Do you often feel tired and get ill more often than the people around you? If so it might be worth thinking about your iron levels.
Iron is found in every cell in our body and is an essential component in the creation of our blood as it makes up the protein haemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen to our organs and tissues.
It is an important part of immune function, building collagen and also a healthy nervous system.
As we are not able to produce it in our bodies ourselves we have to absorb it in the food we eat.
This either comes in the form of meat or plants. Therefore your diet is essential in making sure you have enough iron.
Animal iron is readily available for our body to absorb as the animal converted it, whilst plant iron needs to converted in the body in order to utilise it.
A few food sources that are iron rich are:
Lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, Green leafy vegetables, beetroots
All meat products
The other important thing to consider when looking at iron is whether you have enough Vitamin C in your diet to help you absorb the iron that you take in.
If you don’t it will go to waste.
Green vegetables have a lot of vitamin C in them anyway so if you have a balanced diet chances are you will have enough vitamin C otherwise fresh fruit juices drunk alongside can help.
Additionally tannins in coffee and tea, phytates in wholegrain and some legumes can interfere with the absorption of iron from food so it is best to avoid these things around the time you take an iron supplement.
Whilst our diet is the first point of call to assess to make sure we are getting optimal amounts of iron there are good quality supplements on the market if you feel you need a boost.
Floradix is the most well known. A food derived iron tonic made of a concoction of herbs, vegetables and fruit. I have always been a great fan of it.
Recently though however I have started making my own iron tonics using raw ingredients from my kitchen and garden and you can do the same!
Wild Iron tonic recipe
100g yellow dock root
100g nettle leaf
50g dandelion leaf
50g dandelion root
water ( approximately 1 litre water which should be what you need to cover your herbs)
1. Cover your herbs with water
2. Bring your water to a boil and turn down to a medium-low simmer.
3. Simmer uncovered until the liquid is reduced by half. This should leave approximately 500ml.
4. Once cooled fill a small Kilmer jar with 5 tablespoons of molasses and 1 of honey.
Molasses is used as it is a great form of iron and honeys antibacterial qualities make it a good preserver and immune supporter.
5. Strain the reduced herb mixture, and add it to the molasses mixture.
6. Add a dash of brandy to preserve it (leave out the brandy if you are pregnant)
7. Shake to mix the molasses, honey, and herbal mix, and then pop it in the fridge.
Dosage: You can take up to 6 tablespoons a day or add it as a syrup over fruit and ice cream.
Ideal to use within 6 weeks.
It is Organic September so there is no better time for us to look at the food we are eating and evaluate whether it is serving us and our family and where improvements can be made.
Food isn’t just fuel it plays a huge role in protecting your body from the stresses of our environment and providing key nutrients to support our immune system and digestive health.
So ahead of the winter months where we know are much more likely to get ill and run down due to our slower metabolisms, less sunshine and less vitamin rich diets it is time to set some good intentions and potentially make some changes. A great one if making the move to Organic.
I am not sure if you are familiar with Zach Bush, an American doctor, endocrinologist and thought leader on the microbiome who has highlighted the need for a radical departure from chemical farming and pharmacy through his work.
Although USA based he states some scary statistics such as :
“By 2011, our Centre’s of Disease Control (CDC) was reporting 54% of US children with some form of chronic disorder or disease by the age of seventeen.”
“The epidemic is not at all limited to children. In adults a broad array of conditions have been on a steady rise, from depression and anxiety all the way to celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, multiple sclerosis, ALS), Alzheimer’s in women, and Parkinson’s in men.
All on near identical trajectories of increase since 1996.”
We know from our current healthcare crisis in the UK we are facing similar struggles.
Through his work he has begun to reveal the intricacies of the delicate balance between soil, the microbiome, and ourselves. The timeline of our chronic disease epidemic becomes very interesting, and in fact provides a pathway to the recovery toward human health.
Estimates in the USA show they sprayed more than 4.5 billion pounds of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) into the soils, plants, and water systems of our planet.
In the UK I can only find a statistic from Defra in 2016 that stated
2.5 million hectares in the UK were treated with a total of roughly 2.2 million kilograms of glyphosate which means more than a quarter of the UK’s farmland is being treated with glyphosate! Crazy amounts.
Zach states that “After “Roundup Ready” crops were introduced in the mid-late 1990’s, this water-soluble toxin would subsequently work its way into the water within the grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as infiltrating the groundwater, slowly making its way into rivers, oceans, our air, and ultimately our rainfall. “
When we eat food it ends up in our gut so it makes sense that this area of our body that is responsible not only for our digestion but a large proportion of our mental/ nervous system health and immune system gets hit hard.
So how does it do that? ( bit technical)
In the intestines, glyphosate directly damages the connective proteins that maintain the structure of the cell, and the cohesive nature of the gut and vascular membranes. It damages the epithelial tight junction tissue on contact, weakening the barriers that protect us on the inside from the barrage of other environmental toxins to which we are exposed. Injury to the tight junction membrane in the gut can lead to intestinal permeability otherwise known as “leaky gut”.
Like the gliadin protein from gluten, glyphosate acts through zonulin-mediated pathways to damage the tight junction system. Zonulin can then go systemic to affect the extracellular matrix and tight junction systems throughout the body; injury to the tight junction membrane in the vascular system of the blood-brain barrier can result in the host of neurological symptoms typical with gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease.
