Here's 10 tips for helping to look after the mind - your mental health:
Get adequate sleep. Every hour before midnight is the equivalent to two hours after, aim for eight hours per night.
Smile more: it is scientifically proven to improve your mood. The average adult smiles seven times a day and one is usually fake. Kids smile around 400 times a day. Find your inner child and smile more!
Eat clean, natural, real food: it has a direct correlation to your mood. Think about it: 90% of your serotonin receptors are in your gut.
Drink more water. One sign of dehydration is a cranky mood and frontal headache.
Be around people who love you for who you are but inspire you to be more.
Be out in nature: let the biophilia magic rub off on you.
Set goals and make them happen. A sense of fulfilment makes humans feel like they are thriving.
Make a gratitude list of the things in life you are most grateful for.
Say "I love you" to yourself.
Be kind. When you give, you always get back.
Life is too short not to be doing what you love and experiencing the amazing things that the universe has to offer. Look after your mental health to really shine. There's so much waiting for you.
One of the immediate benefits of massage is a feeling of deep relaxation and calm. This occurs because massage prompts the release of endorphins – the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that produce feelings of wellbeing.
Levels of stress hormones, such as adrenalin, cortisol and norepinephrine, are also reduced. Studies indicate that high levels of stress hormones impair the immune system.
Some of the physical benefits of massage and myotherapy include:
reduced muscle tension
stimulation of the lymphatic system
reduction of stress hormones
increased joint mobility and flexibility
improved skin tone
improved recovery of soft tissue injuries
heightened mental alertness
reduced anxiety and depression
60 minute Therapeutic Massage $75
30 minute Therapeutic Massage $40
Ring or message me on 0274 96 96 33 for an appointment that suits you.
I am situated at 19B Golf Road, Mount Maunganui. Thanks Leonie
Having trouble sleeping? Can't stay asleep? These 10 MD-approved tips are actually proven to work
Article by Holistic Psychiatrist Ellen Vora MD
So you can't sleep? You're in good company (it impacts nearly everyone these days), but it's still a lousy problem. Chronic sleep deprivation can make you depressed, anxious, prone to getting sick, at higher risk for cancer, and it makes you more likely to gain weight and develop diabetes and dementia. And of course it doesn't feel good to be jolted awake by an alarm when your body is screaming: No! I haven't gotten enough sleep yet.
Let's try to solve this problem right here and now, in ten steps—because you're tired, and that's about all you can handle at the moment:
1. Get the phone out of the bedroom.
This is the single most effective change you can make. When we keep the phone on our bedside table, it's the last thing we look at before bed. The blue light from the screen jacks up your circadian rhythm, and the activities of the phone (dings, pings, stressful work email, addictive social media apps, the emotional roller coaster of online dating, riveting Netflix shows, and the existential angst of geopolitical news) does not cultivate a state of mind conducive to sleep. I know what you're gonna say: but it's my alarm clock! Cool, we've got a solution. Go and pick out a lovely little analog alarm clock, and once it arrives, that's the day you set up your charger outside of the bedroom and step into your new phone-free bedroom (and new life as a better sleeper).
2. Take magnesium.
I like magnesium glycinate for sleep.* Taking 400 to 600 milligrams at bedtime can be great for relaxing your mind and your muscles and helping you fall deep asleep.* Another good supplement to keep on hand is melatonin. I don't have my patients take this regularly, but it's a great tool for managing jet lag. Take it on an overnight flight (be sure to wear compression socks and walk around frequently), and take it at bedtime once you arrive at your destination.
3. Waking up in the middle of the night? Pay attention to your blood sugar.
Show of hands-—who here has difficulty staying asleep through the night? Do you wake up at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., jolted awake in a mild panic? This can have many underlying causes, from excessive stress to sleep apnea. But a common yet underappreciated cause is a dip in blood sugar. Because the modern American diet is built on a bedrock of sugar, refined carbohydrates, and—let's be honest—red wine, most of us ride around on a blood sugar roller coaster: Voracious hunger leads us to consume sweet, instantly gratifying food, which gives us a sugar high that leads to a sugar crash, which triggers voracious hunger…and so on and so forth.
The thing is, we're not immune to these sugar crashes in the middle of the night. And when they happen, it induces a stress response in your body. It's like being hangry, only you're asleep. Sleep hanger can jolt you awake and make you feel anxious, stressed, and wired.
Prevent sleep hanger by: a) transitioning your diet away from sugar and refined carbohydrates toward a Whole30 or paleo-template diet based on real food (meat, fish, eggs, poultry, veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, fermented foods, healthy fats, and relying on starchy vegetables as your source of carbohydrate); b) take a spoonful of almond butter or coconut oil (not actually "pure poison") right before bed, and take another in the middle of the night if you wake up.
4. Think about your caffeine consumption—yes, actually.
I know you're inclined to skip this section because you're like: Duh, I know caffeine can keep you awake, but it's OK, I just have one or two innocent cups of coffee in the morning, and that coffee is part of my identity, so this is not gonna change.
The thing is, those innocent cups of coffee in the morning may still be contributing to your insomnia. Caffeine is slowly metabolized in the body, so even though you drink it in the morning, some of it is still buzzing around your brain at bedtime. It can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, and it can decrease the quality of your sleep.
You're an open-minded, flexible person, committed to wellness and up for a challenge, right? If you struggle with any aspect of sleep, it is worth your while to gradually reduce caffeine and see how you sleep and feel once you're down to zero caffeine. Zero caffeine?! Yes, zero caffeine. Some of us are sensitive. And anybody with sleep struggles has a pretty good chance of being one of those people. If anxiety is also your thing, the odds are even higher that you're sensitive to caffeine and it's affecting your sleep and your anxiety. Gradually decrease caffeine to zero over the course of a week or two, and behold how well you can sleep when caffeine isn't messing with your brain.
5. Try an earlier bedtime.
I know I didn't make any friends asking everyone to quit coffee, and now I'm just going to dig this hole deeper. You will sleep better if you go to bed earlier. The body likes to be in sync with the rhythms of the sun and moon. This used to be nearly unavoidable because the sun would set and things would get pretty dark, dangerous, and boring. Because of electricity, the modern evening is a high-voltage festival of light, from Instagram feeds to television shows.
Start to notice that your body experiences a wave of feeling tired approximately three hours after sunset. Shockingly, this is actually the appropriate bedtime, not midnight. Start to listen for your body's tired signs around 10/10:30 p.m., and take that as a cue to brush your teeth and crawl into your cozy bed. This will prevent your body from getting "overtired," when you release the stress hormone cortisol and hit a second wind of energy. When you try to push against cortisol to fall asleep, you toss and turn and your mind races. No fun. Prevent this by swooping yourself to bed at the sweet spot of tiredness, right around 10 p.m.
6. Be strategic about light.
Light is the primary cue for our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). On the proverbial Savannah, this system was foolproof—after sunset, the only light you could see was fire and moonlight. Modern human life is an entirely different story—we spend our days sitting in windowless cubicle mazes, and then the evening is a Technicolor light show of phone, tablet, TV, and laptop screens, on a backdrop of overhead lighting and ambient light pollution outside our windows. Our body misses the cue that it's nighttime and we should feel sleepy. Get strategic to create Savannah light conditions in modern life.
Here's how: Get bright light during the day. Open your blinds as soon as you wake up, and be sure to spend at least some time every day outside in broad daylight.
