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The Field of Eternal Bliss

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How do we achieve true health? In a world of imbalance, is it possible to bring oneself into a state of balance? And if so, how do we accomplish this task in an often difficult world?

This past week has been challenging in many ways. At times, I have felt a visceral reaction to world developments. I have cried. I have felt like the whole world is spinning out of control. So much uncertainty on the world stage! What a crazy time we are living in. How can ancient wisdom help us through this hard time?

 

One of the characteristics of the healing system of Ayurveda is fluidity – each person is unique, as is their circumstance. Thus, the Ayurvedic practitioner is trained to think in a fluid manner, addressing each person individually and tailoring a healing plan specific to them. It insists that the ‘patient’ take action to implement the lifestyle that will best support their healing and wellness. The counselor suggests action steps based on the person’s unique situation and constitution.

Ayurveda complements modern medicine because while heeding your Doctor’s advice, you can simultaneously take your health into your own hands through lifestyle modifications that have a real impact on your overall state of well-being. The two systems can work together well. True health seekers may not be satisfied with modern medicine alone – wishing to delve deeper and achieve optimum wellness motivates them.

While the road to wellness is fluid and unique to each person, there is a destination that is not fluid. It is the solid ground from which all of creation arises. I say solid ground because it is an unchanging force, but it is beyond the material world, and thus not made of anything material.

The concepts I have learned this week have been unexpected – I had no idea how vast the wisdom contained within this science would be. Ayurveda gives us a model as to the very fabric of the universe. If you are religious there is no conflict here as the information fits nicely into a religious view-point. If you are not religious, but more scientific, it still fits. It as if the early sages who wrote the Ayurvedic texts had a real pulse on the workings of the cosmos, and their structure.

I am learning the details of the layers of creation – how the elements come together to form our environment, our minds, and our bodies.

The material realm is full of uncertainty and change by its very nature. Just when we think we know what will happen next, everything suddenly shifts. The more attachment we hold to outcomes and predictions, the more we suffer on the wild ride of being alive.

However, if we take time to identify with the ‘ground of creation’ we can find relief from this suffering. Ayurveda calls this ‘ground of creation’ the Purusha; some may call it God; some the energy beyond all energy. It is totally beyond matter and is not comprised of any material elements. It is ‘pure spirit; beyond cause and effect; pure consciousness; the same yesterday, today and tomorrow; truth; reality; bliss’.

Ayurveda teaches that the Purusha is the sole seer or state of seeing, and the only true conscious entity. As we evolve and cease to identify ourselves with the forms and functions of the external world, we realize that this force resides within each of us, as our higher self. This is not to say that we are higher or better than this ultimate force; rather, we are one with it.

Mental health is nurtured and secured when we take time outside of our busy schedules and endless news feeds to be still. To tune into the ultimate consciousness. This is the practice of meditation. Pure consciousness becomes the solid ground in a world of shiftiness. Here lies the field of eternal bliss. This is the ultimate cure to any ailment.

All of the material realm is in a state of slight to great imbalance from this perfect state. True health is possible when we realize it requires a life-long dedication to self-reflection to determine where our imbalances may lie and to action to correct them.

The higher-self that is one with this ultimate force is distinct from the ego, and from the identification with the body. The mind itself is of the material realm, the higher-self is not the mind. It is beyond mind.

And so, as we all are on this wild ride of the material realm together, we also each have a piece of the ground of creation within us. This eternal piece of ourselves is connected to the same piece within each and every person.

Although some may find it a silly cliche, the more I study this ancient science the more I am convinced: we are all one.

 

 

 

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A Clear View

Today and tomorrow I am doing a mini-cleanse. I am only eating two foods at each meal. While this sounds boring, it is very beneficial for the digestive system to take a rest from sorting out how to digest a bunch of different foods, especially if our system is sensitive. And, there is no starvation involved in this cleanse; it is nourishing as well as healing.

