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Cilantro: An Amazing plant

Cilantro is an plant that grows worldwide and has some amazing health benefits.  Cilantro, or Coriandrum sativum, goes by many interchangeable names.  It is a member of the parsley family, Apiaceae, which gives us a hint as to why it is often called Mexican Parsley and Chinese Parsley. The parsley-like leaves are the main part we like to eat, but the seeds of the cilantro plant are a spice called coriander; hence the Latin name Coriandrum.  Coriander is a major spice in India where it makes up one of the three base spices for creating balanced and healthy curry: 3 parts coriander, 2 parts cumin, 1 part turmeric. I like to think that the confusion in naming this wonderful plant can be seen as a tribute to its wellness benefits.  If varied cultures across the globe have all found it useful for thousands of years, I feel like its worth taking some time to learn more about it myself.

Health benefits: Ancient and modern research both seem to point to several positive benefits of cilantro. Many of those benefits have to do with improving digestion, detoxification, and helping to process carbs and sugars throughout the body. In addition to aiding in these important functions, cilantro provides many valuable vitamins, antioxidants and essential oils.

For general use at home, it is most helpful as a nutrient filled cooling summer herb. Have you ever noticed that cilantro is very often included in salsas? The leaves aid digestion and increase pungency without increasing the acid levels of the salsa. They bring cooling energetic tones and flush out the taste profile of the salsa making it healthier and tastier.

Growing and Harvesting: Here are just a few tips to get you started with growing your own. We can grow it here in central Wisconsin easily, but if that’s not of interest to you, you can always pick it up at the local supermarket. Growing cilantro yourself keeps a steady and cheap supply available all summer long.

1: Scar the seeds a bit to improve the rate of germination; their husks are quite tough.

2: Plant it in cooler areas with semi shade to slow down the speed of bolting. Hot temperatures trigger it to change its growth pattern to making seeds instead of more delicious leaves.

3: A simple plan that includes multiple sowings and regular harvest can keep your cilantro habit going all summer. Try planting cilantro every 4-6 weeks. It only takes about 2 weeks after planting before you can harvest the leaves, so trim the plant heavily every 14-10 days to keep it providing lots of fresh leaves.

4: Most common pests will leave it alone, so the leaves are often very healthy and easy to prep for eating. The only issue is that they are often dusty and collect dirt, but that is easily remedied with washing.

Reflective Analysis: Understanding the Theory

One of the tenants of holistic health states that we are whole.  We are one unit, all together, with all of our specialized functions and diverse aspects of mind/body/spirit connecting and overlapping. However, the ‘whole’ of us is complicated beyond the capacity for us to know completely.  It’s much like astronomers telling us that there is a unique galaxy in the heavens for every grain of sand on a beach.  How can we possibly comprehend such vastness or complexity within ourselves? Well, the good news is that, just as we really don’t need to know the nature of the 75th galaxy to the right of mars, we can get by without all the overwhelming details of our own physiology and mind. While we don’t need to know all the details, it is helpful to know enough about our inner complexities to stay healthy and to keep us in harmony with our nature. But even that much requires methods of analysis that summarize our complexities and give us insights into our health that are accessible. One such method of summarization is called reflective analysis.

So what does this reflection idea really mean? It’s pretty simple. You are one whole unit. What happens to any part of you, happens to all of you.  If an emotional stress happens to you, say you have angry words with someone, then that emotional event sends changes through all of you.  And while the anger may originate as an emotion, it quickly becomes a physiological response: hormones released and increased heart rate etc…. Those words sit in your mind causing reactive thoughts and associations that change our future behaviors. Thus, I can find the emotional stress of the fight reflected throughout all of you – in your physical body, in your emotional space, and in your thoughts. You are one complete whole and thus the altercation happened to all parts of you.

Reflective analysis takes a cumulative snapshot of all the things happening to you and allows us to see reflections of those events in one part of the body. For example, by mastering the details of how different stresses send reflections onto your tongue, you can use tongue analysis to gain insight into the state of your health. The physical appearance of your tongue can tell you about the state of your organs.  You can see the health of your organs if you study what the reflections mean! This makes deep insights about our health as accessible as sticking your tongue out and looking into the mirror.

