What is it about traveling that allows our spirits to soar?
As most of you know, I have lead programs at Kripalu for about a decade and received my yoga training there more than a decade before re-landing there as faculty. I have also studied with a teacher who loves to travel, and her inspiration has enabled two trips now that I will never forget – going to Damanhur in Italy for a dandelion initiation, and to Vieques to commune with the tropics and the ensparklated biobay there. Oh, and I lived part time on Kauai, part time on Nantucket for 13 years.
When guests come to Kripalu, it is often a spiritual pilgrimage. They save, sometimes for years, to be able to come. They dream of the transformation that getting away to a beautiful place, with loving expert teachers and guides, to practice soul-work with other aspirational beings, enables. Then they come, and it happens. It happens.
So, it is a milestone for me to offer my first tropical retreat. A group of us are going to a beautiful spa in Costa Rica in February, that magical land of mountains, tropics, monkeys in the trees, cloud forests and volcanos. We are going to have fun, do some yoga, connect with the medicine gardens at the spa where we will be staying, watch monkeys dance in the trees, meditate, clear, connect and recharge.
There is something about stepping out of your life, particularly to take a spiritual journey. It’s an opportunity to look at your life, appreciate it, and fine-tune your path. Somehow, meditation is more accessible. Somehow, insight is more accessible.
I know from the years I spent on Kauai and in other tropical locales that there is an energetic activation that also happens. The simplest way to say it is that it opens your chakras – the energy organs of your body. The tropics are incredibly expansive. So, doing energy work (like we’ll be doing in Costa Rica) allows big shifts to happen. It literally gives you an opportunity to re-arrange the building blocks of who you are.
So, for those of you going with me to the south, I am honored and eager to guide you on a gentle expansion – and for a few of you I’m sure, a great bursting open into new ways of being. I am creating ceremonies and rituals to guide us, speaking with the master gardeners there to ensure we connect with the magic of Costa Rica’s magnificent plant world.
As of this writing, there is still room in our tropical retreat. Interested in joining us? Check out this page for more information and to reserve your spot.
Whether you come with us or not, arranging your spiritual life with a collection of daily practices, regular connections and occasional journeys is a excellent mix that sparks and strengthens the soul and charges the spirit. May your path have more pleasure than pain, and take you home.
Shawna Coronado’s enthusiasm is contagious in her latest offering, 101 Organic Gardening Hacks: Eco-friendly Solutions to Improve Any Garden.
She’s going on a journey to reuse, reduce, and recycle in the garden in some wonderfully inventive and a few wacky ways, and she’s inviting you to come along. Overall, this 4-color 160-page guide is a very handy and appealing one for this spring. Every time I open it I get excited, and I learn a little something new.
A hack, notes the author, is just a great idea that’s come to life. It’s the short path to the desired result. Hacks in the book are organized by type (maintenance, edible, seedlings, tools) and they really are great ideas.
Here are a couple of my favs:
- Hack 43 – Pet tender seedlings to keep them strong and stocky (put thigmotropism to work for you). I’m all over this one and had forgotten that. Grateful for the reminder.
- Hack 61 – Regrow food from cut kitchen scraps is a great reason to enjoy leeks, celery, or herbs in spring. You can plant them in your garden after dinner! Step by step instructions for increasing your likelihood of them taking are included. I really haven’t done this successfully, but am grateful that a gardener more enthusiastic than I has. I’ll try it again!
There’s a secret about gardens – they don’t have to be hard. You can practically toss seeds at the ground in spring and they will pop up amongst the weeds (and will pop up even better if you take a little time to pull the weeds). But you can keep it very very easy and simple.
That’s why I love Shawna’s new book – it’s in that spirit of whatever you can do. It’s not fancy, not precious. It’s a get-out-there and put-your-hands-in-the-earth (which I swear is a nutrient – hands in earth nutrient) sort of attitude. It’s reuse that plastic container attitude. It’s begin where you are attitude. I love me an expert who has that type of DIY (do it yourself) attitude – not what I call a guru “only I know” attitude.
