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Why Having Compassion For Yourself Is Important

downloadHave you ever heard someone say, “I am so hard on myself.” or, “It’s not easy for me to be kind to myself”. Truth be told, I’ve said this myself in the past. But I’ve come to realize that being hard on myself makes it impossible to have compassion for someone else. I’m sure the same is true for you too.

What is compassion exactly? My dictionary defines compassion as follows: “Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” A few years ago, I lived several years of my life single mindedly being of service to my then-new extended family. I don’t say this to make myself sound like a saint – far from it, because I sometimes secretly resented all I did for them with little or no recognition for my efforts. In this era of my life, I became increasingly unhappy and unfulfilled as I ignored my own wants and needs and let myself become preoccupied with the needs and wants of everyone else. My obsession with what “everyone else” needed was not making anyone’s life better, least of all mine.  For me, things had to come to a head and become intolerable before I was able to take a step back and shift my thoughts and behavior to a healthier way of living that reflected a little better who I really was. I learned a lot from this period of my life.

What I now know is that it is a lovely and positive thing to want to help others….if the motivation and intent is right minded. Many people become helpers of others for all the right reasons. But it my case, and in countless others I have since come in contact with, there are those who will nearly exhaust themselves helping others because then they do not have to look at themselves or their own lives. In their minds, they are constantly focused on someone else’s troubles and so have little or no time to really get to know themselves. There can be quite an arrogance in helping others to the exclusion of giving yourself what you need. How easy it is to fix others, compared to the hard work in fixing yourself!

Yes, it can be painful to see ourselves as we really are at times; our pettiness, our jealousy, our judgements. But what a wonderful freedom can be had by doing this. At first, it is so painful to see these traits in ourselves that we quickly look the other way at first glimpse. “Whoa! I don’t want to think about that!” But then, using techniques described in my last blog, you observe, breathe deeply, and feel the emotion. You see that you can survive that first awful blow of recognizing yourself as a flawed human being. Learning compassion, really learning it, is to look right at the awful, embarrassing things you know about yourself; to look them square in the mirror and get closer to that messy, yucky part of yourself that you really don’t want to see. That is the true start of learning compassion. To see these unattractive parts of yourself and not have to turn away, not have to deny. To experience the feelings these parts of yourself bring up in you. Acknowledging them and casting the light of day on these things helps them to melt away, to lose their teeth and claws. Then you will begin to know what it is like to have compassion for others.

The inability to look at oneself in this way, even if one goes to great lengths to be helpful to others, is arrogance.  True compassion is not possible for one who refuses to look at their own shortcomings in this soft and thoughtful way. This is the unvarnished truth about learning to be compassionate.

Start with yourself.

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A Simple Way to Become More Positive

face with half frowning, half smilingWe all want to have a more fulfilling life, of course we do. But it isn’t likely that we will feel satisfied with our circumstances if we entertain lots of negative thinking.  Curbing our tendency to focus on the negative is a prerequisite for becoming more positive. I know, DUH!  But for anyone who has made a sincere effort to be more positive and to turn off the stream of negativity, it is not as easy as it sounds. (Simple, yes; Easy, no!) The negative thoughts seem to arise spontaneously.  In fact, we are wired  to place more emphasis on the negative than the positive.  The truthful answer to “how do I stop the negativity”  is practice, practice, practice. Your everyday life and situations that arise are the perfect training ground for this practice.

Besides your inborn negativity bias, you have had lifetime unconscious programming that drives your thoughts and behaviour, so don’t give into the temptation to browbeat yourself when you notice you are being negative again. A good way to make this training a more pleasant experience for you is to praise yourself when you notice the unkind or negative thought – how wonderful that you spotted it! You are getting better and better at this! You don’t have to deny the thought you just had; in fact, after praising your marvellous mind for noticing the “bad” thought, then acknowledge what you are feeling and try to discern where in your body you are feeling it. Is it in your jaw (yep, that’s my place), or in your neck and shoulders, or in the pit of your stomach? If you can locate it, really feel it for a few moments and breathe long and slow a few times, placing your attention on this unpleasant sensation. It will usually begin to dissipate on its own. If you cannot determine where in your body you are feeling the emotion, it is still important to stay with the seemingly all-pervasive feeling for a few breaths. Remember that you probably will not want to do this; our tendency is to either suppress the feeling, or blame ourselves or someone else for it. But stay with this practice anyway, because it is the one thing that will work to shift things for you. I promise, it will not last long.

