17

On Plant-Based Eating + Remembering To Chew

Hello friends! I am slowly coming back to reality after my monthlong yoga teacher training retreat. There’s much to share, but in two words: so good. (Oh, and  so funny. My abs are still thanking me for the laughs I shared with my new pals.)

I know some of you have been considering doing a TTC  program, and I couldn’t recommend it more. I did mine at The Sivananda Yoga Farm in Grass Valley, which is an absolutely amazing place as long as you’re someone who can get with being told what to do, eat, and wear for a month (and if you can roll with a little woo woo, like chanting the names of Hindu gods in Sanskrit and stuff). For this gal, it was a heaven—a total luxury to not  think about anything other than my yoga practice.

Anyways, I’m back—and I’m full of beans! Literally and figuratively. And, probably not surprisingly, I’ve returned with a renewed verve for plant-based eating too. (And a serious plan to grow my own food—but more on that another time.)

As I’ve shared in the past, I was a 20-year vegetarian (and on-and-off vegan) until I encountered some health problems a few years back—which I now recognize as a hormonal imbalance due to stress and total energetic depletion. On the recommendation of several practitioners I started eating a little bit of well-sourced meat. It was the right move then, but over time a little bit turned into a little bit more. And if I’m being totally honest, I even started slipping on the sourcing thing sometimes.

But this month helped me reconnect in a big way with all the perks of eating plant foods: from the practice of ahimsa (non-violence) to being kinder to the environment, as well as the benefits to my own physical and spiritual health. It was part of our curriculum (and a final exam question!) to learn about and extol the virtues of a vegetarian diet. (Ok, so they never mentioned glowing skin—but we all know that’s a major plus too.)

And while I’m not swearing off meat entirely—keeping some flexibility around food is important to me, because I do think context can be everything—right now, I’m in a pretty deep love affair with lentils and most things that grow in the ground.

The best part? After years of bloating at the mere sight of raw vegetables and legumes, it seems I’ve finally figured out how to digest this good stuff! Here are my three tips to anyone else who’s had the best intentions to eat more greens but couldn’t quite stomach it…

1. Chew chew chew. I’d never given a whole lot of thought to chewing and tended to eat pretty quickly. But it turns out that chewing is a critical part of the digestive process—not least of all because it lets your saliva do its job—and the more of it you do, the easier a time your tummy will have. It also allows your intestines to absorb nutrients more efficiently; it’s good for your teeth; and it helps you to really enjoy the taste of your food and eat with more consciousness. How much chewing? One speaker on the retreat recommended chewing until you can drink your food. While some foods never quite liquify, it’s a helpful way to think about it.

2. When you eat, focus on eating. I took many of my meals in silence at the farm, sitting under a beautiful weeping willow tree by a pond. While regular life doesn’t generally afford such a picturesque environment, I find there’s a big difference in the way that I eat, chew and digest if I’m distracted by the TV, my computer, or even just conversation. I’m not saying to ignore your family at meal time, but I believe making a conscious effort to focus on the act of eating can be a boon for your body.

3. Snack consciously. I can be a total grazer, and it almost always results in indigestion for me—especially if I throw something down unconsciously around 4pm. So now I’m trying to treat snacks like meals—if I want one, I put it on a plate, sit down, and eat it with awareness. It seems to help!

How much thought do you give to the wheres and hows of eating and chewing? Oh, and happy Meatless Monday!

23

Do You Have A Morning Ritual?

I’m not a morning person so much as just a lover of mornings—especially the hours from 6 to 8am.

This is the time when nobody calls; nobody emails; nobody assumes you’re up. Sometimes, I sleep through these magic hours, but most days I pull myself from slumber and cobble together some version of a morning ritual.

On a good day I might manage to sit in meditation as the light is coming up, do some sun salutations or super gentle yoga postures before getting down to business. On a great day though, I’ll enjoy coffee over horoscopes after that practice, and then head to the tub where I throw down a towel for abhyanga, before showering and actually eating breakfast.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m pretty terrible with routine. Silly things like taking vitamins or eating at the same time every day never seem to stick—even though sticking to them is exactly what the doctor would order. At least the ayurvedic one.

