Americano + Soft Fire = ?

Pull the curtains shut, try to keep it dark
But the sun is burning
The world awakens on the run
And will soon be earning
With hopes of better days to come
It’s a morning yearning
Another day, another chance to get it right
Must I still be learning
​- Ben Harper 

Oh my, you have a very soft fire, uttered Dr. Rosy Mann as she read my pulses. Soft fire? Now what am I supposed to do with that? True, I often joke about the fact that I have no goals. I prefer to stay in the present and float along through life. What to make of this alleged soft fire?

I was advised that due to my Vata/Kapha, inherently cold, nature, it would be wise to consume a ½ a cup of black coffee or black tea each morning with breakfast. Dr. Rosy, that just might kill me.

I had always abstained from caffeine. As a rug-rat, my brother and I would nab sips of our Grandmother’s Moravian style coffee. When discovered, she would exclaim- Don’t drink coffee, it will stunt your growth! Being the ever obedient and literal child, I took this advice to heart and never drank coffee, even in college. As a result, I am super sensitive to the stuff, yet, vertically challenged. Even green tea gives me the shakes. My heart palpitates and I start to scribble a living will on the nearest paper napkin.

Why Caffeine as Medicine?
When the mind begins to grow heavy and foggy (Tamasic, in Ayurvedic psychology), the lens through which we perceive life gets smudged. The world is less glamorous and sparkly. It’s hard to rip yourself from bed. Everything is just blah and meh.

Tamas queen- that was me towards the end of my year-long internship at Kripalu. I was in a moderate panic about leaving the nest. My solution? Escape with excessive sleep and binge watch Pretty Little Liars (don’t judge). As you can imagine, this increased the Tamasic, heavy qualities in my mind and body.

Presenting-THE GOLDEN RULE OF AYURVEDA: 
Like Increases Like, Opposites Decrease*
*Remember this, tattoo it on your forearm if need be.

Allow me to give you a quick run through on our friend Tamas. Tamas is the principle of dullness, heaviness, ignorance and decay. While these qualities seem overwhelmingly negative, Tamas is required in our lives. No Tamas, no sleep. No sleep, no Sattva (purity, harmony,  joy).

Similar to  the three doshas (Vata, Pitta & Kapha) the Maha Gunas (Sattva, Rajas & Tamas) are present in everyone’s life. While it’s ideal to live a Sattvic existence, we all need a heaping scoop of Rajas (stimulation, action, turbulence) to get s@#t done. What would life be without a sprinkling of Tamas? Without Tamas, we would be floating in the ether; probably wearing dinosaur printed weighted vests like they were going out of style.  However, we must be cognizant of our behaviors to keep Tamas in check.

What  Increases Tamas?

  • Foods that are processed, frozen, stale, old, leftover, unnatural, nuked and canned. These foods are lacking Prana, our energy & life-force. Get FARMY (my farm friends like to score old ARMY shirts and sew an F in front of ARMY). Fresh, local, organic, sustainable, ethical… Michael Pollan’s new documentary series,  Cooked, is a true masterpiece. Check it out for a full education on the importance of getting your keister back in the kitchen. 
  • Refined Sugars
  • Tobacco
  • Soda
  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Overeating
  • Excessive Sleeping
  • Lack of physical movement
  • Hanging out in the dark while using your computer, phone or tablet all day long.
  • Violent television, movies, video games. These behaviors start out as Rajas, but  overtime morph into Tamas.

Like increases like, right? Picture this- intern sleeping ten hours a night. Eating vegan ginger scones and gluten free carrot-coconut muffins like the apocalypse is happening next week. Texting her long distance boo for hours. Watching a teenage drama in a dark, dank house. You get the idea. No good. I was in rough shape. Certainly not surprising that Dr. Rosy could not find fire in my pulses that September afternoon. 

Thus, the prescription to drink coffee. Liken the caffeine as a way to crack open the painted shut windows. A means to air out the mind, and refresh the situation. Reboot the brain. Coffee is stimulating. Know that you can only move from Tamas to Rajas, not straight from Tamas to Sattva. Once you land on Rajas,  only then can you strive for Sattva. Essentially, I had to bring on the Rajas to begin to glimpse the golden wisps of Sattva in my daily life.

How to Drink Coffee- Ayurveda Style
Energetically, coffee is considered a stimulant due to its hot qualities. An Ayurvedic riff on the Bullet Proof Coffee phenomenon involves adding a teaspoon of ghee to your morning cup of joe. 
Ghee-

  • Aids in Digestion
  • Stimulates Brain Function
  • Improves Memory
  • Increases Concentration
  • Boosts Energy Levels

The ghee will actually help moderate and sustain the caffeine inspired energy for a longer period. Vata types will benefit from adding ghee to their coffee. This unctuous semi-liquid gold helps counterbalance the bitter, drying nature of coffee. However, if you are feelingoverwhelmed by kapha, the ghee may not be the right choice. Instead, opt for a sprinkle of warming cinnamon and cardamom to add flavor, boost digestion and cut down on the acidity.

While I can’t say I have woven the caffeine recommendation into my daily routine, I did decide to test out an Americano the other day. Go big, or go home. Indeed, the espresso gave me some zip and I yipped a blue streak at The Glenview Grind. It was fun and gifted me a new spin on things.

