Thursday, December 28, 2006

Waiting on that....

Research has revealed that the Blogger folks are on vacation this week...much deserved, I'm sure...but with the store empty, there have been unresolved problems in some people's blog migrations to the new version.

So, holding off the upgrade until after the first of the year seems prudent. New posts will resume after January 2, 2007.

Have a

Here's another great interactive holiday card to play with: click here to Enjoy!
One here to enjoy!

Monday, December 25, 2006

A gift for you....

Here is a fun little animated holiday card with things for you to click and play with....enjoy!

Click here to view the Holiday Card

Friday, December 22, 2006

Focus and Visualization Meditation

Focus and visualization meditations are about two different ways of seeing. Focus uses your eyes to concentrate on objects usually for the purpose of relaxation. Visualization uses the power of your mind for relaxation, or to see and even manifest your desires.


Focus meditation is an excellent tool for calming the mind. Here you are, it's half-an-hour before bedtime and you know you're going to be tossing and turning for hours because the events of the day just keep running through your mind like a horror movie; the guy who rear-ended you at the traffic light, your boss yelled at you about a project that isn't even yours, a coworker is backbiting you, your dog ate the newspaper and your slippers, your spouse had to work late, and so on……whew, no wonder you can't relax!

For the purpose of relaxation, focus meditation is a way to release the emotions that create your mental anxiety and physical tension. For example, you probably wouldn't be so upset if the guy who rear-ended you at the traffic light had insurance, the boss had given you a chance to get a word in edgewise, and the dog ate yesterday's newspaper instead of today's. Focus meditation requires such diligent concentration that your problems are crowded out, allowing you to physically relax.

Your mind can focus only on one thing at a time, and the more dedicated you are to the focal point, the more everything else is shut out. For example, just about everyone has done this at one time or another: while reading a book (the focal point), you completely lose track of time (time has been shut out). It wasn't your intention to lose track of time, but that is the outcome of deeply focused attention.

To use this meditation technique to relax, choose an item that is pleasing to the eye. It can be anything you like, from a simple geometric shape on paper to an item you hold in your hand, to the flame of a candle you set in a convenient but safe location. This item should be one to which you have no emotional attachment; that is, the item will not generate strong feelings of any kind – it should be completely neutral since you are meditating to neutralize the emotions that are creating tension and anxiety.

The item you choose should be one that will hold your attention for a while; the more detailed the object is, the easier it will be to focus on it for an extended length of time, say fifteen to twenty minutes. For example, it will be much easier to focus for fifteen minutes on the intricacies of the mandala you made or colored than to focus on a simple red rubber ball which may hold your attention for about five minutes.

A word about focusing on moving objects…the flame of a candle is fine; it's small and contained. Don't choose things that move quickly, or things that move in and out of your field of vision. You'll spend all your time following the movement and not enough time concentrating.

When you have your object and you're ready to start, get comfortable! If you are performing this technique to ease yourself into a good night's sleep, go ahead and get into bed. Otherwise, be seated comfortably in your favorite chair, or recline on the sofa. Hold your object in such a way that it is easy to see without being tiring to hold. In most cases, it is better to have the object on a table in front of you so you can view it without holding it at all so that all of your muscles (including hands, arms, and shoulders) have the opportunity to relax.

Gaze comfortably at your object, don't stare. It isn't a contest to see how long you can watch an item, it's to put all of your attention in one place and let everything else go. Get to know the object with your eyes, every nook and cranny, every color, every texture. You may even imagine its taste or smell if you like. When other thoughts intrude on your examination of the object, just let them go without emotion. Don't intentionally dismiss them or try to forget them – that actually gives them more attention, not less. Deprive unwanted thoughts and emotions of all attention and energy by gently bringing your focus back to your object.

Pay some attention to your breathing as you examine your object and try to breathe deeply at the relaxing rate of about ten breaths per minute.

A mistake that many people make with this technique is to chastise themselves, and become angry or frustrated when unwanted thoughts and emotions occur because they feel they aren't blocking them successfully. Don't let that happen to you. These thoughts are supposed to occur! By doing this technique, you are psychologically training yourself to let go of intrusive thoughts and emotions when you need to relax and rest. These thoughts and emotions need to come into your thoughts so that you can dismiss them, you can say "not now" to them, you can let them go and relax. There is a difference between blocking unwanted thoughts and emotions (which often causes anxiety and stress) and letting them go; you are working here on letting go part. You can't let go of something if you don't have it; you can't let go an intrusive thought or anxiety-creating emotion until you have it and then let it go.

(Of course, if you have ongoing or severe anxiety problems, you should seek stress counseling, or even work with an excellent psychotherapist.)

Depending on how tense you are when you begin this technique, you may want to take fifteen to thirty minutes to relax. When finished, go ahead and turn off the light and go to sleep or, if this was a break and you now need to continue with the rest of your day, stand up and stretch for a minute. A five or ten minute focused meditation in the middle of the day is a great way to relieve tension and anxiety. It allows you to better focus on the rest of your upcoming tasks because you've given yourself that extra little bit of TLC, and any focus and concentration training practice will carry through and enable better focus and concentration in every area of your day.


Visualization is focus without the item. Instead of gazing at something outside of yourself, you use your mind's eye to imagine a scene that brings you relaxation or release.

This technique is similar to focus in that it requires so much of your attention that intrusive thoughts and emotions are shut out. It is different in that you have the opportunity to have fun and be creative if you like.

There are two methods of using visualization techniques, the guided visualization and the visualization you create yourself.

Guided visualizations usually come on CD or DVD (though there are probably a few on the internet). You settle yourself in a comfortable position and participate as the scene described on the CD or DVD unfolds around you. There are many, many varieties to choose from; nature walks through a forest, lying on the beach, hanging out near a waterfall. There are other visualizations available that help you work on specific problems. These usually guide you through a method of letting go or cutting away unwanted problems and anxieties.

Self-created visualizations can be used for anything from stress and anxiety relief to manifesting the things you want. (This is called the Law of Attraction and states that the things on which you put your attention and energy are the things that will come to you. Be careful with your thoughts, though…if you always think "I don't have enough money" you will always not have enough money! I may write more about visualization and manifestation later, but for now I want to focus on stress and anxiety relief.)

