BY LINDA EGENES

Sharon Isbin by J. Henry Fair

Sharon Isbin by J. Henry Fair

When you hear a musician play who stirs your soul and at the same time is so in command of her craft that she makes it look simple, you know you are in the presence of a true artist.

Sharon Isbin has made the intricate art of performing classical guitar look simple. Considered the leading classical guitarist of our time, she was named “Best Classical Guitarist” by Guitar Player magazine and is the first guitarist in over 43 years to receive two classical GRAMMY Awards (in 2001 and 2010). A former student of Andrès Segovia and a graduate of Yale University, she has played at the White House and Carnegie Hall. Her rise to stardom as a woman playing an instrument that is usually played by men was chronicled in Sharon Isbin: Troubador, a recent documentary on her creative performances and collaborations with artists in a variety of genres that was released last fall by American Public Television.

She has also expanded the repertoire of classical guitar, persuading leading composers such as John Corigliano to create classical guitar music for her to play with their orchestras. Called the “Monet of Classical Guitar,” she is known for her ability to express different colors or emotions through her music.

For Isbin, it’s all about expressing her feelings in her work. “I love to be expressive on the guitar with lyricism, dynamic contrasts, nuances, phrasing, articulation, and a panoply of colors and timbres,” she says. “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.”

Isbin likens her creative process to being a director of a play. “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 choosing 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.”

As head of the guitar department at the Aspen Music Festival and The Juilliard School, Isbin has developed an original technique for teaching classical guitar. Yet she doesn’t limit herself to classical music—she has embraced a musical palette that ranges from bossa-nova to jazz to folk, collaborating with other guitarists and musicians in new ways.

“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 such as performing on Scorsese’s The Departed,” she says. “But most important to me and to listeners is the emotion, lyricism, sensuality and passion.”

For instance, her 2010 GRAMMY award-winning Journey to the New World 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.” At 58, Isbin is not slowing down. How does she have the energy to continually expand her repertoire and explore new ground by collaborating with so many other top artists?

It turns out she has a secret.

“I have done Transcendental Meditation since I was 17 years old,” she said in a recent NY Times interview. “I do 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon. I really believe it has helped make me the person that I am. Because it is an extraordinary way to release stress and allow it to dissolve, so that you can focus on what you want to focus on, and have your energy towards very positive things.”

When she performs, Isbin says she enters a state similar to the “zone” that top athletes report. “It puts me in touch with my innermost creative core and enables its expression through music,” she says. “Most importantly, it facilitates instant access to a state of ‘cosmic’ immersion, of being in the flow or in ‘the zone’ when performing, a state of being very similar to 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 the listeners and me, 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, the experience is unique and in the moment, never to be replicated.”

For Isbin, TM helps with all of the creative aspects of her work. “Because TM is so effective at eliminating stress and distraction, it encourages laser sharp focus and concentration for any task,” she says. “Practicing TM has inspired heights of creativity for me on many levels: as a musician, arranger, educator, writer, and artistic director.”

See a trailer of Sharon Isbin: Troubadour

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, February 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Spring Allergies and Ayurveda

Spring flowers, ragweed, dust, mold or pet dander can cause your immune system to overreact to harmless natural substances.

Instead of reserving its immune response for viruses and bacteria, your body sounds a false alarm when exposed to a certain food, pet dander, pollen, or even a blade of grass — and tells the immune system to attack. Sneezing, nasal congestion and itchy, watery eyes; indigestion; swelling; or skin rashes — these are some of the all-too-familiar results.

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, accumulated toxins (ama) prevent your immune system from functioning normally and cause the overreaction. Ayurveda suggests a multi-faceted approach — adjustments in lifestyle and diet and specific ayurvedic herbal supplements.

Spring Allergies and Ayurveda – Herbs for Spring Immunity

Ayurveda has deep regard for the intelligence of the immune system, and offers a sophisticated in-depth body of botanical knowledge and lifestyle tips, centuries old, supporting it. For example, certain ayurvedic herbs will help support your body’s natural immunity to allergens by helping to eliminate existing toxins and, at the same time, promote a healthy response to harmless allergens. The herbs also work to support the healthy functioning of your liver. As your body’s natural filtration system, your liver filters toxins and chemicals from the food you eat and the water you drink.

