Mermaid Days

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This is a picture of me from when I lived in Hawaii.

Today, I look out my window at another cold and rainy Pacific Northwest day. This has been like the rainiest winter in history up here. Even though the first day of Spring was officially yesterday (yay!), the weather pays no heed up here. It still looks and feels like winter – and I am over winter already.

After living in Hawaii for almost ten years, my husband Josh and I moved out here because we thought it would be better to raise our kids here – that there is more to offer them here. We have lived in Washington state for almost three years and we have weighed the two against each other and have come to a realization that there is no one place that is better to raise our kids. Where we belong is where it is best to raise our kids. The islands are like a part of us. The ocean is the closest thing to heaven on earth I have ever experienced. Josh surfs and is eager to teach our kids. I swim like a mermaid.

And so, we return to Hawaii soon (hallelujah).

I have learned so much through this journey, though. Josh and I have grown much closer – and we have grown so close as a family with our kids. The specific bond between us resulting from this adventure could not have been built any other way.

And the Pacific Northwest is a truly beautiful place. The mountains, the Sound, the pure air, the abundant water – the list goes on. It rocks up here.

Also on this journey I discovered my sensitivity to gluten, which has been life-changing. I understand my body more than I ever have, AND I learned how to make soup, and have since created some amazing recipes, which I will continue to share.

I will also post soon about the fiction books I published based on my mermaid days of living in Hawaii.

These pictures are of me on a boat in the ocean, setting out on a mermaid adventure. It has been a while since I have had a mermaid day, and I can’t wait to have another.

For now, we continue to hope for spring, even though we can’t see it yet. We focus on getting the kids though the last months of the school year – go kids! And I do yoga to light an inner fire to warm these CD days.Maybe I will go make a soup now. Wishing you a good first week of spring!

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Winter Warm-up Soup

It is cold up here in the Pacific Northwest! At the beginning of the month, we had some  days where the world was softened with white, sounds muted by the quiet snow. Now it finally feels as if  the heart of winter has passed, and that Spring is just around the corner. But it isn’t here yet, and I look out my window at another grey, wet day.

I haven’t written here for a couple of months. January was full of activity, with both my daughter and my birthday’s, along with all the regular busyness of raising kids.

Then, during  the snow days, both my husband and son got the flu. It hit my little six-year old and held him down for days. It was hard to take care of him at the same time that I felt his suffering, almost as my own. Thankfully that is behind us, and health has been restored!

How do we warm ourselves up and keep our internal fire burning strong through this cold season? As usual, my remedy is born in the kitchen. I had this soup in the crock pot during our snowy days and it truly fortified me for all that I had to take care of. My family LOVES it when I make this, and I know it fortifies them, too.

Rosemary smells amazing. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, and helps keep our memory healthy. Living with Hashimoto’s, a memory boost is much appreciated 🙂  Garlic is a wonder plant. It has anti-bacterial properties that give our GI tract a tune-up. Garlic backs up the ‘good guys’ within our micrbiome – the little world going on within our bodies. Pepper is a powerhouse this time of year. Black pepper helps dry out any excess phlegm in the system. It also gives our internal fire extra pep – something we all need this time of year in the Northern hemisphere.

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ON CUTTING VEGETABLES

I invite you to make this soup. Cutting vegetables is a truly soothing activity, so even if you feel too tired, or too busy to try making this, consider taking a Sunday afternoon, or any time you have free, and doing it anyway. Put on your favorite music, use it as a time to BREATHE deeply and evenly. It always amazes me how centered I feel while I’m cutting vegetables. Maybe having our hands on earth’s bounty somehow makes us feel more connected to the natural environment. Whatever the reason, making this soup feels like a healing activity for me. And it is YUMMY.

RECIPE for WINTER WARM-UP SOUP

First we create the broth. I have talked about the numerous benefits of bone broth in other posts. It will strengthen you from the inside out!

Broth

1. Buy quality grass-fed beef bones. Neck bones are fabulous, and it’s good if they have some meat still on.

2. Roast a few bones in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes, to bring out a yummy flavor.

3. Place bones in large stock pot and cover with 4 quarts of filtered water. You can easily double the amount by adding more bones and more water.