While I usually get up at the same time most days—some mornings I can’t restrain myself from jumping right into emails or writing a blog post before catching up on a few other things and then tripping out the door.

I’m jealous of people who are naturally routined, who stick to exercise and eating habits and vitamins. But I’ve accepted that it’s my challenge, and the early morning is what sets the tone for the rest of my day.

Do you have a morning ritual? Do you do it everyday?

As it so happens this week I’m gone off on an ayurvedic yoga retreat where every day I’ll be doing the exact same routine of meditation, yoga, food, lectures—wash, rinse, and repeat. See ya on the other side!

A morning ritual in Varanasi

11

Why Am I Like This?

Siobhan started us on this brilliant topic with this post. I loved reading her story, as well as yours in the comments.  Here’s mine.

1.  An epiphany.  I was an overweight kid and an obese young adult, until I pulled my head out of my butt and made a commitment to being healthy over a decade ago.  It started with yoga.  I wanted to try it because I felt like my body/mind/spirit were broken and scattered, and I thought yoga might help.  I was putting out so much nurturing energy as a new mom and in my teaching job that I had nothing left for myself.  Yoga changed everything.  I was able to see my body as truly the temple of my soul, and thus worthy of care, whereas before I valued only mind and spirit.  “Our body creates our soul as much as our soul creates our body,” my yoga teacher quoted from David Spangler one day, and I believe it.  I cannot value myself without valuing the earth I come from, so, fundamentally, this is where my devotion to a path of clean living originated.  I had a push to go further when I heard Siobhan interviewed on a local radio show a couple years ago.  I rushed out to buy the book, then plopped myself down and got comfy in this wonderful NMDL community.

2.  I was raised in Michigan on red meat and Twinkies.  I hated vegetables, mostly because until I was an adult living on my own I had barely eaten a fresh vegetable. My mom did insist we eat vegetables, and on a good day we had frozen, but mostly they came from a can. A salad was iceberg lettuce with perhaps a sad looking tomato, covered in Wishbone Italian dressing.  When I moved to California for graduate school, a new world of eating opened up for me.  I was surrounded by fresh food, and though it would be a long time until I came to be truly healthy, I knew then I had been raised on crap and was never going back.

3.  Strokes, death and whatnot.  Eating poorly, smoking, and very little exercise or care for toxic exposure has caught up with my family members.  I do not want to let my own health deteriorate, or set a bad example for my own child.  Plus I’d like to live to enjoy some grandchildren.

4.  My own delicate constitution. A lifetime of digestive issues and autoimmune problems pushed me to find the best way for me to eat.  Things flew out of control when I hit perimenopause at the ridiculously young age of 37, and every health issue I ever had began to overwhelm me.  That was when I figured out I’m gluten intolerant.  Then a few months later I got a really nasty case of food poisoning (Salmonella – I don’t recommend it).  I couldn’t eat anything for days, and when I could eat again, for weeks all I wanted was fresh fruit and vegetables.  I discovered that eating raw is, like, a thing.  My body is so strong and resilient when I’m eating vegan, raw, and gluten free.  I doubt I would have made a commitment to this fairly extreme diet without the push of illness.

5.  My super sensitive skin and picky sense of smell. I have to use clean products for my skin and home because of my sensitivities.  I get pimples and rashes from preservatives and other toxins in products.  Synthetic fragrance typically makes me physically ill and emotionally overwrought.  I can taste dish soap in my food (no, it doesn’t matter how well I rinse).  I am a total canary.

6.  Being a sucker for pretty things. When I was growing up my mom would not have dreamt of leaving the house without full make-up and curled hair with roots freshly touched up from a box of L’Oreal.  I remember playing with her make-up, which was drugstore dirty, but what fun!  Those familiar cosmetics didn’t do my skin any favors though, and as a grown up I used just a few clean-ish products – until I recently discovered a whole world of clean cosmetics.  Now I am hooked.