And experience darkness at night. Dim the lights in your home after sunset, finish the night with a candlelit bath or by reading a paper book in bed by dim lighting. Set your phone on night shift mode and download f.lux on your computer to make the screens dimmer and less blue at night. If you're going to work on the computer, watch TV, or look at the phone at night, consider wearing glasses to block the circadian-disrupting blue light.
As thoroughly discussed above, don't bring the phone into the bedroom. In fact, try to get all electronics out of the bedroom. If your room isn't completely dark once you've turned out the lights, wear an eye mask to sleep or consider getting blackout shades (this ends up being less of an ordeal than it sounds). Finally, if you wake up in the middle of the night, try not to let your eyes "see" any light. You can install an orange night light in the bathroom and do the squinting shuffle, keeping your eyes mostly closed when you go to pee.
7. Consider alcohol.
I would be remiss if I didn't point out that alcohol disrupts sleep architecture. Though it can make it easier to fall asleep, it decreases the quality of sleep and makes it harder to sleep through the night. We also wake up feeling less refreshed the morning after we've been drinking. Bring consciousness to your choices around alcohol. If sleep is a sore point for you, it's worth your while to limit alcohol to a drink or two a couple of nights of the week (or, hey, none at all?).
8. Try jujube.
Jujube is another supplement worth considering.* It’s a plant-based supplement with antioxidant properties that can also help with sleep, stress, anxiety and even digestive issues (i.e., all that ails us modern human people). It promotes sleep by modulating GABA and serotonin activity in the brain.* Just be sure to mention jujube to your doctor before starting it, since it can have interactions with other medications, and it can impact certain health conditions, such as diabetes.
9. Experiment with GABA.
Finally, GABA itself is a supplement worth considering.* While there’s no question that the neurotransmitter GABA has profound impacts on sleep, there is some debate about whether supplemental forms of GABA effectively cross the blood-brain-barrier—that is, do they really get to your brain and have an impact. High-quality GABA supplements attempt to address this by designing the GABA to cross into the brain.* There is some evidence that GABA supplements improve sleep, but it’s also possible that the supplements carry out their effect in other ways, such as impacting the gut microbiome to increase GABA.* Regardless, GABA is worth considering at doses around 100-200mg for insomnia after a conversation with your doctor about potential interactions.
10. Wind down.
We'll wind down this article with a final note about winding down in the evening. Too many of us are trying to eke out every last drop of productivity from our days, closing the laptop seconds before brushing our teeth, answering a final work email from bed, attempting to go 60 to zero from work mode to trying to fall asleep. It doesn't work. Think of it this way—your brain needs a little foreplay to fall asleep, and answering work emails or modeling something in Excel is not sexy.
Give yourself the gift of an hour, a half-hour, 10 minutes, even just five minutes—some amount of winding down before you hit the pillow. Good options include taking an Epsom salt bath by candlelight, reading a calming paper book in bed, journaling, doing a gratitude practice, or simply shutting down electronics, sitting in your living room, and listening to relaxing music you love. Bring intention to this. This will let your brain know it's time to transition into a different mindset.
I hope these ten steps have opened your eyes to some ideas you haven't heard before, and I hope these steps are approachable and attainable. If you put these changes into practice, you should begin to find it easier to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling refreshed.
I invite you to consider that the very fabric of life itself IS possibility. A blank canvas upon which, and against which, we get to express and create, and perhaps most importantly, reveal what holds us back in life. As you know my work is about inspiring freedom from the mental-prison we all live in … mostly obliviously.
I’ve often been called a spiritual teacher, which for sure is accurate, but my work is also based in the principles of physics. As some of you might know, there’s something called the observer effect in quantum physics. Whilst the basic assumption behind science is that there’s an “objective world out there” irrespective of us, the observer effect implies otherwise. The famous double-slit experiment reveals that each particle appears to pass simultaneously through both slits and interferes with itself. This combination of both paths at the same time is known as superposition. Here’s the powerful part about this … simply by observing a particle's path, even if that observation does not disturb the particle's motion, we change the outcome. Boom!!! So, if the way the world appears, and even behaves, is dependent on how, (and even IF), we look at it, what does that mean about "reality"? In my world … it means perception is reality!! Meaning the world is the way WE see it.
Physicist Pascual Jordan, who worked with quantum guru Niels Bohr, put it like this: "observations not only disturb what is measured, they produce it." In other words, Jordan said, "we ourselves produce the results of measurements." When you REALLY get this it’s so profound. Whether consciously or not, WE are all creating our reality.
Life IS pure possibility, so the question is what patterns and beliefs do you have that currently create the world you see? And how empowering to realize that by shifting our mind and perception we shift our world?!
It’s 4am. I’m spiraling deep into what I call the “nightmare fantasy”: imagining the absolute worst possible scenario, how I would react, what would happen next, and spiraling on and on into the hell of my imagination.
I have an anxiety disorder that is mostly managed in large part thanks to yoga and meditation. Every now and then, however, something tips a few pebbles off my anxiety cliff and suddenly I’m in a 4am avalanche.
On this particular sleepless night, I could see myself overreacting. I thought, “You’re overreacting. Calm down.” I also know, though, that fighting like this can make the situation worse. So I stopped fighting. Then I went so deep down the catastrophizing rabbit hole that I bolted up and actually screamed out loud.
Has anyone ever told you to “just stop worrying?” In the yoga world, we can get the message that all we need to do for a happier life is to think positively, and if you ever have negative thoughts, you’re doing it wrong. From the Tantric yoga perspective, however, all experiences, including uncomfortable ones, have value, and there’s danger in only focusing on what’s pretty and sweet. Trying to convince yourself that everything is finewhen it’s not exacerbates, rather than abates, anxiety. You can’t “just” stop worrying.
Stress reactions come from your amygdala, the primal part of your brain that governs your nervous system. Your prefrontal cortex is the rational, conscious part of your brain. When you try to force yourself to calm down, your prefrontal cortex is trying to overpower your amygdala, which only ramps up the primal fear response. You can’t tell your amygdala what to do.
You can, however, acknowledge the disconnect. Yoga and meditation are useful in that they can teach us to wake up what’s called the buddhi mind, the mind that observes the mind. I had this part down: I could see the problem, but couldn’t stop it from happening. I needed some new tools, and I wasn’t getting them from yoga.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a technique that works from the premise that thoughts affect feelings which affect behaviours which affect thoughts and so on. It’s very challenging to change your feelings, but you can work with your thoughts and behaviours. When I see myself beginning to spiral, I can ask myself:
What thought is contributing to this feeling?
What evidence do I have that this thought is true?
What else could be going on?
What evidence do I have for those alternatives?
When I see myself internally reacting as if my worst fear is already happening, these questions can help me pause my nightmare fantasy and remember that other interpretations are also valid. I can hold the different possibilities and wait to react until I have more information. I can know that it’s okay to not know.
It’s not uncommon for yogis like me to get disillusioned when the initial euphoria of the practice wears off. The world doesn’t stop being confusing and cruel just because we decide to think positively. Stepping outside of my practice to learn these new techniques has actually returned me to my yoga: fundamentally, yoga teaches us to stay present with a rich and varied world and to honor the beauty and ugliness both inside and outside of ourselves. For me, this is much more interesting than insisting on living in a place that’s crowded with rainbows and flowers. This way, I can get back to sleep. Then I can do my yoga in the morning.
It's normal to be anxious, and it's normal to react poorly to anxiety in others! Here are some tips if you're around anxious children.
