Bad Foods: Why Some Foods Probably Should Not Be Part of Your Diet

Many people follow diets that do not allow this or that kind of food. Some avoid gluten, while others forego meat. For others, refined carbohydrates are bad foods.

Conversely, many people who eat whatever they want. Many of these people use catchphrases like, “There are no bad foods.” You might also hear things like “all things in moderation” from those who do not believe there are bad foods. So, what’s the truth?

Are There Bad Foods?

chips and berries

After more than twenty years of studying nutrition, I understand the limitations of restrictive diets. I understand why some people say there are no bad foods. But my belief is there are most definitely bad foods. Or perhaps I can put it more accurately and say there are foods that are not good for you!

What I can’t do, though, is give you a list of such foods. Foods that are not good for you depend on your own uniqueness. We are not all the same physically, emotionally, or biochemically. So a food that does no harm to one person might have a terrible effect on another.

Worse, in the case of some allergies, eating a certain food could be deadly. For an obvious example, consider nuts. They are healthy for many people. For those with severe nut allergies, though, eating nuts can have catastrophic consequences.

A Better Definition of Good and Bad Food

In a sense, I agree there are no bad foods, but I agree with a caveat. My definition of food may be narrower than most. To me, food is a substance that is nourishing. To understand what I’m getting at, think beyond what you eat and consider a phrase like “food for the soul.”

The idea of nourishment is simple. A food is not nourishing because it tastes good or because it’s filling or because everyone else at the party is eating it. It’s nourishing because it is good for you. Something positive happens to your health when you eat it. Or at least, something negative does not happen.

If I have a nut allergy, a nut is not food to me. If I’m diabetic, perhaps I shouldn’t think of sugar as food. If my gut goes haywire when I eat wheat…you get the picture!

Food for Overall Well-being

I have not eaten red meat or poultry in decades. I wrote about why in another post. At this point, if I were to eat a single hamburger, I doubt that anything “bad” would happen to my body. But for me (just me), something negative would happen to my spirit.

Based on what I’ve learned about factory farming and its abuse of animals and the environment, eating meat from a grain-fed cow slaughtered in a factory would not be a nourishing experience to me. If I thought my body needed meat for physical health (I don’t), humanely raised grass-fed beef might be an option. This is one personal dietary choice. There are many others. I’m sure you have your own.

Everyone is Different

The truth about food as I see it is no one diet is appropriate for everyone. But to make choices about food, we must know how our bodies use it. We must also know how it is produced. I remember an excellent article in which a naturopathic physician took the idea of bad foods to task. In the article, she stated that she eats “anything she wants.” What she didn’t really get into, though, is that her passion for health and her education about food give her the incentive to make choices that are good for her. Not all people have this luxury.

There are certainly people who believe that feeding a child a hot dog on a white-bread bun and a soda for lunch every day is healthy. I’m fairly confident in my belief that it’s not.

The One Question to Ask About Food

If you’ve found a way of eating that works for you, chances are you had different beliefs before you found that diet. And you may change your ideas about food as time goes on. I’d need to spend a good amount of time with you before I could suggest what might be good or bad for you.

I think there’s only one question to ask about food. The answer to that question may not be so simple, though. The question is, “Does this make me healthier?” And when I talk about health I mean not only physical health, but other aspects of your well-being too.

Over time, if you have a good relationship with all aspects of yourself and with food in general, knowing what is good for you becomes intuitive. Only you know when a piece of chocolate cake will do your body no harm and when it will it will hurt you. You may need to expand your definition of food to make this decision well.

This idea works with almost every food you can think of. Sure there are some foods (organic berries come to mind) that are good for almost everyone. There are others (like blue cotton candy) that can be called food only by a great stretch of the imagination.

The point is the path to good health depends on a lot of things. Diet (in the good sense of the word) is only one of those things.

If you don’t have a good relationship with food, you will not be able to make better choices overnight. You might get on track more quickly by getting to know more about you instead of trying to decide if a food is good or bad.

Think about it.

You Are What You Don’t Eat

calfYou are what you don’t eat. And what you do eat. Or maybe you’re not food at all. So what, then, “are you” when it comes to nutrition and dietary choices?

Telling people I’m a vegetarian is the easiest way to explain why I don’t eat beef, pork, poultry or lamb. But it doesn’t explain why I do eat wild-caught fish and shellfish. It also doesn’t explain why I don’t eat sugar, refined carbohydrates or processed foods that contain ingredients I can barely pronounce. It doesn’t explain why I try to avoid the “dirty dozen” (the produce that absorbs the highest amounts of pesticides) or why, for me, a day without vegetables is like a day without water.

So what exactly am I, and does it really matter? Personal dietary choices are something like religious beliefs in a way. Just because someone claims to be a member of a particular religion doesn’t mean that person has the exact same beliefs and behaviors as all the other members of the group.

Why labels don’t really matter

Religious labels do not tell the whole story, and neither do dietary labels. Still, people seem to want them. It helps to have some “rules” if you need to explain to someone why you choose not to eat turkey on Thanksgiving. You really can’t just say “turkey is not part of my diet” and get away with it, but you can say, “No thanks. I’m a vegetarian.” It seems people expect a label with a definition attached to it, and then you are allowed to say no to the turkey. A case like that is a perfect example of “you are what you don’t eat.”

Dietary labels get complicated in some circles. It’s difficult to explain to your Italian mother that pasta is not something you eat now that your body is showing signs of carbohydrate intolerance. It took my mom years to adjust when I began to move toward a vegetarian diet. Now this?

