BY LINDA EGENES

green and healthy inside out www.lindaegenes.comFresh beginnings, a fresh new you—that’s the promise of the New Year. But then there’s the pesky problem of actually keeping those New Year’s resolutions (lose weight, go to bed earlier, drink less coffee, etc.). When we have the best of intentions, and these are all good things to do for ourselves, why is it so difficult to make them stick?

Perhaps we need to look at the word “resolve” in a new way. A real resolution comes from deep inside. Resolve itself is a kind of connection with one’s own inner Being. If resolve comes from the inside, it will have a much greater chance of success.

Let’s suppose, for example, that you resolved to eat fresh fruit for dessert instead of heavy sweets. So now you have sitting in front of you a piece of key lime pie and an apple. You can use your will-power, knowing intellectually that the apple is better for you, to force yourself to eat the apple, and that is one way of keeping your resolution.

But it’s so much easier if by natural inclination, by natural desire, you actually prefer to eat the apple over the key lime pie. Then there would be no conflict between what is good for you and what you actually want to do, no conflict between resolve and desire.

The reason you would do that is that you are making healthy choices on the basis of a healthy consciousness. It’s based on inner balance. When a person is connected to the deeper aspects of their own consciousness, which is always in perfect balance, then that balance reflects in the person’s thinking and desires and choices. Then the person chooses the thing that is nourishing, that the result is going to be nourishing for their system. That will actually look good to them: the apple is actually going to look more appetizing than the key-lime pie. Then you’re in a much more powerful position to keep your resolution.

Thoreau called this state of balance the “verdict of a soul in health.” And it makes sense to achieve that state of balance first, because then all your choices and actions throughout the day will spontaneously reflect that happy state.

But how do you do that? How do you achieve a more balanced state of mind? That’s where the Transcendental Meditation technique comes in, because it offers the experience of pure consciousness, the most balanced state that we can experience. And hundreds of research studies have shown that when people have this experience twice a day on a regular basis, that many different aspects of their mind, body, emotions and even their environment starts to reflect that inner balance.

Another way to look at it is that by removing stress, your mind, body and behavior spontaneously becomes more balanced. It is stress, after all, that distorts our natural functioning, that makes it harder to hear our true desires. Think about how much easier it is to choose the apple in the morning when you’re fresh and rested. But wait until 5:00 p.m.when you’re tired and stressed—it’s a lot harder to say “no” to the chocolate cake then.

Teachers of TM hear the same thing from their students over and over, “After I started meditating, I suddenly didn’t have the taste for cigarettes, and I stopped smoking. I didn’t have to try—it was easy.” It’s as if our choices mirror who we are deep inside—if we’re feeling balanced, it becomes easy to create a healthier life for ourselves.

And that’s the best thing of all—you don’t have to struggle to make changes that will bring you better health or a more progressive life. Just close your eyes, dive inside, wash away the stress and fatigue—and find yourself spontaneously making better choices every day, not just in January.

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of five
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, January 20, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Trinity College Squash Team of 2010

Trinity College Squash Team of 2010

When the women’s squash team at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, began practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique in 2010, they were hoping to make their team experience less stressful and more enjoyable. Little did they know that it would also lead them to the top of their game, finishing the 2010 season as number three in the nation, an amazing feat for a small school. In 2013 and 2014, the team captured the number one spot, edging out much larger schools like Harvard and Penn State.

It all started when Dr. Randy Lee, associate professor of psychology and assistant coach, who was already doing some work with the students to help them reduce stress and improve focus, read the research on TM.

“I’m a scientist and I wanted to see the data,” said Dr. Lee. “There were 700 research studies, and I looked a lot of them up. It occurred to me that TM, given what I’d seen in the research, might be a perfect mesh with what we were already doing,” he said.

The team, who practiced TM together as a group, noticed right away that it made them calmer. Team member Tehani Guruge from Shri Lanka said, “TM helped calm me down. I used to get really angry on court. After TM the anger went away.”

Head coach Wendy Bartlett also noticed the difference. “In general we’re certainly a calmer team,” she said. “We’ve had just as many challenges this year as we’ve had any other year, but we were able to handle them better.”

Some students even found that it helped them reach the “zone,” that coveted space of mental calm and peak performance that many top athletes experience.