Some parts of our bodies are better at showing reflections than others. Thus, systems of analysis were only developed for those body parts that impart information easily. Next week we will explore some details of tongue and facial analysis to give more specific examples of how reflections are used.

Reflective Analysis: Playing With Details

Using reflections to analyze our state of health has been effectively used for thousands of years. Before we had MRI imaging and comprehensive blood tests, we had to rely on our own senses to gather data about our health. Today I thought we could look into the theory a bit deeper as a means to show just how strongly your heath reflects throughout your being.  We will use the tongue and face for our examples because both of these body parts are available for you to examine in your mirror every day.

Reflection Fact 1: Body parts that share similar functions and/or share close proximity reflect each other more readily. For example, the face reflects the emotional body very well because our facial muscles are directly involved in the communication of those emotions; they share connections of function. We have all heard of laugh lines and worry lines. Thinking deeper about this, you can see how a smile pulls our face muscles up.  If that pattern of smiling is repeated over and over the creases of that habitual emotion start to become etched into our face.  By the same token, stress and worry create lines in our skin above our forehead creating that wrinkled brow.  They also show energetic depletion in the form of black color around the eyes.  And while the two are not always connected, it’s a common sight to see someone stressed out from worry that looks pale, has deep creases in their forehead from intense worry, and has dark sunken circles around their eyes.

I like talking about facial analysis because it shows the reflections between layers of our being. The lines on our face reflect the habits of our emotion.  Very often we like to separate emotional health from physical or mental health. The emotional habits written on our face show us how inseparable mind/body/spirit/emotion are.

Reflection Fact 2: Coloration is one indicator to look for in your analysis. Healthy skin has a narrow range of hues. Typically when our skin hue becomes overly red, white, pale, or yellow it all indicates various dysfunctions or depletions. Take a look at your tongue in the mirror every day.  If there is lots of white buildup on the tongue it indicates stagnation in the GI tract. Overly red or purplish coloration on the tongue indicates you have, or on your way to having, an inflammatory condition.

If you are curious in learning more about facial or tongue analysis, I highly recommend finding some good books.  The truth is that these sciences are quite robust; I have a 350 page book just on tongue analysis sitting in front of me. The general public can find great use in them without complete mastery, and the best part is that all you need is some consistency of study and a mirror to gain access to some deep information on the state of your health.

Reflective Analysis: Foot Reflexology

To finish up our discussion on reflections within the body we will examine foot reflexology. For those who do not know what foot reflexology is, it is basically a specialized foot massage that was developed in the US during the 1930’s. What separates it from regular massage is the intention of whole body therapy through the reflections we have been talking about and massage that often includes more repetitions and deeper pressure points over the entire foot.

The ‘map’ that shows what parts of the foot reflect to different parts of the body retains the actual layout of the organs as they rest near and on top of one another. Foot reflexology is a great example to showcase Fact 3: spatial relationships are often retained in the reflected body part.   There is an easy way to see what I am talking about.  Have a friend stand ten feet away from you while you sit on a chair in front on them.  Lift your foot so that your toes line up with their head and your heal lines up with their hips.  The head reflects to the toes, the chest reflects to the ball of the foot.  The abdomen is reflected in the arch, and the hips reflect in the heel.

So, when massaging the foot, redness, tightness, numbness, or pain with the application of pressure indicates dysfunction from the body being reflected onto the feet.  When there is pain in the ball of the foot it can indicate lung, rib, or heart issues are present.  Pelvic issues can reflect to pain near the heel and ankle and so on.  The system of foot reflexology uses massage of the feet to stimulate the reflected area and thus help your body heal. This idea of using the reflections to send healing signals into the body instead of just analyzing the reflections is very consistent with the tenants of holism.

The last point I want to make we will call Fact #4: Intuition is a part of most reflective analysis. We started our series by talking about needing shortcuts that summarize vast amounts of information. Intuition is in essence unconscious processing of vast amounts of information. Allowing intuition to bypass the need for us to think through all the information that reflections are giving us allows us to get to the conclusions we need that we may not be able to with just our conscious mind alone. Thus, finding someone who has experience, deep knowledge of the system, and strong intuition can make reflexology, or any reflective analysis, startlingly accurate and powerful. Without any intuition, it can be just a nice foot massage.

Remember: You are whole.  All parts of you are interconnected. What happens to one part of you happens to all of you.

