BY LINDA EGENES

Transcendental Meditation and At-Risk Girls in ThailandThe Story of Two Students

(Part two of a three-part series)

The word “education” comes from the Latin verb “educere” which means “to lead out.” For children in many parts of the world, an education is a way to lead their families from poverty to prosperity. In Thailand, education for girls means earning a higher degree or learning a respected trade. Without an education, girls growing up in poverty often end up being trafficked into prostitution and living on the street.

At the Dhammajarini Witthaya School, the only free boarding school for at-risk girls in Thailand, girls are not only being given a safe haven and a quality education, but have the opportunity to develop their mental, emotional and physical potential by practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. They are literally being “led out” to a better life.

While visiting Thailand recently, I had the pleasure to interview two students at the Dhammajarinnee Witthaya School, where 500 children preschool to age 12 meditate together. The school is located on 11 acres of gardens, lakes and shady lanes.

Outside the beautiful administration building, smiling girls in crisp uniforms stop to greet me, saying in perfect English, “How are you?” I talk to them for a moment. English and Chinese are part of the curriculum here, which includes computer science and other college-prep courses, as well as instruction in traditional Thai crafts.

Aytittaya, age 16, tells me, through a Thai interpreter, that she is in grade 10. She is wearing a blue polo shirt and sweat pants, the attire for after-school chores and sports. While we talk inside Acharn Yai’s comfortable office, we can hear the happy sounds of children playing outdoors.

Girls at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya schoolAytittaya smiles when she explains that her family is from Bangkok. Unlike many of the girls, she is not here due to poverty, but rather because her parents divorced when she was two years old. “I lived with my mom and brother and grandmother in Bangkok, but my mother had to travel for her work,” she explains. “So she put me in a boarding school in Bangkok.”

Then in grade six, her great grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun, found out about the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya school and her mother brought her here.

“The students in the previous school were not so disciplined,” she says. “Here we learn Buddhist values. In the previous school there is a gap between the student and the teacher, but here the teacher is like the mother.”

Another difference is that the students meditate longer here. In her previous school, they spent five minutes doing Buddhist meditation before school each morning, as has been mandated by the King of Thailand for every school in the country. “Here we practice the TM technique and meditate for a longer time twice a day and I really like that. I feel much more protected, more happy here.”

Aytittya smiles again when she describes how naughty she used to behave. “At my other school, I didn’t listen to my mother and listened to my friends instead,” she says. “I’ve changed a lot.” She is more focused on her studies, and she’s proud that she just won the province-wide competition for Buddhist chanting. And her team just won second place for the national Mind Map competition.

Girls at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya schoolApinya, also sixteen years old in grade 10, has a different story. She comes from a very poor family in Ratchaburi province. When she was only eight, her parents divorced and her mother left her with her father and two older sisters. Her father had a difficult time making a living, and took his anger out on Apinya. Eventually, her teachers removed her from her abusive home environment and placed her first in a foster home, and then brought her to the Dhammajarinee School.

Apinya not only feels safe here, but happier. “The nuns and teachers take good care of us, just like a family.” She also confides, “Before I didn’t dare to express myself. If I saw a stranger, I was afraid. Now, after practicing Transcendental Meditation, I have more confidence. I’m not afraid to express myself.”

Apinya also was on the secondary school team that won second prize in the national Mind Map contest, and later this month she will compete in the national Memory Competition.

I ask the girls if they mind doing chores for the school. Aytittya says that her job is to help clean the buildings, take care of the grounds and cut the grass.

She smiles widely and says, “I don’t mind because the physical work helps me stay in shape. And I want to help the school.”

Aditya says that she likes helping in the kitchen. “Before I didn’t know how to cook,” she says. “Now I know how to cook for myself and for others.”

Awards at the Dhammarjarinee Witthaya school“From the beginning, from when I first started to meditate, I have felt that this is very good for me,” says Aditya. “When I feel tired or stressed, I just do my evening meditation, and all the stress is gone. I feel happy.”

Aditya enjoys learning Chinese and English as part of her studies. She would like to go to college and study Chinese and become an interpreter, while Aytittya wants to become an air hostess so she can travel to see her mother, who now works in Norway.

Or, they both mention, after college they may come back to teach here, at the Dhammajarinee Witthaya school, to give back to others the same extraordinary education that they have received.

New Fundraising video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JoS32IKA1c

Full 13 minute video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCHFb_2Q_5U

During the past two years, Acharn Yai and supporters have raised funds and completed a new classroom building. Now the school are raising funds for a new dormitory building that will allow the school to expand from 500 to 750 students. Tax-deductible donations for the school can be made athttp://www.seedsofheaven.org/donate.htmlWhen donating, be sure to click the button for Dhammarjarinee Wittayah school in Thailand. Or you may donate directly to the school here: http://www.buddhistgirls.org/eng/donate.html

Photos by Tina McQuiston, reprinted with permission.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, October 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

Five Top Heart Health Strategies According to Recent Research An Interview with Robert D. Brook, M.D.

BY LINDA EGENES

Robert Brook MDRobert D. Brook, M.D., is a cardiovascular medicine specialist and professor of medicine at the University of Michigan’s Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. He has authored over 150 peer-reviewed publications in the areas of vascular biology, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular imaging, hypertension, prevention, and hyperlipidemia. A pioneering researcher in the field of environmental cardiology, his research focuses on how air pollutants cause heart disease and trigger cardiovascular events.

Dr. Brook recently served as chair of “Beyond Medications and Diet—Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association (AHA),” which critically reviewed the evidence supporting the efficacy of alternative mechanisms to lower blood pressure.

The AHA report concluded that the Transcendental Meditation (TM®) technique lowers blood pressure and recommends that TM may be considered in clinical practice for the prevention and treatment of hypertension.

Here Dr. Brook discusses the TM technique and other ways to prevent heart disease.

Linda Egenes: Looking at the latest research, what are the five most important things we can do to protect our hearts?

Dr. Brook: First and foremost, start with a healthy diet and lifestyle. A number of research studies have been conducted on the Mediterranean diet, so it has the most scientific evidence as being protective to the heart.

Second, incorporate aerobic activity into your lifestyle. The usual recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity a week. Both the Mediterranean diet and regular aerobic activity have been shown in numerous studies to be effective in both primary prevention (those without heart disease) and secondary prevention (those with established heart disease).

Third, control your cholesterol. While many people do this through diet and exercise, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that statins are extremely effective in the prevention of heart attacks, and they also reduce the risk of stroke. So I don’t want to downplay how important statins are—they are a central aspect of cardiovascular prevention.

Fourth, control your blood pressure with lifestyle approaches and/or medications. Unfortunately, there are close to 80 million people in the United States with hypertension, and with 40% of the global population suffering from high blood pressure, it is the leading cause of mortality in the world.

Fifth, never start smoking and quit smoking if you do. The interesting fact is that within six months to two years after a person stops smoking, we see a dramatic reduction in the risk of heart attacks, even in people who had a prior heart attack. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke as well.

Linda Egenes: What about air pollution?

