How much soap should you use for healthy skin?

dr bronner

Try Dr Bronner’s

Talk dirty to me

We’ve been taught our entire life the importance of good hygiene, and how frequent use of soap is essential to avoid offending the noses of the people around us, and to steer clear of infectious disease. How accurate are these teachings, and may they even be damaging our health in ways we never imagined? Now I could present my typical argument to you that common body products contain toxic chemicals that we should all avoid, and I certainly will, but there are some further risks you should consider the next time you lather up in the shower.

Goodbye antibacterial, hello probacterial

Recently there has been an emerging field of research and media coverage on the roles bacteria play inside our bodies, specifically within our digestive system. Probiotic foods such as yogurt and kombucha are commonly found in natural food stores, along with the probiotic capsules that doctors often prescribe following a dose of antibiotics for your infection. That may not be news to you, but did you know that scientists are now pioneering into a less understood territory and have begun researching the beneficial roles that bacteria may play ON our bodies, and not just inside our bodies? In this New York Times article the author highlights an innovative company called AOBiome that is attempting to sell a probiotic product that you apply externally rather than swallowing. Initially they plan to offer this as a health enhancing product, but hope to someday get approval to treat specific skin diseases with their product.

Colonize it, don’t criticize it, yeah…

The concept behind reducing the use of soap, and maybe even intentionally applying bacteria to your skin, is that all these years we may have been inadvertently removing bacteria from our skin that serve a purpose. Imagine if some species of bacteria naturally exist on our skin in a balanced ecosystem that reduces odors, prevents disease, and allows wounds to heal. Now imagine what happens to that harmonious ecosystem when you scrub your skin with a soap made of harsh chemicals 1-2 times every day. Research is ongoing, and we are far from any conclusions, but if external bacterial colonies prove to be beneficial then we will realize that for decades we have been battling the bacteria that exist to help us. This definitely wouldn’t be the first time humans thought they could improve a perceived inferior natural situation only to actually make matters worse. Just as we are now learning that dietary fat is actually good for our health despite being told for decades that it will kill us and make us obese, I wouldn’t be surprised if scientists discover that we should be trying to build colonies of bacteria on our skin rather than destroy them. Obviously those in certain professions, surgeons or food handlers for example, need to be very careful with their hygiene, but there is increasing concern that antibiotic soaps are being overused by the average person, and now companies like AOBiome are showing just how far down the wrong path we may have traveled.

sappo hill soap

Sappo Hill is one of my favorites.

The vicious cycle

I don’t know about you, but even though the research is only now beginning, a lot of this seems intuitive to me. We buy all these harsh soaps that our parents and the corporations taught us to use, then we buy all these creams and products to moisturize our skin after stripping our skin of the oils that our body naturally produces. We would rather apply chemicals that were developed in a factory to moisturize our skin than rely on our own bodies, or use plant based oils. Next we buy cosmetics to cover all the damage caused by the harsh soaps and chemical intensive body products. It seems to me that cosmetics often times are just substitutions for not taking care of your body. Finally we go to the doctor to receive a prescription for a pharmaceutical skin product to help us with our skin conditions that seem so common now. Perhaps these skin conditions are partially caused by our excessive chemical use and our deficiency in beneficial bacteria? Regardless of the cause of common skin conditions, I try to avoid the faulty logic that traps people in this vicious cycle and have reduced my use of soap and body products. The only body products I’m using are the occasional use of sunscreen and deodorant as I experiment with various essential oils to find an effective substitute for deodorant.

What are you waiting for?

The company in the New York Times article expects at least a decade to maneuver through the approval process of the FDA, but that doesn’t mean you need to wait years to experiment on your skin. As I mentioned, I reduced my use of soap, but I still take warm showers and use soap when and where it is needed. If you do use soap then try to find a mild natural version like Dr Bronner’s or Sappo Hill. Experiment, see what works best for you and ask your partner to sniff you and give their honest opinion. In the Steve Jobs autobiography former coworkers often complained about his odor, but Jobs would ignore them and argue (mistakenly) that vegans don’t stink. I’m not encouraging you to offend your neighbors like Jobs did, instead try to find a balance between reducing the chemical attack on your skin and smelling pleasant for others around you.