It never works to notice the negative thought, and then quickly say to yourself, “oops, there I go again, that’s not very spiritual. I’m not going to feel angry, I feel happy and blissed out.” Not only will you not help yourself, but you run the risk of becoming very annoying to people because this is disingenuous. To be whole and complete, you must be authentic within yourself. You are always free to not act on your anger; just acknowledge and feel it in your body.  Be present for the pain – this is the terrifying part for some of us. We are so adept at smoothing it over, sending it down, down, down – or, sending it out by being reactively angry -that it can feel overwhelming to sit there and just feel the hurt. As strange as it may sound, this is what is needed to set it free. This very simple action of pausing before you jump into the usual chain reaction of anger to others or yourself and breathing in the feelings, and breathing them out….this is choosing a fresh alternative and will eventually stop the habitual re-activeness of negativity. If you don’t do this, you may get through this moment seemingly unscathed, but the pain will be back another day. In the process you can become disassociated from yourself as you repeatedly deny how big the hurt really is. Just take it in small steps and take a couple of minutes to feel the unpleasant feeling as it arises. Stay in your body and do not follow your mind on this one. Your mind will want to have a lot of narrative about the feelings, and the story about how or why you feel the way you do is not important for recovery. Feeling the feeling in your body is the only thing that is important in releasing it.

A short summary and cheat sheet:

  1. Pause
  2. Breathe
  3. Feel

This is not a practice that you do once and then you’ve got it. It will take many repetitions to weaken the negativity but stay with it. Every time a new trigger happens, think of it as another opportunity to practice. And, when you fall into the trap of reaction, don’t beat yourself up, just begin again. As many times as it takes.

The big, deep, long standing emotions may take some repeated acknowledgements as they circle back again and again. This is not a failure on your part but just indicates the size of the wound that you have. Don’t deepen the wound by being unkind to yourself. Stay the course of pausing, breathing, and feeling emotion when it comes up and it will soon dissipate. Repeat every time it happens, and come back to this practice if you veer off course. It really is a work in progress, as all of us human beings are.

 

A Delicious Vegetarian Curry – Enjoy!

vegetarian curryI haven’t posted in a while because I have been writing an E-Book – very exciting but it takes up most of my free time. I tried this recipe and liked it so much I want to share it with you….I definitely can make the time for this! 

 

Chickpea and Cauliflower Curry

Ingredients

  • 75 g cashews
  • 1 Tbsp Coconut or Walnut Oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 green chillies, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 1-2 tsp curry powder (depending on how hot or mild it is)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 large head of cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 400 g can organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 400 ml coconut milk
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds
  • 100 g baby spinach
  • 30 g (or so) bunch of coriander (cilantro), chopped
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Heat a deep frying pan over a medium heat. Toss in the cashews and fry (dry – no oil) for 3 minutes or so. Shake the pan a little while they fry, until they are a little charred. Set nuts aside.
  2. Return the pan to the medium heat and add the oil. Cook the onion for 3 minutes until it just begins to caramelize. Add the chillis, garlic, ginger, curry powder and turmeric. Fry a couple of minutes, until the chillies lose their vibrant color.
  3. Add the cauliflower, chickpeas, and coconut milk. Stir. Tip in the cashews and poppy seeds. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken.
  4. Stir in the spinach (and a little water if needed). Season well with salt and pepper. Replace the lid until the spinach begins to wilt. Stir in about half the chopped coriander. Garnish with the remainder of the coriander.
  5. Serve over brown rice or quinoa, or just eat as it is!

