Archive for the ‘health’ Category

how can we improve the air quality of our cities?

September 28, 2009

Find out on my new post on Aribra.com!

big cities: exhausting and exhilarating

In the big city, on any given day, anything seems possible. Millions of thinkers, dreamers, and doers exchange ideas, creative sparks, and currency. There are plenty of reasons to be a city dweller – more jobs, much inspiration, more opportunities to help people who need it. But there’s one big drawback to city dwelling, especially New York City dwelling: dismally poor air quality.

Some might argue we just can’t help it. In a city of millions where almost all of our goods are trucked in and 12,000 tons of residential trash is trucked out every day, how could we fight the beast of diesel exhaust? When coal-burning power plants in the MidWest are emitting mercury and other harmful pollutants that drift our way with the air currents, what are we supposed to do to stop that?

Keep reading…

digital diet digest

August 11, 2009


Aaaah, that felt good. Six straight days of no internet and no email. The best diet I’ve ever been on (well, perhaps the only one).

I get so tangled up in the web these days – emailing, facebooking, tweeting, googling, blogging – it’s easy to forget what life is like without these technological time suckers. I recommend everyone take a week or so away from their computers, turn off the mail function on your Crackberry or iPhone and really just live like we used to – sans digital extensions of our bodies.

Here’s a little rundown of how I spent my week computer-free.

preparation
To prepare I contacted anyone I had set appointments with for the week and made sure they had my phone number. I set up autoresponse on my email to let everyone know where the heck I was all week. I tweeted and posted to facebook (and this blog) my intentions. I cleared out my inbox so as not to completely overwhelm myself upon my return to the ‘puter. I also looked up any addresses I might need for the week so as not to put myself in a spot where I’d have to hop online for any reason.

ditching digital detritus
Apropos to the diet, on Monday I took a friend to an ewaste recycling center in Brooklyn, so that she could recycle her old computers, a VCR, and some other random electronic waste. I had a few batteries, orphaned remote controls, and wires to return as well. Feels good to get that clutter out of the home and into the hands of someone who will use it, rather than just tossing it into the landfill.

reading & writing (not much ‘rithmetic)
Like a step back in time, I reached for my low-tech informational recording implements – books, paper, pens. Oh, old friends, how could I have neglected you for so long? I had forgotten how much I enjoyed writing long hand in a journal, letting thoughts flow through ink. It’s such a different thought process than typing, where you could easily edit yourself by just deleting what you’ve typed. There’s more time to stop, reflect, look around. And there’s also something more personal about seeing my own handwriting for pages on end, recording my thoughts as they come, making little starred notations on things I want to remember, and being able to physically page through to see what I had written the day before. No keyboard, no screen, no clicking, no virtual folders to search through, no software applications to open.

I’ve got a big ol’ pile of books collecting on my coffee table – mainly around the subject of permaculture, as I’m studying for my permaculture design certificate. It was great to not be tempted by email & all of its cohorts so that I could focus on reading.

raspberry picking in the park
On Monday afternoon I headed into the park to check in on some raspberry bushes I came across a few weeks ago. Some of the berries were ripe, some rotten, and still others had a ways to go. There wasn’t much of a harvest, but I had fun nonetheless. Listening to bird calls, the trickling of water on the waterfall trail in Prospect Park, observing sunlight filtering through foliage. And observing patterns in nature. I noticed that in many places where the raspberries grow, so does poison ivy. Luckily, so does its antidote, jewelweed (if you know what to look for!)

Leaves of three, let it be!


My meager berry harvest

I was hoping to have enough berries to can, but alas, it wasn’t so. But we did stock up on peaches to can and we did this on Tuesday night. A messy affair, but a fun process. My favorite part was peeling. An easy way to peel peaches is to throw them in boiling water for about 60 seconds then put them in a cold lemon bath (to prevent further cooking and browning). The skins come right off.

more natural observations
I think my less used senses were heightened during this week. While in the park, I heard a hawk before seeing it land in a tree. On Houston Street near 6th Ave I was surprised by a bird call not too common in those parts. I looked up and saw a cardinal. On both occasions, I looked around a few times to see if anyone else noticed these creatures. And on both occasions not one head was tilted up in its direction.

In Prospect Park, I closed my eyes and listened. I did an inventory of every sound. Lawnmower grumbling, children shrieking, cicadas chirping, sneakers hitting the path, a beagle baying, picnickers chatting, tires humming and construction equipment slamming on the road outside of the park, the wind blowing against my ear. I felt the damp earth beneath me. The twigs and grass I was sitting on, the tiny insects crawling on my legs, the warm sun on my feet, the gentle breeze on my skin. I smelled only fresh cut grass. I think I could taste it, too.