Dr. Brook: In North America we are lucky to live with relatively low levels of air pollution. While it’s still a public health issue, there is good evidence that as air pollution levels have fallen following the Clean Air Act of the 1970s, there has been the expected reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Nevertheless, air pollution still poses a risk to cardiovascular health even at today’s lower levels.

Unfortunately, in much of the rest of the world, things have gotten worse. Developing nations such as China, India, and the Middle East have now inherited our problem of coal power plants. On top of that, they are burning biomass (wood and crop residues) for cooking and heating inside their homes, so their pollution levels are ten times the levels of North America and Western Europe.

Particulates from biomass-burning indoors is not just the cause of asthma, cancer, and chronic lung disease, but it’s a serious problem for the heart as well. With hypertension number one, the number two killer of people in the world is smoking, and number three is indoor air pollution, which includes secondhand smoke. Outdoor air pollution is the ninth leading cause of death globally.

Linda Egenes: How did you become involved in the AHA committee?

Dr. Brook: A number of academic physicians and scientists from the United States were invited to an AHA conference in Beijing to discuss the epidemic of hypertension in developing nations. At that meeting there was great interest in nonpharmacologic ways to control blood pressure, due to the expense of pharmaceuticals, the cost to society, and the lack of availability in some countries. So the question emerged: are there research studies to support the use of nonpharmacologic methods to reduce hypertension—beyond the well-known and well-proven successes of diet changes, weight loss, and salt reduction?

I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and volunteered to take a leadership role. Nonpharmacologic approaches to hypertension are also of great personal interest since every day in my clinical practice someone asks, “Is there a way I can control my blood pressure without medication?”

Yet up until this time there had never been a critical review or statement by the AHA of nonpharmacologic, non-dietary ways to improve blood pressure. At the same time, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. So I knew this review would not only address the worldwide public health issues discussed at our meeting in China, but would also be a helpful resource for clinicians, healthcare providers, and patients in the US as well.

Linda Egenes: I understand it took about two years for the committee to analyze over 1000 studies and come up with recommendations?

Dr. Brook: Yes. All this information was available before, and we sifted through the large number of studies and publications across many disciplines. We also critically analyzed each alternative approach to fit the algorithm, the grading criteria, that the AHA has developed to give global recommendations based upon research.

This is a formal process in the AHA and other societies, forming a writing committee that analyzes the research, writes the paper, and takes it through multiple stages of approval, including independent peer review and a final endorsement by the AHA. It took two years from start to finish, which is pretty standard for a writing committee of this kind.

Linda Egenes: Can you talk about the research on the TM technique and how it stood up under review?

Dr. Brook: We chose several broad categories of nonpharmacologic, alternative approaches to hypertension, including exercise, device-guided approaches such as slow breathing and biofeedback, and stress reduction approaches such as meditation.

In the stress reduction category, we focused on the more recent studies of TM and other types of meditation such as mindfulness, contemplative meditation, and focused attention. Separate meta-analyses and our review of the research on TM showed a fairly clear overall reduction in blood pressure, about 4 or 5 mmHg systolic. Using the AHA’s metrics, we graded TM rather high based on the evidence.

TM stood alone amongst all of the meditation techniques because of the great deal of research and corroborative evidence. There were far more studies in relation to blood pressure and hypertension on TM as compared to other meditation techniques. There also were three meta-analyses (a collection of many studies) that corroborated that TM was effective for lowering blood pressure.

And in some of the more recent studies done by scientists such as Robert Schneider, M.D., at Maharishi University of Management and collaborators at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and other universities, it was shown that TM not only lowered blood pressure but also reduced cardiovascular disease itself.

Linda Egenes: TM was the only meditation technique recommended in this report by the AHA, correct?

Dr. Brook: Right. I would say there is a lack of compelling evidence that other types of meditation and stress reduction techniques, including yoga, are as effective in reducing blood pressure.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t reduce blood pressure. It’s just that there is a lack of compelling or good evidence that they do. In comparison, there is good evidence that TM is effective in modestly lowering blood pressure. That is why it stood out and was selected amongst the meditation techniques. I say this with the caveat that as better trials are done, it may well be that some of the other techniques will be found to be effective as well.

There were very few, if any, head-to-head studies that would compare the effectiveness of one type of meditation technique vs. another. In the future we’d like to be able to compare TM to other techniques to see if there is really something unique about TM as compared to other meditation approaches or general stress reduction or slow breathing. And, could this be done on a larger scale for a longer term?

Linda Egenes: I’m curious. Are you a practitioner of the TM technique?

Dr. Brook: No. I am not an advocate; I am not an activist. I’m not coming from the inside at all. This is an external review by somebody who is somewhat of a skeptic. The studies show what they show and the publications are what they are. I didn’t come in knowing anything about the TM technique.

Linda Egenes: Sometimes studies on the TM technique are criticized when the people who are doing the studies are TM meditators.

Dr. Brook: That is a generic criticism. Anybody doing the research is, of course, an insider in that area. No area of research is not subject to that same potential bias, so I reject that criticism as long as the researchers are ethical, and we assume that they are. I know that Dr. Robert Schneider and his collaborators have displayed the highest scientific integrity in their research at Maharishi University of Management, the University of Iowa College of Medicine, the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and other research institutions.

Linda Egenes: Since doing this research, do you recommend TM to your patients?

Dr. Brook: Absolutely. A population-level reduction of 5 mmHg systolic is a profound 10-15% reduction in heart attacks, strokes, and cardiovascular disease. At the same time, I don’t want to overstate the effect of TM on blood pressure, which is modest but still helpful. It’s a good adjunct for people who have mild hypertension or upper-normal levels, what we call pre-hypertension. Or it can be helpful as a supplement for people who have intolerances to blood pressure medications, or who aren’t at goal on one or two medications and don’t want to add a third pill.

And I always tell Dr. Robert Schneider, “You can do TM for many other reasons, and if as an ancillary benefit it also helps to lower blood pressure, that’s a wonderful side effect.”

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 20. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Tanell Pretorius

Tanell Pretorius

Every woman, at one time or another, desperately wants to change her appearance, usually in the direction of being a supermodel.

Yet if we ordinary women feel a tremendous pressure to look like the images of perfect women that bombard us daily, curiously, the models feel the most pressure of all.

Tanell Pretorius of South Africa and Raquel Zimmermann of Brazil share how the Transcendental Meditation technique helped them to discover that true beauty and happiness lies within. TM gave them the balance they were looking for in life, and now they want to share this experience with others.

The Pressure of Constant Self-Scrutiny

Tanell Pretorius of South Africa postponed college to pursue a glamorous London modeling career that included TV commercials for Sony PlayStation, catalogue work for Marks and Spencer, and shoots with Rankin, the legendary British photographer.

“The TV work was really fun,” she says. “You’d arrive at five a.m. and see hundreds of lighting people, gaffers, and set designers running around, and often you’d be the hero of the whole thing.”

But the long hours (one shoot started at 3:00 in the afternoon and lasted until 9:00 a.m. the next day) and the pressure of constant self-scrutiny started to take their toll.

