Happy & Free

As this weekend comes to a close, I hope you feel happy, free, and full of love. The following image features a mantra I’ve become rather fond of over the last few months. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu – may all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all. It’s big translation for just four words, right? But that’s the richness of Sanskrit for you.

And remember – “all beings everywhere” includes yourself. So as you head into next week, check in to make sure that your thoughts, words, and actions are in line with creating happiness and freedom for yourself. If you’d like to get a sense of what it sounds like when it’s being chanted, check it out here. I dare you to sit and focus on your breath with your eyes closed while you listen to it – dare you!

lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu - MindBodyPlate

Balancing Omega-3 & Omega-6

We hear again and again about the benefits of essential fatty acids in the diet, particularly omega-3s. But what’s the difference between omega-3 and omega-6? If you prefer visual learning like me, you’ll love this explanatory info-graphic, which I based on an article by Andrew Weil, M.D. with complimentary research from The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, DC. omega-3 omega-6 balance infographic - MindBodyPlateCheck out the two pie charts at the bottom: the left is what our Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio should look like (1/1), and the right shows a fairly generous average ratio for a Western diet (15/1). Yikes! We’re pretty far off, and yet it’s so important that we strive to lower that ratio. In their academic article, The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids, Simopoulos explains that a lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio is effective in “reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies, as well as in the developing countries, that are being exported to the rest of the world.” In particular:

  • “In the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a ratio of 4/1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality.”
  • “A ratio of 2.5/1 reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer.”
  • “The lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast cancer was associated with decreased risk.”
  • “A ratio of 2-3/1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.”
  • “A ratio of 5/1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma.”

The clinical benefits of increased omega-3 can also be seen in:

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Brain Trauma
  • Chronic Pain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Skin Disorders
  • Fertility
  • Fat Loss

Because the western diet is overflowing with omega-6 fatty acids, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is simple: just eat more omega-3s. Eat more salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish. Or buy a high-quality fish or krill oil (mine is a liquid that is extra purified for safety and tastes like lemon). Vegetarian sources such as flax seeds and walnuts are wonderful too, just remember the body has to go through the extra step of converting them to EPA and DHA (the two critical kinds of omega-3s). How much is enough? Well, in a lecture I attended by Dr. Barry Sears, he gave the following guidelines:

  • Everyone would benefit from: 2-2.5 g (2,000-2,500 mg) per day
  • For those suffering from obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease: 5 g (5,000 mg) per day
  • For those battling cancer and chronic pain: 7.5 g (7,500 mg) per day
  • For those with neurological disease: >10 g (at least 10,000 mg) per day

Ideally, one would consume a fish oil or omega-3 supplement in conjunction with anti-inflammatory meals, moderate exercise, and stress reduction techniques. As always, remember that I am not a medical professional nor a registered dietitian. Please consult your physician before making any abrupt changes to your diet. References: Simopoulos, AP (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 56(8), 365-79. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909

What do you love? / 7 posts in 7 days

nyc metro card and birdcage - mindbodyplate

So there I was, making perfect time on my way to yoga when, upon arriving at the bus stop, I realized my unlimited metro card was expired. I wouldn’t have time to trek to the subway stop a quarter mile away to get a new one. Shit. I dug around in my purse and retrieved three dollar bills. Yesss. When the bus pulled up and its doors opened, the sign next to the driver was clear: no bills, exact change only. In other words, if you want to take the bus the old fashioned way, you need $2.50 in quarters. Yikes. As I stepped backwards away from the doors to let more prepared Brooklynites board, my right foot landed smack dab in a foot-deep, greasy and grimy New York City gutter puddle. Double shit.

Dejected, I turned around and started to head back home. I guess there’s no yoga class for me this morning, I thought; maybe I can catch a class later, or buckle down and do a sufficient home practice.

But I didn’t get far.

Wait a minute, I thought, you love this yoga class. Are you really going to let the fact that your sock is saturated with what is likely sewer water stop you from getting there? Resolved, I waited for the better part of ten minutes for a cab, soggy foot and all, and I raced to the studio.

Class was twice as packed as usual, and the air in the place was filled with a jovial and generous spirit that immediately redeemed my journey there.

Carla, a true teacher among teachers, began class with a characteristically casual dharma talk. She reflected on a passage of the Bhagavad Gita regarding dharma itself (you might translate it to mean duty). The passage suggests that we don’t perform our dharma to get something in return, we do it for love. She touched on our collective tendency to focus on all of our problems, our hangups, our issues; and how the problem is, that list is never-ending. “The question isn’t what are your issues,” Carla concluded, “the question is what do you love?”

