Tag Archives: health

How to take a good sh*t

Nice title, right? The truth is, you may have been defecating incorrectly your entire life (well, from potty-trained toddlerhood onward).

“When nature is eased of any surcharge that oppresses it … relieved when overcharged,” the body feels one of its two great pleasures — the other of course is stuffing the other end with food and drink — according to Sir Thomas More in Utopia.

If relieving oneself regularly and easily is one of life’s great pleasures, then being frustrated by irregular and difficult bowel movements is nothing to scoff at. Indeed, a healthy digestive tract and colon is the very foundation of health. Think of the infrastructure of a building or city: The pipes must be clean, sound and flowing, or there will be some serious issues: sewage will get backed up, leading to impaction, infestation, and ultimately, ill health and disease.

We know that plenty of raw fruits and vegetables, moderate exercise (like walking), sound sleep, low stress and lots of water all help move things along. But there is something that virtually all of the oh-so-modern and sophisticated denizens of the civilized Western world are doing to thwart their poop processes.

The history of the toilet is an interesting one; flush toilets are as old as the Indus Valley Civilization circa 26th century BC. But the sit-down, throne-like “pedestal” porcelain version we are so used to using wasn’t invented until the mid-19th century; this contribution to mankind was designed for the Victorian royalty and aristocracy. What was good enough for the queen soon became standard, at least in certain spheres.

Supposedly, it is more civilized to sit than it is to squat. Our ancestors went out to the woods to relieve themselves, and our bodies are totally biologically designed to defecate in this manner. Try it when you are out camping. You will be surprised how quickly it all comes out. You begin to get what Sir Thomas was raving about.

Sitting puts a kink in our intestines and works against our bodies and against gravity. It makes the process less efficient and also causes some fecal matter to remain in the colon, which can lead to colon cancer. Sitting while defecating also can lead to prostate enlargement, prostate cancer and hemorrhoids; and, over a lifetime, leads to the deterioration of a balancing mechanism built into our heels for this purpose. (see this article for more information: http://aprovechoamerica.tripod.com/id10.html).

From a Wikipedia article on toilets in Japan:

A number of medical benefits are attributed to the squat toilet.[31] It has been suggested that the squatting strengthens the pelvic muscles of females, reducing the likelihood of incontinence.[dead link][32] Furthermore, it is said that this toilet builds up strength in the hips, and improves breathing and concentration. The upright squatting position also allows wastes to be eliminated more quickly and completely, reducing fecal transit time. Slow fecal transit is a major risk factor for colon cancer.[33]Other studies find that squatting prevents and cures hemorrhoids.[34] Assuming and maintaining the squatting position on a regular basis may also help maintain the flexibility of the knees.[35]

Squat toilets are very common in Japan, a place that prides itself on civility and cleanliness. (Bidets, another no-brainer, are also popular there as they are in Europe. Come on, America the greatest country on Earth? Not until we get with it in the bathroom). In fact, 75 percent of the world’s population squats to sit. Yes, a lot of this goes on in unsanitary conditions in the third world, but it is also common in developed countries throughout the world — countries such as Japan and France. A variation is the pedestal squat toilet used in India:

File:Pedestal-squat-toilet.jpg

If you don’t have a hole to squat over, don’t despair. You can get close to the same effect (although not quite to Utopian levels of defecatory ecstasy) by pulling up the resident bathroom trashcan and putting your feet on it. Some companies actually sell special foot stools for this purpose, but a trash can or anything that allows your feet to be elevated and your knees to bend will help.

I imagine that our ancestors’ waste matter was great for soil fertility, especially since their diet was largely plant-based. Modern day humans can go for a compost toilet; this one comes complete with attached footstool:

Sun-Mar Excel Self-Contained Composting Toilet, Model# Excel

Although the price is a little much. Shouldn’t pooping be free?

Along similar lines (literally), giving birth to a child is also best done in positions other than lying on one’s back. Documentaries such as The Business of Being Born and Pregnant in America talk about how our (must use the little quotey things) “modern, civilized” approach to birth — hospitals, exorbitant costs, forceps, drugs, pain, and generally long and unpleasant labor — is very unnatural. Many European and Eastern countries use midwives and time-tested methods to give birth at home. These processes are safe and often produce shorter, less painful labor, making the experience much more pleasant and comfortable. The mother should be able to move into a variety of positions (squatting, on all fours, etc.), listening to her body to tell her how to move and work with her body, the baby and with gravity.

These examples are two of many in which we consider ourselves unequivocally advanced and superior to cultures anterior and contemporaneous, but may in fact  be utterly backwards. In my next blog I want to discuss the widely held assumption/misconception of future as equivalent to progress, and how ‘new’ does not always equal ‘better.’

