Preparing for an Internal Cleanse

Closeup of Fresh Red Beet Juice

There are many cleanses out there— juice cleanses, raw food cleanses, a Candida diet…. The radical shift your body experiences can be intense and challenging though.

Set yourself up for success by answering these questions before you start your cleanse program:

  1. What are your intentions for this time period? How will this cleanse enhance your life? How do you want to feel the day after you finish?
  2. How frequently should you plan to go to the market for ingredients?
  3. If you are working, what will you need each day at the office?
  4. What do you have going on during those several days? Where can you create flexibility to accommodate potential needs, such as tiredness?
  5. What will you need in place if you start to waver from your plan—i.e. someone to hold you accountable, written intentions to remind you of your course?

And if you’d like to do a seasonal cleanse but are not sure which is right for you or you need some help addressing these questions, let me know.

Upgrade Your Cooking: Resources for Upscale, Healthy Recipes

Woman cooking in the kitchenIf you are like me, the majority of the food you make is based on what you already know. Perhaps you have a handful of dishes that rotate through your repertoire. Recipes are generally the exception to the rule if they are used at all. This is also true for me because my kitchen is my laboratory. I blindly throw spaghetti against the wall (metaphorically, of course) and experiment to see what will happen.

When I use a recipe, it’s legit. My go-to resources for healthy recipes all use whole ingredients, have an eye toward responsible food consumption, and are user-friendly. These resources also produce gorgeous, delicious dishes that feel fresh and fancy. I receive raves everytime. Bon appetite!

  • 101 Cookbooks, a blog by Heidi Swanson. Vegetarian food that somehow makes me feel fancy and pretty every time I make it.
  • Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, by Louisa Shafia. Don’t let the title fool you. This is not a compilation of kale ten ways. The recipes are unique and gorgeous.
  • Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi. A British-Israeli and a British-Palestinian walk into a kitchen… No, this is not the start of a joke. What they make (and what they help you to make) is serious magic– mouth-watering vegetables and grains to make you swoon. Your dinner party guests are guaranteed to ask for the recipe.

Do you have a favorite healthy and delicious food resource? Share it here!

Photo credit: © jillchen – Fotolia.com

From the Garden: Fresh Herb Chermoula

(Or, What to do with the rest of the fresh bunch of herbs slowly going bad in your refrigerator)

Many cuisines include a condiment that has as its base fresh herbs, garlic, and oil: Italy has pesto, Latin America has chimichurri (often includes vinegar), and many Arabic cultures have a version of chermoula. It makes sense because the oil stretches the longevity of the herb. Garlic further preserves the leafies because of the bulb’s antibacterial properties. These pastes add nutrients and brightness to whole cooked grains, savory pancakes or fresh herbsgriddle cakes, roasted vegetables, eggs, fish, seafood, poultry, or meats (especially BBQ’d!)

Here is my easy adaptation of chermoula which includes a jalapeno instead of the most classic dried red pepper or cayenne. I like jalapeno because the green pepper brings an added freshness and there is something very satisfying about roughly chopping something and throwing it into a food processor. My favorite combination of greens is dill, mint, parsley and spinach but playing with different combinations can be really fun.

Chermoula
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Prep Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 packed cups of a mix of fresh herbs (dill, mint, cilantro, parsley, basil, chives, tarragon) and/or light leafy greens (spinach, chard, beet greens)
  2. ¼ cup of extra-virgin olive oil
  3. 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  4. Juice from one lemon
  5. 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, toasted or 2 tsp of ground cumin
  6. 1/3 tsp of salt (optional)
  7. 1/4 to 1/3 of a jalapeno, optional, amount depends on your desired spice level, remove seeds if you want it even less spicy)
Instructions
  1. Wash herbs and greens and dry fully. You will need to do this a few hours in advance.
  2. Throw everything in a food processor and buzz until it forms a loose paste. Taste and see if it needs anything (more jalapeno? more garlic?) I’d advise against adding more salt because it will taste saltier as it ages.
Notes
  1. This will keep in a tightly-sealed container in the refrigerator for about two weeks.
  2. It also freezes well so the ice cube tray trick works. (Put the paste in olive-oil coated ice cube trays and pop out individual cubes to defrost as needed.)
woodenspoonwellness.com http://woodenspoonwellness.com/
 
Photo credit: © Gorilla – Fotolia.com

Natural Health 101, Prevention: Yoga

Body partsThe second in Wooden Spoon Wellness’s Natural Health 101 series, this blog provides an overview of yoga. These three techniques have been shown to prevent injury or ailments when practiced correctly on a regular basis. [1] Yoga, as well as other Eastern traditional practices such as qigong, and tai chi, can all be considered ‘moving meditations’, which is to say that each modality includes a physical practice as well as a mental and spiritual practice. They each fundamentally originate from the belief that when the mind, body, and spirit are in balance, our wellbeing remains in balance. The Natural Health 101 series is intended to serve as entries to the practices or broaden your experiences if you already have an established practice. Even if you have practiced yoga, I hope you will read these articles and share your thoughts and experiences.