Essentially once the gut is permeable these toxins can get all round the body and damage the most precious areas of our body such as the brain.
I know from personal experience that even as someone who reacts badly to gluten if I eat a very pure organic wheat flour sourdough in most situations, I am fine but if you gave me a non-organic white loaf to eat I would suffer. Often one ingredient gets singled out as a culprit but when we think that we have eaten various forms of wheat for hundreds of years it makes far more sense that what we have done with it, how we have corrupted it is far more responsible for our health that we realise.
It also means that more that ever it is not enough to just follow an ingredient driven diet and that knowing and understanding how something is grown, and where its grown can be far more relevant for our health and the health of our environment.
Any acute inflammatory response becomes chronic inflammation over time as your system is overwhelmed with toxins from the outside world which are not dealt with or removed. Sadly Glyphosphate isn’t the ony pesticide and envirnoemtnal toxin we deal with but it is one of the worst and as Samsel A writes (Seneff S. Entropy. 2013: 15(4): 1416-1463)
Glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.
I am sorry if this blog feels a bit doom and gloom. I haven’t meant it to be but sometimes if we are going to make a real shift we have to really hear the facts. And in this case I think you will agree they are pretty shocking and caused by something many of us probably still have in our garden shed!
There is a solution though. That is Regenerative agriculture. If you haven’t read my blog on the subject you can find it here.
Returning to organic farming and indeed trying to grow as much food yourself is where we need to move to. Asking questions being inquisitive and reminding ourselves we are what we eat so lets eat the best we can!
It appears that over the last 50 years our natural inclination as human beings has been to search out the best life hacks and short cuts to optimum health that we can as the speed in which we live our lives increases.
Whilst historically our exercise routine may have fallen into house husbandry- the essential day to day jobs such as collection and chopping of logs to light our fires or the hours spent tending our animals and vegetables it has now become somewhat of an addition to our working day.
It is this feeling of it being an “addition” that I feel is the very thing that makes it appear like more of a chore in some cases rather than an enjoyment and we can find ourselves dragging our feet to the gym.
There are companies like The Good Gym which I think are brilliant who are bringing the idea of purposeful exercise back into our psyches. Instead of using all that energy up on a treadmill you can do gardening or heavy lifting for those people who are unable to do it like the elderly and run home afterwards!
This is exercise with purpose. Something I think we need to return to as part of our commitment to helping our planet.
Eating with intention is similar. Understanding the nutritional profiles and benefits of certain foods over others can help you feel more empowered and help you take your health in the direction that you want to.
I have made a list of the things which I have implemented into my lifestyle over the years that encompass exercise and nutrition and have made the most difference to me.
Making time for personal reflection
Whether it is 15 minutes or half an hour, taking a moment out for yourself in a busy day allows you to gain a sense of perspective on what is going on in your life. During this time take some deep breaths and to assert some positive affirmations for the future.
Deep breathing and grounding
This needs further expansion (forgive the pun) but seriously breathing deeply has so many positive benefits.
By taking deep breaths, your heart rate slows, more oxygen enters our blood stream and ultimately communicates with the brain to relax, increasing your endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals. Breathing stimulates the lymphatic system- the system that detoxifies the body. Breathing is responsible for 70% of cleansing the body of toxins (the other 30% is through bladder and bowels). If you do not breathe fully, your body must work overtime to release these toxins.
It also improves immunity. When your blood is fully oxygenated, it carries and absorbs nutrients and vitamins more efficiently. This in turn increases our energy. The more oxygen that is in the blood, the better our stamina.
Alongside breathing taking 5 minutes a day to walk bare foot on the earth can have incredible anti-ageing effects for the body as it allows the absorption of negative ions from the earth which act as natural anti-inflammatories.
Going Gluten free
Taking gluten out of my diet improved my energy levels, skin, digestion and mood. Whilst a lot of people don’t appear to have obvious effects from gluten just the way so much of our modern food is manufactured (particularly bread) means what we are eating is usually quite devoid of nutrition, rather indigestible or full of unnecessary additives and pesticides.
It is an interesting experiment to try for 6 weeks and see how different you feel.
Go Green and Raw before 4
Having something raw and green at lunchtime such as a salad with seeds and a nourishing olive or hemp oil dressing is great for increasing our enzymes important for adequate digestion which naturally reduce as we age. Organic, raw greens are packed full of nutrients. Digestion of raw foods is most effective before the hour of 4pm so try and avoid after this time as it can affect your sleep otherwise.
Walk a day…
I have long advocated walking as the best form of exercise to my friends and family. The runners I know swear by running but my feeling is walking puts less pressure on your important knee and hip joints which we know take the greatest wear as we age.
A key part of a good walk in my opinion is the incline, so you can feel yourself perspire and really engage every part of your body to push you upwards.
I like to walk first thing before breakfast to increase my metabolism and set myself up for the day. Continuing the idea of exercise with a purpose, my walks always include my 3 dogs and I will generally bring a basket with me to forage whatever is in season!
People ask me if there are particular foods or supplements I recommend for feeling amazing. Whilst I have one supplement I couldn’t live without which I will name in a moment there is one food that I am obsessed with, and that is hemp.
