The Mind-Body SHIFT

Nourishing the Body, Feeding the Mind, Nurturing the Soul

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Sustain Condoms Can Help Climate Change Through Curbing Population Growth

Babies, Overpopulation and Climate ChangeLast month, we addressed the rising threat of water scarcity and safety to the health of the planet due to climate change, pollution and a growing global population. A 2014 study by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) revealed that increased population is one of the two most important drivers of global climate change. For Earth Day, we spoke with Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder of Sustain, the first sustainable brand of condoms marketed toward women, about the strong link between climate change, population growth and family planning.

The population is growing at a rate of 78 million per year, or 9,000 people per hour. Each person on the planet generates carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution, said Hollender. As the population rises, so does the amount of CO2 pollution. It is believed that slowing population could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 30 percent.

“Because most pregnancies—51 percent of these in the U.S.—are unplanned, the population is growing faster than most families would like,” said Hollender. “Greater access to birth control will slow population growth.”

Sustain Earth Day

There are 220,000 babies born across the world each day. A surprising number of those unplanned pregnancies are here in the United States. By age 45, it is estimated that more than half of all American women will have experienced an unintended pregnancy, a rate that is significantly higher than many other developed countries. Hollender believes that the lack of sex education, or the presence of abstinence-only education in many states, is partly to blame. He also believes parents are not adequately communicating with their children about sex.

“It’s also due to the increased reduction of access to birth control, resulting from efforts to defund organizations like Planned Parenthood,” he added.

Global Lack of Access to ContraceptionIn developing countries, there are currently 222 million women who want to avoid pregnancy but lack access to contraception and reproductive health and family planning services. Yet universal access to contraception will only work if people use it. How do we educate those cultures that reject the idea of contraception and that force women into having sex?

“These are terrible challenging problems. The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh has developed many great solutions; some include only lending money to women and only providing mortgages to women,” Hollender said. “This fundamentally changes the power relationships with-in families and lead to much greater leverage for women to insist on the use of birth control. We need more of these types of solutions.”

Forty percent of women purchase the condoms used for contraception and family planning. Sustain condoms are the first to be marketed specifically toward women. Hollender believes reaching out to women is critical for decreasing unplanned pregnancies.

“Women cannot rely on men to take responsibility for birth control,” he said. “At best, it should be a joint responsibility. Women need to buy and carry condoms to take responsibility for their reproductive health care.”

The Sustain co-founder believes that women need to be pro-active about their reproductive health for the same reasons that they exercise, eat healthy and develop skills for better career outcomes. “It’s all a critical part of their wellbeing,” he said.

Sustain Co-Founders Jeffrey Hollender and daughter MeikaHollender, who is also founder and former CEO of an eco-friendly household and personal care products company Seventh Generation, and daughter Meika developed condoms that are sustainable, Fair Trade certified, vegan and non-toxic. “Non-toxic contraception reduces the exposure to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals,” he said. It contributes positively to women’s health “in the same way that organic food, non-toxic cleaners and natural cosmetics do.”

There are an estimated 17.4 million women in need of publicly funded reproductive health and family planning services. Sustain also donates to non-profit organizations that provide education on sexually transmitted infections, testing and treatment for women in need. Through its Ten Percent For Women (10%4Women) reproductive health initiative, 10 percent of the company’s profit goes toward organizations, like Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Planned Parenthood of the Gulf and Planned Parenthood of the Pacific NorthWest.

Hollender said, “We also support, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy, Women’s Voices for the Earth and the Breast Cancer Fund.” The Breast Cancer Fund also works to remove toxic chemicals for the environment, including ones that can interfere with women’s reproductive systems.

Learn more about how Sustain supports sustainability and women’s health at

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Does Removing Silver Fillings Rid Body of Major Health Risks of Mercury

Mercury FillingsMost of us at or above a certain age can count at least one “silver” filling in our mouth from getting cavities when were kids. And really, when one grows up with the option of sugar-laden cereals for breakfast, like Froot Loops, Cap’n Crunch and Apple Jacks, it’s more surprising not to have a mouth full of cavities. But today we’re not talking about the blight of sugar, unhealthy bacteria and plaque. We’re instead focusing about the more insidious dangers of those silver-colored amalgam fillings in our mouth.

What we call silver fillings are actually an amalgam of several metals, including copper, tin, zinc and silver. “Fifty percent of amalgam fillings is mercury,” said Dr. David Villareal, a holistic dentist in Newbury Park, Calif, in a recent interview.

Used for more than 250 years in dentistry, mercury amalgams are fast, cheap and easy to use, said Villareal. Unfortunately, mercury is also one of the more toxic, natural substances in our environment. While the FDA still holds the position that mercury tooth fillings are safe, mercury is a known neurotoxin and endocrine-disrupter in humans, and it can stress and suppress the immune system over time. Scientific studies have linked mercury exposure to autoimmune disease (like ALS and multiple sclerosis), several cancers and increased risks for cardiovascular disease and vision loss, as well as neurological problems ranging from Autism to Alzheimer’s.

In 2010, research findings from Northeastern University published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that long-term exposure to mercury can cause neurological problems and pathological changes to the brain that are normally associated with Alzheimer’s. Pharmacology Professor Richard Deth and German colleagues found that mercury binds to selenium, reducing the bioavailability and efficacy of this antioxidant in the body to suppress damaging chemical reactions to the brain. The oxidative stress of mercury in the body causes nerves to cease properly functioning and leads to cognitive impairment and cell death.