If I had to find a label for my diet, I guess it would be unprocessed/clean, real-food vegetarian that also eats some kinds of fish and drinks red wine and too much coffee. (By the way, did you know that some vegans eat shellfish?)

But do you eat eggs?

Yes—cage free organic omega 3 eggs (unless I’m in a restaurant; then any egg goes). And, believe it or not, I really don’t like talking about any of this most of the time.

I know people imagine my dietary choices are restrictive or boring, but they’re really not. It’s true what they say; you stop craving things that are bad for you when you start eating healthier (and yummier) things instead. You don’t have to believe me, but there really are much tastier dishes you can make with veggies and lentils. Bacon grease or white bread are extremely dull by comparsion!

Why all this fuss about food?

My interest in vegetarian nutrition started when I was in college looking to shed the “freshman 15” (more like 20). Soon after I graduated, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. I took an actual test though I know it was a fad diagnosis at the time. I learned more about hormones and other unwanted things that accumulate in the fat of animal flesh. And I gradually made the shift to a vegetarian diet. As a DES daughter (one of millions whose mothers took this drug during pregnancy between 1938 and 1971), I’d already overdosed on synthetic hormones before I was even born. (The consequences of that is another story.)

As I learned more about the things going on in the food industry, particularly with respect to factory farming, I became more and more convinced that the lower on the food chain one eats the better. It’s better not only for that person’s health, but for animals and the entire planet as well. Ethical reasons for my food choices soon became as important, if not more important, than health issues.

Then I realized how complicated that can get!

It took years to get where I am now, and I’m sure my dietary choices will continue to evolve. I even earned a traditional college degree in nutrition. I believe the important thing, whether you eat animal flesh or not, is to pay attention to how the food you choose affects you, the environment and the world. There’s always something new to learn when it comes to nourishing not only our bodies, but everything around us as well.

And life is just better when you care!

I think the important thing, whether you eat animal flesh or not, is to pay attention to how the food you choose affects you, the environment and the world. There’s always something new to be learned when it comes to nourishing not only our bodies, but everything around us as well. And life is just better when you care!

How to Make Safe and Healthy Reed Diffusers with Essential Oils

reed diffuserI’m one for nice smells, and I like my house to be filled with pleasing aromas, but I’m wary of the ingredients in air fresheners, scented candles and other common items people use to mask odors in their homes. So, I was very excited to come across a very easy way to make homemade reed diffusers from pure essential oils. All you need is mineral oil, vodka, the essential oil (or oils) of your choice, a small vase and some diffuser reeds, which you can buy in any craft store (I got mine at Pier 1 Imports).

Here’s what you do:

Pour ¼ cup mineral oil and 2-3 tablespoons of vodka into the vase. Then add a small bottle of essential oil. Stir everything with the reeds and then let it go to work. Flip the reeds every once in a while to diffuse the oil better.

It really works, and the fragrance you’re enjoying is not compromising your health! In fact, it is probably enhancing it with the wonderful properties of the particular oil you’ve chosen for your diffuser. I have geranium and lemongrass in mine.

Why I’ve Supported Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals (And Hope You’ll Support the Sanctuary Too)

my turkey friendIn past years, Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals has taken place in cities across the country in October. This year, there was only one walk. It took place in Chicago on October 1, 2016. The Walk for Farm Animals events raised funds for the sanctuary, which cares for farm animals and educates people about the abuses they suffer at the hands of mass food manufacturers. In 2017, the sanctuary will launch a new fundraising event.

Why I have supported Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals

When I first moved toward a vegetarian diet decades ago, I found an article called “Why I Am a Vegetarian.” I typed up a list of bullet points from the article to carry in my wallet so I’d have an easy reference to share with people who wanted to know why I had stopped eating meat. It wasn’t that I didn’t know why, but in those early years, I found it difficult to talk about it without being defensive or sparking a pointless debate. At the time, the people around me weren’t in tune with my decision.

Over the years since, most people who know me have gotten used to the idea that I’m not going to touch the Thanksgiving turkey, and it’s really not an issue any more. More importantly, I’ve grown in my own understanding of the issues. I’ve learned more about how industrial farming abuses animals, destroys the environment and threatens the health of human beings. And that’s why I’ve participated in Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals twice and supported the event since I learned about it almost a decade ago.

I’m not much into preaching or telling other people how to eat (unless they ask; then I might share my views ), but I do think this is important. Here’s why.

It’s not just about the animals; it’s also about our planet and you!

Farm Sanctuary is actually a group of three havens for rescued farm animals (one in New York and two in California). Their mission that goes beyond the refuge they provide for rescued animals. As I mentioned, they educate people about the many ways in which factory farming harms the entire planet and all of its creatures.

You can visit Farm Sanctuary (I’ve been to the New York site) and meet the animals. If you do, your eyes will probably open a bit wider to the fact that each of these creatures is unique and has a distinct personality, just like your very own pets.

For some people, the fact that animals are treated cruelly is reason enough to stop eating them. But there’s much, much more.

Here, in a nutshell, is why I support Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals…

(And by the way, nuts are a great source of nutrients for most vegetarians.)

I’m not against humans eating meat if the meat is compassionately raised and healthy. But the thing is, it’s incredibly hard to find that kind of meat, and if you do find it, it’s likely to cost you more than you spend on a week’s worth of groceries.

The reason compassionately raised meat is so expensive is that the process of raising meat (and producing many other “foods” as well) has been transformed. Your burgers and chicken wings are mass-produced industrial products. They are brought to you by conglomerates that have no interest in the well being of animals, the environment, soil, water quality, food safety, nutrition or your health.

