The Flying Trapeze

“Sometimes, I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings.  I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments, I’m hurdling across space between the trapeze bars.

Mostly, I spend my time hanging on for dear life to the trapeze bar of the moment.  It carries me along a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control.  I know most of the right questions, and even some of the right answers.  But once in a while, as I’m merrily, or not so merrily, swinging along, I look ahead of me into the distance, and what do I see?

I see another trapeze bar looking at me.  It’s empty.  And I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new bar has my name on it.  It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me.  In my heart of hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present well-known bar to move to the new one.

Each time it happens, I hope – no I pray – that I won’t have to grab the new one.  But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar, and for some moments in time I must hurtle across space before I can grab the new bar.  Each time I do this I am filled with terror.  It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurdles I’ve always made it.

Each time I am afraid I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless basin between the bars.  But I do it anyway.  I must.  Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call faith.  No guarantees, no net, no insurance, but we do it anyway because hanging on to that old bar is no longer an option.  And so, for what seems to be an eternity but actually lasts a microsecond, I soar across the dark void called “the past is over, the future is not yet here.” It’s called a transition.  I have come to believe that it is the only place that real change occurs.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are the illusions we dream up to not notice the void.  Yes, with all the fear that can accompany transitions, they are still the most vibrant, growth-filled, passionate moments of our lives.  And so transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition zone – between the trapeze bars – allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens.

It can be terrifying.  It can also be enlightening.  Hurdling through the void, we may just learn to fly.”

Danaan Parry’s Warriors of the Heart

I love this passage.  It explains perfectly the thoughts and emotions that arise during times of growth and change.  Change is terrifying.  As humans, we naturally resist the unknown.  We weigh all of the options, try to think of all possible outcomes and still sometimes resist or turn our backs on something because we cannot bear not knowing how it will turn out.  We accept our present circumstances, not matter how bad they may sometimes be, because we are comfortable and we know what to expect and how to deal with it.

IMG_0926But what if that change, that trapeze bar swinging out in front of you, could be the best thing that ever happened to you? 

What if that terrifying transition could lead to the love of your life, the job of your dreams or whatever else you may be wishing for?  How will you ever know unless you give it a shot, embrace the unknown, get comfortable with being uncomfortable? 

You may be thinking, “well what if I fail?”  So what if you fail?  You will learn from the experience, make a different decision and move on.  Maybe that failure will take you to an even better place.  I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that the hardest years of my life would have led me to my dream career and the happiness that I now have in my life.  The terrifying years of sickness, worrying about money and paying medical bills, not knowing whether I would ever feel better again.  But it’s always darkest before the dawn.  Our darkest hours lead to our brightest days.  The Universe wouldn’t have it any other way.  Everything we go through takes us closer to our true selves.  The lives we are meant to lead. 

So next time time that trapeze bar of change comes to you, don’t turn away because of fear of failure or fear of the unknown.  Embrace the change with your whole heart.  Enlist the support of those you love and take a chance.  Trust me, you will land on your two feet.  It may be an adventure, don’t get me wrong, but you will feel empowered, alive and vibrant.  Have a little faith and see what happens.

Peace, love and taking chances,

The Yogi~Foodie

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Celebrating Spring

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Spring has finally sprung where I live.  The trees are starting to sprout leaves again and buds every color of the rainbow are unfolding.  Tulip bulbs are reaching up from the ground towards the sunshine.  Every year I am always amazed by how all of the greenery takes me by surprise, like I’ve forgotten what it all looks like during the long, bare winter.  Even rainy April days like today help to wash away the old and bring in the new.  As a matter of fact, I just got stuck in a ridiculous thunderstorm and got soaked to the bone.  It was beautiful and refreshing and made me want to laugh and dance (I actually did laugh.  A lot.). 

During this time of year we are shedding our winter skin and emerging from the cold darkness.  Or at least I feel like I am.  This winter seemed particularly cold and dark for me.  I think it was a combination of the cold, blustery weather that never seemed to end, the long days at work (that also never seemed to end) and some personal emotions I was wrestling with.  But Spring has given me hope and through yoga, meditation and a clean eating (my basic recipe back to happy), I have found my way back again.  Horrah!  New beginnings indeed!  I feel lighter, stronger and happier than I have been in a good long while.  And this Spring feels special for some reason.  Like something new and wonderful is going to grow and come into my life.

