IMG_7831As more and more Americans work hard to keep the pounds off, an interesting study shows that when you eat is just as important as what you eat.

According to a study  published by researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, mice dropped 40% of their weight just by not eating after 7:00 p.m.

This is a familiar idea for those of us who have been practicing Ayurvedic principles. In Ayurvedic terminology, the daily routine (called dinacharya in Sanskrit. Pronounced ‘dee-na-chari-a’), is structured around basic rhythms of the sun, moon and your body. These rhythms are powerful indeed and good things happen when we respect these natural cycles.

For instance, one of the major principles of the Ayurvedic daily routine is to eat your main meal at noon, when the sun is at its zenith and the digestive fire is strongest inside you. (Another secret to healthy weight: a strong digestive fire, or agni) And a corollary to that is: eat light at night, early in the evening, and allow your digestive system to cleanse and repair itself all through the night while you sleep.

This study is a great validation of the power of these age-old insights, this simple, natural ayurvedic weight loss secret from Maharishi Ayurveda. Sleep is considered a significant period for daily natural detoxing; and Ayurveda has long recommended herbs and other modalities to support ideal deep sleep and strong digestion.

Life in tune with the rhythms of nature has multiple benefits. Healthy weight may just be one of them.

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], May 25,2012. Reprinted with permission.) 

Photo credit: Linda Egenes


chesnutt winer, MSAE studentsCarol and Paul Chesnutt-Winer lived the American dream—Paul had a good job as a business consultant, they lived near extended family, were active in their church. Their two children, Evelyn Chase, 6, and Philip, 9, attended one of Atlanta’s best schools.

Yet Carol was unhappy with the tense atmosphere at the school. “The children were learning in an environment that was significantly stressed, where the teachers, though truly excellent, were under tremendous pressure to produce high test scores,” Carol says.

The pressures extended to their son Philip, who participated in a gifted program, yet suffered from nightmares and felt less and less motivated to keep up with the extra work. Then the Chesnutt-Winers visited the Maharishi School in the summer of 2007. “When we saw the children, how relaxed yet focused they were, I thought, ‘This is the answer to my prayers,’ ” Carol says.

By the end of September, Paul located a consulting job that would allow him to be based in Fairfield, and Carol, who had a consulting and engineering background, was offered a job teaching personal finance and business math at the upper school. Within two weeks, they had bought a house, pulled up stakes, and moved to Fairfield.

In another part of the country, in Cleveland, Ohio, Lisa Rizer was on a search. A recently divorced mother, she was looking for a loving, caring educational environment for her two school-aged children, Matthew, 8, and Autumn, 5. At one point, she felt the only alternative was to start her own school.

“I had put my two older children through public school, but I was constantly looking for something better, where my kids could learn without the stress of ridiculous amounts of homework being piled on them,” she says. “For me personally, it was the biggest ‘aha’ when I found out about Maharishi School. I found myself not searching anymore. It was just a matter of moving to the place where that education was.”

What is it about this school that causes people to literally pull up stakes overnight and start over in a small Iowa town?

Stress-free Learning

Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment (MSAE), founded in 1981, is a K-12 private school located in Fairfield. It’s a school with an open-admissions policy, yet upper school students consistently score in the top 1 percent on standardized tests, 95 percent of its graduates are accepted to four-year universities, and students on all levels regularly garner state and national awards in everything from science fairs to state drama competitions. During the past seven years alone, this small school has produced more than 10 times the national average of National Merit Scholar finalists.

One cold December day, I find myself sitting in Dr. Richard Beall’s office on the second floor of the light-filled Maharishi School building. Dr. Beall, although one of the founding faculty of the school, is himself a recent transplant, having spent the last five years running a charter school in Charlotte, NC.

“Kids everywhere know stress, whether they are high achievers or low-performing students,” he says in his quiet, authoritative voice. “To see a school that offers a college-prep curriculum and yet the kids become less stressed as they learn—that’s not a common formula in education.”

The main difference is something called Consciousness-Based education, Dr. Beall explains. “Consciousness-Based education acknowledges that learning depends on how conscious or awake we are, so every part of the curriculum develops the awareness of the student, waking up the total brain functioning.”

Dr. Beall notes that this is primarily achieved when the students practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, at the beginning and end of each school day. The technique has been shown in peer-reviewed research studies to significantly reduce stress, improve health, and boost academic performance. Dr. Beall also points out that every influence during the school day—from daily yoga to eating organic lunches to the design of the building—is specifically designed to develop the full potential of the student.

“You see the differences in so many ways,” Carol Chesnutt-Winer says. In Atlanta, her children had six hours of pure academics, she says. At MSAE, they start school an hour later, with only five hours of academic instruction, plus meditation, physical education, art, and music.

Recent research concurs that a later school starting time boosts grades. Notes Lisa Rizer, “Children need more sleep; their biological clocks don’t work the same as ours. My child can wake up naturally, have breakfast with me. It’s not so rush-rush.”

“There’s a balance of rest and activity,” Carol adds. “The school lives what they talk about. There’s very little homework in the lower school. Of course, that jumps up dramatically when the children are older, but for the younger kids, they’re trying to set the tone that learning is non-stressful, a joyful event.”

She feels this is critical for learning. “In the Atlanta schools, the primary purpose was to teach the kids from a basic curriculum, to teach to the standardized tests,” she says. “The emphasis at MSAE is on the whole child, and that brings about a stark change in the classroom. The children here are achieving as much but at the same time are remarkably calm, focused, comfortable with themselves, and ready to learn. It’s very striking when you’ve experienced both worlds.”

