Category Archives: Diet & Nutrition

Local Food movement at http://argusfarmstop.com

NON-VIOLENCE: LOCAL FOOD. FARM TO TABLE 

Honoring Ahimsa (Non-Violence) and Mindful Eating

Today, most Americans are disconnected from what may be one of the most natural parts of life: planting and harvesting. Local food. People tend to surf the internet, or stroll through unending lines of shelves in a big box store, to find their favorite food products. All this has a detrimental impact on our health, and the environment. We are committing himsa (violence), most often mindlessly. Yogis are taught to be mindful, and ahimsa (non-violence) is our first commandment. 

Before the advent of all the jet, TV or Internet, people were closer to nature. The connection between harvest and sustenance was clear. One ate what was available on their own, or  surrounding, lands. As Gandhi urged, progress starts with one’s self. “Be the change.”  When it comes to mindful eating, we must honor and respect what we consume. Likewise, we should refrain from needless slaying and torture of animals, and destroying of our environment, all of which are examples of himsa

I recently spent a few days in Ann Arbor, in part, to learn about its vegan-friendly, mindful farm to table movement. Michigan is a major agricultural state. In fact, it is the second most diverse state for farming, after California. Plus, there is a resurgence in getting back to the farm to table basics. Real food. Slow food. Local food. Non-violence. 

Local Food

 A Michigan non-profit is encouraging local food for many reasons.

Local Food movement at http://argusfarmstop.com—First, more than a million acres of U.S. farmland is lost each year due to residential and commercial development.

—Second, a typical American meal travels an average of 1,500 miles before it gets to your table, or car seat.

—Third, conventional food distribution uses at least four times more fuel than local and regional systems.

— Fourth, each dollar spent at independent local businesses returns three times more money to your community.

—Plus, if every Michigan household spent $10 per week on local food, $1.6 billion would be added to the state’s economy.

Ann Arbor Farm to Table Restaurants

Local Food at Argus Farm StopIn Ann Arbor, and neighboring Ypsilanti, there are a number of farm to table establishments. 

Brandon Johns opened Grange Kitchen and Bar in 2009. “We are essentially a true local restaurant. We spend 90 cents on the dollar on local food. In the dead of winter we fall down to about 70 percent. There’s a ton of greenhouses here that extend our seasons. It’s amazing what Michigan produces because of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. It’s not just cars.”

Travis Schuster is head chef at Ollie of Ypsilanti.  He believes in putting money back into the community by supporting local farmers. 

“My main goal with Ollie is to make locally and sustainably sourced food accessible to the entire community. I think that people respond positively to our sourcing practices because they want to feel that they are making a responsible decision when they chose to dine at Ollie. I hope that they are choosing to dine with us because they realize that we are taking their dollars and putting them right back into our community: whether it’s our staff who all live within walking distance of the restaurant, the farmers in our community, or the producers and artisans that are helping to shape and fortify sustainable Michigan foodways.”

Furthermore, Travis knows the farmers. He says the younger farmers tend to be well educated and idealistic. “There’s kind of a disconnect with the previous generation. The young farmers have longer-term goals. Not just the money.”

Local Food at Argus Farm Stop

Lisa McDonald is the owner of a bakery and TeaHaus. She agrees with Travis’ statement about the new breed of farmers. She has hired several farmers in their off season.  One, had a degree in philosophy.  

Lisa not only hires local farmers, but she buys from them. She recognizes the many hurdles small farm owners encounter. “It’s very expensive for small farmers to get the certified organic label. And, just because it’s stamped organic doesn’t mean they are. I’d rather know the small farmer. You know their practices, and what they’re selling.”

As Lisa mentions the hurdles local farmers have to go through, Brandon says it’s nearly impossible for small businesses to get national marks of approval. Case in point, USDA requires producers to have a dedicated bathroom for the USDA inspectors. While bureaucracy is working against these small businesses, the University of Michigan, is on the local food band wagon. The UM Campus Farm was established in 2012. The initiative is part of a plan to source food locally, or sustainably, by 2025. In addition to providing food for campus dining, the UM farm sells its produce at Argus Farm Stop, year-round. 

Ann Arbor Farm to Table Supporters and Suppliers

Local Food at Argus Farm StopArgus is a business enterprise that was established to support local farmers, 12 months a year. Kathy Sample opened Argus*, a unique direct-to-consumer farmers’ market, inside an abandoned gas station. She’s well aware of the challenges small farmers have today, and recognizes that most can’t make sufficient profits at the markets. Her business was launched to boost the local economy and give local farmers a practical way to survive and thrive.

More than 75 local farmers drop off their fresh crops. Kathy and her crew manage everything so that the farmers can get back to their lands. The farmers set their own prices, and the store only takes a 20 percent share. Since Argus is in business to help the farmers, a comfortable coffee house inside the Farm Stop is what keeps Argus afloat. And, twice weekly, the local food bank picks up food that hasn’t sold, so that it can be consumed by needy families.

Argus Farm Stop for Local Food in Ann Arbor“We started (in 2014) because we saw 93 percent of our local farms were gone. We thought what if we started a real grocery store…and nice coffee bar,” Kathy recalls. “We hope to impact the agricultural community…The average age of a farmer in the U.S. is 57. Most are telling their kids to get a job at GM. There’s a lot of reasons why we need to help farmers find a better way.”

As her fellow farm to table mindful restaurateurs noted, USDA doesn’t support small farmers. “Most slaughterhouses are gross and inaccessible for small farms. The big houses wrote the rules…same for eggs. We need to see a resurgence of small processing plants that do it humanely. If you’re going to eat meat you should care about how it got onto your plate.”

Everything is geared to industrialized farming, she says. American farm land just isn’t making enough profits. “The only way a young person can get land is if their parents give them money. Or getting people to loan you land.” And yet, there’s a continuing interest by the younger generation of idealists in the heartland. 

Mindful Sourcing Beyond Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti

Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are great examples of the slow, local food movement in Washtenaw County. There are 14 farmers’ markets, although most are not year round. Additionally, there are 18 farms that allow public access to pick and take home produce like blueberries, apples and pumpkins. Considering the county population is under 359,000, that’s a pretty good score card. 

Local Food at Argus Farm Stop

Most of us are aware of Flint, Michigan. Though not for their local food initiative. In addition to your traditional farmers’ markets, Flint has a mobile unit to take produce to underserved neighborhoods. Of course, like any local food campaign, it’s a win-win situation. Producers get more income to continue their hard work, and consumers get better quality fresh food at fair prices without the middle man taking all the profits. 

Surprisingly, Detroit has become a world leader in urban agriculture.  Wayne County, of which Detroit is a part, has 29 farmers’ markets, 1,400 community gardens and urban farms in the area. In fact, the Eastern market is one of the oldest in the U.S. and has helped to buoy the growth of others in Wayne County. In some respects, Detroit is just going back to its pre-automotive roots.  

For example, one co-op  began six years ago. Seven participating Detroit farmers refrain from using synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and their soil is free of contaminants. In 2016, the co-op supplied more than 10,000 pounds of produce to local families. 

In the meantime, the Michigan Farmers Market Association, now represents 140 farmers markets and 220 farmers. Residents can pay with SNAP and WIC. 

Finally, as Kathy says about the local food movement, “A rising tide floats all boats. It’s got to happen.”

*All images on this page were taken at Argus Farm Stop.

Plant-Based Eating: Then and Now

When Pizza Was King

Plant-based diets, then (salad) and now (everything)By the time I got to college, I was already a committed vegetarian. However, I knew nothing about nutritious plant-based eating, nor how to forage for wholesome meatless options on campus.

