WSW update + August yoga classes

Rachel headshot.Beach

Lots of swimming in the ocean to balance lots of time in my head.

Several moons have passed since I decided to take some time to clarify Wooden Spoon Wellness’s work and its impact on women’s holistic health. I am grateful for this space and for all those who have supported me on the journey thus far. It’s a luxury and a privilege to do this and I do not take for granted.
 
I have spent this time writing, visioning, speaking with colleagues who do cutting-edge, bad-ass work to empower women globally, studying with various teachers, and testing out new methods for working with clients. It has been humbling to hear about issues women continue to face with regard to their health and their bodies- challenges that many of us would expect to have been resolved long ago- however I’ve also been inspired to learn about efforts underway to shift things. There is currently something very special in the air and the possibilities for women’s health and empowerment are expansive.

My task in the midst of all of this has been to identify women’s needs as they relate to health and empowerment; to consider the resources that are already out there to address these needs; to identify the unique value that my work and Wooden Spoon Wellness can add (while financially supporting myself); to laugh, dance, and enjoy life throughout!!!

At a certain point, decisions need to be made, and I will take until December 31st, 2016 to launch the next iteration of Wooden Spoon Wellness. Until then, I will continue to teach and coach in a limited capacity, and I intend to run a workshop or two to test possible directions this work will take.

Workshop dates have not yet been set but I am teaching yoga every Wednesday in August at 6:15pm at Now Yoga in Union Square, Manhattan. Classes are one hour and by-donation. They’ll include a form of yoga that is slow but challenging. I’m also very excited to weave in yoga nidra, which helps you to cultivate a deep state of relaxation. Whether you have zero experience with yoga or a lot of experience, you will leave having learned something about your body (and hopefully more.) Come treat yourself to a mid-week, low-cost, juicy hour of movement and relaxation!

The first class is next Wednesday, August 3rd. The address is Now Yoga @The Shala Yoga House, 815 Broadway, 2nd floor. You can sign up in advance here. Walk-ins are also welcome.

I hope to see you at one class or another and will continue to keep you updated as plans develop. As always, please feel free to be in touch via email or through Facebook if you have thoughts about the current or future work of Wooden Spoon Wellness.

Many blessings for a beautiful summer!

*No New Posts (for now). Good Things to Come!*

As most of you know by now, I’m not really one to bury the lead so it is with much excitement that I announce that there will be no new blog posts (at least for now) so that I can gear up for Wooden Spoon Wellness 2.0. Why am I so excited? This will take a bit to explain.
 
I founded Wooden Spoon Wellness in 2013, burnt out from my former job and ready for change. While women’s health was a relatively new field for me and I wasn’t clear of the precise impact I wanted to have, I believed that lived experiences could provide great lessons and reveal powerful insights. I therefore decided to crack open the mysteries of entrepreneurship and dive into the work.

Discovering watermelon radishI started Wooden Spoon Wellness with a broad audience in mind using tools I already had: writing, teaching, and health coaching. Since then, I’ve expanded my network and tools to include yoga therapy. I used these tools and the spheres in which I operate to better understand the issues specific groups of women face. I asked: What resources currently exist to support women’s holistic health and where are gaps? What unique services, skills, and spice do I bring to the field? What kind of work fulfills me and what does not?
 
I explored answers to these questions through colleagues as well as clients and informal conversations with women around the world. In addition, whether we’ve had direct contact or not, each of you dear readers has contributed to Wooden Spoon Wellness’s and my development in some way. Your mere presence on this list has taught me. I am grateful for your teachings and support thus far. What an amazing, nourishing journey this has been and continues to be!
 
About six months ago however, I reached a point where I became stuck in my learning. I practice what I preach and turned to a coach and friend, the amazing Claudia Lopez. Through my work with Claudia, I came to understand my stuck-ness and gained clarity on the next steps.
 
Wooden Spoon Wellness is now at a turning point. I have big decisions to make, oodles of ideas, and a lot of planning. While I believe this blog is an important contribution to women’s health and writing this blog brings me great satisfaction, I need to fully walk the walk I recommend to each of you and give myself the time and space to develop Wooden Spoon Wellness’s next stage. I may return to blogging at some point but that is TBD.