Easy-peasy and very tasty. I’d love to hear what you think after you make this curry; your feedback always help when I hone my recipes. Enjoy!

Mental Outlook – One of the Four Pillars of Health

Be the type of person you want to meetSince you are the only one that thinks inside your head, it would seem that choosing positive thoughts and creating good healthy mental patterns would be quite easy. But for any of us who have tried to walk this path and create thoughts, behaviors, and habits that lead to the life we want to manifest, we all know that it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Despite our best intentions,  at times we get engulfed in the negative story line.

Besides going through emotional upsets and even traumas in each of our respective lives, as a species we also have a negativity bias built into our brains that makes it easier to lean towards the negative. Indeed, left to our own devices, we all tend to put more weight on the negative than the positive in our lives. Yes, we can get a nice warm glow when someone gives us a sincere compliment or praises our achievements. But where is the residual value of this praise if we are wounded so easily by criticism or a harsh word by an unmindful, thoughtless person? Think of how easy it is to allow a negative story line to spiral out of control in our minds until we are convinced that we are not loveable or worthwhile. It often doesn’t take much for us to sink to a low depth in our self esteem.

You can devote some time to doing things that make you feel good, that make you laugh, that give you a high. But those same demons will sneak in the back door as soon as something goes very wrong, or someone decides to take their frustration or own low self esteem out on you. The yo-yo method of Mental Outlook doesn’t work any better than the yo-yo method of dieting. We swing from “vine to vine”, looking for something else (we’re not sure exactly what) because we don’t see we are already whole and complete as we are right now. We have to wake up and tune into this.

What really helps take you further down the path of love and acceptance is a conscious choice, then being willing to do the work to make this happen. Geeze,,,,it’s like so many other things, eh? Even a positive mental outlook takes work, a bit of mental and spiritual weigh-lifting. This is not because we are lacking in any way, but most of us have learned what we know and believe from others, who had their own wounds and issues to work out. “Unearthing” the richness of who we are and what we have to offer takes work mainly because we have to get rid of the unnecessary baggage before we can dive deep. It is simply part of our life’s work to discover first hand what is true for us and not just blindly accept another’s blueprint for our life.

For me, a meditation and yoga practice is important for clearing the clutter in my mind and tuning in but there are other practices that can be just as valuable, including Tai’ Chi and Qi gong (pronounced Chi Gong).  I believe a spiritual practice of some sort – whatever that is for you – is important for a sense of fulfilment and vitality. Does the word “spiritual” bother you?  Then pick another word.  But a practice where you can quiet the mind and stop the chaos, and feel a part of something greater than just yourself and your problems is crucial for good health.  This positive spiritual practice will help you plug into things that really nourish and recharge you.  You must nourish yourself, otherwise it won’t take long for you to become depleted. Even if your time is limited, you can set priorities and let something go so you can have a mini-break and recover. You only have 30 minutes while the baby sleeps? Spend it meditating instead of watching some silly TV program. The meditation will leave you more calm and refreshed than the TV. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time well, whatever the hype is about “multi-tasking”. If you try to open up too many windows on your computer, what happens?  It crashes! So will you. Get calm, close some windows, take a deep breath, and focus on the one thing you need to do in front of you. When that is done, you can move on to the next thing. Work on one “window” at a time.

By now, we’ve all heard how important a positive attitude is for health and happiness, and more than likely you’ve incorporated some of this sage advice into your life already. If so, good for you!  If not, don’t take my word for it – just commit to adding some positive practices, such as positive affirmations and a gratitude journal, yoga, meditation, etc. into your life every day for one month, and then see if your life improves. If it doesn’t you’ve lost nothing.  But you will never know that life can be so much better if you don’t give it a try.

