Mens sana in corpore sano: a sound mind in a healthy body – a very good motto that is. The saying comes from the Roman Juvenal, and it applies as much today as it did two thousand years ago, of course.
I’ve alternated, myself, between being a certified bon vivant, almost a regular Zorba the Greek, and in the past, being a certified health freak, purist and borderline ascetic. Lately it seems to me that a bit more balance would be a good thing.
Balance is a good thing, and under-rated. Moderation in everything, as the ancient Greeks used to say – including moderation. Those wild and crazy guys…they certainly knew a thing or two about life.
Modern industrial society is driven to extremes, and such extremes are not particularly healthy, wise, or conducive to soundness, peace or clarity of mind. But, as William Blake said, “If a fool would persist in his folly he would soon become wise.”
I guess that means I’ll be a very wise man some day, because I’ve done a lot of foolish things. Well, life is for learning, as Joni Mitchell so beautifully reminded us. We’re not all born omniscient or faultless after all.
Since I seem to have no problem on the bon vivant side, or the workaholic side – many people wouldn’t know that, but as a writer, I am a workaholoic, and I love it, and wouldn’t want it any other way – I do think a little more attention to the health side would be wise. And maybe my thinking aloud and my own mental list of things to do to keep in good health and full of energy will be of some interest to others too. Take it or leave it, as you like. I wish you all the best of health, well-being, peace of mind and happiness.
Here are some thoughts on a super-deluxe healthy way of life, that doesn’t have to be unpleasant at all, but very, very deliciously enjoyable. Everyone has different tastes, so see what fits, if anything, and leave the rest. If this list of ideas seems helpful to you, share it with others, or print it out, and post it on your fridge as a reminder, until the new habits become the new norm. And remember:
“Life is a daring adventure, or nothing.”
– Hellen Keller
An aspiration for a daily way of life that doesn’t slowly kill me,
and in fact, makes me feel great:
(The items with a star are relatively easy, and just take a little effort; the items with a cross are a bit more challenging, cost a bit more, or take a bit more time. Stars are high priority, crosses are awesome bonuses, if I can get myself to do them. Some things listed here, and maybe many, will be unfamiliar or completely new to a lot of people. I would explain what every item is, and give details as to health benefits, but then we would have a book, and not a short and easy-to-read article. So for the moment, I’ll leave it to the reader to look up any unfamiliar terms or items if they wish to explore further. Happy hunting! The quest for health and wellness is worth the trek! And the journey can be interesting and fun as well!)
In the morning, you are waking from an overnight fast, effectively, and the best way to end a fast, however short or long (and fasts are awesomely powerful for cleansing the body of toxins, by the way), is by drinking lots of fluids. Taking lots of fluids in the morning helps your body to flush out the toxins that naturally accumulate – or unnaturally accumulate, due to pollution or bad habits. If drinking this much fluids in the morning isn’t possible or desirable for you however, you can space it out during the day.
* A cup of tea
* A glass of Redoxon, effervescent vitamin C
* A glass of lemon water
+ A small glass of wheat juice
* A glass of fruit juice – preferably freshly squeezed and organic if possible
(Vary the juices, for variety of taste and nutrients. Mixed berry, pomegranate, apple, cherry, grapefruit, prune and pineapple are best.)
* A glass of vegetable juice – preferably freshly juiced and organic
* A cup of detox tea
* A cup of green tea, genmaicha or kukicha
* A cup of miso broth or miso soup
* A glass of Green+ or other greens drink
* A cup of pau d’arco tea
(Another trip to the toilet after all those fluids.)
+ Fried bacon, blood pudding and steak with fries and gravy for breakfast, with a large glass of Coke to wash it down – ok, just kidding. Save that for once a month, at most.
A piece of fruit and a smoothie for breakfast
This is a delicious, super-nutritious meal in a glass, that you can take in a travel mug or thermos. I use goat’s whey powder, with fresh ground flax and pumpkin seeds (use a coffee grinder), lecithin granules, Fiber One cereal for extra fiber, maca and essential oils – but all of these are optional – along with blueberries, pineapple and banana, buttermilk (you won’t notice the taste at all) and crushed ice, for a smoothie that is extremely high in anti-oxidants, nutrients and fibre, and has complete protein and amino acids, plus potassium and natural anti-inflammatory and digestive aid properties from the pineapple. Or if you don’t want to wash the blender afterward and have you the coin, buy smoothies pre-made in a bottle. They’re not nearly as delicious or as nutritious, but they’re still very good for you. The smoothies I make, with this recipe, always make me feel amazing. It’s like drinking an elixir of liquid sunshine.