Visualizations often work best if you take a few minutes to go through a progressive relaxation first. For instructions, read Progressive Relaxation Technique from the "Living Stress-Free ~ Naturally!" archives.

If you find a guided meditation or visualization you like and it is in print, you may record it and play it back, or read through it a few times and then let your imagination run with it. It's okay if you change it a little and tailor it to your needs. If you record it for playback, remember to speak slowly and distinctly. Oftentimes, guided visualizations are read too fast, and much of the benefit is lost. You won't relax if you are straining to hear the words or hurrying to follow the guide!

Here is a sample you may use, a visualization for getting rid of problems.

Imagine that you are in a museum. See yourself standing in a crowded room, the walls covered with tastefully arranged beautiful paintings. Imagine that all the other people in the room are all the problems nagging you and keeping you from relaxing. Hear them talking all around you and buzzing like angry mosquitoes, bugging you, demanding your attention. You walk away from them, but they follow. They continue to annoy you. Keep walking away from them and ignoring them. (Never imagine or visualize anything bad or harmful happening to anyone or anything, always just walk away from the problem). One particular painting on the wall captures your interest. Walk toward it through the swarm of people still buzzing like angry mosquitoes. Stand before the painting…it is most incredible! The colors are amazing! The style is sublime! You can almost feel the textures of the paint on the canvas. As you admire and enjoy the painting, the noise around you becomes less and less, the people become fewer and fewer. Without reacting, you notice that they are leaving…one by one they exit through the doors of the room. You return your attention to the painting, continuing to admire its beauty…even the frame is just perfect. Around you, the room becomes quieter and quieter as the people leave, as the problems leave, one by one, out the door, until you are surrounded only by the beauty and the silence of the art. (You may want to repeat the "problems leave, one-by-one, out the door" phrase as many times as it takes to visualize all the problems departing.

That is a very basic visualization meditation. You may include other details or ideas to make it as alive to your five senses as possible, perhaps imagining the scent of something, or a taste….maybe imagine it’s a new exhibit and you had a sample from the complimentary wine and cheese buffet!

To be most effective, guided visualizations should seem as alive as possible, so feel free to include whatever details help you make the scene as real as you can. You may suspend "real" reality and visualize yourself on different planets, in mythical places, or with imaginary creatures if it helps you to relax. The only rule is "do whatever works for you as long as it is positive and beneficial."

Here are a few guided meditation resources:




Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Heavenly gemstones for the holiday!

May the light of a thousand suns brighten your New Year!

Happy Solstice!

Courtesy NASA and ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble has captured the most detailed image to date of the open star cluster NGC 290 in the Small Magellanic Cloud.

The image taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys onboard the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show a myriad of stars in crystal clear detail. The brilliant open star cluster, NGC 290, is located about 200,000 light-years away and is roughly 65 light-years across.


European Space Agency & NASA

Davide de Martin (ESA/Hubble) and Edward W. Olszewski (University of Arizona, USA)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holiday Depression And Stress

Graphic courtesy of clipsahoy

I am one of those people who experience "holiday blues" so I thought I'd post this to let others know you aren't alone, and that there are some things you can do to help you cope with holiday stress and depression.

Though I found it on several internet sites, the article below is reprinted from because it appears to be the original. I have added a few of my own comments enclosed in brackets [ ].

Holiday Depression And Stress

The holiday season for most people is a fun time of the year filled with parties, celebrations and social gatherings with family and friends. For many people, it is a time filled with sadness, self-reflection, loneliness, and anxiety.

What causes holiday blues?

Sadness is a truly personal feeling. What makes one person feel sad may not affect another person. Typical sources of holiday sadness include:

  • stress,
  • fatigue,
  • unrealistic expectations [your own and others],
  • [feelings of guilt due to inability to accomplish unrealistic expectations]
  • over-commercialization,
  • financial stress, and
  • the inability to be with one's family and friends.
  • [holiday travel; being away from your own home if you pay an extended visit to others.]

Balancing the demands of shopping, parties, family obligations, and house guests may contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and increased tension. People who do not view themselves as depressed may develop stress responses, such as:

  • headaches,
  • excessive drinking,
  • over-eating, and
  • insomnia.
  • [heartburn and indigestion – these can be independent stress responses unrelated to eating.]

Others may experience post-holiday sadness after New Year's/January 1st. This can result from built-up expectations, disappointments from the previous year, coupled with stress and fatigue.

Tips for coping with holiday stress and depression:

  • [Decide – yes, CHOOSE – to have a good holiday. The power of your mind and thoughts to affect your mood and determine your course is boundless….use it to create a good holiday!]
  • [Learn to graciously but firmly say NO]
  • [Self-assess and be aware of how you are feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically.]
  • [Take a break when you need one – this is not selfish, it's survival]
  • [Do something nice just for yourself.]
  • Make realistic expectations for the holiday season.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • Pace yourself. Do not take on more responsibilities than you can handle.
  • Make a list and prioritize the important activities. This can help make holiday tasks more manageable.
  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
  • Do not put all your energy into just one day (i.e., Thanksgiving Day, New Year's Eve). The holiday cheer can be spread from one holiday event to the next.
  • Live and enjoy the present.
  • Look to the future with optimism.
  • Don't set yourself up for disappointment and sadness by comparing today with the good old days of the past.
  • If you are lonely, try volunteering some time to help others.
  • Find holiday activities that are free, such as looking at holiday decorations; going window shopping without buying and watching the winter weather whether it's a snowflake, or a raindrop.
  • Limit your drinking, since excessive drinking will only increase your feelings of depression.
  • Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way.
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people.
  • Reach out and make new friends.
  • Make time to contact a long lost friend or relative and spread some holiday cheer.
  • Make time for yourself!
  • Let others share the responsibilities of holiday tasks.
  • Keep track of your holiday spending. Over-spending can lead to depression when the bills arrive after the holidays are over. Extra bills with little budget to pay them can lead to further stress and depression.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Food Pharmacy: Cucumber

This article is reprinted from the George Mateljan Foundation website:

The George Mateljan Foundation is a non-profit organization free of commercial influence, which provides this website for you free of charge. Our purpose is to provide you with unbiased scientific information about how nutrient-rich World's Healthiest Foods can promote vibrant health and energy and fit your personal needs and busy lifestyle.


