Mental Health

This month, it came to mind many times how important it is to monitor and maintain our mental health. How can that be done? The practice of meditation gives us an opportunity to observe ourselves and our thoughts. If our thoughts are habitually negative, repetitive, obsessive or generally stuck on a loop(in the past or future)-it requires change, and the change may require the assistance of a professional should it prove challenging to make the change on our own.

Earlier this month, I heard the song Electric Love by BORNS and right away I thought of Gary Glitter Rock and Roll. I made a playlist with songs that had a similar drum and guitar line for my cycle class. In checking the song credits, I learned that Rock and Roll was featured in the movie Joker (which I had plans to see as soon as I learned I had just missed the premiere in Italy) and there was backlash due to Glitter being in jail for pedophile crimes. Glitter’s crimes were news to me and there is the view that his music should not be played, as that supports a pedophile in earning royalties. I had already made and shared the playlist for my class so I decided to go ahead and use the opportunity to raise awareness of the issues to child abuse and mental health, as we need every one to pitch in to improve the human condition.

I saw Joker last week and felt it was a well done film that provided a view of mental illness. There is a scene where Joaquin Phoenix in his brilliant performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker tells his social worker ‘all I have are negative thoughts’. While it is not possible to have only positive thoughts, it is an important practice for us to watch the nature of our thoughts and thinking:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

The above quote is credited to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu and there are similar versions in the words of others. The practice is the same, we need to monitor our thoughts and thinking to steer in a healthy direction for our mental health.

The Best Pizza in Toronto

My bestie Kathryn and I love pizza. We have eaten a lot of pizza in our time around the world. She knows a pizza blogger and we’ve decided we need to share our pizza picks. We are qualified pizza connoisseurs because we’re living the dream when we eat pizza by a pool with Taylor Swift blaring. This project became more serious last year when we conducted a pizza taste test and were surprised to learn that Blaze pizza, a chain from the US was a real winner with their spicy sauce. Since then we have tried a few pizzas and here is our list so far, which will be updated as we try more pizza. 

  • 1. Blaze Pizza (150 John St)-We are huge fans of Blaze pizza for the spicy sauce, the gluten free crust option, and all the toppings you can choose for yourself. The pizzas are made to order and are thin crust deliciousness. 
  • 2. General Assembly Pizza (318 Adelaide St W)-This pizza is a winner with a light, thin, slightly chewy crust made to order from a menu of interesting topping combinations. The kale salad is excellent. 
  • 3. Via Mercanti (188 Augusta Ave)-Italian style pizza with just the right amount of chew that tastes homemade and professional, like nonna would make. 
  • 4. Farm Boy (1005 Lakeshore Boulevard E)-makes a pretty tasty cauliflower pizza for people on restricted carbohydrate diets. I was willing to eat this pizza and it was more than acceptable-good news!

What kind of a human do you want to be?

A couple summers ago I took on the challenge of ‘you need a trainer’ from an awesome trainer J.S. The sessions were at a gym where they measured your body composition as a marker for progress. It was uncomfortable getting on a scale that ‘analyzed’ your fat content with an extremely lean trainer and I am a fit person myself! I was reminded that we are all so much more than a measure of percentages of muscle, fat, and bone. I posed the question to myself, if I were to assign percentages, what kind of a human do I want to be?

I want to be 72% Wonder Woman, 7% ridiculous 7 year old kid and the remaining 21% is always up for development and evolution. Having a concept of what you stand for as a human being is actually very important, as it will clarify your dreams/purpose, which will inspire you on how to lead your life on a daily basis. Once you know who you really are and what you want to become, then all the various challenges you face in life can be seen as various tests of character and strength.

Ps. 7 year olds are among the most enthusiastic humans I’ve seen, so great to keep our inner child alive and well

Recipe: Homemade granola bars

I have been buying granola bars the past year or so to throw into my bag as a quick snack between meals in my busy schedule. The best part of the granola bars is it comes in a wrapper and is fairly indestructible, otherwise it felt like they could be healthier and more satisfying.

