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What if your daily routine could heal you to the point that you no longer needed aspirin for headaches you no longer have? Or lower your blood pressure, normalize your blood sugar, clear your arteries, help you sleep, reduce your stress?

What if your food choices reduced your grocery budget, made your skin glow, kept your kids healthy, happy, and eager and able to learn in school?

Our selections are too often made not by considering how much they will cost us down the road but by what they cost us now – cheap, overly processed food-in-a-box, meat and milk from factory-farmed animals raised in confinement (because it’s cheaper and more convenient for the “farmer”), “energy” bars and trendy “energy” drinks (they claim to give us quick nutrition or all day energy), bottled water (because we no longer trust what comes out of our taps) that turns out to be tap water….

But many of us haven’t yet found one of the most powerful cost-reducing tricks on the menu – joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group. By “buying into” a local farm that grows our produce or raises our chickens or beef we can significantly reduce our yearly grocery bill. I just signed up for One Straw Farm’s CSA for $425 for the growing season from June – November, and my one share will feed four people all summer (about $71/month for six months, or less than $18/week for FOUR people! $4.50 per person per week!). Greens, tomatoes, squashes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, radishes, lettuces, strawberries, melons, and a few things I am not familiar with (forcing me to try new things…), and my costs were reduced by half while I ate better than I ever have. I saw my migraines disappear to the point that I no longer have to take the expensive medication I was on. I’m not even buying over-the-counter pain relievers (I make fresh ginger tea instead)! Obviously, this makes me very happy…

If One Straw Farm is not the CSA for you, google CSA and find a farm in your area. Many farms have extensive websites that describe what they do, how they do it, and even provide recipes for the more unusual produce they grow. One Straw has a blog that keeps us up to date on what affects our deliveries, such as weather, critters that may eat “our” food before it can be harvested (we got a lot of greens last year, because their groundhog population had eaten “our” other crops….). Having a closer relationship with our food and the people who grow it gives us a greater appreciation for the work involved in lovingly bringing healthy meals to our families.

One of the most meditative experiences we can build into our days is that of preparing a truly nutritious meal from fresh, locally grown ingredients. It only takes a minute or two to slice some fresh kale, onions, or mushrooms to add to our scrambled eggs in the morning (from a local egg farmer of course) or our rice in the evening. And by sauteeing our veggies in sesame oil or ghee (clarified butter) which has been infused with healing spices like coriander, turmeric, or cumin (or all three!) we can reduce inflammation in our arteries while adding rich flavor to our meal. Don’t be afraid of the fat! It’s important for that full satisfied feeling, for assimilation of fat-soluble vitamins, for getting us to our next meal so we don’t snack on junk food in between meals…

In Ayurveda, ghee is considered important for bringing the healing properties of spices into our cells. The clarification process removes the sugars from butter which then makes the butter stable at room temperature (no refrigeration required!); this means that ghee does not burn when cooked, nor does it go rancid quickly like other oils might. Ghee is also a highly saturated fat, which is not a bad thing – this saturation is what makes it stable and solid out of the fridge and keeps it “good”.

Rancidity occurs when oxygen molecules bind with the fat or oil to make it go “bad”. Rancid oils (the polyunsaturated ones, which have “open” spaces in their molecules) bind readily with oxygen, and since most processed foods use these oils, chances are that processed food is already rancid by the time you buy it. Doesn’t that sound yummy? And, that rancidity is what creates inflammation in your body, which causes heart disease and other ills.

I remember that my grandparents cooked with lard (a highly saturated fat from pork), used lots of butter on bread, made the best fried chicken, and the veggies came from the garden just outside the farmhouse, picked fresh (the peas were sweet enough to eat raw!). And they stayed healthy as long as they ate that way. In Asia, coconut or red palm oil is used, and traditional societies there also have low rates of heart disease (it’s only recently, as they shift to a Western lifestyle, that they are now experiencing “our” diseases).

Just by changing how we eat, how we cook, what fats we use when we cook can go a long way towards reducing inflammation while improving the taste of our food. At the same time, our health improves and our medical costs are sure to decline. I went from seeing a neurologist (for the migraines), my primary care doctor, a naturopath, acupuncturist, and physical therapist (I was a mess…. more on that later) to keeping the PT and the acupuncturist, with a consultation with the Ayurvedic consultant at Kripalu (where I am studying Ayurveda). This year I do not expect to meet my $2500 deductible on my health insurance where in previous years I was spending $5000 or more on health care.

