Sustainable Health Nutshell: Cook and Eat more of your own food, especially when you get it locally… it’s crazy delicious and easier on our Earth!
Ok, it’s been a while, lots going on, but I wanted to share this recipe as it was so good… Excuse the picture- I almost ate it all before I remembered to take one for you all!
1. Rough chop an onion, a few garlic cloves and a medium portobello mushroom.
2. Warm some olive oil with turmeric, fennel, cumin, coriander, black pepper, marjoram, and thyme till the spices just start to sizzle.
3. Sautee the veggies, adding occasional splashes of water when the sizzling sound gets too high pitched (= too high of a temp for olive oil- the water keeps it from oxidizing (which causes artery damage and inflammation when you eat oxidized oils) at higher than 212 degrees).
Sustainable Health Nutshell: Try a simple home-made organic and sustainable skin cleanser starting with a basic formula- you can even make some for friends and family as gifts! Save money, avoid buying chemically-laden products, and keep your skin glowing and healthy all year round.
We’ve talked a lot in my office and on this blog about oil and fabulous health benefits of using various oils for Abhyanga, Gandusha (oil pulling for gum care), Nasya (nose oiling for allergies and illness-prevention), and Karana Purana (ear oiling for dryness and tinnitus), but not specifically about face care, so here you go!
I’ve been reading recently some great articles including this great one on home-made oil cleansers. I’ve compiled a basic list by category so you can pick which ones to try for yourself based on your skin issues.
Now, in the case of some skin conditions you’ll need to be more careful of the type of oil you pick and how you do this- check with your dermatologist always. For instance, with allergic skin (this includes Eczema) you’ll want to avoid sharply fragranced oils, sesame oil, some nut oils if you have a nut allergy, and most essential oils from the asteraceae family (the ragweed family- this includes chamomile!).
For Seborrheic Dermatitis (itchy patches that seem oily and flaky, usually around eyebrows, eye lashes, and the nose, sometimes in the hair causing dandruff too), the yeasts and bacteria that overgrow love oil, so you’ll want to use lighter oils, less in general, perhaps add in tea tree oil if your skin isn’t too sensitive, and use cider or plain vinegar and water 1:1 as a toner. You can also take full strength vinegar and leave on the skin for 20 minutes before rinsing and conditioning lightly.
Ok! First off- always use unrefined (cold pressed if possible), organic oils from as local a source as possible.
Secondly- Castor oil is unabsorbable, so it will do most of the drying/cleansing/pulling off of your own oil and makeup, so use a bit more if you use a lot of makeup, and less or none if your skin is very dry already and you don’t have much ‘dirt’ to lift off.
Thirdly- get a blue glass little bottle from your local health food store to mix the oils in so you can measure easily and start with a small amount.
To use: Take a small amount, warm in your hands, and apply gently all over your face and leave on for a minute or so. Dampen a washcloth with very warm water and place over face to open pores and help the oil soften and become less viscous. Rinse washcloth and repeat until makeup is softened and easily patted off, usually ~3 times.
The basic recipe is: 10-20% Castor oil, 80-90% secondary oil. To choose a secondary oil, pick from a category below, and pick one or two add-ins if you like (add 3-10 drops per 1/4 cup depending on the viscosity and strength of the essential oil):
Dry or Mature skin base oils: Sesame, Apricot Kernel, Avocado, Argan, Jojoba
Dry or Mature add-ins: Ylang Ylang, Rosehip, Pomegranate, Baobab, Frankincense, Vitamin E
Sensitive base oils: Olive, Almond, Sunflower
Sensitive add-ins: lavender (irritating for some, careful), Rose, Helichrysum, Ylang-Ylang, Neroli, Frankincense
Acne-prone and Oily base oils: Olive, Almond, Hazelnut, Sunflower, Grapeseed, Jojoba
Acne-prone add-ins: Tea Tree, Tamanu (especially for scarring), Baobab, Geranium, Cedar, Clary Sage
Add-ins not for use in pregnancy but good for acne and inflammation: Borage, Neem, Sea Buckthorn, Turmeric oil
Add-ins for aromatherapy (use 1 drop only): Vanilla, Sweet Orange
Apple Cider Vinegar:
Toner for SD treatment- Mix 1:1 ACV with water in a spray bottle. Spray onto skin and scalp 30 min before washing as usual, and/or at night spray skin lightly and barely rinse off before bed.
