The 10 Commandments of Heart Health

The heart…we need it for living, loving and even for laughing. Place your hand to your chest and feel your heart beat right now. This is our lifeline. We are only physically alive as long as our heart is beating. Sounds like a convincing enough reason to take the best care you can of this precious organ, right? Well, here are some ways to keep your ticker ticking stronger and longer!

 

                                               I.     EAT PLANTS

Eating a plant-based diet, and “swapping beef for beans,” as Cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn says, is one of the best preventative measures one can take in terms of heart health. Actually, this is one of the best preventative measures one can take in terms of overall health. Plants are rich in micronutrients, absolutely brimming with phytonutrients and provide ample amounts of the essential macronutrients from which our bodies are built. Eating more plants has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides. One can consume heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids through foods like freshly ground flaxseed. Garlic is another known plant source known to be heart-healthy as it reduces blood pressure, is cancer preventing and plaque buildup.

                                             II.     MOVE YOUR BODY

Vigorous vinyasa flow targets all three aspects of a good “workout,” (though it’s still hard for me, even as a teacher, to wrap my brain around calling the sacred practice of yoga a “workout”), cardio, strength and flexibility. Cardiovascular exercise does not need to be a marathon, my loves! Just getting out for a brisk walk, doing some high intensity interval training for short periods of time (think power walk for 60 seconds, walk normally for 60, back and forth for 20 minutes). If running tickles your fancy, be my guest (but invest in good shoes with decent support and opt for softer surfaces to protect your joints). Climb on your bicycle, jump in the water, cycling and swimming are two of the gentlest forms of cardiovascular exercise, in terms of joint health.

                                           III.     PUT THE BREAKS ON STRESS

 

Stress negatively affects us in every possible capacity. According to the New York Times, “sudden stress increases the pumping action of the heart, while at the same time causing arteries to narrow, constricting blood flow to the heart.” The same article also states, “the emotional effects of stress alter the heart rhythms, which could pose a risk for serious arrhythmias (rhythm abnormalities) in people with existing heart rhythm disturbances.” If that’s not enough reason to practice yoga, take some deep breaths and get enough sleep (all stellar markers for reducing stress), then I don’t know what is!

                                           IV.     DETOXIFIY ON THE DAILY

Keeping the body low on toxins will help all of your organs function optimally. In having a system that functions at its highest capacity, you are making your heart’s job a whole lot easier. Having clean blood filtering through your veins will make for a happy heart and a happy body.

                                             V.     LOVE, AND THEN LOVE A LITTLE MORE


What can you possibly think of as a better wellness plan for your ticker than loving? Love emotionally, love mentally, love physically. A note on the latter, don’t underestimate the beneficial impact of a little lovemaking between the sheets on your darling ticker!

                                           VI.     LAUGH (AND THEN LAUGH A LITTLE MORE!)

In addition to being one of the greatest mood lifters and emotional healers, the act of laughing also has benefits beyond the physiological. Laughter boosts circulation and increases heart rate, which, in turn, boosts cardiovascular health. Laughing also tones the abdominal muscles making the core stronger.

                                         VII.     MINDFULNESS

In living a mindful life we typically slow down. Mindfulness can mean many things but, at its core, mindful living means choosing activities, surroundings and fuel that is holistically beneficial to the body. By feeding oneself healthy food, getting ample sleep, drinking plenty of water, moving one’s body everyday and maintaining positive relationships, the heart muscle will have all the tools to be stronger and beat longer.

                                       VIII.     SMOKE FREE IS THE WAY TO BE

Smoking is a major cause of coronary artery disease. We all know that puffing on “cancer sticks” is unhealthy, but the bad habit directly affects the heart. So choose to pass, rather than puff, and avoid environments that are overly smoky. Second hand smoke and breathing in toxic air is severely damaging in its own right.

                                           IX.     BREATHE

The heart needs oxygen, circulating oxygen (both from exercise and deep belly breathing) creates happy cells. You can even try one of my favorite yoga postures Viparita Karani, or more commonly known as Legs Up the Wall pose. Simply lie against a wall space with your legs stretched up the wall. Rest your hands on your lower belly, between pubic bone and belly button, and breathe into your palms. Between the reversal of circulation and the deep breathing, your heart will be pumping clean, fresh, oxygenated blood and dancing in gratitude.

                                             X.     EAT SOME DARK CHOCOLATE (‘CMON YOU KNEW #10 HAD TO BE SOMETHING FABULOUS)

Chocolate contains potent antioxidants, namely flavanols and flavanoids. I’m referring to real chocolate; unprocessed, unsweetened, preferably organic and raw cacao. Consuming a little heart healthy, real cacao each day boosts blood flow to the heart, protects the body from free radicals and lowers levels of harmful cholesterol. Plus, chocolate is delicious. Enjoying something delicious makes you happy, and a happy you means a happy heart.

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As seen in Happiness + Wellbeing Magazine, available in the app store.

Pratipaksha Bhavana

Want to borrow my neat new tactic lately for reacting to circumstances, news, ideas, notions that are TOTALLY freaky?

Well, it’s not really MY tactic, per say. I suppose I could take this mystifying experience and make it something of my own, but my experience leads me to simply identify it with a yogic principle. The principle known as Pratipaksha Bhavana…or changing a negative thought for a positive one.

This happened in a radical way just a few days ago. Something that really freaked me out – like, really wigged me out and made me feel instantaneously insecure – happened and, despite the chaotic internal gymnastics that ensued, I replied with mock enthusiasm. Literally saying, “RIGHT ON!!!”