I will continue to see clients but I am limiting the number of clients I take on and currently have only one open spot for holistic health coaching. I can always be reached at WoodenSpoonWellness@gmail.com though and welcome your thoughts on Wooden Spoon Wellness’s work thus far as well its potential impact.

This has been a long time in the making and thank you again for your on-going support. With every end comes new opportunities and I am so excited to share updates soon! (And if you’re not on the list to receive Wooden Spoon Wellness updates, sign up now here or ‘like’ WSW on Facebook. You don’t want to miss what is to come!)

With warmest wishes,
Rachel

The Questionable Contents of IV Fluids

IV bagPart of Wooden Spoon Wellness’s “What’s In Your Food?” series

Intravenous fluids (fluids that are transferred directly into your veins, also called IV fluids) are used in a variety of medical situations. IV solutions are used in cases of dehydration, malnourishment or specific nutritional deficiencies. The contents of IV bags vary according to the condition being treated but most include as their base a saline solution, which is a mixture of salt water and other things that enables quick transport of liquids, nutrients, or medication directly into the bloodstream.

 

Just about every hospital and clinic in the world as well as some doctor offices use them. According to a 2015 article in Fortune magazine, “There are few drugs as useful and as widely used in healthcare as normal saline [salt water]… According to Baxter, one of the country’s leading producers of the solution, 740 units of normal saline and other sterile solutions are used each minute across the U.S. Baxter ships more than a million units per day.” It is so widely used in fact that there is currently a national shortage because the demand outweighs the supply. [1]

 

There is no question that many lives would be lost if it were not for IV fluids but their contents can sometimes have harmful effects. Closer inspection of some of the most frequently used IV fluids reveals that many of these commonly-used solutions contain dextrose. [2]

 

As I mentioned in, “Salt Packets,” my opening blog post in the “What’s In Your Food?” series, dextrose is a processed sugar derived from corn. It is very quickly absorbed into the bloodstream thus making it a helpful carrier for medication and nutrients. However, 89% of corn in the United States is genetically-engineered (GE) according to the United States Department of Agriculture. [3] It is therefore highly likely that the dextrose in IV fluids comes from genetically-engineered corn.
I could not find studies that assess the presence of GE cells in dextrose (please give a shout if you can!!) however studies abound that show the negative affects, such as cancer and birth defects, when GE food is consumed by humans. [4] It is important to note that many studies contradict the anti-GE movement and show that GE products do not have an effect on humans. These research labs are funded by big agricultural GE food producers however. It is in these labs’ interest to show that GE products are safe: the data they produce is financially motivated and highly suspect. I do not believe it is helpful to live from a place of sensationalism or fear but Simon Hogan, an independent researcher on GEs and an expert on the literature, finds enough evidence to give him pause. He states, “because you don’t know definitely what these [GE] proteins could do…that’s sufficient for me to say ‘halt’ until we know more.” [5]
It is difficult to conclude definitively that the inclusion of GE corn dextrose in IV bags has a significant negative affect on someone who needs these fluids, particularly if they receive an IV bag once (unless you have a corn allergy which is discussed below) but this becomes a bigger consideration for those who rely on IV fluids for longer periods of time– people who cannot consume food through their mouths, for example, or require monthly or weekly infusions of something-or-other where dextrose is used as a carrier for it. What impact does this have on them?
As mentioned above, it is important to consider as well that some people are allergic to corn and the body treats ingestion of corn as an invader, signaling stress responses. Allergic responses vary according to the person. Most people with corn allergies experience joint inflammation, digestion problems and/or skin eruptions. In her article, “Corn in My Veins: Dextrose in IV Solutions,” Dr. Pamela Reilly, for example, describes the severe joint pain, nausea, and congestion she experienced when dextrose-filled IV fluid was administered to her during an emergency situation. Reilly knew that she had a corn allergy and, once she realized that she had been exposed to corn through her IV bag, she was able to communicate the issue to her healthcare practitioner. More extreme and rare reactions include an inability to breathe, loss of consciousness, or a decreased heart rate. [6]
Corn allergies can be difficult to diagnose according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and many people do not know that they have corn allergy. Writer Caitlin Shetterly, for example, visited multiple health practitioners for her intense nausea, bodily pain, and chronic exhaustion: “After I maxed out the available rheumatologists, endocrinologists, nutritionists, gastroenterologists, Lyme disease specialists, acupuncturists, and alternative-medicine practitioners in the Portland metropolitan area, I was sent to neurologists in Boston. All of my tests came back normal.” Shetterly finally saw an allergist specialist who suggested a possible allergy to corn. Corn allergy is currently not on the radar of most mainstream doctors, nurses, or EMTs. [7]