In this way these herbs offer a natural, long-term approach to allergens. The product containing these herbs is called Aller-Defense.

Uphold Immune Strength

Supporting the body’s immune system to combat allergens is exactly what Maharishi Ayurveda suggests as the long-term, effective solution to a healthy response to allergens. Herbs can play a helping role in this.

In the spring, impurities (called ama) that have been stored in tissues of the body, including your largest organ, the skin, tend to dissolve due to the rising temperature in the environment. These toxins can build up in the microchannels of the body (the shrotas), blocking them. When the microchannels are blocked, nutrients are not delivered properly to the cells, and the body’s immune system becomes weakened. Then, in the spring, as plants bloom, they fill the air with pollen (allergens) at the very same time the body’s defenses are being challenged with a flood of melting ama. This is the reason that, according to the ayurvedic model of health, our reaction to allergens spikes in the spring.

The Spring Flood of Ama

Traditional ayurvedic experts view the body’s overreaction to respiratory allergens as a problem occurring in a particular sub-dosha of Kapha, called Shleshaka Kapha. This sub-dosha is responsible for maintaining moisture in the upper respiratory tract.

As the digestive impurities (ama) in the body start dissolving, they combine with Shleshaka Kapha to form a thick, sticky toxin called shleshma, which starts to fill the respiratory tract and sinus cavities. The entire respiratory system, as a result, becomes a fertile breeding ground for bacteria and health imbalances. This is the reason why allergen sensitivity can become a sinus or respiratory issue. This is also why a Kapha-reducing diet of lighter foods that are easier to digest is recommended. These kinds of foods are easier on the body and help flush ama out.

Strengthening the Body’s Defense Systems

If one has to choose one product to remove ama from the system and support digestion and elimination (the underlying basis for all health…digestion), one should take Organic Digest Tone. It is an everyday detox that tones the digestive tract and eliminates ama. It also allows the system to metabolize foods and other herbals more effectively. It is the supercharger for good digestion and assimilation. One can eat the best foods available and take the best herbs to be found, but without strong digestion, they are being wasted.

The long-term solution is to delve into the root cause of allergen sensitivity and support the body’s immune system. The Aller-Defense herbal formulation from Maharishi Ayurveda helps remove toxins from the body and strengthen immunity. Aller-Defense helps block toxic reactions by improving digestion, and reduces sensitivity to allergens by nourishing and purifying the liver. This herbal formulation enhances the body’s overall capability to fight allergens.

What about diet?

Researchers have found that a diet that includes regular intake of certain spices can reduce vulnerability to plant allergens. These spices contain natural chemicals that include flavonoids and phenols. For example, turmeric is rich in curcumin, a compound that is known to support a healthy inflammatory response. Turmeric can also help improve digestion and balance the flow of bile. Sage, red pepper, cumin and coriander are some other spices that are known to help with allergen resistance. Sautéing a combination of ground turmeric, cumin and coriander in ghee and using the mixture to season vegetables is a way of incorporating some of these ayurvedic herbs/spices into your diet.

From the ayurvedic perspective, it is important to follow a Kapha-Pitta pacifying diet if one is prone to an allergen response. When the body mistakenly attacks harmless allergens, the body’s immune system releases various chemicals. So it is considered essential to pacify Pitta, because Pitta regulates chemical functions in the body. Drinking Organic Pitta Tea or using the Organic Cooling Pitta Spice Mix (food seasoning) is a convenient way of doing this. It is also important to pacify Kapha to counteract sluggish digestion and congestion. This is especially true in the Kapha season (spring). One of the most effective ways to pacify Kapha is to take Organic Digest Tone. It is an everyday detox that tones the digestive tract and eliminates ama.

Taking products that relieve allergen symptoms provides only temporary relief and does not address the root cause of allergen response — the body overreacting and mistaking harmless natural substances as dangerous.

Herbal Help in Spring

Sniffle Free — Cold weather can compromise your body’s ability to handle cold temperatures that can put out your digestive fire and weaken the body. Sniffle Free supports natural digestive fire, which is often compromised by colder weather. This formula also aids your resistance to the cold, helps lubricate the lungs and helps restore your body’s balance of moisture and mucus.

