Monday, 24 February 2014

Sugar Detox!

Yipes! Today's the day…. my body has been telling me for some time now that it did not want any more sugar to contend with and I have finally decided to listen. I am worried, though. Sugar is everywhere! Will I be able to avoid it? It is horrendously addictive and, even though I don't think I eat much of it, I'm sure that I do. Did you know that 150 years ago we ate almost no sugar while today we eat more than 1kg a week? I've decided to use Sarah Wilson's incredibly appealing book, I Quit Sugar to help me along.

The detox takes eight weeks and she starts in gently, so I'm hoping that this forgiving approach will be easier to stick to. I've made my shopping list and am hitting the health food shop to stock up on ingredients for simple snacks to keep me going. Today, I started with one of my favourite breakfasts, which is sugar-free anyway (phew!): rye toast with coconut oil and mashed avocado topped with a sprinkling of furikake and a splash of Bragg's amino acids.

Sarah's approach is not preachy and she includes loads of recipes as well as sneaking in lots of motivating facts. For example: the real killer is not sugar, per se, but fructose. Here are three things I was surprised to learn about it: 
1) Fructose does not contain the molecule that tells our brains when we are full, so we just keep eating.
2) Fructose converts directly into fat, which can cause fatty liver and lead to insulin resistance.
3) Fructose wreaks havoc with our immune systems, upsets the mineral balance in our bodies, messes with fertility, speeds the ageing process and plays a role in causing metabolic syndrome, which is thought to be the precursor to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

That was more than enough to convince me! I'll let you know how I get on during the upcoming weeks and include any new recipes I find that are particularly helpful or tasty. In the meantime, you can check out Sarah's website for more information. Who knows, you might be inspired to try it for yourself!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Energy Medicine

I am a huge fan of energy medicine, which I believe to be the future of all medicine. It has been used by ancient cultures in every part of the world for thousands of years, right up until (somewhat ironically) The Age of Reason, when we fell under the spell of Science and modern medicine as we know it was born. Over the coming months, I'll be looking at ways to get at the heart of illness and how to prevent getting sick in the first place as well as how to peel away the layers of ill health on any level. I hope there will be something here that resonates with you.

There is often a lot of bad feeling between alternative practitioners and allopathic doctors. I am not in that camp. I believe strongly in an integrated approach. If I broke my arm, I would not go to an acupuncturist (at least not at first!); likewise, if I was struggling with anxiety, I would not go to a hospital. Modern medicine tends to be curative while energy medicine is more preventative. Nowadays, we wait until we are sick and then treat the symptoms, often ignoring (and often ignorant of) the root cause. This was not always the case.

My biggest energy medicine heroine is Donna Eden. Many years ago now, my kinesiology teacher recommended her book Energy Medicine and as soon as I started reading it I knew where my future lay. Everything she said made total sense to me and I was able to immediately start using her techniques (at home, by myself, for free, with no training!) to amazing effect. It was incredibly empowering to be able to take the responsibility for healing back into my own hands.

I once heard her speak at a workshop and have never been in the presence of someone so alive. Her energy was "happy" and palpable, zinging around the room, lifting up everyone there. She has a core group of techniques that I revisit again and again, really basic stuff that helps to maintain clear energy circuits on a daily basis. She has kindly packaged these up into The Little Book of Energy Medicine, which I cannot recommend highly enough, even for total beginners. It's perfect for anyone who want to have a go without jumping into too much detail. (You can also find all of the techniques online in YouTube videos if you need a demo!)

As we are at that transition point between winter and spring when a lot of people gets colds, I thought I would introduce one of my favourites: The Spinal Flush. You can do this on a daily basis to keep everything flowing, or use in a more targeted way the minute you feel a cold coming on. At the first sign of sniffles or mention of a scratchy throat, I start "flushing" both of my daughters and 9 times out of 10, perfect health is restored within hours. This has been a lifesaver for avoiding colds in the first place. (There are also lots of things you can do if you are already well into a cold, but that will have to wait for another post!)

So, grab a partner. Anyone will do; even a small child is capable of making energy work for them! Standing behind the person, rub the muscles on either side of the spine in a downward motion from top to bottom three times. You are quite literally pushing the toxins out of the lymphs. Then, find the vertebra at the top of the neck and rub side to side across the juncture of each vertebra all the way down the back (once). And, finally, holding your hand flat, palm facing the person's spine, about two inches away from the body, "sweep" the energy down and away from the body, from head to tailbone, three times. And that's it. You are done! It takes only a minute or two and the effects are astonishing.

