Friday, March 30, 2012

This Spring - Herbify!

It's time to plan your garden or your pots for summer growing.  Herbs are becoming more popular as people learn more about them.  They are great for cooking, cleaning, aroma, medicinals, and beauty.  I can not possibly touch on the benefits of specific herbs here, there are so many, but I will discuss some general good information to use and be aware of in growing and using herbs.

What makes herbs so delicious, so healthy, and so aromatic are the essential oils they produce.  These oils are the plant's protection.  This is important to know, because in order to have good oils available in the plant, the plant has to grow well.  If you are buying a plant, a medicinal, or a sprig from the super-market, then you need to buy organic for the best flavor, aroma, and medicinal benefit.  Non-organics are almost always grown hydroponically, the water fertilized with man-made fertilizers, and the light artificial.  While the herb can grow in this setting, it is not ideal and therefore the very best of the plant is not made available to you, the consumer!

Herbs don't need a lot of care once you get them settled into a spot they love.  Most like sun, but some can tolerate some shade, check the specific needs of the plant.  Almost all herbs like a nice compost or sandy soil that drains well.  They like to have the soil around them dry.  That doesn't mean they don't need watering, but like the water to drain off the root system.  So make sure you have a well-draining pots, if using pots. They also like their space, so be sure to give them the room recommended.

How to use an herb is about as complicated and at the same time simple as it gets.  I say complicated because there are so many ways to use!  In many herbs, the leafy part is used for cooking and the root then used medicinally.  Or, both can be used for cooking.  Often, the roots are good for a certain type of remedy or flavor and the leaves and stems another.  Sometimes flowers are used as well. 

Herbs are best used fresh, but can be dried.  If you have a full harvest of an herb such as basil and can't use it all, chop it and put it in the food processor with some oil and then freeze in ice cube trays to be stored in plastic bags later.  This is as close to fresh as it gets!  I do this will most of my favorite cooking herbs.  Herbs can be steeped as teas (roots, leaves, stems, all!), added to flavor water and other drinks as a sprig.  The list goes on and on!  So many things you can do with the herbs you grow and yet not a lot of work goes into these uses!

In thinking about what herbs to grow, consider what you end up buying first.  I buy a lot of parsley, cilantro, and basil.  These 3 are terrible in dried form once you've had fresh and so I have to grow enough to get through the winter (in frozen form).  Others I grow for use are oregano, thyme, mint, dill, and chives.  Be careful with this list.  All have spread to areas where I don't want them and I have learned to contain as much as I can.  My dill from last year re-seeded itself and I literally have hundreds of tiny dill growing in my herb garden!

To harvest herbs, do so early when the oils are optimal, rather than when the bright sun sends the oils hiding.  You can store your cut herb sprigs in a cup or vase of water and cover loosely with a plastic bag to keep fresh in the fridge, if necessary.  Basil does not like the cool of the fridge, but most are fine in the fridge.

I recommend a book for medicinal uses, there are many.  My favorite expert on the subject is Dr.  T. Low Dog.  A great book for general use and really helpful planning is Herb Gardening From the Ground Up:  Everything You need to Know about Growing your Favorite Herbs.  Not ready to grow your own?  Many CSAs have herb and flower shares, farm markets have herbs readily available and of course, most super markets are carrying the most popular herbs in fresh source.

What fresh herb will you try?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day-Dreamer - Yah!

Day dreaming has often been maligned by our work-ethic culture.  But, some really successful companies are actually setting up space, encouraging time for, and asking employees to take time to day dream (google, Pixar, etc.).  Why?  Because it works!  Want to get more work done?  A good session of day dreaming just might be the answer or the time when the answer you are looking for comes.

