In the Spiritual Garden
July 31, 2014
Our family home and wild flower gardens my parents created in Naperville, Illinois.

Our family home and wild flower gardens that my parents created in Naperville, Illinois.

In the spring of 2011 my aging parents moved from their beloved home of 52 years to live in an assisted living facility near my sister in California. We had moved my parents only after their dementia progressed to the point where they could no longer stay in their own home. Up until this time I  think I still felt, in the deepest part of my heart, that if only I could give my mom and dad enough love, enough healthy foods, enough Omega 3s and other healthy supplements, structure enough exercise into their days, that they could reverse their aging and dementia and recover.

That summer, my husband and I had the emotional task of clearing out family home and selling it. Saying goodbye to our family home, which my father had designed and built with his own hands, was like saying goodbye to a living, breathing member of the family.

All this left me feeling exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed, to say the least.

Yet when I returned to my own home in Fairfield in the middle of the summer, there was the garden. We’d planted the seeds and seedlings before I’d left in early June, and at that time the garden was mostly underground. It had grown up in the weeks I was gone, all by itself. The beans were a foot high, the tomatoes flowering, the zuchini fanning their giant leaves and yellow blossoms turning into long green striped squashes.

It was a reminder that life goes on, despite our gains and losses. New life will always take over. And growth happens without us having to do much. We toss a few seeds in the soil, wait for a few rains to come and the force of nature itself creates a garden of Eden.
Viewing the abundance of my garden, I was reminded that Mother Nature was caring for my family in the same way. Without us doing anything, we would all be okay. The well-being of my parents didn’t, in reality, rest on my shoulders, or my sister’s, or anyone’s. It’s the nature of life to grow, to progress, to move forward, and the sheer force of nature itself would take me and my family wherever we needed to be. Spending time in my garden was a powerful balm to my soul.

My mother with my niece, Carina, enjoying one of my parents’ wild flower gardens

I think this spiritual feeling that comes with being close to growing plants, to nature, was a big influence in the lives of many of our forbears in the past. As a nation, we were 98% farmers and rural folks until the end of the last century. Now less than 20% live in rural communities or on farms. Yet people still surround themselves with the spiritual garden, whether it’s their indoor plants, atriums or urban rooftop gardens.

I know the Amish hold a deep reverence for their land. They talk about this a lot. “I feel closer to God when I’m farming,” said Leah Peachey, an Amish woman I interviewed in North Carolina, who appears in my book Visits with the Amish. I know I feel closer to my roots, to my family, when I’m in the garden. My mother was an amazing gardener who always placed cut flowers from her many flower gardens in every room of our home. Her father grew up on a farm and kept a huge and prolific vegetable garden all his life.

There is an old hymn, “In the Garden,” about the times we commune with God while in the garden or in nature. My best friend from childhood, Sue Kettell, just passed away after a struggle with cancer while her sister stroked her hair and sang that beautiful hymn. I guess for all of us, the garden is a primordial place of solace, creativity and rebirth.

Below are my childhood memories of Sue, which I shared at her beautiful memorial in June. Sue was a wonderful gardener herself. I love you forever, Sue. Rest in peace.

 

Memories of Susan Lynn Kettell

December 28, 1952-June 23, 2014

 

Sue and I were blood sisters. I remember that day we exchanged blood with a pin-prick to our fingers (kids can’t do this now in the age of AIDS). We commemorated the ceremony by sewing little velvet bags and filling them with our fourth-grade photos, a piece of tree bark and a stone from the woods we explored together in our long childhood sumers.

Perhaps it was the blood, or perhaps the fact that we shared an idyllic childhood, wandering for hours among the wild flowers, birdsong and strength-giving oak trees that surrounded our homes in Brenwood Estates, but we shared a bond that I have yet to fathom fully.

As childhood friends often do, we went our separate ways after high school, but somehow we kept finding our way back to each other, me visiting Sue after her youngest son Tom was born, she visiting me in Iowa where my husband and I made our home. When I posted a booksigning on Facebook a few years ago, Sue surprised me by jumping into the car and driving the 256 miles to Iowa to be there for my special moment. As always, she didn’t want to be a bother and spend the night, so after the festivities she jumped in her car and drove all the way back. It was a gesture of pure love.

Then suddenly about 4 years ago we both found ourselves back in the ‘hood. She was living in her in an apartment at her parents’ and I was spending a lot of time at my parent’s home as they aged. When my dad’s health declined precipitously and my mom broke her hip, Sue was there by my side, supporting me during a really difficult time and helping my parents as a private nurse.

This was when I got to see Sue’s professional side—and what an amazing nurse she was! Once when my dad fell and his fragile skin tore, she helped me get him to Dr. Rozner’s office at 9:00 a.m., where despite a waiting room full of patients, the doctor showed us to the only room available, a storeroom. Sue immediately gloved up and became Dr. Rozner’s ad hoc nurse, efficiently locating and handing him the scissors and anesthetic and needle and thread which he used to give my dad 16 stiches on the spot. I

Later she helped my sister Cathy move my parents to an assisted living near Cathy’s home in California. I can’t describe what a comfort it was to have Sue there during this difficult transition as my parents left their beloved home and neighbors of 52 years behind—for my parents, Sue was someone they trusted and loved her like their own children.