It is important to note that this blog provides a very broad sketch of each modality and is humbly written from my experiences and readings. Yoga has existed for thousands of years and derive from larger cultural, historical, and religious contexts. It is thus much more nuanced than I could possibly describe, though other blogs in the Natural Health 101 series will discuss other aspects of the healing traditions from which this practice emerges. In addition, the right teacher will be able to bring in comprehensive components of the practice and help you build holistic strength and immunity to prevent disease and injury. While each modality is complex, if you are open to learning, you will notice the benefits very quickly. Do not be intimidated! We all start somewhere.

Yoga: What is it?
In her article, “Yoga 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Practice, Meditation, and the Sutras,” one of my teachers, Cyndi Lee, writes: “The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union” or a method of discipline. The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It also outlines eight limbs of yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). As we explore these eight limbs, we begin by refining our behavior in the outer world, and then we focus inwardly until we reach samadhi (liberation, enlightenment). Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.” [2]

I appreciate Cyndi Lee’s overview of yoga because she highlights that the classes that are most widely available, and that you are most likely to experience, focus primarily on the physical practice of yoga (asana, or, postures). Asana can be very powerful unto itself. As another of my teachers, Aman Rai, says, “Your body does not help you come into asana. Asana helps you come into your body.”

I’ve experienced this in many ways since I took my first yoga class in 1999. Proper alignment was important to my teachers and I frequently would walk out of a class into a bustling part of Manhattan feeling taller, quieter, and lighter like air, or feeling the expansiveness of my lungs and chest. In 2008, when I sustained an injury that turned my world upside down, one of the physical therapists I worked with told me that I was more body aware than any client she’d had: because of my yoga practice, I was able to quickly understand her instructions, isolate the particular body parts or muscles she needed me to work, and ask questions about proper positioning. While I don’t have evidence, I believe it helped me to recover. If nothing else, I had moments of feeling empowered which is a rare feeling when your body is not where you want it to be or where it once was. (Perhaps some of you can relate to that. :))

Despite or perhaps because of my injury, I strengthened my work on other limbs of yoga as well– through breathing exercises, personal meditation, and guided meditation. Today, my asana (posture) practice is not as intensive as it once was but pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) regularly grounds me and the niyamas (observances) have helped me to grow Wooden Spoon Wellness. Yoga has become a path toward home for me; when my mind is foggy or I feel disconnected from my body or my purpose, my yoga practice brings me back to center.

Scientific studies support many of the claims teachers such as those suggested by Lee and Rai. They show that regular yoga practice can prevent heart disease, help heal cancer and high blood pressure. It also alleviates symptoms of some chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Scientists have also proven that relaxation techniques developed through yoga positively affect people’s mental health by decreasing stress, insomnia, and depression. Yoga even changes genes that affect immunity according to one study and slows aging according to another study. [3]

Yoga can also help prevent everyday things. If you are feeling ‘off’ or stressed, you are frequently sick with a cold, or you need to detox, for example, yoga can help. [4] Many different yoga schools and types of practices exist and have health benefits. Here are a few broad overviews of some of the yoga classes you might come across:

  • Hatha: These classes tend to be slower, address some of the more basic poses and cultivate some of the mental focus and discipline that is part of the larger yoga tradition mentioned above. These classes are generally good for beginners.
  • Restorative: These classes are designed to relax and recover. They often involve props, such as large pillows and blocks that will be made available in the class.
  • Iyengar: This school of yoga focuses on alignment and can thus be helpful for beginners. Classes often do not follow a particular sequence as you might in other classes and there is often more starting and stopping than you would experience in a flow class. Props, such as blocks, straps, or chairs are often involved and you may be asked to work in partnership with another class participant.
  • Vinyasa: Also sometimes called ‘flow’, these classes tend to be a bit more fast-paced than hatha and generally involve a similar sequence of postures from one class to the next.
  • Ashtanga: A more regimented version of vinyasa, it often has set sequences that do not vary from class to class. Ashtanga is often considered the more gymnastic version of yoga.
  • Bikram or Hot Yoga: These classes take place in a heated room and are generally fast-paced.
  • Kundalini: These classes are generally focused on developing the spiritual self and awareness through meditation, postures, breathing exercises, and chanting.
  • Yoga Nidra: These classes are less common in the US but if you can find one, they support you in cultivating deep relaxation through breathing exercises and guided meditation, amongst other things.

What does a typical class include?
Classes generally last 45 minutes to an hour and a half and are led by a teacher who will guide you through a variety of postures and/or exercises.

Wear clothing you can easily and freely move around in and that you can sweat in. You will likely bend over a lot or invert your body so very loose clothing may ride up and expose skin. Bearing skin is very common in yoga classes so if this is something you are not comfortable with you might consider wearing more form-fitting clothing and/or long, loose clothing with tighter seams at the waist and ankles.

