Archive | February 2016

Plants really do make us feel better

When we bought our mini-farm in 2010 I found a great place to learn about plants through the Chicago Botanic Garden.  The Master Gardener Program is offered through the University of Illinois Extension Office, and each county has its own division.  I attended a once a week seminar from January until March in 2011 and volunteered my 60 hours time at the Chicago Botanic Gardens between Evening Island and the Green Youth Farm. I felt that the terrain of the Evening Island was very similar to our land; water features, grasses, fields, shrubs and bulbs.  The CBG rents land in several places and hire inner city children to work four hours a day at minimum wage to teach them organic gardening, how to harvest the vegetables, and sell them, and also how to prepare yummy meals.

During an annual conference, CBG brought in many speakers to tell us about some of the recent projects around how plants influence our lives.  In an apartment complex in Chicago, for instance, more people would gather around the trees growing on the grounds. Children who lived just a couple of miles from Lake Michigan had never even been to the lake. Even photographs or prints with scenes of nature have a profound affect on office buildings, especially where there is no view to the outside world as in a basement or completely bricked siding. In Britain a study of children who spent time in nature saw increased math and reading skills.  Besides calming our mood when we are stressed, breathing oxygen rich air that plants provide can have many benefits to our health and sense of well being.

Bach Flower Remedies were created while Dr. Bach noticed how the mood of patients changed when they were exposed to the floral fragrance molecules in a garden setting.  Peppermint Essential Oil was used in scientific research for its ability to improve athletic performance and found to be very effective.  A 2014 study that was reported in the Journal of Phytomedicine, and in 2013 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine both stated the benefits of ingesting just a few drops of Peppermint oil in water before exercise enhances the athletic performance by increasing oxygen flow as the components in peppermint oil relax the smoothe muscles of the body.  What is more is it also reduces lactate levels, which contributes to soreness after exercise.

Basil plants emit a wonderful aroma that repels mosquitos; they don’t like it one bit.  The essential oil of the Basil plant benefits humans, however, including anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and high in anti-oxidants.  Basil is the King of plants. Most savory herbs like Basil, Thyme, Oregano, black pepper and Clove, to name just a few smell wonderful when we use them in cooking, and add delicious flavors to our food.  They are the primary medicinal herbs that many cultures use for health benefits like Basil. As a long time herbalist, I would rather use a natural herb or essential oil to get my vitamins and healthy nutritional intake compared to supplementing with pills.

Growing herbs at home can be very satisfying and picking your own fresh herbs for the kitchen is the best way to add flavor to your home cooked meals.  Check out the publication from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on “Savory Herbs: Culture and Use.”  A new concept among Master Gardeners is the Edible Garden.  Grow flowers along with savory herb plants, and vegetables and within this “companion” garden comes many benefits.  Herbs ward off certain insects and disease and deter predators that might otherwise invade your vegetable garden.  Plus the aromas when you walk through your garden will add to the beauty and charm of your experience.  I have Idaho Blue Tansy growing near my wooden bench swing, along with other flowers and trees.  It is a beautiful cluster of yellow flowers that sends a relaxing aroma into the air when I am out at my swing relaxing with my favorite book and repels mosquitos, too!

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs 1987 Rodale Press was ...

Idaho Blue Tansy stands very tall with yellow flower clusters on top. Very fragrant and the essential oil has a blue color; hence the name.

While we distill Tansy and make a beautiful essential oil from the plant, we can benefit from its light fragrance in the garden by just crushing some leaves between the fingers and applying it on the skin.  Have you ever taken the Rosemary leaves and crushed them to enjoy their fragrance?  I love when restaurants plant a barrel full of savory herbs out front for their visitors to enjoy!  A little rosemary, some basil, perhaps a thyme or parsley!  Wow, my word is complete!

I also think growing the flowers and herbs in a vertical garden right outside your back door is the absolute best way to let nature help improve our mental and physical well being.  There are lots of designs, some made of wood and others made from cinder blocks, that are inexpensive and easy to make.  I have a wooden one that I fastened to the wall on the back of my home.  There are no windows there and I even added a water collector to the design.  The planters can be removed and replaced each year with varieties that you either plant every year, or bring in to the green house and keep enjoying during winter.  My basil is a prime example; I love love love pesto.  I make up a batch and put it in ice cube trays with a silicone bottom and freeze.  Pop them out and place into a freezer bag and add a few to dishes for the wonderful basil flavor that is very fresh and delicious.

Water is an important feature to the outside garden that helps add a unique quality of adding oxygen and negative ions from a bubbler into the air for improved mental health and relaxation.  When water explodes over the surface and on rocks it releases particles we call negative ions.  These help lift our mood because we inhale them easily.  Plants natural emit negative ions especially on a warm sunny day through their process of phytosynthesis; take a walk in nature and along babbling brooks or create your own water feature in your garden to enjoy the benefits of negative ion therapy.

Being close to nature also keeps us grounded. What does this mean for our health? Being grounded means we are not “flighty” and we stick close to the moment in our experience with life and living. I use a grounding technique, Grounding essential oil, and I enjoy fresh air daily to help me stay grounded.

Touching the earth is the absolute best way to get grounded.  Negatively charged particles that are emitted from the ground are in essence blending and neutralizing the excess particles floating around in our body, those pesky free radicals, and bringing our body back into balance in our internal electrical field. Touching the earth means to go barefoot occasionally on either ground, or very old concrete and maybe asphalt, but especially a beautiful yard of green grass.  What is even more impressive is these free electrons that boost our health are, well, free!

