photo_mystory01As the number of women in the military increases, the number of returning female vets who end up homeless is also soaring. According to a recent NY by Patricia Leigh Brown, of those veterans staying in homeless shelters, 10 percent were women in 2011, up from 7.5 percent in 2009. In California, where one fourth of our nation’s veterans live, there has been a 50 percent increase in homeless women since 2009.

While homelessness among male veterans often results from PTSD and drug usage, women vets face additional challenges. Sadly, the path of many women from active duty to homelessness starts with military sexual abuse, resulting in severe PTSD and a downward spiral into drug usage, joblessness and homelessness, the article reports. Other issues specific to women increase the chances of homelessness—the higher percentage of women who are single parents, for instance.

Fortunately, many women vets are turning to a safe and effective way to heal PTSD and empower themselves to start a new life. Supriya Vidic served for six years in South Korea and Iraq, where she was promoted to sergeant by age 22. Later she worked in the signal corp as a telecommunications officer in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and as project manager for her unit.

Despite her success, Supriya says that as a woman she was affected by combat stress in ways that were not always recognized.

“While in Iraq, for weeks on end, a single hour would not pass without being bombed by mortars and rockets,” she says. “This level of combat stress affected my physiology to the point of changing my reproductive system.”

As a leader, Supriya helped the female soldiers that she served beside deal with issues such as balancing motherhood with active duty, and dealing with military sexual harassment and assault.

“We’re trained as women in the military to see no difference between ourselves and our male counterparts,” she says. “But the truth is it’s a very complex process, to balance being a woman with being a soldier.”

After leaving the army, Supriya noticed that her friends and fellow vets were experiencing a rough transition into civilian life, spiraling into alcohol abuse and despair. Looking for a better way to live, she learned the Transcendental Meditation technique and attended Maharishi University of Management.

“I had witnessed first-hand how PTSD affected many of the soldiers I was in charge of,” she says. “It wasn’t always that easy for me to deal with those who had been so severely affected by stress. It wasn’t until I learned TM and saw my own compassion and humanity unfold that I realized how stress affected me and how stress affected others at all levels.”

As part of her studies, Supriya worked with veterans who had learned TM. “The transformations I saw in those veterans when they learned the TM technique were so powerful, so deeply moving, that it created a profound transformation within me as well,” she says. “That’s when I realized, I have to become a TM teacher.”

Supriya now teaches the TM technique in New York City.

“Being involved with teaching the TM technique, I have witnessed the transformation of many individuals, and this gives me hope for the future of our country,” says Supriya.

Linda Egenes is a health writer, blogger and author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, June 1 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

Categories: Uncategorized

 

BY LINDA EGENES

 

2010_09_francis_thickeOUTSIDE THE RADIANCE DAIRY milking parlor on a drizzly spring morning, Francis Thicke rings a bell and blasts a reveille on his trumpet. His Jersey cows amble slowly toward him in the misty dawn, waiting for him to slog through the muddy holding area in his knee-high rubber boots to unhook the electric wire that separates the cows from the milking parlor.

“I used to play this—majored in music in college.” He rolls the tarnished instrument in his hands. “It was once a fine instrument, but it got burned in a fire.” He turns and leads his cows into the milking parlor, like the pied piper, only with a horn instead of a flute.

A tawny cow named Harmony is first in. A few straggle behind. “It’s just like Rawhide,” says Francis, a gentle man who at age 60 flings grain with the strength of a lifelong farmer. “There are always a few drag cows. Each has its own personality, and there’s a pecking order. The older cows tend to run in first, because they’re more dominant.” He speaks quickly in his clipped Minnesotan accent, punctuating his words with a shy smile or a laugh.

“We don’t use antibiotics on our cows,” says Francis, who owns and runs the dairy with his wife, Susan. “If we have a health issue, we use homeopathic or herbal remedies that are designed for humans, with doses recommended for cows.” After 40-some years caring for cows, Francis rarely needs to call in a vet, although he has called in a chiropractor to reset the back of a cow who couldn’t stand up in the pasture.

