I am working toward becoming a yoga teacher. While I am acquiring the necessary funds to pursue this passion of mine, I have been reading Teaching Yoga by Mark Stephens. Last week, I stumbled upon the idea of kleshas, the distractions that clutter the mind. If you would like to read the full quote, see here. As you can see, I’ve made an argument about kleshas and how they pertain to creativity–writing, in particular, as that is my chosen form of artistic expression.

 

The interesting thing about kleshas is that, provided they have a channel, they are directed, acknowledged, resolved, and even put to rest. In our left-brained world of order and organization today, we often don’t allow ourselves the time, room, or weakness to accept and deal with the spare thoughts floating around our skulls. Creativity, I believe, is one such channel. Here are some reasons why:

 

  • Creativity requires use of the right hemisphere of the brain. Even writers, poets, or screenwriters must be able to visualize what they intend to put on paper before it gets written.
  • Creativity invokes the senses in different ways. The eyes, for instance, don’t just see an orange. They see the texture of the peel dancing across the surface of a sphere, and the bright, happy, energetic color that was my dance instructor’s inspiration for her choreographed piece, Spectrum, to Handel’s Water Music.
  • Creativity evokes emotional response. There are days I find myself laughing hysterically or sobbing my heart out while writing. Some find beauty or the grotesque in artwork. Whatever it is, be it revulsion or wonder, artwork draws a response from our emotional side.
  • Highly creative people have a high degree of specialized knowledge, are capable of divergent thinking (which is mediated from their frontal lobe), and are able to modulate neurotransmitters like norepinephrine in their frontal lobe.
  • Use of creativity also increases cognitive flexibility.
  • The experience of creating something enables people to let go of personal baggage, unwanted thoughts, and/or emotional restraint.

 

While there are some great studies out there linking creativity to mental illness, I believe that many of these tendencies are associated with self-perception of acceptance and success, which are caused by imbalances in a person’s personal viewpoints on worthiness. This is why it is equally important to cultivate both hemispheres of the brain with equal intention. In yoga, one way to bring them into harmony is by bringing the hands in Prayer Position. According to many yogis, Prayer Position neutralizes the brain, brings the energies of the creative right and the logical left together (sometimes called “female” and “male” energies), and connects mind with heart, the seat of emotion and intention. This last point is especially true when the forehead is brought to the fingertips.

 

Moreover, I think by involving oneself in a creative pursuit, a person experiences release from the distractions and/or troubles that plague them. I recall taking art class in high school. I recall it being my favorite class, not because it was an easy A and fun; rather, I channeled my energies differently. Thinking back, I often recall leaving that class rejuvenated, ready to tackle my (then) hardest subject, geometry.

 

Rejuvenation: this is the point of mind-body exercise. What better way to experience relaxation, revitalization, and even fulfillment than to take exercise to the mental faculties?

 

And speaking of worthiness, here is a video by Brene Brown on her studies on self-perception, worthiness, and vulnerability:

 

Eat the Rainbow

May 24, 2012

These words seem to be everywhere these days, especially with regards to fruits and vegetables. Of course, fruits and vegetables are where we see the greatest diversity of color in our food. With such an eye-catching spectacle, it is amazing that we don’t eat them as often as we should. Numerous studies show that Americans are nutrient and phytonutrient deficient, eating as few as 1-3 servings of fruits and vegetables a day compared to the 5-7 we ought to be taking in.

 

From my own personal experience as a nanny, I have encountered childrenwho hate fruit! It boggles my mind still that something so delicious, and good for you, could be replaced by artificial, sugary snacks. I may have a sweet tooth but boy do I love fruit!

 

With that said, here is the rainbow of fruits and vegetables, and the health benefits of each color:

 

Red:

These fruits and vegetables contain lycopene, a carotenoid that studies have shown to help prevent/reduce the chances of getting cancer, particularly prostate cancer. Another interesting factoid: cooking tomatoes, ranked second in the amount of lycopene present (after the Southeast Asian fruit, gac), actually increases the bioavailability of lycopene (Wikipedia: Lycopene). (As great as the news is, however, the latest American Council on ExerciseFitness Journal reports that a loophole in the USDA’s regulations helped get pizza classified as a serving of vegetables earlier this year, in the same way that they moved ketchup into that category in the 1980’s. I don’t know about you, but while they may originate from the all-might tomato, neither are vegetables.)

 

Red foods also contain capsiacin. Like spicy food? This is the nutrient for you. Chili peppers help stave off hunger and may even burn calories. Strangely, though it creates a burning sensation when eaten, capsiacin also seems to alleviate pain.