There are 2 ways where we can find creative answers to problems, one is to work at it, down some caffeine, keep working at it, down more caffeine, get it, right?  Well, that only works if you are sort of feeling a sense of progress or you "know" somewhere in your gut that you are inching your way toward what you want to get to.  Jonah Lehrer shares the story of the guy who created the graphic for "I Heart New York" (insert a heart), rather than saying I Love New York which was the actual plan.  This guy created a design, but then kept working away at it, changing it slightly, doodling different ideas, and finally one day came up with that heart to replace the word love.  We all know where it went from there - everything there is to love in our culture now has an I heart ____ bumper sticker.

This kind of creative solution finding we, as a culture, are good at.  However, we are not good at an equally beneficial and possibly better method which is to take time to day dream.  You know how you search and search and search for your keys.  Where are they?!  You run through every possible logical place you can think of and then move to the illogical and still you don't know.  Giving up, you get into the shower and as your mind floats off to the pleasures of the warm water and the scrubbing of the scalp, suddenly it pops into your mind!  Now, you know where your keys are.

This is day dreaming.  Letting your mind wander off into unknown spaces creates new connections, allows memories, ideas and concepts that were never before connected in your mind to come together.  Jonah Lehrer says humorously, but with seriousness as well, that the only time we disconnect from the phone, the computer, the iPad is when we get in the shower and this is what makes it such a creative space! 

Consider creating a time daily for day dreams. Ten minutes or more to walk and let your mind roam, or to sit and look out the window, to sit and scratch your pet in his/her favorite spot....The mind is allowed to wander, to go where it will and after you get good at allowing it to do so, see what happens!  What changes, what occurs to you?  Let your creativity soar!  Take time to day dream!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I'll take protein for 50, leave out the slime.....

A couple of pieces of information have been made public lately regarding meat and public safety.  I recently discussed how those of us who consume meat need to choose well and keep portions to 3 oz. or the size of a deck of cards.  I discussed finding organic or hormone and anti-biotic free sources, as well.  I also encouraged those of you eating meat to make red meat - beef and pork an occasional rather than a regular source of protein.  Here are some additional pieces of information meat-eaters need to consider:

Eating a daily 3 oz. sized serving of red meat (beef or pork) has now been determined as a risk factor for Type II diabetes.  This finding is by the Harvard School of Public Health.  Eating a non-processed 3 oz. serving such as a steak or hamburger patty raises risk by 19%.  However, a daily processed version such as a hot dog, bacon, sausages, or bologna raises the risk factor by 51%.  I highly recommend reading my March 9th blog and starting to make a switch to getting protein from alternate sources more often!

Lots of hype recently regarding "pink slime" was seen on every news report across the country.  Is it true that the majority of Americans did not know ammonia was being used in meat packing plants?  It has been going on for decades and it is used on every type of meat, every cut of meat - poultry included, not just "pink slime."  This aspect of the story surprised me in that folks were not aware.  In a plant that processes millions and millions of pounds of flesh and at the cheap prices meat-eating America wants to pay, how exactly is the germ-affected, feces contaminated, quick to spoil waste of the process to be cleaned, if not with harsh chemicals?  There's bleach involved as well.  Maybe not applied directly to the meat, but it has to be used to clean the areas where the meat passes and the machinery that is used on the meat, many, many times a day.  When you make a choice to eat meat from such a source, you choose these chemicals.

As for the processing that "pink slime" goes through, the boneless lean beef trimmings are passed through a centrifuge and then treated with ammonia gas.  Are we worried we don't know what these supposed lean beef trimmings are exactly?  Again, I think America needs to wake up!  Yes, we have an FDA, but no, they are not checking on these packing plants, because there is not enough money in the budget.  There are very few agents, making very little headway into this gigantic industry.  So, yes you are trusting your health (you are what you eat), to a corporation.  Make that choice, OK, but be sure you understand that a corporation is all about making money and not about the best interests of the consumer in many cases.  Pick and choose your source carefully.

