Tuesday, 7 May 2013

is meditation practise for a happier me?

Always considering the question of 'who am I, really?', meditation is increasingly revelled in as a form of escapism. For many, the challenge is where to start and what truly constitutes effective practise. There are many different approaches, though seeking out a quiet place to comfortable seat one's bottom to devote a moment to switching off, and creating even a modicum of inner space is a fairly good place to start. 

'Soften inner dialogue, slow it down, and gently try to catch those thoughts that sneak back in under the radar. Be mindful and simply witness. And above all - let whatever happens be OK.' 

This is the general guideline that I have divulged from years of questioning people, as well as the benefits of devoting those precious minutes of the day that would otherwise be spent on skates, as a wife and mama, third year student of parenting, part-time editor, culinary try-hard, chauffeur, washer-woman and dish-pig. 

If the effects of meditation were to enable me to more calmly achieve all that I expect of myself daily, while mastering a delightful disposition all the while, then it has my full attention.

Research has so far enlightened me thus -
Nerve cells in our brain generate electrical impulses that are constantly fluctuating as we go about life. These rhythmic fluctuations are called brain wave patterns, which are closely correlated with thoughts, emotions and our state of being. Four categories of brain waves exist: Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta. Beta is the most rapid and the pattern of normal waking consciousness, allowing us concentration, cognition and alertness. It may questionably be our friend in fight or flight mode but is undoubtedly our foe in causing anxiety, unease and feelings of separation. Alpha is associated with pre-sleep, pre-waking drowsiness and the magic word.. meditation. We know Theta as dreaming sleep, and Delta as deep, dreamless sleep. 

If we are able to slow our brain wave patterns to Alpha and free ourselves from our daily Beta thrash mode, we benefit from projecting our tired and over-worked souls into a happy realm of relaxation, coupled with a bonus treat of increased serotonin levels bouncing around inside us, which work to regulate mood, sleep, aggression - and a big favourite - appetite. 

In my book, this is definitely temptation enough to start with twenty minutes of cultivating a happier me each day. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

pho-less pad thai

Cooking at my house can be fraught with danger. One sweeping gesture towards an unfavourable vegetable in the crisper and J appears - wildly unimpressed and banishes me from the kitchen.

This week I negotiated permission to experiment, and old-fashioned cooking was out, and raw food was in. In theory, given this family's insatiable appetite for meat and roast veg, this was going to be risky.

On Monday, I sought a little help from the kelp noodle and prepared raw Pad Thai. Kelp noodles are a really versatile sea vegetable and flavour this dish with a wonderful crunch and refreshing tang that the classic recipe doesn't have. The rich, silky dressing is a heady mélange of ginger, garlic, chilli, lime juice and coriander seeds, mixed together with the chief ingredient of cashew nuts, and dotted with a dash of maple syrup. Bright, crunchy vegetables form the base of the dish.

I was filled with trepidation when I started to serve. I had neglected to tell James that tonight’s Pad Thai was a slight variation on the original, and his intense longing for a Pho noodle could threaten to overpower any taste sensation. We all survived though, bellies heartily bursting with raw food revolution.

Monday, 3 September 2012

taking a breath

Yoga reminds me to breathe. Meditation reminds me that my mind isn’t running my life and the need for stillness is a prerequisite of the soul. Like every other woman that I know or have ever heard of, I am still searching for the something that chews on my gut at 3am, and whispers in my ear while my mind chatters incessantly. Having a baby was supposed to be the answer but of course, as every mother discovers, a child is the source of endless joy but does not relieve the soul of its endless quest. I am still searching. Recently, I have started to take an approach that is somewhat less deep and troubled, and tread a little more lightly. I began by setting the weight on my shoulders aside and learning how to breathe again. As my heart beat began to settle and my breathe got louder, stillness arose and I found it easier to gain clarity on where my gut was telling me to look. Within. I am slowly recognizing the source that I’m sure is connecting us all. It is the same energy behind our breathless anxiety attacks; it’s the electricity moving behind every touch of the person we love when the moment takes us; it’s the wind bustling the leaves on a blustery day; and the connectedness we feel when yoga finally works to stretch our fragile frames into a position of peace, and meditation brings us to the brink of unconscious sleep.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