In my entire dorm, there were just a handful of us vegetarian or kosher dairy folks. Fortunately, my dorm had peanut butter, Grapenuts and salads. Then, there was Garcia’s. They delivered whole wheat crusted pizza, even at odd hours. Frances Moore Lappe, one of the leading pro-vegetarian authors of the day, said cheese and wheat were good combinations. Done deal.

That was basically it. Choices were bare. But, I stuck it out. 

That was the 80s. When I moved to San Antonio in 1998, there wasn’t a single vegetarian restaurant in town. Now, we have terrific vegetarian, vegan and veg gluten-free dining spots. A sign of the times. People want healthy — and tasty — food options. Plus, consumers recognize it’s not only better for your body, but for the planet.

Times They Are A Changing

My alma mater was Champaign/Urbana, Illinois, three hours south of Chicago. Recently, I was invited to an eating spree in another Big Ten towns.  Plant-based students the universities and community colleges in that area have it pretty good. Same for their parents, teachers or anyone in the area that just wants a good meat-less meal.

There are 300 food businesses in a fairly small geographic area near the University of Michigan. Plenty have options for the plant-based or plant-preferred community.  In fact, Huffington Post placed this college town on the country’s top ten vegetarian cities. And, Animal Equality voted Ann Arbor among the Top 10 Vegan-Friendly Small Cities. 

All Vegetarian

Deborah Charnes at Seva in Ann ArborSeva was the lone bird back in the day that I was a student at UI. The all-veg diner opened more than 40 years ago. They cater to everyone, not just the PETA plant-based peeps. 

My cousin, David, Goldberg has lived in the Ann Arbor area for what seems like forever. He knows Seva well.  He says the food is far from dull. “Seva stands out because they amaze with great flavors and textures, and presentation.  While I’m not vegetarian or vegan, I feel no sense of loss there.”

Consider starting off with a parsnip chowder which was featured in Vegetarian Times. Taste the tempura-battered cauliflower or gluten-free bruschetta topped with a vegan basil cashew pesto. For entrees, how can you beat pumpkin manicotti? Some diners say Seva’s Pad Thai is among the best, with our without the eggs. Top off your meal by choosing from vegan gluten-free ice cream in three flavors: volcano salt vanilla, coffee and maple bourbon.

Earthen Jar is another favorite of David’s. When he picks up a carry-out order, he can’t resist noshing on the way home. Earthen Jar is all vegetarian (and kosher) Indian food with banana pudding that David says is a real winner. While Earthen Jar was the first kosher place in town, Vedge Cafe is a new kosher vegetarian small shop. Owned by a vegetarian registered dietitian, she makes seitan salami, turkey and corned beef plant-based alternatives. Sandwiches include a vegan Reuben, caramelized onion with cremini mushroom and tomato-mayo. Plus, Vedge offers a vegan gluten-free soup that changes every day, and several hearty salad options. 

The Vegan Trifecta

Detroit Street Filling Station plant-based platterThe Lunchroom, The Lunch Room Bakery & Cafe and Detroit Street Filling Station  evolved after two community organizers opened a food truck. 

They offer comfort foods like cinnamon buns, pepperoni pizza and chili cheese tater tots. In addition to trying to build a better planet though plant-based foods, they are avid supporters of the Youth Justice Program.  Beyond monetary contributions the vegan restauranteurs make, many of their employees have been assisted by the non-profit which seeks to ensure human dignity and full participation in the community of people who had been incarcerated as youth. And, this is one of the few dining establishments where employees get health care benefits, including paid time off if they’re sick. Most other restaurants subtly encourage sick staff to come to work so they don’t lose out on a day’s pay. Of course that just doesn’t make sense in the food industry.

The owners see the shift to plant-based eating moving quickly. Joel Panozzo says, “We’re at least broadening peoples consciousness of what vegan food is. Nowhere on our menu does it say vegan. We’re just trying to provide the option so people can make more meal choices. I think more restaurants we will cater even more to these communities as they become larger.”

Go East

vegan mediterranean foodAll studies confirm Americans go overboard with meat on their plates.

On average, consumption of protein in the U.S. is double that of people in other countries. Which is why I’ve always preferred Middle Eastern or Asian cuisines.

Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti residents or visitors can get plenty of vegetarian or vegan foods at ethnic eateries. There’s Jerusalem Cafe, Moroccan Casablanca, Eyse’s Turkish home-style cooking or the previously mentioned Earthen Jar, to name a few. 

But, what I find especially encouraging is mainstream establishments that understand people don’t always want to have a cow.

Plant-based Main Platters

Ollie's head chef, Travis, serves plant-based foodsTravis Schuster is the head chef at Ollie in Ypsilanti. 

“I use animal products less as main events, and more like seasoning in my personal diet,” he said, which is how meats tend to be used in other countries. 

Schuster acknowledges the trend in healthy living. About a quarter of his guests are vegetarian or vegan, and everyone can appreciate good plant-based food that’s served up right.  

“I believe that many of our patrons are health conscious. Omnivores do frequently order vegetarian and vegan dishes.”

Ollie does a stellar job at serving tasty and healthy vegan and gluten-free dishes. A large number of the brunch dishes are vegetarian, or can be veganized. The dinner menu includes a tartine made with roasted sweet potato spread, charred broccoli and cauliflower tossed in tahini vinaigrette with fried shallots and toasted squash seeds which was out of this world. Schuster whips up a sweet potato burger with pickled beets, caramelized onion vegan aioli, cashew spread and farm greens.

“My main goal with Ollie is to make locally and sustainably sourced food accessible to the entire community. Overall, I think that people respond positively to our sourcing practices because they want to feel that they are making a responsible decision when they chose to dine at Ollie over a less environmentally/community conscious establishment. We are taking their dollars and putting them right back into our community: whether it’s our staff who all live within walking distance of the restaurant, the farmers in our community, or the producers and artisans that are helping to shape and fortify sustainable Michigan foodways.”

Go West—To California

Fred's in Ann Arbor serves up primarily plant-based organic foodsLikewise, one of the newest eateries is big on healthy dishes, that just happen to be meat-less.

Fred’s opened this year, near the UM campus. This eatery is influenced by the small health food cafes in California. In the trendier West, and at Fred’s, veggie, vegan and gluten-free options are plentiful. Furthermore, everything is organic. Colorful smoothies. Green matcha cappuccino. And super foods. Plant-based power protein bowls are made with delicacies like acai, almond butter, berries, seeds and cacao.   

To sum up the trend in healthy and more plant-based foods, Ollie’s head chef notes the rise in vegan dining options. 

“There is hope. People vote with their dollar.”

ahimsa: preserve the life of a happy cow

Preserving Ahimsa: A Road Warrior’s Guide

Ahimsa for the Warrior in You

ahimsa via a sattvic dietDuring my 15 years working for one agency, we called ourselves “road warriors.” Beginning 35 years ago, I was trained to have a bag packed and ready to go for last minute, business trips.  At airports, and in the sky, I ate popcorn or nuts. Oftentimes, I opted for nothing. I’ll never forget my first business trip to Texas. My client ordered ribs and I-can’t-recall-what-other-animal-part for a dozen guests. I found the courage to tell the wait staff to bring me a salad. Shock. Deep in the heart of cattle country came a Northerner following Ahimsa  (do no harm to anyone/thing). For me, that means no animal on any plate. 

Traveling in Southern India was uplifting for many reasons. Among them, signs everywhere indicated “pure veg” food and drink. In Israel, where milk and meat don’t mesh, it was pretty easy to find parve (neutral) vegan dishes. In smaller Mexican villages, I seek out humble street food, or freshly juiced drinks sold in plastic bags. All, made before my eyes, and to my specifications. But, in this “rich” land of whoppers and nuggets, our poor food choices too often reflect mindlessness rather than mindfulness.

