Tulsi: The Incomparable & Sacred Medicinal Herb

Tulsi: The Incomparable & Sacred Medicinal Herb

Love at first smell (and sight)

Absorbed in deep communion during a Plant Initiation Weekend, I was seeking to meet the spirit of Tulsi. A lovely spicy aroma began to envelop me, then I saw her. She was dancing. Green robes and gold swirled, moving and spinning a little like the ballerina in your first jewelry box. Tulsi danced in a shaft of gold-green light, clearly enjoying herself immensely.

She looked at me with a sparkle in her emerald eyes, and said “So, what shall it be today?”

I was smitten – enchanted – and remain so to this day. 

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Introducing…Tulsi

Tulsi is a powerful medicinal and culinary plant. Also known as Holy Basil or Sacred Basil, it has been used for centuries in Ayurveda, which is a traditional system of medicine that includes yoga therapy that originated in India. In the ancient language of Sanskrit, the word “Tulsi” means “the incomparable one”. 

This blog post will explore the integrative nature of Tulsi and how it can benefit your overall health and well-being.  We’ll review the integrative biochemical properties as well as an Ayurvedic health and metaphysical perspective.  Tulsi’s natural rhythms and abilities can synchronize with your own internal biological clocks, much like nature’s timekeepers, the solstice and equinox. Each of these aspects of The Incomparable One can help you to maintain a calm balance in our hectic modern world. 

Biochemical & Genetic Properties of Tulsi

Tulsi holds immense spiritual significance. It also possesses a range of powerful biochemical properties. Let’s delve into Tulsi’s composition and explore its health-enhancing properties.  Those properties create an impressive array of effects on your physiological systems.

Chemical & Genetic Composition of Tulsi

Sacred Basil contains numerous bioactive compounds that contribute to its therapeutic potential. It contains essential oils, flavonoids, tannins, phenolic compounds, and vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin C. Its essential oil is a rich source of bioactive compounds, such as camphor, eucalyptol, eugenol, alpha-bisabolene, beta-bisabolene, and beta-caryophyllene. The complex composition of the plant taken in the whole form is what provides Tulsi’s unique range of benefits. The whole genome of Holy Basil is available, and sequence analysis suggests that compounds in the herb interact with genes for metabolite synthesis pathways in a variety of helpful ways. 

Tulsi the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant & adaptogen

Holy Basil leaf extract has topical and systemic antimicrobial-antibacterial properties. Due to the great variety of phytonutrients (plant nutrients), it acts as an adaptogen, meaning that it works in a variety of ways in a variety of pathways to establish or maintain homeostasis (balance).

A key reason for Tulsi’s widespread use is its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Flavonoids and phenolic phytocompounds have antioxidant activity, which helps combat oxidative stress and the damage caused by too many free radicals (oxygenated species naturally created by metabolism that the body clears – in part with an antioxidant-rich diet) in the body. By neutralizing excessive free radicals, Tulsi supports cellular health and so helps prevent various chronic diseases.

In addition to its antioxidant effects, Tulsi also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties. The active compounds (eugenol and linolenic acid, among others) in Tulsi help reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body. This anti-inflammatory action can help calm symptoms associated with inflammatory conditions like arthritis and promote overall well-being.

Like other whole foods, Tulsi’s complex nutritional phytochemistry (plant-chemistry) creates a multifaceted profile of health-promoting properties. That’s what food-as-medicine is all about. 

Tulsi in Ayurveda

The Ayurvedic system recognizes the holistic nature of health and well-being.  Ayurveda and other holistic indigenous systems are the original integrative medicine – and the original food-as-medicine science. The elegant system of Ayurvedic nutrition relies on mindful seasonal whole-food eating and uses tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent & astringent) to balance the elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) within an individual.  Tulsi is valued for its medicinal properties to support the mind, body, and spirit in a food-as-medicine approach

Ayurvedic classification & actions

In Ayurveda, Tulsi is thought to promote longevity and rejuvenation, so it’s classified as a “rasayana” herb. It is also classified as a “tikta” herb, which means it has a bitter taste. It is considered “ushna” (hot) in potency. 

These qualities make Tulsi beneficial for balancing the Kapha and Vata doshas (Ayurvedic constitutions).  Doshas are the energies derived from elemental makeup responsible for an individual maintaining physiological, psychological, and whole-being balance. Tulsi is known to pacify (balance) excess Kapha and Vata. The plant is said to enhance the flow of prana, or life force energy, through the body, helping to promote physical and emotional well-being.