HA! How’s THAT for “fake it till ya make it?” I immediately felt more confident just by speaking the words. Quite literally removing the inherent reaction of insecure, vulnerable and frankly frightened and inserting a ballsy, sanguine, cool-as-a-cucumber reply. Perhaps we can really shift our emotional vibration, invoking calm where there was once fear, simply by altering our perception.

Our power is in everything and nothing. Hold it.

I’ve been thinking about this pretty profusely, since my experience the other afternoon. The fact that the whole exchange occurred in a matter of minutes is what baffles me most. Usually I reply quickly, worry over how my reply sounded, berate myself for not feeling more confident/for sounding overly confident/for not replying at all/enter what you will but this time I just paused, mentally darted to and fro across the avenue of potential riposte, and then decided rather unconsciously on an expression of simulated poise.

There’s something immensely empowering about deciding to see something differently. About having a physical, emotional, somatic reaction to something and setting it back, right side up with intellect, spirit and faith. What an enchanting experience, this life, constantly learning all that we are capable of, day in and day out…

I find sometimes, however, that in thinking we’ve learned something, we’ve actually just remembered it. An action, a practice, a lesson, an experience…one from a past life, or passed down from the spirits of our ancestors, or one just swirling about the stars for the taking. Knowledge embedded in perhaps not our cellular DNA, but most certainly in our spiritual matrix.

Lately in times of doubt, moments where the ordinary reaction for me would be to stress out and “bite” onto, if you will, when I have an angsty thought that my ego and subconscious threaten my rational, peaceful mind with…lately I’ve not been biting. I’ve salivated, sure, I’ve looked at the mess of worry, the knots of dread and been able to taste it. But I’ve let it slide by, as though on a conveyer buffet belt, letting the unhealthy sliver pass by, waiting patiently for a dish of fruit.

Instead of just sitting in bliss, though, I’ve had a reaction. It’s not like the bliss has come delivered with ease, a gift from the unknown. There’s some hand deep inside the cosmos, stirring this around intentionally, plucking fears and doubts from the garden of my being and planting little seeds of wonder, of curiosity. My mind has released the salivating, craving, deep desiring to worry and, instead, what’s been inserted in that cosmic space can be summed up by seven little words.

It’s all happening as it should be. 

I say it, and I believe it. I’ve said it before, but now I believe it in a different, more emphatic sense. In fact, this is one of those moments where I’m certain I’m not learning but remembering.

There’s a moment we all have when we could not love ourselves less. Rock bottom, in the relationship of the Self. There’s also a moment where we could not love ourselves any more. Where our admiration for, appreciation of, pride in and acceptance of ourself is so resoundingly full and humble it could drift up and off to the moon. Most of the time we bob in the undulations of the in-between, and that’s okay. That’s normal. It’s rather healthy, I dare say. But I will admit that I wish for us to kick our legs furiously, treading the cool, soothing water of said in-between. Rising slowly and steadily to sometimes pop our heads above the surface, into the fathomless aura of enlightenment, getting little tastes of what it feels like to release body and mind for the oneness of spirit. Drifting high above the thrashing swells of scorn and insecurities, the sandy bottom where the self is questioned and the Divine does not seem to visit.

When we feel ourselves being pulled by the undercurrent, down towards that persistent place of threatening depth, may we engage in Pratipaksha Bhavana. May we take the little stub of our eraser and replace fear with trust, loathing with love, scorn with clarity. May we hold ourselves as no one else can hold us. May we give ourselves over to the divine. May we remember that all is happening as it should. May we ever provide our greatly daring selves the boundless love required by our adventuring souls. May we always find strength to feed that hunger, satisfy that yearning. May we remember how. Our power is in everything and nothing. May we remember.

 

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True North

Being someone who is not all about Valentine’s Day, it’s interesting to me how this past [Hallmark] holiday played out. Now, I must clarify – by “not all about V-day” I mean I’m not interested in supporting consumerism or the idea that love ought to be “done up” on one specific day of the year just because someone else said so. That being said, I will admit that I am dreadfully romantic. I rather like the idea of celebrating love every day, perhaps even fancying a Valentine’s-esque display on, say, a random Wednesday in October. Just because. It’s not the beauty in V-day that makes me cringe, it’s the sense of duty. The [not so implied] obligation [of particularly men] to reach some unattainable standard, fulfilling some ideal, usually having to do with a great deal of money spent and a healthy dose of frivolity, neither of which are materials on which a true love is built.

I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, trust me. I’ve been pampered every which way on Valentine’s Day and loved it. The rose petals all over my bedroom, the flowers, a fancy gift – it’s divine. What I’m saying is that less is more. We so often fail to grasp that as a society, and V-day is no exception. Consumerism is empty and love is what fills us.

On this past Valentine’s Day I was given a flower by a gorgeous stranger. A single red rose. A romantic, random act of kindness. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Less is more at its best.

I hadn’t expected any semblance of a V-day celebration, seeing as I’ve gone quite out of my way recently to avoid any such circumstance, but was still filled with a giddiness that I felt rather belonged to a girl who might be showered with romantic gifts by her boyfriend. Instead, I was going to work, single and fiercely happy about it. I received my rose midmorning and promptly forgot it at work. It was still there the next day and I took it with me at the day’s end, putting it in my car, where it still sits. Rather perfect still, even four days later.

What’s interesting is that the sense of giddiness had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day, it turns out. I carried it with me throughout the weekend and, with the start of this new week, it’s begun to feel like a big giant ball, collecting mass and rolling down an incline with increasing velocity.