Even fifteen minutes of yoga does amazing things for your body and mind. Just do it.
(And screw you Nike for branding that expression – we’re taking it back, no offence.)
+ Prayers and meditation
Prayer is powerful. And nothing, and I mean nothing that I have experienced, compares to the power of meditation for healing and calming and refreshing the mind and body. Again, even fifteen minutes, even five minutes, has more power than anything else you can possibly do with that time. Just un-do it! You’ll feel better for it, and you will be healthier, calmer, more alert, more energetic, happier and more productive because of it. Do whatever form inspires you. Just sitting and watching the breath cross the tip of the nostrils is extremely effective. This simple “act” is unbelievably powerful and transformative. It lets the body and mind find their own natural harmony, slowly, over time. But don’t look for results, just sit and breathe. It gets easier with practice, as with anything. It may be challenging at first, but it is worth the effort.
* Roasted pumpkin seeds (best food for prostate gland) and other seeds, nuts, fruit
* Rice crackers or other crackers with goat’s cheese, almond butter, hummus, or kippers and mustard
* Boiled or pickled eggs – keep some in the fridge, or pack them to take to work, school or on hikes, picnics or other trips. Don’t forget the salt.
* Veggies and dip
Healthy dips, not the mayonnaise-based junk that is the norm. If you get an inexpensive food processor you can make your own – it’s very easy. Try white bean, artichoke and asiago dip, spinach dip, hummus or hot broccoli dip – all amazingly delicious, and using yogurt instead of mayonnaise, very, very healthy, as well as simple and easy to make.
* Nachos with salsa, yogurt, guacamole, refried beans, jalapeno and/or cheese
(Try rice chips if allergic to corn, as I am.)
* Popcorn – simple, fast, comforting, tasty, and very nutritious too. Try olive oil instead of butter for a change. (Leave the margarine on the shelf – that should be used only for lubing bicycle chains, not eaten.)
* Tamari almonds – my favourite snack in the world. So delicious, and supremely healthy. Find them at the health food store or roast your own.
If you’re temped by junk food or fast foods, try keeping healthy snacks on hand, in the car or your briefcase, backpack or purse at all times. Remember that the junk food will be done if a few minutes, and for the rest of the day you’ll feel worse than if you had a healthy snack.
If you crave sweets, try eating more fruit, and substitute fruit for sugary foods – it’s far healthier, and you’ll feel better, with improved mood, memory, conscnetration and energy.
Keep healthy snacks on hand at all times, and eat small, frequent meals so you’re blood sugar doesn’t get low.
If you cook with mildly sweet vegetables you will have fewer sugar cravings: squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions…
Or make homemade applesauce or cooked fruit – totally simple, sweet and delicious, and super healthful. And the kids will love it too. Or make popsicles with pure, unsweetened fruit juice – far better tasting than most sweets, and far more healthy. Or blend frozen berries with yogurt and crushed ice for delicious shakes….
And when you do feel like something sweet and fruit is not enough, try more healthy sweets, like sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, rhubarb pie, fruit pies, pecan pie or fruit tarts or pastries. Substituting honey or maple syrtup for sugar and using gluten-free flour, pie shells or pastry will make them even better – in terms of both flavour and wholesomeness. It’s much easier than you think, and there is nothing like home baking to warm the house and your soul. Two hours a week, and you’ll have delicious homemade sweets for you and your family, that will not cost you your health or drain your energy.
Or try home-made granola bars – very simple, and takes no time: throw the ingredients in a bowl, mix, pour into a baking tray and pop in the oven – ready in 20 minutes, and you can have enough for the week.
Processed foods and fast food tend to be the worst things you can put into your mouth. Most of it is little better than toxic sludge. Skip it, and try something different.