Happy digging, be it containers on your windowsill, a square in your back yard, or the whole wide world.
Would you like to connect with me in the tropics in February 2018? Check out my Pura Vida Retreat. It’s filling up, so if it sounds like your cup or tea, reach out!
Vieques PR is an island about the size of Nantucket. One difference between these beautiful islands is that 50 years ago half of Vieques was cleared of long-term and indigenous residents and used as bombing target practice by the US military. Another difference is that in spite of its tortured history, Vieques is home to one of the most bioluminescent bays in the world.
I’ve just returned from Vieques with a group of herbalists and healers who went to the island to communicate with the dinoflaggelate (pyrodinium bahamenses) occupants of the bay though a Shamanic practice we share called Plant Spirit Healing.
In my newsletter this month I talked about this amazing little organism and the very specific ecology it needs to shine. The bay is calm, saltier than the ocean, and 4 different types of mangroves feed the dinoflagellates with a B-vitamin rich nutrient cocktail. There have been periods of time when the ecology got disrupted when the bioluminescence didn’t happen. I can relate!
Spending time with the these little guys, who need lots of darkness and agitation to be observed (remind you of anything?) got us all exploring what we each and collectively need, in order to bioluminate (which humans do!). What is the ecology surrounding and including you, that you need in order to shine?
As we pondered this together, and did Shamanic journeys and shared in sacred circle, we each reported what we need to be our full selves. As we shared together, something familiar (to those who hang out in spiritual spaces) happened. We bonded and elevated. It feels like falling in love. It is falling in love.
To complete our time together, we created a Shamanic landscape. This is a mandala-like natural work of art/prayer that includes all the plants each of us connected with and the flowers we enjoyed. It represents the collective energy of each of us who gathered together for this week in the sun. As you can see, it’s beautiful. We called it the flag of #Ensparkleation Nation.
In this time of chaos and uncertainty, of occupying the time beyond the tipping point (and I think this is why everyone is acting so crazy – we are going insane because we have pretty officially destroyed our planet and everyone feels that destabilization), we need to seek out connection. The ability to laugh together, to smile together, to feel connected is our medicine today.
What you can do to help the whole of humanity become creative enough to somehow solve this impossible problem or adapt to what is coming, is to find out the ecology you need to shine. For me, working healthy boundaries have been hard, painful and ultimately really excellent work (I’m working to make it less painful, and mango is helping me!).
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the darkness around you, fear not. If despair is creeping in, fear not. Fear not. You need that darkness in order to shine. You otherwise would not be seen. So, what do you need to say now? What is hyper-true for you? What do you need to do to allow that unique and perfect light inside you to shine a little brighter?
What a time for the great practices of radical non-attachment, of taking the next right action regardless of the outcome! Maybe the outcome doesn’t matter, not in this one moment.
Join me, my friend. Breathe, smile and be, and take whatever next right step feels right for you. Join Ensparkleation Nation and shine with me.
Protein is critical but most Americans overdo it. Animal-rich diets have a larger carbon footprint – not so good for the environment. In a vegan (animal-free) diet, protein is widely available. We humans love us some protein!
How do we eat in balance – healthy for us and also our beautiful planet?
Recently I was teaching with a colleague I love and respect, who mentioned that the latest thinking on protein needs is 30/30/30 (grams per day). I sat up – that’s a lot of protein and has environmental implications, I thought. At that level of intake, it’s difficult if not impossible to get adequate protein from a vegan diet. I wanted to know more. This higher recommendation is nearly twice what the NIH recommends (around 50 grams – a little more for men, a little less for women).
That sparked a months-long investigation for me, that’s not yet finished!
It sent me to pubmed, the NIH’s library of clinical research, to see where the recommendation came from. All I could find were a collection of papers from something called Protein Summit 2.0, and I’m grateful that now clinical research papers need to list funding, because there they were – many of the business interests and advocacy groups whom you’d think would support it. Sure enough, papers from that gathering recommended this higher level, with nods from the egg, beef, pork and dairy industry.