If you are feeling like you are overburdened with Tamas or possess a soft fire, I invited you to experiment with consuming ½ a cup of coffee in the AM. ½ a cup, 4 oz max, not your gargantuan Venti Starbucks variety. Black coffee with a dash of spice and/or ghee. Notice how you feel, and decide if this is the right medicine for you. 

Everything can be medicine. Everything can be poison.
Coffee can be medicine. Revere it, don’t abuse it. 


Low Blood Pressure? Hipster D.I.Y. Electrolyte Fix

Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.
– James Joyce

Quick, out of the way, a Higi Station! What can I say?  I simply cannot resist those Higi stations. Like a puma on the prowl, I skillfully bob and weave around the innocent bystanders, plop myself down and thread my arm through the blood pressure cuff. Victory!

Ubiquitous in pharmacies and grocery stores across the nation, these health kiosks can proffer a free snapshot of your current state of health in under two minutes. Check your blood pressure (BP), pulse, weight, body fat, and body mass index all in one go. Amazing. Once Chicago based (woot woot) Higi Corp adds palm reading and genealogy to the mix, you just might find me camped out at the neighborhood Jewel.  

Fine, I’ll admit it, I’m competitive and I’m sorry for what I said during bananagrams. I dig numbers and appreciate the fact that this awe-inspiring machine stores my bp AND rewards me with higi points. Now, before you get all Big Brother conspiracy theory on me, let me tell you why storing this information is beneficial. It behooves everyone to have a general idea of what is happening in their body as it allows one to create wellness goals and track progress.

In Ayurveda and meditation, students are constantly asked to get curious, dive inside and become their own private eye. If you do not have a general idea of how you are feeling on a day to day basis, how will you know when something is off? In his collection of short stories, Dubliners, James Joyce hit the nail smack on the head when he penned- Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” Ah yes. May I be so bold as to suggest that this is somewhat of a universal truth? How often do you find yourself living a short distance from your body?

What did I discover last Saturday when I pounced on that Higi machine? Low blood pressure. Not bragging rights, I meditate and do yoga low. Bona fide, “how am I still standing?’ low. 92/64. Eek. Yes, that helped me rake in a whole slew of higi points, 200 to be exact, but these numbers concerned me.

I think it’s safe to assume we all know the dangers of high blood pressure. Heart damage in a myriad of forms:

  • Heart attack
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Aortic dissection (don’t ask, it’s not pretty)
  • Stroke

How about the opposite side of the pendulum? What are the symptoms of  low blood pressure?

  • Dizziness, vertigo, lightheadedness (and not the fun, I just got off the Tilt O Whirl variety)
  • Feeling off kilter, unbalanced
  • Fainting
  • Hazy, blurry vision
  • Heart palpitations (the “why can I suddenly feel my heart pounding in my ears?” sensation)
  • Disorientation
  • Nausea
  • Overall feeling of weakness

This raised the question- is there a healthy way to boost one’s blood pressure? My brother kindly offered to let me babysit his karma child. While this generosity made my heart grow three sizes, I decided I needed to do some crowd sourcing and noodling on the world wide web. 

When asked, my chiropractic friend instantly said that I am dehydrated and need to boost my fluids. Side note- Chicago folks and stiff yogis, click here to check out his practice. Dr. Joel is not only a brilliant miracle worker, but also holds a holistic approach AND is kind.

Simple enough. Dehydrated, the blood is too viscous to pump swiftly through the body. While it’s tempting to just start pounding Klean Kanteen after Klean Kanteen of H20 like a champ, I recalled the whole electrolyte warning from my high school biology class.

Water. On a regular basis, drinking roughly half your body weight in ounces, per day, is a reasonable goal. Granted, lifestyle variations may require you to adjust the amount, bookworm vs ultra-marathoner. Then there’s the whole electrolyte conundrum. Regular water is precious (Gollum, TheLord of the Rings, precious), however, too much can actually deprive the blood of essential nutrients, such as electrolytes. Puzzling.

Consulting the great Guru Google yielded this

“Electrolytes are minerals in your blood and other body fluids that carry an electric charge. Electrolytes affect the amount of water in your body, the acidity of your blood (pH), your muscle function, and other important processes. You lose electrolytes when you sweat.”

More electrolytes, check. Now, I could just hit the nearest vending machine and purchase a Gatorade or Vitamin Water, but I’m frugal and a purist snob. Skip the high fructose corn syrup, which our body simply does not know how the heck to metabolize, so out of pure bafflement it just shoves it in the back of the closet (or crams it in our fat cells). Avoid the brominated vegetable oil, food coloring and artificial colors. Jet fuel green is not a color nature ever intended to be consumed, especially in times of illness. 

Let’s get all Martha Stewart (pre tax scandal Martha) and make our own electrolyte beverage. 

