Sunday, January 14, 2018

Keep Calm and Eat Oatmeal!

Oatmeal is made of hulled oat grains – groats – that have either been milled (ground), steel-cut, or rolled. Ground oats are also called "white oats". Steel-cut oats are known as "coarse oatmeal" or "Irish oatmeal" or "pinhead oats". Rolled oats can be either thick or thin, and may be "old-fashioned", "quick" or "instant". The term "oatmeal" is also used in the U.S., Australia, and parts of Canada as another word for an oat porridge made from either the ground, steel-cut, or rolled oats.

The oat grains are dehusked by impact, then heated and cooled to stabilize the oat groats – the seed inside the husk. The process of heating produces a nutty flavor.  These oat groats may be milled to produce fine, medium or coarse oatmeal.  Steel-cut oats may be small and contain broken groats from the dehusking process (these bits may be steamed and flattened to produce smaller rolled oats).

Rolled oats are steamed and flattened whole oat groats. Old-fashioned oats can be thick and take a while to boil to make porridge. Quick-cooking rolled oats (quick oats) are cut into small pieces before being steamed and rolled, not to be confused with commercially prepared instant oatmeal that is precooked and dried, often with a sweetener, such as sugar, and flavorings, and often artificial ingredients added.

I recommend oatmeal for breakfast for most of my clients because eating warm, cooked food that has been prepared with a spice is a good option for many reasons.

When we speak about food from the Ayurvedic perspective, we assess its elemental constituents as either ether, air, fire, water or earth or some combination. These components are the elements that comprise all of nature, including ourselves, as in our doshic make up (see previous Ayurvedic Health Coach Column Blog Post).

Oatmeal is primarily composed of the earth element, and when cooked with water into a porridge or cereal, it has the qualities of earth and water that are heavy, moist and slightly sweet, and are most balancing for the natures of vata and pitta dosha, though most doshas can eat it, varying the preparation methods.

To strengthen our digestive capacity cook the oatmeal with some spice such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger or turmeric and black pepper. First sauté the spices in ghee, then add the oats and coat them, giving them a nuttier flavor, followed by adding water and simmer a few minutes. The variation of adding a splash of milk, is especially balancing for vata and pitta doshas, and bring to a boil before serving.

In Ayurveda we cook with spices, not only because they taste good, and are pleasing to our senses,  they also have a health benefit. The spices when cooked in ghee are carried into our tissues and have the effect of stimulating our body to produce more digestive enzymes. When we produce our own enzymes, we  strengthen our agni or digestive fire, which strengthens our digestive capacity and ability to attain more nourishment from our food. The increase in digestive fire, which is the same as saying an increase in digestive enzymes also reduces ama, or the accumulation of toxins. When we don’t properly produce digestive enzymes, it is like a wind blowing on our camp fire, and cooking or digestion becomes partial and the undigested portion becomes ama, or toxic, sticky substances that lodge in the body causing disturbances. The disturbances that they produce will depend upon the person's Ayurvedic constitution and their diet and lifestyle choices.

Oatmeal is easy to digest making it a good breakfast decision since in the morning our digestive fire is not as high as it is at noon time, when we can eat our biggest meal for lunch. We need to have some food in the morning to break our night time fast, to give us energy, keep us grounded and for high burners like pitta types, to regulate their digestive fire from getting too hot which causes inflammation and irritation.

In Ayurveda we usually don’t eat foods uncooked, as they are not as digestible and don’t contain the spices that tell our bodies to make digestive enzymes, thereby muesli is not favored as it's difficult to digest, especially in the morning when digestive capacity is low.

Anyone can eat oatmeal and we can prepare it according to our dosha and condition.
When prepared with milk, cinnamon or cardamom and a pinch of raw sugar, being warm, heavy, moist and sweet is very comforting and balancing for people that are vata dosha predominant.

For pitta predominant people, preparing with milk, turmeric and black pepper helps cleanse the blood and reduce heat and inflammation, or with milk, rosewater and a pinch of raw sugar in the summer for a more cooling effect.

For kapha predominant people, prepare a dryer version, cooked with a smaller amount of water and more spices like cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, creating a hot, dry and lighter version will be more balancing.

Other variations can include adding chopped apples, pears, dates, or coconut while cooking.  Pick one and keep breakfast simple as previously mentioned, digestive capacity is lower at this time of the day, and mixing and matching too many things will not digest properly. Also improper food combinations at any time of day or meal can decrease agni and increase ama. Fruits are usually eaten separately except for the ones listed, which will complement oats. Apples or coconut are good for pitta in that they reduce heat and inflammation, where as dates and coconut are heavy, moist and sweet providing more nourishment for vata, pears and apples are lighter and better choices for kapha.

A 3.5 ounce serving of cooked oatmeal by itself has 71 calories, 1.7 grams of fiber, vitamins and minerals such as calcium, phosphorous and potassium, making it a nutritious and purposeful bowl full of yummy goodness.

