Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Lovely Liver (Juice recipe included!)

I love my body. 

I didn't always.  I used to pinch and poke at it and call it bad names when it wasn't the size I wanted it to be.  But I got over that, and except for those few days of water retention that kick off my moon cycle, I'm comfortable the way I am.  And I have a new favorite body part:  my liver.

The human liver is amazing.  Not just for its ability to leave us unscathed after a night of heavy drinking through most of our 20's, but for the mass amounts of tasks in completes each day with finesse.  Now, before I went to school for Ayurveda, I didn't think much about my liver.  I knew that it processed alcohol, that jaundice was somehow related, and that it was an organ that could be transplanted but was hard to come by (thank you, Grey's Anatomy).  And I thought it was probably about the size of a steak.

Your liver is huge.  It's shaped like a large, right-angle triangle in the right upper quadrant of your abdomen, with the ninety degree angle at about your right nipple, the long point across your chest at your left nipple, and the third point just below the bottom of your right rib cage.  Not only is your liver responsible for the daily filtering of toxins from 100 gallons of blood, everyday it produces a quart of bile (stored and secreted in the gallbladder), manufactures 13,000 chemicals, stores glycogen and iron, stores vitamins, produces fat for storage, forms blood coagulants, and synthesizes amino acids and cholesterol.  To name a few things.  It does more.

So basically, your liver is amazing.  And I realize that mine is a little run down right now because of the breakout of pimples on my face, and the minor skin rash on my shin.  Ayurveda has taught me that the skin is one place the liver dumps things when it becomes over-taxed.  (Have you ever looked at the skin of an alcoholic?  Red, veiny, weathered and old-looking, right?).  Luckily, I know a few very basic things to do to love my liver.

Since the liver takes up 20% of our body's energy, I need to give it some rest.  The liver, like most of the body, does the majority of its work repairing itself between 10 pm and 2 am -- the time when we're not (hopefully) putting food in our mouths.  The easiest way to love your liver is to eat a light dinner, skip your night snack (and/or night cap) and get to bed by 10 p.m.  The liver is responsible for creating the enzymes needed to breakdown fats, so downing a bunch of ice cream right before bed keeps your poor liver up all night.  And, since alcohol is processed in the body like fat, the liver is also responsible for the digestion of that bedtime beer.

In Ayurveda, the liver is a Pitta organ.  Pitta is the dosha comprised mostly of the fire element, and summer is the Pitta time of year (cause it's hot, y'all!).  To keep yourself and your liver cool this summer, try this refreshing green drink.  On a hot day, there's nothing better than sitting in the shade with this elixir. I call it Green Lemonade:

In your juicer, juice the following:
1/2 a head kale, chard, spinach or other bitter green
2 apples
1 lemon

Here's to your liver!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Here we go . . .

I've started a new blog.  Why, you may ask, when I wasn't consistent with the blog at Passionate Life Yoga?  Because although the argument could be made that things like redefining values, simplifying life, and mindfully working towards health and healing are all things that fall under the "yoga" umbrella, I felt pressured in my yoga blog to always tie my lessons back to the mat.  Not that it couldn't be done, but I didn't like the pressure.  And, as I just mentioned, I'm trying to simplify life and work towards health, so extra stress and boundaries are out.

The word svastha is Sankrit for "perfect health."  More specifically, it means, "a person who is established in the self and the Self."  The "self" is defined as the ego, or the "I-maker" part of us; that which allows us individual identity by defining us as separate from everyone and everything else.  The "Self" is defined as the higher part of our being; the part of us that can distinguish truth from illusion and the part that connects us to each other as well as to the Universe.

The "self" is an important part of who we are, and for some, it's the only part of our being we're aware of.  The "self," or ego, often gets a bad reputation -- those with too much ego are often regarded as shallow and naive.  In yoga, we're usually told to "let go of our ego."  And while it's vital that we learn to see past the ego and all of the trouble it can get us into, it's also important that we learn to harness a healthy ego.  Healthy here doesn't mean a boosted ego, as in, "That guy flexing his muscles sure has a healthy ego!"  A healthy ego means self-esteem without arrogance, courage without fool-heartedness, and enough self worth to give love unconditionally.  Fostering a healthy ego is learning the skills necessary to be successful in the world while keeping integrity. 

Finding a healthy "Self" may be more difficult.  The higher Self has a voice within us, but it is not as loud as the voice of the ego.  While the ego may blatantly direct our senses toward things it wants in order to feel validated -- like a new dress to feel pretty, ice cream to feel content, or sex to feel loved -- your Self speaks in softer voice.  It is the voice heard during the times when the senses are not overloaded; the quite times of meditation, the quite space just before falling to sleep, and the times that you go (gasp!) without distraction of phone, Facebook or TV.  We must do the difficult work of introspection and meditation, for to harness a healthy Self is to realize that our true nature is not the undulations of our ego -- our true nature is spirit.

I'm not sure if "perfect health" exists, or if it does, what it looks like.  The word "perfect" triggers all sorts of daddy issues for me, and so I'd rather look at svastha as a journey toward a place where my body is healthy and I'm so happy I feel like a fairy-goddess atop a mountain singing to the world, and where my soul is at peace in my body because it is recognized and honored.  Above all, I want to create a life for myself where I feel that I am living my life to its fullest, with integrity, a healthy body, loving relationships and honest communication.  I want this for myself, but also because my dharma is to heal others, and in order to do that with integrity I must first create a my own life of svastha.

My intuition tells me this journey won't be easy all of the time.  It may not be pretty all of the time, either.  But knowing me, there will be plenty of moments of comic relief, lots of slackline breaks, hot baths, and ice cream.  I think it may also be lonely.  I hope at least a few times to find myself surrounded by friends when there is laughter, and wrapped in supportive arms for some of my tears.  There is a lot to cover when it comes to finding svastha, so topics may be as lighthearted as how to make homemade ice cream to feed a crowd, or brutally honest, or the wanderings of a vata-vitiated mind -- I'm just not sure yet what the road will bring.  Today, I learned that magic still exists because I sat in a tree house with a goddess, sipping tea and surrounded by fairies.  Then, the goddess taught me to make raw chocolate while we listened to two sprites play live music and a group of healers discuss crystals.  Real, natural healing is happening in the world and I am part of the community who not only believes but makes it happen.  That is magic.  And in my book, creating real magic is one step to cultivating svastha.