“You are, therefore I am…”. Thich Nhat Hanh
I have always thought of Winter as a “First Chakra” season. In the short, dark days and cold weather of winter, it is the first chakra, better known as the Root chakra, that connects us to the earth through our feet and legs. Go outside in your bare feet and pull in the earth’s energy, feeding your roots in the same way that you water your garden. First chakra energy connects us to our survival instincts, our ancestors and our Tribe; it carries our physical structure, feet, legs, joints and bones, the hard and soft connective tissues, including red and white blood cells and the rich marrow inside the bones.
It makes sense, then, to fill our pantries with the sturdiness of beets, whose gorgeous red color is also the color of the first chakra as they help to increase blood flow to the brain and other areas of the body. Eating all those fibrous root vegetables - red potatoes and carrots, radishes and parsnips - will keep your immune system strong during this season when colds and the flu are making the rounds in epic proportions. It is appropriate to eat them in abundance now. Lycopene, the compound that makes all these foods red, is a potent antioxidant found in foods high in Vitamin C and other polyphenols. Without Vitamin C, we couldn’t make the connective tissue matrix in our bones, teeth and skin. Vitamin C is also crucial for the functioning of the adrenal glands and immune system.
This is not the time for too much raw food that will make your insides cold; nor is it a time for isolation. It is a time for connecting and identifying your Tribe and to gather. The first Chakra holds the emotion “All is One”, as medical intuitive Carolyn Myss, Ph.D. has written. This goes along with the the Buddhist concept of Emptiness, or Inter-Being…You and I are connected…Without you, I wouldn’t be me. Since it is also the season of the color red, it is a good time to wrap yourself in red clothing as you eat your red root vegetables, red meat (if you are not Vegan or Vegetarian) and Ruby Chard. Knock yourself out eating pomegranates, baked apples and roasted red pears. Because of its emphasis on structure, the first chakra thrives on protein foods and the minerals that are found in them. Ask yourself: Do I feel grounded in my career and social life? Am I living in a community that I feel connected to? Throughout my life, have I been able to “stand on my own two feet” and support myself comfortably, without fears of not thriving? Have I handled my survival well so that I feel safe in my life….
Many years ago, I had a mentor who introduced me to the seven body Chakras, or energy centers, and taught me how to use them to heal myself and others. Her name was Valerie Hunt, Ph.D., and, aside from being a powerful intuitive, she was a professor of biomechanics at UCLA (her day job). She used her evenings and weekends to teach workshops on Energy Medicine, which propelled me into my studies with physicist Barbara Brennan and others who could teach me about this invisible world of healing. Along with Dr. Thelma Moss at UCLA, Dr. Hunt created a lab to record the sounds of the Chakras. She invited me into a small group she had formed to do research on Past Life Regressions using the Chakras as a way “In”.
Along came Carolyn Myss around this time, who visualized and wrote about the fascinating links between the Hindu chakras, the Christian sacraments and the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life, all interwoven into the energetic tapestry of which we are all a part. More recently, researcher and nutritionist Deanna Minich, Ph.D., wrote her book, “The Rainbow Diet: A Holistic Approach to Radiant Health Through Foods and Supplements”. This book is a modern approach to Energy Medicine, connecting foods, supplements and herbs with the energy systems of our bodies and of the Earth.
As we consider the first chakra and its energy, it is the perfect time to think about its attributes, our Tribal connections and, importantly, our tribal epidemics. Along with the grounding forces of the first chakra, it also has its emotional and physical dysfunctions. Emotional issues, such as Depression encompass the energy of the first chakra, along with physical issues like chronic low back pain, sciatica and immune related issues. Did you know, for instance, that according to health trends, within the next few years, 50% of us (one out of every two people) will be diabetic. We all know at least one or two people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic, who have the five characteristics of Metabolic Syndrome and are Insulin Resistant. If this sounds like you, you are not alone; many of your tribal members stand with you in this completely human-made epidemic. Yet, we are all responsible for the health of the Tribe and we can all join to change the epidemics that don’t serve us.