Lisa agrees. “The proof is in the children, how they are. They look you in the eye, there’s an open affection and kindness between them. They have a different quality—it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

A Green Curriculum

One of the big draws for both the Chesnutt-Winers and Lisa Rizer was the sustainability curriculum at the school. With a four-season greenhouse and edible landscaping that allows children to snack on raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, and  herbs while passing through the courtyard, the school offers one of the top sustainability programs in the country.

“The sustainability curriculum, like the rest of our school, is all about making connections,” says Dr. Beall. “When you connect to deeper values of yourself, then it’s easier to see the connection between yourself and your environment.”

The students are taught a “seed to plate” concept, where they grow lettuce and other vegetables in the greenhouse and then sample them.

Carol appreciates the emphasis on growing and eating healthy food. She says, “After harvesting greens he had helped grow, my son, Philip, said, ‘Mom, the bok choy in the salad tasted so good!’ Of course, I had been trying to get him to eat salad for years without success.”

Carol also likes the fact that there’s a full hour for lunch, and parents are encouraged to eat with their children at home or in the cafeteria, which serves organically grown and local food.

“In Atlanta, we were always swimming uphill when it came to food,” says Carol. “The cafeteria menu there included no fresh vegetables because they were considered too expensive.”

Last fall the school’s sustainability coordinator, Diana Krystofiak, helped students build cold frames out of locally milled lumber, cook with solar ovens, plant trees, transplant seeds, and participate in other community-wide projects. Students have also installed a solar-powered drip-line system that pumps rainwater to the plants, and they handle the school’s recycling and composting.

Expansion Plans

The school plans to expand its green curriculum, institute a boarding school option for the upper school, and recruit more international students.

That’s good news to Byung-jun Park, a 14-year-old South Korean student who enrolled in the eighth grade at MSAE last November. Brendan, as he is called in America, followed a typical schedule in Korea, attending his public school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., then taking a subway for further study at a private academy each afternoon. There he studied English, Korean, math, and science until 10:30 or 12:00 at night, arriving home as late as 2:00 a.m. when preparing for exams.

“When I was nine or ten, I was a top student,” he says. “But then I started to feel stressed and started to gain a lot of weight. My grades went down.” After one of his teachers recommended the Transcendental Meditation technique in March 2007, he says he lost the excess weight and felt less sleepy when studying at night.

“The first time I heard about MSAE, I knew I wanted to go there,” he says. He started the application and visa process over a year ago. With the encouragement of his parents, he traveled to the U.S., and now boards with his science teacher and family while attending the school.

He misses his family and friends but so far is happy with his decision. “This school is better because it doesn’t serve junk food, because I can go to bed early and practice TM, and when my friends here have free time, they want to play basketball instead of addicting and stressful video games.”

Establishing Quiet Time  in More Schools

In 2005, the film director David Lynch started a foundation to fund students, teachers, and parents to practice the Transcendental Meditation technique as part of a “Quiet Time” program during the school day. During the past two years, the David Lynch Foundation has funded more than 3,000 students and faculty in 20 U.S. and Canadian schools to start the Quiet Time/TM program, with hundreds of schools awaiting funding. Over 60,000 students in 19 Latin-American countries have also been funded. These schools (many in high-stress urban areas) have reported a dramatic decrease in violence, improvements in test scores, and a reduction in symptoms such as ADHD.

The basis for this rapid expansion is the continued success of the Maharishi School. Because it is the model school for all Consciousness-Based schools, it is continually working to improve its curriculum and develop new programs for similar schools around the world. It depends on fundraisers to support its expansion programs.

The David Lynch Foundation’s efforts to bring the Quiet Time/TM program to every child has recently gained support from Paul McCartney and other world-class entertainers, who will headline an April 4 benefit concert in New York City.

As Carmen N’Namdi, a principal who has instituted the Quiet Time/TM program in her school in Detroit, Michigan, says, “In students, we have seen the TM program enhance study skills, academic performance, critical thinking skills, interpersonal and social skills—all because of the deep rest that the body is receiving. We are looking forward to the years to come when more and more schools and work environments will realize that not much gets done until the stress is out of the way.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, February 2009. Reprinted with permission. Photo by Lin Mullenneaux)


hunger fix 6-6lrIf you’ve been reaching for the cookie jar when you feel stressed, you might want to reconsider. Sugar and diabetes have been strongly linked in a recent study published in the journal PLoS One. Researchers studied the rate of diabetes in over 175 countries in the past decade, and found that increased sugar rates are correlated with higher rates of diabetes. The conclusion of the study: being overweight doesn’t cause diabetes—eating sugar does.

“The study demonstrates this with the same level of confidence that linked cigarettes and lung cancer in the 1960s,” Mark Bittman, author of Food, stated in his NY Times online column, The Opinionator.

And as Rob Lustig, one of the study’s authors and a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said to Bittman, “You could not enact a real-world study that would be more conclusive than this one.”

So where does this leave the average woman, who is struggling to ignore the hundreds of cues to eat sugar that bombard us as we watch TV, shop for groceries and even while we work on our computers. Not to mention trying to protect her children from the constant urge to eat sugar in all its pretty shapes and colors.

Recently I had the good fortune of interviewing Pam Peeke, M.D., a nutritionist, NIH researcher and best-selling author of The Hunger Fix and other books. She says that the main way to fight food addiction and sugar cravings is to power up your pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain that reins in addiction’s three I’s: impatience, irritability, and impulsivity. Dr. Peeke says, “NIH’s Dr. Volkow also refers to the PFC as the ‘brain’s brake’ because it helps us say ‘no’ when we need to and maintains vigilance to keep us on track with healthy lifestyle choices.”

Dr. Peeke herself started practicing the TM technique when she read the research presented in Dr. Norman Rosenthal’s book Transcendence. Later she conducted her own research study on food addiction and TM.  “In my study, the TM group found it much easier to say ‘no’ when confronted with cues. Indeed, what they found was that the bliss, 
the calm, the peace became the reward. It became a healthy fix.”