Here’s what to do, courtesy of the magical Dr. Vasant Lad

Grab your hippest mason jar and combine:

1 tsp Natural Cane Sugar, Coconut Sugar or Maple Syrup
1 tsp Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice 
Pinch of Salt (Pink Himalayan Salt is best, Trader Joe’s sells this dirt cheap in these handy grinders)
1 Pint of Room-Temperature Water

Give it a good shake and sip this concoction throughout the day. This trifecta of sugar, lime and salt work seamlessly to restore the electrolyte balance in your blood. Sodium is often perceived as the bad guy because salty foods, say in canned soup, are said to increase blood pressureHey, wait a minute.  Eureka! We need to boost our blood pressure so, mindfully, bring on the salt (please don’t go binge on a box of Cheez-Its, you know who you are). Sugar will give you a carbohydrate boost, hello energy. The lime adds a kick of vitamin C, goodbye scurvy. 

There you have it, nature’s cure. Adios weakness, blurry vision and vertigo.
This all being said, consult your Doc if symptoms do not get better. Passing out mid- Higi test is not only embarrassing but scary and dangerous. No bonus points for head injuries. 

Until next time, enjoy. 


Sore Throat, Sniffles & Chills, oh my!

And February was so long
that it lasted into March
-Dar Williams

Blast you sore throat. Slow and insidious. It starts as a slight ache in the tonsil region. “Hmm, perhaps I should not have consumed all that tres leche cake last night.” The next morning it’s worse. Glands swollen, “I’m just tired and need to slow down, self-imposed house arrest.” Day three, it takes enormous effort to hide the grimace every time I attempt to swallow a sip of ginger tea. Bah!

How can this be? I live a relatively sattvic, regimented, routine based life. I color and listen to podcasts, swim laps, eat my fruits and veggies like a good swan. To no avail. Alas, I have succumbed to streptococcus. Sigh, I blame the children, always the children.

Penicillin is the only course of action, or so I am told. I acquiesce (great, now I can’t be a poop donor for those fecal transplants, but that’s okay). Plus, I have my Dad wagging his finger in my face telling me to get tested, for if left undiagnosed, strep can do permanent damage to the kidneys and other vital organs. His friend had to have a kidney transplant due to the coccus gram-positive bacteria migrating south, valid argument. Needless to say, between feeling like death and these scare tactics, it didn’t take much persuading to get me to the Northwestern Immediate Care Clinic. It hurt to sleep. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (click for entertainment) to do the math. If I cannot sleep, how will my body fight this infection?

Yes, I could have taken better preventative measures. Gargling with sea salt and turmeric each night and not letting the wee ones stick their chubby little hands in my comestibles. Then, just maybe, I would be strep-free. To quote Chicago native John Mulaney, “Who’s to say?”

So what to do with this card I’ve been dealt? My get-well strategy= A marriage of Western and Eastern Medicine. 10 day course of antibiotics and a medley of Ayurvedic home remedies.

Sore Throat Therapies:
Turmeric + Salt Gargle- Mix equal parts turmeric and salt in a glass ( ½ tsp each into 8 oz water), add warm water, dissolve, gargle. This mixture can be used both morning and night. Turmeric is great to help with inflammation or swelling, while salt works to sweep away any bacteria you may have ingested during the day. Salt is one of the best expectorants, meaning it helps get the phlegm up and out.

*Fun Tip- Coarse/chunky sea salt whirled in the food processor with ground turmeric makes a beautiful homogenized powder that can be stored in a glass spice jar in the bathroom. I used to keep salt and turmeric in a mason jar, but it separates. Turmeric on top, salt on the bottom. No amount of shaking could balance the ratio to my satisfaction. Problem solved. Love you Cuisinart.

Eating Frozen Berries- Cherries, wild Maine Blueberries and raspberries are my berries of choice. The ice cold orbs help to sooth my inflamed throat, while the berries’ antioxidant and blood building abilities help beef up my immune system. Rumor has it that Gandhi once said that cherries create the sensation of bliss. Accurate quote or not, I think it’s true, they make me sublimely happy. Yes, Michigan!

Lime Water- Drink warm or room temperature lime water upon waking. I’ve been told that the action of the lime is similar to that of soap, while the water works to give the system a flush. Lime is also an expectorant. If there is mucus or congestion, you may find yourself hacking up loogies, which is a good thing. Lemon works for the other days, but lime juice is not quite as heating as lemon, and it’s a better expectorant.

Hydrate- Drink up to half your body weight in ounces, per day, to send those bugs packing.

Raw Honey– Honey is one of the crowning jewels in Earth’s medicine chest. To name a few, honey is classified as a demulcent (relieves inflammation), expectorant (aids in the clearing of mucus), nutritive (nourishing) and antibiotic (prevents bacterial infections). A scoop of raw honey is basically a balm for the throat. Ahhh!

Increase honey’s superpowers by adding turmeric and fresh cracked black pepper. The turmeric will bring down inflammation and the black pepper helps with the efficacy of the turmeric. Make a paste by combining roughly ¼ cup raw honey to 1 tablespoon ground turmeric and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Keep a jar nearby to consume a spoonful whenever the throat begins to bark.

Peppermint Tea- Clears the head and sinuses, has an analgesic (pain relieving) nature and boosts emotional harmony.

Foods to Avoid- Refrain from consuming dairy, namely ice cream, yogurt and cheese. These chilled dairy products are mucus manufacturers, which will only serve to intensify the sore throat (think post-nasal drip prevention).