To be "cool as a cucumber" add them to your menus during the warm summer months when they are in season. Although slicing cucumbers are available year round, they are at their best from May through July.

Cucumbers are scientifically known as Cucumis sativus and belong to the same family as watermelon, zucchini, pumpkin, and other types of squash. Varieties of cucumber are grown either to be eaten fresh or to be pickled. Those that are to be eaten fresh are commonly called slicing cucumbers. Cucumbers such as gherkins that are specially cultivated to make pickles are oftentimes much smaller than slicing cucumbers.

Health Benefits

The flesh of cucumbers is primarily composed of water but also contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and caffeic acid, both of which help soothe skin irritations and reduce swelling. Cucumbers' hard skin is rich in fiber and contains a variety of beneficial minerals including silica, potassium and magnesium.

A Radiant Complexion

The silica in cucumber is an essential component of healthy connective tissue, which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone. Cucumber juice is often recommended as a source of silica to improve the complexion and health of the skin, plus cucumber's high water content makes it naturally hydrating—a must for glowing skin. Cucumbers are also used topically for various types of skin problems, including swelling under the eyes and sunburn. Two compounds in cucumbers, ascorbic acid and caffeic acid, prevent water retention, which may explain why cucumbers applied topically are often helpful for swollen eyes, burns and dermatitis.

An Easy Way to Increase Your Consumption of Both Fiber and Water

Trying to get adequate dietary fiber on a daily basis is a challenge for many Americans. Adding a crunchy cool cucumber to your salads is an especially good way to increase your fiber intake because cucumber comes naturally prepackaged with the extra fluid you need when consuming more fiber. Plus, you get the added bonus of vitamin C, silica, potassium and magnesium.

High Blood Pressure? Cucumber Can Help You Cool Down

When people who participated in the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Study added foods high in potassium, magnesium and fiber, their blood pressure dropped to healthier levels. Those people in the study who ate a diet rich in these compounds in addition to the other foods on this diet (low fat dairy foods, seafood, lean meat and poultry) lowered their blood pressure by 5.5 points (systolic) over 3.0 points (diastolic).


The phrase "cool as a cucumber" is not without merit. This vegetable's high water content gives it a very unique moist and cooling taste.

Cucumbers, scientifically known as Cucumis sativus, are grown to either be eaten fresh or to be pickled. Those that are to be eaten fresh are commonly called slicing cucumbers. They are cylindrical in shape and commonly range in length from about six to nine inches, although they can smaller or much larger. Their skin, which ranges in color from green to white, may either be smoothed or ridged depending upon the variety. Inside a cucumber is a very pale green flesh that is dense yet aqueous and crunchy at the same time, as well as numerous edible fleshy seeds. Some varieties, which are grown in greenhouses, are seedless, have thinner skins and are longer in length, usually between 12 and 20 inches. These varieties are often referred to as "burpless" cucumbers since people find them easier to digest than the other varieties of cucumbers.

Cucumbers that are cultivated to make pickles are oftentimes much smaller than slicing cucumbers. Gherkins are one variety of cucumbers cultivated for this purpose.


Cucumbers were thought to originate over 10,000 years ago in southern Asia. Early explorers and travelers introduced this vegetable to India and other parts of Asia. It was very popular in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, whose people used it not only as a food but also for its beneficial skin healing properties. Greenhouse cultivation of cucumbers was originally invented during the time of Louis XIV, who greatly appreciated this delightful vegetable. The early colonists introduced cucumbers to the United States.

While it is unknown when the pickling process was developed, researchers speculate that the gherkin variety of cucumber was developed from a plant native to Africa. During ancient times, Spain was one of the countries that was pickling cucumbers since Roman emperors were said to have imported them from this Mediterranean country.

How to Select and Store

As cucumbers are very sensitive to heat, choose ones that are displayed in refrigerated cases in the market. They should be firm, rounded at their edges, and their color should be a bright medium to dark green. Avoid cucumbers that are yellow, puffy, have sunken water-soaked areas, or are wrinkled at their tips. Thinner cucumbers will generally have less seeds than those that are thicker. While many people are used to purchasing cucumbers that have a waxed coating, it is highly recommended to choose those that are unwaxed, so the nutrient-rich skin can be eaten without consuming the wax and any chemicals trapped in it.

Cucumbers should be stored in the refrigerator where they will keep for several days. If you do not use the entire cucumber during one meal, wrap the remainder tightly in plastic or place it in a sealed container so that it does not become dried out. For maximum quality, cucumber should be used within one or two days. Cucumbers should not be left out at room temperature for too long as this will cause them to wilt and become limp.

Tips for Preparing Cucumbers:

Unwaxed cucumbers do not need to be peeled but should be washed before cutting. Waxed cucumbers should always be peeled first. Cucumbers can be sliced, diced or cut into sticks. While the seeds are edible and nutritious, some people prefer not to eat them. To easily remove them, cut the cucumber lengthwise and use the tip of a spoon to gently scoop them out.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Use half-inch thick cucumber slices as petite serving "dishes" for chopped vegetable salads.

Mix diced cucumbers with sugar snap peas and mint leaves and toss with rice wine vinaigrette.

For refreshing cold gazpacho soup that takes five minutes or less to make, simply purée cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers and onions, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Add diced cucumber to tuna fish or chicken salad recipes.


Cucumbers and Wax Coatings

Conventionally grown cucumbers, like other fragile vegetables, may be waxed to protect them from bruising during shipping. Plant, insect, animal or petroleum-based waxes may be used. Carnauba palm is the most common plant-source wax. Other compounds, such as ethyl alcohol or ethanol, are added to the waxes for consistency, milk casein (a protein linked to milk allergy) for "film formers" and soaps for flowing agents. Since you may not be able to determine the source of these waxes, this is another good reason to choose organically grown cucumbers.