Give your face a natural glow

Unless you’re this girl*, you probably spend a lot of time trying to make your face prettier. For a variety of reasons that have to do with vanity, trying to impress others, self-esteem, natural instinct and societal pressures, most women feel compelled to enhance their facial beauty, and will pay big bucks for it.

You’ve probably heard the figures: the average American woman will spend over a hundred thousand dollars on beauty products over her lifetime, or about $100 a month. For the wealthy, that number skyrockets to cover Creme de la Mer ($150 for 1 oz.) and even more pricey creams and serums containing things like gold, exotic mushrooms from the Himalayas, seawater from the Mariana Trench, Japanese Koishimaru silk, royal jelly, and even the precious metal platinum (found in La Prairie Cellular Cream Platinum Rare, the most expensive facial cream in the world at $1,000 a pop).

They must work, because celebrities and trophy wives, although normally more attractive than average by default, maintain their glisten and radiance a little longer than us plebeians. Studies have shown that perceived facial attractiveness has a lot to do with the smoothness of skin, although there are quite a few other factors involved as well.

But is dewy skin something you have to pay hundreds for? Is it only reserved for the rich and famous? I think not. As evidenced by Lindsay Lohan**, it has far more to do with what you consume and imbibe and how you treat yourself. Nutrients, oxygen and feel-good hormones are the foundation for beautiful skin; many indigenous populations who ate a diet rich in fruits, seafood, nuts and proteins while living active yet carefree lives were noted for their picture-perfect skin. Here are some inexpensive ways to give your skin a glow:

1. Eat right. This is imperative. If you have skin issues of any sort (outbreaks, wrinkles, dryness, dullness) then consider this area. Sometimes it might take several weeks to see a difference. You know the drill: drink lots of water and cut out the soda; juice and eat fresh fruits and vegetables; cut out the refined salt and sugar; eat unprocessed whole foods without pesticides, preservatives, artificial ingredients, antibiotics and other unnatural additives.

2. Drink lots of water. Duh, right? But there are variations on this theme: drinking hot or warm water, especially in the morning, is very good not only for the digestion but for the complexion (the two are closely related). Water with fresh lemon juice is also very cleansing for the body and clears the skin. Herbal teas (my favorite is Passion from Tazo, which contains hibiscus, rosehips  and cinnamon, known relaxants) of many varieties are also beneficial.

3. Sweat. You can do this via exercise, sitting out in the sun (preferably in the late afternoon and not so long that you burn), in saunas, and by taking hot, steamy baths by candlelight.

4. Moisturize. But this doesn’t have to be super-fancy or super-expensive. For saturating, healing night creams, try pure shea butter, coconut oil, rosehip oil, almond oil, or even regular olive oil. For a light refreshing day moisturizer, try rosewater, jasmine, lavendar or plumeria spray (buy at Whole Foods for less than ten dollars or make your own by combining essential oils with water in a mister).

5. Relax. This is hugely important, not just for your looks but for your overall health, well-being and quality of life. You can counteract stress by meditating, taking long walks, basking in the moonlight, soaking in hot water and Epsom salt, and resting in the dark with classical music, candlelight and aromatherapy.

And what’s the single most important thing you can do to create a naturally glowing face? No, I’m not gonna say “Eat dark chocolate,” although I love me some dark chocolate and it wouldn’t hurt. The most important thing is to give your face some love. When you look in the mirror, look at yourself with love. Treat yourself gently. Think positive, loving, empowering thoughts about yourself and do not criticize yourself privately or publicly. What you think and feel can gradually become reality, and how you perceive yourself will affect how others perceive you.

You can even try this experiment. Spend several minutes repeating this mantra in your head “I am beautiful.” If you do this for half an hour or longer, then look in the mirror, you might be surprised that you actually do look more beautiful. You might also start getting different reactions from people. I have done this experiment several times myself, for example in a crowded airport. I will walk through seemingly invisible, with no one giving me a second glance. Then I will start repeating this in my head as I walk. Eventually, people will start to stare at me, and a few times they have even tried to approach me. One time a married flight attendant told me I stood out from the crowds and seemed to glow.

I don’t mean to say this in a bragging type of way. Indeed, these same strangers had been utterly unconcerned with me a couple hours prior. I do believe that thought can change reality, by some kind of unseen force. When you wash your face, touch it in any way, or put any kind of topical ointment on it, you should always send it loving thoughts when you do so. Your hands also can convey energy.

*This girl surely has a beautiful smile and a whole lot of cojones. While I personally wouldn’t choose to look this way even for religious beliefs, it takes all kinds to make a world. I’m just making a point that she is one of the very few women in the world who don’t try to enhance their appearance in some way, shape or form.

