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.

Turmeric: The Golden Herb

Years ago I decided to make some changes to my health which included the use of various herbs in my diet. The earth providing such a wide variety of options for nutrients, I knew I would need to do some research. Book after book and article after article, I noticed that turmeric was almost always on the list, so I went for it. I experimented with it in food, homemade beverages and suggested it to anyone looking to start on their natural wellness journey. Before I knew it, I was having turmeric nearly daily for months when I noticed a few things:

  1. I do not get sick nearly as much as I used to. Every now and then I may experience a bit of “crud” but it is usually pretty slight and lasts for a short period of time, even during the flu seasons.
  2. Wounds heal faster. Between the paper-handling at work and playing with my puppy at home, I would inevitably end up with scratches, cuts and bruises. The scarring time has been significantly reduced and my skin, in general, is clearer and healthier.
  3. Weight management is easier. Drinking turmeric as a tea daily helps curve my appetite and support my digestive health.

So let’s talk about what makes this golden root so special …

Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties.

Although inflammation is necessary to protect the body from infection, scientists are now concerned that low-level chronic inflammation may be a huge factor in the majority of Western illnesses, including atherosclerosis, obesity, and even cancer. Turmeric contains compounds that actively blocks inflammation-causing molecules, preventing the onset or worsening of numerous chronic diseases.

Turmeric is an antioxidant.

Much of the fear of growing old is the seemingly inevitable deterioration our bodies face, from wrinkles to poor bone health. We can thank free radicals and their oxidative damage for these effects. However, turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and antioxidant enzyme promoter that neutralizes free radicals in the body.

Turmeric supports gut health.

Some of the aforementioned inflammatory diseases start with nutritional habits that cause stress on the digestive tract. The bioactive compounds in turmeric promote an overall healthy digestive system by not only reducing cholesterol but also relaxing the muscle walls of the intestine so it can it properly push food down. It can boost the secretion of stomach mucous to prevent acidic damage and helps prevents gas and bloating during digestion.

These are just some of the fantastic benefits of turmeric. No wonder it is one of the more popular medicinal herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is easy to use and has little to no side effects as long as not consumed excessively, much like anything else. However, it is recommended one always consult a doctor or nutritionist before changing diets, especially if there are any concerns about the side effects or possible allergies.

For those who have used turmeric, what is your favorite way to prepare it? What health benefits have you personally experienced? Please share in the comments.

4 Tips I Learned for Supporting Another Depressive

Approximately 14.8 million Americans suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. That’s nearly 7 percent of the U.S. population and it only takes into account those who have been officially diagnosed. This does not account for the seemingly functional adults who deal with depression regularly but manage it on their own nor the many unknowns who have no idea they should be seeking help. With these considerations, the likelihood is that if we do not experience clinical depression ourselves, we know someone who does. The most significant person in my life, my husband, is one of those people.

So am I.

As you can imagine, this set up has high potential for emotional explosions and implosions. Believe me, we have been through our share. Fortunately, we have been able to not just survive but thrive as a couple in many way because of our approach to each other struggle. We are not always successful in our execution but we have picked on some valuable tools along the way with one another one.

Here are are some tips to help each other deal with depression:

Give each other space to be depressed.

My husband and I have both learned this the hard way. I recall a time I would put too much pressure on myself to be the one who could keep my guy happy; if he were down, I felt it my job to cheer him up as quickly as possible. When I failed, my own sadness was triggered, putting pressure on him to support me. This, of course, made him feel like he had to mask his depression for my safety which only made his situation worse. On the flip side, my husband is sometimes a tough love kind of guy which didn’t always give me the space to be in my sadness. Needless to say, this didn’t work for us long-term.

When our loved ones are hurting, it is natural for us to want to run to their rescue. We want them to feel supported and let them know there is no reason to be upset on your watch. However, the reality is often that people need a chance to feel what they are feeling, even if it’s irrational, and even when they know they are supported by you.