It's normal and healthy for children (and adults for that matter) to feel anxious from time to time. However, when your child gets caught in the worry cycle, ruminating on his thoughts, this can lead to some pretty intense emotional toxicity. Suddenly, what started out as a little stress turns into a rather strong narrative of helplessness, fear, and insecurity. What your child is worried about will likely dissipate, but as a parent, it can be very frustrating and anxiety-provoking to watch!
How you react can make a difference. The things you say and don’t say can either inflame or soothe your worried child. Here are three statements you might want to consider avoiding, along with three things to do instead:
1. Calm Down. I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me to calm down when I am upset it only makes me feel worse. Here's the thing: When you tell children to calm down, immediately they are going to translate that into "This person doesn’t understand, they think I am overreacting, or they assume it is my fault."
As a result, children may get frustrated and angry because they feel you are taking sides or judging how they feel. They may become concerned that you will attempt to take over the situation, which in their minds will only make matters worse. Children who are anxious often report feeling out of control. When you attempt to take control of a situation by telling them to calm down, this can make them feel like they have lost control.
Instead: Rather than telling children to calm down, adults ought to focus more on calming themselves down. Once you feel the hairs sticking up on the back of your neck or tension in your face, this is a sign that you are going into reactivity. When you tell your child to calm down or chill out, this is a way you are attempting to manage your own anxiety. Instead, focus on your exhale while squeezing the muscles you use to hold your pee when you have to go to the bathroom. This will bring the tension down.
2. Don’t Worry About It. This statement can come off as condescending. While it might be a quick fix when your children are young, as they grow older they will catch on to you. For example, if they see that you struggle with worry, they are less likely to take your advice seriously. When you say "Don’t worry about it," it puts a strain on children to try to figure out how to let it go. I don’t know about you, but whenever I focus on attempting to let go of something it somehow intensifies the problem.
Instead: Focus on calm behavior. For example, rather than trying to figure out what to say, be an illustration for what you want your child to focus on. In this case, with a worried child you want them to focus on calming down. So rather than saying "Don’t worry about it," instead listen with full attention in a calm way.
3. Take a Breath. While it may seem like teaching your child to take a deep breath would be the right thing to do, the challenge is that anxious children are likely to take a dramatic inhale or resist their breath altogether. Breathing as a tool for calming down is a skill you develop. Without some guidance, children are likely to make their anxiety worse. This is because when you take a quick inhale, you can inflate the upper chest, making symptoms worse! This will make it less likely your child will use that strategy in the future.
Instead: Ease your way into breathing. For example, if your child is worked up, consider going for a stroll, swinging on a swing set, or offering your child a nice glass of cold water. Mindful practices such as these teach your child that calming down is a process not a quick fix. When we are quick to react with statements such as "Take a breath," this sends a message to your child that calming down should be quick and easy.
Rest assured that most of what your children are worried about now will at some point in the future be another hurdle they have crossed. While that might seem hard to picture when you are in the throes of anxiety, on the other side of all those worries are opportunities for you and your child to develop a sense of faith, trust, and patience for the process. So rather than getting caught up in what you will say, instead choose to be present to the situation without having to come up with the perfect words to change or alter the situation. Once the two of you feel settled and connected, then you can move on to coming up with solutions and ideas that may help.
“How can you help yourself feel a sense of calm, reassurance, and peace? The answer is at your feet. Literally.”
Have you been feeling a little uncertain lately? Perhaps you are nervous about where the world is heading and whether coronavirus will ever go away.
You are not alone. As reported information changes daily, even the most knowledgeable authority figures are showing signs of uncertainty. So what do you do when things are moving in a direction you are unsure of? How can you help yourself feel a sense of calm, reassurance, and peace?
The answer is at your feet. Literally.
For thousands of years, yogis and spiritual and religious leaders have looked at rituals such as washing your feet or walking barefoot to symbolize high consciousness, connection, honor, and purification.
Think of your feet as the way you make contact with the ground, grounding you. Anytime you notice and pay attention to sensing and feeling the Earth, you become more present to the here and now. When practiced on a regular basis, paying attention to your feet can help you feel safe, calm, and centered.
Here are four ways to get started:
1. Root. Since so many of us are now working from home, it can be easy to lie on your couch with your ankles crossed, reading and sending emails. Notice the workspace you have set up for yourself, and pay attention to whether you are spending long periods of time (hours) with your feet off the floor or crossed. Be sure to switch positions (whether you are watching television or working) so that your feet have more opportunities to touch the ground.
2. Massage. Using nonsynthetic essential oils (such as lavender) or cream, take some time daily to massage your ankles and the soles of your feet. The soles of your feet contain many energy centers and points that, when activated, help you cleanse and receive healing Earth energy, which can help balance your nervous system by moving stuck energy and emotions naturally.
3. Stretch. Just like it’s important to stretch your shoulders and back, your feet also need to be lengthened and breathed into on a regular basis. Yoga poses such as Downward Dog & YogAlign Toe Weave will help. Breathe into these poses for three to five breaths (inhale and exhale using the YogAlign SIP Breath).
4. Soak. Invigorate and cleanse your feet by soaking them in warm epsom salt (or sea salt) water (you may also soak them in the ocean or a foot bath container). Salt has magnesium, which can be very calming and healing to the body.
Progesterone is one of our key sex hormones and its name gives some indication of what it does in the body (think ‘pro-gestation’). Yet it plays a key role in so much more than fertility. In fact, progesterone is a substance that every woman needs to know about, regardless of whether pregnancy is on her agenda or not, because of its many biological effects.
Progesterone production that is far from ideal is, unfortunately, very common and it’s likely that you have experienced this at some point in your life—if not right now. When we’re not making optimal amounts of progesterone, this can contribute to a range of challenging symptoms in the lead up to and/or during menstruation. The reason for this is because progesterone helps to counterbalance estrogen. So, when we have poor progesterone production, this can tip the delicate balance of our sex hormones—and our body lets us know about it.
Progesterone has a number of important functions in the body. It supports the body’s fluid balance to prevent you from feeling puffy and swollen, and it helps to hold the lining of the uterus in place so that you don’t experience excessively heavy or prolonged bleeding. Not to mention it has anti-anxiety and antidepressant actions, making it a pretty powerful substance that we don’t want to be lacking.
When progesterone is low, signs and symptoms can include:
Very heavy periods
Spotting for a number of days leading up to your period
Bloating and fluid retention
PMS—especially anxious feelings and irritability leading up to your period
You may feel like you can’t get your breath past your heart or like your heart is racing in the lead up to menstruation
Missing periods (and pregnancy is ruled out)
A short luteal phase, which sometimes shows up as a shorter cycle—there’s not enough progesterone to hold the lining of the uterus in place
A longer cycle, which means an increased number of days between ovulations.
How your body makes progesterone
During the menstruation years, progesterone is predominantly made by the ovaries in a cyclical manner, and much smaller amounts are made by the adrenal glands across your life. The trigger for ovarian progesterone production is ovulation so if we don’t ovulate, we don’t make it. Once ovulation occurs, a temporary gland called the corpus luteum forms in the ovary where the egg was released from. The corpus luteum produces progesterone from that point (after ovulation) up to just before you get your next period and this phase of the cycle is called the luteal phase.
