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Time for Thyme

Make Time for Thyme

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I’m a foodie. I admit it. I often wrestle with the dichotomy of eating healthy and eating WELL over on The Vampire Diet blog. That’s my monster side, when it comes to healthy eating. If I were really honest with myself and everyone else, I really don’t give a rip about low fat, low calorie, fruits and veggies…as long as it TASTES good. Makes sense to my aromatherapy-self too…smell and taste are very related, you know.

So you can imagine my delight with herbs that hit ALL of those cylindars…that are healthy, tasty, and can be used in aromatherapy. Enter today’s herb, Thyme.

From a culinary standpoint, it warming, pungent, strong and savory. It’s a must-have for potato soup, especially this version by Emeril Lagasse, my personal favorite potato soup ever because of the gorganzola and bacon, of course. But it wouldn’t be quite the same without the thyme, either.

Herbal uses, like ingesting the leaves or making a decoction (a strong, volume reduced, specially prepared tea) have been used for bronchitis, colds and sinus infections because of thyme’s mucus-thinning, expectorant properties.

It is also  believed to help digestion, which is very good thing if you are fond of stuff like blue cheese and bacon.

I don’t have any solid details about it, but anecdotally thyme is believed to be one of the more anti-cancer herbs. How or why, I haven’t found yet.

Both the herb and the essential oil are strong germ-killing antiseptics. One caution to using it on the skin: many thyme oils are very irritating and sensitizing. You can become allergic to it touching your skin. If thyme essential oil is used on skin for its anti-microbial properties (as in acne) it MUST be properly diluted in a carrier oil.

Lucky for aromatherapists, thyme naturally has developed many different varieties within the main species. The oils of different types of thyme have slightly different proportions of the different organic chemicals that make up the oil. Thyme Linalol is one of these specialty oils, and it is very mild. It does not irritate the skin or have nearly the sensitizing effects or other thyme varieties, but it retains the germ-killing ability. If you want to use thyme on skin, the linalol version is the way to go.

BUT if you just want to diffuse it into the room for its green, herbaceous scent, simply pick the variety that you think has the most pleasing scent…all varieties lift the mood, support a happy content outlook, all without making you feel overstimulated or ‘wired’.

So blow the dust off of that jar of dried thyme. It will make everyone wonder what your secret potato ingredient might be and make you look like a cooking genius. Or grab some essential oil and make your dining room happy with the scent. Score some thyme linalol to use in a diluted skin care oil blend and you’ll have a pleasant smelling alternative to acne creams. However you choose to use it, it may be worthwhile to make some time for thyme.

Sources:

Head Pressure or Pain after Meditating – revisit

Head discomfort or pain after meditation – revisit

A while ago, I was asked about the sensation of head pressure or discomfort after “intense” meditation sessions.

With his permission, I shared the question with you in this Q&A post, but it is hard to translate an individual situation into a general interest / general information post. Particularly since one the big advantages of holistic health is how acutely it can be individualized.

The question of head discomfort after “intense” meditation has come up again, in a different context, so I’d like to add a few more thoughts.

One key difference is the location of the discomfort. Later mentions have the discomfort in different places on the head and face…no big surprise that would clue us in to different causes, different solutions.

In the first case, the discomfort was behind both eye brows and under the eyes, more face than head. That is smack dab over the frontal and maxillary sinuses, so that is why those were such a focus in the last discussion. The location is a key detail that built the case for a strong connection between the complaint and mainstream medicine. It was a situation where allopathy might be a key tool to bring out of the healers toolkit in this particular case.

In later instances, the location was a whole other story. This time mind-body connection was at the forefront. This time mind and spirit would be the focus, with less of a ‘body’ component. In fact, some of you might think this time the answer is too “fringe”, but the proof is in the pudding as they say…individual experience is still valid data, especially to the individual experiencing it! An open mind goes a long way when it comes to stress management.

Another person might indicate a tightness or pain in the head, less so in the face. A tight cap-like or band-like feeling often is simple muscle tension. (Mainstream medicine will agree with me there). If meditation relaxes you, how can it give you a muscle tension headache? Mind-body connection of course. If someone is meditating to relax, that can heap a lot of expectations on the meditation experience. Expectation is a big stumbling block to anyone working with meditation, intuition, visualization, imagination etc. That goes double if you are new to the process.