In the end, Sue was not only a blood sister but a soul sister to me. It’s not like we spent hours talking about our common political views, our common interests in yoga, meditation, and spirituality. We just found our hearts, again and again, sharing the same space in this journey of life. I am so grateful that I was able to visit Sue two months ago. I found her to be filled with quiet dignity despite being in physical pain, meeting each challenge with inner fortitude and peace in her heart. I feel grateful that she was surrounded by her loving family, who unselfishly nursed her and lavished her with love during these difficult last months. Sue has given me so many gifts, and I feel fortunate and humbled to be Sue’s friend.

Last week I was with my mom in California and I ran across a birthday card that Sue had sent to my mom a few years ago, right after my parents moved across the country. She wrote, “When I walk through the woods and pick the wild flowers, I think of you.”

And that is how I will always think of Sue, a gentle spirit, and when I walk through the woods and pick the wild flowers, Sue will be there with me.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

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Here I am at the garden in July, 2014. Notice the white blossoms on the vining lauki plant in the foreground. Lauki is sometimes called “white blossom squash.” Photo by Thomas Egenes

It’s been a bumper gardening year, with rains coming throughout June and July and the cucumber and zucchini and other squashes growing to Findhorn sizes. After last year, when torrential rains washed out our seeds and roly-poly’s (pill bugs) mowed down our zucchini seedlings overnight, we had to replant so many times that many gardeners in our campus community garden, which is all organic, gave up for the season.

So this is like winning a big prize. “Free food,” my husband chirps when I haul in bags overflowing with kale, chard, herbs, tomatoes, strawberries and broccoli.

“I call it our loot,” says my friend Dianne happily. She and her husband Rod joined the garden this year, added heaps of soil to already fertile beds, planted a few seeds and seedlings, and it’s taken off big-time.

Dean Goodale, who established a one-acre greenhouse north of campus and now gardens on his own, tells me that the reason our tomato, zucchini and cucumber plants are Findhorn-size this year is because the abundant rains have kept us from having to use the tap water. He says he tested the soil of eight gardens in our area last year, and they all had a high sodium content, from the water treatment system here in Fairfield. The sodium especially affects the squashes, cucumbers and somewhat the tomatoes.

If anything, I and my gardening partner, Charlotte Judge, didn’t plant enough this year. We planned on planting an extra garden along the fence, but ran out of time.

Thinking it would be another year like last year, we skipped the zucchini and went straight to the bottle gourd, a long, thin, light-green vegetable that our Indian friends call Lauki squash. Lauki is a highly revered vegetable in Ayurveda, known to balance liver functioning and help with weight loss, urinary disorders, and even is said to prevent premature graying of hair.

Last summer's lauki squash, sweet potatoes and greens. Photo by Linda Egenes

Last summer’s lauki squash, sweet potatoes and greens. Photo by Linda Egenes

It’s commonly found in Indian vegetable curry dishes and also can be juiced. It has other names: opo squash, long white gourd, white pumpkin, Benares pumpkin, or dudhi in India, calabash in Asia, kakunsa or cucuzza in Italy, fuzzy squash in Canada, and slaouia in Morocco.

The best part is that it has slightly stinky leaves that fended off the sow bugs last year. In fact, it was our star performer, with the two plants vining around the edge of our garden producing at least 30 huge gourds as big as baseball bats, which, unlike zuchhini, tasted better as they grew bigger.

Our Indian friends, in fact, asked us not to pick them young and green but to wait until they were two feet long with seeds inside. We ate them, juiced them and still had plenty to give away to friends. Charlotte dubbed them the solution to world hunger.

But alas, this year, when everyone’s zucchini is three feet tall, our two lauki plants have yet to produce a single vegetable. We’ll see. Lauki grows slower and shines in the later part of summer, when zucchini falls prey to the dread root borer.

One thing I’ve found consistent—that every year is different. One year it was the bush beans that stunned us with their output, the next the beans barely blossomed and the chard was a star. This year the timely rains have created a bumper crop of cucumber, kale, tomatoes (and other people’s zuchini). Oh well.

Lauki also tastes great as an Italian vegetable, and can be substituted for zucchini in any dish. It melts in your mouth. Here’s how I prepare it when I’m planning an Italian meal:

 

Mint-Anise Lauki Squash, Italian Style

Ingredients:

½ lauki gourd, peeled and cut into small pieces

2 T chopped fresh mint

2 T chopped fresh anise hyssop leaves

2 T butter or olive oil

Steam the lauki squash. Melt the butter or olive oil on low heat, add the herbs and lauki and toss lightly. Salt and pepper to taste.

 

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_2668When I was growing up, I distinctly saw two different approaches to life.

One: you work hard to get the job, the car, the house—and then once you have all those things, you’ll not only be satisfied and happy but you’ll have time to pursue the interests, family life and social life that you envision will actually make you happy.

Two: Start by pursuing your passions, even if they don’t seem to make much money, and on the basis of that happiness, satisfaction and success will come.

My older brother followed the first path and I followed the second. Perhaps it was a generational thing—he felt that happiness came from having the right stuff even if you had to work hard at a high-paying job you didn’t like in order to get it. I felt that happiness came from having the freedom to do what you loved in life, even if it didn’t pay much.

And then I learned that you could take the idea of basing your decisions on happiness a step further.

Three: “Expansion of happiness is the purpose of creation.” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique, wrote that in his book the Science of Being and Art of Living in 1963, but I didn’t read it until 1972, the year I learned to meditate as a sophomore in college.

Whoa, now that blew my socks off. This was an entirely new idea to me and to most people I knew.

