Rewire Your Nervous System With Kirtan Kriya Meditation

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By Tara Magaddino

When was that last time you thought about your breathing? For many of us, it is something we do without much thought. What if I told you that it is your very breath that can shift how you move about your day, moment-to-moment? At these times, I’m reminded of a saying, “the body follows the mind, the mind follows the breath”. Breathing is part of your autonomic nervous system, which means that the way you are breathing directly affects the state of your nervous system. When our breath flows deep, our diaphragm relaxes downward, allowing our lungs to fill completely, triggering our parasympathetic (think paradise) nervous system. This action informs the body that all is well and that we are in a state of relaxation. In a calmer state, we are able to think more clearly, sleep deeper, and be more present in each moment. However, when our bodies are in a state of stress, our muscles tighten, our diaphragm contracts, and our breath becomes shallow. Shallow or rapid breathing sends a message to our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system to be alert. Many of us live each day in a state of low grade, but chronic stress due to our busy schedules. Over time, this negatively impacts our memory and health.

For thousands of years, Yogis have understood how the breath connects to our state of mind and how the practice of meditation can benefit one’s physical and mental health. Modern-day institutions like UCLA and The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation have taken an interest, and are studying how meditation benefits one’s overall being. One particular meditation is called Kirtan Kriya Meditation. This meditation can have immediate and long lasting benefits for your brain. Studies conducted show that it can help with anxiety, sleep, depression, memory, and overall cognitive function. The best part of it all—you can complete this meditation in only 6-30 minutes! The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation recommends 12 minutes a day, which is a happy medium. One could practice right before bed and not only have restful sleep, but a sharper, happier brain when you awake! This meditation involves three parts: breath, mudra (finger movements), and mantra (sound). In yoga, this is known as a bij (seed) mantra. Each sound alone does not translate into anything. However, when recited, the meditation results in the stimulation of 84 acupressure points on the roof of one’s mouth. In turn, different parts of one’s brain are activated.  The movement of the fingers stimulate nerve endings that connect to parts of your brain as well. So while you are meditating, the three parts combined work together to positively impact your brain.

How to practice Kirtan Kriya

There are different versions which exist, but here is one way you can start at home:

Posture:

  1. Sit comfortably, either on a chair or cross-legged, with spine straight.

  2. Close your eyes, focus on your brow point

  3. Place hands palm facing up either on top of your thighs or loosely by your sides

  4. Take a few conscious breaths, feeling your breath slow

Finger Movements with Mantra Sound: The thumb is to touch each of the four fingers in sequence with each sound. Both hands move at the same time.

  1. On Saa, touch the index fingers of each hand to the thumbs

  2. On Taa, touch the middle fingers of each hand to the thumbs

  3. On Naa, touch the ring fingers of each hand to the thumbs

  4. On Maa, touch the pinky fingers of each hand to the thumbs

The Sequence: Decide how long you desire to practice and divide time up evenly. If you practice for 12 minutes, you can practice as follows:

  1. Two minutes, sing out loud

  2. Two minutes, whisper

  3. 4 minutes silently singing to yourself

  4. Two minutes, whisper

  5. Two minutes, sing out loud

  6. Sit silently for one minute, then stretch your arms up to stretch your spine

Guided meditation music and directions you can use:

https://www.madhurnain.com/blog/kirtankriya?rq=kirtan%20kriya

Back to School Lunch

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Fall is my favorite time of year. I love seeing the leaves change color and feeling the crisp evening air on my face. I enjoy summers with my children very much, but I also appreciate their return to school as it allows me time to dedicate to my work.

Along with the start of the school year comes the very familiar task of packing lunches. I choose to pack lunch for my kids for several reasons; I feel I can offer them balanced meals they’re more likely to eat and I know what’s going into those meals.

I think part of what makes packing lunch challenging is when we fall into a rut. We are relying on the same tried-and-true recipes that when made often enough, become downright boring. My middle-schooler will eat just about whatever I pack without a complaint. My younger child is looking for eye-appeal and novelty. The latter takes a little more planning. I can’t produce such appealing meals at 6:30am on the fly!

Lunch prep doesn’t have to be a daunting task. I’m sharing a few tips that I’ve used with my kids to make packing food to-go more inviting.

  1. Work with your child - set aside time to brainstorm ideas together. I found a great list of a 100 lunches, dietitian approved! I gave my daughter this site for inspiration and had her come up with her own list.

  2. Shop together - take time to read through the nutrition label. Anything coming out of a box or package is processed. Try to limit these packaged foods and choose those that have the highest fiber, lowest sugar, and the least amount of ingredients. Mary’s Gone Crackers for example would be a healthier option than Cheez-its or GoldFish.

