planted, making pesticides necessary. (This brings to mind a beautiful documentary I’ve recently watched, called The Biggest Little Farm. If you are a grower, you’ll find its lessons most practical.)

In addition to light, water and protection from pests, plants also need carbon, oxygen, & hydrogen; primary and secondary nutrients like potassium & magnesium; and macro- and micronutrients like nitrogen & iron. It is due in large part to their nutrient requirements that they benefit us internally. The effects on our bodies of eating plants is totally different than eating processed pseudo foods.  The reason for that is the huge number of microbes we host.  About 99% of our genes are their genes, according to Drs. Justin & Erica Sonnenburg from Stanford University School of Medicine.  Most of those microbes reside in our guts and control much of our thoughts on food and, therefore, the possible consequences of obesity and disease. Our microbes flourish on real, unprocessed foods, and when they are happy & healthy, so are we.  But when we eat processed foods, the microbiome population is altered adversely, resulting in unhealthy cravings.  And I’m sure you, like I, have battled unhealthy cravings at some point!  (For more on these ideas, check out my post Little-Know Weight Loss Strategies.)

In our external environment, plants help manage the continuation of life on the planet. Jim Robbins, author of The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet, writes that plants absorb not only carbon dioxide, but also various other pollutants that might otherwise end up in our lungs. The root system of trees can render harmless toxic wastes, and their trunks and canopies help control the distribution of flooding rain and searing heat. They generate over 100 chemicals that benefit not only their own species, but also animals, including humans.  Plants are vital to our existence.  Their ongoing destruction in the name of progress is paradoxical and shortsighted.  How much more green life can be destroyed before the reduced oxygen supply and increased unabsorbed pollution and carbon affect us directly?  Could it be that our bodies, much like our environment, are already struggling from the harmful changes brought about by these practices?

Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature, unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshipping. ~Hubert Reeves, Canadian Astrophysicist

Reading over the paragraphs I’ve written, I can’t help but notice a common thread of human arrogance. What prompted us to decide that human intelligence is superior to that of other life forms?  Why did we feel the need to turn away from the old ways, those of honoring and respecting Nature that Native Americans and other indigenous peoples practiced?

Big Sur, California

The intelligence of all of Nature is astounding, and we are privileged to be a part of it.  Keeping in mind our shared design can go a long way in changing paradigms and ensuring our existence for future generations.  Our very lives, and those of our children, depend on it.

Blessings for Recognizing Oneness,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Escaping Normal

Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled . . . And that has made all the difference. – Robert Frost

The road to Taos & the Chama River

With many hardships of the pandemic still looming, I think a great many of us would like to escape our new normal. Would you agree?

I recently watched Into the Wild, which is based on a true story. I had never seen a preview or read the book, but fell in love with “Society” & a couple other songs from the soundtrack, sung by Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and knew I had to see the film. A Rolling Stone journalist wrote that the songs temper the romance of absolute freedom with an eerie foreboding. A perfect description.

Another view of the Rio Chama

The movie, written and directed by Sean Penn, documents the cross-country journey of a young Emory University graduate, Christopher McCandless, after having given up most of his savings, credit cards, and other worldly possessions. During his travels, his heart is flung wide open by beauty, simple living, and some of the colorful characters he meets. Spoiler alert – the movie does not have a happy ending. But if you have ever escaped, or longed to escape, what society considers normal, the spirit of the movie will move you.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion with one’s courage. – Anaïs Nin

Before I left my home in South Florida years ago, I desperately wanted to escape. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be; I did know that it was something and somewhere else. I had lost the job that was my primary source of income. My 5-year romantic relationship had ended. My best friend (of over 15 years) and I had stopped talking. And my favorite (husband & wife) ministers were moving over a thousand miles away. I shared with a Buddhist Monk Energy Healer that I felt the cornerstones of my life had collapsed. He suggested these painful changes were preparing me for a huge shift in my life’s trajectory. He couldn’t have been more accurate.

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, just north of Taos

There is a universal, intelligent life force that exists within . . . as a deep wisdom, an inner knowing. We can access (it) through our intuition, an inner sense that tells us what feels right and true for us at any given moment. – Shakti Gawain

After a few months of depressed isolation and subsisting on Merlot & Häagen-Dazs, I had an epiphany: the Universe MUST have a better plan for me, and it’s up to me to discover it. That insight opened my heart and inspired my determination. Because the idea of traveling had always appealed to me, (and frankly, I didn’t know what else to do) I decided to sell my home and almost all my possessions and hit the road. Once I made that decision, however, I was terrified. I couldn’t even talk about it without crying. I knew in my heart that it was right, but I wrestled with fearful thoughts most days and nights until leaving. Thankfully, once I embarked, a feeling of tranquility came over me almost immediately. The spirit of travel was revealed to me, and a ubiquitous sense of gratitude swelled inside me.

The untamed beauty of Northern New Mexico

On this path let the heart be your guide
for the body is hesitant and full of fear
. – Rumi

My first extended stay was in Taos, New Mexico. I had read about the wild beauty of Taos Mountain, sagebrush, buttes, and canyons, and I longed to see them for myself. Staying at a hostel, I met a group of people of various ages and backgrounds who felt like family after just a couple weeks. That group included a Vietnam Vet from New York who listened to a lot of Grateful Dead. There was a gal from Oregon who was taking a break from college. I met a 30-something guy who lived in a tepee nearby and got around on bicycle. I shared a dorm room with a Texas lady who was fleeing a life that had spiraled out of control. (I’m happy to say we are still friends today.) And, there was a young girl who had fled San Diego after learning her boyfriend had cheated & smashing his car windows. Like a family, we all shared food, rides, ideas, stories, and music. During the day, we explored Taos Ski Valley, the Rio Grande Gorge & the Mesa; drove the Turquoise Trail & visited Durango; and checked out art galleries, unique shops, & the farmers market. In the evening, after sharing meals, we would sit around a fire pit, stare into the mesmerizing flames & savor the sweet smell of the smoke, while one or more of us played guitar. It was a soothing balm for my weary soul.