Warrior 1: Acknowledge America’s Heartland Isn’t All Heart

As a vegetarian road warrior, I criss-crossed the country. Among my stops were America’s heartland.  Iowa. Kansas. North Carolina. Those were some of the places where my caloric intake was lower than normal.

Iowa is a pork industry state. The Iowa Pork Producers Association boasts, “At any one time, there are approximately 20 million pigs being raised in Iowa.” These are not your “Green Acres” Arnold Ziffel hogs that lounge in the living room. Rather, they are part of the killing industry that is propelled by Americans’ lack of mindfulness when it comes to eating. 

happy cows in Austria: ahimsaKansas has about 300 dairy “farms.” While traditionally yogis have consumed milk, butter and cheese, many are now vegan as a result of the increasingly inhumane dairies. One of my first yoga masters was from Austria. She spoke about the happy cows that nourished her in her childhood, which were a far cry from those in today’s profit-centric industries.

Meanwhile, North Carolina is the kiss of death for chickens.  About 6.5 billion pounds of these birds were packaged here last year. While Indian “pure veg” diets do not consume eggs, in the U.S., most vegetarians do. So, it’s important to understand that the egg-producing industry is no better than the broiler business.  The North Carolina Egg Association acknowledges, “We have approximately 9 million birds which lay about 7 ½ million eggs a day.” Again, nothing like the eggs that your neighbor has in the backyard.  Many claim the treatment of chickens in the U.S. is the dirtiest and cruelest of the food producing industries. 

Warrior 2:  Build Your Own Nest

baby chickWhen I first said no to meat, in the 1970s, the most common term to describe us may have been “rare bird.” There was minimal acceptance of people with special diets in my home state of Illinois. Even the airlines, back when they served food, sometimes handed me a tray with celery and carrot sticks. 

As a result, the warrior within has learned to shut out a bit of that culture clash to focus inward. That includes providing for myself.  When it comes to my extended trips out of the country, I pack quinoa, flax, protein powders, even dehydrated vegetables. Stateside, if I don’t already know where Whole Foods is, Siri can steer me. For quickie trips, I pack power or protein snacks.

To make it a bit tougher for me than my fellow vegetarian yogis, I refrain from all animal products, gluten, and high glycemic foods. And, I balance my doshas following other dietary rules, including the timing of my meals.

You can scour the terminals looking for something that fits your restrictions, and equally important, looks appetizing. From one city to the next, names change but there’s still the same unhealthy and non-veg conforming food choices. 

For my fellow rare birds that take their trail mixes on planes, here are a few of my finds in the vegan desert of airports. 

Warrior 3: Encourage Ahimsa in Your Purchases

Supply and demand. Fortunately, things are changing, and vegetarian options are becoming more common. But at airports, it’s still hard to choose healthy vegetarian options. Yes, there’s plenty of pizza, pretzels and pastries. Although those foods may be vegetarian, are they reflective of ahimsa to yourself, animals and the planet?

Make a difference, dollar by dollar. Buy plant-based healthy options, and vendors will provide more of those products. 

Global, Yet Local: Slow, Natural Foods 

dolmas at Zingerman's at Detroit airport

On a recent trip, armed with my low-glycemic power bars, one word — Zingerman’s —alerted me to a possible upcoming snack attack. Scanning the Detroit airport directory I had a hunch there was a treat for my belly and taste buds.

Zingerman’s is like the holy grail to folks in Ann Arbor. This Michigan-based “community of businesses” has a collection of top-notch culinary enterprises ranging from Zingerman’s Creamery to a Miss Kim, a Korean restaurant.

Founded as a traditional Jewish deli, 35 years ago, Zingerman’s is way past corned beef on rye or lox and bagels. All their brands seek to serve authentic global flavors, using local, slow and natural foods. 

Zingerman’s is a sit-down outpost smack dab in the center of the airport, under the names Plum Garden and Zingerman’s Coffee Company. You can mix and match items from the coffee shop, deli or store. There’s a bevy of healthy, tasty-looking food options to satisfy the pickiest of travelers. 

salads at Zingerman's at Detroit airportFor plant-preferred eaters, imagine the most scrumptious looking chocolate banana bread loaves from Zingerman’s Bakery’s to sweet chili peanuts and cinnamon almonds from Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory.  Refrigerated quick serve dishes include a Mediterranean bento bowl, dolmas, hummus with veggies, yogurt parfaits, wraps, and more. 

The deli counter serves hot scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, organic steel cut oatmeal and a French toast casserole that looked out of this world.  There are half a dozen vegan, G-F, lower-card salads.  Brussels sprout shavings with colorful extras like cranberries and slivered almonds. Kale salad.  A Texas caviar with beans, corns, peas and quinoa. An Asian stir-fry salad chock full of tofu and broccoli.   

Latin American Food 

quinoa vs rice

Frances Moore Lappe’s 1972 best seller, “Diet for a Small Planet,” fueled an early wave of vegetarianism in the U.S. She discussed how traditional foods, as eaten today in many countries, do not rely on the large pieces of animal carcasses served at every meal. Since I read her book in college, I’ve been gung ho on rice and beans. At home, I skip the rice in favor of quinoa. On the road, I’ll give in to the rice. 

At the Mexico City airport, there are a gazillion places for your rice and beans dishes, served up in all different ways. However, with any Mexican food, you have to be sure they don’t use lard in the beans, or chips. And, sometimes the rice and/or sauces are made with Knorr bouillon. So ask. When I was young, lard seemed to be in all the beans. Nowadays, it rarely is. 

Traditional (Miami) Cuban rice and beans are not made with any animal products. You can’t beat Miami International Airport’s La Carreta for black bean soup, rice and plantain chips (mariquitas).   

The San Antonio airport’s Frutería serves rice and bean dishes, but I recommend their smoothies and green drinks. My favorite, custom-made, is a cleansing juice with nopales

But bottom line, play it safe. Honor ahimsa. As my grandmother insisted, take a piece of fruit along for the ride.

yoga for healthy sleep patterns; sunrise yoga in Belize

Yoga and Healthy Sleep Patterns

Surya Namaskar: My Ayurvedic Dinacharya in Belize

yoga for healthy sleep patterns; yoga at sunriseI’m in Belize. By 6:30 at night, the sky is pitch black. There are no cars or trucks on my small island. That’s because there are no paved streets, anywhere. Nor, are there bright lights or neon signs hanging from the streets to bring about an unnatural sense of time. In my lifetime, they brought electricity to this island. Nonetheless, there’s no blasting of TVs. Just the occasional  rhythmic beats streaming out from the bars. Other than that, when it’s night, it’s quiet. As it should be, in my book. Here, or at home, I am loyal to my Ayurvedic dinacharya (routine). My prescribed lifestyle is all about optimum wellness, including  yoga and healthy sleep patterns. 

For one, I never eat after 7 p.m. Here, my light evening meal is closer to 5:00 p.m. I take a refreshing cold water shower once the sun is no longer at its peak. Then, I rub my skin with coconut oil laced with lavender and geranium essential oils. Abhyanga (oil massage), with my homemade oil, even helps repel mosquitos. Next, I chant. By 9 p.m., I’m in bed. More often than not, before then. 

So, in the wee hours of the morning, I’m wide awake. I squeeze a lime into my freshly made ginger tea. After I hydrate, I go to the water’s edge to begin my pre-dawn practice. Six breath work exercises followed by a dozen sets of sun salutations. As the sun rises, I lift my heart and head to honor it. No one is around. Except maybe one or two of my dogs. The breeze is cool. The morning sun is gentle. I hear the sounds of nature. Waves. Birds. Insects. Dogs. Occasionally, a bike rider passing near by, or a golf cart picking up the trash. Sometimes, the sound of a motor boat in the wake, filled with fisherman looking for crab, lobster or other catches.

