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The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.

Thomas Edison

The current debate about “health care reform” focuses on how and what to do about health insurance (and the increasingly large numbers of people, myself included, who can no longer afford it) rather than on the core issues of health itself. Health is a complex dance of what you feed yourself, the physical activities you perform, and your overall lifestyle choices not just whether you have access to a medical professional when you really need one.

There are those who say that people should learn to take care of themselves, but neglect to consider that most people have never learned what that means. If your parents grew up eating junk food, how will you know what healthy food is? If your parents had desk jobs and did nothing physical all day and then came home and sat on the couch watching TV all night how will you know what healthy physical activity is? If your parents drank heavily, smoked a lot, stayed up late and slept until noon all weekend, how can you know what healthy lifestyle choices are?

There are efforts to get that information out there – those who know are trying to improve access to fresh produce for those who live in “food deserts” – urban communities which lack even one grocery store within walking distance but have plenty of fast food joints and liquor stores. There are others who work to create and run community centers so kids have a place to play basketball or other sports. There are support groups for those who want to quit smoking and drinking. There are innovative concepts such as the Edible Schoolyard which weaves gardening, cooking, and healthy eating into the entire school curriculum from seed to succulent meal to compost for the next garden.

Somehow we as a nation need to put aside the political squabbling and put all of these pieces together before the poor nutritional choices, lack of exercise, and chaotic lifestyle weaken us to the point that we can no longer maintain ourselves as a people. We are seeing this happen within our lifetimes, as children now suffer the consequences of their parents’ ill-informed choices. Obesity, diabetes, cardiorespiratory issues, weak bones, all of these are products of lifestyle not of age. We in the USA are the most over-fed calorie-wise yet nutritionally deficient in spite of the huge amounts of dietary supplements consumed (most of those vitamins end up in the water supply to feed the algae which depletes the oxygen supply to fish and other creatures in our rivers and bays).

It’s time to stop thinking of processed convenience food-like products as “cheap” when the health effects of a lifetime of eating a predominance of it is so expensive. Invest a little more upfront in high-quality nutrient-dense real foods and reap the savings on doctor bills over the rest of your life.

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the great blizzard of 2010

a view out my side door....

Spring is coming (I keep hoping, since I have about another ton of snow to move from my yard) and you may wish to think about “cleansing” your body in preparation. Your winter diet should be a bit heavier and oilier to ground your mind, moisten your skin, and lubricate your joints but the warmer weather will begin to liquify excess “kapha”, the arrangement of the five great elements in which earth and water elements predominate. If you don’t change your eating habits you will risk gaining and holding onto excess weight and you may risk having a tougher time with seasonal allergies, especially if your nature (prakriti) is kapha dominant.

Our bodies need water but the water element has qualities of coldness and heaviness, just like kapha. Ayurveda recommends that you drink your water warm as cold foods and fluids can weaken your digestive fire (agni). The classics contain an additional recommendation for water which changes its nature, making it lighter and changing its potency (virya) from cold (sheeta) to warm (ushna).

The recipe follows the same method used for making medicinal decoctions; you take x amount of water and bring it to a boil over medium heat (no nuking!) and cook it until the volume is decreased by half, ie 4 cups of water boil down to 2 cups of water. Once this is done you have “ushnodaka”, or warm (boiled) water which is good for cleansing. Be sure to drink it within 24 hours, like all medicines (and foods) in ayurveda you want to consume everything fresh! You won’t need to re-heat the water after it cools as its nature is now warm.

This ushnodaka (ushna, warm; odaka, water) can be the first step in a mini panchakarma (5 actions) which you can perform at the juncture of the seasons. Over the course of one day, you would take the following steps:
Dipana/Pachana: protecting and stoking your digestive fire
Snehana: self massage with warm oil which is appropriate for your nature (sesame for vata, sunflower for pitta, mustard for kapha)
Swedana: sweating, which can be done using vigorous exercise or by setting up a humidifier in a closed room such as your shower.
Then comes your Karma (action); warm oil basti (enema) removes excess vata from the colon, virechana (purging with herbs; you may also use milk, triphala, or castor oil) removes excess pitta from the small intestine, vamana (vomiting after drinking large quantities of salt water; I know, bleah) removes excess kapha from the stomach. If this part really doesn’t appeal to you, do the other parts and eat lightly before, during, and after.

A light diet would consist of things like kitchari (basmati rice and split mung dal). If you were to do the full mini-pk, you would have rice water that day and kitchari the second day when hungry.