The view from a bridge in Brooklyn's Prospect Park

The view from a bridge in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park

See, recently, out of either busyness, writer’s block, or just plain perfectionist paralysis, I’ve been neglecting the MindBodyPlate blog. Part of me expects that the blog has to be something special, which of course is a surefire way to guarantee I’ll avoid doing it. I’ve also caught myself dwelling once or twice on the unfathomable number of people with health and wellness blogs or coaching businesses these days. I mean, what’s one more? Plus, the cranky counterculture teenager inside of me is embarassed that I would allow myself to be a part of such an overwhelming zeitgeist. Like, jeeze SKF, a wellness blog? How original. Good luck being a needle in an organic, non-GMO haystack.

But the question isn’t what are your issues, the question is what do you love?

And I have thoughts about what it is to be alive in a physical body in twenty first century America every single day. And maybe like, two people will care to read them. But most importantly, I love having these conversations. And I think it’s my dharma to do so.

Which is why, as a way to kick start a new chapter of the MBP blog, I am committing to a week-long, blog-writing challenge. Get ready for at least a little bit of blog every day, for the next six days. They probably won’t all be home runs, but they will get written.

gazing at prospect park lake - mindbodyplate

My new yoga buddy gazing out over Prospect Park Lake in Brooklyn

Oh, and the rest of my day? Well, after yoga, the very same willing attitude that allowed me to turn around and get to yoga against the odds allowed me the opportunity for an impromptu summer day with a brand new friend from the studio. We talked about IUDs and family and love over perfectly chilled grüner veltliner and deviled eggs at a sidewalk cafe. Then a walk around the lake in prospect park turned into an afternoon of roller skating at the outdoor rink. It was beautiful. And I never even washed my foot off.

Are you letting your issues get in the way of doing what you love? Are they worth it? Can you name your dharma, your virtuous duty in the cosmic order of things?

Recession-proof Self-Care

If you’ve known me for long enough, you’re aware that I have one very concrete goal in life: weekly massage. When the day comes that I can afford to hit up my local spa every Sunday for 90 minutes of essential-oil-infused, deep-tissue bliss, I’ll know I’ve really made it.

Unfortunately, now is not that time. Every few weeks I can maybe manage one of those 5 minute neck rubs at the noxious smelling nail salon, but other than that, I just don’t have it in the budget.

One of my go-to excuses when I’m stuck in a self-pitying funk is that it’s just too expensive to practice self-care. I mean, when I think of the things that make me feel relaxed and happy, my mind goes straight to massage and shopping for new clothes. Or shoes. Or anything offered at Anthropologie.

But that’s a croc! I mean, it really is just an excuse. It’s me being too lazy to come up with more affordable, more readily available self-care activities. The great news is, there are so many ideas that fit this bill. So I’ve started a running list of self-care ideas that I keep on my cellphone. That way, when start to feel dark and stormy, I have an abundance of strategies right at my fingertips to help me see the light.

Creative self-care: makeup play time!

One of my favorite ways to practice self-care is to bust out my old art bin filled with a makeup collection several years strong (a lifetime ago, I was on my way to becoming a makeup artist). I take a seat at my heirloom vanity, where I imagine my grandmother sat and looked at herself many times before, and I just… start to play. The key here is that I’m not getting ready to go anywhere – no one may see the final product, and no one needs to. It’s just me and my brushes as I start to paint, using my face as the palette. Sometimes, makeup play time turns into imaginary photo-shoot time, wherein I take a few selfies and tinker with them in a photo-editing program. When it’s time to take the makeup off, I mindfully massage coconut oil into my skin (it’s a great makeup remover), and then wipe it all away with a warm washcloth, moving gently over my face and décolletage with a great deal of care.

So that’s my makeup play time idea. True, it’s a little image-centric, so it might not work for all people or all moods; but the point is, it’s totally free. You don’t even have to leave the house!

I have a client who told me that nothing feels as good as changing the sheets on her bed. “It takes a little bit of effort,” she explained, “but when it’s done, and I snuggle into those crisp, clean, new sheets…” She paused. “I feel like I’m in heaven.” This absolutely blew me away. What a totally creative idea for self-care! And most of us think of changing our bed sheets as a chore. I left that session realizing that my options for creative self-care were truly infinite.