7.  It’s all connected. In spite of my conservative, entirely non-hippie upbringing, I am deeply pagan and cannot disconnect my self from my son or my community or my planet.  It’s all one, and all motivate me to be on this path, doing the best I can.

Namaste.

As promised here is the second half of my interview with the wise and wonderful Claudia Welch—along with a great video interview I found online. Loved reading everyone’s comments in Part 1, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you guys think of the book!

Since reading it I’ve been practicing many of the recommendations, and I honestly see a difference in how I feel. I don’t expect overnight miracles, but I’m hopeful that these practices are going to help regulate my periods and hormonal fluctuations. If anyone is interested in going deeper Dr. Welch is offering a live phone and online course in this stuff (that’s a link to sign up for a free call)—I’m going to try to sit in on a few if I can.

We’re curious: For those of you who have experienced imbalances, what—if anything—have you noticed affects this most? Is it stress, or food choices, or have you not made the connection? It’s so great to hear all your stories, and as Dr. Welch pointed out, we have such an intelligent and thoughtful community of readers here. The best!

Onto the interview…

Your prescriptions for rebalancing seem so simple, but they’re also quite specific. Tell us about a few that you’ve found very effective.

It is true that some of the prescriptions are simple. But simple can still be hard. If the prescription, for example, is: slow down, and we have been driving ourselves forward for too long, we may not know what “slow down” looks like, or how to get there from here. Sometimes “slow down” is the main prescription and it is often the most effective. But there are other, easier short term remedies that can be very effective.

When we have excess stress in our lives, our nervous systems become hyper sensitive. When they become hypersensitive, we are more likely to translate benign events as threatening ones. When we do that, more stress hormones are secreted, making our nervous systems even more hypersensitive. It is a downward cycle. If we could but calm down the nervous system, we could help break that cycle. And lo, there are ways and means to accomplish that very thing. And, behold, they are simple. Or can be.

One simple remedy is warm oil self-massage–called “Abhyanga” in Ayurveda. There are loads of nerve endings that enervate our skin–the largest organ of our bodies. In essence, we can calm the nervous system through the skin. It works. It is a bit too much to explain here, but it is described in an Appendix in Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life.

I also love 15 minutes of gentle Alternate Nostril Breathing practice, daily. I find it to be one of the most powerful remedies for hot flashes and hormonal imbalance in general.

High-intensity workouts are all the rage right now, but you warn that this type of exercise can be detrimental to some women—when do you recommend against it?

Eastern medicine recognizes that different constitutions require different amounts and types of exercise to maintain optimal health. Stronger, sturdier constitutions do well to engage in longer, harder workouts, while women with slight or delicate frames, do better with slower, er, less sweaty workouts.

There can be many signs that a woman is over exercising. When a woman, for example, is underweight or her periods are scanty, absent or irregular, these are some signs she is either under-nourished, over-exercising or simply outspending her resources in other arenas. In other words, even if she is consuming a healthy diet and getting regular and good sleep–both activities that serve to nourish yin in her body–her output may be exceeding her input. The energy she commits to exercise, work, run errands, etc. may be greater than energy she receives from food, sleep, sweet relationships and down time. In these situations, it would be much better for a woman to engage in gentle yoga, walking, tai qi or qi gong, than weight lifting, running, vigorous yoga or rigorous workouts.

Our bodies prioritize survival over reproduction so they will–100% of the time–allocate whatever nourishment we are receiving, first to our survival and to the organs and tissues that are crucial to survival. If there are resources left over, then they can go to nourish a healthy reproductive system.

Many of us in our forties and older, will remember Jane Fonda’s “make it burn” video workouts and feel like we are being lazy if we do anything less, but there are entire exercise forms in the East that focus more on moving qi or prana–our life force–internally, with gentle, minimal or even no physical movement. When we look at masters of those forms, they may barely move and never break a sweat, but are in incredible shape. These masters understand the value of irrigating our internal organs with energy, rather than simply our muscles, and we can see the results.

You devote a chapter in the book to endocrine disruptors in our environment, including the presence of pthalates in personal care products. When you were researching this topic, what surprised you the most?