In general, you would remove excess kapha in winter/spring, excess pitta in summer/fall, and excess vata in fall/winter. In this way you can avoid experiencing the maladies associated with accumulation and aggravation of the doshas (vata/pitta/kapha) such as constipation, gas and bloating, extremely dry skin, cracking joints, excess mucus, sinus infections, acid reflux, weight gain, and more!

If you aren’t sure what you need to remove or need more guidance, make an appointment with your friendly neighborhood Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant for advice. We will be happy to help you on your journey to natural health.

During the blizzard of 2010

The back-to-back blizzards that shut down much of the East Coast present a wonderful opportunity to solidify your personal Yoga practice; if you have a long term regular comprehensive routine, perhaps you’ve noticed that it has helped with your energy, your strength, and your recovery from the massive amounts of repetitive work required to move up to 3 feet of the white stuff from sidewalks and driveways. At least we took some time off from shoveling to rest while the second storm worked its magic (at least, I did!).

If you took time off from your practice instead, you may be noticing the strain; while Yoga won’t prevent muscle aches and pains from overuse, lack of it may make those pains a lot worse. Here’s a simple, effective practice to do in the mornings, as well as some lifestyle tips that may help you recover more quickly.

When you awaken in the morning, do the usual stuff: pee, poop, brush teeth, shower…. If you have difficulty moving your bowels try drinking a cup of warm water (warm enough to make tea with). If your skin tends to be very dry in winter, if you have a bottle of sesame oil handy take it into the shower with you to warm and afterwards thoroughly rub some of it into your skin (start at your feet and work up your legs, then do your arms working from wrist to shoulder, then rub some into your belly using circular motions from the right side up and over under your ribs and then down the left side. Don’t forget your back, shoulders, and neck!). If you feel dry in your nasal passages, purchase a neti pot and neti salt (a very fine grained salt with no added iodine or anti-caking agents) and begin to use it; regular jala neti will not only lubricate your nasal passages but rinse out mucus and any dust, pollens, molds and fungi that stick to it. You can then put a little sesame oil on your little fingers to rub up your nose, which then helps keep new contaminants out.

Now you are fully ready for practice! Do as much or as little as you need; you only need to practice enough to remove stiffness and soreness from your body. Later, with regular practice, you will find that your capacity is increasing and you can then add to your routine. We will shortly begin uploading video routines to our new virtual Yoga studio, The Well-Seasoned Life at http://www.harmonyswell.com/anglesyoga; we will have free content as well as the opportunity to sign up for access to more personalized content.

First, clear the stagnation and stiffness from your joints. Begin by circling your ankles; you may do this standing or seated but remember to be gentle and relaxed, gradually increasing range of motion if you have any restrictions to movement. Be sure to circle in both directions.

Next, focus on your neck where it joins the head. Pretend you are making circles with your nose against a fogged up mirror. Start with small circles and only increase the size of your circle if there is no pain, clicking, or “crunchiness” in your neck. Do the same number of circles to both directions.

Now work on your shoulders; make small gentle shrugs in each direction avoiding pain and crunchiness.

With your wrists, bring your palms together and lace all of your fingers together. Touch your forearms together and bring your elbows up to the level of your shoulders. Start sliding your forearms up and down against each other, making your wrists bend to one side and then the other. Once this motion is established, add a little turn to the wrists so you make a figure 8 circle.

Now take a wide stance with your feet (not too wide). Swing your arms from one side to the other, allowing your torso to turn with them; try not to twist your hips too much, but turn your head to look over each shoulder and feel your spine begin to loosen up. Be gentle and do as many swings as you can, the more you do the more your spine opens up!

You can now pretend you are using a hula hoop; keep your feet planted and imagine that your head is stuck to the ceiling. Begin making circles with your hips, emphasizing the lubrication of your hip sockets.

Lastly, try making a wavelike motion of your spine beginning with the tailbone tucking under and slowly rolling up your spine with the head coming up last before dropping down and beginning again. Don’t worry if you don’t get this right away; it takes much practice as well as internal awareness of each part of your spinal column. You can leave this part out if things get too frustrating and wait for the video!

When you are finished, be sure to eat a healthy breakfast; cooked cereal like steel cut oats, or scrambled eggs, something warm and nourishing. Avoid eating and drinking cold foods and drinks so your digestive fire remains strong and able to help you assimilate the nutrients you need to rebuild your muscles. You never know when the next SnowPocalypse will occur!

February 2010
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