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Primal Connection: A Need for Credence

All photos in this post were taken in Southern Utah

Whether or not we acknowledge it, each of us is a part of Nature.  In past posts, I’ve written about the importance of staying cognizant of and nurturing this connection.  That is in fact the theme of Micro of the Macro.  But it’s always a delight to explore further and better understand this all-encompassing blessing.

In Healing Made Simple, I shared the work of triple board certified physician & international microbiome educator Zach Bush, who states we are only as healthy as our connection to Nature.  That connection includes the Nature we take inside our bodies as well as the natural environments in which we immerse ourselves externally.

Nature Interrupted is a write-up in which I pointed to a study showing climate change causing lower birth rates in newborns, which can affect health and development throughout life.  In the same post, I mentioned other research showing that when young children play on screens rather than playing outdoors, aggressive behavior, depression, lack of motivation, and obesity can result.

petrified wood

Shortly after the Civil War in late 19th Century America, an illness called neurasthenia was widely recognized, characterized by depression, ennui, anxiety, migraines, and insomnia.  The diagnosis was so common that it was often referred to as Americanitis. It was considered the consequence of moving into a mode of living too fast resulting from a rapid population explosion, urbanization, and modernization due to cars, air travel, and telephones.  For the men afflicted, including President Theodore Roosevelt & poet Walt Whitman, a Nature cure was prescribed: working with horses on ranches in the West. 

Similar to neurasthenia, although not a clinical diagnosis, nature deficit disorder is a concept proposed by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Wood.  Louv explains that elements of modern life, including fewer natural spaces, a car-focused culture, more screen time, changes in the perception of risk (e.g., stranger danger), less leisure time, and increased time pressures from work or school, combine to decrease or even eliminate contact with nature for both adults and children.  Direct exposure to Nature is vital for health on all levels, he says.  Scores of research studies support his theory.

In an essay from Wild Earth Journal, David Abram, Distinguished Fellow of Schumacher College in England and founder & creative director of the Alliance for Wild Ethics writes our bodily senses bring us into relation with the breathing earth at every moment.  If humankind seems to have forgotten its thorough dependence upon the earthly community of beings, it can only be because we’ve forgotten (or dismissed as irrelevant) the sensory dimension of our lives. The senses are what is most wild in us — capacities that we share, in some manner, not only with other primates but with most other entities in the living landscape. 

By objectifying other animals, plants, wild running waters, and mountains, which we are often taught to do from an early age, we learn to see humans as superior, causing an unfortunate disconnect.  (To explore this idea a bit further, check out my post Does the Earth Love You?)  Resuming Abram’s essay: If we continue to speak of other animals as less mysterious than ourselves, if we speak of the forests as insentient systems, and of rivers and winds as basically passive elements, then we deny our direct, visceral experience of those forces.  We become spectators of other life, limiting our sensual experiences and living more in our heads, he writes.

E.O. Wilson, who was an American biologist, naturalist and writer, proposed the biophilia hypothesis in the mid 80’s, suggesting humans have an innate desire to connect with Nature.  By deepening this connection, he explains, we can foster loving attitudes and behaviors toward all of life.  Shouldn’t we be nurturing this inborn tendency in ourselves and our children, rather than allowing it to be buried by the insane thinking that has led us to the environmental and human crises in which we presently find ourselves?

Being a part of this miracle known as Nature is a blessing – one that should be not only acknowledged but embraced.  History and science continue to validate the importance of our Nature connection.  Nurturing this relationship has the potential to improve everything.

Blessings for Primal Connection,

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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pH Balance Explained (And Why It Matters)

Plant foods help keep your blood healthy

I have mentioned pH balance and acidic foods in past posts, but never taken the time to explain them.  Various parts of the human body have different pH balances, but it’s the blood’s pH that this write-up addresses.  

First off, the abbreviation pH indicates the potential of hydrogen.  Hydrogen is an important element in our bodies, playing roles in functions such as immunity, hydration, energy production, toxin elimination, joint lubrication, and transportation of nutrients, to name a few.  The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being most acidic and 14 being most alkaline.  The pH balance of healthy blood serum is around 7.4.  

Normally, the lungs and kidneys are able to maintain this homeostasis.  However, when those processes become overwhelmed, balance is lost, and the blood can leach minerals from the bones to restore it.

There are several reasons why imbalance occurs in the blood’s pH.  Various diseases, medications, stress, and diet (now widely known to be one of the most important factors) can cause the body to work harder to sustain balance, often with poor outcomes. The constant pressure on the body’s physiology to compensate for acid-inducing challenges is known to contribute to a wide range of diseases, such as metabolic syndrome, cancer, osteoporosis, kidney stones, and increased susceptibility to environmental toxins—and new research is adding to the list, according to this article from PubMed.  

This scientific review explains that the diet of most people in the US is acid-promoting due to heavy consumption of meats, eggs, dairy, and the processed stuff.  This chart (near the end of the article) from Doctor’s Health Press gives the pH levels of various foods and drinks.  You’ll see that sodas and energy drinks are in the most acidic category, followed closely by  processed and animal foods.  At the most alkaline end of the range, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, olive oil, and other plant foods can be found.

Chances are, your PCP will never mention your blood’s pH.  You can, however, request a lab test.  (Be aware that insurance probably will not pay for it.)  Chronic pain, difficulty breathing, or ongoing fatigue could be signs that your body is no longer doing a good job of ridding itself of excess acid, and you need to make some changes.

The National Kidney Foundation advocates for a diet that includes more plant-based proteins than animal-based proteins, along with a high intake of fruits and vegetables, (to) help keep acid levels from rising in the blood.  A recommendation from this source carries a lot of weight, wouldn’t you agree?

The importance of maintaining a normal blood pH cannot be overstated.  Regardless of your age, making changes to the way you eat may help you achieve that balance so that you feel better, avoid disease, and live longer.  And who doesn’t want those things?!

Blessings for Balance,

Lisa

Comments are turned off for this post, but I look forward to seeing you next 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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Working Toward Oneness: Meditation

Attention to the present moment can be most gratifying

After a 14-year hiatus, I have reestablished a daily meditation practice.  It  is part of a deep Ayurvedic cleanse I’m doing, and its purpose is to release stored emotions. After only 3 weeks, I’m already experiencing positive results; I no longer feel the stress of getting things done at a hurried pace.  My daily mode of living had become a super-stressful rush, rush, rush to do everything.  I’m not sure why.  But what a relief to leave the race behind!

Looking through past posts, I see that I’ve touched on meditation in 10 of them.  In 5 Little Known Secrets for Looking & Feeling Younger, I reference the work of Dr. Deepak Chopra, who discusses the hormone DHEA. He says this chemical that improves muscle & bone strength and reduces body fat & skin atrophy is often depleted over a lifetime, but can be found in elevated levels in meditators of all ages.  In Awaken Your Healer Within, I shared Dr. Roger Jahnke’s explanation that the lowered brain activity and reduced blood pressure resulting from meditation can help neutralize the effects of stress on the body and heal disease.  And in Mindfulness: What’s In It for Me?, I wrote that over 200 studies show mindfulness practices including meditation are effective at boosting immune function, decreasing chronic pain, helping with depression, improving relationships, and even ameliorating addictive behaviors. I’ve long known how beneficial the practice is.  I’m not sure why it took me such a long time to get back into it.

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years, and is referenced in texts across philosophical and religious traditions.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but practices that are around for such prolonged periods survive because they are effective.  In fact, Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary, integrative neurologist and author of The Prime: Prepare and Repair Your Body for Spontaneous Weight Loss, describes meditation as a daily brain detox, and states that it is indisputably a beneficial practice which will change your life.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to understand & do things correctly, so I was grateful to find the YouTube video Debunking the 5 Most Common Meditation Myths.  In it, I learned that the wondering of the mind does not take away from the benefits of the practice; it may in fact help.  I do hope you’ll check out the clip if you’re feeling either discouraged in your practice, or set on your inability to meditate because your mind is too active.

Maybe you’ve never tried a meditation practice, or it’s been a long time since your last attempt.  In this Healthline article, 9 types of meditation are listed, along with descriptions of each.  Maybe you can find one that’s a good fit for you.  Also, YouTube has plenty of guided meditations, many of them less than 5 minutes long.

I’m excited to be experiencing the profound benefits of my new meditation practice.  Will I continue after the cleanse is complete?  Absolutely.  With all its physical, mental, and emotional benefits, I can hardly wait to see the next positive change!

Blessings for Stillness,

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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Very Cheesy Vegan Ziti

It’s recipe time again!  I always look forward to these weeks because they stir my creativity in the kitchen, and I’m excited to share the results with you.  This week, I’ve prepared a dish that I’ve been considering since late last year!  I have been hesitant (maybe lacking confidence) because it’s the veganization of a delicious recipe by Mollie Katzen from Moosewood.  Back in my dairy-eating days, it was a favorite cool-weather dish.  Her recipe calls for butter, cottage cheese, cheddar, and buttermilk, and is called Macaroni & Cheese Lite.  (Her recipe was lite as compared with the recipe from which it was adapted.)

I’ve mentioned in past posts that I’ve found lots of really good subs for different types of cheese.  Cottage cheese is my latest discovery.  The first formula I tried was bad, I mean not even close.  Usually, I can salvage things that don’t turn out well by adding a little more of this or that, but this went right into the compost bin.  Thankfully, I found a version at Ela Vegan that is similar to real cottage cheese in both taste & texture, and I knew I could go forward with Mollie’s recipe once I tasted it.

While I’m giving credit, my super-tasty cashew sour cream was modified slightly from Angela Liddon’s recipe at Oh She Glows.

It would be easier if I used ready-made packaged vegan cheeses, of course.  But my body doesn’t like them.  If the difference between your trying my recipe and not trying it hinges on it, please use ready-made products!  (And because this is a big recipe, you might want to save it for the holidays, when others might be around to help you devour it & clean up afterwards!)

Cheese was one of the last things I gave up to become completely vegan.  I loved cheese, and I know many of you do.  But it’s unhealthy for so many reasons.  In the US, cheese often contains antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, herbicides, and other dangerous chemicals, all results of industrialized farming.  (And let’s not forget the inhumane treatment of the animals involved.)  Additionally, pasteurization of the milk followed by further heating in the cheese-making process kills many of the live enzymes that are essential for proper digestion and assimilation.  Making matters worse is the fact that it’s a mucus-producing food.  And although it has a great deal of calcium, cheese is acidic on the pH scale, and research shows that acidic foods can result in a very high excretion of calcium through urine, resulting in lower bone density.  (So, no, dairy is not good for healthy teeth & bones!) I could go on, but let me just wrap it up by mentioning that cheese and other dairy foods, due in large part to the inflammation they cause, can contribute to obesity as well as many other chronic diseases.