The full moon landed on V-day, unsurprisingly adding to the heightened energy and palpable electricity in the air. I imagine the ripe, luscious moon made for a very interesting Valentine’s for some…I digress.

So here I sit, the Tuesday after the holiday of roses and love, still carrying this little ball of whimsical flirtation in my belly. I still feel butterflies like I have a crush on someone, except there’s no someone. How strange, right?

Right. Or at least that’s what I thought until it suddenly hit me, a wet towel’s smacking impact with a tile floor. Snap. The someone is meThe crush I have is on my life.

I’ve been dreaming lucidly. Dreaming of adventure, the unknown, love, joy, sex, fear, beauty and horror. I wake in the night, turning from one side to the other, catching glimpses of the dream play from which I’d just been roused. Momentarily musing at the vivid, sometime auspicious, often entertaining, increasingly perplexing snippets that linger. Linger like an ephemeral haze, images slowly fragmenting; I grasp lazily for them in my slumber, reaching through thick water, my fingers muddling their fragile vapor, only getting splinters of the original picture. Sometimes I rise from my bed and scribble on my whiteboard whatever I recall of the dreams. It always startles me in the morning to see these notes written diagonally across the white space, in alarming shades of pen chosen in the dark under hooded sedation.

Just as dreaming of giving birth does not signify the imminence of an actual birth, most of my dreams do not symbolize their literal circumstances. I’ve long since been an avid dream analyst and am quite enraptured by the rich ocean of dream study. I kneel at my alter in the early morning after mediation and page through my dream dictionary, which somehow came with me when I moved away from home, even though they belong to my mother. I make connections all through the day of dreams to real life and oftentimes things don’t “click” until days later. I still remember dreams I had as a child. I also have recurring dreams. These stick with you, glaringly bold and precise, as familiar as a movie watched a hundred times.

Just today I read an update on a moon page I follow. It said, “Moon is now in Libra which will put the focus on our partnerships for the next day or so. Notably, this transit will usher in the restoration of peace & harmony if the full moon stirred up some big emotion…”

Some big emotion indeed. For me, at least. Did you feel it, too? Interestingly enough, the focus on partnerships is landing now, days after V-day. Peace and harmony in abundance. I welcome them both, heartily. Big, big emotion was stirred up for me over this past full moon, albeit in a far stabler manner than last month’s full moon. Last month was chaotic, this month was eerily calm. Stable. My feet were planted firmly, though I could feel the trembling quake of the earth beneath my soles.

Today I took a gorgeous hike with a gorgeous friend. We bared our souls to one another as we climbed hills and skittered down inclines, deep breathing and dirty hiking boot bonding. This beautiful sister spirit shared with me the story of how she met her husband and why they make such a special pair. With her permission, I include brief mention of this. Her articulate description of what makes herself and her hubby such a prime match was humbling and inspiring all at once. It was one of the most romantic explanations in its pure sensibility. Relationships are romantic, yes, but they are partnerships above all. They are business, romance, alliance, friendship, responsibility, companionship, ever-evolving. If we are mindful, if we foster a partnership that is all of these things, we can [I imagine] sink into a comfortable rhythm, a union as steady as that of the sun and moon.

I suppose the idea of relationships have garnered my interest in the past couple of months, which proves surpassing as I’ve spent the past, well, longer than ever before, single. Rather aggressively intent on maintaining my solo status, free bird, able to go wherever I please without having to answer to anyone.

It’s not that I don’t want that anymore. I do. But I no longer have the averse reaction to the idea of intimacy that, for an alarming spell, I had begun to harbor. I felt distrusting of union, as though I’d lose myself, and couldn’t help but remember my favorite memoir Eat Pray Love. Spoiler alert, but Liz Gilbert traverses this very same conflict [in far greater depth] upon getting serious with Felipe in the Bali love segment of her epic journey. Perhaps all this has been stirred up for me seeing as I just read her second memoir, Committed, this past month. A book all about the history of marriage, the author’s qualms with marriage and basically everything in, on, under and around the idea of marriage. I finished the book more grateful than ever in my life to be single. Perhaps convinced never to marry. Slightly frightened at the very concept of monogamy.

I know, right?

This coming from the romantic girl who has always aspired to be a loving wife and Mumma one day. I still do. I just feel like my whole understanding of what it means to be a human being, much less a partner, spouse and parent, is morphing so rapidly that I can hardly keep up. I’m clutching the coattails of my own dreams and flying along in their wake, eyes wide and darting, catching every glimpse of radiant color I can and feeling the whipping wind in my hair.

So I suppose it’s safe to say my Valentine’s Day was the best I’ve ever had, to date. Because this is the best relationship I’ve ever been in – this one with myself, with my life – it is by far the best relationship I’ve ever had. At 25 I am gaining a strong sense of what it feels like to identify the things I want. I feel like I’m just wading into the sea of life. I feel like, for me personally, it is both poignant and crucial that I’ve waded into this depth on my own, my hands clutching nothing but the warm water at my hips. I no longer feel the burning need to be on this journey alone, but I feel burningly grateful that I passed over such an indispensable leg of my journey unescorted. I feel like my senses are on highest alert, canine in their sharpness. My True North is in sight, an inferno lit by the heat of a thousand suns.