Elim-Tox — helps cleanse toxins and purify the body. It feels good to clean house and get rid of old junk in your life. It feels even better to clear old impurities from your body. Elim-Tox helps purify toxins from your whole body — down to the cells. You’ll feel healthy, clear and light. And let’s face it. Modern life is full of toxic input. There are chemicals and preservatives in your food supply, toxins in the air and water, and digestive impurities that build up due to poor eating habits, not to mention the toxic build-up that results from mental, physical and emotional stress.

In Maharishi Ayurveda, these impurities are called ama. They disturb digestion, overall metabolism, liver functioning and the healthy breakdown of fats, leading to weight and cholesterol problems. They interrupt circulation, leading to poor nutritional input to the cells. They block elimination, causing digestive disturbances. They interrupt the immune system, leading to allergen resistance issues and health problems. Do you feel groggy after eating? Are your joints feeling stiff? These are signs of toxic build-up. Other signs include an unpleasant body odor, a heavy feeling in your body, or a coated tongue in the morning. Toxins mask the sophisticated intelligence of your body, creating health issues and discomfort instead of health. Yet toxic build-up is virtually unavoidable in today’s fast-paced world. Stressful jobs, environmental pollution and fast-food diets contribute to toxic waste in the body. And no matter how pure the food you eat, if your digestion is out of balance, your own body will create digestive toxins.

Elim-Tox-O is a gentle formula that helps cleanse your body’s natural purification systems without forcing, making it the recommended choice for people who have a tendency towards acne, occasional heartburn, and excess stomach acid or who have a lot of “fire” in their physiology.

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI],June 4,2014. Reprinted with permission.) 

 

BY LINDA EGENES

tractorladyMy mother gave me many gifts. She passed on her love of gardening, her joy in simple acts like arranging wildflowers or listening to the song of the cardinal, and the pleasure of reading a book. She taught me how to turn the other cheek when wronged, how to “go high” even when others “went low.”

But her greatest gift was to be happy.

Not that her circumstances weren’t challenging at times. When my brother was just a few months old in 1949, my parents picked up stakes in Ohio and towed their tiny mobile home to Memphis, Tennessee.

They quickly found a seven-acre parcel of land northeast of the city and parked their trailer on it. There they would literally camp for four years, with an outhouse for a toilet and an outdoor pump for water, while they built their first home. My father worked as an engineer at International Harvester designing plows and farm equipment during the days, and toiled late into the evenings and weekends to build a small house without mrtgage or debt.

I was born while they still lived in the trailer, and my mother would set my bassinette under the trees while she washed my cloth diapers using a bucket, an immersion coil, and a hand-cranked wringer. The home was finally ready to move into when I was two, and my sister, Cathy, was the first baby born in a home with indoor plumbing.

Yet my mom never spoke of those years as a hardship. On the contrary, her face would light up as she told stories of raising her babies in the fresh air and working side-by-side with Dad to build their own home on their own land. Looking at pictures from that era, she is always dressed stylishly and is smiling radiantly (my favorite picture is of my petite mother sitting on their tractor wearing high heels). To her it was all a grand adventure. In fact, she often said, “Those were the happiest years of my life.”

My dad was transferred north when I was six, and they did it all over again, building a beautiful passive-solar custom home in the Chicago suburbs. That home was truly a paradise, surrounded by charming wild flower gardens, birdsong and the shady protection of tall oak trees.

Basically my parents lived the American dream and prospered. Years passed and my sister and brother and I grew up and lived our lives in other states.

We were a happy family, but the true test of happiness, we were to find, was how you respond when life takes a direction you don’t foresee.

The Test of True Happiness
When our parents reached their 80s, we started to see signs. Mom was repeating herself many times in a conversation. Dad stopped raking the leaves or monitoring their finances. On the same day in January 2009, my mother and my father were diagnosed with dementia, confirming our worst fears. It was the most devastating day of my life.

Cathy and I scrambled to help parents who had never asked for anything—their creedo was to stay independent and help others. Cathy took over their financial affairs and I started spending half my time in Illinois—managing their home, their healthcare, and the incredibly devoted, round-the-clock healthcare providers whom we hired.