Back to the recipe.  I haven’t mentioned how yummy my veganized version is.  I believe Mollie herself would approve!

Very Cheesy Vegan Ziti

Yield: 6 – 8 servings

Ingredients (use all organic or non-GMO if possible)

For the cottage cheese: make an hour ahead of the rest & refrigerate
8 – 10 oz firm tofu, drained
1/2 cup vegan unsweetened yogurt
1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp nutritional yeast

For the cashew sour cream:
1 cup cashews, soaked for 2 hours for easier processing
1/2 cup water (or as needed to achieve desired consistency)
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
heaping 1/4 tsp Himalayan salt, or to taste

For the rest:
oil for the baking dish
salted water for boiling pasta
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups yellow onion, small diced
3 med cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 cups green cabbage, shredded
1 tsp Himalayan salt
1 1/4 tsp caraway seeds
3 handfuls fresh spinach, chopped
12 oz ziti
all of cottage cheese from recipe provided
all of cashew sour cream from recipe provided
1/2 cup vegan yogurt
2 tsp dried dill
fresh ground black pepper to taste
handful of sunflower seeds

Directions

Make the cottage cheese at least an hour ahead of time & refrigerate to allow flavors to marry.  In a medium bowl, crumble the tofu, leaving plenty of texture to mimic curds.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the rest of the cottage cheese ingredients.  Pour the liquid mixture over the tofu, stir gently to combine, and taste for salt.  Chill for at least 1 hour prior to using.

For the cashew sour cream, if you have soaked your cashews, drain them well.  Add them, the 1/2 cup water, lemon juice, and salt to a small food processor & spin until completely smooth.  Taste for salt, lemon, & consistency.

Heat your oven to 350 F & lightly oil a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.  Get the water started heating for the pasta.

Sauté the onions in the oil on medium heat in a large sauté pan for 5 minutes.  Add the next 5 ingredients (garlic – caraway seeds,) stir, and cover.  Cook until the cabbage is just tender, about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.  (If your stove is like mine, you may need to turn the heat down to med-low.)  Stir in the spinach and remove from heat.

Cook the pasta about 1 – 2 minutes less than your package directions, until barely tender.  (It will cook more in the oven.)  Drain well.  Place in a large bowl and stir in the sautéed veggies.  Add the next 5 ingredients (cottage cheese through black pepper,) stirring gently but thoroughly.  Taste for salt & other seasonings. Pour into your baking dish and sprinkle sunflower seeds evenly over the top.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Enjoy!  And please let me know if you give it a try! 😊

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 Gift of Rumi

All images in this post are from New Mexico

Why do you stay in prison
When the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Flow down and down in ever
widening rings of being
. ~Rumi

Recently, I watched Rumi: Poetry of the Heart, a short documentary in which teachers, historians, and American translators shared some important events from the poet’s personal life.  Eight hundred years after being composed, Rumi’s translated works are the best-selling poetry in the US. Among the many things we Americans choose to collect, this is truly a gift.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi was born in 1207 in present-day Afghanistan, at the time a part of Persia.  His father was a Sufi teacher, and immersed his son in the teachings of Islamic mysticism.  Upon his father’s death, Rumi, at 25 years of age, stepped into his father’s teaching role, amassing many followers.  Twelve years later, his life was changed by a wandering stranger, Shams of Tabriz, who challenged the scholarly educator with the idea of putting aside his books to experience the life in his teachings.  Shams is credited with inspiring Rumi to create many of the beautiful verses we know today.

Why should I seek?
I am the same as He.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!
~Rumi

According to Coleman Barks, an American translator who worked with a Sufi master for 9 years, Rumi’s sense of the Divine is the jewel-like quality of our inner awareness.  It is reflected in a baby’s smile, in natural beauty, and even in a group of friends sharing a meal.  

Years ago, I bought an exceptional recording, A Gift of Love: Music Inspired by the Love Poems of Rumi.  It’s one of those collections that requires more than one play – when I listen to it, I have to hear it again every day for a week or more.  I can’t describe how it opens my heart, elevates my spirit, and encourages me to ponder spiritual truths. This partial poem is from that recording:

From the beginning of my life
I have been looking for your face
but today I have seen it.
Today I have seen
the charm, the beauty,
the unfathomable grace
of the face
that I was looking for.
Today I have found you
and those who laughed
and scorned me yesterday
are sorry that they were not looking as I did.
I am bewildered by the magnificence
of your beauty
and wish to see you
with a hundred eyes.
My heart has burned with passion
and has searched forever
for this wondrous beauty
that I now behold. 
~Rumi

An opinion shared by all those featured in the documentary is the reason for Rumi’s modern popularity: truth.  The ways in which the poet intertwined spiritual truth and beauty speaks directly to the heart.

At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face against mine.
Breathe into me.
Close the language door and open the love window.
The moon won’t use the door, only the window.
~Rumi

Since first hearing his work, Rumi has been far and away my favorite poet.  I find it encouraging that the American population is embracing the writings of this ancient mystery tradition teacher.  Our culture’s need for love, beauty, and truth has never been greater.

Poetic 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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Interdependent by Design

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.  ~Thomas Merton

Merriam-Webster defines the term interdependence as the state of being dependent upon one another.  Examples are given for interdependent economies as well as little universes we call ecosystems.  On a macro level, coronavirus has shown us just how interdependent we all are.  On a micro level, the workings of this concept are not always as evident.

All photos in this post were snapped in California

For example, we humans host an ecosystem in our guts called the microbiome.  That community consists of trillions of microbes that help digest food, extract nutrients, build or diminish the immune system, and inform the brain.  The microbiome is interdependent with every other system in the body, a fact which should be considered when any kind of health issue or disease presents itself. 

Similar to our hosting of this internal ecosystem, Nature hosts humans within an external ecosystem.  We depend on soil, plants, the ocean, and animals for our basic needs.  Soil, like our microbiome, is an ecosystem unto itself.  The life in our soils determine the health of our plants.  (Read about our struggling soils here.)  Plants release oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and have the ability to clean our toxic wastes.  Our oceans’ seaweed is responsible for producing even more oxygen than land plants.  (Both rainforests and oceans are referred to as the lungs of the planet.)  Animals play an important role in controlling the population of other animals as well as inhibiting plant overgrowth. And domesticated animals, as you know, can provide us with wonderful companionship and unconditional love.  By caring for all of life, we are interdependently supporting the soil, plants, oceans, and animals that sustain us.

In her book Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Life and Its Environment on the Early Earth, microbiologist Lynn Margulis writes about an important process undertaken by ancient bacteria.  About 2 billion years ago, she explains, bacteria covered our planet.  To complete their life processes of respiration, photosynthesis, and fermentation, they utilized natural resources alongside other bacteria.  When the number of bacteria increased, forcing resources to go further, the bacteria found themselves in crisis. Their once peaceful ways of living changed, fueled by the fear of scarcity.  Many of them struggled.  (Does this remind you of the human story?) Because it became evident that none of them would survive if this competitive way of living continued, they realized the need for interdependence.  Due to making a shift which was better for all, their kind is still around today, living in cooperatives known as nucleated cells. 

The interdependence of biological systems offers strong evidence for intelligent design. They function synergistically in such a way that the sum of their actions is greater than the addition of separate, individual actions. ~CreationWiki

We were intelligently conceived to thrive in cooperation with all forms of life, including soil, plants, other animals, the ocean, and all of humankind.  Now more than ever, understanding the concept of our interdependence with the whole, and living in a way that honors it, is needed to ensure our perpetuation on the planet.

Blessings for Embracing Interdependence,

Lisa

The original version of this post was shared in November of 2020.

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 Gift Economy

When I was a small girl in the Southern US, my Grandmother kept a sizable vegetable garden, a large number of chickens, a few cows, and several pigs. My memories of time in the garden and with the animals outnumber any others from those days.  I befriended one of the chickens, actually a rooster, who would sit in my lap & allow me to pet him.  And I helped slop the hogs many evenings, although I never got too close to them or the cows, for fear of being bitten or stepped on.

A bounty recently shared from a neighbor’s harvest

When it came time to harvest, some vegetables were canned or placed in my granny’s deep freeze, and some went to family members, neighbors, and friends.  This sharing also took place when one of the animals was slaughtered.  And folks were always bringing by free baskets of beans, corn, apples, berries, and jars of freshly made jam.  I didn’t know I was witnessing a gift economy; that’s just the way things were done.  

In a recent essay in Emergence Magazine, Robin Wall-Kimmerer, State University of NY Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology and the Founder and Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, considers a similar gift economy as she’s picking Serviceberries, also called Juneberries.  These unique fruits are enjoyed not only by her and her neighbors, but also many other citizens. It is a preferred browse of Deer and Moose, a vital source of early pollen for newly emerging insects, and host to a suite of butterfly larvae—like Tiger Swallowtails, Viceroys, Admirals, and Hairstreaks—and berry-feasting birds who rely on those calories in breeding season, she writes.

Kimmerer names the essential gifts received by the tree in return for this bounty of sweet berries, stating its economy is based upon reciprocity rather than accumulation, where wealth and security come from the quality of relationships, not from the illusion of self-sufficiency. Without gift relationships with bees and birds, Serviceberries would disappear from the planet.  All flourishing is mutual, she sets forth.

Wildflowers in Kachina Peaks Wilderness, Northern Arizona

Generosity is a major theme of the essay.  In past posts including The Generosity of Plants and Wildflowers: Resilience, Beauty, & Grace, I have written about benefits of altruism in the plant world.  And human studies show that generosity can boost immune function, reduce stress, improve mental health, and prolong life.  

I am blessed to be a part of a gift economy with a small group of neighbors & friends, with whom I exchange garden veggies, nuts, farmers market picks, flowers, holiday goodies, and help with snow removal & cat sitting. They are always willing to lend a helping hand, and vice versa. But since childhood, I have seen less and less of this good-hearted reciprocity.  I believe the inflation and short supply of goods and services (in the US) brought about by covid has resulted in a population consumed with thoughts of scarcity.  But must fear prevent us from establishing a strong, loving community?  