Metaphysics of Tulsi

Sacred Basil is believed to have metaphysical (beyond or outside material reality) properties and is a potent integrative medicinal herb. In Ayurveda Tulsi is considered to have a divine essence that can purify the mind, physical body, and soul.

Tulsi is a powerful tool for meditation as it helps to clear the mind and increase focus. It is associated with the element of fire, which represents transformation and purification in Ayurveda and other indigenous traditions.

Tulsi & Lakshmi

The plant is believed to have originated from the tears of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi and is an earthly embodiment of her divine energy of abundance, healing, beauty, and goodwill. It is often used in rituals to honor Lakshmi and to seek her blessings for wealth, prosperity, and good fortune. Sacred Basil is also associated with Lord Vishnu (the protector and defender of the universe in balance), who is believed to reside in the plant in the form of his consort, Lakshmi.

The story of Tulsi is closely linked to the important Hindu epic, Ramayana. In the story, Lakshmi is the wife of a demon named Jalandhar, who is eventually and dramatically defeated by Lord Vishnu. Lakshmi is heartbroken by the loss of her husband and curses Lord Vishnu. As a result of her curse, Vishnu is forced to take birth on earth as Lord Rama and undergo the trials and tribulations of mortal life. Later, Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu fall madly in love. So yes, it’s complicated but passionate. 

Here they are. 

Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu

Effects of Tulsi on Physiological Systems

Tulsi’s bioactive constituents have a profound yet subtle impact on various physiological systems, making it a hard-working and versatile herb with a wide range of potential health benefits. Remember that most whole herbs have a similarly complex action because of their complex nutritional makeup.

Tulsi system benefits

Tulsi in Integrative Medicine 

Holy Basil’s complex biochemistry as well as its metaphysical benefits make it a compelling adjunct to a number of Western integrative therapies, in addition to being a central herb in Ayurveda. 

Tulsi’s bioactive constituents have a profound yet subtle impact on various physiological systems, making it a hard-working and versatile herb with a wide range of potential health benefits. Remember that most whole herbs have a similarly complex action because of their complex nutritional makeup.

Tulsi & Immune Health

One of the key benefits of Tulsi is its ability to strengthen and regulate the immune system. This herb contains powerful bioactive compounds that enhance the body’s natural defense mechanisms. Tulsi is rich in antioxidants, such as flavonoids and phenols, which help to neutralize harmful free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the body. By reducing oxidative stress, Tulsi supports a healthy immune response and helps to protect against infections and diseases.

Additionally, Tulsi possesses antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that can help fight against various pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It acts as a natural immunomodulator, regulating immune function and promoting a balanced immune response. Regular consumption of Tulsi can strengthen your immune system and possibly improve your body’s ability to ward off illnesses.

Anti-cancer Properties of Tulsi

Research suggests that Tulsi may also exhibit anti-cancer properties, making it a valuable herb in cancer prevention and management. Studies have shown that Tulsi extracts can inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells, and even induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in certain types of cancer. The active compounds found in Tulsi, such as eugenol, rosmarinic acid, and apigenin, possess potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can help protect cells from DNA damage and inhibit tumor formation.

Additionally, Tulsi has been found to enhance the effectiveness of conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, while also minimizing their side effects. Its natural compounds can help protect healthy cells from damage and improve overall treatment outcomes. While more research is needed, Tulsi shows promising potential as an adjunct therapy in cancer prevention and treatment.

Tulsi, Stress & Cortisol

In our fast-paced lives, stress and anxiety seem to be the price of the full and busy lives we often lead.  Fortunately, Sacred Basil can help us find balance and serenity amidst the chaos. Let’s delve into the use of Tulsi in managing stress and anxiety, exploring its impact on cortisol levels, weight management, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and blood pressure.

When we experience stress, our adrenal glands release cortisol, a hormone with far-reaching effects on many of your body’s systems. Elevated cortisol levels can contribute to various health challenges, including weight gain, hormonal imbalances like PCOS, and high blood pressure. Tulsi’s adaptogenic action assists in regulating cortisol levels, promoting a healthy stress response, and restoring neurological and metabolic equilibrium. 

Sacred Basil is also known to have an uplifting effect on mood and cognitive function. It can help improve focus, concentration, and mental clarity, making it an excellent herb for supporting healthful behavior change and overall mental well-being.