I have it with my cereal, yogurt or porridge in the morning. I use organic shelled hemp and I often combine this with cold pressed hemp oil. It is one of the most complete foods on the planet containing all your amino acids so a really balanced form of protein especially good if you don’t eat a lot of meat. The essential oils in hemp are incredible for maintaining youthful skin, hair and supple bones.
Cold water Swimming
A german man named Wim Hof has bought the concept of cold water swimming to the masses. He used it to cure the depression he felt after the death of his wife and has been motivating people ever since to embrace the cold in order to combat mental health issues, boost immune systems and cure chronic disease. In the UK now there are plenty of books on wild swimming spots and we are lucky enough to be a smallish island where you are never to far from some wild water! Having grown up in Guernsey it has always been a large part of my life. Down in Devon now I try and go 2 or 3 times a week in the river below where I live and its wonderful that the people who I have introduced to it over the years can now not live without the cold water in their lives.
I mentioned above that I have one supplement I couldn’t live without and that is Magnesium. It is easy to spend a lot of money on the pills that people recommend. Over the years I have refined it down to one. Magnesium is our stress mineral. It is the one that gets depleted most quickly in our modern day world and without it our body finds it hard to switch off. It is necessary for our muscles to relax and lack of it can lead to sleep problems and anxiety. I buy it in powdered form from Solgar – it is worth spending money on a good quality source and add it to a bottle of water at least once a week to keep yourself topped up.
I invite you to try some of the above for yourself. Let me know how you get on!
The humble vegetable. A crucial part of a balanced diet.
Shirked by many and loved by the few for so long it is great to see an increased appetite for our “greens” as the numbers of vegan and vegetarians grow in response to health, environmental and animal welfare concerns.
So how many vegetables should we be eating as part of a balanced diet?
Whilst I say “the more the merrier”, you can’t eat too many did you know there is an extraordinary effect of eating too many carrots which is a yellowish discolouration of the skin, a condition called carotenemia, which is most noticeable on the palms and soles! Sounds extraordinary doesn’t it.
So perhaps we take heed of the government dietary guidelines which suggest we should be eating a minimum of 400g of vegetables everyday as adults or 5 x 80g portions. We are reminded of this with the unforgettable “one of your 5 a day” slogan which we are all familiar with on product packaging.
Fruit and vegetables should make up half your plate at any given meal – approximately 30% vegetables and 20% fruit so we are told.
But how easy do you find this?
For many this is a simple and enjoyable undertaking but I believe this is down to being able to prepare and/or cook our vegetable friends in a delicious flavour filled way. This can often be a great skill with the average lack lustre specimens we find in our supermarket that have often been picked weeks before they land on your plate.
I believe the key to increasing your intake of vegetables is to choose locally sourced and seasonal varieties.
You can immediately taste the difference between a carrot grown by your local farm shop or vegetable box provider and the ones from your supermarket. Most importantly as an advocate for organic you are more likely to find truly organically grown vegetables in these places whose taste isn’t hindered by a barage of chemicals.
Carrots that actually taste of carrot! Amazing.
Equally it is important to remember as we begin to reduce our salt and sugar intake in our diets our taste buds are heightened once more and the subtle flavours of vegetables that have been lost from us due to our diet then return.
So now we have rediscovered our interest in vegetables how can we more easily incorporate them into our diet?
Here are a few ideas to inspire you.
Savoury and Sweet
When we think of a vegetable we often think of them as savoury additions when in fact so many vegetables are very versatile and can be incorporated into a variety of more sweet dishes.
Beetroot for example works well in brownies, carrot in cake and biscuits, courgette in muffins.
Often their use minimizes the use for excess sugar and binders and forms a welcome high fibre addition.
Take a look at the recipes on our website for some great ideas to inspire you such as our carrot waffles!
Whilst at PK we make muesli using you can likewise try grating fresh carrot and apple into your bowl of oats and soak them over night as a bircher mixed with warming spices of cinnamon and ginger for a wholesome start to your day.
So often the time factor has a huge part of play on our creativity and inclusion of vegetables in our diet. A nice way to overcome this whilst also providing yourself with easy lunch options for the week is to prepare 3 or 4 chosen vegetables on a Sunday and store in boxes to make up a healthy meze during the week. Roasted sweet potatoes, peppers and courgettes work well for this mixed with herbs and spices.
Vegetable noodle anyone?
Often the way we prepare our vegetables can turn them into something else! What do I mean by this?
Well.. courgettes and sweet potato can be spiralised into noodles which combined with a nice sauce could replace flour noodles and pasta.
Cauliflower can be breadcrumbed and used as a flour or rice substitute. There are some great recipes for cauliflower pizza now.
Even simply grating carrot and beetroot together can make it more palatable as a salad addition topped with some crunchy roasted seeds.
Fresh, raw vegetables are very high in enzymes which are crucial for optimum digestion and often far more flavoursome often than the cooked ones. Snack on carrots, celery, cucumber, thinly sliced beetroot, radishes dipped into hummus, dukkah or runny cheese and nibble on freshly podded peas and broadbeans in season. Delicious…
If you prefer the art of disguise then blending might be the answer, either into a smoothie, juice or soup.