To celebrate the change of season I always like to do a big clean.  Of my living space, my dressers, my closets.  Everything gets scrubbed and scrutinized.  And those things that don’t serve me anymore are found a new home.  To me, getting rid of the old is such a good way to embrace the new.  Energetically it helps me to open up to the possibilities that await ahead of me (something new and wonderful perhaps??).  How do you celebrate the change in season?

Speaking of change, a big part of my life over the past year is coming to a close.  This week I will finish up my schoolwork at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and take my final test.  It is so hard to believe that my time at this amazing school is almost over.  Funny how some days seem to go by so slowly, yet when you look back, time seems to have flown by.  So much has happened over the last 12 months.  With the help of IIN, I have met some amazing and inspiring people, learned so much about health and nutrition and started my own holistic health coaching practice.  I am one step closer to my dreams and so much further along than I possibly could have imagined.

I am also more in tune with what I want and much better at honoring what my body needs.  For a long time I didn’t listen to her.  I would put my head down, do what needed to be done and just kept on going.  No wonder I felt lost and disconnected with my life…  I always wanted to fit in with everyone else (who doesn’t on some level?), so I always struggled with eating the way I knew was best for me in social settings (dinners, parties, you name it).  I would see all of these enticing, not so healthy foods and just give in, completely ignoring what my body was telling me she wanted (i.e. move over body, my mind really wants some Doritos).  Boy would my body protest afterwards.  And like a domino, my mind would get in on the action and I would start to feel negative, guilty and depressed in addition to sick, bloated and nauseous.  Great combo huh?  Not so much.

My mind and my stomach have developed a strong bond over the years and what I eat impacts me emotionally as well as physically.  It’s not a bond I am so happy about and I’ve tried to fight it for years, which has only led to tears, fluctuating weight and disappointment.  This habit I developed of eating like this in social situations started to have negative consequences in my life.  I started to dread these events and make excuses not to attend.  Do anything to avoid putting my body (and mind) through the wringer once again.  But who wants to live this way?  It is not fun and totally unsustainable in the long run.  Plus, it is not healthy to live such a lonely life.

So how did IIN positively impact this little habit of mine and help me turn it around?  The school has a concept called “Fitting Out.”  It’s all about excepting who you are and living a life that is truly aligned with your soul, even if it means that you may be a little bit different than the average bear.  When you live a life this way (and this includes what and how you eat), your soul will shine through.  You will be happy and healthy to your core.  And those people who you previously tried to “fit in” with?  They will notice and want a sip of whatever kool-aid you’re drinking.  Sounds pretty awesome right?

These days I embrace Fitting Out.  I bring my own food to company happy hours and if someone asks what I’m eating, I will gladly tell them.  And if they ask why?  I will gladly tell them that too.  It is compliment when someone comments on how much I love my veggies.  I have gone completely health nerdy.  And you know what?  I couldn’t be happier.  This is me, kale and all.  And I’m sticking around for a while, so you better get used to it.  Time to go dancing in the rain… 🙂

Peace, love and living your truth,

The Yogi~Foodie

Quinoa Breakfast Porridge

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We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Or at least, I am assuming you have heard that tidbit of knowledge somewhere along the way…  It gives your body the energy that it needs to keep you firing on all cylinders and on the top of your game.  It balances blood sugar and helps you to get through that mid-morning dip when we are so often tempted to reach for that sugary donut in the office kitchen.  If your tummy is full and satisfied there is no room for donuts!  The right power-breakfast (as I like to call them) sets a positive, energetic tone for your day.  It is a message to your body that you are going to take care of it, honor its needs, feed it the healthiest of foods.  And when your body knows that you are taking care of it, it will, in turn, take care of you.  You will feel happy, healthy, vibrant, energetic.  Who doesn’t want that?

So why do so many of us skip breakfast?  I’ve never been one of these individuals (I love food too much and wouldn’t be able to function past 10 am with nothing in my stomach), so I can only guess the main culprit.  Time.  Many of us just don’t have enough time in the mornings to prepare a well-balanced meal.  We either hit the snooze one too many times, have kids to shuffle off to school, or crying babies demanding attention (these are just a few examples).  So often we grab our mug of coffee and the nearest item of food on the counter.  If it’s a banana you’re halfway there and are moving in the right direction, but often it’s a bagel, processed breakfast sandwich thingy from the frozen food section (yes, I said thingy, because there isn’t much that’s real in them), or the sugary donut.