In Ayurveda

The innovative company mentioned above is really not very innovative, they are simply reintroducing a concept that has been with us since the beginning of human history; bacteria live on our skin, and it is probably not bad for us, and maybe even good for us. I wonder if it is worth buying their product when similar results could probably be achieved by reducing the use of harsh soaps, and finding natural ways of applying bacteria to your skin. In Ayurveda plant based oils are regularly applied to the skin to prevent and treat numerous health conditions, and artificial products are avoided, as they are known to be absorbed through the skin and consumed similarly to the food you put in your mouth. Following the application of these oils I have been advised to rinse off excess oil with a warm shower, but not to use soap as this would reduce the benefits. The reality is that in this modern world most of us are really not dirty at all. How dirty do you get sitting at the desk and typing on the keyboard? If you work at a petroleum refinery, an auto repair shop, or a greasy restaurant then I can understand your need for soap, but for the rest of us the need doesn’t really exist. The theme to this website is “Traditional lifestyles for a modern world”. Often times we think the solutions to our problems need to be complicated, highly technical, and purchased from a company, yet many solutions are already available from traditional sources and can be as simple as removing products from your life rather than adding more.

 

Related Articles:

Ending the war on fat: Victory!

For External Use Only? Tips for sun and skin care

Do you want to know the secret?

Fermentation Nation (sauerkraut recipe)

 

 

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For External Use Only? Tips for sun and skin care

EricSun

Here comes the sun

After another dark and cloudy winter here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, I doubt there are any other people in the US more anxious to get outside and soak in some sun those living around here. Time to find the sunscreen lotion so we can apply a thick layer to protect our skin from the big, bright and evil sun, right? At least that is what we have been taught for most of our lives by well-intentioned authorities on the subject. They tell us that we need sunscreen lotion for prevention of skin cancer which definitely sounds like a disease that I would like to avoid, but is it really that simple? Life is rarely so black and white, and in the case of sun exposure it seems there are a lot of grey areas. Not only are there often grey areas, but sometimes we are told to do the complete opposite of what is good for us. For example, Time magazine recently had a cover story that said to “Eat Butter”, a radical change of thinking after we were told for decades to eat low fat food. Will a future edition of time say “Get Sun”?

20131223_122147

Vitamin D

Last winter I posted an article called Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 1, Tanning where I basically argued that in small doses indoor tanning beds can be an effective form of light therapy to combat the Seasonal Affective Disorder that is so common in northern latitudes and cloudy places like the Pacific Northwest. Vitamin D is an important component to our overall well-being and our bodies manufacture this chemical during sun exposure, so to cover up and avoid sun exposure seems not to be in our best interest. For a more thorough explanation of the subject read this article written by Todd Caldecott, an Ayurvedic Practitioner from British Columbia. Speaking of Canada, remember when I said life is rarely so black and white? It is important to consider factors such as your geographic location, for example, think of how much less sun people receive in British Columbia than Arizona. Besides the latitude (north vs south) and climate (cloudy vs clear), consider the time of year (summer vs winter), length of exposure (field worker vs short walk), and skin type (pale vs dark). Finally, I think it is important to understand the cultural context of where much of this information originated. When we think of summer in America we picture people at the beach wearing skimpy swimsuits and baking in the sun for hours at a time. Of course the scientists and doctors needed to find a remedy for this lifestyle, but I’m not advocating such excessive behavior here. I’m saying that some moderate sun exposure can have great benefits, especially when the factors mentioned above are taken into consideration.

“For external use only”?

Besides blocking your skin from a healthy dose of sunshine my main concern with sunscreen lotion is that you are absorbing large quantities of chemicals through your skin, and the effects of these chemicals are poorly understood by the consumer. In Ayurveda there is an inside joke that the label commonly seen on cosmetic products, “for external use only”, makes no sense since most products applied on the skin surface are absorbed into the body. There really is no separation between internal and external, which is why it is always a good idea to ask yourself whether you would ever consider eating the product that you are about to apply to your skin. Horst Rechelbacher, founder of the popular Aveda salon chain, later went on to found a company called Intelligent Nutrients. The primary focus of Intelligent Nutrients is to develop cosmetic products that are non-toxic, food grade, plant based, and certified organic. You might ask, why should we seek these products when the Food and Drug Administration is already tasked with protecting me from harmful products? I don’t mean to sound cynical or conspiratorial, but anybody who lives in the US should understand by now the power of money, and the influence that corporations have over the agencies meant to regulate them. Just because a product is legal to sell doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe for you to use.