Yoga Postures for a Sore Throat-

Bhramari Pranayama (Humming Breath)- Sometimes called bumble bee breath, the vibrations from the humming are said to soothe the nervous system and is considered a form of sound therapy. Beneficial for the thyroid and throat region. Do up to ten cycles, it’s fun.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onQiVRq8WLA

Eucalyptus/Epsom Salt Baths- I saved the best for last. Immerse yourself in a divine Epsom soak. The minerals will help draw out any impurities while the eucalyptus inevitably works to boost the spirits. Sweat it out and relax the muscles. Eucalyptus not only opens the mind and senses, but it also helps clear the lungs and remove phlegm. It’s become common knowledge that eucalyptus is extraordinarily beneficial for dissolving depression and negative thoughts. I’ll admit I’ve been a bit whiny these past few days, poor Ren. More eucalyptus!

Try one, try them all. Hope this helps you and your loved ones navigate a healthy February.

Dear Gallbladder, I’m sorry.

Dear Gallbladder, 
​I’m sorry. So, here’s the thing, life just happened and I forgot to take care of you. I guess I took you for granted and figured you would always be there churning out fresh bile. No, a year gorging on vegan ginger scones and mounds of squash-a-roni was not my most brilliant move to date. While we’re at it, I suppose we should talk about this weekend. A Mexican fiesta (ole!), Superbowl home-brewed IPA, immediately followed by the Chinese New Year’s 400 # Monkey. Ouch, I beg your pardon gallbladder, please don’t give up on me.

Sincerely,
Lauren (the nut butter junkie)


Indeed, I’ve been feeling some tenderness in the gallbladder/liver area for months, maybe even years. Want to test your gallbladder? Here’s how: find the rights side of your abdomen and poke around in the area above the line of your navel and below the ribs.  Yikes! For me, this prodding instantly burns. I can feel the sensation radiate all the way to the other side of my spine and behind my belly button (nabhi in Sanskrit). Quick and sharp, like licking a 9 volt battery (What can I say? My Dad owned a Radio Shack, someone had to test the batteries). Not good.

Until recently, my sole plan of attack was to roll on a Gertie ball each morning and night. Basically any 8” soft-plastic bouncy ball will work, kick-balls, or what they sell in the big wire bins at the Piggly Wiggly. Rolling on the ball helps to loosen this area as well as stimulate the gallbladder. It actually feels similar to the action created by uddiyana bandha kriya.

Gertie Balls

In Yogic philosophy, the band around the solar plexus is said to be our “fear belt”. This is where our doubts and self-defeating thoughts reside. Coincidentally, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the emotions that get bottled up in the liver are anger, frustration and unprocessed resentment.  Overtime, this pent up anger will display as irritability, a bitter taste (literally and figuratively), headaches and excessive thirst.

Hmmm. Well, lately, I have been compared to the needling Pinecone from the children’s book Stick and Stone AND the Cranky Cat from Room on the Broom.  Oy Vey! I suppose my next letter of apology will be to my family and colleagues. It’s not you, it’s my gallbladder. 

Before I move onward with some remedies, what does the gallbladder even do? The gallbladder is basically a storage receptacle for concentrated bile. Bile gives us the ability to digest all the fats, the good the bad and the ugly (yes, you, Oreo filling). Bile is also responsible for processing toxins and gives us top-notch bowel movements. Finally, and arguably, most importantly, the bile serves as a buffer to the caustic digestive acids in the stomach. No bile= no poops, toxin overload, stored fat and ulcers. Good grief, the gallbladder should be given a National Holiday. How about the Monday after Superbowl Sunday?

If you continue to pound cheeseburgers, French fries, and other fatty-fatty-fat-fat foods, your gallbladder is going to wave the white flag in defeat. More often than not, the liver begins to congest due to poor diet, stress, lack of elimination…the American dream. As a result, the bile becomes viscous and stagnant. In time, the body will begin to function below optimal levels and this will spill over in other areas of your life.  Dr. John Douillard often compares viscous bile to washing the dirty dishes in the same water, 19 times. Did that just make you shudder? Me too.

Save the Gallbladder! Here’s a checklist to see if you need an intervention.

  • Tenderness when poked
  • Irritability
  • Frustration
  • Headaches
  • Constipation or gassy, greasy stools
  • Excessive thirst
  • Bitter taste in the mouth
  • Difficulty digesting wheat, dairy and corn
  • Heartburn
  • Feeling of sluggishness or nausea after eating fatty foods
  • Waking between the hours of 2-4 AM, the liver/gallbladder organ time. If one has liver or gallbladder sensitivities, theys may begin to ache during these hours.

If you checked off a majority of the list, it’s time for Operation Flush the Gallbladder.

Alkaline foods are your friend. I know, it’s the winter and one should be favoring more acidic foods such as wheat, nuts, meats, and beans. However, I, for one, needed alkalizing foods, stat. I suspect it was the homemade paneer and ghee remnants that put me over the edge.

For now, refrain from consuming deep-fried food, dairy products as well as saturated and animal fats. These foods will expedite the coagulation of our beloved bile, potentially resulting in the formation of gallstones.

What to eat?