Ten Minute Cool Down

Many of us like to push ourselves in the garden and during weekend outdoor projects. When we do, it is important to balance those stresses effectively to maintain our long term vitality. The following three practices, when combined, I like to call the 10 Minute Cool Down. They will synergistically work to physically balance your temperature, rehydrate you, calm your mind and refresh your body.

1: A proper drink. I suggest room temperature cucumber infused water. It’s easy to make, just put two or three slices of fresh cut cucumber into your water glass, wait 3 minutes and enjoy. Cucumbers provide some vitamins and electrolytes, but the main reason I choose to use them is because of their energetic cooling properties.  If you are looking for electrolyte replenishment as well, such as while you are in the middle of a very physical afternoon’s work, then squeeze a quarter of a lemon into your cucumber water and add a small pinch of salt.

2: Clothing and Shade Matter: Both the head and the feet are two fantastic places of releasing heat. While we are working, hats protect us from the sun’s rays and help us sweat and shoes protect our feet.  But, when resting, they only help to trap heat inside your body. So get those shoes, socks, and hats off while you rest.  This means finding a shady spot, or going indoors for a bit. What you are looking for is a relatively quiet space where you can rest, sip some cucumber water and indulge in a breathing practice.

3: Breathing: Shitali Kriya is a cooling and cleansing breath practice that any child can do, provided they can roll their tongue. By taking advantage of the cooling effects of evaporation, you can create a breath pattern that allows heat to escape from the body via the tongue on our exhalation. Begin by focusing your mind on creating an even breath pattern. By this I mean your inhalation and exhalation have the same length.  Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.  As you breathe out, curl your tongue into a long tube to maximize the amount of air flow over the tongue and thus maximize the amount of evaporation. Take five full minutes to practice shitali kriya. Sip water if your mouth gets too dry.  Keep your mind focused on the breath throughout both the inhale and exhale.

Shitali Kriya is the icing on the cake of our cooling practice. It focuses your mind and quiets any stressful thoughts that would otherwise keep your body tense while you are resting. This little extra bit of mental focus on a breathing practice really provides serious dividends for those wanting a ‘power rest.’

Cold Maceration Of Peppercorns and Almonds

A traditional way to prepare several herbs and spices is by soaking them in a small glass of water overnight. This method of preparation is called a cold maceration. When we do this, we are either looking to soften some of the harder to digest spices and nuts or we are looking to pull some of the plant compounds into the water like a tea, but without using heat. Typically the process is very quick. Place your herbs or spices into a cup and pour tap or bottled water over it. Cover with a small plate to keep airborne particles from falling into your cup while it sits on the counter overnight.

There are many ways to prepare herbs and spices. Many herbs have compounds that are harder to extract and thus require more intense processes than just a cold soak. Various levels of heat are often used, but crushing, pressing, oils, and alcohol extractions are sometimes needed to get at the plant compounds we seek. Cold macerations work simply, gently, and require little in the way of tools or preparation time.

1: Peppercorn Maceration – Pepper is a pungent spice that warms, dries, and stimulates digestion. By soaking five whole peppercorns overnight in water you make them easier to digest. Drink the liquid and swallow the peppercorns whole like a vitamin. Use them to help burn up mucus or to awaken a sluggish digestive system. Sometimes I will do this when I know I am going out for pizza. All that cheesy goodness is a bit hard to process. I will prepare my peppercorns in the morning and drink them before going out that night. This is great for reducing mucus caused by colds as well. It is also wonderful for stimulating digestion if you are overeating. A few peppercorns help to diminish some of the negative effects of overindulgence by enhancing our body’s ability to process all that excess food.

2: Almond Maceration – Almonds help to nourish, replenish, and ground us. Almonds are high in protein, zinc, and good fats and if you’re interested in learning more about their benefits they are often recommended for calming the nervous system, sexual depletion, smooth muscle health, and as a healthy snack option for weight loss. They are excellent for building up fluids in the body, including male sexual fluids. In that vein they are often recommended for men that are trying to conceive.  The practice would be to soak three to five almonds overnight and then eat them as a daily supplement to replenish sexual fluids specifically, but also to nourish and restore the body in general.

Both of these examples are very forgiving to beginners. Give them a try just for fun!