“In modeling your body is your product,” Tanell says. “Like most models, I started to develop weird habits with food. I was working out too much and injured myself. That’s when I found Transcendental Meditation.”

Tanell says that all her life, she had been looking for something more, even after becoming a top model. Then she found the Transcendental Meditation technique, which helped her find the inner balance she was looking for.

“When I started the TM technique, I immediately felt that this is the missing part of life, this is the thing that makes life complete, that makes it full and amazing,” she says. “I started to feel so deeply in touch with myself, a lot more connected to my body and my needs. It even healed my sports injuries.”

At that point Tanell decided to leave full-time modeling and explore her love of learning at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. A recent graduate with a B.A. in media and communications, she simultaneously earned certification as a wellness consultant. She plans to use her skills in writing to share what she’s learned about health, yoga, and fitness with other women.

“I love helping women to get more in touch with themselves, to work out and choose what to eat from an intuitive level rather than from what a magazine or an article is telling them to do,” she says.

Raquel Zimmermann and TM: A Wake-up Call in My Brain

Raquel Zimmermann

Raquel Zimmermann

Supermodel Raquel Zimmermann, who is currently one of the biggest names in the fashion industry, also sensed that there was something missing from her life.

“It’s a silly thing,” she said. “Models are valued for what they look like. I started to feel that every human being should be valued for what they have inside. Then you start seeing a lot of girls, they want to be skinny like models, they start getting eating disorders. It’s like an obsession to look a certain way. You start to realize—that doesn’t matter. What matters is what you have inside.”

Raquel noticed a significant change in her thinking patterns in the first week of practicing the TM technique. “I remember when I first started meditating, it was like a wake-up call in my brain. All of a sudden, within the first week of meditating I wanted to organize, my life, my personal belongings, everything. It was almost like my brain was turned on.”

After four months, she was able to quit smoking. “Transcendental Meditation changed my whole lifestyle in one year,” she says. “I had been smoking my whole modeling career because I thought it would keep me thin. It made me very proud, to be a nonsmoker and take care of myself.”

Raquel describes her own experience of no longer feeling overwhelmed by the long hours she spends in airports between shoots. “The frustration is gone,” she says. “You get to the hotel room and you meditate and when you’re there in the moment, in total peace with yourself, you’re in paradise no matter where you are.”

Raquel believes that the TM technique can help women today, because most women suffer from stress, with hectic lives and multiple responsibilities to raise their families and work in a career.

”I think TM could help them release that stress,” she says. “It’s like you have your quiet time and all that stress and worries is dissolved and you move on to your day, and all the challenges and problems don’t become problems anymore. You find solutions to everything. I think it’s a stress-killer, and would be good for women everywhere to learn.”

Tanell also recommends TM to other young people. “It’s helped me to not be so confused by the little things, moment to moment,” she says. “The great thing about the TM technique, you’re not just talking about the bigger picture, you’re experiencing it. And it’s so freeing, so liberating, to feel the largeness of life, how big you really are as a person, within yourself. Then you don’t get lost in the small things.”

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycf7YiajDUI

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 12, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

The Most Important Ayurvedic Secret to Great Health

Ayruveda Vata Pacifying DietThere was a time when I developed a severe bronchial cough every spring and couldn’t shake it for months at a time. My medical doctor said, “Get more rest,” and handed me an antibiotic prescription.

I took the antibiotics two years in a row (the first medications I had ever taken in my life) and by the third year, they stopped working. Stuck with a miserable cough, I heard about Maharishi Ayurveda and scheduled a consultation. The vaidya, or ayurvedic expert, used a diagnostic technique called “pulse diagnosis,” placing his fingers at the radial pulse on my wrist.

“Your problem is due to poor digestion, from eating too many heavy foods,” he explained. “And it’s been compounded by the antibiotics, which have killed the friendly flora in your intestines and weakened your immunity further.”

Say what? How could a persistent lung problem be due to poor digestion? I questioned this diagnosis, but since I was desperate, I took the herbal remedies and made the changes in diet and lifestyle that he suggested. And miraculously, I have never had a bronchial infection since. In fact, decades later, having made a conscious effort to improve my digestion using the practical principles of Maharishi Ayurveda, I rarely catch a cold.

Why Poor Digestion is Linked to Disease

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, digestive weakness is the cause of many diseases. The reasoning is simple: incomplete digestion leads to the build-up of sticky, gooey, digestive toxins (called ama). Ama circulates throughout the body and blocks the tiny passageways that carry waste away from the cells, causing further toxins to build up at the cellular level. At the same time, the passageways that carry nutrients to the cells also get gummed up by ama, leading to poor absorption and weakened immunity.

Depending on where the ama settles, digestive toxins can contribute to a wide range of diseases—from colds and flu to sore joints. In later stages, the build-up of toxins can actually cause distortions in the tissues and passageways, leading to more serious diseases such as atherosclerosis or arthritis.

That is why digestion is considered the key to health in Maharishi Ayurveda. Fortunately, it’s  not that hard to improve your digestion. Here are ten simple tips to give your digestion a boost during the cold and flu season this winter.

  1. Eat sitting down, in a settled environment, without watching TV or talking on the phone. Many Americans today eat standing up or in their cars. Your digestive system needs relaxation in order to function properly. A stressed or rushed atmosphere can actually cause food to curdle in your stomach, creating ama and destroying health.
  2. Try to eat your main meal at noon. According to Maharishi Ayurveda, digestive strength is optimum when the sun is at its strongest, at around 12:00. In most traditional cultures, the main meal is eaten then, because that is the time your digestion can handle heavier foods and larger quantities. Eating a heavy meal before bed is a sure way to create toxic buildup and interfere with sleep.
  3. Schedule regular meals. If your eating schedule is haphazard, your digestive system has to work overtime to catch up. Plan your meals to occur at the same time every day, and your digestion will run more smoothly.
  4. Stimulate your digestion. Eat a slice of fresh ginger squirted with fresh lemon juice before a full meal to give your digestion a jump-start.
  5. Drink  a light yogurt smoothie at lunchtime for pro-biotic digestive support. Put one-part fresh, plain yogurt and three-parts water in a blender and whip it to a froth. Traditionally, salt, cumin and coriander are added for a digestion-enhancing yogurt drink, although most people enjoy raw honey, rosewater and cardamom flavoring instead.
  6. Eat fresh, organic, whole foods. Leftovers and processed foods bought canned, frozen or packaged are difficult to digest. Processed foods also contain many chemicals and preservatives that create toxic buildup. Eating food freshly cooked with love will soothe and stimulate your digestion.
  7. Avoid ice-cold food and drinks. Sipping icy drinks with a meal puts out your digestive “fire,” and can cause bloating or stomach cramps. Try hot herbal tea or hot water with lemon to improve your digestion. Eat your food warm and freshly cooked to give your digestion a break.
  8. Rest for a few minutes after your meal. “Sorry to eat and run,” goes the saying, and your digestion feels sorry too. Rather than jumping up after your meals, take two minutes to remain sitting and allow your digestion a healthy start.
  9. Wait at least two to three hours after a full meal to eat again. A sure way to disrupt digestion is to pile fresh food into your stomach before the previous meal has digested.
  10. Enjoy. Consciously appreciating your food—the beautiful colors, the subtle dance of flavors—actually helps digestion. Even before you take your first bite, your eyes are digesting the food, causing your salivary glands and digestive juices to begin flowing. Take it from the Italians—beautiful food, a beautiful setting, beautiful people—what could be more natural and healthy? And your digestion will thank you.