Bile movers and shakers-

  • Raw Beets
  • Green Apples
  • Carrots
  • Cranberries (non-sweetened)
  • Leafy Greens
  • Celery
  • Rhubarb
  • Aloe vera
  • Red berries
  • H2O- lots of water, give the body a rinse

Pooping Foods-

  • Prunes
  • Chia Seeds
  • Flax Seeds
  • Celery
  • Legumes
  • More water

Together, these alkalinizing fruits/vegetables and  bulky, fibrous foods, will act as a scrub-brush on the system. Draining out the old and bring in the new. Holla.

Here’s what my diet looked like yesterday (if you get squeamish with bow-wow movement talk, you may want to skip the results section):

Breakfast-

  • 1 Tablespoon of chia seeds soaked in 4 oz of water
  • One raw Gala Apple
  • A shot glass full of 100% pure cranberry juice, added to the chia seeds once that had soaked.

*Please note, it is critical to soak the chia seeds in water or other absorbing liquid. Like psyllium husks, if they are not soaked they will actually cause constipation because they soak up the moisture in the large intestine. Pure cranberry juice does not work, perhaps due to its astringent nature.

Lunch-

  • Green Juice (kale, spinach, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger).
  • More soaked Chia
  • Another shot of cranberry juice

*Ayurveda often frowns upon juicing, as we have teeth for a reason, not to mention it has a significant amount of sugar and only a tiny bit of fiber. However, desperate times call for desperate measures, even if it is February. Let me also say that I attempted to remedy this coldness from eating raw, by doing an oil massage followed by a long sauna. I drank ginger tea throughout the day and took a hot bath before bed , slathered my feet with heating castor oil and donned my nerdiest socks (thanks Mom!).

Dinner-

  • Beet/Apple/Carrot slaw with Lemon/Ginger/Raw Honey dressing

Ingredients:
1 ½ inches of peeled ginger root
4-5 Lemons or Limes (Meyer lemons are incredible), juiced/pressed
1 T of Raw Honey
Salt + Pepper to taste
Cayenne (optional, but gives a most welcome heat)

2 Green Apples, unpeeled, quartered
4 Orange Carrots, peeled
3 Medium Sized Beets, peeled and quartered
Handful of unsweetened, unsulfured, dried cherries


To Create:

Dressing- throw the knob of ginger in the food processor equipped with the regular blade. Process. Add the lemon juice (or lime) and raw honey. Season to your liking adding salt, pepper, and/or cayenne. Empty the contents into a glass measuring cup. No need to rinse out the Cuisinart, as it is required for the next step.

Slaw- using the grater attachment, process the apples. Empty into a large bowl. Repeat this step with the carrots, then the beets. I try and keep the colors from running as it is a beautiful tertiary color scheme, green, orange, purple. Thus, emptying the food processor after each addition for the aesthetic.

Pour the dressing over the slaw, and sprinkle with the dried cherries. Integrate with your hands, this way you will look like you’ve been finger painting all afternoon.

​Let the slaw marinate for a few hours, the cherries will plump up and be delectable. Enjoy! I added this slaw to a bowl of baby arugula and topped it with cilantro, sliced avocado and raw pumpkin seeds. I was not disappointed.

The results?
This morning I was awoken by desperate bowels. I was expecting a beet red toilet, however, what I found was a greenish almost black cow plop (sorry Dad, I know this makes you squeamish). No squatty potty was needed for this profound movement.

Why did I chalk this up as a victory? According to Dr. Vasant Lad, after a gallbladder flush, the AM feces will be predominantly dark green. This greenish hue is the thick coagulated bile (dirty dish water), sometimes it even contains gallstone crystals. Neat.

In addition to the prolific purge, I woke with far-less tenderness under the ribs. The dark circles below my peepers were not as visible. Coincidence or not, I intend to send love to my gallbladder on a regular basis by finding a balance between acidic and alkaline foods. Eat red and green fruits and vegetables, lots of fiber and throw back the room-temperature water.

 In the end, not only will I feel better, but my gallbladder and my family will thank me for my dedication to this most precious organ. Perhaps one day I will be seen as the dog or even the frog from Room on the Broom,  fingers crossed.


Letting Go- Aparigraha


In the end, only three things matter:
how much you loved, how gently you lived,
and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. 
-Unknown

Good God, it’s hard to let go.

For real, it’s an epidemic. I invite you to take a jaunt through your hamlet and investigate the neighborhood. Garages piled high with boxes of old magazines, garden tools, photos and rusty sports equipment. Sheesh, all that nostalgia crammed tight into every nook and cranny. Basements, attics, storage rentals and barns, we are literally drowning in our past—or as I like to think of it, our fear of letting go, aparigraha.

With echoes of other world religions, Yoga and Hinduism have laid down a set of ethical ground rules. Together, the yamas and niyamas create the moral imperatives for righteous living. I often think of them as the yogi’s version of the Ten Commandments. Yamas translates as restraints, and niyamas as observances (fun fact, svadhyaya, or self-study, is my favorite niyama).

Aparigrha is one of the five yamas, and is often defined as non-grasping, non-possessiveness—catch and release.

While I think of fishing as the ultimate Zen sport, I’ve always had a problem with catch and release. The fish gets hurt. A hook through the eye, or worse yet, the poor bugger has actually swallowed the thing. Mew. My Dad stopped taking me fishing when I was, oh, about six years old, because I insisted upon kissing each fish before it was freed.