The Mesa, thick with delightfully-scented sagebrush

For three years, I would continue my journey on the road, staying in hostels, with friends & family, in community, and in my tent. I wintered in northern Florida, and during warmer months, visited California, Washington, Maine and most states between. I hiked hundreds of miles, experienced the love and healing power of Nature, and shot thousands of photos. I explored spectacular mountain ranges, witnessed extraordinary trees, discovered vast fields of wildflowers & breathtaking waters, and often found myself close to wildlife. I learned to love the ascent of a mountain and appreciate geography and topography in general. I met friendly strangers from many countries and learned to cook new foods. And when my big road trip was over, I felt wholly rehabilitated.

I resonate strongly with Christopher McCandless’ story. The beauty, education, kindness, and healing I experienced while traveling permeated every aspect of my being, changing me forever. Escaping the normal life I once had was the best decision I ever made.

The “Mother Road

Blessings for the Unorthodox,

Lisa

The original version of this post was first shared in May of 2020. Thanks for (re)reading!

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Rice & Beans Soup with Fresh Oregano

About once a week, I make what I call a kitchen soup (shortened from kitchen sink soup because it just sounds better!)  Fresh farmer’s market finds, veggies that have gone unused from earlier in the week, extra cooked grains, leftover fresh herbs, and sometimes beans go into the mix.  Spices are chosen that will accentuate the ingredients, and, voila, a new concoction is born!  I don’t make note of the ingredients unless the soup is over-the-top tasty.  This recipe is the result of a super tasty one.

I love black beans and rice, and I love soup, but none of the recipes I’ve seen (or tried) for combining the two have appealed to me.  So, I am grateful to the recipe developers, who shall go unnamed, that inspired me with the idea of creating my own! 

Not only is this soup delicious, it has many health-giving properties as well.  According to a write-up on Web MD, black beans are loaded with fiber, antioxidants, iron, folate, and magnesium. Eating them regularly may help in preventing various cancers, protecting eye health, reducing heart attack risk, and even controlling weight and cholesterol.  Further, a Healthline article reveals studies have shown that if people eat black beans with rice, the beans can reduce the rise in blood sugar compared to when people eat rice alone.

According to an article from Medical News Today, oregano has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries for treating many ailments, including colds, indigestion, asthma, and diarrhea. Studies show that the herb contains a host of antioxidants, and has anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties. The article goes on to say that oregano may also be helpful for depression, cramping, allergies, diabetes, and arthritis. It’s a powerful little plant!

Sweet potatoes, I’ve found after years of reading many different sources, are one of the most beneficial foods around.  From the informational page on sweet potatoes at The World’s Healthiest Foods website, one difficulty in describing the health benefits of sweet potatoes is knowing where to begin. I eat them regularly due to their rich content of fiber, Vitamin C, many B vitamins, potassium, and beta carotene.  I also appreciate the fact that they’re anti-inflammatory and good for my gut in various ways.  Not to mention, they are sooooo flavorful!  If you’ve been buying the same type of sweet potato for a while and they don’t seem as sweet as before, try a different kind.  After sampling a few varieties, I’ve landed on a new favorite: the Japanese sweet.  Biting into a morsel of sweetness while eating this spicy soup is sure to make you say mmmmmmmmmm

I’d love to hear if you give the recipe a try!

Yield: 6 Servings

Ingredients (use organic and/or non-GMO when possible)
2 tbsp avocado or olive oil
5 med cloves garlic, minced
1 med yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, sliced
1 large carrot, sliced
1 med-large Japanese sweet potato, peeled & med diced
1 jalapeño, seeds removed & minced
2 cups home-cooked or one 15 oz can black beans, partially drained
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
*3 bouillon cubes
*6 cups water
1 med zucchini, med diced
2 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
1 heaping cup cooked brown rice
salt to taste

*You may sub 6 cups broth for the bouillon & water, if you’d like.

Directions
Warm the oil over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the next 6 ingredients (garlic – jalapeño.) Stir regularly to prevent garlic from burning and cook for 10 minutes. Add beans and seasonings (turmeric – crushed red pepper) and stir while cooking for 3 minutes. Break up the bouillon cubes over the veggies & add the water, increasing heat to a quick boil. Bring down to a simmer for about 7 minutes, until veggies are firm-tender. Add zucchini & fresh oregano to simmer for 5 minutes. Finally, stir in the cooked brown rice and salt to taste. Allow to warm through, about 3 minutes more.

Serve alongside a green salad with avocado cubes & diced red onion seasoned with salt and fresh lime juice. Enjoy!

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Scenes from a Hiking Trail

Are you looking for a little family adventure while you’re not yet comfortable with a return to full-on traveling? Maybe finding a new trail to hike in Nature’s exquisite surroundings can satisfy that yearning while inspiring a little awe.  From prior posts, you know that I love hiking, and I thought it’d be fun to share a few of my favorite trail scenes.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah, is one of the first parks I visited in the American Southwest.  I’ve heard it called the Little Grand Canyon, and at the time of my visit, it was one of the least-visited National Parks.  From various trails, I saw unforgettable colored canyons, interesting rock formations, various wildflowers, and trees with roots growing up to a foot above the ground.  There was even a big, bushy flowered plant that smelled like chocolate cake!  (If ever I learn its name, you can bet I’ll be planting a few around my house!)

Mt. Rainier from behind the pines

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn. ~John Muir

Mt. Rainier, Washington’s tallest peak, topping out at 14,411 feet, is about 60 miles south of Seattle.  The region around the mountain is thick with evergreen trees and wildflower meadows, and has several rivers running through it.  Weather in the area is generally rainy, but I was fortunate to catch a couple days of sun and royally blue skies.

Sand dunes behind the vegetation, with the Rocky Mountains in the background

In southern Colorado, much to my surprise, I saw sand, and lots of it.  Great Sand Dunes National Park encompasses 30 square miles of sand dunes, including the tallest ones on the continent, reaching heights of 750 feet.  The area also has its share of 13,000 foot mountains, creeks, cedars, spruce trees, vibrant wildflowers, and diverse wildlife.

Joshua Trees in the desert

Southern California’s Mojave Desert is host to the Joshua Tree (see more about that & other uncommon trees here.)  This tree always makes me smile, due to its formation: sometimes stick straight, but most of the time, twisted with branches going willy-nilly. The surrounding shrubs, sparse multi-colored wildflowers and heaps of small boulders are a perfect backdrop.  If you like deserts, this one is a beauty, but be sure to take lots of water!