Linda Egenes is the co-author of three books on ayurvedic health care, including Super Healthy Kids.

BY LINDA EGENES

nineanniversariesFor a writer, finding your personal voice is one of the most important parts of mastering the craft. It turns out that this is also important for visual artists such as Mindy Weisel.

An oil painter who in recent years has turned to glass as a medium, Mindy Weisel has shown her work in solo shows in prestigious galleries and is the recipient of numerous awards. Her art appears in the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of American Art, the Israel Museum, the U.S. Embassy, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Archives of American Artists at the Smithsonian Institution.

Yet despite her success, Mindy says she struggled emotionally with each piece to discover what she wanted to say. She feels this struggle has its roots in her unusual childhood.

Born in 1947 in Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in a displaced persons camp, she was one of the first children born to holocaust survivors after the war.

“Growing up as the only daughter of holocaust survivors, I don’t think I had a clue what it meant to live my own life,” she says.

Digging Into Personal Experiences

Mindy WeiselMindy did know she liked her art and literature classes in high school in New York City, where the family moved, and decided to major in art in college. But finding her place as an artist was daunting.

“It was during the time when my kind of art, which is a very emotional, expressive, abstract expressionist painting, was not taught,” she says. “I really struggled with my professors, but despite a lot of crying and frustration, I stuck with it.”

Mindy continued her graduate studies at American University, and with the help of mentors she found there, she established her own studio by age 27 and launched her first solo painting show.

But it wasn’t until she dug deep into her own personal experiences that she found her own voice and gained recognition in the art world.

“Basically after I learned drawing and painting through all the rigorous study—I understood that you could learn all the technique in the world, but if you don’t feel it, no one else will feel it either.”

In 1978 Weisel started a series using her father’s number at Auschwitz, which was tatooed on his arm. Weisel says, “the paintings started out colorful, but I wrote his number all over them and they became blackened out, dealing not only with the destruction of beauty, but to my surprise there was light coming through the paintings—so it became the survival of beauty.”

Created long before there was a holocaust museum, before Schindler’s List, Mindy’s paintings of 1978 were well received by art critics and laypersons alike and were shown in a traveling exhibition in museums around the country.

For someone whose art is so personal and expressive, it’s hard to imagine that Weisel has ever struggled to find her artistic voice. Yet she identifies this to be her main challenge as an artist.

Working in the Moment

Mindy has noticed that practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique has made it easier for her to be in the moment. “It seems to me that the last eight years, since I started meditating, that’s what’s changed. If the art is not coming, I don’t even struggle with it. I simply put myself in a place where it’s possible to make art.”

She’s also more at peace. “I was very much a holocaust survivor’s daughter, running to stay ahead of everything, to fill up the loss,” she says. “And that running had made me very, very sick. Since meditating, I can just be. I take better care of myself, I take the time to meditate, and I love the experience.”

Another dramatic shift for Mindy Weisel is that she is now using glass as a medium. Her colorful, light-filled glass wall paintings are a feast to the eyes.

“This is amazing to me, because I never knew anything about glass,” she says. “I walked into this glass studio, I recognized something, I was ready to learn, and I didn’t doubt it. I can attribute this switch in materials to practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, because it kept me open enough to try it and enough in the present to make it.”

Mindy took classes at Pilcher Glass School in Seattle to learn her new medium, and just a year and a half later, her vibrant, colorful works appeared in a solo exhibition, “Words in a Journey of Glass,” at Katzen Art Museum, American University.

Describing her experience in meditation as a deep, profound, meaningful rest that is beautiful, easy, and simple, she says, “You are in a state of being, of being in the moment, and somehow that lasts—it accumulates.”

Mindy says that this experience of awareness carries over into the process of making her art. “I’m being more present in the creative process as well,” she says. “Work doesn’t have to be so hard. Work can come from a place of flowing, of openness, of responsiveness, of hearing, of listening. You don’t have to fight so hard to get to that work.”

Somehow Mindy finds time to express herself in writing as well. The author of five books, she recently completed her memoir, Making Marks, in which she writes about making marks of longing, of loss, of survival, of beauty.

“I think that’s what my work is about. It’s very emotional, and I’m always thrilled that somebody feels something when they look at it. You can change your mind about things but you can’t change your feelings about things. You really have to understand them. They won’t go away until you understand them.”

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 19, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

IMG_2668

Jane, a 55-year-old bookkeeper, complains that her hands and fingers feel stiff and painful, especially when the weather turns dry and cool. Sometimes her joints make a cracking sound when she bends them. She consults an expert in Maharishi Ayurveda and finds out that Vata dosha is at the root of her problem, which is why it tends to flare up during Vata (late fall and winter) Season.

Jason, a 30-year-old writer, finds it hard to bend his knees at times. His legs and joints feel heavy and swollen, and ache when the weather was cool and rain, as in Kapha (spring) Season. After consulting an ayurvedic expert, he discovers that his problem is due to toxins (ama) collecting in the joints.

Joint problems like Jane and Jason’s affect 80 percent of the population over age 30. Fortunately, Maharishi Ayurveda offers natural solutions to help people like Jane and Jason improve joint mobility.

Vata-Related Joint Problem
According to Maharishi Ayurveda, joint problems such as Jane’s start when the Vata subdosha that governs the circulation and nerve impulses goes out of balance. Her circulation, metabolism, and ability to absorb food are weakened; as a result, the bone tissue does not receive enough nourishment and eventually starts to degenerate. This in turn causes a drying effect in the subdosha of Kapha that governs lubrication of the joints. When  the joints are not lubricated properly, this creates pain, a cracking sound, and diminished flexibility.

Foods and Lifestyle Habits to Pacify Vata
If you have joint problems such as Jane’s, follow a Vata-Pacifying diet and daily routine. Include all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent) in your diet. Favor the sweet, sour and salty tastes, as these help pacify Vata dosha, and eat less of the bitter, astringent and pungent foods. Other healthy foods to include in the Vata-Pacifying diet are grains such as quinoa, rye and amaranth, cooked in water with a small amount of ghee; freshly cooked organic vegetables; split mung dhal soup; and sweet, organic, juicy fruits. It’s important to eat a diet rich in calcium, including high-quality organic milk and vegetables such as spinach, kale, asparagus, and root vegetables cooked with Vata Churna. Avoid caffeine and an acidic diet as these destroy the ability of the body to aborb calcium.