This is my daily routine in Belize. The slogan for my island is appropriate.  “Go Slow.” I feel connected to nature in many ways. Among them, my body’s instinct to slow down when it’s dark, and rev up my brain and body with the sun. 

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

moonlight is the time for sleepThe average American goes to sleep many hours after dark. In many “developed” countries it’s normal to eat dinner as late as 9 p.m. Plus, it’s all too common, in “modern” cultures for people to not get a good night’s sleep. Ayurveda points to many reasons for this, especially the time clock. Therefore, yoga and healthy sleep patterns are inseparable.

Ayurveda teaches us to be in sync with the elements:  earth, water, fire, air and ether. The elements represent your body, and the world in which you live. For me, it’s also about being in sync with nature. Including the sun and the moon. Day and night. Yang versus yin.  

For three decades, I’ve thrived without eight hours of sleep a night.  I don’t need as much zzz’s as others. My body and mind rest through my practice, on and off the mat. My current Ayurvedic routine contributes to releasing tensions and from my body and mind, while ensuring that my energy is flowing at the right times, and in the right ways.

Following are some of my tips for a restful sleep, along with those of Aadil Palkhivala. Aadil has been practicing yoga for 51 years. He has a very hectic world travel schedule, which aggravates the vata, thus, disturbing sleep patterns. What’s more, the man that was initiating into the yoga world at the age of seven, under the direction of B.K.S. Iyengar, has had to overcome “amazing injuries.”

Why We Need to Sleep Like a Baby

yoga for healthy sleep patterns to sleep like a baby

There are many reasons why rest, or sleep are essential for healthy living. For example, The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the number one cause for injuries was lack of sleep. And, when you lack just one hour of sleep, it’s similar to when you drink two glasses of wine.

“Sleep is the time when your body can move from its current sympathetic state to a state of healing. Healing ONLY happens in the parasympathetic response. It tells the body it is SAFE now to heal. If I don’t feel safe, I cannot move into the parasympathetic response. Creating a context of safety is crucial for sleep.”

I sometimes override the sleep state, by turning on the parasympathetic response system, directly. For example, when in a plane or other places when I know my sleep will be scant, I practice extended sessions of pranayama. Alternate nostril breathing with kumbhaka (retention and suspension of breath) is a great way to switch on the parasympathetic system.

Aadil says, “When the mind is oscillating, you can’t sleep. A scattered mind prevents you from sleeping.” According to Aadil, there was a very old woman in a hospital. She didn’t sleep for days. Then, someone held her hand. Voila. The comfort of human touch, and sense of carrying, was what she needed to fall asleep. Likewise, with babies. When you rock them, sing to them, touch their bodies or head, they will doze off. Even more apparent, when a baby is nursing, they are in a profound state of relaxation.  

When we are frazzled, we can’t sleep. Spooning may be a way to calm oneself. But, for those sleeping solo, breathwork or meditation are easy chill pills. 

Yoga and Healthy Sleep Patterns

cats-in-bed-restful-sleepA kirtan artist, GuruGanesha Singh, once told me that when he first entered a Kundalini/Sikh community, he was told they started their day at 4. He said no problem, thinking they meant p.m. The former rock musician was rocked out of his comfort zone when he learned the daily practice was at 4 a.m.

Before some have turned off the lights, I may be awake, feeling completely rested. Aadil explains that every hour of sleep before midnight is equivalent to 1.5 hours of rest. Hence, My three or four hours of early sleep are just as good as six hours of someone else’s later night sleep. Furthermore, he says that sleep after 6 a.m. is ineffective. Most yogic traditions, like the Kundalini, encourage morning sadhana (practice) before sunrise.

Pretty much all my life, I’ve been an early riser. Daylight is a trigger for me. My body — and brain — are most alert at dawn. Aadil explains that, “We are not just bodies. We are part of the sun and the moon.”  Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that the daytime sun gives us heat, energy, movement (pitta). Whereas, the evening moon is associated with coolness and stillness. 

Regardless of your dosha, most of us have a vata-induced lifestyle. Just as travel aggravates vata, deadlines, and working or thinking about work 24/7 wreaks havoc on your balance. Typically, vata folks get the least amount of sleep, whereas kaphas love their slumber and even naptimes. 

Good sleep depends on your lifestyle. “It’s the law of cause and effect. It’s that simple. Don’t expect good sleep,” says Aadil, if you don’t have a healthy routine. 

Five Tips for Yoga and Healthy Sleep Patterns

  • hibernating bear--yoga for healthy sleep patternsBlue light hinders sleep states. Hence, I light candles and turn on salt lamps before bedtime. No traditional lights, and most importantly, no TV, computers or smart phones.
  • “Our body is a body of light,” says Aadil. “The body feels claustrophobic in dark colors.” Feng Shui suggests earth and skin tones for bedrooms. Other options are light greens and lavenders, which I chose, as they remind me of a garden.  Similar to Ayurveda, Feng Shui says it’s essential to customize based on your constitution/elements. 
  • Food is energy. It’s not required for sleep, rather for active daytime activities. So, refrain from eating at least several hours before bedtime. Plus, food in the evening should be kapha-promoting. No spicy pitta-inducing foods. However, camomile, mint or other soothing herbs are good. 
  • I repeat mantras before bed to relax my body and mind. Yin yoga, meditation or breath work are other good options. Aadil suggests inhaling for a count of two, exhaling for a count of four (to kick in the parasympathetic system) and suspending the breath for a count of three.
  • Consider body mechanics.  Aadil explains that the area from the occipital ridge on the skull to T2 (about the level of your clavicle) play a big part in the parasympathetic activation. 
    • Therefore, he suggests practicing bridge poses, with deltoids rolled under the body. Or, try a supported yin bridge. Another option is legs up a wall. Whichever you choose, hold as long as possible and focus on your breath. To release, lift the hips up and down nine times to reactivate spine. 
    • Another asana he recommends at bedtime is supta padangustasana as the pull on the Achilles tendon travels all the way to the occipital ridge.
    • Aadil says the spine shrinks with fear. Therefore, he suggests stretching the spine every single night. Consider a restorative downward dog. 

For more on yoga and healthy sleep patterns, read one of my earlier articles. Or, check out Aadil’s site.  ”Born a yogi, inside his mothers womb,” he’s author three Yoga Teacher Training manuals and Fire of Love and contributes to Yoga Journal and Prevention magazine.

Dhanvantari, deity for Ayurveda

Natural Healing According to a Nicaraguan Herbalist vs Ayurveda

To learn about natural healing, I choose a homestay with Dona Lucia in Nicaragua.  Call her a curandera, herbalist, or a campesina. Clearly, Lucia understands the value of nature as medicine. We relate. First, I believe in natural healing. For example, I have great respect for the Ayurvedic, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Indigenous teachings. 

homemade milk in NicaraguaPlant-based Organic Foods

Secondly, I am an advocate of plant-based diets. In these remote mountains, families eat mostly organic vegetarian foods. They aren’t following trends. Rather, they are self-sufficient.

They respect their farm animals. Actually, Lucia’s husband milks their cows daily. And, with the several buckets of milk they get, daily, they make their own cheese. Due to no refrigeration, cheese is consumed quickly.

As a result, Lucia’s typical plate has rice, beans, fresh tortillas, plantains and cheese. At times, she may add a bit of vegetables or chicken. What’s more, thermoses of coffee and herbal tea stay on the table all day. 

Their water comes from a well. Likewise, light comes from solar panels. These homes have no outlets. Nor, flush toilets. Yet, they have large rooms with beautiful plants and trees surrounding them. 

