Beware of Bees

If you’ve spent any time in the Yoga Nook garden, you know how alive it is with bright, beautiful flowers, lizards and birds. It’s also been attracting a lot of honey bees lately. They love the pepper tree and like to drink out of the water fountain. I suspect they also enjoy the peace and quiet. No one disturbs them, and if I accidentally spray them with water while I’m gardening, I always apologize.

Indeed, they love it so much that they’ve decided to move in! You see, there is a feral cat that has lived here since before the Nook took up residence. Though I don’t feed her, concerned for her comfort through the cold winter months, I made her a warm place to sleep out of an old Styrofoam cooler and dry straw. She doesn’t use it in the summer and the bees, always on the lookout for a dark, dry, cool place to build a hive, have taken advantage of the vacancy.

Sweet Rewards

Making honey is a highly labor-intensive job. The bees may travel up to 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers just to gather enough nectar to produce one pound of honey. The flavor and color of honey reflects the nectar source, and there are over 300 unique kinds in the United States. Clover, eucalyptus and orange blossom are among the more common.

More than just nature’s sweetener, honey also contains antioxidants. As a general rule, the darker honeys have higher mineral and antioxidant potential. Composed of simple sugars, glucose, fructose and water that is predigested by the bees, honey also contains trace enzymes, vitamins and amino acids. As the simple sugars are quickly absorbed by the human digestive system they have an overall soothing effect, providing a healthful pick-me-up.

There are many health benefits to including honey in your diet. It relieves indigestion, promotes rejuvenating sleep, replenishes energy and dissolves mucus. When applied externally to the skin, it can disinfect and heal minor wounds and is great for chapped lips.

4 Helpful Honey Tips

  1. Mix a few tablespoons honey with a couple drops of lavender oil, and drop it in your bath water to help relax and combat insomnia.
  2. Do you have an old jar of honey somewhere in the refrigerator door that has crystallized? You can restore its syrupy consistency by removing the lid and standing the jar in some warm water until the crystals dissolve.
  3. Look for honey that has been produced by beekeepers who do not feed their bees refined sugars, and seek out organically produced honey.
  4. Remember never to feed honey to infants under one year old. It contains a bacteria that can be very harmful to them, though adults and older children are immune.

As for the nest in the garden, we’ll keep the doors closed for now while I search for someone who will give them a new home. Any takers?

 

Image credit: Claire Andre via Flickr (CC)

The Season of Gluttony

I’m currently in England, and the fall colors are spectacular against the dirty grey sky, heavy with imminent rain. Giant old-growth oaks, sycamores and horse chestnut trees have turned brilliant shades of gold, yellow and bronze. Their leaves fall like confetti as I drive under their long limbs stretching across the road.

These damp, dreary days are blessedly short — already one hour less daylight than in California. I’m struck by the tendency for people to stay inside, lounge around and eat.

To be sure, we are hard-wired to eat more as winter approaches. Shorter days and cooler temperatures trigger primal rhythms and, like all mammals, we respond by loading on extra pounds for the long, harsh winter.

Luckily, our frontal lobes set us apart from lesser apes and mammals. It’s here where we recognize the future consequences of current behaviors. In the season of gluttony, however, as celebrations of the year’s harvest and traditional holidays approach, we tend to ignore the impact and indulge. We reassure ourselves that, come the New Year, we will go on a diet.

But have you ever considered that the extra calories are not just causing your waistline to expand, but also changing your brain?

Many processed foods, including shelf-stable baked goods and fried foods, contain partially hydrogenated oils. The chemical process of hydrogenation changes the shape of the fatty-acid molecules in oil, producing trans fats. Unlike healthful fatty acids, these molecule meanies alter the stability of brain cell membranes, resulting in cellular degeneration.

In addition, foods with high sugar content cause the release of dopamine, the feel-good hormone, in the brain. But the more sugar we eat, the less dopamine we create – so we eat more to get the same feel-good effect.

But wait – it’s not all bad news.

We can learn to eat more healthfully, and as we continue to affirm healthy choices, we lose the craving for fatty, high-sugar foods. With awareness and a little moderation, we can navigate this season of plenty without any long-term damage to our brain or waistline.