4. Add a couple tablespoons apple cider vinegar.

5. Let it sit without heat for twenty minutes. The vinegar will begin to pull minerals from the bones.

6. Add sea salt and ground black pepper. Bring to a boil for a couple of minutes.

7. Turn the heat to low, cover and let it simmer for 24 to 30 hours.

Soup Recipe

Slice three organic sweet onions and add them to a skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium-low heat. Add five cloves of garlic, and lots of fresh rosemary leaves. Sprinkle pepper over the mix. Stir often and let the onions lightly glaze.

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Cut up your veggies. I use lots of zucchini, some red potatoes, sweet potatoes or yams, purple potatoes and carrots. Put these veggies into your crock pot. Scoop the top layer of fat off your broth with a ladle and pour it onto your veggies, careful to keep the bones out of the crock pot. Add the onion mixture, a generous amount of additional pepper, a few more garlic cloves, and sea salt to the pot. Browned beef chunks are also an option; I personally like it without beef chunks better, but both ways are good. Simmer on high for five hours, and enjoy. You can turn the heat to low and keep it in the pot for 24 hours, eating as desired. Keeping this in your system for a couple of days will fortify you, warm you up, and make you strong! The picture below shows my soup right as it’s starting to simmer in the crock pot. After it’s cooked, it will look more like stew. Oh so good!

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A Clear View

Today and tomorrow I am doing a mini-cleanse. I am only eating two foods at each meal. While this sounds boring, it is very beneficial for the digestive system to take a rest from sorting out how to digest a bunch of different foods, especially if our system is sensitive. And, there is no starvation involved in this cleanse; it is nourishing as well as healing.

There is a lot going on for people right now, and a lot of information out there to be ‘digested’. Not only does our body have to digest and assimilate all the food that we eat, but our system must also digest and assimilate all of our experiences, including what we read or pictures we see. It is healthy to give our bodies a rest. Eating simply allows this to happen. As the physical body has less to deal with, the energy can be turned to digesting other layers of stimuli and information, preventing back-up and overwhelm.

I made a big pot of Kitcharee (I’ve written about this dish in other posts) – a one-pot meal developed in India. Sometimes I use more spices, like in the recipe I gave previously. But this time I made a simpler dish, using only turmeric – the amazing spice with powerhouse health and anti-inflammatory properties – and pepper. A little pepper tastes wonderful with turmeric, and it  assists the body in deriving top benefits from it.

I also made a delicious soup. At each meal, I have a bowl of Kitcharee that I heat in my cast iron skillet with a little ghee, and a big mug of my soup, which is so creamy and nice to drink from a mug. This soup is very healing and nourishing, with a bone broth base offering many amino acids and minerals that the body can use to repair itself, as needed.

If you decide to do a little cleanse, we can cheers our mugs together, virtually.

Using a journal can be very helpful when we cleanse. Thoughts and emotions may surface, and writing about them makes it easy to sort them out, or release them. This time of year supports the practice of letting go of what no longer serves us on the levels of body, mind and spirit. Just as the trees let go of their leaves in glorious bursts of color, we too can shed old layers with beauty and grace.

To make the Kitcharee:

1 cup uncooked organic basmati rice – soaked (Soak your rice in water for around 24 hours to make it easier to digest.Just before cooking, drain the water you soaked it in, leaving only the rice)

1 cup  green mung dahl – soaked (Same process as with the rice) This legume can be found in the bulk section of a good health food store. It is the easiest lentil type food to digest.

5 tablespoons organic ghee

3 tablespoons organic turmeric

one half tablespoon black pepper

1 teaspoon sea salt

8 cups pure water

To prepare:

In a big stockpot, melt the ghee over low heat.

Add the turmeric and pepper, continually stirring. When the mixture has a paste-like quality, add the rice, stirring it in well. Stir in the mung beans. Add the water and salt  and turn the heat up to high. Allow the mixture to boil for about three minutes, then cover and turn the heat down. Simmer for around forty-five minutes, until the water is gone and you have a soft porridge.

For dinner on the two days of my cleanse,  I saute some zucchini in a little coconut oil to have with the meal.