Now it is summer time why not try a refreshing gazpacho.
Or check out a smoothie recipe from our website.
When we think of getting our vegetables down us we think of putting them in our mouth but another organ of assimilation is our skin.
We forget our skin is the largest organ of our body and absorbs what it touches. Therefore we can absorb nutrients and benefits of vegetables when we use them on our skin.
Some great examples of these are:
Avocado face mask – used by the Mayans as an anti-wrinkle cure this leaves the skin feeling super soft as it absorbs the vitamin A and E within it.
Cucumbers pureed with a little honey are cooling and hydrating for the skin reducing redness.
And thats a wrap..
My last contender is a clever replacement for bread. A Korean concept but easily adopted, the art of using seaweed sheets or lettuce leaves to wrap your sandwich ingredients. Especially good if you have gone gluten free or given up bread!
It is Summer so there is no better or more abundant time to go green and be experimenting with delicious seasonal vegetables.
But if all else fails you can always reach for a bowl of our muesli!
We can all breathe a huge sigh of relief, Summer finally feels like it has arrived…
Isn’t it just wonderful to feel the warm air on your skin and be able to expose your legs and arms to top up those Vitamin D levels after what my local farmer called the longest winter he had ever known!
The summer heat really provides an energy to our spirit.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine it is the season of Fire and Expansion. It is the time of peak vitality and outward and upward movement. Ruled by the element of fire, summer is the most yang time of the year.
With every season comes change and the clearest sign of abundant health and vitality is our ability to adapt to it and maintain balance as we move from one to the next. So how do you best keep your body in balance at this time of year?
Using our intuition and listening to our body trusting it will give us the right answer.
Whenever there is heat it feels natural to seek out the cool breeze and enjoy cooling moist foods along with sweet fresh fruits. These are the foods that are in ready supply at this time of year like fresh cucumbers, salad leaves, strawberries to name a few. The foods to avoid are the heavy, spicy and greasy ones which are internally warming.
Love your Heart
In traditional Chinese medicine the organ associated with Summer is the heart so looking for ways to support this valuable organ will help maintain your sense of wellbeing during these months.
Plants often grow during the time and in the place, they are needed. So, in identifying the plants that are currently blooming we can find our supports.
The white clouds of the hawthorn blossom decorate the Moors and hedgerows at the moment. The hawthorn is one of our best heart support plants. Its latin name is Crataegus. Whether you have high or low blood pressure or general weakness from trauma it is a wonderful go to herb to help strengthen this important organ.
The blossoms can be placed on the tongue or dried as a tea and the berries can be used in the same way or you can cover them in alcohol to make a tincture.
Sea and Seaweed
Where there is fire it feels natural to want to immerse yourself in water so once summer arrives, we feel the desire to seek out the seashore and everything that it brings. The coast can provide us with the minerals and vitamins that serve us well at this time of year.
Swimming in the sea and breathing the sea air allows you to absorb important anti-stress minerals like magnesium. This happens when we walk barefoot on the seaweeds too.
The inner sap of seaweeds like bladderwrack can be used on sunburn to cool and relieve any inflammation.
The sea vegetables and seafood. These foods are naturally rich in iodine important for proper development of bone and brain during pregnancy. They also contain zinc, something that is not only important for our immunity it is crucial for our fertility. Why this talk of babies? Well….
On the 21st of this month we meet the Summer Solstice. The solstice is traditionally a time when we would drink and be merry late into the night.
It is a great time of year to conceive a baby as they will be born in the Spring when historically after the hardship of winter there was an abundance of food to go round and the air temperature is warmer and more supportive to new life.
Summer corresponds to our solar plexus chakra – our centre for personal power where the source of our confidence and self-discipline is found. This comes through self-love and self-respect.
Summer is a time to give your body the love it deserves.
In India the ayurvedic philosophy recommends massaging the body daily with sesame or coconut oil to replenish dry skin and add rose petals to your diet and bath which support our heart.
Summer is the season for siestas. Sleeping during the day helps to replenish lost moisture and strengthen the body. It is recommended in Ayurveda that you do your napping in a semi-reclined position or lying down on the left side. Lying on the left side is thought to offer the most benefits to your health as organs are freer to remove toxins whilst you sleep. Wait at least an hour after eating and nap no more than 30 minutes.
Sleep under the night sky
The opposite of Father Sun is Mother Moon. If you are able to sleep outdoors on warmer evenings or moon bathe with (or ideally without) clothing before bed it can have a very cooling effect on the body.
The ancient Greeks marked the summer solstice on their calendars as the first official day of the year.
Why not use this transition period to reaffirm your visions for the rest of the year and say a little prayer of gratitude for the achievements and learnings that have come so far?
I leave you with a quote by John Lubbock which feels fitting advice for the Summer months.
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
Enjoy your Summer x
While winter was a time to conserve our energy stores and slow down, spring is traditionally a time of growth, renewal and new life. It is also a time to cleanse, re-energize and re-evaluate, to make plans for the coming year.
We famously spring clean our homes but what better way to start the year than paying the same attention to our bodies.
In traditional Chinese medicine the organs associated with spring are the liver and gallbladder and it’s these we need to help at this time of year.