Do you think I’m exaggerating? If you’re not convinced, but you are interested, there’s a great site, Sustainable Table you can visit to learn a lot more about why we need to change the way we produce our food.

The Problems with Factory Farming

When you think of a factory, you probably think of things like mass-production, economies of scale, getting as many products as possible made as cheaply as possible, and things of that sort.

But do you think of health? Do you think of nourishment? A factory is no place to produce food meant to nourish you and keep you healthy.

Here are just a few reasons why not. The list is condensed from information you can find on the Sustainable Table website.

  • Factory farming is cruel and inhumane.
  • Livestock agriculture contributes to destruction of rain forests, global warming, soil erosion, water shortages, air and water pollution, and the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria.
  • It takes far more fossil fuel and water to produce a single calorie of protein from beef, pork or poultry than it takes to produce a calorie of protein from soy.
  • It takes up to 16 pounds of soybeans and grains to produce 1 pound of beef and between 3 and 6 pounds to produce one pound of pork or turkey. People in underdeveloped countries cannot afford meat. The grain used to produce so much meat could be feeding them.
  • The correlation between meat consumption and a wide range of diseases is well documented.
  • Because of industrialized farming practices, animal fat contains high concentrations of pesticides, herbicides, sterols, antibiotics, growth hormones, and other veterinary pharmaceuticals.

Still not convinced?

I know this issue is complicated and not everyone is convinced it deserves attention. But if you’re one of those people, please answer this (at least for yourself). Why is it okay that we treat certain animals as parts of our family and others as mass-market products?

The animals in places like Farm Sanctuary have a special bond of friendship with those who care for and support them, and I assure you, they are not less special than your own pets (if you don’t have pets, take a look at the pet-human relationships of people you know).But  if compassion for all beings is not your thing, consider the environmental, political, economic, and health issues. Is it not clear that our system of food production is in need of serious reform?

Without organizations like Farm Sanctuary helping to educate us all about the abuses of factory farming, we probably wouldn’t make a dent in changing the status quo. But luckily, such places exist, and the good news is things are slowly changing.

Is this just a vegan or vegetarian cause?

Of course it’s not! In fact, if you’re a meat-eater, it might be even more important for you to support places like Farm Sanctuary, that is, if you want safe, healthy food and would prefer not to see animals abused.

In order to reform the factory farming system, all people, whether strict vegans or just people who care about the health and happiness of all beings, need to get on board and support reform.

Will you help?

You don’t need to make a huge donation to make a difference. The more people we can get behind this cause, the more likely we’ll eventually change the minds and hearts of those can make a difference. We need people who have the power to clean up our food supply and treat farm animals with the respect all creatures deserve to step up and do just that!

Please consider a donation to Farm Sanctuary to support its mission. Or just let me know you think about this issue too.!

Thanks!

Want Better Sleep? Here’s Help!

sleep remedies

I’m finding more and more information about the close relationship between sleep and overall health. I don’t know if it’s because I’m more in tune with the topic because I often have trouble sleeping or if the connection between getting a good night’s sleep and health is becoming more well known. According to experts on the subject, people who sleep well live longer, live better, and have fewer chronic diseases. So what do you do if, like me, you find yourself wide awake at 3 am more often than you’d like?

Get on a schedule

The general consensus is that you should go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time in the morning (including your days off). Sleep experts seem to agree that 10 pm is the sleep “sweet spot.” That’s because our bodies produce melatonin between 10 pm and 2 am, and we need melatonin to relax and get to sleep. Most of us need seven or eight hours of quality sleep each night.

Go into sleep mode

If you’re involved in some kind of stimulating activity just before 10 pm, the chances are slim that you’ll be sleeping during those prime melatonin-producing hours. So instead of watching TV, having a heated debate with a family member or getting some work (or homework) done after 9 pm, try something relaxing instead. Doing a bit of restorative yoga, listening to calming music and meditating are good things to try.

Sleep in the dark

This may seem obvious, but many of us do not do it. In order for your body to create melatonin, you need to sleep in as near to pitch black darkness as possible. That means the light from streetlights streaming through windows (and in my case, through skylights in my bedroom), glowing clocks, cell phones and nightlights or a television kept on while you’re trying to get to sleep are all no-nos.

And it’s not just while you are trying to fall asleep that you’ll need darkness if you want to sleep well; you’ll need it for at least two hours before you fall asleep. Of course, if you’re like most people, turning the TV off before bed or getting off the computer at night is not going to happen every night. But it turns out that if (like me) you’re that stubborn about flipping the TV off early, there are a couple of ways around it.

If you’re going to watch TV or surf  the net at night, wear sunglasses while you do it.  I learned seemingly odd tip from the Dr. Oz show, tried it the next night, and to my pleasant surprise it actually did help! According to Dr. Oz, the sunglass remedy works because certain dark lenses block out the blue light that prevents the body from producing melatonin.

Wear a sleep mask. (It’s a lot more comfortable than trying to sleep with your sunglasses on.) This may be the single best thing I ever added to my sleep routine. Credit for this idea goes to my brother!

Get help from herbs

Herbs like chamomile and valerian root can also help improve sleep. You can take them in capsule form or drink a cup of tea containing calming herbal ingredients before you go to bed. (If you drink tea, brew it well and drink only a few ounces so you won’t wake up to go to the bathroom!) When I’m feeling sleep deprived or worried that I’m going to have a restless night, I take valerian root capsules to help me stay relaxed.