Caring for one parent with dementia is a challenge—caring for two was clearly beyond my capacity to give at times. Yet as a “parent to my parents,” I knew that above all, I needed to remain calm and happy, as my mom had done for us all these years.

“Happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not our circumstances,” said Martha Washington, our nation’s first First Lady. This was what my mother modeled. Yet I also knew it was hard for me to be happy when I got too tired, when I got too stressed.

At this point in my life, I was incredibly grateful for my daily practice of Transcendental Meditation, which helped me find both calm and courage within. Many times the chaos of the day—or the stress of taking charge of my parents’ lives—overwhelmed me. Yet as I sank into the soft, blissful state of my own pure awareness each morning and evening, my body let go of the stresses of the day and my mind let go of the worries. When I came out of meditation, I felt fresh, rested. Suddenly solutions would appear.

My mom had learned TM years before and found it helped her be less nervous and enjoy life more. She hadn’t continued, but now we often meditated together, and when she opened her eyes, she was glowing with light. In many ways, we grew closer during these years. As a middle child, I relished having her to myself for shopping and other outings. Her dementia, it turned out, was vascular and not a progressive form like my father’s, so her personality and ability to interact lovingly remained intact. She made friends with the caregivers, basking in their attention. She found a way to laugh often, to be happy with her new circumstances.

I truly believe that this was not a superficial kind of moodmaking on her part, but resulted from her ability to draw deep from her inner resources. As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique says in his book, On the Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation and Commentary, “If his happiness does not lie in the outside world and yet he is happy, his happiness can only be within himself” (Chapter 5 Verse 24).

Long story short, the time came when my parents could no longer stay in their beloved home, but needed additional care. Cathy found a truly progressive and uplifting memory care facility close to her home in Oakland, CA, and generously made plans to retire early so she could give our parents the loving attention they needed.

Changes kept coming to our family, and not the kind you look forward to. Within two short years, my mom had lost her husband, her home, her short-term memory, and her ability to walk, write, and read due to a stroke.

Being Happy is a Precious GiftBeing Happy Is A Precious Gift to Others
Needless to say, our entire family was struggling with loss and grief, but our tiny mother was struggling the most. My parents had been so devoted to each other that we wondered if, like many close couples, Mom might lose the will to live at all.

But with the same determination that made her recover her speech in the year after her stroke, Mom began to adapt to her new situation.

With childlike eagerness, she sat next to Bill or Barbara, the activity directors, like the teacher’s pet. She found she was good at trivia. When Bill called out “Illinois,” she was the first to name the capital: “Springfield!”

She learned new songs. If you stopped to talk to her, she smiled and took your hand and kissed it. She radiated joy. When a caregiver handed her a fruit smoothie at snack time—a replacement for pastries—she first asked if I wanted some and then sipped it with gusto. “It’s delicious,” she’d say. “You should order one!” as if we were lounging poolside at a spa.

The miracle was that our shy, introverted mother not only adjusted to her new circumstances—she embraced them and everyone she met with joy.

When I’d call from Iowa to speak to her at night, she sometimes told me she was working during the day, helping other people. I believed her. She was working to make others happy, with her smile, her gentle humor, with her radiant being. Her last words of advice at the end of every phone call: “Be happy.”

I learned early on that she was making this choice every single day. Occasionally on the phone she would slip into sadness about my dad. “He was such a handsome young man,” she’d say. “He was always helping me.” She’d sob a little, but then, as if talking to herself, she’d say, “But I can’t dwell on that. I have to be happy.”

Like any children, we could not bear to see our sweet mother suffer, so this was the greatest gift she could have ever given us. Through her joy and gratitude, she turned darkness into light. Ever my teacher, she also became my hero.

Our mother passed away just three months ago. This is our first Mother’s Day without her, made even more poignant by the fact that this year her 90th birthday also falls on that day, and our entire family was planning to gather for a grand celebration.

Yet I can only feel grateful for my mother’s many gifts and remember the words she spoke to me the last time I called her. “Be happy,” she said. It’s easy to do that, Mom, when I remember your radiant smile.

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, May 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.)

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