Monday, April 28, 2008

Spices for your Health

Lately breakfast has turned into my most interesting, healthy, and delicious meal. This inspiration started with Dr. Northrup explaining why 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day are important, if not vital, for stellar health. Then Dr. Oz did a whole program on diet and the direct impact it has on your well-being. So, I began looking into this further and re-discovered the value of spices.

Over the past 20 years, my cooking habits have gotten lazier. Other than pepper, I don't add a lot of herbs or spices. This has changed quite a bit in the last few weeks; not only my body, but my taste buds are better off!

For example, I mixed waffles with cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, maple syrup, and walnuts. The next day I had bananas with cinnamon, anise, ginger, wheat germ, flax, honey, and raisins. All I can say is TASTE EXPLOSION!!!

The spices selected above were based on my own health challenges and taste preferences. Here are some other ideas on specific issues and spices that can help with them:

Aches/Pains: basil, ginger, chili pepper, turmeric
Alzheimer's: ginger, turmeric, sage, curry (yellow)
Anemia: cinnamon, turmeric, cumin
Antibacterial: basil, black pepper, oregano, garlic
Antioxidant: oregano, sage, parsley, turmeric, rosemary, ginger, paprika
Arthritis: ginger, curry, turmeric, sage, cloves, chili powder/peppers
Asthma: sage
Cancer: ginger, turmeric, red chili peppers, parsley, black pepper, curry, rosemary, garlic, paprika
Cholesterol: cinnamon, turmeric, garlic
Circulation: paprika, cayenne, cinnamon
Common Cold: garlic, black pepper, basil, thyme, sage, oregano, rosemary, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, ginger, chili peppers
Concentration and memory: rosemary
Crohn’s: turmeric
Diabetes: cinnamon
Headaches: rosemary
Heart Disease: ginger, garlic, cinnamon, rosemary
Hypertension: garlic, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, pepper, cayenne pepper
IBS: peppermint
Immune System: garlic, ginger, chili pepper
Indigestion/Gas/Bloating: fennel, anise, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, ginger
Inflammation: turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, sage, rosemary, cloves, chili powder/peppers, paprika
Nausea: ginger, cinnamon
Night Sweats: sage
Ulcers: wasabi

If you're interested in a personalized mix just for you, let me know.

As a meditation, close your eyes when you chew (not recommended when on a date) and take a least 30 chews for 1 bite of food. Take the time to be with the experience of the texture, taste, sounds, smells, and joy of eating.

Bon Appetit!


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Neck Tension - How to Breath

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher used to warn us that she had "eyes in the back of her head." Considering how many times she knew just which student was misbehaving, we all came to believe this was truth.

At age 43, I'm no longer convinced this was the case. However, the eyes and the back of the head have a definite connection. Take your fingers tips and place them on your occipital ridge (at the top of the neck just beneath the skull). Touch only lightly. With the head still, move your eyes up, down, right, left, and in circles. See if you can feel a subtle movement beneath your fingers. Now stare intently at an object and notice the level of tension under your fingers and around your face. Soften your gaze and widen the peripheral vision. Notice what happens to the tension at the top of the neck and face area.

Throughout the day, watch your eyes and pay attention to how frequently it's piercing and realize this impacts not only your eyes, but your muscles in the face and neck as well.

Also, when the eyes are tight, the breath moves up into the chest and becomes shallow. As the eyes relax, so does the chest allowing the breath to deepen down to the belly.

Keep a soft gaze and enjoy the day,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Halasana - Plow Pose

Last week, the continuing and deepening classes that I teach worked on halasana (plow pose shown above). Folks were wondering why they could come into a deep forward bend, such as paschimotanasana, but not plow?

What's interesting is that even though the pose takes flexibility (seems pretty obvious), it also take strength (less obvious). Even simpler poses, such as janu sirsasana (head to knee pose shown below) take some strength.

Taking a look at plow, we can break it down by what is required to perform such an asana with integrity and benefit to the body and mind:

1. Flexibility
Flexibility is needed in the backs of the legs, neck, low back, chest (to keep from collapsing), shoulders, and gluts.

2. Strength
To get the lift and maintain this pose, there must be strength in the shoulders, back, and backs of the legs.

3. Risk Factors
Plow is a more challenging pose and not recommending when you're starting out. Be certain you are comfortable in shoulderstand before attempting plow. Physical risks to watch for are in the neck, shoulders, and low back.