*Lindsay Lohan is gorgeous. I hope she can get back on the path to healthy living so her natural radiance can once again shine through, because she used to be one luscious looking redhead.

Paying for what once was free

“I fear that he who walks over these fields a century hence will not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples. Ah, poor man, there are many pleasures which he will not know!… And the end of it all will be that we shall be compelled to look for our apples in a barrel.” — Henry  David Thoreau

The other day as I was walking along the beach watching fisherman cast their lines into the waves, a thought struck me. I thought about food and the world’s resources, and how they used to be available to anyone with a little bit of ingenuity and energy. How fish were plentiful, uncontaminated, and didn’t require a license; how native peoples freely hunted and gathered what they required, and how so many people used to have everything they needed outside their front door. Instead of going to work to earn money to buy food and shelter and clothing, they worked to grow their food, build and maintain their shelter, and produce their clothing.

Recently, the state of Oregon criminalized the collection of rain water, which is a key component of what is called permaculture. Permaculture is about sustainability and self-sufficiency; about producing what you need without relying on others or big government, while living in an eco-conscious and harmonious way with the world around you.

Similar situations include:

• California has declared war on small, local fresh milk farmers and distributors

• Michigan has criminalized small, local ranchers and animal operations.

• A city in Michigan has also tried to criminalize home gardens.

• The city of Tulsa, Oklahoma sent out a “destruction crew” to chop down a woman’s edible landscaping garden of over 100 varieties of foods and medicinal herbs.

Beyond these incidents, it is undeniable that we are living in a world that is becoming increasingly privatized. Henry David Thoreau once wrote:

“The era of the Wild Apple will soon be past. It is a fruit which will probably become extinct in New England…. Since the temperance reform and the general introduction of grafted fruit, no native apple trees, such as I see everywhere in deserted pastures, and where the woods have grown up around them, are set out. I fear that he who walks over these fields a century hence will not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples. Ah, poor man, there are many pleasures which he will not know!… Now that they have grafted trees, and pay a price for them, they collect them into a play by their houses, and fence them in,—and the end of it all will be that we shall be compelled to look for our apples in a barrel.”

Poor man indeed. Not only are we bereft of being able to knock down wild apples as we please, but most wild, organically grown (organic as used in the original sense) plant life has been decimated, with multinational corporations like Monsanto replacing them with industrialized, genetically modified, nutritionally deficient, pesticide-laden monocultures.

If you have the means and all the permits, you can start your own organic farm and produce at home. But the vast majority of Americans are at the complete mercy of the food industry. If prices go up, we have to pay them. If they refuse to label GMOs, we have to eat them.

The $7.25 hourly federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009 and represents less, when adjusted for inflation, than minimum-wage workers earned in 1968. Our hard-earned dollars have less and less purchasing power as the years go by, and if oil prices continue to rise, this could become a serious problem. This is one of the reasons I hope to someday live off-the-grid and be totally self-sufficient. It protects you from catastrophes, shortages and exorbitant prices, while ensuring you have a high-quality, pure, nutritionally rich food source. Our agrarian antecedents had to toil for their daily bread, but they never had to worry about commutes or getting laid off (although they did have to worry about other things, such as droughts and long winters).

In such hardships, or if you weren’t able to produce everything you needed yourself, a community that traded and otherwise supported one another would be ideal. I’m not suggesting a reversion to the 19th century, but a fusion of permaculture principles with 21st century knowledge and technologies.

Other fields that have become totally privatized and often financially extort the average citizen are education and health care. Home schooling and natural remedies can often be superior — and far less expensive — than their private counterparts.

Natural News founder Mike Adams expressed his concern thus:

“What’s the pattern here? Total state domination over all resources — land, water, food, medicine and more. This is part of the ongoing effort to crush self reliance in America and turn everybody into a mindless, hopeless slave of the state, living on USDA food stamps and eating corporate-engineered GMO.

“Freedom means being able to speak your mind, capture your rainwater, bask in the sun, grow trees, raise backyard chickens, home school your children, say NO to vaccines, defend your life and property against looters and violent crime. Freedom is what once made America great, and it is the crushing of freedom which is now destroying America.

“In Oregon, California, Michigan, Washington D.C. and everywhere around the world where evil bureaucrats seek total power over all of humanity, our natural, divine rights are being viciously stripped away. Our money supply is being eroded at an accelerating rate. Our right to due process has been nullified by our own President. Our right to free speech is being increasingly censored and stifled. Our right to grow our own home gardens is under constant assault. (http://www.naturalnews.com/036234_edible_landscaping_medicinal_plants…)

“The common cause behind all these attacks on freedom is “collectivism” — the idea that individuals have no value and that only the state can provide life, food and an economy. This is accomplished through endless permit requirements that now make running something like an organic farm a paperwork nightmare.Similarly, the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act late last year will absolutely devastate small, local farms once it fully kicks in.