Try aromatherapy

Aromatherapy works wonders for the sleep-challenged. This simple practice is my favorite trick for getting a better night’s sleep simply because I’m in awe of the tools that nature has provided in the essential oils of plants.

Science has shown that the aromas from essential oils have many remarkable properties, and one is to calm the mind, relax the body and promote sleep. Oils that are great for sleep include lavender and ylang ylang, as well as blends created just for sleep. I use “Perfect Sleep” aromatherapy blend from the Chopra Center when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep.

You can use aromatherapy oils in a diffuser that fills your bedroom with the scent through the night, or, if you don’t have a diffuser, simply dab some oil on a piece of cotton or even right inside the rim of your lower nostrils.

Sweet dreams!

I’ve tried all of these remedies, and they work for me at least 80 percent of the time (which is great, considering that at one point I was lucky if I slept through the night once a week). If you have trouble sleeping and these or other natural fixes don’t work for you, it might be worth visiting your doctor to see if you have a more serious sleep disorder that is caused by a treatable medical condition.

How Yoga Helped One Yogi Overcome Asthma and How it Can Work for You Too

Gratitude to Doron Hanoch, author of The Yoga Lifestyle for sharing his story and tips for how to practice pranayama for asthma.

The Yoga Lifestyle cover

by Doron Hanoch

It was nighttime. A two-year-old baby could not breathe. He was wheezing and also had a fever. Mom took him to the hospital where he stayed for two months, going through a variety of practices to try and release his air passages.

I was this baby. I remember ice cold baths (probably trying to reduce the inflammation) and a nice robot toy my uncle gave me as a gift. Eventually I returned home to begin years of struggling with breathing. As a kid, I was not strong enough to use inhalers, so other modifications were provided. I slept in front of steaming vapors flying toward me from a round, green plastic container filled with water, and I ate aloe vera candies. Later in life I was told that humidity was bad for me, and I need the driest places on earth. These contradictory recommendations followed me throughout my life.

When I was five, the doctors said, “Don’t worry, this disappears for most kids by age seven.” I had my hopes high. The same happened later. “By age thirteen most children grow past this.” Then, “by age eighteen it will surely go away.”

It never did.

I spent most springs and falls in the hospital at least two nights a week. At night, my mom would walk into my bedroom to see me sitting in bed, breathing heavily. I could not lie down, as it was much harder for me to breathe when horizontal. When the inhaler did not help, it was time for the emergency room.

“Hello Mrs. Hanoch,” they would say. We were there so frequently they knew my mom by name.

In the summers, I would participate in experiments—riding a stationary bike while breathing cold air or sitting in a very cool room or trying other conditions to see how my asthma would react.

Many school trips were problematic, as crossing a field of wheat or other trees would trigger allergic reactions. Cats, dust, and an entire variety of items were on my allergic list. Actually pretty much everything was there. It was just a matter of how strong of an allergic reaction I had. It seemed hopeless.

In my twenties, I finally saw hospitals less, and things were slightly better, until one day about a month after September 11, 2001. We were having a little party at my photography studio in New York City. We danced and had a good time. Then, I felt a restriction in my chest. I went to my room to get an inhaler, but something felt wrong, and I knew the inhaler would not be enough.

I told my roommate to take me to the hospital. He knew I am not the type to go to the hospital if it is not a real emergency. We walked into the elevator. I saw a neighbor from upstairs, then collapsed and fell down. I was told they dragged me out to the sidewalk and did CPR on me. They saved my life. Another friend passed by and called an ambulance. Some electric shocks and my heart was beating again, but no breath. I was on a breathing machine for a few days.

My mom arrived from Israel after been told that her son was a vegetable and would not wake up again. My brother hopped on a flight from San Francisco. The doctor said if I did wake up, I would not be normal again, as my brain had gone too long with no oxygen.

Well, I did wake up after a few days, and once the breathing tubes were out, I was ready to go home. The doctor looked at me as if I had returned from the dead.

I went to see the most famous lung specialist in New York. Here it was again: medication, allergy tests, and removing all possible allergy-causing fabrics and other items from home.

I had been through this too often. It did not work.

It was time to make some bigger changes—a change from the inside. I was already practicing Asthanga yoga, pranayama and meditation, but now I decided to focus more on these tools to really get better.

It has been 15 years since I last visited a hospital.

What practices helped?

Ashtanga yoga emphasizes breath with movement. I practiced Mysore style so I could go at my own pace. I practiced breathing deeply and slowly with lots of focus on the breath. I learned that I needed to relax as I was breathing, especially as I was reaching the end of my exhalations. I learned to exhale more fully, and not rush the inhalation. There is enough air for everyone!

As I practiced sun salutations, I moved slower, allowing enough time to complete the breath with every movement. My breathing was growing deeper. What also helped a lot was learning to relax my mind. Allowing the mind to simply be with no worry or anxiety helped improve my breathing.

Later I added pranayama practices. It was not easy, but with practice it got better. Practicing kumbhakas (breath retention) was the hardest, especially during exhales, when I often felt that I had to take air again. But the calmer I remained, the easier it got.

I was practicing retention of breath mostly during the inhalations, as it was easier and what my teacher recommended. Pranayama, I thought, must be the best thing for me. It took some time to research and realize that the longer exhalations were very good. Together with calming the mind, longer exhalations activate the parasympathetic system—the relaxation response of the body—so my lungs and breath did not go into fight or flight mode, which can cause or exacerbate asthma symptoms.