Have a wonderful blessed day!

Doc Wah

Mind Body Medicine

From a very early age I saw evidence that the body reacted to the emotions and our thoughts could dictate our state of health, or disease.  I saw it first hand with my mother who had a mental illness that went misdiagnosed for decades.  I lived in a dysfunctional household where she would be fine and smiling one day, and the next day she would be a terror.  I did NOT want to live in that family with that household, but I knew there was absolutely no way to leave there; I was eight years old.

So when Deepak explains the science that has developed around Mind Body Medicine and how our bodies react to our thoughts and experiences I am in total agreement.  Here is what so called Western Medicine has decided to ignore; that our body reacts in a chemical way to our surroundings.  We understand very little really about what to do with this fact.

Trauma is an extreme example, and one that I would like to address because I think it is an experience that we have all been faced with at one time or another.  I understand how the pain nerve fibers react from an automobile accident even when there are no broken bones, torn skin or loss of limb.  But why do the pain fibers continue to fire when we seem to be fully recovered?  And what about the trauma of someone who angers you or scares you? How does our body process these emotional upsets that in turn signal chemical changes in our bodies?  I want to know how we can deal with all types of trauma, and I want to know in what ways can we get back to normal?

I think touch is the answer.  As a health practitioner and bodyworker I see patients who are in pain from no particular incident other than they “moved the wrong way” and now they are in pain.  I also see patients who went the normal route of medication for pain and muscle tension, a practice that is far too prevalent in the emergency room, and went to physical therapy and were told they would never be their old self again.  I treated that same patient with tender care, evaluating where the tension was affecting their body, the musculoskeletal system, and more importantly their emotions.  How is it that after a year of the “standard of care” they made no recovery, but with my skilled hands and gentle heart, they were able to return to their “pre-accident” state within six weeks?

When we think of Mind Body Medicine, there is another component that is not ever discussed; the healing quality of touch from another.  In the book, Psychology of Yoga, they discuss how simple touch can have many physiological benefits as well as emotional benefits.  A young woman with seizures that are not well controlled with medication saw dramatic results in just a few weeks of gentle massage. I saw a young child who having been born addicted to heroine was finally able to relax spastic muscles after just a few minutes of CranioSacral Still Point.

If we are to speak of Mind Body Medicine, then we should also include in this discussion the idea that energy is also shared between people especially if the intent is to share compassion and love for another human being.  I think there is agreement among providers that trauma victims lose sight of their self.  Being able to reconnect to their true self is difficult, but when we experience the touch of another compassionate soul there can be a shift.  Healing Touch has been taught to nurses and other bodyworkers as a non-invasive modality to help bring energy back to the body, mind and spirit of anyone willing to receive.

Trauma-sensitive yoga therapy is very aware of the disconnection between the body and the mind and uses yoga postures to guide the individual back into the awareness state of the body; to speak to the Inner Physician that Dr. Upledger identifies when working with the body. The dialogue between the tissues and the subconscious mind happens between the individual and their inner self to reconnect their body and their mind in a more healthy relationship.

Being consciously aware of our body is the first step to enlightenment.  How many of us are aware? Our jobs seem to be so much more important than our bodies and we neglect the basic needs like drinking water, exercise or relaxation. That is how our American society is expected to act; do your job and your day is about getting the work done and who cares about what your body needs.  A difficult dance, I admit, but it is a sad state of affair.  I once was fired from a job because the owner caught me reading a book on Grieving that I used to keep me calm after my mother died.  He did not ask me what I was reading or what it was for, just that I was taking time at my desk to read something not work related.  That was really dumb and stupid on his part and I was happy to leave.  I never went back to another “job” after that and have remained self-employed; thank God.

Listen to the video with Deepak Chopra and the scientific search for Body Mind Medicine:

 

My own idea about trauma goes deeper than most.  I have experienced many life-altering traumatic experiences; drowning, automobile crash, loss of loved one, emotional trauma, and even disease which can also be traumatic. I think we have forgotten or may not even be aware of how connected our thoughts are to our body and how powerful they can be if we use them as the vehicle to change the chemical process that our body undergoes; change your thought and change your life. Not really hard to understand for some, but very foreign to many.

In What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses, Daniel Chamovitz talks about the chemical messengers in plants that help it thrive and survive.  Even messengers that are spread from plant to plant through space, they emit chemicals that warn other plants of predators making them less appealing.  We all know how wonderful a green salad can be, but did you also know that the anti-oxidant properties are enhanced when you tear the lettuce?  This is the plant’s automatic healing process; to emit chemicals to begin the wound repair and thanks to them we can eat the anti-oxidants they produce to help our own bodies heal.

When I first got into Mind Body Medicine as a massage therapist and nutritionist, I used hair analysis.  I could not work with a lab back then, and the hair is really accurate in showing how our bodies are using the food we eat or reacting to the drugs we take.  Hair has become a gold standard in determining if someone is a drug user; it is registered and stored in the hair shaft and stays there until you cut it off.  We used the first inch from the scalp as a sample for the lab to test.  The lab I worked with would send me back a report on the metabolic markers so that I could then determine what imbalances in their diet needed to be corrected.  It was the only lab that would also tell me their metabolic type: slow, mixed, or fast.  I think this is similar to the Dosha type in Ayurvedic Medicine: Vata, Pita, or Kapha.  Our goal in either case is always to locate the cause of the imbalance, treat it temporarily to reduce symptoms, but inevitably to find the missing link, remove the underlying cause, and regain our health.

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