Natural Healing Tips from Nicaragua

natural healing in NicaraguaInterestingly, while Lucia and I come from different backgrounds, many of her natural healing recipes are similar to mine.

Spinach.  My body craves spinach. Lucia says that it’s good for the blood and circulation. I know I need circulation boosts.

Basil.  Lucia makes a compress out of basil. She adds cedar, basilica and garlic for bruises or body pains. Basilica, she says, is good for the nerves and low blood pressure/fainting.

Cilantro helps restore the levels of iron in the blood, she says. It’s also good for colic. Ayurvedically speaking, cilantro is a great balancer for the doshas. I add it to all my juices and smoothies.

natural healing in NicaraguaGinger. Hands down, this one of my favorites. I make fresh ginger lemon tea, daily.  In my book, it’s good for the thyroid and digestion. It’s also a good dosha balancer, particularly for those with tendencies for respiratory issues. Not surprisingly, Lucia uses it for digestion, plus coughs. 

Licorice. Ayurvedic wisdom says licorice pacifies vata and pitta. Among other things, it is an expectorant.  Lucia claims that it is good for the throat. In particular, for people that are feeling hoarse.

Absinth (Wormwood). Not as common as some of the other herbs, this is one Lucia likes for internal and external infections.

Lemongrass. I once interviewed someone about the healing qualities of lemongrass, according to traditional Thai beliefs.  While it tastes great in stir fry, the essential oil smells wonderful, too. In India, not unlike in Thailand, lemongrass is credited for healing many disorders. Lucia says it’s good for de-stressing. Once stress is managed, you can minimize other dis-eases.

Epazote. Native to Central America, this herb is believed to be beneficial in the treatment of parasites. Lucia says it’s also good for cramps. 

Altamisa/Mugwort. This is your PMS relief, according to Lucia. Similarly, Ayurveda says it’s good for the uterus, and hormonal cramping or discomfort. 

Valerian. Lately, valerian is popular in the Western world. Many enjoy valerian essential oil to help them sleep at night. Ayurvedic recommendations for valerian include to ease the nerves and promote blissful sleep. It’s also suggested to help skin, digestion, and balancing of the doshas. So, it’s not surprising that Lucia uses this herb for insomnia and nerves.

Waste Not, Want Not

In the mountains where Lucia lives, nothing is wasted. They buy their own rice and oil, but most everything else is from their farm.

Lucia and her husband give the bad corn kernels to the livestock to eat. The corn ears are used as firewood in their wood-burning stove. 

They use all parts of plants. For example, Lucia takes resin from the banana root and infuses it in hot water to treat diarrhea. The leaves of oranges, along with many other fruit leaves, are used to flavor herbal teas. Plus, they provide medicinal oomph.

Don’t Leave Out the Leaf

herbalists natural healing vs Ayurveda

Orange.  This one, according to Lucia, is good for balancing the nerves. She also says it’s good for pregnant women. 

Guarumo. Here’s another example of taking leaves of a Mesoamerican tree for medicinal uses. Lucia suggests soaking the guarumo leaves in hot water and making compresses. These are good for intestinal woes like colitis.

Dandelion. These nasty weeds are getting popular among the natural healing crowds.  Lucia recommends it for anemia. Not surprising, it is loaded with vitamins and minerals, including iron.  In Ayurveda, dandelion is said to help balance the liver and blood. Dandelion tea is especially appropriate for counteracting pitta imbalances. 

Mango. Lucia uses mango leaves for teas, compresses and bathing. She says it’s good for inflammation. I add fresh ginger to my home-made mango juice. With cilantro, it’s refreshing and balancing for the doshas.  

Guava used for natural healingGuava. I have an extreme dislike for cough syrups. Primarily because they have a high alcohol content. Fruit leaf tea seems more soothing. Lucia says it works, and that it’s also good for nausea and vomiting. According to TheAyurveda.org, guava is good to reduce phlegm. And, “Since, 1950s the leaves of Guava tree is used as a potential medicine to cure many diseases like Diabetes, cholesterol and heart problems.”

Limonaria. Here’s another leaf that shouldn’t be discarded. Lucia says it can be used for toothaches. Of course, a dentist is the best fix. But, when you’re isolated in the mountains, you need first-respondent natural healing care even more. 

Jocote. This is a Central American fruit.  Lucia takes the leaf and grinds it up. Then, she adds it to the juice, with lemon, to soothe ulcers. 

Cinnamon. Beyond the sticks, Lucia says the leaves are good in tea for pregnant women. She often mixes them with fruit leaves.

Finally, read more about life in this remote agricultural community. Or, learn more about Ayurvedic diets, on one of my blog posts. 

Ayurvedic practices of abhyanga and sneha

Laura Plumb On Sneha: Self-Care with Oils

I’ve always hated perfume. My mom used to buy cheap “toilet water” and douse the toilet with it. With my keen sense of smell, I retreat when someone laden with perfume is near me. On the other hand, I relish the scents of aromatherapy and natural oils (like coconut). They feel nurturing and nourishing to me. That’s why I’m a fan of the Ayurvedic practices of sneha and abhyanga.

Sneha and Abhyanga

Sneha, and abhyanga, are Ayurvedic methods of massage. At last month’s Shakti Fest , I gravitated to two of Laura Plumb‘s workshops. One was a hands-on sneha session. We anointed ourselves, or others, with oils. She passed around her home-made sneha mixtures. She shared tips for selecting essential oils, herbs and spices.

Laura explained that the word sneha means both oil, and love. Likewise, I was taught abhyanga is self-care, to nurture love of self.

The Nityananda Times explains, “Abhyanga comes from two words, ‘abhi’ and ‘anga’, meaning gentle movements over body parts. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. Sneha is subtle; this allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.”

sneha, abhyanga and essential oilsLaura told us, “To caress the body is a form of love. Not only is your skin going to get better, but at the deepest level, who you are you can be restored. There’s nothing wrong with you. Love is the healer.” We are all capable of self-healing, and are natural born healers. In Laura’s words, “You are the infinite…the light of the divine.” 

Sneha, and abhyanga are Ancient healing practices. The sages respected our planet’s energies essential for well being. For example, Ayurveda teaches us that faux foods and lab-made pills are not sattvic (calming/harmonious). Rather, one should look to nature for nutrition and optimizing wellness. 

Consider, Frankincense and myrrh were gifts of the Three Wise Men. Laura quoted Jesus, “Take down the best of our oils.” 

“Oil is thicker than water. Oil is everywhere. Internally and externally,” she explained. Therefore, sneha frequently. My Ayurvedic schooling urged daily oiling of hair, body and mouth. Nowadays, oil is getting its due respect. Even my dentist endorses “oil pulling.”

Personalized Sneha and Abhyanga

sneha, abhyanga and essential oilsIt should be noted that Ayurveda prescribes different oils, depending on one’s dosha.  For example, I offset my cold/dry vata tendencies with sesame oil. That’s because sesame is considering heating, whereas coconut oil is better suited for  hotter pitta types.

Additionally, one’s constitution changes throughout the day, season, and lifespan. Pre-adolescents tend to be in kapha (growth) cycles. Conversely, mature people are in their vata (air/ether) days. Hence, I learned in India that dry massage (with triphala) is an option for oilier kapha people, or seasons. But, as we age, we require more oil, internally and externally.

“After 40, it’s oleation, oleation, oleation.” Sesame oil is full of anti-oxidants and is an anti-inflammatory, Laura said. That makes it very good, even for for Alzheimer’s. The oil penetrates the skin, into the brain. Not surprisingly, another form of Indian massage is champi.  This traditional head massage gave way shampoo.