Communication is key.

The emphasis on communication may sound cliche but that doesn’t make it less true. No matter how well you know your loved ones,  you cannot read their minds. Sure, we sometimes develop a knack for recognizing the predictability of their personality but so often do deep thoughts and feelings go unsaid and even completely hidden away. When suppressed long enough, seemingly explainable behavior patterns may develop as a result which can have negative consequences of their own. This requires not only for the us to listen better and be more attentive when our depressed beloved does speak or show signs but also for our us who are suffering to find the time and courage to speak with the opportunity presents itself.

Be patient. Give growth time.

Even when we have the tools to cope and comfort we will run into moments in which those tools seem useless. Some days, a good yoga session, healthy meal or comedy show may do the trick. Other days, it’s a good cry or a chance wallow in the sadness. You may even fell like depression is completely behind you in one moment, only to be faced with an abrupt emotional decline the next. It’s important to know that not everything works every time.

Use the tools in your joint wellness arsenal when you can but don’t feel all is lost if a method is not producing the same positive response. Tenacity and patience will help with bounce-back when motivation falls short; the more you practice the easier it gets later. Remember there is not reason to rush as life is a marathon, not a race. As long as you are moving, if even a little, you can and will be okay if you keep it up.

Lastly …

Do not create expectation out of comparison.

I’m totally guilty of having the thought, “If we could just do [insert activity] like [insert another person’s success story], we would be so much better off.”

Seeking hope from other stories of overcoming can be an inspiration and uplifting. All the same, it can be very damaging. We see it all the time in other scenarios, from weight loss to career building – especially on social media. So badly do we want the fairy tale ending of someone else’s story without having all the facts when the truth is there is no such thing as an ending. As long as someone is alive, they are going to experience hard times, what works for them may not work for you, and your story may not look like the illusion of their story. Comparing the process and progress of another to our own or someone we know and love creates further heaviness around the ebbs and flows of the other journey to be had.

Stay in your lane.

Namaste.

 

Using the Virgo New Moon Vibes for Wellness

It is likely you have already been experiencing effects of the onsetting new moon in Virgo this month. The zodiacal Virgo is typically represented by the image of a female virgin sometimes wearing or handling plant life. As one of the three earth signs, Virgo energy encourages us to embrace nature and to get in touch with our nurturing side. Virgo is ruled by the planet Mercury which is associated with how we communicate and relate to others. When harnessed successfully, Virgo energy also helps us become more mindful of how we take care of our mental and physical bodies.

Since new moons are an opportunity to make changes in our lives, it would serve us well to start building new habits to establish the life that each of us desires. Here are a few ways we can use utilize the new moon in Virgo energy for creating a healthy lifestyle:

1. BEGIN A FAST

As the Virgo zodiac corresponds with gut health and the digestive system, this would be a great time to begin a cleanse. Fasting has been scientifically proven to improve physical stamina and mental clarity. Spiritual leaders over history embarked on long meditative journies in which they limited their substance intake to strictly water, or even nothing at all. Of course, these are extreme. However, there are other cleansing diet options that are also beneficial to overall health; it’s all about what works best for you!

I have recently begun a fast myself in which I primarily consume fruits and vegetables in smoothie form. The intake of natural foods is in proper alignment with the current energy as Virgo corresponds with the earth element. I allow myself one solid meal a day along with one cup of tea or coffee and a light snack (usually a handful of almonds or celery with hummus). Just after one week, I have experienced a number of changes including more energy throughout my day, deeper meditation, and even some weight loss.

2. DE-CLUTTER

The virgin represents purity and simplicity. It is likely that all that may have accumulated with summer fun crossing over with “back-to-school” vibes, there could be some disorder and/or a sense of anxiety. This new moon may be urging you to clear out the things you no longer need in order to create space for the things you could use. Give away that 10-year-old blouse in the back of your closet that you never wear, scrapbook those photos using most of the space in your camera phone, file those receipts that you’ll need for tax session.