Additional research studies, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and other journals, show that regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique reduces the risk of diabetes.

So to help yourself and your kids “just say no” to sugar, your daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique could be just what the doctor ordered.

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

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

IMG_2767Last year “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was one of the most popular articles on The Atlantic’s website (—and nearly a year later it’s still getting a lot of attention. Clearly, it hit a nerve with thousands of women who are finding themselves stretched thin while juggling career, childcare and, in many cases, parental care.

Written by Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, the article shares the author’s personal journey as a feminist, career woman and mother. At the pinnacle of her career she found herself resigning from her dream job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department so she could move back to Princeton where her husband and family lived, and where she resumed her teaching position. She needed to spend more time with her teenage sons, one of whom was in crisis. She needed to figure out a better approach to work-life balance.

The article is long and so full of insight that it’s difficult to paraphrase it here, but one of the sections that struck me most was titled, “Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness.” In it Slaughter says that because women have been so intent on competing with men, many have lost touch with their own deepest desire to nurture their children and families.

She writes, “One of the most complicated and surprising parts of my journey out of Washington was coming to grips with what I really wanted . . . . I realized that I didn’t just need to go home. Deep down, I wanted to go home.”

Yet, as the author notes, the decision to step down from a position of power—to value family over professional advancement, even for a time—is directly at odds with the prevailing social pressures on career professionals in the United States. “One phrase says it all about current attitudes toward work and family, particularly among elites. In Washington, ‘leaving to spend time with your family’ is a euphemism for being fired,” writes Slaughter.

Not to mention that for most women, taking a break from their jobs is not economically viable, nor are the family-friendly changes in social policies, the workplace and attitudes advocated by the author going to happen overnight.

And, having come this far, most women don’t want to give up on their dreams of success. Rather, they want to strengthen themselves in body, mind and spirit so they can handle their busy lives with grace and ease.  Perhaps the solution lies in finding a way to achieve balance on the inside so that will be reflected in greater balance in outer life.

CNN news anchor Soledad O’Brien says that practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique is helping her to balance work and family. She says, “If you know me, you know I cannot meditate! I have a crazy schedule, I have four small children and I am always going, so the idea of calming my mind I thought, ‘not possible!’ But I was able to learn, I was able to do it, and I appreciate very much the opportunity to take the time to focus and meditate. It allows me to experience a state of deep rest and relaxation that can be game-changing and sometimes a life saver in a crazy world. It helps alleviate stress and pressure when you’re trying to balance life and being a mother. And as a journalist I feel healthier and have fewer stressful days and more energy and more clarity of mind.”

Many other women are finding that practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique is a practical way to stay in touch with the most silent, rested, happy and powerful aspect of themselves. By staying rested, a woman can enjoy life more, find more happiness in whatever task is on her plate. And as Slaughter points out, the pursuit of happiness is essential to wellbeing, an integral part of the American dream.

And certainly that’s the key point here. In order to balance the various demands in our day, we have to take care of ourselves, nurture ourselves, and from that stable base we can nurture the others in our lives, whether at home or in the workplace. And isn’t that an appealing definition of what it means for women “to have it all”?

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

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

An Interview with Sankari Wegman, Ayurvedic Consultant at The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa


Sankari WegmanFor many women today, it’s hard to find a moment to breathe, let alone take care of your health. Whether you’re working in the office or in the home, raising your children or caring for elderly parents—it’s a balancing act just to get through the day.

Yet taking care of yourself and staying in balance mentally and physically is central to meeting all the demands of your family and career.

“Women today have so many areas of life to attend to, it’s important that they set aside time to maintain their own health and happiness,” says Sankari Wegman, an Ayurvedic expert at The Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa in Fairfield, Iowa. A wife and mother of two young children, she herself juggles work, teaching and home life.

Here she offers six simple suggestions from Maharishi Ayurveda to create more balance today.

1. Vata – The Key to Balance

“The key for women to stay in balance is to take care of Vata dosha,” Sankari says. “When Vata dosha goes out of balance, it can manifest as worry, stress and tension. And because it is fast-moving by nature, it goes out of balance easily and then leads the other doshas. So Vata dosha is the key to staying calm and healthy.”

Vata dosha, which is the mind-body operator that governs movement in the body, is quick, rough, dry, and irregular by nature.

“To balance Vata, it’s important to maintain a regular daily routine, starting with a consistent, early bedtime and waking time,” Sankari says. “Regular exercise, regular sleep, regular meditation, daily yoga, daily Ayurvedic Oil Massage, regular mealtimes—all of these things help keep Vata dosha in balance.”

2. Enlist the Help of Family

Where do you find the time to add these extra items to your daily routine? For Sankari, the solution is to involve the entire family.

“It can be hard to fit anything new into your already-busy life,” Sankari says. “But the good thing is that your family can do it with you. Then you don’t feel separate from your family while taking care of your health.”

For example, when she’s doing her daily yoga asanas, her children follow along. “They don’t have to do it perfectly, but they are learning healthy habits that will stay with them for life,” notes Sankari. “When you have a regular daily routine, the whole family is on that routine and benefits from it.”

3. Plan Time for Yourself

Once or twice a week, arrange for your husband or friend to take care of the kids so you can take a break from your chores and responsibilities.

“Taking dancing classes once or twice a week in the evening, or meeting a friend for a walk early in the morning—these are things I do just for me,” Sankari says. “I get to exercise and share time with friends. I think it’s really healthy for women to take a break, to do something that brings joy, whether it’s taking a painting class, meeting friends for breakfast, or going to the gym.”