How do the cows respond to such tender loving care? One statistic tells all: the cows at Radiance Dairy continue to produce milk up to 12 years, compared to the two-year life expectancy of conventional dairy cows. These cows literally spend their days in clover—grazing carefully tended pastures of organic legumes and grasses. If there is such as a thing as a happy cow, they’re here.

Working with Nature

But after spending time at Radiance Dairy, you begin to realize that special attention is only one part of the whole picture. There are many reasons why these cows live longer, why their milk is so healthy and desirable that Radiance Dairy can sustain a viable economic base by selling to a small community of 11,000. One thing binds all the puzzle pieces into a complete picture of pastoral success: Francis’s basic philosophy, to work with nature rather than try to overcome it.

Francis calls his farming philosophy co-creative agriculture. “Nature has a game plan,” he says in his quiet voice. “We just have to recognize it. Nature, with its intelligence, brings something to the table, and the farmer brings something to the table. Solving problems is a co-creative process, rather than one of dominating nature.”

This kind of nature-driven problem-solving is evident in the way Francis converted his herd from grains to grasses, a more natural feed for cows. “Cows aren’t really made to eat grains,” Francis explains. “Cows who eat grasses are healthier.”

It turns out that allowing cows to graze also conserves energy. “An organic farm mimics the efficiency of nature,” says Francis. “At Radiance Dairy, we don’t consider cow manure to be a waste to be disposed of, but a resource that fertilizes our pastures, improves soil fertility, and makes the grasses more nutritious—thus increasing the health of the cow and the milk. Better still, the cows harvest their own forage and at the same time spread their own manure, saving energy.”

When farmers do what nature intended, it seems, they solve economic and ecological problems in one stroke.

Farmer, Scholar, Public Servant

What makes someone start on the path to organic farming? For Francis, the dairy farming part is in his blood. He was born on a conventional dairy farm in Minnesota, working alongside his father and brothers since childhood.

It was while studying at Winona State University, where Francis majored in music but took all the philosophy courses he could, that he started to question many of his beliefs.

“I remember my philosophy teacher teaching us to always question everything, and that resonated with me,” he says. “So when it came to putting chemicals in the soil, I thought there might be a better way to do things.”

Back on the family dairy farm after college, he saw an opportunity to put his new ideas into action. In charge of spring herbicides for the farm, he decided to skip applying them to one of the fields.

“I just kind of watched it,” says Francis. “And I was encouraged with the results.” He showed the field to his two brothers, and they decided to try the whole farm without herbicides the next year.

Francis’s father didn’t like the idea. But the sons prevailed, successfully converting the family dairy farm to organic in the 1970s, when organic farmers were a rare breed.

Francis laughs and says, “That first experiment must have been pure luck, with a lot of climatic conditions coming together to make it a year without many weeds, even without any alternative weed control.”

Their trial-and-error approach caused a few disasters along the way, such as weeds taking over the fields before they learned how to do timely cultivation. “It took us a few years to get things fine-tuned,” he says.

With no one close by to show them how to farm organically, the brothers subscribed to early organic farming magazines, such as Rodale’s The New Farm and Acres, USA, which still exists today.

“We’d read how other farmers were doing it, and then we’d try it,” says Francis.

Francis and Susan left the farm in 1982 so Francis could pursue higher degrees, an M. A. in Soil Science from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. in Agronomy from the University of Illinois.

“I went to graduate school because I thought I could help change the system,” says Francis.  “I soon learned that graduate students are very vulnerable, subject to their professors’ opinions, so I learned not to talk about my views on organic.”

After getting his Ph.D., Francis and Susan headed for Washington, D.C. As National Program Leader for soil science for the USDA-Extension Service, he worked on water quality and sustainable agriculture. Again, he kept most of his views quiet, trying to effect change from the inside.

When he quit the USDA in 1990 to buy Radiance Dairy, most of his colleagues thought he was weird and radical, he says.

All that has changed now that organic is the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Perhaps more than anyone, Francis Thicke sees the danger in making organic farming the latest agricultural fad. Unless people have a commitment to organic farmingphilosophical or personal—it’s difficult to make it work long term, he has written in the Organic Broadcaster and other publications.

