The Spiritual Carnivore

A traditional Cuy meal, also known as guinea pig. Photo by Sattvic Planet.

A traditional Cuy meal, also known as guinea pig. Photo by Sattvic Planet.

 

I’m writing this post from a small village in the Peruvian Andes where a community of spiritually focused foreigners have either visited or settled over the years. Having arrived only yesterday I obviously have much to learn about this community, though a couple of my observations seem very clear to me already. First, they seem to gather their practices from a wide array of disciplines such as Ayurveda, Buddhism, and indigenous Shamanic culture. It seems to be a true hybrid of global spiritual philosophies. My second observation, which is the inspiration of this post, is that vegetarian and vegan diets are the preferred choice at their hotels, restaurants and retreats. I’m talking about the foreign community here and not the locals when I refer to the choice of diet, as the locals appear to eat chicken, beef, trout, alpaca, eggs, and cheese.

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An Owner’s Manual for life

Photo by Roy2k.com

Photo by Roy2k.com

 

When we were born, our bodies didn’t come with an Owner’s Manual that gave us instructions on how to operate this new vehicle, or did it? What should you eat, how much should you exercise, and when is the best time to sleep? These are all questions that some of us may be thinking about if we want to recover from poor health, or if we are striving for optimal health. However, if we are not thinking about these questions then we must have already found an answer, so where did that answer come from? If you were fortunate to be born into a family of knowledgeable parents then you probably received most of your guidance from them. Yet many people are not so fortunate, and receive guidance from their parents that steers them away from health. Besides our parents, if we are not actively asking questions on how to live then we are likely to receive guidance from our media, which seems to have displaced our culture. The media saturates our senses to a level that dilutes whatever remnants of traditional knowledge there are remaining in our society. Who are the village elders passing down their wisdom in modern America, McDonalds, Coke, Monsanto? I guarantee that if you are not actively asking questions on how best to operate your body through life then you are receiving answers from a constant stream of corporate advertisements and television shows. Don’t fret, because I’m here to tell you that there is a reliable source of knowledge available to all, but only if you are willing to open your mind.

Ayurveda = Knowledge of Living

Assuming you already know what Ayurveda is, let’s summarize by defining it as one of the oldest systems of medicine known to humans. Sure, there are plenty of books on the market today explaining how to eat, but who to believe? Butter was good then it was bad, and now it is good again, depending on whom you talk to. Perhaps you place all your trust in science, but even this powerful tool can produce some conflicting results depending on how the research is performed and who funds it. I find comfort in receiving guidance from a system of medicine that has survived the test of time, especially when it is supported by modern science.

The Daily Regimen

In Ayurveda the term Dinacarya refers to the daily regimen. I find it fascinating to know that a daily regimen exists for the sole purpose of promoting optimal health, and that the source of this knowledge was not contaminated by the influences of money. Pure knowledge that is presumably free of ego, profit, confusion, or other forms of interference. So if you are asking the question of how best to live for optimal health, and you trust Ayurveda as a reputable source of traditional knowledge, let’s begin with a very brief introduction to Dinacarya. The following list is from sunrise to sundown.

Awaken: early is best, before sunrise, usually between 3-7.

Evacuate waste: with regular digestion this should be first on your list.

Drink: warm or room temperature water, up to 750mL.

Cleanse the mouth, eyes, nose, and throat: Techniques include scraping the tongue, brushing the teeth, filling your mouth with oil, gargling, using herbal rinses for the eyes, nasya and neti pot for the nose.

Breathe: deep-breathing exercises known as Pranayama.

Therapeutic smoking: no, this is not an excuse to smoke cigarettes, rather medicinal herbs are used in small doses. Vaporizers could provide a healthier alternative.

Exercise: people may be surprised to learn that you should only perform to one half of your strength. Stop when perspiration, dryness and heavy breathing begin.

Massage: full body self-massage using plant based oils, though dry massages are sometimes appropriate.

Bathe: minimize or eliminate soap, instead soak in fragrant waters, remove oils with bean powders, and clean your hair with herbal rinses.

Yoga: remember, this is not a form of exercise; it is preparation for meditation.

Meditate: to attain mindfulness

Eat: diet is at the core of Ayurveda and can’t possibly be summarized here, but every factor related to eating is considered. Eating 2 meals per day is recommended.

Duties: finally, you can begin the duties of your day, while practicing the mindfulness attained during meditation of course. Naps should be avoided.

Sex: before bed, winter and spring are the best times.

Sleep: between 7 and 11 is best, especially if you’re waking between 3-7 in the morning…

Unlearn all you’ve learned

Well, I had to be concise as each of the above topics could easily fill an entire page, or in the case of eating, an entire book. Consider this an introduction to a subject that you can dig deeper into later if you are interested. The dinacarya appears to be very time consuming doesn’t it? To be honest, I am definitely not completing a full daily regimen every morning. However, I include as many practices into my day as possible, and some days are better than other. For example, on days when I don’t work it is possible to complete much more of the regimen. Before you dismiss the daily regimen as being impractical in this modern world, think of it as a goal you strive for, but recognize that you may never fully reach. Perhaps you can’t do a full body self massage with oil every day, but once per week is more reasonable. To my young readers, remember that you don’t have to live like everybody else. Instead of working 60 hours per week to buy a huge house and fancy car, have you considered working less and using the free time to focus on your health and happiness? We really need to examine our priorities in life. And to the busy single mothers with small children, it only takes 15 seconds to scrape your tongue!