Sankari likes exercising with her friends, because they help motivate her. “The key to balancing Vata dosha is to be regular, so combining exercise with meeting friends is a great way to bring more encouragement and support to staying on a healthy daily routine.”

4. Melt Away Stress with Deep Rest

The importance of good sleep and daily meditation cannot be overestimated.

“There is a tendency for women to do so much for others, to get tired, so you need to make sure you schedule time to rest and rejuvenate with your daily meditation,” Sankari says. “Even though time is tight, you can juggle your schedule to make time. Alternate with your spouse, or meditate before the children come home. Just having that focus, the rest you gain in meditation goes a long way.”

Sankari and her husband, Keith, follow a set morning routine, where one practices the Transcendental Meditation® technique and the other starts the children on their Ayurvedic Oil Massage, bathing and breakfast. Then they switch roles, so they both get to meditate.

“They see us meditating, and they see it as Daddy’s turn, Mommy’s turn,” Sankari says. “And now that my son is 5, he is doing the children’s meditation, so he takes his turn too.”

Sankari says she doesn’t feel guilty about the time she spends away from her children, because her children like it when she meditates. “When you’re rested, you dive within yourself and replenish, and you come out with more love, more to give.”

5. Eat Wholesome, Non-GMO, Organic Foods

Eating regularly (at approximately the same time each day) and eating well-cooked meals helps balance Vata dosha and leads to strong immunity for the whole family.

“Learn to eat those foods that are healthy for your body type, and avoid those things that are hard to digest,” advises Sankari. “If you are tense or worried, for instance, it’s not a good idea to eat salads for lunch every day. Rather, you’ll want to soothe Vata dosha and eat warm, fresh, cooked foods and consume warm drinks.”

Preparing home-cooked meals is healthier and draws the family together. For example, for winter breakfasts, Sankari prepares hot rice cereal or cream of wheat, with cooked apples and raisins that she soaks overnight.

“This is something the kids love and is good for my husband and me too,” she says. “It’s so important for women not to skip breakfast, to sit down for a warm meal rather than eating on the go. It helps start the day right and balances Vata dosha.”

If the family has to eat outside the home at lunch, one Ayurvedic option is to prepare kitchari (a full protein made of rice and split mung-bean dhal that can be carried inside a small thermos), along with steamed vegetables.

“It doesn’t have to be complicated—you can provide a simple home-cooked meal that is much healthier than what you or your children would purchase,” Sankari says.

For the evening meal, it helps to have part of the meal prepared before you come home from work, so you don’t feel pressured and hungry while you cook. You could prep the veggies in the morning, or prepare soup or veggies with grains in a crock pot.

“Even making fresh flatbreads (chapatti) is an easy thing to do, once you get the hang of it,” Sankari says. “Kids love forming the dough into balls and rolling it out.”

Sankari finds that her children have become accustomed to warm foods and drinks, and even request them. “I’ve been giving my older son warm water or warm Organic Calming (Vata) Tea, and now he doesn’t crave cold drinks. The warm foods and warm drinks support good digestion and won’t throw Vata out of balance, thus contributing to better immunity.”

6. Support Your Mind and Body with Herbal Food Supplements

Taking herbal food supplements can help reduce stress and boost immunity.

Vital Lady is ideal for increasing energy levels and clarity of mind, and helps a woman balance so many tasks at work and at home,” Sankari says. “For women over 40, Rejuvenation for Ladies helps restore that youthful glow. It promotes cellular regeneration, which slows both biological and psychological aging.”

Sankari keeps Bio-Immune in her medicine chest to help purify toxins and to support the body’s natural immune response. She also recommends taking Maharishi Amrit Kalash regularly to rejuvenate the mind and body and improve immunity.

“I highly recommend Stress Free Mind and Stress Free Emotions,” she says. “These are wonderful, powerful supplements to help us manage the stresses we encounter every day.”Worry Free is also a powerful Vata-balancing formula. It addresses Apana Vata and is useful not just for worry, but also for general balancing of Vata.

Stress Free Mind is ideal for anyone who is under mental pressure at work, or who is prone to worry and mental tension. Stress Free Emotions helps us handle emotional stressors that are causing irritability or sadness in our lives, whether from the family, money pressures, or work relationships. Sankari cautions that because they are potent, it isn’t necessary to take a lot to get results—just follow the directions on the bottle.

Since Vata dosha also governs the cycles of a woman’s life, such as menstruation, it’s important for the busy woman to give her body extra support, Sankari says. “Smooth Cycle helps us to maintain monthly cycles that are balanced and even blissful. And for the menopause years, Midlife for Women I and II help balance Vata disturbance and help keep the menopause years smooth and comfortable,” she says.

For your best energy, emotional balance and immune strength, Ayurvedic experts emphasize the importance of maintaining a balanced state of digestion (agni). Organic Digest Tone (Triphala Plus), taken nightly before sleep, supports regular elimination and detoxification. It also helps the body assimilate food and other herbal formulations. It is considered the one Ayurvedic herbal to take daily.

Sankari also recommends consulting an expert in Maharishi Ayurveda to learn which herbal supplements and dietary and lifestyle recommendations are most effective for your mind-body type. And whenever you’re taking herbal supplements, she advises following a regular routine and eating the right foods for best results.

While creating balance in your life can take some effort, it’s an investment well worth making.

“Every stage gives a flavor of the next stage,” Sankari says. “You may not feel you have the time, but if you take care of yourself now, it helps you feel healthier in the future—so you can support and enjoy your family in a blissful way for many years to come. Sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture, but taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do for your family.”

