5/12/13 edited! see below for minor additions
Sustainable Health Nutshell: Keep a schedule and routine to allow your body to trust you, so it will not have to compensate for stressful circumstances (that over time leads to ill health). Starting every morning off with a gentle cleansing routine sets a stress-free tone for the day and prepares you to calmly meet whatever demands life has in store.
A fellow meditation teacher recently led me to a site that included Dr Vasant Lad’s daily routine suggestions. I was initially entertained by the sheer number of things one is “supposed to do every morning” (19!), but as I thought more about it, I decided rather than writing them off, I would try the suggestions in order and see if I noticed any changes. After two days, my system has had a major overhaul. So I figured I should tell ya’ll about it so you can too!
Now, in Ayurvedic school we learned a loose bunch of suggestions for mornings that seemed nearly impossible, and until I was in my own practice and doing the suggestions myself, I had no idea if any of them actually worked, so I think my recent (in the past year more or less) obsession with routine is because of direct experience more than any teaching I’ve received.
The following is a modification of Dr Vasant Lad’s daily routine prescription. I have combined a few steps so it seems less overwhelming, and changed the order of a few d/t my own experience, as well as added my own suggestions. Please let me know if any of you try all these steps and how you feel! I used to meditate immediately on awakening, check my email on my phone directly after, do the other steps whenever I felt like it, sometimes in the afternoon, and sometimes picked up a Backyard Bowl hot quinoa bowl on my way to work late in the morning. Since spending last week with my grandfather, I decided to get on a schedule while there to make caring for him easier, and it seems to have stuck, so upon returning I started this daily routine and am not going back- I have more energy and feel much less pressed for time during the day, which helps me get even more accomplished while feeling super relaxed. Enjoy!
1. Go to bed early! Before 10pm. Wake between 5 and 6am (at first you may need more sleep to catch up, that’s ok). Look at your hands, move them over your face and down to your waist to clear your aura. Move to get out of bed, touch both hands to the ground, then to your forehead, then fold at your heart. Give thanks to the earth and the divine for the opportunity to practice your true purpose today: to be a light of love, joy, peace, and compassion.
2. Wash your face (try just a splash of rosewater), rinse your mouth and eyes (pure additive-free eye drops work well).
3. Drink a cup of warm or room temp water. Sit in a squat pose and do 5 min of alternate nostril breathing pranayama [if your nose is clogged in the morning, do the nose oil first ). Then evacuate the bowels and bladder. Cleanse yourself with a bit of rosewater followed by a few drops of sesame oil on your paper.
4. Gently sniff 1 drop of plain or herbalized sesame oil into each nostril (Nasya), place 1-2 drops of sesame oil into each ear (Karana Purana).
5. Scrape your tongue, brush teeth, and use a ‘gum annoyer’ if you have one. Hold and swish 1 Tbsp of sesame oil in your mouth (Gandusha or Oil Pulling) until out of the shower, then spit into toilet (in order to not clog sink or shower).
6. Do your daily warm oil massage (Abhyanga) with the oil prescribed for you- if you don’t know, try sesame or sunflower, then take a warm shower.
7. After the shower, use simple gentle scents without chemicals, and dress in clothes that lift your spirit and feel comforting.
8. Exercise gently- yoga, a 15-30 minute walk, or stretching exercises- this warms the body and starts the metabolism.
9. Meditate. If you are new to this, start with 5 minutes of the Healing Breath pranayama I may have given you already at your appointment. If you’ve been taught to meditate, aim for 20 minutes, but start with 10 if that seems too much. Remember, you can likely sit easily for 2 hours watching a movie, so sitting lovingly with your highest self for 20 isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds! :)
10. Eat a nourishing breakfast, seated, near a window, without computer or phone. Breathe in the scent of spices, chew well and enjoy helping your body digest, enjoy with gratitude.
Still a lot of steps, but getting up early, giving yourself this time to care for and show utmost respect for your body is a game-changer. See what appeals to you, try a few steps, or commit and jump into the whole routine- let me know how it goes!