I may not have any answers, and I’ve never been more okay with that. Because I am more awake than I’ve ever been. Awake to my dreams, to my reality, to my pain and to my joy. I don’t know how anything will turn out, I don’t even know what tomorrow will hold, but I know which way I’m going. I’ve folded up my map and pawned my compass because, at long last, the eternal light of my inner pilot light is burning. I’ve set my sights up ahead, and the light is strong. I carry with me the love affair that is my spirit, my life, my dreams. The unknown is expansive, pouring out over every square inch of land as far as the eye can see, peppering the horizon. But the unknown can’t be scary anymore, not when I can see it so clearly. When every nuance is visible, despite the gauzy aura of dread it wears, the unknown is nothing short of fascinating.

There’s really nothing left to do but turn the light up and take a closer look.

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There is Grace in Stillness

Do you know what happens in the body when the mind or spirit decides that change is imminent? You do. It’s one of two reactions, usually. Either one of gripping; intense grasping, clinging to a feeling, idea or physical expression with all four limbs, wrapping piteously around it refusing to let it go. Or there’s a sense of quiet, not quite acquiescence, but glazed awareness; a deep rumbling of butterflies like a child feels when the buds of spring begin to show signs of summer. When the vibrant color begins to mingle with deeper warmth. The impending shift, while fully cloaked in mystery, is in a way welcomed from the very pit of one’s belly. An almost animalistic thrill. The unknown is scary, either way, but our reaction can go one of two ways…clench or set free.

We know that the only constant in life is change. We know this. We know it to our bones. Does it make change any easier? Any less scary? Nope. Not usually. Not for all the tea in China, most of the time.

I’ve been feeling a change coming. At first I entertained the idea of this life shift with skepticism. I called out my daydreaming, the harsh internal voice of reality rather dictatorially saying the grass is always greener on the other side, eventually this too will grow cumbersome. The shiny newness eventually wears off…of everything, eventually. That’s reality; a fact. But was it enough to throw me off course, keep me from continuing to entertain this idea, the self-dangled carrot in my peripheral vision? Nope. Not for all the tea in China, it turns out.

Days later I’m still entertaining the idea and all the more seriously now. The entertaining has moved into physical action. Preparations, of sorts. Making things happen. Setting intentions into motion.

This morning as I emerged from savasana post-yoga practice, I noticed a little rumbling deep inside. Gentle quaking of my very nucleus. A seed had been planted and, as though watered throughout the nights as I sleep, it had sprouted roots. My questions and doubt blossomed as the sinewy roots wove their way to my core, synchronously. My change had begun to grow. This morning I could feel a subtly shuddering crack in the surface of my doubt, as though being touched by echoes from canyon far, far away. The powerful roots had thrust their way through the gruelingly dense rock that is doubt, fear, uncertainty. I felt a sprinkling of butterflies. Childlike butterflies, though, not adult butterflies. All I can compare this sensation to is that of springtime as a kid, the end of school so near I could taste it. The warmth in the air clinging to my skin, my knapsack growing lighter with each passing day, a reminder of the inevitable change lurking on the simplistic horizon. Time simultaneously carrying me closer to a transient freedom and farther from the evanescence of childhood.

I felt that way this morning. Butterflies. Change coming. The innocence of the unknown gone but replaced by a comparable lens. The simplicity of trust. The chasm of ease that is surrender. Deciding to float instead of grip. I didn’t make the decision consciously, so I can’t take credit for the satisfying free fall. No, I made lists…more lists, some annotations, jotted on post-its, went ’round and ’round in my head over which path to travel. Imagining each separate road, journeying off into the sunset of reality on two separate horses of two totally different colors. Sometimes I just wish people would make decisions for me.

But then, ask and you shall receive. A higher force is moving me down a middle path. A path of trust. Surrender. A perspective which offers the best of me, offers this to both paths, and let’s them do the choosing. My dream-weaving angels who tinker with my mind while I rest have bade me relinquish control. And so I have. And so the decision is made for me. I will let the destined path choose me.

There’s no way for me to know at this stage whether or not my change will come to fruition. Well, let me rephrase that. My change will come to fruition. There’s no way for me to know in what form the Universe will present me this change. Which path the Divine Mother will lead me down. As though it’s up to me…I laugh at the silliness of such a notion. Yes, I can manifest, but the Divine has a master plan whose own roots are ever weaving, ever changing course. Ever leading us all in the direction we are meant to go. A single drop of rain can change one’s course entirely. Think about it.

I can’t know if that drop of rain will bring a steam or an ocean. Such different ecosystems; river to stream to brook to pond, lake to puddle to creek to sea. Intricately different and equally stunning. So whatever receptacle decides to catch my rain drops, I know there are layers beyond layers into which I will sink. Comfort that I will create. A home, however fleeting, that I will make. We make a home where we are, it is our human nature. Even if it’s a bus, or a hostile, or maybe it’s a house where we’ll spend the rest of our days…we make a home where we reside. We make a home in one another. Our relationships become a home, house our souls, preserve the intimacy that’s so carefully grown in the fragile space between two people. Come hell or high water, we make a home in the most harrowing of circumstances. It’s how we persevere. Acclimating as best we can to even the most impermanent circumstances.

So I suppose I really oughtn’t be surprised to find out I’ve made a home in the limbo of change, two potentials suspended in the balance. Palms upturned, butterflies releasing from the creases of my fingers, the white fading to pink as gripping melts into liberation.

Do you know what happens in the body when the mind or spirit decides that change is imminent? I do. t’s one of two reactions, usually. It’s the latter that’s chosen me.

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Navigating the World of Meat Alternatives

Tofu, tempeh, seitan, oh my!

In the modern world where there’s seemingly an argument revolving around nearly every health food, what’s a health-conscious eater to do?