Grazing Bison along the Snake River, Wyoming

Ansel Adams, the American landscape artist and environmentalist, gifted us with an amazing photograph of the Grand Tetons overlooking the head waters of the Snake River in Wyoming.  This breathtaking area is home to lots of amazing wildlife.  During hikes there, I saw wolves, moose, bison, elk, and deer.

Devil’s Bridge, Sedona, Arizona

The red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, are one of my favorite winter hiking spots.  High temperatures are usually in the 30’s or 40’s, but at 4000 feet in elevation, the bright sun and low humidity always make it feel much warmer.  There are various rock formations with names like Snoopy Rock, Coffee Pot Rock, Chimney Rock, Bell Rock, and Devil’s Bridge.  The red earth is dotted with vivid green in the form of oak shrubs, sugar bush, junipers and cypress trees.  Nature’s striking contrast of colors could be a reason this area is so popular with tourists.

Near a trail in northern Nevada

Hiking can be a thrilling experience offering magnificent beauty and an opportunity to feel closer to Nature. The scenes I’ve witnessed on hiking trails have awed me, and serve as constant reminders of just how incredible our planet is.  At a time when pandemic uncertainty prevails, exploring new hiking trails may be the perfect family adventure.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ~John Muir

Blessings on the Trail,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Water: The Miraculous Molecule

For a substance that seems so simple, there appears to be no end to the functions and benefits of water.  Many have written about it through the ages, including poets, artists, explorers, statesmen, philosophers, and spiritual leaders. They’ve addressed water as our source, as the driving force in Nature, and as a metaphor for the whole of humanity.  Presently, research on the universal solvent may in fact be more popular than ever.  I have touched on the value of water in a few posts, including the ideas of viewing it for inspiration, breathing it to enhance immunity, drinking it for help with looking & feeling younger, and consuming water-rich food and drink to assist with weight loss.  I’ve also shared health benefits of being near a waterfall and at the beach.  Water, whether in our bodies or in our environment, is truly miraculous.

Ft. Lauderdale Beach, Florida

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. ~Jacques Cousteau

Over 70% of our planet is covered in water.  Microscopic plants that live in the sea, called phytoplankton, produce a great deal of the oxygen we breathe and help support the life of all other ocean animals and plants, according to an article from the Davidson Institute of Science Education entitled The Real Lungs of the Earth.  Huge assignments for such tiny sea creatures, wouldn’t you say?

Another kind of sea creature, off the coast of Newport Beach, California

A Senior Research Scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Stephanie Seneff, theorizes that water (in its structured form) is responsible for the ushering of protons into our cells, causing the pH balance of organelles to be altered, making possible functions such as energy production and cellular clean-up.  Debris that is not removed from our cells can cause inflammation, a part of many disease processes.  Dr. Zach Bush, internationally recognized health educator, says that almost all inflammation is the result of dehydration.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite Natl Pk, California

You could be forgiven for concluding that (biology) is all about proteins and genes embodied in DNA. This is only a form of shorthand; for biology is really all about the interactions of such molecules in and with water. ~Phillip Ball, Physicist & Science Writer

Lisa Mosconi, who has a PhD in Neuroscience and Nuclear Medicine, writes in her book Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power that our brains are composed of about 80% water, and every single chemical reaction therein involves its molecules.  Lack of proper hydration, she says, causes the brain to shrink, setting the stage for Alzheimer’s Disease.  I have discovered recently that when my memory is not at its best, eating & drinking substances with a high water and mineral content quickly restores my ability to recall.  See this link for my write-up on proper hydration.

Sunset over Lake Mary, Northern Arizona

In a TEDx talk, Gillian Ferrabee, Director of the Creative Lab at Cirque Du Soleil Media, equates the idea of water in our fascia with our flow of imagination, consciousness, and creativity.  (I’ve also read other sources that have broached the subject of water as consciousness.) Ferrabee says when she and her fellow creatives are blocked, they dance it out!  Dancing (or any kind of movement, actually) helps distribute water within the fascia network of our bodies, and this increased flow prompts new ideas, she states.   Could be a fun solution to a case of writer’s block!

Water is in many ways responsible for life on our planet, both its origins and its continuation.  It blesses us with a myriad of health benefits, regardless of how we receive it.  Whether viewed through the eyes of a poet, explorer, or spiritual leader, the miraculous nature of water cannot be denied.

Wyoming rapids

Rocks and waters are words of God, and so are men. We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. ~John Muir

Miraculous Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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6 Favorite Inspiration Primers

Inspiration is God making contact with itself.  ~Ram Dass

In various reference sources, the definition of inspiration is first described as the act of drawing air into the lungs.  The term is further defined as a divine influence on expression. The opposite of the term, expiration, refers not only to exhaling, but also the cessation of breathing, or death.  I find these implications pretty profound, don’t you?

A publication on Research Gate shares a review of scientific studies on inspiration. Writers, artists, and other creators have long argued that inspiration is a key motivator of creativity, the paper reads. Over the past decade, scientists have tested and found strong support for these claims.  I just love when science confirms pieces of time-honored wisdom that make life more meaningful!

Monument Valley

According to the Harvard Business Review, psychologists Todd Thrash and Andrew Elliot have identified three foundational aspects of inspiration: spontaneous evocation, transcendence over self-serving concerns, and motivation to actualize a new idea. Further, they say, the heights of human motivation spring from the beauty and goodness that precede us and awaken us to better possibilities.

In the spirit of enhancing the beauty & goodness that precede us, I want to share 6 of the best ways I know for priming the heart and mind to receive inspiration.