Meditation works in its own time in its own way…that is one of the biggest lessons it can teach us. Meditation is about letting go of those kinds of thought-bound expectations. Meditation is about being right here, right now, and letting things be as they are…NOT about getting your blood pressure down to X by Y date,  or by expecting to feel peaceful and blissed out NOW DOGGONEIT! It is very very easy to let those cultural expectations and old, well-established thought habits slip into relaxation time. It is a hard switch to turn off. The solution is persistence, and a whole lot of patience for yourself. Even in tea and mint candy commercials, wise gurus are seldom young. It takes a while to get the hang of the peace and serenity thing, especially in a ‘normal’ fast paced modern life.

The solution to this kind of head discomfort is easy to say, a little harder to enact. Let go. Don’t put any expectations on your meditation.

In the category of “when you hear hoofbeats look for horses not zebras”: if you are feeling muscle tension in you head after meditation, pay attention to your posture. Don’t slouch, but don’t try to force yourself into a full lotus zen master sitting position if you aren’t ready for it. Keep the spine erect, but comfortable. It is OK to sit in a chair that way if you aren’t comfortable cross-legged on the floor. It is even valid and effective to lay down…but I don’t recommend it unless you are fairly experienced or well-rested. I don’t know about you, but the laying down and relaxing thing is a fast-track to a NAP for me! Stretch, do a little yoga when you are not particularly meditating if you want to work your way into a pillow sitting zazen thing but aren’t flexible enough right now. Just like in the last post, working with a meditation mentor or teacher (Shameless plug: I offer meditation tutorials) can help sort some of the posture issues out.

The other scenario that I’ve heard lately is even more esoteric – this is where things get a little fringe-ish for some people.

In Eastern medicine and philosophy, there are energy centers (some might say nerve clusters) in the body that help regulate energy flow. You might have heard of “chakras”. Entire books have been written about that, and explaining it all is way outside of a blog post. Each chakra is assigned a specific location, and the one for the third eye, in middle of the forehead just above the eyebrows, is associated with meditation. If the pressure after mediation is in that location, then this is way way into mind-spirit territory.

Improper meditation (for you) can take that energy center out of its natural balance. It might become drained, or overcharged. It might just be a matter of adjusting your habits…meditating for a little less time, or changing the focus, or redirecting the energy to other things. Even little things like wearing dark blue (the symbolic color of the chakra) or making sure to drink adequate water after a session can help. The key here is to individualize your mediation practice to your particular needs if discomfort appears here. Get a little help and arm yourself with knowledge.

Meditation should be a comforting, relaxing, pleasant experience. Even if these head-discomfort problems come up, they can be handled. There are many different way to meditate, many schools of thought. If problems like these turn up, then it is just a clue to make an adjustment or slight change…don’t give up!

Sources /suggested reading:

“Wheels of Life” by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

Brewer’s Yeast – Not Just for Making Beer

Brewer’s yeast can provide inexpensive, natural, nutritional support

It’s a little bit ironic. When we think of “natural” health and nutrition, often the first thing we do is reach for manufactured, processed and refined vitamin supplements. Some argue that the extra vitamins are just excreted by the body wasting time, money and effort. Others question just how well vitamin pills are absorbed by our digestive tract in the first place.

The best way around this nutritional irony is to eat an unprocessed, healthy, balanced diet. With a good diet, most people get all the necessary vitamins and minerals, no pills needed. But as we all know, our fast-paced and busy lifestyle makes that kind of diet a challenge. Sometimes, because of special health concerns, extra supplements really are needed over and above what a healthy diet provides. Instead of isolated, processed vitamins, there are wholesome natural plant (or in this case, fungus) sources for the extra vitamins and minerals we sometimes need. Brewer’s yeast is an example.

Brewer’s yeast has been helping mankind for literally thousands of years. Beer was made in Egypt as early as 5,000 BC. After the beer making process is done, the inactive yeast that is left behind is still a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Natural Healers have used this specific form of yeast for fatigue, constipation, skin conditions, overweight and poor nutrition for almost as long as mankind has been using it for. Modern science has discovered the reasons for its usefulness. Brewer’s Yeast is rich in B-complex vitamins (but not B-12, so it isn’t  useful for vegans looking for a non-animal source of B-12). It also has a variety of minerals, including iron, selenium and chromium.

Its chromium content has won brewer’s yeast a lot of attention lately. In 2011, a controlled, scientific study was done with type 2 diabetics. Their medicine, exercise, and diet were all kept the same except for one change: half of the group was given natural brewer’s yeast with its natural chromium intact, and the other half was given “debittered” (slightly processed) brewer’s yeast that had the chromium removed. The group that received the chromium-containing version showed much improved blood sugar control. (Chromium group HbA1c reduced from 9.5 to 6.8, while the non-chromium group decreased less than 1 – if you want to be technical about it). The cholesterol slightly improved in the chromium group as well. Granted, this is just one small study, but it goes to show how helpful chromium in brewer’s yeast can be, and how processing can muck things up with vitamin supplements.

