Homemade Apple Tea Recipe for Spring Season Blues

Photo by S. Hermann & F. Richter 

You may be thinking, “Why a hot tea recipe at the start of the spring season?”. Well, if you live in the Midwest like I do, you know that weather can be somewhat unpredictable. Temperatures fall and rise so sporadically, even meteorologists have a hard time keeping up. However, it can be rather pricey to constantly adjust one’s HVAC settings between heat and air conditioning from day-to-day. These frequent changes can be a challenge for our immunity and general health. This is where I insert a nice and versatile beverage to help keep me healthy, save my pockets and warm my spirit.

More on spirit, any concoction can be enhanced with the magic touch of intention. Just stir the tea in a clockwise motion while pondering on the holistic benefits of your ingredients as if they have already began working on you. A significant aspect of nutritional effectiveness is mental receptivity. Considering the nature of our mind-body connection, choosing a more positive outlook on potential outcomes may have beneficial results on overall health and, therefore, can only serve to assist any ingested nutrients.

Apple Tea has recently joined my repertoire for cold weather enjoyment. Here is my recipe along with a few reasons why:

Photo by Brittney S. Atkinson

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan

It’s easy to overlook water as being a just the base of a concoction but it’s so much more than that. Water is a transporter, the stage that gives the other ingredients space to play their part. Especially when heated, it’s the activator that moves the flavors out to be drinkable. It’s what hydrates us.

2 Apples

I used 2 small fiji apples, each cut into 4 equally-sized pieces. Add or reduce amount depending on how sweet (or apple-y) you’d like your tea to be. Apples are not only good for the immune system, they also contribute to heart health and may prevent other kinds of diseases. Spiritually, apples are considered a feminine herb ruled by the planet Venus and, therefore, can be used for intentions regarding love and healing. Apples also go by the folk name “Fruit of the Underworld” and are used as an offering for the dead, usually during the fall.

1 Tsp of Clove

A teaspoon is a rough guesstimate as I tend to go by feel of what I might like to taste at the moment I’m making. Clove is an Indonesian spice known to be high in antioxidants and even serve to help diabetics against insulin resistance. Spiritually, clove is considered a masculine herb ruled by the planet of luck, Jupiter. For this reason, it is often employed for matters of protection, love and money.

2-3 Cinnamon Sticks

This amount is also an approximation. Add as much as you think you might like to taste. Cinnamon is also a spice packed with antioxidants and can help lower blood sugar levels. Energetically, it is a masculine herb ruled by the sun with versatile use. It is considered to assist with tuning in to one’s Higher Self as well as matters of healing, protection, success and lust.

1 Anise Star

Anise has a distinct licorice flavor so not much is needed but, again, it’s entirely up to you. If you are not a fan of licorice, feel free to treat this ingredient as optional. However, studies on the effects of anise, when consumed regularly, may prove it to be uplifting to individuals living with depression. Another masculine herb ruled by Jupiter, anise is also known for protection and purification.

Place all items in the saucepan and bring back to a boil

Set your intentions here. Stand over it, look into it, or just carry out each action of making it with joy and mindfulness. This is the magical ingredient!

Turn off the heat and allow to steep

When the color of the water begins to change to a reddish-brown, you know you’ve got a decent brew going. This may take at least 10 minutes but can be left in longer for a fuller taste. Be mindful of how you’ve packed in each ingredient as this should be considered for steep length. This is also time to further set your intentions for your tea.

Reheat, sweeten and serve

By the time you’ve decided your tea has steeped long enough, it may have cooled down quit a bit. If it’s warm where you are (or, like my husband, you’d rather have cold tea in any case) and you’d prefer a cool drink, add honey or another sweetener of choice while hot and pour it over a glass of ice after it cools down. If you want it hot, you may need to reheat the tea in the pot before pouring it into your favorite mug. No matter what you choose, I recommend a small strainer or funnel to transfer the tea as smoothly as possible and adding an apple slice from your original brew for added flavor over drinking time.

Enjoy!

Traditional Chinese Medicine at a Glance

Thousands of years ago, Chinese medicine practitioners had enough insight to develop the understanding we could not simply be composed of flesh and bone alone. Instead, they regarded the human body as a microcosm of Universe and, therefore, the state of our overall health and well-being is subjected to same Universal laws with harmony and balance being the ultimate goal.

Like the macrocosm of existence, the body is capable of sustaining itself through the carrying out of various cycles and activities that operate in an interconnected flow, vitalized by what is referred to as “qi” or “chi”. This is the energy that flows through and connects all forms of life as the animating force that ignites us beyond pure mechanical functioning and bodily existence.