And for fun, here’s another picture of my fantastic grandfather- please wish him a happy 91st!
“Koyaanisqatsi” is a Hopi word. It means “life out of balance.” I just re-learned that translation from this article in the Washington Post. It’s interesting as a factoid of course, but the article jogged my brain in such a way that the realization I had seemed to piece several ideas together at once… So in preparation for an upcoming lecture I thought I’d write a few things down and see what you all thought too.
What struck me is this: many people are convinced by the western paradigm of modern life that what they DO defines their worth, to the extent that they miss BEING almost entirely. This is a wildly imbalanced existence. Relegating BEING to second fiddle (sorry, terrible pun) is why we allow art and music and physical movement to be sidelined in schools in favor of math and science (see this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson), it is the cause for the unawareness of our individual true natures that leads to nearly all common diseases (including things like diabetes and heart disease, but also ADHD, referencing the point of that video), and it causes people to miss a virtuoso performance of unbelievable beauty in favor of buying lottery tickets or simply rushing to the next thing to DO.
Ayurveda is an entire system based on restoring balance, so that ultimately we come to know our true nature and can live our lives in the healthiest way possible. My specialty is health- physical, energetic, mental, emotional, and spiritual- and my goal is to infuse the 6000 year old principles of Ayurveda into our Western paradigm to change it, to help bring us all forward to balance. From that closer proximity to balance our path of creative evolution and elevating consciousness will be a good deal clearer and faster.
I’m currently seeing clients in individual consultations, for physical health and/or counseling, but there are several other options for community events and classes, so if you’re interested check out these links: MedMob Santa Barbara, Meditation classes at Motion Unlimited, and weekly classes at prAna Santa Barbara.
Do yourself a favor- if you can’t seem to find time to stop and listen to a street performer, chat with a farmer at the market, stare at a particularly interesting cloud formation, smile at a child on the street, or even just sit for 5 minutes and breathe, perhaps your life could use more balance- stop, listen, and just enjoy being here, now, in this present moment. It is the best moment of your life. And it is the only one, always. Back away from the koyaanisqatsi, toward your true center.
Sustainable Health Nutshell: To make your holiday as sustainable as possible for your own health and the planet’s, here are my top 5 tips for this season (including a totally indulgent squash pie recipe at the end I promised weeks ago! Just share it and you’ll be fine, no worries.):
1. Get enough sleep. No matter what happens, being low on sleep will put a damper on anyone’s interaction or perception of the holidays. Aim for bed by 10 and sleep as long as you need to, especially if you’re off school or work. If parties are involved, remember you don’t actually HAVE to stay until the end- just a thought.
2. Drink hot water all day. This isn’t a holiday tip, it’s a universal one really- keeping hydrated during the day and not drinking lots of cold beverages with meals especially will help your digestion be most efficient, and help with flow in general, aiding your immune system, digestion, and circulation during the cold months. Start the day with a cup of hot water with a squeeze of lemon, and for tummy upsets or just pre- or post-meals try a few fennel seeds sprinkled in.
3. Buy ingredients and supplies from your local farmers or at least from locally-owned stores. Be aware of packaging and the miles it took for your items to get to you- choose simpler when you can!
4. If you love giving gifts, consider purchasing charitable gifts for others from places like Oxfam or the Heifer project, or any charity you find does good work. You could also donate your time to a local shelter or volunteer with a local charity in your family member or friend’s name (or with your family and friends!). Consider activities like nature walks or visits to history/art museums or the planetarium with your family/friends instead of wrapped gifts. The possibilities of ways to show your love are endless!
5. When it comes to food and alcohol, more doesn’t mean more happy. Imagine the awful sick stuffed feeling after over-eating, or waking up groggy after a glass or two extra of wine. Ok, now, be aware that your taste buds get saturated after 6 bites of something. Meaning if you eat more than 6 bites of one thing, you likely won’t enjoy it any more at all. Eat slowly, drink slowly, hydrate well before, exercise lightly (walks with family are a great idea!), and truly savor each delicious bite and moment. On days between food-centered gatherings, do a light meal at dinner (like soup- well cooked and mostly water) and even lunch too if you’ve made less than optimal choices lately. You can do this ‘Ayurvedic fast’ once a week or even two or three times if you’re healthy and need a break from heavy foods. This way your body has time to process anything extra but doesn’t get a shock from not eating at all.