Additionally, Tulsi has shown promise in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Chronic stress and anxiety can contribute to elevated blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems. Tulsi’s adaptogenic properties aid in reducing stress and its impact on blood pressure, promoting a healthier cardiovascular system.

Beyond medicine, Sacred Basil also has benefits for skin, hair and overall beauty. You’ll find it in a range of beauty products. Given its myriad actions, it just makes sense. 

Awarenesses & contra-indications 

Tulsi is not to be taken by individuals who are pregnant or lactating.  If you plan to take it to address an imbalance, it’s important to work with a qualified nutritionist or health professional who can advise you on how to use Tulsi within a comprehensive protocol. Generally, starting with a small amount to test your tolerance and gradually increasing the dose minimizes gastrointestinal or other potential issues. It’s important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before incorporating Tulsi into your routine, especially if you have any underlying health conditions (like diabetes or heart disease) or are taking medications.

How to take Tulsi

The best time to take Tulsi is before any health issues discussed in the article begin. Like Ayurveda itself, Tulsi is a fantastic preventive agent, helping you stay calm and balanced in a world that’s anything but.

Incorporate Tulsi into your daily routine by enjoying a cup of Tulsi tea or adding fresh Tulsi leaves to your meals. If you make tea, remember to steep the leaves for 5-10 minutes to make a potent cup. Tulsi is delicious with chicken, and you can add fresh leaves to salads, dressings, soups, and stews.  

You can also find Tulsi supplements or extracts available in various forms. A 4% Holy Basil extract has been used in dental health, sometimes in combination with other botanicals. 

Tulsi is often offered in a compound with other botanicals for a specific aim, be it weight management or cancer prevention. 

Holy Basil in supplement form (usually as a capsule) is most often used in a 500-900 mg daily dose and used for 1.5 to 3 months. You can find or make a tincture of Tulsi – meaning the leaves were soaked in a solvent like alcohol to extract the oils – and you take the liquid. Tinctures are often taken as drops under the tongue, but can also be added to water or made into an herbal cocktail.

Finally, the flower essence. A flower essence is an energy medicine often made by setting the plant in clean water in the sun for a period of time, then making dilutions with a solvent (brandy or vinegar) and water. Tulsi makes an especially lovely flower essence given its metaphysical profile.

We use flower essences in our meditative Plant Initiation Weekends.

Examples of Tulsi Products

Here are a few examples of products from a good manufacturer that a qualified nutritionist might suggest you try for either daily use or to address an imbalance. These products are from my Emerson/Fullscript supplement formulary (where you always get 25% off & free shipping with over $49). 

Your Next Steps

Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, clearly encompasses a wide array of metaphysical, biochemical, Ayurvedic, and healing properties that make it a truly remarkable herb. From its profound spiritual symbolism to its scientifically substantiated benefits, Tulsi has captured the attention of health enthusiasts worldwide. 

So, the real question now is – how are you going to use it? 

As you reflect upon Tulsi’s metaphysical, biochemical, Ayurvedic, and healing properties, remember its profound value as a flexible holistic herb. It prompts us to slow down, reconnect with nature, and nurture ourselves on multiple levels. I hope Tulsi guides you in the pursuit of wellness, encouraging you to honor your body, nourish your mind, and cultivate a deeper sense of harmony in your lives.

Plant Initiation Weekends

Sources for this post

Upadhyay AK, Chacko AR, Gandhimathi A, Ghosh P, Harini K, et al. Genome sequencing of herb Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) unravels key genes behind its strong medicinal properties. BMC Plant Biol. 2015 Aug 28;15:212. doi: 10.1186/s12870-015-0562-x. PMID: 26315624; PMCID: PMC4552454.

Hasan MR, Alotaibi BS, Althafar ZM, Mujamammi AH, Jameela J. An Update on the Therapeutic Anticancer Potential of Ocimum sanctum L.: “Elixir of Life”. Molecules. 2023 Jan 25;28(3):1193. doi: 10.3390/molecules28031193. PMID: 36770859; PMCID: PMC9919305.

Cohen MM. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec;5(4):251-9. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.146554. PMID: 25624701; PMCID: PMC4296439.

Healthy Mindset: What, Why and How to Develop Yours

Healthy Mindset: What, Why and How to Develop Yours

My Healthy Mindset Wake-up

I was recently reading my weekly horoscope (yep, I find it helpful), which said to the effect: out with the old, in with the new.

