I made another batch of Kitchari for tonight’s dinner. Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to detoxify and restore gut health, kitchari is basically a vegetarian stew with moong dal (split mung beans with the skin removed), basmati rice and vegetables. A 1 cup serving is only 300 calories. It’s also packed with protein, dietary fiber, and minerals. Because kitchari is rich in dietary fiber, it gives you a sense of fullness that lasts so you’re not craving more food an hour later, which makes it a perfect food for people trying to lose weight. It’s also very easy to digest. If your belly is still bloated from that pizza that was served at today’s lunch meeting, a bowl of this will send you to bed feeling good instead of needing to pop an antacid.
I follow the recipe from Kate O’Donnell’s The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook. You can choose from a long list of recommended vegetables, but tonight’s concoction has cauliflower, spinach, leeks, and artichoke. After simmering the mixture, I warmed some cumin, coriander and fennel seed in ghee to add some spicy flavor to the stew. Now I’ll simply add a few sprigs of raw cilantro as a garnish, wait till my husband gets home and then we’ll sit out on the back patio and enjoy this simple and healthy meal. Preparing kitchari took less than an hour and is much more nutritious than anything we would get dining out.
I am excited to announce the release of my new book, Fitter Than Ever at 40 and Beyond.
I know fitness and how the right balance of training, mindful exercise and good nutrition can transform your life. Rewrite your script of making resolutions and quitting them and start living a healthy lifestyle today. Fitter Than Ever offers an easy-to-follow activity and eating plan and is packed with Slim for Life Secrets to keep you on-track and motivated. This book will make your journey of losing weight, exercising and eating healthy fun and empowering.
The e-books are available now. A paperback print edition will be available by April 30.
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Many people open the medicine cabinet the instant a joint or muscle aches or the stomach hurts. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications wreak havoc on the body. What helps your joint pain might make your gut scream hours later. Plants and herbs such at turmeric, ginger, and triphala, can offer relief without unpleasant side effects. I have been amazed how much better I feel now that I’m integrating them into my daily diet. Studies show they can improve health and reduce long-term suffering. It is very important to consult with your physician before taking herbs or stopping any current medications.
Three of my favorite herbs are turmeric (curcumin is the active ingredient), ginger, and triphala. I take triphala almost daily in tablet form and make tea with a blend of powdered turmeric and ginger.
Turmeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory and can be taken in a tea or in warm oil when joint or muscle pain strikes in lieu of taking medication. Some studies have even shown it can help alleviate arthritic pain and is protective against cancer.
Ginger is the perfect remedy for an upset stomach. It can ease nausea, morning sickness, and even reduce the misery of motion sickness and menstrual cramps. People often report it reduces post-exercise muscle soreness. Studies show the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger often reduces painful symptoms of osteoarthritis when taken internally or a paste including ginger is applied to the painful area. Ingesting ginger regularly may also lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of cancer and Alzheimers.
Triphala contains three fruits found in India: Amalaki, Bibhitaki, and Haritaki. It is a gentle bowel cleanser that helps improve digestion, reduce stomach discomfort and contributes to regular bowel movements. Because it helps with food absorption, taking it regularly while eating a well balanced diet can ensure the body is getting adequate nourishment. Many regular users of triphala report healthy weight loss once their digestive systems get to a state of balance. Triphala is also a powerful antioxidant, which helps protect the body from free radical damage. Triphala can be taken in a tea or in tablet form.
Before going beyond sprinkling some of these on your meals, consult with a trusted physician or licensed naturopath. That person can ensure whatever herbs you’re taking won’t adversely interfere with any medications your taking. Once you’ve been given the green light, you’ll find your body will respond much better to natural herbs. They improve health instead of simply putting a temporary bandaid on symptoms.
In June, I traveled to Big Corn Island, Nicaragua for a 200 hour Ashtanga Yoga Certification course with It’s YogaNica. I joined Ainsley, Jon, Camilla, Rachel, and Megan for the three week course, which was taught by instructors Edwin and Kelli. I wanted to be able to add yoga to my fitness teaching credentials because I want to live more mindfully and help others do so as well. Every day, I practiced and lived the life of a yogi. Learning with the amazing and gifted students in the group was amazing. All of them are such special people and I will cherish the time I spent with them for the rest of my life. I also enjoyed daily early morning swims in the ocean. I swam during the sunrise and while most of the island was still sleeping. Those swims brought me so much serenity and peace. Swimming to me is meditation and in the calm, warm sea, I swam along, admiring colorful fish and coral and the occasional manta ray or nurse shark.