Nutritional Profile

Cucumbers are a very good source of the vitamins C and the mineral molybdenum. They are also a good source of vitamin A, potassium, manganese, folate, dietary fiber and magnesium and contain the important mineral silica.

Please visit the George Mateljan Foundation website to see additional nutrition charts and find a link to cucumber recipes!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Garlic revisited

Ok, I was soooooooo careful not to be silly and mention vampires when I wrote the Friday Food Pharmacy article on garlic, and then I saw an advertisement (with a slightly different graphic, though) by Kaiser Permanente on Yahoo! today:





So, there you have garlic!!

And here's the link to the Friday Food Pharmacy: Garlic article to tell you the serious reasons in case you missed it the first time around.

Be well!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mantra and Mudra Meditation


A mantra is a chant. It can be as simple (and simply profound) as repeating the single syllable Aum, or it can be almost like a song of many words as is the Great Compassion Mantra. (Click here to listen to the Chinese version, one repetition, about two minutes.) The mantra is found throughout the world both as a meditation practice and as a healing practice.

As a spiritual practice, mantra chanting began with the Hindus and was adopted by Buddhists and eventually other religious groups. It is believed that the idea for chanting the "Ave Maria" was brought back to Europe by Crusaders who learned the practice of using strings of beads (which we now call rosaries) to count prayer repetitions from the Arabs who had received their instruction in the practice from Tibetan monks and Indian Yogi masters.

The originators of the mantra practice discovered that repeating certain sounds with the voice created a particular vibration within the body. This combination of sound and vibration created an altered state of consciousness when practiced at length. You usually begin by chanting aloud, and then your voice softens until it is no longer heard, but the vibration continues in the mind. It is believed this practice opens your mind to spiritual awareness and insight. Indeed, the word mantra comes from a combination meaning "mind-tool," and it is the use of the voice that harmonizes the chanter's energies. When the energies have become harmonized, the voice may rest, but with dedicated concentration and focus, the energy pulses on.

Anyone who has ever attended a political demonstration where hundreds or even thousands of people are chanting the same slogan will attest to the power of the mantra to alter the consciousness. Personally, I believe that the number of participants may make a difference in groups new to the practice; the more people chanting together, the more energy that will be generated, and the more rapid and deep the change to the consciousness will become. However, for spiritualists long trained in the practice, large numbers of participants are probably not necessary (maybe not even desirable) to achieve an altered state.

Mantras are probably the first-ever demonstration and practice of entrainment, the physics principle that states two different vibrating bodies will mutually influence each other and both will adapt until their vibrations are synchronized.

A small study was done to see if chanting a rhythmic formula (such as a mantra or the "Ave Maria") had an effect on the cardiovascular system, see if it would synchronize breathing and heart rate, and if it would affect the body's ability to maintain steady blood pressure. Their stated result: "Both prayer and mantra caused striking, powerful, and synchronous increases in existing cardiovascular rhythms when recited six times a minute. Baroreflex [your body's mechanism for maintaining steady blood pressure levels] sensitivity also increased significantly…" Their conclusion: "Rhythm formulas that involve breathing at six breaths per minute induce favourable psychological and possibly physiological effects." Source

If you read my previous article on breathing, you may recall that ten breaths per minute is the respiration rate of a relaxed individual. Six breaths per minute will slow the heart rate and lead to even deeper relaxation. When I am doing standing qigong, I usually breathe at a rate of four or five respirations (inhale and exhale) per minute, and doing this for thirty or more minutes at a time has been known to induce an altered state of consciousness even though chanting is not part of that practice.

In part, the reason that chanting has this relaxing and mind-altering effect is that performing the chant also regulates the breathing. The words and syllables in mantras for spiritual awakenings were created to (or were discovered to) also regulate the respiration. It is not just the sound, but the sound together with the regulation of the breath that causes the heart rate to synchronize, and the blood pressure to respond. This is why it is often said that it doesn't matter whether you chant "Aum," "Ave Maria," or "My Name Is Michelle," if you can hum the sound and create the vibration, the rate of respiration is slow and entrains the heart rate, you will likely achieve an altered state of consciousness if that is your goal. You will certainly achieve a state of very deep relaxation!

If you choose to create your own mantra, in order to be effective the words or syllables you chant should be sounds you can draw out like the mmmmmm of an M, or nnnnnnnnn of N, or ssssssss of S, or vvvvvvvv of V. Almost any vowel will work because you can almost hum them. (The ancient Greeks considered vowels to be sacred, possibly just for the reason that chanting them created altered states of consciousness.) Whatever sound you choose, make sure it is sustainable. K doesn’t work well, the sound is too hard and short. Neither does T or B because you can't elongate or hum them, you can only stutter them and you just don't get the same result.


Photo of Buddha Amitabha in Ushiku, Japan. Courtesy of Manja on Wikipedia

Mudra (Sanskrit for "seal") is the collective name for the type of hand gesture you often see on statutes of Hindu or Buddhist sacred figures. Each position has it's own name, such as Atmanjali Mudra (the same palms-together and fingers pointing upward position that is common in many religious prayer traditions), or Ushas Mudra (fingers laced together with palms upward as though your hands are resting on your lap). All mudras require that your hands be in particular positions, sometimes with certain fingers pressed together, or in some cases fingers may be laced together or even spread out. Keep in mind that stretching or flexing puts its own type of gentle but steady pressure on muscles, arteries, and meridians!

As with mantras, mudras are considered to be both sacred and healing gestures. Traditionally, they are practiced along with the body postures in yoga, or in seated meditations like some of the Zen practices. It may not seem as if this would be an especially effective practice, but don't let the simplicity fool you. Mudras have been used for thousands of years; there is little doubt the practice is effective, the only question is: "How open-minded is the seeker?" Remember, if you are sure something works, or you are sure it doesn't, you're right.