It’s been a challenging few years, and I know I haven’t had the healthiest mindset. So I was ready for ‘out with the old’; a list sprung to mind: isolation, too much TV, too little movement and a heavier starchier diet than I know serves me. 

But what, I wondered, was the new? What is the affirmative vision for myself, my life and my health now? I was pretty close to stumped. This, my friends, can be an indicator of the need for an overhaul.

Heading into my 60’s, I’m changing for the better and….the different. Metabolic issues are knocking, mental health is usually good but…I need more tenderness of care, and to be more gentle with myself.

Where to begin?

My Ayurvedic brothers and sisters say it all begins in the mind. I’ve been skipping the mindset exercise in every training I’ve taken these past couple of years…maybe it’s…

 

Mindset. I want a healthier mindset. 

Mindset & Mental Health

Health is a state of body and of mind (and spirit, energy and more). Mental health is much more than not having a condition like depression or anxiety. A healthy mindset is about being and feeling empowered in life, feeling and appreciating your full range of emotions, having the tools and the skill to manage stress well, and being able to deal with everyday ups and downs.

What is a Healthy Mindset?

A healthy mindset is having a flexible, realistic yet optimistic approach to life. It encompasses things like high self-esteem and self-approval or acceptance, and a willingness to learn from what unfolds in life – even your difficult and uncomfortable experiences. The essential ingredient of your healthy mindset is your thoughts. If you can learn and grow from your own thoughts, and change them, rather than being overly reactive and controlled by unhelpful thoughts, you have yourself a healthy mindset.

Cultivating a healthy mindset helps you to cope with stress and life’s challenges more effectively, so it supports helpful habits. A healthy mindset isn’t a destination or an achieved fixed-state of being. It is a journey; a practice. It is an evolving and ever-changing process you actively work at. It takes time and attention to recognize your areas of focus to develop a healthier mindset, and the process is imperfect, but if you are interested in leading an examined life, it’s very worth it. With time and imperfect effort, you can become a friend to yourself or even feel abiding self-love.

It happens – a lot!

Mindfulness & Healthy Mindset

Mindfulness is one approach (the one I use in my practice) to a healthy mindset. It is a practice that can help you see things as they are, not as you imagine them to be, or as you fear they might become. It’s about being fully present and aware of the moment, moment by moment, without judgment. A person with a healthy, or growth mindset believes their own characteristics like intelligence are not fixed but can change with attention and practice.

The first step towards developing a growth mindset is becoming aware of your current beliefs. Once you become aware of your thoughts and underlying beliefs, you can work on changing thoughts and characteristics of yourself that are not so helpful.

Why Having a Healthy Mindset Matters

A healthy mindset has been shown to improve health including making healthy foods more appealing. It can help you to feel more in control and less stressed in daily life. When you feel able to have more in control (or as though you are participating in what the heck is happening), it’s easier to be wise about solutions to problems (rather than waiting and hoping for someone else to step in, or a miracle). We all know that miracles happen all the time, but creating your own is empowering, and just might make miracles more likely.

A growth mindset can help you to see the best in others, have more realistic expectations of yourself, and see setbacks and difficulties as opportunities to grow and learn. When you have realistic expectations of yourself, you are less likely to become stressed or anxious when you make mistakes or don’t meet your own impossibly high standards. This in turn makes you more likely to be kinder to yourself and help you avoid self-sabotage or blaming others for your problems.

Sounds easy, right? Well, not so much. It’s a practice. So, when you begin, you may not be very good at it. Keep practicing. You’ll get better at it.

We’re all imperfect beings. We all make mistakes – sometimes doozies. Learning from our mistakes while understanding that making mistakes is a natural part of life is part of having a healthy mindset.

 

Annie KAy mindful transformation

What the Yogis Say: Compassion & Witness

Yoga and Ayurveda have a lot to say about mindset. Yoga philosophy and psychology focus on your inner landscape, so naturally address mindset. Recent science suggests that a yoga mindset is a very healthy mindset in today’s world. This quote by Swami Kripalu is a beautiful summary of a yoga mindset.

“The highest spiritual practice,” said Swami Kripalu, “is self-observation without judgement.”

Yoga & Compassion 

Mindfulness, which is paying attention moment by moment, can help you to relax and enjoy what’s happening right now. Taking the bit of extra time that mindfulness requires helps you take kinder, more thoughtful, less reactive action. It slows you down!

