Immunity soup

This post was originally published on www.radiantcore.co.uk.

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Nourishing soups are perfect for the season. It is a good time to boost the immunity ūüôā

Immunity

In the western medicine, immunity is understood as a network of cells, organs and chemicals which work all together to protect the body against invaders. Two mechanisms are considered here: specific cellular immunity and nonspecific deference.

The two most important types of white cells on guard are lymphocytes and macrophages, while the most important molecular chemical components are antibodies and cytokines. Lymphocytes work with antibodies to destroy specific antigens in the cellular immunity. Macrophages work with cytokines for a general destruction of invaders, damaged cells and debris in the nonspecific immunity. In addition, there are also natural killer (NK) cells which respond rapidly to viral infected cells in the absence of antibodies. They are critical to the so-called innate or natural immunity.

T-lymphocytes (T-cells) mature in thymus (and somewhat in the tonsils as the new research suggests). Each T-cell has a programmed receptor to recognize a specific invader. There are three basic T-cells: killer T-cells, helper T-cells and suppressor T-cells (which turn off killer cells days or weeks after the infection to prevent the inflammation).

B-lymphocytes (B-cells) are produced in the bone marrow (in adults) and distributed to the lymph tissues (spleen, tonsils, etc). When B-cells attach to foreign antigens they are transformed into plasma cells and produce antibodies (IgG, IgA, IgE, IgM) specific to the particular offender. Other B-cells become memory cells which patrol the body for the future possible invasion.

While many people believe that herbs have either a weak action on the immune system or stimulate it in a wishy-washy way, the opposite is true. Individual herbs have powerful and usually specific effects on the immune system. There is a good amount of research studies showing the effectiveness of many herbs.

When it comes to the consolidated action which enhances immunity, there is hardly any other herb so powerful as astragalus (except for Siberian ginseng perhaps) and medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake.

Astragalus membranaceus

I am a big fan of this herb because it has proven invaluable for me. The root is used in cooking, decotion and tincture.

The action of astragalus is comprehensive. It enhances the body’s own natural killer cell activity, as well as the activity of T-cells and macrophages. It stimulates immunity by increasing the production of antibodies, and encouraging the transformation of stem cells into immune cells. Astragalus also restores immune function in cancer patients with impaired immune function.

Robyn Landis and K. P. Khalsa (see below) note that ”astragalus stimulates phagocytosis (mechanism to remove invaders), increasing the total number of cells and the aggressiveness of their activity. Increased macrophage activity has been measured as lasting up to seventy-two hours. It increases the number of stem cells (the ‘generic’ cells that can become any type needed) in the marrow and lymph tissue, stimulates their maturation into active immune cells, increases spleen activity, increases releases of antibodies, and boosts the production of hormonal messenger molecules that signal for virus destruction.”

It is used both as a prevention (i.e. immune tonic) and a direct immune mobilisation when infections occur. It is helpful for cold and upper respiratory infections, and the prevention of flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia. It has a protection function for the liver both from viruses and side effects of medication. In China it has been used along side of chemotherapy and radiation thanks to its ability to stimulate the production of bone marrow (hence red and white cells).

Contraindication for using Astragalus is when you are on immunosuppressive drugs or a nursing mother. Caution is needed, and a careful dose, in case of high fever.

Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are also all-round mobilisers and strengtheners of the immune system against viruses, bacteria, cancer, and parasites. Lentinan, one of the major “ingredient”, stimulates both the production of T-cells and their aggressiveness, as well as boots the action of natural killer cells, and macrophages.They also have anti-cancer activity, preventing metastasis of cancer to the lungs.

Immunity boosting soup

To make the soup you need at least dried astragalus, ginger root, and vegetables, especially the root vegetables. Shiitake and reishi mushrooms are great but you can stay with the astragalus only.

Immunity boosting soup
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Ingredients
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 bulb garlic (at least 10 cloves), minced
  • 2-5 vegetables of choice, e.g. parsnip, a piece of swede, carrot, celery, beetroot, sweet potato
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger root (1½-inch, 3½ cm)
  • 5 pieces sliced dried astragalus root or 3 Tbsp of cut astragalus root
  • 1-2 cups fresh, sliced shiitake mushrooms (or 1 cup dried)
  • 1 large reishi mushroom, if available
  • 1-2 cups of broth or stock
  • 1.5 -2 litres of water
  • Herbs: marjoram, thyme, basil, curcuma powder and cayenne powder, if desired
Instructions
  1. Dice garlic and onion. Shred ginger. Melt butter (or heat oil) and sauteŐĀ garlic, onion and ginger until soft and aromatic.
  2. Bring water and broth to boil in a pot.
  3. Add the sauted mix, astragalus, shiitake and reishi mushrooms to the pot. Cover with a lid and simmer for 1h 30min hours.
  4. Dice vegetables and add to the pot together with salt and the herbs of choice, e.g. marjoram, thyme and rosemary. Cover with lid and simmer for further 30min.
  5. Remove from heat and allow to sit for 2 hours more.
  6. Remove astragalus and reihi mushroom.
  7. Reheat, add additional salt, pepper, curcuma and cayenne if desired.
  8. Serve.