Suggestions to get started:

  • Commit to devoting time to becoming the person you want to be. Writing an agreement with yourself is good, or teaming up with a good friend can also be beneficial. It is not easy to stay the course on your own if you have no experience with this. Work out one or two small steps to begin in the direction of your goal (even if the goal is just a vague idea like “I want to be a better person”). You can get more specific after you begin and get more clear on what is important to you.
  • Start small, and add to this as you have some success. Meditate for a few minutes (10 is good, then add more time.), write in a gratitude journal every day for 30 days without fail, look at yourself in the eyes every morning and say something positive. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Try “closing all the Windows” and being present – to the activity you are doing, to the person you are with, to the feelings you are having. Notice the next breath and place your full attention on this. Place your focus on the sensations in your body….is your jaw tight, are you slouching, are you warm or cool, is there discomfort anywhere in your body? Tune in and really feel what is happening for a few moments. It can start this small, but be fully present to what is happening now.
  • Bring more positive people in your life. Spend more time with the ones you already know. Limit your time with people who bring you down, make you doubt yourself. Don’t waste your precious time with people who want to tear you down.
  •  Be persistent but kind to yourself. Don’t immediately think, “I’m no good at this” when you try meditation and your mind is all over the place. If you had to fly a jet plane, you would probably not feel confident your first try. So just show up for it, no matter what happens. Be present for the chaos, for the calm, for the anger, and for the happiness. No judgement.

Feel free to let me know how you do with this, or for that matter, how you feel about this post.

 

Exercise – One of the Four Pillars of Health

cycling on a beachWhen it comes to exercise, most of us simply don’t get enough. Our bodies are designed to move much more than most of us do. Every system in our body performs better when we have regular daily exercise. It doesn’t have to be complicated; Sit less, and move more. You can start that simply.

Besides allowing our bodies to work better and more efficiently, getting enough exercise sets us up for better health by ensuring that our weight and muscle mass stays in optimum range. The more muscles mass you have the more you need to eat to maintain this muscle (wthout gaining weight) and to keep going each day.  If you have more  lean muscle mass, you’ll also have more energy, and you will require more food to maintain your weight.  This is why once a person goes down the road of too little muscle mass (caused by not moving and exercising enough) it perpetuates an endless cycle of gaining weight and attempting to diet to lose the excess fat. Someone with less muscle mass just does not need as much food as one with more muscle mass. Proper nutrition is important (see the post on Diet and Nutrition), but you are never likely to lose the fat and keep it off unless you move your body more. More important than this, you will never have optimum health and vitality without exercise of some sort.

This concept does not have to mean expensive equipment and gym membership….if that’s your thing, but all means go to the gym but if it’s not something that feels comfortable to you that is not a problem. You can still get all the exercise you need without purchasing any equipment at all. The first step is just to begin moving more. It really starts that simply. Don’t let this be daunting for you. Walk more, take the stairs instead of the elevator, don’t park right at the door of the shops but make yourself walk a little further than usual. Move your body throughout the day in as many creative ways as you can think of. If there is an activity that you enjoy, do more of that as often as you can. Do you like to dance? Then let that be your exercise. What a fun thing to do, all by yourself! Pick out a few songs that make you want to move – clear obstacles out of the way in the room, and let yourself go. Love to play tennis, or wanting to learn? What a great form of exercise that is!  You can get on a bike and explore your neighborhood in a different way, take a walk around the block, go swimming (indoors or out, whichever is more accessible for you, go to a yoga class, or play an outdoor game with the kids. Exercise does not have to be difficult or dull. Begin to re-frame exercise in a way that is fun for you and you won’t have to force yourself to do it.  I also think it helps to think of exercise as a way of being good to yourself, of increasing your health and well-being and NOT as a way of looking better.

