Filed under: health, holistic, india, meditation, spirituality, wellness, yoga
last week in rishikesh- ‘the yoga capital of the world’- was incredible for me.
i’ve never felt so comfortable in such a holy, spiritual place before. there is a different feeling of connection i get in hindu and buddhist temples that i have never felt in a cathedral or synagogue, no matter how much i admire their beauty and power. somehow i never felt like i belonged in those places. as i yearned for a sense of spiritual structure throughout my formative years, i always came up emptyhanded and often felt left out of a club that didnt accept people like me, who were still trying to figure out how to carve out their place in this big, scary world.
this past week, living in an ashram and taking yoga and naturopathy classes, i felt a sense of peace and fulfillment that was never available to me in such a tangible way. i have to admit, the energy & vibrations there were intense. there are so many other seekers and students, monks and gurus. it’s overwhelming to hear the chanting all night, and to sit on the bank of the Ganges river and watch freedom wash over people as they soak themselves in holy water. there is this sense of truth setting you free that is beyond words. it is simply magnificent to be a part of.
every morning i woke up and took private yoga classes, after which i was served sprouted lentils and tea. then it was time for class. the dr. of naturopathy discussed all of the treatments they provide- including hydro, mud, and massage therapy, as well as nutrition and detox cleansing and yoga and meditation of course. i have to say, of all the treatments i’ve witnessed in india, the nutrition thing, no matter how basic, speaks to me the most. and i felt empowered realizing that this journey has taken me to the other side of the world and yet still, the things that matter to all humans are the same everywhere, and the secret to a healthy and balanced life is not a secret at all- in fact it is something i know well. eat alkalized, unprocessed food, limit toxins, do yoga, work your mind, breathe, and try to laugh.
in the evenings i would practice meditation and breathing exercises with my instructor and go for long walks in the expat village nearby, reading in cafes overlooking the Ganga and watching the sun set. i have been rereading the bhagavad gita, the ancient hindu text, which i last read in college. studying hinduism here has been valuable in my attempt to understand the culture of india. the deepening of perspective is a major theme, helping the reader to experience her own life in the context of a wider purpose.
the practice of the different yogas described in the Gita- including dharma, karma, and bhakti- enables you to value ACTION over thought and to learn to work with what you are given. we are instruments of the cards we’ve been handed and we must do the best we can in order to find peace. in other words- it’s about letting go. one issue i was interested in was the way karma is interpreted, especially in a holy city where it seems like people are cleansing themselves through a dip in the river or transcendental meditation with gurus. through some conversations with hindus and my reading assignment, i realized that hinduism looks at karma as a paradox- on one hand free will exists, but yet, so does fate. the thing is, they seem to exist on different levels. we all have to make daily decisions, but in them, we are merely playing a part. i guess i relate it to the idea of intuition- more often than not you just know what to do in your own life. our subjective relationship with the universe is based on something deeper than just knowledge.
so, can you change your karma? can a guru take it from you? technically, i think the point is that the design does not change- we are a manifestation of karmic laws from past lives, and in this life, as our desires turn to thoughts which turn to action, we create more karma for our next incarnation. it goes on and on. and so this moment is a sum of life waves that have always been flowing to bring us to this place.
the amazing vibes i have gotten on this trip have been mostly from the people of this country who, despite any circumstances, do their work, or there dharma, whether it be cleaning the floors, cooking meals, or delivering babies, with a smile on their face and peace in their hearts. they are ego-less. there is not a sense of jealousy or resentment distracting them from being the best at what they have been put here to live out. in the end, it comes down to perspective- to be able to see outside of yourself without judgment, and then turn in towards yourself and do the same thing. if we can see the universe for what it is, we can see that it is working perfectly and we can be happy.
there is so much less anxiety here, life is not such a struggle- in many ways it is a healthier place to be.
we tend to ruin everything with self-consciousness and judgment– i can’t believe i ate that cookie! i haven’t worked out this week! my friend has more money than i do!– just do what you do and be fully there and stop criticizing yourself. we turn our lives into our ideas about our own inadequacies and think that if one thing were different- my big thighs, or my small paycheck- then life would be ok. what is the point of the torture? although there is sacrifice in hinduism, it differs exponentially from christian models of sacrifice. there is no pressure. it is about learning to act in awareness of the possibility of brahman- oneness. there is no need for masochism- suffering is grace in itself. you throw yourself into the fire and purify yourself- and you are free. it’s really about not being a phony. you can’t “trick” anyone in these practices, as you often can in other religions, because the joke’s on you! there is no god telling you you will burn in hell, but you will make your life harder than it has to be.
the root of the gita seems to be love and devotion- to open our hearts and become love. i know it sounds esoteric, but being here, i can see it, and it’s contagious to want a part of it.
