Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Transition Diet: Nourish Earth

"In fact, the essential flavor of the food comes from one's heart, from cooking
with one's whole soul, and from respecting the spirit of the kitchen."
--Zen monk

Change of season means adjusting dietary choices to stay in tune with what's most plentiful and nourishing. A good transition diet is grounding and prepares us for winter ahead by building immunity and increasing vitality: Heavy protein and processed foods plug the vital channels and lower pranic energy, while fruits and vegetables are both energizing and cleansing.

In five element theory (the basis for Feng Shui and acupuncture) the earth element corresponds to the stomach and spleen, both of which are nourished by 'earthy' and sweet root vegetables, certain grains, and herbs. The stomach rules transformation by receiving nourishment and preparing food for digestion. The spleen rules transportation, distributing extracted nutritive essences throughout the lymphatic system, building immunity, and protecting against infection.

When our earth 'chi' is harmonious and healthy, we feel supported and generally confident – solidly anchored in pragmatic reality. Earth energy can be adversely affected by unconscious diet, low self esteem, lack of true purpose, comfort, or missing support at home or work. Feelings like 'butterflies in the stomach' are symptomatic of upset earth. Even worse – the emotion of 'worry' wrecks our stomach and imbalances digestion.

Earth energy can be cultivated by centering activities like gardening, knitting, cooking, architecture, carpentry, – even housekeeping. Meditation and visualizations upon personal places of power; favorite places you have visited – also builds good earth. In many traditions, devotees regularly connect to representations of Earth 'Spirit' usually a feminine figure set in nature...like 'Our Lady of Lourdes, where many spontaneous healings have been reported

On a more mundane level earth vegetables include: Carrots, pumpkin, sweet corn, onion,
mushrooms, green peas, beans, zucchini, sweet potato, cauliflower, leeks and celery and all the
summer vegetables.
Also, apples, grapes and vine fruits, small berries, peas, fennel, potatoes, soy beans,
Grains: buckwheat, oats, millet, amaranth, quinoa, sweet rice, jobs tears.
Herbs: astragalus root, ginger root, ginseng, horseradish, dandelion, dongquai, fennel, beet root

Also: Honey, miso, barley malt, pumpkin seeds, aduki, kidney and pinto beans.

The spleen is weakened by damp food energetics.
Arame drains 'damp – also umebeshoi plum is curative.

Avoid: excess cold drinks, ice cream, soda drinks, sugar, white flour, coffee, processed meats, preserved and frozen foods, excess raw foods and cold foods, excess fruit, salad, citrus fruit, heavy foods, pasta too often, cold meats, fatty foods, leftover foods, excess dairy foods, overly sweet foods.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Barefoot Meditation for the Mind and Body

“Meditation helps you do less and accomplish more.”
– Deepok Chopra

As summer folds its fiery wings, nature contracts and the fruits of the harvest grow dense with stored sunlight. It feels good to stay home now. In cooler climes, there's still time to bank some first-hand sunlight and take advantage of the opportunity to exercise in the fresh air...even go for barefoot walks.

The following barefoot meditation provides grounding energy through direct connection to the earth. Ideally it should be performed while in a seated position, barefoot, with soles planted – and toes connected firmly to the ground.

Barefoot Meditation
First, find a bench or chair on a grassy spot. You can begin with just five minutes; but aim for twenty. Morning sun (before 11am) is ideal. But sunset also works.
Plant toes firmly on earth, focusing intention on the big toe(s). According to reflexology the big toe is connected to the pineal gland. Said to be linked to the third eye, the pineal is largely responsible for the health of circadian rhythms and prevents against SAD (seasonal affective disorder). In addition to producing melatonin, the pineal gland also controls the release of serotonin, “the mood hormone.' Stimulation through direct contact with geomagnetic energy helps control aging, calms the nervous system, and lays the groundwork for building and opening to higher, more refined energies. Tobacco, drugs, stress, and lack of Vit. A depletes the pineal.
To begin, take deep belly breaths. The abdomen should expand on the inhale, and contract on the exhale. Once a comfortable rhythm is established - visualize a circuit of energy orbiting from the top of your head, (crown chakra), to your big toe(s). Continue for 5- 20 minutes.
For more advanced, coordinate with alternate nostril breathing, and add silent mantra.