For ease of understanding, the luteal phase is often referred to as the second half of your cycle (think ‘l’ for last half). However, this isn’t technically correct for every woman as depending on her cycle length, the two phases (the follicular phase and the luteal phase) may not be equal halves—their durations can differ. The luteal phase is ideally about two weeks long and progesterone levels peak at the mid-point of this, so this is why if you are having a blood test for progesterone it is best done about seven days before you get your period (so day 21 if your cycle is 28 days long).
What interferes with great progesterone production?
As you now understand, regular ovulation is essential for a woman to produce enough progesterone during her menstruation years. If you aren’t ovulating or you ovulate infrequently, it’s incredibly important to get to the heart of why this is. Commonly, this can be linked to chronic stress or worry, a frantic pace of life, inadequate rest, not feeling ‘safe’ (whatever this means to an individual) physically or emotionally, not eating enough and/or excessive exercise. These are all forms of stress to the body and increase stress hormone production. Not only can chronic stress lead to anovulatory cycles which means no ovarian progesterone production, but it can also contribute to scenarios where ovulation occurs but progesterone production is suboptimal.
Stress is a major contributing factor to low progesterone because of its link to fertility (because your progesterone levels surge after an egg becomes available). If the body is getting the message that your life is in danger—which is what too many stress hormones communicate—the last thing it wants is for you to potentially conceive at a time it perceives as dangerous, as this could mean the baby might be at risk. So, your body thinks it is doing you a favour by downregulating fertility during times of high stress. Processes that aren’t essential to our survival (such as reproductive function) are not prioritised when the body is putting all of its resources into keeping us alive.
There are also life stages where we are more susceptible to irregular ovulation and low progesterone, such as puberty and perimenopause. These are transition phases and it is normal for ovulation to be less regular during these seasons of our life. While many women experience challenging symptoms during perimenopause, it’s important to know that there are things you can do to support your body and experience a gentler transition. During this time, it’s even more important to take great care of yourself in terms of your nourishment and stress management, as excess stress hormone production—which can be driven by worrying, rushing and feelings of overwhelm, daily alcohol consumption over an extended period of time, restrictive dieting or excessive exercise—can still contribute to anovulatory cycles, irregular periods and low progesterone during this life stage.
That said, irregular ovulation or a lack of ovulation can also sometimes occur with other conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or thyroid dysfunction. If you experience unexplained irregular periods or if your periods have gone missing (and you are not using a type of hormonal contraception that causes this), it’s important to check in with your doctor. For more on hormonal contraception and its influence on progesterone production, you might like to read this blog here on the OCP or this one here on the Mirena.
What about progesterone post-menopause?
Progesterone levels are naturally low post-menopause as ovulation is no longer occurring and women in this life stage don’t have the cyclical sex hormone fluctuations that characterise the menstruation years. The adrenal glands become the primary source of progesterone post-menopausally, and these important glands are also tasked with making our stress hormones. Incorporating strategies to help reduce and manage stress or worry, such as daily breath-focused practices and getting to the heart of what stress really is for an individual so you are able to make fewer stress hormones in the first place, is incredibly supportive for women post-menopause and can truly make a difference in how you feel day-to-day.
Many of us frequently feel tight & stiff, & believe that it would be nearly impossible for us to be flexible, or achieve good posture. Yet enclosed with our skin, we are mostly composed of water & space. Muscles themselves are estimated to be 65-75% water, while our blood is 95% water. If all of this space could be removed from the cells in our entire body, the average human body would be a three inch ball of matter. Denseness, stiffness & inflexibility are illusions when you realise that there is not much to us!
Flexibility is usually determined by the resting length of a muscle. If a muscle feels tight, that's because the nervous system is keeping it contracted when it does not need to be. A great athlete appears to move without any effort because he has so fine tuned his body that only what is needed is engaged, there's no unnecessary contraction, so his body moves fluidly. Contraction occurs when we have adopted habits or alignments that use muscles in ways in which they were not intended. To eliminate these habits, we must wake up parts of the body that are not doing their jobs & turn off muscles that contribute to poor posture habits. In YogAlign we focus on becoming aligned by teaching our bodies to do "less".
The process of yoga is about removing obstacles like excess muscle tension, or excessive worry. YogAlign is about creating a "sustainable body", the most energy efficient body possible. The same way that we are seeking to live on our planet using efficient, natural sources of energy that don't waste or pollute, we must seek out ways to conserve energy in our bodies. Those who are out of alignment & have chronically bad posture waste the lion's share of their energy because poor posture uses muscles inefficiently. When we are misaligned, we waste our precious energy stores, sap our strength, compress our joints, compromise our organ function, and in the long run, develop a life of chronic aches & pains.
YogAlign focuses on:
1. understanding how the body is supported & controlled, and
2. teaching techniques to eliminate unnecessary tension & recover natural flexibility, tone & ease. Our bodies are permeated by systems of connective tissue that align our body through a balanced, tensile force. By practicing safe & easy breathing exercises & positions, we can learn to work with this connective tissue to regain our fluidity, moving more like the water & space that we truly are.
Are you near a AA battery? If so, pick it up and feel its weight. That’s roughly how much of the mineral magnesium you have in your body — about 25 grams, or a little less than an ounce. Magnesium has many health benefits, and plays a vital role in many bodily functions, yet it gets almost no press compared to its more famous buddies, iron and calcium.
While magnesium abounds in nature — it’s the seventh most common element on earth, by weight — we aren’t getting nearly enough of it to achieve and maintain optimal health. Somewhere between 10-30% of people worldwide — and around 50% of Americans — appear to be deficient. Magnesium deficiency is so common and widespread that it’s been called a public health crisis.
And compounding the problem is the fact that it’s hard to accurately measure magnesium levels in the body. Tests look at serum magnesium (in the blood) and not intracellular magnesium (the concentration of magnesium within cells, where it’s needed). It’s a little like trying to figure out the financial health of a bank by counting the money in the Brinks vans going to and from the building. There’s some relationship, but it’s far from the whole story.
But what exactly does magnesium do in your body? What are the health benefits of magnesium? And why are so many of us deficient these days? Read on to find out!
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral needed to support a number of critical functions in your body. For instance, it helps maintain normal blood pressure, keeps your bones strong through the metabolism of calcium and potassium, and helps to keep your heartbeat steady. It’s a cofactor involved in over 300 enzyme systems that regulate biochemical reactions. And it’s a necessary component for energy production, DNA and RNA synthesis, and muscle and nerve function.
Magnesium is also an electrolyte, which means it carries an electric charge when dissolved in bodily fluids like blood. However, the majority of magnesium in your body is uncharged and is bound to proteins or stored in your skeleton. Approximately half of the magnesium in your body is found in bone, with very little circulating in blood. In fact, less than 1% of your body’s magnesium is in your bloodstream. And it remains very tightly controlled — primarily by your kidneys — which determine magnesium excretion or retainment.
6 Magnesium Health Benefits
Getting enough magnesium is not only essential for everyday physiological functioning. It plays a substantial role in the prevention of numerous health conditions, too. Below are some of the most researched magnesium health benefits.
1. Improved heart health
A 2017 meta-analysis of 11 studies published in Nutrition Journal concluded that magnesium levels circulating in the blood are inversely associated with the incidence of heart disease and hypertension. While more research is needed to determine optimal serum levels of magnesium, researchers were able to identify higher levels as having a protective effect on heart health. Specifically, for every 0.1 mmol/L increase in circulating magnesium, there was a 4% lower incidence of hypertension.
Furthermore, a 2005 study reviewed 20 randomized trials and found that administering intravenous or intramuscular magnesium prior to heart surgery was effective in preventing post-operative atrial fibrillation (AF), or irregular heartbeat. Blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other complications can result from AF.