My father recently went vegetarian, and he recently picked my brain for information about meat alternatives. He’s still in the “make me think it’s meat” stage of this new lifestyle, craving the texture and heartiness that meat once provided. Many new vegetarians are also concerned about having enough protein in their diets. I realized I was relying mostly on grain-and-legume combining for my protein, and perhaps ought to delve into investigating Dad’s query firsthand.

I was fortunate enough to learn a good deal at nutrition school about meat alternatives, so now, I present you with a simple guide to navigating the world of meat alternatives.

Tofu

Tofu is made from soybeans and is rich in iron, calcium and protein. Think about when you make almond milk; you know the almond pulp that’s left over? Tofu is essentially made from the pulp of the soybeans after soy milk has been made. This “pulp,” if you will, is mixed with a coagulant (thickening agent). If you have soy sensitivities, tofu may not work for your body. Something else to consider is the presence of phytates, which may hinder the body’s ability to absorb all of the tofu’s nutrients. Fermentation releases these phytates and makes the food more bioavailable. Which leads us to …

Tempeh

Tempeh is a delicious addition to any diet, vegetarian or otherwise. Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh has a hearty texture and is a complete protein. It also contains more than double the protein content of tofu. Tempeh is one of the absolute best ways to consume soy. Due to its fermentation process, both its digestibility and absorbability is increased. As with tofu, be sure to purchase organic tempeh to avoid GMOs. Consuming tempeh is not only a great way to add healthy soy to your diet, but it also is a way to boost intake of fermented foods and ensure adequate protein intake. You can even make your own tempeh at home! 

Seitan

Seitan is textured wheat protein, and is what makes up a lot of the “fake meats” on the market. A note to the wise, though, is to be mindful with seitan. This food is usually processed, and it’s not for anyone who’s gluten intolerant, wheat sensitive or bent on consuming only whole foods.

Getting adequate protein as a vegetarian is easy. Mother Nature offered us loads of different protein sources both from plants and animals. Some high protein, nutrient-rich options include hemp seeds, mung beans, organic tempeh, organic pastured eggs, organic pastured cottage cheese (higher in amino acids than many meats!), nuts and seeds, quinoa and peanut butter.

Intuitive eating is necessary here; some people thrive as omnivores, while others thrive as herbivores. We must listen to our own bodies and ensure we are getting adequate macronutrients. Ideally, to paraphrase Michael Pollan, if your grandmother wouldn’t think of it as food, don’t eat it.

I think that’s a good lesson to leave off with today. Eat whole, plant-based foods, enjoy one mindful serving per day of your preferred organic, non-GMO meat alternative, and always fill at least half the plate with greens. Cheers to health!

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As seen on mindbodygreen.com

Photo credit via Shutterstock

Bend so as Not to Break

Okay. I’ve written ad nauseum about being “anti-labels.” I feel it to my bones, this repellant feeling around labels. Yet I manage to feel, in the very same moment, the very same breath, deeply attracted to it as well. I think of it like a japanese fly trap. I know it will snap me up, but it’s so pretty I just want to see it up close. How could something so pretty be bad, be harmful? Just a little closer…

SNAP!

I have been on my holistic wellness journey for many years now. Some could say I was born into it, others could argue I’m here as a result of the trials and tribulations I’ve maneuvered thus far in my 25 years. An intuitive informed me I’ve spent several lives now as a healer, information which felt both illuminating and deeply true upon hearing it. It registered in my subtle body as yes, yes this is so without so much as a word uttered on my part. I regularly dream of Native Americans, snippets of their culture and scenes that are so vivid I wake to scrawl them sideways in the midnight dark of my bedroom, and am deeply aware of my past life as a Native American healer. I also suffered an acute eating disorder as a teenager. But even then, despite its severity, I clawed my way (slash was drug by the heels by my mother) out of the pit of anguish in just a year’s time. A short span of time to spend fighting a disease that escalated to a point that “many don’t return from,” in the words of my pediatrician. I managed to escape the jaws of anorexic death before I turned 18, nothing short of a miracle in the eyes of those who cared for me.

Now, as a studying holistic nutritionist, it is of deepest importance to me to present to beings everywhere (especially young girls) the picture of what eating for health truly is. I’m learning bucket loads and am eager to share my knowledge. But, I’m still human. I’m still on a journey. I still crave the safety of a little corner with a sign hanging over it telling me where I reside. I am in the school phase where, despite our best intentions, we all end up self-diagnosing and self-assessing our way through the curriculum. Fortunately, I’m in excellent company.

That being said, a fellow classmate brought up the topic that had been weighing heavily on most of our minds the past couple months. It was in a thread on our shared college Facebook page. Nine little words that sparked days worth of meaningful conversation. Nine little words that gave me the courage to listen to my instincts, to quit placing my warm palm over the honest whisper of my female intuition, smothering her kind advice with my adamance.

“Any other vegans starting to rethink things a bit?” 

Ummm YES was my answer, to say the very least. What ensued was heartfelt discussion, each of us voicing our concerns and fears, coming face to face with what it would mean to change this core aspect of our personalities and lifestyles.

(*The irony of identifying with a diet is not lost on the yogini behind the computer screen here .)

As though making a pact to jump off the high dive together, hand in hand, the small group of us grew slowly determined. Slowly braver. Our pure intentions of living a cruelty-free lifestyle, of having clean and toxin-free bodies, of contributing to no suffering are all holy and wonderful and a part of us. But, in just the four  months that we’ve so far spent training to be  nutritionists, we’ve learned some frightening information in regards to our chosen lifestyle. We’ve learned that a diet void of any animal products can be incredibly dangerous if not approached with utmost mindfulness and caution. 