Yoga requires a mat. You can buy and bring your own yoga mat but most places offer standard-sized mats for free or for a small fee (typically $1). Standard-sized mats are about 72 inches feet long so if you are taller than that and you are compelled by the practice, I highly recommend investing in a longer mat.

Some classes may include props such as pillows, blocks, or straps that the teacher will make available for the duration of the class.

Things to consider when choosing a class:

  • If you have any injuries, be sure to tell your teacher before the class, even if it is a restorative class. Some poses can be difficult on your body but a good teacher will offer alternative moves for you to do.
  • Yoga can cause injury. Before EVERY class you take, it is very important to be aware of your limits. It is also important to work with a teacher or teachers who are attuned to proper alignment and can minimize the risk of injury. [5]
  • How big is the class? If you have the option and especially if you are just starting out, I recommend finding a class with fewer students where you can have more of the teacher’s attention.
  • Yoga classes are driven by the teacher’s directions so the teacher’s training and personality greatly influence your experience. There are MANY different kinds of yoga as mentioned above and even within a particular school different teachers will create very different class vibes—some classes will be very mellow and calming, the teacher will burn incense or play Indian chant music and rub your temples with scented oils, some teachers will play no music, provide basic instruction and take a hands-off approach, some will make adjustments while you are in certain poses, or play pop music—the possibilities are endless. See what you are in the mood for before you go to a class and call the studio to learn a bit what to expect if it is not available on the website. Or just go for it and see what’s up.
  • Are you comfortable having a teacher touch you to adjust your pose? Sometimes for example, a teacher may put their hands on your shoulders while you are standing or they might stand behind you and pull your hips back… If you are not comfortable being touched, be sure to speak with the teacher before the class and ask if they tend to make adjustments to students. If so, tell them to give you verbal instructions instead.

Here are some key terms that you might come across when looking at class descriptions:

  • asana (posture): Sometimes class descriptions will say that you will explore certain asanas or hold asanas for a longer period of time and thus will help cultivate discipline as well as awareness of those particular body parts.
  • prana (life force or energy): Classes that include a focus on prana generally give special attention to your breath. They may include breathing exercises (pranayama).
  • kirtan (a form of chanting): Sometimes classes include kirtan. The teacher may have a musical instrument or live musicians. The chants generally are in Sanskrit (an ancient Indian dialect) and blessings to invoke certain Hindu gods and/or the things the gods represent.

What does it generally cost?
The price of yoga classes varies greatly. Classes typically run from $10-$20. Bikram or hot yoga tends to be more expensive. Many cities have a chain called Yoga for the People which is by donation. http://yogatothepeople.com Some schools also offer “Community classes” or donation-only classes. These classes are often taught by new teachers or yoga teacher students and suggest a minimum donation of $5 or $7.

Videos and free online classes are widely available though I’d strongly recommend working with a teacher at least to start because of the risk of injury.

Yoga mats, should you choose to purchase one, range significantly in cost, anywhere from $10 to about $100. Cheaper mats will generally not last as long and may not have much grip. You can get a pretty solid mat though for about $30.

——–

[1]  These modalities could also be included in my “Movement Therapies” blog as they have also been shown to heal certain ailments or injuries such as lower back pain. In addition, while this blog only covers three preventative techniques, other practices such as martial arts or various forms of dance, could be added to this blog as well.

[2] Cyndi Lee. “Yoga 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Practice, Meditation, & the Sutras.” Yoga Journal, October 7, 2014.

[3] See “Evidence-Based Research, Studies on Yoga and Health.” Center for Yoga and Health. ; Dr. Dean Ornish, et al. “Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity…The Lancet Oncology. 17 September 2013; Massachusetts General Hospital press release, “Study finds relaxation response triggers genomic changes.” May 10, 2013.

[4] Dr. Marc Halpern. “What Does An Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist Do?Yogacamp, June 20, 2013.

[5] See Ananda School of Yoga and Meditation. “Can Being Too Flexible Be Harmful?” and Roger Cole. “Yoga Shouldn’t Hurt.” Yoga Journal, June 26, 2008.

5 Tips for Healthy Snacks on the Go

Woman looking through her purseWith health coaching clients and workshop participants, I discuss an eating spectrum. Food and beverages that are not particularly nourishing are at one end. Next to it is a point on the spectrum where we find foods that might provide some nutrition but, for example, also contain ingredients that might not serve us well. On the other side of the scale are foods that can provide nourishment.

Snacks can be tricky. What do you do when you had a light lunch and are having a late dinner with a friend? Or you have to run to an appointment and can’t sit down for a full meal but need some sustenance? It is easiest to find options that fall on the not-particularly-nourishing side of the spectrum.

Here are five tips for eating that fall on the other side of the spectrum: foods that provide you with nutrients and sustain you. You may only find foods that fall within some of these guidelines. If you can find foods that adhere to all five tips, rock on. Your body and energy levels will thank you for it. (And they do exist!) If you can find a snack that falls within only some of these guidelines— well, some effort can still make a difference.