How to get around this?  Know the actual butcher, farmer, producer of your product directly.  This is becoming more and more possible.  More and more communities and cities are supporting local producers who are choosing healthier practices in processing meat.  Yes, you will pay more, but the reason we have "pink slime" in the first place is because we want our meat cheap.  It shouldn't be cheap to raise an animal to full size, feed it, care for it well, so it is healthy, slaughter it, process it, package it and distribute it.  It should cost the cost of feed, care, water, fuel, packaging, transport, and labor.  So, eat and choose your meat mindful of all that goes into raising a healthy animal that you then consume!  And, begin to make the move toward more vegetarian choices.  We don't all have to become vegetarians, but being mindful and aware of our choices is really important.  There are consequences to this American diet and they aren't good - physically, mentally, or spiritually!

How will you get your 50 today?


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Practice Safe Breath!

Heard this line in a commercial for some product and thought.....that's it!  I need to write about breathing.  I always teach that breathing is an involuntary action that the body does to stay alive and yet we've got some voluntary control.  This ability to have some control allows us to also control some other systems we normally can't get at so easily - the cardio-vascular system for one, the digestive system, the immune system, the nervous system, the endocrine, muscular, and perhaps the reproductive.

This is going to simplify some pretty complex activities in the body and I don't want you to think it is all so simple, but for the sake of understanding, let's simplify!  Do an experiment:  check your heart rate like you did in school (feel your pulse for 6 seconds and count the beats, then multiply by 10).  Then practice a breathing technique where you simply make the exhale a little longer than the inhale for 2 minutes.  Then check your pulse again.  Most likely you'll find you have fewer beats.  You've taken control of your cardio-vascular system!

How many of us suffer from constipation regularly?  Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?  Other digestive issues such as ulcers?  All are exacerbated by stress.  How best to beat the affects of stress?  A regular practice of some calming breathing technique (see below).  Now, you are taking control of some aspect of your digestive disorders (look at diet as well).  Nervous stomach causing you to make poor food choices or to skip meals?  Again, try using a regular breathing technique to get the nervous-ness under control and get back to healthy eating.

Stress affects the immune system directly.  Because the body reacts to stress as if it were an actual immediate danger, it decides to amp up some of the danger fighting systems and turns down systems like the immune system.  Problem is, there is no immediate danger, it's just common, everyday stress.  The brain and the body do not know the difference.  So, you have to control the reaction until they do know the difference.  Practice a breathing technique, so your immune system stays in high gear when it needs to be in high gear.

Think about your nervous system as a faucet.  There's a hot water tap (this is the sympathetic nervous system).  There's a cold water tap (the para-sympathetic nervous system).  The sympathetic nervous system is turning on the responses the body and the brain need to function as it reads from the situation.  Need to react quickly?  It turns on the hot.  Need to react to fear?  Again, hot.  Need some motivation?  Some energy?  Some fire?  The sympathetic nervous system has you covered.  Now, when you no longer need the reactions of the sympathetic nervous system, the para-sympathetic steps in and turns on the cold.  The 2 work together in what we hope is a nice harmony.  However, many factors cause dis-harmony - trauma, addiction, stress, injury, mental illness, physical illness, and much more.  You can control which tap you turn on to some extent by using the breath!

The endocrine system is our hormones.  Now, what I have been saying so far is pretty simplified and I am really going to simplify now.  Whatever you are feeling and I mean physical, emotional, and mental feelings are all a cocktail of hormones and bio-chemicals doing their thing in your body right now.  You can learn to control, to some extent, what chemicals/hormones are released with breath work.  Add some imagery, visualization, and other techniques and you'll go even further!  Inhale, say I am calm.  Exhale, say I release fear. You get the idea.

In yoga class, I often suggest that we use the breath to release the hips or the abs or some other muscle, tendon, or ligament.  A long relaxing breath does help the muscles release tension.  Many long relaxing breaths combined with a stretch and literally get you farther than you have gone before! To come into a fully relaxed state, as in savasana, we always start with the breath.