in terms of the losses i’ve suffered this year, it has been awakening to be in this holy place. there was not just the obvious loss of someone close to me, but the loss of everything that once defined my entire life. nothing is the same. suffering happens. and if you can suffer and still find a way to love, then i think that is the key to keeping the peace. of course nothing is the same- nothing is ever going to be the same! for anyone, ever! we are so silly to constrain ourselves with these ideas.
despair is important. we have to deeply suffer to open our hearts- that is where we find the grace. same thing the tibetan buddhists say. when we look at our little melodramas- our sadness, anger, loneliness- with some perspective, our understanding of these notions change and we can accept them as much as a part of ourselves as our happiness and joy. essentially we must break ourselves down from the structures our egos have created for us and find stillness in the rubble and disarray. this is where the freedom lies.
so, in conclusion to this messy way of explaining my minute understanding of hinduism and the people i’ve had the pleasure of being around for the past month, i will say this:
i don’t believe in randomness. i feel vastly connected to the plotlines of my life, even those that have been totally seemingly out of my own control. to have been brought here through the pain and joys of the past couple of years is something i am immensely grateful for. as i continue on the last legs of my journey, i am going to aim to keep allowing myself to go with the flow- not to worry about what my future holds or does not hold- all the things i’ve spent too much of my life anxious about. i am going to use my favorite mantra first instilled in me by my beautiful friend steph- EVERYTHING WORKS OUT,
and just keep believing it until it becomes my truth.
Filed under: food, health, holistic, homeopathy, india, wellness | Tags: holistic
this week in dehradun was quite a learning experience. i got well-acquainted with the city and was able to meet so many interesting locals. i split my time between a homeopathic clinic in the morning, with dr. nanda, a ayurvedic clinic with dr. nath (who is 94!!) in the afternoon, and an ob/gyn clinic with dr. gera in the evening. my homestay family was wonderful- mrs mehta cooked delightful indian food, and even got me some of my favorite staples- bananas and peanutbutter for breakfast. i learned my way around and felt more comfortable walking the streets alone.
all of the rounds were rewarding, and it was fascinating to be able to compare the different types of treatment that these doctors prescribed. my favorite, surprisingly, was homeopathy. i had expected to find ayurveda most appealing, since i had studied it before, but with homeopathy i was exposed to a completely different paradigm of health care and it was pretty wild to me.
dr. nanda is such a wonderful man- he would pick us up some days and drop us home for lunch after clinic on his motorcycle, and he was eager to share his love for this most profound science.
i explained a bit of homeopathy in an earlier post, but now that i understand it more, i will try to elaborate as best i can.
in allopathic medicine, doctors aim to cure symptoms by suppression. they find medicines that specifically target inflammation in an area and attempt to eliminate it. samuel hahnemann, the founder of modern homeopathy, discovered that perhaps this model was not the most complete way of ridding the body of disease. his homeopathic model actually uses the law of similars, that is, using a substance that would cause similar effects in a healthy person which are turning up in the sick person. he discovered that various materials found in nature- of the animal, vegetable, mineral, and even chemical form- in their purest state contain energy fields which can exert a healing effect on the body. these substances must go through an extreme dilution and shaking process, whereby their effects multiply and grow stronger.
for example, if a person is having a problem with teary eyes (this is just a simple example!), a homeopath might prescribe a medicine which is derived from an onion, and the energy of this diluted medicine after being potentized (or shaken) is given to the person in a sublingual form so that it is absorbed into the bloodstream immediately and does not need to be digested. after this occurs, it is understood that the energy of the onion extract disperses in the body, naturally allowing the teary symptoms to reverse and go back to where they came from. it is difficult to understand, i know. but think of it like this:
often times, we suppress things like headaches or we remove tumors from the body to rid ourselves of illness. what is actually happening, according to homeopaths, is that we are unnaturally trying to strip our body of something, and by doing so, more effects will occur in the form of other illnesses or side effects from the treatment. it is better, then, to naturally prescribe a substance which will almost take the aching or tumor and shrink it back to the place it came from, thereby eliminating it.
in homeopathy, it is not expected to really discover the root cause of disease. they believe that in fact, most diseases cannot ever fully be explained and that many modern doctors waste their time trying to fit puzzle pieces together and figure out the origins of disease. instead, homeopathic doctors aim to discover remedies that might be at the root of what ever disease is facing the patient, whatever that may be. i had a bit of a hard time accepting this fact, but as i learned more, i began to understand why this is such a major tenet. while it would be good to learn what the root is, it is not essential to treating it. it is more pertinent to simply find a medicine that has been proven to treat all of the various and very specific symptoms in a patients system. i will explain more of this below.