At the same time, follow a Vata-pacifying daily routine. Go to bed before ten o’clock at night, and rise before six a.m. Avoid too much stimulating activity at night, such as watching television right before bed. Eat your main meal at noon, and eat a light, nourishing dinner early in the evening. Engage in some mild exercise such as walking for half an hour a day. Practice Transcendental Meditation® on a regular basis to dissolve stress and calm your mind. One of the best things you can do for this type of joint problem is a daily ayurvedic oil massage to improve circulation and settle Vata dosha.

Herbs to Help Vata-Related Joint Problems
Osteo Relief, the herbal formula for this type of joint problem, has a special name in ayurveda, called santarpana, which means nurturing. Based on this nurturing theory of santarpana, Osteo Relief’s  precise combination of herbs nourishes and supports the bone tissue, the joints and enhances the lubricating fluid of the joints.

Calcium absorption is usually lacking in this type of joint problem. Take Calcium Support to provide nutritional support to the bones. This remarkable herbal formula supplies your body with 500 mg. of bioavailable calcium a day — and at the same time enhances your body’s ability to absorb calcium from calcium supplements and the foods you eat.

Ama-Related Joint Problems
Jason’s joint problem is associated with ama (digestive toxins) collecting in the joints, and is characterized by a heavy, stiff feeling. Sometimes a bout of cold, humid weather can trigger these symptoms. That is the first stage. If nothing is done to dissolve the ama and it sits in the joints for a long time, eventually the toxins become more irritating and reactive in nature, causing the joint to become inflamed, swollen, and painful. In this kind of environment, ama also mixes with the natural lubricating fluids in the joint governed by Shleshaka Kapha, forming an extremely sticky, toxic substance that restricts mobility and disturbs circulation in the joint.

If the ama, amavisha and Shleshma stay in the joints unattended to for a long time, eventually the structure of the joints and the bone itself becomes damaged. Once these morphological changes happen to the joint and bone, it becomes extremely difficult to correct.

Foods and Lifestyle Habits to Reduce Ama
Follow an ama-reducing diet consisting of warm, light, dryer foods that are easy to digest. Eat more nourishing soups and warm, freshly cooked grains and vegetables prepared with Kapha Churna and spices such as ginger, fennel, cumin, and peppercorn to stimulate digestion. It also helps to eat an apple cooked with prunes and figs each morning for breakfast. Avoid eating leftovers or processed foods.

To keep your digestion working properly, avoid day sleep, and go to bed early so you can rise before 6:00 a.m. Exercise for half an hour every day, and choose a type of exercise that you enjoy. A brisk walk is ideal for most people, along with yoga asana stretches, although if you have more Kapha dosha, you may need more vigorous exercise to stay in balance. You’ll feel lighter and more energetic just by making these simple changes in your routine.

Herbal Formulas to Help Prevent Ama-Related Joint Problems

While abhyanga is not recommended on top of swollen joints, it can help to gently apply Joint Soothe II, an ayurvedic oil designed to lubricate and strengthen the joints and liquefy impurities.

Once liquefied, amacan be internally eliminated by taking the Flexcel tablets. These two products work together to effectively penetrate, dissolve, and eliminate ama and to lubricate the joints to restore their natural balance. If there is a lot of ama, you could take Elim-Tox-0 with the Flexcel tablets.

Prevention is the key. It takes a great amount of effort to get rid of ama that has circulated throughout the body and settled in the joints. So once you start taking care of your joint problem by reducing ama, be careful not to accumulate ama in the future. Examine your tongue in the morning-it should not be coated. If you feel even a little stiffness or heaviness in your joints, start following the ama-reducing recommendations immediately. This is truly a case of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.

A Powerful Way to Improve Circulation in the Joints

What: Abhyanga, daily ayurvedic oil massage

Why: Increases circulation, prevents impurities from building up, and lubricates the joints. It also tones the muscles, calms the mind, soothes the nerves, and promotes deeper sleep. It’s more powerful than a cup of coffee for waking up and energizing sleepy brain cells.

Who: Anyone can benefit, from babies to the elderly

Where: Choose a place that can be washed clean, such as the bathroom floor. Spread a towel and sit on it.

When: Traditionally done upon rising, before the morning shower or bath (the heat helps the impurities flow out and washes off the oil).

How: For most body types, start with Organic Sesame Oil. (For instructions in curing the oil, see here).  For a calming effect during Vata Season, use Relaxation Massage Oil mixed with Youthful Skin Massage Oil.

Warm the oil in a small plastic bottle. Dip your fingertips into the warm oil and apply it lightly to the entire body. start with the head first.

Using the open hand—palm and fingers—stroke the bones with long, straight, back-and-forth motions. Use circular, gentle motions on rounded areas such as joints and head.

Use lighter pressure for sensitive areas such as the abdomen or the heart. Use more oil and spend more time where nerve endings are concentrated, such as the soles of the feet, palms of the hands and along the base of the fingernails.

After you’re done, relax for a few minutes and let the oil do its magic. The longer the oil is on, the deeper it penetrates. During this time you can read something relaxing or uplifting, rest, or shave, cut nails, and get ready for the day. Dab excess oil off with paper towels if you like, then follow with a relaxing warm bath or shower. If your schedule doesn’t allow for a daily massage, try and squeeze it in at least three or four times a week. You’ll find it’s worth it!

Ayurveda and Immunity – Feed Your Child Healthy Fats

(Last in a three-part series on Immunity Boosting Foods)
by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsSome parents are confused about fats, thinking that they should limit fats even in very young children in order to keep their cholesterol down. This can be very damaging to the child, and can even cause “wasting disease.” The brain itself is over half fat by weight. At birth a newborn’s brain contains only 30 percent of the billions of brain cells that it will need as an adult. Your child’s brain acquires 95 percent of its brain cells by age eighteen months—a phenomenal rate of growth.

This shows how essential a diet rich in fat is for the growing infant, and why fat-rich breast milk is perfectly programmed by nature to provide exactly the right kind of fat and the right proportion to fulfill this need. It also shows why infants and toddlers need more fat than adults, with infants twelve months and younger needing half their calories in fat, toddlers from one to three years needing 35 percent of their calories in fat, and from three to six years, 30 percent of their calories in fat. In contrast, adults need less than 30 percent of their diet to contain fat. Thus infants and children under three years of age need high-fat diets to grow properly, and this is best provided through mother’s milk, cow’s milk, and ghee.

Besides feeding your child’s growing brain, fat is essential for building the bones and muscles. Fats help membrane development, cell formation, and cell differentiation. Fat protects against mutations in the cells and contains antioxidants.

But it’s essential to choose healthy fats that do not raise LDL cholesterol or create other imbalances in the body.

Ghee: As we mentioned above, Maharishi Ayurveda recommends ghee as the most healthy and sattvic cooking oil and as a spread to replace butter [see a complete description of the benefits of ghee in part 2 in this series]. Here are some other healthy oils to use.

Olive Oil: Besides ghee, extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is also recommended. Other types of olive oil are heated, which destroys nutrients and increases free radical content. To prevent free radical damage, olive oil should not be heated above 302 ̊ F when cooking. This is why, in many parts of Italy, olive oil is traditionally added to pasta and vegetables after cooking to flavor the food. Olive oil can be used in bread recipes, as baking only raises the temperature inside the bread to 221 ̊ F. This is low enough to avoid destroying its positive properties.