“Mercury is clearly contributing to neurological problems, whose rate is increasing in parallel with rising levels of mercury,” said Deth in Northeastern University News.

Mercury evaporates at room temperature, and it enters the body, as with mercury fillings, in the form of a gas. When mercury crosses the blood-brain barrier, this gas can also trapped inside the brain and accumulate in toxicity over time. When mercury metal, amalgam fillings are implanted into the human teeth, they release vapor into the body, which accumulates the longer one has those fillings in the mouth. It is believed that mercury vapors seep from these fillings constantly, while chewing releases an even larger amount of these toxic fumes.

Holistic Dentist Dr. David VillarealVillareal has seen the innate ability of the human body to handle a reasonable amount of toxic load reach a tipping point in many of his patients. These patients may present with autoimmune disease, cancer, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Alzheimer’s, he said. They ask the holistic dentist why they are only getting sick now, despite having had mercury fillings in their mouths their whole lives.

“Stress is the number one cause of any autoimmune disease,” Villareal explained. With the inundation of both physical and emotion stress in our daily lives today, the compromised body has an increasingly difficult time keeping the toxic effect of mercury at bay over time. “When a traumatic incident occurs, like a death, divorce or auto accident, the body sometimes says, ‘I can’t take it anymore,’” he said.

Villareal observed that how the body deals with toxins really depends on its reactions to stressors. Someone can have a mouth full of silver fillings and physically feel fine, while another patient can have just one silver filling and be extremely sick. “We know there are certain factors that play into more mercury leaching into the body: the number of fillings in the mouth, the age of the fillings, the grinding of teeth, diet and the acid we put in the mouth through carbonated drinks,” he added.

While some dentists and health educators promote removing mercury amalgam fillings across the board, Villareal takes a more patient-centered approach to advocacy. “My belief and philosophy is to educate people on the pros and cons of amalgam filling removal,” he said. “With my patients here, it’s all about education. It’s their body, and I have my patients decide. You intuitively go inside yourself and decide what’s best for you.”

For those who do elect to have their silver fillings removed, Villareal’s BioDental Healing practice takes all precautions possible. It is believed that mercury vapor release is at its greatest when fillings are put in and taken out. “Make sure the dentist is using a dental rubber dam that isolates the tooth and minimizes the amount of mercury vapor released.”

Metal Filling Removal at BioDental HealingVillareal compares his practice during filling removals to a HazMat response team. “We’re completely covered. We wear special air filters and use oxygen masks and protective eyewear on patients. We drape each tooth so everything that comes out goes into the rubber dam,” he said.

The rubber dam isolates the teeth being worked on, preventing particles from getting into the soft tissue of the mouth. Dental air vac suction is placed right by the patient’s mouth throughout the procedure to absorb mercury gasses to protect the patient, dentist and assistants. Oxygen masks worn over the nose also serve as an important barrier to eliminate the risk of breathing in mercury vapor. Ionizers remove free radicals in the air, and teeth are disinfected with ozone prior to a new filling being placed. The practice has a special water filtration system to separate out amalgams to protect the local water system and oceans for mercury exposure.

The patient also receives intravenous vitamin C administered by a naturopathic doctor. “It helps tremendously in protecting the body by acting as chelating agent,” said Villareal. It removes heavy metals from the bloodstream, as well as boost glutathione, arguably the body’s most critical antioxidant and master detoxifier.

Prior to replacing silver fillings, Villarreal performs a blood compatibility evaluation with patients on the dozens of different filling materials now available. After blood tests are sent to a Colorado Springs lab, patients receive a list of composite materials to which they are highly, moderately and least reactive.

“There are a lot of composites, or white fillings available, but they are not all created equal,” said the holistic dentist. The newer silver fillings, for example, release mercury 50 percent higher than the older ones, according to Villareal. “We choose the materials that best support your body’s natural power to heal,” he said.

In holistic biological dentistry, bio-individuality is emphasized and dentists look at all the factors that may contribute to a patient’s health—including stress, environment and diet. Villareal pointed out that soil depletion is robbing many vegetables of essential nutrients, for example. He encourages patients to eat a lot of protein, a lot of vegetables and greens. “I don’t recommend fish because of the mercury content,” he added.

“The body is amazing instrument that can heal itself without burdening itself so much with heavy metals in the mouth and bad diet,” Villareal said. While removing fillings isn’t a guarantee of recovery from serious illness, he has seen thousands of patients helped.

Villareal emphasizes the relationship between dental health and disease in other parts of the body. He calls the separation of oral health from the health of the rest of the body the “decapitation” of Western medicine. Chinese medicine, which has been around for thousands of years, has long recognized the connection between the teeth and the organs. According to Villareal, Chinese meridian points have been shown to connect each tooth to different organs in the body.

“If you have problems in the organs, it affects the teeth; it goes both ways,” he said. “That’s why vets check the horse’s mouth first before examining the rest of the animal. But we don’t have physicians looking into their patient’s mouth during their yearly physical visits.” He says only one health insurance company looks at gum disease, though the American Dental Association (ADA) now recognizes that gum disease is associated with a higher risk of diabetes and stroke.