“With every new regulation, inspection, permit and government burden placed upon farms and land owners, we are increasingly destroying our own futures by placing more power in the hands of tyrannical government. We are all becoming indentured servants to the state.“Think you OWN your land? Try not paying property tax for a year. You’ll find out very quickly that you don’t own anything. The state owns it. You are just paying rent.”

While perhaps rather dramatic and extreme, he does make some good points! Similarly, people used to be able to move freely throughout the country. Now you have to pay to camp in state and national parks and get permits to raft down rivers, as Christopher McCandless finds out in Into the Wild.

Not everything is owned by private industry or government, but it is drastically more so than it was a century ago, and the trend is continuing in that direction; most people predict that all water sources will soon be privately held and companies will charge citizens whatever they decide to drink what once they were able to freely enjoy.

 

 

Working less, living more

As night descends upon this glorious Labor Day, I can imagine people all across the United States getting that terrible feeling of dread as they realize that tomorrow they have to get up and go back to work.

Americans’ unhealthy preoccupation with working their lives away is one of my favorite topics. I always find it amusing when people equate working longer hours with stronger overall economy. Greece, for example, has the second longest work week in the world, second only to South Korea. But because of their recent economic catastrophe, people imagine Greeks sitting around in plazas indulging themselves with fine Feta while more industrious Europeans, like the Germans, are hard at work.

This is extra amusing because Germans have a much shorter work week than most of the developed world, with the average worker clocking around 25-30 hours per week and enjoying about 34 paid holidays a year. Scandinavian countries Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands have the shortest work weeks (around 25) and yet their economies are robust and their standard of living among the best in the world.

“BUT” people then respond, “you cannot compare the United States with these much smaller countries.” Okay, well how about Canada then; their average citizen works several hours less than the average American, yet their average individual net worth recently surpassed ours.

Overall economy and average standard of living has more to do with how efficiently the government is run and where they are putting their taxpayers’ dollars than how many hours the average citizen is putting in. In other words, work smarter, not harder.

But there is a whole psychology behind Americans’ need to get up extra early, stay extra late, and put in overtime on the weekends. They equate working harder to being better. Back in the day, the ruling elite (the aristocratic one percent) had the opposite mindset — instead of toiling all day like a slave, they were able to spend their time in productive, enlightened pursuits.

Industry and productivity is indeed a virtue, but working efficiently and effectively is more often accomplished when not chained to a desk. Flexibility, creativity, innovation and a healthy work/life balance are more progressive workplace ideals than the need to spend all day long on the job, a trend that only came about during the industrial revolution.

“Since the 1960s, the consensus among anthropologists, historians, and sociologists has been that early hunter-gatherer societies enjoyed more leisure time than is permitted by capitalist and agrarian societies;[5][6] For instance, one camp of !Kung Bushmen was estimated to work two-and-a-half days per week, at around 6 hours a day.[7] Aggregated comparisons show that on average the working day was less than five hours.[5]

“The New Economics Foundation has recommended moving to a 21 hour standard work week to address problems with unemployment, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, overworking, family care, and the general lack of free time.[1][2][3] Actual work week lengths have been falling in the developed world.[4]” 

“In the United States, the working time for upper-income professionals has increased compared to 1965, while total annual working time for low-skill, low-income workers has decreased.[32] This effect is sometimes called the ‘leisure gap’.”

Read more here.

More depressing facts:

  • The U.S. is the ONLY country in the Americas without a national paid parental leave benefit. The average is over 12 weeks of paid leave anywhere other than Europe and over 20 weeks in Europe.
  • Zero industrialized nations are without a mandatory option for new parents to take parental leave. That is, except for the United States.
  • At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not.
  • In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.
  • According to the ILO, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”
  • Using data by the U.S. BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950. One way to look at that is that it should only take one-quarter the work hours, or 11 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (or our standard of living should be 4 times higher). Is that the case? Obviously not. Someone is profiting, it’s just not the average American worker.
  • There is not a federal law requiring paid sick days in the United States.
  • The U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave.
  • In every country included except Canada and Japan (and the U.S., which averages 13 days/per year), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days.  In France and Finland, they get 30 – an entire month off, paid, every year.
  • The average worker in Germany and the Netherlands puts in 20% fewer hours in a year than the average worker in the United States.