Extra-virgin, first cold-pressed olive oil is the only commercially produced, mass-marketed oil available that has not had its properties destroyed by heat, chemicals, and refining. One of the advantages of olive oil is that it stores well in a cool, dark place, and does not lose its nutritional properties unless overheated or exposed to light.

Extra-virgin olive oil is especially good for Kapha types, because it is lighter and less fattening than other oils and fats such as ghee. It is a monounsaturated fat, does not raise blood cholesterol, and has been shown to lower cardiovascular risks. Olive oil also tastes good in salad dressings.

Coconut Oil: Although it is a saturated fat, coconut oil has a high flame point and is therefore a good oil for cooking as it does not create free radicals when heated. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids and triglycerides, which are metabolized differently than other saturated fats and can have therapeutic effects on the brain and nervous system. Its high content of lauric acid also kills harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Other healthy oils: Essential fatty acids are fats that the body cannot produce and must obtain from food. These are essential in the sense that without them, the body cannot function properly. Flaxseed oil, hemp-seed oil, safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils all contain vary- ing amounts of essential fatty acids. However, flaxseed and hemp-seed oils are extremely fragile, and their essential fatty acids are destroyed when exposed to heat, light, or air. They must be stored in the refrigerator, cannot be used at all for cooking, and should be used within three weeks of opening. Flaxseed oil is not recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda because of its heating effect on the liver. Instead, grind fresh golden flaxseed in a spice grinder and add a teaspoon to the food.

Safflower, sunflower, and sesame seed oil are polyunsaturated oils, which are low in cholesterol but create excessive free radicals, which is why they are not often recommended in Maharishi Ayurveda.

Unfortunately, most of the safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils you buy commercially (and even in health food stores) have been prepared using heat, light, harmful solvents, and chemicals, and thus are not nutritionally sound. If you do use them, make sure they are pressed mechanically without heat, light, or chemical processing and are organic and pesticide-free. Because oil becomes rancid easily, oils should be stored in opaque containers in a cool, dark place.

You may be able to find unheated, unrefined, organic oils in your health food store. Check to see if the different oils are all the same color; if so, then they have been over-processed and are harmful to the body. When processed mechanically without heat, chemicals, or light, the oils of different seeds take on different colors and hues.

Canola oil is a monounsaturated fat, but unfortunately, much of it is now genetically engineered and therefore not recommended, especially for children, unless it is organically grown (which means the seeds are not genetically modified) and processed mechanically, without heat.

Whole seeds and nuts: Healthy sources of oils and essential fatty acids for children are whole nuts and seeds. Sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds are delicious, as are blanched almonds, walnuts, and organic soy- beans (in the form of tofu, flour, or oil). They are also a good source of protein. (Cashews tend to be fatty and constipating, and should not be eaten in large quantities. Peanuts are not recommended.) Nuts are more digestible when soaked overnight, then ground and added to dishes.

Vegetables: Dark-green vegetables such as spinach, parsley, and broccoli also contain small quantities of essential fatty acids. Actually, all whole, fresh, unprocessed foods contain some amount of essential fatty acids. Avocados, for instance, are a good source of essential fatty acids. Herbs such as rosemary and thyme also contain essential oils.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 2 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsImmunity depends on healthy and vibrant digestion during childhood and beyond. This is a central principle of Maharishi Ayurveda.

The digestive juices are likened to a fire, called agni. In fact, the word agni refers to the sun and fire, and to the digestive and metabolic transformations that take place in the body. Charaka Samhita (an ancient text that expounds the principles of Ayurveda) states that strength, health, and longevity all depend on the power of agni.

Agni also refers to the digestive enzymes and secretions in the stomach and small intestines. Called jatharagni, the main agni, these digestive enzymes and secretions are responsible for breaking down food and turning it into chyle, or nutrient fluid. When jatharagni is healthy and strong, the nutrient fluid is formed correctly and easily reaches the cells to create and nourish healthy tissues.

After the process of digestion breaks down the food you eat into nutrient fluid, the various tissues of the body are metabolized through a series of transformations. These tissues include plasma, hemoglobin, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, the central nervous system, and the reproductive tissue including semen and ovum.

The creation of tissue, called dhatu, requires a brightly burning digestive fire, or metabolic process. This is because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, starting with the nutrient fluid in the blood and ending with the reproductive tissue. If there is any block or abnormality at any point in the digestive process, then there will be a weakness in that tissue, and in all the tissues that follow in the chain of transformation.

So you can see how very important a strong digestion is to children, who are growing so rapidly and need to develop healthy blood, bones, organs, and brain. The following chart outlines the seven dhatus with their Sanskrit names.

chart:

The Seven Dhatus (Body Tissues)

Rasa—Blood plasma, chyle, nutrients

Rakta—Blood cells, hemoglobin

Mamsa—Muscle

Meda—Fat and adipose tissue

Asthi—Bone

Majja—Bone marrow and the central nervous system

Shukra—Reproductive tissue, including semen and ovum

This process of forming nutrient fluid into new tissues takes place in the cells—thus agni also resides in each cell. In fact, there is a meta- bolic process (agni) associated with each tissue (dhatu) cell, to trans- form that tissue into the next tissue in the sequence.

Thus rasa agni transforms nutrient fluid (rasa) into blood (rakta).

Once that transformation is complete, rakta agni transforms blood into muscle (mamsa). Mamsa agni transforms muscle into fat, and so on. A disturbance in mamsa agni could cause the muscle to be weak, and because the dhatus are formed in a sequence, all the subsequent

transformations—of fat to bone and bone to bone marrow, and so on—would also be weakened.

In order for the nutrient fluid to be completely healthy, and in order for each dhatu agni to complete its transformation in each cell, the jatharagni, or digestion, must be functioning smoothly. You can see how healthy food and healthy digestion are essential for your child’s blood, muscles, fat, and bone tissues to be properly formed.

Agni also exists in every cell as the metabolic or transforming function, and thus maintains the proper functioning of the RNA and DNA. Agni is responsible for keeping the body’s cellular function vibrant. Each of the billion cells in the body has its own function, its own mechanisms. One may be concerned with seeing, one with hearing, one with digesting. Each organ and each cell has its own mechanisms. And in a healthy child, they’re all vibrant.

Strong Immunity Means Strong Digestion
Toxins in the Digestion

When digestion is weak or irregular, a sticky, toxic, waste product of digestion forms, called ama. Ama is the result of undigested food. It collects in the stomach first, but if it is not eliminated, it can spread to other parts of the body through the nutrient fluid and cause disease.

When digestion is weak and the nutrient fluid does not metabolize properly, it gets mixed with ama. Ama blocks the channels that carry nutrients to the cells, resulting in undernourishment, and if left unchecked, weakness and disease in the tissues. Ama also causes blockage in the channels of circulation and elimination, resulting in fatigue, lack of energy,  lethargy, and a heavy, dull feeling. It can cause the flow of Vata to reverse itself, which results in constipation, indigestion, excessive belching, bloating, gas, heartburn, bad breath, or regurgita- tion of food. In general, ama can cause dullness in the eyes and skin and a dull mind.