You are what you…apply to your skin

If “you are what you eat”, and if much of what you apply to your skin is absorbed internally, then it is reasonable to assume that “you are what you apply”. Ayurveda is unique and famous for using oils on the skin as a form of therapy called snehana. Different types of oils are used to treat specific conditions; some of these oils include sesame, coconut and ghee. Not only is the type of oil considered, but often during snehana therapy many different herbs are used to medicate the oil. In extreme cases of poor digestion when the body cannot efficiently process herbal medicines, the skin can be used instead to deliver medicine to the body. If the skin is used as a medium for delivering healing herbal medicines to the body then imagine what you are doing every time you apply a sunscreen, moisturizing lotion, or cosmetic containing heavy metals, artificial fragrances, and petrochemicals to your body.

In summer-y

  • Get some sun, produce some vitamin D, and feel good.
  • Don’t get baked at the beach, you’re not a potato in the oven.
  • Wear light, loose clothing to cover your skin as an alternative to sunscreen
  • Minimize it; use fewer skin products, or find safer alternatives.

 

 

Learning to fly: tips for air travel

 

Learning to Fly with Pink Floyd

“There’s no sensation to compare to this, suspended animation, a state of bliss”-From the lyrics for Learning to fly, written by David Gilmore, and performed by Pink Floyd

 

Not just a Pink Floyd song

Traveling in good health is not easy. In fact, I regard it as one of the biggest challenges I face in my quest to be happy, healthy and productive. You may be staying in a hotel with no kitchen, experiencing insomnia in a different time zone, or struggling to find some green space in a dense urban area. Like anything in life, traveling in good health requires effort. It is already difficult enough just to stay healthy in the comforts of your home, so when you are traveling it is important to take the extra steps necessary to feel good. I know this isn’t what Pink Floyd had in mind when they made the song Learning to Fly, but I can’t resist a good play on words that combines one of my favorite songs with the topic of my article. Continue reading for some thoughts I gathered on my recent trip home.

Food, or lack of it

In the cutthroat business of air travel it seems less common to find a meal offered on a flight these days. That’s probably a good thing, for your health. In place of the inflight meal is the preflight meal as the modern American airport has come to resemble a shopping mall food court more than a hub for transportation. I recently heard accomplished fitness trainer Steve Maxwell say that he always fasts while he travels. While I doubt the benefits of fasting while flying have been scientifically proven, it seems like wise advice coming from an experienced traveler. Eating in combination with stress often results in poor digestion, so it makes sense to avoid food while flying since airports can be such stressful places. Some people do eat to reduce their stress, and this is fine, but for good digestion you really should only eat when you actually feel hunger, typically at least 3 hours after the previous meal. For those who can’t fathom the thought of a mini fast, bringing along a few snacks is not very difficult, and a much better option than the airport fast food. On my recent flight I brought some dried figs, pistachios, extra dark chocolate, and a banana in case the fast was uncomfortable.

Water

“Sir, would you like some water, a soda, or an alcoholic beverage?” No thanks, I said as I motioned to my liter sized stainless steel reusable water bottle. In comparison, it seems the little 4 ounce cup of water they offer is nearly worthless, and I find it works best to have access to a large bottle of water throughout the entire flight. As with the snacks mentioned above, it is not very difficult to bring a reusable bottle and then fill it at the fountain after passing through security. As for the alcohol, I wouldn’t recommend it, though I’m sure some people claim it counters the stress they experience. Obviously alcohol isn’t the only strategy available for dealing with stress. During my layover at the Denver airport I discovered these great private areas away from all the commotion where I was able to do some stretching and even some meditation.