Medical Theories Of The World

There are many healing systems used throughout the world.  Medicine as we typically know it here in the west is called Allopathic Medicine.  It has its own assumptions, theories, and modes of practice.  But, it isn’t the only system of medicine out there. It’s good to know that medicine is a universal human need and that we have successfully created many different systems and theories to help restore health and wellness.

Medical systems tend to develop within cultural frameworks. Every tribe and culture throughout history had its own wise women, shamans, and the like.  Today, three of the most widely practiced medical systems are from three great cultures: Ayurveda from India, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM,) and Allopathic Medicine from the west. Even within our western culture, we have sprouted homeopathic medicine, naturopathic medicine, chiropractic medicine and several others.

All of these types of medicine stand apart from each other in some of their major premises.  Ayurveda and TCM both believe that disease is a result of imbalances within the individual.  They have very different language and practices, but they share the assumption that health can be restored by bringing the body back into balance energetically.  Allopathic medicine uses germ theory, genetic theory, and deficiency theories to halt disease and its symptoms.

Let’s take insomnia for example. One of homeopathy’s primary theories states that ‘like energy cures like symptom.’  So a homeopathic cure for insomnia where your mind, ‘just won’t shut off,’ would be a very dilute dose of something that stimulates your mind, like coffee. This is very different from a chiropractic theory of spinal alignment, which would work to adjust subluxations in your spine in order to calm the nervous system and reduce insomnia.  TCM might look to balance your gall bladder or spleen meridians with acupuncture using meridian theory.

While we can’t define all the differences here, we can get a sense that there are very real and substantial differences between medical systems.  Those differences can result in very different prescriptions from your doctor for the same health problem. Many times I have seen someone switch systems, from allopathic to alternative or vice versa, to great personal benefit. Their new doctor had different foundational assumptions that created a different framework of medicine, different diagnosis and different prescriptions for cure.

Caution: We often get into the ‘Ford vs. Chevy’ argument in regards to medical systems. While we may be firmly entrenched in our own beliefs, we must recognize that all of these different viewpoints on health and disease are being used in the real world.  They have all been around for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Caution:  Finding great practitioners who practice all these different medical theories… that’s another issue altogether.

A Stretch For Gardeners

For those who like to garden, it’s a very exciting time of year.   We are ready and waiting to get out there.  Our plans are getting put together and supplies are starting to get ordered.  However, how many of us are thinking about preparing our bodies for garden season?  Now is the time to begin a stretch and strengthen routine to prepare for all that digging and weeding?  In general we need to prepare a routine that provides full body relief, but includes a focus on our particular areas of weakness.  Begin by asking yourself where you felt sore from last year’s experiences.  Those areas need extra work to prepare. Building a 15 minute daily routine will give you much more pleasure in the garden this year.  I guarantee it.

The most important parts of your body to strengthen are your core and the back of your shoulder blades.  Having a strong core will help support your back as a whole.  It will also allow you to lift and hoe without straining the back.   Strengthening your upper back eases the pressures from always leaning forward.  Working with a rowing machine might go a long way.

Try adding in some stretches that open your hips.  While sitting in a chair, cross one leg over the other and then lean forward at various angles to stretch your glute and low back muscles. Leg tightness causes all manner of hip and back inflexibility, so take some time to stretch your hamstrings and quadriceps, too.  Don’t forget to stretch your wrists and hands as well.  Below are details for one stretch that should help almost all of the areas of your body I have mentioned, but you will need to tailor a routine for your exact needs and capacity.

Angle Pose (Konasana):  Stand with feet together, hip width apart.  Step one leg forward.   The further you step forward, the more strenuous the pose will be.  Inhale and pull both shoulders up to your ears. Exhale and pull your shoulder blades together and grasp your hands together behind your back.   Inhale and pull your arms down while holding the shoulder blades pulled back so that you are stretching the chest and toning the back.  Keep both legs straight as you lean forward.  Typically we tend to tilt our torso as we do this, but work to square your shoulders and hips.  Lean forward until you are perpendicular to the floor.  Hold the stretch by breathing strongly with your core belly muscles until you fatigue.

Caution: As with all general wellness advice, not all stretches or fitness advice is suitable to every person.  When in doubt, talk to a professional at your gym, yoga studio, or therapy clinic.