Important:

Since ginger is very warming and opening the pores in the skin, please stay warm after the soup. It is ideal to eat it as an afternoon or evening meal. If you go outside into a windy/cold weather, please dress warmly with a scarf on the neck.

Where to buy:

If you want to buy astragalus or Shiitake use JustIngredients, Amazon, herbal store, health food store or a Chinese market. Shiitake mushrooms have also been sold fresh at Tesco and AbelandCole.

References:

  1. A list of more than 600 references on Astragalus can be found here.
  2. David Hoffman, Medical Herbalism ‚Äď the science and practice of herbal medicine. Healing Arts Press, 2003.
  3. D. Winston and S. Maimes. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press, 2007.
  4. P. Holmes The Energetics of Western Herbs: A Materia MedicaTIntrgrating Western and Chinese Herbal Therapeutics: p.1, Snow Lotus, 2007.
  5. R. Landis, Robyn, and K. P Khalsa. Herbal Defense. New York: Warner Books, 1997.
  6. J.A. Duke, The Green Pharmacy. 1998.
  7. Plants against liver cancer.

weight loss

Weight loss

Many people approach weight loss as a task of optimizing a simple mathematical equation:

# calories IN – # calories OUT

In other words, the dogma is to eat less or burn more.

There is usually a preferred way to go. Some choose to eat (much) less to minimize the IN-calories, while others choose to burn more by extensive physical exercise and training. They maximize the OUT-calories.

The brave ones attempt to do both. And while they may have stunning results short term, such as fantastically sculpted body, there is usually the darker side of the coin. This is the invisible side of their loss of energy, constant fatigue, nutritional imbalances and cranky moods. The best way to know this is to ask their spouses, family, friends and co-workers.

If this simple equation above could only work. Yeah … All the dieters / exercisers would have been super slim once and for all.

But they are not.

The calorie restriction and/or extensive exercise may work, of course.
Short term.
For young people.
In some circumstances.

However, the majority of people over 30 will generously loose weight at first (if this happens) to only gain it back some time later. (People below 30 oftentimes can achieve better results thanks to their fast metabolism.)

Dieting and exercise may become a way of life. A life of calorie counting, food restriction, and perhaps malnutrition.

Is it a part of your life? Have you tried another diet or training? Oh, yes, the initial success followed by the weight gain again.

The simple truth is this:
A healthy body will loose weight and maintain appropriate weight as a natural course of events (assuming a healthy approach to well-being and daily movement, of course).

We have a perfect example of this phenomenon. KIDS. I mean, active kids who consume high calories, but are on move. There are differences between them, as some may be slimmer than others, but overall, they are in good shape and have great levels of energy. They can eat a lot of calorie-dense foods but still remain lean and healthy.

The healthiest kids are robust and just eat. Not necessarily the healthiest food under the sun, but they eat a good amount of food. Saturated fat, lots of sugar and carbs and proteins.

***

Why is loosing unnecessary weight difficult?

A more important question is: Why did you get the extra weight in the first place?

The answer is simple.

The body is not healthy (optimal), at least in some aspects. You will not maintain the optimal weight unless you address these internal imbalances.

The equation for the IN-calories minus the OUT-calories does not account for what is the most important in your body:

the emotional, hormonal and metabolic environment.

This environment is primary because it defines how food is digested and utilized, and what is going to happen with the calories that arrive. In addition, it is also the content of calories that matters in the context of your past health/disease history.

There are many ways to Rome, and there are many ways to loose weight if you choose to focus on that. The real decision, however, is how to optimize your health first, and maintain the optimal (healthy) weight, second. This is a long term perspective, meant for years. Not a quick fix.

Metabolism

The magical word behind your health, energy and optimal weight is metabolism. This is the key to optimize I believe.

Let me define metabolism now as in most cases we have a wrong idea what it is. I used to think that metabolism refers to the speed of digestion and elimination.

Wrong.

Metabolism refers to the characteristics of cellular respiration. This means how much energy (counted in the units of ATP, the energy currency in the body) your body produces from food, oxygen and carbon dioxide you provide all the time (yes, you need carbon dioxide as well as otherwise oxygen will not burn glucose, check the Bohr effect). If the preferred mode is the oxygenation of glucose, then the process is optimal and you will produce a good amount of ATPs. The metabolism is fast and the energy is there.

If however, glycolisis (fermentation) is the dominant mode (as it occurs e.g. in cancer, under a strenuous cardio exercise, in poor breathing, when the thyroid is compromised etc), then there is little energy produced. As a result, in time, you are energy deprived and fatigued on daily basis.

There are many factors that play a key role in metabolism. The main ones include well-functioning thyroid (and parathyroids), nutritional balances and diaphragmatic slow breathing. But there are many more.

Eating less for weight loss

What happens when you eat less food/calories than needed (and you exercise)?

You believe that in the context of calorie restriction you will force your body to burn adipose tissue (fat) for fuel.¬† But … you fall into the fallacy of the math equation above.