“I’ve seen a lot of farmers try organic as if it were another specialty crop,” he says. “You have to look at the big picture, and approach the organic farm as an ecological system, or it’s not going to be successful.” Francis knows a corn and soybean farmer who tried to farm organic soybeans by substituting organic fertilizer and pesticides for conventional ones. He gave up, believing organic didn’t work. According to Francis, another recipe for failure is to neglect inputs altogether—without adopting ecologically friendly practices to replace them—leaving the crops vulnerable to pest infestation and soil depletion.

Somehow Francis manages to live several lives at once—farmer, writer, and public servant. Even though he no longer works for the USDA, Francis has served on many national and state boards and committees and is now running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture on a platform of greater energy efficiency for rural farms using wind and solar, creating more jobs and economic development by supporting local food production, exposing predatory practices by corporate monopolies, promoting wider uses of perennial crops to keep Iowa’s rich soils from washing into our rivers, and re-establishing local control over animal confinement operations.

Francis and his dairy are already known throughout the state. Each year hundreds of visitors—from school children to politicians to farmers—flock to the farm to see how solar-powered organic farming can be done.

“Radiance Dairy exists as an extraordinary model for the kinds of direct marketing to local markets that other farmers may do in their own operations,” says Fred Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow at  the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. “He’s also an engaging personality. He’s having an impact in Iowa.”

Kirschenmann also wrote the introduction to Francis’s new book, A New Vision for Iowa Food and Agriculture, in which he says, “We have the opportunity in the decades ahead to design an agriculture that can be more economically, socially, and ecologically resilient. That is the future to which Francis has dedicated himself—and so should we.”

Above all, Francis Thicke is a hands-on, old-fashioned farmer, with his heart tied to the land, the cows, the crops.

“It’s hard for a dairy farmer to give up milking his cows,” he says with a wistful smile. “I still milk them several times a week. When we first started, my wife, Susan, and I did it every day.

Linda Egenes (www.LindaEgenes.com) is the author of Super Healthy Kids and four other books on healthy, green living. 

Rick Donhauser is an award-winning photographer whose work appeared in A Home for the Souland other publications.

Excerpted from the book-in-progress Green Angels by Linda Egenes and Rick Donhauser.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, September 2010. Reprinted with permission.

 (Photo: copyright Rick Donhauser, used with permission)

)

Help for Kids with PTSD
January 27, 2014

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 5.16.34 PMRecently John Christoffersen wrote in the Huffington Post that mothers are still struggling to calm their children after the Sandy Hook disaster. Even though the children have been moved to a different school and have received the best counseling available, the children and teachers are still spooked by loud noises, which make them think another intruder has entered their school. Nightmares and trouble concentrating are other problems that linger.

Between 8 to 15 percent of those who experience traumas such as mass shootings develop PTSD, said Russell Jones, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech who counseled survivors of a mass shooting at his school. Fortunately, about half of them no longer have the symptoms after three months, he said.

But what about the other half, who, like many of our veterans with PTSD, struggle to recover years later? And what about the thousands of kids in our country who witness shootings in their own neighborhoods and suffer silently from PTSD without any treatment or help from the community or school?

I was discussing this article with my husband, who is professor of Sanskrit at Maharishi University of Management (MUM), while on our morning walk the other day. He pointed out that the experience of PTSD—where sounds and smells trigger memories of a stressful event and even create the same fight-or-flight reaction—was described by Shankara, a great teacher of ancient India who lived more than two thousand years ago.  Shankara called it “superimposition” (in Sanskrit, adhyāsa). One reality gets superimposed upon another reality: memory gets superimposed upon perception.

The example Shankara gave was a snake and a string. A woman sees a string, but thinks it’s a snake and stress hormones flood her body, her heart races, she runs away or screams. In other words, she’s playing old tapes in her mind, and then reacting to those tapes, rather than the present perception.

Modern science has located a physiological component to this, called the amygdala. When a person is stressed, the amygdala area of the brain becomes hyperactive. The amygdala is helpful for us when we are in danger, as it is responsible for the fight-or-flight reaction. This response can save your life if you have to leap out of the way of an oncoming car, or can save your child’s life by giving you the adrenalin rush needed to snatch her out of the stream of traffic.