In the Science of Being, Maharishi’s main message was “first meditate and then act.” He explained that the field of true happiness— absolute bliss consciousness ( sat chit ānanda in Sanskrit) — is inside of us. And it can be easily accessed by contacting that transcendental field of pure bliss during the Transcendental Meditation technique.

And when you experience more inner bliss, energy and peace during meditation, you naturally find yourself feeling more happy, dynamic and peaceful outside of meditation, in your daily life.

Maharishi also pointed out that just as a forest can only be green if the individual trees are green, our world will be peaceful only when the individuals within it are experiencing inner peace. Meditation not only helps us fulfill our individual aspirations to be more happy, successful and healthy — it also helps us to create a more healthy society and world.

This made sense to me when I read it, since I was already meditating 20 minutes twice a day, and I was already finding that life was somehow easier, that I didn’t have to study as hard, that frustration was less, that I felt more pure contentment and peace inside. I was able to function better as a friend, a daughter, and a student teacher.

In our society, where achievement and hard work are so highly valued, it’s sometimes hard to explain that you are not being selfish by taking time twice a day to meditate. Moms, especially, have a hard time putting their own happiness, their own “me time” at the top of a list of priorities.

Yet if a mother can keep her own emotional balance by meditating twice a day, she is going to be in a much better position to radiate love to her family than if she feels tired, angry, and resentful due to the many responsibilities of her life.

Recently I was intrigued to read a NY Times Opinionator blog by Daniel M. Haybron, philosophy professor at St. Louis University and author of Happiness: A Very Short Introduction that summed up the research on happiness, and how we, as a society, view happiness. It seemed to parallel the changes in my personal views.

Haybron traces his own responses to three evolving definitions of happiness:

  1. Happiness = life satisfaction. This has been the prevalent definition of happiness for the past 30 years, and is the definition behind much of the research on happiness. This is more of a self-reflective review of whether your life is turning out the way you want it to, Haybron explains. Yet, Haybron points out, this has little to do with our day-to-day experience of happiness, which is more about feelings.
  2. Happiness = feeling good. Also popular with researchers, this correlates happiness with pleasure, and unhappiness with pain or suffering. In the view of philosophers such as Epicurus and John Stuart Mill, this is “hedonism” about happiness. It defines happiness as the superficial pursuit of pleasure, which also falls short, Haybron believes.
  3. Happiness = a state of emotional well-being. This is a more complex understanding of happiness as the opposite of anxiety or depression, which Haybron describes as “someone in good spirits, quick to laugh and slow to anger, at peace and untroubled, confident and comfortable in your own skin, engaged, energetic and full of life.” Happiness as a state of being was not even discussed as a definition of happiness until 20 years ago, and still is not widely embraced by researchers.

And then, to my delight, Haybron went on to say that he found even this more expanded view of happiness to be incomplete. “Our very language is deficient, and so we sometimes reach for other expressions that better convey the depth and richness of happiness: happiness as a matter of the psyche, spirit or soul,” he wrote.

And this is really the crux of the matter. Happiness is not a frivolous, superficial pursuit — it is embedded in our nature as human beings. The impulse to seek happiness and fulfillment is the basic impulse of life, which is, as Haybron wrote, “why there is a long history of philosophical thought that conceives of humans flourishing in terms of the fulfillment of the self.”

Haybron goes on to write, “Human well-being, on this sort of view, means living in accordance with your nature, with who you are. On this way of thinking, we might regard happiness as a central part of self-fulfillment.”

So beautifully expressed. So wonderful to hear a modern philosopher talking about the pursuit of happiness as a spiritual need that is essential to life.

Taking time to practice the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day is not a superficial pursuit. By directly contacting the field of pure happiness through the TM technique, we infuse happiness into our actions and environment. Through regular practice, stress and strain falls away, and our true nature—happiness—becomes our natural state of mind. Then every action we take, every interaction with our friends, family and co-workers, spontaneously becomes a wave of joy, without us having to try to be happy.

As Maharishi wrote in the Science of Being, “The only way to make the entire field of action joyful is to fill the mind with joy. This can only be accomplished through the experience of Being.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the 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 9, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Does Gender Specific EducationIn most developing countries, the education of girls lags far behind that of boys. Yet because educated girls are better able to care for their families, universal education for girls is considered a major way to lead developing countries out of poverty. Helping all girls and boys receive an education is the mission of UNGEI, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative.

The good news is that in America, the education of girls is on the rise. In fact, some researchers think that it’s not the girls who now need help, it’s the boys.

Since 2006, the gap is widening between boys’ and girls’ achievement. A recent NY Times article by David Leonhardt: “A Link Between Fidgety Boys and A Sputtering Economy” cites a paper by Diprete and Buchmann from Third Way, a Washington research group, which found getting As and Bs in middle school is a predictor for success in college. Girls significantly out-performed boys in academic grades (48% of the girls earned As and Bs while only 31% of the boys scored that high). Girls also out-performed boys in social behaviors that lead to success such as attentiveness, persistence, flexibility, independence, and “behaving.”

When I scrolled through the 635 comments on this article, I was struck by how many parents and educators felt that boys need a different kind of education.

One possible reason is the current emphasis on standardized testing. In an effort to raise test scores to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, schools across the country have cancelled art, music, PE and even recess to allow more time for kids to focus on academics. This cerebral, non-kinesthetic approach does not serve any student, but it hits boys the hardest, because they mature at a slower pace and often find it harder to sit still for hours at a desk.

Some experts point to gender specific education as a key to help both boys and girls learn. While in the past girls-only educational settings have been found to benefit girls more than boys (especially in closing the gender gap in math and science achievement), it seems that boys may also thrive in all-boys classrooms that favor a more engaging, active learning style.