The Link Between Mercury Amalgams and IllnessVillareal began practicing conventional medicine in 1984. However, his outlook and approach transformed in 1992 after a patient gave him a copy of the book, It’s All in Your Head: The Link Between Mercury Amalgams and Illness. Dr. Huggins’s book details extensive research revealing a link between mercury toxicity and neurological and immunological disease that made Villareal rethink the health effects of metal amalgam fillings.

“I couldn’t put the book down; it made a lot of sense to me,” he said. He then went to Colorado Springs to receive training in holistic dentistry. “That year I took all my mercury fillings out.”

While Villareal acknowledges that removing mercury fillings can be expensive, he points out that managing a severe, chronic disease can be a heavy financial burden as well. “Dentists make crowns out of silver fillings, and it lasts a long time. A lot of mercury fillings are very large, partial or full crowns, so removing them can be costly. On the other hand, if you are sick, you’re going to end up paying a lot of money to feel well as well. At least if you remove the silver fillings, you don’t have that toxic burden of mercury anymore.”

The dentist estimates that he’s removed approximately 20,000 removals mercury fillings in the past 24 years. “I wouldn’t be doing this type of dentistry if I didn’t see it helping people,” he said.

Learn more about holistic biological dentistry on the websites for the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology  (IAOMT) and for the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine (IABDM). Find out more about the dangers and toxicity of mercury at and in the new documentary You Put What In My Mouth.

You can learn more about Villareal’s practice of holistic dentistry at

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Auschwitz Survivor Gene Klein Asks Us to Remember the Crucial Lessons of the Holocaust

This very special guest post was written by Gene Klein, one of the few surviving survivors of the Holocaust, with his daughter Jill Klein (author of We Got the Water: Tracing My Family’s Path Through Auschwitz). Klein was liberated from Auschwitz in 1945.

It has been 70 years since I was liberated from a Nazi concentration camp. I was just a teenager then. I’m 87 now.

Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I have been thinking about what I want you and your loved ones to remember about the Holocaust. I speak frequently about my experiences, and I am able to remind people about what happened, provide them with vivid descriptions and answer their questions. But I am among the last of the survivors, and one day—sooner than I would like to think—we will all be gone.

Here is what I want you to remember after we are gone, when our memories must become yours, so that future generations will have the knowledge and compassion to avoid the mistakes of the past:

Please remember the life we had before it all started; before the name-calling, the bricks through the windows, long before the cattle cars and the camps. I was born into a middle class Hungarian family in a small town in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. Our town was charming. We sat in outdoor cafes on summer evenings, and skated on the river on winter afternoons. My father owned a hardware store, was an avid soccer fan and loved to tend to his garden. My mother took care of my two sisters and me and was preoccupied with getting me—a naturally skinny kid—to eat more.

We were not wealthy, but we had everything we needed. In the most basic of ways, we were not unlike you and your family. And we felt as secure as you do now.

Please remember that all of this was taken away. Within a few weeks in the spring of 1944, my father’s store was confiscated, my Jewish friends and I were told that we were no longer welcome at school, and we were forced to wear a yellow star. Then we were forced from our home, crowded into cattle cars, and taken to Auschwitz. When we arrived, the men were separated from the women, and then my father was separated from me.

My father had been a POW in World War I, and during his years of imprisonment, he learned to play the violin and to speak five languages. He was intelligent and humorous. I loved him the way any 16-year-old boy loves a wonderful father. The way you love your father, if you are lucky enough to have a good one.

So imagine this: a man in a black uniform sends you to one direction and your father to another. You don’t know why, until the next day a veteran prisoner points up at the smoke coming out of a chimney and says, “Your father is up there.”

Please remember my father.

Please remember that it is terribly easy for one group to strike another group off the roster of humanity, to see others as vermin or pests, or as an affliction that must be destroyed. It happens again and again. And once it does, people are capable of inflicting terrible hardship and pain on others, and to feel they are righteous in doing so. None of the SS officers who ordered me—a starving teenager—to carry heavy steel rails up a hillside thought of themselves as monsters. They were adhering to their beliefs, and they were serving their country.

We must be constantly vigilant for the descent that takes us from self-righteous beliefs, to the dehumanization of others and into the sphere of violence.

Please remember that while we are capable of all of this, we can also rise to amazing heights in the service of others. For two weeks, I had the good fortune to have a respite from hard labor while assigned to work with a civilian German engineer who was surveying the landscape where future roads would be built. He saw the terrible conditions I was living under and decided to help. Every day he hid food for me from the SS kitchen where he ate lunch. Chicken, milk, rice, and cheese left under a bench in the back corner of a barracks. He cared, he took a risk, and he saved my life.

Please remember him.

And finally, remember that no one should be judged because of his or her nationality, religion or race. We were sent to the camps because propaganda was believed, individuality was erased, and hate was rampant. When asked if I am angry with Germans, I think of the German engineer and know that individuals must be judged by their own personal actions. If I can hold this as a guiding principle after what happened to my family and me, then you can, too.

Please take my memories as yours, share them, and carry them forward. It is by doing so that you can help keep the next generation from forgetting, and help fill the space that we survivors will leave behind when we are gone.


Five Reasons to Add Turmeric to Your Daily Diet



Turmeric has quickly become one of my favorite spices to use in the kitchen, and it’s not just because of its cheerful color (it makes curry and mustard yellow) and earthy flavor that hints of mustard and ginger. It has also been regarded as a versatile, medicinal herb in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. The major ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has been demonstrated to have myriad health benefits, as a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It’s also been shown to have a preventive effect against numerous diseases, including Alzheimer’s and cancer, and help alleviate other conditions.