Sources: http://20somethingfinance.com/american-hours-worked-productivity-vacation/http://www.deanstalk.net/deanstalk/2008/04/putting-in-the.html

Working smarter, not harder, would boost productivity and progress as well as overall health and happiness. Working smarter could mean flexible hours and location as well as more progressive workplace processes and hierarchies. The ideal situation, in my opinion, is self-employment and entrepreneurship. Then you can work as long and hard as you want to with the aim of actualizing your dream, not someone else’s.

But shortening the work week won’t just make peoples’ lives better. It might also boost the national economy and reduce unemployment, as a recent Guardian article entitled “Why Americans should work less, the way Germans do” opined. So the next time you start feeling that ethnocentric, Puritan superiority complex taking over all logical thought, you might want to re-consider what really constitutes an ideal society and a high standard of living. Yes, we all need to work to live, but I myself wouldn’t mind doing it  a little more like the Samoans or the Italians — drinking wine, enjoying the sunset, and getting called lazy by all the miserable workaholics. And don’t forget, the more hours you sit a day, the sooner you will die!

Workinghours_2

American paid vacations

Let the Games begin

Next week, all of us with middling BMIs, plastic trophies collecting dust in the attic and the inability to work out for even a few hours of the week will watch and marvel at those who have put in countless years for their moment in the sun. With our ass firmly on couch or chair, we will watch them with awe, admiration, national pride, respect, and perhaps a little bit of lust.

Yesterday I, like thousands worldwide (probably mostly men) just had to click on the alluring figure of a 19-year-old happily warming up before a hurdle race. What made her so appealing was not just her looks, but the context of the competition: she is obviously healthy, vibrant, youthful, energetic, enthusiastic, radiant, and above all, athletic.

But the sexualization of female athletes has long been controversial. There are two kinds of discrimination that women can face in sports: limited access to funding, resources, exposure, etc. and inferior treatment (like having to fly coach when the guys are going first-class) and the kind that focuses on an athlete’s physical appearance more than her physical prowess. This phenomenon is apparent when athletes who are not top-ranked in their fields get inordinate media coverage (and all the perks that entails) while the less photogenic champions are largely ignored.

In my opinion, women should have the same rights and opportunities as men in sports as they should in every area of life. But I can’t say that the glorification of their natural beauty is a bad thing — and even if it was, I don’t think that will ever stop our species from celebrating it.

In the original games in Ancient Greece, as you may have heard, the athletes often competed naked (imagine that!). Says this Wikipedia entry: “The festival was meant to celebrate, in part, the achievements of the human body. Olive oil was used by the competitors … as a natural cosmetic, to keep skin smooth, and provide an appealing look for the participants.”

In ancient Sparta, both men and women often exercised in the nude, and young women as well as young men may have participated in the Gymnopaedia (“Festival of Nude Youths”).[94][95] 

Glorifying healthy, natural beauty is hardwired into our genes. I myself find these representations of kick-ass chicks way sexier than the hard-partying, designer label-flaunting, makeup-caked versions we are usually bombarded with, the kind of skin-deep frivolity that is held up as the gold standard of modern women. I also like to see women in the spotlight for something other than auto-tuned pop music, Hollywood credits or getting knocked up at 16. Role models of successful, smart, do-gooding women of all shapes and ages are even better, of course.

But if a woman can throw a mean left hook, throw a javelin or complete a long-distance swim while still looking amazing, well, I think it’s just one more reason   to praise them. My husband brought home the latest issue of Maxim magazine and I was mesmerized by the two-page spread of gorgeous Olympians from around the globe who will be competing in London. Just wow.

A woman should not be defined by her looks, nor should they become a huge discussion (as they frequently do in politics) unless the said woman is a model. A competitor in the Special Olympics is just as, if not more so, worthy of recognition as a stunning tennis player. But I think part of a woman’s self-confidence comes from looking her best, on and off the field, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Whether you want to call it natural beauty or healthy sex appeal, we can all develop it by eating right, kicking detrimental addictions and working out a little harder.

I love a well-muscled woman and a health-conscious man, someone who obviously appreciates their body and treats it right, someone who can age gracefully, run a marathon, climb a mountain, kayak a river … a healthy, active, competent person is so much sexier than a couch potato who drinks too much and pops pills. And while I did feel a little prick of envy checking out these paragons of perfection, it was followed by increased motivation to get my ass in gear and try to be, like the Olympians, the best version of myself I can be.

The best night’s sleep

Last night I slept on the sand, keeping watch over a turtle nest that is about to hatch. If they hatch while no one is there, every single baby turtle will disorient towards a ridiculously bright parking lot street lamp, and ultimately die.