One thing is clear: girls and boys alike are struggling with stress today, and stress can make it hard to focus. Some schools are helping their students experience academic success without stress by introducing the Transcendental Meditation technique. By meditating for a few minutes at the beginning and end of the school day, many children — along with their parents and teachers — are reporting a wide range of positive benefits due to their meditation sessions, from better grades to better behavior to feeling happier.

Even kids with ADHD—which affects more boys than girls—can be helped by meditating. Here are some comments from kids with ADHD:

“TM helped me with my schoolwork, I’m not getting as frustrated with friends, doing my homework better, not getting in as many fights at school, stuff like that.”

“It’s easier to focus and work on one thing instead of fidgeting. It makes me more confident.”

“I’m more calm, less hyper and more mature than I was before. Now all my friends want me to come over to their house.”

And the research backs up these positive reports. A random-assignment controlled study published in 2012 in Mind & Brain, The Journal of Psychiatry (Vol 2, No 1) found improved brain functioning and decreased symptoms of ADHD in students practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. The paper, ADHD, Brain Functioning, and Transcendental Meditation Practice, is the second published study demonstrating TM’s ability to help students with attention-related difficulties.

“The Transcendental Meditation technique increases blood flow to the brain,” says Dr. Sarina Grosswald, the principal investigator of the study. “That’s important because one of the physiological correlates of ADHD is reduced blood flow in the brain. Practice of the TM technique also results in a dramatic reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression.” Dr. Grosswald’s study also found that organization, memory and strategizing skills significantly improved.

If boys and girls alike increased their learning ability and academic achievement by practicing the TM technique twice a day, perhaps there really could be a time when no child — or gender — fell behind. In fact, perhaps all students’ progress would leap ahead.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the 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 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

My parents, Gerald and Sarah Ward, on their wedding day in 1945. They were happily married for 65 years.

My parents, Gerald and Sarah Ward, on their wedding day in 1945. They were happily married for 65 years.

It’s a debate that goes on endlessly—are marriages less or more happy than they were in the past? And what contributes to a happy marriage anyway?

According to a new study by Eli Finkel and his fellow psychological researchers, reported in a recent article in the NY Times, the findings are as confusing as a Midwestern weather forecast. While the average marriage is less happy than the average marriage in the past, there are some marriages that are even more happy than ever before. It’s a bit of a divide between the loved and the loved not.

And the divorce rate increasingly appears to fall along economic lines, it’s not increased wealth itself that creates more marital satisfaction, the researchers say. It’s the fact that since 1980, many middle-class families have struggled with economic challenges, often working multiple jobs. This struggle to feed their families has resulted in less time spent together as couples, and according to their research, it is the time spent together that is the critical factor for a happy marriage.

In fact, since 1975, time spent enjoying fun activities together has decreased for both couples with kids and couples without kids, leading to a decrease in marital happiness for the average marriage.

One of the most interesting aspects of this highly nuanced article is the author’s discussion of the evolution of marriage, which he equates with the evolution of human consciousness described by Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” Finkel notes that Americans have moved through three stages of marriage—starting with the institutional marriage of past centuries, when a good marriage was expected to provide food and shelter, to the companionate marriage (1850-1965), which was expected to provide romance and companionship, to today’s self-expressive marriage, when couples expect marriage to bring self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth, or “the mutual exploration of infinitely rich, complex and exciting selves.”

And herein lies the rub: couples have much higher expectations for marriage than ever before, but because of the fast pace of life, the intrusion of technology, increasing parental demands, and economic burdens, many couples aren’t able to spend the time or effort to realize those expectations.

But those who do invest more time into their relationship are happier than ever before because they are able to fulfill the expectations of the modern marriage and grow in self-actualization together.

Finkel cited additional research by the sociologist Jeffrey Dew showing that couples who spent “time alone with each other, talking, or sharing an activity” on a type of date night at least once per week were 3.5 times more likely to be very happy in their marriage than spouses who did so less frequently, and couples with a larger percentage of shared friends spent more time together and had better marriages.

I personally think the researchers are on to something—the couple that plays together stays together. When my husband and I married 33 years ago, we had different ideas about what would keep our marriage together. Like many women, I wanted to talk about our relationship and iron out differences with verbal discussions and affirmations. My husband wanted to focus on spending quality time together each week (biking, walking, traveling, eating out with friends). This would strengthen our marriage more than anything else, he felt, because then we would be growing in joy together. Rather than talking about a happy marriage, we’d be living it.

So we compromised and made time for both elements in our marriage—communication and spending quality time together. By planning “date nights” and other outings, by consciously making time to do fun things together, it seems like the small differences go unnoticed and the shared the experience of happiness binds us together.

Meditating together has also been a huge factor in our marital harmony. Both of us practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, and there’s no doubt that when you take time to rest, recharge and refresh twice a day, your relationships can’t help but improve.

Stress is known to be a major cause of marital discord—and the TM technique is the most effective stress-reduction technique available, according to peer-reviewed research. When you start the day with the clarity of mind that meditation creates, you are naturally more successful on your job or whatever tasks you need to accomplish during the day.  In the early evening when you take time to meditate again, dipping into that transcendental field of infinite energy, joy, and love, you come out feeling that the stresses of the day are behind you. You’re ready to devote your full attention to your home life, to enjoy the evening with your family and spouse.