  1. Whole foods—foods or beverages that came from the ground, off a tree or a bush, or otherwise contained oxygen at some point
  2. Five ingredients or less—simple foods require less work to digest and your body can access the fuel and nutrients you need from the food more quickly
  3. No or low sugar—foods with sugar, even sugar found in fruit, can lead to energy roller coasters. (These days, I sometimes get the sugar shakes from eating an entire apple. Instead, I only eat half an apple at a time or I go for fruit with less sugar such as strawberries or oranges.)
  4. Only whole fats (no hydrogenated fats)—this is perhaps the hardest to find if you are also going the no sugar route. Almost all chips and even some roasted nuts have some sort of processed oil added.

Is Your Sunscreen Killing Coral Reefs?

woman in bikini applying sun block cream on bodyOn a recent escape from New York City’s wintry mix, I found myself struggling to find a sunscreen that I could feel good about. I try very hard not to use products with chemicals, especially in large quantities, but I am fair-skinned with a family history of skin cancer so SPF 45+ is a health must. When in the sun, I apply it liberally and frequently. I am normally very anti-checked luggage on flights but on this recent trip to Jamaica I went so far as to check my bag just so I could bring natural sunscreen that I thought I would not be able to find on the island.

At some point on the trip, friends and I were chatting with a guide from the area and one friend inquired about snorkeling. We learned that, while Jamaica once had corral teeming with wild life, the coral was now virtually extinct. Our guide informed us that part of the reason the coral may have been destroyed was because of the sunscreen that tourists wear. [1]

Cue the guilt. I had tried desperately to find sunscreen that was ‘natural’ and according to the label on the Nature’s Gate sunscreen I ultimately purchased, it was, “Free of Oxybenzone, Parabens, Phthalates, Fragrance, Animal Derived Ingredients and never tested on animals.” I just assumed that this meant that it was safe for the environment. My friends, I was wrong. The main culprits that can contribute to reef erosion, according to the 2008 Danovaro study, are Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), Butylparaben, Octinoxate, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor. The first ingredient in my ‘healthy’ sunscreen was Octinoxate.

It seems that in order to live our values and follow through on a commitment to protect our bodies and the environment from harmful chemicals, we must do our own research. When it comes to sunscreen, the keywords to look for are “Reef safe”. It’s also important to consider other chemicals we might carry into the water that may be harmful to reef or other marine wildlife, such as substances found in hair care products, face cream, or makeup. In these cases, it is unclear to me if a simple soapy shower prior to swimming will do the trick. Luckily there is a one-stop shop for MANY beauty products on the market. The Environmental Working Group’s database rates sunscreens, beauty products, perfumes, as well as makeup. They also have an app for those on-the-go decisions. All we can do is try…

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[1] This is supported by a 2008 study conducted by Roberto Danovaro, et al. on the effects of certain sunscreen chemicals on coral reefs in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Red Sea. See the study referenced in Ker Than, “Swimmers’ Sunscreen Killing Off Coral.” National Geographic News. January 29, 2008.

Natural Healthcare 101: Movement Therapies

So you are injured. (First of all, I’m sorry to hear that and I hope you feel better soon.) But what do you do? Below are overviews of various movement therapies that can help you recover in the short-term and teach you long-term strategies to help you move in healthier ways. Some of the techniques relieve pain and some re-train your muscles or ligaments. The different modalities are not mutually exclusive: if you have the resources and the determination, you might engage in physical therapy as well as Alexander Technique for example. Or you might do physical therapy in the short-term and Feldenkrais Method afterward.

Treatment of the wrist

All of these therapies require work, willpower, and commitment. All practitioners will give you work to do in between sessions. It is easy to push the homework to the side and devise excuses for not doing it. I have sustained a fair number of injuries over the last decade and can tell you that there can be a huge difference between doing the work in between sessions and not doing the work. The homework can speed up your recovery and, because most injuries never fully heal, it can help you avoid further injury or pain down the line. I sustained an elbow injury in 2007 that made typing on a computer excruciatingly painful. To this day, the pain returns if I am regularly typing but not doing my exercises for a few weeks. Develop the habit of doing your exercises on your own. It will be much harder to pick up later, when you’re no longer regularly seeing a practitioner.

Western Approach: Physical Therapy

What is it?

Physical therapy is generally the therapy that a Western doctor or orthopedist will recommend for injuries. It is usually the first stop after injury, before alternative healing modalities, because it addresses the immediate problem.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association’s website, “Physical therapists (PTs) are… licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility – in many cases without expensive surgery and often reducing the need for long-term use of prescription medications and their side effects. Physical therapists can teach patients how to prevent or manage their condition so that they will achieve long-term health benefits. PTs examine each individual and develop a plan, using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

Physical therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes.” [1]

What does a typical session include?