I am not going to spend a lot of time on the reproductive system, because it is pretty related to the endocrine and a few others, but let's address some common experiences.  In Lamaze class women are taught to breathe in a certain pattern to get through labor.  When sexually aroused, the breath changes, as arousal moves through cycles, the breath adjusts.  Suffice it to say, experimenting with breath and the reproductive system in ways that you need, may get you some good results.

Because the body is so inter-related and works as a whole system, if you change one system in a positive direction, you are affecting the other systems as well, so while it is beneficial to see these systems separate for the sake of analysis, the separateness is a farce.  We are one big, diverse and yet completely connected, complicated wonderful creature!  And, for the sake of this creature, practice safe breath!

Here are some beginning techniques:

Mindful breathing:  Sit for 5 min. or as long as you can and just follow the breath.  Hear and feel it.

Relaxing breath:  Observe the breath as in mindful breathing, but count how long you inhale and how long you exhale.  Then lengthen both, but make sure the exhale gets longer then the inhale by 2-3 counts.

Belly breath:  Breathe in to belly as if it were a balloon you were filling with air and let the air out on the exhale, pull the belly button back to the spine to complete the exhale.  Now, the breath is not in your belly, obviously, it is the diaphragm that is in your belly.  But, breathing deep into the lungs to drop the diaphragm helps you relax.  Once the belly breath is mastered fill the belly and then fill the lungs all the way to the collar bones.


5-7-8 breath:  This, too, could be considered a little above beginner, but is so wonderful.  It contains retention techniques, so make sure you are able to do the relaxation breath above first and be careful if you have high blood pressure when retaining the breath.  Breathe in for 5, hold for 7 and breath out for 8.  Do 4 cycles.

Start with these, practicing the breath of your choice at least twice per day.  You can then move up to 4x per day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Put a Spring in Your Step!

It's a lot like spring around here and my usually pretty deserted walk routes are busy with other walkers, runners, bikers, and the like.  This too shall pass.  While the numbers will not go as low as in winter months, my fellow sidewalk occupants will again decrease once the initial motivation of spring weather passes.

I am here for those of you who tend to do just that:  start a walking, running, or exercise program as soon as the nice weather hits and then after a couple of weeks, fall off your routine and sink back into old activities and habits.  How to avoid falling off?

1.  Make a list of all the ways that your exercise program does and will make your life better.  But, don't stop there.  Once you've made the list, make sure it is stronger than your reasons for not exercising.  A good example of what I am trying to get at here is smoking cessation.  Many folks trying to quit make a list of all the reasons they want to quit and there are many of them.  There might only be a few or even one reason not to quit, but if that one reason to keep smoking is stronger and more powerful than the 20 reasons to quit, attempts to quit will fail.

2.  Get emotional about it!  Strength and conviction comes from strong emotions.  Notice and really focus on how happy you are after a walk or a run.  Remind yourself of this great feeling all day as often as you can.  The more you connect to the positive, the less you connect to the challenges and difficulties of sticking with your program.  Tell people about it.  Write it in a journal. Sing a song about it.....  Now, if you aren't feeling positive emotions, then you might be doing the wrong exercise for you, or you might be taking it into a level that's too challenging.  make it something you feel good about, start there and move up gradually.

3.  Stop trying to invoke willpower.  Willpower is really not very powerful for probably more than 90% of us.  Most of us can not will ourselves to do something or motivate ourselves to do something, so stop trying.  Instead, use the techniques listed here and stop talking about yourself as if you had no willpower.  Connecting to the positives and the emotional reaction that comes from them, will motivate you more than willpower ever could. 

4.  Make it fun.  Again, you will feel positive and stick with it, if it is fun.  Ideas:  make it social and invite friends, listen to fun books or podcasts, add challenges like stops at parks along the way, bring your dog and throw the Frisbee, create a meeting at the end of the walk where you laugh with a friend, or make it a destination in which you complete an errand or task that needs doing (I get immense satisfaction from killing 2 birds with 1 stone).