Over the course of the training, I became very in-tune with myself, learned how to better discipline my mind, and learned how to master most of the poses and to teach them effectively. I walked away with so much more than a yoga certificate.
I left feeling that I had begun a journey into understanding myself and my life’s purpose. In a different place, I began to break away from some of the samskaras or patterned thought processes that have been stealing my joy and keeping me from growing for too many years. It is very hard to break away from these patterned thoughts. I have many of these. Thoughts that I don’t fit in, I’m not successful enough, that I’m a chronic headache sufferer. I want to see myself as a swimmer, a yogi, an author, a compassionate and loving person with a sense of adventure. I want to feel content with my life wherever I am. That’s who I was during my yoga class in Nicaragua. After my return from Nicaragua, I saw myself starting to fall back into old patterns of thinking and it took some time to figure out how to break down those walls. I will share some of those thoughts in blog posts and in my memoir, Journey to a Better Life, to be published in 2017. One of the most important I qualities that has been imperative to my learning journey is patience. Changing thought patterns is difficult. I didn’t develop them overnight – they have been running wild in my head for years -and it takes time to change them. I have found for me the best mechanisms to break negative thought patterns are daily yoga practice and travel. I can reset my mind with meditation or yoga practice and I can often reset my mind with a change of scenery as well. In three days, I will travel to Mykonos, Greece to teach yoga classes for three weeks. There will be no past to confine me and day by day I will write the future I want to live. I will go to this far away place knowing that the people in the world that love me most understand my journey and are in my heart no matter how many miles separate us.
Ever since I’ve starting playing music in classes from my iPhone or iPad, I’ve been frustrated over being stuck with the original beats-per-minute. For years, I would pitch CDs up or down to get the count just right for different classes. For this reason, I found myself sticking to my old CDs whenever possible. When one of my work places removed the CD player once and for all, I knew I had to get more in-the-know about Apps. So I researched Apps that might help with this issue and decided to download BeatStep (cost is 12.99). I had some trouble finding it because another company, Arturia, has a program with the same name at the top of the search engines and is apparently designed for music studios rather than fitness instructors!
At first, I was a bit stymied by the App. After you load a play list and save it, whenever I tried to load a new one from my iPod library, it would ask if I wanted to remove the current songs and I worried I would lose my previous playlist or even the one in iTunes. Fortunately, when I queried BeatStep from their Facebook page, I learned this is not the case. I was also given a step by step explanation on how to load the new playlist and save it. This does not in any way alter your original iTunes playlist. Basically, you are importing it into the App and saving it as a different playlist that you must access from BeatStep.
BeatStep is very responsive to email or FaceBook correspondence. Here is a link to the BeatStep Facebook Page. The company also sent me a link to several You Tube videos that outline the major features of the App. You can choose a set BPM for your playlist or a percent of original speed. If the program’s calculation of the song’s BPM is inaccurate, you can select the song and “tap out” the BPM so it resets to an accurate tempo. Here is a link to the You Tube training videos. Watching these videos really helped me get into the swing of using the App.
Once glitch I found with the App is that if you stop playing your music before the playlist ends and then start another class and start playing music, you may hear two songs playing at once. If this happens, simply exit the program and start it up again (it just takes a few seconds) and you will be back to hearing only one song at a time.
I’m very particular about the music I use for classes. For this reason, I like to download individual songs and make them into playlists instead of buying pre-made mixes. This creates a problem when you want every song in your mix to have a similar BPM. I recently learned that by using the Tempo Planner add-on (cost 2.99 or request a code on the BeatStep Facebook page), you gain this versatility as well. To add on this feature, simply click on the star in the bottom left and enter the code. Now I can go to each song and determine BPM or percent of original song speed one at a time. It is useful to test this ahead of time to make sure the song doesn’t sound terrible pitched up or down a lot.