Weight loss often happens initially. This is the anti-catabolic stage, where body burns the stored fat for fuel. This often feels great and there is the initial hype. The mistake most people make is that this immediate effect is the result of their dieting. They believe that it will continue for a long time.

This is not the case though.

There is the cumulative effect of calorie restriction which is more important. With time (say a few weeks to a few months), when you slightly/greatly deprive yourself of food, the body will stop burning fat and choose to store fat instead. The loss of weight becomes minimal until it stops.

Why?

Because your body is smart. It recognizes it gets less food/calories than it needs so it has to protect itself in order to survive. Your body has a constant “red signal” switched on. There is a danger of starvation. As it is semi-starved after a number of weeks, it will choose to store energy for the hard times. The most efficient way is to store fat. (Of course, first glucose in the form of glycogen is stored in the liver but once it is full, extra glucose will be turned to fat as well.)

To achieve that, the body has to slow down metabolism. This means that the hormonal balance is down-regulated: less thyroid hormones are released. In addition, the balance between leptin and ghrelin, which maintain the satiety and hunger at check as well as the control over the adipose cells, may be compromised. Perhaps, there is also more fermentation going on than oxidation. If this is the case, you will become energy depleted which means you will have hard time getting out of bed and going through your day.

Finally, the body will skip the metabolically expensive tasks (such as female periods) and will use other substitutes to get the fuel for the daily functioning. In practice, this means burning muscle tissue. If the later happens, you may still loose weight, but this loss is achieved by muscle loss, while your fat will stay happily around your waist, say. This is rather bad as you will become weak, drained and simply lifeless overtime.

What is the consequence in a long term?

Your calorie-deprived diet or/and extensive exercise, even for a short time such as four weeks, has slowed down your metabolism and compromised the working of your thyroid. This has a far reaching consequence.

Every cell in the body depends on the thyroid hormones because they regulate the speed with which metabolism works. Thyroid produces about 80% T4 (thyroxine) and about 20% T3 (triiodothyronine). T3, however, is the active form and possesses more power than T4. Thyroxine has to be converted into T3 (in the liver) to be used in the body. The thyroid hormones regulate your heart rate and how fast your intestines process food. So, if T3 and T4 levels are low, your heart rate may become slow and you may experience constipation or a weight gain. Interesting, isn’t it?

As a result, when you are back to eating the “normal” way (aka stopping the diet), your slowed metabolism will still keep your body prepared for the hard times. You will keep storing fat. More fat than before the diet, in fact. So, you are soon back, weight-wise, to where you started.

Welcome back to the real you.

But now weakened and compromised.

Why?

Because your gentle thyroid is out of balance. The thyroid gland is the key to health in my view. It regulates or influences the majority of important functions in the body: heart rate, body temperature, breathing, energy levels, nervous system, muscle strength, body weight or menstrual cycles.

Are you going to follow another miracle diet or an extensive exercise program?

If so, you are on the way to create hormonal imbalances, which in turn, will make you predisposed to many complex and/or chronic diseases. And these are the real ones.

Healthy, instead the short-term slim

Instead of asking the question: “How to loose weight?”, I would rather ask “How to be healthy?”

When you are healthy, which means that the working of the body are optimal, weight loss will come naturally, if this is needed.

How to achieve that?

There is no one size fits all solution, simply because everybody is unique with respect to her/his metabolic, hormonal and emotional environment. But there are some guidelines.

First of all, it is your responsibility to develop a healthy relation with yourselves and food.

Real food.

By real food, I mean the natural one. Food that grows on fields, trees or comes from animals. It is butter (not margarine). Lard. Vegetables. Fruits. Meat. Whole milk (not skimmed). And so on.

No bars. No protein powders. No fat-reduced, cholesterol free or sugar free products.

What to eat?

My personal approach is to eat as much as you need (this excludes emotional eating) to feel satisfied. (Remember that eating less than your need will work against you long term. ) Eat a variety of food, including a good portion of animal fat from milk, butter, lard etc (yes, you need this fat because otherwise you will lack the vitamins A,D,E and K), vegetables and fruits.

My super miracle food is eggs (soft yolks only) for its unique choline content and fat we need so much and potatoes/yums (with milk and butter). I am also personally in favor of eating relatively high-fat. I know, I know … It is super unpopular and considered a crime perhaps by mass media. However, this works for me, and I understand why. So, I don’t bother what others think ūüėČ

Everybody needs carbs, proteins and fat, in amounts suitable for the specific metabolic and hormonal conditions. If you are afraid of eating fat (or anything else for the matter), learn first how food is digested. Look at biochemistry. You will learn interesting things, not in agreement with what we are being told ūüėČ

The food to eat is the food in season and the one that occurs naturally in the country you live in. Eat in a balanced way. For instance, eat more salads or fruits in hot summer, but nourish yourself with warm, dense stews and soups in the winter.

What about exercise?

If you think about demanding exercise, ask yourself whether the exercise supports you and gives you more energy long term.