There is a lot going on for people right now, and a lot of information out there to be ‘digested’. Not only does our body have to digest and assimilate all the food that we eat, but our system must also digest and assimilate all of our experiences, including what we read or pictures we see. It is healthy to give our bodies a rest. Eating simply allows this to happen. As the physical body has less to deal with, the energy can be turned to digesting other layers of stimuli and information, preventing back-up and overwhelm.

I made a big pot of Kitcharee (I’ve written about this dish in other posts) – a one-pot meal developed in India. Sometimes I use more spices, like in the recipe I gave previously. But this time I made a simpler dish, using only turmeric – the amazing spice with powerhouse health and anti-inflammatory properties – and pepper. A little pepper tastes wonderful with turmeric, and it  assists the body in deriving top benefits from it.

I also made a delicious soup. At each meal, I have a bowl of Kitcharee that I heat in my cast iron skillet with a little ghee, and a big mug of my soup, which is so creamy and nice to drink from a mug. This soup is very healing and nourishing, with a bone broth base offering many amino acids and minerals that the body can use to repair itself, as needed.

If you decide to do a little cleanse, we can cheers our mugs together, virtually.

Using a journal can be very helpful when we cleanse. Thoughts and emotions may surface, and writing about them makes it easy to sort them out, or release them. This time of year supports the practice of letting go of what no longer serves us on the levels of body, mind and spirit. Just as the trees let go of their leaves in glorious bursts of color, we too can shed old layers with beauty and grace.

To make the Kitcharee:

1 cup uncooked organic basmati rice – soaked (Soak your rice in water for around 24 hours to make it easier to digest.Just before cooking, drain the water you soaked it in, leaving only the rice)

1 cup  green mung dahl – soaked (Same process as with the rice) This legume can be found in the bulk section of a good health food store. It is the easiest lentil type food to digest.

5 tablespoons organic ghee

3 tablespoons organic turmeric

one half tablespoon black pepper

1 teaspoon sea salt

8 cups pure water

To prepare:

In a big stockpot, melt the ghee over low heat.

Add the turmeric and pepper, continually stirring. When the mixture has a paste-like quality, add the rice, stirring it in well. Stir in the mung beans. Add the water and salt  and turn the heat up to high. Allow the mixture to boil for about three minutes, then cover and turn the heat down. Simmer for around forty-five minutes, until the water is gone and you have a soft porridge.

For dinner on the two days of my cleanse,  I saute some zucchini in a little coconut oil to have with the meal.

To make the soup:

First make broth, which is a 24-hour process, but quite easy.

Use quality, grass-fed beef bones. Neck bones with a little meat work well.  Roast 3 or 4 bones in the oven at 325 for 30 minutes, to bring out a good flavor. It’s fine if bones have meat on them, this is good. Place bones in large soup pot and cover with a quart and a cup of filtered water.  Add a tablespoon apple cider vinegar. Let it sit without heat for a half hour. The vinegar will begin to pull minerals from the bones.

Bring to a boil for a few minutes. Then turn the heat to low, cover, and let it simmer for 24-30 hours.

24-30 hours later…

Cut two butternut squashes into a couple inch long cubes, no peel. Toss these in melted ghee to lightly coat them. Roast squash for forty minutes at 375, stirring with a spatula after twenty minutes.

When squash has fifteen minutes left, put four cloves of garlic in their peels on a sheet and stick in the oven.

Squish the garlic out of the peel and into a blender with a cup or two of the broth. Add some roasted squash – you will probably have to do it in batches – and puree until creamy.

Pour this into a crock pot. Add a few pinches sea salt.

Simmer on low for four hours.

Both the soup and the kitcharee can be stored in the fridge and warmed up over the stove as needed.

A pic of my mug of soup, and one from the hike we did last month. A figurative new viewpoint is likely after we complete a cleanse. A clear view is inspiring.