Nature assists us in this process by providing bounty all around us. The young nettle shoots picked and infused in hot water act as a diuretic on the kidneys and stimulate the liver to release toxins.
The cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage that we love to hate actually contain antioxidants such as glutathione which assist in removing toxins as well as alkalizing an over acidic system.
As well as good nutrition, Homeopathy a gentle form of complementary medicine can assist this process too; by stimulating your body’s natural ability to heal itself and regain balance.
It works on the principle of “like cures like” – that is, a substance that would cause symptoms in a healthy person is used to cure those same symptoms in illness.
Two key remedies to help with detoxification are Nux Vomica and Sulphur. They both have symptoms of irritability, sluggishness and an increased sensitivity to their environment, all of which indicate an overburdened system.
Taken alternately on a waning moon (a time when elimination happens more easily) for a couple of days can help remove impurities by cleaning all your organs of elimination – your bowel, kidneys, liver and skin.
Due to the high carbohydrate intake over the winter months digestion can slow down which can cause toxins to be reabsorbed into the blood stream. A traditional herb originating in India called Triphala can be taken twice a day before meals which can reduce bloating and speed up the digestive process.
This time of year is notorious for colds which we love to moan about but which are in hindsight vital mechanisms for clearing out rubbish from the lymphatic system, just good house keeping. There are quite a few remedies for colds but three very useful ones are:
Aconite- For the first stage of a cold, brought on by being out in a cold wind. There is typically a sudden onset and the person maybe quite fearful.
Pulsatilla- Indicated by changeable symptoms. The mucus is usually worse in the morning and evening and they feel worse at these times. Often there is a frontal headache with an inability to think clearly. There is a strong tendency to tearfulness as well as being thirstless with a dry mouth.
Arsenicum Album-The nose drips with watery mucus that tends to burn the inside of the nose and top lip causing it to get red and sore. Paroxysms of sneezing with a feeling of blocked up sinuses. Lips are dry and cracked and the voice is hoarse with a lot of mucus needing to be cleared from it.
The tissue salt Ferrum Phos used alongside any of these remedies can help remove congestion and inflammation.
Homeopathic remedies are very safe and gentle but as with all therapies it is wise to consult a trained homeopath for advice.
I like to keep a few essential oils in my first aid kit should I feel the onset of a cold coming or to support the cold as it throws out toxins from your system. Black pepper and eucalyptus are good for this and can make breathing a little easier.
Toxins and particularly heavy metals are a huge part of our life now as they infiltrate the water we drink, the fish we eat and the air we breathe. I recommend keeping some chlorella in your cupboard as it is excellent for supporting the removal of these heavy metals from the system by absorbing the metal ions onto its surface . Try 1 gram mixed with water up to 3 times a day and used over the period of a month to compliment the spring cycles.
Infusing your water is a lovely thing to do in spring. Take a few sprigs of herbs like mint or parsley and place them in a jug of water which you leave in a sunny spot and fill your glass up from during the day. When you have finished the water you can chew on the herbs which have powerful antioxidants and immune boosting essential oils.
Using these fresh herbs in your smoothies is very effective too. Combine a handful of berries, half a banana and a few sprigs of nettle, cleavers, mint or parsley with a little water makes a great aid for your digestion.
Spring is literally the time, like nature we should be blooming so if you don’t feel that way it may be a sign to take a look at your lifestyle habits and make some positive changes. One step at a time.
Over the last year I have heard people talk about the benefits of journaling more than ever – there definitely appears to be a buzz about it.
A favourite guru of mine Oprah Winfrey has kept a journal all her life and often refers back to them, using them as a tool to learn things about herself in the process.
Having never been one for writing a diary or journal and instead preferring something shorter like writing intentions and affirmations I decided to see what it was all about.
However, with keeping a diary usually something done before bed and that not being my most productive time of day, I was keen to look for an alternative.
In order to take advice on the subject I referred to a book that I had been given but never used by a lady called Julia Cameron. An American creativity coach and guru formally married to the film producer Martin Scorsese she appeared to be very much at the forefront of the “journaling” movement having written her book “The Artists Way” in 1992 which has since been republished.
In it she introduced a practise she called Morning Pages (already I liked the sound of it).
The book has been a huge best seller and the practise has been adopted by thousands of people so there is clearly something in it.
What are these mystical morning pages?
The instructions are that you sit down and write three full A4 pages of words. Anything that comes to you. It is best to do it first thing in the morning when you are fresh and keep writing until all 3 pages are done. Those are the rules.
When it comes to what you write. Just write anything. Literally it can be as brilliant or pointless as you like. No one is ever going to read them so don’t worry. Cameron says herself:
“All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning stands between you and your creativity. Worrying about the job, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eye — this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days. Get it on the page.”
What is great is that you are not meant to read your morning pages. The idea is to get things out and clear your mind and get it gone.
The connection between the hand and the paper I believe is an important one to recognise. We know it intuitively with other craft work done with our hands. Why don’t morning pages work typed up?
When we write by hand, we slow ourselves down. There is a time lag between the thought appearing in our minds and then on the page. It is hard to keep up with your thoughts, which is key so you can’t sensor what you write.
When we type it is the opposite as most of us can type pretty quicky and usually we cannot think of things fast enough to type.