 

Resveratrol is also found in red foods, such as grapes. (Remember back in March when I said I was giving some grape-extract supplements a try? They were decent, but I just could not justify the expense. Best eat the real deal!) This nutrient helps reduce/prevent inflammation in the body. Interestingly enough, however, “researcher Dipak K Das, PhD, ScD, MD, revealed more than 100 counts of falsification and fabrication of data, thus casting doubt on all his reservatrol research…the effects of resveratrol are [still] controversial” (ACE Fitness Journal, May 2012, 68). The article goes on to state that while red wine seems to have powerful antioxident polyphenols (resveratrol included) and is known for increasing HDL (good) cholesterol, there have been too few clinical trials to verify its other claims, including hormone changes in menopausal women. It warns not to expect anti-aging miracles from supplements also (that’s what I concluded as well!), and suggests eating resveratrol-rich whole foods: grapes, cranberries, blueberries, and (cool!) peanuts.

 

Salad Spectrum. Whole Living Magazine (online).

Orange:

These foods contain curcumin, found in turmeric, an antioxidant that may help counter the negative effects of high-fat foods on the body; beta-cryptoxanthin, which plays vital roles vision, bone and cell growth; alpha-carotene, an antiager that converts vitamin A and boosts immunity; and hesperidin and naringenin, flavanoids that ward off inflammation and help protect blood vessels from the damages of a poor diet. In animal studies, hesperidin also helped reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and decreased bone density loss. Naringenin, the prominent flavenone in grapefruit, scavenges for free radicals and modulates the immune system.

 

Yellow:

One of my personal favorite colors, as I love pineapple for its sweetness, flavor, and ability to tenderize foods, yellow fruits and vegetables contain bromelain (incidentally found in pineapple), an enzyme that may ease indigestion and asthma, as well as may inhibit both tumor growth and blood clotting. Limonoids (bet you cannot guess where they are found…yes, that’s right: citrus!) are under investigation for a wide variety of applications, including antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, antineoplastic, and antimalarial functions (Wikipedia: Limonoid). They also may protect against breast, skin, and stomach cancers.

 

Lutein, a xanthophyll found in green leafy vegetables, animal fats and egg yokes, is another of the 600 carotenoids found in nature. It, along with its isomer, zeaxanthin (which gives pigment to saffron, wolfberries, corn, and bell peppers), keep eyes strong, protecting the retina, reducing the risks of cataracts and other age-related macular degeneration.

 

Green:

Probably everyone’s least favorite color, green foods provide a whole slew of health benefits. Apigenin and luteolin protect the brain and may fight against neurological disordered like Alzheimer’s disease; whereas isothiocyanates purge potential carcinogens from the body. (I guess your mother was right: eat more brussel sprouts–yuck! Sorry, mom!) Catechins, found in my personal favorite drink, green tea, may lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

 

But the green color we all despised as a child comes from chlorophyll, found in everything green. Chlorophyll may decrease the risk, and help prevent, liver cancer. Some great sources are leeks, watercress, and parsley.

 

When I say everything, I mean everything. Including the beloved pistachio nut. Full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals (such as carotenes, iron, and oleic acid), and antioxidents, the May issue of ACE’s Fitness Journal cites that pistachios promote heart health and reduce the risk of diabetes. They have a great “crunch punch” too, and, as with other plant-based foods, there is no cholesterol!

 

Purple:

This is my personal favorite color, and not just because I love blueberries. A recent article, The Power of Purple Produce, published by IDEA Health and Fitness Association, states that people who consume blue and purple foods ate more fruit and had an overall healthier diet than those who did not. They also had lower waist circumference and body mass index (BMI), both indicators of heart-health risk.

 

Indoles, found in purple cabbage, may slow the metabolism of carcinogens. Ellagic acid, found in my beloved berries, is a phytochemical that may lessen the effect of estrogen in breast cancer development. Eggplant, a good source for anthocyanins, improve brain function and balance, and may reduce the risks associated with heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

 

Whatever the color, do as Hippocrates (460-377 BC) suggests:

 

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

 

And, if you are not quite sure how to do this, take a tip from Steve Ritz and his students in the south Bronx. They grew more than 20,000 pounds of vegetables using vertical gardening boxes and “green walls” as part of his “Green Bronx Machine” last year. “In a city whose dearest commodities are land, soil, and water, this remarkable feat is even more special, says Ritz, in that it also ‘grows citizens, graduates, and an engaged healthy community.'”

 

 

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For recipes associated with this information (as well as the inspiration for this post), see Whole Living Magazine‘s website here.

Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived…Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation…Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forget to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here. -Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

 

Last year, at some point (before I separated blogs…and it’s way back there), I wrote how clutter adversely affects your health. Since then, I have had two conversations with author friends of mine on the subject. One has opted to aim for a minimalist lifestyle, which has some perks. There is a correlation between the amount of stuff you have in your house and weight gain. Ever seen Clean House? In my opinion, almost all those cases are 9-1-1 emergencies. The last time I watched the show was 2+ years ago (while on a treadmill in the gym–hey, I cannot, and do not, control what’s on the TV’s in gyms), and each show progressively got worse. Not the hostess. The sheer volume of stuff people buy!

 

The other conversation I had just the other day. A newer acquaintance of mine was on the verge of giving up on her writing altogether. There were things bleeding from her personal life into her work. She was trying to force something that she simply could not force. Yesterday, she went on a clean fest, tackling–I believe–the soul-sucking closet. I am really proud of her because, for whatever reason, she considered herself to have made progress.

 

And she has! This is very important. Sometimes, in order to clear the mind, we must clear out the clutter! In order to tackle what’s really bothering us (in my friend’s case, it is some private matters), we must throw out junk. Or donate it. A lot of the stuff we have lying around the house is perfectly good to be “reused.” (HAHA! One of the 3 R’s in the Recycle slogan!) Donate it to a charity or goodwill store, or take it to a thrift store.

 

Anne Lamott’s thoughts on clutter is also important. We must make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here. I remember those episodes of Clean House, where the show’s hostess talks with the parents, or the couple, sometimes one-on-one, other times together. She tackles the heart of their buying mania. (I have not watched it, but I think Hoarders is also along the same lines.) Why they think they need to have so much stuff. The answers vary, from grief over the loss of a loved one yet unexpressed, to an impoverished upbringing, to loss of self-identification.

 

The one show that stands out most vividly to me was a family of four, the parents of whom had called Clean House out of fear for the health of their whole family, particularly the children. They had seen the hoarding tendencies of their kids developing at startlingly young ages and it burdened them. They felt that if they did not take action now, their kids would end up grossly overweight and incapable of letting things go. It was a difficult process but they did it. And they felt much lighter. The burden had been lifted, and many of their goods went off to local goodwill stores to help those less fortunate.

 

In my own personal experience, I get a mad fever to toss stuff about once a year. As a military wife, I move a lot. I cannot stand packing up all the extra stuff. In fact, whenever I move, I locate new things that I haven’t used in more than two years. If it’s good and in useable condition, it gets donated. If not, it goes into the trash. I simply cannot stand to have extra stuff lying around.

 

This is not a post urging people to start chucking things into the garbage can. Rather, I encourage you to take a good, honest look at your environment, and at yourself. There are always things we’d like to change about ourselves. Could one such change begin by removing the extra stuff we have lying around the house from our homes? From my personal experience, I do not need at least 1/4 of the possessions I own.

 

Nor am I touting minimalism. It works for some people. For others, it doesn’t. Messes help define us. We ought to take the time to recognize our reasons for the mess–for me, my desk is the only place I allow a mess; as I’m a writer, I think it stimulates creativity, but should it extend too far across the office…after a certain amount of time has passed, I get grumpy.

 

However, if the “messes” are more than messes; if you look around you and see piles of unused stuff that you thought would make you happy, but isn’t; if you observe within yourself that another issue lies at the root of possession-gathering; there is hope for you. There are professionals out there willing to help you, and I’m not just talking about Clean House. I did a quick search on the web and businesses like Clutter Clearer, LLC (New Orleans) and Hoarding Help In Michigan popped up right away. If you know that you cannot tackle the issues alone, seek guidance, the help and support of family and friends, professionals in the clutter business, and (for deeper issues) perhaps a councilor, psychologist, or religious figure whom you respect and trust.

 

Clear out the clutter necessary for cleaner air, clearer minds, and better bodies. Have a garage sale (popular in my community before moves) and make a few extra dollars. Donate, sell, and toss. Everyone whom I’ve ever known whose dealt with passing relatives, their estate sales, or their possessions, say how much better they feel once the stuff is off their hands, no matter how hard it was to let it go.

 

Your physical, mental, and emotional (and, dare I say it, spiritual) health are affected by the external environment. Sometimes, your household environment reflects your internal state. All of these are within your control. They are worth taking the time to tackle, to understand. Because of messes, we find out who we are and why we are here. Never forget that what is on the inside radiates outside, and what is on the outside affects how we perceive our inside. It can be a vicious cycle, but it does not have to be. You, alone, have the power to help yourself.