Ego Pt. 3: The Four Aspects Of Your Mind

We have been talking about the Ego, but did you know that there are other aspects of the human mind? Maintaining a balanced working relationship between all four major aspects is important to our happiness and success in life.

The first aspect of mind is the clerk.  The clerk handles all of the secretarial work.  It has no major opinions or agenda and acts a bit robotically to file, sort, and recall information.  When our clerk begins to fail us we can’t remember details, we lose words or forget to keep appointments.  A healthy clerk keeps us sharp and effecient.

The second aspect of mind is the unconscious mind.   It is referred to as the repository and the metaphor of a vast ocean is commonly used to describe it.  This storehouse of sensory data can be accessed by the clerk.  It also sends impulses and impressions out on its own that can influence our dreams and our thoughts.  The unconscious is powerful, immense, and misunderstood.  Both repeitition and strong emotion increase the power of unconscious impulses.  Working with our addictions, habits, and desires helps to slow down the power of these impressions so that they don’t overwhelm us and carry us away into unhelpful directions.

The third aspect of mind is our ego, the self-appointed boss. We have already covered how our loud, bold, and myopic ego can get itself into trouble.  At its core, ego’s perspective is what creates all of those problems.  Ego sits facing the physical world.  Its self identifications are all based on sensory data alone, and not on our deeper self.

The fourth aspect of our mind is the mystic, or the enlightened mind.  This is the part of our mind that is thought of as being able to listen to our deeper intuitive impulses.  Where ego faces solely forward, listening to the physical world, the mystic listens to both our senses and our more subtle, more connected, self.  The personality of the mystic is one of queit as opposed to the ego’s bluster.  Thus it is said that the soft voice of wisdom coming from our mystic is often overshadowed and overridden by the rowdy voice of ego.

What does it mean?  Happiness and wellness are better achieved via a healthy relationship between all four aspects of our mind.  With all four players working effeciently and as a team, we can accomplish our life’s purpose with grace.  Looking for details on how to nourish and strengthen each aspect of mind?  There are more details than we can get into today.  However, the best practice for nourishing all four aspects of mind together is meditation.  If you would like to learn more about meditation, ask someone who practices regularly or join one of our yoga classes or meditation groups.

Herbs: A Natural Remedy

Many people choose to take herbal remedies.  One of the main reasons people go with them is because they are natural.  But, what pros and cons does that term ‘natural’ come with?  I have read several papers arguing the pros and cons of herbs, and there are a lot of key points in a complete discussion.  We can begin that discussion by examining the word synergy.

Synergy can roughly be defined as, ‘individual components working better through their cooperation and association than they would apart.’  An Herbal remedy can sometimes have hundreds of unique plant compounds in a capsule, or a properly prepared tea.  Proponents for herbal remedies argue that when taken in their naturally occuring concentration and mixture, there are many benefits you gain compared to simply isolating the active ingredient. While we don’t have room for specifics here, many times there are naturally occuring buffers and catalysts that are found in the herbal mixture that turn on or off inside the body depending on our internal chemical balance.  These often act to soften the intensity of the herbs reaction on our body or to enhance its effectiveness when the proper conditions are there.  Many people describe this as a ‘natural intelligence’ that the herbs have to interact approapriately with our bodies.

To be fair, going ‘natural’ also has a few potential drawbacks that are important to know about too.  One such is that because an herbal remedy is taken from a living plant, the health of that plant and the health of the soil it was grown in can make a drastic difference in the potency and effectiveness of the herbs you buy.  Wine enthusiasts talk constantly about the climate and weather effecting the grapes used to make their wine.  They know how strongly these factors effect the flavor of the final product.  The same considerations affect the potency of the herbs.  Its incredibly rare that you can look at a bottle of herbs and learn anything about the growing conditions that the herbs in your capsule grew under.

Herbs have been used effectively for thousands of years, but we haven’t come close to scientifically validating all the effects their ingredients and their combinations have on our bodies.  The natural process is full of wisdom that we have yet to understand, but it also has much less precision and certainty.  These facts turn some people towards herbs and others away.

Remember: Herbal remedies are taken from living material.  When you choose to use them, you should know that you are getting all the pros and the cons of working with a ‘natural’ ingredient.