I looked at many recipes and decided to try the one from Oh She Glows, as the recipes do work. I made some modifications, adding a little honey makes for a sweeter bar, so here is an easy recipe for nutritious homemade granola bars:

1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats

1/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats

3 very ripe bananas mashed

8 pitted dates chopped

Honey to taste if more sweetness is desired

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp ground cinnamon

pinch of sea salt

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup walnut or pecan pieces

1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish or pan with coconut oil.

In a large bowl, mash bananas and add dates, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Stir in oats until well combined. Fold in pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, raisins, nuts and chocolate chips. Pat mixture into baking dish. Use a spatula to smooth out to even thickness.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until lightly brown. Let cool and cut into squares or bars. Store in an airtight container or freeze wrapped in desired airtight packaging. Enjoy on the go!

Restful Sleep

As a traditional chinese medicine practitioner in training, natural wholistic health(lifestyle) is integral to the treatment approach. Having been in the field of health and fitness for 19 years this week, I learned many years ago that sleep is hugely important to being truly healthy. Sleep is a healthy habit that requires daily practice. Sleep restores your body and mind-it needs to be a priority. For many years I have advised people that quality sleep comes before the ambitious start to exercise first thing in the morning. It is also easier to make healthier food choices with better sleep. Sleep, exercise and nutrition are 3 pillars of being healthy.

Sleep has had much more air time in the field of health information in recent years. What actually happens with a person’s sleep is a different story, as sleep is a subjective experience. Here are my views on what quality sleep is:

  1. Falling asleep easily in a relaxed state
  2. Staying asleep with possible waking for urination
  3. Waking up feeling energized and well rested 7-8 hours later

This is the sleep standard I strive for. There are plenty of nights that are below this standard, and I keep practicing. Being able to manage your emotions and daily stressors is helpful to relaxing at the end of a day and letting go to fall asleep. Staying asleep and/or falling back asleep easily is a condition that I find traditional chinese medicine to be extremely helpful for. Waking up feeling energized, I find comes naturally with the habit of regular exercise, and being enthusiastic about life. Well rested, the science shows 7-8 hours of sleep is needed for optimal health. Consider it a required investment of 7-8 hours to start the day on the right track, so you can live well.

Recipe: Banana chocolate chip walnut bites

I love sweet treats and sugar. I may the only fitness and wellness professional to publicly share this feeling. There is a spectrum of healthy sweet treats and indulgences. I have been working with some gluten free banana bread recipes lately and decided to make these coconut flour bites in a silicone mini muffin mold. There is a much higher likelihood of success in gluten free baking if smaller pans are used. I have enjoyed these little treats that are low in sugar and high on taste as a bit of fuel on the go to keep me going between meals.

3 very ripe bananas, mashed

2 eggs

2-3 tablespoons melted coconut oil

1 tablespoon or less honey or to taste

1/2 cup coconut flour

2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together bananas, eggs, coconut oil and honey. Add coconut flour. Stir together with a wooden spoon just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. Spoon batter into mini muffin mold. Bake approximately 20 min or until tops are slightly brown. Cool and enjoy. Keeps in an airtight container for a few days refrigerated.

Observing your thinking

I taught yoga on Easter Sunday this year. I mentioned the idea to watch our thinking, as we can easily be carried away and fall into extreme forms of thought. I told a story of attending a church away from home and being questioned harshly that I apparently did not conform to their proclamation of accepting Jesus. Then I made a light hearted remark-here we are at the cult of yoga.

Having been in the field of fitness, health and wellness for over 18 years, I have seen various trends. Sometimes the trend easily becomes a form of entrenched belief so that people feel the need to convert others. Diet is the most obvious cycle of trends that people get caught up with and start insisting others follow their thinking. Forms of exercise with rigid programs dictate that movement must be performed in a certain way. Yoga can be an example of this with some forms of yoga being based on a very rigid, extreme routine.