When faced with a buffet fit to burst with enticing treats, engage your frontal lobe:

  • Choose foods such as chicken and fish, which are both a good source of protein and relatively low in fat.
  • Avoid deep-fried anything.
  • Decide on one small portion of a delectable desert only after you have eaten some vegetables.
  • Don’t stand near the buffet table. Make a plate that is 50% vegetables, move away and don’t return for more.
  • Variety, moderation and awareness while eating will keep you functioning in the higher regions of your brain.

As for me, I’m going outside for a walk on a deep carpet of fallen leaves – even if my family does think I’m crazy.

 

Related articles:
Culinary Zen
Food for Thought

Image credit: Jake Vince via Flickr (CC) 

The Daily Grind

With a Starbucks on virtually every corner and consumers ready to pay upwards of five dollars for a grande mocha latte, coffee is a thriving business. But is all that caffeine good for us?

It takes approximately 80% of the adult population to guzzle the 100,000 tons of caffeine consumed annually in the U.S. This common ingredient in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate products is the world’s most widely used stimulant. In fact, coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world behind petroleum.

Introduced to Europe by Venetian traders, the first English coffee house was opened in 1652. From the very beginning, marketers touted the supposed health benefits of the drink, heralding it as “a very good help to the digestion.”

But doubts were also voiced, and coffee drinkers were said to appear haggard, agitated and depressed. From those initial observations sprung a plethora of studies on everything from the effects of caffeine on frog muscle tissue to the link between caffeine and decreased fertility.

To Drink or Not to Drink?

Sensitivity to caffeine differs greatly from one person to the next. Studies of twins have found that there is a genetic component to how caffeine affects an individual’s body, and of course, tolerance develops with regular use.

Depending on who is doing the study, caffeine can look like an addictive, sleep-robbing stimulant or an FDA-approved cure-all. Most research agrees that caffeine in low doses can increase alertness and decrease fatigue and drowsiness. There is also some evidence that low to moderate caffeine consumption (less than three cups of coffee a day) may help protect against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Consumed in higher doses, however, caffeine may promote headaches, mood swings and anxiety. Drinking five or more cups of coffee per day can cause irritability, insomnia, restlessness, and muscle tremors.

How to Cut Back on Caffeine

The prolonged consumption of caffeine can cause physical dependence, and withdrawal symptoms such as headache, lethargy and depression may result from going cold turkey. If you do decide to omit caffeine from your diet, it would be less stressful to wean yourself off gradually to diminish the withdrawal response.

Medical experts agree that caffeine consumption is safe in moderation and produces no adverse health effects. If you find that the symptoms of caffeine overuse are troublesome, try cutting back on your intake. Here are a few ways to decrease your dependency:

1. Try drinking decaffeinated coffee at least some of the time. Alternatively, switch to half-caff, pouring yourself half a cup of regular and half a cup of decaffeinated.

2. Be aware of the pitfalls of free caffeine refills in restaurants. It may seem like a good deal, but you could pay for it later.

3. If you have an ever-brewing coffee pot in the office, limit yourself to just a few cups a day—or switch to herbal tea, which doesn’t contain caffeine.

4. Make a conscious choice to drink more water. Your thirst will be quenched and the water will dilute the caffeine, helping detoxify the body.

While caffeine alone causes little or no ill effects, it will interact with some medications. If you’re a heavy coffee drinker or consume large amounts of caffeine in other products and are taking a prescription drug, you should check with your pharmacist for possible side effects.

For more detailed information on caffeine, check out “Caffeine Fact & Fallacy” by Augustine S. Aruna.

 

Image credit: Amanda via Flickr (CC)

Culinary Zen

I love food—I love eating it, preparing it and thinking about it. The most direct and intimate contact we have with our environment is eating, especially when we eat fruits and veggies that are grown locally or even in our own backyards.

As some of you may know, Yoga Nook is a pick-up destination for the Underwood Family Farms CSA program (community-supported agriculture), so my husband and I enjoy local produce picked fresh from the farm and delivered the next day. I don’t look at what we’re going to get in the box ahead of time, as I like the surprise of opening it and making the best of whatever arrives.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been finding peppers and chilis of every shape, color and variety in our weekly box; and I must say that I was challenged to think of something that would use such a large quantity to its best advantage.

Then I remembered my recipe for Panang, a spicy Thai dish that we first ate in Hawaii over 20 years ago. Not only is the dish fragrant and spicy, it’s also easy to make and allows me to take advantage of some culinary Zen.