However, I learned that when doing the inhale retentions or fast breathing techniques such as kapalabhati and bhastrika, I was creating heat, adding to the inflammation, and shortening the breath instead of deepening and calming it.

My new mantra became, “Don’t try too hard.” Practice is important, but surrendering, allowing the breath to deepen without forcing it, helped.

Practices that can help everyone, whether you suffer from asthma or not

Asthma can be triggered for different reasons, and different things will help different people, but some basic practices will help everyone, even those of us without asthma.

The practices and recommendations below are not a substitute for conventional medicine or a doctor, but they may help reduce the need for allopathic treatment. Please use wisdom and caution, and mostly, be patient.

Relaxing the Breath: One-to-Two breathing

Scientists as well as yogis have studied this breathing technique of one-to-two breathing. They found that when the exhalations are longer than the inhalations, the parasympathetic system is activated, which activates the immune system and calms the nervous system. Taking longer exhales also helps muscles relax, making it effective in stress management as well as in reducing asthma symptoms.

Method of Practice: This can be done sitting or lying down on your back. If you are on your back, you can place a rolled blanket or bolster under your knees for comfort. Breathe in through both nostrils at the same time for a count of four and then out for a count of eight. Note that any length of breath is fine as long as you keep the one-to-two ratio. Sometimes it is hard to elongate the exhalation; if this is the case, start with shorter inhalations. Over time, you will find you can lengthen both inhalations and exhalations while maintain the one-to-two ratio. (Exhales that are twice as long as inhales.)

Calming Meditation

Any time we can focus our awareness on a calming object of meditation, it helps us reduce stress, and allows the airway passages to relax and open. The one-to-two breathing technique will help with this. In addition, learning to keep the mind steady or softly focused on an object of meditation helps us gain better control of our mind. It is helpful to practice meditation in a calm environment so if you are later in a less desired situation, you can tap into that ease and calmness and return to a balanced state.

Method of Practice: Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. I recommend sitting, as there is a tendency to fall asleep when lying down. Choose an object of meditation. Classic Zen practice is to focus on your breath. This is helpful as it teaches us to slow the breath. Maybe even begin to notice the short pauses that occur at the end of the exhalations. Simply by having our awareness on the breath and allowing ourselves to just be, we become calm. If the mind is racing, notice it, and return to the breath. Over time, you will manage to stay with the breath for longer periods.

You may prefer looking at a candle or a flower. You may even listen to a mantra or some relaxing music. However be sure you are not getting distracted by your object of meditation. It should be neutral enough that you can stay focused on it.

These are just a few examples of techniques that work great for most people. Other breathing techniques, such as viloma, sitali or nadi shodhana may help, as well as other meditation practices.  I expand on these techniques and many other beneficial lifestyle practices in my book.

Reducing Inflammation

Another lifestyle tip for better breathing is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. For example, add turmeric to dishes whenever possible and eat daikon and radishes. Reduce or eliminate dairy, sugar, and gluten as these foods promote inflammation.

Asthma tends to be defined by its symptoms, and most medicine is designed to alleviate the symptoms. However when we look at the entire mind, body, and spirit and learn to live a balanced, healthy lifestyle, many symptoms will disappear or at least be reduced. A yoga lifestyle is ideal for doing just that. Just make sure to take yoga as a holistic practice; remain soft and have patience. You may need to keep using allopathic medicine, but hopefully, like me, you will find you can use it less. As I mentioned, I have not been in the hospital since 2001. After being in the hospital numerous times yearly, 15 years and counting is a big improvement!

Doron Hanoch is a master yoga teacher and yoga lifestyle coach, a trained chef and certified nutritionist, and a longtime student of Zen. He is author of The Yoga Lifestyle: Using the Flexitarian Method to Ease Stress, Find Balance and Create a Healthy Life. Doron is currently building a yoga and Zen center in Guatemala.

 

 

 

My Awesome Experience With Reiki, A Crystal, and a Healer’s Visions

reikiFor a while now, I’ve wanted to explore alternative methods of healing. I’ve always been interested in going beyond what’s mainstream. So when I was recently invited to try reiki—a healing technique that I’d heard of but did not know much about—I happily accepted the invitation.

When I think of reiki, I recall an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” in which Debra treats herself to a reiki session and Ray flips out because she’s paid money for “a massage where they don’t even touch you”! But Debra insists that she feels great after the experience.

It’s true that reiki is not like other kinds of massage. Jeanne Placier, a yoga teacher and healer who invited me to try reiki at her new location in Ridgewood, NJ, explained that reiki is an exchange of energy in which the practitioner holds his or her hands just above or lightly on various parts of the body.

I have a feeling that Jeanne’s reiki sessions are beyond ordinary even for reiki. When I walked into her massage room, I felt instantly relaxed. I’m sure this had something to do with Jeanne’s friendly personality as well as the peaceful décor, but there was more to it than that. There is definitely a special energy in her space.

Healing Crystals

Before we started, Jeanne and I talked a bit, and she asked me if I’d like to hold a crystal during the session. I had no idea why she was asking, but I said, “Sure. Why not?” She offered me an amethyst crystal because I’d just mentioned that I’m strongly drawn to third eye energy. While the color for the sixth chakra is traditionally indigo, Jeanne said she likes to use amethyst, which can be used for both the sixth and seventh (crown) chakras.

Later, I asked why Jeanne had offered me the crystal. She explained that the gems enhance the energy-healing experience. “I’ve always been drawn to crystals and colors, especially in jewelry,” Jeanne told me. “As I got older, I started to understand their healing properties and started to collect them to wear, admire and use for healing.”