Speaking of which, I make my own. My essential oils are part of all my personal care products. No toxic ingredients. And, mine smell great, and do my body — and hair— good. Essential oils have multiple benefits. In fact, geranium, rosemary, citronella and eucalyptus, repel insects. 

Which essential oils are best for you? That depends on your constitution. 

First of all, vata types should use sesame oil as the carrier. Pitta (warm-natured) people do better with coconut or sunflower oil. Because sesame is anti-inflammatory, it’s the preferred oil for kapha.  Laura recommended any flowers and sandalwood for pitta. For vata, lavender (which I use nightly), rose or geranium (two other of my favorites). Other options: clary sage or jatamansi (which my Ayurvedic doctor prescribed for me).  Frankincense, which is considered good for everything, is suggested for the joints. Furthermore, brahmi is cooling, and beneficial to the nervous system.  

Under the Moonlight

Ayurvedic practices of abhyanga and snehaAs a student of Vedic astrology, Laura suggested mixing oils in a glass jar, on a full moon. Then, let the moon “bathe” the oils, outside. Actually, that’s how I treated my crystals recently.  

Speaking of gem stones, Laura says pearls are best during a moon period, versus rubies in a sun period. The sun is connected to the heart, or atma (soul).

Consequently, in a full moon, your true self shines. Creativity is a key word here. On the other hand, during a waning moon, one has less energy.  This is a time for going inward.  Reflection.

From another perspective, the moon is maternal. However, Venus is the sister, or princess, reflective of beauty, arts and all that inspires.

Vedic astrology, she said, is a moon-based system that shows us patterns in the universe. It takes the judgement out, but puts back responsibility, and gives us remedies. In a sense, it is the understanding of self.  “Each planet is like a deity.”  Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati are personifications of Venus. 

Similarly, from the Yin/Yang perspective, the moon is yin. Rather, yin is cooling and feminine. The sun is yang: masculine and hot.  Read more of my articles about the Yin Yoga and Ayurveda, or check out Laura’s tips.

Making Healthy Choices: It’s Time Texas

me and fredAs I passed the five decades marker, I decided to step up my fairly decent health and fitness regime.  I upped the ante on healthy choices, making diet and fitness a priority in my life. (Scroll down, to read about my personal path.)

Fortunately, as I stepped up my commitment to good health, I saw parallels in the city of San Antonio.

When I moved here in 1998, we were not a healthy city.

Today, in part, thanks to The Mayor’s Fitness Council, we can brag about many awards for our initiatives.  Free or low cost fitness activities are everywhere, as are farmers’ markets. San Antonio now offers bike paths, and low cost bike rentals. The parks have miles and miles of beautiful paths for skateboarding, biking, jogging, or just hiking. There are even fitness centers in some of the parks. People are embracing healthy lifestyles and healthy choices.

I’m no longer the oddball health food nut. People get it. They may not adopt the same healthy choices that I do, but there’s an understanding, respect and more and more, a desire to improve one’s health, and that of the community.

But, there’s still a long road ahead to erase past ingrained patterns of consuming junk food and television watching.

Welcome: It’s Time Texas.

healthy choicesHealthy choices, especially eating habits, develop over time, so changing them also requires time.

It’s Time Texas, for a decade, has advocated for a community-based holistic approach to well being, and a “culture of health.” The non-profit interviewed community stakeholders recently, and concluded that the current culture in Texas is “toxic” to health. Much of the blame has to go to the mass marketing and product placement of non-healthy items in grocery stores.

U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy stated that health has a branding problem. How can natural, nutritious foods go to bat against the billions of dollars spent by the fast food, beer, soda and processed food makers.

Poor health behaviors proliferate across all segments of the population, according to It’s Time Texas. Healthy behaviors can be complex, and motivations vary.

Former prosecutor, Susan Combs, sits on the board of It’s Time Texas. She says it’s not always easy for people to maintain a healthy diet and exercise plan.  “We are bombarded with options that can derail good intentions. All too often, making a healthy choice means going against the grain.”

Combs, and a host of others at a recent summit in San Antonio, said it’s time for Texas to change. That’s why It’s Time Texas is focused on encouraging people to embrace better eating habits, and active lifestyles.  The impact of a healthy community touches many areas, including our economy.

Statistics are Staggering

Obesity in TexasAlso at the summit was Dr. David Lakey, responsible for Population Health at UT Systems. Taking about the chronic illnesses facing our community, he said, “This is a huge problem.  One third of the population is obese, and one third is overweight.  We are spending over $9 billion a year.”

These levels are staggering, causing a health crisis in our state. Since 1980, obesity has doubled among adults in Texas, and tripled among children. As obesity contributes to many chronic diseases, these are also on the rise in the state where everything’s bigger.

Combs says the cost to those with lifestyle-related chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, is enormous. Patterns must shift, but there also needs to be access to affordable nutritious foods and fitness options. Choosing to be healthy requires an investment of time, and money.

“Every single one of us has to care,” (about the wellbeing of our community).

Healthy Habits Need to Start Early

Visiting a school a number of years ago, the alarm rang in Comb’s head. She watched an obese fourth grader insert his money in a vending machine. Right there, in the middle of the school day, on campus, he was feeding his unhealthy habits, and the school was silently endorsing this. It dawned on her that the schools were profiting from children making poor choices. Multinationals found loopholes to sell sugary non-nutritious food and drinks in the hallways. Schools even had agreed to exclusive beverage contracts with soda companies.

healthy choices“We were essentially treating the kids like ATM machines,” she said. “There’s an insidious failure to feed correctly. I never believed, then, that children could get type 2 diabetes. It was happening on our watch. Candy was sold in trolley cars to our kids.”

The vast majority of obese children will remain obese for the rest of their lives. What’s more, they will have a shorter lifespan than their parents. On the academic scale, research has proven that nutritious food and ample physical activity, leads to better test scores.

Healthy Choices are Wise Choices

Wise choices always make a difference. Pastor Carlos Ming, of Breath of Life Ministries, at the summit, acknowledged what yogis and researchers know. “People who practice (healthy/moral) life laws live longer…10-15 years longer.”


My Choices — Do You Remember TV Dinners and Tang?

nuts-237055_640As a kid, my mom baked sugar-free, bran-loaded homemade “cookies.”  She joked that they were more like hockey pucks. I don’t think any kid I knew would have gone beyond one bite of those “treats,” which I gobbled up appreciatively.  Our dinners began with salad every night, and the only peanut butter in the house was freshly ground at the local health food store.

I  went meat-free before I had head the word vegetarian. From the time I was 16, I went on what my mother called a meatless “phase.” That folly has progressed for 42 years. Now, I am vegan, sugar-free, peanut-free, corn-free and gluten free.

Nearly three decades ago, I perplexed family members in South America by refusing to give my child candy or soda.

In 1998, when I relocated to San Antonio, I wanted to be surrounded by Mexican food. Although I ate nutritious Mexican food most my life, Tejano style not on my radar.  I ended up passing up pretty much anything in Mexican-style businesses except guacamole (no chips).

Healthy Habits — Do You Remember Smoking in the Workplace?

Back in the day, I stood out like a spotted zebra beyond my food choices.

Nearly 30 years ago, I made my home a smoke-free zone.  Sounds normal. Except that I was living in South America, where cigarettes, at the time, were passed around like candy or water at business meetings.

Throughout my marketing communications career, I found it challenging to balance the love of my work with the knowledge that I was representing unhealthy products.  In 2011, I finally said basta ya, when I chose to open The Write Counsel, dedicated to positive transformations in our community.  Now, my conscious is clean, as I work considerably within the health/fitness/nutrition arena. I feel a sense of fulfillment when I support initiatives like the Mayor’s Fitness Council, San Antonio’s push for tobacco-free public areas, and It’s Time Texas. We can change ourselves, and our community. Take the first step to healthy choices by starting with yourself.