Artificial light at night is sometimes necessary, but it can severely affect both animals and people.

A European scientific committee recently found that “Exposure to light at night (independent of lighting technology) while awake (e.g. shift work) may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and also cause sleep, gastrointestinal, mood and cardiovascular disorders.”

Other studies have linked nighttime fluorescent light exposure (while both awake and asleep) to stress, cancers, shortened life span, dental caries, diabetes, ADD and a long list of other problems.

Those of us who live in cities can never fully soak up the rich darkness of night or bathe in the crystalline star and moonlight. Stars are hardly visible, and when it comes to the cycles of the sun, moon and earth, we are, as Wordsworth wrote, “out of tune.”

Lying there with my back firmly against the sandy ground, I marveled at how utterly majestic and gorgeous the night sky is: giant white clouds rolled in from the horizon, changing shapes in unpredictable ways. The few stars I could see invoked wonder — although it made me sad to know there were so many obscured by the city’s lights. When I was on the small Carribbean island of Vieques, I was able to witness the glorious Milky Way for the first time.

I felt my tension melt away, felt connected to and cradled by the vast universe. The turtles know to hatch at night through innate cues, one having to do with electromagnetism. I can’t explain it, but I think the moon and the night exude a special energy upon the world’s creatures, one they need to stay fully balanced and well.

For millennia, man rose with the sun and, if he stayed awake after sunset, did so talking, laughing and singing around a campfire. At Day’s Close explains how artificial lighting transformed the night into a time for revelry, rendezvous, political intrigues and downright debauchery. The evolution, if you will, of nightlife.

Nightlife is grand and exciting. I love staying up late — to work, play or just hang out. My chronotype and circadian rhythms dictate that I am a night owl. Some studies say that night owls are more intelligent, creative and have more “staying power.” However, since our 8-5 society favors morning larks, they tend to be healthier and happier. That makes sense because I absolutely dread waking up early. And no matter what I do, I can’t seem to make myself go to bed early. Earlier risers, interestingly, were also found to be more conscientious and cooperative.

Exposure to lighting and age can affect sleep patterns, but about 50 percent is genetically determined. But beyond all this there is another modern technology that affects health and sleep quality: electromagnetic pollution. EMFs emitted by cell phones, laptops, modems, alarm clocks, wires and more can subtly affect us in a variety of ways. Some people are more “electrosensitive” than others. Many people are negatively affected without even realizing it. But try a night away from it all, and you will be able to tell the difference.

My best night’s sleeps occurred when I was removed from radiation and electropollution: the time I slept in a centuries-old estancia in the Argentine countryside; the time I slept in a wooden cabin in the snowy mountains of Utah; the time I slept in a hammock in the high desert valley of an isolated Indian reservation; and nights like last night, sleeping while connected to the healing powers of the earth, lulled by the sounds of the waves, caressed by a light breeze, and pondering the endless beauties and eternal depths of the universe.

Spice things up tonight

Spices are one of nature’s and God’s great gifts to mankind. Otherwise known as herbs, these medicinal plants offer amazing healing benefits. Whether fresh or dried, they help fight cancer, Alzheimer’s and aging and boost your heart, immune system, metabolism, and brain power. Basically, they keep you looking and feeling young, healthy and sharp. You can get their benefits topically in the form of essential oils, or you can use them to add that special something to your dinner. Listing all the different types of herbs and their uses and benefits would fill a book, and indeed there are many on the subject. Here are a few of the spices I use most frequently, along with a few of the great things they do (click on the source to read more in-depth).

Rosemary — Anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-fungal and anti-septic; rich source of minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium. (Source: http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/rosemary-herb.html)

Oregano — Anti-parasitical and anti-fungal, effective Candida treatment (it also only kills the harmful fungi, without affecting the natural intestinal flora);  treatments of gastrointestinal problems, headaches, respiratory illnesses and certain menstrual irregularities; rich in antioxidants. (Source: http://www.oreganobenefits.net/)

Basil — Exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein andzea-xanthin. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease process; Zeaxanthin, a yellow flavonoid carotenoid compound, is selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it found to filter harmful UV rays from reaching retina and help to protect from age related macular disease (AMRD), especially in the elderly; Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin and to help body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers; Vitamin K in basil is essential for many coagulant factors in the blood and plays vital role in the bone strengthening function by helping mineralization process in the bones. (Source: http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/basil-herb.html)

Parsley — Anti-cancer properties; antioxidant; boosts immune system; anti-inflammatory; vitamins C, A and K; promotes healthy heart. (Source: http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/6-health-benefits-of-parsley.html)