Jeanne is one of these people who trusts her intuition, and that trust pays off. She went on to explain that sometimes a client has something going on that he or she prefers not to share, but in choosing a crystal, that person instinctively chooses a color that corresponds whatever is going on.

After the session, if the person is interested, Jeanne shares information about the properties of the crystals the person chose. “It’s always dead-on related to an issue they have,” she said. “The experience is inspiring to most clients because they learn that they truly know how to heal themselves.”

My Reiki Experience

Still not exactly sure what to expect, I settled onto the massage table, holding the lovely amethyst crystal in one hand. Jeanne then explained a bit more about what to expect; she told me that people have a variety of experiences with reiki. Some see colors or “something comes up,” she said. “Others report feeling very relaxed and lighter.”

It must take a lot of courage, I thought, to offer this kind of service and trust the outcome.

According to The International Center for Reiki Training, the word reiki can be loosely translated to mean God energy. If the word God doesn’t work for you, call it the energy of the universe or a higher power. Reiki works, says Reiki Master William Lee Rand, by changing the vibratory level of the energy field around a person’s body. The benefits can be physical, emotional, and/or spiritual. During a session, there’s an exchange of energy between client and healer.

The exact nature of the exchange, as I understand it, depends on what’s being worked on—a headache, emotional issue, back pain, or chronic fatigue, for example.

As Jeanne began to work on me, I immediately felt intense heat radiating from her hands, which she held in various spots around my head. I didn’t know until later that she stayed in that space because, she said, “There was a lot going on there.”

A lot going on in my head? Sounds about right, though in recent years I’ve tried to lessen the noise in there with the help of my yoga and meditation practice.

Oddly, I also almost immediately had the sensation that my throat was constricted. It didn’t seem like the type of thing one would experience during a healing treatment, but I definitely felt it, and the sensation lasted for a few minutes. Then I started to feel very relaxed, and I drifted away from the sensation of constriction in my throat.

Light and Color

I was in a more or less meditative state for a while when I began to see an intense bright white light. Though my eyes were closed, my first thought was it must be the sun coming out from behind some clouds and shining through the window. But it was so intense that suspected it was something more. Then, as I focused on the light, it turned green. I waited to see other colors—in fact I tried to see other colors (Is that allowed?)—but I only saw green. The green then dissipated, and I drifted back into a meditative state.

Then again: intense bright white light that faded and turned green. And throughout the entire experience, I continued to feel the comforting warmth that radiated from Jeanne’s hands.

When the session was over, Jeanne asked me about my experience. I told her about the constriction and the white and green light. I already knew that green is the color of the heart chakra, and I suspected that the constriction had some connection. I often feel like I can’t speak my truth to loved ones for various reasons—not so much because I don’t value my truth but because my loved ones have trouble receiving what I tell them. Rather than cause conflict, I often choose to stay silent. The white light, of course, is the crown chakra—my strong connection with intuition and a higher power.

A Healer’s Visions

dollI thought that was the end of the session, but to my surprise, there was more. Jeanne shared some visions that she had while she was working with my energy. She told me she saw a newly paved black road (“like brand new and freshly paved,” she emphasized) and a beautiful goldfinch with bright yellow feathers and a black crown. She also saw a little girl dressed in a pinafore holding an old-fashioned doll, the kind with arms and legs that move.

I paused and digested this, struck by the image of the little girl with the doll. We talked a bit about the obvious symbolism of the “new road” and the bird (which of course, can fly), and I agreed that it was related to the book project I’m working on. The little girl in the pinafore holding a doll made sense to me as well. She was me, of course, and while I’m not quite sure why she showed up, I knew exactly what she was wearing. It was a pinafore with a blue and red flowery print that my mother made for me when I was a child. Just the other day when I visited my mom, she was repairing this very garment, which she’d found in her attic! The doll  was one of two cherished toys that I still have from my childhood; it was a gift from my grandparents, who brought it back from Italy when I was six years old.

The Goldfinch

I left Jeanne’s space intrigued with all of this symbolism and imagery. I knew for sure that a freshly paved black road was important symbolism for my life right now, and that, as always, I was making an effort to move beyond the past. But what about the goldfinch? Its golden color, we’d decided, is associated with the solar plexus chakra—the center of power. And of course it has the ability to fly. But I wondered what else the goldfinch symbolizes.

So I went home and looked it up.

According to Spirit Lodge, as a spirit animal, “the presence of goldfinches usually indicates an awakening to the activities of those beings that are normally relegated to the realm of fiction.” The beings in question include angels, fairies and the like.

And maybe also things like reiki if you have skeptic’s mind going in.

Perhaps more importantly, goldfinches are said to help us understand the value of change. In particular, they can give us the “ability to resolve family conflicts in a healthy manner, creating balance in dealing with different people.” Goldfinches give us an “understanding (of) the power of voice.”

Wow.

So if I put this all together, I need to speak my truth in a new way—a more effective way, I guess, and I can do that on my journey down that freshly paved road. The little girl holding the doll—my former self, a child who always quietly and respectfully held back so as not to get in trouble is no longer who I am.

As Jeanne Says, There’s Always More

Okay, I know that there are lots of ways I could have put the pieces of my reiki experience together, but the point is this: Like yoga, reiki seems to be one of those practices that you turn to for one reason which ends up offering so much more than you ever imagined it would.