If we look at research then we will find out that the daily micro-movements and efforts, standing up, walking the stairs, walking to work / bus stop / school, chopping vegs for soup, vacuum cleaning, gardening, cleaning, tidying up, are exactly the ones that keep our muscles at work. These daily micro-exercises are exactly the ones that keep burning the calories we want out, by keeping us “oiled” and supple muscle-wise.

If you want to improve your physical being and burn the calories the natural way, keep standing up often during a day if you have a siting job, and take any possibility to walk or do your daily chores. Then, if you like, add exercises which match your current energy level. I am personally in favor of stretching or gentle movements such as in yoga, pilates or tai chi.

Still want to follow a diet?

I am not in favor of any particular diet, unless it is meant for therapeutic / healing effect, certainly not for the purpose of weight loss per se. If you want to choose a diet to follow though, do your research first whether the particular diet will nourish you or create hormonal/nutritional imbalances, instead. You can win a battle but loose the war, so to speak.

Look whether a diet you want to choose will:
– help you get and maintain the appropriate body weight
– keep your cravings at bay
– improve brain function and mood
– improve skin condition, strengthen hair and nails
– nourish you
– stabilize the blood glucose levels
– promote regeneration and quality sleep
– strengthen the immune system
– prevent health disorders
– improve digestion and elimination
– increase energy supplies and vitality
– be based on real food not the processed ones,

and be simple to follow and maintain.

Be in charge

It is your life and your health. Own it.

Don’t merely follow the gurus or authorities. It is your responsibility to educate yourself at the fundamental level.

Once you understand how food is digested, how hormones work in the body, how important adequate nutrition and calories are, how crucial relaxation is and sufficient sleep, you will simply be able to design your own food-style, i.e. what and how you eat to keep you well and healthy.

Wishing you a happy journey to your optimal health!

***

 

footprints

Photo courtesy Footprints orphanage

I am a strong believer that empathy and kindness go a long way. Even small acts of kindness can have a ripple effect that will transform people’s life. It was certainly my experience in life when I was being helped unexpectedly.¬† Oftentimes strangers chose to open their hearts to respond to my needs.

This certainly made me decide to live by “paying it forward”, spreading kindness, when possible.

Kindness is necessary for us to make strong bonds within a family, community or a workplace. Kindness is a sheer act of giving without any expectation or judgement. Be it a cup of tea, your attention to other person’s needs or helping your old neighbor with household.

Of course there should be a balance between meeting our individual needs and the needs of others. However, many times, the acts of kindness can be boiled down to a loving attention given to another person/animal/ in a particular moment. Even a smile, a small talk, a truthful compliment can make a difference.

Kindness is contagious.  It inspires us to act kindly to others. It spreads easily because we make others feel good and, as a side effect, we simply feel good.

Kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people and so we feel more ‚Äėbonded‚Äô.

Kindness is good for the body and mental health

Allan Luks has long been an advocate of kindness, helping others and volunteering. From  his website, we read:

People have known for ages that helping others is good for the soul.¬† But the study that Allan Luks conducted of over 3000 male and female volunteers has proven it is good for the body and mental health too. His research concluded that regular helpers are 10 times more likely to be in good health than people who don‚Äôt volunteer. And that there‚Äôs an actual biochemical explanation: volunteering reduces the body’s stress and also releases endorphins, the brain‚Äôs natural painkillers.

His book: ‚ÄúThe Healing Power of Doing Good‚ÄĚ explains the relationship between good health and volunteering, and the factors that make it possible to allow individuals to maintain their independence as they grow older and face both physical and mental health challenges.

When we study his book, or the book of David Hamilton, “Why kindness is good for you“, we can conclude that kindness (helping others) contributes to the maintenance of good health, and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders both serious and minor.

***

From another point of view, the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) teaches that organs have functions beyond the understanding of western medicine. Different emotions affect different organs. Anger and kindness effect the functions connected to the liver. The main task of the liver is to support the even flow of nourishing blood throughout the body. When the flow is smooth we are relaxed. But … when we are angry the flow is constricted. Since liver (through blood) is also connected to eyes, nerves and ligaments, as a result of tension and the blood restriction/stagnation, various health problems can occur. There may be tension, bloating, mood swings, eye problems, muscle spasms, dizziness, migraines etc. So, both kindness and a healthy way to express anger, come hand in hand with a happy liver.

Liver is perceived as an inner harmonizer. A well functioning liver supports the heart (according to TCM), and this may explain why kindness gives us healthier hearts. See also the book of David Hamilton.

***

Why kindness is good for you?
Because it is an act of deep connection to another person. It is ultimately human,  a recognition of her as your fellow traveler in life.
By helping her, you help yourself.
By giving freely, you free yourself.

You become a seed of gentle expansion of happiness.

Are you ready for an act of kindness?

If so, Kerrie Watson needs one. She is an English lady, I have just met, with a mission far bigger than herself.

Some years ago she worked as a volunteer in Kenya. She was so touched by poverty and limitations of the orphans there that she decided to make a difference. She started an orphanage in 2010. She did it alone. By her own money, persistence and against all odds.¬† She is now a “mum” to 24 kids, aged 0 to 18 who would have been abandoned, otherwise. Three years ago she started a school, which has now 140 pupils.