one of the most interesting parts of this practice is the way the patient is evaluated for treatment. many times, the doctor wants to understand the entire constitution of the person, asking questions about their emotional nature, their dreams, their sleeping habits, their fears, their weak physical areas, etc. once this evaluation is done, sometimes after an hour or so, the doctor takes the symptoms present in the patient and matches them up in his system with homeopathic treatments. usually if he or she is specific enough in their description, only a couple of treatments will show up as relevant. it is important that the doctor try to eliminate bias and let the patient tell their whole story. after this process, a medicine is given usually right there in the office, and a small amount is provided for the patient to take at home.
once a patient takes this medicine, it is often noted that they feel as if their symptoms naturally disappear on their own, and often times, over a period of months, many of their other imbalances- including fears or weaknesses not specific to their visit- disappear as well. the idea is to bring the whole body back to harmony. some critics believe this is really just a placebo effect and there is no way to prove that the medicine works. dr. nanda did not seem bothered by this, and he understood that energy healing is difficult to comprehend for the average person. but he has no doubt that it works, and he gave us an amazing book to read, called “impossible cure,” which tells the story of a mother curing her son of autism through homeopathy. it describes many studies that have been done on the accuracy of this medicine, and i found it pretty convincing.
dr. nanda also did a full comprehensive analysis of my constitution and discovered that i matched up with a form of cobra venom! he administered it to me (diluted of course in homeopathic form) and gave me some to take home. we’ll see what happens!
there was a big dichotomy between dr. nanda and dr. gera, a lovely woman who practices women’s health medicine out of her large “nursing home,” as they call it. dr. gera’s patient turnover was very quick, and she prescribed antibiotics and other medicines to almost everyone who came into her office. i enjoyed watching all the women come in with their beautiful saris and big pregnant bellies. it was quite a sight. i have great respect for the work that dr. gera does, and i asked her a lot of questions about the system in india. it seems to me that she charges about the same amount of money that dr. nanda charges, which amounts to about 200 rupees (5 DOLLARS!) per patient. i thought to myself, if i lived here, i would probably take advantage of both types of medicine, as i still strongly believe there is a need for western practices, especially when it comes to surgeries and emergency situations.
there were a lot more medical issues in both practices than i saw in Patti village last week. as i predicted, the rates of heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses plagued many of the patients that sought treatment. i suppose there is no escaping that anywhere in the world, but i really appreciate the accessibility in this country of all types of medicine. the choice is left to the patient seeking care, and that’s the way it should be.
i just arrived in rishikesh, and will begin my work at the ashram tomorrow. i’ll be sure to fill you in.
i made it!
sorry it’s taken me so long to post, i have had quite an adventure so far, and no time to get to an internet cafe.
my first couple of days in india were a whirlwind…by the time i arrived via train into dehradun i had been traveling for 38 hours. to my surprise, my coordinator told me upon deboarding the train that i was to spend my first week in india in a tiny village called Patti, up in the foothills of the himalayas. i knew i would be going there, but because it is so remote, i thought they would ease me into it. guess i thought wrong!
there were two other students, which made me very happy, since there was to be barely any electricity and absolutely nothing to do for the week outside of our clinic. i figured at least i could make some conversation.
the ride up to patti was unbelievable, four-wheeling it up these winding mountain roads. pretty scary, but thrilling nonetheless. we passed by many other villages along the way, which would end up being villages that the doctor, dr. paul, told us he visits each month. in total there are about 28 where he sets up clinic. they each consist of about 15-20 families, very tight-knit; primitive and rural. it looked like a movie set in another era.
we arrived in patti to find a small compound with screen doors which opened to little rooms with cots. there was a cook living there, a pharmacist, and the doctor, who comes in every week and leaves his family to treat patients in the villages. his clinic was attached to our compound and in the mornings, after being awoken with hot chai tea, we would go upstairs and watch him go to work. at night we would enjoy our dinner and listen to them play us music using only their voices, an indian flute and a bucket as a drum. it was actually quite beautiful.
the people were so warm, but culturally they were quite an extreme for me to witness. they have absolutely nothing, but somehow they make it look beautiful. the women in their bright colors and beautiful nose rings and bindis, and radiant skin! they seem happier than any people i think i’ve ever met. there is no such thing as materialism, only bare essentials and everyone, mostly the women, spend their days tending to crops, feeding their families, and doing the work of the village. apparently the men stay at home and relax most of the day!
watching dr. paul at work was extremely interesting. patients do not need appointments, they just walk in and sit down, not shy in front of anyone who is watching. it’s fascinating to see how they do not complain about ailments- they calmly state what is going on, and he doesn’t do invasive exams. most people have acute medical issues that he helps by giving them dietary advice, ayurvedic treatment, and sometimes an allopathic drug such as tylenol or an antibiotic.