On Sunday, we stumbled upon this huge green (squishy) caterpillar


Turns out he’s a polyphemus moth caterpillar, according to these two park rangers


Prospect Park swan & signets, ducks, and migrating geese

enjoying every bite
Another benefit to staying away from the computer, an often attention-deficit-inducing place, I was able to focus on something as simple as mindful eating. Breathing, chewing slowly, noticing flavors, appreciating where the food came from and how it was benefiting my body. All great things I should do whether or not I’ve been typing the day away or not.


First heirloom tomato sandwich of the season!

On Saturday, on lunch break from permaculture class, I went with a friend to this great raw food joint, SproutCraft. We had the most amazing squash blossoms stuffed with almond mozzarella cheese. I didn’t even know you could make mozzarella with almonds (though I make my own almond milk, and that I only figured out a few months ago). I found this recipe for making almond cheese, but not sure if it’ll come out as mozzarella.


Delicious stuffed squash blossoms at SproutCraft

being the sloth
Usually when I’m walking about in the city, it’s to get somewhere. In those cases, I tend to walk quickly, passing people in front of me, getting impatient when someone is blocking the way, etc. But this week, I didn’t care to go fast. I took my time getting places, not really even thinking about getting anywhere, more enjoying the walk itself. I had heard that sloths have highly developed brains because they move so slowly, carefully calculating each movement – not a bad creature to emulate.


He’s real & alive! My friend Amy took this during her class at the Bronx Zoo

up on the roof
On two occasions I found myself up on the roof, overlooking the tetris-like vista that is NYC. The first was at GreenSpaces, a shared office space in downtown Brooklyn. A friend works in the building and told me about the happy hours they have on Fridays. So I tagged along and enjoyed a few glasses up on their roof.

GreenSpaces veggie garden


Living art in background, edible art in foreground

The second time was during class (ssshhh don’t tell the building manager!). We went to the silvery, bare roof to imagine what was possible from a permaculture design perspective. Veggie gardens, rainwater gravity fed showers, noise barriers to block the constant hum of air conditioners. We all had a different vision, creating possibilities on a blank slate. With a multitude of underutilized roofs in the city, so many opportunities to create abundant landscapes exist.


The view from our ‘classroom’ roof

carfree saturday
I rode my bike to class on Saturday and was pleasantly surprised to turn onto Lafayette Street to find no cars (!), only a highway of bicycles and joggers. Imagine if there were streets designated just for pedestrians and bikers? What a healthier, happier, less stressed out city we would have.

Car-free & carefree

now what?
On Sunday, I returned to the technologically driven world to an inbox of over 750 messages. Forcing this deluge of information was partly intentional. I wanted to get a sense of how much information I actually process every week and how I could cut back on it. By having a culmination of a week’s worth of emails, I was able to determine which newsletters I could unsubscribe from, and which information I could actively seek instead of passively receive. I took myself off of all non-essential email lists and instead signed up for RSS feeds in Google Reader. This way I can control my exposure to information more easily. Email is a great communication tool, but it generally takes up too much time. My goal is to strictly limit time spent on email, ultimately getting it down to about 30 minutes a day.

I also laid out a basic structure of how I want to spend my days, giving time to activities like reading (offline), creating (crafts & such), and exploring. I think these are vital to keeping oneself sane, happy, and full of creative energy. Of course I’ll still be blogging, tweeting, and emailing, but I’ll be sure to make time for all of the other great things happening in the world around me.

How do you find balance in this tech-driven world?

the digital diet: an experiment

July 31, 2009

When I go on vacation, I don’t check emails, I don’t go online, I barely even answer the phone. On these tech-free holidays I am able to focus, enjoy myself, relax. So I’m going to try a little experiment next week. From Monday to Friday I will not be posting anything. I will not check email. I will not go on Facebook or Twitter.

I love the computer and the internet and the way it connects people in new and interesting ways. But I want to see what it’s like to go through my regular day at home, and while working, completely disconnected from the digital realm.

I will read more. Write by hand more. Interact with people more. Breathe more.

If I need information I will ask someone for it instead of Googling it (what a concept!).

What will my days look like? Stay tuned, for the week after next (week of the 10th) I will report back about the experience… or will I? :)

Love you all and see you on the 10th…

oooh that smell!