What a task! She feeds all the kids. Many of them from outside sleep at school on mattresses during a week. She runs it with the support of locals: Kenyan teachers, cooks and so on.

Life is really basic there.
No water.
No electricity.
No toilets.
If you want a piece of furniture, such as a bench or a bed, you have to make it yourself.

The majority of your time is spent of fetching water, cooking and washing. You have to walk 2.5 miles to fetch water from a river. There is a well, but the water is not always there, and even though they collect rain water, it’s gone in the dry season. Yet, kids’ clothes and bedding¬† have to be washed by hand, rubbing in a basket of water. Not even mentioning the amount of water you need to cook meals for all pupils and adults.

Some kids are HIV positive and their illness is manageable when they are provided with daily medication. It costs 100 pounds a month/child.

They lead a simple life, yet the changes Kerrie makes to these children are profound. They have a lifetime chance to grow in love and learn to spread kindness.

Kerrie runs this thanks to the financial support she gets from people. She has a well-founded charity and her family members in the UK support her behind the scenes. They take care of formal issues, the running of charity, accounting, Facebook presence, website etc. But money is short. She is a no-nonsense lady, very practical and highly optimizing her spending. Everything goes directly towards food and the running costs.

Just have a look at these lovely kids, and please support this mission of the Heart. Even 3 or 5 pounds will make a huge difference.

Make a Donation or spread the word. Allow yourself for a small act of kindness.

Many thanks ūüôā

***

 

crane_exercise

Photo courtesy Tony Hisgett available from Flickr under Creative Commons.

Concentration and self-mastery

Have you ever watched a person of a strong reputation or character?

If you have a chance, observe them closely. Look how they sit, walk and talk.

You will notice that men of force and women of wisdom exert a great control over their bodies. The posture is strong, the body is well grounded, the eyes are focused yet radiant and their movements are optimized. All parts of the body are in a total harmony. They align to a purpose.

Their speech is well rounded, thoughtful and inspirational. There are¬† hardly any stop words, such as ‘yeah’ ,’uhm’ and so on. Their speech and their body are in resonance,¬† They are slow to preach but fast to listen.

They are calm and well poised, in control of their bodies. They radiate assurance, wisdom and respect.

Now, watch an ordinary person on a street or on TV. You will see how seemingly different parts of the body have their own lives. Wiggly gestures, scratching head, pulling hair, biting lips, looking down or off, tapping fingers, moving constantly on a chair or while standing.

Their speech is erratic, repeatable and lacks focus. They allow emotions to take over. They are fast to talk but slow to listen.

***

Mind is associated with muscles and nerves. Once the muscles and nerves are moving without control, your mind becomes scattered. The energy needed to support these movements diminishes your power of concentration. In addition, when the heart beats irregularly, the circulation is uneven. Consequently, the mind goes over all places and lacks the power of focus. As simple as that.

Controlling your mind and your body goes hand in hand. Any practice that teaches you to strengthen and control your muscles and nerves will steady your mind, as a result. You will become more focused. And the power of focus is the foundation of self-mastery.

There are, of course, many practices you can choose. The basic one, however, starts with breathing.

So….controlling your breath is a way to maintain your health. The slower breath, the better. Ideally, you breath in the same pattern as your heart beats. Out-breath, pause and an¬† in-breath.

Breathing and the crane

Many diseases, including acute and chronic problems, are related to the weakness in one or more parts of the digestive tract. Digestion is controlled by the autonomic muscles and the regular exercise will not reach them. Many suggest that poor breathing habits are a major cause of weakness in the body by not using diaphragm to massage the internal organs.

Oftentimes, when we breathe, the lungs tend to expand outward toward the chest as we use the upper part half of the lungs only. The stale air that remains in the lower part and the moisture which accompanies the stale air provides the conditions necessary for germs to have a party ūüėČ Therefore, we need to find a way to breathe the lower part of the lungs as well and force the stomach, intestines and colon to move, to work so they may be strengthened.

The Crane Exercise comes as a solution.

Crane is a Chinese and Japanese symbol of longevity, wisdom and nobility. Not surprisingly, as they live long, pair for life, look elegant and perhaps make smart choices ūüėČ

When it stands, the crane folds one leg into its belly and exerts pressure on its abdominal muscles. This is done to strengthen its digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems. A similar thing happens when we adapt this position for humans. Since intestines are not easily reachable by external exercise, emulating the crane will benefit the digestive system greatly. Humans emulate the crane by practicing standing on one leg and then by learning to use the diaphragm to  massage the digestive organs.

The Crane Exercise forces the lungs downward. This is beneficial because the intestines have no place to go, they are pressed out against the abdominal muscles. Such a motion breaks up constipation, encourages absorp¬≠tion of nutrients. and strengthens the entire digestive tract while stimulating the lungs. The Crane posture also increases the circulation to the abdominal organs and muscles. Hence, it can reduce fat accumulation (great news, isn’t it? ;)). The pose also helps asthma through its effects on the lungs.