It is very likely that the spiritual benefit from performing a mudra lies in the way the positions of the fingers put pressure on and activate your energy meridians. The same would be true of healing gestures also, but the way the fingers are placed, the amount of pressure applied, the length of time the position is held makes all the difference. Also, the point where pressure is applied must be precise, or the practice will avail nothing. (It's a bit like a computer touch screen; if you don't touch the right spot, nothing (or the wrong thing) will happen.) It is certain that pressure applied in such a way as to activate an energy meridian will cause energy or qi to flow along that channel. If that is a channel that connects to areas of the body or mind that induce spiritual experiences or altered states, then you will have a spiritual experience.

As healing gestures, mudras work the same way acupressure works. When you press upon certain points on the fingers and hands, you activate energy channels through which qi or energy runs through your body. In Chinese medicine, illness is caused by blocked or stagnant qi, so performing a mudra or acupressure on points of the hands or fingers that correspond to illnesses will encourage the free flow of qi and help to overcome that illness.

The one book I have and highly recommend is

by Gertrud Hirschi. I consult it frequently for personal use, and have prepared talks and demonstrations using information contained in the book.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Daoism on winter

An important aspect of living a relaxed and harmonious life is being observant of Natural Laws, our guides to living in the moment and in tune with the natural cycles. This is what is meant by living in balance, not unchanging equilibrium.

As Deng Ming-Dao tells us in his writing “Balance” from the book 365 Tao, “Nature does not achieve balance by keeping to one level. Rather, elements and seasons alternate with one another in succession. Balance, as defined by the Tao, is not stasis but a dynamic process of many overlapping alternations; even if some phases seem wildly excessive, they are balanced by others.

Everything has its place. Everything has a season. As events turn, balance is to know what is here, what is coming, and how to be in perfect harmony with it. Then one attains a state of sublimity that cannot be challenged.”

This month we experience one of the major natural cycles of the Earth, the Winter Solstice on Friday, December 22, at 00:22 Universal Time. Coincidentally, the moon is New on December 20, and we may just see the first sliver of a crescent on the night of the Solstice, another tiny bit of yang brightness peeking into the otherwise yin darkness.

Many people think of the Yijing (I Ching) only as a divination tool, but Daoists often regard its lines and symbols as a sublimely meaningful, philosophical map for a long and happy life.

Hexagram 24

Fu is the Chinese name for hexagram 24. It means: return; repeat, repeatedly; return to a normal or original state. Parts of this Chinese character represent footprints going and coming back – a symbol indicating cyclic travel or change.

Hexagram 24 is often called "Return." It represents the month of the Winter Solstice, the "re-turn" or cyclical change back to longer daylight hours. The lines are comprised of the symbol for Thunder (the lower three lines) within the Earth (the upper three lines). The budding influence is the bottom yang/light line; all the lines above it are yin/darkness. This arrangement of the lines heralds that first moment of increasing daylight although the length of day is still very much shortened by the quiet, still, darkness of the longer nights.


Here is what the Yijing has to say about hexagram 24 and winter: a quote from the Richard Wilhelm I Ching translated into English by Cary F. Baynes, Princeton University Press/Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York, 1977, p. 506:

Hexagram 24, called Return or The Turning Point

The Image:

Thunder within the earth:
The image of The Turning Point.
Thus the kings of antiquity closed the [mountain] passes
At the time of the solstice.
Merchants and strangers did not go about,
And the ruler
Did not travel through the provinces.


If you've observed the evening sky this month, you've noticed that the handle of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) is pointing toward the Northern horizon. North is symbolic of yin, night and darkness, cloudiness (the meaning of "yin" originated with the "cloudy" or "shady" side of a mountain; "yang" was the sunny side), underground, water, the downward direction (in Chinese feng shui and most maps, North is customarily at the bottom of the page), and valleys among other things; all things symbolic of serenity, non-action, responsiveness which means taking no initiatory action, but only responding to outside stimuli. Think of responsiveness this way: a seed in the ground takes no initiatory action, it doesn't decide when to grow; it sprouts in response to the stimuli of water from the rain and heat from the sun.

You might think that the Winter Solstice is the most yin day of the year but, technically speaking, that is not the case. The day before the Solstice is the most yin day; on the day of the Solstice, the Sun turns around and the days begin heading in the other (yang/light) direction.

In the Old Farmer's Almanac, I discovered that there is a city in Montana where, on the day of the Winter Solstice, the hours of daylight are exactly 1/3 the length of the hours of darkness, and 12:00 Noon almost exactly marks the middle of the daylight hours (it is off-center by only four minutes!). Sunrise occurs at 8:04 AM and sunset occurs at 4:04 PM giving eight hours of daylight and sixteen hours of darkness on the Winter Solstice day. (Yes, the Summer Solstice day there is exactly opposite, with sunrise occurring at 4:04 AM and Sunset at 8:04 PM!) That 1:2 ratio is important - it is Nature's message to us telling us how we should be utilizing (or, perhaps I should say restoring) our own energies at this time of year: one-third active, two-thirds passive.

(In case you are curious, I happened to discover this when I was searching for a location where Noon on the clock really was in the middle of the day (the sunrise-sunset cycle) on the day of the Winter (and Summer) Solstice. I don't have the almanac handy, but I believe the city is Glasgow, Montana.)

In the past, this time of year meant a time of rest for warriors and farmers alike, in fact for all segments of society. Even the ruler "did not travel through the provinces." After all, "the king closed the passes" restricting travel and therefore activity, possibly for the safety of the merchants and other people because traveling through the mountains in winter can be risky! (Some Daoists believe that even your qi flows more slowly in the winter.)

However, with technological advances, we've lost that connection with the cycles of Time and Nature. We can get up earlier, go longer, faster, and farther whatever the hours of daylight. Obviously this offers great advantages to our ability to produce, to get things done, to be active (yang), but it does rather go against the purpose of the yin season, to properly utilize this time given to us to rest, to reflect in silence, to attune with the universal energies. We listen to music on the radio instead of the sound of falling snowflakes (yes, they do make a sound when they land on the ground!). We turn on more electric lights instead of basking in the softness of the moon's reflection. It's a bit of a paradox that this time of year which should be our most quiet time often turns out to be our busiest time because of holiday parties and shopping. We have become quite out of harmony with Nature, Time, and the Dao. We no longer allow ourselves time to reflect, to rest in the solitude of the season of the night.