everything is FREE. patients are not charged at all, which is the result of the money students pay CFHI to attend the program. it funds the medications and supplies needed to address the needs of all the villages.
one thing that was really amazing was the lack of drama in life. it is simple yet purposeful, no complaining because there is no other way. we all laughed so much up there and found a way to enjoy our time so completely, even without the comforts we are all used to.
the food that our cook made each day was some of the best indian food i’ve ever had. i felt so energized and satisfied eating in such a balanced way. it was all vegetarian and homemade, right down to the flour that came from the wheat grown outside my window. nothing is processed; it’s prepared in quite a primitive way. i found that none of my food allergies acted up because there are no preservatives or additives. the dairy i ate came straight from the free-grazing cows, and it was raw, unpasteurized- which is illegal in the US! the purity was appealing to my body. it was totally the way food should be.
every other day, we would leave our clinic and hike to surrounding villages, sometimes up to 2.5 hours each way, in order to bring them care. we were joined by one of dr. paul’s 9 health promoters. these are all women who he trains to carry out emergency care and first aid since he only visits heach village once a month. the women are also trained to teach their own communities about sexual education and preventative health. it is community organizing at the most basic level and so amazing to be a part of.
on our hikes, we would meet women and school children who hiked those roads sometimes multiple times a day, carrying baskets on their heads and often wearing no shoes. when we arrived in the villages we would set up a table with medications and the doctor would just start seeing patients right in front of everyone. they were so kind to us, and the kids were adorable. they prepared chai for us, and invited us into their homes.
as i stated above, people there do not really seek health care for chronic diseases most of the time- diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, colitis- or even cancer. they don’t suffer from primarily western ailments. it will be interesting to see how that changes just 45 minutes down into the city when i start working with doctors in dehradun.
they have many fast food chains down there and processed garbage available, and they seem far from understanding caloric and nutritional content. i’m sure a lot of them think it’s amazing to taste western food, as bad for you as it may be. good job globalization!
i am kidding, but in all seriousness, up in those villages people are living into their hundreds and they are feeling pretty good! it’s all simple and fresh and there is less suffering. there is a reason they don’t have a need for an ER, as they don’t live in a way where invasive treatments are necessary. everyone performs manual labor, they are strong and moderate in their lifestyle. they eat just enough, they don’t smoke, and they rarely drink.
and the things they do need, devoted people like dr. paul provide for them, and that’s just the way it is. very practical.
it was an amazing experience, more rewarding than i could ever put into words. i am back in the city now, and in an hour i begin with dr. nanda, a homeopathic doctor in dehradun, and from there a reiki/ayurveda master, and a women’s health doctor. this rotation continues throughout the week, so i’ll be sure to keep you posted.
if you haven’t already watched it, i urge you to take a look at jamie oliver’s show, food revolution, fridays on abc.
to most of us evolved human beings, what he is doing makes perfect sense, but as you can see by the obstacles that he must overcome in order to change the way we eat- not everyone has been enlightened yet. we are being presented with the possibility to raise a generation of children who will grow up with a sense that it is more fun to eat legumes than lunchables. this will in turn affect the way they live their lives and raise their own families.
this is one of the most important conversations going on in our country, as our mental and physical health is truly at stake. although alice waters and many others have been pioneers of this movement for quite some time, jamie is the first person to take the podium from a level that is wide-reaching and capable of getting through to millions of americans who don’t understand the often elite world of local food and organic agriculture. whether we want to believe it or not, we are a nation whose education comes mostly in the form of advertisements. so, while the whole country is constantly glued to their television sets, i can only hope that they will turn it to abc on fridays at 9pm and listen to this important message.
the madness cannot continue and it’s so crucial that everyone get behind the cause.
please check out his site and sign the petition to support the food revolution.
I am fully committed to the liberation of the human spirit and I will start with my own.
i heard this Maya Angelou quote many years ago. it reminds me of a feeling i have often experienced but which, until recently, has never totally propelled me into action.
i know i sound cheesy– what’s new, right? — but i do believe that in order for me to make any kind of impact on this universe in all the ways that i hope to, i need to set myself free. just as a person cannot really love another until they fall in love with themselves, the same appears to be true of making your mark on the world.
it takes inspiration, education, and self-exploration — grabbing hold of a certain sense of aliveness– that i really think is key to making the world the place that we hope for it to be. i have always loved traveling and seeing the world, doing the things that my heart tells me to do, but I realized about a year ago that going to college in the midwest, moving to ny on my own, traveling to mexico and the carribean and living in europe, however foreign they may be, are not exactly the same thing as truly testing my limits as the independent, adventurous person i know that i am.