My Commitment

The National Institute of Health estimates that at least 23.5 million people in the US suffer from an autoimmune disease, and that this number is on the rise. 75% of these people are women. After interviewing dozens of experts in the field of autoimmunity, Amy Meyers M.D. stated that “This is an epidemic.” What is happening? Why are our own immune systems turning against us?

Experts agree that a few factors need to be in place to cause an autoimmune disease. They are: genetic predisposition, a leaky gut, and an additional trigger such as stress or a parasite, like candida. In other words, we may carry the gene for autoimmunity, but a perfect storm must occur in order for the gene to ‘turn on.’

I have lived this statistic, and when something like this actually happens to you, statistics take on a whole new meaning. I feel passionately about getting the word out there that it is possible to heal.

Since sending my disease into remission through lifestyle changes over time, I have studied and researched the available information on autoimmunity. I believe that what is happening is that a combination of factors that are a part of modern life have caused this epidemic. The good news is, we can protect, and heal ourselves.

This is not to say that modern medicine does not have a place, because it does. I still take a thyroid hormone replacement to help supplement this important hormone in my body because over time, my thyroid gland has suffered enough abuse from my own immune system, that it needs the extra boost.

But, there are so many factors to autoimmunity that traditional medicine does not address. To feel truly well, these factors must be looked at, and healed.

We are living in a time unlike any other in the history of humankind. Life is faster, more connected, and more full of information than ever before. While this can be good, it can also take its toll on sensitive individuals. Our systems are in overdrive, and it is impacting our health in serious ways.

Being sensitive does not have to be synonymous with weak. It does however, require one to take extra care of the body, mind and spirit, especially in today’s fast-paced and over-stimulating world. Because if we don’t, we will live with fatigue and apathy, as we hold the door open for more autoimmune diagnoses. Simple, subtle lifestyle changes can have huge benefits in this regard.

Even if you are taking your prescribed medication, how you FEEL is a super important indicator to how well your body is functioning. Tune in and listen to yourself. We only get one body in this life, and it is our vehicle for this experience.

As a mother of an eight-year old and a six-year old I am kept busy. I also teach yoga classes and Barre classes. I am also working on earning a Lifestyle Consultant Certificate, which requires much reading and writing. This may not seem like much to some, but I must also obey a strict bedtime and self-catering schedule in order to maintain my health and the remission of the Hashimoto. Regardless, I am committing to one blog post per week until December 15, when I will take a couple weeks off for Christmas. Offering tips and conversations on healing will be my contribution to you. I feel passionate about keeping this conversation going, especially now that I know that this is an actual epidemic, affecting mainly women. Remember, even if you don’t have an autoimmune disorder, the number is on the rise, so preventative measures are important. The lifestyle articles I post can also be used in this manner.

Let’s do this together, and heal our lives!

Halting the Inflammation Train

It is my two year anniversary of being hive-free. Yes, a strange event to have an anniversary for, but if you’ve ever had a health issue that took months or longer to resolve, you can relate. I had hive flair-ups all over my body, every single day, for one year, and then one day they went away, never to return.

During the year when I experienced the hives, I felt tired and groggy constantly, even when I first awoke in the morning. Life was an uphill battle – just the little things took extreme amounts of will to accomplish. I remember looking at the clock at 9:30 am and thinking I am way too tired to make it through this day. Even though I was only thirty-eight, I felt very old, like the best part of life was behind me. Not a fun, or productive, way to live.

Today, while still aware of the underlying condition that caused the hives, I feel vibrant and alive. The here and now is fulfilling. Exhaustion doesn’t hit me until 10 p.m. when I happily crawl under the covers feeling that a rest has been well earned. I’m actually excited about life – I know that while I have already lead a full life with many awesome memories and experiences, the best is yet to come.