Consider chromium in its highly processed, chemically bound form, chromium picolinate. This is the form used in most scientific studies, and this is the form with the most adverse results. Focus is beginning to shift from chromium to the picolinate part of the compound as being the real cause of the problems. To the best of my knowledge so far, natural brewer’s yeast has few adverse effects other than stomach upset and gas in some individuals. Because the non-picolinate version is so helpful with blood sugar, individuals with diabetes should only use brewer’s yeast (or any form of chromium) under a doctor’s supervision. Brewer’s yeast should not be used by anyone who also takes demeral or a MAOI inhibitor type of medication. Of course anyone with a known yeast allergy should avoid it.

If you would like more information about brewer’s yeast, University of Maryland Medical Center has a detailed page of information and a long list reliable, peer-reviewed sources on the topic. It provided much of the information for this post and the link is provided in the source list below.

The down side: You can’t get brewer’s yeast by raiding the kitchen cupboard. Bread-making yeast is a different strain of yeast, is still living or “active” and doesn’t have the same proteins, vitamins and minerals as brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast.  “Nutritional” yeast is in between the two. It is inactive, and has plenty of B vitamins and protein, but not quite the chromium or minerals of the brewer’s version. Brewer’s yeast is available as a powder or in tablet form in health food stores and the dietary supplement sections of many grocery or department stores. You have to be careful to avoid the “debittered” version if you want the benefits of chromium.

The up side: Brewer’s yeast is natural, inexpensive, rich in B-vitamins, iron, selenium, chromium and other trace minerals. Some small, preliminary scientific studies show that non-debittered brewer’s yeast can improve sugar metabolism, possibly cholesterol levels too. The B-vitamins in either form can help energy levels as well as contribute to general health.

The really up side: It tastes vaguely like beer. Kind of like a nice, dark, hoppy extra stout if you ask me.

If you want to get some extra vitamin support, the closest bottle of multi-vitamins may not be the best choice. Eating well is the best option. The next best choice would be to choose a supplement that is as whole, natural and unprocessed as possible. Brewer’s Yeast is a perfect example of just such a supplement.

Sources:

 

 

Q&A: Face Pressure After Intense Meditation Practice

Q and A about pressure sensation and meditation

Q: I have been having pain and pressure in my forehead and face. I’ve been doing intensive concentration meditations, and know this to be the cause. I went to an accupuncturist with no result. What is your advice?

A: There is a saying in medicine, “when you hear hoof beats looks for horses and not zebras”.

How do you know the facial pressure is from the concentration exercises? Alternative medicine is still a logical, analytic process. Just because two things happen at the same time does not mean one caused the other.

Do you have any allergies? Have you had any colds or flu recently? Facial or nasal injuries in the past? Who is your meditation teacher? How long have you been doing the “concentration exercises”? How long has the pressure been there? Is there anything other than the exercises that makes the discomfort better or worse? There is much to be considered…that’s why my first recommendation is always to get an in-person evaluation. If you aren’t happy with the accupuncture results, you might want to try an homeopathic evaluation, or an herbalist. Those are both too detailed to do online here.

Mainstream medicine isn’t the enemy, either. It is one tool in the healing tool kit, just as all of the alternative methods are. You really can have the best of both worlds. You may want to try to find a MD or DO (doctors of osteopathy are trained in a more holistic manner and typically are more open to natural / alternative techniques). It isn’t impossible, even here on the East Coast, to find a doctor that is knowledgeable about alternative practices and willing to work with them.

You know about sinuses, right? They are air spaces in the bones just behind the eyebrows and to either side of the nose. They normally function to warm and moisturize the air we breath in, while the cilia (little hairs) on the mucous membranes help clean the air. If there is infection or allergies, that normal system becomes overwhelmed and overactive… all the extra mucus and inflammation can cause pain and pressure. On one hand, you may be going through a physical ‘detox’ of sorts because of your meditation practices which has overwhelmed the sinuses. On the other hand, you might have just picked up a low grade, generic, garden variety sinus infection. A doctor can help you sort that out.