Over time, it came to be understood that this life force energy flows in specific patterns called channels of meridians, each making their way through certain body parts and organ systems. When these pathways are obstructed due to injury, illness or stress, we face associated physiological and psychological ailments. When blocked for long periods, these issues are considered chronic. It is believed that working through these blockages via “alternative” therapies and practices, such as acupuncture, herbalism, massage and yoga, can help the flow of our energy to run smoothly and bring us back into balance.

The concept of balance in Traditional Chinese Medicine stems from Taoism. This ancient philosophy is founded on the principle that the Universe operates in an inherent flow and in order for one to live a whole and effortless life, they must live in the Tao, or The Way. The Tao, however, is just as indescribable as the complexity of Universe itself and, therefore, is physical as well as non-physical – much like the mind-body. In each case exists dual complimentary forces visible throughout nature. These forces are called yin and yang. Yin describes more feminine qualities (cold, receptive, dark) whereas yang describes more masculine qualities (heat, forceful, light).

TCM also acknowledges that there are five fundamental elements of nature that interact with each other within the principle of yin and yang and categorize our organs, systems and structures. The elements are fire, wood, earth, water and metal. Fire represents our physical warmth , creativity and feelings such as passion and happiness; associated with the small intestines and heart organ. Wood represents our ability to regenerate and restore as well as feelings of anger or contentment; associated with the liver and gallbladder organs. Earth is regarded as the measure of our connected-ness and ability to receive and digest; associated with the stomach and spleen organ and feelings of compassion . Water represents stillness and the physical moisture necessary to lubricate our systems for proper functioning; associated with the kidneys and bladder organs and feelings of fear. Metal represents the minerals we produce and need for structure; associated with the lungs and large intestine (air element in Western culture).

In a generative (yin) cycle, Wood feeds Fire, Fire creates Earth, Earth bears Metal, Metal collects Water, and Water nourishes Wood. In a degenerative (yang) relationship, one element is being destroyed by another: Wood penetrates Earth, Earth absorbs Water, Water puts out Fire, Fire melts Metal, and Metal chops Wood.

It’s important not to perceive one process as good or bad as both construction and destruction serve the overall purpose of harmony in health and in nature. For instance, destruction is necessary in order for the food to be broken down for digestion and nourishment. Rather, it is best to avoid overwhelming extremes for excessive periods of time. Imbalance can be caused in the case of overproduction as well. For example, the overproduction of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is responsible for the condition known as Gigantism, a disorder of excessive growth during childhood that lead to a variety of other health issues.

In conclusion, TCM focuses on the maintenance of the flow of vital life force energy in the body, mind and in connection with all living beings. Surrender and accordance with natural cycles will allow for an effortless balance resulting in overall harmony and satisfaction. The approach is prevention of disease and disorder opposed to only treatment of symptoms. A complete path to wholeness.

Peace vs. Depression

I have battled depression and anxiety for quite some time and for the most part each day gets better and better. There are those moments that creep upon one who have experienced mental and emotional struggles before; sometimes we can stop it in its tracks and other times it hits us before we know it. Depression, in particular, is a tricky sensation. Unlike anxiety which characterized by obvious feelings of heightened overwhelm, depression mimics natural physiological occurrences such as fatigue, hunger, and/or boredom. Everyone experiences it differently and there are various triggers from poor nutrition and hormonal shifts to traumatic or transitional life events. Then, there’s the sensation of peace which is just as complex to the untrained mind which probably speaks to most of us in the Western world.

Having experienced both, the onset can be quite similar. Like depression, peace may look different from person to person and may even be misunderstood by people around us. Recently, I was facing an emotion I thought was negative somehow, although I knew it was not sadness nor anger. It was not joy as I could also describe myself as feeling detached; oddly careless of what my responsibilities were in that moment but without animosity. It took a mentor of mine – who happens to be Buddhist – to explain it to me best as I grasped for answers from anyone who could help me. He told me it was peace and when I told him I assumed peace to be more joyous, he said:

“Peace is peace. As such it is neutral. Still. Quiet. Otherwise it is joy. It is a myth that we need to be having euphoria to be at peace. Joy is not emptiness. It is biased. We like it better because it feels better, but it should never be considered sunyata. Notice how having no emotion can leave us with the sense that something is wrong. This is mental bias as well – that the only valuable state of mind is euphoric or happy. All states of mind are equally valuable including pain, maybe, especially pain. We have a tendency to be mentally lazy and only want to eat ice cream in our minds every day, but that is not inherently healthy. The ability to be with what is with no responsive emotion and yet full awareness is the highest state of mind.”