It’s easier to avoid junk food if you don’t keep it in the house. Don’t buy it, except maybe on rare occassions, and shift the habits to helathy choices. It takes only two weeks to establish a new habit, so hold tight for that long, and it will get easier, until it soon becomes the new norm, and completely natural, as if you’d done it all your life.
* A big salad – no, strike that, a HUGE salad
Mix it up and vary it: Greek, Caesar, Asian Chicken and vegetable, spinach, mixed veg…
Use a healthy dressing, with no hydrogenated oils, and only healthy oils; or better, make your own – it’s very, very easy, and once it’s made, it’ll keep in the fridge for a long time. Try a mixture of olive oil, flax oil and a little sesame oil with apple cider vinegar, or balsamic, red wine or rice vinegar, with salt, pepper and crushed garlic – very delicious and super-nutritious. Leave out the sesame oil and garlic if you like, but they are extremely healing. Add fresh ground flax seeds and black sesame seeds on top for an extra burst of essential oils and fibre.
* Pick something else that is healthy to eat if you want more, but if you’re still hungry, either you’re over-eating, you’ve been doing intense physical labour, you’ve been starving yourself for days, or your salad was TOO SMALL. Yes, you’ll be hungry in an hour or so after eating only salad, but it’s better to have more frequent, smaller meals anyway, so just plan to have healthy snacks on hand.
*Sandwich on whole grain bread
Goat’s cheese, turkey and avocado, chicken, or almond butter with jam….endless possibilities.
Try making your own bread – with a bread maker, it’s simple and easy, and tastes fantastic. Better yet, get a grain grinder and grind your own grain freshly before baking the bread for maximum nutrition and incredible flavour – it takes less than a minute. Try spelt or other gluten-free grains, sour dough, or whatever you like. Add fresh-ground flax for essential oils and fibre.
* A cup of green tea, kukicha or genmaicha, or miso soup
If you are going to eat one big heavy meal in the day, noon is a better time than evening, digestion-wise, and weight-wise, but more frequent, smaller meals are best.
Afternoon or evening – or whenever you determine to make the time:
+ Get 20 minutes to an hour of exercise
Walk, run, cycle, ski, snowboard, surf, snowshoe, skate, toboggan, swim, snorkel, scuba dive, spelunk, rock climb, windsurf, do weights, yoga, martial arts or tai chi – just do something, other than watching TV or going to the mall, that is. For myself, my preference would be to alternate weights, yoga and martial arts, and do one of them every day, for at least 20 minutes if not an hour, no exceptions. I’m still working on that, but New Years is coming up, and I need a resolution. Hopefully I’ll live `till then. You never know. Life is fleeting, and full of surprises, but I certainly plan to. I’ll enjoy every day and make the most of it in any case. “I do not wish, when I come to the end of this life, to realize I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau, my all-time favourite writer
Again, there are endless healthy possibilities: soups, stews, crock pot dishes, stir fry, frittata or quiche, home-made chicken fingers with fresh ground flax seed batter and sweet and spicy Thai sauce (Had that tonight – amazing! ), sweet potato fries, brown rice with steamed vegetables and garlic butter, risotto with butternut squash and goat’s cheese (wow), brown rice pasta with a garlicy spinach and goat’s cheese rose sauce (had that last night – fantastic!), homemade pizza with goat’s cheese, spinach, sun dried tomatoes, black olives, garlic, pesto, jalapenos, artichokes and feta (incredible!), roast chicken or turkey with roast vegetables, buckwheat noodles with tahini, soy sauce and sautéed tempeh and vegetables (this was a staple of mine for years – try carrots and onions, or whatever veggies you like); sushi, nori rolls, refried black beans burritos, curry (mmm…I could eat burritos or curry every day), tyropita, spanakopita…. (Spanakopita, or spinach triangles, has got to be one of the world’s best foods. Thank you Greece! And, you can freeze them, and have them ready for quick meals and snacks.)
The important thing is to make healthy choices, and to make sure you eat healthy snacks often enough that you don’t get low blood sugar and are tempted to eat junk.
The next most important thing, I would say, is to learn to love cooking. If you grow to love cooking, and you’re interested in feeling good and being healthy, it’s a lot easier to accomplish those things than if you’re relying on frozen food or canned food, take-out food or delivery, generally speaking.