  1. Start each day by reading something inspirational or closely observing beauty in some other form.  Even if you, like me, wake up thinking of your to-do list, redirect your thoughts of doing and immerse yourself in being in an aesthetically pleasing manner.  Cognitive researcher and psychologist Nancy Etcoff says that beauty inspires and motivates us.
New Mexico color

  1. Attend an art exhibit or museum.  Viewing the works of creatives, whether local or world renowned, not only brings more beauty and interest into our lives, but also has a way of returning focus to our own creativity.
  2. Go to a concert or other live music event.  Psychologists from McGill University in Montreal studied music’s effects on the brain and found dopamine, a primary feel-good chemical, can be released both in response to music and in anticipation of it.  A great basis for a strike of inspiration, wouldn’t you say?
California coast

Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature for inspiration in the day’s work. I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

  1. Get outside!  Leave all your devices inside and get outdoors for at least a few minutes each day.  Allow your attention to be fully captivated by the the extraordinary creation surrounding you: wildlife, trees, flowers, boulders, bodies of water, canyons, or other natural beauty.  Martha Stewart, creative extraordinaire, says,  I’m very inspired by nature.  I look around me and get all kinds of inspiration daily.  
  2. Do at least one activity outside of your norm each week.  Schedule it in your planner or on your calendar so it doesn’t fall through the cracks.  New experiences provide new knowledge, opening the way for inspired thoughts, conversations, creative urges, and even new ways of being in the world.
Wyoming

  1. Make note of inspired ideas, even undeveloped ones.  If you’re like me, inspiration can sometimes come in small bits, or in the form of a question.  By recording these little nuggets and pondering them over weeks or months, a complete idea can emerge.  In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about inspiration gifting her with ideas which, after going unused, were passed along to others (as evidenced by later publications of her unique, discarded concepts.)  Don’t let your inspired ideas be regifted!

When we clear the physical clutter from our lives, we literally make way for inspiration and ‘Good, orderly direction’ (God) to enter.  ~Julia Cameron

Whether we’re referring to the act of drawing air into our lungs or being divinely influenced, inspiration is paramount. As long as we are breathing, we are creating, designing our lives in the smaller and larger contexts.  By priming ourselves with beauty and goodness to receive inspiration, we open the way for expanded possibilities that infuse all our creations with deeper meaning.

Blessings for Inspiration,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Blessed Are the Adventurous

Driving through New Mexico

An adventure can be defined as a daring and exciting activity calling for enterprise and enthusiasm.  Due to studies showing the many benefits of adventure activities, there are now possibilities for adventure travel, adventure therapy, and even adventure prescriptions handed out by physicians.

In other posts, I’ve shared how my personal adventures have changed the way I view myself and Nature, as well as my interpretation of life.  Driving new roads, hiking trails surrounded by wilderness, climbing, camping, discovering areas with immense natural beauty, and exploring the architecture, culture, and history of new destinations: these are the activities that have illuminated me from within, rehabilitating and revitalizing me from a miserable, burned-out existence.  Without having read any studies, I knew these experiences must be healthy.  Now I’ve seen proof, and I want to share it with you.

Hiking among Bristlecone Pines

In an article written for Good Nature Travel, Candace Andrews, world traveler & nature writer, says adventure travel is good for physical & mental health as well as the planet.  According to Andrews, regular hiking can increase the size of the hippocampus and help prevent age-related memory loss.  Adventures can also help us better cope with uncertainty, a skill that we could all use more of these days.  She goes on to imply that adventure travelers typically have a better appreciation for Nature, and are therefore more likely to help protect Her.

In a paper on Research Gate, three university authors look at various studies on adventure therapy (AT) and their outcomes. Key characteristics of adventure therapy, the paper states, are challenge, risk, reflection, novel settings, and experiential learning.  AT invites the participant to act, make quick decisions, and move their bodies in new ways.  These actions, once assimilated into previously learned behaviors and attitudes, can translate into “real life” benefits, like increased courage, adaptability, and self-confidence at work and home.

My favorite-ever campsite, with a creek running through the back

According to a study in the journal Neuron shared on the National Institute of Health website, adventurous behavior makes us feel good; it fires up the same regions of the brain as reward.  And Frank Farley, Ph.D., former President of the American Psychological Association, says that adventurous people have a sense of flourishing in their lives.  I can vouch for that!

An article in the Children and Nature Network Research Library reviews the long-term benefits of outdoor adventure programs for youngsters under the age of 25.  The lasting impacts (maintained at least a year after the program) most reported included independence, life skills, confidence, and the willingness to try new things.

Hike to an alpine lake

A 2018 essay from The Guardian announced that General Practitioners in Scotland were starting to write prescriptions for outdoor adventures.  Patients are instructed to go hill walking on Shetland’s upland moors, directed towards coastal paths to watch fulmars, to beachcomb for shells, and spot long-tailed ducks, oystercatchers and lapwings, the article readsThe adventures are prescribed to assist patients in improving specific health conditions, of course, but I like to think of all the unexpected peripheral benefits they’ll gain, as well.

Due to covid restrictions putting a hiatus on going and doing, I feel the last year and a half has just flown.  David Eagleman, Neuroscientist at Stanford University, says, The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.  By embracing new adventures, we provide our brains with opportunities to record novel, diverse experiences, expanding our sense of time.

Exploring the coast of San Diego

The human body thrives on adventure, whether a result of travel, AT programs, physician prescriptions, or other fun activities.  My adventures have changed my thinking and given me a more positive sense of being in the world, causing me to feel truly alive.  Are you blessed with an adventurous spirit? If not, in the pursuit of health and well-being, what can a little more daring, excitement, enterprise, and enthusiasm do for you?

Blessings for Adventure,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Thinking Outside the COVID-19 Box: 10 Ways to Boost Immune Function

Over the past 18 months, I’ve heard a lot about masking, hand washing, and social distancing to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Sadly, I’ve also heard about many immunocompromised people dying from the virus. But I haven’t heard top health officials talk much about boosting immune function. Have you? Doesn’t it make sense that we should all be working to strengthen our immune systems now more than ever?

Immunity is our first line of defense, meaning, more than anything else, it works to keep us healthy regardless of what’s going on around us. But it’s up to each of us to provide this mighty defender with good fuel and take other beneficial steps to enhance its efforts. You will find below 10 of my best ideas to accomplish just that.

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. In addition to drinking plenty of mineralized water, eat lots of (home-cooked & organic, if possible) soups, suggests Gina Bria, co-author of Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight, and Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration. Also, I’ve read from many sources, daily green smoothies with (organic if possible) fruits and veggies are deeply hydrating, as well as nutrient-rich. Think apples, oranges, pears, mangoes, grapes, blueberries, avocados, celery, cucumbers, sprouts, cilantro, Italian parsley, spinach, red leaf kale, spirulina, cinnamon, cardamom, fresh ginger, chia seeds, and turmeric with fresh-ground pepper. (Shoot for using more veggies than fruits.) Any combination is tasty, and will gift your body with perfect, structured plant water. Anthony William, the New York Times Bestselling Author of Liver Rescue, says your hydration level (or lack thereof) can be a pivotal factor between getting sick and staying healthy.

