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. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Eat Well, Feel Better

Join a CSA and feel good about your food.
(Photo © istockphoto/jasmina007)

Ever since Matthew and I joined Eatwell Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), every other Wednesday is like Christmas. It’s the day we pick up our CSA box down the street, flip through recipe books, and plan meals for the next two weeks.

It feels good to know exactly where our food is coming from. We know where the farm is (Dixon, California), who runs it (Nigel and Lorraine), and who’s in charge of planting and harvesting the crops (Jose and his crew). There is also the satisfaction of knowing we’re part of a community that is helping to provide a local organic family farm with a dependable revenue stream to protect them from being beat out by some large-scale, less environmentally friendly agriculture giant. Plus, on top of all that goodness, the food looks and tastes better! I especially love that when I pull carrots out of the box, they still have the green leaves on top and some soil on the roots. I’m pretty sure it’s the closest I’m going to get to picking it myself.

The funny thing is, Matthew and I used to be packaged food junkies. Crispy mandarin chicken from Trader Joe’s and Amy’s burritos were permanent fixtures in our freezer. These days the contents of our kitchen reflect the season. Today’s box, for example, had lemons, oranges, tangerines, parsley, spinach, chard, cauliflower, green garlic, leeks, apples, carrots, and red cabbage. Sure, it takes a little more thought to figure out how to prepare and eat all the fruit and veggies, but that’s the fun part. Have you had spicy, crispy, carrot fries recently? YUM!

Find out more about CSAs at Local Harvest. And if you don’t live within Eatwell Farm’s delivery zone, use the Local Harvest map to find a CSA near you.