The initial assessment is generally 45 minutes to an hour and subsequent sessions can last anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half depending on the severity of your injury and the management plan that has been developed for you. Most management plans include one to three visits per week for at least a few weeks, depending on the severity of the issue. Some management plans can last for months.

A session may include: electrical nerve stimulation, heat or ice therapy, ultrasound therapy, weights, stationary equipment, bands and exercise balls such as those found in gyms, balance boards, foam rollers, deep tissue massage, whirlpools. There will likely be exercises for you to do at home as well.

Things to consider when choosing a practitioner

1. Do you prefer a generalist or a specialist? If you’d like a specialist, you might look for someone who specializes in a particular body part (i.e. hand, ankle, pelvic floor). You also might ask about the typical clientele (i.e. athletes, older people, women).

2. Particularly if you are seriously injured, location and hours of operation may be a consideration because you may need to go often (i.e. three times a week). If you are working or have daily obligations, you will need to find a place that has long hours—many PT clinics will have early morning and Saturday hours. PTs who work in hospitals may not have these options.

3. Does the physical therapist employ assistants? If so, how much time on average will be spent with the physical therapist and how much time will be spent with the assistants? On average, how many clients is a PT seeing at any given time? (Some PTs will see multiple patients at a time—the PT will start off with one patient and the PTA will work with them for the remainder of the time while the PT sees other patients, occasionally checking in.)

4. Do they provide handouts of exercises for you to do in between sessions or after you’ve completed your course of treatment (as opposed to explaining the exercises orally)?

5. Will you need to wear special clothing (i.e. short sleeves, shorts, sneakers, or clothes that can get ultrasound gel or lotion on them)?

6. Does the physical therapist use ultrasound and if so, is this something that you want to do? Most PTs use ultrasound but there is little scientific evidence to show that ultrasound works and some scientific evidence to show that it can damage some sensitive or already damaged tissues. [2]

7. Does your insurance cover physical therapy? If so, how many visits do they cover each year? What does the coverage process entail? [NOTE: Health insurance may cover most or all of the cost of physical therapy visits but most plans only cover a set number of visits per year. The coverage process can sometimes be quite involved as some health insurance policies will only approve payment for a small number of visits and then require PTs to submit regular progress reports. This report is evaluated by an auditor within the insurance company. The auditor either denies further coverage or approves another small number of sessions. This auditor only evaluates coverage through the report—they have never met you and do not know your health history.]

What does it generally cost?

If your insurance covers visits, there may be a co-pay. Average co-pays are between $10-$75/visit. Out-of-network or out-of-pocket physical therapy ranges considerably. Average cost is $50-$350/visit. [3]

Alexander Technique

What is it?

The Alexander Technique was developed in the first half of the 20th century and is both a way to prevent injury and a way to heal from injury.

According to the Alexander Technique website: “The Alexander Technique is a way of learning to move mindfully through life. The Alexander process shines a light on inefficient habits of movement and patterns of accumulated tension, which interferes with our innate ability to move easily and according to how we are designed. It’s a simple yet powerful approach that offers the opportunity to take charge of one’s own learning and healing process, because it’s not a series of passive treatments but an active exploration that changes the way one thinks and responds in activity. It produces a skill set that can be applied in every situation. Lessons leave one feeling lighter, freer, and more grounded.”

“The Alexander Technique is a method that works to change (movement) habits in our everyday activities. It is a simple and practical method for improving ease and freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination. The technique teaches the use of the appropriate amount of effort for a particular activity, giving you more energy for all your activities. It is not a series of treatments or exercises, but rather a reeducation of the mind and body. The Alexander Technique is a method which helps a person discover a new balance in the body by releasing unnecessary tension. It can be applied to sitting, lying down, standing, walking, lifting, and other daily activities…” [4]

Many performers, people with alignment and joint problems such as back pain or carpal tunnel, find it helpful and many practitioners are current or former performers. Scientific studies support some of these favorable claims as well as the use of Alexander Technique in helping Parkinson’s patients. [5]

What does a typical session include?

You can work one-on-one with an Alexander Technique teacher or in a group class. Sessions are generally 30 minutes to an hour.

The teacher may use props such as a chair, a table or other things you encounter in your everyday life as well as mirrors to help you understand your movement or alignment patterns. Expect gentle touch from the teacher.

Wear comfortable clothing that you can easily move around in—you will be fully clothed the entire time. Also wear socks that you’re comfortable showing to other people. (You will take off your shoes.)

Because Alexander Technique entails re-training the mind, sessions are pretty cerebral. You focus your mind on different body parts at different times and, if successful, you will become intimately familiar with your body and its movement.

See also the “What does a typical session include?” section of the Feldenkrais Method for more.