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I admit, it was a difficult concept to accept when just before someone suggested it was depression. I agreed to that notion as it was the closest I perceived to being right at the time but the truth is, it didn’t fully sit with me either. Then, I thought about my mentor’s comment for a couple of more days and finally it started to resonate. Indeed it was peace! Worldly things had little value to me in that moment of the present. All I cared about was being and not even my husband could fully have my attention. That may sound wrong, but from a spiritual and even natural standpoint, there are some happenings inside of us that are simply impossible to share. We must have them on our own just as our loved ones will have theirs without us.

Now, I still emphasize the importance of monitoring our well-being. However, I realize that I should not always assume a fault in my psychology when I lack joy. Not every moments requires feelings that we perceive as positive, nor is it realistic. Going forward, I will keep in mind that the foundation to having consistent well-being is to just be from time to time. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Namaste.

 

 

Creating a Yoga Flow: Recap Thru Week Nine

I am approaching week nine of my personal yoga flow journey. It turns out keeping up with posting is just as much of a challenge as keeping up with a daily flow practice. I also accidentally skipped an important transitional pose in Part Three of this series. So let’s recap.

Part One

I began with downward dog, child’s pose, and frog pose. These asanas get the blood flowing and awaken joints. It’s preparatory for more complicated asanas.

Part Two

From frog pose, I roll back onto my feet and sink into garland pose or malasana. This a grounding pose and that not only opens the hips but, with hand clasped at the chest, opens the heart for the practice.

Part Three

Next, I place my hands on the floor and push myself onto my feet for a forward fold. Sometimes my feet are close together or hip distance. These details are always important as your practice should reflect what feels right for you. The should have been the focus of my week three post.

Part Four

Once on my feet, I bend my knees into my armpits – or as close as possible – tighten my abs and firmly plant my hands into the mat/floor with spread fingers before me and lift my curled body into crow pose or bakasana. This pose is a test of balance, concentration and upper body strength.

Part Five

Next, I lower one leg to the ground and flexing the other hip and extending the leg straight back. Whichever side my foot is landed, I plant my fingers into the floor and twist my body and extended leg the opposite direction while the other fingertips reaches toward the ceiling . This is half moon or ardha chandrasana. Like most balance asanas, it tests focus. It also increases hip strength.

Part Six

I then lower the extend leg and arm to the floor, extend the planted leg back into the air behind me and push myself back into three-legged downward dog or eka pada adho mukha svanasana.

Part Seven

The foot of the extended leg then falls to the floor behind the body and takes on the support as the other leg straights and the arm on the side of the supporting leg raises overhead. This pose is called wild thing or camatkarana. This also engages the side body and helps with upper body flexibility. It is also helpful in reminding the Self how to let go and open up.

Part Eight

Continue to let the body fall back and plant both hands and feet onto the flow in wheel pose. This pose requires some back flexibility and upper body strength. It also requires trust in yourself for without it, strength is beside the point. Remember to breath!

Eight Nine

Lift on leg straight into the air as far as you can. Do not force this movement. Go slow. With repetition, the thigh and low ab muscles will strengthen as will your confidence.

Remember that your practice is your own and this will more than likely not play out the exact same way each time. Go with your gut and find your flow.

Happy flowing! Namaste.

Black Wellness History

So it is February 2018, Black History Month. Let’s talk about Black wellness. In my experience, wellness isn’t a common topic at dinner tables in the black community. In conversation with fellow Black healers, it is usual to have to face side-eye, an abrupt conversation change, or “Jesus will fix it” mantras when wellness does come up. It’s not that we never show concern for each other but it’s typical that we may only inquire on a surface level. As long as Uncle Bob is functioning well enough to attend work on the daily, we probably won’t worry too much. However, wellness is deeper than that isn’t it? Indeed, our history has much to do with this state of mind so I’ll touch on it.

Although some of the current history books have attempted to rewrite this fact, many of us who identify as Black or African American did not have ancestors who ventured to America by choice. They were often sold or stolen and brought over not only to live out their entire lives as working property but to also endure a great amount of dehumanizing torture and trauma. There is no such thing as “well-being” in these conditions and after hundreds of years, the circumstances left a huge and lasting imprint on the minds of the people which is where I believe wellness begins, the mind.

In spite of the work we still must do, it is my belief that Black people have managed to overcome such terrible ordeals because of our roots. Africans are a strong people whose varying cultures traditionally stem from family connection and spirituality. The lifestyles were bred from an ancient understanding of the feminine and masculine energetic balance. The physicians were shamans, witch doctors, etc., whose solutions for health integrated ideas of the spiritual and physical. They understood that all aspects of our being are connected, there is no separation of mind, body, and spirit. Luckily, some of these beliefs remained preserved among a few and is beginning to gain more popularity in the states.