(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], November 16,2012. Reprinted with permission.) 


deborah madison, local flavors

Deborah Madison used her local farmers’ market in Sante Fe as a starting point for researching farmers’ markets all over the country for her book Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets. (Photo: Lois Ellen Frank)

When I was a college student in Bloomington, Illinois, I rose at 3:00 a.m. one morning in 1972 to ride three hours in our food co-op’s truck to Chicago’s South Water Market. In the predawn chill I rubbed elbows with the windy city’s chefs and corner-grocery owners to choose the ripest zucchini, tomatoes, and string beans from the tailgates of farmers’ trucks.

In those years, Chicago’s wholesale food market was the closest we could get to seasonal, locally grown food, other than our own gardens. A lot has changed in the American foodscape since then. Today, more than 4,000 farmers’ markets across the country directly connect consumer to local grower.

Deborah Madison, founding chef at San Francisco’s historic Greens Restaurant, author of nine cookbooks, and winner of the Julia Child Cookbook of the Year and three James Beard awards, has been instrumental in bringing about that change. In her colorfully illustrated Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets, newly released in paperback this May, she visits 100 farmers’ markets and provides a cornucopia of recipes based on the regional produce she discovered.

When Madison spoke at the Eco-Fair sponsored by the department of sustainable living at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield last month, I jumped at the chance to interview her. I found her to be as vibrant and nourishing as the food she writes about.

Linda Egenes: When you cook, do you first see what’s available and then plan your menus?

Deborah Madison: Absolutely. I always cook that way, whether I’m going to the supermarket or farmers’ market or my own garden. At certain times of the year, when the farmers’ market is predictable, you know ahead of time what is available. Say in summer you want to make the perfect ratatouille, you know that this is a time for peppers, eggplant, and zucchini. So you go with a recipe in mind. Otherwise, it’s good to go to the farmers’ market with an open mind, because you never know what you’re going to see there.

In Local Flavors I talk about the seasonal vegetables I saw and how they inspired what I cooked, to perhaps encourage other people to cook in the same way. I always work from the market out.

Do eating locally and eating seasonally go hand-in-hand?

What I have learned from writing this book is a kind of a truism that “in season” is where you live. In season and local aren’t separate. They’re only separate when you go to the supermarket.

When we try to treat our foodscape as a national one, we really have painted ourselves into some strange corners and ideas about what’s in season. June magazine covers will have pictures of strawberries, for instance, but I bought strawberries in Vermont in late October last year, because there are certain kinds of ever-bearing strawberries that last until the frost. Researching Local Flavors confirmed for me that even though we often cook by clichés, when you start to look around, you see that the available local produce is very different from what your national magazine is telling you.

It seems that Local Flavors is trying to break through those clichés.

Eating local and seasonal food is something I really care about. It’s not just about the romance of farmers’ markets. We want to become intelligent about who we are and how we relate to the world around us, rather than living in this kind of predefined encapsulated vision of what’s local and what’s in season. It’s really different when you go into a farmers’ market and look around. It’s an eye opener.

Is it possible to eat strictly what is local and in season?

Yes, it’s possible but I don’t think we need to do that. Certainly people used to eat from their local region year ’round.
A book I’m reading now, Kitchen Literacy, by Ann Vileisis, is a portrait of what it takes to eat locally. It’s a different way of living and thinking. It would be hard for us because we’re used to so much variety. It would mean returning to a life where you spend a lot of time preserving food. We would have to think about how to store food over the winter, how to grow food in winter greenhouses in a way that’s not incredibly fuel intensive.

How do you see the value of organic produce versus local?

When Local Flavors came out, I did some interviews with my friend Alice Waters, and she was very purist about organics. It had to be organic or else. I was saying, “I don’t know, after what I’ve seen, I really support local.”

Since then I’ve written a few articles saying, let’s not pit them against each other. Let’s try to see how we can look at each for what they are. Obviously, oranges aren’t going to be local in Iowa, but you’re not going to stop eating oranges. In that case, let’s try to find organic oranges. And at my local farmers’ market, if I have a choice between a vendor who is selling organic versus one who is not, I’m going to choose the one who is selling organic.

In general, though, I support local producers when that’s appropriate. There’s such a difference in taste in a vegetable that’s grown locally, picked ripe, and bought fresh at your market than a vegetable that’s been grown on an industrial organic farm and shipped from California.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, July 2008. Reprinted with permission.)

lower cholesterol with ayurveda

photo by Linda Egenes


Are you one of 98.6 million Americans today who has elevated total blood cholesterol levels? If high cholesterol is left unchecked, you may be at risk for heart disease, stroke, and hypertension.

Right, you may think. I’ve heard all this before—I should eat less fat. Yet according to Vaidya Manohar, a Maharishi AyurVeda health expert, a certain amount of fat is important for keeping the brain and body functioning properly. “Balancing cholesterol may be more a matter of eating the right kinds of fats in the right amounts for your body type,” he says.

Here are five ways to lower cholesterol with Ayurveda.

1. Reduce toxins by eating foods that lower cholesterol. The liver not only produces cholesterol, it’s also part of the digestive system. It’s the place where toxins are screened before they enter the bloodstream. If the liver becomes overloaded with toxins, its functioning can become impaired and toxins can enter the body.

When toxins mix with the fat tissue, it changes the quality of cholesterol. This mixing of toxins with fat tissue is the main cause of high cholesterol. There are two kinds of toxins: environmental and digestive. To avoid environmental toxins, drink pure water, avoid air pollution, and avoid exposure to harmful chemicals. Eat organic vegetables, as these are grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and thus protect the body from toxic overload.

The other kind of toxin is called ama, and is caused by weak or incomplete digestion. To strengthen your digestion, eat fresh whole foods and cooked foods and avoid leftover, processed, canned, or frozen foods. The way you eat also affects digestion—eat your main meal at noon, when digestion is at its peak. Eat lighter at breakfast and dinner. And try eating your meals at the same time every day—your digestion will thrive on a regular routine.