In other research, magnesium supplementation has also been beneficial in lowering high blood pressure, especially among people with insulin resistance, prediabetes, and other high-risk groups.
2. Reduced risk for osteoporosis
Magnesium and calcium work together to keep your bones strong and healthy, so it makes sense that getting enough of these minerals can help slow or prevent skeletal weakening that often happens with age. A 2017 study published in the journal Nutrients examined associations between skeletal muscle mass, grip strength, bone density, and dietary magnesium among 156,575 men and women ages 39-72 from the UK Biobank cohort. The researchers found a significant association between magnesium intake and bone health. This suggests that getting enough magnesium in the diet could help maintain musculoskeletal health as you age and even prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures.
3. May help prevent type 2 diabetes
In addition to the link between magnesium and heart health, the 2017 meta-analysis mentioned above also found that higher circulating levels of magnesium were associated with a lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes. However, there has been no determination of optimal blood levels yet. A 2016 study published in Nutrients evaluated the dose-response relationship between magnesium intake and type 2 diabetes risk, looking at 25 studies, including 637,922 individuals, 26,828 of whom had the disease. After adjusting for BMI and age, the authors were able to identify a 8-13% reduction in risk for type 2 diabetes for every 100 mg/day increment of dietary magnesium intake.
4. May improve sleep patterns and quality
Magnesium is known to have a calming effect for many people, which may help improve sleep. This could have substantial health benefits, considering that an estimated 50% of older adults have some degree of insomnia, or difficulty sleeping at night. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that 500 mg of supplemental magnesium, taken daily for eight weeks, resulted in subjectively improved sleep patterns among elderly individuals with insomnia, compared to a placebo group. Although total sleep time didn’t significantly differ between the two groups, those who received magnesium reported better sleep quality and less waking at night and early morning. In a 1998 study, a small group of older adults with insomnia were given 12.4 mmol of magnesium supplementation daily for four to six weeks. The study participants found that rates of restless leg syndrome decreased and that overall sleep efficiency improved.
5. May reduce and prevent migraines
A heavily studied health benefit of magnesium is the relationship between magnesium and migraines. Many researchers believe that magnesium deficiency may trigger waves of altered cortical activity, clumping of blood platelets in the brain, constricted blood vessels, and release of certain neurotransmitters that can lead to migraines. How much magnesium helps? Research on this is inconsistent, perhaps in part because not everyone has the same level of need. Some people suffering from migraine headaches have found that supplemental doses of up to 1000 mg of magnesium can alleviate their symptoms. But some people also find that doses that high can cause diarrhea or abdominal pain.
6. May help regulate mood
Getting enough magnesium may also help uplift your spirits. And some people use magnesium against depression. A 2017 study published in PLoS One aimed to determine if over-the-counter magnesium chloride supplementation improved symptoms among 126 adults in outpatient primary care clinics with reported mild-to-moderate depression. The participants received an intervention of 248 mg of magnesium per day for six weeks. And then, they underwent six weeks of no treatment as the control. Using the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, researchers found that magnesium supplementation resulted in significant improvement in depression scores. And 61% of the participants said they would continue using magnesium in the future.
How Much Magnesium Do You Need?
While a balanced diet that regularly includes magnesium-rich foods should meet your needs, most people in America don’t consume enough. Why? The modern industrialized diet — also known as the standard American diet (aptly acronymed as SAD) — is high in processed, packaged foods. And it tends to lack good, plant-based sources of magnesium.
So how much magnesium should you be aiming for? The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for magnesium are as follows:
0-6 months: 30 mg
7-12 months: 75 mg
1-3 years: 80 mg
4-8 years: 130 mg
9-13 years: 240 mg
Boys 14-18 years: 410 mg
Girls 14-18 years: 360 mg
Men 19+ years: 400-420 mg
Women 19+ years: 310-320 mg
Pregnant teens: 400 mg
Pregnant women: 350-360 mg
Breastfeeding teens: 360 mg
Breastfeeding women: 310-320 mg
Scientific literature suggests that subclinical magnesium deficiency is rampant. And that it’s actually one of the leading causes of chronic disease — including cardiovascular disease and early mortality — around the globe. Subclinical magnesium deficiency indicates that your blood magnesium levels appear normal, but you still have an underlying mineral deficiency.
A USDA survey called “What We Eat in America” found that men take in under 350 mg of magnesium per day (when they should be getting 300-420 mg), while women average 260 mg when at least 310 mg would be optimal. Surveys show that men over the age of 70 and teenage girls tend to have the lowest magnesium consumption. On the other hand, combining dietary and supplemental magnesium typically exceeds minimum requirements.
Normal blood magnesium levels are between 0.75 and 0.95 mmol/L, which means magnesium deficiency occurs at levels under 0.75 mmol/L. Remember that less than 1% of your total body magnesium is in your blood, so when these levels are low, it could indicate that you have a more widespread deficiency.
What Causes Magnesium Deficiency?
In addition to inadequate consumption of magnesium from food, low magnesium levels in the body may be caused or worsened by:
An excess of heavy metals due to soil contamination
A lack of minerals due to soil erosion
Having a digestive disorder, such as celiac disease or chronic diarrhea
Having type 2 diabetes
Being dependent upon alcohol
Being elderly, as magnesium absorption decreases with age
Taking certain medicines, including diuretics and proton-pump inhibitors, that can cause magnesium loss
Symptoms of early magnesium deficiency can include constipation, fatigue, loss of appetite, and weakness, which can eventually lead to more severe compilations. Some of these may be muscle contractions, seizures, low blood levels of calcium and potassium, abnormal heart rhythm, personality changes, and numbness in the limbs. Long-term, untreated magnesium deficiency can result in high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease.
Magnesium Overdose & Interactions
Overdosing on magnesium is really only possible if you’re taking supplements that contain the mineral. Dietary sources of magnesium are highly unlikely to result in toxic levels accumulating in your body, as your kidneys can typically filter out any excess.
Large doses of magnesium from dietary supplements or medications can cause diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping. Diarrhea from magnesium happens because the unabsorbed salts in the intestine and colon stimulate gastric motility. In other words, magnesium makes things move pretty quickly through your intestinal tract. This is why magnesium is sometimes used to alleviate mild constipation. Magnesium carbonate, chloride, gluconate, and oxide are more likely to cause diarrhea.
Early signs of excessive magnesium intake can include low blood pressure, facial flushing, depression, urine retention, and fatigue. Eventually, if untreated, these symptoms can worsen and include muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, and even, in very rare cases, cardiac arrest.
Extremely high doses can result in hypermagnesemia — or very high levels of magnesium in the bloodstream. Hypermagnesemia can become fatal, especially if your kidneys are not functioning optimally. Large doses of laxatives and antacids that contain magnesium may be a contributing factor to magnesium toxicity, typically when they’re providing over 5,000 mg of magnesium per day.
Lastly, magnesium supplements can interact with certain medications. For instance, bisphosphonates used to slow or prevent bone loss, antibiotics for bacterial infections, diuretics to promote water loss, or proton pump inhibitors often prescribed for management of acid reflux. Interactions may include excessive loss of magnesium, formation of insoluble complexes, and reduced efficacy of the medication.
Recommended Intake for Magnesium Supplements
How much magnesium is too much? There isn’t any known danger from eating too much magnesium from food. But there is a recommended upper intake level (UL), which clarifies the highest amount deemed safe to consume per day supplementally. Please note that this is inaddition to your dietary magnesium.