In the Five Phases of Energy, often called the Five Elements, water is the energetic signature for winter. It should always be our intention to live by the words "go with the flow"…emulate water; ever gently moving, following its course with quiet, soft determination, finding its own level. Water can carve through mountains with its persistence but that is a spring and summer activity. In the winter, even water "stops" – it freezes, ceases flowing, it is at rest. It falls from the sky as snowflakes; it solidifies into the mirror-like surface on a lake or pond – yet another symbol of the "reflective" quality of this season. If indeed we strive to emulate water, we must stop and be at rest, too.

When the body is at rest, the mind gains the time to reflect, and the spirit receives the energy to rejuvenate the body. This is the secret for a long and happy life.

I wish you all a harmonious, joyous, and stress-free new year!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday Food Pharmacy: Carrots

We all know that carrots are good for us, but I had no idea just how good until uncovering some of the research for today's article. The nutrients in carrots have many health benefits and curative properties….read on!

The first set of excerpts are from the book Food: Your Miracle Medicine by Jean Carper, Harper Collins Publishers, 1993, ISBN 0061013307

P. 32: Harvard study: women who ate one additional large carrot or one-half cup of sweet potatoes (or other foods rich in beta carotene) every day slashed their risk of heart attack by 22 percent and stroke by 40 to 70 percent, according to recent Harvard studies.

P. 55: The fiber in a couple of carrots a day can lower cholesterol by 10 to 20 percent.

P. 98: Imagine! Eating carrots five times a week or more could slash your risk of stroke by an astounding two-thirds, or 68 percent, compared with eating carrots but once a month or less! That's the dramatic finding of a recent large-scale Harvard study that tracked nearly 90,000 women nurses for eight years. Spinach was also a particularly potent stroke deterrent.

P. 98-99: More remarkable is new research showing how important it is to have lots of beta carotene and other vitamin A in your bloodstream should you ever suffer a stroke. The vitamin may prevent your death or disability from the stroke according to Belgian researchers at the University of Brussels, who analyzed the blood of 80 patients within 24 hours after they had suffered strokes. They discovered that stroke patients with above-average amounts of vitamin A, including beta carotene, were more apt to survive, to have less neurological damage and to recover completely!

P 249: Marilyn Menkes, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University, tracked down donors who in 1974 had given blood samples that had been analyzed for beta carotene content. She discovered that by 1983, ninety-nine of the donors had developed lung cancer. She compared the beta carotene blood levels of the lung cancer victims with those of similar donors free of the cancer.

The message was startling. Those with the least beta carotene in their blood had twice the lung cancer rates of those with the most beta carotene. …Those with the lowest blood beta carotene had quadruple the chances of developing [the] dreaded smoker's cancer as those with the highest blood beta carotene level.

P. 250: Regina Ziegler, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute, figured the daily carotene gap separating the high and low lung cancer risks among ex-smoking men to be a mere one-half cup daily of a deep yellow-orange or deep green vegetable. Similarly, researches at the State University of New York at Buffalo calculated that a cancer-protective dose is found in just one carrot a day!

P. 331: Carotene boosts immune defenses against both bacterial and viral infections, as well as cancer.

P. 438-439 …eating a mere carrot a day – or any other beta-carotene-rich fruit of vegetable – cut the odds of macular degeneration (deterioration of the macula, a tiny central part of the retina, which can lead to diminished vision, even blindness) by 40 percent compared with eating such foods less than once a week. Further, the more often the folks ate beta-carotene foods, the more their risk dropped. P. 438-439

P. 476: One medium carrot's worth of beta carotene cuts lung cancer risk in half, even among formerly heavy smokers. High doses of beta carotene, as found in carrots, substantially reduces odds of degenerative eye diseases – cataracts and macular degeneration – as well as chest pain (angina). Carrots' high soluble fiber depresses blood cholesterol, promotes regularity. Note: cooking does not destroy beta carotene; in fact, light cooking can make it easier for the body to absorb.

Here are a few excerpts from the World Carrot Museum, a website based in the U. K. To read the complete article, click Nutrition and Good Health- Part 1

The website includes information about the nutritional value of different varieties and colors of carrots…even purple ones!

(There is a link to Part 2 at the end of this post.)

The power and goodness of carrots

Carrots have many important vitamins and minerals. They are rich in antioxidants Beta Carotene, Alpha Carotene, Phytochemicals and Glutathione, Calcium and Potassium, and vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and E, which are also considered antioxidants, protecting as well as nourishing the skin. They contain a form of calcium easily absorbed by the body. Finally they also contain Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorous, and Sulphur - better than a wonder drug!!

The 3 most important elements are Beta-carotene, Vitamin A, and Phytochemicals.

Beta carotene usually receives most attention when examining carrots. It is one of about 500 similar compounds called carotenoids, which are present in many fruits and vegetables. The body changes beta carotene into vitamin A, which is important in strengthening the immune system, keeping the skin, lungs and intestinal track in order, and promoting healthy cell growth. Beta-carotene is found primarily in dark green, red, yellow, and orange-coloured plants, and is converted by the body into vitamin A and also works on its own.

Vitamin A is a pale yellow primary alcohol derived from carotene. It affects the formation and maintenance of skin, mucous membranes, bones, and teeth, vision and reproduction. In addition dietary Vitamin A, in the form of beta carotene, an antioxidant, may help reduce the risk of certain cancers. However, beta carotene is much more than the precursor for vitamin A.

Only so much beta carotene can be changed into vitamin A, and that which is not changed contributes to boosting the immune system and is also a potent antioxidant.

