Sunday, November 27, 2011

Can Green Tea Prevent Holiday Weight Gain?

A cup of green tea a day may keep extra pounds away.
Photo © istockphoto/Silberkorn

Maybe. Results from a study conducted by food scientists at Penn State suggest that green tea slows down weight gain and may help prevent obesity on a larger scale. For the study, the scientists fed two groups of mice the same high-fat diet; one group was also fed Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) a compound found in most green teas. This group of mice gained weight 45 percent more slowly compared to the other group that was not given EGCG. Further tests showed that EGCG appeared to reduce the body’s ability to absorb fat as well as enhance its ability to use it.

What’s the takeaway for people? According to the scientists, a person would need to drink ten cups of green tea each day to match the amount of EGCG used in the study. However, related studies show that drinking one or more cups of green tea a day can have a similar effect, especially when combined with a balanced diet and exercise. So counteract the holiday revelry with a cup of green tea—and get a head start on your New Year’s weight loss resolution.

Read more about the study here

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Free Spa Vacation at Kamalaya Koh Samui

Isn’t it ironic how the people who need healing and rejuvenation the most often don’t have the time or money to get it? This unfortunate truth was the inspiration behind one destination spa’s most luxurious giveaway yet. From now until October 31st, Kamalaya Koh Samui in Thailand is offering you a chance to nominate a deserving person to win an all-expenses paid week-long stay as part of its Feel Life’s Potential Reward. Watch the video to find out how to nominate someone special and cast your votes on

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wanderlust Highlights: Pranayama with Rod Stryker

Rod Stryker explaining the Pranayama breathing practice at Wanderlust California.
Photo © Matthew Wakem

Inhale. Exhale. We breathe 24 hours a day, and we rarely think much about it. But at Rod Stryker’s Pranayama class at Wanderlust California last weekend, students learned that there’s so much more to breathing than oxygen intake. In fact, your breathing pattern—rapid, uneven, audible, silent, shallow, deep, or all of the above—can tell you a lot about your physical and emotional well-being.

During the 1 hour and 30 minute class, Stryker gave festivalgoers a crash course pranavayus—the 10 expressions of prana in the body, or in simpler terms, the fundamental energizing force inside of us. Stryker focused on 5 vayus in particular, each of which has a physical and related emotional function:

 Apana, located between the pubis and the pelvic floor, has the physical function of elimination and the emotional function of letting go (i.e. forgiveness).

Samana, located between the pubic bone and solar plexus, has the physical function of assimilation—converting substance into energy, and the emotional function of being able to derive wisdom from experience.

Pran, located between the solar plexus and the collar bone, governs vital physical functions like inhalation and heart rate as well as their more emotional counterparts—regeneration and revitalization (i.e. when you lack energy and motivation, your pran vayu is likely compromised).

Udana, located between the collar bones and the throat, rules the physical function of exhalation and the emotional function of psychological growth (i.e. your willingness to expand).

Diyana, which isn’t located in any one particular place, governs circulation and, on an emotional level, your ability to move freely from one vayu to another, which also signifies your ability to move freely through various areas of your life.

Rod Stryker teaching students about the vayus.
Photo © Matthew Wakem

After explaining the vayus, Stryker asked students put them into action by mindfully and evenly breathing through each, starting from the pelvic floor (apana). The lesson? Breathing through the vayus isn’t as simple as it seems. Most people, myself included, encountered some blocks, realized that they were unconsciously skipping a vayu or two, or had difficulty breathing into certain vayus no matter how hard they tried. Perhaps the most interesting part of all was that the vayus that people had trouble with were typically a reflection of their current emotional state. Apparently, I have some work to do.

Students take time to breathe through their vayus.
Photo © Matthew Wakem

For more information on Rod Stryker and his workshops, visit or buy his new book, The Four Desires: Creating a Life of Purpose, Happiness, Prosperity, and Freedom.

For a taste of the Wanderlust festival experience, go to Wanderlust at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, from September 10 to 11. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Wanderlust Highlights: Yoga Fashion Under $100

Much of the buzz around the Wanderlust Festival in California has been about the yoga and the music. But one thing I also love about Wanderlust is the shopping. What’s the connection between shopping and well-being? Any woman will tell you retail therapy is one surefire way to soothe the soul. Besides, yoga fashion is fashion you can truly feel good about—whether that means socially responsible manufacturing practices, organic fabrics you can move in, or simply inspirational pieces that resonate with your inner spirit. There was a lot to choose from at this year’s Wanderlust. Below are a few affordable finds I fell in love with.

b by donna m is 100% made in California. The Shirred Wrap, $95, shown above on the lovely Jillian can be worn in so many different ways and it’s super soft. Jillian paired her black wrap with the Rollover Legging in garnet, $82.