When you slow down, relax and tune into what is happening around you, it’s easy to appreciate smells, colors, sounds, tastes and textures of the world around you. You’ll likely enjoy the experience more than if you rush through it, be it having a meal or going through your usual morning routine.

Two guiding principles drawn from the Yoga Sutras, a foundational philosophical text of yoga, are non-violence (Ahimsa, in the ancient language of Sanskrit) and contentment (Santosa). The practice of non-violence or compassion is central to a yogic lifestyle. So, the practitioner pays attention to their own thoughts and choices, and aims to become more and more compassionate with themselves and others over time. Contentment is another tenet of yoga practice – again, not a destination or something you finally achieve, but an ongoing practice happening right now. You can cultivate contentment now. It’s a practice. You get better at it.

Yoga & Witness Consciousness

Do you find it hard to pause in the moment – when you get triggered – before responding impulsively?

Along with compassion, being able to ‘step back’ or take a pause – especially when you get poked or irritated – is called ‘accessing the witness’. When you mentally step back, pause and consider the situation from a broader, less judgemental perspective  – you actually change your consciousness. You access witness consciousness.

As you practice non-judgemental awareness, it gets easier to understand that you are doing the best you can with imperfect information, and that much of what you do is rational – maybe even admirable. Non-judgemental awareness also allows you to experiment with a different response than your emotional self might. Being mindful can help you recognize when you’re feeling overwhelmed and in need of support.

Setting Intention

With regard to mindset, intention is getting clear on what you are seeking. I often ask people what they are looking to cultivate in life from the habit we’re experimenting with…be it eating well or moving more or practicing healthful habits. Intention speaks to the why – the personal why that motivates your behavior.

Here are a couple of my past writings on setting your intention, and preparing to set intention by letting go of what no longer works.

Here, also, is a meditation practice that can be very helpful in shifting your mindset. It’s called loving-kindness (metta) meditation. Enjoy.

Loving Kindness (Metta) Meditation 

Loving Kindness (Metta) meditation is a tool that can help you, over time, adopt a healthy mindset toward yourself and others. 

In loving kindness meditation, we wish ourselves well, several times until we feel it. Then, we expand our bubble of loving kindness to someone we love who could use it – a sick relative, a struggling friend. You can continue to expand, to your community, country, world itself, then back to you. Here is an easy version of a loving kindness meditation, from my friend and colleague, Stephen Cope (Kavi). 

May I be happy,

May I be healthy 

and May I stand in the light of my own true self.

You might begin this meditation for 5 minutes daily, and slowly increase it to at least 10 minutes most days. Twenty is even better!

Here is an episode of Quickeners, a podcast I host, on Metta Meditation. 

Enjoy. 

Manifestation: Breath, Believe, Receive

Setting your intention, then adopting an experimental mindset of noticing and adjusting is a mindful approach to making change easier.  Breathing and relaxation exercises, meditation, and visualization can all help keep you in the flow of helpful shifts. These practices can also help to keep you grounded in the present moment.

In this process, it’s important to think in terms of learning when things don’t go as planned. Rather than give up, you compassionately examine what happened, and think about how to overcome the obstacle that made the practice too hard to do. There is not failure, just lessons.

Focused attention and helpful affirmations can also support mindset. Imagining a vision of what your future might look like is a great way to keep you motivated. When you feel discouraged or frustrated by setbacks along the way, access your witness consciousness and remind yourself that you’re a human in an imperfect world that is progressing. Whatever you need to do – a glass of water, or saying to yourself “that happened” – to clear and get back to practice. If you can do that, I can guarantee you transformation.

It’s All Happening

Mindfulness helps you enjoy your unique journey, rather than constantly worrying about your destination. It can help you to be less attached to outcomes, no matter how important they are to you. It can help you to let go of expectations, and see things more as they are, rather than as you imagine them to be or as you fear they might become.

Most importantly, mindfulness meditation helps you to appreciate the moment you are in, and the one unique wacky painful beautiful life you have. It can help you to be more fully present in your everyday life and for those you love. It’s a tool to help let go of the past and of worries about the future. It can help you to see the beauty and magic in the world around you, and realize that events and experiences are happening in such a way as to benefit your spiritual progress, even if it doesn’t seem so in this moment.

Namaste. Keep going.

What is a healthy mindset for you? 