What I now know is that an autoimmune disease was part of the underlying cause of the chronic hives. But I believe that at the root of my problem was chronic inflammation – the inflammation was a precursor to the auto-immunity. Our bodies use inflammation as a mechanism of defense against unwanted intruders or pathogens, but if the wrong factors are present (like poor diet and excessive stress) and the inflammation train gets going, it can accelerate to destructive levels. Once this train is going out of control, it is not easy to calm it down. Inflammation is only meant to be turned on when the body is in real danger, not chronically.

Two years ago I did what is called an ‘elimination diet’. For thirty-one days, I ate only organic bone broth soups with vegetables, cooked vegetables, simple 3-ingredient, blueberry smoothies, and an Indian dish called Kitcharee. On day seventeen of this month, the hives did not show up, and I have not seen them since (celebrate).

After the elimination diet, I slowly added foods in, one at a time and only one every three days – it can take three days for the body to adversely react to a food. My body was fine with all the foods I added – granted, I have stayed with a whole-food, gluten and dairy free diet this entire two years. As hard as this sometimes is, I feel so much better without the inflammation, I refuse to get that train going again.

A lot of us live with low levels of chronic inflammation. This presents as sluggishness, a little extra weight on the body, aches and pains, low libido, bloating, and a general lack of passion. It is interesting to consider ways to calm the inflammation, to care for ourselves in such a way that illnesses such as autoimmunity and other chronic yuckiness do not develop in the first place, or to keep the symptoms calm and dormant if they already have.

One simple practice is deep breathing. Christopher Bergland, author of The Athletes’ way: The Biology of Bliss, writes about deep breathing in his article, The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure. This article is about the Vagus Nerve, a very interesting subject. This nerve wanders from the base of the brain down through the body, touching several key organs along the way – including the heart. He writes, “A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being. A low vagal tone index is linked to inflammation, negative moods, loneliness, and heart attacks.”

He also discusses how diaphragmatic breathing increases vagal tone.

So, pull up a cushion, silence the cellphone, and treat yourself to some deep breathing. Even five or ten minutes a day will give results. First simply observe the current rhythm of your breath without judgement. Due to the hectic pace of modern life, most of us function on a jagged breathing rhythm. After noticing this for a minute or two, begin guiding the inhales and the exhales to a smooth, even rhythm. Counting the length of the inhales and the exhales and nudging them to even is one method. Sometimes it is nice to have the exhales be slightly longer and to envision stress being expelled from the body with the breath out.

This simple exercise will tone the vagus nerve, signalling to the brain and heart that all is well. Practicing regularly has huge impacts on soothing inflammation and promoting well-being – I know from experience.

This is a picture of my husband and I this August on our summer trip, and another of our family out hiking. I am so grateful to feel well again, so that I can live my life in the fullest way possible!

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When Springtime throws you a Wintry Day

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Springtime in the Pacific Northwest is never predictable. Last week my five-year old and I met friends at the beach for a sunny day that satisfied my Vitamin D craving, and more; today, the sky is characteristic grey, a cold wind is making the leaves shimmy, and I think it may rain.

When I saw today in the forecast, I was actually happy. A soup day!

I had been a pescatarian for a very long time – almost twenty-five years – when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. This means that the only meat I ate was fish, on occasion. But, after the diagnosis, I quit eating gluten completely and after so many years of being mainly vegetarian, I realized that I just may need some animal products. The healing protocol I designed for myself, based on the amalgamation of many experts, included bone broth soup.

This week is my two-year mark of being 100% gluten free, and I feel so much better that it still feels like a miracle. If you’re interested in exactly why I cut the gluten, check out my earlier post entitled “The Gluten Piece.” Here, I will only say that while some are still skeptical whether leaky gut syndrome  exists, I am convinced that it is quite real, and able to be healed.

