A Real Eye-Opener

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“Don’t roll your eyes at me!” “Cross your eyes and they just might stay that way.” We’ve all heard and probably heeded these warnings before. However, I am here to say that I think you should be doing exactly these things. What am I talking about? Well, in my daily routine post I mentioned a routine in particular that I like to follow. It includes someSet of cartoon eyes eye exercises that are performed after rising each day. I dab cold water on my eyes, dry them off and then rub them very gently just to get the blood flowing. Then, I blink 8-10 times slowly and deliberately and proceed to roll, cross and basically stretch my eyes. This is such a small part of my morning routine, and one that I assumed carried little value beyond a repetitive behavior that would assist in grounding me. I was wrong. Really wrong.

Thus far, some of the benefits that I have noticed for myself or been told about by fellow eye exercisers are as follows:

1.) Reduction in headaches

2.) Less eye strain throughout the day

3.) Increased eye lubrication

4.) Increased comfortability with contact lenses

5.) Improved peripheral vision

Eye exercises have also been prescribed and performed for improved ability to focus, improvements in vision, “lazy eye”, crossed eyes, blurry vision, and sensitivity to light. I couldn’t believe when I started to notice these changes from such a humble facet of my daily routine. So, go ahead, give it a try and let the eye rolling commence. See if you notice any changes for yourself (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun).

Happy Spring!

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Nut Pulp Profusion – Raw CocoNutty Oat Clusters

IMG_2055The saying goes that “necessity is the mother of invention.” How true in my kitchen, as this is one of the few reasons I ever deviate from a recipe. I know that sounds boring, and I do change up ingredients more than I think, but it’s usually a little something here or there. Anyway, I digress.

My husband and I have found that clean and healthy cooking in our home is essential to our overall state of well-being. One of our favorite things to make is nut milk. We love the taste and variations we can create! So, he typically does the soaking, blending and straining for this so-simple-recipe. I, on the other hand, find or come up with recipes we enjoy that use the leftover nut pulp and have become increasingly interested in the seemingly endless possibilities for transforming it. Here is one of our absolute favorites for nut pulp hummus. There are a few other recipes I enjoy, but I often find myself wanting more. And so was born, from an ever-expanding freezer of frozen pulp, my newest creation.

While not technically clusters, these tasty treats are sure to be satisfying as a sweet end to a meal or in between when you need that little something. Enjoy! 

Raw CocoNutty Oat Clusters

Makes approximately 24 (1-1/2 in.) clusters

Ingredients:

The leftover pulp from 3 batches if using the nut milk recipe mentioned above or roughly 2 cups packed (thawed if previously frozen)

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup raw flaked oats

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

7 Khadrawy dates, chopped (or other date you prefer)

4 Tbsp. maple syrup

2 Tbsp. peanut butter (or other nut butter you prefer)

2 Tbsp. chia seeds

1-1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds

1/2 tsp. fine grain sea salt

*Optional Ingredients:

Hemp or other protein powder, sesame seeds, flax seeds (whole or ground), dried fruit, banana, cacao nibs, vanilla.

Directions:

Mix all ingredients very well by hand or with a mixer. Then, with a spoon, scoop out enough of the mixture to squeeze together and then roll into about a 1-1/2 in. ball. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Once all of the mixture has been rolled, pop them into the freezer to firm up. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for 3-6 mos.

**You may also want to try rolling the newly formed ball in lightly toasted coconut or sesame seeds before placing on the baking sheet and freezing.

 

 

Winter Can Be so Blue

I know, at least in my neck of the woods, we are headed out of the shorter, colder winter days into a seemingly early spring. Yippee! Howeimagesver, my winter blues had a late start this year, and now with the impending spring, I am hopeful they will be short-lived.

I first began to notice a marked difference between my summer and winter self in my early 20s. And though my symptoms were never severe enough to disable me, it made life for me less physically and mentally healthy. However, for anyone suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), these same symptoms can be severe enough to debilitate them. Changes in season trigger these feelings of sadness, typically as we head into the winter months, and especially for those of us with cold winters who live far from the equator. We may feel sluggish, want to sleep more, and our appetites may change along with our weight, which are common complaints due primarily to the disruptions with our internal clock and serotonin and melatonin levels. Most of us are not outside as much in the winter, and, when we are, sunshine is not nearly as plentiful. And, like most living things on our Earth, sunshine is integral to our overall health.