When the weather hits a near 90 degrees like it did today in Tahoe, a figure-flattering dress made of light, breathable fabric is the perfect summer ensemble. This halter Tulip Dress, $50, by Nectar Creations  caught my eye. Love the hat, $35, too.

This Mirage Racerback top in Lemongrass was in the sale bin at the Dude Girl tent. A shimmery sleeveless top for $10? I’m all over it. Find more sale items online.

Of course, a yoga outfit isn’t complete without some yoga-inspired jewelry. Now, when it comes to yoga-inspired jewelry, there’s a fine line between lovely and just plain cheesy. But I thought these Lotus Flower necklaces, handmade in Tahoe by Lala Jewelry were on the lovely side, $50 to $70. You can find Lala Jewelry on Etsy starting in August.

For live Wanderlust updates, follow @mariawakem on Twitter.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Traditional vs. Alternative Approach to Hives

A "textbook impressive" case of hives.
(Photo © Maria Wakem)

Yes, that’s a picture of my arm. And yes, the rest of my body looked just as bad. When I arrived at the ER last Friday, I was hooked up to a steroid IV while a group of doctors and nurses called my case “textbook impressive.” That’s not something you really want to hear from your doctor. Thankfully, the inflammation has subsided since the picture was taken. But it’s my search for a cause (as well as a cure) for the continuous itching that has inspired this Allergy Diary series of blog posts.

A couple of things before I begin: I’m a pretty healthy human being. I’ve only been to the ER once before. (I was 2 years old and needed a few stitches.) I’m not violently allergic to any particular food. I didn’t eat anything new or different that day that could have triggered the hives. And none of the doctors who have examined me so far have been able to figure out what set off such a severe reaction.

When I was released from the hospital, I immediately made an appointment with an allergy specialist. I prepared a list of everything I ate that particular day, along with a list of everything I eat on a daily basis. I also typed up a sheet of “potential triggers” that included everything from recent changes in my life (i.e. a new office) to the ingredients of the eco-friendly cleaning agents used to clean my sofa and carpet a few days before the hives broke out.

My allergist spent 5 minutes looking over the info I brought with me. He teased me about my attempt at self-diagnosis, commented on how I eat a serious amount of vegetables, and said that the likelihood of him actually being able to pinpoint what triggered the hives was “not very high.” (Again, not something you want to hear from your doctor.) He then showed me some gory pictures of skin conditions on the internet, sent me to the lab for an allergy test, and wrote me a prescription for Zantac. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for medical professionals. I come from a family of them. But 9 times out of 10 I leave a doctor’s office feeling like a product on an assembly line. This was one of those times. So I turned to a different set of health experts for some answers.

Unlike my doctor, both my nutritionist (Sid) and acupuncturist (Robert) spent more than 20 minutes each talking to me about my diet, exercise habits, stress levels, menstrual cycles, bowel movements, sleep patterns, and even the current state of my tongue. According to Sid, the problem wasn’t the allergy trigger, it was the fact that my body was ill-prepared to handle that trigger. In order to boost my immune system and my body’s ability to process food, he now has me on a daily regimen of shakes made with superfoods like goji berries and natural adaptogens like maitake and reishi mushroom blends.

Robert, who seemed pleased to see all the good stuff on my nutritionist’s list, diagnosed me with “spleen qi deficiency” and prescribed weekly acupuncture sessions along with sweat-inducing activities like sitting in a sauna and practicing yoga. While I can already hear my father-in-law—a Western-trained doctor—grumbling in his New Zealand accent that my alternative health efforts are “rubbish,” I can honestly say that I had my first good night’s sleep after my first acupuncture session. And at least Sid and Robert have said they can help me. When it comes to my well-being, that is something I want to hear.

Monday, May 30, 2011

How to Avoid Yoga Injuries

Yoga injuries are pretty common, even among seasoned practitioners. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 5,500 yoga-related injuries treated in doctors' offices, clinics, and emergency rooms in 2007 (the most recent stat I could find).

I remember when I first started practicing yoga, my lower back would ache and I often felt soreness in my knees and wrists. Even now the pain still occurs when I rush through my poses or push myself a little too hard. This idea was the inspiration behind my first video blog, which focuses on how to properly execute three common yoga poses with the help of my beloved yoga instructor Ashley West Roberts.

While I realize there are many yoga resources out there showing highly trained (and super toned) experts demonstrating perfectly aligned poses, I'm pretty sure I don't look like that during a yoga class. Some days, I'm lazy, and I speed through my chatarungas. Other days, I space out and forget to use my leg strength during a Downward-Facing Dog putting unnecessary strain on my wrists. Ultimately, I wanted to show a real person (curves and all) demonstrating poses, and perhaps needing a bit of adjustment along the way. 