Kimmerer has the perfect antidote for this fear: naming the world as a gift.  She explains: Conceiving of something as a gift changes your relationship to it in a profound way.  She gives an example of a hat knitted by a beloved auntie vs. one bought at a store, saying that you’re much more likely to take better care of the hand-knitted one because it is knit of relationships. She continues, this is the power of gift thinking. I imagine if we acknowledged that everything we consume is the gift of Mother Earth, we would take better care of what we are given.  To name the world as gift is to feel one’s membership in the web of reciprocity. It makes you happy—and it makes you accountable.

Reading Kimmerer’s essay makes me even more appreciative of those practices from my formative years, based on the infinitely renewable resource of kindness, which multiplies every time it is shared rather than depreciating with use, in her words.  (To sample more of her writing, check out my post Does the Earth Love You?)

I hope your heart, like mine, has been opened by sharing in Kimmerer’s knowledge and ideas.  May our inspiration and collective willingness to participate more fully in a gift economy be spurred to create a kinder world. 

Blessings for Shared Abundance,

Lisa

All flourishing is mutual. ~Robin Wall-Kimmerer

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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Aspects of Autumn

If I were a bird, I would fly about the Earth seeking the successive autumns. ~George Eliot

Fall hasn’t always been my favorite season.  As a kid, I loved Summer, when school was out, more than any other.  (Maybe that’s true for everyone?) As I got older, vibrant colors & cooler temperatures started having a stronger pull on me.  Now in the hottest of the hot days of Arizona’s summer, I long for the gentle qualities of Autumn.

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials
and let loose the wind in the fields.

Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them just two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will not build one.
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time,
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Dr. Vasant Lad, the Ayurvedic Physician largely responsible for bringing Ayurveda to the US, says that the autumnal change that happens in Nature also occurs in the human body.  Trees pull in energy from their leaves which results in their coloring & eventual falling.  In a similar manner, the human body pulls in energy, which can result in a feeling of ungroundedness as well as insomnia, dry skin, painful joints, constipation, bloating, and ringing in the ear.  Moisturizing from both the outside & inside is necessary to help with these maladies.  In this clip, Dr. Lad shares methods for applying moisturizing oils and explains how they benefit us.  During this cold, dry Vata season, we also benefit from eating heavier, sweet, and cooked whole foods, including soups with warming spices, and avoiding raw foods.

I notice that Autumn is more the season of the soul than of nature. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Because this is my second post on this gorgeous season (go to this link for the first), I simply want to share some of my favorite things about Fall.  

Nature’s colors are at the top of the list, but not just those of the leaves.  I also enjoy the many shades of gourds that appear at the market this time of year.  And I’ve seen brilliant hues of wild mushrooms on recent hikes.

We don’t eat many desserts, but Autumn finds me making more sweet treats.  Same goes for foods like casseroles, baked ziti, and stuffed veggies.

Just the thought of apple cider (which I’ll make at home this year for the first time) and chai (see my recipe here) make me warm!  I feel these spiced concoctions are musts for the season.  And they can make the house smell delightful for days!

I love wearing beanies, scarves, and boots.  Even if I don’t don a coat, these 3 are essentials for me in cooler months.

And who doesn’t love the holidays?!  Planning what foods to cook, considering invitations, cards, and gifts – I look forward to these preparations each year.  And we always take a winter vacation, usually on the Atlantic or Pacific Coast. When going someplace new, my planning includes reading guidebooks to make sure we don’t miss anything!

Sidewalk art

As long as autumn lasts, I shall not have hands, canvas and colors enough to paint the beautiful things I see. ~Vincent Van Gogh

I hope your heart, like mine, is filled by the joy and beauty this glorious season imparts. And I wish you the good grace to embrace & work with the changes it brings in mind and body.  

Warmest Fall Blessings,

Lisa

This little guy is at the top of a large bush trying to get to the bird feeder after we lubed the pole to prevent him & his buddies from climbing up & emptying it!

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 Ideas to Reduce the Cost of Travel

An unusually gentle view of the California coast

Other than airfare, (which, unfortunately, has gone through the roof over the past couple years) lodging is usually the biggest expense when traveling.  Hotel stays are pretty pricey, so unless you have friends and family all over or a home on wheels, you might be finding the cost of traveling prohibitive these days.

Just as the fog burns off

There are alternatives.  With an open mind and a sense of adventure, you can still enjoy exploring new lands without paying an arm and a leg.  And you will come home with stories unlike any you’ve shared in the past!

Redwoods

Below you will find some of my best suggestions.

  1. Sleep in your tent.  There’s nothing quite like sleeping outside, with only a thin sheet of material between you and the stars (and a queen-size inflatable mattress between you and the ground!)  Through the years, I’ve stayed in my tent at State and National Parks, as well as on Public Lands.  Hiking new trails each day, photographing extraordinary Nature scenes, building sweet-smelling campfires at night, and listening to the gentle thump of raindrops before falling asleep are a few of the wonderful memories I’ve collected.  There is usually a small fee for a campsite, and, if not reserved in advance (which can be done online at the Park’s website), they are typically first-come-first-serve.  
  2. Stay in a hostel.  Fellow hostelers are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  I bunked with a young woman at a San Francisco hostel who later hosted me at her home in Germany, and a gal from London whom I got to know at a Kanab, Utah hostel met up with me in Paris, where we stayed in, yes, a hostel.  You can opt for a private room (the most expensive option, but still a fraction of the price of a hotel room) or a shared dorm room (the least expensive.)  Everyone shares the living area & kitchen.  Sometimes you share a bathroom.  Often, a hostel stay will include the opportunity for tours, various activities in a game room, and even food for purchase.  I recommend reserving your stay directly or through HostelWorld.com.
  3. Teach English as a foreign language.  Although I didn’t try this one, I came very close.  I researched a position in Chile & was learning Spanish through Rosetta Stone.  (Before committing, I decided that I was much more excited to explore the western half of this country.) However, I have a friend who taught EFL for many years, working in countries in Europe and the Middle East.  She loved the experience and is still in contact with many of her students.  If you’re interested, The TEFL Academy is a reputable organization.
  4. Do a different kind of work exchange.  I’ve participated in work exchanges twice in California and once in Upstate New York.  At Esalen in Big Sur, I paid a reasonable amount in addition to working part-time for room, board, and classes.  At Ratna Ling in California’s redwoods, room and board were payment for my 6-day workweek.  At Omega Institute, which is 90 minutes north of NYC, I worked 32 hours a week and received a small stipend in addition to room, board, and classes.  Check out CoolWorks.com to see the wide variety of possibilities available.
  5. Stay at an ashram, mission, or monastery.  Again, this is not something I’ve done, but looked into & met folks who’ve experienced it.  (And I have every intention of staying at the ashram in Taos, New Mexico at some point!)  This type of stay is not for everyone, as it is often necessary to observe periods of silence, keep your shoulders covered, or other protocol.  But costs are minimal, and you can often work in the kitchen or garden to offset part of your stay.  For more information, call directly or check out a few monasteries at this link.
The waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

There is a world of reasonable lodging options available to the traveler willing to try something new and different.  Don’t let today’s high prices of most everything keep you from visiting new destinations.  Look into some of these alternative ideas, or explore some of your own.  Happy traveling! 

Traveling south from Big Sur

Blessings for Traveling on the Cheap,

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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Kitchen-Crafted Broth

This broth would be great in my bok choy souprecipe here

I recently had a conversation with a member of my climbing gym’s staff about making broth.  (Yes, I’ll talk about food & nutrition with anyone!)  His version, which calls for fresh vegetables, sounded delicious.  My recipe is a bit different, using leftover pieces of veggies collected & frozen over a period of months.  And I have to say, it’s the best broth I’ve ever tasted.

I defrosted my bag of veggies, but it’s not necessary

I like using homemade broth over store-bought not only because it tastes so much better, but also because it helps keep those broth boxes from ending up in a landfill.  Good broth is essential in so many recipes, especially during the upcoming holidays.  Now’s a great time to start saving the scraps needed for a big batch.  I make it throughout the year so I’ll always have some on hand to use in soups, risotto, and casseroles.

It also works well with my Asian Veggie Noodle Soup – recipe here

Anytime I cook with mushrooms, I break off the (washed) stems and place them in a gallon bag kept in the freezer.  At some point, I’ll add the green parts from 2 leeks.  When the bag gets full after a few months, it’s time to make this yummy concoction!

Throughout history, a variety of these edible fungi have been used medicinally.  They are a good source of vitamins and minerals, and studies show that mushrooms can help protect the brain from cognitive impairment, boost gut health, and reduce cancer risk.

It’s gonna taste sooooo good!

My recipe was inspired by others that utilize a variety of food scraps, as well as my love for the taste of the water used to reconstitute dried mushrooms.  I hope you’ll find this broth as delightful as I do!

Ready to strain

Yield: 3/4 – 1 gallon, depending on the amount of water used

Ingredients (use organic or non-GMO if possible)
12 – 16 cups water (use less for a more concentrated broth)
1 gallon bag of mushroom stems
2 green parts of leeks (as part of the gallon bag)
Himalayan salt to taste

Directions
Place water in a large pot over high heat. Add frozen mushroom stems & leek greens. Put the lid on and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Remove from heat and add salt to taste.

Remove the stems and greens from the broth before straining, using tongs and a mesh dipper.  Set up a regular mesh strainer lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth over another large pot.  Pour the broth slowly so that it doesn’t pull down the sides of the cheesecloth.  

Use the broth immediately in the dish of your choice or freeze in glass containers for use over the next several months. Enjoy!

The finished product

I am not available for comments this week, but look forward to catching up with you next 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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Down by the Creek

All photos in this post were taken in or near the Wind River Range of Wyoming

I have always been irresistibly drawn to water, particularly creeks, streams, and brooks.  While road tripping, I’ve stopped to photograph them more than any other feature in Nature.  Their beauty can be breathtaking, nestled beside a mountain, surrounded by trees and wildflowers.  And the sound of the water running over the stones in the creek bed is one of the most soothing I know.  In fact, it’s the white noise I use to lull me to sleep each night.

Looking at a topographical map, the myriads of little creeks in the US look like a diagram of human capillaries, and are similar in that they also transport oxygen and other nutrients.  Only after spending time in the Southwest did I learn that in much of the desert, trees can be found only where water runs through the land.  That may seem obvious, but it never occurred to me when I was living full-time on the East Coast of the US, where trees are much more abundant.