July 29, 2009


[Image: Lexington, Mass. Town website]

Have you ever walked into an elevator, a subway car, or any other crowded confined space and been smacked in the face by a toxic cologne cloud?

There are times when this overpowering scent actually makes its way up into my nasal passages, down my throat, and onto my tongue. Excuse me, Stinky, I already had breakfast, I don’t want to taste your perfume bath!

I lovingly call these offenders Personal Air Polluters (PAPs). To be fair, I’ll assume they’ve dulled their precious olfactory senses so much that they’ve become “smell blind,” and as such just keep adding more and more fragrance as a result of their nasal numbness. After all, our senses can become dulled when they’re overexposed to stimuli.

So-called “good” scents like certain beauty products and cleaning solutions set off an alarm in my brain: Danger! Danger! Step away from that stink! And for good reason, these fragrances are actually bad for us.

Whether it’s the noxious fumes of cologne or perfume, the petrochemical laundry detergent emanating from clothes, or the synthetic fragrance wafting from just-shampooed hair – the deluge of synthetic fragrances in this world culminates in a harmful chemical cocktail.

get the stink out: antidotes to air pollution
Once I eliminated the culprits in my own home, I became acutely aware of these terrible odors. Here are some simple switches to help reduce your exposure to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) causing the toxic stench.

beauty regimen

  • Read labels. Avoid products containing phthalates, benzyl acetate, hydroquinone, formaldehyde, or the catch-all term “fragrance” (also: parfum). These products have been associated with neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and cancer
  • Look out for other ingredients that may induce similar health implications (eg, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and immunotoxicity) – read more
  • Some of my favorite brands:
    - Suki
    - Kiss My Face (Obsessively Organic line)
    - John Masters Organics
    - Dr. Bronner’s
    - Simply Divine Botanicals

cleaning solutions

air fresheners

laundry & dry cleaning

  • For laundry: Switch to a less toxic alternative such as Ecos or Seventh Generation. Or try a laundry ball like this one from True Green (I tested it on my sweaty yoga towels – it really works!)
  • For softening: Skip the fabric softener and use 1/8 cup vinegar in the wash. The vinegar smell does not stick around, I swear
  • For scent: Add a few drops of essential oil to the wash. I use Tea Tree Oil or Eucalyptus – so fresh and so clean! (and also antibacterial)
  • For dry cleaning: Opt for handwash with a product like The Laundress or visit a dry cleaner using CO2 such as Green Apple Cleaners

paint & furnishings

  • No or low-VOC paints like Mythic offer high-quality coverage without the noxious fumes. Or try American Clay, a wall covering that adds beautiful texture while actually filtering the air
  • Check for formaldehyde and other off-gassing VOCs in furniture & carpeting. Stick with natural floor coverings made from wool or seagrass. Check the Sustainable Furnishings Council for brands that don’t emit VOCs

Aah, now let’s all take a breath of fresh air!

simplify, simplify

July 23, 2009

My mantra for the year. I’ve been decluttering, refocusing, letting go of bad habits and saying hello to new (good) ones. Part of living in a sustainable way is making sure the ol’ noggin’ can sustain all that’s thrown at it as well.

And who do I have to thank? Well, yours truly, of course. But I couldn’t have done it without my loved ones, and a few dear strangers that I know mostly through books and blogs. Here’s a list of those who get me through the day in one piece:

Thich Nhat Hanh

It doesn’t matter which book you start with, all of this Vietnamese Buddhist monk’s writings are simply stated and sure to calm the mind and spirit. Not one iota of religious dogma. I’m psyched to be hearing him speak at the Beacon Theatre this October.

Patanjali & Sri Swami Satchidananda

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – this is what yoga is all about. I read a sutra or two before I go to sleep at night.

Gail Blanke

I was skeptical of this one, especially since the title is telling me to ‘throw out’ things. I don’t take kindly to that sort of message. But inside this little gem are some practical (and somewhat ecological) tips on letting go of the stuff that clutters your physical and mental space. Right on, Gail.

Elephant Journal

I can’t quite remember how I stumbled upon the elephant, but I’m ever-so-glad I did. I caught them just as they were shutting down print ops to launch their all-online version. I knew as soon as I opened the first page and saw what kind of ads they were running (yoga, healthy food, eco stuff) it was my kind of magazine. Here’s a little story: I was in a cafe in Sydney, Australia last year, reading one of the ol’ paper & ink issues of the mag and a young lady (another American) sitting at the table next to me asked where I got it. I told her I subscribed. She told me she contributed, and was just so surprised to see someone in Oz reading the humble magazine from Boulder, Colorado. Small world.