And when you’re growing as an individual, unfolding your inner potential and experiencing transcendental consciousness each time you meditate, it takes a great deal of strain off your marriage. You don’t have the expectation that the other person is going to fill your cup full. Rather, you meet on the basis of inner fulfillment, and when two full hearts meet, there is a flow of happiness that is, indeed, extraordinary.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the 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, March 17, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Why doctors need to talk to women about how Transcendental Meditation can help with stressAs women take on more responsibility in the workplace while continuing as the primary caregiver for their children and in many cases, their aging parents as well, stress levels in women are on the rise. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), almost half of all women (49 percent) surveyed said their stress has increased over the past five years, compared to four in 10 (39 percent) men.

And even though stress is linked with chronic disease, most Americans feel that healthcare providers are not taking enough time to address stress issues during office visits. According to the 2012 APA survey “Stress in America: Missing the Healthcare Connection,” 32 percent of the 2020 Americans surveyed felt that it was extremely important to talk with their health care providers about stress management. Yet 53 percent said that these conversations never happened.

There are exceptions, of course. Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., who is the author of Ageless Woman: Natural Health and Wisdom After Forty and has a private practice in women’s integrative and holistic medicine in Fairfield, IA, routinely discusses stress management with her patients. “When women go home from work at the end of the day, they face another set of responsibilities and stressors at home,” she says. “At times the stress can be overwhelming, and that can result in fatigue, chronic health problems, and burnout. And many of these stressors are not going away tomorrow. They’re not within your control, and the best that you can do is learn how to deal with them more effectively.”

Dr. Lonsdorf recommends the Transcendental Meditation technique to alleviate stress, because the research is solid and she has seen it work with her patients. “The TM technique offers something unique in stress management programs. It actually changes the way your nervous system processes stress. As shown in scientific research, with just four months of practice of the Transcendental Meditation program, baseline cortisol levels, meaning the amount of cortisol in the blood day-by-day, drops significantly, by one-third when compared to a control group that simply was instructed about health education or how to manage stress better.”
manage stress better.”

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and NIH researcher who discovered Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), saw striking results in several patients in his psychiatry practice and in family members who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique, as well as in his own personal experience. As someone who has witnessed “the mental and spiritual anguish of many hundreds of people,” he couldn’t keep quiet about a technique with so much promise to ease suffering and wrote the book Transcendence to tell people about this natural way to lessen stress without drugs or harmful side-effects.

Rosenthal and his son Josh, also a psychiatric researcher, were so impressed with the effect that the TM technique had on themselves, and the 350 research studies on TM’s health benefits—conducted at the National Institutes of Health and other major research institutes and published in major peer-reviewed journals—that they collaborated on a research study of the effect of TM on veterans with PTSD.

The study showed that veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars showed a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), after just eight weeks of practicing the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique, according to a pilot study published this month in Military Medicine.

In his book Dr. Rosenthal writes, “The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 40 million adults have some form of anxiety disorder. These people feel an internal sense of their alarm bells ringing even though there is no genuine stress. They’re constantly feeling they are under some emergency. This drains their emotional and physical resources.”

Fortunately for women who suffer from extreme stress and anxiety, a 2013 meta-analysis (a type of rigorous review of multiple randomized controlled research studies, considered the gold standard of research) showed that TM had a significant effect in reducing anxiety. In fact, the greater the starting level of anxiety in the test subjects, the greater the reduction with meditation. This 2013 meta-analysis by David Orme-Johnson, Ph.D., and Vernon Barnes, Ph.D., analyzed 16 randomized controlled studies among 1295 participants and was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

“Transcendental Meditation is completely the opposite of trauma,” says veteran Tara Wise, director of the National Women Veterans Association of America (NWVAA). “As soon as I started, something shifted. I didn’t have to rehash traumatic experiences.

”The TM technique has been so successful in helping women veterans recover from PTSD that the Fatigues to Fabulous organization, which helps women vets get back on their feet, has partnered with Transcendental Meditation for Women to make it available to women vets.

With the TM technique, women can amplify their natural reserves and prevent stress from taking over. “A year ago this month I was suicidal,” Tara Weiss said. “I felt so low I wanted to just not be here.”

Now Weiss is functioning like a whole woman again. “Transcendental Meditation saved my life,” she says.

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Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the 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, March 24, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Educating Girls in UgandaUganda, like most countries in Africa, has experienced drought, famine, war, political instability, human rights violations, an AIDS epidemic, and extreme poverty. Providing higher education for Ugandan girls is especially critical, as research has shown that when young girls and women are educated, they are able to care better for their children and lead their families out of poverty.

The evidence is so striking that it can be boiled down to one sentence: If you want to change the world, invest in the education of girls.

According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, 46.5% of girls in Uganda get married and have children before reaching the age of 18. The literacy rate of girls lags behind that of boys, and even though the primary school population is evenly divided between boys and girls, girls comprise only 46% of secondary students and 38% of college students.

In order to provide a high school education to girls in an area of Uganda where there are no opportunities for a non-sectarian higher education, Maharishi Secondary School for Girls is the first non-sectarian boarding school for girls in the eastern edge of Uganda. It started with a small group of 30 girls in 2009 in Mbale, Uganda. The next year it doubled to 60 and kept growing. Now with new buildings in progress, they are aiming for 600.

The school has been successful in helping children who have been rejected from other schools for behavioral problems or for being HIV positive. Grant Lusimbo, the amiable director who helped found the school says, “Our students are now performing better than the schools who take only the cream. This is a great joy to us. Now we get the students that the others say, “We can’t touch this one. We say, OK, we will take her, we have a method.’”