Air

I normally advocate deep slow breathing, but in the confined environment of an airplane I winced at the thought of taking this recycled air deep into my lungs. People often comment on the dryness of airplane air, plus there are all the perfumes that people wear, and certainly an abundance of bacteria and viruses floating around. So what to do? Stopping short of recommending an air filtration mask, all I can say is to get out into nature and doing some deep breathing exercises as soon as possible after arriving at your destination. I’m always an opponent of synthetic perfumes, but I’m rarely an opponent of bacteria. I think we have greatly overreacted to the threat they pose, especially with our excessive use of antibacterial soaps. However, if you begin or end your travel with a weakened immune system then there is probably an increased chance of illness due to the inflight exposure. As I often say, the focus should be on building immunity rather than killing pathogens.

 

Time to get grounded!

Time to get grounded!

 

In Ayurveda

The energy of motion is called vata in Ayurveda, and it is represented by the elements of air and space. Using the concept of “similar increases and opposite decreases”, Ayurveda has a simple approach to ensuring that our mind, body and spirit stays in balance. What modern technology is more similar to the energy of vata than flying in an airplane? As you fly through the air hundreds of kilometers per hour, thousands of meters from the earth you are without a doubt experiencing an increase of vata. Since “similar increases and opposite decreases”, the best remedies for dealing with modern air travel are vata pacifying foods and activities. Examples include warm, heavy and oily meals, or perhaps some slow and grounding yoga postures. We all understand that putting hot water on the stove makes the water hotter, so by extension we can understand that adding air travel to an already fast moving lifestyle can cause further imbalance.

Summary

  • Mini fast
  • Bring snacks or light meal to avoid fast food
  • Bring reusable bottle for plenty of water
  • Pass on the alcohol
  • Go to a park or green space after landing
  • Maintain strong immunity to avoid illness
  • Try grounding activities like yoga during the layover, or after the flight if you’re too timid for airport yoga 🙂
  • End your mini fast with a warm, heavy, oily meal rich in healthy fats

 

 

What is Ayurveda???

Photo from Todd Caldecott

Photo from Todd Caldecott

 

Bringing Ayurveda to the masses

I want to take a moment to celebrate the 6 month anniversary of this website by defining the theme that has been the core of every article posted up until now. If you have been following any of my posts then you will recognize that I typically follow a regular format by introducing a health or diet related topic, referencing a few credible experts on the topic, and then finishing with a brief summary of the topic from the perspective of Ayurveda. I like to use this format because not many people are familiar with Ayurveda, and it allows me to introduce the concept to people without overwhelming them with foreign words and philosophies. At the same time I am able to stay within people’s comfort zone by relating Ayurvedic philosophies to well known journalists, authorities and scientists.

Are-You-Veda?

The term Ayurveda is derived from two Sanskrit words, Ayus and Veda, meaning Life and Knowledge, so when they are combined the term describes a system of medicine based on the knowledge of life. This system of medicine originated thousands of years ago in the region of modern day India, and surrounding countries. The relevance of such an ancient system of medicine may at first seem unimportant, but upon further reflection the concept is really amazing. Think about it, from Ayurveda we have access to what is essentially an instruction manual for the bodies that each of us “own”. You may wonder why you would need an instruction manual for your body, but do many of us seriously know how to properly use our bodies for maximum health and productivity? Most of what we know we initially learned from our parents who most likely have health problems and bad habits of their own. Beyond our parents, modern day scientists and medical doctors claim to have all the answers, but their focus is often on fixing you after you are broken, and sometimes even that doesn’t work. Corporations are quick to offer you solutions for improving your life, but you should probably think twice about taking lifestyle advice from these entities whose primary purpose is usually to make profit by selling you convenience and pleasure.

Food as Medicine

Sorry for being vague, but to dive deep into the mechanics of Ayurveda would require me to write a textbook. Without getting into all the details, let me just start by saying that Ayurveda is a system of preventive medicine that treats each person as a unique individual. Ayurveda focuses mainly on the diet and lifestyle of the individual not only to prevent disease, but also to recover from disease. Using the concept of Food as Medicine, natural methods are used to maintain optimal health, while pharmaceuticals and surgery are avoided as much as possible. Obviously pharmaceuticals didn’t exist thousands of years ago, so in their place herbal formulas were often used. Ayurveda may be difficult for the beginning American student or patient to understand, but it is really quite simple. Ayurveda is cooking with fresh local ingredients grown with natural methods. Ayurveda is treating the cause of disease and not only the symptoms as we often do today. Ayurveda is about having an awareness of how your body reacts to inputs from the surrounding environment, and listening to the signals your body sends rather than always relying on experts for advice. Ayurveda is achieving a balance by not over or under exposing your body to various foods, routines, or elements.