Other affordable self-care ideas include:

  • Create a friendship pyramid. Though I’m fairly certain this idea originated as a social skills worksheet for the special ed classroom, I think it’s a fab idea for us all. Grab some paper and a pencil and start filing in your friendship pyramid as a reminder that you are surrounded and supported by loved ones, friends, family, and community.
  • Make some music. Pick up that dusty guitar, plug in the ol’ keyboard, grab the nearest kazoo or even a red solo cup, and start making noise. The key here is that there are no expectations. Open your mouth and see what comes out! Express yo-self.
  • Give yourself a non-manicure. Listen to some soothing tunes while you remove any chipped polish, clip, file, and buff your nails. Next, add a few drops of essential oil to a big bowl of warm water and soak your hands for a few minutes – dare to get pruny. Afterwards, slowly and methodically massage an oil of your choice into your fingertips and cuticle beds. Take your time with this. Hell, massage all the knuckles as well. You can do this anywhere, and it feels amazing. When you’re all done, wipe away the oil with a warm washcloth and thank your hands for all of the amazing work they do.
  • Pick up an affordable hobby. One that has nothing to do with your job or any other pursuit that makes you feel stressed. Something that’s yours alone. Years ago, before I started this blog, I began tinkering with photo-editing programs and became somewhat of a graphic design enthusiast. It felt totally enriching and really helped me to zen-out. Now, of course, that passion has become a part of what I do here at MindBodyPlate, so on to something new… perhaps I’ll teach myself to knit!
  • Fall down the inspirational quote rabbit hole. Go ahead and Google the term inspirational quote. Oh, just do it. Click on something – anything – and start reading. Found one that you really like? Copy the name of whoever said it, and next, do a Google search for all of their quotes! You can go on and on like this. As long as you watch your posture and jaw tension while you’re parked in front of the computer screen, this free activity can be absolutely invigorating and uplifting.
  • Massage your face. The first time I pressed my fingertips into my cheeks and jaw line, it was a revelation. The human face has at least 42 different muscles, and they get used all day long! For most of us, facial tension is at an all-time high, and a little bit of love up there can go a long way. There are a multitude of tips and how-tos for facial self-massage online, but you needn’t even look at them. Just wash your hands and start poking around. What feels good? What doesn’t? What feels not-so-good but it’s probably just because of major tension so you should keep going anyway? Play with different strokes, different rhythms, using different parts of the hand. Use oil or don’t. Whatever anxiety you may have about clogging your pores will be vastly overshadowed by how amazing you feel afterward. I’m telling you – don’t hesitate. Try it today!

Do you have any recession-proof ideas for self-care? Let me know what works for you. Let’s start a virtual database of easy self-care ideas!

MBP Daily Three: When Your Lucky Underpants Don’t Help

MBP3 IS A SERIES DEDICATED TO WALKING THE WALK. WHAT ARE 3 THINGS YOU’VE DONE TODAY TO NOURISH YOUR MIND, YOUR BODY, & YOUR PLATE?
calvin and hobbes lucky rocket ship underpants

From Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Woof. Some days, you’re just so, totally down in the dumps. I knew a girl who called it “going to her dark place.” Luckily, the MBP Daily Three is a tool you can use to pave the way toward a better tomorrow, no matter how you feel today. It’s easy to remember: just check off one thing you’ve done today to nourish your mental health, your physical health, and your nutritional health (mind, body, and plate). The MBP3 might not turn your whole day around, but a little bit of self-care today may do a great deal of good in the long run.

Body: My handsome, bearded husband took the day off for a doctor appointment. Though he practically had to drag me out of the house, we ended up going for a short run through the neighborhood together. My brain was doing this weird thing where I thought if I couldn’t go run a 10k, then I shouldn’t run at all (being a perfectionist is really special sometimes). In the end, I just had to strong arm my way through that resistance and get out there. And don’t think I forget for one second how lucky I am to have a partner who can kindly nudge me in the right direction when I’m getting in my own way.

Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista

Photograph by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista

Mind: Our new neighborhood in Brooklyn is home to this cool little business called Sycamore Bar & Flower Shop. It’s, well… a bar attached to a flower shop. They’ve got all kinds of beautiful moss and ivy creations hanging in glass terrariums in the windows, along with gorgeous and unique flowers littering the mason-jar-filled space. After our run, we stepped inside just to have a look around. There was something about taking in the delicate beauty of some of those little succulents and air plants that demanded mindfulness. And practicing mindfulness helped lift my mood. Maybe we just ducked into a little bar and flower shop, but in some way it felt like a tiny trip to some sort of Midsummer Night’s fairyland, and it shook up my day in just the right way. It’s interesting how the smallest things can affect one’s perspective.