Ashley has helped me be kinder to my body by being more mindful on the mat. Hopefully, by heeding her advice in this video, she can help you do the same. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Beauty Roundup: 3 Green Body Care Products

Good-for-you beauty products help your natural beauty shine through.
(Photo © istockphoto/iconogenic)

As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” But what about the products you put on your body?

While I was working as the Senior Editor of Spa magazine, a beauty expert turned me on to The Garlic Experiment: Peel a clove of garlic, crush it up, and put it between your toes. Then wait about 30 minutes. You should be able to taste the garlic in your mouth. Pretty crazy, huh?

The first time I tried the experiment, it really got me thinking about what I put on my skin. After all, if my skin could absorb garlic after one 30-minute test, just think about all of the other things it’s absorbing on a daily basis—makeup, lotion, facial cleanser, toner, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner … the list goes on.

I revamped my beauty closet shortly after that, and I've been extra conscious about checking labels ever since. (The Dirty Dozen list of cosmetic chemicals to avoid from the David Suzuki Foundation is a great guide if you’re not sure what to look for.) Below are three earth- and people-friendly beauty essentials I can’t live without:

Kimberly Parry Organics Learn to Love It Kit: If you’re the type of person that likes the simplicity of the Clinique 3-step regimen, then you will appreciate this Clean, Tone, and Moisturize kit. Parry’s products are all made to order and carry the USDA Organic seal.

Red Flower Cleansing Body Wash: All Red Flower purifying body washes are created from essential oils and botanicals, but my favorite is Italian Blood Orange. The citrusy scent is uplifting, and I can rest assured knowing that I’m being kind to my body (and the environment) with each preservative-free wash!

Lotus Wei Balancing Serum: This serum is made for the face and is steeped in regenerative calendula flowers, but I highly recommend it as a body oil to soothe your skin and your spirit. My go-to “mood” is Inner Peace, though the point is to pick the one you’re most attracted to. A bonus tip: Massage Inner Peace Serum on your ankles and feet before going to bed for an extra relaxing sleep.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wellness Report: Holistic Health For Pets

A relaxed Sophia and Hurley post-Reiki session.
(Photo © Maria Wakem)

I’ve been practicing Reiki for more than five years now, and my loved ones are often on the receiving end of my healing touch. But my most frequent clients are my cats, Sophia and Hurley. 

While it seems only appropriate that my cats crave regular Reiki sessions, Sophia and Hurley are not alone. Many pets are now receiving alternative health treatments as more and more pet owners turn to holistic vets for care. And when a holistic veterinary care hospital opened near my apartment, I was inspired to look into the various treatments options. This investigation of sorts led to my recent article on, “Western vs. Holistic Vet: Who Is Better For Your Pet?” (Read the full article here.)

I have yet to take my two fur balls to the holistic vet, but something tells me that as long as there are treats involved, they’ll be all for it. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Soft Music Is As Relaxing As A Massage

Soft music can provide the same stress relief as a pricey massage.
(Photo © istockphoto/Neustockimages)

Musician and composer Jeff Gold recently sent me a copy of his CD, Escapes, which consists of 60 minutes of instrumental music designed for massage treatments, yoga, and just about any activity that requires a relaxing soundtrack.

As I sipped a cup of Eco Tea and listened to Jeff’s compilation, I began thinking about soothing music in general. I usually gravitate toward meditative chanting and ambient sounds when I want to wind down (think Krishna Das, Deva Premal, and Brian Eno), but I know that my playlist of calming tunes may not be the same as yours. Musical preferences aside, it seems that when any soothing track is combined with deep breathing, it will have the same effect.

A recent study by scientists at the Group Health Institute in Seattle showed that deep breathing and soft music are just as effective in relieving stress as a pricey massage. This is good news for those seeking affordable wellness since a CD costs about $10 while a 60-minute massage typically costs $100 and up. “We were surprised to find that the benefits of massage were no greater than those of the same number of sessions of ‘thermotherapy’ or listening to relaxing music,” said Karen Sherman, a senior researcher at the Seattle-based health co-operative, according to the Daily Telegraph. “This suggests that the benefits of massage may be due to a generalized relaxation response.”

For more FREE relaxing sounds, download Todd Boston’s album Alive (and if you like what you hear, support the creation of Todd’s next album):

OR listen to this ambient sound design project by Matthew Wakem that was inspired by water (and contact him to design music for your spa, hotel, or lounge):

Ambient Water Mix by Wakem Sound Design

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Event Roundup: Summer 2011 Yoga & Music Festivals

Seane Corne leads a yoga class at Wanderlust California.
(Photo © Matthew Wakem)

Celebrate summer with music, yoga, healthy food, and lots of likeminded people at any of these wellness-focused festivals.