That every single person–including infants– tested now hosts an impressive profile of synthetic chemical pollutants.

And that it can take very small amounts of this stuff to do significant damage.

It is also surprising to me how many women are slow—or even unwilling—to give up personal care or household products that contain these chemicals. Honestly, I don’t see how the risk could be worth it.

Paying a little extra sometimes for products that have ingredients that we recognize—or can at least pronounce… isn’t that worth it for the health of ourselves and our families? And our planet? This stuff is getting into our water supplies and polluting our land, air, fish, and animals.

With that in mind, what does your beauty routine look like?

I wash my hair a couple times a week and shake my head. I like Weleda Rosemary shampoo the most, but it’s hard to find. Shikai Gold will do. I use Sarada Ayurvedic Remedies Clarifying Masque overnight if I feel a pimple coming on. Amazing. I use Four Elements Rose Comfrey moisture cream, when I need it, on my face, neck and hands. It has such a wonderful fragrance. And seven decent ingredients. Only. I use unscented Crystalux crystal deoderant body powder, which consists of two safe ingredients: natural mineral salts and corn starch. I love Floracopeia’s essential oils, as perfumes or oils that simply have a good effect on me. Which ones I use varies with the weather, season, and my mood. These days, when it is hot out I like their Rose-Vetiver Attar, but the second it becomes cooler, I prefer Neroli.

This is one of our favorite questions: When do you feel most beautiful?

I feel most physically beautiful when I get to have simple, nourishing, whole food, and regular exercise—either brisk walks or hikes—in beautiful places with clean air. I feel more vibrant, my skin is softer and rosier and I smell better. No kidding.

Amen! And happy Friday everyone. We hope you can get into a little bit of nourishment this weekend, whatever that looks like for you.

7

Do You Do Breathing Exercises?

First things first, I too was raised by wolves. I’ll tell you all about it sometime soon, but among the many cool-but-strange things my mother did when I was a kid was practice breath of fire.

For those of you not steeped in yoga culture, breath of fire is a sequence of quick, guttural (because you used your abdomen) exhales through the nose. It sounds like a dog panting in the middle of summer, kinda fast and furious. But it’s actually very controlled. (Note to mothers: For a small child it can appear a little bit scary. You might want to explain to the kids that mommy is not hyperventilating.)

Anyways, breath of fire is a great way to energize the body, clear out toxins, clear the mind, or in a moment of rage or frustration especially—calm the eff down. Siobhan and I, when we were younger and had jerkier bosses, each had a secret place at our offices where we would go to do this.

Alas, it is still a part of my at-home yoga practice. But these days, I’ve been more focused on another type of breathing: alternate nostril breathing. This is a much slower practice that involves, as the name implies, inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other, then inhaling through that one—retaining the breath in between—and exhaling through the other. There’s a nifty hand position explained in this video (though she doesn’t demo the retention). The slower you can get it, the more calming it feels. It depends on the day, but I usually breath in on a 4-second count, retain for 12, and exhale for 8 or so.

It is a very powerful practice, and I believe its effects are both immediate and lasting throughout the day. As I told you guys a few weeks ago, I’ve been experiencing signs of imbalance lately that I believe are related to years of sustained stress. In my quest to set my body and mind straight, I came across an incredible book called Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life.  Its author Dr. Claudia Welch, is an Ayurvedic doctor and practitioner of Chinese Medicine. She’s also a great writer.

This book has changed my life, and you’ll be hearing more about it. I aspoke to Dr. Welch on the phone for a long time this weekend, and will be featuring an interview with her on the site soon.

It was her writings that reminded me just how effective simple alternate nostril breathing can be on health. In the book it’s one of her key prescriptions for women experiencing any kind of hormonal-slash-life imbalance, and since I’ve been doing it daily I’ve noticed real changes.

Alternate nostril breathing seems to instantly quiet the monkey brain, and lull me into a more meditative state. It’s said to balance the male and female forces in the body, as well as the left and right brain. On a less esoteric note: It also clears my sinuses and helps me breathe better too. :) Do you have a breathing practice?