Birth to 12 months: None established
1–3 years: 65 mg
4–8 years: 110 mg
9–18 years, including pregnant or lactating women: 350 mg
19+ years, including pregnant or lactating women: 350 mg
The best way to get magnesium in the right amount, and in a form your body can recognize and absorb efficiently, is through your diet.
There is little to no magnesium found in meat, eggs, or dairy products.
It’s important to get enough magnesium in your diet, but it’s also essential to do things that help your body absorb it well. Only about 30% to 40% of dietary magnesium is typically absorbed. So it’s helpful to know what you can do to keep that rate from dropping too much.
There could be several reasons for reduced magnesium absorption. The most common reason is that other nutrients and compounds eaten with magnesium-rich foods interfere and make absorption more difficult. One of these is phytic acid, a natural compound in many plant foods that can impair the absorption of magnesium along with other minerals, including calcium, zinc, and iron. Some nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains are high in phytic acid (levels can vary as much as 20x from one almond to another).
One way to mitigate impaired magnesium absorption is to eat foods rich in vitamin C (like citrus, red bell peppers, guava, and broccoli) when you’re eating foods high in phytic acid. It turns out that vitamin C essentially neutralizes phytic acid. One study found that 30 milligrams (the equivalent of less than half a cup of strawberries or broccoli, or ⅓ of a red pepper) was sufficient to eliminate phytic acid-related absorption issues.
In addition to consuming vitamin C-rich foods alongside food that are high in phytic acid, some other ways to boost your absorption of magnesium include:
Reducing or avoiding calcium supplements at least two hours before or after eating
Avoiding high-dose zinc supplements
Getting enough vitamin D
Eating some vegetables raw
Eating sprouted, soaked, and fermented grains to reduce their inhibitory phytic acid content
Should You Take a Magnesium Supplement?
The best way to get magnesium, as with most vitamins and minerals, is to eat foods that are rich in it.
If your blood levels are low, or you have some of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, then you may also want to consider supplementation. But keep in mind that supplementation increases the risk of magnesium overdose, so it’s important to know the appropriate dosage and not take too much.
There are many types of magnesium supplements to choose from. Some of the most common include:
Magnesium oxide is often prescribed (and is the form found in milk of magnesia). But this type of magnesium is more likely to cause diarrhea because higher doses are typically needed to have an impact. Furthermore, magnesium oxide only has an absorption rate of around 6%.
Magnesium citrate (magnesium bound with citric acid) can have a laxative effect, which may help with constipation. It’s also often recommended for migraine prevention and is highly bioavailable.
Magnesium glycinate contains the amino acid glycine, which works with brain neurotransmitters like GABA to promote calmness and improve sleep. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect, but doesn’t work as well for alleviating constipation.
Magnesium chloride is a magnesium salt combined with chlorine. It’s well-absorbed and often prescribed for heartburn, magnesium deficiency, and constipation.
Magnesium lactate is a magnesium salt combined with lactic acid. It’s less common as an over-the-counter supplement than other forms of magnesium. It’s more commonly used to fortify foods and drinks. Still, supposedly gentler on the intestinal tract than some other forms, which can be helpful for people who require large doses.
Magnesium malate contains malic acid, which is found naturally in fruits and wine. It has a higher absorption rate, which may be useful for treating magnesium deficiency. This form is common in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia, although the jury is still out on its effectiveness.
Magnesium taurate contains the amino acid taurine and may help regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Its potential heart health benefits have primarily been observed in animal studies. So more research on human applications is needed.
Whether or not you take a magnesium supplement, there’s little doubt about the health benefits of eating a magnesium-rich diet. You can boost intake throughout the day by incorporating magnesium-rich ingredients into your everyday cooking. The Blueberry Walnut Pancakes, Citrus Salad in a Jar, and Buffalo Cauliflower Tacos are just a few examples of nourishing recipes that contain ingredients high in magnesium, such as walnuts, oats, spinach, cashews, lentils, cauliflower and avocado (plus more!). To ensure you’re getting enough magnesium each and every day, consider adding extra magnesium-rich ingredients to a meal. Examples include sprinkling nuts or seeds to a grain bowl, slicing avocado into a sandwich, and tossing spinach into a stir-fry.
Walnuts, bananas, oats, and plant-based milk not only make these simple-to-create pancakes delicious, but they also provide a decent dose of magnesium to start the day. Add blueberries, or your favorite fruit, for a little added natural sweetness and even more plant-based nutrition.
This salad checks all the boxes: crunch from the cashews, creamy from the avocado, sweet and savory from the dressing, and magnesium from just about all of the ingredients, including spinach, cashews, lentils, avocado, and sunflower seeds. Prepare the salad the night before work in a mason jar for a delicious and healing plant-powered lunch. Or add all of the ingredients directly into your favorite salad bowl for a tasty, impromptu, and nourishing meal.
Who knew that tacos could be so healthy? The truth is there are countless ways to prepare tacos using plant-based ingredients. With so many filling options, you could create a different taco for every night of the week! This one, in particular, is pretty special with its high-magnesium ingredients, including cauliflower, avocado, black beans, and whole-grain tortillas. They may seem indulgent, but rest assured they’re providing your body exactly what it needs for bone, nerve, and heart health.
Magnesium Is Essential for Your Health
Magnesium is an essential mineral, necessary for many bodily systems to function properly. It has a number of health benefits, but most people don’t get enough of it. This contributes to a host of problems impacting heart, bone, sleep, and mental health. You can boost your levels through regularly eating magnesium-rich foods, optimising its absorption, and, if necessary, taking a low dose supplement.
Thanks Ocean Robbins, CEO of Food Revolution Network for the Article, August 2020.
Inflammation could be described as fire in the body.
Sugar, gluten, physical, mental & emotional stress are just a handful of things that are inflammatory, setting off little fires in your body. Given the mind-body connection, the fire in your body can influence what's going on in your brain.
Fire - inflammation of the brain - can be experienced as mental & emotional discomfort.
That is why it's important that we not only aim to reduce our exposure to inflammatory foods, thoughts & behaviours, but to make an active effort to include a means of reducing inflammation, & extinguish the fire in our body.
In addition to lifestyle factors; sleep, breath work, yoga, meditation, being in nature, social connection - eating fresh, seasonal, organic foods whenever we can is another way to keep the flames at bay.
Perhaps an interesting perspective shift to experiment with is to ditch the notion of foods being 'good' or 'bad', but to ask yourself, will this food nourish me, or is it inflammatory?
Did You Know?
Around 70-90% of our serotonin (one of our feel good hormones) is made in our gut. Research has shown that the risk of developing anxiety goes up significantly in those who experience inflammatory gut issues such as IBS.
Now that the kids are back at school, take a few moments for yourself to ground & breathe.
Benefits of Balancing Asanas are many:
Helps induce physical balance Develops a balanced mind Enhances concentration Balances the nervous system Relieves anxiety & stress Brings your focus back to the breath & present moment Opens up the front flexor line of fascia to help create alignment Activates your psoas muscles with the rest of your abdominal core muscles for a strong, stable core Helps with natural spinal alignment Helps to release unnecessary tension you have invited in
Yoga is not how high you can hold up your leg or deep you can get your squat. It is about connection with the breath & staying true to you own practice, what ever that is today.