What helps you notice and shift, reset or keep a healthful mindset? 

We want to know – send us a comment! 

Annie 

 

 

Holiday Stress? Mindfulness Can Help

Holiday Stress? Mindfulness Can Help

Updated 11/9/2023

Here it comes – the wave of winter holidays.

Time seems to speed up now, and the season can seem a bit sugar-coated and a bit stressful. Suddenly so much to do! Decorating, attending gatherings, figuring out if you should send cards or get gifts for the people in your life, and dealing with extended family can be overwhelming. If you have a business – double the decisions!

It doesn’t have to be quite so stressful. Holiday cheer doesn’t require weight gain (here’s a study from the National Weight Control Registry (1) about what works). Mindfulness can help you enjoy the holidays a little more, and stress a little less.

If you find yourself feeling holiday-rattled and you’re not basking in a glowing sense of cheer, the practices of mindfulness might help you take a break from expectations and reconnect with the reason for the season.

Can Mindfulness Really Help?

The short answer is yes. Practicing mindfulness – both the meditation practice and taking a more mindful attitude toward the activities of the holiday – can help. Mindfulness can provide that little shift in attitude that can be the difference between feeling overwhelmed and feeling excited about the holiday.

Mindfulness practice and attitudes can help you become more aware of your own needs as you move through the season of giving. It can make you more aware of your choices and give you space to choose in a more thoughtful way. Mindfulness can also help you to be a little easier on yourself for being human should you not create holiday perfection or if you over-indulge.

How does Mindfulness Manage Stress?

A mindfulness practice can help you step away from the fire, mentally and emotionally, and practice the power of pause – of taking a breath when things get overheated or overwhelming. When we get triggered by an unkind or unintended nastiness, or feel that we are not up to the job of holiday bliss, pausing for a breath tends to help us take a step back and see things in a little less pressured light.  Then, we can respond in a wiser, kinder way. This takes practice, my friends, but it is interesting how quickly the attitudes around mindfulness – kindness, compassion – can make life better and ease the tension of the holidays.

With a mindful attitude, we become more aware of the results of our choices – how our choices impact how we feel, and how our lives unfold. Eventually (with practice, self-compassion and awareness) the practice of mindfulness can be a framework within which we begin to choose to feel a bit better, then make the choices that will create that result.

As it happens, this particular time of year is excellent for cultivating quietness and a meditative mindset. It may be one reason that we can feel so overwhelmed with our over-commercialized holiday – that this season is, naturally, a time of slowing down and turning inward. The winter solstice is akin to the end of the exhale for the earth – a time of dark and quiet and reflection before the next year begins. In the Celtic wheel of the year, this is a time when the veil between worlds is thin – when you can “see” or imagine your way into your future, and “see” and appreciate your past. It is a great time of the year for honoring and integrating what has unfolded for you, and for visioning what may come. Mindfulness practice can help with that.

So, What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a meditation practice, and it is also the attitudes and mindsets that a meditation practice encompasses. In mindfulness, you:

  1. Adopt a meditative mindset. We humans have the capacity to change our consciousness from our everyday distracted state to a calm, clear relaxed and open one. With this change, you focus attention inward and relax.
  2. Pay attention to what is happening moment by moment. Mindfulness is meditation while…(whatever you are doing). So, you get curious about whatever you are doing – be it walking or eating. Slowing the process down so that you can get fascinated enough that you lose yourself – you lose track of time – is mindful meditative absorption.
  3. There is a particular attitude of mindfulness called non-judgmental awareness. As you practice, you become aware of judgments like comparisons (this food is healthy therefore good, that food is less healthy, therefore not so good, for example). In mindfulness, while eating, for example, you aim for a direct, sensory relationship with what you are eating. Cultivate an attitude of kindness – toward yourself and others.

How can I Practice Mindfulness this Holiday?

There are limitless ways to practice through this particular season.

Here are just few ideas:

Start or re-charge your morning meditation practice. If you are just beginning, start with just 5 or 10 minutes to sit in a quiet place, with music or not, and get quiet. You can focus your attention on your breathing – on the expansion of the inhale, and letting go of the exhale.  Alternatively, you can focus on your thoughts – noticing your thoughts as they arise, label them “just thoughts” and let them float away.

Practice mindfulness meditation while eating.