(*Now I must say, please take no offense if you are vegan because I feel you. To my core. I’ve been drawn to this lifestyle for nearly 8 years and it resonates with me on a spiritual level as well as a physical level. I’m merely going to relay the facts that I have learned in my studies to be a nutritionist. Facts that have caused me to lose sleep at night wondering if I’m doing the right thing for my body and, ultimately, my mind.)

On a strictly plant-based diet, adequate B-12 is not available. The B-12 in fermented vegetables, blue-green algaes and even nutritional yeast are glorious, yes, but they are not intrinsic factor B-12 and therefore may be of no use to our human bodies. Additionally, Vitamin D and A are slim to none for many a vegan. Again, one can approach this diet with utmost mindfulness (as I myself have been for some time now) and get nearly everything the body needs. Except B-12. I’ve learned that “all vegans must supplement with B-12.” B-12 deficiency is ultimately fatal, by the way. Yes there are many bus stops before one dies of this deficiency, but most of these nerve-damaged, brain-damaged bus stops are not even visible until it’s too late and the damage is irreversible. 

Talk about scary.

And this is not an anti-vegan rally I was attending. Not even CLOSE! We are a plant-based, holistic nutrition college, for goodness sake. This is school. Facts. Nutrition texts. Cold hard science.

I couldn’t help but hear a little voice deep within my being telling me that any diet that requires supplementation to survive couldn’t be fully optimal. It just couldn’t. Not for me at least. I’m of the mindset that human beings are meant to eat food, real food, to survive. This doesn’t mean a box of crackers. It doesn’t mean a pound of flour, even. It means the actual seeds, grains and nuts used to make those crackers and which are ground to make that flour. It means fruits and vegetables pulled straight from the earth; legumes, beans, roots; algae, herbs, spices. Real. Food. Food that has sustained our species for eons.

What really got me, though, more than all that…more than the gut sensation that, if my diet were optimal, I wouldn’t need to take any supplements…what really got me was a famous study conducted by a highly-recognized doctor and researcher (forgive me for not being able to recall his name). He spent many years looking into diets of human beings, throughout the world over the course of our history as homo sapien sapiens. The research concluded that, throughout the history of our species, many different diets existed. Many omnivorous diets prevailed, a vast number of cultures practiced a wide variety of vegetarian diets, and there were even some carnivorous peoples. What he did not find, not one single trace of, was a completely vegan culture. Not one. 

That made my skin crawl. I swear my blood ran cold for a second. All this time I squashed fears and concerns with people have been living this way for how long and surviving just fine! Evidently not. I then learned that any diet less than 1,000 years old (any food, substance or supplement for that matter) is still considered an “experiment” in the world of health, nutrition and medicine. An EXPERIMENT! Oh my Patanjali!

YIKES.

I did not want to conduct an experiment on my body. I do not want to conduct an experiment on my sacred, only-get-one-of-these-suckers body. But I also don’t want to give up the lifestyle that makes me so happy. The lifestyle of compassion and ahimsa (yes, I fully realize omnivores can practice ahimsa to its very core; I’m referring to my adaptation of ahimsa). So I started to daydream about finding a happy farm that sold happy eggs from happy hens fed organic feed who were never slaughtered for meat. I began to wonder if a bit of organic goats dairy from happy goats who roamed pastures and soaked up the sunlight, grazing on nourishing food would help. I began to wonder if I could tolerate any organic, pastured cottage cheese, after seeing it appear at the top of the the prime sources for nearly ever amino acid (even above a lot of meat!). But still, I couldn’t bring myself to take the plunge. My “label” would be as good as torn off and ripped to shreds! What confused me most was this aforementioned reaction. Because I was certain, deep down, that I didn’t care for the label. I even hesitated to brand myself “vegan” because I believe in the medicinal use of raw honey, among other reasons. I just started to feel like my identity was in limbo and this was utterly traumatizing. I know to my very core that my “identity” has nothing to do with what I eat, what I look like, even what I think. I am a being of Light. I am eternal. I am an expression of the Divine. So why all this mucky confusion?

Well, with the support of my classmates, I took the plunge. I got myself a few happy, pastured eggs. I blessed my meals and enjoyed every single bite. I made a promise to myself, in this subtle shift from vegan to vegetarian, that I would never ever support factory farming or contribute to animal suffering. I would bless my food and offer utmost gratitude to everything I consume that’s both plant and animal-derived. I don’t see myself ever consuming animal flesh again, but I know better than to say “never.” Somehow, despite the off-putting nature of labels, I feel relieved to have moved out of veganism and into vegetarianism. Knowing I won’t be resupplying my strangely pink-colored B-12 supplement is a relief. Knowing I am managing to nourish my body on a cellular level while still upholding my ethical values is liberating. I may not be ordering eggs and dairy out at restaurants because I will be a stickler for only humane-certified, organic, pastured sources (and can’t wait to have my own hens!) and I will still be 90% plant-based, but even the subtlety of the shift is palpable. Most of all because I made the decision for myself, and for no one else.

I have always said that, to me, “plant-based” means just that: plant-based. Not entirely plants, per say, but the vast majority of one’s diet from plants and pure, unadulterated foods pulled straight from the earth and in their most natural form.