The Cleveland Clinic says that “If you eat one and one-half cups of oatmeal each day, you can lower your cholesterol by 5 to 8 percent.  It contains soluble and insoluble fiber, two types that your body needs. Insoluble fiber, which is also found in the skins of many fruits, helps keep us regular. Soluble fiber, which is also found in beans, oranges and pears, helps prevent disease and lower cholesterol. Getting both types of fiber is a big win for your body, and there’s another benefit: fiber can also aid weight loss. It helps you feel full and satisfied”.

Because oatmeal has a low glycemic index, it can help maintain glucose levels. This can be beneficial for people with diabetes, who especially need to manage their blood sugar levels.

Non-contaminated, pure oats are gluten-free. They are safe for most people with gluten-intolerance. The main problem with oats and gluten-free eating* is contamination. Most commercial oats are processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley, and rye.

Get the most bang for your buck with organic bulk oats or order some the next time you go out for breakfast and enjoy a simple, warm, delicious and health promoting breakfast every day!

*Often food intolerance is due to the industrial pesticides like glyphosate in round up, as well as improper food combining and food choices eaten at the wrong time of the day. Intolerance of small amounts of organic gluten without a celiac disease diagnosis, is often a sign of either weak agni or too much ama and we can work with that. Most digestive imbalances are often corrected with Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle modifications, and occasional, transitional herbal supplementation, according to your dosha and condition.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Value of Creativity for Health is Measurable in More Ways Than ONE!

Art is not just the created object, it is a way of life, a holistic experience that incorporates aesthetics with personal, communal, spiritual beliefs, historical events, stories, dreams and personal visions.

The process of creating something is more important than the something itself, because the creative process is an integrating experience, unifying all of the aspects of the human being; returning them to wholeness. Creativity is a vehicle to integration, enhanced relationships and connections between a human being and themselves, others, their environment and ultimately to the entire world and universe, creating wholeness, relaxation, awareness and return to our natural state of being and by the way, is also the Yogic and Ayurvedic definition of health.

In the Dakota or Eastern Sioux language, the word “art” is translated as “woonspe” which literally means “precept” or “lesson”.  They understood that the expansion of perception beyond ordinary perception was the highest lesson and saw art as a vehicle. There wasn’t a specific word translated as art, nor was anything they made called art, it was called a comb, a brush, a plate, a dance, a song, a story, etc. Each with a purpose, and all of life, including its processes considered as sacred and interconnected to a whole of nature, the origin of all creation. Similar to the Yogic definition of health they saw all of life stemming from living in unity and sacred relationship.

The work of creating beautiful objects is part of daily life and we take pride in creating and using them. Creating something offers a sense of contribution and belonging that stems from our unique expression. The sustained absorption of our attention that is necessary for the process and that the process also generates,  has been proven to demonstrate neuroplasticity to the brain, improving our mood, emotions, affecting our nervous system and over- all health, wellbeing longevity and quality of life. It has also been shown that creativity makes positive changes in the brain improving cognition to help us learn, problem solve,  making us smarter and allowing  the brilliance within to be experienced and expressed.

When we are in the process of creating, we are giving our whole attention to something and this is similar to meditation, where we focus our attention on something for periods of time and engaging our senses in a way that is harmonious to them. The result is absorption and merging with what we are attending to. It creates changes in the thought patterns, which create changes in our breathing quality and patterns, which create changes in our nervous system. 

The nervous system governs biological activity in our bodies and emotional patterns and reactions in our mind and emotions.  There is a feedback loop between body, mind, breath and thinking that affects the nervous system, to either be activating the sympathetic nervous system response of “fight or flight” to parasympathetic nervous system response of “rest and digest”. This has been proven to contribute to our over-all health and well being and affect the quality of our experience of life.

“When we are stressed we are good for nothing, when we are relaxed we are good for everything”.  Amrit Desai

When we are acting from the sympathetic nervous system response, our digestion is hampered, rejuvenation slows down, stress hormones cause imbalances in hormones, cholesterol and triglycerides and our blood pressure and blood sugar are elevated in order to handle the load. This state of “heightened alertness” is brilliantly designed to handle danger for short instances like being chased by a tiger and similar dangerous situations, but in reality we are misusing this mechanism and using it day in and day out to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want.  In this state we continuously and habitually live in our misperceptions, conditioning and addiction to our thought patterns driving us into mistaken identity with our thoughts, people, places and things, not living according to who we innately are and the resulting stress and imbalances keeping us in this wheel of illusion, imbalance, disturbance and eventual disease.

When we recognize how we misidentify with our minds and how they are misinterpreting our relationship to things, causing separation, and stress, we can begin to accept that there is a creative process to life, to nature that we can tap into that heightens our perception beyond thoughts and desires.

We then begin to want to know about creation and experience creation and this takes us back to the experience of creation as a whole, to our own creation, to who we are before any desires, conflicts, impressions and illusions form in our psyche and here lies the state of pure bliss, harmony and “one-ness” that brings great abundance, joy, bliss, and deeper creativity. Where creativity moves beyond something you do, to something that you spontaneously are. It is instinctive and irresistibly harmonizing with the world and in that state of living, one soars to their highest healing and creative potential.