Ama creates a fertile environment for bacteria, thus contributing to disease. It also provides a breeding ground for free radicals, the reac- tive oxygen molecules that many scientists believe cause 90 percent of disease.

Signs of a Healthy Digestion

You’ve now seen how a weak digestion can affect your child’s health. On the bright side, a healthy digestion can create a state of health that is so invincible that disease rarely, if ever, happens. When digestion is balanced, the body produces greater quantities of the vital material called ojas. Ojas is the end-product of digestion, the essence of the dhatus, created from the proper transformation of each of the agnis. It is always present in the body, as it resides in the gaps between the body tissues and also in the heart.

The healthier a child is, the more ojas, and vice versa. When ojas is lively, it creates contentment, enthusiasm, vitality, bliss, and clear thinking. It is reflected in a sparkle in the eyes and luster in the skin. You could say that ojas is the material form of bliss in the body. It is also the expression of immunity, or bala. Ojas helps prevent disease and maintains the balance of the doshas and dhatus.

Ojas is the finest material form of consciousness, and exists at the junction point between consciousness and matter. It is similar to bal- anced Kapha dosha in quality: heavy, soft, smooth, thick, sweet, stable, clear, and unctuous.

You can see that ama and ojas are exact opposites. When digestion is balanced, then food gets digested without excess waste, ojas is cre- ated at each transformation, and the tissues are properly nourished and infused with vitality. When digestion is weak, toxins (ama) mix with the nutrient fluid, are transported throughout the body, obstruct the channels, diminish ojas, and create weakened or abnormal tissues.

When immunity is fostered with proper health care, then each cell functions to the best of its capacity. Then there is perfection at the basic level of the cell—perfection in digestion, perfection in metabolism, and perfection in the RNA and DNA. Immunity is at its peak in every cell—whether in the brain, the muscles, or the skin. The immunity and strength in the body create vitality, a happy smile, and the vibrant health of youth. And more importantly, immunity and digestive strength wipe out disease.

This is the primary goal of Maharishi Ayurveda: to create total health in mind, body, and emotions throughout life. You could say that conventional medicine is treating at the level of the wave, while Maharishi Ayurveda treats the level of the deep ocean, at the source.

When immunity is based on the strength of the deep ocean, then germs are like little waves on the surface, and do not pose a problem.

They come and go and are not disturbing. If there is enough bala or immunity in the body, the child doesn’t get the flu so easily. After all, the germs will always be there—whether your child succumbs to the infection or not depends on his immunity. If immunity is strong, various physical, emotional, and environmental changes won’t affect the child’s basic stability and strength.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda (Part 1 in a Series of 3)

by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes

Super Healthy KidsAccording to Maharishi Ayurveda, nutrition plays an important role in the developing human immune system. This is especially true during gestation. Undernourished, low- birth-weight babies show persistent immunological impairment for several months, even years.

Food is especially vital for the growing child. Every day your child is building bones, muscles, and brain cells at a rapid rate. Food gets converted into the seven dhatus, (tissues) and becomes the flesh, bones, blood, and muscles of the body. The more fresh the food is, the more consciousness it has, the more quickly it is converted into ojas, the most refined and nourishing product of digestion. And remember, ojas is directly related to immunity. The more wholesome the foods your child eats, the greater his immunity will be.

Because the amount of ojas is directly linked to the level of immunity, offering children ojas-producing foods should be the highest priority for parents. Here are five ways to increase the amount of ojas in your child’s diet to boost immunity.

1. Choose fresh foods.

In order to create ojas, food must be fresh to start with, the fresher the better. In Maharishi Ayurveda, there is the concept of prana or “life force.” Some foods contain more prana than others, and these are the foods that nourish both the body and mind.

Frozen, canned, packaged, and processed food has very little prana, and is therefore difficult to digest. If your child eats a steady diet of these foods, the result will be ama.

As a physician, it is easy for me to see which children are eating fresh, home-cooked meals and which children are eating processed, frozen, or canned foods. Signs of digestive toxic buildup (ama) in children include drowsiness, fatigue, a pale color, and lack of enthusiasm. Children who eat fresh foods tend to have rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, and buoyant energy, not to mention less sickness and disease. Just by converting your child’s diet to fresh foods, you can increase his health and vitality immeasurably.

Foods that are packaged are not only old and lacking in prana, but they likely have many harmful additives and preservatives. A rule of thumb for choosing food: the more natural, whole, unprocessed, and unadulterated the food is, the healthier it will be for your child.

2. Serve regular meals of warm, cooked food.

Raw food is difficult to digest and can cause a Vata imbalance. Although many people believe that there are more vitamins in raw foods than in cooked ones, the problem is that the raw foods are hard to digest and assimilate. A preliminary study presented at the American Chemical Society showed that the antioxidant beta carotene—which exists in carrots, broccoli, and spinach and has been found to combat tissue damage and plaque in arteries—is absorbed 34 percent more easily in cooked and pureed carrots than in raw ones. The researchers concluded that cooking vegetables softens the plant tissue, allowing antioxidants to be released.

It’s better to serve children warm, delicious, attractive, and whole- some meals that have been cooked by someone who loves them. The warmth is essential for proper digestion, and helps avoid the buildup of ama. Children, being in the Kapha time of life, find warm foods espe- cially soothing and helpful to the digestive process.

Avoid serving your child food straight from the refrigerator. It’s better to serve warm drinks or warm water, fresh-cooked foods, and room- temperature fruits. Fresh salads made with grated carrot, ginger, fresh parsley, and cilantro are fine in small quantities to tone the appetite before the meal, if the child has strong digestion. (Grating makes vegetables more absorbable.)

3. Whenever possible, provide home-cooked meals for your child. There is no better medicine than mother’s home-cooked meals. Just as fresh food has more prana, so does food that is lovingly prepared with- out rushing. And the most important element of food is preparing it with love. As a mother, you put so much love into a meal. The mother’s love is pure ojas to the child. A mother’s food is, for that reason, recognized as the most nourishing in every culture in the world. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “but I don’t have time to cook elaborate meals using all natural ingredients!” Many of you are working mothers, and as a working mother myself, I know how difficult it is to prepare a hot supper after a long day on the job.

I would suggest that you start by adding just one more home-cooked meal a week. If you already cook twice a week, try cooking three times. If you don’t cook at all, try just one meal. Instead of picking up food at a restaurant, instead of popping a frozen pizza in the oven, try to cook a simple meal of fresh vegetables, grains, and legumes.

Then see how your family reacts. Do they appreciate your efforts? Are the children more satisfied, more settled after eating? How do you feel when you eat fresher, more lovingly prepared foods? How do your children feel? Are they more relaxed, more focused?

Then gradually add another home-cooked meal, and another. One thing I know about cooking—the more you do it, the easier it gets. If you just have in your mind that you are committed to cooking more, you will find ways to do it. Once you are committed to the idea, then it just becomes a matter of finding the easiest way to carry out your plan. For instance, you can enlist your older children and husband to help. Some families enjoy cooking together, and make the preparation of meals a family project.