Slow diaphrag­matic breathing, as taught in the Crane, allows for full expansion of the lungs and full absorption of energy from the air, while exercising the lungs and gently massaging the internal organs. The Crane posture also encourages us to improve our circulation. Even though these organs are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, the Crane Exercise enables us to bal­ance the energy between top and down of the body.

Crane Exercise

This  may be practiced while standing, sitting, or while lying down.

Caution: Avoid in pregnancy or when there is an abdominal pain.

  1. Start by rubbing the palms of your hands together to generate some heat in your hands.
  2. Place your hands, palms down, on your lower abdomen on the sides of your navel.
  3. Inhale through nose, while keeping your mouth close.
  4. Begin to exhale slowly, while pressing your hands down lightly so that the abdomen forms a hollow cavity . Since the hands act as the leg of the crane, this gently forces the air out of the lower lungs. If you like, keep imagining unwanted microorganisms to leave your body as well.
  5.  After you have exhaled completely, pause briefly and slowly inhale again. Extend your abdomen outward so that it becomes like a balloon. Do your best to use your muscles in the lower abdomen Рlet the chest stay flat.

Begin with 2-3 rounds (exhalation followed by inhalation is one round) and slowly increase to 12. Please practiced daily, ideally in the morning or evening. Your goal is to do it as slowly as possible, say one round for about 30-50s.

***

Eric Cobb from Z-Health shows a breathing exercise which is in fact the laying down Crane Exercise.

 

Standing Crane Exercise

This is more advanced than the sitting/lying down exercise but worth learning. In addition, it helps to develop balance and increases the flexibility of the knees, ankles and hip joints. It also increases the circulation in the legs and feet.

  1. Stand with your feet touching.
  2. Take one foot and rub the sole of that foot on the opposite calf. Slowly work your foot up the leg, stopping to rub it until your foot rests on the outside thigh of your opposite leg. The heel should lie toward the pelvis, and the toes should be past the thigh near the hip joint.
  3. Use your hands to massage the sole of your foot, including toes.
  4. Raise your arms over your head sideways as you inhale, and bring your palms as close together as possible.
  5. Breathing as usual, balance in this position for as long as you can.
  6. While exhaling, lower your arms and foot and repeat the exercise with your other foot.

And here is a demonstration of the standing crane:

Concentration and breathing

When your breath becomes regular, your circulation follows. A steady mind begins with an even breath. A healthy body begins with diaphragmatic breath. Enjoy it!

***

 

 

There are times in life when everything seems to go wrong. And you wonder how to persevere.

Performance decreases.
Miscommunication leads to problems.
Things break in the house and in the office.
Cars need repairs.
Friends leave or die.
Family problems arise.
Health is challenged.
Kids catch bugs and need extra care.
Job is threatened.
Bureaucratic errors occur.
Systems you rely on break down.
Procedures go wrong.
Internet is gone.
Orders go miss.
And so on.

There are mental, emotional and physical challenges. On all levels. And you feel as if run by a truck.

The winds of difficulties blow in your face and they blow strong. There is an emotional turmoil. There is so much work but despite all the work you do, there is hardly any progress. Whatever you touch to manage, correct or handle, things don’t improve and often become worse. You take action but the results are little or even adverse.

And then you begin to wonder.

How am I going to handle this all? How am I going to persevere?

Has this ever happened to you?

Yes?

¬†You are not alone.¬†Welcome to the Club ūüėČ

Breathe it out and persevere

If sudden events come to your life, the first thing is to pause and breathe. Especially, the out-breath is important. Please follow the Red ribbon exercise. This simple focus on breath forces your Conscious Self to be present in the moment. And this gives you the control back.

The clustering of challenging events has always intrigued me. How is it possible that they come one after another?

Surprisingly, even if I think that I can’t handle them any more, I do. Even when I get kicked-off my balance, hurt, torn and misplaced, I am back to my center. I persevere.

I was originally poor at facing life challenges and my usual tactic was to close down, get depressed, sit in the self-pity pit and complain. With years of my conscious growth, however, I have become better and better at handling life setbacks.

I still get hit. I am still overwhelmed. And I still get hurt. Yet, after the initial shock or surprise, I find my peace and begin action from within. This is because I’ve developed practices that allow me to regain my balance and re-define my center. And I want to share them with you.

There are two main learning points with respect to your calmness and peace in the eye of a tornado. The first learning point is that the overall balance and feeling in control strongly depends on the centering and balancing of your physical body. And you can learn to practise that. Secondly, your mental and emotional balance depends on an undisturbed flow of emotions and practising detachment. This can be learned as well.

Practice I. Physical center and balance

Staying balanced and centered refers to a basic position in marital arts. Balance is attained when the weight of the body is distributed evenly, right and left, forward and back,all the way from head to the toes. Center is practised when the bodily awareness is concentrated at the center of the abdomen, say 2cm below the navel. All movement is initiated from the center.

Exercise. Regain your center and balance.

1. Warm up.

Stand tall, feet parallel, slightly wider than at shoulder width, knees slightly bent. Warm up your body with little stretching exercises. This should take 5min and is not meant as a warming-up to a demanding exercising session.  This warming up is meant for you to 1) bring your awareness to the body, 2) get the feeling of various parts of the body and 3) exercise flexibility of movement. It is not necessary though.