June 10-12, 2011
The 33rd annual Harmony Festival will take place at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California. Musicians like The Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, Natacha Atlas, and more take over five stages for the three-day event. Other highlights include: a Harmony Eco Village featuring inspirational lectures and workshops, a Well Being Pavilion featuring yoga classes and other holistic healing products and services, and a Crafters Village & Global Bazaar featuring hundreds of vendors showcasing unique, hand-crafted merchandise. Tickets are available at Whole Foods Market and the festival website.

June 16-19, 2011
Set at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, Colorado, the Hanuman Festival allows attendees to enjoy mind-blowing music along with workshops by world-class yoga instructors in a sun-drenched outdoor environment. Teachers like Seane Corne, Darren Main, Kathryn Budig, and Amy Ippoliti lead the charge on the mat, while Donna De Lory, Suzanne Sterling, Desert Dwellers, and more fill the air with inspirational sounds. Tickets are available through the festival website

June 23-26, 2011
Pack your yoga gear and your dancing shoes for four days of yoga, music, and nature at the Wanderlust Yoga + Music Festival at Stratton Mountain Ski Resort, Bondville, Vermont. Join renowned yoga teachers like Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman, Bryan Kest, Elena Brower, and Dana Flynn in dynamic yoga sessions by day, then dance to the positive vibes of Michael Franti & Spearhead, Andrew Bird, Krishna Das, and more at night. Plus highlighted speaker Deepak Chopra talks about mind-body health as part of the event’s Speakeasy Series of inspirational lectures. Tickets are available through the festival website

July 28-31, 2011
Get ready to stretch, dance, and om at the third annual Wanderlust Yoga + Music Festival at Squaw Valley USA, North Lake Tahoe, California. Flow with yoga masters like John Friend, Seane Corne, and Shiva Rea by day, while musical guests such as Girl Talk, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Jai Uttal and The Wailers provide a live soundtrack at night. In addition to the natural beauty of Squaw Valley, festival highlights include local and organic food, wellness-focused lectures and workshops, a heated swimming pool at High Camp (elevation: 8,200 feet), and a Mass Midnight Twister event on Saturday at the Yoga Tree Tent. Tickets are available through the festival website. (See a photo slideshow from Wanderlust California 2010 here.)

Do you know about a wellness-focused summer festival that’s not on this list? Use the email icon below to tell us all about it. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

5 Signs You Should Slow Down Your Workout

Tired from Spinning? It may be time to slow things down.
(Photo © istockphoto/kzenon)

You wake up tired, yet you still push yourself to go to that 6 a.m. Spinning class. After all, you’re trying to foster healthy habits. But according to Mark Allen and Brant Secunda, the authors of Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You, those high-energy workouts could be doing more harm than good.

“High intensity equates to high stress, even if there is a part of it that feels good to a person,” explains Allen. “In small doses this is fine. However, as a staple of your exercise [regimen] it causes the negative effects of stress hormones to set in and can lead to lack of motivation, depression, lack of mental acuity, irritability, and injury.” He adds, “Slowing down from exercising at high intensity helps the body to gain fitness in a way that is sustainable over time and that is low stress.”

Below Allen and Secunda share five telltale signs you should slow down your workout routine.

SIGN #1: You're feeling burned out.
Pushing the envelope in your exercise will always lead to burnout over time. So drop the intensity down to a level where you end the workout feeling much fresher than when you start. Also, listen to your body. If you feel discomfort, or if you feel like you have try really hard to keep the workout momentum going, slow things down to a point where you are able to look at the world around you and feel a sense of enjoyment in your workout.

SIGN #2: You lack a good night's sleep.
You fall asleep easily but wake up feeling like you were run over by a truck. You keep waking up numerous times in the night. You feel big dips in energy and sleepiness during the day. If you suffer from any of the above, it's an indication to take it a bit easier in your training.  Along with swapping heart-pumping cardio sessions with low-impact workouts, try cutting back on caffeine, especially in the afternoon. Replace that coffee pick-me-up with a short walk outside. It will help you get through the rest of the day, and it will help you sleep better at night.

SIGN #3: You've had sudden changes in weight and appetite.
Rapid weight loss (or gain) as well as any fluctuations in appetite levels could mean your body needs time to recuperate from any high-intensity activities. Slow down your workout, up your protein intake, and reduce carbs (especially in snacks). Opt for almonds instead of cookies, or crackers and hummus instead of chips. This will help regulate blood sugar as well as give your body more of the building blocks it needs to repair itself.

SIGN #4: You have body pains or injuries.
Sore muscles are normal, but any sharp or chronic pain is a sign that your body has reached the limit of what it can take. Stop trying to set a personal record during each workout, and reduce muscle and joint stress with easy to moderate exercise. Also try a new activity if one is causing you some discomfort. For example, if a knee hurts when you run, try cycling or swimming instead. It may not be your first choice of exercise, but the variation will give an ailing part of your body some extra time to recover.