The problem comes when, due to exposure to trauma, a war veteran or a traumatized child constantly senses danger even when nothing bad is actually happening. They find it impossible to turn the hyperactive amygdala off.

Counseling may offer some relief, but the hyperactivity of the amygdala usually continues even after counseling, because counseling cannot restore balance to the amygdala.

That’s where the Transcendental Meditation technique comes in. Brain research shows that when a person practices TM, the activity surrounding the amygdala eases off and switches to the pre-frontal cortex. After meditating for some months, the amygdala only switches on when there is an actual danger. It’s calm the rest of the time.

Dr. Fred Travis, a neuroscientist and colleague of my husband’s at MUM has conducted many research studies on the TM technique. He says that to recover from PTSD, we need an experience that is the opposite of trauma—an experience that is holistic and not fragmented, an experience that is silent and not chaotic. When a person transcends, they move beyond thought and emotion. During meditation the fear signals from the brain get turned off.”

study of Vietnam War veterans suffering from PTSD demonstrated that after three months of doing the Transcendental Meditation technique, symptoms such as alcohol usage, high startle response, emotional numbness and anxiety decreased as compared to a control group who received only psychotherapy. Research indicates that meditation has a positive effect on problems that often arise in PTSD sufferers, such as hypertensiondepression, and substance abuse.

And TM works with children too. In urban schools in Detroit, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and all over the world, children are learning the Transcendental Meditation technique to release the anger and stress that comes from living in stressed environments.

As one child in a homeless shelter where TM is taught says, “Meditation feels good. Your body feels relaxed. It gets rid of negativity and anger. You forgive people. I have changed a lot.”

Back to Shankara’s explanation: meditation breaks the illusion. The memory no longer overpowers perception. So when a person goes to a movie, they enjoy the movie. When they go swimming, they enjoy swimming, because the active mind is now a quiet mind.

And children with PTSD can let go of the trauma that they have experienced, and become children again.

Linda Egenes is a health writer, blogger and author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, August 1 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

Categories: Uncategorized

To the New Year
January 26, 2014
IMG_1115

My friend Carol Olicker wearing her sparkly Cinderella slipper earrings

One of my favorite ways to revitalize my writing is to spend an evening sinking into the soft couches of my friend Christine’s living room and journaling with our women’s writing group. We’ve become super close over the years, sharing our birthdays, triumphs and setbacks. Some of us write or teach professionally, others write for the pure joy of expression.

Our formula is simple: we start with a writing prompt, such as a poem or exercise from Natalie Goldberg’s memoir-writing book Old Friend from Far Away, and let our writing take off from there. Here’s a poem that poured out of me during our last session, where we used the beautiful poem “To the New Year” by W.S. Merwin as a jumping off point.

 

To the New Year (Inspired by the poem by W.S. Merwin)

by Linda Egenes

“With what stillness at last you appear”—this I love.

Somehow this line will forever be entwined in my mind with the sight of our Carol,

looking like a benevolent Christmas elf in her red tank top and green polka-dotted socks,

adorning herself with red camellia—not one but two—behind the ear,

inserted in her hair with deft, effortless care,

hanging on her ears the emerald-green dangle earrings

somewhat in the shape of Native-American dreamcatchers

and finally uncoiling on her wrist a diamond-studded watch

with a thick, white plastic band.

 

She does this matter-of-factly,

like she is used to getting dressed at the party,

her face relaxed, her blond curls set off perfectly by the ruby flowers and tank top,

her earrings catching the eye in perfect unison with the green socks,

even the white dots echoed by the white watchband.