1. Turmeric Fights Pain and Inflammation

Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory, with implications for managing inflammatory diseases. After a review of 700 studies, James A. Duke, PhD, found that turmeric contains more than two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds, including six COX-2-inhibitiors, according to . Cyclo-oxygenase 2, or COX-2, is an enzyme that promotes inflammation, swelling and pain.

A small study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) found that curcumin was a safe and effective treatment for active disease. In fact, patients who took curcurmin in showed greater reduction of disease active scores and decreased tenderness and swelling of joints that patients taking the drug diclofenac sodium (Voltaren).

In another study, patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA) given turmeric extracts experienced a reduction in pain and improvement in joint function with the same efficacy as ibuprofen.

Other studies have shown that curcumin acts on the pro-inflammatory cytokine Interleukin 1beta, which is instrumental in inhibiting the production of collagen, thus mediating the degradation of cartilage in OA and RA. The herbal compound suppressed the destructive cellular changes caused by IL-1beta.

Curcumin also proved an effective, natural alternative to treating chronic anterior uveitis, inflammation of the middle layer of the eye. Curcumin supplementation lacked the considerable side effects of corticosteroid therapy, which was the only standard treatment for the disease at the time of the study.

Curcumin has also been shown in multiple studies to suppress transcription factor NF-κappaB, a molecule that plays a vital role in the immune system: controlling the expression of COX-2 and cytokines, which aid cell-to-cell communication in immune responses, stimulating movement of cells toward the sites of inflammation, infection and trauma. Dysregulation of NF-kB is linked to autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, such as RA, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

A 2004 study published in Oncogene demonstrated that curcumin and resveratrol proved to be more anti-inflammatory than the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) of aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and indomethacin, and as effectively as celecoxib (Celebrex) and the corticosteroid dexamethasone.

2. Curcumin Attacks Cancer

According to the study above, curcumin (and resveratrol) also inhibited the proliferation of tumor cells, as effectively, if not more so, as the above drugs and tamoxifen (used to treat breast cancers). Previously, aspirin and other NSAIDs have been shown to suppress NF-kB, stopping the growth and spread of tumor cells. NF-kB regulates the expression of genes like cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 and cyclin D1. NF-kB signaling is implicated in cancers, such as such as leukemia, lymphoma, colon cancer, ovarian cancer and melanoma.

Turmeric has also been shown to enhance chemotherapy in fighting head and neck tumors, according to a 2010 University of California—Los Angeles study. While making tumors more sensitive to chemotherapy drugs, the concurrent use of curcumin might also protect organs of the body from the toxic effects of chemo.

Curcumin has been shown to help stop the promotion and progression stages of colon and pancreatic cancer that are chemically induced.

A University of Illinois at Chicago study also gives promise that curcumin might help to prevent further spread of colorectal tumor growth. A study of male smokers with colon lesions found that 4g of curcumin for 30 days reduced the number of ACF, abnormal tube-like glands in the lining of the colon and rectum that occasionally progress to cancer, by 40 percent.

3. Turmeric Promotes Heart Health

Src: TopNaturalRemedies.Net

Src: TopNaturalRemedies.Net

Studies have also shown that turmeric is good for the heart, promoting healthy endothelial function. The endothelium, or inner lining of blood vessels, regulates blood pressure, blood clotting and immune function. It maintains proper blood flow and regulates the diameter and tone of a blood vessel when fully dilated, which is vital to the health of arteries. Endothelial dysfunction can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases like coronary artery disease. Likely due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin improves endothelial function, thus lowering the risk of heart disease.

In a 2012 study of postmenopausal women, consumption of curcumin improved vascular endothelial function—increasing blood flow and vessel dilation—just as well as moderate aerobic exercise. Also in 2012, a study reported findings that supplementation of 4 grams daily of curcumin cut the chance of heart attack in bypass patients after surgery by 65 percent  . During bypass surgery the heart muscle can be damaged by extended restriction of blood flow, increasing the patient’s risk of heart attack.

4. Curcumin Might Prevent Diabetes

A 2012 study published in the American Diabetes Association’s journal Diabetes Care found that nine months of supplemental with curcumin pills dramatically decreased the number of prediabetic subjects who went on to develop type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found that the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin appeared to improve the function of beta cells in the pancreas, which store and release insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar.

5. Turmeric Is Neuroprotective

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin have also been shown to improve cognitive function in patients with neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disrupts the electrical activity of the brain and leads to tissue loss and the death of the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, which affects the signaling for memories, thoughts and feelings. In Alzheimer’s abnormal clusters of protein fragments, called beta-amyloid plaques, build up between the nerve cells, and often block the signaling across synapses from one neuron to another. Plaques may also trigger immune cells to inflame and destroy disabled cells.

“Curcumin has a demonstrated ability to enter the brain, bind and destroy the beta-amyloid plaques present in Alzheimer’s with reduced toxicity,” Wellington Pham, Ph.D., senior author of a study from Vanderbilt University published earlier this year, said, according to Research News @ Vanderbilt .

Src: Organic Letters

Src: Organic Letters

Evidence suggests that Alzheimer’s is also partly caused by free radicals that form from oxidative damage and cause oxidative stress, bio-metal toxicity and abnormal inflammation. Curcumin has been demonstrated to reduce plaques and microglia formation, delay the destruction of neurons, chelate metals and, again, serve as a general anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, improving overall memory in patients.