To make the soup:

First make broth, which is a 24-hour process, but quite easy.

Use quality, grass-fed beef bones. Neck bones with a little meat work well.  Roast 3 or 4 bones in the oven at 325 for 30 minutes, to bring out a good flavor. It’s fine if bones have meat on them, this is good. Place bones in large soup pot and cover with a quart and a cup of filtered water.  Add a tablespoon apple cider vinegar. Let it sit without heat for a half hour. The vinegar will begin to pull minerals from the bones.

Bring to a boil for a few minutes. Then turn the heat to low, cover, and let it simmer for 24-30 hours.

24-30 hours later…

Cut two butternut squashes into a couple inch long cubes, no peel. Toss these in melted ghee to lightly coat them. Roast squash for forty minutes at 375, stirring with a spatula after twenty minutes.

When squash has fifteen minutes left, put four cloves of garlic in their peels on a sheet and stick in the oven.

Squish the garlic out of the peel and into a blender with a cup or two of the broth. Add some roasted squash – you will probably have to do it in batches – and puree until creamy.

Pour this into a crock pot. Add a few pinches sea salt.

Simmer on low for four hours.

Both the soup and the kitcharee can be stored in the fridge and warmed up over the stove as needed.

A pic of my mug of soup, and one from the hike we did last month. A figurative new viewpoint is likely after we complete a cleanse. A clear view is inspiring.

My Commitment

The National Institute of Health estimates that at least 23.5 million people in the US suffer from an autoimmune disease, and that this number is on the rise. 75% of these people are women. After interviewing dozens of experts in the field of autoimmunity, Amy Meyers M.D. stated that “This is an epidemic.” What is happening? Why are our own immune systems turning against us?

Experts agree that a few factors need to be in place to cause an autoimmune disease. They are: genetic predisposition, a leaky gut, and an additional trigger such as stress or a parasite, like candida. In other words, we may carry the gene for autoimmunity, but a perfect storm must occur in order for the gene to ‘turn on.’

I have lived this statistic, and when something like this actually happens to you, statistics take on a whole new meaning. I feel passionately about getting the word out there that it is possible to heal.

Since sending my disease into remission through lifestyle changes over time, I have studied and researched the available information on autoimmunity. I believe that what is happening is that a combination of factors that are a part of modern life have caused this epidemic. The good news is, we can protect, and heal ourselves.

This is not to say that modern medicine does not have a place, because it does. I still take a thyroid hormone replacement to help supplement this important hormone in my body because over time, my thyroid gland has suffered enough abuse from my own immune system, that it needs the extra boost.

But, there are so many factors to autoimmunity that traditional medicine does not address. To feel truly well, these factors must be looked at, and healed.

We are living in a time unlike any other in the history of humankind. Life is faster, more connected, and more full of information than ever before. While this can be good, it can also take its toll on sensitive individuals. Our systems are in overdrive, and it is impacting our health in serious ways.

Being sensitive does not have to be synonymous with weak. It does however, require one to take extra care of the body, mind and spirit, especially in today’s fast-paced and over-stimulating world. Because if we don’t, we will live with fatigue and apathy, as we hold the door open for more autoimmune diagnoses. Simple, subtle lifestyle changes can have huge benefits in this regard.

Even if you are taking your prescribed medication, how you FEEL is a super important indicator to how well your body is functioning. Tune in and listen to yourself. We only get one body in this life, and it is our vehicle for this experience.

I feel passionate about keeping this conversation going, especially now that I know that this is an actual epidemic, affecting mainly women. Remember, even if you don’t have an autoimmune disorder, the number is on the rise, so preventative measures are important. I hope the articles I post here will offer lifestyle suggestions and recipes that may act as healing salve over this issue.

Let’s do this together, and heal our lives!

Halting the Inflammation Train

It is my two year anniversary of being hive-free. Yes, a strange event to have an anniversary for, but if you’ve ever had a health issue that took months or longer to resolve, you can relate. I had hive flair-ups all over my body, every single day, for one year, and then one day they went away, never to return.