NB: If it hurts when you are rubbing either the muscles or between the vertebrae, don't worry, that is just a sign of blocked energy. Go gently, you don't need a great deal of pressure. It is more about intention and the pain will clear as the energy becomes unblocked.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

3 Happy Things: February

February is my least favourite month and, sadly, this one has not changed my mind about that. I always feel a little down, the weather is always a little grey (and often wet!) and I am impatient waiting for Winter to finish and Spring to start, so I have been looking extra hard this month for Happy Things! I hope wherever you are there are some little signs of Spring peeking through! And, finally, while I am not big on commercial holidays, I am big on love, so a Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

One: We have had a ton of stormy weather this month in the UK, so I have been fortifying the house with daffodils to brighten things up.

Two: As it's still dark and gloomy, we have been lighting lots of candles and I realized that I love the smell of a freshly struck match.

Three: Nutritionists always advise to "eat the rainbow" and I think this beautiful rainbow chard fits the bill perfectly!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Invention of Wings

I love Sue Monk Kidd's writing. She writes with such clarity and purpose that you can't help but get swept up by the tidal wave of her imagination. The Invention of Wings is her latest triumph. This is a story of women and their extraordinary capacity for courage, and it blew me right out of the water. Every word is in the right place. It's an astonishing piece of work, peopled with a diverse group of women so real and so memorable that they've all crept under my skin and it is them that I am thinking about today every time my mind starts its incessant wandering.

When you were a child, did you want to change the world? I did. So badly. I wanted to right all the wrongs, fix all the problems, stop all the injustices, champion the underdog…. As I got older, this seemed such an insurmountable task that I think part of me just gave up and tried to do the best I could within my own life, but this book brought all that zeal zooming right back into my heart. It made me ask questions like, "What am I doing with my life? What contribution am I here to make?" And I am listening out for that inner voice again, which has grown wiser with age, to guide me.

The book is set in the Deep South during the early 1800s and shines its light on Sarah, the daughter of a wealthy Charlestonian, and Hetty, the slave girl she is given for her 11th birthday. Sarah does not believe in slavery, but is bound by the conventions of her time. The girls are therefore bound to each other and the bond they develop will influence them both deeply throughout their lives. They must each decide how to respond to their powerlessness and find their own place in the world as they grow into women.

At one point in the story, Hetty says to Sarah, "My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you its the other way round." It neatly sums up the way Sue Monk Kidd has woven together their plights. While slaves were subjected to unimaginable cruelty and deprived of all freedoms, women's freedoms were also curtailed at that time: their right to work, vote, own property, have a voice…. The Invention of Wings is, in fact, based on the true story of Sarah Grimk√©, who, along with her sister Angelina, became the first female abolitionist in America, and the first to speak out publicly about equality for both women and slaves. It reminded me that one person, one brave act, really can change the world.

Books change us too. When Sue Monk Kidd sits down and answers her own calling to put words on the page, her truth goes out into the world and touches the hearts of everyone who reads her stories. Some books become part of your story when you read them. This is one of them.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Making Piece

Beth M Howard's Making Piece falls into the Cathartic Grief category, and I know that word "grief" makes you wary. Don't be. This book is uplifting and redemptive, and when it found its way to me, it was like spending time with an empathetic friend who was telling me her story in order to help me heal. The emphasis is not really on the loss, but the forging ahead. The ability to go back to basics and create something new from the bombed-out remains of her previous life. Beth Howard is an extraordinary and inspiring person and her tale is well-worth reading.

Beth's 43-year-old husband died suddenly while they were in the throes of a divorce neither of them were sure they wanted. They loved each other, but being married wasn't working, so her grief was complicated and all-encompasing, yet when you read through the 18 months following his death, it's with awe and wonder that she has the wherewithal to get out on the road and bake for people, for pies are her salvation. She has always baked pies. In fact, she is crazily pie-obsessed (in a good way!) and uses pie — baking it and sharing it — as a metaphor for healing throughout the book.

She is also a journalist and it shows in her engaging writing. At the end of each chapter, late at night, I found myself turning the page, thinking, "just one more chapter…", which is surely the best sign of a good book! I felt akin to her in many little ways too. In one instance, she talks about nature as a source of healing, which made total sense to me: "For as much as making pie soothes my soul, I find my greatest solace in nature. Pie connects me with people, but nature connects me with God and with myself."

She also talks about going back to Iowa, where she was born and spent her childhood and it reminded me of my own Midwestern childhood, with its sense of security and community. She goes to the Iowa State Fair as a pie judge and says, "From the minute I set foot onto the fairgrounds, I was filled with a giddiness I hadn't expected. First of all, I hate crowds. I prefer solitude with occasional but controlled social gatherings." That about sums me up, but I know exactly what she means about that giddiness. What joy to re-experience that connection!

The thing that really got me, though, was that the whole year after her husband died, she just followed her gut and let "life" lead her from place to place, experience to opportunity. She listened carefully and by doing so found what was right for her. It's so important we all do this and so rare that any of us do. Her book left me feeling like I had spent time with a cherished old friend, revisiting my past, and full of hope for the future… but be warned, reading this will leave you with a ferocious urge to eat pie!!