Protein is critical for health throughout the lifespan, and can be a challenge if protein needs are high, as in performance athletes and those healing from injury or disease. However, it has been well established that in a vegan diet, protein is widely available. Vegans do have to be aware of protein, and taking some with each meal and snack is a great guide – think nuts or nut butters, beans, seeds and seed butters, whole grains and most vegetables. Vegan diets with these foods at the center are some of the most healthful on the planet. The planet smiles on vegan diets too, as protein is the macro-nutrient that tends to have the greatest impact on carbon footprint.
For more on the link between protein and the environment, look at this set of graphics from the World Resources Institute, and the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eater’s Guide.
Recently a smart RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) gave me the name of a researcher she respects who has been publishing studies on this higher level of protein. I have yet to investigate, but will (and will pass my take along).
What’s an eater to do? Here are my thoughts.
- No matter what your choice – vegan, flexitarian (an eater of a whole-foods plant-based diet with a little fish, eggs and dairy), or other – have some protein – mostly plant protein – with each meal and snack.
- If eating animals helps you nutritionally, please don’t feel bad about it. Honor the life that has been given. It is the cycle of nature and life and ultimately, nearly everyone gets eaten in the end.
- Honor the fact that protein is richly sustaining, and takes more resources to create – so, resist the temptation to overdo it. It is human nature to overdo it. Protein powders likely have the greatest carbon footprint of all – could you do it with an egg or seed powder? Focus on eating the CDC-recommended 9-13 servings of plants daily. Can you have a bit more of your protein from plants without suffering nutritionally?
What about me? I am a flexitarian – I eat about 1 serving of animal per day, in the form of mostly eggs, but occasionally fish or meat. I put whole grass-fed milk in my morning coffee, and enjoy a bit of ghee (clarified butter) from grass-fed cows. I mostly hit the recommended number of plants, but left to my own devices my taste would be pure starch! So, when life is full I have to remind myself to eat plants, and do on occasion retrace my day and find myself swimming in toast, and potatoes. Then it’s time to begin again, dust myself off and chop up some – hale kale!
Here are a couple of my plant-protein-rich recipes:
I’m big on soups!
What about you – how do you honor protein and meet your needs?
This month in the newsletter I wrote about putting summer’s bounty by for colder months, and I also wrote a brief piece on how to use herbal preparations safely. Herbs, herbal tinctures, flower essences and other botanicals can be wonderful allies for healing, but like any medicinal substance, different preparations are of varying quality and composition and can cause unexpected side effects. Here are a few thoughts, and suggestions for staying safe as you explore.
The Wise Herbalist: please be safe
After last month’s newsletter on making flower essences, I had a thoughtful exchange with a reader concerned about the toxicity of buttercup. Flower essences don’t contain any of the plant matter (they operate like homeopathy), so not to worry. But, since I have been writing more about the use of herbs and interest is certainly growing, I thought I’d give you a little overview of herbal preparations and how they operate so as to keep you nice & safe as you venture into this newly revived mode of healing.
You can think of herbal healing as ranging from gross physical (food, pharmaceuticals and infusions like teas operate on this level) to more subtle mind-body like tinctures, where plant matter is placed in alcohol for a number of weeks, and plant oils, where plant matter is placed into an oil for a number of weeks and the oil then carries some plant matter. Then there are those that operate on the subtle energetic level (homeopathic preparations and flower essences, for example).
For preparations that work on the physical level, it’s important that you stick with things that are edible and medicinal. So, in the case of buttercup, you don’t want to make an infusion tea with it nor eat it, because it is not edible – it contains compounds that can be toxic. Same with tinctures – stick with medicinal and culinary herbs for these. Flower essences don’t contain actual plant matter – they are energetic preparations – you can make an essence out of any plant and you won’t have a toxicity reaction to it unless you have a reaction to the carrier (often brandy, but you can also use vinegar).