We should nourish our mind and body with the food we eat. More often we eat on the run—doughnuts and coffee in the car serve as breakfast, and a trip to the drive-through is lunch. Who has time to cook anymore? If preparing or even eating food has become a chore, then perhaps we could learn something from the Zen approach to cooking.

Culinary Zen focuses on moment-to-moment awareness, balance and wholeness. This mindfulness in everything you do begins with the food gathering and preparation. Even the cleaning of the workspace is carried out with diligence and attention to detail. The freshest ingredients, organic if possible, are chopped and diced with focus, love and harmony.

As I slow down and enter a state of moment-to-moment awareness, cooking becomes a meditation. Chopping the veggies for the Panang, I enjoy the bright primary colors of the peppers and the rhythmic sound of the knife on the chopping board. I linger for a moment to savor the fresh lemony scent of cilantro, the aroma of an onion as it sizzles in the frying pan. The pungent mix sends a spicy hotness into the very air that I breathe, and I douse its heat with a cooling coat of coconut milk. The result is a creamy, spicy and somewhat soupy dish served with rice.

Granted, with our busy lifestyles, we may not have time to prepare a meal like this every day—so why not try some mindfulness as you peel and eat an orange, or bite into a juicy peach? Think of the cycle of seasons that has brought the food to your plate, the sun and rain and the energy that the food contains. As you change how you think about food, you’ll be more likely to choose foods that truly nourish your mind and body.

For more on Zen cooking, check out “Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings” by Edward Espe Brown.

 

Related article:
Food for Thought

Image credit: Young Sok Yun via Flickr (CC) 

Food for Thought

One hundred and eight million people support the diet industry, 85% of whom are female. The average person makes four or more attempts at weight loss, helping the industry accrue $20 billion in annual revenue. Yes, that’s right, 20 billion dollars.

There’s the low-fat, no-carb, raw veggie, even the “skip breakfast and take a cold bath instead” diet (I’m not kidding) – all competing for our consumer support and paying up to $3 million for celebrities to sell the results in commercials.

This unfortunate phenomenon is a great example of the population seeking the answer outside of themselves rather than looking within. We think someone else can make a food plan for us that will provide fast, convenient, lasting results. We forget that in order to earn our way towards a better relationship with food, there has to be a shift in our state of mind.

A few years ago, I offered a program at Yoga Nook called Body WiZe. It was not a weight loss program, but rather a yoga, meditation and mindful eating workshop that focused on increasing the importance of food and slowing down. We encouraged participants to cultivate their intuition and self-restraint so they could make better choices without feeling deprived of foods they enjoyed.

Mindful eating brings you into the moment and reminds you to pause. In that pause, you can inquire: Are you standing in front of the pantry because you really are hungry, or because you are feeling anxious/bored/overwhelmed with your current activity and need a break?

Nourishing your body with food should take time. Primal man didn’t rush out, kill a bison and eat it on the way to the next hunt. A satisfying meal is one that appeals to all the senses – it is not only flavorful, but also looks colorful on the plate, smells tantalizing and feels textural as we eat it. Your whole body should be recruited into the meal, so every part of you knows you have eaten and becomes sated.

If we are in such a rush to eat that we are swallowing without even paying attention to what’s in our mouth, or so distracted as we eat that we forget we’ve eaten at all, how can we be satisfied or nourished by our food?

Here are some tips that we shared as part of the “Body WiZe” program:

  • Give yourself enough time to eat. Once prepared, a simple meal should take between 20 to 30 minutes to eat mindfully.
  • Reduce distractions. If you have to eat at work, turn off your computer – or even better, go for a walk to a local park bench. Just for the time you are eating, turn off the TV, radio or phone, and focus on nurturing your body with each mouthful. Experience the food fully.
  • Look at your food. As you prepare your food, keep in mind that it should be colorful and aromatic. Include a variety of textures to tantalize the tongue.
  • Chew more slowly. Put less in your mouth than usual and keep it there for longer, taking time to enjoy the flavors. Remember that digestion begins in the mouth.
  • Completely finish your first mouthful before you eat more. Your mouth should be empty between bites, ready to experience a new array of texture, flavor and temperature.
  • Remember: You don’t have to finish everything on your plate. Stop when you begin to feel full. You can also try using a smaller plate.

Practicing mindful eating is another way to bring yoga off the mat and into your life – mind, body and breath as one. Namaste.

 

Image credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr (CC)