Some might read this blog and think: The jury is out on GE products. The allergic reactions to IV bags are rare and in most cases minor when, to put it simply, a corn derivative saved Dr. Reilly’s life. So how big of a deal is this really? Well, in my humble opinion, if we can avoid suffering of any kind, we should. In addition, I don’t believe that we have enough information to use products SO widely when there is a strong possibility that is harmful. GE corn is in our table salt, it is in our IV bags, it is many restaurant and prepared foods through corn oil, cornstarch, and corn syrup. 89% of corn in American is genetically-engineered. We are being exposed to it at astounding levels. I can do my best to avoid or limit GE foods until change happens but the issue becomes even more ethically challenging when it comes to medicine. I want to know if anything other than 100% nature-produced materials is being injected directly into my bloodstream. We have a right to know.
So what can be done? Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Research studies are needed to test GE levels in corn derivatives such as dextrose.
    Biomedical supply producers need to create alternatives to dextrose IV solutions. They could use non-GE corn and/or alternatives to corn.
  2. At the very least, healthcare practitioners should ask mentally alert patients if they have a corn allergy and if so, they should have alternative solutions on hand. (Dr. Reilly proposes one such solution.)
  3. Food regulators need to create and enforce more regulations on GE products. People need to know the contents of the products they buy and consume. While I am not aware of campaigns that highlight IV fluids in particular, we must start a culture of accountability around the things we consume. The Center for Food Safety is a leader in this effort. You can check out and join their political and educational efforts here and here. Please sign and spread widely.

—————–

[1]  Erika Fry. “There’s a national shortage of saline solution…” Fortune. February 5, 2015; “Dextrose 5% Injection Large Volume Bags.” American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. October 30, 2015.

[2]  ATI Nursing Education. “Intravenous Solutions.”

[3]  United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. “Recent Trends in GE Adoption.”

[4]  Arjun Walia. “Ten Scientific Studies Prove that Genetically Modified Food Can Be Harmful to Human Health.” Global Research. April 8, 2014.

[5]  Caitlin Shetterly. “The Bad Seed: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Corn.” Elle magazine. July 24, 2013.

[6]  “Corn Allergy.” American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology; Dr. Pamela Reilly. “Corn in My Veins: Dextrose in IV Solutions.” September 28, 2011.

[7]  “Corn Allergy.”; Shetterly.

Ras el hanout: A Warming Spice Blend for Your Holidays

ras el hanout

As some of you may know, I have a slight addiction to cooking shows and, during several Chopped and Top Chef marathons, I heard mention of a North African spice mixture called ras el hanout. My curiosity was piqued so I followed the trail.

Ras el hanout translates from Arabic to ‘head of the shop’ because the mixture is made from the top quality spices one might find in a spice shop. Ingredients vary slightly by region and even by shop but, at their base, they generally include clove, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, and cumin. Some ras el hanout blends also include rose petals, fennel, or coriander. You really can’t go wrong with any of these and oh, my warm spice-y goddesses! This stuff if GOOD!

In addition, each of these spices has powerful healing properties—turmeric for general immune system strength and inflammation, ginger for gut healing, clove for respiratory and bacterial infections, cinnamon to regulate blood sugar… Ras el hanout thus helps serve as an excellent preventative for bad germy invasions and other illnesses.

This spice blend can be found in some grocery stores or you can make your own. Below is a recipe to bring North African flavors to your holiday table. These spice-y shallots can replace canned onions on your great aunt’s green bean casserole recipe. They’re also delicious on a ginger-y butternut squash puree or mashed potatoes. Enjoy!