Simple mindful ways of remaining gratefully present will make this the best holiday season you’ve ever had!
Now for the squash pie recipe:
First, the perfect pie crust- all credit to orangette for this one: 4+ tbsp ICE water, 3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 c unbleached flour, 1 tbsp sugar, 3/4 tsp salt, 9 tbsp cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes. Cut in butter to dry ingredients to make a coarse meal (a pastry cutter is fastest) until no butter chunk is larger than a pea. Add the ice cold liquid slowly a sprinkle at a time (vinegar first) just until moist clumps form. Massage and press into a ball with no cracks, then press into a 1/2 inch thick disk and put in plastic wrap. Stick in the fridge for 2 hours. When ready to roll it out, bring it to room temp first. Put into a pie pan, reinforce edges, and put in the freezer while preparing filling unless proofing it (which you need to for this recipe), in which case you put into a 400 degree preheated oven for 10 minutes with pie weights, take it out, and when it’s a little cool, brush the inside with a beaten egg white to seal it.
Squash custard pie filling: My favorites are blue hubbard, red kuri, or kabocha, but be creative! The amounts are estimates based on the wateriness and sweetness of the individual squash- taste along the way! Imperfect ratios are excuses to make more pie. Ok: Beat 2-3 eggs, 1 c milk, and 1/2 c cream, and add in the following: ~1/4 c maple syrup, ~2 tbsp sugar, ~2 tsp vanilla, ~1 tsp ginger, ~3/4 tsp cinnamon, ~1/3 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp salt, then 1 1/2-3/4 c squash cooked and pureed or mashed. Mix well. Put in proofed crust, then in the oven. Time depends on the oven: ~330 for 40-50 minutes until moist in the center but no jiggle- the center will finish cooking while it sits in the warm kitchen.
Top with fresh whipped cream- plain or add in maple, brandy, vanilla, orange, rose, etc. You can also put crushed pecans on the crust bottom when proofing. Extra yummy! Let me know what you think and what adjustments you make!
This is a picture of a slightly imperfect looking but absolutely amazing pie I made in our little country house last year. Ones made since were prettier, just as delicious, but gone before the camera was remembered. Go figure.
Sustainable Health Nutshell: For the healthiest kitchen (and fewer doctor visits this winter!), cook according to the season’s available produce and Ayurvedic time of year, use spices and recipes to correct your individual imbalances and constitution, and use only select animal products with as much local organic produce as you can. Enjoy nourishing yourself!
A new acquaintance expressed skepticism about my “Ayurvedic Nutrition and Cooking Classes” (although he offered his work space as a possible venue!), based on his past experience with being told he needed to learn Indian cooking to understand Ayurveda. It was fun to explain the truth- all cooking is Ayurvedic, just like all of everything is Ayurvedic! The idea is, since Ayurveda is based in principles with quantum physics correlations, everything really is ‘Ayurvedic,’ but the knowledge is useful in that it recognizes ways to positively create health as well as things that can block energy and flow and cause less constructive energies to accumulate and become out of balance.