Once you begin, you may want to go a little further and add more into your daily routine.  If you are happy with the results you get long-term by increasing movement in your life, that’s great. If you have other health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, excess body fat (particularly belly fat), or want to bump up the benefits, then you may want to add Interval Training to your routine. A good time to do this is when you reach a plateau with your weight.  If you’ve never heard of Burst, or Interval Training, it’s very simple and there is lots of information you can read about it on the internet. Once the domain of elite athletes, Interval Training has become a powerful tool for the average person too. In a nutshell, all you do is sprint, climb stairs, jump rope, jog, etc. to whatever is your maximum effort (this will be different for everyone, depending on how fit you are) for the interval that you decide – there are different protocols for how long the “interval” of intensity should be. There is quite a bit of research that shows “burst” intervals of less than 15 seconds in length burns the most body fat. Then you rest for 30 seconds. You want to have several “bursts” – different protocols suggest different things – but the intention is to have at least 3 bursts, followed by double the rest time. Then you want to walk at a normal pace for 10-20 minutes. It’s that easy.

You may be thinking that if shorts bursts of 15 seconds of intense exercise is great at burning fat, then longer bursts would be even better, right?  But you’d be wrong. These short, less-than-15-second bursts tend NOT to increase lactic acid build-up in your muscles. The reason that is a good thing is because lactic acid can inhibit your muscle’s ability to burn fat as fuel. When lactic acid is not present, muscle cells can use fatty acids as fuel more readily. The end result is, you can burn fat much easier. (This is a simple explanation that is true, but there is a lot more to the physiology of Interval Training that is fascinating. Research it a bit if you want more science.) There are endless combinations of interval protocols which do different things, but shorter than 15 seconds is ideal for unlocking your body’s fat burning chemistry. And – here’s a bonus – it is less demanding on your body to do such short bursts! Win,win.

Longer intervals, or bursts, are appropriate too though, and may be better for normalizing blood sugar. The idea is always the same….You have a bout of high intensity, followed by a recovery period of 1.5 to 2 times the burst, and repeat this three to five times. Then, have a few minutes of lower intensity walking. Whatever you start with, my advice is to use a combination of different interval training workouts so your body doesn’t get used to what you are doing. Our bodies are cunning at adapting, so keep it guessing! The variety also keeps you from hitting a stubborn plateau.

If you’ve already been walking more as part of your exercise routine, you might incorporate short bursts of jogging into your regular brisk walks. If you’re less fit, perhaps you could alternate leisurely walking with periods of faster walking. For example, if you’re walking outdoors you could walk faster between certain mailboxes, trees, or other landmarks. You can make a little game out of it and easily implement Interval Training into your life painlessly and easily.

An expert on this time of exercise is Yuri Elkhaim. His posts are clear and very readable if you want to find out more about both the science behind Burst Training, and different training protocols.

 

 

 

A Surprisingly Delicious Winter Salad

SHREDDED_KALE_SALAD_01I really start to miss eating salads this time of year, but the usual summer salad greens are nearly always disappointing during the winter months with their bland taste and texture.

Here is a salad that will not disappoint!  It is made with raw kale, and no – it is not bitter at all. Some of you will not need any convincing to try this, but for those of you who are in the “raw kale is too bitter” camp, I urge you to give it a try. It is yummy!

Winter Kale Salad (serves one, or two if used as a side salad)

  • 100 grams Kale, chopped up
  • 50 grams grated Parmesan cheese
  • big handful of pumpkin seeds (I soak mine overnight in water with sea salt, then dehydrate them in a very low oven)

For the dressing:

  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar (I’ve used White Wine Vinegar before; it was fine)
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

Mix the dressing ingredients together and whisk.  Pour over the chopped kale, blending well Add cheese and pumpkin seeds, and….ENJOY!

I have eaten this salad immediately after I make it and it is very good. But if you want to soften the kale leaves a little bit before you eat it, simply dress the salad an hour or two ahead of time and the acid in the vinegar and mustard will make the kale less chewy.

A very forgiving recipe….I have used more parmesan cheese and pumpkin seeds when I am using this salad as a meal and it made it very substantial and filling. You can also use more or less dressing of course.