  • Exercise moderately several times a week. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that participants who did aerobic exercise 5 days a week reduced upper respiratory tract infections over a 12-week period by 43%. Exercises in that category include brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, and other cardio pursuits sustained for an extended period. An article on Health.com states exercise helps highly specialized immune cells—such as natural killer cells and T cells—find pathogens (like viruses) and wipe them out.
  • Consume natural probiotic food & drinks such as (organic & raw, if possible) kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso soup. Stanford University of Medicine researchers Justin & Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs, say their family gets a different natural probiotic food or drink each day to diversify the population in their microbiomes as well as those of their kids. Studies show that diversity in the gut is a major key to staying healthy.

  • Eat fewer pre-processed foods, including fast foods and junk foods, and more high-fiber whole vegetables, including beans and lentils, as well as prebiotic foods such as onions, garlic, dandelion greens, and asparagus. Again, all in service of a microbiome that can promote good immunity.
  • One more tip for the microbiome, from Dr. Zach Bush, a physician specializing in internal medicine, endocrinology and hospice care. A healthy microbiome, according to Dr. Bush, consists of between 20,000 and 40,000 species of bacteria. (Which explains why you should not eat the same foods all the time.) Spending time outside and in multiple ecosystems (for example, a rainforest, beach, desert, waterfall, lake, and river) can diversify your gut’s bacteria. And, if you’re far enough away from others, take off your mask! (Unless that is prohibited in your area.)

  • Diffuse essential oils inside your home, which is the next best thing to being outside. Dr. Josh Axe, Certified Doctor of Natural Medicine, says that many essential oils are antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiseptic. He suggests eucalyptus, peppermint, oregano, lemon, and cinnamon for immunity. Add a few drops of some or all of them to your diffuser, vaporizer, or humidifier, if it offers that function, to purify the inside air that you breathe.
  • Even though you are practicing social distancing, make emotional connections. Phone or text a loved one, just to check in. According to Dr. Dean Ornish, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, those societies and cultures over the past several hundred thousand years who learned to take care of each other were more likely to survive than those who did not. Our species has a primal need to feel cared for.
  • Practice expressing gratitude for your life and your blessings. Your feelings and beliefs have a strong impact on your biology, according to Gregg Braden, 2020 Templeton Prize Nominee. Your cells are always listening in on your thoughts, Braden says. Therefore, immune function is directly affected by your state of mind.

  • Take a break from watching or reading the news. Non-stop negative reports about the pandemic, environmental degradation, violence, dirty politics, etc., can result in a fearful mindset, constantly activating the fight-or-flight mode in our bodies. This can result in biological conditions that suppress immune function. Check in on the news only once or twice a day, or maybe even skip a day (unless you feel more anxious as a result.) Instead of spending so much time sitting on the sofa watching or reading the news, get outside to walk, do some yoga, or other enjoyable activity. (Since exercise and time in Nature are also good for immune function, this one idea offers three times the benes for your hard-working immune system!)
  • And finally, get enough sleep that you awake feeling rested. With so much ongoing illness around us, our biological functions may be working harder than usual to keep us well. You may find your need for sleep has increased. Listen to your body.

I hope this list empowers you to become healthier and diminishes your fears of the virus. It is important to continue following the many protocols in place. But it is also critical, in my opinion, to do all you can to boost immune function at this time when illness abounds.

Blessings for Immunity,

Lisa

Note: The original version of this post was published in March of 2020, just as the pandemic was first revving up in this country.

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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5 Little-Known Secrets for Looking and Feeling Younger

I can remember the first time I heard the expression Youth is wasted on the young.  It came from a 40-something character sitting on a beach during an episode of Beverly Hills 90210.  At the time, I was too young to understand the meaning, but for some reason, the curious sentiment stuck with me.  Now, I get it. The vitality, fitness level, and lightheartedness of youngsters can become enviable as we age.  And although it’s impossible to return to those carefree days, there are natural ways to reclaim or retain youthful attributes, regardless of our current age.

We live in a beauty-obsessed society; Americans spent more than $9 billion on plastic surgery for purely aesthetic reasons in 2020. (And who knows how much we invested in beauty products!) With this kind of money being spent on little procedures, they can start to become the norm. This kind of normal can cause us to forget the fact that the human body is a revitalizing marvel.  Countless rejuvenating processes are going on at all times in our bodies below the level of our awareness. We were designed to heal ourselves with proper support; our cells work unceasingly to help us feel and look better. No liposuction, tummy tucks, or facelifts required.

After many years of studying the workings of a healthy body, I want to share a few of the best ways I’ve found to support my body’s efforts to help me look and feel younger.