 

 

San Antonio Vegan Options at Munch On and Beyond

San Antonio Vegan Options

In 1998, when I arrived in Texas, there were no San Antonio vegan options. If I wanted to eat out, I typically went to Whole Foods. Today, there’s a great assortment of San Antonio vegan options, plus vegetarian, kosher and gluten free dining spots. Now, a new “multi-plex” or food court of gluten free plant-based food and drinks is opening on the northeast side of San Antonio, off Thousand Oaks on Wetmore.  Munch On and Beyond is now offering more San Antonio vegan options. 

Munch On’s unveiling is Sunday afternoon, July 17, where guests can sample items from all of the shops. Thereafter, operating hours will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Munch On and Beyond is the brainchild of Chris Sauve. “I came up with the concept of multiple businesses under one roof for a few reasons.  I have worked with these folks in the past and knew their work ethic and I love the concept of pop-up markets with multiple vendors.  We just decided to make it a permanent indoor market,” explains Chris.

She chose plant-based because she is vegan and against inhumane treatment of all animals.  Understanding that so many people have problems with gluten, she wanted more San Antonio vegan options to be gluten-free.  “Seeing people’s faces light up when faced with being able to eat anything on the menu, not having to pick and choose, is a delight.”

San Antonio Vegan Options at Munch On and BeyondFor many years, Chris worked for Vegeria, the city’s first vegan gluten-free restaurant. She worked in the kitchen, and waited on tables. More recently, she began preparing her own snack foods under the Munch On label that were sold at Vegeria.

Chris’ personal favorites that she’ll be selling at Munch On and Beyond are a trail mix, and stuffed dates. The dates are filled with Brazil nuts, then dipped in dairy-free dark chocolate and sprinkled with unsweetened coconut flakes.  “They taste like mini candy bars,” she says.

Michael Evans has known Chris for many years. He and his wife, Paloma, are owners of Enlighten Veggie Food To Go, one of the co-ventures within Munch On and Beyond. Enlighten will offer up traditional foods, like burgers, wings and tacos, made without any animal products.

I can attest to Mike’s skills with food. I’ve eaten many dishes prepared by him when he worked at Vegeria, and also at the local Krishna temple. I’ve seen him at work stirring the pots, and selecting spices without any recipes. Vegetarian cooking is a passion for him, so he’s always interested in learning new dishes.

San Antonio Vegan Options at Munch On and Beyond“I first started cooking vegetarian food by asking other cooks to share with me recipes of theirs that I liked, especially from Paloma who has traveled all over Latin America.” he says. “If you have the desire to do it, it will happen for sure. For my cooking, I love to keep my eye out for good cookbooks, especially at secondhand stores. I have a library of about 20 vegetarian cookbooks, two of which I probably bought new. I try to make myself cook something new from a cookbook once a week. An important aspect for me is making sure to cook, and eat, balanced. Make sure to eat some of grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and you will be good.”

For Mike, as with many vegetarians, eating plant-based is for health reasons, among others.

“When people ask me why I am vegetarian, or why they shouldn’t eat meat, I like to say all reasons: ecological, economical, spiritual, health, and for the treatment of the animals. Personally, I began eliminating certain meat out of my diet after studying the effects it has on your body and how your body actually processes and breaks down meat, causing many of the health problems most prevalent today. From there, I began to study the effects on the environment, the global economy, the karmic repercussions, the life of an animal in a slaughterhouse, etc. It is a lot.”

San Antonio Vegan Options at Munch On and BeyondMy Tea Soul is run by a mother/daughter pair that also is connected to Chris through Vegeria and the old Viva bookstore. My Tea Soul will have a variety of fair-trade teas and baked goods. “Tea can be relaxing. Tea can empower. Tea can be inviting,” says Michele Hernandez, My Tea’s mom about why they were inspired to focus on tea and desserts.

San Antonio Vegan Options at Munch On and BeyondVegeria will sell a variety of tamales to mix and match, and paletas. Before Vegeria opened its doors, I was buying tamales from the chef. I remember one day, it was almost like a drug sale. We met in a parking lot. I handed over the cash, and they gave me my fix: vegan stuffed tamales.  I’m not a tamale fan, but FredAnthony Garza is so creative in his tamal-making. He can blend a touch of India, Thailand, California and of course Mexico — without any lard, maggi cubes or other undesired ingredients. Pure taste and texture. I buy them by the dozen and keep them in my freezer. Great heat-and-serve meal or snack.

His paletas are new to San Antonio. Rather than your traditional sugar drenched paletas, FredAnthony’s are made with low-glycemic agave. “This is an amazing incubator to see a dream become a reality. We will offer seven different flavors. The line will tap into San Antonio culture with flavors named, SanAnto, la Chingona, La llorona, and Dulce De Piñata.

FredAnthony is another one of those guys who’s filled with passion. He does what he loves, and it comes across in what he serves, and how he serves it. Both Michael and Chris worked with him when he first opened his restaurant. “Both are amazing compassionate hard working individuals,” says Fred. “They brought so much to our team. When this opportunity came along along I was hesitant to say yes because of all my commitments but their ideals and passion inspired and motivated me to partner with them. It’s an amazing experience to see people this motivated and inspired to create change in SanAnto.

The final spark in the five-pointed star is Golden Horn of Plenty. It’s owner, Kaz Sephton is loved in San Antonio’s vegan community. Her love for all living things, and translating that to others, is her dharma. Her part in Munch On is a mini-resale shop, where some of the proceeds will benefit rescued dogs. Kaz, previously, was the very successful manager of several resale shops that benefitted animals.

For the love of animals, for the love of good food, for the love of supporting small businesses, for the love of San Antonio vegan options, check out Munch On and Beyond.

Vegan Yogi in New Orleans

The yoga that I follow isn’t just about the postures. Yoga goes beyond breath and body work. It’s a lifestyle. That’s why I’m a vegan yogi. I stopped eating animals 40 years ago, after visiting a slaughterhouse in Mexico. I said no to dairy and eggs once I realized the inhumane treatment that factory farming produces.

A Sattvic Vegan Yogi Lifestyle

While everyone chooses how to incorporate yoga into their lives, even if it’s watching a video once a week, or going to the gym for a workout, I try to take in the whole enchilada. That means that I refrain from consuming alcohol, caffeine, or animal products. Nixing of alcohol and caffeine is part of the Ayurvedic sattvic (clean and balanced) practice. I’m just as passionate about that part of my life, as I am the on the mat component.  So I’m a teetotaling, caffeine-free vegan yogi.

ahimsa, the first sutraThe foundation for yoga are the ancient teachings from the Indian subcontinent. The very first tenet is Ahimsa: do no harm/non-violence. That means to all beings, and oneself. That living of the first sutra goes with me everywhere.

I recently went to New Orleans for an Rx Road Trip. I filled up on kirtan, yoga, gong baths, meditation, and vegan food.

Yes, New Orleans is known for its seafood, pork and boos. However, there’s always a strong circle of like-minded passionate people I seem to encounter. We’re like magnets attracted to the same places and environments.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

A vegan yogi lifestyleOne of my favorite mantras is Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu which speaks to ahimsa. Sukhino refers to free from suffering, and samastah is all beings. The mantra is frequently translated, and sung in English, as “may all beings be happy and free.”

Edgar Cooper owns Seed, an all vegan restaurant in a boho type neighborhood. Inside is a quote on the wall, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.” Cooper says, “I really believe that humans are no different than any animal and we should respect them.  There is a natural Darwinian aspect to survival in the animal world, but I feel that humans have/should evolve and we should make compassionate choices.”