Perhaps you will be able to take some time this winter to more thoroughly ponder the energy of the Root chakra, staying with real food choices that support your healthy survival. Perhaps you will choose supplements that will keep you healthy and begin to think about ways to shift the needle away from the lifestyle habits that feed the epidemics of our time. Food is political, and each time you purchase real food that feeds you in healthy ways, you send the message of a Tribe that wants to be healthy. We made the epidemic of diabetes by purchasing highly palatable processed foods, high in unhealthy carbohydrates and we can also turn it around.
In the next newsletter, I will talk about the energy and attributes of the second chakra. For now, remember the energy of the Tribe, the first chakra, the power of survival and All is One.
No matter how you celebrate the approaching New Year, what we all have in common is a desire to be healthy. Without our health, our dreams are impossible to achieve. If you are someone recovering from an illness or injury, you know this to be true - There are no dreams unless you are well and have the strength and clarity to accomplish them. Now, the new field of Epigenetics empowers us to make small changes that will alter the genes we thought we were stuck with.
In 1942, two scientists discovered the link between our environment and our genes. Using fruit flies in their first experiments, they found that by changing their environment, they could also change their genes, proving that our genes are malleable. Almost thirty years ago when I was studying neurology in medical school, we also believed that neurons didn’t change or grow. Because of some long lived nuns who donated their brains to science after they died, we now know that by challenging our brains, getting regular aerobic exercise, eating certain foods and excluding others, our brains can thrive long into old age. This is also true for our DNA; you are not stuck with your grandma’s genes and the field of Epigenetics tells us so.
Since then, another subculture within this new science, Nutriepigenomics was born, looking at the ways that food and Epigenetics work together to influence our genes. These exciting discoveries allow each one of us to be proactive by choosing to eat foods rich in phytonutrients and important fats to keep the brain vibrant. Adding good sleep hygiene, balanced work stress and movement, we can avoid or heal the diseases of our time: Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disorders and more.
What makes this even more interesting and important is the knowledge that an unborn child can achieve health long into adulthood before she is even born. This is because what the mother eats and drinks, the toxins surrounding her on a regular basis, her stress level and her movement while she is pregnant all affect her offspring; a fetus is influenced by the mother’s behavior from one generation to the next. In some studies, when pregnant women ate a Mediterranean style diet throughout her pregnancy, the babies born were protected against cardiovascular disease and diabetes later in life. In other studies, when pregnant women were exposed to air pollution, her offspring were more prone to developing asthma; if she ate a diet high in sugar, the chance of her children developing ADHD increased, and so on…..
The research now tells us that the diseases of our time, including cancer, conditions of blood sugar control, like diabetes, conditions of the gut, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and brain syndromes like dementia and Alzheimer's disease are not about our genes - they are about our lifestyles. What all these conditions have in common is their connection to our habits - our stress levels, the toxicity in our environment, what we eat and drink and how socially connected we are. These conditions are not inherited from our parents or grandparents; they are about how we live.
Fortunately - thankfully - the world of medicine is changing. As people become more and more frustrated with doctors who have little time for them, in a system that is outdated and broken, those practicing Functional Medicine are taking their place. Those of us practicing Functional Medicine look at conditions that most allopathic doctors are not skilled at treating or don’t have the time for. Instead of writing prescriptions for medications that can be dangerous and often don’t work, we in the Functional Medicine world look at lifestyle habits to find out who the person is. Then, we design an individual program of wholesome nutrition, recommend supplements and herbs, appropriate movement and tools to manage stress. What a concept! This empowers each one of us to choose the habits that will allow us to live a long life and be as healthy and vibrant as we wish, from one generation to the next.
A Chinese poet wrote:
Ten thousand flowers in Spring
The moon in Autumn
A cool breeze in Summer
Snow in Winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things. This is the best season of your life.
I look forward to supporting you, your family and friends in making the year ahead “the best season of your life”…May you always live in robust health.