On a beautiful day in June, I arrive home after a stressful day. Thankfully, I still have several hours of daylight left, even though the sun has begun its slow summer downward arc. I change into comfortable clothes and head out to the garden.
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I am facilitating my second Mind-Body Skills Group since completing both the Advanced Mind-Body Medicine and Food As Medicine courses. The first group started with eight members and ended with a core of four, who have since held two reunions with a third on the horizon. During the time between reunions these individuals have no contact except through me and yet they want to keep in touch, so every few months we get together for lunch.
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In June of 2012 I attended the Center’s Food As Medicine conference in Bethesda, MD. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the Center, so I was not sure what to expect. This conference started unlike so many other conferences I have attended. Instead of jumping right in because there would be lots of ground to cover in a short period of time, Dr. Jim Gordon began with a relaxation breathing exercise called “soft belly,” a slow, deep breathing meditation that allows the belly to rise when breathing in and fall when breathing out.The sole focus should be on the image of a soft, relaxed belly. He instructed us to say to ourselves “soft” as we inhaled and “belly” as we exhaled. We started every day of the conference in this fashion. I will admit that I was a bit skeptical at first, as I wondered what breathing had to do with food and when were we going to get to the good stuff. But by day three of the conference I found myself ready to start the day relaxed; I was looking forward to “soft belly!”
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When I was growing up, my Dad always told me that I could do anything, be anything. You just had to work hard enough for it. Although that put a great deal of pressure on me to strive for excellence (and probably accounted for years of therapy), it also gave me great confidence. For me, there were absolutely no limits in life.
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This recipe is spicy-sweet, ridiculously nutrient dense, and is easy but takes time, so it’s a great soup if you are hanging around the house for a half-day. It entails making a base of sautéed vegetables and spice, then cooking and blending the base with sweet potatoes, and stirring in a blended cream of coconut, cashews and fresh ginger. Yum – sweet and spicy and creamy and healthy.
I was raised as a completely non-religious person. I never learned to meditate, didn’t think much of the mind-body-spirit stuff because I couldn’t wrap my head around the ‘spirit’ part.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44. I didn’t know a single living soul with cancer, and folks seemed to go out of their way to tell me about their next door neighbor’s cousin “but she died”, or their co-worker’s sister’s friend – “but she died”. So I had NO doubt that I would die – especially because I met with a surgeon on Thursday and was told they had an opening on Monday. I interpreted that to mean I was doomed.
In January 2009, I attended Food As Medicine in San Francisco, CA. As I was listening to Dr. Jeffrey Bland talk about the health benefits of super foods, it occurred to me that for the majority of Americans, having a diet full of nutrient dense super foods may never be a reality. Millions of Americans have a diet comprised of the types of food we associate with liquor stores, corner markets and food pantries –fast, packaged, cheap, and processed with high amounts of fat, sugar, sodium and other preservatives.
I reflected on my own experience of food drives when I was growing up: reaching to the back of my pantry to pull expired or unwanted items to donate. There was a big disconnect between an expired soup can and the families it was going to feed.
Sitting there in the super food lecture, I wrote down the words “super food drive – a food drive to collect super foods for people in need”. My idea was to transform existing emergency food systems (food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens) into providers of nutrient dense foods for individuals and families in need.
As a longstanding educator and researcher in the field of aging, I have seen a dramatic transformation from a focus on “what’s wrong” as we grow older to “what’s possible”! I see this not only in my professional life but in connections with amazing elders such as 91 year- old Erica Leon, a Holocaust survivor who emigrated to Los Angeles from Hungary in her 70s and started painting when she re-connected with her long-lost fiancee from before WWII who was an art instructor! Now arthritis inhibits her ability to paint, but not to write poetry or to Skype her family daily in Hungary.
Yesterday, I had an incredibly powerful yoga class. I spent the entire class practically wtih my eyes closed. It wasn’t intentional at first but then had great meaning for me. We started with a little flow and then stopped with eyes closed to “set an intention” as my teacher says. I closed my eyes and had some tears come out. I decided on this early early morning (I do yoga at 6 AM), I was going to search inward for the light, for the joy. That I could not attach to finding that in the stressful situations before me. That no matter how Zubin does on the steroids or if and when he deteriorates to a wheelchair, that no matter how he does in school or if we feel we get what we need there, that joy is not something I can wait for from these things. I have to search inward and get joy from within. And so I closed my eyes and set my intention, to search for the light and peace within.
4 months ago, I spent $8 to purchase seeds for planting spinach and red leaf lettuce in my garden. I was impressed with how quickly greens grow with fertile soil, water and sunshine! My planter box is bursting with full bodied greenery. I eat at least one large salad every day and haven’t had to buy greens for over 2 months now. I even give away heads of lettuce to friends when they come to visit.