Things to consider when choosing a practitioner

Because you are working with a teacher as opposed to a therapist, it may be helpful to get a sense of the practitioner’s teaching style as well as their background. I’d recommend calling any teachers you are considering working with and asking them a few key questions:

  1. What is their background and why did they choose to go into this profession? For example, a teacher who has a dance background may be great if you are also a dancer because they can use language you already understand to explain techniques. Ultimately, you want to work with someone with whom you have a connection and good communication.
  2. How have they handled students who do not understand what they are being asked to do? Ask them for an example from a real situation.
  3. Do they provide handouts of exercises for you to do in between sessions (as opposed to explaining the homework orally)?
  4. What is the average duration of sessions? In other words, how long do their clients typically stay with them for? This is a valuable question to ask because it can take a while to understand the technique.

What does it generally cost?

Average one-on-one lessons can run $50-$90/session, depending on the teacher’s experience. Initial consultations may be a bit more and last a bit longer than regular sessions. Some practitioners offer package deals. Group lessons generally reduce the cost to about $40-$50/person/class.

Feldenkrais Method

What is it?

Like Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais was developed in the first half of the 20th century and re-trains your mind and body to move in what practitioners consider to be more efficient ways. According to the Feldenkrais Center for Movement Education: “The Feldenkrais Method® is for anyone who wants to make the things they do easier, more efficient and pleasurable. Feldenkrais Method is a mind-body approach, which combines movement and awareness to help you move and live more comfortably and effectively. Whether it is basic actions like sitting or walking, the daily demands of work and home, or your recreational activities – from painting and gardening to running or dance – Feldenkrais offers enjoyable and effective ways to improve how you move. Injury, illness, pain, stress and the effects of ageing can diminish your capacity and the enjoyment of your movement – and your life. Feldenkrais classes and individual sessions allow you to rediscover lost abilities and pleasure in your movement.” [6]

Various studies show the positive effects of the method on various ailments but many of these studies were conducted by Feldenkrais practitioners. A more comprehensive analysis of the studies would need to be conducted to reveal less biased perspectives however. [7]

What does a typical session include?

You can work one-on-one with a Feldenkrais teacher (called Functional Integration) or in group classes (called Awareness Through Movement, or ATM). In each, the teacher guides you through various positions and postures to retrain the way you move. Functional Integration classes are typically conducted on a low table and group ATM classes are typically conducted on the ground. Expect gentle touch from the teacher.

Wear comfortable clothing that you can easily move around in—you will be fully clothed the entire time. Also wear socks that you’re comfortable showing to other people. (You will take off your shoes.)

Alexander Technique focuses on releasing compression in each movement, particularly as your movement relates to the neck and spine. Feldenkrais Method however concerns itself with efficient movement by relying on the entire, larger skeletal structure. [8]

Here is an interesting point to consider:

“Selecting individuals for various alternative medicine treatments is not an exact science. It is impossible to know who will succeed with their treatment and who will not. The overall goal of the Feldenkrais method and Alexander technique differs from most medical or even alternative treatments in that these methods are not trying to fix a problem or cure an ailment. Rather, the goal of these movement techniques is to teach the student to become more aware of his or her own movements functionally and kinesthetically. The result may be an improvement, however, of posture or liberation of muscle tension. Others may have an improvement of voice projection or quality. Additionally, for some, the techniques may improve chronic pain, balance, coordination, or flexibility. The techniques also may improve breathing patterns and an overall fluidity of movement. Overall, the techniques primarily teach students a general awareness of movement, and all else is added benefit.” [9]

Things to consider when choosing a practitioner

I recommend asking the same questions of a Feldenkrais Method teacher as an Alexander Technique teacher:

  1. What is their background and why did they choose to go into this profession? For example, a teacher who has a dance background may be great if you are also a dancer because they can use language you already understand to explain techniques. Ultimately, you want to work with someone with whom you have a connection and good communication.
  2. How have they handled students who do not understand what they are being asked to do? Ask them for an example from a real situation.
  3. Do they provide handouts of exercises for you to do in between sessions (as opposed to explaining the homework orally)?
  4. What is the average duration of sessions? In other words, how long do their clients typically stay with them for? This is a valuable question to ask because it can take a while to understand the technique.

What does it generally cost?

One-on-one sessions are generally comparable to massage therapist rates, approximately $100-$120/hour for regular visits and sometimes more for initial consultations. There is a Feldenkrais low-fee clinic in Manhattan though that charges a sliding scale, between $30-$70/class. Group classes vary significantly and can be $10-25/class or more for lengthier workshops. Class packages are sometimes offered and may reduce the price.

Have you tried a movement therapy or are you are curious about one not mentioned in this blog? Let us know. Leave a comment below!

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[1]  American Physical Therapy Association’s website.

[2]  See for example KG Baker, et al. “A Review of Therapeutic Ultrasound Effectiveness Studies.Physical Therapy 81 (7) July 2001: 1339-1350 and for precautions, see an overview of Ultrasound Therapy on SportsInjuryClinic.com.

[3]  http://health.costhelper.com/physical-therapist.html

[4]  Alexander Technique website. Further reading: “Some Common Misconceptions about the Alexander Technique.