2. Avoid bad fats like the plague. Certain fats are impossible to digest and cause ama. Take the modern invention of trans fats (also known as hydrogenated vegetable oils). These have been formed by adding hydrogen to liquid fats to make them more solid, adding to shelf life and taste. Used in fast foods and most processed foods, they are blamed for rising cholesterol levels. Another kind of bad fat, saturated fats—found in butter, hard cheeses, coconut and palm oils, red meat, and chicken skin—should also be avoided. Difficult to digest, they cause imbalances in cholesterol production.

3. Eat good fats. The best good fats for nourishing the brain and body alike are olive oil and ghee. Ghee (clarified butter, made from simmering butter for an hour and separating out the milk solids) is by far the ayurvedic favorite, because it is medhya, or brain-enhancing, while also being more easy to digest. Ghee provides essential fatty acids, vitamin A, and vitamin C. It’s also practical—it can be heated at high temperatures without destroying its nutritional qualities. This makes it a good choice for baking and sautéing foods.

Olive oil is the other good fat recommended. It’s a mono-unsaturated fat that lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. But it’s important to choose cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil, which means that the oil is pressed from the olives without heat or unnatural processing. This ancient method of processing doesn’t destroy the nutritional quality of the oil. It’s also important not to heat olive oil at high temperatures for cooking. If you need to heat the oil at higher temperatures, it’s better to use ghee.

4. Eat for your body type. How much fat you need depends on your body type and health needs. For people with high cholesterol, it’s usually recommended to follow a Kapha-pacifying diet and daily routine. This means avoiding sweet, sour, and salty tastes. Stay away from heavy, fried, or fatty foods, and eat very small amounts of good fats. Eat more pungent, bitter and astringent foods, such as spiced, freshly cooked green vegetables, to tone the digestion and stoke the digestive fire.

Cholesterol Lowering Spice Mixture

3 parts ground turmeric 6 parts ground cumin 6 parts ground coriander 6 parts ground fennel 2 parts ground fenugreek 1 part dried powdered ginger 1 part ground black pepper

Combine and store in a sealed container. When preparing your meal, sauté a teaspoon of spices in a small amount of a   ghee or olive oil. Combine with vegetables or grains to give them a satisfying flavor and to enhance digestion.

5. Take herbal supplements. Specific formulas used to lower cholesterol naturally help improve bile production, strengthen liver function, improve fat metabolism, and flush cholesterol from the elimination system, thus helping produce lower cholesterol levels and preventing disease.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, September 2009. Reprinted with permission.)


simone delaty

Simone Delaty’s renowned slow dinners embody what great meals are all about. (Photo by Kurt Michael Friese)

The  first time I drove through the Italian heartland, I thought I’d entered heaven. Romantic medieval villages, rolling hills sculpted with vineyards and olive groves, and, of course, the food. Whether we ate in a family-owned trattoria, shopped in colorful outdoor markets, or frequented tiny frutta e vedura (fruit and vegetable shops), locally grown produce was everywhere. And it tasted amazing—the mineral-rich Italian soil yielded raspberries the size of your thumb and zucchini tasting like manna.

I remember solemnly telling my husband and friends, “You know, we could have this in Iowa.” They eyed me warily, wondering if my brain had fried in the Tuscan sun. But I didn’t mean the castles or winding roads or Renaissance art. I meant the food. Because even on that first  brief visit, I glimpsed how the small family farm was the living heart of Italy’s vibrant rural culture.

In his book A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland, Chef Kurt Michael Friese takes us on a culinary journey as delectable as any Italian countryside’s—except this particular feast for the senses is happening right here in the heartland of America.

As a national board member of Slow Food USA and co-owner of the celebrated Devotay restaurant in Iowa City, Chef Friese knows good food when he sees it. Over the course of four years, he traveled to 13 heartland states in search of people who champion Slow Food. The book is a collection of his informal essays about the various farmers, chefs, food artisans, and organizations that he encountered.

What’s Slow Food?

You can think of Slow Food as the opposite of fast food, and everything industrial, tasteless, and exploitive that fast food represents. Friese points out that eating is a political act, a moral act, and a philosophical, even religious act. He defines Slow Food in simple terms: “If the food is raised with care, prepared with passion, and served with love, then it is ‘Slow’ food no matter who makes it.”

a-cooks-journey-slow-food-in-the-heartland-kurt-frieseThe Slow Food movement started (you guessed it) in Italy, when folks protested the first MacDonald’s opening at the foot of Rome’s Spanish Steps. Unlike its name, since its beginning in 1986 Slow Food spread quickly—around the world and most enthusiastically in America, mainly along the coasts. In 1999 Friese founded the first Slow Food convivium in Iowa (today one of five). He wrote this book partly to show that Slow Food is not a coastal phenomenon—in fact, he points out, many of the world’s most cherished food traditions are from the rural centers (think Tuscany or Provence or Sichuan).

The essays are as easy to read as a chat over the back fence, seasoned with deft character sketches and sprinkled with recipes tested and tweaked by Chef Friese (making the recipes alone worth the price of the book). Infused with the consummate chef’s love for good food and good living, Friese dishes his philosophy with a spoonful of brie, so to speak, skillfully weaving the tenets of Slow Food with sensual descriptions of heat coming off a just-picked heirloom tomato or the nutty flavor of Walloon, a raw-milk goat cheese from Missouri.

In one of the Iowa vignettes, you’ll meet the French immigrant Simone Delaty, dubbed Iowa’s “Queen of Slow Food” by CBS’s Sunday Morning news crew, who raises chickens and vegetables and flowers on her bucolic farm in Wellman. Using her own vegetables and eggs, she cooks private dinners—sold out months in advance—and serves them on her screened porch. She calls her cuisine “plain and simple,” which Friese interprets as “simple farmhouse cooking made with generations of French technique.”