Now, let’s talk about essential oils. These are wonderful but very condensed and strong extractions of the oils of plants. I have an essential oil diffuser in my office with a stress ease mixture and it works like a charm. Essential oils can damage your skin if you apply them directly and many people are sensitive. They can also react with your skin when exposed to the sun – I’ve had an instance of this and it wasn’t pretty!
I’ve been giving herb walks at Kripalu and interest in wild edibles and herbs is really growing. If you have an interest in wild edibles, take your time and stick to things like dandelion, plantain and garlic mustard that are common and safe, then slowly and safely expand your knowledge from there. Like anything, there are things to be aware of, but if you approach nature with respect and curiosity (and a few of the many good references), it will be a wonderful exploration.
Enjoy the season in fun and deliciousness,
Annie B. Kay MS, RDN, E-RYT500
Rituals add meaning to life. Over the past several years I have been participating in plant initiation rituals. They connect me more deeply and more coherently with nature than I have ever been.
As I write this, the wheel of the year approaches the summer solstice. This day is truly filled with light. I am preparing for a shamanic plant initiation that will unfold next weekend, a gathering of plant people led by my teacher and St. John’s Wort.
Plant spirit healing is a shamanic plant medicine practice that works energetically with and through plants for health and healing. In that tradition, a plant initiation is a coming together in a ritual to honor, connect deeply with, hear and receive the healing gift of a plant. It tends to involve experiencing the plant in a variety of ways; through breath, dieting (ingesting) wonderful things prepared by the facilitator. It is done in a ceremony; with singing, fires, shamanic guided imagery journeys and the like.
I have undergone several plant initiations so far and treasure this ritual experience in my life. Perhaps it’s my Catholic upbringing, filled with ritual. I was initiated by Tulsi (the green goddess!) and left with a spirit soul sister, someone to go mystery-shopping with in the cosmos. From Tulsi I learned ageless beauty and that all of the Shakti goddesses are within me – I can learn to draw upon them when needed. I was initiated by Dandelion (the indestructible grandfather guide!) at Damanhur, the eco-spirit community in Italy, and learned steadfast resiliency and impenetrability of spirit. Now it is St. John’s, and I already have a close relationship with the bestower-of-light. I hope to burn off a bit of dross and am open to an enlightening experience!
Bless you and may you have your own nature encounter today. Tell us about it!
When I was young I worked on Bentley’s Farm in my bucolic hometown of Lyndonville, NY. Like many kids in my town, I walked down to Bentley’s to pick apples and raspberries, hoe tomatoes and plant Brussel sprouts. I sat on a contraption with seven other women (a combination of middle school girls and migrant farmers) which was dragged behind a tractor, with a tray of seedlings in front of me. A metal arm circled up between two of us, and every other one, we set the seedlings to be planted. What I remember most clearly is the exhaust and the dirt – dirt deep in my ears, in my teeth, way up my nose – you get the picture. Too, it’s one of those heavy-equipment jobs that we didn’t really think about but modern moms would probably not allow their kids to do…too dangerous. Things did get caught in those metal arms, and it was unnerving.
While I always liked cabbage, these sort of experiences in early life tend to put one off certain foods, and Brussel sprouts were one of those for me. Not until just the last couple years have I allowed myself this particular appreciation. Perhaps the smells and the relentlessness of planting who knows how many thousands of Brussel sprout plants has faded. Happy to say I now I love ’em. One of my favorite ways of serving these little lovelies is with a seasoning of local honey and a good seeded Dijon-style mustard.
Honey Mustard Brussels Sprouts
- 1/2 pound Brussel sprouts, about a dozen
- 2 Tbsp grape seed oil or ghee
- 3 Tbsp Dijon-style mustard
- 1 Tbsp local honey
- First, clean the sprouts by pulling off any yellowed leaves, and trimming the base. Rinse if needed then slice into quarters.