A free radical is a damaged, electron-deficient cell that can kill other cells to repair itself or harm other cells that may mutate and abnormally grow. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, preventing damage to proteins and DNA, which is thought to cause numerous health problems, including neurodegenerative diseases. Studies have shown that curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that interacts with and suppresses free radicals and modulates levels of a vital antioxidant called glutathione, which along with curcumin, is protective against oxidative stress, free radicals and metal toxicity, also thought to play a role in the development of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Another compound in turmeric, aromatic turmerone (ar-turmerone), inhibits microglia activation, which might help treat neurodegenerative disease. Microglia are cells in the brain and spinal chord that act as the immune defense system of the central nervous system, specifically looking for plaques and damaged cells. Microglia activation is a major sign of inflammation in the brain and is associated with various neurologic disorders, including neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Ar-turmerone has been demonstrated to boost the growth and spread of targeted neural stem cells, which can then repair and recover brain function .


Tumeric Scrambled EggsTurmeric, known colloquially as “the blood thinner,” has been shown to protect your heart and brain, fight inflammation and help slow aging and disease. It might also have benefits for mental health by alleviate depression. The more I learn about it, the greater reason I see to add turmeric to your daily diet.

While by itself, turmeric has a rather bitter taste, it blends smoothly with other ingredients to please the palate. I personally add about a tablespoon to my breakfast in eggs, which are slow scrambled in butter. Add avocado to the mix for a tasty, creamy combo!

Find out three simple tricks to optimize the therapeutic potency of turmeric in the body here.

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Awakening to the Consciously Aware You Through Natural Meditation

Natural Meditation By Dean SluyterWith an extremely active mind and the constant distraction of chronic pain, for many years I felt that the practice of meditation was off-limits to me. Coming to so-called quiet standstill released a seemingly endless flow of thoughts upon thoughts. And when I wasn’t struggling to silence those, I was coaxing my defiant body to release tension and pain from tight and spasming muscles to slip into that state calmness. A time specifically set aside for stillness and peace become an active battle with both my body and my mind.

“All the effort that most people put forth in trying to create a non-agitated state…is itself a form of agitation,” meditation teacher Dean Sluyter said in a recent interview. “Everything we thought was a distraction from the meditation is actually a meditation. Concentration on putting thoughts away is the distraction.”

Sluyter explores this unique view of meditation in his latest book, Natural Meditation: A Guide to Effortless Meditative Practice. Natural meditation for the rest of us is distinct from other approaches that rub against our true nature. Approaches that require strained concentration, adopting a “spiritual” attitude or copying someone else’s lifestyle are unnatural, Sluyter writes, which is why they require so much commitment to stick to. On the contrary, natural meditation is “as natural as breathing, walking, laughing, or being the I that you already are.”

Author of Natural Meditation


Sluyter draws from decades of studying and teaching various forms of meditation. He first began studying meditation in San Francisco during the ‘60s. He said he started in Zen meditation, but he found it too restrictive. His teacher told him that Zen was not for everyone; in fact, it was not for most people.

He then became acquainted with Maharishi, who had developed the Transcendental Meditation technique. He said, “There was an element of effortless, but the only suitable vehicle for settling down in the effort of the effortless way is through this set of mantras.”

People who are drawn to meditation are often discouraged by the notion that it requires a lot of work, specific rituals or a certain teacher or technique to do it “right.” You might think meditation requires that you to sit like a stone, as Zen practitioners do. Or maybe you feel you have to utter specific mantras, as in Transcendental Meditation.

“But it’s not true. The door is everywhere,” Sluyter said. “All those things people think they need to do to meditate are counterproductive.”

In natural meditation, there is no need to try to still the body and the mind. Sluyter argues that there is stillness that underlies body and the mind that is our natural state. “You don’t have to push away thoughts, which come and go,” he said. “Relaxation and tension come and go, but you remain as their silent witness.”

The first step toward embracing that underlying stillness that is our natural state is to recognize what Sluyter calls the I-sense. “No matter how much our experiences change, one thing always remains the same: the presence of an experiencing awareness, which we can call ‘I’,” he said.

This awareness is present at every moment of our lives, even as our thoughts and feelings constantly change. It is there no matter how old we are, even as our body ages. “It’s that inner ‘aaaah’ that doesn’t depend on our accomplishments, health or anything else. We don’t need to create or maintain it,” Sluyter said. “Just rest in the I-sense. Just bring your attention to this always-present experience of being aware.”

He urges you to imagine having just woken up from surgery or a coma in a completely dark and soundproof room. Numb and unable to move your body, lacking any input from the senses, you still are aware of your existence. The sense of presence, in between the periods of thought, is what he describes as I-sense.

Meditating on I“It’s the lighting up of conscious presence, which is there prior to any particular thinking or particular feeling,” Sluyter said. “There’s just is-ness, but we’re not generally aware of this pure being-ness. Meditation on the ‘I’ ignites for us being awake in that pure being-ness that is there every time.”

The I-sense is not male or female, conservative or liberal, young or old, black or white. While we can observe different colors, sounds and thoughts, our awareness is beyond sight, sound and thought. “Ask yourself, is it possible that I am anything but formless, colorless, soundless awareness?” said Sluyter. “You are conscious presence.”