Serious dandruff- spray full strength onto hair, rub in, leave on 30 min, shampoo out
Hair rinse for dryer hair- 1 cup ACV + 1 tsp baking soda- apply, allow to sit, rinse again and condition
Toner for any skin: Rose water
Some individuals have issues with certain oils, nuts, and flowers that no one can predict, so to start out, buy small quantities and enjoy experimenting. Also remember it takes a few weeks for your skin to adjust to a new routine- especially if you’ve been using chemicals or soap for a long time. The bacterial balance on the skin needs to right itself and whatever damage from the chemicals and bacteria-killing preservatives in most products needs to be allowed to even out. If you have questions or something comes up, please leave a comment or send me an email and we’ll troubleshoot your issue. Also remember what you eat can affect your skin too, so stay hydrated and eat healthy food too!
Sustainable Health Nutshell: Prevent illness with greater awareness and practical techniques to help your body through changes- focus on consistent Sleep, Routine, and Warmth!
Imbalances in our bodies become more unstable at the “edges” of phases of our lives– during periods of change, sometimes leading to system destabilization (noticed most obviously by an increased propensity to viruses and bacterial infections). It helps to be watchful and take good care of your body during transitions, especially Autumn and Spring, or whenever there is a transition in life. These times are great opportunities to tune into your body’s messages and learn about yourself, preventing further illness and suffering in the future.
Many of my patients mention that October and April are times of each year when patterns recur- anxiety, depression, anger, relationship changes, etc, and in western medicine we see a spike in colds and flus and allergy symptoms during those months. It’s been very true for me- and for many years I thought of October and April as ‘bad’ months where ‘negative’ things seemed to happen. For me it showed up as deaths, breakups, illnesses, moving across the country, changing jobs without meaning to, etc. What I came to realize was that when the earth changes, so do I, but I wasn’t aware of it before. Things happen constantly, ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ but my reactions to those things tended to become more erratic and frightening during season changes (or monthly changes!), and so my perception was that the events were ‘worse,’ when really my own reactions were causing me to suffer more during those times.
In Ayurveda, the edge is an important concept. There are planetary shifts all the time: night to day, full to new moon, season to season. In our linear lives, we shift all the time too: adolescence and menopause, marriage or divorce, births and deaths, moving our home or work location, and we transition between work and vacation (even week to weekend- notice the ‘Monday morning heart attack‘ and superbowl sunday heart attack phenomena). Ayurvedic clinicians pay close attention to the idea of homeostasis, so we also notice more closely what our physical bodies experience during the shifts in the planet’s cycles. This extends to the cycles in our emotional and practical lives as well, but let’s focus on the Fall season for today.
You may notice that when the weather gets cooler, your skin may become dryer. You may notice allergy symptoms that seemed invisible during the summer. You may crave sweets and more sleep but you may try to keep the fire from summer going and stay up late, over-exercise, or increase caffeine intake to combat fatigue. You may notice that this happens every fall! You may get a cold or the flu during the change of season, but may attribute it to going back to school (yourself or your children). While of course more exposure to the petri dish of a school environment brings more viruses into your vicinity, if the immune system is strong that wouldn’t present a problem. The issue is that during the change of seasons, any imbalance that was subtly growing during the past months or years may choose the destabilizing effects of the sun changing and weather changing to present itself as a more obvious weakness in the physical (usually immune) system, energy system, or emotional realm. Immune system problems present commonly as auto-immune diseases (including seemingly small things like psoriasis or rosacea), allergy (immune system over-reaction), acute colds of flus or other infections, or digestive difficulty.
The reason for this is pretty simple- the body wants to be in homeostasis or balance, and that means it wants to be in sync with the circadian rhythm and the cycles of this earth that our bodies are made of. When we let something go (for example, we keep having an improper diet and expecting our body to eliminate extra toxins well, or we sleep too little and expect our energy to be full blast so we supplement with sugar and caffeine instead of sleeping when we are tired, or we notice a nagging small symptom in our menstrual cycle, digestion, or other organ and instead of looking deeply and making sure we take care of our body’s message to us, we ignore it and hope it goes away on its own or fail to notice it entirely due to busy-ness), if it is a message from the body that something isn’t fully healthy or stable, then it may continue growing instead of fading on its own. It can become worse, or perhaps move to another seemingly unrelated system and try to get our attention that way.