Evolution, Revolution, Love

I often claim that Ayurveda is today where yoga, acupuncture and massage therapy were about 30 years ago. Back then these disciplines were relatively unknown, but now they are mainstream and it is difficult to find a person who hasn’t either experienced them or at least heard of them. To put things into perspective, as a federal employee I receive health insurance that includes coverage of multiple visits to the acupuncturist or massage therapist each year if I choose. Sattvic Planet is now 6 months old, and I’m just getting warmed up people. Stay tuned because the best has yet to come…

“Now that I understand this right, let me take it to the mic, this revolution has just begun”

-From the lyrics for Evolution, Revolution, Love performed by Tricky

 

 

Minimize it, don’t criticize it

Sung to the tune of Legalize It by Peter Tosh

A Sattvic Planet is GREEN

Last week in honor of Earth Day I asked the question, What color is a Sattvic Planet? Continuing with the momentum generated from that post I want to write about another environmental topic this week. It is so tempting for me to write about food every week because it is a topic that I am passionate about, and I suspect many of you are drawn to this site because you share that interest. However, since one of the primary themes of this site is that human health can’t exist without environmental health, and environmental health can’t exist without human health, I need to focus on environmental topics on occasion.

Greenlandia

Portland, Oregon has become famous for being perhaps the most environmentally conscious city in the nation. This is evident in the large percent of commuters who walk, bike, bus, or ride the light rails and streetcars. Further evidence can be seen in the vibrant food scene there, which emphasizes locally grown and sustainably produced products. LEED built green buildings covered with solar panels and living roofs are not difficult to find in this progressive city. However, despite all these successes, Portland does encounter obstacles while biking down the path to sustainability. City leaders have a goal of reducing waste by 25% from 2009 levels by the year 2030. One of the ways they plan to do this is by offering curbside compost pickup, which is a way of diverting food and yard waste from the landfill. Recently Portland hit an obstacle to reaching its waste goal when it was forced to ban compostable food containers generated by businesses from the compost program.

Fred and Carrie from the show Portlandia.

Wastelandia

The primary problem they faced came from commercial customers, not residential customers. Too much of the compostable materials were the bio-based forks, cups and containers that have gained popularity among environmentally friendly businesses recently. These containers and utensils, often made of corn based plastic, were taking too long to breakdown for the business model to be successful. Interviews with local environmental leaders describe the popularity of these bio-based products as a feel good measure that allows people to continue their lives as usual, but without the guilt of being wasteful.

Real change requires more thought than effort

I’m sure that there are benefits of using these bio-based products, and I appreciate the intention of the businesses and customers who have made an effort to use them for the purpose of reducing our impact on the environment, but the reality is that even in a green city like Portland many people are still not making the effort to truly adjust their lifestyle to live more harmoniously with the planet. I see this all the time at the Bellingham food co-op when people order a meal from the deli. Despite the large seating area and the option to use real plates and utensils, people will order their food to go, and many of them will then thoughtlessly sit in the seating area eating out of bio-based corn plastic containers. Minimizing waste can be as simple as eating at the restaurant instead of carrying it home in a plastic container. Often times I bring a reusable container to the deli, or bulk section, and sometimes I even bring a container to the restaurant for my leftovers.

Agent Smith

The Matrix

Agent Smith says the following to Morpheus during a scene from the movie The Matrix:

“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

Dark, I know, but I’ve always been fascinated by that quote because it is an interesting way of viewing our interactions with our surroundings. However, I should try and end this post on a more positive message. There are so many things we can do differently with our daily routines to help create a healthy environment, and that environment in return will help create a healthier you. I could make a list a mile long of individual actions to take in your daily routine, but for now I simply want to encourage you to be aware of the consequences of your purchases, decisions and actions.