I’ve heard many stories about funny happenings at creeks, and I have one to share.  Years ago, I met a new friend from Texas at a hostel in Northern New Mexico.  We enjoyed spending time under some ancient trees that shade a creek running behind the village’s few merchants. We once bought a bottle of wine to share on the edge of the water and took it out of the bag to realize we had no way of opening it.  There was a bar a short walk away, so I strolled inside and asked the bartender, whom we had befriended, to lend us a corkscrew.  Back by the creek, we tried in every way known to man to get that cork out of the bottle, but couldn’t get it to budge.  (If anyone was watching, I can imagine what a belly laugh they had!)  Embarrassed, we took the wine and the cork screw into the bartender who smirked while opening it for us.  We laughed at ourselves the whole time we were drinking it.

On a more serious note, there is a little stream I crossed at least twice each day for a month when I did a work-study program at Esalen Holistic Institute in Big Sur, California.  It was canopied by trees and had a small wooden foot path. I often passed someone meditating beside it on my way to or from classes or my work in the kitchen.  It is one of the most peaceful places I’ve known.

In Eastern Nevada, I once camped at Great Basin National Park.  I arrived early enough during the week to have my pick of campsites, and chose one with a brook running through the back.  I set up my tent close enough that I could hear the water babbling at night.  It is by far my favorite-ever campsite.

The unique beauty of Sedona, Arizona, is magnified by Oak Creek, a canyon stream that runs through much of town.  West Fork, a hike mentioned in my post Red Rocks on the Water, is among the area’s 400 miles of trails.  It’s very popular, especially in Spring and Fall, due to the many wildflowers and changing leaves that flank the creek, which the trail crosses many times.  Fallen logs and small boulders form the paths across the water, and can be quite the challenge.  But the water is pretty shallow for the distance of the hike, and the surrounding red cliffs and colored stones on the creek bed are gasp-worthy.  So what if you get your feet wet!

The sights and sounds of creeks, streams, and brooks bring me joy, entertainment, and peace.  And I’m certain I’m not the only one.  Do you have similar stories that you’re willing to share?

Blessings from the Creek,

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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Essential Oils: A Primer

Rose oil is one of the best for anti-aging

If you’re like me, you’ve been using essential oils for as long as you can remember without a clear understanding of how they work.  Over the years, I’ve read a little about them here and there and been inspired to try them for various issues.  The more I’ve used them and learned about them, the more I appreciate them.  Finally, I’ve taken the time to get a better understanding of the how and the why.

I find their history fascinating.  This write-up from The Essential Oils Academy shares from the beginning of recorded history, the plant kingdom has provided powerful extracts and essences that have been prized for their beauty-enhancing, medicinal, spiritual, aromatic, and therapeutic values.  There is evidence of plant elixir use in Egypt, Ancient Greece, and past- & present-day India, where they are a remedial element of Ayurveda. You will find mention of them in the Bible. They have even been utilized by physicians through the ages to treat soldiers during wartime.  And now in Europe and North America, their use is widespread.

Oregano oil is a powerful household cleaner & immune booster

If you’ll remember, in my post For the Love of Trees, I shared that plants emit an abundance of chemicals that benefit themselves as well as animals, including us.  Essential oils are a condensation of these phytochemicals as a result of distillation.  Because so much plant material is required to make them, the oils are super-concentrated, strong medicine.  (And sometimes quite pricey.)  

Essential oils are used in all kinds of products, from cleaners to insect repellants, body lotions, and face creams.  But even when we don’t apply the oils directly, their aromas can have profound impacts.

Essential oils of lemon & lime heighten mood

Years ago, I remember walking into a casino in Las Vegas and realizing I was being drenched in aromatherapy.  I read up on it, and learned that casinos began using these scents to increase profits in 1991.  Presently, every spot on the Las Vegas Strip has a proprietary scent that is constantly emitted from their ventilation system.  Scent marketing is now a multi-million dollar industry, also used in medical offices, retail stores, and sports stadiums to help us remember our visits as pleasant ones, encouraging our return.

How can the scent of these plant oils have such strong effects?  I was curious, too.  In The Ultimate Guide to Aromatherapy, Jade Shutes and Amy Galper elucidate: the olfactory tract sends nerve impulses to the limbic system, including the heavily-innervated amygdala.  The role of the amygdala in emotion, memory, and autonomic control directly ties olfaction to these primordial functions and adds complexity to the odor perceptual experience, they writeThat explains why scents from the past can take us back.  (For more on the power of smell, check out my post Smellscapes.)  

There are a number of essential oils made from conifer trees, and many have analgesic effects

The book is filled with information on specific oils and their benefits.  Many are anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging.  In my experience, a whiff of lavender oil can help with sleep.  A couple drops of peppermint oil on the hairline gets rid of headaches, and rubbed onto muscles, it eliminates or reduces pain.  I’ve also found diffusing eucalyptus while showering helps with a stuffy nose.  But that’s just scratching the surface.  There are oils used for healing wounds & various skin afflictions, reducing anxiety, increasing alertness, and helping with nausea.  (I would suggest adding the oils to an unscented lotion or carrier oil for application, doing a test patch before applying liberally, and reading up on possible effects on children and pets prior to using.  Also, make sure you’re purchasing oils that are organic if possible & sustainably-sourced.)

The little bit of digging I’ve done on essential oils has helped me to understand just how they have helped me through the years. I hope the information I’ve shared encourages you to try these phytochemical powerhouses, yet another of Nature’s gifts to us, in a variety of ways. 

Some of my favorite essential oils

Blessings from the Plant World,

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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Wildflowers: Resilience, Beauty and Grace

The Mesa in northern New Mexico, with the foothills of the Rocky Mountains & a Buddhist temple in the background

I must have flowers, always, and always. ~Claude Monet

I first fell in love with wildflowers on a trip to Taos, New Mexico.  The first few times I visited, drought conditions prevailed, and I remember hand-written signs hanging all over my little hostel encouraging water conservation.  But a couple years later, the drought ended, and I returned to discover a profusion of wildflowers in the northern part of the state: along roadways, in expansive fields, and surrounding rivers & canyons. It was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed, and my deep appreciation for these beauties was born.

Near Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

Since that time, I have become a seeker of wildflowers.  Anywhere I travel now, I look for them, even in small patches.  I believe their resilience and willingness to tenderly reveal themselves after sometimes years of drought is a spiritual act, one that we can reflect on and learn from.

Where flowers bloom so does hope.  ~Lady Bird Johnson

On a hiking trail inside Joshua Tree National Park in California

Not only do wildflowers delight our senses, they serve practical purposes as well.  According to an article from the US Forest Service website, wildflowers support entire ecosystems for pollinators, birds, and small animals. Butterflies and other insects, small birds, and animals depend on seeds, nectar, and pollen for their food supply and life support system.

Lupine among the aspens, alongside Kachina Trail in Northern Arizona

Like many parts of the Southwest, Northern Arizona is often strewn with wildflowers, especially during monsoon season.  An article from Mother Earth News, The Benefits of Growing Wildflowers, explains Wildflowers are as much the heartbeat of our planet as the oceans. All living creatures interact with wildflowers whether they know it or not. For 130 million years, wildflowers have blessed the earth with their amazing skill sets and stunning beauty. They freely bestow upon us a grace that helps sustain all of life.  Therefore, planting native species, the article goes on to say, is most advantageous. 

In the Mojave Desert, Southern California

The Amen of nature is always a flower. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Wildflowers are beautiful and beneficial miracles of Nature.  They help ensure the survival of pollinators, and therefore, humans.  We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their willingness to reveal their tender beauty, sometimes after years of being dormant, in an effort to help sustain life on our planet.

On the coast of Big Sur, California, with a very vocal little bird!

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy to have such things about us. ~Iris Murdoch

Wildflower Blessings,

Lisa

The original version of this post was one of my most-liked from 2020. Thanks for (re)reading! 🌞

Next Thursday, September 15th, Marsha from Always Write and I are co-hosting a blogger meet-up at a restaurant in Mayer, Arizona, near Prescott Valley.  If you can meet us for lunch (& lots of fun!) please RSVP to one of us.  Hope to see you there!

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 Extraordinary Benefits of Going for a Walk

Walking along Coastal Maine under overcast skies

For years, I’ve read about the many advantages of walking, and I’m sure you have, too.  Among its plethora of benefits, it improves endurance, helps with hydration, burns calories, increases longevity, and reduces the risk of many chronic illnesses.  It’s a great activity to continue into advanced age, or to incorporate into any work-out routine.  And recently, I discovered it has some unusual perks that I want to share with you.

Strolling among waterfalls in Upstate New York

  1. It helps our skin look younger.  A study from Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark found that exercise, including regular walking, stimulates collagen and elastin production and improves skin’s thickness.  These benefits work together to make skin more wrinkle-resistant.
  2. It helps curb our desire for sweets.  From this Harvard Health write-up: research confirms that walking can reduce cravings and intake of a variety of sugary snacks.  A great reason to stroll after dinner!
  3. It gets us out of worrisome thinking patterns.  In his book In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration, renowned Dublin neuroscientist Shane O’Mara writes (walking) sets our thoughts free.  Further, he says it is a holistic activity. Every aspect of it aids every aspect of one’s being, including our disposition.
  4. It stokes the fires of creativityStanford University research shows that creativity improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter.  Maybe that’s the reason some of us pace when we’re trying to work out a problem.
  5. It can become your daily meditation.  For the first few minutes, take it slow and be mindful of every step, each pebble underfoot, and the presence of the sun’s warmth on your face.  For more info on walking meditations, check out this link from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.
Meditative walk on a beach in South Carolina

Of course, ambling alongside a creek, in a forest, canyon, or amongst wildflowers multiplies these benefits and adds many others.  But you knew that already!

Now you have even more reasons to take that daily walk.  The advantages above assist us in reaching greater potential.  So what are you waiting for?!

View of the Atlantic Ocean & the South Florida coast at the end of a long pier walk

Blessings for Happy Strolls,

Lisa

On Thursday, September 15th, Marsha from Always Write and I are co-hosting a blogger meet-up at a restaurant in Mayer, Arizona, near Prescott Valley.  If you can meet us for lunch (& lots of fun!) please RSVP to one of us.  Hope to see you there!

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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Adieu, Covid Weight

Meet Izzy. She likes to hide from me!