Cook in big batches, and freeze two-thirds of it in meal-size portions for later. That way, when you’re in a hurry, you can just defrost your own home-made frozen foods, which are generally far more delicious and nutritious than most frozen “foods,” which tend to have all the flavour and nutritional value of a cardboard box.
Have dinner parties, and exchange dinner parties or potlucks – it’s more fun, you get inspired to cook, and you share the cooking chore – which really shouldn’t be a chore, if you’re letting yourself get into it, and take your time and enjoy it – and it will save you time this way while letting you try new foods and get new ideas for cooking.
Eat TONS of vegetables and get lots of fibre, keep the carbs low, avoid processed and canned foods, eat fresh, natural foods, and as much organic as possible, eliminate red meat, sugar and processed flour products as much as possible, and use only healthy oils: grapeseed oil, coconut oil or ghee for frying, olive oil, sesame oil and flax oil for toppings and dressings. Learn to love brown rice, beans and lentils and you’ll eat super-healthy foods that cost pennies. Cook with wine for health and flavour. Experiment with herbs, spices and sauces, and combinations of them, and even the most simple foods will taste phenomenal.
Chew, chew, chew your food! Digestion can’t work properly unless food is well-chewed, and if digestion is impaired, then nutrient absorption will plummet, and you will be malnourished and nutrient-deficient no matter how healthy your diet is. Fifty chews per bite sounds like a lot, but it is ideal – 20 minimum. Or simply eat very slowly. Savour your food – and savour life!
For optimal digestion, you should not drink any fluids with meals or for at least an hour afterward, because the fluids dilute the digestive enzymes acids, thus impairing proper digestion. The exceptions to this rule are wine, miso soup or broth, or a little ginger tea, all of which aid digestion.
Most people think that indigestion, or poor digestion, is just a minor issue of mild discomfort – it’s not. Poor digestion not only robs your body of vital nutrients, leaving you malnourished even if you gourge yourself, it has other, even more serious negative effects on body and mind.
Poor digestion means that the body cannot properly process what is ingested, and that leads to a state of auto-toxemia, where metabolic wastes and fungal growth build up in the digestive tract, creating a situation where the body is literally poisoning itself.
Toxic overload and nutrient deficiency has been proven to cause or aggravate depression, anxiety, mood disorders, learning and behavioural disorders, and to generally cause negative effects on the mind, and not only the body.
Mercury poisoning is an extreme example of what toxins can do to your mind. The expression, “Mad as a hatter,” came from the fact that in the past hatters used to suffer from mercury poisoning, from using mercury to make felt hats. They slowly went insane, simply as a result of toxins in the body. Other toxins may be a bit less severe in their impact, but we should naturally avoid them, as they are certainly serious enough, and can cause major problems.
All sorts of health issues, some of them very serious, can arise when the body is nutrient-deficient and simultaneously overloaded with toxins – whether they are from the environment, from ingestion, or from autotoxemia due to poor digestion. Unfortunately, a state of nutrient deficiency and toxic overload has become the pandemic of our modern industrial society. Avoid toxins, manage stress, take regular saunas or steam-baths to eliminate toxins, eat healthy foods, and practice good digestive health as well as a positive state of mind, and your health, well-being, mood, mental clarity and vitality will all improve dramatically.
Basil, pesto, ginger, mint or a glass of wine will all help greatly with digestion. Practice optimal food combining if you have serious digestive issues: eat fruits alone, carbs and protein separate, or at least eat the carbs first, protein last.
If you have digestive problems, test for food allergies with an elimination diet. Eliminate the most common food allergens one at a time, for a period of a few days to two weeks, and pay attention to how your body feels. Wheat, gluten, dairy (not just lactose but cow’s milk protein), corn, and of course peanuts, are among the most common allergens.
I never had any food allergies in the past, until the last few years. Now, dairy gives me a slight headache and cheese sits like a rock in my stomach, unless it’s goat’s milk or goat’s cheese; corn upsets my stomache and wheat gives me hives and severe indigestion. It’s not worth the discomfort to eat foods your body can’t properly digest, so I’ve found. Goat’s cheese and gluten-free foods have helped immensely. Gluten-free pizza crust with goat’s cheese and feta means I can eat home-made pizza again – and it’s fantastic! Yeah!!! Brown rice pasta is delicious, and more hearty than regular white flour pasta; and sour dough spelt bread is amazingly delicious and hearty, I find.