Once we have this awareness of conscious presence, Sluyter invites us to meditate on a single breath. “It’s not focusing on the breath,” he said. “Easily rest your attention on the process of the single breath.” As you slowly and deeply breathe in, pause and take note of where you feel it in the body—in your lungs, your diaphragm, your nostrils or even your skull? Exhale and then pause at the end of the out-breath.

“That’s simple. I love it because it’s just a single breath. You don’t have time to knot it up,” he said. Your role is simply to observe; you’re not trying to concentrate or clear the mind or feel a special way. Simply be with the breath. Once you feel settled down, enjoying the pleasantness in the exhalation, again meditate on a single breath.

“You’re never counting breaths. A single breath is all we ever have because it’s right now,” he said. “Do you ever wake up, and it’s tomorrow? No, it’s always today. It’s never 10 minutes from now or 10 minutes ago. Just keep noticing that it’s always right now. If you really pay attention to that, you realize that things aren’t going; they’re just here, now.”

Sluyter said that meditation is settling back into conscious awareness, realizing it’s there as the background of our experience all the time.

In his book, Sluyter answers common questions people have about meditation, such as when and where to practice, in what position, for how long. While he writes that one should meditate when he or she will actually do it and that one can “find your silent core anywhere,” he does offer suggestions for helpful ways to get into your practice, from sitting positions to types of breathing. He also presents different approaches to meditation, whether focusing on sensation, the heart center, sounds (natural sounds, found sounds or mantras), the vision of the open sky or on self and other, love, or vacancy—where we’re no longer clinging to the narratives that we use to define and confine our selves.

He also writes about the bounty of benefits one experiences after meditating over time. One can relish in the “essential delicious of beingness itself” and call up that feeling again and again throughout the day. Other effects of meditation include improved physiological and mental health, better focus, clearer thinking and being less reactive, as well as learning to stop fixating on self-defeating feelings and thoughts and to address emotions before they take deeper root in both the mind and body.

Peace in a Storm“You can practice every day. It’s good to dip into that flavor of boundlessness and effortlessness,” Sluyter said. While he feels its good to have a regular practice time daily, he also encourages finding meditative moments throughout the day, whether while revving for the red light to turn green or waiting in the doctor’s office for an appointment. By doing so, he said, “You will never again wait in your life.”

“The door is everywhere,” Sluyter repeated. He talked about the meditation class he began teaching at a prison in New Jersey in 2005. “These guys are masters of meditation because there’s so much they cannot control. The voice over the speaker rattles the bone. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

In a noisy, crowded restaurant, you manage to tune out the other conversations to speak to the people with whom you are dining. You can learn how to do the same with meditation, with both outside distractions and niggling thoughts.

In his book, Sluyter dispels the myth that we need to tame the monkey mind to successfully meditate. The monkey mind is this idea that our untrained, wild and practically primitive mind jumps incessantly and naughtily from thought to thought and must be tamed into submission—and stillness. Calling this one of the “single biggest, most damaging, most counterproductive” notions in the field of meditation, Sluyter instead believes that thoughts themselves are not a hindrance to inner peace and freedom.

Sluyter says the more you try to chase the monkey mind, the more power you give to thoughts. In the attempt to harness mental activity, you are exerting more mental activity. Asking the question, “How do I ignore thoughts,” is another thought that should simply just be ignored, like your co-workers’ convoluted and boring prattle, the distracting din of other conversations at a restaurant and the jarring commotion of a prison yard.

“The moment you realize you’ve been caught up [in thoughts], you’re not longer caught up, because you’ve realized it, so there’s nothing you have to do,” he writes.

Rather than engaging and being at the mercy of your thoughts, Sluyter writes that we can look at them for what they really are—fluctuations, like the waves of an ocean. When you can witness rather than immerse in your thoughts, you are no longer victim to them.

“We thought we’d find serenity by quieting our thoughts, but our thoughts quiet themselves as we sink into serenity—it’s a side effect,” he writes.

Awakening to the Consciously Aware You Through Natural MeditationI shared with Sluyter my transformative moment with meditation when I realized I need not fight my body to be able to meditate either. After focusing on the breath and doing a body scan, I found that could direct my attention to different parts of my body that were tense or in pain and breathe into them instead, encouraging them to release and to let go.

“This is what you’ve been handed. Chronic pain is the guru,” said Sluyter. “The thing that you can’t change that you think you have to change is your guru. That is your personal, orchestrated, made just for you door. The stumbling blocks are your path. Doesn’t mean become passive or apathetic. When you can’t change something, that’s the thing for you to learn from.”

Sluyter has learned to lead meditation while enduring tinnitus and through an eye condition called detached vitreous, which he developed a few years ago. “At times, my eyesight is like looking through cobwebs,” he said. At first he felt, “I am too picky to be okay with this. I’m someone who wonders, should this be a comma or semi-colon after reading through something I’ve written a dozen times. It became the guru for me. Let it be. Saying, ‘let it go,’ doesn’t mean the thing has to go away…I can go for days letting it be, not thinking about it; it’s just other conversations at other tables.”

Sluyter likens meditation to a turtle drawing its head and tail inside. “It’s like soaking in a hot tub, marinating in that is-ness, that silent beingness,” he said. “It’s a great tool for getting through life without life overwhelming you.”