The most important basic principles are the ‘qualities’ of things. Qualities like heavy/light, dry/moist, cold/hot. Qualities like those are found in everything, but for right now we’re just focusing on food, as well as how it relates to our own imbalances, which can be described with those qualities also. The following is an over-simplified series of examples, but will help you get a feel for this: Say you tend towards intensity, focus, and have fast efficient digestion- you might have more of the heat quality in your constitution (Pitta). In excess/imbalance, this could tend towards irritability, heartburn, diarrhea, or high blood pressure. So avoiding foods that are hot, oily (fuel to the fire!), and overly light (think kindling instead of logs on the fire) would be helpful. If you tend toward extremely regular digestion, are strong and solid, and are dependably careful in decision making, those are cool, earthy qualities (Kapha). In excess that may show up as holding onto weight, indecision, or inertia. Avoiding heavy cold foods and making sure the internal fire is working well (exercise) are helpful to balance those issues. Next, if you tend to get excited about many things, are good at multitasking, tend towards irregular schedules and enjoy lots of variety, those are airy-light qualities, and like air/space, changeable and ethereal (Vata). In imbalance, that can lead to anxiety, lack of focus, forgetting to eat, and a tendency towards colds and flus. This is the most common imbalance encouraged by our high-speed, high-tech culture. To balance this, too much very light or very heavy hard to digest food is avoided, favoring warm, moist, grounding foods at regular times.
As we slide into Autumn, those types of Vata-balancing foods (warm, moist, grounding, and simple) are also suggested since Autumn is considered a Vata time of year and changes of season tend to aggravate those types of imbalances. Now, to address the reason for this post directly- every single food has qualities, whether you eat Indian style, Mexican style, Greek style, Polish style, etc. Each style of cuisine favors a predominance of certain qualities of food (i.e. butter in French cooking- very heavy and cold, so would aggravate Kapha imbalances), but every single kind can be modified to accommodate different grains, different main vegetables, or different spice proportions, and every single kind can be made with minimal animal products, and overheating oils is harmful no matter what you’re frying or sauteing or baking or roasting.
[Ok, except say Bushmen in Africa, or Eskimos, or Mongolian Steppe people... so if you move/rebuild your yurt often and move with herds or need to survive -100 degree wind chill and 6 months of hard winter, different rules clearly apply to you. These suggestions are for people that are privileged enough to be able choose our style of everything... to be 'sensitive to gluten' and have alternatives or to be 'vegan' purely by choice or to think the 'paleo diet' is worth trying out- those options are SUCH a gift.]
Back to topic: let me give a list of simple things to remember that can get you started-first a few basic foods, then spices: Beans are ‘light and dry’ which means to balance them they need to be soaked and cooked very well and warming spices like cumin added to help digest them. Vegetables like tomatoes (especially paste), peppers and eggplant are ‘hot.’ Squashes, asparagus, okra, and cucumber are ‘moist and cool’. Rice is ‘light and cool’, wheat is ‘heavy and cool’, millet and rye are ‘very light’, oats are ‘medium light/heavy’. Soy is ‘heavy and cool’, much like meat but less potential for toxicity since it’s plant protein, but still can be clogging in excess. Fruit is generally ‘cool’, so add spices and cook fruits in the mornings and evenings, soak dried fruits, and in the special case of melons, “eat them alone or leave them alone!” Bananas in particular are very ‘heavy, sweet and cooling’, so unless it’s super hot out they’re best to avoid (from an environmental perspective also a good idea). Olive oil is ‘cool and light’ (for an oil), ghee is ‘cool and heavy’, sesame oil is ‘hot’, and coconut oil is very ‘heavy and cold’.
Here are tastes and qualities a few common spices, but keep in mind most have more than one quality, these are just the obvious main ones to guide your food balancing- spices can change the entire balance of a meal instantly so using spices for your imbalance is a quick way to personalize your food if you need to cook for more than one person: Pungent/hot= cayenne, cloves, turmeric, cumin, oregano, black pepper, ginger, fenugreek, mustard, cinnamon, tulsi/basil. Astringent or Bitter/cool= cilantro, coriander, sage, rosemary, pomegranate, coffee. Sweet/cool= fennel, cardamom, anise, cinnamon. Salt is considered hot.
So that should start you off! Check out what I made for lunch today below- it was on the ‘hot’ side spices wise, but pretty balanced on the whole. Try different combinations for yourself and see if you can become aware of how your body reacts differently- that can point you towards your imbalance tendencies and can head them off before they begin to cause symptoms! Pick vegetables are in season- even if they aren’t quite local, and see how your body reacts differently. Becoming more in tune with your own nature and with the environment around you will help prevent and correct imbalances, and can be delicious!