The other problem is school lunches. If your child is eating institutionally prepared meals at school, the fact is that he or she is eating food that is not fresh. It may even be harmful. School cafeterias are notorious for using canned, frozen, and packaged foods, which are often laced with preservatives and other chemicals. Children usually com- plain about such food, calling it all sorts of unpleasant names. Most adults would not eat the food that is served in many school cafeterias.

I am not bringing this problem up to make you feel guilty. I am bringing it up because I know that if parents get passionate enough about something, they can do amazing things. You can band together with other parents and get the food in your child’s cafeteria changed. Or you can try to provide your child with a thermos of nourishing soup or other hot food from home. The main point is to first recognize the problem. The solution will make itself known.

Excerpted from Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda by Kumuda Reddy, M.D. and Linda Egenes, Maharishi University of Management Press, 2010. 

As summer ends and kids go back to school, it’s a good time to boost your brain power. Here are six ways to get back on track.

IMG_44821. Eat Fruits and Vegetables for Brain Food

It has long been known that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for you.  In recent years, research has focused on phytochemicals, the biologically active compounds naturally found in plants that have a positive impact on your health.

Foods that boost memory are walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, almonds, turmeric, and blueberries, to name a few.  Walnuts contain polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the brain and have been shown to aid brain development in infants.

Researchers at UCLA found that curcumin in turmeric protects the brain against plaques in the synapses of rats, indicating the plaques found in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients also respond to turmeric.  Interestingly enough, India, a country where turmeric is widely used, has very little Alzheimer’s disease.

IMG_0108Black pepper has also been shown to enhance the power of memory.  An easy way to include these spices in your diet is to sauté Worry Free Spice Mixture or Vata, Pitta or Kapha Churna in ghee and add it to your cooked vegetables.

A 1999 Tufts University study of 40 fruits and vegetables found that raw blueberries contained the highest level of antioxidants. Animals fed a blueberry extract diet outperformed other animals in memory tests, and showed less degeneration of motor skills due to aging.

To gain the most memory power from food, eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, along with healthy proteins such as walnuts, almonds, milk, panir (a fresh cheese made from milk) and split beans and pulses.

2. Enliven Memory with Herbs

Phytochemicals are even more concentrated in herbs. Ayurvedic herbs that are traditionally known to improve memory are Brahmi and Gotu Kola.  Brahmi and Gotu Kola are medhya herbs, which means that they improve the coordination between dhi (learning), dhriti (retention) and smriti (long-term memory).  Shankapushpi is another medhya herb that is revered in the ayurvedic tradition.

Worry Free and Stress Free Mind both contain these herbs.  Worry Free helps reduce mental anxiety while at the same time making the mind clearer.  This is an extraordinary combination–to simultaneously relax the mind and sharpen the memory.  Stress Free Mind has a similar effect as Worry Free, only stronger. If you are experiencing some unusual mental stress, such as exams or starting a new job, or if you have tried Worry Free but need even more support, try Stress Free Mind.

While modern researchers usually extract the active ingredients from plants and put them in pill form, recent studies show that the whole plants contain a synergistic combination of phytochemicals. For instance, a study reported in Nature found that eating 100 grams of fresh apple with skins provided the total antioxidant activity equal to 1,500 milligrams of isolated vitamin C.  A single carrot contains more than 100 phytochemicals, which would not be available in a pill that only contained isolated beta-carotene.

This finding verifies what Maharishi Ayurveda has known for thousands of years–the benefit comes from using the whole plant, not just an isolated ingredient.  By including the whole herb or fruit, M.A.P.I. herbal formulas are safer and much more effective.

3. Say Yes to Good Fats

In the past 20 years we have been told over and over that fat is bad for you.  Not only is this fat-free diet impossible to sustain for more than a week, it is actually damaging to the brain and body. Fat is necessary for memory to function.

It is important is to eat high-quality fats.  The brain can only use the most intelligent of foods.  Maharishi Ayurveda recommends ghee, which contains brain-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids and other good fats.  It is not only medhya, nourishing to the mind and memory, but is called smritida, which means memory-giving.

Olive oil is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also nourishing to the brain. Olive oil should never be heated to high temperatures, as that destroys its beneficial qualities.

Fats to avoid:  hydrogenated fats, which raise bad cholesterol, are found in most packaged foods today and are not digestible by the body; polyunsaturated fats such as corn oil or safflower oil as these are unstable and create excessive free radicals; and canola oil, which is often genetically engineered and should only be eaten if organic.

4. Be Sure to Get Your Zzzzzs

Exciting new research shows that sleep improves memory. In fact, it is while the brain is sleeping that it works the hardest–rehearing newly learned information, storing memory files, converting information to long-term memory.

In one Canada study, students who slept the night before the exam significantly out-performed students who stayed awake and crammed.  So important is sleep that researchers at Harvard Medical School now suggest that after learning a new skill, it’s best to sleep on it.  Sleeping for six to eight hours after learning apparently helps the brain transfer new skills and information to its permanent memory banks.

5. Exercise and Breathe Deeply

While a good night’s sleep helps us retain what we learn, it’s equally important to get physical exercise during the day. Exercise oxygenates the brain and sharpens memory. If you’ve ever sat around for a day or two with very little activity, you’ve probably noticed that your brain turns into a wet noodle.

Exercise also helps us to breathe deeply, which is another way to oxygenate brain cells and flush out toxins. You can stop and take deep breaths throughout the day, or practice Vedic breathing exercises called Pranayama to re-charge your memory.

Like all recommendations from Maharishi Ayurveda, how much exercise you do depends on your constitution and imbalances.  Kapha types, especially, need more intense exercise than others to keep their mind and body at peak performance. For most people, a brisk walk once a day is a good place to start.  Breathe through your nose to direct the oxygen to your brain.  Always stay in your comfort zone, stopping or slowing down when you feel the need to breathe through your mouth, or start to sweat on your forehead or tip of your nose.

Yoga asanas are an excellent way to tone the memory. These gentle stretches direct the blood to the brain and cleanse the organs and channels of toxins, helping to increase communication between the mind and body.

6. Exercise Your Mind, Too

We all know that when it comes to muscles, you have to use it or lose it.  This is equally true of the brain.

According to Maharishi Ayurveda, there are three causes of memory problems:  overuse (such as working too long hours), misuse (such as doing mental work that is too difficult, or that we feel is morally wrong), and underuse.  Underuse means never stimulating your mind with meaningful activities.

If your job doesn’t involve much mental work, or is boring to you, it’s especially important that you spend some of your free time each day exercising your memory and brain. Take a course at your local college, read a good book, write in your journal, practice memorizing poetry or your favorite sayings, practice playing a musical instrument or learn to sing some new songs.

By stimulating new areas of the brain, you’ll enliven new brain connections and spark your memory skills. And you just might prolong your life, as well.  It turns out that people who are mentally active live longer and enjoy life more, too.

Photos by Linda Egenes

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