“Minimize it, yeah, yeah, and I will advertise it”

 

Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 3, Pharmaceuticals

A one month supply.

A one month supply.

This is personal

Please forgive me; I take pharmaceuticals. To be more specific I take Acetaminophen, Lorazepam, and Allegra infrequently and at low doses. There are two questions I imagine you are thinking right now:

  1. Why would an Ayurvedic Counselor be taking pharmaceuticals?
  2. Why would anybody share this kind of personal information for the whole world wide web to read?

This is the third part in my “Confessions Series”, and I have already made some shocking (sarcasm) revelations in my posts:

With my “Confessions Series” I am trying to show you that despite my best intentions I am not perfect, and I am also trying to show you that some concepts that may at first appear unhealthy are actually quite beneficial when used properly and in moderation.

I live in the same world as you

I too have minor health concerns. I live in the same environment that you do, I am exposed to the same stresses and toxins as you are, so I am not 100% immune to health problems. This is not a Sattvic Planet yet, and until it is there will always be challenges to achieve optimal health. Sure, I could move to Central America and spend my time surfing and eating fresh fruit at the beach all day long. In the evenings I could write to you about how easy it is to practice Sattvic Living, but I suspect that those of you living in the big cities would have a difficult time relating to my experience. I believe that my message is much stronger when you realize that I am not much different from you, and I am vulnerable to the same health problems as you are.

Acetaminophen

I take 325 mg of acetaminophen about twice a month to treat minor headaches caused by lifestyle imbalances such as dehydration, lack of sleep, alcohol, excessive exercise, and too much time in front of the computer. The good news is that I seem to take these pills less often than in the past, and I attribute this to mindfully avoiding situations that trigger these headaches. I have also become quite good at recognizing the onset of these headaches, and finding natural methods of pacifying them.

Lorazepam

I take 125 mg of lorazepam about twice per week to avoid insomnia. This is a ridiculously small dose, but since it is the pharmaceutical I take most often it is one of my biggest challenges. There are many natural herbs and techniques available to deal with insomnia, in fact I once read a book by Deepak Chopra called Restful Sleep that explains good sleeping practices from an Ayurvedic perspective. However, the reality is that good sleep is elusive for many Americans even when we read books on the subject and put forth our best efforts. I am very dysfunctional without a good night of sleep, and ultimately I decided that the minimal side effects from taking these tiny pills is less than the harm caused by insomnia.

Allegra (Fexofenadine HCl)

I take 180 mg of Allegra approximately once every 6 weeks to reduce a very unusual and unexplainable localized swelling that I experience. Western doctors are unable to help me in this case, and eastern doctors haven’t done much better. Normally I ignore the swelling as much as possible, but when my upper lip swells to the size of a sausage I’m sure you can understand why I might want to take a pill on occasion. This problem represents my greatest personal health challenge, but it is a mystery that I believe in time will be solved. I think the problem originates in my mind, and I have now moved beyond looking at physical causes such as food allergies, and have begun focusing on stress reduction remedies for my state of mind.

Minimize it

In sharing my dose and frequency of pharmaceutical consumption I hope to emphasize two major ideas:

  1. I take small doses, and I take them only when absolutely necessary.
  2. I am continuously trying alternatives that will allow me to be completely free of pharmaceuticals in the near future.

For example, the doctor prescribed 1-2 lorazepam during times of insomnia. Instead I take a knife and delicately cut the pill once into halves and again into quarters. The purists out there may say that I should be using plant based preventive medicine 100% of the time. I’m striving for that, really I am. It’s funny how an Ayurvedic Counselor seems to be held to a higher standard than a western doctor. Would it be odd if your doctor smoked cigarettes? I’m sure there are many who do.

Strive to thrive

Since my target audience is people who have not yet mastered their diet and lifestyle I don’t want to scare people away by acting like I’m perfect, and by giving the impression that you need to be perfect to improve your health. The reality is that it is very difficult to practice Sattvic Living in this world we’ve created, and often times all that we can do is to strive for the best that we can do. Ayurveda provides us with the guidelines necessary to look good, feel good, avoid illness, and lose weight. If you want to achieve optimal health and you follow these guidelines exactly then there is no doubt in my mind that you will succeed. However these guidelines are merely goals to strive for, and some of them may not be possible given your current situation. Don’t worry about it, take the long term approach and slowly include more healthy practices into your daily routine when you are ready and when your schedule allows it.