During the year when I experienced the hives, I felt tired and groggy constantly, even when I first awoke in the morning. Life was an uphill battle – just the little things took extreme amounts of will to accomplish. I remember looking at the clock at 9:30 am and thinking I am way too tired to make it through this day. Even though I was only thirty-eight, I felt very old, like the best part of life was behind me. Not a fun, or productive, way to live.

Today, while still aware of the underlying condition that caused the hives, I feel vibrant and alive. The here and now is fulfilling. Exhaustion doesn’t hit me until 10 p.m. when I happily crawl under the covers feeling that a rest has been well earned. I’m actually excited about life – I know that while I have already lead a full life with many awesome memories and experiences, the best is yet to come.

What I now know is that an autoimmune disease was part of the underlying cause of the chronic hives. But I believe that at the root of my problem was chronic inflammation – the inflammation was a precursor to the auto-immunity. Our bodies use inflammation as a mechanism of defense against unwanted intruders or pathogens, but if the wrong factors are present (like poor diet and excessive stress) and the inflammation train gets going, it can accelerate to destructive levels. Once this train is going out of control, it is not easy to calm it down. Inflammation is only meant to be turned on when the body is in real danger, not chronically.

Two years ago I did what is called an ‘elimination diet’. For thirty-one days, I ate only organic bone broth soups with vegetables, cooked vegetables, simple 3-ingredient, blueberry smoothies, and an Indian dish called Kitcharee. On day seventeen of this month, the hives did not show up, and I have not seen them since (celebrate).

After the elimination diet, I slowly added foods in, one at a time and only one every three days – it can take three days for the body to adversely react to a food. My body was fine with all the foods I added – granted, I have stayed with a whole-food, gluten and dairy free diet this entire two years. As hard as this sometimes is, I feel so much better without the inflammation, I refuse to get that train going again.

A lot of us live with low levels of chronic inflammation. This presents as sluggishness, a little extra weight on the body, aches and pains, low libido, bloating, and a general lack of passion. It is interesting to consider ways to calm the inflammation, to care for ourselves in such a way that illnesses such as autoimmunity and other chronic yuckiness do not develop in the first place, or to keep the symptoms calm and dormant if they already have.

One simple practice is deep breathing. Christopher Bergland, author of The Athletes’ way: The Biology of Bliss, writes about deep breathing in his article, The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure. This article is about the Vagus Nerve, a very interesting subject. This nerve wanders from the base of the brain down through the body, touching several key organs along the way – including the heart. He writes, “A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being. A low vagal tone index is linked to inflammation, negative moods, loneliness, and heart attacks.”

He also discusses how diaphragmatic breathing increases vagal tone.

So, pull up a cushion, silence the cellphone, and treat yourself to some deep breathing. Even five or ten minutes a day will give results. First simply observe the current rhythm of your breath without judgement. Due to the hectic pace of modern life, most of us function on a jagged breathing rhythm. After noticing this for a minute or two, begin guiding the inhales and the exhales to a smooth, even rhythm. Counting the length of the inhales and the exhales and nudging them to even is one method. Sometimes it is nice to have the exhales be slightly longer and to envision stress being expelled from the body with the breath out.

This simple exercise will tone the vagus nerve, signalling to the brain and heart that all is well. Practicing regularly has huge impacts on soothing inflammation and promoting well-being – I know from experience.

This is a picture  our family out hiking in August. I am grateful to feel well again, so that I can live my life in the fullest way possible!

 

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When Springtime throws you a Wintry Day

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Springtime in the Pacific Northwest is never predictable. Last week my five-year old and I met friends at the beach for a sunny day that satisfied my Vitamin D craving, and more; today, the sky is characteristic grey, a cold wind is making the leaves shimmy, and I think it may rain.

When I saw today in the forecast, I was actually happy. A soup day!

I had been a pescatarian for a very long time – almost twenty-five years – when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. This means that the only meat I ate was fish, on occasion. But, after the diagnosis, I quit eating gluten completely and after so many years of being mainly vegetarian, I realized that I just may need some animal products. The healing protocol I designed for myself, based on the amalgamation of many experts, included bone broth soup.