Practicing mindful eating can help you explore your sensual relationship with food as well as your hunger and satiety (fullness) indicators. When I see people eat more of their bites as a mindfulness meditation practice, they begin to recognize that their eating patterns are tied more to external signals – things like getting home from a stressful day of work or seeing one of the endless food-porn ads on TV. Over time, the practice of mindful eating tends to help people tune in more deeply to their internal guidance system with regard to hunger, fullness and how much food is enough.

Here’s my post on how that can unfold.

Mindful Eating: The Practice of Eating Better 

It’s difficult to practice mindful meditation while socializing – meditation just doesn’t work that way! But, you can be mindful of your breath, mindful of something kind you would like to say to someone or practice appreciation of your friends and family. With regard to food, can you simply practice what I call the power of pause – and take in the visual beauty of the holiday food?

Another practice you might play with this year is the mindful practices of kindness and of contentment. How might you be kind to yourself and others through this season? Is there something that you do, or way you are through the holidays, that doesn’t really serve you anymore?

In yoga contentment is a practice – one of my wise teachers used to say “Try less”. What a great motto for life!

Can we practice – intentionally – being content with things as they are right now – in their perfect imperfection.

References

  1.  Olson, Kayloni et al, Strategies to manage weight during the holiday season among US adults: A descriptive study from the National Weight Control Registry.  Obesity Science and Practice. 2021 Apr; 7(2): 232–238.
Quickeners Podcast Episode 4: Not Your Fault. Now What?

Quickeners Podcast Episode 4: Not Your Fault. Now What?

In psychology there the idea that “it’s not your fault that you…”. We did not personally create many of the dysfunctional parts of our life. Many of our struggles are rooted in early events and our of our control.

But that’s not the end of the conversation of change. In yoga philosophy, not your fault is only part of (half of?) the conversation. The other part is – now what? Once you realize that you didn’t create these situations, one option is to take responsibility to clean it up anyway because it will likely make your life better to do so.

This dichotomy and the tension in the dichotomy is an aspect of life – it’s the dance of action & embodiment, of being & doing, of masculine & feminine, Shakti & Shiva. In yoga philosophy we need both – we need to accept that it’s not our fault, yet we have the capacity to shift, renew, embody our own experience.

In this episode I’ll tell stories and give examples, and then a 3-step process to navigate from doing to being.

Begin a Yoga Practice: Tips for a Happy Launch

Begin a Yoga Practice: Tips for a Happy Launch

Thinking of adding yoga practice to your lifestyle? Lucky you! The first exposure of yoga is a profound experience (but for those who have a poor first match, a decidedly not-so-profound).
Here are some tips for what you can do to increase your odds of having an enjoyable and beneficial first experience as you begin a yoga practice.

1. Know yourself.

Your age, fitness level, and relative interest in physical or spiritual development will all influence your best class choice. If you are 50 and not in great shape, a level 2 Ashtanga class may be stressful and painful enough to turn you away from yoga forever. A gentle Kripalu class, however, may start you on the path to actually enjoying the Ashtanga class once you have some experience under your belt.

2. Start slow. 

Choose a class that seems easy and doable first, and then progress to more strenuous styles or more advanced classes after you have learned a few basics. Learning the basics of how the body works in yoga, and how to do postures safely as you move deeper, is essential to being able to sustain a long-term practice. Please don’t skip that step! Many studios offer a series of basic classes.

3. Learn a little yoga lingo. 

If you are young and fit, more active styles of yoga may be a great introduction to the practice. These include Ashtanga, Bikram, Vinyasa, and Power styles. If you are older or less physically active, begin with Kripalu, gentle Hatha (usually a blend of styles ), Viniyoga, or another gentler style. Yin yoga and Slow-flow yoga tend to be deep and meditative with longer holdings. If you enjoy an intellectual approach, you may enjoy the Iyengar style with its precise alignment and detail. Kundalini yoga features chanting and song, lots of fiery breathing, and postures which can be scaled up or down to match your physical ability. Ananda, Shivananda, and Integral yoga tend to feature spiritual development more than postures. You will, however, likely hear some yoga philosophy in any style of yoga, depending on the background and preferences of your teacher.

4. Chat with your teacher. 

Here are a list of questions, excerpted from my book Every Bite Is Divine, (p 140), that will help you get to know your teacher better:

  • What type of yoga do you teach?
  • Do you work with individuals with medical issues or special needs?
  • How long have you been studying yoga?
  • How long have you been teaching?
  • Do you have students like me (e.g., unfit, overweight, disabled, or with other issues) in your classes?
  • Do you do individual instruction?
  • How much does that cost and what would I get out of that?