A word on factory farming and the standard production practices of the meat and dairy industry in this country…I abhor everything about it. Every smidge of it. I find it appalling and I will not support it. That being said, I think there’s a very important distinction to be made. If factory farmed meat and dairy is all one has access to, then by God a vegan diet is far superior, even with the need for supplementation. I think it’s imperative that we refuse to support this cruel, disgusting, inhuman industry. But such refusal takes commitment. It means not ordering animal products out at restaurants that don’t state “organic, pastured” and ideally even “local” on their menu next to dishes with ingredients of animal origin. It means spending the extra few dollars – okay, I won’t even play around with that “extra few dollars” business because it’s bologna, pun intended – it means spending up to double what you would in a regular chain grocery store on meat and dairy. It means possibly even forgoing the chain grocery store and seeking out a health food store, farmer’s market or actual farm/butcher/what-have-you. It means making your health and animal wellness top priority, simultaneously. The lovely aspect of that is it’s killing two birds with one stone. The downside is a lot of folks have families to feed and busy lives, and this extra step and expense can be stressful and downright impossible. Well, if I may be so bold as to make a suggestion…only consume animal products if you’re capable of providing yourself and your family the organic, pastured, humane-certified variety. You may be able to do that, you may not. I’m just suggesting it. It’s what I will always do.

Don’t be afraid to email companies, make phone calls, implore as to the details of how their animals are treated and how their products are made. Ideally a local farm is accessible for us all to get our food from. A lot of times there are CSA type deals including eggs, dairy, sometimes even meat from ranchers are offered in pick-up style situations (not being a meat eater I don’t know any more about this but have heard a great deal in school). It’s worth it. For us as well as for the animals. Because you know what? Meat and dairy not from such a source are often pumped full of antibiotics, hormones, are treated foully and don’t even provide adequate nutrition – the main reason most people eat them in the first place! True vitamin A and D come from animals who’ve grazed on real grass, who’ve roamed beneath the sun all day long, whose lives were low-stress and as close to natural as it would be for them in the wild. High stress, cruel treatment, unnatural living conditions and contamination with drugs makes for both deeply unhappy animals and highly toxic meat and dairy products. It just makes sense, doesn’t it?

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”
– Mahatma Gandhi

We have some serious work to do, America. Friends, I beg of you, please vote with your dollar. Be diligent. Put an end to factory farming. We can do this. The animals don’t deserve it and they don’t have voices to fight for themselves. And we, as human beings, deserve pure, high quality sustenance. Whether or not you consume dairy or meat, whether or not you care about animal welfare, whether or not you’re that terribly bothered by the quality of your own food (some people, you know, quantity trumps quality…), believe me…this is the time to care. This is the time to stand up and bring about change with action. Voting with our dollar is the most powerful way to make a stand as, we can all see, this nation seems to revolve around money. Money can be so evil but you know what? We can turn it around and use that to our advantage. By refusing to support the industry. Refusing to spend $1.99 on a dozen eggs (guaranteed those male chicks were tossed into a grinder and the females kept to be debeaked, crammed together and essentially tormented for the extent of their dear little lives); refusing to buy a cheap gallon of conventional milk made by cows artificially inseminated year round and kept in horrific circumstances, then pumped full of additives (aspartame is the latest being added to milk…like, seriously???); refusing to buy meat or seafood products that are the sick, malnourished (GMO feed does not a nourished animal make) carcasses of tortured animals. They don’t deserve that and neither do we.

Okay, wow, I just went on a rant…but this is important. It’s IMPORTANT. It’s up to us to design the kind of world we want to live in and I simply can’t stand by and pretend that this doesn’t go on, day after day, all around America (and other parts of the world as well, but our nation is truly awful in terms of this discussion).

That being said, I will pay top dollar to the local guy who sells his happy eggs (nutritious eggs should have deep yellowish orange yolks, by the way – a sure sign it was laid by a healthy, pastured hen). I will seek out humane certified, pastured sources of dairy. I will not eat meat, but I will also never say “never.” I can say fully that my heart and spirit deeply want to never have to eat meat for my health, and I say a prayer to the Divine Mother that my body be optimally nourished by a well thought out, plant-based diet with the inclusion of medicinal happy eggs and sporadic dairy. For me, that’s as far as I’m able to go. Nutritionally speaking, I know I’ll be doing my body a big favor by making this subtle shift. As far as labels go, I may be vegetarian now but one thing hasn’t changed: my commitment to a plant-based diet. So I suppose that’s the only label I’m really willing to rock proudly. The others make me cringe because, by nature, we all shift and change. Fortunately I have the evidence of a highly respected study toting the many vegetarian cultures who have thrived throughout human history to support my decision to abstain from animal flesh. But six months ago you’d have been hard-pressed to get me to even consider an egg so, things do change.

I guess that’s what scares me most. Change. Which has nothing to do with food, really. It has nothing to do with labels, in essence. It has everything to do with life. Living. Change is a constant. It’s the only constant. We are changing every single moment, on a cellular level. We are aging with every breath. That’s scary, am I right? It’s an unnatural concept to hold lightly and yet it’s the most natural action we do as human beings. We’re born, we grow, evolve, change, age, die, are reborn…it’s a cycle. So who’s to say our minds and bodies won’t go through the same cycle?

We are beings of Light. We are not these bodies and minds. But, for this time on earth, we must navigate the cosmic wonder that is existence in these bodies, burdened with these minds. But we can choose to see these bodies as gifts, tools, these minds as a power of influence. We can make this choice and instantly see our lives improve, feel our lives improve. We can accept that right now, in this moment, we may feel certain about who we are, what we think and how what we are doing is right. As right as anything has ever been…but we may change our minds. We may. We may not. We don’t know. By trying to set a theme for the rest of our existence we not only stress ourselves but we try to make possible the impossible. Just breathe. We are the best we can possibly be. I am the best I can possibly be. I choose to live my passion for animals but also to care for myself on a cellular, spiritual, emotional and physical level. I choose to find a compromise that suits us all. I choose to support harmony. I choose to bend, so as not to break.