However, sometimes catch and release is a beautiful thing to witness. The line tugs, and you crank the reel to find an iridescent pumpkinseed fish dangling from the hook. Sparkling in the sunshine and breathtaking, it wiggles to be free, gasping for breath. Little pumpkinseed fish, it’s your lucky day. The hook is carefully removed with surgeon-like precision. The panic in this wee being is palpable, as is the sense of relief as the fish is gently placed back in the lake.

Just like that fish, can you begin to release your past?

Photo by feng cheng on Pexels.com

Start slowly, and go room by room in your house. Closet, kitchen, bathroom, laundry room. My theory is, if I walk past an item and silently growl in its direction, it has to go. Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan, believes that everything has a soul. Rock, hanger, crock-pot—perhaps these items begin to hold memories, pieces of us, like a mini-horcrux.

Philosophy aside, if that dress reminds you of a funeral, a job you didn’t get or a bad date, give it to charity. Who needs that energy clogging up your psychic space?

According to Ayurvedic theory, Kapha dosha is typically behind any hoarding tendencies. Kapha is a delightful blend of the elements Earth and Water. Gross and heavy, together Earth and Water make a thick, cool, goopy mud. Kapha sticks, clings and hangs in there, for better or worse.

Strolling down memory lane is fine, but constant reminiscing can indicate a Kapha imbalance. This imbalance can manifest in the following ways:

• Weight Gain.
• Woe is me depression—Eeyore style, “nobody loves me.”
• Excess Mucus.
• Foggy Brain.
• General feeling of heaviness or lethargy.
• Excessive sleep.
• Indolence.
• Malaise—“I just don’t feel good.”
• Hoarding.

Do you notice a trend? Heavy, weighted-down symptoms that hold one back from life. A recent Cate Stillman podcast, revealed that studies have found a strong correlation between hoarding and weight gain. Kind of sounds too simple to be true, but it’s not that far-fetched. Think about it, in 1950 did we have acres of storage units? Our houses are getting bigger and bigger to accommodate all our stuff—and so are our waistlines.

Make a plan. After all, it’s now the year of the transformational Fire Monkey. Mischievous, cunning, magnetic and action-oriented, the Monkey is the perfect force to usher in a year of real change. Like an archer, set your target and steady your arrow.

Here’s what I suggest:

• Clear the clutter in your life. Bag up your 1980s duds and those college textbooks you never crack. Ditch the rollerblades and send them off to Goodwill.

• Delete old emails, texts and voicemails that no longer benefit you.

• Make a vision board. What do you really want? No, really. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.

• Letting go breaths, or the “Kripalu Dump”: deep breath in and audible exhale, get the shoulders involved. I like to do it obnoxiously loud; it’s more fun, especially in a public bathroom.

• Celebrate. Dance like nobody’s watching. Crank up your favorite tunes and shake what your mama gave you.

Attack this list with gusto, or simply pick one. Nonetheless, I invite you to take an honest look at your life.

Begin to trim the fat of old stories, insecurities and patterns. Surrender what is no longer serving you, and refill your well with all the bounty that is surely yet to come.

Lastly, enjoy the mystery, and let go; you have rope burn.

Mattel goes Ayurvedic – VPK Barbies

My beloved child, break your heart no longer.
Each time you judge yourself, you break your own heart- Swami Kripalu 

Hot damn and fresh off the press! I sat down for breakfast this morning and behold, the business section of the Chicago Tribune. Dost mine eyes deceive me? BARBIE’S NEW BODS- Mattel looks to recharge sales as girls’ want a shift. Holy shit! Excuse my language but this is big, really big. Mattel, the maker of the ubiquitous plastic doll, has decided to revamp their iconic Barbie and offer three new body types. Ahh! With sales down 4% last quarter, the company is scrambling to boost sales…and possibly the self-esteems of millions of children around the world. Regardless of the motive, corporate greed or altruism, I am overjoyed with the presumptive psychological impact this is bound to have on future generations.

What in the Sam Hill am I going on about? Well, you see, the three new body types are the following: Tall, Petite and Curvy, or in the language of Ayurveda: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. For those of you who are unfamiliar with VPK, let me get you up to speed. Ayurveda is a nature based system that looks to the five elements, Ether (space), Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Together these elements combine to form the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is composed of Ether and Air. Pitta is a blend of Fire and Water (I know, that seems counter intuitive. Wouldn’t water put out fire? Steam, baby, steam). Finally, kapha is a combination of Earth and Water.

Mattel, the maker of the ubiquitous plastic doll, has decided to revamp their iconic Barbie and offer three new body types. With sales down 4 percent last quarter, the company is scrambling to boost sales…and possibly the self-esteem of millions of children around the world.

Regardless of the motive—corporate greed or altruism—I am overjoyed with the presumptive psychological impact this is bound to have on future generations of girls and boys.

So what exactly am I going on about? Well, the three new Barbie body types are the following: Tall, Petite and Curvy; or in the language of Ayurveda: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

For those unfamiliar with these terms, let me get you up to speed. Ayurveda is a nature based system that looks to the five elements: Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Together these elements combine to form the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is composed of Ether and Air. Pitta is a blend of Fire and Water (Which may seem counter intuitive, but steam baby, steam!). Finally, Kapha is a combination of Earth and Water.