How do we solve the time conundrum?  Prep breakfast ahead of time!  This recipe is super easy, is best prepared the day or night before and is chock full of delicious, really good for you ingredients.  It can be easily doubled, tripled, and quadrupled (you get the picture…) too.  Let’s take a quick look at the nutrient powerhouses in this puppy:

  • Quinoa:  Only thought you could eat oatmeal for breakfast?  Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all eight essential amino acids, and has a protein content equal to milk.  It has the highest nutrient profile of all whole grains.  It is naturally gluten free and contains iron, B-vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, vitamin E and fiber (almost twice as much as other grains).  Quinoa is easy to digest, is an ideal food for endurance, and strengthens the kidneys, heart and lungs.  It’s pretty simple to cook, 2 cups of water are needed for every 1 cup dried quinoa, and only takes about 20-25 minutes for a large batch that can be used for multiple meals.  I’m always looking for ways to cook once and eat twice!

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Currently loving this super grains mix containing white and red quinoa, millet and buckwheat

  • Cacao nibs:  Cacao nibs are little crunchy bits of pure, 100% cacao.  Think of them as nature’s chocolate chips.  Cacao is the highest antioxidant food on the planet and is a great source of magnesium, iron, manganese and chromium.  It improves cardiovascular health, builds strong bones, is a natural aphrodisiac, and increases mood, energy and longevity.  Cacao nibs can be found in health food stores or on Amazon.
  • Hemp milk:  Unsweetened hemp milk is my favorite non-dairy beverage.  It is derived from hemp seeds, which are a 33% pure digestible protein and are rich in iron, amino acids, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids.  You can find hemp milk at some grocery stores and in natural food stores.  The hemp milk in this recipe can easily be substituted by your favorite non-dairy milk (soy, coconut, rice, etc.) or regular dairy milk, if that is what you prefer.  When buying non-dairy milk products, be sure to get the unsweetened variety as the sweetened ones are loaded with sugar.
  • Flaxseed:  Flaxseed has three primary health benefits.  It is high in omega-3 fatty acids, has 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods and are high in soluble and insoluble fiber.  Lignans are chemical compounds found in plants that help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and are high in antioxidants.  This recipe calls for ground flaxseeds, which can be found in most supermarkets.
  • Chia seeds:  Chia seeds pack a lot of nutrition punch.  They are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, and essential minerals.  They expand when soaked in liquid so fill you up faster, keeping you satisfied and your blood sugar stable.  They are gluten free, can be digested whole and are even used as an egg replacer in recipes.  Chia seeds can be found in most supermarkets and on Amazon.  Costco now sells them in bulk!

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I love to store my favorite superfoods in glass mason jars

Quinoa Breakfast Porridge (makes 1 serving)

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (follow cooking instructions on package)
  • 1 tbsp cacao nibs
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 banana, sliced
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened hemp milk

Mix ingredients together in a bowl until well combined.  Store overnight in the fridge in a glass container or mason jar.  Enjoy it cold the next morning!!

Peace, love and healthy noshing,

The Yogi~Foodie

Learning from the Blue Zones

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You may have heard of them.  These places around the world where people seem to live much longer than the average human.  Not only do they live longer (inhabitants reach the age of 100 at a rate ten times greater than in the U.S.), but their quality of life is better and the rate of disease is much lower.  These places are called Blue Zones and there are five of them.  They were identified through a 2004 study done by National Geographic and a man named Dan Buettner.  What they discovered is fascinating (to learn more go here).

Twenty percent of our life is dictated by our genes while the other eighty percent is completely dictated by our lifestyle and the environment in which we live.  Basically, we aren’t our genes.  We have the ability, through diet and lifestyle, to turn on and off genes (preferably the bad ones off and the good ones on).  Pretty cool right?  So what do these fives places have that make them so special?  How do their lifestyles and environments impact health and longevity?  Let’s take a look…

1.  Ikaria, Greece

Ikaria is a tiny Aegean island and the inhabitants owe their long lives to a combination of geography, culture, diet, lifestyle and their outlook on life.  Inhabitants live an average of 8 years longer than Americans, have 20% less rates of cancer, 1/2 the rate of heart disease and almost no dementia.  The culture in Ikaria is steeped in traditions that value family, knowing your neighbors, socializing over wine, being active outdoors and generally living an easy-going life.