You can choose any warming up exercises you know. For instance, you can do the following:

  • Rotations of joints. Flex, extend, and rotate each of the joints: ¬†fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, trunk, hips, knees, ankles, feet and toes.
  • Neck movements. Repeat 3-5x.
    • Tuck your chin into your chest, and then lift your chin upward as far as possible.
    • Lower your left ear toward your left shoulder and then your right ear to your right shoulder.
    • Turn your chin toward your left shoulder and then slowly rotate it toward your right shoulder.
  • Shoulder flexibility. Repeat 3-5x. Raise your left shoulder towards your left ear, take it backwards, down and then up again to the ear. Make smooth circles in both directions. ¬†Repeat it for the right shoulder.
  • Arm swings. Repeat 5x. Swing both arms continuously to a position above your head, then forward, down, and backwards. Then swing both arms out to your sides.
  • Side bends. Repeat 3-5x. With hands on your hips, bend smoothly first to one side, and then to the other. Avoid leaning forward or backward.
  • Forward bends. Repeat 3-5x.
  • Hip circles. Repeat 5x in every direction. With hands on your hips, make circles with your hips in a clockwise direction, followed by an anticlockwise direction.
  • Leg swings. Repeat 5x. Put the weight on your left foot. Swing your right leg forward and backward. Repeat for the other leg.

2. Find your balance.

Stand tall on the ground with a straight spine, feet a shoulder apart, parallel to each other. Eyes are facing forward, shoulders flexible and knees bent just a little bit. You feel connected to the ground. You stand securely imagining your feet being strong as roots of an oak tree. Arms hang loosely at your sides.

Now, distribute your weight evenly. This sounds easy but may be difficult to attain.

Feet. Stand with feet a shoulder apart, parallel to each other. Spread the weight equally between the legs. Keep shifting weight from one foot to the other until you find where the middle point is. Then stop.

Knees. Keep knees bent a bit. You should feel firmly attached to the ground yet flexible, prepared to move if needed.

Head. Keep your head straight, facing forward. Imagine a flexible cord attached to the middle point of your skull. Since the tendency of many people is to slouch or look down, the goal of this imaginative cord is to pull you up. Check that your chin is parallel to the ground.  Your spine needs to be straight and your head needs to be an extension of your spine.  This is where the pull of the cord is.

Why is it important to keep the head in this position?  A head weights usually between 4.5 and 6kg. It is a heavy burden on both the atlas and axis, the first two cervical vertebra of the spine, where the head rests. A misalignment on this level carries on through the whole spine and usually results in various subluxations which lead to misalignments in the body. A proper position of the head can be attained through a conscious practice. Alternatively, you may need a help from an osteopath or chiropractor.

Shoulders. Keep your shoulder blades down. They need to support the spine yet remain flexible. Check they are aligned.

Hips. Imagine your hips are a bucket full of water. Move your hips forward and backward and to the sides. Your goal is to find a position where no water is lost from the bucket.

Being a tree. Imagine yourself as a tree, with strong roots (feet) and branches (your head and spine) extending to heaven. You are like a birch tree, well rooted and still, but flexible.

3. Regain your center.

Bring awareness to the middle of your abdomen. Tap lightly with your fingers on the abdomen. You can place the palm of your hand there to feel how it is rising with your breath. Take an in-breath that begin to feel the abdomen rising. Imagine how air nourishes you through all the organs moving out through capillaries of your limbs. Imagine your out-breath coming from your limbs.

Remain in this position for 5min or as long as comfortable. Focus on your breath.

Practice II. Detachment

I imagine emotions as energy currents or waves.  In the challenging time, emotions come suddenly and in strong waves. There is often disappointment, anger or feeling of injustice. There may be hurt, grief, pain or terror.

The natural working of emotions is to flow through your body. If you maintain the flow, you allow all emotions to be expressed in respectful ways. When the flow is blocked, a tension is created which will seek its own way out in the less convenient way, perhaps as health problems.

It is only holding them back, or riding on them kicks us out of the balance and out of the middle way. We become too much one-sided. We may be swayed by the strong waves and allow them to carry us. In doing so, we become submissive and loose control. As a result, we are weak an powerless.

Detach: look at your life from above

The first conscious act is to say “Stop”. Take the control back. Start thinking about the emotions. Recognize what they are and name them. By engaging your thinking, an emotion looses its strong impact. The next act is to detach from what is happening. It may sound difficult but it is actually simple and working fast when you remember to practise it.

Exercise. Make a break.
Leave your living place for at least a day, possibly a few days or a week. Physical distance forces a distant view on your life.

Exercise. Source.
Find what s the strongest feeling in you in this very moment. Name it. Write it down if you like. Find the though behind this feeling. Which thought gave birth to this feeling? Write it down in one sentence. Now, go another step back. What was the intention behind the thought? What is the source of the though? What was the motivation? What was your need?

In doing so, by the very naming of emotion – thought – intention, you give it a shape and make the generating process conscious. It gives you both understanding and control. Practice it.