Knowing all of this, if you struggle with a posture, such as plow or janu sirsasana, break it down into where flexibility, strength, and risks for that pose lie. Then use simpler poses to determine where you can use more muscle building, lengthening, or integration. Also, based on past injuries or physical challenges you might face, some poses might do more harm than good; take a look at the risks.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Open Your Heart

You might not have guessed it, but this is a sketch (complements of wikipedia) of an electromagnetic field. PBS recently hosted a program by Dr Christiane Northrup on menopause. (Don't worry, men, this applies to you too!) During her lecture, she mentioned that the "heart's electromagnetic field is 60x larger than the brain's."

This really caught my interest. Many people use affirmations or attempt to "think" their way into meditation without success. With only thoughts the magnetic current generated is 5000x weaker than the magnetic qualities of the heart.

As described by The Awakening Project: "The heart's ECG measurements are about 60 times as strong as that of brain EEG measurements. The magnetic component of the electromagnetic field is about 5000 times stronger than the brains and can be measured several feet away with a SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device). Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. "The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Communication Within and Between People". "

The Institute of Heart Math comments on the power of the heart: "The heart's electromagnetic field--by far the most powerful rhythmic field produced by the human body--not only envelops every cell of the body but also extends out in all directions into the space around us. The cardiac field can be measured several feet away from the body by sensitive devices. Research conducted at IHM suggests that the heart's field is an important carrier of information."

A backbend practice is a wonderful way to open the heart area both physically and energetically. Check out Yoga Journal for a listing of various backbends. For beginner's, I'm particularly fond of Bridge; if you have more experience and are feeling strong and flexible, Upward Facing Bow is wonderfully invigorating and opening.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What is Meditation

A couple of weeks ago, a small group of Yoginis were discussing meditation.

"I'm so bad at meditating."
"We all struggle with thoughts going through our heads."
"I try, but it just doesn't work."
"Can anyone really meditate?"
"It's hard."

Interestingly, so many people seem to be under the impression that if you think, you're not meditating. This is not necessarily true.

There are various forms and definitions of meditation. On one extreme the mind is to be completely void of any and all thought--good luck with that! The other extreme is to daydream and "go to your happy place." This is not truly meditating, but some would disagree with me.

Visualizations and meditations are different. Yet, many of us, me included, frequently use the word meditation to describe what is technically visualization. In the end, the word is not as important as what benefits you find from the method you use.

Posture is another element up for debate. When working with a disciple of Swami Rama, she recommending sitting in full lotus (padmasana) on an animal skin and a prayer shawl wrapped around the meditator. The skin and shawl were intended to keep the energy (Prana) inside the body. On the other hand, Erich Schiffmann once suggested meditating in a hammock under the shade of a tree in the summer time. Thich Nhat Hahn talks about mindfulness throughout the day, which in my opinion is like bringing meditation to every day life.

So what does meditation "do"? What are its benefits?

On a physical level, the heart rate slows, the breath becomes deeper without effort, and the whole body copes with stress in a healthier manner.

Mentally, you develop the ability to focus. With that said, if your mind is scattered all over the place like a messy house, then meditation will not immediately bring complete calm. Just as when you clean your home, it's a process to create order and structure within the chaos and disarray. If you continue to pick up, over time the house will become a bit cleaner and eventually, with discipline, it will be a more serene environment. The mind is like this too. The more you practice focusing your thoughts; over time they will begin to work for you and not against you. You will begin to choose what thoughts you'd like to maintain and what thoughts do not serve you.

Like magic, many people take up meditation to ease pain, be it physical or emotional, yet the spiritual benefits sneak in. With proper guidance and growing awareness, you begin to know you are not your thoughts or emotions. As you gain the ability to separate from thoughts, you experience oneness with others and sense a connection with the universe.

What's cool about this is that you are no longer controlled by negative things your parents or past lovers might have said about you. You are no longer sucked into the false belief that you are not good enough. Calm in what appears to be craziness is easier--not always, but it's a practice. Be patient.

Finally, what is "proper" meditation? Whatever works for you. Does repeating a mantra just become a drone in the back of your head while your thoughts take over? Does looking at a candle flame strain your eyes to the point of strong discomfort? If so, these techniques might not be best for you. On the other hand, if lying in a hammock brings you into complete awareness of the stillness in the ground below you and the sky above. If you feel the breeze on your skin and the aroma in the air sooths your soul, then you just might have stumbled upon a wonderful technique.

A teacher can help you to find a method that works, or you might find it on your own. My suggestion: Be very leery of anyone that tells you they have all the answers for how you should meditate. Only you will know when it's right. And be flexible with yourself. For years, I benefited from a longer early morning seated meditation. Now two brief periods a day with various focus objects each time work best for me.

Enjoy the practice. Don't beat yourself up. There is no "wrong" way; just sitting in silence for even a few minutes while watching your breath can have a positive impact on your life.

Love Much,


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!