So, how do we keep on with our healthy living into the fall and through the winter? Here is a list of therapies for both the mild and more severe symptoms that I have used and noticed a difference with battling my own winter blues and a few that are new to me:

  1. Eat Healthy: We have known for quite some time that the foods we eat greatly affect our mood. This makes it very important that throughout the colder months we are getting warm, nourishing, nutrient-dense foods. As for the foods that cannot or do not provide needed symptom relief, there are several supplements that may help.
  2. Take Your Supplements: Vitamin D, B6 and folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, St John’s wort, and SAMe are the heaviest hitters when it comes to relief from depression and its associated symptoms. However, several of these therapies may interact with other medications, so it is best to consult with your medical professional if you are unsure. The types of supplements along with their dosages are discussed in greater detail here.
  3. Exercise: As I’m sure you’ve heard before, moderate physical activity increases energy level. Therefore, this an excellent and healthy way to fight the fatigue. A great option is yoga, not only for its physical benefits but its link to improved mental health as well. Besides indoor exercise, there are also several outdoor winter activities to choose from. So, on those sunny winter days, pick one, bundle up and enjoy the dual benefits of exercise and that precious winter sunshine!
  4. Keep a Schedule: We’ve already talked about the importance of a daily routine here. And it’s all the more important as we shift into those months that are more difficult for us. Besides, sleeping more will only make you more tired. Unfortunate, but true.
  5. Vacation: If a warm weather retreat is an option for you, then I strongly recommend it. If I am able, I choose to do my winter vacationing towards the end of January into early February. After the holidays and things have settled down, I find it’s a great break in my remaining winter months to get me through to the thaw. One week is great, but two is ideal!
  6. Light Therapy: Finding a sunny location in your home to sit and soak up some rays is not only enjoyable, but beneficial. However, if such a location does not exist for you or you find it is not enough, then a light box may be needed. Being near bright light that mimics natural sunlight each day has been linked to mood changes in up to 80% of those being treated for SAD. However, choosing the right light box and knowing how to use it is very important as some can be damaging to the eyes or skin if the inappropriate one is purchased or it is used incorrectly. It is best to consult with your medical professional if you are unsure.
  7. Acupuncture, Meditation and Massage: I have experimented with all three of these therapies, and I have yet to walk away from one of them without feeling better than before. That is enough proof for me that they are beneficial for my mind, and these benefits are all the more important to experience in those days or months when we feel disturbances within ourselves.

As individuals, we all fall somewhere different on the spectrum of corresponding woes that wash over us throughout the year, and most especially during winter. So, while I have found solace with many of the listed therapies, it is up to each of us to find what works best to stay at our most healthy.

A ‘Clean’ Start

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I remember, several summers ago, how my itching scalp lead me to read that first eye-opening article about the ill effects of hair dye which I discussed in my debut post. I also remember knowing, after having read that article, that it was my point of no return. I could no longer close Pandora’s box, nor was that what I wished. As is to be expected with any new beginning, there was a mix of both excitement and dread. What did this mean for me? What had I been unwittingly doing to myself? And what was the community like that shared my newfound discoveries? I wanted to understand it all. So, I dove headlong into researching these questions, and the answers made me feel as though I was waking up from a slumber in which I was unaware.

I very quickly found a community and great source of clean living information at nomoredirtylooks.com. The gals on this site cover a plethora of clean living topics. And, if you get the chance, their book of the same name that originated the site is a quick, informing read for anyone interested in these topics. Their site was also where I was introduced to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). When I first started looking at my old products and their list of ingredients, EWG’s SkinDeep Cosmetics Database was a godsend. You can either type in the product name, or, if that particular product is not in their database, look up the questionable ingredients individually and read about their real or potential affect on our bodies.

Remember, our skin is our largest organ, so whatever we are washing it, soaking it, or slathering it in, it is being absorbed. And, whatever is not absorbed is going down the drain to have a potentially devastating affect on our Earth. Everyone enjoys a clean start whether it be a haircut, overhauling a health or beauty regimen, etc. Yet again, as I discovered, most times, we bite off more than we can chew. In doing so, I spent more money than was necessary and ended up causing my skin to breakout and react in a way I had never seen before. I was trying to change everything overnight in a bid to ensure not one toxic thing was going to touch me again. This is, of course, impossible and extreme, and is, in itself, detrimental to healthy living.