From the mainstream part of our healing toolkit…as long as you don’t have high blood pressure or any other chronic medical problem that contraindicates its use, there is a mild decongestant you can buy over the counter…pseudoephedrine (brand name Sudafed) It is based on the active ingredient of the ephedra plant, which is the “ma huang” herb from traditional Chinese medicine. Follow package instructions carefully, and if that doesn’t help, it may be worth while to find a doctor to take a look…it might be something as simple as a short run of a mild antibiotic to give your body the head-start it needs to get your sinuses back on track. Also that would rule out any less common “zebra” problems…deviated septum, nasal polyps or what have you.

From the alternative side:

Aromatherapy: Peppermint is soothing for headache. Both peppermint eucalyptus globulas aromatherapy oils are decongestant (pressure relieving if that is the cause of your discomfort) Moisture would help soothe the mucus membranes as well, so putting a few drops of oil on a pan of hot water and inhaling the scented vapor through your nose may help.

Ayervedic Medicine: Regular maintenance with a neti pot and salt water – 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup (8 oz) of water – can help keep the sinuses clear and in good working order… if congestion is the pressure problem, that is. Ayervedic doctors and even some yoga instructors can help you learn to use a neti pot if you have trouble with it just using the package instructions. Neti pots are widely available in drugstores and health food stores.

Energy / Spiritual: Who is guiding your meditation? Ask them, they may know what is going wrong. Meditation should never cause pain or lead to ongoing problems! If you are working on your own…get a teacher!

Except for maybe, maybe, some fairly uncommon marital arts practices, “Intensive concentration” is not  part of meditation. “Concentration” is very mind, very ego, very “yang”. The whole point of meditation is to remove mind and ego, to observe but detach from thoughts. Meditation is “yin”. This problem may be a big message for to you to reconsider your meditation path.

If you are already working with a meditation teacher they may also know some accupressure routines (where you massage chi points with the tip of your fingers) that you can use on your own more frequently than going to see the accupuncturist. ALL natural healing takes time, so you may also want to consider giving the accupuncture & traditional chinese medicine more time. You didn’t mention the time-frame of all of this in your message at all.

Dietary: Avoid dairy for a few weeks. It increases mucus production. Drink tea and water, avoid sodas, get plenty of sleep and proper exercise…you know, the basics.

What may be going on is a blockage or imbalance of the sixth and / or seventh chakras. If that is the case, changing your meditation, perhaps some Reiki treatments, and wearing gemstone attuned to those chakras (like lapis for the third eye and amethyst for the crown chakra) might help get things back on track.

I hope this gives you a few ideas to work with, although I’m sure you know already that internet information can NOT take the place of an in-person evaluation – mainstream or alternative either one. NONE of the information here is intended to diagnose, treat or prevent any disease, and can not take the place of professional medical care.

With your permission, I would like to share a redacted, private version of your question with my blog readers. A lot of people don’t realize that some forms of mediation or chi gong can lead to problems if done improperly and that it is necessary to work with a skilled advisor when working with the more intensive forms of energy work and meditation.

Good luck!

Q & A: What are essential oils?

Q & A: aromatherapy basics

I had a very interesting question this morning, and I’d like to share it with you. I’ve changed it a bit to protect the privacy of the person who asked of course, but it lets me share some good information with you just the same. Thanks for asking such a good question J.

Q:

What are essential oils, and are they any different from any other oil? I’ve seen them in both plastic and glass containers, does that make a difference? I prefer plastic squeeze bottles for what I use. Do you have to store them in any special way?

A:

My goodness you are asking a complicated question…I could write a book! Let’s see if we can cover the basics…

All oils are chemically similar, and can come from plants or animals. Essential oils come from only plants, and are “single notes” …the oil is from one plant only. “Essential oil blends” are a mixture of oils, usually with a particular effect in mind. Therapeutic “essential” oils are the ones that are prized for their fragrance, and their effects on mood and health that have been studied over the years. Other oils are less fragrant, and are not associated with mental or physical health effects…other than nutrition and cooking that is.

True essential oils are very strong, and need to be diluted. That is done by either just diffusing their scent into the air with a warmer or nebulizer, or putting them in “carrier oils” if they are for use in cosmetics or supporting physical health.  Carrier oils can be healing in the effect they have on the skin, though. Some are better for dry skin, others for oily, some are good for all skin types…so the carrier is chosen for the purpose, and the type of skin . Some carriers have a fragrance of their own – sesame for example – which you can take into consideration in making a blend. Other carriers are by and large odorless.