 

“Instant quick, new improved, hurry hurry rush rush, world on the move, marijuana illegal, but cigarettes cool, I might look kind of funny, but I ain’t no fool”

-From Synthesizer, performed by Outkast

 

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How often should you snack?

I’m going back to my roots. After posting articles during November about Daylight Savings Time, the US Election, Pharmaceuticals, and Black Friday, today I’m going to write once again about my favorite subject, food. Based on my observations, people simply don’t know how to eat. That may sound like a funny statement because we all eat every day, and it is a task that is essential for our survival. Well, you may know how to eat, just put food in your mouth and chew, but do you know how to eat properly for efficient digestion and optimal health? The quantity, frequency, timing and combination of your food are all important factors affecting your digestion. Believe it or not, I could probably write an entire chapter on how to eat, but instead of that, today we will focus on a topic that is confusing to many people, snacking.

Radical snactivism

We’ve all heard the theory that it is important to snack many times per day to keep our energy levels high, but is that even true, and where did it come from? If you think about it, the frequent snack theory appears to be adapted to high performance athletes. Imagine a professional football player who spends the whole day lifting weights, running, and training for his job. The amount of energy expended by a professional athlete must be several times more than what you expend sitting in your cubicle and tapping on that keyboard. Frequent snacking seems appropriate for such a physically demanding lifestyle. Somewhere along the way sports nutrition got confused with the nutrition of the average person. Perhaps it was an improper dissemination of information through the media, or our fascination with professional athletes. Many of us obsess over our favorite athletes; we wear their jerseys and spend billions of dollars following them weekly, so it’s not difficult to imagine their diet strategies crossing over into the average person’s life. Another possibility is the source of funding for research. How much money is available to research the nutritional needs for producing a star athlete versus the nutritional needs for helping an average person reach their true potential? Perhaps the government can fund some research, but corporations heavily influence governments, and do corporations bring in revenue by selling wholesome breakfasts, or by selling snack packs? Regardless of the origin of the multiple snack theory, and the role of sports idols, money and politics; we have access to an unbiased source of information for guidance on how to eat. According to Ayurveda, a traditional preventive medicine system from India, the average person should practice a diet of minimal snacking.

sugar_ngm

2 meals per day

To understand why minimal snacking is the suggested diet of Ayurveda, one only needs to have a basic understanding of digestion. Digestion is at the core of Ayurveda because good digestion is thought to be essential for having good health. Ideally a person would wait until their previous meal was completely discharged from their stomach before eating the next meal, but if you are snacking 3-5 times per day there are simply not enough hours in a day to do this. Generally speaking, it should take at least 3 hours for your stomach to be empty, so if you ate every 3 hours beginning at 6am and ending at 9pm that would be 3 meals and 3 snacks. With a schedule like that some problems become immediately apparent. It is unlikely that you are eating on an empty stomach if your schedule consists of eating 6 or more times per day. If your stomach is completely empty then you must be either eating small meals or easily digested carbohydrates and sugars, and we have all been hearing lately of the dangers associated with diets high in sugar. Your digestion should improve if you wait until your stomach is completely empty before consuming the next meal, and as a result your overall health should also improve. To completely digest each meal then you will have to eat less frequently which of course means less snacking. One great strategy for eating less frequently is to eat large meals containing more slow burning fuels such as oils, fibrous vegetables, and perhaps some meat if you are not vegetarian. As you are increasing the amount of slow burning foods, try decreasing the fast burning foods such as sugar, flour, grains, and in some cases fruit. For an excellent and detailed description of what this meal looks like read Todd Caldecott’s article about breakfast. A large breakfast such as this allows me to go 6 hours without eating, and during those 6 hours I enjoy the benefits of a slow sustained release of energy without the inconvenience of having to interrupt my busy day to find more food. Ayurveda recommends eating twice per day, and the only practical way for a person to do that in this modern world is to make sure your two meals are large and dense enough to power you through the day.

From Time magazine.

From Time magazine.

Goodbye low fat diets

As we emerge from the failed war on dietary fat into a world of obesity, diabetes and cancer we can look to the past for guidance on moving into the future. Ayurveda is a valuable source of traditional knowledge that is not contaminated by money or politics. People would have never chosen the frequent snack theory if the low fat theory didn’t exist. It is difficult to snack all day if you are eating high quality fats because quite simply, you will not be hungry as often. So as we say goodbye to the low fat era we should also say goodbye to the high snack era. Unless you happen to be a high performance athlete, try eating like me, a radical snactivist.