  3. Invest in a few appealing lunch containers. Lunchbots and Planet Box are a couple good ones because they are free of plastic and BPA. These are great for the child or teen that prefers their food to stay separated. Cookie cutters can be used to quickly cut a sandwich into a heart or star which makes lunch playful.

  4. Put it on a stick - kabobs are easy and fun. My son made an easy caprese salad using cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and basil. Fruit like strawberries and grapes as well as cheese and olives work great on a stick. You can chop off the sharp end for younger kids.

  5. Break it down - baked tortilla chips, beans, cheese, salsa, and guacamole can be put in separate containers to make a deconstructed taco lunch.

  6. Hydrate - don’t forget to fill their bottles with fresh filtered water. Using a steel water bottle instead of a plastic one will keep harmful chemicals out of the body. Don’t assume that if it’s “BPA free” it’s free of toxins.

I found that planning ahead was my biggest time saver and helped keep morning stress levels down. Cold items like sandwiches or dry goods like homemade trail mixes can be packed the night before. Hot items, however, will need a quick reheat in the morning. Fruit also looks more appealing when freshly cut, so save that task for the morning as well.

If you’re interested in learning more about healthy eating for kids, join me Thursday, October 1, 6:30-7:30pm, at the Martinez County Library for my talk “School Fuel.” Register online for this free event.

A Healthy and Sustainable Meal Delivery Service

A few weeks ago, driving by the Danville library, I spotted a car with a sign that read “Planted Table, Plant-based Meals Delivered to Your Door.” I was intrigued and did some digging to learn more about their model. As it turns out, Planted Table is a zero waste meal delivery company. Their meals are delivered to your door in eco-friendly glass containers. That means no disposable plastic and packaging with your meals. You place your used glass containers in the bag they provide and they replace it with fresh containers filled with delicious vegan meals. The meals are prepared by Chef Lauren Mahlke who specializes in vegan food preparation. I wanted to share their service because I feel strongly about any company that makes an effort to help people eat healthier while leaving a small footprint. I’m not an affiliate of the company nor will receive anything for sharing their info. Planted Table has generously agreed to give any of my readers a week of free smoothies if they sign up! Just mention Wellness Within. 

Vegan Cannellini ratatouille with Saffron Rice

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This plant-based French inspired weeknight meal can be cooked in under 20 minutes. The trick with eggplant is to partially cook with no added oil to keep it from getting mushy. In this recipe we char the eggplant in a saute pan with no oil and then chop into stew. Of course soaking and making your own beans is preferred but for a weeknight quick meal canned beans work great. 

Ingredients:
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 eggplant cut into eighths
2 zucchini, sliced into long halves
1 can of drained cannellini beans
1 large can of diced stewed tomatoes
1 red onion, small dice
1 cup of diced roasted peppers
4 Tablespoons of WE Olive Basil Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons of We Olive Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper To Taste
basil to garnish
Directions: In a dry griddle pan add eggplant and zucchini char on medium-high heat 4 minutes each side. Remove from pan and slice into medium chunks. In a large saute pan add Olive oil, red onion saute for a few minutes.
Add eggplant and zucchini Add balsamic, can of tomatoes and roasted peppers. Saute for 10 minutes. Season to taste. Garnish with basil.

Saffron Rice

Ingredients:
1 cup of basmati rice, rinsed
1 pinch of saffron
1/2 lemon
Salt
We Olive Lemon Olive Oil
Directions: Bring to boil 2 cups of water with all ingredients besides rice. Add rice and cover on low for 15 minutes until fluffy.

Recipe courtesy of Chef Lauren Mahlke

Tropical Pudding

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by Malu Trehan

Here’s a dessert that will take you on a vacation without leaving your home. Mangoes are high in beta carotene, coconut milk has medium chain triglycerides (MCT) which fuels the brain, and chia is loaded with omega 3. How can you go wrong with this treat?

Ingredients:

2 ripe mangoes, cut into chunks

½ 14 oz can coconut milk (full fat)

1 Tbsp maple syrup

3 Tbsp chia seeds

¼ tsp ground cardamom seeds

1 Tbsp shredded coconut flakes

Directions:

  1. Combine mangoes, coconut milk, and maple syrup in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

  2. Add chia seeds and pulse to combine but don’t blend it. We want the chia seeds intact.

  3. Spoon mixture into ramekins or small bowls, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

  4. Top pudding with coconut flakes and cardamom and serve.

Too Much of a Good Thing…

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by Kirsten Graves

Is there such a thing as too many veggies?
How can one eat too much fiber?
How can I make sure my child isn’t eating too much sugar to prevent diabetes?
What if my child gains too much weight?