Exercise. Football field.
Imagine a football field (baseball, basketball or any other sport game field). You are like a player on the field when  you are strongly engaged with your emotions. You have only a limited view of what is happening on the field, near to you. You are involved in the fight, in the kick, jump or run. You have a partial understanding. This is how your life is int he moment. How does it feel now?

Imagine now that you are a fan sitting on the chair above looking at the game. Now you can see the whole field, where the ball is, who taking actions, who is the best to give a ball to and so on. You gain a perspective. Now, imagine that this is the way you look at your life, just taking a view from above so that you, your house, your work becomes a view from, say, 10-20m from above (the 5-7th floor of a building).  Now you can observe yourself from the perspective of a fan observing the game. How does it feel?

Finally, imagine that you are a commentator sitting at the high, far above the field. You not only see the players and the field but also the fans. There are clear patterns. Actions clusters, behavior is repeated. beautifulYou can observe.

Now take this metaphor to see your life from the perspective far above, say even from an airplane. You become small, nearly insignificant and in one glimpse you see the whole town and your life. There are beautiful colors, patches and patterns, Things happen but somehow slowly. There is peace to it and a higher order. You understand.

Practice III. Enhance flow: release emotions

Emotions need to be expressed. They are our natural meter of what is happening to us. We can feel excited, happy, joyful, or uplifted. Similarly, we can feel angry, fearful, disappointed, hurt, terrified or powerless.

Emotions flow through the body. If you feel happy, you smile or laugh, your eyes are shining, you are jumping around. Similarly if you are disappointed, angry or fearful, you need to express such feelings as well.

We have been made to believe that it is wrong or weak to show feelings, such as anger, hatred, pain or fear. As a result,¬†such emotions are blocked. What’s worse, these natural emotions may be heavily denied that you don‚Äôt even know they are there.

It starts with your intent to allow these feelings to surface and to express them as they emerge. It does not mean you should be crying, screaming, or yelling at yourself or people for hours. The idea is to find appropriate ways for the emotional release and in the convenient time, usually when you are alone.

Useful tools for emotional release

No one can tell you how to feel your feelings. It is up to you to learn about your own sensitivity here through effort, intent, and action. Working with others on your emotions may be helpful but it not necessary. Only you can interpret your emotions and connect them to the likely causes as well as find the appropriate release.  Below, I suggest a few tools that I practise myself. Particularly, I encourage you to learn about EFT.

Hurt. Pain. Discomfort. Disappointment. Grief.

  • Pray. This will give you wisdom. Peace. And a solution.
  • Breathe. Breathe it out.
  • Cry. Cry it out.
  • Write about it. Take a piece of paper. Write things down. Jot down how you feel and what is bothering you. Take any time you need. ¬†Burn the drawing and imagine all the emotions being made free through the flame.
  • Draw it. Take a piece of paper. Make a drawing of each feeling you name. Use colorful pencils. Take any time you need. Burn the drawing and imagine all the emotions being made free through the flame.
  • Mix-media. Make an artistic expression of your emotion by using various media such as writing, painting or collage.

Anger and grief (anger also hides behind grief).

When you are angry, you are prone to physical acts. The energy is concentrated and seeks a physical release. It asks for a strong act of hitting, slapping, punching or kicking. The greatest method for the release¬†is to play a sport that requires such an activity: football, baseball, volleyball, etc. If you don’t have such a possibility, take a pillow or cushion and keep punching it until you get tired. It works wonders.

All emotions.

  • EFT. Use EFT, emotional freedom technique, also called tapping. It is a fast and effective tools for releasing emotions of the day. When learnt, it takes only 5min and can also be used to start a day in a good mood. The old (and hidden deep down) emotions and traumas may need a repetition over a period of time.
    Personally, it took me 1 month of 2 x 5 min daily repetition to release a strong trauma. The technique is simple, effective and actually fun. I encourage you to read the EFT instruction booklet, freely available. The best educational videos are these on tapping. Follow them. I recommend you learn the practice from the Tapping website.
  • Physical exercise. Exercise until you are physically exhausted. The best exercise is the one that requires a strong involvement of your limbs. E.g. running, chopping wood, kicking ¬†a ball, jumping on a trampoline, punching in a gym, etc.

If any of the above is a little frightening to you, accept that it feels frightening. Name it. Do the Source Exercise above.

Practice IV. Smile

Even if this sounds ridiculous, smile. 

Change your posture, stand tall and face forward. Smile. By forcing a change on your physiognomy, new emotions (compensating the overflow you now experience) are likely to follow.

Smile to yourself.

Smile to remember things you are grateful for. 

Smile to this moment of Now.

Practice V. Relax

Find ways to relax at night. The Red Ribbon Exercise may be of help.

You can handle the challenges

This is your life. And you can handle the challenges. It is a choice.

You may choose to persevere and get stronger or not.
You may choose to release your emotions or not.
You may choose to take an effort to get to know yourself or not.
You may choose to learn the practices so that you are well equipped and resourceful when the tornado comes or not.

No choice is still a choice.

You can choose to handle the challenges and grow.

This is your life. Only you can change it.