I don’t recommend downloading this App tonight and trying to use it in the morning. Give yourself a few days to get familiar with it so you feel confident and comfortable with it before you walk into class. With adequate preparation, BeatStep is a great program that can allow you to offer your students more music variety at a speed ideal for the workout you have planned. My students really appreciate that I’ve taken the time to assemble so many fun new playlists. Now I have New Age, Jazz, Dance and Rock, sometimes all in a single playlist and music that before was too slow to use for exercise is now accessible. I hope you enjoy using BeatStep as much as I do.
Usually, I write articles about how to move more, eat healthier and live a better life. But not tonight. Tonight’s feature delves into my deepest darkest secret. Oh, yes, I bet you can’t wait to read about it, right? Or do I flatter myself? Anyway, here goes…Tonight, last night and the night before that, I, I, I…(sorry, I’m starting to hyperventilate as well as stammer), um, ate dinner in front of the TV. Yes, I know, you can’t believe I would do such a thing. You know as well as I do that eating while reading or watching television while eating trains the brain to crave food whenever the black box remote is clicked on. Talk about diet nightmare. I know what you must be thinking… Susan, what’s happened to you?
Okay, here’s the deal. I have a severe case of Olympic fever. Olympic Swimming Trials started Sunday in Omaha, Nebraska. Swimming is my favorite sport. I’ve been swimming most of my life. I started swimming when I fell in the pool at age two in a diaper and my mom hauled me out and decided I’d better take swimming lessons. Once my excessive energy became a major annoyance to my parents, I found myself on the swim team. I loved it. My time in the pool was the best part of the day. Even now many decades later, it still is. Because of my deep love of the water and the sport of swimming, when Trials or the Olympics are in session, I transform into an obsessive freak. Yes, that’s right. I don’t care if I’m late to work. I don’t care if your email doesn’t get answered until next week. I don’t care if dinner isn’t fixed on time (my husband doesn’t necessarily share this sentiment). And if it’s dinner time and a swimming race is happening, I park myself in front of the TV and empty my plate. And maybe eat a snack in front of the tellie a little later. What’s a couple of pounds weight gain in the greater scheme of things when so much is happening in the swimming world that I don’t want to miss out on. I have to know who’s swimming in the semifinals or the finals tonight and who the top contenders are in each race. Why did Michael Phelps scratch the 200 free? Does that mean he’s not in shape enough to go to Rio? Why did Elizabeth Beisel scratch the 200 IM? Is she sick? Oh, crud, Ryan Lochte didn’t make the Olympic team in the 400 IM. Is his groin tear going to interfere with him qualifying in the 200 free? Wow, Phelps was awesome in the 200 fly prelims. Maybe he still has the stuff. And his little boy is so cute!!
Yes, you just experienced my brain during Olympic Trials. Hyperactive, distracted and overrun with swimming gobbledygook. Keeping all the facts straight can be quite difficult. Rowdy and Dan rattle off facts about swimmers faster than the competitors can get their hands on the wall. And at the end of the night I’m doing a review in my head. Who got the perfect Math SAT score, who swam at Stanford, who was going to represent the Philippines in the Olympics and then couldn’t at the last minute? But I’m getting off topic yet again. More than likely you don’t care about any of this swimmer trivia and would rather be reading an article written by a thoughtful, composed, intelligent writer instead of someone suffering from Olympic fever. Please don’t despair. This coming weekend the Trials will end and I will go back to eating dinner at the kitchen table with the TV safely off. Who knows, my husband and I might even talk about subjects outside the realm of competitive swimming.
The water’s where I go to regain balance when I’m stressed, to escape when life hurts. That’s why most days of the week even when the water’s cold, the deck is slick with ice or it’s pitch dark, I haul myself out of bed at the crack of dawn and submerge my head in chlorinated water.
Usually, I’m barely awake and a little disoriented when I first dive in. But when I emerge from my hour-long outdoor swim, I feel transformed. Instead of dull and lethargic, my thoughts feel focused and sharp and my mind feels relaxed and calm. All stiffness is replaced by a feeling of youthful exuberance and my skin tingles in a way that’s a pleasant reminder I’m alive.