5. If the first match doesn’t work, try try again.

Don’t be discouraged if you do not enjoy your first class. Try several before giving up your quest.
Here is an excerpt from Every Bite Is Divine (p 58) on beginning a yoga practice:

Before launching a new health regimen, talk it over with your physician. If you have an existing medical condition, work with your health team to adapt this work to honor your medical needs.
Professional yoga instruction is recommended for beginners. Wear loose, comfortable clothing that does not inhibit movement for practice. Find a quiet space large enough to stand with wide legs and to move your arms in all directions. A towel or yoga mat and a cushion or blanket can help make you more comfortable.
Principles for safe yoga practice include moving slowly and with awareness, maintaining smooth, easy breathing through the nose unless otherwise instructed, and not straining to achieve a position. Your yoga practice is a time to pay attention to your physical abilities and limitations and to make compassionate adjustments accordingly.
Please note that there are several types of yoga postures not recommended for an overweight body just beginning to practice. For example, inversions (going upside-down) facilitate the cleansing processes of the body, which is of particular benefit to those with hypo-digestion (slow digestion in relation to appetite) and the resulting buildup of body mass, toxins, and so forth. But the primary inversions of yoga—headstand and shoulder stand—can be injury-inducing for beginners with excess body weight and low muscle strength. So, if you are overweight, especially if you are not regularly physically active, you may need to adjust postures in order for them to be safe and beneficial. But, no matter who you are, each asana (posture) may be done safely with skillful adjustments. Working with a skilled instructor will help you learn how to make inversions and every other yoga posture safe and beneficial. Enjoy!  It requires awareness and an attitude of taking your time to cultivate a beneficial practice.
If you are not regularly physically active, begin slowly so that you prevent injuries related to overdoing it. One yoga principle says that practicing for 10 minutes every day is preferable to practicing for 3 hours once a week. It’s showing up for regular daily practice that holds the magic.
A yoga practice usually contains a period of centering or settling down and turning your awareness inward, warming up or preparing the body for practice, a period of asana (physical postures) with pranayama (awareness to breath and energy movement), and relaxation/integration. There is, however, no “recipe” for a practice, and the elements listed often blend together. A period of meditation often follows a yoga practice.

May you have a life-long yoga practice that leads to happiness, health and your own true self.

Namaste.

Holiday Health Recovery

Holiday Health Recovery

Holiday Health Recovery by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com
How is your winter holiday unfolding? If you’ve participated enthusiastically in the bacchanal this year, it’s not too late to hop on a little holiday health recovery.
This year, I tried something that felt a little like swimming against the current – improving my level of fitness through the early winter and holidays.  I always have a special place in my heart for people who take Kripalu nutrition programs like Detox, Mindful Table/Nutrition & Cooking Immersion, or Integrative Weight Loss between Thanksgiving and the winter holidays – something about it seems brilliantly counterintuitive, but people who do take these programs later say their holidays are more mindful, less stressful and less filled with candy and rich food & drink.
My holiday fitness plan involved a “Get Fit” program at my local community center that met twice weekly until last week. Calisthenics! Running and skipping and lifting weights was the order of the day, and while I may or may not have lost a little weight (while partaking in holiday cheer), I certainly feel stronger, have more energy and feel better. I recommend launching health and fitness right before or in the middle of the holidays if that appeals to you in the least. Just keep your expectations in check. I find it manages the stress of the season, and I just feel good doing it.

Holiday health recovery ideas:

  1.  Focus on moving more. Take a walk with someone in your family or a friend, or put on your favorite music and have a disco break.
  2. Begin your sugar sabbatical (too soon? OK, you can wait till the New Year).
  3. Add good food with an extra vegetable or two.
  4. Drinking a bit more good clean warm water can move things in a good direction.
  5. Treat yourself to daily morning warm oil massage. The Ayurveda abhyanga oil massage calms and feeds frazzled nerves and is a great way to begin your recovery.

As the holiday season winds down, remember to savor the magic of this special time of year. This is the week to take stock of your hits and misses in the game that was 2016, and visioning and dreaming the year to come. May your 2017 be filled with health, happiness, and basking in the brilliant light of your own true self.
Holiday Health Recovery by Annie B Kay - anniebkay.com

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