Try to eat dinner by 6pm, so that you can properly digest your food before 9pm, when your liver goes into regeneration and rest mode. Eating later will cause poor digestion, nutrient mal-absorption and lower quality, restless sleep.
Possibly most important, in terms of a healthy diet, along with eating as much fruits and vegetables as you can, is to eat organic. According to Health Canada, 80% of the toxins we ingest come, not from air pollution, or water, or even smoking or drinking alcohol, but from the foods we eat. Pesticide residues are among the most toxic substances we can ingest. They are making us sick, and they are making our kids sick. Eat organic as much as you can. It is that important.
* Look up super-foods and include them in your diet daily or weekly:
Fo ti (polygonum multiflora is the Latin name, or shu wu in Chinese), Siberian ginseng, panax ginseng, ashwaganda, Solomon’s seal, gotu kola, motherwort, maca, (TRF has all of this and more), asparagus, fiddle heads, blueberries, pomegranate, apricots, avocado, dandelion, burdock, red clover and nettle tea, kukicha, genmaicha, green tea, roasted barley drinks, roasted dandelion coffee, coconut milk, goat’s milk, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, lemon grass, basil, pesto, garlic, ginger, peppers, pickles, sauerkraut, prunes, yogurt, buttermilk, flax, almonds, almond butter, sesame seeds, tahini, hummus, sesame oil, flax oil, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed oil, coconut oil, pecans, goat’s cheese, goat’s yogurt, barley, barley grass, wheat grass, almond butter, adzuki beans, black beans, daikon, miso, tamari, tofu, tempeh, Braggs liquid amino acids, apple cider vinegar, apples, cucumber, tzatziki, lemon juice, lemon water, cherries, pineapple, shitake mushrooms, holy basil, ghee, oats and oat bran, dark semi-sweet chocolate (in moderation!)….
Love, laughter, sunlight and fresh air, green space and water
Get some or give some every day. These things are powerfully healing, and very good for your state of mind as well as your physical health.
Saunas, sweat and steam-baths
These things are amazingly healing, and also powerfully stress-relieving. Have a sauna, steam-bath or sweat once a week at minimum, if not every day. This is also one of the most powerful and effective ways to eliminate toxins from the body. Sweat it out. A liter of drinking water and a hot steam or sauna is a miracle in terms of what it can do for you. And you will feel not only clean and deeply relaxed, but greatly refreshed as well.
Get enough sleep, and as regular as possible. I’ve had insomnia on and off since I was eighteen, and it’s a real drag staring at the ceiling for hours at night, unable to sleep, then waking up the next day feeling totally exhausted, so I can sympathize with people who have trouble sleeping. Here are some thoughts and gleanings I have found.
For good sleep and peaceful, restful nights, a few things can help greatly:
The best for health is to be asleep by 10pm, but that takes real commitment, I find. I’d rather go to bed by 10:00, and get up at 4:00 or 5:00, and take a siesta in the afternoon if I need to, but I’m still working on that one too.
Lots of sunlight during the day – sunlight on the forehead stimulates the pineal gland, creating melatonin, which regulates sleep and induces restful sleep at night
Melatonin supplements before bed if needed
Meditation or prayer before bed
Progressive relaxation before bed
Keep a regular sleep schedule
No food after 6pm – or only very light, easy to digest snacks if anything, like yogurt or fruit
No caffeine after 2pm – or after noon if you have serious sleep problems
Mimimize or avoid alcohol, tobacco and stimulants – ok Zorba, listen here…
Don’t watch or read anything disturbing before bed, or talk about disturbing or stressful subjects right before going to sleep
Sleep in a dark, quiet room
Ideally, save the bedroom only for sex and sleep, and don’t read in bed
If you can’t sleep after half an hour, get up, go into another room, and read, meditate, or do something relaxing
No TV in your bedroom – or anywhere, except the curb, ready for the trash….ok, just joking – man, I hate TV.