 

I do not know how these small acts of adorning herself like a human Christmas tree make my heart swell in a chorus of appreciation for Carol,

for her honest and flower-blossoming heart,

for her daily acts of sparkle

and her compassion that shines forth in the darkness like a Christmas star,

but somehow I know that these are the moments,

untouched and sweet,

that make up a life here in Fairfield,

where every moment is true and zooming forth from one heart to another,

where all the moments link together

to make me feel loved and in love

with Carol and everyone in this room and the snowy streets beyond,

to make me feel that here, here in this 150-year-old room,

wrapped in the healing tonic of Christine’s cushions and throws

and Bud’s slow breath

and Ellen’s clear and soft vision of unity

and all our shared moments of 40 years together,

that here, here we are living the best of all lives

and anything is possible,

anything at all.

 

 

 

BY LINDA EGENES

Deborah MadisonFor more than 30 years Deborah Madison has championed home-cooking that is colorful, healthy and gourmet-good. Madison, who has won the James Beard award, the Julia Child award and other awards for her cookbooks, traveled to Fairfield in May to speak at the annual EcoFair at Maharishi University of Management. It turns out that Madison has roots in Iowa—her father was born in Burlington, and she visits here yearly as a board member of Seed Saver’s Exchange in Decorah. Her book Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets was newly released in paperback in May. Here she talks to Radish readers about the book, farmers’ markets, and local foods. 

Why is buying local so important?

Deborah Madison: It’s important for a lot of reasons. Right now we’re seeing the costs of transporting food in our pocket books. But more importantly, the experience of going to a farmers’ market to buy local food is more satisfying and connecting. You see your friends, you see the people who live in your community, you see the people who grow your food, who might also be your friends.  It’s an experience of connectedness, which I think that Americans in particular are lacking.  The experience of walking down the aisle of a big supermarket with a cart is one of the saddest chores that we do, whereas going to the farmers’ market is a pleasure.

And the other reasons?

Deborah Madison: Another reason is the quality of food is so much better.  When you taste broccoli that’s fresh and picked the day before and it’s in season, it’s nothing like we get in the store. It’s sweet, it’s delicious. You’re gaining more flavor and with more flavor you’re getting more nutrition.  And for foods that need to be picked closer to their ripeness to really taste good, like figs, apricots and tomatoes—that can happen at a farmers’ market but it can’t happen in a supermarket where shipping is involved. It’s just better food, it tastes so alive.

Finally, it’s important to buy local because it’s a way of keeping money in your community, which is especially important in the rural agricultural sectors. It’s a more healthy situation for us to pay our neighbors for services instead of always seeing our money go far away to some big corporation down the road.

What were your favorite Midwestern farmers’ markets you visited while you were researching Local Flavors?

Deborah Madison:   I actually have three that I love, each very different from each other.  One was St. Paul’s, which is crowded, vibrant and bursting with an interesting combination of modern farmers and traditional Midwestern growers. I also enjoyed the Madison, Wisconsin, market, where a local chef and I started at 6:00 a.m., which helped avoid the crowds.  I loved the feeling of the market, which is situated around the perimeter of the State Capitol, with lawns and trees. The quality of the food at both markets was amazing.

The third market,  in Decorah, Iowa, is the opposite of the other two. It’s tiny but I always find many interesting things to take home, foods that we don’t have in New Mexico, whether it’s ground cherries or jams made with local fruits. It’s friendly and relaxed, with interesting people. I remember a man who had ground his own corn and it was absolutely delicious to cook with, it had so much flavor and vibrancy.

What were the most unusual locally grown fruits and vegetables that you came across in your travels across the country?

Deborah  Madison: In the St. Paul market I must have taken 150 pictures of amazing eggplants in purple or gold or with green stripes, even bright orange ones, grown by Hmong  farmers. And there was the most amazing tropical smell—it stopped me in my tracks. It turned out to be a fragrant melon called passport.

How far should we be taking the local foods movement? We can’t grow oranges in Iowa, for instance.

Deborah Madison: It’s a challenging question to think about. It’s useful to think about what should be bought locally: your lettuce should be local, for instance, as wherever you are it can be grown nearby. When it’s something that can be grown where we live, I see no excuse for getting it from California. If you can get wonderful apples in Iowa, then you don’t have to buy apples from Washington and New York State.

What can Iowans do to support the local foods movement?