organic milk found dead

The road to raising tt as an organic, whole foods boy is long and dimly lit. The whole foods principle is an easy one, but food wearing the organic stamp is harder to trust. In other words, eating organic isn't necessarily good for our complex and extraordinarily tolerant growing bodies. Tolerant to a point, though. I expect tt will one day challenge the contents of our fridge with food that I will argue isn't, so for now, I am intent on feeding him the good stuff.
The latest jaw-dropper is good, old organic milk. J and I have slowly come to terms with paying eighteen dollars for a half gallon in Singapore, because the once-trusted, regular, Australian Dairy Farmer brands bulk up product with additives, and don't feel the need to label cartons accordingly (source). Eighteen dollars! So isn't buying organic a safe way to ensure no nasties, with sufficient assurance to cut the endless aisles of label-reading? And when it comes to milk, I thought cows were grass-fed, happy, roaming cows, or they weren't. Wrong on both counts. It's how the milk is treated that makes a difference, and much of the refrigerated organic and non-organic labels are now being ultra-pasteurised - the same treatment given to UHT milk - to extend shelf life. What makes ultra-pasteurisation different is it destroys the enzymes in milk that our bodies require to digest it.. So, the milk is altered to the point where it is indigestible.. (gasp!) In other words, the nutrient-rich protein found in milk is killed off, and we risk developing an intolerance to it as a result.

''According to Lee Dexter, microbiologist and owner of White Egret Farm goat dairy in Austin, Texas, ultra-pasteurization is an extremely harmful process to inflict on the fragile components of milk. Dexter explains that milk proteins are complex, three-dimensional molecules, like tinker toys. They are broken down and digested when special enzymes fit into the parts that stick out. Rapid heat treatments like pasteurization, and especially ultra-pasteurization, actually flatten the molecules so the enzymes cannot do their work. If such proteins pass into the bloodstream (a frequent occurrence in those suffering from "leaky gut," a condition that can be brought on by drinking processed commercial milk), the body perceives them as foreign proteins and mounts an immune response. That means a chronically overstressed immune system and much less energy available for growth and repair.'' (source)

So, short of finding a lovely, fat Jersey cow and moving her into your backyard to milk her yourself, how is one to go about buying whole, raw milk? In Singapore, it's very difficult. The real concern is all this adulteration of our whole foods is relatively new, and the long-term affects, unknown. It would seem label-reading just became a day job.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

this, too, shall pass

This weekend, I am trying valiantly to apply these small, unassuming four words to everything I do. According to an ancient Sufi story, 'this, too, shall pass' was the counsel given to a persian prince by a wise man. The prince was suffering angst over the great changes in mood he experienced, between happiness and despondency. The wise man advised that beyond serving as a comfort, these words bring a stillness to the situation at hand. They allow us to recognise the brevity of all moments and the inevitability of change. Once we are able to see this, fear and angst about the future passes.
I am hanging on each little word to greatly appreciate the good, and hit back and sail through the bad and the ugly. When a mother at Little Gym chortles in my face at the idea that her son's barking cough may be contagious. When tt wakes forty-eight hours later unable to breathe with his second onslaught of croup. When having to pump 11ml of oral steroids into his hungry little body to open up swollen airways. When infection rattles him overnight, and j and I run relays in the dark for bottles and thermometer. And then, after hours holding him upright and tt finally grants me permission to lie us both down together in his cot, he snuggles in close and then I am loath to recall that: this, too, shall pass.

Monday, 28 May 2012

when in rome?