Cinnamon — Treats colds, indigestion, headaces and cramps and also believed to improve energy, vitality and circulation; lowers bad cholesterol and stabilizes blood sugar; anti-fungal; fights leukemia; relieves arthritis; anti-clotting properties; boosts memory and cognitive function. (Source: http://www.organicauthority.com/health/11-health-benefits-of-cinnamon.html)

I like to sprinkle rosemary on chopped yukon gold potatoes. I add olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika and bake in the oven until crispy. Great with ketchup and a healthy alternative to french fries. Oregano is good in meat sauce and on pizza, while basil is a must-have on pasta and caprese salad. My grandma always said, you can never have too much basil. Ah, basil, how I love you. Fresh or dried, I pile it on. It is so fragrant and enticing. Parsley is good on fish with some fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I also put it on my organic macaroni and cheese! Cinnamon is good in apple sauce and I ALWAYS put it in my coffee (along with raw sugar, almond milk and raw cocoa powder).

But there are so many more delectable options, each full of their unique tasty zing (especially if locally grown — try to cultivate your own!) and medicinal magic. Click here to read about more spices and their benefits (like garlic, sage and curry) and here and here to learn about what foods to pair them with.

3 steps to a long and healthy life

I want to share two informative infographics making the rounds online. The first shows the top healthiest countries in the world (Iceland, Japan, Sweden, New Zealand, Finland) and hints at how they got that way.

Mainly, eat more fish and locally grown fruits and vegetables (rocket science!). But there are three other things we should keep in mind that are a little more surprising:

1) Engage in moderate exercise, the kind that used to accompany a normal life. You know, walking, gardening, the kinds of activities that  are now often obsolete. Not only are these low-intensity movements pleasant and conducive to deep thinking and de-stressing, you will find them a lot easier to incorporate than that 6 AM hell session at the local CrossFit. Quote: “Walking is the main mode of transportation in the world’s healthiest countries.” In the city where I grew up, Las Vegas, people don’t do a lot of walking; many American cities were built around the car. So you may have to find a walking path and consciously schedule a morning or evening stroll since we no longer walk to school, work, the store or our friends’ houses.

2) Have a purpose. Many people just go through the motions in an unfulfilling job, or feel confused about what they want from life, or are just burdened by a vague ennui. First of all, recognize that you are not alone and that this is often a normal part of life, and secondly, that homeless people have become millionares, junkies have turned into sought-after public speakers. Try some serious deep thinking (best performed on a long walk!) to figure out what you love to do and what really makes you happy. Then take the first step to making that dream a reality. Once you figure out what you want, the universe will help you get it. And as I have learned, that frequently isn’t material possessions or even a trip to an exotic locale; producing creative, valuable work and being engaged in stimulating activity where you are challenged, learning and can be proud of the end result often provides a deep sense of joy.

3) Go easy on yourself. Of course, for all things there is a season. If you are spending most of your time engaged in meaningful work that you believe in, then the times of rest are that much sweeter. Don’t confuse a good work ethic with flat out career obsession. Life is short. Don’t spend it all working and miss out on life’s little pleasures: relaxing on a beach, soaking in a bath or spending a night out on the town once in a while.

The other infographic shows how long it takes common items to break down. As you can see, plastic bottles, disposable diapers and plastic bags take the longest time, around 500 to 1,000 years. I wrote recently about using re-usable glass bottles instead of plastic (better not just for the earth and marine species but for you as well) and I am going to make a deliberate effort to start using a re-usable bag at the grocery store and farmer’s market instead of plastic bags (I always recycle, but with that sort of life span, they would be better off being banned altogether).

Go for the glass

I just finished watching the 2009 documentary Tapped, which delves into the bottled water industry to uncover some surprising facets.

1) Commoditization — The film points out that the masses have been manipulated — through propaganda — into thinking that bottled water is safe and clean while tap water is not. This is not always the case and often, tap water may be even cleaner than bottled water. A classic folly is exposed: giant corporations (think Pepsi and Coca Cola) are pumping out groundwater, bottling it, and selling it to local people who should have it as a free right.

2) Environmental catastrophe — Heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It is a miles long mass of man-made debris, largely plastic particles, floating out in the ocean gyres — where it degrades into small particles that then enter the food chain. Similar patches exist in the Atlantic Ocean and elsewhere. While plastic is recyclable, the film points out that only a small percentage gets recycled and reused — the rest end up in landfills and in the ocean, where it never goes away but ends up harming life forms, infinitely.

3) Health consequences — Which brings us to the next point. Plastic has been proven to leach detrimental chemicals like PCB and BPA which are known to cause cancer and a host of other problems. Bottled water is exposing humans to these chemicals in two ways: via leaching from plastic containers (especially when reused or warmed), and when it degrades to minuscule amounts and then enters the food chain.