Over the past 2 1/2 years, our lives have changed dramatically.  We’ve been subject to higher levels of stress & fear, experienced unprecedented loss, and spent more time at home.  In this post, I shared that internet searches for weight loss info increased significantly just months after covid became prevalent, at the same time sales of comfort foods escalated.  I think many of us have gained a few pounds since first learning of covid-19, and I am no exception. 

She enjoys hunting from the windows.

As we get older, biological changes can make it more difficult for us to lose weight, as you may well know.  That is a motivating factor for me to quickly eliminate my covid weight.  And I want to share with you the steps I am taking, in case you’d like to make the journey with me.  (These are in addition to caring for my gut’s microbiome, as detailed in my post Little-Known Weight Loss Strategies.)

Izzy maintains her trim figure by being very active. (And she loves her box collection!)

  1. I’m utilizing Ayurveda to a greater extent.  (To learn some basics of Ayurveda, the world’s oldest healing tradition, check out this post.)  Due to having a lot of Pitta (fire) in my constitution, I’ve started taking an Ayurvedic herb called amla & eating more bitter foods, both of which act to cool body heat and help with detoxification, a necessary component of weight loss due to toxins being stored in fat.  
  2. I am eating less at a slower pace.  Chewing longer has become a focus.  And when I first get the slightest indication I’m full, I stop eating.  Hara hachi bu, a Confucian teaching meaning eat til you’re 80% full, is the principle I’m utilizing here.  It’s a big change for me to be fully present while eating, because I’ve always eaten while doing other things.
  3. I am eating all meals within a 7 – 8 hour window.  Eating in this manner, i.e., between the hours of 10 am & 6 pm, gives ample time for proper digestion before I go to bed.  This allows my energies to be directed to relaxation, brain drain, and other biological activities that are meant to occur during sleep.  This window also works to allow for autophagy, a process whereby old, damaged, & diseased cells are destroyed, which serves not only weight loss but also overall health.
  4. I am more active.  In addition to my workout routine, I am cleaning closets, organizing cabinets, pulling weeds, trying new recipes, having more fun with my kitty, and being more social.  Staying busy with these activities burns extra calories & helps me sit less.  (As much as I love reading, watching documentaries, and spending time on my laptop, too much sedentary time can easily lead to weight gain and other unhappy consequences.) And according to data from Blue Zones, the longest-lived populations in the world, regular activity throughout our lives is a key to maintaining a leaner build.
  5. I am getting more restResearch shows that insufficient sleep triggers brain chemicals that induce hunger.  In his book The Healer Within: Using Traditional Chinese Techniques to Release Your Body’s Own Medicine, Dr. Roger Jahnke shares a method that knocks me right out when I’m having a hard time falling asleep.  A few short minutes spent massaging my ears, hands, & feet transports me to dreamland!
She does lots of cool yoga poses.

I am counting on these practices to boost my weight loss efforts.  I hope they will work for you, too.  May our collective future hold much less stress, fear, and restriction.  And may we experience it without carrying those pesky covid pounds!

Blessings for Losing the Excess,

Lisa

On Thursday, September 15th, Marsha from Always Write and I are co-hosting a blogger meet-up at a restaurant in Mayer, Arizona, near Prescott Valley.  If you can meet us for lunch (& lots of fun!) please RSVP to one of us.  Hope to see you there!

She’s always worn out at the end of the day.

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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Quick & Easy Monsoon Pasta

Rain is falling steadily outside and has been for hours.  The temperature has dropped about 15 degrees since it started and I’m certain there’s a touch of Fall in the air.  It’s time for a simple but warm & filling pasta dish.

I came up with this formula years ago. The inspiration came from a recipe in an old cookbook that involved both boiling and sautéing vegetables.  Because I’m always looking for ways to minimize cleanup, this delicious dish came into being.

The pine nuts were a late addition to the recipe.  I really like the crunch they contribute.  Plus, they are rich in vitamin E, healthy fats, essential minerals, and B vitamins.

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, and if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I often touch on the advantages of the cabbage family.  In last week’s post, I shared how they play a huge role in our anti-aging efforts.  In my Glazed Autumn Bake recipe, I mentioned the fact that the more crucifers you eat, the more you benefit, whereas most veggies have a ceiling.  And my post on Allergies reveals they contain quercetin, a pigment with anti-allergic functions.

The olive oil in this recipe is not heated, so its health-giving properties are higher than oil that is used to sauté.  And the touch of crushed red pepper adds a pungent quality that stimulates circulation and really brings all the flavors together.

Enough talk, let’s get on with the recipe!

Yield: 3 – 4 servings

Ingredients (use organic or non-GMO whenever possible)
6 heaping tbsp almond meal
1 heaping tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp Himalayan salt (or more to taste)
————————————————————-
1/4 cup pine nuts
10 oz pasta
2 medium potatoes, unpeeled, diced small
1 large head broccoli, cut into medium florets
mineral salt to taste
1 – 2 tbsp good olive oil
crushed red pepper to taste
parmesan sub as desired (recipe below)

Directions
Prepare the vegan parmesan by combining almond meal, nutritional yeast, lemon zest, & salt in a small bowl and mix well. Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.

Toast the pine nuts in your pasta pot over medium heat for just a few minutes, tossing with a wooden spoon, until most of them have a nice tan color.  (Don’t walk away from them; they can go from having no tan to being burnt very quickly!)  Set aside.

Carefully wipe out the pot (remembering it’s hot) and add a good amount of water – maybe 3 cups more than if you were cooking pasta only.  Salt the water, cover the pot, & bring to a boil.  Add the pasta, setting your timer a for few minutes longer than usual.  (For example, my gluten-free pasta normally takes 12 minutes, so I set the timer for 15 minutes.)  At about 2/3 of the way through cooking (so, at the 10-minute mark for my example), add the potatoes.  Three minutes later, add the broccoli.  Boil until the pasta & broccoli are al dente and the potatoes are just soft.  Taste all 3 for salt, adding more to taste.  Drain.

Divide the pasta and veggies between bowls.  To each, add a drizzle of olive oil, a bit of crushed red pepper, and the parm sub to taste.  Enjoy, both the meal and the light clean-up! 

I won’t be around for comments this week, but I look forward to catching up with you next week! Have a great weekend! 😊

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 to Reverse Aging

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Arizona

Finally, the search is over: the fountain of youth has been discovered.

As much as some of us would like to, we cannot reduce our chronological age, the number of years we’ve been on the planet.  But our biological age, also called our functional age, is determined by lifestyle and can be defined as the age your body acts, according to a Healthline articleIf you’re a 28-year-old who doesn’t exercise, eats high-fat foods, and has smoked for the last 10 years, it’s likely you have a biological age of greater than 28 years, the document explains.  And the opposite is true as well: if you’re a 60 year old who stays active, physically and mentally, eats and drinks in a way that benefits your overall health, and gets plentiful rest, your biological age could be 40- or 50-something.

Arizona’s Mazatzal Mountains

A Pub Med research manuscript elucidates: Key hallmarks of biological aging have been defined by a feed forward loop, where cellular damage accumulation is progressive and ongoing over the lifespan. This gradual accumulation of damage results in alterations to molecular machinery and the eventual failure of cells to perform their functions.  However, the aging biology mechanics are modifiable through lifestyle interventions.

Look closely & you’ll see a myriad of saguaro cacti

What are some of these lifestyle interventions?  I’ll share 6 biggies.

  1. Get adequate rest.  You know how poorly a bad night’s sleep can cause you to feel.  Research is accumulating on sleep’s effects on long term health & longevity.  In fact, a National Institute of Health paper indicates sleeping 5 or fewer hours per night is consistently associated with increased risk for premature development and progression of age-related conditions (e.g., type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease.)
  2. Exercise regularlyThis includes stretching for fascia support, cardio for maintaining a healthy heart & weight, strengthening to avoid muscle mass loss & help keep bones strong, and balancing for protection from falls.  Becoming inactive, which many of us inadvertently do as we get older, can increase the aging process.  (See my post Why Is Sitting the New Smoking? for more on that.)
  3. Eat more broccoli.  As well as Brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, and other cruciferous veggies.  They are rich in sulfur compounds that increase production of glutathione, a super-antioxidant that our bodies naturally produce less of as we age.  This powerful free radical scavenger slows the aging process by assisting with immune function, cognitive ability, skin elasticity, and inflammation, this Frontline Alternative write-up sets forth.
  4. Consume fewer processed foods and drinks.  A Frontiers in Pharmacology report warns us that a diet with low amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts, and an excess of foods such as ultra-processed grains and sugar-sweetened beverages is the leading contributor to chronic disease risk.  And chronic diseases can result in daily pain and lethargy.
  5. Take care of your brain.  By taking on new challenges, whether traveling, doing puzzles, picking up a new hobby, or learning a foreign language, your brain continues to form new synapses.  And make good hydration a priority; a study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience established there is a direct link between chronic dehydration and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. 
  6. Spend time with friends & favorite family members.  A US News & World Report article points out that the number of social interactions in a day improves life expectancy, even in people with heart disease and colon cancer.  Sharing time with others can increase our tally of smiles and laughter, causing us to feel more vibrant.

Ok, so you may never be a youngster again chronologically speaking, but your body can act like one.  It’s all a matter of tapping into the fountain of youth via healthy lifestyle choices.  And I believe that’s a worthy endeavor, wouldn’t you agree?

Blessings for Reversed Aging,

Lisa

I won’t be around for comments the next couple weeks, but I look forward to catching up with you afterwards! 🌞

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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Tough Love

All photos were taken inside Yosemite National Park in California before devastating wildfires began frequenting the area.

Warning: this is not my typical post.  It may be hard to read.  It was certainly difficult to write.  I don’t want to believe what I’m about to share.  But I do.  I must.  We all must.

Global warming is changing us.  We occasionally recognize it in the form of severe flooding, a killer heat wave, or a hurricane that is amongst the largest, strongest & most devastating we’ve seen.  But we are quickly headed toward a time in which these and other climate-related catastrophes will be the norm.  Because our civilization is doing so much harm so fast, the bits and pieces of news we receive about it are often outdated.  And, as for the 2016 Paris Agreement’s goal of maintaining a global temperature of less than 2 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels, we are already over 1 degree warmer.  More damage has been done over the past 30 years than in all the rest of humanity’s history.