If the year was 900 and we'd set up house in Rome, our fellow countrymen would be suspicious as to why we were a household without domestic help. Living abroad with a child and without family, and deciding not to opt for life with a maid - when this is a perfectly acceptable thing to do in the society in which you live - is asking life to throw a few curveballs your way. And why wouldn’t you? For the same price as a significant caffeine addiction, thrown in with paying weekly for a cleaning lady in the developed world, who wouldn’t want a quiet, subdued, pretty, young girl at arms reach to have dinner on the table, replenish the cupboards with fresh laundry and attend to your fever-stricken child overnight? We obviously get a kick out of living life the slightly more inconvenient way. So without a helper at our beck and call, that raised her siblings from birth and knows every trick in the book when rearing children, how is one to approach a raging fever in a baby without having been down that road before? I guess you all lose sleep together, all share the deluges of tummy bug vomit together, all brave the same episodes watching Big Ted together, and try as hard as you might to avoid the Children’s A&E department, where great big signs warn of Fever Zone. This is where it becomes apparent that the Continuation of the Species fervently relies on apples not falling more than a few hours drive from the tree. Unless, of course, the tree is retired, with a healthy accumulation of frequent flyer miles.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

beam us home, Scotty

I had forgotten how vile long-haul flying can be. This little tot has helped to drastically reduce my carbon footprint, in the air, but flying anywhere more than four hours is remarkably like giving birth - you forget how painful it is, just a couple of weeks after the ordeal is over. Mothers of two tell me that approaching labour brings the memories flooding back of just how excruciating it can be, and you have to question how you'll get through the the inevitable hours ahead. Boarding our flight to Australia was similar, and I had to wonder how I'd arrived at the daft scenario of flying anywhere solo for more than twenty minutes with our thirteen-month-old son. Normally his limit to sitting still is one episode of Hairy Maclary, and even then, he likes to lap the living room. Lapping an A380 can be limited though, let alone doodling away any time at all on the floor. So as we were herded onto the plane first, I found myself wondering how we'd while away the next eight hours in a jam-packed, thoroughly toddler-unfriendly, confined space.
We did survive. Though an hour out of Sydney I was forced to do some devious plotting as to how I might wake the stewardess. She had drifted into gentle slumber since the captain announced severe turbulence (that never found us), and had seated every passenger for the last three hours of the journey. After sitting angelically on my knee for almost two of them, I switched Hairy Maclary off the laptop and subjected tt to the realm of nothingness for three minutes, which effectively woke the purring Singapore Girl, and had her ringing the captain to enquire as to the possibility of the seat belt sign being switched off. It worked but Hairy Maclary and Hercules Morse have been flogged to death and are officially off the ratings list.
The human race has suffered at the hands of long-haul flying for long enough. Surely the pursuit of recreational space travel could be shelved for a while, until someone invests the same amount of effort into teleportation.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

generation sos

A little off the beaten track today but having spent the morning with a group of bigger tots than mine, tots and how they twinkle is becoming of great concern to me. I began as a volunteer today at an equestrian centre in a program for children at a special school. Students are required to attend after having had difficulties handling the mainstream curriculum in the country. Admission to the school is based on at least two failed attempts at the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE). So, these children fail primary school and are then pulled from the system. We were briefed that they are generally difficult, troubled and underachievers with hyperactivity disorders and ADHD. These are heavy labels for an eleven-year-old to have to lug around from such a young age.
My group of twelve were laughing, perfectly natural, normal kids. Some a little shy and reserved on the first day, and some louder with all the answers, trying to steal the show. Ok, so it's the first day and I could have landed myself the best of a bad bunch. Inquisitive, excited around the horses, eager to touch them, giggles and a twinkle in their eye.

Mid morning, a teacher appeared announcing snack time and little ravenous bodies clambered forward in a race to fill tummies. Forty two plastic wrappers were torn open and without even looking at what was going into their mouths, long hot dog buns filled with chocolate cream were swallowed in four bites. Four bites of not one single whole food.

In just a couple of generations, it seems we have a lot of research to do regarding processed and refined foods, and the sheer devestation it is causing to our health. We expect children to grow and live happy, healthy lives when we blindly mandate food on them in the name of busy lives, trust in the system, advertising and social conformity. The little people we love the most are filling growing bodies with school snacks made from dough conditioner, potato flake, bread improver, permitted food flavouring chocolate (billiant blue fcf 42090), dextrose monohydrate, emulsifier e420 (sorbitol) and propylene glycol e1520.

How is it that we choke our little people's bodies with a concoction of non-whole foods and then label them as hyperactive and ADHD?