It is highly recommended that vitamin A be consumed from the diet rather than from supplements (particularly in the case of beta carotene), because vitamin A obtained from a varied diet offers the maximal potential of health benefits that supplements cannot. The richest sources of preformed vitamin A are liver, fish liver oils, milk, milk products, butter, and eggs. Liver is an especially rich source because vitamin A is primarily stored in the liver of animals and humans.
Vitamin A is also found in a variety of dark green and deep orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, butternut squash, turnip greens, bok choy, mustard greens, and romaine lettuce. Beta carotene is the most active carotenoid (the red, orange, and yellow pigments) form of vitamin A, but it is inefficiently absorbed and converted to retinol in comparison to vitamin A from animal sources. As you can see Vitamin A intake is essential to human health.

Alpha carotene. Beta carotene is not the only carotenoid. Often overlooked, and also found in carrots, is alpha carotene. According to an article in NCI Cancer Weekly (Nov. 13, 1989), Michiaki Murakoshi, who leads a team of biochemists at Japan's Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, contends that alpha carotene may be more powerful than beta carotene in inhibiting processes that may lead to tumor growth. Murakoshi indicates that neuroblastoma (cancer) cells coated with carotenoids experience a drop in N-myc activity compared to untreated cells. N-myc is a gene that codes for cell growth-stimulating proteins and can contribute to cancer formation and growth. Alpha carotene was found to be about ten times more inhibitory toward N-myc activity than beta carotene. Murakoshi concludes that all types of carotenoids should be studied for possible health benefits.

Phytochemicals which are found in vegetables, fruits, and nuts, may reduce the risk of cancer, strokes, hinder the ageing process, balance hormonal metabolism, and have antiviral and antibacterial properties.

A phytochemical is a natural bioactive compound found in plant foods that works with nutrients and dietary fibre to protect against disease. Research suggests that phytochemicals, working together with nutrients found in fruits, vegetables and nuts, may help slow the ageing process and reduce the risk of many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cataracts, osteoporosis, and urinary tract infections. They can have complementary and overlapping mechanisms of action in the body, including antioxidant effects, modulation of detoxification enzymes, stimulation of the immune system, modulation of hormone metabolism, and antibacterial and antiviral effect.

From those 3 elements, carrots benefit our bodies by:

  • Boosting immunity (especially among older people).
  • Reducing photosensitivity (beta-carotene protects the skin from sun damage).
  • Improving symptoms of HIV.
  • Easing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Helping to heal minor wounds and injuries.
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Reducing the risk of high blood pressure.
  • Cleansing the liver, and when consumed regularly, can help the liver excrete fats and bile.
  • Fighting bronchitis.
  • Fighting infection (vitamin A keeps cell membranes healthy, making them stronger against disease-causing microorganisms)
  • Improving muscle, flesh, and skin health.
  • Helping fight aneamia.
  • Reducing acne.
  • Improving eye health.

Better raw or cooked? The answer is yes to both questions. Read on.

Are Carrots more nutritious in their raw state than when cooked? That's a very good question. Opinions vary. Clearly a raw carrot has more goodness in it when it is raw and therefore you would assume it is the healthiest way to eat it. But unless the carrot is juiced then consumed, the body cannot break down the goodness because of the cellular nature of the carrot.

So in reality, unlike most other vegetables (though not all), carrots are more nutritious when eaten cooked than eaten raw (except when juiced). Because raw carrots have tough cellular walls, the body is able to convert less than 25 per cent of their beta carotene into vitamin A. Cooking, however, partially dissolves cellulose-thickened cell walls, freeing up nutrients by breaking down the cell membranes. So long as the cooked carrots are served as part of a meal that provides some fat the body can absorb more than half of the carotene. Also, it usual for Carrots to be cut into pieces and eaten after boiling or steaming, but done in this way, half the proteins and soluble carbohydrates will be lost so it is more advisable to cook them whole and then cut up.
Experiments show that eating lightly-cooked carrots is much more beneficial than eating raw carrots, which confirms the ancient wisdom in traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have always recommended that their patients eat lightly-cooked carrots in order to get the best nutritional absorption. Recent research by Dr. Xiangdong Wang at
Tufts University shows that beta carotene can change in the human body into a substance called retinoic acid, which is widely used to treat cancers.

Cooking also increases antioxidant power

High temperature is usually not the best thing for many of the sensitive compounds that are contained in our food and new research from the University of Arkansas indicates that for carrots, at least, cooking may in fact increase their goodness.

Carrots are one of the best sources of carotene which is a strong antioxidant. But carrots also contain other phenolic compounds that are antioxidants. Many people do not realise that numerous phenolic compounds are located in the skin of fruit and vegetables, many of which are removed by peeling prior to processing.

The Arkansas researchers were studying the effects of thermal processing (cooking) on the antioxidant properties of carrots. The carrots (peeled or non-peeled) were sliced and blanched (2 minutes or 20 minutes), cooked in cans at 250 oC for 75 minutes and then stored for up to 4 weeks. In all cases the antioxidant power of the processed carrots was greater - on average 34% higher - than for raw carrots. During the first week of storage the antioxidant properties continued to climb, before declining over the next 3 weeks in storage. At the end of the 4 weeks the processed carrots still had more oxidative power than raw carrots.

Heating vegetables, either during processing or cooking, is a way of reducing enzyme activity that can lead to undesirable changes in colour, flavour and texture. But the heat can also change compounds found in the raw food into other chemically related compounds. The properties of these new compounds may be different as was reported in this carrot cooking experiment.

Raw vegetables may be popular with many people, but this study shows that at least some processed and canned vegetables can be just as nutritious as raw ones. In areas where fresh produce is not available year round, or where frozen vegetables are not practical, canned vegetables are an ideal option.

(reference: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 48: 1315-1321 (2000)

The nutritional value of fresh produce does decrease with time. According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, nearly half of some vitamins may be lost within a few days of harvesting unless fresh produce is quickly cooled or preserved.

Within 1 to 2 weeks, even refrigerated produce will continue to lose half or more of some of its vitamins. The heating process during canning also destroys from one-third to one-half of vitamins A, E, thiamin and riboflavin. Once canned, losses of between 5 percent and 20 percent of these vitamins may occur during a year.

The best advice then is to cook them but not too much this increases the bioavailability of carotenoids in plant foods; and, absorption of vitamin A from the diet is improved when consumed along with some fat in the same meal. The next page continues the nutritional story concentrating on the bodily effects of carrot consumption. Learn how carrots help prevent and lower cancer risk, heart disease and stroke. Also the carrot effect on eyesight and stomach ailments.