5.  Think about the whole picture.  When we exercise we release hormones.  Some of them make some of us feel great, some of them make us feel some anxiety, some of them literally change the relationship the brain and body have.  So, experiment with yourself!  If after 2 weeks of walking daily, you miss your walk, do you feel the change?  What change are you feeling?  After a 30 minute jog, do you feel anxious?  What's happening to your sleep?  Your appetite?  Your sex life?  Pay attention to all of it!  All of it will affect your health and your well-being.  Don't have a one track mind toward weight loss or toward fitness.  If exercise makes you sleep better, studies show that good sleep helps you lose weight, stay more mentally stable, enjoy others and much, much more!  There may be an amazing chain reaction to look forward to, if you just keep yourself open-minded!

6.  Make it part of your identity.  It's easy for us to say negative things about ourselves, to call ourselves fat or out of shape or unhealthy or whatever and it becomes automatic and part of how we think of our identity.  So do the same with your new exercise regime.  I am a walker, I am a runner, I am in shape.  Make these statements part of how you see yourself.

7.  Get some help.  Some of us think exercise looks one way and when we find ourselves unable to do that one thing, we get stuck and can't re-focus, then quit.  This is when you need help.  You may need some coaching or counseling or you may need someone creative to work with your unique-ness and create a great program for you! 

How will you get out there this spring and stay out there for summer, fall, and winter!?

Friday, March 9, 2012

I'll Take Protein for 50

Doesn't matter if you are a vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore - you need 50 gr. of protein (men and very active women, you can take that up 5 or 6 gr).  Not only that, but you need to complete most of those 50 grams, meaning all or most of the amino acids are present.  I write this because most of us who are vegetarians or vegans are NOT getting enough complete proteins and most of us who are omnivores are getting too much and we all need to learn more about making protein adjustments in the right direction for great health, energy and vitality.

Complete proteins (think animal sources: eggs, chicken, beef, dairy...) have all of the amino acids present and incomplete proteins do not. Here's a list of proteins:  However, an incomplete protein can be complimented with a source that then makes a complete protein.  Beans are an incomplete protein and can be served with rice to make a complete source.  When I first became a vegetarian we thought we had to eat the complimentary sources in the same meal, but now we know they must be completed within the same day.

Even though some foods are a complete protein, that does not make them a completely healthy protein.  What you need to look for is comparison of nutrients, fats, and protein value and make the optimal choices.  So, a 3 oz.  beef source is complete, has about 20 gr. of protein, 140-200 calories (depends on the cut), too much fat (the saturated kind) and some necessary B-vitamins.  Compare that to 1 cup of milk which is complete, has only 8 gr. of protein, 110-200 calories (depends on fat content), some fat unless it is skim, and a small list of other vitamins and nutrients.  Compare to 1/2 cup dry beans (about 1 C cooked) which are not complete, have 8 gr. protein, 122 calories, many vitamins, fiber, and have a long list of health benefits. 

It's easy to find good sources of information online and make these same comparisons.  Look at the sources of protein in the list above.  There are other sources as well.  Choose variety!  There are healthy oils in nuts and seeds, there are health promoting probiotics in yogurts... if you eat a variety of proteins, you get a variety of nutrients!  In a day, you can make just 4 good choices and get 50 grams of protein. 

For the omnivores:  Looking at beef and other traditional choices, you only need 3 oz. (the size of a deck of cards) to get nearly half the protein needed in a day, so spread the protein around.  Most Americans are eating well over that size and getting well over what is needed and lacking in variety.  Make beef, dairy, and pork a part-time protein choice.  And, choose lower fat versions and cuts.  When choosing dairy and meats, I can not stress enough how important it is to make sure your source is hormone and anti-biotic free!  No one needs these additional "chemicals" added to their systems!!!  This is your chance to create variety and learn to make beans and rice versions of your favorite meals. Try some yogurt as your protein source for lunch and eat fruits and vegetables.  Make a morning smoothie and add tofu or whey powder as your protein.  The more you try, the more variety you will become aware of.