This week is my two-year mark of being 100% gluten free, and I feel so much better that it still feels like a miracle. If you’re interested in exactly why I cut the gluten, check out my earlier post entitled “The Gluten Piece.” Here, I will only say that while some are still skeptical whether leaky gut syndrome  exists, I am convinced that it is quite real, and able to be healed.

In essence, leaky gut is when the wall of our small intestine becomes compromised due to food sensitivities. When the intestinal wall is irritated, it can become more porous than it should be. Small particles escape into the bloodstream and alert our immune systems, leading to inflammation, and if left unchecked, autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s. Modern day gluten causes food sensitivity in some people, due to its difficulty to break down by the digestive system. I say ‘modern day’ because the gluten we eat is not the same product that our grandparent’s ate, but that’s another subject altogether.

If you’re not sure if this applies to you, I invite you to cut gluten out of your diet – 100% – there is absolutely no grey area on this one. Give yourself about a week, and then check in with yourself. Have any digestion issues improved, even somewhat? Have you noticed a difference in your energy levels, even subtle? If so, you may want to continue your gluten fast, and work on repairing your gut.

Bone broth is a powerhouse in this respect. Homemade bone broth contains numerous minerals and amino acids that are readily usable by the body to restore damaged tissue in the small intestine, connective tissues, and other organs. It is a truly healing food – I can attest to this firsthand after healing from the state of total exhaustion and inflammation resulting in daily hives – to a state of wellness I have never experienced in my life. The bone broth has been one component in my healing, and an important one. Using organic ingredients whenever possible is important, to minimize chemicals and toxins. I still eat meat rarely, having been vegetarian for so long. But the broth can be amazing in veggie soups too!

As the Mother of two kids – my little girl is eight and my son is five – and the wife of a big, hungry man, my soups have come in handy. Tonight, my family will enjoy a beef soup that has been simmering in the crock pot all day.

Here is the recipe. If you get handed a Wintry day this Spring, give it a try.

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Bone Broth

4 or 5 Grass-fed beef marrow or neck bones (organic if possible)

1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

12 cups filtered water

1 Tablespoon sea salt

2 pinches black pepper

To prepare:

Bake the bones in an oven heated to 350 for 30 minutes to improve flavor. Place bones in a large stock pot along with the water and vinegar. Allow to soak for 20 minutes to extract minerals. Add salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Boil for three or four minutes and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 12 to 24 hours. Pour broth through a strainer so that only the liquid remains.

 

Wintry Day Beef Soup

2 large red onions

8 peeled cloves garlic

2 tablespoons sea salt

2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves

Lots of fresh thyme

One pound steak cut grass-fed beef chunks

4 large yams

4 large zucchini

2 cups baby carrots

Coconut oil

To prepare:

Cut sweet potatoes and zucchini into large, bit-sized chunks. Heat 2 tablespoons coconut oil in skillet. Add carrots and fry on medium heat for fifteen minutes. Pour bone broth into crock pot. Add vegetables, including garlic and and basil. Turn crock pot on high.

Cut onion into long pieces. Warm onions on low in 2 tablespoons coconut oil in skillet. When onions become translucent, add beef and sprigs of thyme, and fry until beef is cooked on the outside, adding a couple pinches of salt. Place meat and onions into soup. Add 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves and stir well.

Cook soup on high heat for six hours. Serve to someone you love, and let the healing begin!

 

The Healing Power of Yoga

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I have been practicing yoga for over twenty years. Teaching for the past two has been an amazing experience. Going into the yoga room is like pressing the pause button on time – as we settle into the breath, synchronizing its rhythm with the movements, our worries fall away and stress melts. We stretch, twist and bend. We push our personal boundaries as we expand into the poses.

Lying still for five to ten minutes at the end of class allows the benefits of the practice to sink in, body, mind, and spirit. We leave feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to enter back into daily life with a whole new perspective.

If you’ve never tried yoga, I recommend finding a studio and giving it a try. This is an excellent way to manage stress, that thief of health and wellness. It may not be possible right at this moment to eliminate daily stress, but it is possible to control our reaction to it. The breath awareness and coordinated poses that yoga offers will give you a new way of dealing with life. It transforms us from the inside out.