My husband and I purchased several pieces of art over the last few years that have been sitting around unframed until recently. I finally decided to put my foot down and find a place for them. Now that they are up, my home feels tidier and, virtually, more complete which brings me peace as I am a firm believer that my home space is a reflection of me.

3. PAY IT FORWARD

If you have considered participating in community service, now is a good time to roll up your sleeves! Get into that mindset of selflessness. This contribution can be something as huge as building a home in for those victimized by a natural disaster and feeding the homeless, or as small as treating your co-worker to lunch or giving your spouse a foot rub at the end of a long day. Like the virgin, give the best parts of yourself without expecting anything in return. Whether or not you believe in karma, you may notice it pay off for you in one way or another, be it someone returning the favor or simply a boost in how you feel about yourself. Helping others does well for your mental health!

Have you noticed some changes in your thoughts and feelings with this new moon energy? What are some ways you are using it to better yourself? Share in the comments below! Namaste.

 

What “Yogi Life” Really Means

Yoga is all the rave these days. You probably have friends on social media striking poses with foreign names and calling themselves living the yogi life. Maybe, you’re one of them. However, do you really know what it means to be a yogi? If you think it only requires you to be athletic, limber and to give up meat most of the time, the answer is more than likely “no”. Yoga is much more than a fun way to get fit, it is truly a lifestyle.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, a sage by the name of Patanjali compiled a group of verses known as the Yoga Sutra. These verses became the foundation for true yoga practice. The text contains the guidelines of the Eightfold Path or ashtanga which literally translates to “eight limbs” in English. Each limb is a piece of wisdom aimed at developing one’s mental capacity and physical ability with the goal of achieving spiritual oneness. These limbs are 1. Yama, 2. Niyama, 3. Asana, 4. Pranayama, 5. Pratyahara, 6. Dharana, 7. Dhyana, and 8. Samadhi. Each limb is distinct in its purpose but collectively prepares the practitioner to reach one end goal.

Yama, the first limb, is summed up best with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you want done unto you. It is about how we move in the world and how we treat the other living beings around us. Yama is composed of five distinct parts with more specific guidelines regarding non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-covetousness. The second limb, Niyama, is about self-discipline and spiritual practices. It establishes the importance of meditation and is also split into five small principles regarding cleanliness, contentment, spiritual austerity, the study of sacred scripture and surrendering to God.

The third limb, asana, is the most popular part of the yoga practice. Asana is Sanskrit for pose or posture and is about more than just one’s physical ability and agility. The practice of asanas is to build concentration and consistency necessary for following the other limbs and eventually achieving advanced levels of meditation. The fourth limb, Pranayama, which translates to life force extension is about the breath. It emphasizes the importance of breath in meditation and how it connects the mind, body, and spirit. Some even believe that breath mastery could truly extend the days of one’s life.

Pratyahara, the fifth limb, is another common practice among people of faith although under a different name. Followers of Abrahamic religions often refer to it as fasting. This is the limb that challenges us to give up external distractions and habits that do not necessarily serve us, for example, unhealthy foods or excessive television. Pratyahara directly prepares us for limb six which is Dharana or concentration. With the absence of external distractions, one can better notice the internal distractions and prepare to eliminate them. This is done in the immersion of silence to perfecting the ability to focus on a single point for an extended period of time which is also necessary for meditation.

The seventh limb is all about reaching full awareness with a still mind. This is deep meditation and called Dhyana. It is distinct from the sixth limb, Dharana, which is about focusing on one particular point where as Dhyana is about focusing on everything simultaneously with great clarity and calm. This is considered a very high level of consciousness and very difficult to achieve but certainly possible. Even more complicated to achieve is samadhi, the eighth and final limb. At this level, the yogi is able to meditate with high consciousness in such a way that she becomes one with all things, even the Universe itself. A remarkable sense of peace is attained and the practitioner transcends what we understand as the physical world.