last year, the threatening hands of Loss and Fear took me by the collar and held me up against a wall. i realized that the only way to break free from their control was to turn that wall into a mirror and break through it. now, it’s hard to imagine what you can really DO to chart your own destiny during times like that. changing your attitude is the first step, but in my humble opinion, i think that the only other way is really to leap out of your comfort zone. now, i’ve done that a handful of times, as i’ve said. but the extent to which i’ve done it is, personally, a little bit lame.
so, after a long examination in the proverbial mirror, i decided it was time to change things up. my yoga practice had gotten intense, as had my passion for health and healing. my path was definitely a spiritual one, but more along the lines of the LA/NY version of spiritual. now, that’s fine– i have to be gentle with myself– but i yearned for something MORE. i decided on india around may 2009. i desperately wanted to see the places i have read about in my favorite books, most of which happen to take place there for some reason. moreover, india is a place that my mom always talked about wanting to go with me one day. she had studied under j. krishnamurti and was a yoga instructor. one of the major things she seemed to regret in her life is that she did not follow her own spiritual path more closely. and of course, india is the place to go to learn about holistic health.
i found a program through child family health international which allows all levels of people (even inexperienced ones like myself) to explore public health in other nations, gaining a sense of cultural competency and education about the structure of health systems in third world countries. the programs are all amazing, but the one in india is just my cup of tea. while i will be in clinics for some of the time, i will also be in an ashram doing yoga and learning traditional medicine, studying first-hand the way that allopathic (western) medicine intersects with traditional ayurveda, reiki, and naturopathy. i think one of the most important lessons i’ve learned in life is the virtue of moderation (aristotle was right on target with that one). being able to balance extremes usually leads to success in whatever situation you want to fill into the blank. modern medicine saves lives every day– i am bewildered and inspired by science. however, i also think there is much to gain from an openness to other paradigms- in the case of medicine, holistic approaches that treat the body and mind as a whole.
the motto of CFHI is let the world change you. as i said above (and in line with the name of this blog), in order to make an impact on the world, i think it needs to sink into our hearts and minds and affect us first. we need to learn to live well- in all senses of the term. everything else after that comes naturally. i want to learn about these people, and i want to learn FROM them, in order to influence my goals in making health and healthcare better.
we are so quick to go into situations and countries with the mentality that our way is the best way. our globalized mentality has made many things possible, but in doing so it has also made it impossible in many cases for the people it is trying to help to actually get the help they need, at least for very long. what’s that quote about teaching a man to fish and feeding him for a lifetime? you can’t just give people what you think they need based on your limited scope…you have to first understand their perspective and traditions, and then give them the tools to make your big ideas work in their world. and hey, maybe even learn a few things from them (what a concept!).
i know this blog started as advice simply on health, but i would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the learning experiences that are coming my way on may 1st. i’ll have more details about my trip and where i will be in the coming weeks, and hopefully i will gain some valuable information to share with you all about health and healing.
looking forward to keeping you up to date on my journey, and if anyone has advice for me, i’m all ears!
i just had to take the time today to discuss my love for and slight obsession with avocados. do any of you feel the same way? i just think they are literally the most perfect food. they are beautiful, versatile, complex and yet simple…they enhance the flavor of foods or can be eaten as the main focus of a meal in so many unique ways.
the health benefits of avocados are immense, as they are loaded with nearly 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients:
- they are good for your heart, as they are filled with vitamin E and monounsaturated fat (the good fat).
- they have been shown to lower cholesterol, as they are high in beta-sirosterol.
- they are high in folate, which reduces stroke.
- they are especially known to be high in vitamins and minerals which prevent oral, prostate, and breast cancer.
- research has even shown that they help you absorb nutrients in other foods that you eat with them!
for me, the best part about avocados is the many ways that you can creatively use them in meals- from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner, to dessert (seriously!). many people enjoy an avocado with their eggs in the morning, with sushi, as an addition to salads or sandwiches, and of course in guacamole. i love to use them as an alternative to butter or mayo on basically any recipe that calls for it, and as a replacement for cheese. i eat it plain on ezekiel toast most days for lunch with lemon juice, himalayan salt, and red pepper. a sandwich like this has a perfect balance of good fats, protein, and whole grains- tons of nutrition and is surprisingly low in calories. it also fills you up and prevents lots of snacking.
a couple of tips for making sure your avocado is ripe: squeeze it gently with your whole hand. it should yield just a little bit under pressure. if it is rock hard, it is not yet ripe, but one way to speed up the ripening process is to put the avocado into a brown paper bag with an apple. the ethylene gas from the apple will do its magic on the avocado and it will be perfect in a day or so. keep avocados stored at room temperature before cutting them open, and once you use some of it, place the rest in a container with lemon juice sprinkled on top so it doesn’t go brown.