Over 5,000 years ago the Ayurvedic sages recognized the doshas as the three basic constitutions. Now before you start over-analyzing and compartmentalizing yourself once more, know this—we each have all five elements, therefore, we have all three doshas. I emphasize this point because as an Ayurvedic health consultant, it is quite common for someone to say to me: “I’m all freckly, I’m so Pitta” or “Look at my bubble butt. I am super Kapha.” I’m not saying this is wrong, but it is limiting.

Ayurveda sees each individual as a unique combination of VPK with different qualities being more prevalent depending on a multitude of factors, including genetics, ethnicity, details of conception (timing, climate and parent’s emotional state) and time and place of birth. The take away is that we are all three. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Each dosha has specific physical attributes. Vatas—composed of Ether and Air—tend to be wispy, leggy and have a difficult time gaining weight. Water lends a bit more heft to Pitta dosha, creating a middle-of-the-road body type. They often have a medium athletic build with average strength, however, the fire element makes them compact powerhouses. Lastly, we have the curvy, voluptuous Kapha. A combination of Earth and Water, Kapha is comprised of the two grossest elements—I mean gross as in dense, not repulsive, because Kaphas are anything but repulsive, they are love bugs!

Tall, petite and curvy, all three doshas are beautiful. Sadly, Kapha has become the most loathed and feared dosha, while Vata has been glorified for the last few decades.

“I’m not thin enough.”

“Argh, these hips!”

“OMG, I have cellulite and a muffin-top!”

I’m here to tell you the following:

1. You are perfect as is.

2. Accept your genetic gifts. The more you deny who you are, the less happy you’ll be.

3. Love yourself and others.

So without getting too Pollyanna on you, here are the positive attributes of all three doshas:

Vatas are enthusiastic and excitable, the social butterflies. Artistic and speedy, Vatas tend to be more ethereal and in touch with the great beyond—they may even “see dead people.”

Pittas get things done. They are the business men and women of the world—strong, sharp intellect, witty and efficient.

Kapha is robust and strong, the deeply-loving and kind mama and papa bear. They have a tendency to hold onto weight, but that is not always a bad thing. Classic Ayurvedic texts recognized a total of 140 diseases and categorized each with a specific dosha. Vata had 80, Pitta 40 and Kapha, only 20. It takes a lot for Kapha’s to get sick; they are like the sturdy, reliable, wooden-paneled station wagon your parents insisted on driving for years.

Dr. John Douillard’s provided a great analogy of VPK during the Paleolithic era: Vata caveman would be drawing on the cave wall; Kapha caveman would be daydreaming about ways in which the cave could be cozier; and Pitta caveman would be out hunting and harnessing fire. Vata innovates, Kapha takes care of the spawn and Pitta gets sh*t done. Human evolution y’all.

Skeptical of Indian Medicine? How about mid-century discoveries from our Ivy League institutions? Harvard Psychologist William Sheldon created a similar system in the 1940s, classifying Mattel’s revolutionary three body types as Ectomorph (tall), Mesomorph (petite) and Endomorph (curvy).

Ectomorphs are thin, flat chested with fragile sensitive bodies. They are dominated by the central nervous system. Mesomorphs are hard, dominated by muscles and thicker skin, but can be insensitive. Endomorophs are soft, store and gain weight easily, and are the least affected by external stimuli.

Hmm, this sounds so familiar, where have I read this? Yes, you guessed it! Perhaps it was intuition or he was an Ayurvedic physician in a previous life, but what Sheldon rediscovered—and Mattel has revolutionized—is the westernization of the three doshas: Tall/Ectomorph/Vata, Petite/Mesomorph/Pitta and Curvy/Endomorph/Kapha.

Hari Om, throw down the mic.

Can you now see why I’m bursting with excitement over this headline? Perhaps it is premature to shout from the mountain tops, but from my perspective, it appears that the Eastern and Western worlds are slowly beginning to meld back together and it’s inspiring.

Mattel’s designers and marketing advisers have finally heard the people’s cries and recognized the need for a shift in how we present the human body to the world. Instead of boxing every male and female into an unobtainable Ken or Barbie mold, they are finally giving us permission to be unapologetically ourselves. Sheldon attempted to teach self-acceptance back in the 1940s, just as Ayurveda did 5,000 years ago and honestly, I don’t care how the message gets out. If it has to be through a plastic doll, so be it.

What warms my heart and gives me hope, is that Barbie has been given a body boosting upgrade. Curvy, Tall, Petite—all good. It’s as if Mattel went into the home of every little boy and girl and scribbled across the threshold “You Are Enough.”