It is important to stick to the 3 pages. Anymore you don’t have time for on a daily basis realistically and too little and you don’t get much from the exercise as you need to push yourself a little.
It is clearly a discipline if we are doing it every morning. It can be hard to stick to things unless there is a benefit. So, what are the benefits to our health and wellbeing?
The desire to record your daily life and keep a journal or diary has gone on for centuries although the benefits of it for our health and wellbeing were only starting to be realised in the 1960s.
Probably one of the most common reports from people who write journals is that the act of putting thought and feelings on paper helps give useful emotional and mental clarity. However, Dr. James Pennebaker, a researcher in Texas (Centre of Journal Therapy), has conducted studies that show that when people write about emotionally difficult events or feelings for just 20 minutes at a time over three or four days, their immune system functioning increases. Dr. Pennebaker’s studies indicate that the release offered by writing has a direct impact on the body’s capacity to withstand stress and fight off infection and disease.
This is pretty incredible. Writing down your thoughts and anxieties clearing your mind actually helps your body to function better. It makes sense doesn’t it? All those thoughts are baggage, weighing down your system, putting extra pressure on. Take the pressure off and everything can work better.
It is believed that by recording and describing the salient issues in one’s life, one can better understand these issues and eventually diagnose problems that stem from them. Journal therapy has been used effectively for grief and loss; coping with life-threatening or chronic illness; recovery from addictions, eating disorders and trauma; repairing troubled marriages and family relationships; increasing communication skills; developing healthier self-esteem; getting a better perspective on life; and clarifying life goals.
It is clear to say the benefits to our mental health with this technique are potentially great which is important to know when we consider as a nation, we are in the midst of a mental health crisis.
So now spring has sprung and our energy is raised it is a great time to implement new positive habits in our life.
I can confidently say since starting this exercise I feel better for it and definitely have more clarity.
Why not give morning pages a go?
It seems we don’t have anything to lose and everything to gain!
Being a keen gardener and grower of vegetables, I have come to know the value of good soil and rejoice at the sight of lots of worms when I plant. Since moving to Dartmoor I have been so pleased to find them in abundance and am always very careful not to hurt them as I go about my pottering.
I re-watched the film Seven year in Tibet again over lockdown. There was a great scene which I thoroughly approved of when Brad Pitt was instructed to build a theatre for the Dalai Lama and was told that no worms could be harmed (in line with Buddhist philosophy) so during the construction process the monks lifted each worm they found to safety elsewhere.
If only everyone took that that care with Nature as they went about their work perhaps it would be in a better state than it is now.
Is the soil abundant?
Whilst soil appears abundant to the distant untrained eye the quality of it in most parts of the world is far from where it has been historically. I read a great quote recently perfectly summing up the importance of something that is so easily taken for granted.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
‘We can have no life’. That is a pretty powerful statement to read but ultimately true when you think that we need good soil to grow the food we eat most crucially and that is before even considering all the other amazing things soil is responsible for.
A topic that has been in the forefront of environmentalist’s minds over the last 20 years is climate change and the excess carbon in our atmosphere. As a recent film Kiss the Ground confirms, the solution to climate change is indeed “right under our feet”.
Carbon is key
Carbon is the building block of all life. There is 417ppm of carbon dioxide currently in our atmosphere which as we know is too much for our climate. So what is the answer? Draw down is the answer. This happens very efficiently with our soil. Atmospheric carbon is converted to carbon in biomass taking it out of the atmosphere and sinking it to make nutritious soil. In 1950 to give some perspective there was 300 ppm of carbon in our atmosphere which would be a good target to aim for.
The thing I find most exciting about Regenerative agriculture is that the reduction of carbon can be reduced faster than we had previously thought possible. Just by returning to some ancient wisdom.
But what are the other crucial roles that soil plays in maintaining balance on Earth?
When our soil is bare and the rain falls it runs off as the soil cannot hold it. It also takes remaining topsoil with it and any chemicals previously used on the land end up in our water cycles. With regenerative agriculture you are rebuilding the soil sponge. Every 1% increase in soil organic matter, allows 17-25k gallons of water to be held per acre. This is a lot of water.
This then feeds into ground water increasing our underground water reserves – something that is also in great decline at the moment and is predicted to be more valuable than gold in the future.
Scientists tell us we are creating the sixth mass extinction due to the degradation of the land, mostly by agriculture. It is being called the Holocene. Even when I think back to my childhood 25 years ago I remember more birds and insects than there are now and my father remembers even more during his childhood.
The ground is becoming less viable and species are declining with up to 500 species of land animals alone expected to be extinct in the next 20 years. It is pretty shocking stuff but somehow because we have been talking about it for so long it doesn’t hit with the punch that it should. Mechanisms such as tilling and the use of chemicals in pesticides all degrade soil killing valuable bacteria and fungi communities and paving the way to sterility of the land.
Fertility and human health
There is an epidemic of sickness and I strongly believe the sickness of our own bodies is a reflection of the sickness of the earth. We think we are separate but we are intrinsically connected.
We are consuming food that is produced by mass chemical agriculture which is causing major issues in human health. By improving the soil, it is a win win situation as you are also helping the plants to access the nutrients and minerals in the soil with the help of the mycorrhizal fungi which makes the food, we eat more nutritious. This is why at Primrose’s Kitchen we are such firm advocates of organic. Organic means a healthier planet which in turn means we are healthier.