Crispy Ras el Hanout Shallots
Serves 4
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 medium shallots, peeled and cut into ¼” thick slices
  2. 1 tsp. organic sunflower oil (or another high smoke point oil)
  3. 1 tsp. ras el hanout
  4. a pinch or two of salt (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. This takes so little time to prepare that you might even preheat the oven 5 minutes before you begin cutting the shallots.
  2. Slice shallots into 1/4-inch slices.
  3. Separate the layers of the shallots into rings as best you can.
  4. Toss with oil and ras el hanout.
  5. Spread out the spiced shallots evenly on a cookie sheet.
  6. Roast until they just start to turn crispy, about 20 minutes. Toss halfway through using a spatula to ensure even browning.
  7. Toss with optional salt and serve warm.
Notes
  1. I highly recommend doubling this recipe because they are so addictive that half of my shallots never make it to the plate.
  2. Photo: © fkruger
woodenspoonwellness.com http://woodenspoonwellness.com/

My 108-Day Meditation Challenge: Tales from My Head

meditation space

On March 11th, 2015, I made a commitment to meditate everyday for 108 days. I fulfilled this commitment on June 26 without skipping a day. It was not easy and there were days when I almost broke this vow to myself but I did it. So what led an anti-meditator to change course? How did such a busy-bee minded person sit in complete stillness each day? And why 108 days?

I decided to start meditating because last fall, when I wasn’t meeting with clients or colleagues, or traveling, or managing my household, or health, or personal relationships, the time spent by myself was occupied entirely by technology. I bounced between three email addresses (one personal and two business accounts), two Facebook accounts (one personal and one business), and text messages. I put a lot of energy into the world and toward other people and I didn’t have much left for myself. I had laser-like focus when people were in front of me but then, once on my own, my attention span was about 2 minutes long and I was driven by my technological devices. I struggled at times to tap into my intuition.

Some of you might be surprised to read this because this is precisely the lifestyle support I offer clients. Well, we health coaches sometimes struggle and practicing what I preach is not always easy. (So when I tell you that I get what you’re going through, I REALLY mean it.) In addition, those of you who know me know that, while intense, I am a pretty chill person. I’ve intentionally cultivated mindfulness and awareness in my life since 2002, engaging in a variety of healing modalities to become more present in each moment: yoga, talk therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, Tantra, physical therapy, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais… I love guided meditations and incorporate them in my health coaching and yoga teaching.

Straight meditation, where you focus on your breath and cultivate your ability to rest your thoughts always seemed like torture to me though. I am blessed to lead a relaxed lifestyle but I go a bit batty when I sit still for long periods of time. (In Yiddish, we call this having shpilkes which is akin to ‘ants in my pants’.) By the winter of last year, it was clear that I needed a radical shift and the tools I already had in my tool belt were not cutting it. It seemed worthwhile to at least try meditation. It was not easy but here is some of what I learned and some tips if you’re interested in developing a meditation practice as well:

1. I realized I could not do it on my own, at least not at the beginning.

I found a few teachers to study with in New York and in Hawaii and learned through trial and error that, given my challenges, it was really helpful to be with a group of people and cultivate a daily meditation routine together. I sat with them each day for 24-minutes at the same time each day. Once I got into the groove with others, I felt like I could do it on my own. This was what ultimately inspired me (and gave me the confidence) to do a 108-day challenge. I also publicized that I was doing a 108-day challenge on Facebook in order to create accountability and motivate myself to have a daily practice at home.

Practicing with other people everyday may seem unrealistic for some of you. There are a variety of expensive, less expensive, and free ways to do this but all require carving out time. Attending a retreat or immersion at a meditation center are perhaps the easiest ways to find community and accountability because you are only surrounded by like-minded, committed folks and someone else is dictating your schedule. If you do a retreat or immersion, I recommend going for at least 7 days so that you really develop a routine and experience the benefits of the practice.

If a getaway is not an option, there may be meditation groups in your area or you and a roommate, partner or friend can practice together. Alternatively, while I felt the need to distance myself from technology, technology may be helpful for some of you. Consider using video Skype with someone else who is also developing a practice or already has one. A variety of apps also exist. See this recent article on the “Best Meditation iPhone and Android Apps of 2015.