[5]  See for example Paul Little et al. “Randomised controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain.” BMJ 2008: 337:a884; JP Woodman and NR Moore. “Evidence for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique lessons in medical and health-related conditions: a systemic review.” International Journal of Clinical Practice 2012 Jan; 66(1): 98-112. See also, Andrea Matthew. “Why Performers Need the Alexander Technique.”

[6]  Feldenkrais Center for Movement Education website.

[7]  For an overview of various studies conducted prior to 2012, see pp. 13-17 and “Table of Feldenkrais Research Studies” in Australian Feldenkrais Guild, Inc. “Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for Natural Therapies.” Submission to the Department of Health and Aging, 2012/13.

[8]  See Nora Nausbaum. “What is the Difference between the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method.” Strings. Sept/October 1997, vol 64.

[9]  S. Jain et al. “Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method: A Critical Overview.” Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America 15 (2004) 823.

Introducing the Natural Healthcare 101 Blog Series!

© viperagp - Fotolia.com

© viperagp – Fotolia.com

Wooden Spoon Wellness is very excited to launch its Natural Healthcare 101 blog series. These days many alternative therapies exist and it can be difficult to know the range of options available yet alone where to start. Thus, each blog provides you with information to inform your choices and will answer a variety of questions: What are some of the common natural therapies out there? How do they relate to Western medicine and to one another? What is included in a typical session? What questions might I consider before choosing a practitioner? What does the service typically cost?

The current lineup for the series includes:

Movement Therapies*: healing your bones, muscles and ligaments after injury, i.e. through physical therapy vs. Alexander Technique vs. Feldenkrais

Preventative Movement: strengthening your bones, muscles, and ligaments, i.e. through yoga vs. qigong vs. Tai Chi vs. Pilates

Preventative and Medicinal Therapies: healing your organs and systems such as your immune system and hormones, i.e. through Western medicine vs. Functional/Integrative medicine vs. Traditional Chinese Medicine vs. Ayurveda vs. Homeopathy

Where does Holistic Health & Nutrition Coaching fit into healthcare?

I’ve culled this list from common questions I receive but it is certainly not exhaustive and there are innumerable options I could include. If you are curious about an alternative therapy not mentioned above, please be in touch!

*Please note that the category names are not precise. For example, Traditional Chinese Movement can help reduce inflamed ligaments and could also be included in Movement Therapies. Additionally Alexander Technique may be seen as both a healing form of movement as well as preventative.

Three (Undercover) Broth Substitutes

© bst2012 - Fotolia.com

You are craving something warm and comforting but you’ve used up your last box of broth or have no defrosted, homemade stock supply. The idea of going outside into the cold makes you very, very sad so what do you do?

Here is your cheat sheet of broth substitutes that can stay in the pantry or refrigerator for up to a year, are 100% natural, and are even nutritious:

  1. Pickle juice: Do not throw away the remains of your pickle jar once you’ve finished your fermented vegetables! This rich liquid typically contains spices, salt, and luscious juices from the vegetables, i.e. things that you would find in a vegetable broth! The differences of course are that it also contains a lot of acid that is either produced from the natural fermentation process or added in the form of vinegar. (For what it’s worth, my favorite to use is kimchi, or, spicy Korean fermented vegetables.) Pickle juice tends to be quite salty so for every cup of broth that you would typically use, use 1/3 to ½ cup of pickle juice and fill the rest with water. The amount you use depends on how potent the pickle juice is so try a taste first to see how potent the flavors, acids, and salt are. If you pucker your lips or feel the need to exclaim, “Whoa!” use less. You can always add more. If you decide to add more juice later in the cooking process, make sure to bring the soup to a boil and let it roll for a few minutes before serving. This will mellow out the strong acidic taste. Note as well that vinegar and other very strong acids can toughen some ingredients such as beans or meat unless they are cooked together for a very long time. Best use: soups with vegetable, noodles or grains.
  2. Miso: Miso is a fermented paste used in various Asian cuisines. In the US, miso can be found in refrigerated jars or in powder form. Miso is most often made from soybeans but some are made with chickpeas, barley and/or brown rice, among other things. Miso that has been fermented for at least 6 months can be rich in antioxidants and as a fermented product it contains good bacteria as well as a form of Vitamin K that has been shown to strengthen bones. I highly recommend using the refrigerated kind over the powder if you want to benefit from its nutrients. Although not a hard and fast rule, generally the darker the miso, the longer it has been fermented and the more nutrients it contains. The lighter the miso, the sweeter it tends to be. Miso is naturally salty so you can reduce or omit altogether additional salt. Miso can last in the refrigerator for up to one year without issue but be sure to check the sell-by date. [1] Note that it maintains its nutrients only if it is not heated so if this is important to you, remove from the heat and stir in a tablespoon of miso for every cup of water. [2] Best use: soups with beans, tofu, meat, fish, chicken, pork, vegetables, noodles or grains
  3. Dashi: Dashi is a Japanese product made from dehydrated seaweed (kombu) and dehydrated fish flakes (bonito). Dashi may sound more like fish food than human food but this product is the cornerstone of a lot of Asian cooking, such as most Japanese soups, sauces and Vietnamese pho. The flavor is complex but light and smoky while also ocean-y without being fishy (if you make it correctly). Dashi makes an amazing base for your favorite noodle or vegetable soup. It requires a few more steps than the other options in this list but the ingredients can keep in a dry pantry or refrigerator in tightly sealed containers for up to a year. Here is a pretty decent overview and recipe. [3] Best use: soups with tofu, fish, meat, vegetables, noodles or grains

