Let this month make a big difference in your life: in the coming 30 days, give up some unhealthy habits. Giving up an old habit is never easy, but if you try to make small changes and keep your goals easy, you'll succeed.
WEEKEND I: Think about frying. How often do you ask for French fries instead of steamed vegetables as your side order at a restaurant?
The news on the fried-food front gets grimmer. You already knew that fried foods increase cholesterol and block blood vessels. But a recent research study shows that the hardening of arteries, which can lead to heart attack or stroke, can begin as early as age 13. What's more, reports Health magazine, 37 percent of 20-to-29-year-olds and 60 percent of 30-to-39-year-olds show signs of the condition.
Juxtapose this information with the fact that French fries are America's largest-selling fast-food item, and you have a scary scenario. The solution: switch to baked fries -- they could cut your cholesterol and cancer risk significantly.
Not just French fries; apply your resolve to everything you cook. Ayurveda recommends steaming, stir-frying, roasting, and slow cooking as ideal methods.
A sample recipe:
Stir-fried Zucchini: Peel and grate. Heat ghee in a pan, toss in a few cumin seeds, and when the aroma is released, add the zucchini and saute on medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Season, sprinkle a little lemon juice and toss lightly. Garnish with finely-chopped cilantro.
WEEK I: One of the most refreshing habits you can cultivate is to make sure you get a good night's sleep. No less a person than Winston Churchill had this to say about sleep: "Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination. You will be able to accomplish more. When the war started, I had to sleep during the day because that was the only way I could cope with my responsibilities."
While ayurveda does not recommend sleeping during the day, it certainly recommends getting deep, restful sleep at night. But a huge number of us have forgotten -- or just never learned -- to give ourselves the much-needed quota of rest. Prevention magazine once quoted a high-profile CEO as admitting that so hard she had learned to drive herself, she thought of sleep as a waste of time.
Well, this executive, and millions like her, need help sleeping better. A simple way to begin is to turn in by 10:00 p.m. every night. If you are a chronic late sleeper, push your bedtime forward by just 30 minutes a night so that your body is eased into the new rhythm.
If you think you fit the description of an insomniac, try Maharishi Ayurveda's Blissful Sleep self-care system. The herbs in these formulations will soothe your senses and calm your mind, resulting in the sleep of your dreams.
WEEKEND II: An eye-opening article in a recent issue of National Geographic talks about the toxins and pathogens that lurk in our everyday food -- right from mangoes to meat. It is, indeed, scary to think what we put inside our bodies today might trigger cancer ten years down the line.
The ayurvedic answer to cancer? Think about the spirit. In their inspiring book, The Answer to Cancer, authors Hari Sharma and James Meade describe the spirit thus: "The heart of Vedic spiritual technology is a simple understanding, expressed in the Sanskrit phrase 'swashmin tishthati iti swasthya', which translates as 'the person who remains in the Self all the time is healthy.'"
The logic is simple, say the authors. If you could remain fully open to the spirit all the time, then you would not crave alcohol, cigarettes, fatty foods, sugar, or any of the other carcinogens.
This weekend, spend some time with yourself, thinking about the Self and about ways to stay connected to it. It will make you feel good. Better still, this spiritual advice is only one nugget among a hundred others sprinkled across the pages of the book. Pick it up now, and learn how to remain in the Self forever.
WEEK II: In her book A Woman's Best Medicine for Menopause, Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D., suggests dietary tips that nourish the heart. A sampling: Squeeze a wedge of fresh lemon or lime on your food just before serving.
Add a few sprinkles of freshly-ground black pepper to your meal.
Include fresh pineapple in your diet.
How simple, yet how flavorful and inspiring these ideas are! This week, think up some fresh ways to add zest to your plate. Even easier -- just read Nancy Lonsdorf's book for a bounty of healthful tips.
WEEKEND III: In Body and Soul magazine, writer Patricia Perkins talks about willpower: The image of idea-in-action for me is a plant in a seed in a soil. The plant gathers energy, builds tension, slowly but inexorably puts all its force into one point and pushes its way through the soil to the sunlight above. The plant isn't "trying." It isn't thinking. The concept and the action is one. The center is still.
These beautiful lines echo a key ayurvedic concept: pragya-aparadh, or mistake of the intellect. When the intellect commits an error, mind, body, and spirit start to pull a person in different directions. The resulting imbalance slowly spreads to every aspect of your personality, generating ill health.
To correct a mistake of the intellect, you need to wake up your very cells -- enliven them to the truth that you have a Higher Self. This sounds tougher than it is. The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians intellect-awakening tips include taking a walk in the early morning, sipping a cup of tea to sweeten the mind, listening to birdsong. These simple things are unbelievably powerful, says The Council, in their capacity to reunite all parts of your being.
WEEK III: This week, focus on the key area of your physiology: digestion. Think about how poor digestion sets off a chain of unhappy consequences. Not only do you feel dull and tired, but you could also start getting seemingly-unrelated problems like allergen reactions (a whopping 100 million Americans react to allergens). Especially when ragweed blooms and leaves begin to fall, pollen and mold counts soar, adding to your woes. There are several steps you can take to reset your digestion and keep allergens at bay. Apart from following a regular routine and eating fresh, fibrous foods; you can find relief with the Aller-Defense formula from Maharishi Ayurveda, which performs two-in-one healing: supports better digestion as well as enhances natural immunity. The synergy of herbs in this precisely-combined formula is the secret to its effectiveness.
WEEKEND IV: This weekend, think about scent. How often do you light a fragrant candle or inhale the vapors from a healing aroma oil? Where's the time, you might argue? Well, all it takes is less than a minute. Light an aroma candle and let the perfume seep into your senses.
Not trying aromatherapy doesn't fall strictly under the "bad habit" category. But if you do it, your whole being will thank you for it. So potent is the power of scent that doctors are discovering its benefits in MRI scan rooms and outpatient chemotherapy rooms.
WEEK IV: Think about finding time for other people. In the past few months, how often have you forgotten to send a birthday card, omitted a visit with someone who has lost a dear one, or neglected to connect with a friend? Failing to bond with people beyond the primary circle of our office colleagues and family is a habit that stress helps perpetuate.
One easy way to break this "habit" is to close your eyes every now and then, and try to think about other people. It works like a post-it note -- and once you remind yourself, you'll pick up the phone to do what you need to: exchange notes or empathize.
In ayurvedic terms, reconnecting with people means getting rid of toxic emotional ama and building sattva, or positive mental quality.
WEEKEND V: Think about vegetarian diet and organic food. A recent study by Scottish researchers found that soups made from organically grown herbs and vegetables contained almost six times more salicylic acid than did non-organic brands. Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties. What's more, vegetarians have higher blood levels of salicylic acid than non-vegetarians, says a 2001 study published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology.
Ayurveda strongly recommends both vegetarian and organic foods for their pure, sattvic qualities.
So kick the laziness of Saturday morning, and drive thee to the farmers' market.
Have a healthful September. We'll bring you joy-enhancing new resolutions next month.