As you can see, of the eight limbs, only one is dedicated to the strength and flexibility of the body. If you are overlooking the remaining 7 limbs, chances are you are merely exercising and not practicing yoga as each pose or movement should be accompanied by an inward purpose or lesson. Let this not discourage you as yoga is for absolutely everyone. If anything, this should encourage anyone who has begun the physical aspect of the practice and those considering it. Acknowledging and implementing all the pieces of a yoga practice will only enhance not just the physical body but the spiritual being. Namaste.

Warming Up for Yoga Practice

Ever since I began posting my yoga journey on Instagram, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to start a practice. I usually suggest joining an online challenge or looking up YouTube videos of guided routines. There is also the option of going out on a limb and joining a class. I engaged in a combo of all three of these avenues as a beginner and found them helpful in various ways. However, after reviewing my own advice (and my practice), there was one thing that I had a tendency to fall short on: warming up. The downside of online guides and even some studio classes is that the warm-up is often skipped or significantly shortened, especially for beginners.

My yoga journey began in 2013 with a Kathryn Budig tutorial video for building upper body strength. As the video addressed something quite specific, there was no warm-up portion. For quite a while, I went through the struggle of often beginning my practice with a rough start which led to me cutting sessions short. It wasn’t until I spanned out and dug deeper into the World Wide Web that I found out more about yoga and how to begin a full practice. Finally, I stumbled across a few yoga flow tutorials that began with a warm-up and finally the light bulb went off for me. I realized that not only had I not been properly warming up my body but also neglecting the mental and spiritual aspect of the practice.

For me, yoga started as a means to get moving. I was eager to lose weight and get in shape in a new and exciting way. As time went on, it became more and more difficult to maintain my practice. Yoga began to lose its luster and movements I had done over and over were not getting any easier. Once I learned to engage my mind and my spiritual sense of self, yoga became a totally different experience overall. I began to see physical results but more importantly, I began to evolve into a better person entirely.

If you have never practiced yoga but interested in giving it a try, here are a few tips for warming up before you start:

Prepare Your Energy

Albert Einstein helped us out tremendously when he developed the formula that explains how everything is energy; this includes our moods. It’s likely that if you’re weighted down by stress or other forms of negativity, starting and maintaining your practice will be a challenge whether you’re an expert or novice. A great way to replenish your joy-joy feelings (as I like to call them) are energy exercises.

Donna Eden, a pioneer in the field of energy medicine, is well-known in the holistic health community for helping people understand the body’s energy system. She has developed energy exercise routines that help stimulate energy flow, perfect for beginning a yoga session.

Prepare Your Mind

Getting in the right state of mind for a practice is very important. Even if our energy is in the right place, if our minds are focused on something other than the present moment, it can be more of a challenge to execute poses and flows. A great way to calm the mind is with meditation.

Ashtanga, a yoga style commonly practiced in the U.S. and my primary practice, is a part of a philosophy that consists of 8 Limbs; asanas or poses being the third of these limbs. The second limb, Niyama, addresses how to develop self-discipline and spiritual observances with the use of meditation. I find it important to emphasize that this part of the practice is prioritized over the physical aspect of yoga and seemingly too often overlooked by many beginners. Here is a guided meditation I find helpful.

Prepare Your Body

There are several ways to approach a physical warm-up for a yoga session. A Sun Salutation is great for beginners and experts alike, consisting of specific yoga engagements that introduce your body to the type of movement you will be building up to. Some go for walks to help increase blood circulation or perform repetitions of joint loosening exercises. On days I feel my absolute best, I tend to do light and fun dancing to my music of choice. As your practice develops, you will find what works for you on which days.

Yoga is a personal journey so first and foremost, go at your own pace and find your own style. Study the 8 Limbs and apply them to your own life accordingly. You’ll find that it will add quality to your practice, warm-up included, and your practice will build to take shape unique to your personality. Good luck on your journey! Namaste.