2.  Loma Linda, California

Loma Linda is a tight-knit Seventh Day Adventist community in southern California.  Residents of this town outlive the average American by more than a decade.  Their culture is steeped in their faith, which advocates vegetarianism, regular exercise, abstaining from cigarettes and alcohol and observing a 24-hour Sabbath every week.  They spend their time with other Adventists who follow the same healthy behaviors.

3.  Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia is an island in the Mediterranean that has more male centenarians than anywhere else in the world (ten times more per capita than the U.S.).  It is a shepherd culture that carries the M26 genetic marker, linked to exceptional longevity, at much higher rates than other places.  As it is geographically and culturally isolated, Sardinians live a pretty traditional lifestyle.  They hunt, fish and harvest their own food, move naturally (i.e. no gyms around here), nap regularly and drink a lot of tea.  They also like to drink wine, spend time with family and lifelong friends and laugh.  The culture also has a very respectful attitude towards aging and its elders, many who still work and live at home with their families.

4.  Okinawa, Japan

Okinawa has the longest disability-free life expectancy and the longest living women in the world.  There are lower rates of cancer, heart disease and dementia.  Inhabitants eat a modest, vegetarian diet, typically only eating until 80% full, and stay active throughout their lives.  They also have a strong sense of purpose in life.  Social networks are very important and inhabitants are dedicated to their friends and family. Lately the western diet has crept into Okinawa and the average lifespan has gone down dramatically.

5.  Nicoya, Costa Rica

Inhabitants of this area of Costa Rica are twice as likely than Americans to reach the age of 90 and spend 15% less on healthcare.  Family and faith is very important, as is plan de vida, which means a reason to live.  The culture is very active and people eat little or no processed food and plenty of delicious, anti-oxidant rich tropical fruit.  They also consume water that is rich in calcium and magnesium.

Throughout the course of the study of these five Blue Zones, lifestyle characteristics each of these locations share were identified that help to explain the longevity of the individuals living there.

  1. Natural movement is a part of daily life
  2. Sacred rituals are practiced daily and/or weekly to reduce stress
  3. People have a sense of purpose in life
  4. Except for Loma Linda, inhabitants like to drink and typically consume two drinks a day
  5. Every culture consumes a mostly plant-based diet
  6. Social connections are a key part of each culture
  7. Inhabitants eat their biggest meal in the morning (they do not skip breakfast) and the smallest meal in the evening
  8. Faith is a very important part of each culture
  9. Inhabitants spend their time with people who follow similar healthy lifestyles

So what can we learn from this?  Well first off, having fun, spending time with those you love, taking a break every once in a while and getting in touch with your purpose in life are pretty dang important.  Natural movement is key.  These people don’t spend hours on end in a gym or behind a computer.  Spring is here in the Northern Hemisphere (in most areas…), so how about taking a stroll outside with friends or family, going for a bike ride or exploring a new hiking trail?  You may find me at my local park doing yoga one of these days…  Take some time every week to stay in touch with friends near and far.  Maybe try picking up the phone or writing an old fashioned letter instead of the typical email or message on Facebook.  Cherish these relationships and tell people often how much they mean to you (you may make someone’s day!).  Individuals in these five areas don’t try to live long lives, they just do.  So let’s take a thing or two from their playbook and try to Blue Zone our lives a little bit.

Peace, love and healthy living,

The Yogi~Foodie

Wholesome Balanced Wellness – Empowering women to embrace the curveballs in life, helping them to become their happiest, healthiest and most vibrant selves.  For more information and to schedule a free health consultation today, visit www.annalyoung.com.

Diet and Brain Health

This past week I read a fascinating article in The New York Times titled “Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?” by Mark Bittman (see full article here).  As Alzheimer’s has affected my life personally, I knew immediately that I needed to share this little tidbit of knowledge with you all.  Today, 5.4 million Americans currently suffer from this disease, with many more suffering from other dementias, and it is expected to cost around $200 billion dollars this year alone.  More than 115 million people throughout the world are expected to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the next 40 years.  I can’t even fathom how much that will cost.  As the article discusses, research as shown a strong link between diet, insulin levels, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. 