Diet and Nutrition – One of the Four Pillars of Health

healthy eating imageThe most important thing a person can do to upgrade their nutrition is to give up processed foods. There is little chance of being healthy if your diet has too many packaged, processed foods on the menu. If this is the case for you but you are willing to learn new ways of eating and are also willing to make some lifestyle changes, then improved health is within your grasp.

If you know little or nothing about how to eat healthy, start by eliminating all the processed foods then begin to increase your intake of vegetables, and you’ll be closer to better health almost immediately.  Once you eliminate the processed stuff, you can focus on adding in more of the healthy plant-based foods to your diet.  Set a challenge for yourself to prepare some healthy but delicious recipes, featuring plants or mostly plants.  Experiment and explore with new and different recipes. There are so many blogs and free sources to get new recipes that you could get started as soon as you make your next trip to the grocery store. (A good way to boost your veggie intake fast is to get organic green super food powder (this contains freeze-dried or dehydrated vegetables and super foods), mix it with a little water or apple juice and a sprinkle of cinnamon, and start drinking it most mornings. It is a relatively pain-free way to get more veggies in you!  Then continue your quest to find mouth-watering vegetable recipes.

Once you make a start in the healthier direction, make it a priority to educate yourself and allow this interest in being healthy and feeling wonderful to motivate you. There are some great teachers in this area out there, like Mark Hyman, M.D., Josh Axe, M.D., Sara Gottfried, M.D. (“Dr. Sara”), The Food Babe, and Kris Carr, to name just a few. Once you begin, you will be amazed at the help and good advice at your fingertips. The key is to begin….right now, right where you are.

Remember to put your focus on the plethora of foods you CAN eat, instead of the things you cannot. If you build your diet on what you must stay away from, your willpower WILL cave in time!  Ask yourself the question, “What great foods can I add to my diet?”  Stop thinking “no, no, no” when it comes to food, and instead make a list of healthy foods you like and have fun creating new meals. Remember that you want to get it right more often than not.  No browbeating yourself! Just start incorporating some healthy yummy food in your diet today.

Here are some of the food guidelines I live by. Maybe they will help you too.:

  • Protein at every meal, plant based most of the time. If you like meat too much to give it up, pay the extra for organic free range meat. There are too many antibiotics, hormones, and chemicals in mass-produced meat to eat this way any longer.
  • Lots of vegetables, some raw.
  • Fruit, but limit the high sugar-content fruit to every other day (bananas, pineapples, mangos).
  • Limit grains and starches, and sugar
  • Lots and lots of water

It is simple, and not at all boring once you get out of the box and explore the possibilities of lovely food you may not have previously considered. If this seems too much all at once, decide to start with one day a week that features healthy and meatless food, and let your creativity run wild.

There are some unwavering truths about healthy eating, then there are lots of opinions floating around out there. It can be confusing to read and hear so much conflicting information….Eat whole grains; avoid all grains – raw food is the way to go; raw food is not sustainable and rots your teeth – use lots of extra virgin olive oil; oh but it’s bad to cook with it (and maybe don’t eat fats very much any more!).  I think the “truths” are to make your diet more plant-based, don’t eat genetically modified foods, and stay away from white sugar and white flour. At least, these are the truths to which my research has led me. I’m sure there are others out there who would disagree. The important thing is for you to find what is the best diet for you. (No, it’s never going to be doritos and snickers bars, sorry).  But you have some wiggle room as to what is acceptable. I took a long time to realize that wheat and gluten was tearing my gut apart – mostly because I didn’t want to know this. Now I know, and as painful as it was to give up wheat, it is now part of my life and is relatively easy for me.

In summary: give yourself the tools you need to get started by doing a little research, collecting tasty recipes, and adding great food to your pantry and fridge. Don’t beat yourself up by placing your awareness on what you cannot eat; just begin to crowd the bad stuff out of your diet by adding in the good.  Enjoy the daily pleasure of healthy, living food.