Core Workout

May 10, 2012

Smiling during core workout. No, that’s not me. Found on Fotosearch.

So, I’ve decided that once a month, I’m going to post some articles on my blog to give you someone else to read. I’ve decided this because sometimes I just cannot think of what to write, or I need time to research my next post. So, without further chatter, here are some great exercises for core. General tips:

 

  • For beginners seeking to rebuild their core strength, keep the feet on the floor. Work on the upper body first. Then add the legs, one leg at a time, if necessary.
  • Always keep that belly scooped in to the spine. Never let the lower back arch off the floor.
  • The easiest way to breathe is inhaling on the preparation or hold, and exhaling on the exertion. Do not hold your breath.
  • Neutral spine is vital for all core workouts. Keep the pelvis neutral (neither tilting forward or back–known as ‘sticking your bottom out’), pull the abs in as far as you can (if you cannot get your hand beneath your lower back easily, you’re doing a great job), pull the shoulder blades down as though you are tucking them into your back pockets and push the shoulders onto the floor, and tuck the chin in just slightly (as though you were squeezing a tangerine between chin and chest) to keep the neck long.
  • Always be mindful of your lower back. If it bothers you while twisting, keep the feet on the floor. If it arches while doing core exercises with extended legs, either bend the knees (modification, but keep working from the hips) or do not go as far out on a lever with the legs.
  • If you experience sharp or shocking pain, stop the exercise immediately. If the pain persists, seek a doctor.

 

American Council on Exercise Core Workout Program

ACE Exercises for Abdominals (rated beginner through advanced; view details for guidelines on how to do exercises–great step-by-step photos)

ACE Exercises for Back (when you do abs, always add a few upper and lower back exercises to balance the body, maintain and build strength)

ACE Exercises for Glutes/Hips/Thighs (contrary to popular belief, the glutes, hips and thighs connect and assist the strengthening of the core, which is why Pilates has prone and side leg exercises integrated into the workout; add a few to maximize hip flexor, iliopsoas, glute, quad and hamstring range of motion–flexibility–and build strength; watch your knees when squatting and lunging: knees over toes!)

A featured review on the P90X

ACE P90X Study

Do Men and Women Have Different Nutritional Needs?

5 Foods People Think Are Healthy (and Aren’t), and Some Alternatives

I hope this post shows! I have to take a customer service class today, and therefore had to try the Publish feature for the first time. At any rate, I will check on it later today! Now onto facts about our skin!

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Vegan loose powder by Alternative Outfitters. (Click photo to reach site.)

Last week, just before I began doing my research on coconuts, a girlfriend of mine whose studying to be a cosmetologist suggested that I write a post on cosmetics. This came on the heels of the sudden out-of-business status from her favorite brand for buying non-toxic foundation (I believe). She immediately messaged me and said, “Help! People ought to know that there are better, and safer, choices out there!”

She’s right, but with commercialism being what it is and throwing the fears of “fine lines and wrinkles” and acne in our proverbial faces all the time, sometimes other facts are overlooked. Facts like, if you cannot pronounce it, it probably should not go on your skin–something I learned while studying chemistry in college; there are a lot of bad, bad chemicals used in our hair and skin products today because, well, frankly, it makes them cheaper to make. Or facts like, the more unpronounceable, hyphenated things in a product, the more likely it is to be damaging. Or facts like, slathering your skin with thick creams prevents it from breathing properly…or, drinking water also plumps up skin cells…or, well, the list goes on.

Now, I am a firm believer in the healing capabilities of the human body. I believe that what you put into your body reflects on its surface. Our body’s biggest organ needs proper nourishment just like our internal body as it is responsible for protecting against external-to-internal pathogen transfer, loss of water, insulation, temperature regulation, sensation, vitamin D synthesis, and protection of vitamin B folates. Naturally, the skin is also responsible for aesthetics and communication, otherwise known as mood assessment, physical state, and–ding, ding, ding!–attractiveness.

Additionally, it is responsible for melanin production, or melanogenesis, which is stimulated by DNA damaged by ultraviolet B (UV-B) radiation. The result, of course, is a tan, which in recent years has become an standard of attractiveness. (For thousands of years before, peoples across the globe believed that pale skin was a sign of beauty, as it represented delicacy, civility, and wealthy. Even today, some areas in Asia strive to whiten their skin with creams and layers of clothing.) It is a photoprotectant, responsible for transforming UV radiation into harmless heat.