Set yourself achievable goals that don’t overwhelm you ie two minutes twice daily, because you deserve it!
Prioritising immune health can be the best line of defence.
Here, doctors and nutritionists share their game plans for supporting the body's natural immunity in the coming weeks and months:
1. Be kind to yourself and others.
According to psychiatrist Anna Yusim, M.D., immune health is largely predicated on mental health, and vice versa. "Being depressed or anxious, for instance, predisposes you to inflammation and infection, while having higher levels of inflammation increases your likelihood of being depressed," she tells mbg. "Therefore, one of the best things you can do to keep your immune system healthy and strong is to keep your mind and emotions positive, healthy, and strong." Here are three of her favorite strategies for doing so:
This year, mbg formulated a new supplement that combines vitamin D with mood-supporting ingredients such as hops, rosemary, black cumin seed, and the real star of the show, full-spectrumhemp oil. The resulting hemp multi+ can be taken every day to support immunity and promote a steadier mood, giving it some of those all-important mental health benefits, to boot.*
4. Make your bedtime routine special and consistent.
Our sleep also tends to improve when it's consistent: Board-certified sleep medicine researcher W. Christopher Winter, M.D., recommends setting a "go to bed" alarm, as well as your normal wake-up one, to ensure that your sleep schedule is similar night after night.
Re-programmes the brain to set a new tension in the body
An expression of self love to maintain your optimal wellness
Begin your self care practice by booking a class today - click on 'YogAlign' in menu then 'Booking' - join me for either a small class (maximum 4) or a private session. All yoga mats & props provided ... just play & walk away ;o)
It makes sense. As many of us spend more time at home, some of us staring at lawns whose only nutritional value is in the odd dandelion, and some of us just wanting to be more self-reliant, more and more people are feeling the urge to grow something edible. And it’s true that growing food can make us more self-sufficient and give us a feeling of control in a world in which so much is out of our control.
But growing food also gives us this triple whammy:
The truth is, growing nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables is one of the best health insurance policies you can take out.
Turning Lawns into Food Gardens
As a society, it’s not like we don’t have the land. Lawns are the single largest irrigated crop in the US, covering nearly 32 million acres. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables grow on only about 10 million acres in the United States. This means the space that American lawns occupy could provide enough land to literally quadruple the amount of fruits and vegetables grown in the country!
The first Victory Garden movement began during World War I. With millions of Americans fighting overseas, the US government diverted commercial crops to the European theater and redirected transportation towards moving troops and munitions instead of food. Ordinary citizens stepped into the breach and started a food garden wherever they could: rooftops, fire escapes, empty lots, schools, and backyards. The efforts of ordinary “stay-at-home” Americans saved entire European populations from starvation and disease.
These “war gardens” or “victory gardens” persisted following the war’s end during the social distancing that accompanied the global 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Americans, Canadians, British, and Australians kept their gardens growing right through the Great Depression and World War II. At one point, 20 million backyard, school, and community victory gardens provided more than 40% of the vegetables eaten in the United States.
The World War II revival of victory gardens, while expressing solidarity, sacrifice, and patriotism, was tinged with an overlay of racism as Americans gardened to replace the lost labor of the many Japanese farm workers who were forced into internment camps. But let’s remember that at its roots, and for decades of hardship, the concept of a victory garden was birthed to help feed a nation and then help it survive a pandemic.
The Current Threats to Our Food Supply
Many people are experiencing disruptions in our food supply chain now, seeing empty grocery store shelves, waiting in long lines to buy staples, and hearing daily stories of food hoarding. Those of us used to next-day Amazon delivery are now waiting weeks or even months for food deliveries — if they ever come. Food banks and pantries for the poor are experiencing long lines, and in some cases, have had to resort to rationing. So what’s causing these problems?
For one thing, a large segment of the food industry caters to institutions that have largely shut down for the time being: restaurants, schools, hotels and conference centers, stadiums, theme parks, airports, and cruise ships. Manufacturers can’t just repackage industrial-sized bags of rice and flour into consumer sizes overnight. And tragic amounts of fresh produce are rotting in fields and orchards because the system isn’t set up to transport fruits and vegetables to hungry consumers. Meat and dairy are particularly affected, partly because it’s harder to transport animal-based foods safely and partly because the slaughterhouses, dairies, and processing plants are, themselves, hotbeds of COVID-19. (Editorial aside: Now could be a great time to go plant-based, if you haven’t already made the leap.)
Border closures, grounded airlines, closed ports, and restrictions on movement have also made it harder to continue food production and transport goods internationally. And since much of the food sold in the US today originates from overseas, supply chain breakdowns create the potential for shortages of critical ingredients or components.
Political issues are exacerbating the crisis, too. As more front-line workers in the fast food and grocery industries are hospitalized with or die of the virus, others are going on strike and engaging in protests against the apparent disregard for human life shown by the policies of Walmart, Amazon, and other large retailers that remain in operation.
Given all these present threats, which have arisen on top of a food system that was already fragile due to unsustainable farming practices and rampant inequities (food service and agricultural workers weren’t exactly being treated like royalty, to begin with), it’s no wonder home gardening is making more and more sense.
10 Reasons to Start a Food Garden Today
Even if you aren’t struggling to get enough food to feed your family, there are still a bunch of good reasons to start a food garden.
The industrial agriculture system that provides most of our food is inherently unstable. In a few generations, we’ve depleted some of the richest topsoil deposits in the world. And we’ve resorted to using synthetic fertilizers and increasingly toxic pesticides and herbicides to maintain productivity. There’s no way this industrialized and chemical-dependent method of farming can continue to feed us long-term. By starting to grow your own food, you begin to assert control over your family’s food supply.
2. Sense of Purpose
I’ve seen a lot of “humorous” memes to the effect that the most patriotic thing we can do these days is stay home and binge-watch Netflix. While it’s true that social distancing saves lives, there are many things we can do that can make the world a better place. For one, we can plant and tend a garden to feed ourselves. If you’re not in the long line outside the supermarket, then the line is that much shorter for everyone else. Today’s food garden takes some of the pressure off an already teetering food system. And if that’s not patriotic, I don’t know what is.
3. Learn a New Skill
Gardening is a skill set — one that’s fun to learn and invaluable once you’ve gotten the hang of it. And I would argue that the ability to grow your own food is as fundamental to survival and well-being as reading, writing, and computer literacy.
4. Cleaner, Safer Food
Unless you’re buying only locally-grown, organic fruits and veggies, the produce that you get from the supermarket is often laden with pesticides, herbicides, and protective wax coverings. When you grow your own, you’re in charge of quality control. Growing a small food garden allows you to pick pests off by hand or use non-toxic pest management options. Therefore, you don’t need to rely on toxic sprays and powders to keep critters off your cauliflower. And since most “fresh” produce that you can find in the supermarket was harvested a week or two before you can buy it, the food that you grow yourself will be much fresher, with a higher nutrient profile.
5. Get More Fruits and Veggies in Your Diet
I’ve never seen a seed catalog selling Pop-Tart bushes and Snickers trees. Your food garden will naturally contain the healthiest foods on the planet: fruits, veggies, legumes, and roots. And what you grow, you’ll eat. Even picky eaters won’t be able to resist a ripe heirloom tomato or just-picked kale and cucumber salad that they harvested themselves.