 

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Nothing Trumps Authenticity

There are so many things I sat down intent on writing about this evening. Let me just give some examples, to offer you a peek into the Monet that is my writing muse today (from far away it looks okay but up close it’s a big ‘ol mess! Yes…that was a Clueless quote, for all you other 90’s kids. I digress…). Marriage, vegetarianism, intuition, fear, routine, money, death, pregnancy, reckless abandon, fitness, and realizing one’s own purpose.

HA!

With all of that floating around my head, how am I to choose? I had a few essays sketched out in my mind, most of them coming to me with poor timing…as the hot water serenaded my back in the shower, or as I flew down the freeway, rising up off the pavement in undulating waves. Some came to me bound and twisted in the middle of my asana practice, others when my hands were (quite literally) full in the middle of a workday. It goes without saying that none of these scenarios played out in places where I could stop and feasibly jot down even bits of what I wanted to later write here, on this blank canvas. So, instead, I have an entire week’s worth of thoughts, a mishmash, “sloppy joe” of an essay coming out now, the blinking cursor hardly pausing before the next ill-planned word makes its presence known.

I suppose it’s really quite fitting, actually, this mass exodus of random ideas. Haphazard and waiting for no one. Outside the sunset is burning orange and pale pink on the horizon, the trees a dark and wispy silhouette against the pastel layer cake sky. I’m sitting here feeling pretty accomplished, quiet, composed – and yet my ideas today resemble something quite the opposite. With a typical essay I sit down like a painter, my ideas neatly arranged like squirts of thick oil paint on a palette. Today they’re more like like water colors, beautiful but unruly, all running together and becoming one.

Perhaps it’s a good lesson for me, the ambiguity. I’m such a concrete person by nature (my label maker was my prized possession as a child), always having been happy to tidily categorize aspects of my life till the cows came home. But sometimes things just aren’t so neat and tidy. Even when life feels calm and rather placid, it can appear a watery, idly blended, indeterminate color. And isn’t there something beautiful about that in itself? Isn’t there something satisfying about the nebulous, not-to-be-pinned-down nature of it?

It’s up to us to determine how we see our own lives. If I choose to see my scattered and clumped together ideas as messy and frustrating, then they will be. Or I could choose to smirk at the hulking mass of them, glommed together awkwardly as though touched by the hand of Midas in their mad, climbing dash to reach the tip of my consciousness. I could see that bulbous hunk for what it is; pure gold.

Nothing trumps authenticity. Be kind to yourself. Even on the mishy mashy watercolor days, the bulbous hunk of ideas days, the can’t hold two thoughts at once days…it’s all gold. Pure, pure gold. So embrace it. Be it. Be YOU. Be your gorgeous, glorious, vibrant, perfectly flawed, absolutely brilliant, ONLY one of you out their Self. Because no one else can. No one else can admire the amorphous nature of your cloudy mind nor can they pick apart the shining perfection of your neatly categorized headspace…because no one else gets to be inside your skull.

That’s our gift; one of many. We are the only ones allowed inside the borders of our own mysterious minds, to tinker with things as we wish. We can pick up a thought and lie it down across the room, the room of our brain that is, and then find it a week later and look at it in a new light. No one else has the master key to our heart. The place where both the juiciest warmth is bred and the shrillest, most biting cold can make a home. No one else can choose whether we decide to melt or freeze, empty or fill this promise-filled hollow space. We are the only ones with access to the space within the fibers of our spirit. The place where we can spin dreams and wild fantasies, where we know without a shred of doubt that we are safe even, when the thrilling, heart-racing rush of uncertainty beckons us to entertain it.

Bask in this gift. This threefold gift. This inherent gift. Let go of the rules and expectations, as we just love to build rules and expectations around ourselves; a fortress of self-doubt and fear masquerading as protection. Let go, just as I’ve let go of any hope that this essay would have a predetermined direction, or any direction whatsoever. I just keep typing. Keeping both hands on the wheel, my eyes straight ahead, the seatbelt on. The Universe has it all under control. We think we have to direct energy all day long, as though anything we do, think or say really has the capacity to override the Universe’s will. We are sacred, sentient beings, yes; but we are merely players in her big, gorgeous game. Dots on the map. We serve a purpose and that purpose is to serve one another. We best serve one another by nourishing ourselves holistically. We can begin to do that by letting go, letting go in every way we can while still being genuine, aware, awake, inspired beings of energy. Letting go of all the junk, the trash, the lumps of coal that weigh us down. Making space in our palms for the hunks of gold that we find inside our minds, the sparkly threads that come loose from our spirits, the warm and weighty echo of a heart beating true.

Life doesn’t always look the way we intended it to, planned it to, expected it to. Life, choreographed by the Divine Mother Herself, doesn’t always do what we [think we] want. But always, without a doubt, no matter how messy or brilliant it may look in the moment, it always ends up taking us exactly where we’re meant to go. So keep both hands on the wheel, eyes ahead, seatbelt on…and just enjoy the ride. Because you are doing your job…being fearlessly, unapologetically you, just as I am being fearlessly, unapologetically me. And that’s a job well done. Because nothing trumps authenticity.

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