In essence, leaky gut is when the wall of our small intestine becomes compromised due to food sensitivities. When the intestinal wall is irritated, it can become more porous than it should be. Small particles escape into the bloodstream and alert our immune systems, leading to inflammation, and if left unchecked, autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s. Modern day gluten causes food sensitivity in some people, due to its difficulty to break down by the digestive system. I say ‘modern day’ because the gluten we eat is not the same product that our grandparent’s ate, but that’s another subject altogether.

If you’re not sure if this applies to you, I invite you to cut gluten out of your diet – 100% – there is absolutely no grey area on this one. Give yourself about a week, and then check in with yourself. Have any digestion issues improved, even somewhat? Have you noticed a difference in your energy levels, even subtle? If so, you may want to continue your gluten fast, and work on repairing your gut.

Bone broth is a powerhouse in this respect. Homemade bone broth contains numerous minerals and amino acids that are readily usable by the body to restore damaged tissue in the small intestine, connective tissues, and other organs. It is a truly healing food – I can attest to this firsthand after healing from the state of total exhaustion and inflammation resulting in daily hives – to a state of wellness I have never experienced in my life. The bone broth has been one component in my healing, and an important one. Using organic ingredients whenever possible is important, to minimize chemicals and toxins. I still eat meat rarely, having been vegetarian for so long. But the broth can be amazing in veggie soups too!

As the Mother of two kids – my little girl is eight and my son is five – and the wife of a big, hungry man, my soups have come in handy. Tonight, my family will enjoy a beef soup that has been simmering in the crock pot all day.

Here is the recipe. If you get handed a Wintry day this Spring, give it a try.

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Bone Broth

4 or 5 Grass-fed beef marrow or neck bones (organic if possible)

1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

12 cups filtered water

1 Tablespoon sea salt

2 pinches black pepper

To prepare:

Bake the bones in an oven heated to 350 for 30 minutes to improve flavor. Place bones in a large stock pot along with the water and vinegar. Allow to soak for 20 minutes to extract minerals. Add salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Boil for three or four minutes and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 12 to 24 hours. Pour broth through a strainer so that only the liquid remains.

 

Wintry Day Beef Soup

2 large red onions

8 peeled cloves garlic

2 tablespoons sea salt

2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves

Lots of fresh thyme

One pound steak cut grass-fed beef chunks

4 large yams

4 large zucchini

2 cups baby carrots

Coconut oil

To prepare:

Cut sweet potatoes and zucchini into large, bit-sized chunks. Heat 2 tablespoons coconut oil in skillet. Add carrots and fry on medium heat for fifteen minutes. Pour bone broth into crock pot. Add vegetables, including garlic and and basil. Turn crock pot on high.

Cut onion into long pieces. Warm onions on low in 2 tablespoons coconut oil in skillet. When onions become translucent, add beef and sprigs of thyme, and fry until beef is cooked on the outside, adding a couple pinches of salt. Place meat and onions into soup. Add 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves and stir well.

Cook soup on high heat for six hours. Serve to someone you love, and let the healing begin!

 

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The Healing Power of Yoga

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I have been practicing yoga for over twenty years. Teaching for the past two has been an amazing experience. Going into the yoga room is like pressing the pause button on time – as we settle into the breath, synchronizing its rhythm with the movements, our worries fall away and stress melts. We stretch, twist and bend. We push our personal boundaries as we expand into the poses.

Lying still for five to ten minutes at the end of class allows the benefits of the practice to sink in, body, mind, and spirit. We leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to enter back into daily life with a whole new perspective.

If you’ve never tried yoga, I recommend finding a studio and giving it a try. This is an excellent way to manage stress, that thief of health and wellness. It may not be possible right at this moment to eliminate daily stress, but it is possible to control our reaction to it. The breath awareness and coordinated poses that yoga offers will give you a new way of dealing with life. It transforms us from the inside out.

Root Vegetable Delight

I am always looking for ways to make beets taste delightful – they are so  packed with health benefiting properties!