My hope is that anyone observing themselves on their own precipice or looking to gain new knowledge on the subject matter finds this information helpful. And, it would be my pleasure for you to share your own stories and insights into your clean start and what can be such an exciting and daunting experience.

DIY: Toothpaste

FullSizeRenderHello, again! I was recently whipping up another batch of my toothpaste to cover me for my travel abroad and thought you may like to try this one for yourself. It is quite an easy recipe, and with it, you will no longer have to wonder what those long, hard-to-pronounce words are on the toothpaste label that have nothing to do with oral health or throw out your tube after just one use. This recipe is healthy for you, your smile and our shared Earth.

Essential Oils: Besides adding great flavor, and depending on the essential oil you choose to use, many have antibacterial, antiseptic and antiviral properties to name a few.

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Baking Soda: If used with light pressure, as is recommended whenever brushing your teeth, baking soda is gentle and effective at removing stains and plaque and is a natural breath freshener. Baking soda is not nearly as abrasive as most people realize, myself included. Its RDA rating, which measures how abrasive a given substance is, is a 7. This rating is drastically lower than the majority of toothpastes on the market natural or otherwise.

Hydrogen Peroxide: Used primarily in toothpastes and mouth rinses for its whitening capability, hydrogen peroxide is also a disinfectant that prevents plaque formation leading to gum inflammation. It should be used in low quantities so as not to cause irritation of the oral cavity or increase the porosity of the teeth.

Vegetable Glycerin: This ingredient provides a protective coating on the teeth that keeps the surface slippery, thus preventing bacteria from being able to hang out on our teeth and cause decay. It is a great solvent and humectant that helps blend your toothpaste ingredients as well as preventing the paste from drying out. Vegetable glycerin also has a sweet taste which adds to the overall flavor of the toothpaste. There is much debate out there regarding using vegetable glycerin in toothpaste. However, after researching this ingredient myself, I chose to continue using it. If it is an ingredient you would like to avoid, you can substitute coconut oil.

Xylitol: Aside from adding natural, plant-based sweetness to your toothpaste, xylitol touts a number of benefits based on the fact that it is a sugar alcohol. This means that the bacteria that normally sit on our teeth and cause tooth decay actually starve since they aren’t able to metabolize xylitol. Similarly, our bodies do not metabolize sugar alcohol as sugar and thus xylitol does not affect insulin. Xylitol also increases the mineral absorption of our teeth, making them stronger. Just make sure the xylitol you are purchasing is non-gmo, as it is primarily a corn-derived product.

I have been making and using this recipe for 4 years, 2 dentists, and multiple dental hygienists. Upon telling them that I make my own toothpaste and asking them for their professional opinion on the ingredients, many have wanted the recipe and all have found that my teeth are in perfect health. Additionally, I have experienced no more tooth sensitivity since making my own paste, which is the original reason for this recipe’s creation.

Homemade Toothpaste

Makes approximately 3/4c

Ingredients:

1/2c baking soda, packed

2T xylitol

1T + 1t vegetable glycerin

1/2t essential oil of your choice (I have tried and like peppermint, wintergreen and spearmint)

1T hydrogen peroxide

Directions:

Combine all ingredients with an electric mixer. Let sit, covered, on the counter for 10 minutes. Check consistency, and make adjustments as needed. Let sit, lightly covered, for a few hours or overnight to allow for bubbles to settle out. Funnel into a glass jar or squeeze tube for easy use. If using a tube, make sure the lining will not be reactive with the ingredients in the recipe. Also, there may be some separation that occurs between brushings, so be sure to stir or shake before using.