As human beings, we are vulnerable to confusing the unprecedented with the improbable. In our everyday experience, if something has never happened before, we are generally safe in assuming it is not going to happen in the future, but the exceptions can kill you.  Climate change is one of those exceptions. ~Al Gore, Former US Vice-President & Environmentalist

David Wallace-Wells is a journalist who has written extensively on climate change for New York Magazine, The New York Times, The Guardian, and authored the book The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, published in 2019.  To summarize some of the ideas in his book, if your primary concern is rising sea levels brought about by the melting of the polar ice caps, you should know that there are much more damaging effects in store.  All that Arctic ice has kept who-knows-how-much carbon, the main driver of global warming, out of our atmosphere for thousands of years.  It has also served to contain bygone diseases, keeping them dormant.  Less ice means less reflection of the sun, contributing to even more heat.  Increased temperatures can result in more frequent drought, full desertification of some areas, and decreased crop production.  Fossil fuel particulate pollution will further contaminate our air & waters.  Due to large swathes of land becoming uninhabitable from rising sea levels and sweltering heat, millions may be forced to migrate.  And the likelihood these challenges will culminate in increased conflict, both locally and worldwide, is very good.  What’s more, continued warming can make the whole of the earth inhospitable to humans, bringing us to extinction.

According to a recent policy paper from Australia’s Breakthrough – National Centre for Climate Restoration, there’s a good chance society could collapse as soon as 2050 if serious mitigation actions aren’t taken in the next decade (meaning prior to 2030.)  Climate scientists are known to consistently underestimate the severity of what is actually happening, the paper warns.

In a short TED talk, David Wallace-Wells suggests paradigm-changing solutions.  He explains science isn’t stopping us from taking action, and neither is technology. We have the tools we need today to begin. Of course, we also have the tools we need to end global poverty, epidemic disease, and the abuse of women as well. Which is why more than new tools, we need a new politics, a way of overcoming all those human obstacles — our culture, our economics, our status quo bias, our disinterest in taking seriously anything that really scares us. Our shortsightedness. Our sense of self-interest. And the selfishness of the world’s rich and powerful who have the least incentive to change anything. 


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Mead, Cultural Anthropologist

So, what can you and I do?  First of all, we can stop hiding behind the idea that we’re helpless.  Examine your choices around activities like eating, shopping, & vacationing, and make changes in ways, big & small, that will result in the wealthy elite benefiting less from your dollars.  Don’t vote for political candidates who deny climate change or support environmentally unfriendly industries.  If you must continue to eat meat, eat less of it, and buy only from companies that don’t utilize factory farms.  Plant more trees, flowers, & shrubs, and grow your own food.  Contribute your time or money to environmental causes.  Learn & practice indigenous ways.  Challenge your family to discover ways to live more sustainably.  Strike up tough conversations about global warming with friends.  Teach your children and grandchildren the importance of living in a manner that embraces all of life.  Write letters to your congress person, or the editor of your newspaper or favorite newsletter.  Blog about it.  Bring it up on Facebook and Twitter.  Share this write-up. 

Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air or drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. ~Carl Sagan

If you’ve read this entire post, congratulations and thank you.  It’s difficult to read about things that make us uncomfortable.  But the truth of these impending dangers can no longer be ignored, denied, or sugar-coated.  Some of the negative effects of global warming are already upon us.  Our individual lives and our society will suffer dramatically in upcoming years if we don’t begin to do things differently.

Blessings for Speedy Change,

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 Do You Mean “Holistic?”

I am saddened by the increase in wildfires ravaging our National Parks. These photos are from King’s Canyon in California’s Sierra Nevada.

If you are a tag reader like I am, you may have noticed all my posts include the word holistic. You may understand the concept, but my idea of it encompasses more than what’s normally considered.  For that reason, I’d like to take the opportunity to explain. 

First, I want to share a definition from the American Holistic Nurses Association:  Holistic health is an approach to life where the whole person is valued. Rather than focusing on specific parts, holistic health considers the person’s body, thoughts, emotions, spirit and interaction with others and the environment.  

All of our earliest healing traditions are holistic, including Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Traditional European Medicine.  Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, asserted, It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.  Modern Western Medicine began as holistic, but now, the majority of its practices involve addressing particular issues with little regard for the whole person. This tendency to compartmentalize helps explain the long list of side effects often associated with surgeries and medications.

There are some holistic therapies practiced in the US. They include acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology, massage, cupping, chiropractic care, and aromatherapy.  Even yoga and Tai Chi can be added to the list, making you your own practitioner.  And meditation is a holistic therapy that can get you in touch with the very ground of your being.

The American-born theoretical physicist David Bohm referred to his body as a microcosm of the macrocosm.  (Hmmmmm, where have I heard that phrase?)  In his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, he writes, We must learn to view everything as part of Undivided Wholeness in Flowing Movement.  I really like that idea.

The idea of interdependence plays a starring role in this philosophy.  (Read more on that in this post.) The health of everything in the human body, mind, and spirit is dependent on the condition of the whole.  Our interactions with and the well being of our Primal Mother are a huge part of that.  Some examples: we can become depressed with too little exposure to Nature. Our lungs can suffer from breathing toxic air. The liver can become stressed when our water is infused with chemicals. Our gut’s lining & microbiome can become dysfunctional as a result of eating foods that are grown from lab-modified seeds in nutrient-poor soils.  And due to our body’s internal interdependence, these health issues affect other organs, our blood, nervous system, energy levels, and attitude.

Making strides toward a more holistic lifestyle is important for all of us, both individually and collectively.  These are a few of my suggestions:

  • Ask for alternatives or adjuncts to medications or procedures.  If your physician is not open to – or knowledgeable of – natural approaches, maybe look for a new one.
  • Choose organic, non-GMO, fair-trade, & sustainable foods.  Entire forests are being destroyed for the purpose of producing the palm oil found in peanut butter and other foods.  (Alliteration unintended.)  Don’t buy it unless the label indicates it’s sustainably grown.
  • Avoid single-use plastics.  If not recycled, which is common, plastic can stay in a landfill more than 100 years before decomposing. If you purchase bottled water, buy it in glass or 2.5 gallon containers.  Better yet, take your own containers into a refill station each week.  And when you shop, use your own bags.
  • Stay away from unethical investing.  If you buy stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and the like, let your investment advisor (IA) know that you are interested only in ethical investments.  For example, you don’t want to put money into companies that exploit poor populations by paying pennies a day for labor (more unintended alliteration) or “benefit” from environmental destruction.  If your IA is ignorant of such practices (or claims to be) find one who is willing to make these concerns a priority. 

In general, I believe living holistically boils down to this: practicing what best serves your life while also choosing to do the right thing for the whole. In your process of making daily decisions, keep in mind our undivided wholeness, upon which we are all dependent for long, healthy, happy lives.

Holistic 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 Jewels of Imagination

All images display the imaginative work of wind and rain on sandstone inside Antelope Canyon

I’m just finishing the book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, by John O’Donohue, who was an Irish poet, author, priest, philosopher, and environmental activist.  His writings contain some of the most elegant, soul-stirring, thought-provoking prose I’ve read.  It’s hard to believe I’m just now reading him for the first time.

The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere – in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion and in ourselves.  When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming.  We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul. ~John O’Donohue

For me, this book is like none other.  I struggled to get through the first few chapters because I kept thinking about what I was reading as I was reading it.  That’s a lovely way to explain it.  Ohhhh, what a beautiful line!  Hmmmm, I’ve never thought of that . . . I would catch myself time after time, lost in thought with my eyes still moving across the page, with no clue of what I just read.  It was a challenge to stick with the reading until I got to the end of a paragraph or a page.  Ahh, the power of presence!

The imagination is always loyal to the deeper unity of everything.  It has patience with contradiction because there it glimpses new possibilities.  And the imagination is the great friend of possibility. ~John O’Donohue

I’m grateful I kept plugging away.  I discovered a chapter entitled Imagination: Beauty’s Entrance, and I’ve read it several times over.  I’d like to share a few of its points. (All quotes are from the book unless otherwise noted.)

  1. The imagination awakens the wildness of the heart. This is not the vulgar intrusive wildness of social disruption. It is the wildness of human nature. Otherwise, he explains, convention could make our single adventure of life into a programme of patterned social expectation. According to Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Jungian analyst and author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, our wild nature is present at birth, providing us with passion, playfulness, inner knowing, creativity, courage, and confidence, but the process of domestication can result in this innate quality devolving into something that feels improper.
  2. The imagination keeps the heart young. When the imagination is alive, the life remains youthful. Even near the end of life everything can come alive in new and unforeseen forms. This research from the Journal of Aging Studies explains that productivity, distinction, and anti-aging are major organizing principles for elders describing themselves as creatives.
  3. The imagination has no patience with repetition. We become interested in what might be rather than what has always been. Experimentation, adventure, and innovation lure us toward new horizons. In Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity, Julia Cameron writes, The soul thrives on adventure. Deprived of adventure, our optimism fails us. Adventure is a nutrient, not a frivolity. You might recall some of the reasons I am an adventure advocate from this post.
  4. The imagination offers wholesomeness: heart and head, feeling and thought come into balance. An awakened imagination brings the warmth and tenderness of affection into the life of thought; and it brings clarity and light of thought to the flow of feelings. As Mark Twain wisely stated, You can’t depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus.
  5. The imagination creates a pathway of reference for the visitations of beauty. It opens up diverse ways into the complex and lyrical forest of experience. To awaken the imagination is to retrieve, reclaim, and re-enter experience in fresh new ways. And in Kahlil Gibran’s masterpiece The Prophet, beauty is described as an ecstasy: a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.

The brilliance of John O’Donohue’s writing caused me to pause and reconsider blessings I’ve taken for granted, like these jewels of the imagination. I encourage you to explore his work, as well, to bask in its powerful, heart-opening, sacred practicality.

When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery, you return to rhythm with yourself. When you take the time to travel with reverence, a richer life unfolds before you. Moments of beauty begin to braid your days. ~John O’Donohue

Imaginative 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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Taste of Summer Wraps

Summertime heat can be searing in Arizona, even in the mountains of the northern part of the state.  Our intense sun makes me want to hike earlier in the day, have extra fluids at the ready at all times, and use the stove less!  The idea for these super-simple wraps came about on one of our recent scorchers.

Owing to its combination of flavors and textures, this wrap is bursting with freshness.  A couple of these tasty treats make for a nice lunch, picnic meal, or travel snack.  They’d also be great to put in your backpack before hitting the trail.

The assortment of colorful veggies in these wraps provide many benefits of eating the rainbow.  And raw veggies, as I explained in another summer recipe, are much more nutrient-dense, hydrating, and alkalizing than cooked.  Plus, if you serve these wraps with berries and green tea, you have covered all of the 6 tastes, which should leave you feeling satiated for hours.  