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This resonates with me on a personal level because I am one of the many who have achieved a sense of wellness in my adulthood via the journey of reconnecting with my heritage. I do not know exact story of all my ancestors (although aware of my general Native American and African roots) but it is important to me that I study and dabble in the ancient practices of people from the past. I had the joy of knowing several of my great-grandparents and was very close to one of my great-grandmothers who nursed herself back into wellness after suffering from obesity. Creating in the kitchen with her and learning her natural remedies are experiences I forever cherish. They assist me still on my journey to a better life. Imagine the changes we can make for our collective future if we improved our own wellness, shared and lead by example for the up and coming generations?

Of course, educating ourselves on the what it means to be well and how to go about achieving this will be the first step for many of us. On a wide scale, wellness for people of my culture will need to be addressed from many levels and thanks to those who have already taken a stance, we are well on our way to better fitness, finance, nutrition and spirituality. May we all find our place in this endeavor. Namaste.

Creating a Yoga Flow: Part Three

Yoga has been a significant part of my self-improvement. As explained in my What “Yogi Life” Really Means post, it is more than just exercise. Each asana has revealed something to me about myself in multiple aspects.

This week, my Inner Self chose crow pose or bakasana as the next addition to my yoga sequence. I struggled so much when I attempted to conquer this pose for the very first time. I had what felt like zero strength to achieve it. Although I still would not say I’ve mastered it, I certainly see my growth over time as I can now hold it for roughly 10 seconds.

I do not practice this pose as much as I should and it has been noticeable in my yoga practice and my spiritual life. My upper body strength is something I’ve always wrestled with as is trusting myself entirely. This pose requires both upper body strength and a enough self-trust to shift my entire body weight onto my hands with my forehead hanging in a way that it could potentially catch a mishap. Given my more recent personal struggles (that I will not dive in to in this post), I say the Universe/Higher Self is trying to tell me something, eh?

Namaste!

 

Vegan Diet or No Vegan Diet?

I have tried many diets over the years in search of something that would put me on the right direction towards a healthy lifestyle. Going vegan was something I heard of for the first time over 10 years ago and I had absolutely no intention of participating. I was and am still a meat-lover, and considered the debate on whether veganism was even a reasonable lifestyle. However, I’ve just decided to go vegan/vegetarian recently and I have felt better in the last two weeks than I have a in a long time.

The argument between meat-eaters and vegans is on whether or not eating animal-based products is a healthy choice and/or a compassionate one. It is apparent that humans, like other meat-eaters on our shared planet, are built with the ability to digest meat products as we have for the last few thousand years or so. Meat tends to be packed with proteins necessary for our health and partaking in meat does not exactly equate to lack of compassion for other living beings. We are inevitably born into a food chain, the great Circle of Life in which all living beings rely on each other for food and other resources for survival. For this reason, I do not find it fair to judge anyone who eats meat as it is in our nature to do so; however, if we can find adequate nutrients in plants, shouldn’t we take that route instead?

This is, of course, the side of vegans and vegetarians who have made their choice for the purpose of compassion. This position should, also, not be shunned. I made the choice to become vegan/vegetarian because I finally listened to my body when I’d consume meat and dairy on a regular basis. My taste buds thanked me but my brain and my digestive system did not. I am now in the process of learning new and exciting ways to cook meals at home and to meal prep for work. I feel lighter, more energetic and aware of what my body actually needs opposed to what it is craving. My choice was also influenced by my spirituality and desire to be more compassionate towards animals. However, when I feel like the vegan diet may not be supplying me with enough (which could be due to the lack of knowledge of all my options), I may turn to a vegetarian dish to remain properly nourished. I am also willing to admit that if I had no reasonable alternatives in front of me, I would choose meat over deprivation for the sake of my health. There would be some hardcore vegans our there who would detest my flexibility but that’s why I took the time to make sure I had a handle on the “why” for making my choice.

Indeed, there is a right and a not-so-great way to carry out either decision. If one is a meat-eater and gives no thought to the life or lives given for the meal, there is something to be assessed. On the same token, if one is vegan just to keep up with the Jones’ and ridicules the meat-eater without regard to the individual’s personal journey, there is something to be assessed. There are also things to be aware of in either decision. The over-consumption of meat (especially red and/or low quality) can put any person at risk for a number of illnesses and disorders. Likewise, the vegan should be mindful of their intake of soy which should be limited and what ever nutrients what may require supplement due to their lack of animal product consumption. Whichever side anyone takes, it would do us all well to diminish or perhaps even abolish judgement on the other as we all have our “whys” and what is right for you may not be right for someone else. Namaste.