Change is gonna come
Like the weather
They say forever
They say

 –Macy Gray

Squirrel Food & the Six Tastes

Rosemary Fig Walnut Butter
Yield: About 2 Cups

Ingredients:
– 4 cups of Walnuts, divided
~ 2 cups toasted walnuts @ 350 F for 5-8 minutes (or until fragrant and nutty brown)
~ 2 cups untoasted/raw walnuts
– 8 unsulfured dried Turkish figs- torn into pieces or chopped
– 1/3 cup Brown Sugar, loosely packed
– 1 ½ tsp of chopped fresh Rosemary
– ½ tsp of salt  


1. Process the raw and toasted walnuts* in the food processor for 5-10 minutes** scraping down the sides as needed.

*The nuts actually release their oils quicker if they are processed fresh out of the oven. I made one batch that used exclusively toasted walnuts, but the outcome was bitter and hardly palatable.  However a combination of raw and toasted is sublime. You see, walnuts hints of an astringent taste, this is due to the naturally occurring tannins and catechin found on the papery skin (pellicle) surrounding the kernel.  The astringent taste dries out the mouth and palate. Some examples of other astringent foods are green apples, grape skins, black tea and pomegranates. Astringent is actually a taste that is often lacking in the American diet. It is great for balancing both Kapha (Earth+ Water) and Pitta (Fire+ Water) and should be experienced daily, if not with every meal.

**The processing time really varies depending on the power of the food processor. I often find that it takes closer to 5 minutes. Here are the stages of making nut butter: Whole nuts spin to become something reminiscent of a whole grain flour or meal. Next, the meal begins to coalesce to the consistency of cookie dough.  Eventually, the heat produced from friction and the spinning blade will result in the nuts releasing their cache of precious oils. Voila! Smooth creamy nut butter. It’s really a fascinating process to observe, similar to watching a lava lamp, remember those? You know, those psychedelic lamps with gobs of melting wax that you and your comrades would gather around to observe on a Friday night? Hey now, I grew up in the suburbs, okay? To this day my friends and I claim that there must have been something in the water that kept us chaste, sober and out of mischief… unless you count ding-dong ditching your own house.  Anyway, I digress.

2. Add the Figs, Brown Sugar, Rosemary and salt. Process until desired consistency.
 
Only after the nuts have been ground to a fine paste can you toss in the remaining ingredients. Adding even the salt prematurely may interfere with the release of the oils. The nuts will seize up, simply put, you will not have nut butter (mew).  More likely, you will end up with a product that is great formed into balls and dipped in chocolate, not a huge loss, just not the same.
 
3.Season to taste- adding more salt, figs, rosemary as needed. Devour.
 

Nom, nom. Now that you have crafted your Rosemary Fig Walnut butter, let’s look a bit more at the elemental composition of the taste, as well as the energetics and actions of the beloved walnut. Walnuts, or in Sanskrit akshota, are sweet/hot/sweet. They possess a sweet taste, heating energetic effect and a sweet post-digestive effect.

Taste, the first hit you get when you place something on your tongue. In Ayurveda, the six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Like the doshas, tastes are also a combination of the five elements- Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. This will have a short-term effect on the dosha with the similar elemental makeup. For example, the sweet taste is made up of Earth + Water, as mentioned above, these are also the exact same elements that make up Kapha dosha. Therefore, a scoop of Speculoos is basically like ingesting a spoonful of kapha, could be good, could be bad, depending on what your body needs in that moment. Remember any substance can be your medicine or your poison.

Once you have ingested the walnut, explored its sweet taste, the next thing to look at is the direct energetic effect the walnut has on digestion. Heating or cooling. Sometimes you can taste a food and know exactly if it will heat or cool the body, however sometimes it is a mystery only to be discovered during the wee hours of the night (the stomach hours are between 10PM and Midnight, fun thing to note if you wake up suddenly with a hot, agitated belly). By their very nature nuts are intended to be stored and consumed during the winter, when fat supplies are meager and squirrels need them to survive. Nature, in its infinite wisdom, created a little power house of fat and heat to help insulate and sustain critters through the harsh winter months. The heating energetic effect aids in the digestive function, and can make things process quicker due to its more potent nature whereas cooling tends to cool off the digestive system, great for the summer time when the temperature soars or you just consumed too many jalapeno poppers, ole!

Finally, the last journey of this walnut is the long-term effect it has on our metabolism, post digestion and assimilation. There are three options here, sweet, sour or pungent. Sweet is building and nourishing while sour boosts digestive fire and pungent helps with elimination. As you may have guessed (or remembered from up above), walnuts have a sweet post-digestive effect. This makes sense when we think of a chipmunk munching on a stored nut mid-winter. Would Chippy want a foodstuff that is going to make him hangry or have to hit the commode every other stump? No, he wants bulk and comfort like an Irish knit sweater (debatably comfortable).
 
Bottom line, walnuts are a fabulous food that nature intended for us to eat during the winter months. Here is some extra information for you food nerds. Walnuts are not only nutritive but are an aphrodisiac and nervine (meaning they help if you get “nervous on airplanes”). Like walnuts, figs are also a sweet building food that offers a variety of nutrients. They are an excellent blood builder, containing a significant amount of iron as well as 187 mg of potassium, which is required to keep the muscles healthy and prevent strokes. Alas, I would be remiss not to mention those charming little seeds that provide fiber and flossing fun. Finally, rosemary will help boost the sprits with its aromatic rhapsody. Rosemary is thought to help harmonize and strengthen the heart as well as the emotions, perfect for this slushy, grey time of year.

Happy New Year, year of the monkey, so excited!