As it turns out, reiki is not only relaxing and healing, but it’s an excellent tool for self-discovery, if one is open to that kind of thing. Of course, you’ll need to find a practitioner who is right for you to work with. In my case, Jeanne’s down-to-earth friendly nature (which cleverly disguises her amazing power as a healer) works perfectly for me.

So what about you? If you haven’t experienced reiki, why not give it a try? If you can find a reiki practitioner you click with, you might just be inspired and surprised by all this practice has to offer. If you’ve already discovered the practice, I’d love to hear about your reiki experience!

Ayurvedic Spices to Balance Vata Dosha

ayurvedic-spicesUntil recently, I used few herbs or spices other than the basics I grew up with (salt, pepper, and, like every good Italian, basil and oregano). I had no idea what I was missing! Now that I’m beginning to tap into the benefits of spices for health (and for making food tastier), I have many favorites (basil and oregano still among them). I also love a blend of vata-balancing Ayurvedic spices that I now use every time I make a salad: cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, asafetida, and salt.

According to Ayurveda, a balanced diet should consist of foods that contain all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent). A few years ago, I found a product called Organic Surya Spice Blend from the Chopra Center that contains the six tastes I listed above.

Balancing Vata

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the doshas, here’s a quick overview. In Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine, each person has a unique constitution that is classified as one (or in some cases a combination) of three types, called doshas. The three doshas are vata, pitta and kapha.

Since my dosha is vata, I was drawn to this blend of spices, and it became a staple in my kitchen right away. It’s delicious in salads (also in soups, as in ingredient in dips and for seasoning fish), but beyond that, the properties of each spice have unique health benefits for someone of my constitution. Balancing vata energy is especially important now that it is “Vata season” (autumn). Vata is an airy, spacey kind of energy, so these grounding spices are especially useful.

Spices for Vata

Here’s a rundown of each ingredient in this delicious spice blend.

Asafetida, the one ingredient on this list that may not have heard of before, is so-named for its strong odor. It also has the nickname “devil’s dung.” Sound good so far? I didn’t think so either – until I learned more about it. This sour herb is great for the digestive system, and it also reduces inflammation throughout the body.

Cardamom is a warm spice from India. Those with a vata constitution do well with warmer foods and can also benefit from cardamom’s cleansing and detoxifying properties. It’s a peppery spice that is classified as bitter, though it has a very pleasant taste. Cardamom is one of the ingredients in curry.

Cinnamon is another warming spice, and it’s one of my favorites. Since vata people (among others) do better avoiding sugar, the sweetness of cinnamon is a great substitute.

Cumin, a favorite among Indian cooks, is a bitter spice with strong antibacterial properties. It’s also another spice that can help balance the digestive system.

Ginger, the astringent in the group, is great for the digestive troubles that vata people often experience. It’s also known to be an uplifting spice (maybe that’s why it’s used to make those yummy holiday cookies).

Nutmeg is often found alongside ginger and cinnamon in many recipes that hint of the warmth of autumn evenings by the fire. This spice adds a pungent flavor to the blend.

Salt may not seem like a healing spice, but when blended properly among the other tastes, it adds just the right balance and helps bring out the flavors of the other spices.

The flavors in this blend really do come together nicely. It’s not too sweet, bitter, spicy, salty, sour or astringent; it’s just right! So, if you’re intrigued by the idea of using more spices to add flavor and health benefits to your food but you don’t know where to start, try a blend like this. There are also blends available for the other two doshas. You can find them all at the Chopra Center store, or you can buy the individual spices and experiment with combining them yourself!

Good Food, Bad Food; Eat This, Not That

chips and berriesI recently had a conversation with a man—I’ll call him Kenny—who insisted that “all foods are good.” In fact, he went beyond that to suggest that “all foods are healthy.” The conversation went something like this:

Kenny: All foods are healthy.

Me: No they’re not.

Kenny: Yes they are.

Me: No they’re not

Kenny: Yes they are.

Okay, we both made some other points, and in the end we agreed more than we disagreed, but the one issue I do take with Kenny is the idea that all foods are healthy (or “good” if you want to use that word instead).

There is No Perfect Diet

Kenny is a man on a mission to dispel the idea that there is a single diet that anyone must follow in order to be healthy, and I concur. But Kenny also believes that:

  • There is no such thing as a superfood.
  • GMOs pose no health risk to people.
  • If you are trying to lose weight or get healthier, you should not cut any specific food or group of foods from your diet.
  • No food has the ability to boost brain power, improve immunity, or do anything else in particular.
  • Organic foods are not better than conventional foods.
  • Additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients are fine.

Well, Kenny. Where do I begin? I don’t disagree with all of this, but some of it is just sloppy thinking. I’ll elaborate by responding to this statement (from Kenny): “All foods are healthy; that’s why they’re called food.”

Okay, maybe Kenny and I have a different definition of food. For starters, pesticides, artificial ingredients, and the like are not substances that belong in food, so when they are added to anything intended for human consumption, I will do my best to avoid that thing. Sure it’s not always possible, but it’s worth my attention. And while it may be true that no specific food single-handedly boosts brain power or improves immunity, it is certainly true that certain nutrients do. And where do we get these nutrients? Well, from certain foods, of course (but not all foods).

All Foods Are Not Healthy

So, like I said, Kenny and I went back and forth on this until it dawned on me that I didn’t really have an issue with what he was trying to say; I just had an issue with what he was actually saying (which is that all foods are healthy). That part of the conversation went something like this:

Me: Diet cola is not healthy.

Kenny: Yes it is.

Me: No it’s not.