Note this excerpt from a New York Times article:

“But once it does split into pieces, the fragments look like confetti in the water. Millions, billions, trillions and more of these particles are floating in the world’s trash-filled gyres … PCBs, DDT and other toxic chemicals cannot dissolve in water, but the plastic absorbs them like a sponge. Fish that feed on plankton ingest the tiny plastic particles. Scientists from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation say that fish tissues contain some of the same chemicals as the plastic. The scientists speculate that toxic chemicals are leaching into fish tissue from the plastic they eat … The researchers say that when a predator — a larger fish or a person — eats the fish that eats the plastic, that predator may be transferring toxins to its own tissues, and in greater concentrations since toxins from multiple food sources can accumulate in the body.”

The plastic byproducts end up in us.

Other issues are explored: how the bottling plants affect local communities, and the potential for future water scarcity and corresponding exploitative practices by those who control the water supplies. I suggest you watch it if you haven’t already (view it instantly on Netflix).

I recently purchased a glass water bottle by Lifefactory. I paid around $22 at Whole Foods but there are similar ones for $10 at Target. There are many other glass bottle options on the market. I have to say, the taste of water from a glass container is much better than from plastic. I swear I can taste the difference.

While they still may not be perfectly footprint-free, they are pretty close. The bottles are not petroleum based and are infinitely recyclable; the wide-mouthed screw cap is BPA-free polypropylene. They come in a variety of pretty colors and are easy to clean. Do it for the taste, for your health and for the earth … and lets all recycle all plastic products whenever possible (and avoid when possible as well).

Books that saved me

Natalia Rose

When I was in college, I began to suffer from some unsettling symptoms: fatigue, severe anxiety, dizziness with fainting spells, prolonged sicknesses, depression and mood swings, and foggy and unclear thinking. I knew something was wrong with me; I knew I wasn’t supposed to feel like that. My whole life to that point, I had enjoyed exquisite, ectastic, perpetual well-being: endless energy, perfect metabolism, and constant happiness. I did well in school and was popular with my friends. What had happened to me?

An acculumation of prescription drugs and processed foods had created an extremely toxic environment. My liver had become overburdened, creating a domino effect of stagnation inside my body. But I didn’t realize this for a long time. Every night I would wonder what was wrong with me and pray to feel normal again, like I used to feel. I didn’t have a name or a specific diagnosis; therefore I couldn’t seek help from a doctor nor understanding from friends or family. To myself, and to everyone else, I was just inexplicably unwell and “off.”

One day my prayers were answered. I was guided to a particular shelf in my college campus where I found  books I had never seen or knew existed: books on natural health, holistic and alternative healing (alternative is an ironic term; it is alternative to what is generally accepted and is called Western medicine, but many of these practices have been used and proven effective for millenia), and nutrition. I finally learned the principles of the mind-body-soul connection. What you put into your body has a very profound effect on how you look and how you feel. Therefore, if you are not taking care of this one factor, you are significantly affecting your happiness, well-being and success potential.

The very first book that came to my rescue, and one that I will never forget, is The Raw Food Detox Diet by Natalia Rose. I do not eat all raw nor am I vegan, but this book enlightened me and spurred me to seek out countless other books (and later, documentaries) on the subject. I learned all about detoxing and the effects of the modern American diet and lifetyle. I began watching what I ate and seeking out super high-quality foods. I never consciously let another pesticide, preservative, hormone, antibiotic or artifical ingredient into my body again.

It took a long time for me to feel completely better. Years, in fact. It was a gradual process, but an interesting one. Thoughts and self-love are also very important. I hated that I had to deal with that situation, but glad of what I have learned. One important thing — something that many people find somewhat disturbing — is my avoidance of all doctors and medicine. I hope to never take a pill again and to never see a doctor again, unless it is an extreme emergency. If one has built a foundation of health, then sicknesses will be few; if something does arise, the body is always able to heal itself with the proper harmonious tools. There are many natural remedies that heal without side effects. Here are a few other great books:

Raw Food Life Force Energy by Natalia Rose

The Maker’s Diet by Jordan Rubin

Eating for Beauty by David Wolfe

The Gerson Therapy by Charlotte Gerson

Natural Cures … by Kevin Trudeau (this one has mixed reviews; however, lots of interesting information about things you wouldn’t normally consider, like the damage caused by microwaves)

Not everything you learn and read about will fit your personal mindset and lifestyle. Some people choose to eat meat while others don’t. Some people think there is nothing wrong with taking pills — like birth control — on a daily basis. My personal beliefs were formed by experiences and research, validated by intuition and tangible effects.