Because they are totally natural with no preservatives, ALL oils need a little special care. Light, heat, and excess humidity can break down the oils and ruin their scent and effectiveness. It is important that they be kept in dark containers, in a dark, cool, dry place. Many cooking and carrier oils need to be refrigerated after opening so they don’t go rancid. Some oils go rancid quickly, others are more stable and can last as much as a year if stored properly. When you are making a blend, adding a few drops of vitamin E (from a supplement capsule works) or jojoba oil to the carrier oil can extend freshness a bit.

Plastic containers are ok for end-product cosmetic uses like lotions and such…things you have made from essential oils and use in large enough quantities that they aren’t sitting in the plastic container for very long…but never use plastic for storing the essential oils themselves or undiluted blends. Plastic is a petroleum product, and oil itself in a way. Over time, the oil and the plastic interact and you can damage the precious oil or leech chemicals from the plastic container into the oil. Dark brown or blue glass is always best if you can manage it. You can find them with the pump-type cap, which makes them almost as convenient as squeeze bottles. Glass containers for your home blends are available online and some health stores / organic grocers. If you are using an oil for a health goal or for fragrance, rather then just cosmetic / cleaning uses…then yes,  avoid plastic.

I’ve never seen real, good quality oils packaged in plastic bottles anyway. Not everything called “aromatherapy” or “essential oils” in the market are actually that. It is very much “buyer beware”. There are some cost effective, good quality suppliers online. I like http://www.aroma-pure.com, http://www.newdirectionsaromatics.com. In stores aura cacia and NOW are reliable brands. Aura Cacia is more for healing oils. NOW brand are very good oils, and even less expensive. I use those oils for cosmetic and household uses.

If you would like more information, I recommend “Aromatherapy Workbook” by Robert LeVebre, although there are many good books about aromatherapy on the market. I plan to ad mine to the lot within the next couple of years. Noelle Katai’s TV show “Everybody Nose” is also informative and suggests some very nice blends.

I hope this helps, in a nutshell anyway. Feel free to send a follow up if you have questions about what we’ve covered here.

Good luck and enjoy using REAL good quality essential oils!

Flu Vaccine – a Holistic Point of View

Sometimes Holistic Health isn’t an alternative…it is a compliment

I think it does a disservice to Holistic Health when we call it “alternative medicine”.

“Alternative”  means another choice, but it also implies a mutually exclusive, this-or-that choice. I don’t think health and healing works that way. No one symptom exists in isolation…people are whole, interconnected organisms, even at the purely physical, biological level. Add to that the connections of body to mind and spirit. Add to that the connections of relationships and social functioning. Health and healing is a “big picture” venture.  “Mainstream” and “Alternative” medicine can (and do) work together – hence the names “Complimentary” and “Integrated” medicine. In the totality of health care, both are a viable ways to help. The difference comes in deciding which is the BEST approach in a given situation. Sometimes the best answer isn’t “this” or “that”. Sometimes the best answer really is “all of the above”.

The gap between mainstream, ‘scientific’ Allopathic health care and Holistic Health is narrowing. The more science studies holistic health, the more common ground is found.  Naturopaths were promoting hygene long before the days of Lister and Pasteur.  The “Nature Doctors” have been telling people to wash their hands for hundreds of years.

Vaccines are another area where modern medicine and holistic health finally agree. Now I’m sure many of you natural health fans are bristling at that and are ready to stop reading…but wait a minute first.

I realize there are religious objections to vaccines. Those are personal decisions, and outside of the scope of this post. I know there has been panic and mis-information about connections between vaccines and autism, not to mention legitimate problems with preservatives and allergies – but consider this for a minute: homeopathy.

The theory behind homeopathy is that the symptoms in an illness are actually evidence of the body’s self-healing efforts, not evidence of the disease process. So tiny doses of a substance that induces the same set of symptoms is given to help and support that inner self-healing. As the adage says,  “like cures like”.

Now look at how vaccines work. A tiny bit of killed or disabled germs are given to teach your body how to protect itself against that particular germ and the disease that it causes.The germ-containing vaccine directs and helps our natural inner germ-fighting system. The germ helps the body self-cure the germ-caused disease before it even progresses enough to cause symptoms. In essence, like cures like. Sounds a little like homeopathy, doesn’t it? Yet vaccines are supported by hard science, and are time-proven good medicine.

Whether you are an advocate of natural health, or a pure mainstream kind of person – vaccines make sense. It keeps individuals healthy, it’s true. Looking again to the big picture, it keep the community as whole healthier too.

I’ve had my flu vaccine – have you? And wash your hands.

 

http://chartiersvalley.patch.com/articles/flu-season-starting-earlier-this-year