Disclaimer: The photo above meant to be humorous and is not intended to role model or advocate that you put a bowl on anyone’s head, especially a bowl containing hot soup. That can be dangerous.

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[1]  http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=114

[2]  http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/RCP00228/Miso-Soup.html

[3]  http://www.cooktellsastory.com/apps/blog/show/1334738-dashi-basic-stock-

 

Bone Broth for Building Energy and More

Bouillon, broth, clear soup

One of the latest nutrition trends hitting American cities and diets is bone broth. The New York Times recently published an article about it and New Yorkers can now snag a shot of mineral-rich goodness on their way out for the night. [1] While bone broth may be a recent discovery for hip restaurateurs and 21st century popular diet-makers, bone broth has long been used in various cultures around the world as a staple health elixir, particularly to support women’s health.

So what it is? Bone broth is made from animal bones boiled in water on their own or with select vegetables or herbs. Vinegar and salt are often added to help break down the bones and heat is applied for long periods of time, generally 6-48 hours, so the nutrients can leech into the liquid. Unlike a boxed or canned stock that you might find in a grocery store, bone broth is generally made with more bones than vegetables or meat. [2]

In some parts of China bone broth is called “longevity soup” and is taken for ailments of the digestive tract, to address weakness, and to reduce joint inflammation. Bone broth is part of postpartum recovery regimens in Hong Kong and “Good broth will resurrect the dead,” is a South American proverb according to Dr. Joseph Mercola. [3]

The widespread use of bone broth speaks to its many healing properties. Rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, and many other trace minerals, bone broth nourishes the blood and is ideal for building energy and vitality in people who have just had surgery, are menstruating or about to menstruate, or who have just had a baby. Many natural and holistic healers also use bone broth to help boost fertility. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine for example, the marrow from the bones is said to build the kidney energy which must be strong if conception is to take place. [4]

The luscious gelatin that the bone broth contains has also been shown to help re/build joints and sooth connective tissues, including the lining of the stomach and intestines so whether you have a torn ligament or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, bone broth may just help. How does it work? The jiggly gelatin that bone broth becomes when it cools essentially is made of all of the proteins, collagen, and goodness contained within the animals’ marrow and ligaments so the animals’ parts are essentially helping to rebuild your similar parts. Many people turn to supplements for these nutrients but bone broth provides a more bioavailable and digestable form. [5]

Before I share a recipe to make your own bone broth, I need to underscore how incredibly easy it is to make this. I demonstrate how to make bone broth in some of my cooking class workshops and people are overwhelmingly surprised at how simple this is and how little time it takes to make. In addition, it freezes well and is delicious on its own, as a warming drink on its own, or as the basis for soups or stews. Bone broth and stock can generally be used in recipes interchangeably but the amount of bone broth you use depends on how concentrated it is. If you’ve made a particularly rich and gelatinous broth, use a smaller amount, approximately 3/4 to 7/8’s the amount of liquid called for in the recipe, and dilute it with water.

Bone Broth Recipe

I actually base my chicken bone broth recipe on Weston A. Price Foundation’s recipe. I make a few tweaks but to learn those, you will need to attend one of my workshops. 🙂

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[1]Julia Moskin. “Bones, Broth, Bliss: Bone Broth Evolves from Prehistoric Food to Paleo Drink.” The New York Times, January 6, 2015.

[2]  Sally Fallon Morell. “Broth is Beautiful.” January 1, 2000.

[3]  Paul Pitchford. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, 3rd edition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002, p. 296; Aviva Jill Romm. Natural Health after Birth: The Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2002, p. 179; Dr. Joseph Mercola. “Bone Broth—One of Your Most Healing Diet Staples.” December 16, 2013.

[4]  See for example: Aimee Raupp, “Using Homemade Bone Broth for the Treatment of Infertility.” Acupuncture Today. October, 2012, Vol. 13, Issue 10; Margarita Alcantara, “Traditional Chicken Bone Broth: A Recipe to Build Qi and Blood for Immune Building, Fertility, and Postpartum.” May 6, 2013.

[5]  RW Moskowitz. “Role of collagen hydrolysate in bone and joint disease.” Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism. October 30, 2000(2): 87-99; Mercola “Bone Broth.“; Dr. Josh Axe. “Bone Broth Benefits for Digestion, Arthritis, and Cellulite.”