aside from the more conventional ways to enjoy avocados, i wanted to give you a couple of cooling summer avocado recipes that just require a blender and will definitely get you hooked on this fabulous fruit if you aren’t already.
simple chilled avocado soup
- 1/2 firm-ripe California avocado
- 1 3/4 English cucumbers (1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 (8-ounce) container plain low-fat yogurt (1 cup)
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh jalapeño chile with seeds
- 1 cup small ice cubes
peel and pit avocado. blend all the ingredients in blender until smooth. garnish with diced avocado and chopped chives (i add cayenne sometimes too).
avocado carob pudding
- 2 avocados
- ½ cup raw carob powder (or raw cocoa or raw chocolate powder)
- 1 cup dates (Medjools ideally)
- 1/4 cup water (or a little less…this is just to make sure it blends properly in the blender)
simply blend all ingredients until the mixture is smooth and creamy and no lumps. add more of any ingredient to taste (i love to add a bit more carob).
these treats are perfect as the weather gets warmer and you start craving cooling foods that fill you up and leave you refreshed. try them and tell me what you think!!
while i know i am probably way behind on this one, i had to share that i am reading the most incredible book. animal, vegetable, miracle is novelist barbara kingsolver’s account of the year she and her family moved to their appalachian farm from the tuscon desert and learned to live off of the land. the beauty of this book is that while we learn the details of what it takes to live in harmony with nature and the seasons, we discover that more than sacrifice and discipline, what it really takes is an understanding and appreciation- a LOVE, if you will- for the true value of real food and how that spills over into a love of family and friends and life itself.
i learned so many fascinating tidbits about everything from a five-color silverbeet (swiss chard with amazing rainbow colored stems and leaves), what it really takes to grow asparagus (three years to harvest, but a well-managed asparagus bed can keep producing for thirty years!), and even…turkey sex (let’s put it this way, because of what it takes lethargize them so they dont get rowdy in the coop and to fatten them up for our thanksgiving feasts, they are rendered incapable of reproducing and professionals have to step in- i’ll leave the rest to your imagination).
one of the best things about kingsolver’s book is that she enlisted her family – her brilliant husband, a professor of environmental studies, and her daugther, a college student who knows the value of eating greens on a deep level- to write essays among the meat of the story. these essays are essentially lectures on the true value of the story she is telling us. steven’s writing tackles larger sociologcial, political, ecological, and economic issues such as the price we pay for purchasing food grown in other countries. local food can be seen as snobby and elitist to so many people- i see this all the time. but in reality, beyond sacrificing quality by purchasing soy products from brazil while we are living in kentucky, we are not supporting the farmer in south america that we imagine out there in the fields. in fact, we supporting an international company that has cut down acres of rainforest to grow the soy, destroying indigenous populations.
camille, kingsolver’s daughter, eloquently shares with us anecdotes about growing up in a rather unconventional (although perhaps we have our definition skewed!) 21st century family. she shares recipes with us which exemplify how we can use so few ingredients and create incredible flavor, as long as those ingredients are organic, and humanely and properly raised.
the simplicity of the message of the book- you are what you eat- and how profound it feels to comprehend it (for so many people who i’ve spoken to that have read this), is proof to me that our society is in desperate need of getting back to our roots. of feeling that immense sense of connection to the deepest place inside our own nature. it is an inspiring, self-reflective place, yes. but more than that, it is a motivating place. in realizing our fundamental goodness- the potential we possess and that our natural environment possesses- a chord is struck within us, motivating us to actually use what we have and who we are as healthy, good people and do some actual GOOD in the world. letting go of ego, of our desire for the fastest, biggest, quickest “solution” to our problems, and just learning to think about our place on this earth within the model of a new paradigm (or perhaps ancient…they say everything comes back around again).
it’s time for real change. we are dying, literally. our bodies, our land, our culture…it is dying. every house on the block looks the same. we eat packaged foods that contain ingredients we can’t pronounce, made up by a person in a labcoat and which need extra chemicals just to produce a taste we could easily grow in our own backyards. we are dropping like flies because our bodies are so inflamed and covered in layers of fat, and yet we are still nutritionally starving. we believe in dogma but not in spirituality. we think we are decent people, but we don’t connect with and support one another. we take pills whose side effects result in having to take more pills, and yet we don’t even realize that perhaps the treatment actually lies in eating something green with our dinner, or maybe even in getting a hug from someone we love.
it’s time to start thinking about these things. we are compassionate and good and alive. our bodies deserve better, our earth deserves better, our culture deserves better, and our hearts deserve better. let’s stop starving and start living.