Root Vegetable Delight

I am always looking for ways to make beets taste delightful – they are so  packed with health benefiting properties!

Beets support the liver. We all know how much the modern-day liver must deal with in terms of environmental toxins, medications and food additives. Giving this important organ support offers a big boost in how we feel, and beets are one of the very best foods for this purpose.

If we are living with any type of autoimmune disorder it is important to remember that all of the organs and systems in the body are interconnected. When we eat foods to heal the liver, we are helping our entire body heal, since the liver is such a key player in the overall function of the body.

This dish makes an excellent mid-winter lunch or dinner, and also works as a tasty side dish.

 

Recipe:

Ingredients

3 or 4 organic beets

3 large, organic yams

1 organic sweet onion

Ghee

1 Tablespoon Curry powder (can be straight ground curry, or if you have a mixture you like, that works)

3 Tablespoons Turmeric (the SUPER spice)

1 Tablespoon sea salt

1 cup organic basmati rice, soaked (soak rice for 24 hours, rinsing and changing water halfway through)

1 can organic Coconut Milk

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel beets and yams and cut them into cubes. Cut onion into strips.

Place beets, yams and onions on large glass baking dish and drizzle generously with melted ghee. Sprinkle with sea salt. Place in oven and roast, stirring occasionally, for an hour.

Forty minutes later, place drained rice and coconut milk, along with two cups of water, into a sauce pan or rice cooker to cook. If using sauce pan, bring mixture to a boil, then cover and turn to low heart.

When veggies are done roasting, melt 2 tablespoons ghee slowly in large cast iron pan on low heat, stirring in turmeric and curry powder. Stir constantly until a nice paste is formed.

Place roasted veggies into the pan, and turn heat to medium. Stir veggies to coat with paste.

Place almost all the way cooked coconut rice into cast iron mixture. It is good if it still has a moistness, even a little wet still.

Stir in well and fry together with veggies for seven to ten minutes, continuing to stir.

YUM!

Your liver will thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming toward the light

Amanda Rose Baker

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The past couple of years have been transformational.

In January of 2014 I was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This diagnosis came as quite a shock.

The frustrating part was that, even after following my doctor’s advice perfectly, by August of 2014, I was still dealing with the daily hives that had plagued my life for over a year. These red welts appeared all over my skin in the morning – every single day. This picture of my shoulder gives you an idea of what they looked like. They would pop up on different places on my skin. The worst was when they covered my neck, those grew the most inflamed and the feeling was most uncomfortable.

The hives would slowly subside after I took a Benadryl, only to make a comeback in the afternoon or evening. And no one had any answers aside from ‘take more Benadryl’. It was like an unsolvable mystery.

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To Metabolize Experience

I’ve always loved the snow. The way the light reflects off of the crystalline surfaces, creating small sparks of color; the way each snowflake is uniquely shaped; how when it lays on the ground, its individual flakes merge into a soft blanket of white.

It seems like each of us is as equally unique as a snowflake. I’ve always noticed this among my friends – I am blessed with amazing friends – some I’ve been close to for as long as twenty-five years, others I met in Hawaii more than a decade ago, some I’ve know less than a year. I love friendship and it is healthy for women to have strong friendships.

One thing I have noticed, is that five women can go into one experience together, and come away with five versions of memories of the experience. The rough details and outline is the same, of course, such as where and when the event took place, the sequence of events, the weather.

But most of the fine details differ in the varying recounts of the same event or experience.

Why is this?

Ayurveda provides an interesting explanation: Each person is unique. We all are born with individual constitutions, we react to experiences differently, we have our own perceptions as to what goes on around us.

We ‘metabolize’ experiences in our own way. There are several levels on which  a person must metabolize the events and relationships of their lives. And we all do this with our own set of background experiences, viewpoints etc.

True health occurs on many levels. An important one is how we relate to the people around us. If we keep in mind that everyone is seeing things from their own vantage point, maybe we can open up great conversations and ask what someone has experienced, and then learn and grow from their answers. We can do this with love.

If they do the same for us, solid relationships built on trust and  understanding can be built.

Our health will benefit!