Bikram

I’m not really talking about the man, here, more about the method. Not sure how I feel about all of his principles (the proprietary ones), but this 90-minute, hot & sweaty, 26-posture “open-eyed moving meditation” has sure gotten me through some tough days. I’d say it’s at least 95% mental, and it ain’t so bad for the bod, either.

Think Simple Now

Through a sparse and thoughtfully written blog, Tina Su, et al, help others do just as the title suggests: Think Simple – Now. I used to be skeptical of self-help stuff like this, but some little voice started telling me that it can actually help to be open-minded and take a serving of helpful advice once in awhile. It’s good to listen to those little voices sometimes.

Zen Habits

Nope, this isn’t a blog about monk’s robes. It’s another well-thought-out and simply stated blog that reminds me to keep it simple, and do it with a smile.

Lots of Tweeters
Twitter can be a distraction, but it’s also been an amazing resource for connecting with some new friends and like-minded individuals. Here are a few (off the top of my head) who remind me to simplify:
@HappyLotus
@unitedyogis
@thedeeperwell

And here are a couple of tools that don’t hurt:

My zafu & zabuton (meditation cushions)

Made in Vermont by Samadhi Cushions

Meditation candles

100% Beeswax & essential oils by Big Dipper Wax Works

Who keeps you sane?

is the gowanus canal really sponge worthy?

July 22, 2009


The Gowanus Canal Issues, dlandstudio

Most New Yorkers, especially Brooklynites, know the beloved Gowanus Canal is teeming with nasty things: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), petroleum, raw sewage, and even gonorrhea. Since the late 1800s, the canal has been an unregulated dumping grounds for industry along its banks.

The canal is finally getting the attention it needs. Whether it ends up being an EPA Superfund site, or – if Bloomie get’s his way – the city cleans it up without the Feds, there is one organization ensuring the clean up and beautification happens – The Gowanus Canal Conservancy.

The Conservancy is working on, among other things, a Sponge Park that will make the Gowanus an inviting place for a leisurely stroll or sit, instead of the putrid, toxified wasteland it currently is. The “sponge” in this case are plants that filter out the nasties (sewage, heavy metals, petrol) that seep into the canal – water which eventually flushes out into the East River and the Atlantic beyond. A tall order indeed, but I’m optimistic that it’ll happen. All government agencies are on board and $300,000 was recently earmarked to help fund the park.

You can help out by donating or by volunteering for on one of their Clean & Green days. There’s one this Saturday, July 25. Sign up via email:
volunteer@gowanuscanalconservancy.org
(include your name, phone number and dates you’d like to participate).

no hunger

July 13, 2009

As someone who eats on a very regular basis, never in want of food, I cannot fathom what it is like to wonder where my next meal is coming from. When I am hungry, I go to the cupboard or refrigerator, where there is always food stocked from the farmers market or grocery store. I am fortunate to be able to rely on produce that comes from local farms, and have the luxury to buy fresh food that comes from other places in this country, like California.

I recently read a post on elephant journal of a woman who, after returning to the US from a long sojourn in India, visited a supermarket. She literally wept at the bounty around her. We should all be so fortunate to realize the abundance we have.

For millions of children around the world, there is no bounty. There is no corner store, no fruit stand, no supermarket. There is only hunger.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently reported that there are now over 1 billion people worldwide going hungry. Acute malnutrition affects 55 million children globally, resulting in 5 million childhood deaths every year (one child every six seconds). This is a predictable and preventable condition.

No Hunger is an international initiative, started by Action Against Hunger, asking Al Gore to make his next film about global hunger. The website AskAlGore.org features a trailer for No Hunger, and a petition addressed to the former Vice President that will be presented to him this December at the COP15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

The hope is that, as An Inconvenient Truth did for climate change, No Hunger will help shift public perceptions of hunger, and attract the support needed to reach every acutely malnourished child.

The treatment for severe acute malnutrition is not expensive—it costs about $50 per child and doesn’t require prescription drugs. Instead, it relies on nutrient dense, ready-to-use food products. These products can take a child from the brink of death and restore him to health in as little as six weeks.