have any of you ever experience one of those periods in life when it feels like all the energy of the universe is against you.? you can’t keep up with the current but you’re too far from the shore to swim to safety? i’d be shocked to hear if anyone answered no.
the universe is a funny place– literally. sometimes i can’t help but laugh out loud at the absurdity of what people are expected to undergo, and yet, i am often equally as struck by the beautiful nature of the world and the gifts we are given. lately, as i have been going through my own metamorphosis of sorts, i have found this this delicate place that lives somewhere in between extreme emotional stress and pain, and this beautiful, balanced sense of hopeful joy. i visit both sides of the spectrum many times a day, but i have found an appreciation for the space between the two, where i am able to step back and learn to be gentle with myself and others and let go of expectations about the way things are “supposed to be.”
pema chödrön, a beautiful, wise Buddhist nun, whose writings were given to me by an angel of a friend, has helped me so much in my process of letting go during this difficult time. chödrön’s teachings are so powerful because they apply to everyone. in her book, “the places that scare you,” chödrön trains us to be compassionate warriors. in doing so, she inspires us to dive into our fear (of uncertainty, loneliness, sickness, loss – any of the places we all have to inevitably face), move beyond it without denying it, and ultimately learn to truly live with purpose in this world of constant change. no one said it was easy, but what has been so eye-opening for me, is that the hard part is often the GOOD part. this is the part where you are able to sink into yourself and let the stress fall away and just feel what you feel with an open heart and a desire to be present, kind, and loving.
i have never been one of those people that could meditate for very long. i would close my eyes and try to find that place of stillness and my mind would start trailing off after a few minutes and that would be it. it is a very uncomfortable place to be. i dont know if i have ever been ready to be that aware and mindful. chödrön has a very effective way of inspiring people to meditate. she describes it as “a method of cultivating unconditional friendliness toward ourselves.” with time and practice, i am beginning to understand how to relax with myself and feel transformed from the process, and i believe it is because i have begun to understand why it is that i am practicing. my goal these days is not to “get”anywhere or to accomplish something i can brag about to my yoga-loving friends. the goal is just to do something loving for myself. and it is working!
the power of meditation and relaxation is transformative, and it is simple and yet not so simple at the same time. you have to be willing to go to those places that scare you and just sit inside them for a while. don’t think, just stay. exercise control, breathe, laugh!
here are some tips i find helpful for meditating:
1. find a relaxing, quiet place- this can be as specific as a certain corner of your favorite room. (dont forget to turn off your blackberry!)
2. stretch for a few minutes before you begin. this will make you more comfortable.
3. start with the breath. breathe in and out slowly to relax your muscles and quiet your mind. once your mind is quiet, try to feel your body parts without thinking about them.
4. focus on your aspiration. meditating is an active practice, and it requires full attention to a single purpose. (for instance, getting past a certain fear). incorporate this purpose into your breath- feel yourself breathing it in and out as if it were a tangible object.
5. feel your frustration and go with it. it is normal for people to feel their thoughts invading what is supposed to be a quiet mind. try to move past it and keep going. just breathe.
6. focus on your heart. think about your open heart and how much you have to be grateful for. naturally, your thoughts will retreat.
7. be patient with yourself and just practice meditation sincerely. you cannot go wrong if you do this.
most of the reason i began this blog was to talk about health and food…topics that are beyond interests for me; they fuel my passion for life. but an important factor that many people forget these days is that there are other types of food that nourish us that are imperative to total health– at my school, the institute for integrative nutrition, we call this primary food. at the end of the day, what we put in our bodies physically doesn’t really matter if our appetites for love and spirituality are not being fulfilled. this does not mean we must be hard on ourselves every time we don’t make time to work out, or are not in a relationship, or can’t seem to find the peace to meditate. the point is learning to go to those scary places, discover where you are lacking nourishment, and give yourself the compassion and love that you deserve to feed that hunger.
it may sound verbose and complex, but really it is not. it is so simple- the hardest part is allowing yourself to unlock the door. once you’re in, you can take that ton of bricks that has hit you– maybe you lost your job, or someone close to you is sick; maybe you had your heart broken and feel lonely, or you are struggling with body image– you can take them and you can rebuild your life, gently. these painful experiences do not have to harden us, and in fact, the more tender and open we are, the more fearless and free we become. step by step, you will begin to see that we are each given choices every day, and the real gift that we come to find through understanding this is that we have the power to choose how we want to treat ourselves and those around us; the power to create a nourished and fulfilling life.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
there is nothing better than a slice of warm, fluffy banana bread. at least that’s what i thought before i developed my aversion to all things eggs and dairy. and before i realized that this insensitivity was actually a blessing in disguise, i was just plain angry about it. why couldn’t i eat the comfort foods that i loved and which made me happy? why did i always have to be sick after eating things that tasted good? it didn’t seem fair.