SIGN #5: You have an elevated resting heart rate.
Pay attention to your heart rate when you wake up in the morning. If it reaches five  (or more) beats above normal, this is usually a sign to take things down a notch. On top of reducing your exercise effort try drinking some extra glasses of water throughout the day. This will help to reduce another cause of an elevated resting heart rate: dehydration. Staying hydrated is especially important in the spring and summer months when the heat can make workouts even more challenging.

About Mark Allen & Brant Secunda

Six-time World Champion Ironman Mark Allen (left) and Shaman-healer Brant Secunda (right) are nationally esteemed health and fitness experts known for blending ancient shamanic wisdom with the latest scientific findings on nutrition, fitness, mood, and stress. They have been featured in such venues as Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, and AOLHealth. Allen writes for Triathlete Magazine, and the two of them speak and teach body-soul fitness workshops all over the country at places like Kripalu. You can read Secunda and Allen's blog and learn more about them at

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yoga Improves Mood and Lessens Anxiety, Study Says

A study shows yoga results in increased GABA levels.
(Photo © Matthew Wakem)

I recently attended a Vinyasa yoga class during which instructor Ashley West Roberts asked us to stay low in Utkatasana for at least 10 breaths so that we could “sit with our negative feelings.” If you’ve practiced Chair Pose before, you know exactly what negative feelings Ashley was talking about. Your leg muscles burn, your arms start to get heavy, and you just want to stand up and shake it all out. But you don’t. You take deep ujjayi breaths instead. And if you’re feeling particularly masochistic, you challenge yourself to sit a little lower.

Strangely enough, it’s moments like these that keep me coming back to the mat. That’s because there’s a certain feeling of peace that comes with each deep breath. The tension in your muscles begins to release. Your heart rate slows down to a steady pace. And this happens regardless of how difficult the pose is.

I used to call this feeling the yoga bug and watched as more and more of my friends were bitten by it. But according to the results of a 12-week study conducted by doctors at the Boston University School of Medicine, the calming feeling yoga induces has nothing to do bugs at all. Rather, it’s the result of an increase in GABA levels in the body.

GABA (or gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that suppresses the action of nerve cells. Think of it as a natural calming agent released by the brain that signals muscles to relax. Brain scans of study participants who reported a relaxed mood and decreased levels of anxiety after practicing yoga revealed that certain areas of their brains were flooded with GABA. Though more studies are required to determine the role GABA plays in lessening anxiety among yoga practitioners, there’s no doubt a regular yoga practice is a surefire stress reliever.

Of course, this study is just one more great reason to turn to yoga when you’re having an off day. So go ahead, unroll your mat, breathe through the tension, and let the GABA flow.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cleansing with Whole Foods: 5 Detox Tips

Get the benefits of a juice cleanse with a diet of whole foods.
(Photo © istockphoto/ranplett)

More people are cleansing to eliminate the toxins that are present in everything from the food we eat to the air we breathe. These toxins build up over time, and can lead to a long list of conditions including fatigue, headaches, joint pain, and even allergies. While detoxing is often associated with juice cleanses, a liquid-only detox is not for everyone. So what do you do if you need more than juice to get through your day?

Opt for a whole foods cleanse instead, suggests Catherine Hesse, a nutrition and wellness coach at Exhale Mind Body Spa in New York City. According to Hesse, a strict diet of organic fruits, organic vegetables, purified water, and whole grains allows you to clean out your system and not feel like you’re depriving or starving yourself. And if you’re wondering if you’ll get the same benefits, worry not. “Committing to a cleanse of whole foods will release toxins while simultaneously replenishing the body with all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to bring mental clarity, weight loss, healthy organ function, brain function, purified blood, clear skin, increased energy, bright eyes, increased digestive function, and hormonal balance,” says Hesse.

Below are Hesse’s five tips for a successful whole foods detox.

1. Eat lots of greens. Super greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli naturally take away what isn’t serving your body and bring in the vital life-giving nutrients most people are missing in their diet. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber—all of which help purify your blood, clear congestion and mucus, and promote healthy intestinal flora, among other benefits.

2. Consume “water veggies.” Water-based vegetables like cucumbers, radishes, and celery fill you up without weighing you down. Since they’re low in calories and are mostly made of water, they aid in weight loss while still loosening and moving toxins out of your body.

3. Drink water, water, and more water. As your body reaps the cleansing rewards of all the whole foods you are eating, it will need extra water to flush all the toxins out and keep you hydrated. Purified water is best to ensure you’re not putting back the same contaminants you’re trying to get rid of.