Preserving Variety

While there are many eye-openers in the book, the description of Seed Saver’s Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, one of the world’s largest guardians of heirloom seed diversity, hit close to home. It was sobering to read that today only 30 plant varieties feed 95 percent of the world’s population.

By collecting some 24,000 heirloom seeds from around the world and making them available to its 8,000 members around the world, Seed Savers is possibly the most biodiverse place on the planet. The orchard alone, which is open to the public, contains 700 varieties of 18th century apples. This sounds like a lot, until you read in the next sentence that in 1899 there were 8,000 apple varieties recorded.

The Quiet Revolution

One thing I like about foodies—they don’t dwell too long on problems. Although Friese touches on the bureaucratic snafus some of the organic growers have encountered, referring humorously to the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” he mainly points to the ways our heartland foodscape is rapidly changing for the better.

He talks about a quiet revolution that is taking place, noting that today Iowa has more farmers’ markets per capita than any other state. And throughout the Midwest, he observes, “Where once a restaurant might be judged by the distant and exotic sources of its ingredients, today the best restaurants are known for getting their food from just down the road.”

Friese is eclectic, featuring deer, buffalo, and mulefoot hog ranches alongside the Dragonfly Neo-V—Columbus Ohio’s world-class vegan restaurant. He is also inclusive, explaining that although not everyone featured in his book is an official member of the Slow Food movement, they are still important contributors. “So many are and don’t know it,” Friese muses. As readers, we can become part of the Slow Food movement, too, he reassures us, just by planting a garden, shopping at a farmers’ market, or visiting a farm.

“As I have so often said, if you think about the very best times in your life, I’ll bet that most of them were spent around a table with great food in front of you and the people you love all around,” Friese writes. “If the Slow Food Movement is about anything, it is about making many of those moments possible.”

Reading this book is like sitting down to a home-cooked feast with new friends and old—the best kind of food for the soul.

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, September 2008. Reprinted with permission.)

Many Ways to Mother
May 9, 2014

IMG_0005I guess I have to come out with something. Even though I once taught children in grades 2-4 and trained elementary school teachers in the language arts, wrote articles for a children’s column for Plain magazine and am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, have co-authored two books on children’s health, written articles on parenting and am the loving aunt of two and Godmother of three, I myself have never given birth to a child.

Don’t get me wrong. I really do love kids, which is why so much of my career and my social life is wrapped around them. But when it came to having our own, it seemed like my husband and I always wanted to wait until sometime in the future. There were real obstacles that I don’t want to go into here, but basically, I admit it—we didn’t want kids enough.

Does this make me selfish? I never thought so, but lately I’ve been reading that many childless couples feel left out of the American mainstream, and some childless women today are finding themselves defending what others perceive as a selfish choice (whereas in times before fertility treatments and multiple adoption options they may have been pitied for not being able to have kids). A recent article by Lauren Sandler in Time magazine titled “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children” sparked a national debate on talk TV and prompted LA Times columnist Meghan Daum to “come out” as child free by choice. “Parenting is a momentous job that should be undertaken only by those who really want it. And for whatever reason, I just never have,” she wrote.

To me, having children is simply a personal choice, and it’s a healthier world when all women are not slotted into any one track. Every woman should not be made to feel that she has to be a mother any more than every mom should be made to feel that she has to work outside the home in order to find fulfillment. And career women should be able to drop out of the workforce at times and just be moms. Arianna Huffington touched on this point in her commencement address at Smith College when she questioned why women had to have a career track that looked like a straight line to the goal—she felt that was more of a male model. It seems we need to change the workplace so a women might follow a more spiral pattern, circling into the job market and out, choosing to stay home with their kids at times and to work at other times, or not having kids at all, rather than trying to “have it all, all the time.”

I couldn’t agree more. A major factor in my choice to not have kids was realizing that it wouldn’t really work for me to be a supermom and “have it all” by working and raising kids at the same time.

And does not having kids make me less of a woman? I would again have to say “no.” The nurturing, mothering impulse is alive and well in every woman, I feel. It may just take different forms. Like many childless women I know, I find great joy in nourishing others—my students, my friends, my family, and the children in my life. This nurturing impulse is something central to my own being, and clearly evident in all the women I know, whether married, single, with children or without. In fact, this may be a common denominator that many women share—the tendency to want to harmonize, uplift and nourish those around us. Research shows that women excel in these tendencies, and men even become more nourishing just by being around women.

In fact, the problem for most women, whether with kids or without, is to keep from nourishing others at the expense of their own health and happiness. In other words, women often need to be reminded to nourish themselves first—and from there to nourish others. Only a full cup can overflow in love, only a lit bulb can radiate light.

One of my favorite quotes from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who founded the Transcendental Meditation technique, is about this very point. “There is no greater nourishing power in the world than the experience of bliss.” I love this, because it reminds us to stop trying so hard, to just be—to be in that state of pure happiness, like a child, and from there nourish everyone and everything around us.

I know for myself, if I’m happy I naturally seem to help everyone around me. If I’m tired or exhausted, if I haven’t eaten right or slept enough, no matter what my actions, it doesn’t have the same nourishing effect. That’s why for me, taking time for my daily dive into the transcendent has been rejuvenating and nourishing for me as a woman, and has helped me to nourish others around me.

Do I ever regret my choice concerning children? Not really. There were times when I was younger that I envied my friends with kids, but I’m sure that at times they, in turn, envied the freedom I had to travel the world, work for a nonprofit organization, and focus on self-development. That’s human nature—we make our choices and even if we are mostly happy with them, there are moments when we wish we really could have it all.