“Before I wasn’t able to focus completely on the game and was distracted by external factors like the audience,” says “Nour Bahgat, a student-athlete from Egypt. “TM really helped me to get into the zone. Being in the zone is very important to an athlete because that’s the point where you can perform at your best level, so it was a great thing to learn.”

Alicia Rodriguez, a student from Mexico, reported a similar experience. “Whenever I meditated before a match, my body was so relaxed and my mind so calm. I was thinking on nothing. You already know how to play, so if your mind is calm your body will respond automatically.”

TM also helped the students with their studies. Emily Paton from Canada reported, “This year, especially, we got into a really good routine and schedule. It helped doing TM. Everyone said that after TM we’re so much more relieved and have more energy to go and do our studies afterwards. That’s not usually the case after playing hard.”

McCrea Davison from the US went on to say, “I notice that with the appropriate amount of study, every time I meditate before a major test I haven’t gotten below a 90. I think it’s because I’m more relaxed going into the test, and we learned in our class on the brain that when you’re stressed out your pre-frontal cortex shuts down so you’re not making good judgments and you can’t recall things as well.”

Research on people who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique shows that academic performance improves in students who practice TM. And in addition, reaction time is faster, energy increases, and the mind becomes calmer and more focused. All of these qualities come into play when performing sports.

Emily Lindon, a psychology major at Trinity College, studied the effects of the TM technique in promoting self-efficacy for her senior thesis. Self-efficacy is one’s belief in their ability to accomplish a certain task. According to research, someone who thinks more highly of herselftends to perform at a higher level.

“One of the groups that we studied was the Trinity College women’s squash team. We definitely found an increase in self-efficacy among the pre- and post-tests for those girls.”

Dr. Randy Lee thinks this makes sense. “The most important squash is played on the six-inch court between their ears,” he says. “And I think that is true for most sports. There is that mental peace. Our women are able to say, ‘OK, I can do this. I don’t need to worry about the scores, or what’s happening. I can make this happen.’ ”

With professional athletes like two-time World Series champion and Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito practicing the TM technique, it may just be a matter of time before other athletes discover its performance-enhancing and life-enhancing effects.

“With TM we have a whole new technique to begin to explore more to improve performance for almost any sport,” says Dr. Lee. “I can’t think of a sport I would exclude. It seems to me it can only bring positive outcomes.”

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, August 4, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

 Isadora Duncan Dancers in Iowa

Lori Belilove and company perform “The Marches!” at the Alley Citigroup Theater.

If you’re like most people, you have a vague notion of Isadora Duncan as a free spirit and the Mother of Modern Dance. Wherever Isadora Duncan performed, she created an immediate sensation in the Victorian society of her times. Shunning the strict confines of ballet to listen to her inner teacher, she created a wholly original dance form that reflected the freedom of her own soul.

With flowing costumes, bare feet, and loose hair, Isadora was inspired by the ancient Greeks, the music of classical composers, and the elements of nature, such as the wind and the sea. “To dance is to live—what I want is a school of life, for the riches of man are in his Soul and his Imagination,” she wrote. And she advised her students, “You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.”

At one point, Isadora’s vast dance repertoire was in danger of being lost to future generations. Fortunately, the Duncan tradition is alive and well today in the form of Lori Belilove, who at an early age studied directly with Isadora Duncan’s students and has devoted her life to performing in the Duncan tradition.

Hailed as the living embodiment of Isadora Duncan by the international dance community, Lori is the leading dancer in the award-winning PBS documentary Isadora Duncan: Movement From the Soul. As the founder, artistic director, and choreographer of the Isadora Duncan Dance Company & Foundation based in New York City, Lori and her troupe are considered the pre-eminent Duncan dance company performing in the world today.

 Isadora Duncan Dancer Lori Belilove Comes to Iowa for Rare Performance

Lori Belilove (photo by Darial Sneed)

Now Lori Belilove & the Isadora Duncan Dance Company are coming to Fairfield for two rare performances on November 15 and 16. The “Forever Isadora” performance will introduce not only the history but also the authentic recreation of Isadora Duncan dance.

An Artist’s Journey

Lori’s journey as an artist and preserver of the Isadora Duncan legacy began when she was barely a teenager. Like Isadora, Lori grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area with a natural talent for dance, but ballet didn’t fit. Her free-thinking parents nurtured her love of the arts, taking their family on an extended tour of Europe during the 1960s. While in Athens, the Beliloves were introduced by chance to Vassos Kanellos, a prominent Greek dancer and painter who had been personally trained by Isadora Duncan.