4. Lighten up your exercise routine. Your body is working overtime during a cleanse (especially if your regular diet doesn’t contain a lot of whole foods already). Keep your body, warm, comfortable, and rested. Try some gentle yoga to complete a nurtured body and spirit instead of overexerting yourself with a high-impact workout.

5. Be patient—it will get better! Because the body is eliminating toxic build-up, the body will experience an array of physical ailments. Common symptoms are fever, head or body aches, fatigue, gas, emotional irritability, tight muscles, skin irritations, loose stool, or constipation. The good news is that these symptoms are typically temporary, and you will start to feel better within a few days.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Meal Shake With More Protein Than Steak

Sid's Kick-Ass Meal Shake tastes a lot better than it looks.
(Photo © Maria Wakem)

It’s been about two months since Matthew and I returned from our Vegan Vacation in Mendocino, and we’re feeling better than ever. The transition to a vegan diet hasn’t been easy. I’ve had a few minor slips, including an accidental encounter with a shrimp. But meat mishaps aside, most of our meals now consist of local organic veggies from our CSA box along with the occasional night out at No Worries or Herbivore.

Friends who know about my not-so-secret weakness (extra crispy fried chicken) often ask me how I’ve been able to overcome my meat cravings. The answer: I don’t have them anymore. In fact, I haven’t had them since I started drinking Sid’s Kick-Ass Meal Shake. (Yes, that’s really what it’s called, and no, I’m not getting paid for this endorsement.) This powerhouse shake is packed with vitamins, minerals, proteins, antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber, and essential fatty acids. It’s the wholly satisfying creation of certified nutrition consultant Sid Garza-Hillman, and one 8-ounce glass every morning has managed to extinguish any animal protein urge.

According to Sid, who got Matthew and me started on our vegan kick, the meal shake provides you with all the nutrients listed above without a single pill or laboratory isolated nutrient. “The shake is whole foods based, which makes it accessible and absorbable by the body,” says Sid. Most notably, he adds that the shake is a better source of protein than a steak, which has acid-forming concentrated animal proteins that put stress on the body, weaken the immune system, and lead to inflammation, among other health conditions.

“A steak offers around 28% protein per calorie, while this meal shake contains things like spirulina (about 60% protein per calorie), chlorella (about 60% protein per calorie), and hemp seeds or powder (about 30% protein per calorie plus all the essential amino acids),” explains Sid. “Protein is simply a non-issue when you eat a variety of plants.”

Makes about 6 to 8 servings. 

1 Tbsp Vitamineral Greens
2-4 Tbsp Raw Cacao Powder (to taste)
1 Tbsp Kelp Powder
1 Tbsp Chlorella Powder
1 Tbsp Maca
1 Tbsp Spirulina Powder
1 Tbsp Noni Powder
3 Tbsp Raw Hemp Protein
2-3 Tbsp Coconut Oil
1 Tbsp Yacon Root Powder
3 Tbsp Whole Chia Seed (or Ground Flax)
1 Tbsp Bee Pollen
1 Ripe Banana (or a handful of Frozen Blueberries)
Local Raw Agave Nectar or Local Raw Organic Honey (to taste)

Add enough water to fill an entire 2-liter blender. Blend until smooth. Sid recommends drinking one 8-ounce glass daily to start, and then eventually working your way up to 16 ounces or more. Cheers!

For more on why nixing animal proteins is good for your health, watch this related video from another favorite health expert of mine, Dr. Karina Stewart, Co-founder of Kamalaya Koh Samui.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quantum Physics and Creating Your Reality

In addition to my obsession with tongues, I’ve had an ongoing fascination with quantum physics ever since watching the movie What the BLEEP Do We Know? about five years ago. And with all the crazy things going on right now—wars, earthquakes, nuclear meltdowns—it’s hard to not feel like the world is spiraling out of control. It’s even harder to feel like we can do something about it. But we can, in our own small way.

According to quantum physics expert Dr. Joseph Dispenza, we can consciously alter reality with our thoughts. The interview excerpt above from What the BLEEP Do We Know? breaks down quantum physics, brain function, and the widely accepted notion of The Observer in a practical, easy-to-understand way.

I like to watch it every once and a while because it’s such a great reminder that the power to create our own reality lies within. It's a truth that comes in handy whenever we’re feeling a little powerless.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

3 Reasons Why You Should Rest

Sleeping in is good for your health.
(Photo © istockphoto/Yuri Arcurs)

It’s a cold, gray and rainy day here in the Bay Area, which makes me just want to stay in bed snuggled up in a soft, cozy blanket all afternoon. But instead I’m trying to get a head start on my work week. I often wonder why I feel guilty about taking a load off. It’s kind of ironic since as a wellness expert, that’s what I tell everyone they should be doing. So, if like me, you need to justify why rest is actually necessary before you can feel good about taking a slow day, here are three good reasons to laze around:

1. Too much stress now could lead to dementia later on. According to a recent research study released by the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, psychological stress in middle age can lead to dementia later in life, mainly in the form of Alzheimer’s disease.