2. As a newbie, identifying and creating the ‘right’ physical space made a difference for me (and I aspire to let go of it)

While I aspired to be able to meditate anywhere, I needed a default, dedicated space where I could meditate each day. I made a concerted effort to identify what I needed for my go-to space. As I mentioned above, my intention behind the meditation was to create some distance from technology so I could not have the spot close to my computer. Living in a 4-room apartment in New York City, that left three rooms open: bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom. Bedroom it was!

I was very clear that I needed a connection to nature so my spot needed to be by a window. My bedroom has two windows: one that is two yards from the window to my neighbor’s kitchen and one that faces my other neighbors’ yards. I opted for the second window.

My bedroom is rectangular and the bed occupies most of the space but I felt the need to create distinction between sleep space and meditation space so that I did not associate sleep with meditation. I didn’t want to physically block the meditation area all of the time because that would limit sunlight during non-meditation time so I created a daily ritual to convert the vibe of the room: I intentionally did not leave meditation-related things in place all the time. Rather, before each sit, I put the pillows on the floor and, on the sill of the window I face, I put a crystal that reminds me of the ocean, a relaxing-scented candle, and a little figurine of Ganesh, the Hindu god who represents the removal of obstacles. (While I don’t believe in Hindu gods, the little Ganesh regularly reminds me to identify and remove the things that may impede my ability to create space for myself.)

All of this is to say, get creative about creating your meditation space. If connecting to nature is important to you but that is not an option in your home space, print a photo from a place you find calming and put it in front of you while you meditate. Maybe the space doesn’t matter for you. Maybe you’re able to find stillness anywhere. If so, rock on!

Ultimately, there is only so much control we have other these things anyway. If you live in an apartment, you might have loud neighbors. If you have a child or children, it can be challenging to find a physical space where your kid/s and their sound do not penetrate. Kids raise a different issue however than rock n’ rolling neighbors. As a parent, you have been trained to have what one of my client’s calls “Mama Ears”. You necessarily put their voices above your own because you are responsible for their well-being. Be gentle with yourself on this front. Perhaps, at least in the early days of your practice while you’re getting into your grove, meditate while they are out of the house or, if possible, have your child/children be under someone else’s safe care and out of auditory range.

3. I had to find a balance between discipline (to maintain a daily practice) and flexibility (with my time and environment)

Changing any behavior requires discipline. I historically have associated discipline with punishment and negative consequences. My aim with meditation however was to nourish myself so in theory meditating everyday should 1. feel like a choice everyday and not something I was forcing myself to do and 2. should feel like a positive decision. As you’ll see from my journal, at times I craved my meditation space and felt like I was truly doing my body, mind, and spirit good. At other times, it was REALLY difficult to truly believe that sitting down to meditate was an exciting, loving thing to do for myself.

I believe one of the keys to maintaining my commitment to meditate everyday was the measure of flexibility I allowed myself: the time of day when I meditated and the amount of time I would sit for could vary and move with my schedule. I was thus making choices related to my meditation practice. It was not a given.

My baseline was to sit for 24 minutes but, as one of my teachers taught us, there are benefits to be gained from 12 minutes of meditation or even 6 minutes if necessary. In addition, when I wasn’t able to sit first thing in the morning in my bedroom, I would try to meditate somewhere else at a different time. I most often did not get a satisfying, juicy meditation outside of my cozy bedroom setup but that sometimes made me more disciplined to create the space for that the next day.

Maybe for you it will be different but don’t judge yourself if you give yourself a longer rope one day and it proves really difficult. That’s where you are that day.

4. Journaling immediately after my meditation helped me to focus on my breath during my meditation

Journaling gave me a place to put the thoughts that arose during my meditation. This helped my meditation because I could just say to myself, “I will deal with this thought later, when I journal.” I didn’t need to hold these thoughts in my head thus freeing me to focus on my breath during my sit.

Here are a few musings from my journal to illustrate some of the ideas above (or at the very least to entertain you):

3/11/15 At this time of day, if I sit just to the right of center of the window, I can see the moon from my meditation seat.