“Lori was only 12, but she asked so many intelligent questions that Vassos said, ‘Lori, you must be the next Isadora,’ ” remembers Lori’s older brother Jim Belilove, co-founder of Fairfield’s Creative Edge and former owner of the Fairfield Art of Dance studio with his wife Ginger.

Upon returning home, Lori immersed herself in My Life, Isadora’s autobiography.  “I think that I understood Isadora in a way that is perhaps uncanny,” says Lori. “I immediately felt connected to her spirit and passion for life, but more than anything else, I wanted to find her dance.”

In her search for Isadora’s spirit and way of dancing, Lori took modern dance classes until graduating from high school, when she convinced her mother to return with her to Greece. For two years, she studied intensively with Vassos Kanellos, who passed on the techniques that Isadora Duncan had taught to him.

After returning to the Bay Area to pursue dance, religion, and classical studies at Mills College, Lori continued to study Duncan dance.

Lori emphasizes that she did not study or learn this work from books, photographs, or film. “The Duncan tradition was handed down to me through first- and second-generation Duncan dancers,” she says.

With her amazing combination of passion and luck, Lori was introduced to Irma Duncan and Anna Duncan, who were among the six adopted daughters of Isadora Duncan, known as the Isadorables.

“Isadora had chosen these women to tour and perform with her,” says Lori. “They were the living embodiment of her work. So it’s very exciting if you think about all that.”

Soon she was performing the same dances that Isadora had performed.

The Essence of Isadora

What sets Lori Belilove apart is not only her passion and unwavering dedication to performing Isadora Duncan dance, but her ability to create anew from her own wellspring of creativity and inspiration inside, her own untamed inner landscape that is the true essence of Isadora Duncan dance.

“Something came alive in me as I was studying,” she says. “I reached an aha moment when all the fragments of the teachings I had received unified in me. I could embrace her work and make it mine—it was an experience of artistic synthesis that has remained with me ever since.”

Dancers from the Isadora Dance Company

Dancers from the Isadora Dance Company

Isadora herself described her dance as a natural phenomenon—not an invention, but a rediscovery of the classical principles of beauty, motion, and form. She wrote, “The dance is an expression of an individual soul, of its deepest understanding and personal power. Imagine a dancer whose body dances in accordance with the music heard inwardly, in an expression of something out of another profounder world. A truly creative dancer, natural but not imitative. Speaking in movement . . . out of something greater than all selves.”

Although Isadora’s dance was deeply personal, she was also interested in being a conduit for great ideas. “Her works are timeless expressions that speak to universal issues of humankind, from sorrow, loneliness, compassion, pain, and death to resurgence,” says Lori. “Some of her dances are exquisite expressions of human joy.”

Forever Isadora

Like Isadora, Lori includes teaching and education in her life’s work. Since establishing the Isadora Duncan Dance Company & Foundation in 1980, Lori has ceaselessly continued the work of preserving, teaching, and performing Isadora’s dance in its original form.

The program for the “Forever Isadora” performance in Fairfield traces the life and art of Isadora Duncan between 1900 and 1924, showcasing 14 rarely seen solo and group dances of inner peace, strength, and light, interspersed with voice-overs taken from her own words.

Staged by Lori, the dances include early lyrical pieces set to Chopin and Schubert,  dramatic works like Marche Heroique set toTchaikovsky, and later revolutionary dances. Fairfield pianist Paul Jones will play the poignant Scriabin Etude in C# Minor to accompany “Mother,” the tragic solo Duncan created following the death of her children. Kids from the Fairfield community will join the company in selected performances.

Those who have seen Lori Belilove and her company perform can attest to their power and radiance. “It’s not just another night at the theater, but something from another world,” said a critic for theNew York Times. “Their dazzling blend of energy and fluid grace will take your breath away,” said theDayton Daily News.

Many Fairfielders will remember Bobby Dreier, who studied with Isadora Duncan as a young woman. Bobby, a progressive thinker all her long and eventful life, confided to me that she didn’t think many people understood the real Isadora.

Yet when she attended one of Lori Belilove’s performances during the 1980s, Bobby was so moved she stood up and cried, “Just like Isadora!”

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, November 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Christmas treeTis the season to be jolly. But just as all work and no play can make Jack a dull boy, Jack (and Jill too) can feel overwhelmed by multiple holiday parties and rich foods.