The method he refers to is the Transcendental Meditation technique, which the students practice twice a day together as a group in addition to taking a rigorous course of academics.

Director Lusimbo explains that the TM technique allows the thinking mind to settle down and experience the source of creativity, silence and calmness within. At the same time the body experiences deep rest and releases stress. This stress relief is especially important for Ugandan students, because even though the political situation is more stable now, the decades of stressful events have left large segments of the population, including the young people, suffering from depression and PTSD.

Lusimbo recounts what happened the first time he introduced the TM technique to students in another Ugandan school in 1983. He explains that in Uganda, corporal punishment is a common way to discipline students. “All of a sudden after introducing TM the behavior was so good,” he says. “So all corporal punishment was abolished.”

Now he likens the Maharishi Secondary School to a hospital that cures a patient who was considered incurable by doctors. “The other schools are saying, ‘No, we can’t teach you.’ We say, ‘Bring her to us and we’ll resurrect her.’ ”

The teachers, who also practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, are equally enthusiastic. Headmistress Kalyebbi Felistus says that she has taught in all types of schools, with girls alone, boys alone and mixed, but finds that these girls are more disciplined and eager to learn. History Teacher Zemei Beth says that the students are lively but “We don’t experience misbehaviors.”

Peer-reviewed research shows that the daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique not only improves social behavior by calming anxiety and anger, but it improves focus and clarity of thinking, helping students to effortlessly increase their learning capacity. One student reported, “After morning lessons, I come out with my mind tired. But after meditating, my mind has become fresh and I can pick up on whatever they are teaching and understand hard subjects like biology, chemistry and physics.”

Science teacher Opado Joel says, “Our school has now improved in the level of academics simply because of one thing, and that’s meditation.”

One student who is HIV positive and had suffered from the stress and isolation that accompanies this condition, reported, “Since I started meditation, I have seen my health improving. I used to have body aches and terrible headaches, but these days I am happy to be healthy. I don’t experience aches. I understand myself—who I am. And my friends have started supporting me because they are also meditators.”

Visit the school’s website and watch their video here.

Watch the video of the dormitory in progress at the Maharishi Secondary School for Girls in Uganda here.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the 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, March 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Women Transcendentalists The Supreme Awakening:Experiences of Enlightenment throughout Time—and How You Can Cultivate Them

Women Transcendentalists The Supreme Awakening:Experiences of Enlightenment throughout Time—and How You Can Cultivate Them

Emily Dickenson. Helen Keller. Emily Bronte. Clare Boothe Luce. Billie Jean King.

What do these women have in common? You might say fame, or talent or creativity, and that is true. But what underlies all of their achievements—the one thread that they all have in common?

They have all had a transcendental experience—at least one, in some cases many—that lifted them up to such heights that they were able to express profound insights in their art or music or literature.

In other words, it was the transcendental experience that illuminated their minds and helped them become the great figures in history that they were.

I’ve been reading about these women in a fascinating new book by Dr. Craig Pearson called The Supreme Awakening:Experiences of Enlightenment throughout Time—and How You Can Cultivate Them.

Full disclosure: Craig is a long-time friend of mine. We both taught the Transcendental Meditation technique in Lombard, Illinois, in the 1970s and later were graduate students at Maharishi University of Management (then MIU) in Fairfield, Iowa.

I remember seeing Craig and his wife, Melissa, sitting in the library with stacks and stacks of books. They were researching transcendental experiences. That research, started in the 1980s, became the seed for this book.

But let’s get back to the great women (and men) that he portrays in his.

Each of these women recounts beautiful inner experiences. For instance, Emily Bronte writes that “a messenger of Hope comes every night to me, and offers, for short life, eternal liberty.”

She elaborates, “But first a hush of peace, a soundless calm descends/The struggle of distress and fierce impatience ends/Mute music soothes my breast — unuttered harmony/That I could never dream till earth was lost to me. Then dawns the invisible, the Unseen its truth reveals/My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels — its wings are almost free, its home, its harbour found/Measuring the gulf it stoops and dares the final bound!”

Dr. Pearson points out that this is the experience of pure awareness, which is not visible to the eye but is a tangible experience of inner calm, inner peace, is a universal experience, open to everyone.

The only problem is that until recently, there has not been a way to access it systematically. Only those rare individuals who slipped into it by accident were able to experience it. And for many, it was so remarkable that they spent their whole lives trying to repeat the experience.

All that changed when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought the Transcendental Meditation technique to the world. Now millions of people are experiencing the beauty and power of the transcendental field that lies within each of us.

I think that everyone who practices the Transcendental Meditation technique can identify with the exalted experience described by Emily Bronte above. In his book, Dr. Pearson shares some of these experiences that everyday people are having in their daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, and it’s remarkable how they parallel the experiences of the great thinkers.

For example, one woman writes: “During the Transcendental Meditation technique my mind settles down, thoughts become less and then suddenly all thought activity ceases and I slip into an unbounded ocean of awareness which is pure, quiet, unexcited and infinitely extended beyond space and time. In this state, I am not aware of any thought or any thing; I am just aware of awareness, you could say, wide-awake inside but not thinking. Simultaneously my body settles down, breathing becomes less, and I feel relaxed.”

Both Emily Bronte and the 21st-century woman who practices the Transcendental Meditation technique describe their experience in similar words: eternal, infinite, calm, peaceful, quiet, unexcited. For both, the experience is a distinctly different state from the waking state.