For me, “having it all” has been experiencing bliss and happiness within myself every day for the past 42 years. And the best part is that every woman, no matter what her childbearing choices, can “have it all” by diving into that reservoir of pure happiness within—and feeling nourished and revitalized, spread that nourishing happiness to all around her.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, November 10, 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

Redefining Success
May 7, 2014

513QV5WaCbL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_When I was in fourth grade in the 1960s my parents gave me a volume that I still keep in my library, and which is still in print, Living Biographies of Famous Women. My parents felt that my sister and I should be able to go to college, have a brilliant career, and rise to the top, just like Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, and Florence Nightingale, all featured in my book. And they wanted me to know that I could be as successful as any man in that pre-women’s liberation era, when few women had careers.

I think I took something away from reading their stories that was different from what my parents expected, though. I noticed that while these women were indisputably powerful and successful, many of them lacked one important thing: a satisfying personal life. Only one, Madame Curie, the famous scientist who did pioneering research on radioactivity, seemed to have a happy family life and a full career at the same time.

Somehow, I felt, there must be a way for women to find happiness in both spheres of life. A way to be successful without sacrificing family and friends. A way to make a living without burning out.

I’m not sure if this book became a factor in my search for a different approach to life, but I do know I decided early on to focus on personal development as the cornerstone of both fulfilling relationships and a successful career. At age 19 I learned the Transcendental Meditation technique and have spent time meditating twice daily every day to release stress and recharge creatively.

In fact, I count the time I’m meditating to be part of my “office hours,” because it helps me think more clearly and avoid the writer’s block that plagued me when I was younger. And of course, when you spend time tapping into that reservoir of inner happiness, it’s going to help every part of your life—including your family relationships.

This approach worked so well for me and many of my friends that I was happy to hear Arianna Huffington talking frankly about the need for women to recharge and rejuvenate in her 2013 commencement address to Smith College graduates.

“At the moment, our society’s notion of success is largely composed of two parts: money and power,” she said. “But it’s time for a third metric, beyond money and power—one founded on well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder, and to give back.”

How refreshing—the idea that “well-being” and “wonder” and “giving back” would be part of a definition of success!

As Huffington points out, the current focus on money and power is not sustainable for anyone—men nor women. Stress is mounting, and “it’s only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, diabetes, heart disease, sleeplessness and high blood pressure,” she said.

Huffington went on to note that women pay a higher price for stress than men—women in stressful jobs have a nearly 40 percent increased risk of heart disease, and a 60 percent greater risk for diabetes. And in the last 30 years, as women have made strides and gains in the workplace, self-reported levels of stress have gone up 18 percent.

In her speech Huffington humorously advised the Smith graduates to literally “sleep their way to the top,” citing research that shows how important sleep is to health and making good decisions. She noted that at the Huffington Post, they provide “nap” rooms where people can take time out to sleep or meditate to recharge during the day. She also advocated disconnecting regularly from the electronics that tend to run our lives.

She said, “What I’m saying is: learn to regularly disconnect from technology in order to connect with yourself. Learn to unplug in order to recharge. I’m convinced that we all have within us a centered place of wisdom, harmony, and strength.”

I think anyone who practices the Transcendental Meditation technique can identify with this experience—how great it feels to shut down the cell phone, shut the door, and take time to dive deep within the transcendent, the source of infinite creativity, happiness and bliss that resides quietly inside all of us.

After this speech, Huffington went on to sponsor an entire conference called The Third Metric of Success. As part of the programming, she interviewed George Stephanopoulos about his daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” Stephanopoulos said. “I’ve been meditating for about two years now—consistently. I did it for reasons that we’re discussing here—to manage a frenetic life…

“I was always over-tired, over-stressed, feeling that kind of constant low-level impatience that is always ready to burst out, and I didn’t like it.”

Stephanopoulos said that part of the reason it’s now easier for him to get up at 2:30AM for work each day, is that he’s getting up to meditate. “It’s the equivalent of a couple hours more sleep,” he says. “And then in the middle of the day you get another boost. But beyond the practical benefits, I feel more space in my life, more of a cushion. “It’s easier to tap into that quiet when you have to make a decision—or in my case in breaking news situations, it’s easier to be calm, it’s easier to find that space.”

But back to the Smith College talk. Huffington encouraged the Smith graduates to find that place of well-being within. She said, “When we’re in that centered place of wisdom, harmony and strength, life is transformed from struggle to grace, and we are suddenly filled with trust, no matter the obstacles, challenges and disappointments. Because there is a purpose to our lives, even if it is sometimes hidden from us, and even if the biggest turning points and heartbreaks only make sense as we look back, not as we are experiencing them. So we might as well live life as if—as the poet Rumi put it—‘Everything is rigged in our favor.’”

I loved this, because it touches on an important point. When you feel less stressed, when you are living in harmony with yourself and nature, you gain something Maharishi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique, calls “support of nature.” It’s a feeling of grace, of being in the right place at the right time. Of opportunities presenting themselves to you like candy on a plate, of being able to accomplish more than you thought possible.

As for myself, the key to that state has been my daily practice of TM. Like drawing an arrow back on the bow to its stillpoint in order to send it the farthest distance, the more I go inward in my daily mediations, the easier it becomes to accomplish my goals in life. To me, the key to going upward is going inward first. So Huffington’s attempt at redefining success resonated with me, especially when ended her talk by saying, “And now, Smith College class of 2013, onward, upward and inward!” And surely the modern woman, with multiple responsibilities in the home and in the workplace, needs this ability to dive within, to harness the support of nature to help her to effortlessly do less but accomplish more every day—a secret weapon to help live a full life at home and in the workplace too.

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

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

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