Still…I’ve always wondered what it would be like to take this swimming experience outside the confines of a concrete rectangle. On countless beach vacations, I’ve dreamed of swimming beyond the buoys, crowds and stirred up sediment. I’ve gazed out at the sea and fantasized about swimming for hours with no worries about boat traffic or being carried away by a current.
When I first came across the Big Blue website, my husband was a new swimmer, training for his first triathlon. I bookmarked the site, followed Big Blue on Facebook and jealously read the trip itinerary. Wow–daily swims around islands in the Ionian Sea, crossing channels and hugging coastlines. Sounds like a swimmer’s dream come true. If only Chris was ready for that, I thought.
Five years later, Chris had completed countless triathlons and trained with the Masters swim team daily. Last spring after we finished a lake swim, I felt confident he could enjoy a swimming vacation. So I burst out with, “Can we please do that swim trip in Greece?”
Fast forward to six months later… Chris and I sit shoulder to shoulder on the deck of a boat called Mogli near Lefkada Island, Greece. We’re chatting with new friends we’ve met from Australia, the UK and Israel as the boat bobs over waves toward our latest island destination in the Ionian Sea. The sea between the Greek mainland and Lefkada is a swimmer’s playground with dozens of islands around to explore. Topped with olive and fir trees, they are rimmed in white limestone and aquamarine water that transforms into a luxurious blue as the water deepens. The sea is such a postcard perfect blue I’m tempted to close my eyes for a few seconds to see if its still there when I reopen them.
Neither of us are open water gurus. We worry the swims might be scary, that we might feel alone and vulnerable out in the ocean. But with the support of our guides on Mogli and the inflatable boats, we feel safe. Most of the time, we hug the shoreline of an island, hovering over a limestone bottom barely over our heads. Most significantly, our guides Michael, Jax and Noa choose fortuitous swimming spots with minimal boat activity and calmer water, escort us every stroke of the way, and offer us juice and water at regular intervals to keep us hydrated.
The trip feels like a magical dream. Every morning after a relaxing and scenic boat trip, we swim around different islands and enjoy long lunches in quaint villages. The three speed groups that have been established allow us all to swim at a pace that feels right. My pink swim group buddies are my husband, Chris, and Fran Lou. We are soon dubbed “the explorers” because we rarely miss the opportunity to capture a photo, propel our way into a cave or surface dive to recover a sea urchin skeleton from the bottom. All three of us are athletic and adventurous so we make a great swimming team. Suzanne Williams jumps in to join us for a couple of swims, instantly adopting the adventurous, explorer spirit, pointing out starfish nestled in the limestone beds as we swim along.
In the pool, I felt confined. In the Ionian Sea, I feel suddenly free. I cruise along, gliding through the buoyant, salty sea until every smooth stroke feels like meditation. Peering through that crystal clear water, I watch schools of fish dart out of my path. I slide my hand over beds of tilted and buckled limestone that have been subjected to millions of years of the earth’s compressive forces.
Without the predictability of a black line or a wall, my mind is excitedly anticipating what might happen next. Are there fish behind those rocks? Will there be bigger waves after we round that peninsula? Will we be able to squeeze into that cave?
After exploring a cave, Fran climbs up onto a big shelf of limestone outside its mouth. I take a picture of her smiling and flexing her muscles.
When it’s time for another channel crossing, my heart rate accelerates. It’s harder work and the seas are choppier. The white limestone bottom drops out from beneath us and all I see through my goggles is cerulean blue water. Is the water one hundred feet deep or five hundred feet deep? Dozens of feet below me, a milky white jellyfish opens its umbrella like body before closing it again, propelling itself through the water. What else lies below us, I wonder. Fish, dolphins, sea turtles? A shark, perhaps? Not knowing makes the experience more exciting. It’s my adrenaline rush for the day.
On our final day, we stroke across a small channel from Skorpidi Island to Skorpios Island. Skorpios Island, once owned by Aristotle and Jacki Onassis, was recently sold to Ekaterina Rybolovleva, the daughter of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.