This recipe was inspired in part by this formula from Clean Eating Online.

Yield: 2 – 3 Servings

Ingredients (use organic or non-GMO whenever possible)
1/2 medium baked sweet potato
1/2 avocado
1 small shallot, chopped
1/4 tsp Himalayan salt, or to taste
4 – 6 butter lettuce leaves (or wraps of your choosing)
8 – 12 asparagus spears, trimmed
1/2 medium yellow squash, cut into thin strips
1/4 head red cabbage, sliced thin
1/4 bulb fennel, sliced thin
2 medium carrots, shredded
3 – 4 stems basil, leaves removed

Directions
Spin the first 4 ingredients (1/2 of baked sweet potato through salt) in a small food processor until smooth. Taste the sauce for salt, adding more if necessary.

Slather the sauce onto one side of each butter lettuce leaf. Add a bit of all of the veggies, making sure not to skimp on the fennel or basil. Roll up & enjoy this healthy, delicious creation! (Wrap in wax paper for taking on picnics, road trips, hikes, etc.)

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Five Life-Changing Gifts of Travel

Paris, away from the crowds

Before I started traveling extensively, I was showered with advice from friends and family. I received warnings like travel is dangerous, those people don’t like Americans, and you’ll be back home sooner than later. They all meant well, of course, but I’m not sure how many of them had done any traveling of their own, especially outside the country. In retrospect, I think they were giving me fear-based advice from what they had heard or assumed. Fact is, I’ve enjoyed all the places I’ve visited, and I’ve never felt ill at ease. Learning about new ways of life is fascinating to me. Exploring State and National Parks feeds my soul. Hiking and biking new country landscapes, towns, and villages puts a smile on my face that lasts all day. Seeing with my own eyes the ancient structures first glimpsed in the textbook of my college Renaissance Art and Architecture class thrills me. And the people I’ve met have been amicable, both the other travelers and the locals; they are always willing to direct me to the nearest cafe or train station, or help reorient me when I’m lost. My travel experiences have been nothing less than life-changing.

As a result, my advice is much different: I say you’re shortchanging yourself if you don’t travel! Of course, it’s never a bad idea to check for travel advisories, read guidebooks in advance, and be aware of your surroundings (which is true at home, as well.) But with good attention and preparation, the joy of travel can triumph over trepidation, even if you’re not part of a group. Below, you’ll find some of the reasons I feel travel can change our lives, individually and collectively.

Walkway to the Colosseum in Rome
  • Experiencing new places and cultures allows you to get to know some of the populations you’ve heard about in the news, thereby reducing fear. Aversion toward groups of people that are different from us is often rooted in fear. Being in a distant land, whether in your country or another, you learn that most people are fundamentally like you: they love their families, go to work, take part in community, walk their dog, prepare meals, and treasure their beliefs. It’s truly an affirmation of life to witness the similarities.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. ~Mark Twain

  • Travel is one of the best educational experiences available. While experiencing new lands, you may learn about their history, politics, religion, art, language, food, flora, fauna, geography, topography, and much more. You may gain a new understanding of why things are as they are in that part of the world. Additionally, you might be challenged to plan your train or bus route, communicate with native speakers, find a restaurant, or locate a merchant who sells good wine and crusty bread for a picnic or locally sourced souvenirs for the folks back home. Being outside your daily norm can really augment your brain activity.
Trattoria tables in an alley, Rome
  • Travel will broaden your appreciation of Nature. This planet is amazingly diverse and beautiful. During your travels, you may come upon trees, flowers, or animals you’ve never seen. You might be delighted by tiny islands, waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, green seas, or volcanos. The awe you feel in their presence could prompt you to be a better environmentalist for the benefit of future generations.

The world is full of wonderful things you haven’t seen yet. Don’t ever give up on the chance of seeing them. ~J.K. Rowling

Gargoyle on Notre Dame Cathedral poised to gobble the Eiffel Tower (before the devastating fire)
  • Travel changes your perspective on life in general. With a broadened worldview, you’ll find your conversations will change. You may read or hear news stories with a different understanding. Your spending habits may shift, after realizing the value of experiences over objects. Your beliefs may even become less rigid and situations may appear less black or white.
  • Finally, the benefits of travel don’t stop giving. The memories, photographs, knowledge, new ideas, and increased cognitive abilities experienced can be with you for a lifetime. Perusing travel photographs and journals, regardless of their age, always brings joy to my heart and a big smile to my face.
View from the Seine, Paris

With all these amazing gifts that are yours for the taking, there is only one thing to do – make a plan to travel. Every chance you get. For a month, a week, or even a weekend. In your country or elsewhere. You’ll return with an enhanced sense of what it means to be fully alive. As Mark Twain said, Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover. My sentiments exactly!

Travel Blessings,

Lisa

The original version of this post, Six Reasons to Gift Yourself with Travel, was published in June of 2020, making it one of my first. Thank you, as always, for reading. And if you’ve been around since the first version, thank you again!

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 Ways to Reduce the Stress You Didn’t Know You Have

Stress – it’s everywhere – in much of what we do, see, hear, and read.  Most of us think of stress as an external circumstance that affects us in a detrimental manner.  But we can have a lot of self-inflicted stress, as well, that can be just as harmful.

In a past post (Nature Interrupted), I addressed the idea of stressors that we don’t normally consider.  These include matters that deprive our body’s cells of what they need for normal functioning: inactivity, too little time in Nature, being a night owl, poor eating habits, dehydration, and time in unsuitable environments, whether at work or home.  And stress within a biological system, although it may go unrecognized, affects the entire human organism.

To reduce the stress you might be placing on your body, I’d like to offer a few suggestions.  I realize making change is not easy, so I’d recommend trying one of these once or twice a week.  In the words of the 70’s musician Robert Parker, A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.😊

  1. Take yourself on an active Nature date.  Research parks, trails, Nature preserves, and the like in your area and visit one to walk, run, cycle, do yoga, or practice Tai Chi.  This idea is borrowed from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, in which she proposes Artists Dates for sparking imagination and playfulness. When deciding where to go, Cameron writes, ask yourself ‘what sounds fun?’  You already know how much better you feel when you exercise; it makes your cells happy.  And an article in Science Daily explains that even 5 minutes of outdoor exercise boosts mental health.
  2. Go to bed earlier.  Our biorhythms have been tied to earth cycles since humans first appeared on the planet.  Burning the midnight oil is a modern expression often used as praise for one who works late into the night in the name of achievement.  But getting your sleep and wake cycles more closely aligned with the movement of the sun can help you achieve cellular rejuvenation, preventing premature aging, disease, and early death.  I’d say that’s more important, wouldn’t you?  (For more on this idea, check out this post.)
  3. Cook or make a healthy smoothie.  On a regular basis, refrain from restaurants & processed foods to try a new, healthy, easy-to-prepare recipe. This not only loads your cells with nutrients & helps diversify your gut’s microbes, it also ensures your creations are infused with love.  I have read that food preparation can be a spiritual practice, and your love & attention instills home preparations with benefits for the eater’s body, mind, & spirit. This is probably not the case at your local restaurant, and certainly not with food manufacturers. 
  4. Drink fruity water while soaking in a tub with Epsom salt.  Slice up a lemon or lime and drop into a big glass of water for sipping as you soak your feet – or your entire body – in a bath with this magnesium compound.  The citrus minerals and the magnesium in the bath contribute to deeply hydrating your cells.  And since water is needed for each one of the billions of chemical reactions occurring in your body each second, this is an act of profound self-generosity.
  5. Visualize a more positive life.  If you’re not loving your job, home, the state of your health, or your relationship, take some time to visualize in great detail a better situation.  An article in Psychology Today refers to visualization as a mental rehearsal used by such sports greats as Jack Nicklaus, Muhammad Ali, and Tiger Woods.  Over the years, I’ve read about “miraculous” physical healings occurring using this method, as well. Seeing, even in our mind’s eye, is believing, and our biology responds accordingly.

Unlike much of the stress in our external world, we can control many of our internal biological stressors.  Becoming mindful of the ways in which we can avoid inflicting harm on our personal organism can help our cells, and therefore our bodies, reach a higher level of being.

Blessings for Less Stress,

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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Can the 6 Tastes Improve Your Health?

Smoothie, anyone?

This is my third post on Ayurveda, a health system that originated thousands of years ago and is still in use by over 75% of the populations of India and Nepal. This approach to wellness is holistic in its entirety; emphasis is placed on finding and maintaining balance of mind, body, spirit, & environment. My first post is a simple overview of doshas to help you determine your constitutional type (kind of like your energetic fingerprint.) My second post shares tips on Ayurvedic eating practices, including enjoying all 6 tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, & pungent in each meal.  To some, this may sound woo-woo.  But the practicality of this balanced method can be profound, putting weight loss & better overall health within our reach.

A delicious plant based meal including the 6 tastes

Incorporating all 6 tastes into meals is ideal because it provides satiation, so it helps you steer clear of snacking.  This is due to the balance of fundamental elements (space, air, fire, water, & earth) in that taste combination.  You will find below the composition of each taste:

Sweet = Earth and Water
Sour = Earth and Fire
Salty = Water and Fire
Bitter = Air and Space
Astringent = Air and Earth
Pungent = Air and Fire

Kate Siraj, an Ayurvedic Practitioner in London, writes, We, as human beings, are also formed of the 5 principle elements and we need to maintain our bodies and minds in equilibrium.  It is thus easy to see why we need the correct balance of each of these tastes to keep us healthy.  If we eat primarily with only a few of the tastes, this carefully maintained balance within our set-up will be lost and we will become unwell.

Your spice cabinet is a treasure trove for your 6 tastes experience

A Yoga International article tells us that the tastes of sweet, sour, & salty are considered building: they build tissues, and are said to have more soft, wet, and heavy qualities.  (This helps to explain why much of the US population is overweight: these 3 tastes predominate our diets.)  The article goes on to say that the tastes of bitter, astringent, and pungent are considered lighteningthey are cleansing, stimulating, and help us to remove wastes.

Tasty summer salad with all 6 tastes

Cate Stillman, in her fantastic book Body Thrive: Uplevel Your Body & Your Life with 10 Habits from Ayurveda and Yoga, shares the outer ecosystem becomes your inner ecosystem through your senses.  The role of taste is paramount in this process because food provides the majority of the gut’s microbes, your primary determinants in health or disease.  Balancing the 6 tastes helps keep your inner ecosystem happy.  It allows you to avoid unhealthy cravings, Stillman explains.