These are all normal parental concerns that often creep into our minds. After all we want the best for our kids, whether it’s related to nutrition, health, sports, or academics! How do we disseminate information related to “healthy eating” and nutrition adequacy in a manner that does not promote a problematic relationship with nutrition or an eating disorder, especially in a society where “dieting” and vast “nutrition messages” are ever-so- prominent? It’s important to remember that nutrition education for children can be confusing and complicated. As adults we have the ability to understand and interpret complicated messages related to nutrition and health. A child’s learning and developmental stage often does not allow them to fully grasp abstract or complicated messages related to nutrition and health. This can lead to black and white thinking around food, exercise, and weight. In extreme cases, a child trying to “be healthy” can end up stunting their growth, developing a nutrient deficiency or malnutrition, and/or an eating disorder.


As parents we can promote a positive relationship with food and health at home by adapting or changing our own thinking related to health. Consider these tips:

Nutrition is important, but it’s not the end all be all. Health and disease are complicated topics that are multi-factorial. Accept a positive nutrition approach at home- one that allows for all foods, even daily sweets or “fun foods.” Do not label foods as “good or bad.” It’s true, there is no such thing as a “good or bad” food, but when we label food as such usually the “bad” foods become more powerful and our kids may tend to seek them out. When we adopt the mindset that “all foods fit” we are able to fuel our body from a variety of different foods that taste good, give us a mixture of nutrients, provide satiety, and even enjoyment!

Allow kids to be kids. It’s important to remember that kids have different nutrition needs than adults. Kids grow and develop at an accelerated rate, their bones and brain are working hard to get to their peak mass which will sustain them for the rest of their lives- this takes a lot of energy and micronutrients! We may often find ourselves amazed at a child’s appetite or how much food they are eating, but keep in mind how much work their body is doing in order to grow (and that’s not counting if they are active or participating in sports)! Avoid commenting or guiding your child
on how much to eat. They will stop when their body has had enough. Additionally, it’s normal for kids to have fun foods and desserts on a regular basis. They will desire less of them if these foods are not banned and are a normal part of every day eating.

Ditch the diet (and weight) talk at home. Have you ever considered how many negative food or body messages you hear on a day-to- day basis? These messages can linger with children and harm their relationship with their eating and body. If you or a family member are dieting or trying to change your body, avoid this discussion in front of your kids. Instead focus on the idea of health and health behaviors- getting good sleep, moving your body, limiting stress, eating a variety of foods, spending time with family, and doing activities that you enjoy. After all, these are the keys to success in our health and overall wellbeing! If you have noticed significant changes in your child’s eating such as: avoiding certain foods, talking excessively about food or health or their body, or have seen changes in their weight (gaining or losing) you may want to consider checking in with your healthcare professional about if these changes could lead to a problematic relationship with food or their body. For more information on supporting your child’s eating experience read more at: https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org

Kirsten Graves, MS RD is a graduate level Registered Dietitian that works in the athletic department at UC Berkeley and has a private practice in Lafayette that specializes in the treatment of disordered eating, eating disorders, and sports nutrition for athletes.
For more information visit: www.KirstenGravesRD.com

Spring - The Perfect Time for Change

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by Judy Brennan

I was sitting in my kitchen feeling down about difficulties our family was experiencing. A friend of my daughter’s had recently passed away and a close family member was in the midst of severe health problems.

My 18-year-old daughter was home from college and walked into the kitchen and noticed my deflated posture. I looked up at her with an expressionless face. “It’s OK Mom” she said, “You've been perfect long enough.”

“You've been perfect long enough”, I silently repeated to myself. My children since birth have always been my teachers with their candid remarks and observations. Another example popped into my mind, when my son was six years old and adjusting to the transition from a half-day kindergarten schedule to a full-day first grade schedule, I picked him up after school and excitingly told him I had signed him up for an extracurricular activity. I will always remember the disappointed look on his face and his words  “Mom, I just want to go home and rest. That activity is for you not for me.” Wow, he was right. What was I thinking? We went home, had lunch together, he rested and played. This was much better than running off to another activity that would have surely not served him in an already exhausted state.

What was this message from my daughter? I thought about how our lives had always been so ‘perfect’, full of family, friends, vacations, a nice home in a safe neighborhood, good schools, food and clothing readily available. We always think nothing bad will happen. That every day should be a good one without the bad ones, but life is not like that. Stuff happens and we feel less than adequate when it does. It’s how we deal with the tough times that keep us sane.  And, it’s during the tough times that I am grateful for my mindfulness practices. What is mindfulness?