Today I floated in a sensory deprivation pod (~*~)

Is it a mushroom, or a clam?

Is it a mushroom, or a clam? Click the photo to visit the Urban Float lounge in Seattle.

 

I assume that this is a new subject for many people, so allow me to briefly explain what I did and why I did it. Floating is an increasingly popular therapy similar to meditation that is used primarily for improving mental health, but it also has many physical health benefits. The way it works is you lie down in a pod or tank structure that has a shallow amount of extremely salty water inside. Once inside you pull the lid closed, lie on your back and then press a button to turn the light off. As a result of the added salt you will have no problem floating near the water surface, which I find to be a very pleasurable experience. Floating is only a part of the experience though; the sensory deprivation is what really makes this therapy unique. I think most people enjoy the feeling of floating in an ocean, lake, or even a pool, but in these situations you will still feel the inflatable mat under your back, the taste of salty waves splashing into your mouth, the smell of chlorine, the sound of kids yelling nearby, or the sight of the sun shining on your face. I’m not saying that all these sensations are necessarily bad, but they are all a form of stimulation that is difficult to avoid. In the controlled environment of a float pod nearly all of your five physical senses disappear. With the lid shut it is pure darkness inside, in fact you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. The pod is so quiet that you can hear your heart beating, and if you decide to use earplugs the silence increases further. Floating in the comfortably warm water nearly eliminates any sense of touch, and the smell of salty water is so faint that you can barely notice. Keep your mouth shut and taste nothing other than the inside of your mouth. The result of this extreme sensory deprivation is a meditation environment perfect for either a beginner or an advanced student. As a beginner there are no distractions to hinder your practice such as when an inflexible person tries to sit in the traditional cross-legged position on the floor. For the advanced student this can be an opportunity to take your practice to the next level of mind control.

Continue reading

Is your mattress toxic?

TheFertileDesert-playa-stars

It’s bedtime!

Nearly every article posted on Sattvic Planet until now has been focused on the role of food and diet in practicing a healthy lifestyle, but since I am currently in the process of purchasing a natural latex mattress I thought this would be a good opportunity to change the subject. While food and diet certainly play an important role in practicing a healthy lifestyle, we also need to consider other areas of our lives where using natural products can be of benefit to us. Most of us know that nearly every mattress sold in the US is made of petroleum foam and plastic materials. How many of us know that it is a federal law that your mattress must be treated with a chemical flame retardant? For those of you unfamiliar with the history and risks of adding flame retardants to furniture I highly recommend this summary from Grist, but for those of you who don’t have time then allow me to summarize that summary. During the 1970s California lawmakers mandated the use of flame retardants in furniture, and in recent times the federal government has followed their lead by applying a similar law across the nation. Though the law was originally created in the name of fire safety, researchers over the years have linked some of these chemicals to health problems. Even more disturbing is they have found that the chemicals spread throughout the environment, and have been detected as far away as the arctic. Taking this information into consideration, last year in a big win for human and environmental health California lawmakers removed the mandate that furniture be treated with these chemicals. By now I think you can see that my decision to buy a natural latex mattress is motivated by my desire to remove toxins from my living space. However, let me be specific regarding my view on toxins. In this modern world it is nearly impossible to avoid exposure to toxins, and I am not delusional in thinking that buying a new mattress will simply eliminate toxins from my life. Keep in mind that even the seals living in the supposedly pristine arctic have flame retardant in their bodies. What I am advocating is the attempt to take practical steps to reduce your exposure to toxins whenever it is possible. If you have a choice, and most of us do unless we are experiencing poverty, then why not choose the products that are least damaging to you and the environment? Speaking of choice, as an adult living in Washington I literally do not have the freedom to purchase a flame retardant free mattress. Don’t worry though because the sheep are there to help us. Since wool is a natural flame retardant some manufacturers use a wool cover to protect their products from bursting into flames, which is not exactly a concern of mine since I don’t smoke cigarettes. Since wool can be expensive the shop I am buying my mattress from found an exemption in federal law that will allow me to buy a chemical and wool free mattress if it is approved by my doctor or naturopath.