The book includes hundreds of such exalted experiences, not only of the fourth state of consciousness, which Maharishi called Transcendental Consciousness, but higher states of consciousness as well. It’s inspiring reading, to say the least, and it explains, in concrete terms, the worlds of experience awaiting us all as we grow in enlightenment and self-awareness.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the 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, April 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

IMG_0409When I was a teenager my skin was a huge challenge. Blemishes and an oily nose were two problems I remember—not to mention blotchy coloring. Now that I’m more worried about wrinkles than acne, I’ve found out something that brings my quest for healthy skin full circle—antioxidants.

Yes, it’s true. From wrinkles to non-cystic acne and other skin issues, modern research is pointing to antioxidants as the way to combat a wide range of skin problems. Found in vitamins A, B, C, and E, and in minerals such as zinc and selenium, antioxidants help stop the ravaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are the unstable molecules your body produces when it does not fully metabolize food or is exposed to ultraviolet sun rays, environmental toxins, pollutants or stress. Free radicals attack healthy cells and can lead to acne; premature aging; dull, lackluster skin; and other skin problems.

Okay, you say, I’m all for damage control. But where do I start? It turns out that the age-old system of ayurvedic health care, practiced for thousands of years before antioxidants were discovered by modern science, is uncannily suited to reducing free radicals and increasing antioxidants. Here are some ayurvedic skin care tips to improve your health and your skin.

Tank Up with Antioxidants

The ayurvedic diet includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. Antioxidants are especially abundant in grapes, blueberries, and pomegranates, but the key is to eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Did you know, for instance, that vitamin C is found not only in fresh-squeezed orange juice, but in many vegetables such as broccoli, and Brussels sprouts?

Simply by increasing the proportion of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet to 60%, you can increase your antioxidant power and improve the quality of your skin.

Detoxify Your Diet

Because free radicals can be caused by eating foods that contain toxic pesticide residues, it’s best to choose organic foods whenever possible. And stay away from packaged or processed foods, as these contain chemical additives that damage your cells and your skin. Drinking plenty of water helps flush toxins from the skin—but make sure it’s pure and chemical-free.

For teenagers and anyone with especially sensitive “reactive” skin, eating toxin-free foods and limiting the fatty, sugary, hard-to-digest junk food can help in preventing breakouts. Radiant Skin is an herbal formula that purifies and supports the liver, cleanses the blood tissue of toxins, reduces excessive heat and oiliness, and promotes digestion. Its beneficial effects can be dramatic in coping with non-cystic acne, redness and other skin sensitivities, leaving your skin radiant and ble
mish-free.

Choose Healthy Fats

Not all fats are bad for you. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, people with drier constitutions (Vata dosha) need more fat in their diets. And many people need more fat as they reach age 55 and older.

But choose your fats wisely. Recent research shows that hydrogenated oils—heavy in trans-fats and found in most processed foods—can cause inflammation throughout your body, damaging skin cells and accelerating aging.

Extra-virgin, first-cold-pressed olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that has healthy effects on the heart and skin—but it shouldn’t be heated to high temperatures above 320 degrees.

This chart provides a quick reference to the heating limits of most oils. For any oil, heating it beyond a certain point will start to destroy its nutritive qualities and create free radicals. Olive oil can be used in salads, to drizzle on vegetables or to sauté vegetables and spices at low heat. For baking or cooking at higher temperatures, use organic ghee (clarified butter), as its properties allow it to tolerate higher heat. It also has a purifying and nourishing effect on the cellular level of the skin.

For anyone in midlife or older, Maharishi Ayurvedic experts also recommend Youthful Skin Herbal Tablets, which are designed to provide nourishment to all seven layers of the skin, hydrating and rejuvenating from the inside out to promote supple, youthful-looking skin.

Reduce Stress Every Day

Free radicals also increase in your body when you skip sleep, are under stress, or “self-medicate” with cigarettes, alcohol or processed sugar. Maharishi Ayurveda recommends a daily routine that balances your activity with the regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation®technique, or other stress-reducing practices in your routine to allow the body to deal with the stress of the day. TM has been shown to be the most effective self-improvement technique for releasing stress by over 600 research studies conducted in major research institutions and universities. Daily yoga and aerobic exercise can also help keep stress in check.

Supplement Your Diet with Antioxidant Boosters

If you’re on the go and can’t balance your meals properly, Organic Premium Amla Berry is an ayurvedic formula made from Amla berries, which are rich in vitamin C. It is said to support the body’s digestive, detoxification and organ systems, helping promote soft, radiant skin.

Amla berry is also found in Maharishi Amrit Kalash Nectar, and when I take this regularly my skin seems to gets softer and more radiant and youthful looking. And no wonder—research shows that Maharishi Amrit Kalash is a rich source of a variety of antioxidants (one study alone found that a single teaspoon of Amrit Nectar contains an astonishing 1,000 times more antioxidant power than a vitamin C tablet). Due to the synergy of herbs included in this ancient ayurvedic formula, the antioxidants in Amrit are carried straight to the nucleus of the cell, beyond the lipid barrier.

In the ayurvedic tradition, Maharishi Amrit Kalash is known as the most powerful Rasayana (healing elixir) for rejuvenating your mind and body and creating beautiful, youthful skin. This age-old formula combats the stress of our modern lifestyle; nourishes, rehydrates and detoxifies the skin; and supports your immunity.