So, on the whole, most people know that eating vitamin-rich foods and good fats helps repair damaged skin and keep it healthy. It is becoming more well-known that simple beauty treatments like a homemade sugar-and-extra virgin olive oil scrub adds nutrients and moisture to skin. (Coconut oil is also very good for both skin and hair.) Some, like me, even seek out skin care products that are non-toxic, natural and/or organic, cruelty-free, and even vegan.

Enter the Environmental Working Group. More specifically, they set up a cosmetic database. Their mission is as follows:

…to use the power of information to protect human health and the environment. EWG’s Skin Deep database gives you practical solutions to protect you and your family from everyday exposures to chemicals. We launched Skin Deep in 2004 to create online safety profiles for cosmetics and personal care products. Our aim is to fill in where industry and government leave off. Companies are allowed to use almost any ingredient they wish. The U.S. Government does not review the safety of products before they’re sold. Our staff scientists compare the ingredients on personal care product labels and websites to information in nearly 60 toxicity and regulatory databases. Now in its eighth year, EGW’s Skin Deep database provides you with easy to navigate safety ratings for a wide range of products and ingredients on the market….[it] is the world’s largest personal care product safety guide.

In their About section, they list a whole slew of toxicity and regulatory databases, as well as a detailed description of how they rate the products. They also debunk cosmetic myths, including the fact that skin products do enter into the body and are often more harmful than we think. They also said, rightfully, that products labeled “natural” and “organic” often contain synthetic chemicals and petrochemicals.

Their subtopics include:

  • Sun
  • Makeup
  • Skin care
  • Hair
  • Eye care
  • Nails
  • Fragrance
  • Babies and Moms
  • Oral care
  • Men’s

I highly recommend taking some time and reading through the EWG’s articles (particularly on sunscreen since summer is fast approaching–rather, it is already here in the desert) and researching any/all products you use. For a donation of $5+, they will also send you a guide for safer cosmetics. Ava Anderson, a company my girlfriend has chosen to represent, began researching the issue of chemicals and your health when she was 14 and, when she became disturbed by the general lack of public knowledge, began her own business.

As interest for healthier options increase, a slew of advice and products are hitting the internet and stores near you. Take your time and research your options. There is a lot of hype out there. Cross-reference with the EWG’s database. Talk with company representatives whenever possible. Read, read, read!

Speaking of reading, here are some great sites with tips:

Non-toxic eyeshadow by Tarte. (Click picture for page.)

Your Guild to Safe, Non-toxic Makeup

Paige Padgett (Jillian Michael’s makeup artist)

No More Dirty Looks

One Green Planet: Guide to Vegan Makeup

Veggie Beauty

Vegan Beauty Review

Essential Organic Living

What are some of the things they (and others) suggest you watch out for? Talc, mineral oils, petroleum, dye, parabens and phthalates. If you want vegan products, you need to watch out for things such a beeswax, pearl and silk powders, and elastin (derived from cows). And, of course, cruelty-free means no animal testing.

Here also are a few other sites you might like to visit during your research:

PETA.org (Search for cruelty-free companies and products)

CosmeticsInfo.org (information on what and how the FDA checks cosmetics)

Good Guide (rates almost every household good out there)

On a side note, from what I have learned from other research and schooling, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate every aspect of food and drug testing, manufacturing, labeling, advertising, marketing, efficacy, and safety. With cosmetics, on the other hand, they focus on labeling and safety. Personal products are not subjected to premarket approval unless they make “structure or function claims,” which then classifies the cosmetic as a drug. Also, all dyes/color additives must be specifically approved by the FDA. Labeling regulations state that if a product has not undergone thorough safety tests, it must state thus on the product.

Wikipedia goes on to state under “cosmetic products” (FDA page):

Experts in cosmetic ingredient reviews also play a role in monitoring safety through influence on the use of ingredients, but also lack legal authority. Overall the organization has reviewed about 1,200 ingredients and has suggested that several hundred be restricted, but there is no standard or systemic method for reviewing chemicals for safety and a clear definition of what is meant by ‘safety’ so that all chemicals are tested on the same basis.

If you wonder why this even matters at all, check out this instructional article from the EWG. A downside to non-toxic, natural/organic, and vegan products is that they tend to be more expensive. However, I peeked around and there are places to find good, quality product for a decent price.

There is no reason why you cannot enhance your natural beauty. As Paige Padgett says, every person is beautiful. I, too, believe that phrase very strongly. So, be beautiful, be fashionable, be ethical and environmentally friendly, be healthy, and shop around!

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Please note: It is not my intention to sell you anything! I searched quite a while to find websites that did not sell products, though I might have included one or two because I thought the information on them was valuable. Again, always, always, always do your research! And if you find some amazing information you’d like to share, good or bad, post it below!