Beets support the liver. We all know how much the modern-day liver must deal with in terms of environmental toxins, medications and food additives. Giving this important organ support offers a big boost in how we feel, and beets are one of the very best foods for this purpose.

If we are living with any type of autoimmune disorder it is important to remember that all of the organs and systems in the body are interconnected. When we eat foods to heal the liver, we are helping our entire body heal, since the liver is such a key player in the overall function of the body.

This dish makes an excellent mid-winter lunch or dinner, and also works as a tasty side dish.

 

Recipe:

Ingredients

3 or 4 organic beets

3 large, organic yams

1 organic sweet onion

Ghee

1 Tablespoon Curry powder (can be straight ground curry, or if you have a mixture you like, that works)

3 Tablespoons Turmeric (the SUPER spice)

1 Tablespoon sea salt

1 cup organic basmati rice, soaked (soak rice for 24 hours, rinsing and changing water halfway through)

1 can organic Coconut Milk

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel beets and yams and cut them into cubes. Cut onion into strips.

Place beets, yams and onions on large glass baking dish and drizzle generously with melted ghee. Sprinkle with sea salt. Place in oven and roast, stirring occasionally, for an hour.

Forty minutes later, place drained rice and coconut milk, along with two cups of water, into a sauce pan or rice cooker to cook. If using sauce pan, bring mixture to a boil, then cover and turn to low heart.

When veggies are done roasting, melt 2 tablespoons ghee slowly in large cast iron pan on low heat, stirring in turmeric and curry powder. Stir constantly until a nice paste is formed.

Place roasted veggies into the pan, and turn heat to medium. Stir veggies to coat with paste.

Place almost all the way cooked coconut rice into cast iron mixture. It is good if it still has a moistness, even a little wet still.

Stir in well and fry together with veggies for seven to ten minutes, continuing to stir.

YUM!

Your liver will thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming toward the light

A Year To Heal

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The past couple of years have been transformational.

In January of 2014 I was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This diagnosis came as quite a shock.

The frustrating part was that, even after following my doctor’s advice perfectly, by August of 2014, I was still dealing with the daily hives that had plagued my life for over a year. These red welts appeared all over my skin in the morning – every single day. This picture of my shoulder gives you an idea of what they looked like. They would pop up on different places on my skin. The worst was when they covered my neck, those grew the most inflamed and the feeling was most uncomfortable.

The hives would slowly subside after I took a Benadryl, only to make a comeback in the afternoon or evening. And no one had any answers aside from ‘take more Benadryl’. It was like an unsolvable mystery.

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To Metabolize Experience

I’ve always loved the snow. The way the light reflects off of the crystalline surfaces, creating small sparks of color; the way each snowflake is uniquely shaped; how when it lays on the ground, its individual flakes merge into a soft blanket of white.

It seems like each of us is as equally unique as a snowflake. I’ve always noticed this among my friends – I am blessed with amazing friends – some I’ve been close to for as long as twenty-five years, others I met in Hawaii more than a decade ago, some I’ve know less than a year. I love friendship and it is healthy for women to have strong friendships.

One thing I have noticed, is that five women can go into one experience together, and come away with five versions of memories of the experience. The rough details and outline is the same, of course, such as where and when the event took place, the sequence of events, the weather.

But most of the fine details differ in the varying recounts of the same event or experience.

Why is this?

Ayurveda provides an interesting explanation: Each person is unique. We all are born with individual constitutions, we react to experiences differently, we have our own perceptions as to what goes on around us.

We ‘metabolize’ experiences in our own way. There are several levels on which  a person must metabolize the events and relationships of their lives. And we all do this with our own set of background experiences, viewpoints etc.

True health occurs on many levels. An important one is how we relate to the people around us. If we keep in mind that everyone is seeing things from their own vantage point, maybe we can open up great conversations and ask what someone has experienced, and then learn and grow from their answers. We can do this with love.

If they do the same for us, solid relationships built on trust and  understanding can be built.

Our health will benefit!