The mental pressure of making hairsplitting decisions (does Uncle Harry really need another pair of socks?), staying up late, and rushing around during the holidays creates stress and imbalance in your body.

So how do you meet all your social obligations, keep your weight down and stay healthy when confronted with the extravaganza of food, gifts, and parties that has become our American tradition?

Here are seven tips from Maharishi Ayurveda for staying well when the holidays roll around.

1. Set priorities. Getting enough rest is the key to keeping your mind and body in balance. If you start losing sleep over holiday stress, it’s time to stop and reassess your priorities. Going to bed well before 10:00 p.m. and rising early go a long way in maintaining a calm and clear mind.

If you can’t sleep because your mind is busy looking for holiday gift ideas for dad, try drinking a cup of warm milk with turmeric and cardamom before bed. Aroma therapy with orange or lavender scents is relaxing and can help you fall asleep.

Ayurvedic herbal compounds containing herbs such as Indian Valerian are sometimes recommended for relaxing the body and promoting more restful sleep.

2. Reduce stress by simplifying shopping. According to one survey, 36 percent cited gift shopping as their biggest holiday stress. Not knowing what to buy or where to buy it was the major source of shopping anxiety, while others said fighting the crowds or not having enough time to shop created the most pressure.

To simplify gift-giving, try buying an inexpensive eco-gift and give it to most people on your list. I knew a family that bought a case of homemade organic jam from a local farmer, glued a personal label on each bottle, and gave it to all the families on their list. While not everyone will want to be this frugal, by buying the same gift for friends and neighbors, you can cut down on the stress of selecting the perfect holiday gifts for coworkers or a wide circle of friends.

For family, you’ll want to give more personal gifts. But if you’re planning a large family party, try drawing names and giving one nice gift instead of a dozen less expensive ones.

3. Try to plan your holiday parties for  daytime instead of evening. The holidays are when people break out their best holiday baking recipes, so how can your enjoy those holiday cookies without gaining weight? Digestion reaches its peak at noon—so that’s the best time to eat large holiday feasts. You’ll digest the food easier, without putting on pounds.

4. Exercise daily. If you can’t do anything else, take a break from shopping or socializing for a short walk in fresh air. Even better, stick to your normal exercise routine. Exercise will help you think more clearly, sleep more deeply, and minimize stress in your life.

5. Drink warm fluids. Start your day with a cup of warm water, and sip from a thermos throughout the day. This will flush out digestive impurities and toxins that are the inevitable result of holiday eating. Or make a tea: in 2 quarts of boiled water, steep 1/4 tsp. whole fennel, 1/4 tsp. marshmallow root, and 2 mint leaves. This will help stimulate sluggish elimination and keep holiday sweets from overwhelming your system.

6. Practice a stress reduction technique such as the Transcendental Meditation program and yoga postures. These techniques will help you remain calm and balanced instead of succumbing to holiday stress during the most hectic time of year.

7. Prevent holiday angst. For some people, the holidays bring emotional trauma, due to painful memories or family conflict. From the Ayurvedic perspective, experiences like this can lead to imbalances that also affect digestion.

To relieve emotional holiday stress, Maharishi Ayurveda recommends eating more astringent, bitter, and sweet foods (this doesn’t mean loading up on holiday sweets, but including whole grains, wheat, and whole milk products in your diet) to cool the body and soothe the heart. Flavor your food with cooling spices, such as cinnamon, fennel, and coriander. Drink rose petal tea or hot milk to soothe emotions when they are stirred up. Resist skipping meals and get to bed early to create more balance. Soothe your heart while you sleep with rose aroma oil.

Ayurveda also recommends herbs for soothing emotional stress.  Two important herbs for this purpose are Arjuna and Ashwaganda, which are often contained in ayurvedic compounds for reducing emotional imbalances such as Stress Free Emotions.

8. Pamper yourself. Make a list of positive, nurturing things you can do for yourself during the holiday season. A massage after work, for instance, can melt away seasonal blues and leave you with a genuine holiday glow. Take your grandchild to an ice-skating rink for a festive outing that doesn’t focus on eating or buying. Think outside the box—the holidays don’t have to be materialistic. In fact, it helps to remember that the real meaning of “holiday” is “holy day.” With a little effort we can emerge from the season feeling more healthy and whole.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source. Reprinted with permission.)