So how can we all do our little bit to help regenerate our land at home?
You may have come across Charles Dowding the well-known “No dig” gardener, I am a great fan of his books. He understands the benefits that no digging brings to your vegetables. Digging the soil releases carbon that has been trapped. Instead of weeding and digging its best to use mulch such as grass cuttings, aged manure, cardboard or wood chippings. Cover your weeds with these and as they start to come through you can add more.
Embrace the weeds
In addition to no digging, I am a great fan of planting lots of weeds! Well, I say weeds because a lot of gardeners would dig them up and declare them weeds because they are plants you find growing out in the wild. There is a great quote that says ‘weeds are just plants growing in the wrong place’. The reason I love these weeds is because insects love them and they are more native than most of the plants grown in gardens these days.
We need to do everything we can to help our wildlife and this starts by supporting the insect populations that have been so badly hit over the last 50 years. Planting wild flowers can really help.
Feed the birds
Mary Poppins was right. If you buy some bird feeders and some food to put in them, I don’t think you ever have an excuse to be bored. Not only are you are supporting your local bird population you are being given something to watch, engage with and learn about on a daily basis which is a great form of meditation in itself.
So, it might seem like an overwhelming challenge we have ahead of us but if we all make small steps, we can make a real difference. Change is upon us but the good type. Where we reconnect with nature and understand its true value, seeing it not as a commodity but part of who we are.
Happy bird watching!
I don’t think I just speak for myself when I say that living a very happy long and happy life is something we all aspire too. Certainly, the long and the happy go hand in hand. Being able to enjoy your life to the full is very important so looking after your health is key.
So, what is the secret? Well, because it is February, the month of love l am starting with the L word. This is something that makes us feel good whether we are sending it out or receiving it.
So how important is love to our longevity and happiness?It all starts with a little self-love don’t you think? When we give enough attention in our life to self-love and self-care, our health is prioritised. We do things that are good for us like maintaining a balanced diet or doing regular exercise. This year, a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who engage in moderate or vigorous exercise for 150 minutes per week had a lower rate of mortality for all causes. It makes sense. The more oxygen we can move around our cells the more renewal can take place and the more detoxification of waste materials can occur.
Rest and Sleep
Allowing time for relaxation and sleep is also key. In fact, sleep definitely shouldn’t be underrated. The Dalai Lama who recently celebrated his 85th birthday is an advocate of sleep for longevity. He has said in interviews that he wakes up at 3 a.m. and goes to bed at 7 p.m. in order to get a solid eight hours of sleep a night consistently.
But back to love. When we come from a place of love for ourselves our relationships automatically improve with more moments of happiness and connection. When it comes to sharing the love, this takes many forms. Fundamentally it is taking a care and interest in the wellbeing of your fellow humans. Looking out for people and offering them whatever support you are able to give.
This kind of connectedness is something that I believe as a society has been lacking for a long time. Lacking because our world has been sped up with technology making things more efficient but ironically leaving us with less time for one another, resulting in people staring into phones more often than another’s eyes. We forget that we are all in this world together and by helping one another we all progress.
A wonderful example of this support and connectedness is in the book I have been reading recently called Ikigai by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. In it they discuss the secrets of Okinawa in Japan where there are the most centenarians.
Okinawans form close bonds within the local communities. They form what they call Moai’s. These are informal groups of people and their origins lie in hard times of past where farmers would support each other through meagre harvests. They make monthly contributions to the group so that should anyone be short of money they share it with them and in that way help them through difficult times.
And it is not just emotional health but physical health that is supported. Louis Cozolino, a professor of psychology who wrote the book “The Neuroscience of Human Relationships,” discussed that “people who have more social support tend to have better mental health, cardiovascular health, immunological functioning, and cognitive performance.” The article also states that “social relationships help calm our stress-response system” because they lower the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to “wreak havoc on our physical and emotional health.”
Whilst social connection is clearly a key part of longevity the Okinawans have other secrets to share and that word love returns. In Japan most interestingly they don’t have a word for retire, ultimately as they don’t believe in it. They carry on doing what they love until the end. They execute discipline in their daily lives.
Discipline is a form of self-love as through discipline you can improve mental and physical health and agility. They show this through the 80% rule that they have adopted when eating which means they eat to 80% fullness. Ancient wisdom advises against eating until we are full. Digestion uses a lot of energy so long digestive processes increase cellular oxidation. Intuitively we all know when we have got the that point. We know if we tuck into that extra portion, we are going to burst. They also have another eating hack which is that they choose to eat their food on lots of little plates rather than one large one. Whilst having lots of plates makes you feel like you are eating a lot, you end up actually eating less.
As we know stress is one of the largest killers in our society. The lifestyle elements that the Okinawans put in place cleverly reduce the usual physical and emotional pressures and provide support.