My favorite example is what we call ‘excess liver heat’ showing up as irritability or frustration or mild allergies, or skin flushing with alcohol, then wakening regularly between 2 and 4am, then perhaps hot flashes or migraines or loose stools, then irritable bowel or heavy and painful menses, then sometimes moving into the western medical arena with something more serious like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, or a heart attack… Not that all of those are caused by any one thing consistently– clearly all illness is an individually-mediated process, those are just examples of how missing a whisper from the body can manifest as a loud shout, then a yell, then a sledgehammer of a wakeup call.
To avoid this, let’s make sure our bodies trust us by not forcing them to compensate during transitions when they’re already taxed by physiologic and energetic adjustments to the changing outer environment. For fall specifically, try the following. When the days get shorter and cooler, move your bedtime back a bit to ensure extra sleep before 10pm. Try the sesame oil routines to prevent dryness and lubricate the skin and mucous membranes to help fortify our outer defenses against potential attack by viruses and bacteria. Stick to a daily routine more closely during transitions to reassure your body that you will indeed eat, sleep, and exercise to help it stay safe. Trade lots of raw foods for some warmer cooked foods, especially breakfast and dinner, to help your digestion not have to work so hard to ‘cook’ and extract nutrients from your food.
Watch your edges, your transition points, whether they are from season changes, monthly changes, or more life-changing and emotionally-charged events like relationships, work, school, or moving. Use preventative medicine and Ayurvedic techniques to understand your body better, so you may avoid illness and fully experience health!
Happy fall everyone!
Sustainable Health Nutshell: The breath is the simplest tool you have to increase your physical, mental, energetic, and emotional health. Try some of these exercises to learn more about your own body, breath, and energy.
Why is breathing so important? In yoga practices, the breath is an observable aspect of Prana, or energy, but prana is more thoroughly defined as the ‘breath of life’ or ‘energy of life.’ It includes all flows, seen and unseen, such as blood circulation, digestion, and nervous system flow as well as flow of creative thought, emotion, and energy through acupuncture meridians. Even things that don’t ‘breathe’ have prana- rocks, water, and the air itself, and all prana affects all other prana. The best example of this is that a huge amount of herbal medicine deals with the ‘life energy’ of plants and how to change human energy that is diseased by using healthy plant energy. Improving your breathing and learning about it can do wonders for many aspects of your health- let me know what you think of these exercises. (They are marked with *** to make sure you find all 6 to try!)
Breathing deeply and slowly moves the large diaphragm as well as the lower pelvic diaphragm, and improves lymph flow and digestion, which together improve total health remarkably. Try breathing consciously throughout your day to improve oxygenation, and use the two following practices for a few weeks and see how your fitness improves.
*** 1) While sitting to work or relax, try getting up every 15 minutes or so to walk and stretch, and when you think of it, take a deep slow breath, with even counts of several seconds in and out, filling up your abdomen first and your upper chest last.
*** 2) While walking, hiking, or running (other rhythmic exercise may work as well, but these are the easiest to start with), try inhaling through your nose for 4 steps and exhaling through your nose for 4 steps. If this is easy at your current pace, increase to 8 steps in and out. Go up to 20 if you can. Breathe in deeply, all the way into your abdomen, and fill up your upper chest last, keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed. See how your breathing speed needs to change with increases in pace or hill grade, and how you can extend your breaths by slowing down. First, slow your usual workout pace to work on increasing your breathing depth and slowness, then increase your pace while keeping your breathing slow and deep. You’ll find you are less fatigued after a workout, more energized, and after a while able you may be able to work out longer and with less injury.