  1. Daily Stretching – Dr. Gil Hedley, Board President for the Institute for Anatomical Research, produced a YouTube series called The Integral Anatomy Series: Deep Fascia & Muscle. Working with a cadaver, he shares The Fuzz Speech, demonstrating how fascia creates a fuzzy connection to muscles as we sleep.  When we stretch each morning, the fuzz dissolves, he says.  But when we forget to stretch or refrain from stretching due to injury, the fuzz gets thicker and thicker, resulting in stiffness, limited movement, and chronic pain often associated with growing old.  To continue enjoying the full expression of the physical body throughout life, stretching each day is a must.
  2. Proper Hydration – Gina Bria, Anthropologist & Founder of the Hydration Foundation, has done much to shed light on the critical importance of hydration.  This is an example of the extraordinary information you can find on her website: Fascia has recently been discovered . . . to be not only our connective tissue, holding us up and together like a crocheted sack, but a hidden irrigation system, a hidden electrical system, conducted by water, that sends cell-to-cell communication instantly.  To work well, it must be fully hydrated. Most of us go through our lives chronically dehydrated, which can present as low energy, various adverse conditions, disease, pain, and premature aging.  (For more on this, check out my article Hydration – No, Really.)  Additionally, Dr. Christiane Northrup, in an interview with Gina Bria, says that properly moisturizing the skin begins with internal hydration. Mineralizing water with a bit of fresh lemon juice or a pinch of Himalayan salt, eating fruits, getting outside, and taking Epsom salt baths can all contribute to better skin health and cellular communication.
  3. Fasting – Fasting has been a part of many spiritual traditions for eons, and for good reason. In his life-changing book, Conscious Eating, Dr. Gabriel Cousens writes, During a fast, digestive enzymes are relieved from their digestive role and mobilized for the cleansing and rejuvenation of the body . . . rapidly removing dead and dying cells and toxins.  Aging occurs when we have more cells die than are being built. Autophagy is the process described by Dr. Cousens, and according to Nutrition Expert Naomi Whittel, the process starts in as few as 16 hours.  Intermittent fasting for this period of time could be a good starting point for first-timers who have their physician’s consent.
  4. Protect your Telomeres – In an article on NutritionFacts.org, Dr. Michael Greger, author of the book How Not to Die, shares that a plant-based diet is foundational for longer telomeres, the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes that typically shorten with age. Other lifestyle factors, like normalizing weight and regular exercise are important, but without the right kinds of fuel, the telomeres continue to shorten, research shows.  Dr. Greger writes, Swapping just 1% of saturated fat calories in our diet (for high-fiber plant foods) can add nearly a whole year of length onto our telomeres. By slowing the shortening of the telomeres, he says, we can slow the aging process.
  5. Up your DHEA – In his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Deepak Chopra, MD, discusses how DHEA, a hormone that is depleted by stress over the course of a lifetime, is found in elevated levels among regular meditators of any age.  Studies show DHEA improves physical and psychological well-being, muscle strength and bone density, and reduces body fat and age-related skin atrophy stimulating procollagen/sebum production. (It also) reduces total cholesterol and improves sexual satisfaction and insulin sensitivity.  But, according to Dr. Chopra, oral DHEA supplementation is not very beneficial due to it being broken down in the digestive tract.  From other sources, I’ve read that, in addition to meditation, DHEA levels may be naturally increased by sufficient rest, regular exercise, time in Nature, and a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (think walnuts & chia seeds.)

Reading through these tips, I’m noticing parallels of a healthy diet and regular movement. The bottom line, I believe, is this: youthful aging results from a commitment to a lifestyle that supplies your body with what it actually needs. Making good choices each day brings about beneficial ingrained habits. Soon, you’ll realize, trying to be healthy doesn’t feel like extra effort – it’s just what you do.  And your body will thank you.

Aging doesn’t have to be a dreaded or lamented process compensated for by plastic surgery.  Healthier skin, a stronger body, increased energy, and a joyful disposition can be ours throughout our time on the planet by making daily choices contributing to optimal body function.  Cheers to the phenomenal design of our bodies!

Blessings for Youthful Aging,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Pestoed Pasta Summer Salad

During the time I lived in South Florida, I worked for a few years in an office on Palmetto Park Road near the Intracoastal Waterway. The area offered an incredible choice of really good restaurants, but my lunch go-to was a little Italian place called Lilly’s New Cuisine. Their signature salad was my favorite, a bed of greens topped with marinated chicken, penne, toasted walnuts and light pesto dressing. Once I became vegan, I made some adjustments, and the recipe you’ll see below came into being. I like it even more than the original!

The nutritional value of this salad is off the charts! You can read about many of the benefits of romaine in my Quick & Crispy Chickpea Salad post. Basil offers a number of nutrients, including those contributing to bone health, oxygenation of the cells, cancer prevention, and inflammation regulation. Walnuts are also rich in the good stuff, including a load of omega-3 fatty acids which reduce risk of stroke & coronary artery disease, as well as an abundance of vitamin E which contributes to the health of cell membranes and the skin. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), you may have heard, is one of the mainstays of the Mediterranean Diet, which for over half a century has been considered by many one of the healthiest ways to eat. According to an article from the National Institute of Health, EVOO contributes to health by assisting in prevention and treatment of chronic diseases thanks to anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, neuroprotective, and immunomodulatory components. An impressive line-up of benefits for a salad, wouldn’t you say?

The ingredient list & directions here are a little longer than my other recipes, but each step is straight-forward and doesn’t take much time, so I hope you won’t avoid trying it due to its length. The bold flavors and varying textures in this delicious, filling salad make it one you’ll find well worth the effort for a special dinner with family and friends.

As always, I’d love to hear in the comments if you give it a go!


Yield: 6 Servings

Ingredients (use organic and/or non-GMO when possible)
For the vegan parmesan
heaping 1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/8 tsp Himalayan salt
1/2 tsp lemon zest

For the pesto
2 cups basil leaves
1 – 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped & lightly toasted
vegan parmesan (use all made from recipe above)
salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the salad dressing
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp dried oregano

For the salad
12 oz penne, cooked, drained and mostly cooled, spritzed with a bit of EVOO & gently stirred if needed to keep it from sticking as it cools
pesto (use all made from recipe above)
1 large head romaine, torn into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 cups broccoli, broken into small florets
4 medium carrots, sliced 1/4″ thick
1 cup whole walnuts, lightly toasted

Directions
Make the vegan parmesan by placing all ingredients in a small jar and shaking vigorously until well combined. Taste for salt & zest.

Make the pesto by placing all ingredients except for olive oil in a medium food processor bowl. Pulse until broken into small pieces. Add oil through feeder tube to form a smooth paste. Taste for salt.

Make the dressing by whisking the 3 ingredients in a small bowl until well combined.

Gently combine the pesto with the penne, using a wooden spoon or your hands, until the ziti is well coated.

Make beds of romaine on up to 6 plates. Add pestoed penne, broccoli, carrots, and a good sprinkling of walnuts to each. Add dressing as desired. Serve with crusty bread and a nice Merlot.

Bon appétit!

Unfortunately, I tried a new gluten-free pasta. The pestoed pasta usually looks much nicer!

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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A Secret to Happiness

Beach day at St. Maarten

If I were to tell you about a new medication that relieves pain, reduces stress & anxiety, lessens your risk for type 2 diabetes, helps improve memory, increases longevity, and enhances overall life satisfaction, would you drop your to-do list and rush to phone your doctor’s office for a prescription?  According to an article on Medical News Today, social interactions can result in all those benefits and more.