3/12/15 Today I sit down to meditate with the moon and will rise from my meditation with the sun. That’s cool. Inhale. Exhale. No, I’m not supposed to say that. Inhale nourishment. Exhale toxins. No, that doesn’t work. My inhalations and exhalations are shorter than that. Am I doing this right? Am I forcing my breath? Now I’m judging myself… Inhale, nourish. Exhale, cleanse. That works better… I should be nicer to myself.

 3/17/15 I started looking for the pain in my hip that I’d been feeling for the last few weeks but it wasn’t there… I wanted to sit for longer today. The timer went off after 24 minutes but I would have been fine sitting for longer. Score!

 3/20/15 As my teacher suggested, I started classifying thoughts as they entered into my meditation. Today, when I started thinking about how I would write about this, I named the thought: “I care what people think. I care how I am perceived. That is fear. Hi fear. I need to focus on my breath now. Bye!!!” And I banished her into the cosmos.

 3/25/15 There are about 7 bright blue blue jays in the backyard. We have blue jays? How have I never noticed this before????

 4/1/15 I resisted sitting today. I wanted to get things done around the apartment and clean. I forced myself to mediate but I didn’t feel present in my body. Feeling frustrated.

 4/3/15 Traveling for the first time during my 108 days and staying with family. I didn’t want to sit. I wanted to dive into the morning energy of the house and play with my adorable 2-year old nephew. I resisted though and created the space for myself instead. It can be so easy to lose myself in my family and their needs but I feel so connected to my needs now. Do I do this in my life in other ways? Is connecting with others sometimes a distraction from my other commitments? I originally thought I would post regular updates about my 108-day challenge on Facebook but I’m finding that, during my sit, I start to think about the pieces I will share. I ask myself, “What am I learning now? What can I share that others will benefit from hearing?” I need this time for me. No more Facebook updates.

4/6/15 Coming into my breath tonight was really good. I noticed I was gripping in my abdomen. Do I do this often over the course of the day? How does this affect my health?

 4/9/15 The thoughts that popped into my meditation related to past relationships. I think I need some extra love today. Calling my girls in 4, 3, 2…

 4/19/15 (technically 4/20) Sometimes I wonder who or what I’m doing this for. Am I doing this just so that I can say I did it?

 4/21/15 The 12-minute sit was too short but I don’t have time to do more. I am craving more time being quiet and connecting with myself though. This is good information. I will give myself more space today and will move slowly. I will practice my “No.”

 5/9/15 Sometimes I am so tired that I start to pass out while I’m sitting. Sometimes I am so tired that I forget I’m meditating and let my mind wander. I wonder if it’s worth it to even try to sit on those days. What’s the point?

 5/19/15 Big, creative ideas are entering my head during meditation– new ideas for my businesses, my home, the way I want to decorate the corner of the living room now that I got rid of the furniture that was there… I’m supposed to be meditating but I haven’t had this level of creativity in a while. It’s so great! Should I stifle these ideas?

 6/1/15 Tried to meditate on the train from NYC to NJ. Sitting quietly is not the same as meditating.

 6/3/15 Tried meditating while waiting for friends at a concert in the park. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that but I am SOOOO not there. At least not today.

 6/5/15 I largely focused on my breath today. The only other thoughts that popped into my head related to a client and how I might support her. I gently brought my attention back to myself—this is my time, she has her time. This meditation space is the place where I nourish myself, I nourish others in other spaces.

 6/19/15 Really enjoying this time by myself. So luscious!

 6/25/15 Tried lying down for meditation. Totally not successful. Too much space to fidget. I put my hand in the air so I wouldn’t fall asleep—that was really annoying. Lesson learned. Only sitting.

So why 108? 108 is a number that has significance in Hinduism and Buddhism as well as other religions. There are 108 beads, for example, on a string of mala beads that practitioners use similar to the ways Catholics use rosary beads, to count chants and mantras. Both traditions believe that the body has 108 channels to the heart and activating each through 108 repetitions of mantras creates harmony and balance.

I chose 108 as the number of days for my challenge in case this whole energy channel thing was legit but also because, at the very least, I thought that a 3½ month daily routine would feel pretty ingrained by the end.