Daily Routine: What and Why

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During the holidays, many of us get together with friends and loved ones. I am no exception. My sister traveled back to MN for her visit, and she stayed with my husband and I for three weeks. We had a blast! However, some of my daily routine went to the wayside. So, I am working on getting back on top of things and thought it would be great to share some of what I have learned. And I know that whether it is guests in our home or traveling or a physical or mental change in our daily life, our routine can become interrupted. Most of us have some semblance of a routine that we perform each day to keep us at our optimal performance. Why do we do this? One of the biggest reasons is that it keeps us balanced since our body and mind are in constant communication with one another, allowing us to remain grounded even when we are in a different state mentally or physically. Two years ago, one of my most stressful home moves and simultaneous job transitions brought me to an Ayurvedic practitioner, and it was then that I was introduced to the numerous benefits of a more structured routine. Since healthy living starts with our daily living, it is in the things we do everyday that greatly determine our overall health.

Routines, which typically apply to morning and night, come in many different forms. Some of the staples that should be included in a daily routine include going to bed and rising at the same time each day, exercise, personal care and breathing/meditation practices, which I have discussed here. I happen to favor this daily routine by Vasant Lad, an Ayurvedic Physician. And, though it is not listed, it is also recommended to go to bed between 9-10pm each night. A month or so after starting my routine, I began to notice improvements in my ability to handle stressful situations, energy levels, alertness, sleep patterns and digestion. I do not do all of these steps, nor do I do them exactly as they are written or in that order. I have made the routine my own based on what works for me, and, in order to stick with it, I suggest that you find what is best for you.

I hope each of us finds a routine that works to remain balanced in the many situations that life throws our way. It mitigates stress, improves overall health and helps us to be our best each day, and who wouldn’t want that.

 

Meditation and Beyond

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Now that the holidays have come to a close, and the New Year’s resolutions are popping up, I am revisiting the simple practice of relaxation. I have tried several variations on relaxation techniques, and I think the more options I have, the more inclined I am to stick to the practice. If you find that you have a favorite, by all means carry on. Therein lies the beauty of it, it’s up to you. However, I think taking this time for yourself is vital in our world of overstimulation where increases in our stress hormone, cortisol, have such numerous detrimental effects on the body from weight gain to cognitive impairment. So, here goes.

Breathing: Try it. Seriously! Sit up tall and comfortably with the tip of your tongue placed against the bump just above where your two front teeth meet the roof of your mouth, and exhale completely with your mouth open. Now, take a slow deep breath through your nose with your mouth closed at a count of 4 seconds, hold it for a count of 7 seconds, and exhale completely with mouth open at a count of 8 seconds. Hold the tongue position through the entire cycle, and do this technique for a count of 4 cycles. This 4-7-8 technique by Dr. Weil is recommended to be done twice a day or more, but he suggests the user stick to 4 cycles for the first month of practice. Other excellent breathing techniques are belly breathingalternate nostril breathing or ujjiya breathing also called “ocean breath,” and are all common breathing practices in yoga.

Yoga: The practice of yoga incorporates some of the above mentioned breathing techniques for relaxation, but also improves flexibility, strength, focus, posture and a whole host of other physical and mental conditions. This makes yoga a great option for both stress and fitness management. Additionally, there is a vast array of yoga practices available to suit individual tastes.

Auditory guidance: Instead of taking that 20 minute power nap (which may happen regardless, so set an alarm if you need to be up) try lying down or sitting comfortably in a chair, using headphones if there is external noise, and listening to 5-20 minutes of a babbling brook or other soothing sound without words. Another great option is to play a guided relaxation or hypnosis session for yourself. I have used both and found them to put me at ease and help redirect my thoughts when I find I am stuck on a loop that is causing anxiety, worry or other negative reactions. I have found all of these options available to download for free as phone apps.

Meditation: Most of us have probably heard of or even tried meditation for its ability to calm the mind by clearing the mind. All of the practices I have listed so far refocus the mind, and meditation is the original technique for accomplishing this. However, the ultimate goal of meditation is to stop thinking altogether. As this is extremely difficult and years of meditation may never produce this desired result, focusing on only one thing whether it be the breath, soothing sounds, or a mantra, help to quiet the mind. For a step-by-step beginner’s meditation guide, click here. A relatively newer meditation process is transcendental meditation or TM, which is making the rounds especially in the world of celebritydom. TM purports the ability to work for everyone with ease and effectiveness, with the user capable of reaching the deepest level of meditation almost immediately. For more information on TM, click here.

Remember, there is no one solution for everyone. Even from the handful of options I listed, there are numerous alternatives. Some may not fit the definition of meditation, but they all achieve very similar desirable effects that improve our whole being. Namaste.