Kenny: Yes it is.

Me: No it’s not.

And then I realized that I was trying to say that it is not healthy, while Kenny was trying to say it is not unhealthy. What’s the difference? Kenny’s point was that if I drink a can of diet soda once in a while but my overall diet is healthy, the diet soda won’t hurt me. My point was that the diet soda does not nourish me in any useful way, so it is not healthy. And this is just me, but because it is not healthy, I choose not to drink it. Ever. Because it’s not healthy.

Don’t get me wrong, there are other things that I do consume even though they probably don’t contribute to my health in any meaningful way.

This not healthy versus unhealthy issue reminded me of a point I often try to make about people. There aren’t many people I dislike, as in I actively do not like them. But there are plenty of people I don’t like, as in I am not particularly drawn to them.

Get it? Okay, back to the food.

I asked Kenny if he thought it made no difference, given a list of 100 foods, which ones I choose to eat on a regular basis. Since I didn’t actually give him a list of foods, he told me he couldn’t answer the question. So I told him that I was going to choose, bacon, lollipops, hot dogs and diet cola. And then the next day, since all foods are good and it doesn’t matter what I eat on any given day, I would choose those same foods again. And I would keep this up every day because all foods are healthy and it doesn’t matter what I eat.

No, that was not Kenny’s point! (And yes, I knew that.)

But my point was that it is not true that all foods are healthy! To be healthy (I believe) they need to nourish my body. They need to provide me with some benefit that outweighs any deficit.

Kenny thought I was trying to say that there is no single axis measure by which I can compare foods and decide if one is healthier than another.

Well, of course there’s not. I wasn’t looking for one. A banana has some health-promoting minerals. An egg is a good source of protein. Leafy greens are loaded with vitamins. I can’t say that one of those three foods is healthier than the others.

But they are all healthier than diet cola!

Really, Kenny? You can’t give me this one?

When I asked Kenny what is “good” about diet cola, he said it was hydrating.

Sigh.

All Foods Can Be Part of a Healthy Diet

In fairness to Kenny, I have to say that he did make some good points with which I agree. They were just not points that had anything to do with the original purpose of the conversation, which was to flesh out what people mean when they say, “All foods are good.”

Kenny and I both agree that all foods can be part of a healthy diet. As he said, “It’s much healthier to look at your diet as a whole than to fret about individual foods.”

But he also said, “Calling certain foods ‘unhealthy’ just indicates an unhealthy relationship with food. Any food can be part of a healthy diet. No exceptions. There are foods that should probably form a larger part of your diet, and foods that should form a smaller part, but all those foods are good.”

I decided not to try again to get into my whole thing about how saying something is unhealthy is not the same as saying it is not healthy. So we ended the conversation like this:

Kenny: You can’t compare apples to eggs.

Me: I’m not trying to. But I’ll pass on the diet cola.

Essential Oils for Vertigo, Dizziness, and Nausea

When it’s Time for Yoga but You’re Feeling Dizzy…

AromaTouchEvery now and then, I get a touch of vertigo. If you’ve ever had this experience, you know it is not fun! So I was especially bummed this morning when I felt a bit queasy only an hour before yoga class. I didn’t really want to skip class, but I couldn’t imagine how I’d get through it either. Still, I went, because I knew I could always spend the hour in the back of the room in savasana.

A few minutes into the drive to class, I had second thoughts. In fact, I was afraid I was going to get into an accident because I was feeling like I’d just gotten off a roller coaster. But I was halfway there, so I kept going, and, thankfully, I arrived safely. When my teacher arrived a short while later, I was sitting outside the studio with my head in my hands. I was thinking about a bottle of peppermint essential oil that I knew was on a shelf inside. A few drops of that might help steady me, I thought. I use peppermint essential oil often when I have a headache or when I feel that roller coaster feeling.

I told my dear teacher was feeling out of sorts, and it turns out, she had something even better to offer. She reached into her bag of tricks and pulled out an essential oil blend by doTerra called  AromaTouch. I rubbed a few drops in my hands and inhaled the aroma. I was surprised that I almost immediately felt better! Odd, I thought, since the name of the oil suggested it was not necessarily blended to treat vertigo.

Armed with the peppermint and AromaTouch blend, I placed my mat at the back of the room (just in case) and managed to get through the entire class feeling pretty good (and proud of myself for showing up when I could just as easily have gone back to bed).

Essential Oils for Vertigo

So what, I wondered, was in this AromaTouch blend, and were any of the ingredients known to help with nausea or dizziness? From the name, it seemed like the blend was intended to be used as a massage oil, but I figured that by coincidence there is something in it that’s good for dizziness as well. When I got home, I looked up the product and found the list of ingredients. Aroma Touch Blend contains:

  • Cypress
  • Peppermint
  • Marjoram
  • Basil
  • Grapefruit
  • Lavender

I already knew that peppermint is effective in treating dizziness and nausea. It turns out that more than one of the other ingredients is steadying as well. In fact, when I looked up essential oils for treating vertigo, I found this list:

  • Peppermint
  • Cypress
  • Basil
  • Lavender
  • Tangerine

No wonder this oil blend helped my dizziness! I don’t know why they don’t market it for that purpose, but maybe they should. According to Do Terra, AromaTouch is good for relaxation and stress relief, and it also helps promote circulation. In any case, now I know which ingredients to turn to the next time I feel like I’ve just gotten off a roller coaster. If you have similar symptoms, you may want to try these oils as well. If you do (or if you already have), let me know how they work for you!

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