For me personally I believe the more time I spend in nature, the longer I will live. Walking barefoot in nature has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and dispels the effects of the electromagnetic stress that surrounds us on the day-to-day basis. My favourite way to pass time is working in a polytunnel or garden and the very act of sowing seeds connects you to the future. Dan Buettner author of the blue zone’s kitchen that looks at areas of the world where people live the longest talks about the positive effect gardening has “Gardening is the epitome of a Blue Zone activity because it’s sort of a nudge: You plant the seeds and you’re going to be nudged in the next three to four months to water it, weed it, harvest it,”
So, it’s not just living people who help us feel connected it is all the living things which we are able to nurture.
So, share the love this February. In a time of isolation our connectedness is needed more than ever.
A New Year might be full of opportunity but sometimes it is safe to say that for some of us the enthusiasm to kick start another 365 day cycle is lacking.
Sometimes it can feel like a struggle getting going again and with the dark cold days of winter there is every temptation to want to crawl back to bed and pull the duvet over our eyes. Does that feel familiar?
During the winter our feel-good neurotransmitter called serotonin and the hormone norepinephrine which together with adrenaline increases heart rate and blood pumping from the heart are depleted. This is because the production of these chemicals is partially triggered by light-sensing photoreceptors in the eyes, and as we know in the winter months the light bright days are in short supply.
The state of our mental health defines us. It mobilizes or demobilizes. That is why it is so important to stay on top of it.
As someone who has always found the winter months hard to keep motivated, I am always exploring methods, foods and techniques.
I thought I would talk about some of them here in order of the importance in my own life.
Growing up on an Island the sea has always been a large part of my life and swimming in it very normal. The feeling one got from those swimming experiences was always uplifting, recalibrating and refreshing. Skip forward and I am now living on Dartmoor. Whilst only 40 minutes from the sea it is not possible to have a daily dip so I have been looking for other ways to incorporate the power of cold water into my life. Up until the end of October (just before Wolf was born) my partner and I would go to a favourite river spot in the morning and dunk ourselves before facing the day. I have always found river water even more punchy than the sea due to its lack of salt which has a warming effect on the skin.
More recently I have been fully embracing the Wim Hof Method and changing up the river for cold showers accompanied with deep breathing.
His belief system which I fully resonate with is that over time, our relationship with the world we live in has changed. Our lifestyles have disconnected us from the natural environment. Because of this disconnection, our age-old survival mechanisms are no longer triggered and we’ve lost touch with our inner power. His method is about reconnecting to nature, ourselves and to others.
As mentioned alongside his love of the cold Wim has developed a breathing technique which he claims helps with a huge array of dis-ease due to its anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Where there is inflammation there is usually a lack of oxygen.
This is similar to ancient practice of yogic breathing techniques known as pranayama which has shown to decrease stress, lower blood pressure, and improve immunity.
By utilising cold therapy, breathing techniques and our commitment he claims to have positive effects on Increased energy, Better sleep, Reduced stress levels, Heightened focus & determination Increased willpower, Stronger immune system.
I can definitely vouch for this as can so many of his disciples.
Over the last 5 years I have really become addicted to a good incline. I wanted to understand why it feels so much better to walk a shorter distance on a horizontal than a longer distance on the flat. Whilst I believe there is a mental satisfaction in overcoming the challenge of an incline and from reaching the top of the hill like a metaphor for the challenges, we face in our lives I believe there is also a physical reason I like it. Discussing this with a serious running friend of mine I was informed that uphill walking uses the same motor patterns as running. It places an intensity on the cardiovascular system that is almost the equivalent to running and higher than walking on a flat terrain.
This increased intensity leads to improved heart and lung functioning with a decreased risk of developing heart disease.
If like me you are not a fan of running, this is the perfect middle game. So, I encourage you to find a good hill near you!
Food as Medicine
First thing is first. Keeping your blood sugar level is the first step to maintaining a good mood and reducing the likelihood of feeling tired, irritable and depressed. To do this we must be eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly will help to keep your sugar levels steady.
Now going back to Serotonin which I talked about earlier. Not only does it help you to feel good it helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. About 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, so it makes sense that your digestive system also guides your emotions. The function of these neurons — and therefore the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria play an essential role in your health helping you to absorb the nutrients from your food and boost your immunity. So when it comes to diet anything we can support a healthy gut is going to help us feel good on all levels.
Kefir and sauerkraut provide beneficial bacteria to support your gut. Gut bacteria need fibre to flourish so apples and peas are good examples providing good insoluble and soluble fibre. Chicory which makes a great addition to salads provides prebiotics to feed the good bacteria. Fatty acids from high quality hemp and olive oil provide potent anti-inflammatory effects to support gut health. One of my favourite snacks is almonds and studies show almonds possess probiotic qualities.
In addition, Vitamin D is crucial for brain development and health so incorporating Vitamin D rich foods into your diet is a great idea. These are foods like egg yolks, oily fish and nettles to regulate mood and stave off those low feelings.
Interestingly areas in the world where they eat a more traditional varied diet which include a lot of fermented foods and no processed foods show a lower rate of mental illness such as depression.
I always think with hacks you want to keep them short and simple so they are memorable and easier to implement.
These are my go-to mood enhancers and feel-good optimizers. The only addition to the above I would make is to not forget to interact with others. We create great things together as a collective, being in community (agreed harder to do of late!) Remembering you are part of a whole is key, we are not on our own. We all have a valuable role to play in the great plan of life even if we might feel like we haven’t discovered what it is yet!