And goodness, was it ever!

In the stillness and in the discipline, I found spaciousness. Each day I had room to check-in with myself and my body. I could identify imbalances and adjust my day accordingly (like the day when I realized some extra love so I reached out to my closest ladies). At a certain point, I sometimes started to crave my meditation practice, like a crisp glass of water when you are really thirsty.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, my intention in developing a daily meditation practice was to cultivate stillness in my head. Perhaps the biggest thing that I learned and continue to re-learn over and over again is that my meditation practice is not about my head. It is about my breath. It is not about my head. It is about my breath. It is not about my head. It is about my breath…

Meditation is nothing but enjoying your beautiful aloneness. Celebrating yourself; that’s what meditation is all about. – Osho

Meditation is not a matter of trying to achieve ecstasy, spiritual bliss, or tranquility, nor is it attempting to become a better person. It is simply the creation of a space in which we are able to expose and undo our neurotic games, our self-deceptions, our hidden fears and hopes. – Pema Chodron

What’s in Your Food? Salt Packets

I have had several moments in the last few months where I have been surprised to learn about some of items in the foods we consume so I am creating a new blog series called, What’s in Your Food? I will highlight a variety of foods whose contents may just blow your mind (and not in a good way.)

This month, we are diving into the ingredients in commonly-used salt packets. Yes, you read that correctly: salt packets often contain ingredients, plural.

My first realization about this happened in a place that also surprised me: Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods does some great things for small farmers as well as the health of Americans (albeit expensively) and makes the following claim on their website:

“We don’t sell just anything. The products we sell must meet our rigorous standards. From basic ingredients to farm animal welfare, seafood sustainability, body care, cleaning products and more, trust us to do the research so you can shop with peace of mind.” [1]

I appreciate these standards and hold similar values so, when given the choice, I would rather support them than a restaurant that will also charge me $10 for a similar salad but provide lower quality food that has been sitting out for who knows how long. So, when in the city last month and grabbing my fresh-salad-that-I-can-feel-better-about, I also picked up a few salt packets to supplement my plain olive oil dressing. I have been trying to not be on my cell phone checking my email whenever I am by myself or have downtime (see meditation blog) so I turned over the salt packet and noticed this list of ingredients: salt, sodium silicoaluminate, dextrose and potassium iodide. My mouth dropped. Firstly, I expect better from Whole Foods. Secondly, why does salt have multiple, yet alone four, ingredients? Thirdly, what are those things mixed in my salt? I’ve never heard of them so I did some research.

salt packet

Here is what I learned about each of the substances:

Sodium silicoaluminate– Frequently found in powdered foods as an anti-caking agent, sodium silicoaluminate is a synthetic combination of silicon, sodium, aluminum and oxygen. According to an article in Livestrong, sodium silicoaluminate “[I]s generally recognized as safe in foods, but limited in certain standardized foods.” [2] With regard to this product, BeFoodSmart.com advises: “The association of aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease remains inconclusive.” [3]

The Chinese government in 2014 accordingly banned the use of sodium silicoaluminate in all food products produced in the People’s Republic of China. [4]

Dextrose– Dextrose is a processed form of sugar derived from plant-based starches such as corn. Dextrose has a high glycemic index which means that it quickly enters the bloodstream however, according to Morton Salt, one of the largest and oldest salt companies in the United States, the dextrose in one salt packet is ‘dietetically insignificant’. [5]

In fact, Morton Salt was the first to add dextrose to its salt:

“In 1924 Morton became the first company to produce iodized salt for the table in order to reduce the incidence of simple goiter. Dextrose is added to stabilize the iodide. Iodine is vital to the proper functioning of the thyroid gland and the prevention of goiter.”

Thus, dextrose is a preservative and is used to ensure that the iodide does not oxidize (i.e. start to evaporate and create a sulfurous smell). Non-iodized salt is unlikely to contain dextrose.