Moving beyond the flame retardants, manufacturers claim that natural latex mattresses do not off-gas as synthetic petroleum based mattresses do. In case you don’t know, an example of off-gassing is the strong chemical smell that you notice when you drive a new car. The important point to understand here is that I am talking about natural latex and not synthetic latex. Natural latex is tapped from trees in a process similar to harvesting maple syrup. The trees used to produce the latex in my mattress are located in Sri Lanka. Synthetic latex of course is made from petroleum. It is important to make this distinction because many manufacturers use what I consider to be deceptive advertising practices. Often times you will find a mattress labeled as “eco foam”, or some other reassuring name, but if you don’t read carefully then you may miss that the mattress is really a synthetic and natural blend. From my perspective it is not worth it to buy an “eco” mattress that is 25% soybean based foam or natural latex, and 75% petroleum. If you are going to spend the extra money then why not get the product that is nearly 100% natural? Now let me be honest these mattresses can be expensive, so you need to ask yourself if they are worth the high price. Consider before you decide that there are many fully synthetic mattresses on the market that cost even more at $3000 plus. Also consider that many natural latex mattresses have 20 year warranties and may last twice as long as a synthetic mattress. Natural latex is touted as having superior breathability, minimal moisture retention, and great comfort. While I can’t speak to these claims now, I should be able to soon and will update you on my experience later. Finally, consider that you will be spending approximately one third of your life in your bed, so it is probably worth it to invest in the place you spend a majority of your time.

A post on Sattvic Planet would not be complete without an Ayurvedic perspective. In Ayurveda, sleep is considered one of the three pillars of life necessary for good health, and as somebody who has had sleep problems in my past I can say that I completely agree with that statement. Without a good night of rest I am completely worthless the next day, and if poor sleep occurs frequently then health problems are certain to follow. If sleep is one of the three pillars of life then purchasing a chemical free natural latex mattress might be the best investment you ever made. If you’re not ready for such a big investment then perhaps you want to purchase some organic cotton sheets, or a natural latex pillow. The point I’m trying to make is that every time you pull out your credit card you are making a choice on how you spend your money, and that choice has the potential to lead you towards personal and environmental health, or away from it, so shop wisely.

Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 1, Tanning

I admit to using tanning beds. There, I’ve said it. Why you ask would an Ayurvedic Counselor who writes about the necessity of using natural methods to prevent disease be exposing his body to an electronic artificial light? Before you judge me let me provide you with some background. First, I live near 49 degrees northern latitude in the notoriously cloudy Pacific Northwest, and during winter it can be quite dark around here. Second, I’ve noticed that during these dark winters I don’t have nearly as much energy as I do during the bright summer months. Like many people in the northern latitudes I experience a mild case of SAD every winter, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. There are many small steps I take to try and counter the darkness here during the winter months. I purchased and regularly use a blue LED device for light therapy while working at my desk. I take vitamin D liquid drops daily that are made of cholecalciferol, an extract from sheep’s wool. I’m moving away from supplements and this is the only one remaining that I take these days, but that will have to be the subject of a future post. I also have an apartment with a very large west-facing window overlooking the bay, and of course I exercise as much as possible. If you haven’t gathered by now, the purpose of using the tanning beds is to combat the winter blues, not to get a golden tan. It is important to note that my current dosage is only 6 minutes every 7 days, which equates to about 2.5 hours over the course of the six darkest months of the year. I started with 8 minutes and found that made my skin dry. It’s still a work in progress, and I may ultimately determine that the risk outweighs the benefits, but for now I do know that it works. Yes, it does work, especially the day of the session. In fact, the first couple of sessions I made the mistake of going during the evening and had difficulty falling asleep those nights. That makes sense, doesn’t it? It is as if you are sending a very strong message to your body that says “time to wake up now with the rising sun”, but it’s evening and you should be sending your body the opposite message. A morning tan would definitely be ideal, and may even be better than a cup of coffee.

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