Caution:  Just because an herb is a natural ingredient doesn’t mean that the entire capsule you are taking is natural.  Pay attention to the fillers and other ingredients listed on the bottle.

Ego Pt. 1: The I Maker

Ego can be described as self identity.  It is the “I maker.”  Its job is to deferentiate between you and the not you.  For many people the ego is taken in negative light.  However, the ego plays very necessary roles in our psyche.  Like all things, when it is misunderstood and allowed to fall into negative patterns, it can be a cause of significant  misery and illness for us.

Here are two negative patterns that an unchecked ego can fall into.  First is a broad one, called false identification.  Here ego identifys itself with a label or an event.  I am an accountant, I am a badger fan, etc….  While many of these identifications can be helpful to us as we move through life, there are many ways that this identification can create serious problems for us.

A second tendency of ego is that it doesn’t care about positive or negative self image, all it cares about is strengthening its own self identifications.  What this means is that as long as ego sees itself as more unique, then ego doesn’t care if you are a good or bad person.  Its job is to be the “I Maker” and that is ALL that it cares about.  Thus many people say they are the “worst person in the world” at something.

If we allow ego to dominate our mind unchecked, then our self identity can begin to become negative.  This can happen easily if we allow ourselves to falsely identify with a negative incidence.  One example could be when you lied to a friend.  Then ego continues to identify with that event and bolster its unique strong image of itself by labeling itself as the most horrible lying friend in the world.

Many people come to me saying, I want to be well.  They are told to do a stretch or change something in their lifestyle.  They say, “Ugg, I can’t!  It’s just something I’m not willing to do.”  That resistence is coming from their ego.  We can all limit the carbs in our diet if that is truly what we need to do.  Our ego fights it and fights it, not because its best for our health, but because it is best for our ego.  The resistence to doing the right stretches is simply ego clinging to its self identifications.

If we think about this a little bit, I am sure you will come to realize that there are hundreds of times in your recent past where internal resistence has held you back or self identity has determined your course of action.  This is especially true when we need to do something for our health that we don’t like or don’t identify with.  “You want me to eat vegetables?”

Next week we will talk about practices that help soften ego’s dominance over our habits.

Ego Pt. 2: Identifying Ego’s Influence

The first practice in preventing ego from dominating our thoughts is to identify when our thoughts are stemming from our ego.  The good news is that there are several cues that can bring awareness to when this is happening.

Ego speaks in two primary terms:  I like/dislike and I am /am not.   It uses these terms to bolster its self identity. For our purposes, we want to use these two sets of terms as red flags.  “I like spaghetti,” is an ego driven thought.  RED FLAG.  “I am a better person than that,” is an ego driven thought.  RED FLAG.  Any time that a thought includes either of these two primary “I making” terms you know that it is clouded by our ego.  By first developing a habit of witnessing these red flag thoughts we can come to realize how often our ego is directing our thoughts.

Gaining awareness of how we reaction to ego driven thoughts is our next level of practice.  It is startling to realize how strongly they affect our behavior.  To begin, it is easiest to focus on how you react when your ego’s desire is thwarted. When you dislike something, but have to do it anyway, there is very often some sort of little tantrum our ego creates to avoid its ‘I dislikes.’ We all know what a child’s tantrum looks like; floor pounding, pouting, and yelling.  What does your “tantrum” look like? Do you run from any situation that you dislike? Do you throw up walls of attitude like disdain, fear, or arrogance?  Often we project anger outwards onto external people or things to avoid doing what we dislike.

When you get real with yourself, you can find that we all have behaviors that stem from our ‘I dislike” and “I am not” driven thoughts.  I am not saying that all of these thoughts or habit patterns are negative, but by having an honest conversation with yourself, you can access some negative habit patterns that may be keeping you from getting healthier.

If you get good at following the thread of thoughts and behaviors you can move onwards to the likes and positive ego boosting thoughts.  Do this after you have spent some time with the negatives because they are a little harder to catch.  There is a little less intensity and drama because ego is getting what it wants.

The main point of these two contemplation practices revolve around the idea that ego isn’t the only part of our mind, nor is ego’s opinion as important as it insists.  Once we can identify something as stemming from ego, then we can begin to place checks and balances on our ego’s dominance over our thoughts and habits.  What other parts of our mind are there?  We will dig into that next.