For the vegans and vegetarians:  Be really conscious of a protein source in every meal.  Two problems to always consider:  making it complete and making it enough.  I try to always make the protein complete in the meal, because it makes me aware and attentive.  Without enough protein, I am foggy, drained, and un-focused.  If you have these symptoms, start really attending to protein needs.  If you have nuts or beans, make sure somewhere in the day or in that meal, you have some brown rice or whole wheat flour source.  Let's say you have a 1.5 cup serving of rice and beans.  Pay attention to how many beans are actually in there.  I usually estimate less than half the serving is beans which means I am getting a pretty low amount of protein.  So, be aware and attentive to sort of estimating and guessing at numbers.  For vegans (and vegetarians who do not eat much dairy or eggs) you really need to supplement with vitamin B-12.  Really!!  You will notice the difference after supplementing for 2-4 weeks daily.

I recommend that all of us start off by being aware of the proteins we are having in each meal and just start estimating what we're getting.  Don't make this a math assignment at every meal, but an awareness exercise.  Ask yourself, what is the protein? is it complete? high in calories? high in fat? what other good nutrients are present? how much of this do I really need to eat?  Change and experiment with sources and variety.

What protein will be for dinner tonight?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mantra Madness

Mantras are repeated words or phrases used for focus, especially in meditation.  However, the word has become cliche and over-used to some extent to simply mean a statement that is oft repeated say by a politician or some other public figure/organization. 

The real purpose of a mantra is to create focus and intention.  In Transcendental Meditation (TM), the mantra used for meditation was chosen specific to the needs, energies, and ways of being of the individual.  Common mantras are Ommm, Shanti, Hail Mary...., Our Father, etc.  The focus is on the wording, exclusive of other thoughts and the intention is to create comfort or peace or connection to God, the Universe or higher powers. 

Mantras do not need to be used in order to meditate.  Many other methods for focusing can be used, such as focusing on the breath, staring at a candle, creating a visual in the mind....etc.  mantras are really handy, however.  They can be silent - no one has to know.  They can join groups in a feeling of one-ness.  They can be sung which is a comfort in and of itself.  And, they can be your very own.  Mantras, however, can be useful beyond meditation. 

Here's how I recommend mantras be used.  Sit in meditation just for a short while. If you can't manage longer, just sit long enough to create a wonderful feeling in your body and mind - perhaps you want to feel peace, or love, or joy.  Use whatever you need to create this feeling - a memory, a visual of a loved one, a place, a color, or practice yoga, laugh, smile and afterward sit with that feeling strong in the mind and body.  Now, with your body and mind flooded with this desired feeling, create a mantra.  Take any of the above - Ommm is a Universal connecting mantra, Shanti a mantra of peace, all is well, life is good, release fear, surrender, one day at a time, and many, many others. Create your own, make it short and memorable. 

Throughout the day, either create the feeling or every time you have the feeling, say the mantra out loud or in your head or both.  This pairs the mantra and the feeling in the brain's wiring which triggers the brain to create the response we desire.  Soon, maybe after a week or so, you can then use the mantra to create the feeling in response to situations you want to NOT feel.  For example, when feeling anxious over bills, "all is well, all is well, all is well..." takes over the anxiety and you can cope.  Or perhaps you have a repetitive pattern of thinking about food, every time that pattern starts up in the mind, you counter with your mantra, "shanti, shanti, shanti..."  and peace rather than worthlessness and dread take over.  When frustration and irritation take over due to constant stress with parenting, your job, or others, "I let this go, I let this go...." and the feeling of release and peace you connected to the mantra takes over.

We are using the mantra to counteract the brain's current wiring!  Every time I have a negative thought, creating a negative feeling in the body, I know that it is my brain's wiring that is creating the thought, the feeling, and the pattern or cycle that then ensues.  I also know I can challenge it, change it, and finally completely rewire the brain.  This takes time and repetition.  For some feelings and associations more time and more repetition than others.  Stick with it, practice and don't give up on your brain!

What mantras will you try?