Having had the fortune of spending time with many enlightened masters of meditation, Sluyter said, “They laugh a lot. They’re joyous in ways they can’t convey to other people, but they can show them how.”

You can learn more about how to practice natural meditation at Purchase Natural Meditation: A Guide to Effortless Meditative Practice online at Amazon in paperback, e-book or audoibook. And I will be giving one lucky reader who comments on this post a free copy of the book.

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Follow These 10 Steps To Become a Morning Person

This is a guest post by Danielle Emig, originally written for Health Perch:

Follow These 10 Steps To Become a Morning Person

In a perfect world, we would all wake up naturally with the sun, refreshed, awake, and ready to tackle the day. However, if you aren’t naturally an early riser, being a morning person is a struggle, no matter what ringtone the alarm is set to. Many of us intend to wake up early to check items off the to-do list, but end up hitting the snooze button until we’re running late. We’re often too tired, too stressed and left with too little time to do everything we planned to start the day.

Take Advantage of the A.M.

Early Birds Vs. Night Owls

Do morning people lead better lives than the rest of us? Research suggests that morning people are happier and healthier. Sunlight can boost mood, and the extra sun provides an added dose of vitamin D, which many of us lack during the cold seasons. In winter, when the days are shorter and the workdays end well after dark, waking up earlier allows us to enjoy more sunlight.

Also, how you start the day sets the tone for your waking hours. Hit that snooze button continuously? You may procrastinate for the rest of day, just as you did with your alarm.

Have trouble sticking to a workout routine? It’s easier to maintain it when you’re an early riser and knock it out in the morning. That way, if plans come up during the day, there’s no need to skip the gym for happy hour. Plus, bumping up the heart rate in the morning preps you for the day ahead.

For those with a family, loud neighbors, or other distractions, becoming an early riser provides more time to get things done while the house is still quiet. Imagine having the time to read that novel that’s been sitting on the nightstand, clean the house so it’s spotless after work, or prep a healthy meal. Those that wake up earlier are proven to be more proactive than those who consider themselves night owls. Plus, for wishful thinkers out there, many wealthy, successful people (think Bill Gates) have stated they wake up three or more hours before work.

Becoming a morning person has its advantages. If you want to enjoy a complete breakfast, read the newspaper, or just take in the early morning, follow these steps to change your daily routine.

10 Steps to Become a Morning Person

Step 1: Start with small changes

Setting your alarm clock for 6 a.m. when you normally wake up at 8 a.m. may be too aggressive to maintain. Set the clock 15 minutes earlier and go to bed 15 minutes earlier each week until you meet your desired rise time. The gradual difference will allow your body to get used to the schedule change and the small difference won’t feel like a byproduct of jetlag. Just make sure to stick to the routine—even on weekends—or else you’ll jeopardize your internal clock and waking up during the week will continue to be a challenge.

Step 2: Get ready for the morning at night

This routine starts with what you do before you close your eyes. Staring at a computer screen right before bed will hinder your sleep, since light exposure suppresses melatonin, a hormone that helps promote sleep. Shut off all TVs and smart devices one hour before bed, and instead reach for a novel that will calm your mind. And if you do have to use a phone, like to set the alarm, make sure to dim the brightness.

Having a routine before bedtime will let your body know it’s time to sleep. Start a relaxing nightly pattern, like sipping on decaffeinated tea and reading a book or taking a warm bath. Make the morning process easier by laying out the next day’s outfit the night before. If you have trouble making time for a good meal in the morning, try prepping breakfast in advance—think hard-boiled eggs and egg muffins.

Step 3: Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary

It’s tempting, but try not to watch TV in bed. Keep movies, TVs, and computers in the living room and consider the bedroom a haven for relaxation and sleep. It should be calm, dark, and cool to allow comfortable sleep. The ideal temperature for sleep is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. (Set the thermostat a few notches higher if you like it warmer during the day.) The cooler temps will tell your brain it’s time for bed and research shows that could be good for your metabolism. Have clutter laying around? It could be stressing you out. A clean, organized room provides a better sleeping space than a messy one.

Step 4: Place your alarm clock across the room

Placing the alarm clock across the room (and not in arm’s distance from the bed) means you have to get up to turn it off—but just make sure you don’t climb back under the covers. The movement may help energize you to get started with the day. Leave your bedroom soon after waking. Since you’ve made it a sleep sanctuary, it’s important to walk to another area of the house as soon as possible, like the kitchen or bathroom.

Step 5: Wake with the sun

Our bodies were designed to be awake with the sun and sleep when it’s dark outside, but the artificial light in the office and curtained-off windows in your bedroom can alter this. Exposing yourself to sunlight, which is known as light therapy, tells your brain it’s morning and time to get going. Open up your curtains to let natural light in. If sunlight is limited, invest in a sun lamp that mimics natural sunlight, which can also improve seasonal depression. Try this technique the next time you experience jet lag, since it’ll help reset your biological clock.

10 Things Successful People Do In the Morning

Step 6: Work out in the morning 

Not only will hitting the gym early in the day help you stick to a workout routine, but a morning sweat session can increase metabolism and energy throughout the day, and you may be prompted to reach for healthier food options. Research also shows that exercising before breakfast burns more fat than doing so after breakfast or in the evening. But if you’re a serious athlete, eat a light meal with carbs to improve performance. Can’t spare an hour at the gym? Take a 10-minute brisk walk outside to get some fresh air and sunlight.