- Heat a large heavy skillet on medium-high, and add the oil or ghee.
- Pop the Brussel sprouts into the oil and sauté for 10-15 minutes until they reach the desired texture and done-ness (I like them al dente – with some life left in them!).
- Spoon honey and mustard into the dish and toss. Heat until the well coated and yummy.
- Serve warm, and saves well for a day or two.
Here’s the incomparable George Mateljan Foundation on Brussels Sprout Nutrition.
What’s your favorite way to eat Brussels sprouts?
May you stay warm and dry and eat well this week.
New year blessings – Annie
A Materia Medica is a library of medicine, usually botanicals. Herbal books and websites often have an area where the health and medicinal qualities of particular plants are gathered. Likewise, many cookbooks have a section that focuses on the use and perhaps benefits of particular ingredients. Herbalists and cooks have great respect for the qualities of each plant.
My recipes use whole food plant based ingredients which are naturally healthful. Certain foods and plants carry specific health and healing gifts, and by knowing who you are, and who your ingredients are, you can surround yourself with delicious foods that keep you in balance.
Over the next year, I’ll be building my materia medica of botanicals and plants with particular healing gifts. I will include a roundup of Western literature, as well as herbal and folk wisdom, and the plant-spirit energy template of the plant. Plants have so much to teach us, and we can heal so deeply from getting to know them as individuals and arranging them in choruses as recipes.
For your pleasure! Enjoy the journey!
OK folks, it’s that time again. The Scientific Report for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) is out, and it’s time for all nutritionists and foodie/activitists to dive in and weigh in. You have until early April to submit your comments.
While there is always the plus – minus of what each of us thinks the panel got right and wrong, I want to give a plug for the improvements in the process that have happened over the past decade. It’s much easier now to look behind the curtain of the recommendations and read and review the data upon which they are based. I like it! Every five years, this exercise helps me do an overview review of what the mainstream science says about food and nutrition. I encourage you, if you are interested, to check it out – at the very least, you will learn more about what the mainstream research actually says.
One of the issues in diet debates today is that many of those with an opinion don’t actually know how to evaluate evidence or don’t take the time to. There is a whole lot of junk science, tiny studies and early data out there being used as consensus and the basis for diets. That’s part of the outrage over the DGA every time they come out – a misunderstanding of what the data actually says (and what the data actually is). The committee really does need to rely on the current state of high quality literature as the basis of their recommendations, and there have been some disasters in the past when they made recommendations that seemed to be true that were later proved false or incomplete. The betacarotene story is an example (the Institute of Medicine of the NIH set the recs high, then that level was found to increase cancer risk in smokers – oops).
The problem is that well-designed studies in major scientific centers are often funded by the food industries that benefit. And we all see that the whole truth of nutrition (and life) is that the fewer packages you buy, the better off you’ll be. So, the only science taking a good look at whole nutrition available to integrative dietitian nutritionists and other foodies is often in smaller studies sometimes not as well designed. Eventually, the whole truth will come out. Unfortunately, it will come out much more slowly than if we had a free unbiased system of scientific inquiry around food and nutrition. The full true story of human nutrition is not yet told by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In an imperfect world, it’s a start.
Weaving science & wisdom
Here’s how the DGA process influences my own food and eating philosophy.
I begin by knowing what the DGAs say and understanding the research basis for them. From there, I draw from scientific integrative models like functional nutrition, traditional wisdom systems like Western herbalism and Ayurveda, a healthy respect for human intuition (mine and my client’s) and an understanding that how and what we each eat has implications not only for our own bodies but for everything around us and the earth itself.
In the end, plants are the healers, eating clean whole high quality food made with love that honors who we are and the lives we lead will take most of us through our nutritional lives in balance. If you’re not in nutritional balance, a skilled integrative dietitian nutritionist can help you get there.
So much to talk about with the DGAs. Have you reviewed the data and recommendations? What do you think?