How to Make Your Own Ayurvedic Facial Cleanser for Your Skin Type

While reducing antioxidants can help anyone, other ayurvedic beauty techniques, such as the homemade facial cleansers below, are especially tailored to help your specific type of skin. If you do not want to make your own, try Youthful Skin Herbalized Clay.

DirectionsFirst choose the facial cleanser recipe that matches your skin type. Then stir together all the ingredients and apply gently on your face using your fingertips. Let the scrub set on your skin, then using very slight pressure, flake the mask off into the basin. If the mask feels too sticky, use warm water to rinse. Dab your face with a soft towel, and follow with a good moisturizer.

For Oily (Kapha) Skin:
1 teaspoon toasted wheat bran
¼ teaspoon almond powder
½ teaspoon orange-peel powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice

For Dry (Vata) Skin:
2 teaspoons quick-cooking oats
¼ teaspoon almond powder
¼ teaspoon orange-peel powder
¼ teaspoon lavender-flower powder
2 tablespoons yogurt

For Sensitive (Pitta) Skin
2 teaspoons quick-cooking oats
¼ teaspoon almond powder
¼ teaspoon rose-petal powder
¼ teaspoon lavender-flower powder
2 tablespoons whole raw milk

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], November 30,2012. Reprinted with permission.) 

Photo by Linda Egenes

BY LINDA EGENES

Hedging Against AlzheimersIn January of 2009 both my parents were diagnosed with “dementia of the Alzheimer’s kind” on the same day. I was expecting such a diagnosis for my mother, who was suffering from short-term memory loss (and who had a history of Alzheimer’s in the family). But the diagnosis for my father? My siblings and I were stunned. At 84 he had slowed down, for sure, but we had attributed his sudden disinterest in yard work and taking care of his finances to an infection that he was fighting.

In the following months, as my father’s mental condition declined precipitously, my sister and I scrambled to rearrange our lives to give our parents the care that they needed. And as we talked endlessly about what had caused this, we found out that there was also Alzheimer’s in my father’s family—his mother had been diagnosed with what they termed then as “hardening of the arteries”—with symptoms that today would likely be classified as dementia of the Alzheimer’s kind.

Needless to say, with a history of Alzheimer’s on both sides of my family tree, prevention is on my mind. So I was interested to see a new research study that, to me, points toward stress relief as a way to hedge our bets against this debilitating disease.

The landmark study on Alzheimer’s, conducted at Harvard Medical School and published in Nature, pinpoints a protective protein in the prefrontal cortex (called, interestingly enough, REST) that switches on in the aging pre-frontal cortex in healthy people—but fails to switch on in those with Alzheimer’s. This, the researchers believe, could explain why some people with the amyloid plaques and brain tangles associated with the Alzheimer’s brain have no symptoms of dementia. Researchers have long suspected that another factor was involved, and these researchers think it’s the REST protein that provides the missing link.

Here’s what caught my eye: The protective REST protein is switched on as part of the brain’s stress response.

“Our work raises the possibility that the abnormal protein aggregates associated with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases may not be sufficient to cause dementia; you may also need a failure of the brain’s stress response system,” said Bruce Yankner, Harvard Medical School professor of genetics and leader of the study, in an article by Shelley Emling in the Huffington Post.

So in other words, the onset of Alzheimer’s could be related to a failed stress response, which is often caused by chronic stress.

This makes sense to me.

Researchers already know that when a person is under stress, the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making, planning and coordinating functions, becomes less able to engage with the demands of the environment. It’s as if it goes “offline.” Loss of memory, impaired cognitive functioning, inability to make decisions, ADHD and a host of other mental deficits are symptoms.

One of the best ways to protect the pre-frontal cortex from stress, research is finding, is the daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Practicing TM not only reduces day-to-day stress, it breaks the cycle of chronic stress and fatigue. And while stress takes the pre-frontal cortex offline, TM has an enlivening effect, switching it on, in effect.

“The Transcendental Meditation has the exact opposite effect on the pre-frontal cortex as stress,” says Dr. Fred Travis, a researcher who has published more than 100 studies in peer-reviewed journals on stress and the brain. “Neuroimaging studies show increased activity in the frontal area of the brain during Transcendental Meditation practice, as compared to just sitting in eyes-closed rest. In addition to increased activity in the frontal areas, we also see increased activity in the back of the brain—the parietal areas. These two parts of the brain are part of the attentional circuit.”

The aging brain, especially, can benefit from the protective benefits of TM on the pre-frontal cortex. Even in healthy, younger people, chronic stress can affect memory, cognition and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. At any age, when we are restricted by stress, fatigue, and other negative factors, then the brain is less adaptable, and we become handicapped in how we process and respond to our world.

I’m suspecting that my daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique can help protect my brain from the dementia and Alzheimer’s that has plagued my family for generations. I’m basing my lifestyle on other research as well. Aerobic exercise is found to build brain cells. Inflammation may be the cause of Alzheimer’s, some researchers say, so eating lots of antioxidants can help. Exercising your brain with plenty of mental stimulation is important. Having a wide social network may be a protective factor, say other studies. Getting enough sleep is another protective factor, a recent study at Temple University recently found.

It all comes down to a balanced lifestyle, and I’m aiming for chronic health rather than chronic disease—for now and into the future.

And while it will take years for researchers to follow up on these studies and others to find the true cause of dementia, who knows? Perhaps by keeping my stress response nimble and strengthening my pre-frontal cortex through TM, getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining a balanced lifestyle, my brain will switch on the REST protein to protect it from the disease that is affecting so many American families, including my own.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the 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, April 30, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

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