If outdoor meditation isn't possible, yogic postures which help preserve and strengthen the pineal gland include yoga mudra, child's pose -- with the forehead to the floor.
Sun salutations (Surya namaskar) also flush and nourish the gland with oxygenated blood.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ten Foods to Optimize Immunity

“A man may esteem himself as happy when that which is his food is also his medicine.”
­--Henry David Thoreau

Awareness about the need for much higher levels of Vitamin D than the routinely 'prescribed' 400 IUs has been simmering for a few years. Now, faced with one of the most challenging flu seasons ever – realization of what the endemic shortages of Vit. D really means is boiling over. In 2007 an article appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition calling for the “urgent need” to increase the requirements for Vit. D. “The range we are talking about – 1,000 IU a day – is still a small dose,” said Walter Willet, MD. Chairman of the Harvard School of Public Health's department of nutrition. Some suggest as much as 10,000 IU as the tolerable upper intake daily limit; a fair-skinned person can manufacture 15,000 IUs or more, of vitamin D in as little as 30 minutes of optimal sun exposure. Consider the obvious link between Vit. D, a fat soluble vitamin, which is sequestered in fat tissue, and the fact that 'chubby children' are most at risk for the current flu threat. Also at risk are those with otherwise healthy immune systems who routinely subsist on processed, refined carbohydrates, replete with sugar and white flour. These pro-inflammatory foods set the stage for the deadly 'cytokine storm' that characterizes the lethal, over-reactive immune response to the H1N1 viral onslaught.
These nutrient-dense, inflammatory-calming foods, oils, and herbs top the charts:
Cold-water, Wild-Caught Fish - Alaskan Salmon, and olive-oil packed Sardines are highest in Vit. D and rich in omega-3 fats, which are the most powerful anti-inflammatory substances available without a prescription. Also eastern oysters. Atlantic, farm-raised salmon is devoid of calming, anti-inflammatory Omega 3's.
Walnuts – Walnuts are rich in Omega-6 fats that help to produce anti-inflammatory hormones. Runners-up are almonds, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, and all-natural (unprocessed, nut butters). Popular supermarket peanut butter contains hydrogenated oils which are pro-inflammatory.
Flax Seed Oil – Rich in Omega 3's and highest in alpha linolenic oil, both are highly anti-inflammatory. Flax goes rancid quickly. Combine with olive oil, lemon, and drizzle over greens. Sprinkle crushed flax seeds over salads and into morning oatmeal. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Wherever flaxseeds become a regular food item among the people, there will be better health.”
Tumeric - Dr. Art Ayer says that cucumin, the active ingredient in turmericc, “cures cytokine storms.” (http://diseases-viruses.suite101.com/article.cfm/swine_flu_cytokine_storm_cures) Curcumin was found to be pharmacologically safe in human clinical trials with doses up to 10 g/day. A phase 1 human trial with 25 subjects using up to 8000 mg of Curcumin per day for 3 months found no toxicity from curcumin. Five other human trials using 1125-2500 mg of Curcumin per day have also found it to be safe. Runners-up are Tulsi tea, and neem.
In the words of Dr. David Frawley: “If I had only a single herb to depend upon for all possible health and dietary needs, I would without much hesitation choose the Indian spice turmeric.”
Turmeric Tea (Best ½ hr. before sleep)
2 cups water (or milk)1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger1/2 teaspoon powdered turmeric1 tablespoon maple syrupJuice of 1/2 lemon (or, ½ teaspoon ghee).Bring water to a boil, then add powdered herbs. If preparing with milk, gently heat but do not boil or scald milk. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain tea into a mug, add maple syrup and lemon (or ghee), stirring to combine. Drink warm.
Enjoy 2-3 cups of turmeric tea per day, but best 1/2 hr. before sleep. Women who are pregnant or nursing and sufferers of congestive heart failure, gallstones, or obstruction of the bile ducts should not take turmeric tea.
Berries - The darker the better. Try for fresh and local but blueberries and cherries freeze well. Elderberry extract can act as a preventative; known for it's powerful anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects. Also, black currant juice (Currant C is especially delicious) is very high in protective anthrocyanidins (http://food-facts.suite101.com/article.cfm/blueberries_are_the_power_food_of_the_moment).
Dark Green Vegetables – are rich in Vitamin C that dampens inflammation. (Cooking destroys Vitamin C; but releases Vit A. and lycopene in tomatoes). Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, kale, and brussel sprouts replenish nutrients responsible for strengthening the cell membranes of the mouth, nose, and gut; the first line of defense against invading microorganisms.
Sweet Potato – A healthy complex carbohydrate, contains powerful anti-oxidants that help to heal inflammation. (Don't confuse with yams) . Delicious cut as 'fries' and roasted with olive oil, cumin and salt.
Olive Oil – important source of oleic acid, another anti-inflammatory. Helps absorb nutrients in raw vegetables. Extra Virgin, or cold-pressed are less processed than other types.
Quinoa – A gluten free 'grain,' is abundant in protein, with a delicate, nutty flavor that takes well to spices and welcomes vegetables. It's actually the seed of a green leafy plant. Preparation is as simple as quick-cooking rice.