Nutrition - part 2 - bodily functions

Monday, December 04, 2006

Journaling and Mandala Meditation

Creating a mandala and journaling can be considered stream-of-consciousness picture drawing and writing respectively. Mandala work may also be the concentration of coloring a pre-printed design, or the concentration on a pre-created picture.

This type of stream-of-consciousness meditation is a bit like free association where each thought or idea leads to the next, but all are allowed to float through your mind without judgment or editing for logic or reason. When you allow yourself to practice without judgment, both mandalas and journaling help you get in touch with your unconscious attitudes and beliefs.


Some people like to journal into a word processor on their computer. Personally, I think most laptop computers do not have ergonomically-correct keyboards and you can ultimately do a lot of repetitive-stress damage to your hands. If you have a supportive and comfortable keyboard, then the choice is yours whether to write or type.

Journaling can be done anywhere at any time. A notebook and pen or pencil are very portable, so you can take them for walks in the woods, an afternoon on the beach, or a stroll through the neighborhood park.

Make journaling something you want to do by having excellent supplies. Purchase the type of notebook you love; hardcover, padded, or soft-cover; plain or decorated. There are many blank-page journals available both with and without lines. Or, you might prefer the flexibility of a simple spiral notebook. Either way, make it something you look forward to picking up and writing in. Do the same with your choice of writing instrument. Try a few different pens and pencils to see which is most comfortable to hold in your hand….there are many sizes and styles to choose from. (You won't journal long if your fingers get stiff or your hand begins to cramp.) Make sure you like the ink color, and the fineness or boldness of the line the pen creates. Have two or three different writing instruments for your different moods.

Even beyond the topics you write about, you can learn a lot about yourself and your mood by observing the physical act of writing…be aware of how you hold the pen or pencil, whether you write fast or slow, how legible (to yourself and others) your writing is….there are many avenues to explore this way.

The content of what you write will be your innermost thoughts. You may very well progress from some general statement or observation into some pretty deep, profound observations and insights. For example, you may write: "Even though I work hard, I never seem to get ahead. The reasons for this seem to be….." and expand on your feelings about work and money and status. There may be something within yourself that is holding you back, and you could overcome it and advance if only you were aware of it.

Be careful, though…journaling can bring up difficult emotional topics, sometimes traumatic events from the past. If you feel yourself becoming very anxious, disturbed, or upset, stop journaling and give yourself some time to calm down. If you continue to feel anxious or upset, call a friend, someone you can talk to without reservation, or an appropriate hotline if you feel the need for anonymous as well as confidential emotional support.

Drawing a mandala

A traditional mandala is most often seen as a meditation device used by Hindus and Buddhists who focus upon a pre-created design. The word "mandala" comes from the Sanskrit mandalam which means "circle," or "round." The circular outer shape represents the sky, and the square inner shape represents the earth. The inner square is usually designed in quarters with each quarter reflecting the other three. The entire design, when used in meditation, is created to draw your attention from the outer edges toward the center, symbolically your inner, spiritual center. Indeed, if figures are included in the corners or outer circle, they are frequently drawn so that they appear to be facing the center.

Today, almost any geometric (or even non-geometric) design is called a mandala if it is used in a meditation practice. If you pursue the traditional route, you will want to trace a circle and center a square within it. If you save this as a master or original, you can photocopy it and draw your figures and shapes onto the copies, keeping the master for future mandalas.

A mandala center: no matter how you quarter this design, top to bottom and side to side, or diagonally corner to corner, each segment reflects its neighbor.

You may see some examples of traditional mandalas by visiting Exotic India where you'll notice that the geometric shapes usually reflect each other, but the colors from quadrant to quadrant do not. Colors have different meanings depending on the society and the geography…there really is no "right or wrong" in the use of color in a mandala. Use whatever color scheme has meaning or appeals to you.

The same advice goes here as for journaling: be sure you have a drawing instrument that is comfortable. You can just be geometric about it and keep pretty much to straight or curved lines, or you can draw pictures or other designs into the sections. Again, do not judge, edit, or otherwise change your drawing. If you think you made a "mistake" ponder why you think it's a mistake and what meaning it may have for you. For color, you can use paints, pencils, felt-tip markers, even crayons if you like. This is for you, use what you like!

If you're not an artist (as I am not), don't worry….your mandala is not going on the walls of the Smithsonian Museum's Freer Gallery of Art though if it pleases you, it's okay to think it belongs there.

As you draw, be aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise. Pay attention to your use of line and color, and ponder what emotions or experiences are behind your choices. Again, as with journaling, if you feel yourself becoming very anxious, disturbed, or upset, stop working on your mandala give yourself some time to calm down. If you continue to feel anxious or upset, call a friend, someone you can talk to without reservation, or an appropriate hotline if you feel the need for anonymous as well as confidential emotional support.

When you do complete your design, sit quietly with it for as long as you like and consider the insights it brings. You may wish to do this several times since artistic ideas sometimes need time to sit at the back of your mind and coalesce before they're ready for your conscious ponderings.

Here is a book with something for everyone: 100 mandala designs from five major spiritual traditions; rose window designs from the cathedrals of Europe, Navajo sand paintings, Hindu yantras, traditional Buddhist thangka scroll designs, and motifs from illuminated Celtic manuscripts.

Here are links to a few websites that offer mandalas you can print and color. There is actually a lot of therapeutic value in coloring; the more detailed the design is, the better, and some of the designs below will keep you busy for a few days! Coloring is not only fun, it helps you to develop focus, and it is a repetitive task that keeps your hands busy; these types of tasks are known to open your mind to those "Ah-ha!" moments of intuitive insight.

Many mandala pictures to print and color

80 free designs to download, print, and color

Six designs, several are very intricate

Free coloring book – 19 designs to print and color

Several pages of designs to color from a French website, very Intricate designs!

More designs from a French website – some very intricate

Free sample on a website that sells books

An interesting click-&-color mandala