After I made my comment on the cult of yoga, various articles came into my consciousness this week which highlighted the potential and existence of abuse in rigid practices of yoga. Being a yoga teacher, I felt disappointed to learn of this abuse in the community. I believe a way to prevent this type of cult following is to always be observing our thinking. 95% of our actions and thinking is unconscious, so it is a real daily practice to become more conscious of our behaviour and thinking. With consciousness and education, we are much more capable of thinking for ourselves. Add mindful meditation to thought watch, and we can have more peace within ourselves. The practice of yoga first and foremost is practicing being peaceful-

Recipe: Gluten Free Banana Bread

Recently a client gave me a piece of her favourite banana bread. Her absolute favourite recipe after many years of baking. Truly outstanding. She was kind enough to share the recipe and it comes all the way from Australia! I went to try the recipe and had eaten enough wheat in recent times, so I tried making it gluten free. First it was dry, then I forgot xanthan gum and on the third attempt, replacing the walnuts with chocolate chips, it turned out amazing! Here is the recipe, be sure to use mini loaf pans, the smaller volume increases odds of success, as gluten free baking can be finicky. Also check for doneness sooner than you think, as this banana bread goes dry very quickly while baking.

1 3/4 cups gluten free flour blend (I used millet, chickpea, sorghum, rice, banana and teff flour, more types of flour is better)

1.5-2 teaspoons xanthan gum

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3-4 very ripe bananas

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients. In another medium bowl, mash bananas then whisk together with sugar, eggs and melted butter. Fold dry ingredients into the banana mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into 3-4 greased mini loaf pans. Bake for 20-30 minutes, checking for doneness at 15 min. Tops will be cracked, if a fork comes out sticky, the loaves can sit in the oven that is off for a few extra minutes to finish cooking. Enjoy at room temperature and store in an airtight container.

Healthy Eating at the Buffet

I was at a wonderful all inclusive resort last week in Rose Hall Montego Bay teaching fitness and enjoying some sunshine. I was planning on giving a quick nutrition talk on healthy eating on vacation and at the buffet, however the plans were changed. I still gave the talk plenty of thought and wish to share it here.

All you can eat buffet, does that mean we should eat all we can? The short answer is no it is not a good idea to eat all that you can. Food is for nourishment and enjoyment. Our body is rebuilt on a daily basis, so we need food as fuel. Eating excessive quantities of food essentially causes illness when there is too much food for your system to digest. There is a spectrum of how much food our appetite and bodies can handle. Ever notice how special occasions like Christmas and Thanksgiving can prompt us to eat extra? A buffet is a similar concept with even more choice and more volume of food. At an all inclusive resort, we have the privilege to choose just about anything we want. That’s the first concept to keep in mind, it is a privilege to have access to such a vast quantity of food, so the first rule is to minimize waste.

The most appealing aspect of a buffet is the huge variety and choice there is. I recommend taking a walk around the entire food selection and noting what seems most appealing to you. Often the desserts appeal most to me, which is something I have loved since childhood. A sweet childhood memory is going to look at the desserts right away and plotting out which ones I would try first.

Once you have taken it all in, carefully select the foods the have the most appeal to you. I like trying many different dishes, so I partake in a few bites of many things. I find inspiration in learning new flavours and cooking techniques. In addition, make yourself a proper meal that has a mixture of protein, fat, carbohydrates and most importantly, vegetables with the selection that is available.

There was one day that I tested out the possibility of eating all that I could, so I ate a bit extra. I noticed my appetite decreased the next day and then I continued to stick with the concepts I mention here for the rest of my holiday. I did manage to put on a pound or two even with daily exercise. An all you can eat buffet is a lesson in self mastery with a little self discipline.

Last thoughts of the Day

I recently read a Wayne Dyer book called Wishes Fulfilled. From this book I am now inspired to read Neville Goddard.

One concept I put into practice from the book is to be aware or mindful of the last thoughts I have before drifting off to sleep. From what I understand, 95% of our behaviour is unconscious(Subliminal-Leonard Mlodinow) and the few minutes before we drift off to sleep are the bridge between our conscious and unconscious mind. We can choose to have more positive thoughts so we have a more peaceful sleep, feel better upon waking and have a better experience in life by participating in creating our reality. We can steer our unconscious mind towards who we want to be and how we want to feel rather than doubt, rumination and worry.

I have just started practicing this concept and I can share that feels like a special form of meditation to simultaneously steer your mind towards a more positive realm, such as envisioning who you want to be and how you want to feel and participate in the letting go process of falling asleep at the same time. I have really enjoyed it so far. I am reminded of the practice of yoga nidra, however, this process I enjoy a lot more, as I allow sleep to happen. In yoga nidra, there is the thought that one must stay at the edge of sleep and wakefulness(I fall asleep most of the time!)