Exploring the Victorian Charm of Cape May, New Jersey

According to Dean Ornish, MD, whose Program for Reversing Heart Disease has been covered by Medicare since 2011, no other lifestyle factor has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death from all causes than loneliness and isolation. The real epidemic in our culture is not only physical heart disease, but also what I call emotional and spiritual heart disease, Dr. Ornish explains.  

Enjoying the adobe architecture in Taos Plaza, New Mexico

A write-up from Harvard Health informs us that scientists are finding social connections not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking.  The article goes on to say that caring involvement with others may be one of the easiest health strategies to access. It’s inexpensive, it requires no special equipment or regimen, and we can engage in it in many ways.

A Psychology Today article says that engaging socially not only lessens feelings of depression, but also helps you fight off colds, the flu, and even some types of cancer.  I’d say that’s some pretty strong medicine!

Independence Day Parade, Flagstaff, Arizona

Dan Buettner, in writing The Blue Zones of Happiness, reviewed various polls and surveys from countries around the world to discover the factors that contribute to making the happiest populations.  Costa Rica, he found, is one of the countries whose citizens reported being the most content. He attributes this to their focus on spending a great deal of time with others.  Costa Ricans are socially interacting five to six hours a day, face to face, he writes, including barbecues with friends, church services, family meals, and soccer games. The U.S., with its rigorous work philosophy, did not make the top 12 in Buettner’s tally.  

Recent concert at the original Woodstock venue, upstate New York

Being outside is the easiest way for me to feel part of a physical community.  I find open-air concerts absolutely exhilarating. And time outdoors with friends, food, and drink is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon.  But even strangers who are hiking, biking, fishing, or sitting in a park are often cheerfully willing to engage in conversation. According to an Evidence Note from Forest Research in the UK, green infrastructure can help bring people together, . . . increasing social activity, improving community cohesion, & developing local attachment. These benefits, the research says, reduce domestic violence and overall crime rates.  It’s no surprise that spending time in the embrace of our Primal Mother brings us together in a way that makes us more tolerant, loving, and supportive.

Strolling around a German village

Social interactions can contribute immeasurably to our lives, helping us feel better about ourselves, enhancing immune function, and prolonging our lives.  Focusing less on life’s never-ending to-do list and more on sharing time with others is a sure way to increase happiness.  How often are you willing to become happier?

The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food. ~Dean Ornish, MD

Blessings for Community,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Working Toward Oneness: 6 Favorite Asanas

According to a write-up on India’s Ministry of External Affairs website, the term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to control, yoke, or unite.  The philosophy was developed thousands of years ago as a way of bringing together individual consciousness with that of the Universal consciousness, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, Man and Nature, the article explains.  Although the physical branch of yoga that many of us practice does not encapsulate the whole of the original discipline, it does offer a wide array of benefits which can contribute to our sense of oneness and a happier, healthier life. 

Arizona

You may have read my article on how yoga can contribute optimal function of the entire body, reason enough to do some sort of regular practice. One of the best physical benefits, in my opinion, is keeping our fascia stretched and pliable.  The many ways we don’t move our bodies daily can lead to the fascia becoming tight, restricting flexibility, which compounds as we age and can lead to limited movement.  Differing poses offer particular benefits, as well.  I want to share with you the 6 types of asanas, or poses, that I practice daily, along with the specific reasons.

  1. Forward FoldsI think my love for forward folds started because as a young adult, I developed tight hamstrings, and I wanted to be able to touch my toes.  In an article describing the benefits of forward folds, American-Australian Yoga Teacher Jacqueline Buchanan says that, in addition to opening the backside of the body from the heels to the head, these postures also increase circulation and soothe the nervous system.
  2. Backbends – As a youngster, I couldn’t get enough of gymnastics on the mat and on the grass.  Dropping into a backbend from an upright position was a regular part of that.  I don’t do those anymore 😊, but decades of yoga have taught me that bending the front of the spine is just as important as bending the back of the spine.  These days, I find bridge pose, cobra, and pigeon pose get the job done.  In a Yoga Basics article, backbends are said to enhance posture, boost mood, and improve breathing.
  3. Side Bends – Yup, more spine bending!  This time, from side to side, because how often do we do those types of movements each day?  According to Roger Jahnke, author of The Healer Within: Using Traditional Chinese Techniques to Release Your Body’s Own Medicine, regularly stretching the spine in all directions can help us avoid lung problems.  So simple, huh?

  1. Twists – According to an article on Total Yoga, twisting poses stimulate the liver and lymph system, release tension, and can even help with back pain.  From years of learning from yoga teachers, I’ve also gleaned that twists are good for digestion.  I enjoy seated twists and twisted lunges, which also challenge my balance.
  2. Balancing Poses – Speaking of balance, I shared in a post several months ago about how I committed to doing half moon pose every day for a couple years to improve my once horrendous sense of balance.  It worked, and to this day, I still do it along with other balancing poses such as tree pose, side plank, and extended hand to toe pose regularly to keep my abs taut and my balance in check.  As we age, we tend to lose the skill of balance unless efforts are made to maintain it.
  3. Inversions – A few years ago, I attended a weekly arm balancing yoga class, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had with a group of yogis.  Handstands, shoulder stands, crow poses, and their many variations were always part of the merrymaking. Unfortunately, the teacher moved to another state, but even today inversions are an enjoyable part of my routine.  They boost blood flow to the brain and improve immune function, according to Yogapedia.com.  If you have only a few minutes a day for legs up the wall, it can be beneficial.
Colorado

Even on days that I don’t do a full yoga practice, I incorporate at least one of each of the above into stretching prior to and after other exercises. Every little thing we do, or don’t do, works together either for our benefit or to our detriment, and committing to small healthy acts is an easy way to stay on the positive side of that equation. (I’m a big-picture person, you may have noticed!)

Oregon Coast, shrouded in fog

Although the yoga that we know doesn’t involve the original philosophy in its entirety, we are fortunate that its physical practice has been brought to us through the ages. As you can see, the advantages of yoga are practical, and regular practice builds a strong foundation for uniting mind, body, and spirit, getting us a little closer to a sense of oneness.

Yogi Blessings,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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Does the Earth Love You?