Basically, it all comes down to diet and insulin.  Let me break it down for you.

We all need insulin.  It is produced and released by our pancreas to help our cells absorb the blood sugar (aka glucose) they need for energy.  But, as we’ve all heard before, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.  Our cells can only take in so much glucose and when they’re all filled up, the excess is stored as fat.  So how do we get too much blood sugar into our system?  The main culprit is from consuming excess sugar and simple carbohydrates, the standard fare in the American diet.

Type 1 diabetes is the kind people are born with where the immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.  Type 2 diabetes, the disease affecting so many Americans today, young and old, is brought about by a combination of factors, including diet, environment and lifestyle.  In this disease, cells fail to retrieve glucose from the blood.  This is caused by either the pancreas not producing enough insulin or cells in the body becoming insulin resistant.  Insulin 2015-03-31 12.18.25resistance develops when cells are called upon to absorb glucose from the blood too often (i.e when we consume too much sugar too often, as I described above).  This can be easily explained using the analogy of the childhood story of the boy who cried wolf.  He cried wolf so many times when nothing happened that eventually no one listened to him when the wolf actually came.  With our cells, they get pounded with the message to absorb glucose so often that they start to ignore it and resist the call of the insulin.  Insulin then becomes even more insistent and more insulin is released to try to get our cells to cooperate.  Elevated levels of insulin is bad for our blood vessels.  Enter Type 2 diabetes.

So how does this all impact our brain?  Well, insulin keeps the blood vessels that supply the brain healthy and encourages brain cells and neurons to absorb glucose, allowing them to grow and become stronger.  Low levels of insulin lead to reduced brain function but, as I described above, too much insulin damages the blood vessels that supply nutrients to our brain.  In addition, just like the rest of the cells in our body, our brain cells can become insulin resistant from a steady diet of too much sugar and processed junk.  When this happens, our brain cells stop absorbing the levels of glucose they need to thrive and grow, resulting in decreased brain function, loss of memory and disorientation.

Putting all of these pieces together, you can see the connection between Alzheimer’s and low levels of insulin in the brain, which researchers today are calling Type 3 diabetes (note that this isn’t an official name, just a concept).  While having Type 2 diabetes does not cause Alzheimer’s, the two diseases have the same root: the overconsumption of processed and sugary foods that disrupt our insulin levels.

So what can we do to keep our brains happy, healthy and thriving?  Below are 5 things you can do today that are beneficial for your brain:

  1. Get your ZZZZ’s.  When we sleep our bodies go into repair mode.  This includes our brains.  It is the only time of the day when our brain gets to shut down and take a break.  I don’t know about you, but I like to take a break every once in a while…  Adults are encouraged to get at least 7-8 hours a night.  Young children should get even more than that.
  2. Eat fresh, whole foods grown from the earth and minimize processed food, simple carbohydrates (flour-based products such as white bread, pasta, etc.) and sugar.  Craving something sweet?  How about eating an apple or some fresh berries?  Craving something salty?  How about some olives or a handful of raw nuts?
  3. Manage your stress level.  We’ve all heard that chronic stress is not healthy for the body.  Stress is an inevitable part of life, but if you find yourself worried or stressed on a regular basis, take some time to really think about the triggers in your life that bring about stress.  Is there a way they can be changed?  Breathing is also a great way to alleviate stress.  When we are stressed we tend to hunch over and our shoulders creep up closer to our ears.  In this position our breathing naturally becomes shallow.  When we sit back and relax our shoulders, our body naturally calms and our breathing becomes deeper.
  4. Get up and move.  Exercise gets our blood pumping, bringing fresh nutrients and oxygen to our cells, including those in our brains.  Exercise also releases endorphins, which are uplifting for our moods.  A happy body equals a happy brain.  It doesn’t need to be anything crazy, just getting outside and walking in the fresh spring air for 20 minutes a day is better than sitting on the couch.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight.  I learned recently that when our weight goes up, the size of our brains goes down.  I don’t know about you, but that scares me.  I want my brain to be as big as it needs to be to keep ticking until my body gives out.

Peace, love and healthy brains,

The Yogi~Foodie

Wholesome Balanced Wellness – Empowering women to embrace the curveballs in life, helping them to become their happiest, healthiest and most vibrant selves.  For more information and to schedule a free health consultation today, visit http://www.annalyoung.com.