Step 7: Drink a glass of water

After getting a full night’s rest (hopefully seven to eight hours) your body will be dehydrated from lack of water, causing fatigue. Quickly replenish hydration levels first thing in the morning with a full glass of water. While you’re at it, splash some cool water on your face for an added refresher.

Step 8: Start with a healthy breakfast 

Rushing out the door with a coffee and bagel in hand may not fill you up and can leave you with cravings later on. A person’s metabolism and blood sugar are at their lowest in the morning after sleeping all night, so re-energize with a balanced breakfast that includes protein and whole grains. Rotate meals, find new ones, and eat foods you enjoy so breakfast becomes a moment to look forward to. Greek yogurt with berries or eggs and avocado with a side of green teat will help rev you up for the day ahead.

Step 9: Have something to look forward to

Remember when you were a little kid and you jumped out of bed on Christmas morning or when you left for vacation? Plan at least one exciting date, happy hour with friends, or a fun night in each week so you’ll have something to look forward to each passing day. Getting up can be a struggle if the only agenda for the day is going to a stressful or boring job when you’d rather stay in bed. Whether it’s a hobby like yoga, a cooking class, or a date, focus on what excites you rather than things that make you dread getting up.

Step 10: Avoid grogginess

Why You Should Skip the Snooze ButtonIf, even after eight hours of sleep, you wake up feeling groggy, it could be because you’re interrupting your sleep cycle. REM, or rapid eye movement, stimulates the brain to learn. It’s a deep stage of sleep where dreams typically happen, and if abruptly woken up during this stage, you will feel disoriented and groggy. Sleep inertia, a physiological state caused by waking up suddenly and too early, can affect people from two to four hours. Studies show that even if you feel awake, sleep inertia can affect cognitive skills, challenging productivity levels at work.

Try a smartphone app for help: Using a smartphone set under your pillow, the app tracks sleep cycles and wakes you when you’re in your lightest sleep phase. Hitting the snooze button will also disrupt this cycle. It takes about one hour to reach a deep sleep, and the fragmented dozing can actually leave you more tired.

Even though alcohol may make us pass out at the end of the night, it inhibits the deep sleep needed to wake up feeling refreshed. Avoid booze before bed, and if you do enjoy a few cocktails during happy hour, make sure to drink plenty of water before sleeping to counter the effects.


10 Reasons to Lace Up Your Shoes for National Walking Day

Zen Shoes by VionicSunshine is pouring through the windows of my office. That, coupled with temperatures above freezing, call me to head outdoors. I’ll be slipping on my sneakers to get away from the computer screen soon and taking full benefit of that extra hour of daylight. Here are 10 reasons why you should lace up your shoes to walk today too.

1. It’s National Walking Day. For the ninth year, the American Heart Association (AHA) is encouraging people to get out of their chairs and walk for 30 minutes. As part of its “My Heart. My Life” initiative, AHA is encouraging Americans to participate in healthy behaviors to improve cardiovascular health. Analysis of the National Runners’ Health Study and the National Walkers’ Health Study found that brisk walking is just as effective as running for reducing the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and possibly coronary heart disease.

2. Watching your waistline? Studies have shown that walking just 30 minutes five days out of the week has also been found to counter a genetic propensity to being overweight or obese. Walking may also reduce the risk of early mortality that comes with a sedentary lifestyle.

3. Can walking extend your life then? For every hour of brisk walking, life expectancy for some may increase by two hours, according to the AHA. Walking is also associated with a reduced risk of dementia and can help cognitive function, improving quality of life as you age.

4. A half hour of walking can boost immune function. Walking for a half-hour is associated with increased blood counts of white blood cells, including natural killer cells, and interleukin-6, an inflammation modulator and metabolic regulator.

5. Walking is a “superfood” of movement nutrients for the body, according to biomechanics specialist Katy Bowman. Click here to find out how to get the most fitness benefits of what Bowman calls the “defining movement of a human.”

6. Walking outside in nature is beneficial for our physical, mental and spiritual health. Studies have shown that being out in nature can distract us from pain and physical discomfort, while reducing muscle tension, blood pressure, heart rate and the production of stress hormones. Spending time outdoors can relieve depression and anxiety and make us for feel more relaxed and centered. It also can help us feel more connected to other people and to the universe at large. Finally, spending time in nature can boost our creativity, attention and focus, while honing our problem solving and reasoning skills. Walking in Nature

7. Walking gives us a sense of freedom and adventure. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in the essay, “Walking”:

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend [time]…sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements…We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.”

8. Great news: You do not need to learn how to walk. You’ve been doing it since you were a toddler. However, proper alignment is important to reduce the risk of injury while walking for fitness.

Walking In Alignment9. You also do not need special equipment to walk. You don’t need weights, resistance bands or any props. You can walk in yoga pants or you can walk in comfortable jeans; it’s your choose. Simply throw on a pair of comfortable and supportive shoes—though make sure they don’t hurt your precious feet.

10. By taking time to move throughout the day, you are also setting a great example for others. I know I am inspired to move more when I see this elderly woman dressed in red walking all over town every day, rain or shine. Don’t like walking alone? Enlist a colleague, friend or family member to join you. Walking need not be simply another thing on your to-do list. Make it a social experience by walking with others, set your groove with some music motivation or be inspired by the view by finding a scenic walking trail outdoors.


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