after a bit of moping and complaining, i decided to look for ways to update the same flavors i love in ways that are healthy for my body and make me feel good. one of the first egg-free and dairy-free recipes i ever tried making is vegan banana-walnut bread. basically i just took a normal, simple recipe and swapped the ingredients for ones that fit my specific needs. the first time i made it, i was shocked that the results could taste so delicious (it’s even sugar free because i swapped the sugar for agave nectar, which not only has a low-glycemic index, but also makes the bread really moist). i wanted to share the recipe here, and plan on bringing you other ones i love in the future. i was right all along– there really is nothing better than a warm, fluffy slice of VEGAN banana bread.
EASY VEGAN BANANA-WALNUT BREAD
2 cups of whole wheat flour
1/3 cup of vegan margarine
1/2 cup of agave nectar
1 1/2 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp of baking soda
1/2 cup of almond milk (you can substitute rice or soy milk if you like)
1 tsp vanilla
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
A few sprinkles of cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream together vegan margarine and agave. Add flour, baking soda, and baking powder and stir. Stir in additional ingredients.
Pour batter into a lightly greased (i spray a small amount of canola oil) 8″ baking pan. Top with a few sprinkles of cinnamon and additional spare walnuts and bake for approximately 50 minutes.
The result is a nutty, subtly sweet, fluffy bread that will satiate your sweet tooth without the heavy effects of a rich, sugary, dairy-laden dessert. I made it this afternoon with my mom and we ate almost the entire thing! Not only did it turn out perfectly, the whole house has that warm, yummy scent that you just can’t fake.
isn’t it always exciting to learn about an idea which you never spent much time thinking about but which flicks that lightbulb switch in your head and shifts your paradigm a little bit?
that’s how i felt when i read this article in the washington post today, in honor of earth day. kate heyhoe, in her new book “cooking green,” has asked that as we all reassess our carbon footprint today, we also take a look at how our “cookprint” is measuring up. it is easy to get so caught up in eating local, green food, that we forget about the energy we are using to actually prepare our meals.
heyhoe introduces the term ecovore (which i love!), explaining that while locovores buy and eat only local food (within a 100 mile radius), this is not practical for most people, and surprisingly, is not always the most sustainable food. ecovores, on the other hand, eat foods that are in harmony with the environment, both locally and globally, taking into account their current degree of harmony, and how that might change in the future. she says, “our food choices are, at any given time or in any given place, in constant flux, because of changes in ecosystems, economics, and technology.” i love this point. we must recognize the stratifications that are a result of constantly changing sociological, ecological, and economic conditions all over the world and factor them into our decisions about what we eat and how we eat it. one food that is sustainable this season, may not be next season, and we’ll need to choose something else.
heyhoe also notes that being “vegetarian” or “vegan” is self-limiting in that it doesn’t account for the fluidity of global conditions and is not enough to sustain a small “cookprint.”
most of her tips regard cooking methods and appliances in the home, illustrating how we can make smarter choices (which is what being green is all about). a few practical and simple ones are:
-use your toaster oven! heyhoe explains that a standard oven wastes 9% of its fuel through excess heat that doesn’t go into cooking your food. toaster ovens these days have the capacity to cook anything from simple toast to pizzas to roast chicken! i use mine constantly.
-use an electric kettle, but instead of using it to make tea, you can pour it into a glass baking pan and make lasagna with your boiling water, first tenderizing the noodles and then using it to blanch the vegetables as well. you can save washing extra pots and pans, and pour the water out to water your plants.
-nix the garbage disposal. it wastes energy and is antithetical to the ecovore principles because it encourages us to waste!
-fill up empty gaps in the fridge and freezer and it actually will use less fuel! of course, instead of wasting food, try to fill them with containers of water. how easy is that?
-bake multiple dishes at one time when you are using the oven in order to reduce fuel output.
-when boiling water, multitask and pour some of the water out of the pot to use on other items you are adding to your meal. it takes a lot of energy to boil just one pot of water. and you know how none of us ever add our pasta to boiling water until it is bubbling so much it is practically spitting at us? well, it just isn’t necessary. a gentle boil is the same temperature as a raucous one, so turn down the heat until it’s just boiling enough.
-freeze your leftovers and reuse them for other meals, and eat more raw foods! heyhoe makes a great point when she talks about eating lower on the food chain. it is shocking to realize how many gallons of water go into creating a single serving of beef (2600!) and chicken (408!)…in comparison, a serving of almonds takes 12 gallons, which is still a lot.
this valuable information is definitely encouraging me to think before i buy food, prepare food, or even order in a restaurant. i hope it does the same for you!