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Just say NO, to pharmaceuticals

Photo from the Dogwood School of Botanical Medicine

Photo from the Dogwood School of Botanical Medicine

I’ve done it, during the entire month of October I did not swallow a single pharmaceutical, and as of today it has been 7 weeks since I last needed the help of a synthetic pill. To put this into perspective I am defining pharmaceuticals as not only the more powerful type prescribed by your doctor, but also the over the counter types available to anybody at the store. Seven months ago I shared with you a personal account of my monthly pharmaceutical consumption. Despite being a student of Ayurveda and a huge advocate of preventive medicine, I was still taking an average of 5-10 pills per month. The message I tried to convey back then was that nobody is perfect, but with some awareness and a little effort we could move towards a life of better health with a reduced need for pharmaceuticals.

Why is this important?

As I’m typing this, the question of whether this is a significant achievement arises. Considering the US pharmaceutical industry makes billions of dollars every year, these corporations wouldn’t be making such huge profits if a majority of the population wasn’t frequently consuming the pills they produce. In other words, I assume that going 7 weeks without taking any pharmaceuticals is uncommon in the US. Another reason I decided to share this with you is to demonstrate that saying no to pharmaceuticals required me to change my lifestyle. Rather than doing whatever I want, whenever I want, and ignoring the messages my body was trying to send, I had to be mindful of my lifestyle and avoid situations that might require the relief offered from a pill. One of the defining traits of preventive medicine is to remove the cause of disease. Contrast that with modern reactionary medicine, which typically treats the symptoms but rarely attempts to remove the cause. Symptoms are messages from your body saying that there is an imbalance occurring somewhere. Symptoms should not be thought of as minor annoyances that need to be muted through the use of pharmaceuticals. Sure, symptoms interfere with our busy lives, but if you suppress a symptom for long enough it could manifest to a more serious and difficult to cure disease. Finally, this achievement is significant because quite simply, many pharmaceuticals have harmful side effects. If the long list of potential side effects listed in a pharmaceutical advertisement doesn’t alarm you then consider herbal medicines, healthy diets and natural lifestyles, which rarely have any harmful side effects.

food as medicine

Drugs versus Medicines

I can still remember being exposed to the propaganda from the War on Drugs when I was a child during the 80’s. First Lady Nancy Reagan led the Just Say No campaign from the White House. And who could forget the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, DARE, which originated from the Los Angeles Police Department? The Partnership for a Drug Free America created a famous commercial that said, “this is your brain (an egg), this is drugs (a frying pan), this is your brain on drugs (a fried egg), any questions?” Yes, I do have some questions. How powerful these messages must have been for me to remember them decades later. Despite being ingrained into my childhood memories, as an adult I find the messages to be disturbing and hypocritical. One question I have is, would the same people who told us to avoid Cannabis also tell us to avoid Percocet, Vicodin or other pain relievers? Or what about Psilocybin Mushrooms versus Prozac? I doubt it, and therefore two classes of drugs exist in our society, those that are good/accepted, and those that are bad/illegal. I would also ask you to think twice about the language involved here. Pharmaceuticals are now considered to be forms of “medicine”, while powerful plant medicines that were actually used by native cultures for thousands of years are now given the derogatory term “drugs”. How is it that pharmaceuticals derived in an industrial factory are accepted in our society despite sometimes being created so recently that the side effects are not yet understood, while plants such as ayahuasca, cannabis, iboga, peyote, psilocybin and huachuma, which have been traditionally used for healing, are deemed to be so worthless that it is nearly impossible to conduct a scientific study demonstrating their effectiveness?

Which will you choose?

Which will you choose?

DARE to be open minded

In the previous paragraph I contrast legal pharmaceutical drugs with illegal plant medicines to demonstrate the extreme and unexplainable policies adopted by the US government. However, we don’t need to look at such a controversial example. Instead consider Ayurveda, which advocates for the use of plant medicines that are already legal to prevent and treat disease. I totally understand that there are situations where it may be necessary to use pharmaceuticals for difficult disease, extreme pain, or for survival of the patient. I wouldn’t advise somebody who was just in a serious car accident to use Ayurvedic herbs for survival, likewise I wouldn’t advise somebody with minor depression to take an antidepressant for happiness. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of new developments in technology? The answer is that we should, when we need to, but we should also be shifting towards a lifestyle that avoids the cause of disease so symptoms don’t emerge that tempt us to consume a pill. In this busy, stressful modern world it can be difficult to consistently practice a healthy daily routine. Pharmaceuticals seem so convenient to us, swallow a pill and your are done, no need to change your behavior, an easy choice, right? But what happens when you need a second pill to treat the side effects from the first pill? What happens when the symptoms worsen, and you need to take a stronger pill with potentially stronger side effects? Or worse, what happens when your doctor says the pills don’t work anymore and now you need surgery? We don’t need to imagine such grim scenarios, instead we can be comforted by knowing that we have access to safe and effective traditional medicines such as Ayurveda, and it all begins right here, by becoming aware of options that you may not have known existed.

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