When we look forward to a fresh-cooked meal made with high-quality traditional fats, spices, and main ingredients we can really focus on the experience of tasting, smelling, and fully digesting our food. By scheduling regular meals with our families, we also keep the tradition of sharing the experience with others, staying in touch with each other, infusing our meals with love and compassion.

The ancients said “we are born of food”. We in America amended it to “you are what you eat”.

Either way, wouldn’t you rather be made of the highest quality ingredients?

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Brrrrrrrr…..

Winter is cold, dry (even with the precipitation), dark, and did I mention cold?

Winter is, however, necessary for Spring to make an appearance. Many plants go dormant (as do some animal species) and need a period of cold so they can rest before emerging with the warmer weather to reproduce. If you have crocuses in your lawn, this is one example of required dormancy before flowering. No cold, no crocus!

Humans may not go dormant but Winter season does affect us more than one might think even with our modern climate-controlled buildings and access to out-of-season foods. The cold, dry, and dark attributes can show up in our skin, make our hands and feet feel icy, or make us feel “dark” and depressed. We can modify our habits during this time to alleviate these symptoms and feel more “normal”.

In Ayurveda, the ancient wellness lifestyle system of India (of which Yoga is a part), Winter is considered “Vata”: the energies of the elements of air and ether (or space). The qualities of Vata are cold, dry, rough, light, mobile, astringent, and clear. Vata in the human body is responsible for movement: movement of our thoughts and emotions, movement of nutrients through our digestive tract, movement of blood through our circulatory system, and more. In balance, the qualities of Vata allow us to live full, happy lives. Out of balance, excess or insufficient Vata makes us ill.

A Vata person (someone who has a nature primarily of the qualities associated with the elements of air and ether/space) will tend to go out of balance quickly during winter. Others who may not be Vata (and we will go through these later) may also go out of balance because of an overly mobile lifestyle (lots of traveling), eating the “wrong” foods (too much cold, dry foods or cold drinks), or erratic sleep schedules.

To bring yourself back into balance, eat more warm, moist, nourishing foods of the season (perhaps more root veggies, stews and soups), sip hot or warm drinks through the day (plain water is best, but teas can be good too – just don’t go overboard with caffeine which is drying).

Try to establish a regular schedule – routine is good for balancing the chaos that Vata tends to become – getting up and going to bed at the same times each day, eating meals at regular intervals (with your biggest meal around noon). Find a regular time for exercise: not only can exercise boost your mood, it can help reduce Winter weight gain. If you must do a lot of traveling, keeping as regular a schedule as possible will help keep you sane (as well as rested!).

Yoga in particular has been found to help women stick to a steady weight as we age. During Winter, we may need to slow down a little (cold makes our muscles tight) but we can still work up a sweat moving slowly and mindfully through our asanas (postures). An added benefit is that Yoga can directly affect Vata through forward bending postures which massage and tone the internal organs, which just happen to be the primary seat of Vata in the body

And if your skin tends to dryness, add more natural (organic) fats and oils to your diet such as sesame and ghee (clarified butter). Sesame oil in particular is used in Ayurveda to balance Vata because of its heating qualities (while coconut oil, for instance, is cooling and balancing to Pitta/fire). You can cook with it (Chinese stir fry!) as well as use it for self-massage everyday to soften the skin without the strange chemicals that appear in commercial moisturizers.

If your mind tends to darkness (seasonal affective disorder, or SAD) avoid exposure to upsetting things as much as possible (a real challenge right now – try turning off the nightly news for a start, or get your news from the Daily Show!) and work on finding activities, people, and small things that make you feel content and peaceful. My personal favorite is to watch the birds as they visit the feeder outside my front window and the antics of the squirrels as they chase each other and “steal” the birdseed (look up ‘Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder” on YouTube). I also share my life with two cats, one a shelter rescue and the other a former feral, who love to snuggle next to me and purr their little heads off when they’re happy. So I work to make them happy, and their purring makes me happy!

So, not only can we bring ourselves back into balance (and become happier in the process) we can also save ourselves quite a lot of money while eating well, finding a routine, and making others happy. Simplifying our lives purifies the mind while preparing natural (unprocessed) food purifies the body, and observing how we react to seasonal changes teaches us how to keep ourselves and our families in balance.

A Well-Seasoned Woman can heal herself, and then we heal the world!

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