The corn that dextrose is derived from is very likely to be genetically modified (GMO) given the prevalence of the use of GMO’s in mass-produced processed foods in the United States. While one may consume a very small amount in one salt packet (0.04%), the amount of GMOs you consume adds up if you are eating many other GMO foods: adding iodized salt to every meal, snacking on iodized-salted corn chips, eating takeout every night from a Thai restaurant that cooks their food in GMO soybean oil… [6]

Potassium iodide- As mentioned above, iodide began to be added to salt in the 1920s to ensure people had enough iodine in their diets. Iodine deficiency continues to be a global issue, according to a 2007 statement from UNICEF. [7] Iodine is necessary for thyroid function and, in addition to goiter, it can cause a variety of problems during pregnancy including miscarriage, stillbirth, or mental retardation in infants. [8] The World’s Healthiest Foods, one of my favorite websites, states that most of us do not achieve the daily requirement of 150 micrograms of iodine and few food sources can provide the amount we need. [9] A 2008 study however, showed that most of the iodized salt in the US does not meet USFDA standards of iodide content. [10]

So what can we do?

  1. Read your salt label!
  2. Buy a little container, fill it with pure sea salt, and carry it around in your bag.
  3. Substitute salt for other condiments such as gomasio (seaweed mixed with sesame seeds), chutney, etc. or replace with salty foods, like olives or pickled vegetables.
  4. To get enough iodine, regularly eat seaweed, salmon, good quality yogurt, organic raw cow’s cheese, or eggs. Those of you who are vegetarians or vegans can get enough iodine from seaweeds and some fruits and vegetables but you will need to eat quite a bit each day or take a multivitamin with iodine in it. [11]

 

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[1] Whole Foods Market Quality Standards Statement.

[2] Norma DeVault, “What Is the Use of Sodium Aluminum Silicate in Food?,” Livestrong.com, January 28, 2015.

[3] BeFoodSmart.com. “Sodium silicoaluminate.

[4] National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China. “Notice on aluminum-containing food additives use adjustment by the NHFPC and four other departments. July 25, 2014.

[5] Morton Salt FAQs.

[6] For the risks associated with the consumption of GMOs, see Jeffrey M. Smith, “Doctors Warn: Avoid Eating Genetically Modified Food,Mercola.com, March 25, 2010.

[7] The Salt Institute. Iodized Salt, July 13, 2013.

[8] American Thyroid Association. Iodine Deficiency. June 4, 2012.

[9] The World’s Healthiest Foods. Iodine.

[10] Pernendu K. Dasgupta, et al. “Iodine Nutrition: Iodine Content of Iodized Salt in the United States. Environmental Science Technology. 2008. 42 (4): pp. 1315-1323.

[11] For more ways to get your iodine-intake, see The World’s Healthiest Foods article on iodine.

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.

Mother’s Day for Women Who Are Not Mothers

pic of woman with ballonsI am in my late 30s and I am not a mother. Many beautiful, amazing, successful women I know are also not mothers for various reasons. Some of us hope to be moms one day, some of us are very happy without children, and some of us are not sure about motherhood. Some are actively trying to become a mom but they have fertility issues and the gods have not decided that it’s time.

For those of us who are not mothers, Mother’s Day can just be another day or it may be really difficult and painful or it might just be annoying: Why don’t we have a day to celebrate our contributions to the world and receive a brunch discount?

If you’re having a tough go of it, consider the possibility of turning this day upside down. It may be easier said than done, especially if life without a child is not a choice and you feel a void. Women are more than our children though. We have value beyond the human babies we may or may not produce. We birth an infinite number of beautiful, magical, important things in this world. Consider treating this day as an opportunity to honor other parts of your creative self and nourish your yin (feminine energy). Here are three ideas:

  1. Express your creativity—cook, paint, sculpt, write, dance, play music, or just consciously and with awareness BE yourself in the world— however loudly or quietly you are comfortable with. Generate with intention today.
  2. Be sexy. Whether you have a partner or not, buy yourself some lingerie or a special toy, run errands commando-style, dance naked in your living room, share a fantasy with a lover—whatever activates your pleasure center.
  3. Sleep late and have a lazy morning. This is something people with children in the house are generally not able to do. Take advantage of your ability to wake up whenever the f*k you want. Find ways to relax and even revel in your bed. Make it luxurious.