I believe it is important to emphasize the idea of whole foods here, not processed or fast foods. Your body cannot be properly nourished by the 6 tastes unless they come from whole foods.  So, for the sweet taste, consider sweet fruits, rice, oats, corn, sweet nuts, sweet potatoes, carrots, and local honey.  Sour fare includes lemons, limes, green apples, star fruit, berries, & fermented foods.  Seaweed is a good salt source in addition to mineral salts.  Bitter foods include cacao, green tea, spinach, kale, sprouts, and spices like turmeric. Quinoa, lentils, beans, chickpeas, cranberries, rosemary, and nutmeg are astringent. And horseradish, ginger, garlic, onions, basil, allspice, coriander, and cumin fall into the pungent category.

Creating soups, stews, salads, and curries with a veggie or spice from each taste category is simple and so satisfying.  No recipe is required.  I’ve made a number of “kitchen soups” where I chop up a bunch of veggies and throw them in a pot with a selection of fresh herbs, spices, & sometimes grains, and the final product is always delicious. A little spice adjustment may be required when taste testing, but that’s part of the fun!

Making a fruit and vegetable smoothie is another way to enjoy the yummy, nourishing, hydrating potential of the 6 tastes.  My smoothies include local honey, a bit of lemon, spirulina, cacao powder, cinnamon, basil, and a zing of ginger in addition to apples, oranges, celery, cucumber, parsley, fennel, and spinach.

Choosing to eat in a balanced manner according to Ayurveda is a choice for better overall health. The six tastes are the perfect guideline.  Maintaining equilibrium of the fundamental elements of our bodies is a simple lifestyle change that can help us reach our weight loss goals and flourish.

Balanced 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 Reasons to Become a Master Gardener

Inside a local public garden

Back in the fall, I took an online Master Gardener class through the Cooperative Extension of the University of Arizona.  (I think I mentioned it to some of you.)  My goal was to learn to grow flowers and veggies here in Northern Arizona.  For years I’ve tried and failed in this lovely high desert environment where the climate is one of extremes.  On average, over 8 feet of snowfall, starting as early as October and ending as late as June, is followed by months of near single-digit humidity and frequent winds of 40 – 50 mph.  And then the monsoons arrive, providing the region with 40 – 50% of its total yearly precipitation in less than 3 months.  You might begin to understand the depths of my frustration!

During the class, I learned about the area’s many microclimates, the best ways to amend the soil, effective planting methods, organic weed & pest control, drought-resistant landscapes, composting, and much more, and now that I’m doing the required volunteer work, I’m gaining hands-on knowledge.  (To become certified, a minimum of 50 hours of volunteer work is required within 12 months after completing the course.)

My neighbor Andrew’s strawberry plant

According to the website of Washington State University where it all started in 1973, The Master Gardener program, which began as a response to a need for information on gardening and pest management, has evolved into a proactive partner with other agencies in addressing environmental and social issues covering such topics as integrated pest management, natural yard care, and low‐impact development, to name but a few.  Now, Master Gardener programs are available across the US, as well as in parts of Canada and South Korea.  As of 2018, there were over 86,000 Master Gardeners in this country alone, who volunteered over 5 million hours!

There are many advantages to becoming a Master Gardener (MG), and I’d like to share a few.

  1. Learn to grow your own food! – This is an obvious one, but it’s becoming more and more important, in my opinion. Each MG program is tailored to fit the region in which you live. (As you might imagine, gardening at lower elevations or in wetter environments is much different than tending plants in the high desert!) You know from my past posts that eating locally & seasonally is the best way to go and that working with the earth is healing. Plus, call me a weirdo, but I find it thrilling!
  2. Discover useful techniques – I have learned ways of working with plants that I’d never even considered! For example, walls of water are super-effective at absorbing and holding heat for keeping plants warm, whether outside or inside. You can buy small ones made from plastic for use around plants like tomatoes, or make your own to line the walls of your greenhouse by filling milk jugs with water.
  3. Gain a sense of accomplishment – I’m always in awe when a friend shares some of her/his tomatoes, peppers, or zucchini. Wow, you grew these? I am just waiting for the day I can proudly share my home-grown veggies.
  4. Meet new friends – I’ve noticed that as I get older, it’s not as easy as to make new friends. (And I’ve heard others say the same.) Since starting the MG program less than a year ago, I’m pleased to say I’ve already made happy connections with a few people that I believe will last.
  5. Become a part of a caring community – Again, in prior posts, I’ve shared how important it is to be a part of community. (Among other advantages, it improves mental health and increases longevity.) And, the MG community is not just any community; it is one whose members are passionate about working with the earth and sharing information for the benefit of everyone’s gardening efforts. Volunteering at plant sales, garden shows, and public gardens gives new MGs the opportunity to really feel like one of the gang.

My neighbor Andrew’s tomato plants

The act of becoming a Master Gardener has opened a beautiful new world to me.  I am super excited to be a part of this almost 50-year-old tradition. Hopefully, some of you will find its benefits appealing and you’ll want to join me.

Blessings from the Garden,

Lisa

My garden has little sprouts right now

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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Need a Reason to Get Away? Here You Go!

All photos in this post were snapped in California (I must do better at photographing the beach/ocean when in Florida!)

Do you remember vacations as a kid?  I can recall living for vacations.  My family would always go to the Gulf of Mexico and stay in a motel on Florida’s Panhandle.  We traveled to Flarda, as it’s pronounced in the South, to swim, lie in the sun, play in the surf, and deep sea fish.  My mom and grandma would prepare snacks and sandwiches when we went inside for a break from the heat.  Thinking back, I can still feel the crunch of sand under my feet as I walked barefoot inside the cool, dimly-lit room.  Anticipating those summer Nature escapes helped me through the humdrum of the school year.  Turns out, they were even better for me and my family than I could have imagined.

As I got older, things changed, and vacations became less frequent.  That seems to be the case for many of us.  The Center for Economic & Policy Research calls the US the No-Vacation Nation, referring to the fact that about 25% of American workers have no paid time off, and many who do are reluctant to take it due to workplace pressures.  I am well acquainted with that feeling from past positions – I even worked while eating lunch!

Not honoring our need to get away, however, can have dire consequences.  A study from the World Health Organization & the International Labour Organization reveals that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.  In 2016, according to their estimates, 745,000 deaths were attributed to longer working hours.  Yikes!

A Pub Med meta-analysis states vacation has positive effects on health and well-being, but these effects soon fade after work resumption.  Therefore, frequent mini-breaks should be considered, like long weekends camping at a State Park or even a single day away to hike or bike a new area.  

Vacations can improve mood and reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments that they associate with stress and anxiety, according to this article citing various studies.  Further, vacationing improves productivity and increases happiness; a win-win for employer and employee.

A write-up in the Journal of Positive Psychology asserts meditation and vacation may have overlapping effects, providing multiple pathways to boosts in mindfulness.  If you’ll recall my past post on mindfulness, I shared that this state of awareness is shown to bolster immune function, decrease chronic pain, and can help improve behavior in children due to enhanced emotional regulation.

Once we’ve returned from our glorious getaway, we feel more overall life satisfaction as a result of our detachment from work, relaxation, and mastery experience during vacation, a paper from the University of Massachusetts sets forth.  The last bit of that statement refers to our tendency to try something new while away – wind surfing, snow boarding, or simply exploring a new area to learn about its history or topography.  

Vacationing benefits your head, heart, life satisfaction, and longevity.  Making a regular plan to escape the everyday and enjoy the delights of Nature can have surprisingly positive impacts on you and your family.

Blessings for Time Away,

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 Made Simple

I recently listened to a podcast in which Dr. Zach Bush, an MD specializing in internal medicine, endocrinology and hospice care, was interviewed.  The subject was healing the mind, body, & spirit, and Dr. Bush, who is also well-versed on the role of soil and water ecosystems in human genomics, addressed it with his typical wide and deep approach.  He began the discussion with the attention-grabbing statement we have made a decision in Western civilization to outsource life because we are lazy and seeking convenience. Rather than getting up early to work our crops, we’d rather purchase those that have been grown by someone else and shipped to our local market.  We find it easier to pop a pill than to go for a swim or a long walk.  And why should we cook with so many options for take-out and frozen pizza? 

In line with the philosophy of this blogsite, Dr. Bush sets forth we are the result of soil, water, air, and the sunlight that animates it.  Therefore, the importance of clean eating, proper hydration, and time outdoors cannot be overemphasized.  Choosing seasonal, local, organic (or at least non-GMO) food is the most healing way to eat.  (Preparing meals from the organic veggies you’ve gardened is the pinnacle!)  Staying on top of your hydration needs is crucial since our body composition is about 2/3 water and each one of our billions of cellular processes requires it.  And time outside with trees, birds, breezes, and other natural sights, sounds, & scents provides joy and healing in abundance.  

In this and other interviews, I’ve heard the good doctor talk about the human immune system.  He says it’s not the war machine that many of us have been taught to believe. On his website, he writes the innate immune system is not fighting against nature, it’s an intelligent, dynamic, living mechanism connecting us to nature and keeping us in a balanced relationship with nature by promoting biodiversity— not eliminating it.  This explains, at least in part, why the diversity of gut microbes is so important.  This diversification can be driven by consistently trying new, healthy foods and limiting or avoiding things like alcohol and antibiotics. Additionally, visiting differing ecosystems, from the beach to a rainforest, river, desert, or waterfall, helps. Simply breathing the air in these varied natural environments brings new, healthy microbes into the body.

When asked which diet he thought was most beneficial for healing, Dr. Bush made a general recommendation of eating lower on the food chain, not just for the benefit of human health but also the health of the planet.  This suggestion points us toward eating more plants.  Plants often contribute to healing existing problems in the body.  And they absorb carbon and usually require less water and energy to grow as compared to most animal products that have a large carbon footprint. (Even if you are carnivorous, his advice to eat lower on the food chain applies to meats and seafood, as well.)

The interview was quite lengthy and covered a lot of ground, but in my opinion, Dr. Bush summed it up with the following statement: We are only as healthy as our connection to Nature. Seeking ease and convenience by outsourcing life short-changes our earthly experience, leaving our health lacking.  Strengthening the ties to our Primal Mother can be healing on every level.

Blessings for Simple Healing,

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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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 (meaning they occurred due to a preventable health condition.)  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.