2. Sleeping today can actually make you more creative tomorrow. In an article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, researchers found that the brain is not only consolidating memories during sleep, it is also reorganizing them—a process that is believed to enhance our ability to come up with creative, new ideas during waking hours.

3. A daytime nap may lead to better cardiovascular health. Ryan Brindle and Sarah Conklin, PhD, from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania conducted an experiment to examine the effects of daytime sleep on cardiovascular recovery. The results: Sleeping between 45 and 60 minutes during the day appears to facilitate blood pressure recovery after a mental stress task in the laboratory.

Related Links:
University of Gothenburg (2010, August 19). Stress in middle age could contribute to late-life dementia.
Association for Psychological Science (2010, December 17). Sleep makes your memories stronger, and helps with creativity.
Springer Science+Business Media (2011, February 28). Napping may help with blood pressure management.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring 2011 Wellness Events in Atlanta, Scottsdale, and New York City

Celebrate spring with a Spring Equinox yoga class at Exhale.
(Photo Courtesy of Exhale Mind Body Spa.)

Spring is (officially) two days away. And for many of us, it can’t come soon enough. Below are some healthy ways to start the season:

108 Sun Salutations. Celebrate spring with a special Spring Equinox class on March 20 from 1:30-3:30pm at Exhale in Atlanta, Georgia.  The two-hour yoga flow session will be a detoxifying and energizing marathon of Surya Namaskaras (Sun Salutations) set to amazing music (think reggae, world and hip hop). The workshop is $15 for exhale members and $20 for non-members.

A “Fresh Start” Spa Treatment. Try the “Fresh Start Renewal” Therapy (50 minutes, $149) at Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona, and you’ll not only reap the rejuvenating benefits of a full-body exfoliation, stress-relieving Vichy shower, and more, but you’ll also be helping other women get their own fresh start. The spa will donate 10 percent of the proceeds from the treatment to the Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, which helps women who are adjusting to a career changes, coping with difficult family relationships, or simply searching for opportunities for personal growth.

Free Classes at Lululemon. Pravassa, a healthy travel retreat company, is hosting a full week of free wellness-focused workshops at Lululemon Athletica Soho in New York City on March 21 to 26 from 9:00-10:00 a.m. Classes include Gyrokinesis with Jennifer Day and Chantal Deeble of Kinespirit, Hatha Yoga with Michelle Barge of Golden Bridge Yoga, and Thai Massage with Kevin Courtney.

Do you know of a great Spring wellness event that’s not on this short list? Email the info by clicking the icon below the post.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Burnout Inspires Positive Change

Burnout can lead to a better life.
(Photo © Matthew Wakem)

In a recent post on one of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits, guest blogger Melissa Gorzelanczyk of Peace and Projects wrote about how burnout can be beautiful.

This got me thinking about how burnout has impacted my own life. A few years ago, I was living in New York City, managing multiple projects at a highly deadline-driven publishing job, working on my first book, freelance writing, and on top of all that juggling numerous family responsibilities. I was also eating a lot of junk food, drinking too many glasses of wine, and wasn’t getting enough sleep. (Is the scenario starting to sound familiar?)

One night after work, my husband Matthew found me slumped down on the bathroom floor (the only place in our studio apartment that had a door) crying inconsolably. Nothing in particular set off the tears. I was just really tired and really overwhelmed—a classic burnout case. Thankfully, I married a very wise man who wiped my tears and said matter-of-factly, “You don’t have to live this way, you know.”

I like to think of that day as the start of my new (and improved) life. I left my job, left New York City, and along with Matthew, gave birth to one of the most creative projects in our lives. It wasn’t easy, of course. In fact, the Asia Spa Project was a monumental task that took two years to plan and another two years to complete. But it gave us the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do what we love while devoting 9 entire months to healing—and by that I mean documenting healing techniques as well as healing ourselves.

I will be forever grateful to the beautiful locations who participated in this project:

Saman Villas (Sri Lanka)
Papaya Spa (Laos)
FCC Angkor (Cambodia)
The Gangsa (Indonesia)
Ubud Hanging Gardens (Indonesia)
Kayumanis Ubud (Indonesia)

I am also indebted to each location’s unsung heroes—the therapists, instructors, and wellness experts who work tirelessly every day to make the lives of each guest better for having visited. Thankfully, I have thousands of gorgeous photos to remember these people and places by. (View a PDF version of the Asia Spa Project digital portfolio. It takes a few minutes to download.)