Swimming through crystal clear water alongside this idyllic island is like starring in a James Bond movie. The Spy Who Loved Me song plays in my head as I turn my head to breathe and see a stone wall hiding an expansive villa. Then I see acres of lush green forest, where security cameras peering out from the foliage serves as the only reminder that someone lives here and is watching our every move. As we round another point, buoys prevent us from swimming too close to a second villa perched above the beach. A bodyguard wearing a crisp white shirt and sunglasses observes us from shore.
“Six thirty three,” Gary shouts when I touch the wall after a five hundred yard timed swim at Masters workout. I’m jarred back to the present. It’s been weeks since Chris and I returned from our wonderful vacation in Greece. But whenever I’m in the pool, my thoughts often drift across the Atlantic and back to the Ionian Sea and once again, I’m gliding through the salty sea, relishing how it feels on my skin. And after a hard workout, sometimes I close my eyes, float on my back and imagine I’m bobbing on the waves and that I’m still surrounded by amazing world of blue water and green islands that is Greece. That fantasy will just have to do until I get a chance to go back.
Foods sweetened with aspartame and sucralose seem to be an ideal solution for minimizing sugar and caloric intake. The sad truth is both are harmful chemicals that wreak havoc on your system. Even people who routinely avoid artificial sweeteners should beware of where these insidious ingredients lurk. Most know they are constituents of low-calorie carbonated beverages, but they are also found in chewing gum, chewable vitamins, yogurt and even the pickled ginger commonly served with sushi!
Tucson-based holistic neurospecialist Dr. Timothy Marshall, one of the world’s leading experts in nutrient delivery systems, nutrient optimization and low-dose lithium therapeutics is all to familiar with the harmful effects of these powerful and dangerous chemicals having suffered symptoms from consuming them himself. He educates readers about the dangers of artificial sweeteners in his book, Think Smoking is Bad? Try Aspartame.
“Aspartame is composed of two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid,” he says in his book. The O-methyl group attached to the molecule breaks down into methanol with the remainder of the molecule generating the potent carcinogen DKP along with free-form amino acids that can harm the brain, eyes and nervous system. DKP, he goes on to explain, chemically resembles the tumor-causing chemical, N-nitrosea.
When consumed, the phenylalanine and the aspartic acid are highly stimulating, which keeps diet soda drinkers heading back to the refrigerator panting for more. Meanwhile, the methanol is in the bloodstream, reacting and eventually binding with oxygen. Once this compound converts to formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) and formic acid, it goes on a rampage.
“Formaldehyde binds to DNA and proteins and interferes with their function in the body,” says Dr. Marshall. This process is especially damaging to the brain and nervous system. Formic acid isn’t body-friendly either. “The primary pain-producing molecule in bee or ant venom,” it is a biological irritant with neurotoxic affects.
World-renowned authority in natural medicine, Dr. Joseph Mercola states on his health and wellness web site www.mercola.com that aspartame is “the most dangerous substance added to most food today.” In a blog post, he states, “Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA.” Among those reports are instances of seizures and death.
Although the EPA established safe limit for methanol is 7.8 mg/day, a diet soda contains 18 mg of methanol. Considering the numerous individuals drinking two or more sodas daily, the harmful effects of such consumption are difficult to quantify.
In addition to the more severe side effects, formaldehyde poisoning may contribute to metabolic dysfunction, weight gain, loss of insulin sensitivity, depression, fibromyalgia and an increase in inflammatory markers says Dr. Marshall. Some studies indicate a strong correlation between aspartame and brain tumors.
Health conscious individuals should read labels carefully to ensure aspartame and sucralose (Splenda) are not constituents. Dr. Marshall suggests sweetening foods and drinks with safe sugar substitutes stevia or lo han.
If you’re feeling irritable and exhausted, excessive sugar may be the culprit. Recording what you eat for a week or two can help you evaluate your diet so you can make better food choices that will improve how you feel and your overall health.
Your brain demands a constant supply of sugar and energy to function. If it doesn’t receive what it needs, the body reacts to this crisis by releasing chemicals in an attempt to regulate this whacky situation.