Several meditation traditions use the breath as a focus or point of concentration to help settle the mind. The Anapana portion of Vipassana training is a good example of this. *** Try the following for 7 days and see how you feel. Before breakfast and dinner, spend 5 minutes calming the body with Nadi Shodhana or Nadisuddhi (= alternate nostril breathing) (my simple video is here) followed by 5 minutes of breath observation in this manner: Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and intend to simply observe. Watch the air go in and out, feel the temperature of the air in and out, notice the moisture, or whether one nostril is more open than the other, feel the breath on your upper lip, in your sinuses, and down your throat. Notice if the breath is fast or slow, and if it changes when thoughts or emotions arise. With each thought, emotion, or sensation, observe how your mind automatically judges each thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ When you realize you are no longer sensing your breathing, return to observation. This is the most basic form of meditation, which uses concentration on a physical sensation to calm the mind and learn non-judgement. This is not the easiest form! But it is safe and something anyone can try. Twice a day, 5 minutes at a time is a nice beginning practice. Let me know your results and what issues and resistances arise for you, for they can be very helpful in learning compassion for yourself. How you respond to this type of meditation can lead you in a direction of learning other forms as well, so please ask questions if you like.
Next time you’re feeling a powerful emotion, notice your posture and breathing. Our response to emotion is physical as well as energetic and emotional, so many types of emotional reactions can be understood and helped to shift by gently changing our posture and breathing. Over time, the body can store stress unconsciously, which can contribute to blocked energy flows and ill health. To help with this on an emotional level, try the following two simple exercises.
*** 1) When anxiety arises, notice your breathing and see if you can slow it down (even a tiny bit!) and deepen your breaths into your abdomen instead of your upper chest. Count seconds and see if you can make your exhalations longer than your inhalations. Straighten your posture and close your eyes to focus on your breathing. Sit or stand with your back against something sturdy like a wall or tree trunk, and press your shoulderblades into the wall as you breathe slowly and relax your neck and head back towards the wall.
*** 2) When anger arises, first remove yourself from the object of your anger to give yourself time. Notice your breathing and see if you can create slower even breaths, the same number of seconds in and out. Place your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your belly. Let the anger shift and subside as you continue to breathe. As it subsides, clearer thought will return regarding the situation you just put on pause, and an ability to intend non-violent resolution may become easier over time.
Learning about your own subtle energy is fun and can also give great insight into any health issues, especially recurrent or persistent ones. Western medicine uses things like biofeedback to teach how breathing affects and is affected by relaxation, blood pressure, and heart rate as well as mental and emotional stability. In many different branches of eastern medicine, breathing practices are used as a tool for healing, and some are very powerful (a teacher is always recommended since these practices have physical side effects- especially if you have health problems, so please be gentle and mindful and consult your physician). Pranayama (‘extension’ or ‘drawing out’ of the life energy) is a group of practices that help you understand your breath (and energy) flows, and how controlling the breath and observing changes in your own energy can teach you about your own system. Qi Gong is one of the most structured and gentle practices, and finding a teacher is definitely recommended.
*** I teach something called the Healing Breath (a shortened version is in video format here), which can be used to relax the body, but also can be used to clear out negative energy. Once sufficiently clear and able to feel a sensation of heat in the lower abdomen (the location of the lower dan tien in Chinese medicine or the 2nd chakra in Ayurveda), healing energy can be sent to different parts of the body, or even to the hands to encourage healing in others. To use this breathing activity in that way, take a slow breath into the abdomen for 7 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, and breathe out slowly for 12 seconds- keep this rhythm going for 5 minutes. On the in breath, picture clear positive energy flowing into your energy system, and on the out breath, picture any negative or unhealthy energy swirling in your lower abdomen then returning to the earth. Once you feel more clarity and joy present, and possibly heat in the lower abdomen, intend for the clear healing energy now swirling around to be moved on your out breath to your hands. Allow the sensation to grow. After practicing this for a good while, see if you can send the healing energy to other parts of your own body. Expecting results creates resistance, so just practice and see how you feel, have fun with it, and above all be gentle and don’t practice for too long at a time. Enjoy!
Sustainable Health Nutshell: Making good decisions about food means eating mostly plants, some fermented and cultured foods (based on your digestive type)… and, oddly, listening closely to your cravings… is that a nutrient deficiency? or are your gut flora controlling your mind?!?
That last part is only partly in jest– it is entirely plausible. I find when I’m very close to kicking a food habit or processed food craving, it seems to redouble in strength just before I persevere- and I think perhaps the guys from Radiolab are right on… maybe my gut bacteria (the ones that are less helpful and more inflammatory (endotoxins), and really enjoy processed food and sugar) are causing my craving to be more fierce so they won’t die off and be replaced by more healthy bacteria… (really, read that last link- it’s to the Mother Jones article titled “Are Happy Gut Bacteria Key to Weight Loss?” it’s great). Yikes!