Two years later, the lessons of the Asia Spa Project have stayed with me (and there are more Spa Projects in the works). More importantly, I now live a life that’s a lot less stressful than the one I lived before. I still deal with deadlines, but mostly just the ones I want to deal with. I eat a predominantly vegan diet. I get enough sleep. And I give my yoga classes equal priority on my calendar than any other high-priority event. My point: I wouldn’t have done any of these things if it wasn’t for burnout. I suppose sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to be motivated to find higher ground.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Can Meditation Boost Immune Cell Function?

Meditation is linked to higher telomerase activity.
(Photo © Matthew Wakem)

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, it can certainly help.

The study, called The Shamatha Project, is the first to link the positive psychological effects of meditation to higher telomerase activity. Telomerase is an enzyme that can rebuild and lengthen telomeres—sequences of DNA at the end of chromosomes that are important for the genetic stability of our cells. Telomeres get shorter every time a cell divides, and when they become too short, the cell eventually dies. (Other scientific research has shown that shortened telomeres can indicate a higher risk for certain types of cancer as well as decreased survival in patients with coronary heart disease and infectious disease.)

The good news? Participants of The Shamatha Project who completed three-month intensive meditation training exhibited increased telomerase activity in their white blood cells, about one-third higher compared to those in a control group who did not meditate. Researchers also observed various positive psychological effects in the meditators, such as perceived control over one’s life and surroundings; being able to observe one’s experience in a nonreactive manner; viewing one’s life as meaningful, worthwhile, and aligned with long-term goals and values; and decreased negative emotions like neuroticism. Using statistical modeling techniques, researchers concluded that high telomerase activity was in fact due to these aforementioned effects.

“The take-home message from this work is not that meditation directly increases telomerase activity and therefore a person’s health and longevity,” said Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain. “Rather, meditation may improve a person’s psychological well-being and in turn these changes are related to telomerase activity in immune cells, which has the potential to promote longevity in those cells.”

So take some time to meditate. Your cells will thank you for it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

3 Steps to Stress Relief

Lavender-scented aromatherapy oil has a calming effect.
(Photo © istockphoto/elenathewise)

Feeling stressed? A massage is one surefire way to relieve tension, but you don’t always have the time (or the money) to get one. So what do you do to get some peace of mind in a pinch? Here’s a 3-step process I personally swear by:

Step 1: Play an ongoing om. There’s a reason yogis chant the mantra “om” before a yoga class. This sacred syllable is believed to be the sound of the universe, and reciting it or reflecting on it has a deeply meditative, harmonizing effect.  (This is the Om CD I use at home.)

Step 2: Light some lavender essential oil. Lavender is one of the most powerful remedies in the plant world. When used in aromatherapy, the scent of lavender helps calm the nervous system, providing relief for mental tension, anxiety, depression, emotional stress, and even migraines.

Step 3: Put your legs up against a wall. Viparita Karani or Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose is an easy, restorative yoga pose that relaxes your nervous system and adrenals, lowers your heart rate, and reduces tension in your legs, feet, and lower back. Check out Yoga Journal for a photo of the pose along with some great tips on how to do it.

Bonus Tip: Five minutes will do the trick, though I highly recommend at least 15. Let me know how it goes!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Light Pollution and Your Health

Light from the TV at night may be harmful to your health.
(Photo © istockphoto/joshblake)

My amazingly talented friend Amy was recently interviewed on a Denver radio station for a story she wrote about the link between light pollution and cancer.

According to Amy, science shows that “Humans, as well as many animals and plants, need regular exposure to darkness to maintain what’s called the circadian rhythm—essentially the body’s internal clock, which governs various bodily functions.” She adds that, “In several studies conducted over the past decade, scientists have found that increased exposure to light at night correlates to higher cancer rates, particularly for those cancers like breast or prostate that require hormones to grow.” (Read Amy’s full article on GOOD, and listen to her radio interview. It starts at about 29:45.)

What I find most fascinating about the recent studies Amy talks about in her article is how closely they intersect with ancient Eastern medicine. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), for example, uninterrupted rest is essential for maintaining good blood and qi—two of the five vital substances that need to be in harmony for optimum health.

From 11 P.M. to 3 A.M., the blood goes into repair mode. According to TCM, the functions of the blood include providing nourishment and moisture to the body. It is also the material foundation of the mind, and resides within the yin, which has a relationship with all bodily fluids. In addition, the hours of 3 A.M. to 7 A.M.  are crucial for qi. Qi is our primary life force, and it not only gives us our vitality, but also the flow of qi helps bring nutrients to our tissues and boosts our immune function.

The connection: Exposure to light—from cell phones, computer screens, your TV, etc.—disrupts these natural cycles creating imbalances that make you more susceptible to disease-causing external pathogens. So it seems regardless of whether you take an Eastern or Western stance on your personal health, it’s important to turn the lights off at night, and embrace the dark.