Plate: Finally, we stopped at the health food store, and I pulled up a recipe for red lentil coconut soup that I’ve been eyeing on Pinterest for a while. I took my time perusing the store, an enjoyable pastime for me in itself, and gathered the ingredients to make the dish. The truth is, I may not even make it tonight; I may just not have it in me. But I’ll be able to make it tomorrow. And somehow, just knowing that I have all of the ingredients to make such a rich and healthy meal makes me feel more at ease.  No matter what happens, I know I have some rewarding nourishment coming my way.

Will you tackle your MBP Daily Three even when it seems like a futile undertaking? Who are the people in your life you can turn to for a gentle nudge in the right direction? Let me know in the comments below, and have a lucky rocketship underpants kind of day.

Pesticides in Produce

Let’s face it: it’s not always convenient (or economical) to buy all organic produce all the time. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group publishes an annual rating of non-organic foods with the most and the least amounts of pesticide residue. As a part of their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, each year the EWG publishes two lists that can help guide our purchasing choices: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.

*trumpets* Friends, I give you my versions of this year’s lists. *confetti*

Feel free to print them out and stick ’em on your refrigerator! They’ll serve as a good reminder to, say, always shell out for the organic strawberries, or to give yourself a break if your only option is a conventionally grown eggplant. I for one tend to steer clear of any produce in the Dirty Dozen that’s not organic. But when it comes to avocados, onions, cabbage, and other foods listed on the Clean Fifteen, I don’t sweat it as much.

EWG's Dirty Dozen

For the last three years, the EWG has included a ‘Plus’ category with their Dirty Dozen; this ranking highlights foods that didn’t quite make the cut yet were found to be consistently contaminated with trace amounts of pesticides hazardous to the human nervous system. According to the EWG, if you eat a lot of kale, collards, or hot peppers, you’d be wise to buy organic.

EWG's Clean Fifteen

You’ll notice that many foods in the Clean Fifteen have thick, protective skins or tightly packed leaves to help keep pesticide residues out. You may also have noticed that sweet potatoes are in the Clean Fifteen, whereas regular old spuds are up there in the Dirty Dozen – interesting! If you’re looking to avoid GMOs, be aware that most Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered, as is some yellow squash, zucchini, and sweet corn.

As with most diet-related issues, the whole organic-versus-non-organic thing can be overwhelming and confusing. Remember to be kind to yourself and to approach with flexibility. After all, one thing that is far more dangerous than a non-organic strawberry is to worry incessantly about every single morsel you put in your mouth.

Be Close to Yourself

Happy Monday! I hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend. This quote was brought to my attention by my teacher over at Living Now Yoga, and I liked it so much that I decided to give it the MindBodyPlate treatment. Let us remember that yoga is so much more than a physical practice. What would it mean to be close to yourself today?

Yoga is the practice of being close to yourself

 

Navy Beans with Feta, Tomato, and Basil

navy beans with feta

Spring has sprung here in New York City, but it’s still cool enough to enjoy a warm, creamy dish like these navy beans with feta, tomato, and basil. I ate them today in front of my open window, enjoying the light breeze and marveling at how something could taste so comforting and so fresh.

navy beans with feta close up

With garlicky-sweet grape tomatoes and salty, luxurious feta, these beans are reminiscent of a creamy pasta dish, but without the pasta. It’s super simple to make, requires just one pan, and only calls for a few ingredients.

Don’t have any basil on hand? Chop up some arugula or kale instead. The greens do more than add color, they really elevate the flavor and give it a crisp brightness.

navy beans stove top collage

Navy Beans with Feta, Tomato, and Basil

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small clove of garlic (or 1/2 large clove), minced
  • 3/4 c grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 c canned or pre-cooked navy beans
  • 1/4 c feta, crumbled (more or less, depending on the severity of your cheese addiction)
  • 1/4 c basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • In a large saucepan, heat 1-2 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil over a low flame.
  • Add the halved grape tomatoes and the garlic, stir, and let them cook over low heat for anywhere between 15-20 minutes, stirring only occasionally, until the tomato skins are crinkled, the juices are gurgling, and the garlic is golden.
  • Add the navy beans, and increase the heat just a tad, stirring occasionally until the beans are warm, about 5 more minutes.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste, but don’t overdo it on the salt! Feta is pretty salty on its own.
  • Turn off the heat, and immediately add the feta, stirring constantly so that it melts a bit and incorporates fully.
  • Toss in a small handful of chopped basil, stir, and serve warm.

Serves one as a main dish, or two as a side dish

navy beans and window