But I digress… this post is to help you feed your ‘gut garden’… The idea is that our 28-ish foot inner tube [think of the body as a taurus shape, with a hole down the middle (that's actually outside!)] is really similar to the soil on the surface of the Earth. There is an interface between “US” (the surface) and the food we eat plus the 3 pounds of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses that live on this surface. This interface allows us to absorb nutrients of course, but also allows us to ‘talk’ with the colonies of bugs via our immune system cells and our ENS (enteric nervous system, including the Vagus nerve). Like they describe in the Radiolab show ‘Guts’ (link above), and this study from UCLA, these bugs affect our moods, our decisions, and likely our cravings for certain foods. There is a bunch of research coming out now about how the bugs talk to our system and vice versa, how it affects our weight, our immune system, the level of inflammation in our body, our mood, and our health in general.
The pharmaceutical companies are interested because there’s this very western-science-y idea that if we find a profile of bacterial species that seems to help people decrease inflammation and/or lose weight, it can be put it in a pill or other easily ingestible form, and sold. For presumably huge amounts of money. The thing is, the body is an ecosystem. And just as no one solution will fix all problems for our planet, no pill will fix every toxic thing we eat, or help the ways stress and lack of exercise hurts our bodies and increases illness. This article (also from Mother Jones) is helpful in weeding through the various pros and cons of taking probiotics, and this article- with a helpful table of which products to choose and their manufacturers- is from gastroenterologists’ research on the subject. The bottom line seems to be that if you have a medical condition (5th, 6th, or 7th stage of disease in Ayurveda), there are a few products that can help you recover faster or more likely achieve remission. If you have an acute gastrointestinal illness or symptoms of ‘irritable bowel’ then the research isn’t so hot, and the products may or may not help you consistently enough to recommend one specific type.
Personally I think this is because of the ecosystem problem. If you take a probiotic, but nothing else in your diet or lifestyle changes, then that product alone, a tiny pill or plastic vial of yogurt-y substance, is supposed to change the balance of the THREE POUNDS of organisms down there? For good? If taken continually and in high doses, sure it may help, but then what happens if you stop taking it? I’d think regular old competition will return your balance to whatever your environment and diet supported before you took the probiotic supplement, and whatever health risks went along with that lifestyle and diet. Other alternative sources seem to think ‘cleansing’ is necessary (see my old blog post about that), but since our gut lining sheds itself daily and what we excrete is mostly bacteria anyway, cleansing may be a temporary aid but not a permanent fix unless of course the unhelpful habits are changed for good after the cleanse.
So what can we do? It’s nicely researched that eating a diet high in fresh (organic) fruits and vegetables helps the ‘good’ gut bacteria flourish, since plants contain ‘pre-biotics’ and fiber that ‘good’ bacteria just love. You can eat food right out of your neighborhood organic farmer or gardener’s dirt (yes, eating a little dirt can be good!), and eat a little raw food daily. Even more interesting, you can incorporate (latin nerds pun intended) fermented foods into your diet: fresh homemade yogurt without sugar, kimchi and/or saurkraut, a little kombucha or other fermented drinks here and there to liven up the mix and introduce batches of healthy bacterial strains into our system. We can keep our immune systems happily challenged by going outside often, gardening and being one on one with dirt, playing at beaches, lakes, and the ocean, and interacting with animals (yes, letting a dog or cat or horse lick you is a good thing in the long run!). We can calm our nervous systems with sleep, meditation, and routine, which all allow us to have the energy to digest well, have less cortisol running round so our immune system cells aren’t confused or paralyzed, and, my favorite, allow us to listen closely… is that craving for cookies only because some endotoxin-producing bacteria want to have more fuel? Is it because you or hungry or thirsty? Or is it because you would like to feel good? If you’re quiet, well-rested and relaxed, you can listen closely to your body- and its millions of inhabitants- and make a better decision for your longevity and health. Eat something healthy, drink enough water, move, and get lots of love from yourself and others so flour and sugar aren’t the only way you can feel happy. Feed the helpful bacteria well, and go ahead and let the others leave on their own- life is confusing enough sometimes without sneaky bacteria controlling our thoughts and moods! :)