According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley, mindfulness is the practice of “Living in the present moment without judgment and awakening to the experience.” Taking the time every day to slow down, to sit, to breathe, and to just be. To be aware of how we treat others, animals, the planet, and ourselves.  There is a quote I love describing the mindfulness practice of meditation that says it beautifully:

Real meditation is the highest form of intelligence:

  • It is not a matter of sitting cross-legged in a corner with your eyes shut or standing on your head or whatever it is you do.

  • To meditate is to be completely aware as you are walking, as you are riding in the bus, as you are working in your office or in your kitchen—completely aware of the words you use, the gestures you make, the manner of your talk, the way you eat, and how you push people around.

  • To be choicelessly aware of everything about you and within you is meditation.

  • If you are aware of the many influences about you, you will see how quickly you understand and are free of every influence as you come into contact with it.

                           - Jiddu Krishnamurti

So how does this relate to spring? Spring is a time of change, new growth, and reflection. Change will happen. It is the one thing we can be certain of. For me, I need to realize that life is not perfect and it has its ups and downs. It’s how we handle these situations that come to us that is important. And, it’s how we respond during difficult times that will ripple out and affect those around us. We can choose to be role models or not.  Mindfulness gives us awareness and that awareness allows us to act instead of react. When we slow down and calm our nervous systems with meditation and our own breath, we are able to think more clearly and formulate a plan with grace.

Some tools I use to help me slow down and be mindful include:

Insight Timer: A free App you can use to help you slow down and breath and learn the mindfulness practice of meditation, that includes a timer, beautiful guided meditations with topics you can choose based on your current need (topic examples include - surrender to silence, our power to heal and repair, and unconditional love). Two of my favorite teachers who offer guided meditations in this App are Thich Nhat Hanh and Davidji.

The Mindful Life Journal: Created by Justin R. Adams and published by Better Life Journals, is a wonderful simple daily journal and introduction to mindfulness that takes just seven minutes a day (a few minutes in the morning and a few minutes in the evening).

Relax Kids, The Wishing Star: 52 Meditations for Children (ages 5+): For children, I recommend this guided meditation book, great for reading to children and even teens to help them peacefully drift off to sleep or anytime they are in need of calm in their lives.

So thank you to my beautiful daughter for reminding me that I can’t expect to be perfect and that life is not perfect. Life has its ups and downs. It’s how we deal with those ups and downs that will affect us, both in body and mind.

Judy Brennan is a Health & Wellness Educator and Speaker certified through the Chopra Center for Wellbeing and is the owner of YogaforLife located in the Bay Area. For more information on Judy and her services visit www.YogaforLife.guru

Snacking Smart

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by Malu Trehan

Snacking among children has gone up by 27% since the 1970’s, trending towards having three snacks a day.(1) Kids are opting for more salty and sweet snacks over dairy and fruit. This kind of consumption can lead to excessive caloric intake and sabotage a child’s weight and overall health. Poorly timed snacks can exacerbate the problem leaving the child with less of an appetite for her nourishing main meal.

That said, snacks can be a great addition to children’s diets and can fill the nutrient gap for their growing bodies. It can also help moderate excessive eating at mealtimes. Here are a few ideas on how to prepare healthy snacks.

Protein, Fat, and Fiber

Make sure your snack provides all three. Protein and fiber add satiety. A cracker by itself for example won’t give that feeling of fullness but a cracker with a slice of cheese, meat, or nut butter with a side of grapes will. Sources of protein are meat, beans, nuts, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and cheese. Healthy sources of fat are avocados, nuts, seeds, and olives. Fiber can be found in beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Time snacks appropriately

A snack eaten half-way between breakfast and lunch, and another one between lunch and dinner can help tie your child over without ruining her appetite. You want your child to come to the table hungry. They are more likely to eat the meal you prepared and will be less fussy. School-aged children need about two snacks a day while teens need one or two. If they participate in sports, a well-timed snack before practice or in the evening is perfect.

Looking for snack ideas? Try these!

  • Smoothie made with frozen berries, banana, yogurt and milk

  • Celery sticks with cream cheese or nut butter

  • A cup of vegetable soup

  • Carrot sticks and pita wedges dipped in hummus

  • Guacamole and whole grain crackers with a side of fruit

  • Yogurt* layered with berries and rolled oats or granola.

*Look for yogurt with less than 2 tsps of sugar per serving (4g = 1 tsp of sugar)