When you wake up, get up. Don’t lay in bed once you’ve woken up. Take a nap later if you need to. Siestas and cat naps are very, very good for health; sleeping in late – not so much.
Try holy basil or ashwaganda, from Ayurveda, for improved sleep as well as stress relief, or if you have insomnia.
General health and wellness – state of mind is 90% of it:
Make the most of every day – don’t rush, don’t hesitate, don’t push, and don’t drag your feet. Life is fleeting, and we should make the most of it while we have it. Living an active and satisfying life, and doing the things that are meaningful to you, will help put your mind at ease, and sleep will come more naturally and more restfully. Stifling yourself or holding back from your dreams will make you tense, dissatisfied, frustrated or depressed, and that can disturb your sleep as well as your waking life.
Practice forgiveness, and try to never hold a grudge – challenging maybe, but important. Anger and resentments will haunt you, destroy your peace and your joy, disturb your sleep and make you ill.
Do your best every day, and try to be at peace with that – worry and guilt help no one.
Consciously practice gratitude, giving thanks, and appreciation every day. Despite life’s pain, there is a great deal of goodness and beauty in the world. Appreciate the simple things as well as the big things. A simple cup of tea in the morning sun can be a delight. A hot bath can be wonderful. And a simple hearty meal can be a satisfying joy, both to cook, and to eat and share. Appreciation will brighten your days and sooth your nights. It is amazing how powerful it can be, when we simply cultivate an attitude of appreciation, and see the beauty that is around us – and within ourselves and others.
Live with love. Nothing will improve your health and state of mind, or make you sleep like a baby, more than having spent your days loving fully and deeply. This doesn’t require a girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife or mate by the way – giving love means giving love; and there are an infinite number of ways to give from the heart. Anyone can do it. Being loved is of course a source of great joy, comfort and peace: in fact, the greatest source of human happiness – but giving love, living with love, will bring an even deeper satusfaction and joy. This is the single most important key to a sound and happy mind, and to peace: live with love. It is also very good for your health, for it dramatically improves your state of mind, and state of mind is the most powerful influence in terms of human health and well-being. The studies have shown it time and time again.
“Be gentle with yourself. If you can be gentle with yourself, you can be gentle with others.” – Lama Yeshe
“Stop putting yourself under such extreme psychological pressure.”
– Lama Yeshe
“Just do your best. That’s good enough. It has to be.” – Lama Yeshe
“Trust yourself. It’s extremely important that you trust yourself. Don’t be afraid of yourself. Trust yourself. You can trust yourself. Trust that your own natural intelligence is working itself out.” – Chogyam Trungpa
“Never tell yourself you’re powerless. You’re not powerless. You do have power.” – Lama Yeshe
“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde
“A true warrior does not judge himself through another’s eyes.” – Don Juan
“Don’t take anything personally. Everyone is living in their own dream.”
– Don Miguel Ruiz
Keep your dignity at all times. No matter what our faults, or what mistakes we’ve made, there is a basic goodness and beauty within us all that never dies, and remains radiant and pure at all times, whether we can see it or not. Life is not about becoming good, but about revealing our natural basic goodness.
Love, appreciate, give thanks, eat well and follow your dreams, and laugh a little, or a lot – these are the best things you can do for your health and happiness. Make sure to give yourself some quiet time, some time for reflection, and some time in green spaces, by the water, or in nature. And do a little yoga and meditation, or whatever form of exercise strikes your fancy. These things are far more powerful than most people would imagine, and powerfully healing, for both body and mind.
So, there are some thoughts on a more ideal way of life, in terms of health and energy levels and generally feeling great. I’ll do my best, and try to be gentle with myself – I think that’s a good general rule for how to approach anything. (Certainly apathy, lethargy, complacency, purism and fanaticism don’t work. I’ve tried those in the past, and ya, they don’t produce good results.)
If anything is useful here to others, then do it up!
Bon appetit and bonne journée!
May the wind be at your back and the road rise to meet your feet.
November 2, 2012
P.S: For great recipes and inspiration for cooking, try Epicurious. It’s awesome. And no, I don’t get paid for saying that. Nigella, on BBC, is great too.
For more, excellent information on health and welness, see:
Prescription for Nutritional Healing
Traditional Chinese Medicine