If you’ve been around Micro of the Macro for a while, no doubt you’ve read a lot about the benefits of spending time with Nature. For example, being at the beach can reduce stress & cancer risk.  Interacting with animals can result in improved heart & immune function. Visiting a waterfall can reduce chronic pain.  I have written about how working with plants can reduce depression, trauma, and anxiety, and how wildflowers support all living systems. Nature, in Her infinite wisdom, contributes unceasingly to life, including ours.  But let’s drill down further: does the Earth, our Primal Mother, love us?

Butterfly Garden, Tucson, AZ

In last week’s post, I mentioned briefly the book I am currently reading, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, member of the Potawatomi Nation and Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at The State University of New York. Early in the book, she writes of the differences in two foundations which have strongly influenced the ways we think of Nature: the Creation Story and the language we use.  

Aspens, ferns and wildflowers near Arizona’s Snowbowl Ski Resort

In Kimmerer’s Native American culture, and many others, the Creation Story does not involve Adam & Eve’s unhappy expulsion from a perfect garden due to a deceitful serpent.  Instead, it is a story of Skywoman, who falls from the Skyworld, grasping for the Tree of Life on her way down, bringing with her seeds, flowers, and branches, and leaving an opening for the sun to shine through.  During and after her landing, animals lovingly assist her. We are inevitably shaped by (Creation stories) no matter how distant they may be from our consciousness, the author writes.  One (of the stories mentioned) leads to the generous embrace of the living world, the other to banishment.  One woman is our ancestral gardener, a cocreator of the good green world . . . The other, an exile, just passing through an alien world on a rough road to her real home in heaven.  A huge difference between perspectives for the followers of each tradition, wouldn’t you agree?

Rushing waters in Montana

Kimmerer’s native language, alive with the energies of the natural world, is almost completely gone.  (Due in large part to forced government board schooling of Native American children centuries ago, where speaking their native tongue was forbidden.)  The language of her ancestors addressed the Spirit in Nature; it was a mirror for seeing the animacy of the world, the life that pulses through all things, through pines and nuthatches and mushrooms, she writes.  The language reminds us, in every sentence, of our kinship with all of the animate world.  A far cry from English, which categorizes the living world as either people or things.  And how easy is it to neglect or abuse when we objectify?  (Think of the unfortunate slaves of ages past who were considered property.) How could we possibly come to believe that things love us?

Cactus blooms in the Sonoran Desert

The author, a scientist and teacher, is a mother of two, as well.  She writes with the greatest affection of her daughters, and says she taught them to garden so they would always have a mother to love them, even after she’s gone.  She composed a list of loving behaviors shared with her girls.  Included in the list are: nurturing health and well-being, protection from harm, encouraging growth, interdependence, and creation of beauty.  When we observe these behaviors between people, she says, we know they must love each other.  We even make the statement, “She loves her garden” when the same behaviors are demonstrated by someone carefully tending a plot of land.  Why then, the author asks, would you not make the leap to say that the garden loves her back?  The thriving of one is in the best interest of the other.  This, to me, sounds a bit like love, the author concludes. I couldn’t agree more.

A desert dove

Braiding Sweetgrass is packed with practical teachings of the old ways, offering a clear way forward out of the environmental disaster we are living presently.  But there is so much more to this book.  The beauty of Kimmerer’s prose could make a willing student out of anyone.  I find myself rereading some of her lines 3 or 4 times to relish gentle teachings that feed my soul.  Her descriptive, love-infused narrative brings the science of botany to life, revealing the exquisite luminosity of Mother Earth.

Jemez Springs, near Santa Fe, New Mexico

An endless supply of loving support is made available to us by Nature, being the good Mother that She is. In addition to making things beautiful, She also provides us with ways to help us feel better and improve our lives overall. Like Robin Wall Kimmerer, I strongly believe that the Earth cares for us beyond measure, and spending time in Nature is the easiest way to feel the embrace of that unconditional love.

Mazatzal Mountains, Arizona, strewn with Saguaro Cactus

Blessings for Motherly Love,

Lisa

The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.

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The Dazzling Blogger Award

The Dazzling Blogger Award, designed by Helen at Crispy Confessions, recognizes bloggers who excel in at least one major area of blogging: writing skills, engagement, social media marketing, or content. A big thank you to my friend Suzanne at Happily Decluttered, who has honored me with a nomination.

Suzanne is super-organized and shares tips to help the rest of us reach that pinnacle. In addition to loads of practical ideas, her writing is brimming with love for her family and Nature. She does a monthly Happiness Highlights post that demonstrates what a rich life she is creating. I urge you to visit her site, and let her know I sent you!

Dazzling view of Big Sur

The Official Rules of The Dazzling Blogger Award

  1. Thank the person who nominated you for the award & link back to their site.
  2. Provide a link back to Helen, the award’s designer.
  3. Answer the seven questions asked.
  4. Compose seven questions of your own.
  5. Nominate & notify seven more people.

Suzanne’s Questions

  1. What is your favorite hobby and how did you get started?

Creating new dishes in the kitchen.  I seldom prepare the same meals, and I’m always on the lookout for new ideas.  I think this originated during the many months I worked in the kitchens of Esalen, Omega, and Ratna Ling, all holistic retreat centers.

Black beans, rice, & roasted plantains with fresh onion, cilantro, & tomatoyum!
  1. What is your favorite meal to cook?

Veggie burgers.  We have burger night twice a month, and I have found so many great ways to make them.  The leftovers get broken up over beds of romaine with red onions, brown rice, and avocado – my favorite salad!

  1. Do you live by any piece of advice or motto?

I am blessed and I am grateful.

  1. What was the highlight of your week?

Getting together with a friend I hadn’t seen in months for hours of talking and laughing and sharing plans for travel.

  1. What is your favorite board game?

Scrabble

  1. Have you read any good books lately that you would recommend?

I’m about 100 pages into Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Distinguished Teaching Professor & Director, Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at SUNY College of Environmental and Science Forestry. I’m enjoying it so much that I’m already considering how I might share its ideas.  The author’s message is erudite with paradigm-changing potential, but her stories of the “old ways” are sweet, gentle, and communicate directly to the heart.  I feel everyone should read it, and its precepts should be taught to young children.