Deborah Madison:  Iowans can support the local foods movement by buying foods that they know are local. There are active Buy Fresh Buy Local chapters throughout Iowa.  Certainly if you have a farmers’ market you can support local growers there. Sometimes your local co-op will feature local food. And you can always ask for local food. We have to be active consumers. We have to buy it, speak up and ask for it.

Crostini with Roasted Eggplant and Pine Nut Puree

makes 1 cup puree

If you have a chance, make this puree using the pale green or white eggplants or the violet Rosa Bianca—all of which are delicate and sweet. You can make it all in a large mortar or a food processor.

  • 1 pound eggplant or a little more
  • olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • seas salt and freshly ground pepper
  • fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped opal basil, plus basil leaves for garnish
  • 12 slices toasted baguette or crackers

 

Preheat the broiler. Peel the eggplant and slice it into rounds about ½ inch thick. Brush both sides of each slice lightly with oil, set on a sheet pan, and broil about 6 inches from the heat until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side. When done, stack the eggplant slices so that they’ll steam and finish cooking. Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over low heat until golden. (If using walnuts, toast them in the 350º oven for 7 to 10 minutes, until fragrant.)

Pound the garlic and pine nuts with ½ teaspoon salt until smooth. Coarsely chop the eggplant, then work it into a somewhat rough puree with the pestle or in a food processor. Add a little lemon juice ot sharpen the flavors, taste for salt, season with pepper, and stir in the herbs. Spread the puree on the toasted bread or crackers, garnish with a basil leaf, and pass around as an appetizer.

 

Redbor Kale with Red Beans, Cilantro, and Feta Cheese

Serves 4

A limited cupboard can sometimes prove an asset. I had dark red kidney beans from a California market, feta cheese, cilantro, and what seemed like an armload of Redbor kale. They worked well together, much to my surprise. In truth, any variety of kale is fine here, and so is chard and other greens, such as collards.

  • 1 ½ cups dried kidney beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon thyme leaves
  • sea salt
  • 1 white onion, finely diced
  • 1 large bunch kale (see headnote)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish
  • ¾ cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

 

Drain the beans, cover them with plenty of cold water, and bring to a boil. Remove any scum that rises to the surface, then add the herbs, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and all but ½ cup of the onion. Lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 1 ½ hours.

Slice the kale leaves from their stems with a knife. Chop coarsely into 1- or 2-inch pieces and rinse well. Bring a few quarts water to a boil; add salt and the kale. Simmer until tender 5 to 7 minutes, then pour into a colander to drain.

Heat the oil in a wide skillet. Add the remaining ½ cup onion and ½ cup of the cilantro. Cook over medium heat until the onion has softened, about 10 minutes, then add the kale and the beans with enough of the cooking liquid so that there’s plenty of sauce. Simmer together for at least 10 minutes, then serve garnished with crumbled feta cheese and the remaining cilantro.

 

Tomato Juice Sipped Through a Lovage Straw

Imagine having your own fresh tomato juice. Strained but not cooked, the juice has a consistency far lighter than what comes out of a can. It’s especially fine if you can sip it through the hollow stem of lovage, yet another good reason for having a lovage plant in the garden.

  • 1 pound ripe, juicy tomatoes, any color, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup ice
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • fresh lemon juice, to taste
  • 2 lovage stalks, fennel stalks, or lemon basil sprigs for garnish

Puree the tomatoes and ice in a blender, then pour through a strainer. Add a pinch of salt, some pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Let stand for a few minutes for the air bubbles to dissipate, then pour 2 glasses and serve with the lovage straws or her sprigs.

Linda Egenes is a freelance writer who enjoys her local farmers’ market in Fairfield, Iowa.

All recipes are from Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets, Broadway Books

(I originally wrote this article for Radish Magazine, August 2008. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

make your healthy New Year's Resolutions stickWe all do it. We make grand resolutions on New Year’s day and break them the next. Yet there are ways to make your healthy resolutions stick. Here are some ideas.