He sees meat-free eating has been on the rise since Katrina. In part, from transplants that want vegan food in New Orleans.

NOLA's Seed serves vegan jambalaya

NOLA style for the vegan yogi at Seed

For those yearning for a real taste of N’awlins, Seed tries to be “garden-based, NOLA taste.” They serve Cajun inspired dishes like Southern Fried Nuggets, Chili Cheese Fries, Creole Zucchini Wraps, Po Boys, Gumbo and the only vegan beignets in town.

Cooper has been vegan since 1995. “What started as 100 percent animal related has grown into more environmental and health.” Seed tries to ensure 100 percent non-GMO at Seed.  “A trip to Malaysia in 2013 really triggered a desire to make a difference and a number of things aligned so that I could start Seed.  Our dietary choices are creating a huge impact on the rest of the world.  The planet can’t sustain the farming required to feed farm animals to then feed humans,” he says.

Cooper is also concerned with all the hormones that are in today’s food chain. “I think that the hormones in meat products are well documented and causing significant changes in how children grow/develop.  The more whole and natural/organic foods that you can eat the better.”

Good Karma Cafe for the vegan yogiVegan New Orleans  agrees that the tide is turning. “Veganism is definitely growing in New Orleans, with more vegan businesses, groups, events and interest than ever before.” But, NOLA still has a ways to go, especially compared to places like Southern California or Austin, Texas. “Seafood and butter seem to be in just about everything,” adds Vegan New Orleans. “I’m trying to change that with this (Facebook) page. If people see what vegan options are out there, going vegan seems possible.”

Good Karma Cafe in New Orleans

Cabbage kofta plate at Good Karma Cafe in New Orleans

As a vegan yogi, I believe in Good Karma. There’s a 100 percent vegan restaurant with that name, underneath the Swan River Yoga Studio in NOLA.  The Good Karma Cafe is owned by life-long vegetarians. Open for breakfast, every day but Sunday, if I were in NOLA for a week, I could eat something different here for three meals a day. Good diverse selection of Southern Traditional cooking, Indian, Mexican, and modern fusion.  Great smoothies, juices, salads and bowls.

For more information on vegan NOLA, go to NewOrleansInGreen.blogspot.com, the Vegan New Orleans Facebook page or read my article in the Houston Chronicle.

Vegan sag at Good Karma

Ayurvedic Diets and Food Journaling

In my Tummy Bust, Sugar Drop, and Gutsy Yoga signature workshop series, I stress Ayurvedic diets. Not calories, but what is appropriate for you based on learnings from Ayurveda, as well as a myriad of modern nutritionists and integrative doctors.

In Ayurveda, each person is unique. FThe Tummy Bust therapeutic yogaurthermore, what might be appropriate for you to eat when you’re eight, isn’t necessarily what you should be eating when you’re 80. Likewise, with Ayurvedic diets you need to alter your intake based on the weather, and other external conditions.

One thing is for sure. The Standard American Diet is SAD. Processed foods are made with so many artificial flavorings and additives, that they don’t resemble much anything grown in the earth. Over time, our tastebuds get used to what may be harmful.  Thriving on routines, some wake up daily to savor eggs and bacon, while others scarf down coffee and a bagel with cream cheese on the go.  Lunchtime favorites may be a sandwich and chips, or burger and fries. After all the carbs, fats and sodium, some may hunger for pizza and beer, or pasta and wine, for dinner.

vegetables high in pranaThe yogic or Ayurvedic diets are based on consuming foods high in prana (life source) and sattvic (neutral, non-mood altering).  So a box of cereal that’s been sitting in the cupboard for a year or so has little prana, hence, isn’t going to give you much fuel.

Ayurvedic diets frequently use herbs and spices to balance the doshasAyurvedic diets seek balance, in part, based on herbs and spices. For example, making your own tea with fennel, coriander and cumin seeds can be very soothing for many people. In the summer time, you may want to add fresh mint to your green juices or smoothies, whereas in the winter, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger and turmeric tea or golden milk may be more appropriate.

At the same time, we need to realize that there are more and more food allergies and intolerances, most of which are to a few food groups, which are easy to avoid, especially if you’re following a yogic or vegan diet.

cinnamon ayurvedic spiceUsually, food allergies present with “normal” responses such as gas, bloating, itchiness, cravings, headaches, fatigue, irritability, or dark circles under the eyes.  However, some can be fatal. Food sensitivities, i.e. gluten intolerance, are harder to diagnose.

A journal can help you identify what culprits are in your pantry, and what makes you lethargic or cranky.

Oprah’s longtime coach, Bob Greene is an author of several bestsellers. He recommends journaling as a powerful way to combat food addictions. In “The Life You Want,” he writes “…certain foods set off an explosion of feel-good brain chemicals, so you go back for more…the pathway in the brain from trigger to treat is well worn…breaking the habit may prove tough…Addictive foods tend to have pumped-up flavors, tastes and textures…It’s hard for your average blueberry or orange..to compete.”

coffee-1105112__180People joke about their morning coffee, or how candy wires the kids. Yet, because caffeine and sugar are part of the Standard American Diet, many accept these mood altering foods as normal.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. says the drug of choice for most Americans is food. The father of the nutritarian eating explains that when our bodies absorb toxins routinely, we rely on them. We are addicted to them, and have a hard time not consuming them. Giving up sweets, java, bread, cheese or even processed foods can cause irritability, cramping, low fever and spasms, as you go through withdrawal.

JJ Virgin, author of “The Virgin Diet,” recommends a 21-day detox to monitor your reactions.  JJ recommends eliminating sugar and artificial sweeteners, soy, gluten, eggs, peanuts, dairy, and corn from the get go. After three weeks, you can re-integrate one food at a time, monitoring your reactions.

Deepak Chopra, M.D., in “Grow Younger, Live Longer,” suggests a log to identify toxic emotions and toxic foods. “Studies have shown that journaling about upsetting emotional experiences can improve your immune function, as well as help you gain clarity and insight. Toxins must be identified and eliminated from your body, mind and soul.”

Bob Greene adds that people should identify emotional triggers. It may be a time of day, such as when you’re cooking in the kitchen, or when the kids are asleep. Or, maybe it’s when you’re on deadline.

food diaryWhether it’s a computer spreadsheet, a spiral notebook or a hard bound journal, I encourage my yoga therapy clients http://thenamastecounsel.com/offerings/ to record the following for at least a month.

  1. Sankalpa. Start with a positive intent related to diet and health.
  2. Digestion. Note any discomfort, gas, bloating, etc. List frequency of bowel movements, size and shape, and any abnormalities.
  3. Liquid intake. How many cups of water or herbal teas did you consume, daily? How many carbonated or caffeinated drinks? Sugary drinks/juices?
  4. Food intake. List details, based on your personal health needs. Charts can include food items, portions and times consumed, calories, carbs and sugar loads.
  5. Exercise. What physical activity did you do each day, for how long, and what level of exertion?
  6. Meditation and/or breathwork. Both are important for lifestyle change. Note what practices you did, and for how long, each day.
  7. Sleep. Include the number of hours, and quality of your sleep, each night.
  8. Weight. Weigh yourself once a week, upon rising.
  9. Blood pressure/blood sugar. If you have high blood pressure or blood sugar, conduct frequent self checks to notice spikes or dips.
  10. Energy level and mood. Did you feel energetic after eating that piece of chocolate? Were you depressed the first week? Release your feelings here.

Whether you want to settle your tummy, lose a few pounds, or better regulate your blood sugar, food journaling is an essential piece, along with attention to principles of Ayurvedic diets. Contact me for more information or to register in one of my therapeutic workshops.

Note: Another version of this article originally appeared in Yoganonymous on January 13, 2016.