In response to a desperate situation, ready-to-use plumpy’nut provides emergency nutrition to starving children.

kripalu center for yoga & health

July 6, 2009


The beautiful grounds of Kripalu

Want to improve your health, get centered, cultivate peace in your life, and enjoy the company of the friendliest strangers you’ll ever meet? Sounds like a tall order, but that’s exactly what’s offered at Kripalu center for yoga and health in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

I got back from there last Wednesday and I’m still totally blissed out.

Before I planned my trip, I perused the catalog for all of their program offerings. I think I circled a workshop on every page, from meditation intensives to yoga for my aching wrists and shoulders. So many programs appealed to me. In the end, I chose to do a simple Retreat and Renewal (R&R) package, a go-at-your-own-pace set up.

My friend Jane and I drove up on Sunday and jumped right in with a massage (not included in the R&R package). After that, we had a delicious dinner – all the food at Kripalu is organic and local whenever possible. The rest of the time was filled with yoga classes, hikes, leisurely walks on the grounds, and more amazing meals – all part of R&R (as were the accommodations).


Monk’s pond, a popular stop on morning hikes

It’s a trip I won’t soon forget. Mindful meditation and slow-paced days will do that to you.

But one of the most memorable happenings had more to do with the local fauna than the local positive vibrations. After dinner one night, Jane and I wandered the grounds and settled on some old steps on a hill, remnants of the old estate which used to preside there. Out of the corner of my eye, a big fuzzy black thing ambled down the hill less than 50 feet away. I grabbed Jane’s arm. She took one look at the shock on my face and turned to face the animal. We both sat stiller than trees on a windless day. The black bear stopped, feeling our fear. She sniffed at the air in our direction. No muscle twitched, no eyelash batted. She turned to face the wooded area at the base of the hill. We waited a couple of beats before rising to go while “Mama Bear” crunched and crackled the branches in the woods.

Everyone in our path on the return to the building was subjected to our story. The security guard on duty told us he’s seen Mama Bear a bunch of times (he’s the one who calls her that), noting that she was a pretty big lady. We heartily agreed.


Jane re-enacting the bear’s path

Aside from the excitement provided by the bear, I enjoyed the beauty of smaller fauna (birds, bees, dragonflies, butterflies) and flora (sweet-smeling wildflowers, the fresh aroma of pine) on nature hikes or while doing walking meditation in the labyrinth.

I definitely see a return trip in my future.

r and r

June 26, 2009


Even when life is seemingly sailing along smoothly, it helps to take a break to quiet the mind and relax the body.

Some benefits of R&R are obvious: increased sense of calm, reduced muscle tension, overall sense of well-being. But there are other forces at work when we take time to chill out. So step away from the email, facebook, Twitter, and cell phone. Truly disconnect to reconnect with yourself and experience bliss from one of these activities:

massage
Some may think of massage as a luxury, but massage has several health benefits that warrant making it a regular part of your health regimen.

  • Pain relief – not just in the area that’s worked on, but throughout the body
  • Immunity boost – through decreases in stress hormones responsible for illness
  • Blood pressure drop – a boon for people with hypertension

[via Newsweek]

Learn about 10 of the most popular types of massage

Find an eco spa near you:

Tip: Save money by visiting a massage therapy school where sessions with students are offered at a discount

meditation
There are many great benefits of regular meditation practice, including:

  • Increased concentration
  • Reduced stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Improved memory and mental clarity
  • Greater awareness

Find a meditation center near you:

yoga
Hatha yoga, the physical branch of yoga, has many physical and mental benefits. Try yoga for:

  • Greater flexibility
  • Increased strength and muscle tone
  • Improved posture
  • Greater sense of calm
  • Improved concentration and mood
  • Beneficial effects on health condition like asthma, hypertension, pain
  • Increased energy

[via WebMD]

There are several types of hatha yoga, from energetic vinyasa flow to hot and sweaty Bikram. Find your style of yoga and a studio near you:

I’m going to follow my own advice, take some time off from the computer and head on a yoga retreat myself. See you all next Wednesday!

clean up indoor air pollution

June 22, 2009

The air inside our homes and businesses is often more toxic than the air outside, even in big air-polluted cities like LA and NYC. This is due to several factors, including off-gassing chemicals in furniture, toxins in cleaning products, and artificial fragrances and other chemicals in our beauty care regimens.

In spite of this barrage of airborne toxins, there is an amazingly simple way to clean up the air while increasing the amount of oxygen we breathe. Learn about three common house plants that work wonders on air quality from Kamal Meattle in the video below:

Grow your own fresh air with one (or all) of these plants:


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