1. Break it into baby steps. Most resolutions involve long-term goals, which can be daunting. If your dream is to get into shape, break it into small steps, like scheduling thirty minutes a day to exercise. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, it’s healthier to engage in mild exercise such as walking every day rather than doing an über-workout three times a week. Signing up for classes in dance, aerobics or yoga helps because once you pay the fee, you’ll feel motivated to show up. You’ll find yourself slimming down without even realizing it.

2. Make your resolutions concrete and action-oriented. Rather than resolving to eat a better diet, plan to eat five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. Feel more energetic from eating right today and that success will motivate you to do it all over again tomorrow.

3. Try the one-day-at-a-time plan. If your goal is to feel more rested, choose one night a week to skip TV, engage in relaxing activities like taking a warm bath or listening to music, and get to bed early, by 9:30 pm. Drink a glass of warm milk with cardamom at 9:00 pm to relax your mind and prepare for an early sleep. Create a sleep-conducive atmosphere with Slumber Time Therapeutic Aroma. The pure, organic essential oils of Sweet Orange, Marjoram, Lavender and Jasmine are blended in a precise formula to help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. You’ll make better choices when you wake up rested. And after you establish the habit of one night a week, you can add on another night, and then another.

4. Make it fun! Find an exercise that is appealing to you, and foods that are healthy but tasty too. Join forces with a friend to cook a new recipe in the new year. Take a trip to your local health food store and select fresh, new-to-you ingredients to make a vitamin-filled but delicious meal. Reward yourself with great food shared with great friends.

5. Wish you could effortlessly feel inspired to meet your resolutions? Schedule a detox. It’s easier to spontaneously choose the right foods when your body is free of impurities. It’s also easier to exercise when sluggish toxins aren’t making you feel tired. The most important thing to do is to prevent toxins from forming in the first place. Eating organic, whole foods is the best way to stop toxins in the digestive tract and at the cellular level. You can also improve your elimination system (which carries toxins from the digestive tract out of the body through the bowel and urine) by eating a cooked apple and figs in the morning. Figs have more fiber than any other food. Adding more organic greens and other vegetables to your diet—flavored with detoxifying spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander and fennel—also helps the body eliminate toxins.

BY LINDA EGENES

Sharon IsbinSharon Isbin is considered, quite simply, the leading classical guitarist of our time. Among her many honors, she was named “Best Classical Guitarist” by Guitar Player magazine and is the first guitarist in over 40 years to receive two classical GRAMMY Awards (in 2001 and 2010). A former student of Andrés Segovia and a graduate of Yale University, she has performed to sold-out audiences around the world—from Carnegie Hall to London’s Barbican to the White House. As head of the guitar department at the Aspen Music Festival and The Juilliard School, she has developed an original technique for teaching classical guitar. Yet she doesn’t limit herself to classical music—she has mastered a musical palette that ranges from bossa nova to jazz to folk, collaborating with other guitarists in new ways. Here she explains how she has been able to combine her virtuosity, her technique, and her passion in order to create music that reaches into the heart and touches the soul.

Sharon Isbin Best Classical Guitarist Transcendental Meditation and Music

 

What do you feel has made your music stand out from the crowd?

I explore a variety of genres, from my home base in classical to unusual collaborations in jazz, bossa nova, folk, country, rock, and even film music, performing on Scorsese’s The Departed. But most important to me and to listeners is the emotion, lyricism, sensuality, and passion.

What is your process of interpreting the music that you play? How do you go about it?

I choose music that I love and which speaks to me, and that makes it easy to be expressive. The more I play a new work, the more I discover in it. My goal is to enter the mind of the composer while feeling and expressing the emotion from within. In a way, I explore different characters of a piece much like actors do with a script. And when I choose dynamics and shadings to delineate the different layers and levels of voicing, architecture, and structure within a work, it’s much like a director staging and guiding actors in the foreground, middle, background, etc.

Are there any principles of creativity that you employ when you create an album such as Sharon Isbin and Friends or prepare for a concert performance?