About that delicious, funny-looking heirloom tomato: You will have a hard time finding that variety in your big supermarket. Most produce varieties aren’t bred for taste or nutrition. Instead, they were developed to withstand transcontinental shipping in 18-wheel freightliners. When you start a food garden, you have the opportunity to buy varieties that taste much better and are far more nutritious than the standard ones you’re used to. The only downside is that you have to eat them within a day or two of picking, which is not really a downside at all!
Global Public Service Announcement: If you’re doing OK financially, and looking for a worthwhile project to support, check out veganic gardener Will Bonsall’s Scatterseed Project. Will has been saving rare and heirloom seeds for over 40 years. And his collection contains the only known examples of certain varieties that may thrive under the pressure of climate change. As Will says, “Genetic diversity is the hedge between us and global famine.” The documentary Seed: The Untold Story features his work. Watch this segment of the film, and consider supporting Scatterseed to ensure that these infinitely valuable seeds survive.
6. Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease
The science is abundantly clear that the more whole plant foods you consume, the lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. This is a compelling reason to add more fruits and veggies to your diet at any time. But it’s even more urgent an argument during the coronavirus pandemic. Studies out of New York are showing the link between chronic disease and COVID-19 mortality. Eighty-nine percent of those who died from the virus had pre-existing chronic conditions. And obese people were twice as likely to die as those of normal weight. This is the perfect time to clean up your diet, reducing your intake of processed and animal-based foods, and upping your consumption of life-giving plants.
7. Reduce Your Grocery Bill
Like any new hobby, you can start gardening frugally, or you can buy every labor-saving device on the market. If you begin with just a few packets of seeds and a couple of bags of potting soil, you’ll recoup your investment through a reduced grocery bill within a few months. If you’re converting a lawn into a garden, you may not even need new soil. And if you haven’t been spraying herbicides on your grass, you may have nutrient-rich soil ready for your first round of crops without adding any amendments. An added bonus is if you can compost your kitchen scraps, saving money on fertilizer by creating a nutrient cycle from garden to kitchen, back to garden.
8. Avoid Virus-Contaminated Food
Many of us pick up a piece of fruit at the supermarket, feel it for freshness, and then put it back down if we aren’t satisfied. If you assume that we haven’t broken that habit completely, then it’s likely that some of the produce on our supermarket shelves could already be contaminated with SARS-CoV-2, and possibly other pathogens as well. Sure, you can take it home and wash it well, but think of all the surfaces it can touch, as well as where your hands will go before you can disinfect everything. The produce you grow in your garden will contain only the pathogens that you bring to them.
9. Get Outside
If you have a piece of land — even a small yard — then gardening gives you a reason to spend time outside. Even as we try to stay safe through social distancing, we also need sunshine, exercise, and fresh air to be well, physically and mentally. There are also significant health benefits to being in contact with soil. Getting dirty supports our immune system, and many of the compounds in soil can improve our mood and cognitive functioning. Some researchers have gone so far as to call the soil microbiome a “human antidepressant.”
10. Grow It Forward
In addition to growing a bounty of beautiful vegetables for yourself, consider sowing a few extra seeds to support your local food shelf. Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR) is sponsored by GardenComm to help connect local growers with agencies that serve the food insecure. No PAR committee in your community? No problem. Grow those plants, and then reach out to your local food pantry or soup kitchen to make plans to share from your harvest. If you grow an overabundance of anything, there’s no need for it to go to waste (or turn into compost) when it could feed hungry people instead.
How to Start Your Food Garden
If you’ve never gardened before, the most important thing is to avoid overwhelm. There are many guides out there to help you get started with minimal investment, effort, and confusion.
1. Use a Planting Calendar
First, check a planting calendar for information on what grows where you live. The United States Department of Agriculture has a Hardiness Zone Map that will tell you what “zone” you live in. The zones differ by first and last frost date, average high and low temperatures, and hours of sunlight, among other criteria. Once you know your zone, you can check seed packets for information about when to plant and harvest in that zone. You can also Google “[Your state or city] planting guide” or planting schedule. You’ll find excellent information from seed companies, local agriculture extension offices, and universities that will tell you what grows well in your region and how to plant, nourish, and harvest those crops.
Once you’ve done a bit of research, talk with your family members about what foods they’d like to grow and eat. You’ll get a lot more help and enthusiasm when you gear the garden to their goals and desires. Once you’ve got a plan, it’s time to decide how you’re going to garden prior to ordering seeds or seedlings, gardening supplies, and potting soil.
3. Prepare Your Garden
The most straightforward method is to remove grass with a hoe, rototiller, or (for much bigger areas) a small tractor. And then, work the underlying soil for tilth and nutrients, and start planting directly into the ground. You might also want to conduct a couple of simple soil tests for pH and nutrient content. Gardening stores sell test kits for a few dollars. And local agriculture extensions and county agencies often allow local farmers and gardeners to bring in soil samples for free testing (Although check with them first since social distancing may have shut down this service in your area). Once you’ve tested, you can determine what (if anything) you might need to add to your soil and what plants are most likely to thrive in your conditions
If you don’t have a yard suitable for cultivation, the easiest way to get started is with containers. You can use pretty much anything: large flower pots, milk crates lined with burlap, wicker baskets, and non-toxic grow bags can all serve. You’ll need drainage, so you’ll have to poke or drill holes in the buckets and plastic containers.
Containers are actually ideal in that you have total control over the soil. And you can position them for maximum sun and protection from wind. If they’re small enough, you can even move them around. Plants that thrive in containers include tomatoes, herbs, salad greens, beans, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers, and dark leafy greens.
If you have no outdoor space, you can garden indoors with containers. All you need is a decent light source. Garden centers will sell you specialized grow lights, often on timers, but they can be pricey. You might do almost as well with LED or fluorescent shop lights from a home improvement store. Wire shelving makes a great place to grow plants with the shop light attached to the shelf above. And if you have good outdoor lighting from windows, then you can let your plants photosynthesize the natural way — from the sun.
Straw Bale Gardening
If you have more space, but no good soil, consider straw bale gardening. You can turn a bale of straw (not hay, which contains seeds that will compete with your plantings) into a growth medium by watering the bale for 10 days or so, topping with potting soil and planting seeds right in the soil. As the straw breaks down, its nutrients become available for the growing plants.
The Sheet-Mulch Method
If you have a lawn that you’d like to convert quickly to vegetable production, consider the sheet-mulch method. This consists of putting down cardboard or some other organic material to block the growth of grass. And then, adding layers of mulch, compost, and topsoil on top of the former lawn. This works much better with established seedlings than sowing seeds directly into the mulch, so you’ll have to buy seedlings or start them indoors in trays.
Raised Bed Gardening
Another option is to create raised beds and fill them with high-quality growth medium. You can build the beds out of wood, or order raised bed kits online and put them together yourself. These tend to be more expensive since you’ll need to purchase enough soil and amendment to fill them to a depth of at least one to two feet, but you’ll be able to plant in them right away. Also, if your lawn contains pesticides, herbicides, and toxic building materials, raised beds can give your veggies a “fresh start” with clean, imported soil.
If you’re fortunate enough to have space for a greenhouse, you can garden pretty much year-round. You can add weeks to the start of the growing season by starting seedlings in the greenhouse well before you can plant them outdoors. And you can grow fall crops like lettuce and kale in the greenhouse even in cold, snowy winters.
Whatever route you take, try to reach out to local gardeners, who will be able to balance your book knowledge with practical experience growing in your area. And don’t forget the University of YouTube as a great “how-to” resource for developing your green thumbs!
Thanks Ocean Robbins - The Food Revolution May 2020