Lunch today= cleaning out the fridge and counter before the farmer’s market today at Harding School (~1 and a half servings, which I unfortunately ate all of- #notthebestchoice): rice noodles with cottage cheese (= easy-to-digest ‘fettucine alfredo’) with sauteed veggie sauce: olive oil, fennel seeds, turmeric, sage, oregano, rosemary, black pepper, a bit of water, 1/3 onion (from my friend Johanna’s Finley Farms), a small japanese eggplant (from my friend Carla’s backyard), half a giant heirloom tomato and arugula and basil (from The Garden Of…), and a few leftover marinated artichokes, topped with some shredded parmesan cheese. Delicious, super filling, good because I ate the cold/ heavy cheese at mid-day, and the doshic balance was mostly even: nightshades, onion, and vinegar (in the artichokes) is heating/Pitta-aggravating, but it was balanced by the bitter greens (bitter is cooling) and noodles with fresh cheese (those two also grounded Vata along with the warm temperature) and the overall lightness and warmness and spices were good for Kapha. However it balanced out it was pretty darn good. Try that or variations and let me know what you think and how your body responds to different combinations of foods!
Sustainable Health Nutshell: make friends with your local farmers- and help them out when a giant crop comes in! Then make soup with shallots and sweet potatoes!
My friend Johanna has a gorgeous farm in Santa Ynez, with a stand right on the entrance to the farm road, and since her last post she moved and now lives in my old house which makes it that much cooler to visit. A few weeks ago she let us all know that she had a ridiculous amount of shallots that needed sorting (the alliteration had me going already, clearly), and bribed us with the most amazing idea: Full of Life Flatbread pizzas/food in return for socializing and playing in the dirt with plants. And I didn’t have class that day. SCORE.
So Clark from Flatbread and his oven-on-a-truck made us gorgeous food, Janet and Jeff from New West Catering came and added to the food fun, there was so much amazing produce from the farm, and Krista and Steve from Edible Santa Barbara came to document and photograph the silliness.
Someone mentioned that this was sort of a ‘barn raising’ activity, and I wondered if anyone knows of organized volunteer groups that help local farmers harvest when things come all at once or if rain is coming that would be detrimental to a nearly ready harvest (I know from experience that’s an issue in the wine industry frequently). The closest thing I know of is Backyard Harvest, that arranges for over-abundance of backyard produce (say someone has 4 avocado trees and they all are ripe at once- that’s likely slightly too much guac for one household…) to be harvested by volunteers (that could be YOU!) and donated to the Unity Shoppe that distributes the extra food to those in need in the community here in Santa Barbara. But it would be great if there was something similar organized for local farmers too- if you’ve ever farmed or known someone well who has, you know the endless work leaves scarce time for even asking for help.
This was such a great day, and definitely fun enough to bring a crazy amount of people together to help our friends out. We totally didn’t get through all the shallots, and some weren’t quite ready to be cut and boxed up, so maybe again this weekend? I can only hope!
The next night, armed with shallots and a bunch of other produce from the Finley Farm stand the day before, I decided it was time to embark on my second-favorite fall kitchen pastime: SOUP making. (Squash pie is clearly first, but I’m trying to limit that to Nov-February to keep my butter/crust/maple intake down to a reasonable level!) Here’s what I came up with as I went that assured me a place to live as long as I want in my landlords’ home:
Curried Sweet Potato Soup (serves 2ish if you eat as much as I do and my land-people would like to) (oh, and sorry, no picture, we ate it all, and even though I’ve made soup almost daily since then, we keep eating it before I remember to take a picture! Awesome.)
(For some simple Ayurveda twists: for Kapha imbalances- choose olive oil over ghee, add more cayenne, black pepper and ginger, less or low fat coconut milk; for Pitta imbalances- more coriander and definitely lots of cilantro, no cayenne and less onion; and for Vata imbalances- more ginger and more sweet potato. And as always, please cook and eat with love and gratitude.)