Developing an album is a varied process. For example, my solo disc Dreams of a World (2001 GRAMMY Award) came together from a pile of scores I’d assembled over time, which I’d found to be particularly beautiful and which happened to be all folk-inspired. Journey to the Amazon has music from countries bordering the Amazon, and evolved from making several trips to the rainforest and then performing with a composer/organic percussionist from a tribe in the Amazon, Thiago de Mello, and saxophonist Paul Winter. J.S. Bach Complete Lute Suiteswas a natural after ten years of study with the great keyboard artist/Bach scholar Rosalyn Tureck. When I was invited to make the New York Philharmonic’s first and only guitar recording, I chose Latin music from Spain, Brazil, and Mexico. Other collections include Baroque concerti, American concerti, Latin Romances, etc.

My recent Journey to the New World (2010 GRAMMY Award) is an exploration of folk music beginning in the 16th century British Isles, Ireland, and Scotland and crossing the ocean with the immigrants to the New World. Its centerpiece, “Joan Baez Suite,” was written for me by John Duarte and inspired by music Baez made famous in the early part of her career. When Joan heard it, she offered to sing on the album and performs beautiful renditions of “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Go ’Way from my Window.” Virtuoso country fiddler Mark O’Connor concludes the journey, joining me in the folk suite he wrote for us.

My latest, Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions (Sony), pays tribute to my guitar heroes and includes guest rock stars Steve Vai, Steve Morse, and Nancy Wilson (from Heart); jazz virtuoso Stanley Jordan; bossa-nova singer/guitarist Rosa Passos; and more. The Latin-flavored disc also honors past heroes like Andrés Segovia, with whom I studied; Joaquin Rodrigo, who wrote the famous “Adagio”; and Tom Jobim, with whom I had collaborated.

Do you feel different when you perform a piece by Joan Baez versus a classical piece? Is the creative process any different?

Though I explore a different kind of rhythmic and stylistic freedom when playing with Joan Baez or Steve Vai than I do playing Bach (though Bach’s music, with all its improvised ornaments and embellishments, was the jazz of its time!), my goal is always to make the music sound fresh, imaginative, and heartfelt.

You have been called “the Monet of classical guitar—a master colorist.” Why do you think people have such an emotional reaction to your music?

I love to be expressive on the guitar with lyricism, dynamic contrasts, nuances, phrasing, articulation, and a panoply of colors and timbres. I cultivate these techniques to serve the music and to communicate it with feeling and emotion. For example, I can make the guitar sound like a human voice by connecting notes of a melody with nuances of sound while shaping the contour of the line as a vocalist would do. This also creates a three-dimensional quality and depth.

Sharon Isbin Classical Guitarist Transcendental Meditation TechniqueI understand that you have written a teaching guitar book. Are there new techniques that you have developed and are passing on to your students? What was the process for developing those?

Among the topics I explore with my students at Juilliard and in my Classical Guitar Answer Book are techniques I’ve developed of preparation, memorization, and visualization to encourage peak performance. These are the secrets and methods I’ve discovered and refined over years of performing which I am able to share with others. I find it particularly effective to practice these techniques at the end of a session of meditation when the mind is especially stress free and receptive to suggestions and learning. The end of a meditation is an ideal time, in fact, to plant any suggestion about a goal or task you wish to achieve.

I read that you have been practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique since you were 17. Do you feel that transcending on a regular basis has had an influence on your artistry and work, and if so, how?

Practicing TM has inspired heights of creativity for me on many levels: as a musician, arranger, educator, writer, and artistic director. Because TM is so effective at eliminating stress and distraction, it encourages laser-sharp focus and concentration for any task.

As a musician, TM enhances my mental stamina, memory, concentration, and ability to learn. It puts me in touch with my innermost creative core and enables its expression through music. Most importantly, it facilitates instant access to a state of “cosmic immersion,” that feeling of being in the flow, or in “the zone.” When I perform onstage, I enter a state of being very similar to the one I enter daily when practicing TM. It’s a sense of communion with the energy of the universe, the audience, the composer, and the music—without ego or interference. It’s a feeling of unity between me and the listeners, a sense of “oneness” in which we are all experiencing the beauty of the music together. That sensation is one of the reasons live performances can be so powerful—everyone is focused and transported, and the experience is unique and in the moment, never to be replicated.

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 7. Reprinted with permission.)