Sugar, often a major constituent of processed foods, can make you irritable by causing spikes and dropouts in insulin and blood sugar. Here’s what happens when you dump four teaspoons of sugar into your morning coffee and drink it down. Insulin, responsible for maintaining normal blood sugar levels, soars dramatically as blood sugar jumps up to sweep excessive sugar from the blood. Unfortunately, it tends to overdo this task and leaves you feeling lethargic, irritable and craving another sugar high (a doughnut, perhaps). This then triggers the release of adrenaline, a stress hormone that triggers the flight or fight response. So if you ever wanted to hurt someone after your drank that sugar-rich coffee or soaked your waffles in syrup, now you know why. In many cases, the chemical chaos that ensues leaches the body of high quality nutrients, throwing you further out of balance.
The best way to stabilize mood and energy is to eat sensibly. Avoid eating simple carbohydrates, especially without the support of other foods, to keep blood sugar more level throughout the day. Candy, non-diet sodas, juices, and cakes are all examples of simple carbohydrates. When you consume refined sugar or products where it is a main ingredient, you dump empty calories into your body that have no nutritional benefit and often can compromise your health.
Remember, not all carbohydrates are evil. Ingesting healthier carbohydrate, such as fruits and whole grain products, will provide your body and brain with a steadier energy stream. If you must consume items containing refined sugar, dilute them with other foods, such as meats and low-fat dairy products. Protein and fat delay the absorption of sugar into the blood and take longer to digest than carbohydrates. A blend of foods is most likely to leave you feeling more level and energetic.
Eating small meals with a mix of nutrients every three or four hours is another technique that works well to stabilize blood sugar. While small meals aren’t a chore to digest, very large meals draw so much blood flow to the stomach that you will feel lethargic.
Sugar induced weight gain and chemical imbalances, combined with an inactive lifestyle, can eventually lead to a host of health problems, including diabetes. Tweaking your diet for the healthier can improve your energy level, mood and can positively impact long-term health.
Many people embark on exercise programs with only one purpose in mind – weight loss. And when the pounds don’t melt off in a matter of weeks, they throw in the towel and say exercise didn’t “do me any good.” If that’s your philosophy, I’m here to give you some friendly advice…First, you didn’t gain the weight overnight, so it won’t come off that fast either. Second, if you’re only exercising to lose weight, you might not appreciate the other goodies that are part of the package!
I speak from experience when I say its easier to lose weight when exercise and healthy food are part of a wellness program to make you happier and healthier, not a punishment for overeating. Yes, I was guilty of dashing out for 8 mile runs when I was in college to “make up” for the previous night’s pizza fest, but most of the time, I found myself on a constant roller coaster of fasting and feasting and “punishing” myself with marathon workouts. Healthy isn’t a word that described my physical or mental state during that time.
In my mid-20s, I evolved toward a wellness philosophy. I threw the word “diet” out the window and bought some nutrition books. I cried myself to sleep the night I swore I would never again call Dominoe’s at 2 AM to order pizza (not really). Gradually, I phased out or reduced fried foods, sweets, junk food, and mixed drinks and added more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to my diet. And guess what? I lost a good bit of weight, but the other benefits thrilled me the most. And they’re the ones that keep me rushing out the door to the pool and the gym most days of the week. Here’s what else comes with that regular workout package…
1) Improved health. Activity and a clean diet can mean lower blood pressure and cholesterol and reduced risk for a variety of illnesses and disabling conditions. Remember, you don’t have to lose weight to experience health benefits with exercise. Studies are demonstrating that.
2) Stronger bones. Regular activity (weight-bearing) will help you maintain bone density as you age and reduce your risk for osteoporosis.
3) Reduced Pain. Many people say they don’t exercise because they hurt too much. Always consult with your physician first, but in most instances exercise and an anti-inflammatory diet can reduce your discomfort. If you have arthritis, you will be better off avoiding impact activities. Warm-water exercise is also a great choice for people with a variety of painful conditions.
4) Improved Energy Levels, Mood, and Concentration. I have to say these three are the big ones that get me out the door and on my way to the pool or gym most mornings. I always feel such a sense of gratitude after a workout, being able to move and feel as good as I do and that carries me through the day, making it much more enjoyable. So if you feel tired, grumpy or can’t remember what you were planning to do next, it might be a good time to fit in a workout!
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to move. I’ll race you to the door!