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How You Can Tell That Your Body Is Inflamed? The Fleckenstein Finger Diagnosis (FFD):

September 23, 2015

Tags: order, food, water, movement, aging, air, allergy, Alzheimer’s, American, antibiotic, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disease, bronchitis - chronic, cancer, chronic disease, chronic pain, COPD, dairy, dehydration, dementia, depression, diabetes, do-it-yourself, drug – medical, drug - recreational, earlobe diagnosis, eczema, environment, Europe, finger diagnosis, finger nail, fingertips, Fleckenstein Finger Diagnosis - FFD, gastritis, genetics, gluten, halo, hand, heartburn, heart disease, high blood pressure, How Can You Tell That Your Body Is Inflamed? The Fleckenstein Finger Diagnosis (FFD), hypertension, inflammation, job - unfulfilling, Kneipp – Sebastian (1821-1897), lifestyle, longevity, microbiome, model, nail bed, nuts, obesity, observation, osteoporosis, overweight, pantry, pathology, pollution, pre-diabetes, relationship, skin disease, soil, stress, stroke, sugar, swelling, tongue diagnosis, toxin, Traditional Chinese Medicine, un-health, vitamin D deficiency, walking

Inflammation lies at the bottom of chronic disease - diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, some forms of depression and anxiety, heart disease, stroke, COPD (chronic bronchitis), osteoporosis, certain cancers, chronic pain, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer’s and other dementias, allergies, asthma, eczema and other skin diseases, heartburn, gastritis – and so many more. Yes, often you would not get these diseases if you didn’t have the right (or wrong) genes. But let’s face it: Most of us carry the genes for those diseases. All we need is a bad lifestyle to trigger chronic ailments. All of which make your life miserable.

Of course, the main reason for the development of chronic diseases is that we are reaching older age than we used to – we have more time to hatch illness. But it is not that old age automatically renders you invalid and decrepit. One can have a healthy old age! But it takes some luck, and some effort.

So what are the habits that trigger chronic inflammation and chronic diseases? The usual – and well-known - culprits: Inappropriate diet, too little movement (or too much!), environmental pollution of water, air and soil, psychological stress, unhappy relationships, unfulfilling jobs, drugs (medical and recreational), deficient water intake, unnecessary drugs, overweight and obesity, vitamin D deficiency, unnecessary antibiotics that kill the natural microbiome in our guts and on our skin. Another list that could go on and on.

How do you tell that inflammation is damaging your body? Well, if you already have a chronic disease - that is the proof of the pudding. But If you are at the stage before a doctor runs some tests and finally makes the diagnosis – if you are in the pre-stages of disease – you might inspect your fingers for the telltale signs of inflammation: a red halo around the root of the nail, at the area of the nail bed.

That halo can be thin and faint, and it can be thick and swollen. In some patients, the redness goes up half their digits, or higher. It is an early sign of inflammation, and one doctors usually don’t know about. In fact, I didn’t learn this in medical school – I observed it in my patients.

The beauty of it? If you clean up your act, the halos get smaller and paler – you see within a few days that you are on the way to improvement. Especially if you leave out some offending allergenic food – the most common guilty parties here are dairy, gluten, nuts, sugar.

Why is it that your fingertips can tell me the state of your health, the degree of inflammation? Traditional Chinese Medicine uses the tongue to tell about illness and well-being. My favorite European teacher Sebastian Kneipp used to base his diagnoses and prognoses on the shape and color of the earlobes; he must have come to it by simple observation, just as I did. The tongue, the earlobes, the fingertips – why those? Mainly because they are easily visible. For sure, if your body is riddled with inflammation, you will have signs of it in nearly all your inner organs. But the inner organs are hidden from direct inspection. For evaluating the tongue, I’d have to ask the patient to open her mouth. Earlobes and fingers are there for the looking. – Your fingers and nails can tell the doctor much more about your health (or un-health). But the FFD is easy for lay people.

Let me tell you right away that I don’t yet know if only food allergies can trigger the redness of the fingers, or if other toxins or pathology processes do it too. I would think so. But there has been no study yet, just quiet observation on my patients.

What I like about the Fleckenstein Finger Diagnosis (FFD): It is a do-it-yourself tool. You don’t need me to tell you something is wrong. You just need to look down on your fingertips. And if you see a reddish halo: Get up from your chair, and do something for your health: Go for a walk, and clean out your pantry!

Degrees of Freshness – Or what I learned from an Alpine Meadow

July 28, 2013

Tags: food, water, air, alpine, animals, aroma, Austria, basil, bell flower, biodiversity, bulbs, burdock, bush, buttercup, cilantro, coltsfoot, cranesbill, crocus, dandelion, diversity, Earth, Europe, eyebright, farm, fresh, heal-all, garden, Germany, Good King Henry, grazing, Great Britain, Grimming Mountain, growth, Hamburg, harvest, healing power, health, hedge, herbal, humans, kitchen, limestone, lovage, meadow, meadowsweet, mowing, nutrients, ocean, oregano, parsley, plant, plantain - broad-leafed, plantain - narrow-leafed, poisonous, pollution, polyphenol, primal, processed, red clover, rosemary, Russia, scilla, silverweed, skiing, soil, species, stinging nettle, storage, Styria, sub-alpine, sun, supermarket, sweet Annie, tea, thyme, travel, tree, underground, vital, yarrow, hiking, vacation

People vacation in Austria – skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer. I never considered summer vacations in a land-locked country like Austria, because, originally from Hamburg/Germany, I am a child of the ocean – of all the oceans. But I am just back from one of the high meadows in Styria, smack in the middle of Austria. And what I found: a primal meadow.

The alpine meadows high up there, facing the Grimming Mountain, have been mowed twice a year, for hundreds of years, probably thousands of years. The plant diversity is unimaginable. In an article I read some years ago that in Great Britain the age of a hedge can be estimated by how many different tree and bush species grow there; roughly one species is added per decade. I imagine it must be similar with these ancient meadows, mowed over year after year, different plants moving in all the time, enhancing biodiversity over time. The converse is also true: If we abandon regular mowing and/or grazing – as often now is the case on the steep and hard-to-reach meadows, and in light of shortage of labor when the young people move into the cities for a “better” life – we will lose this biodiversity. And might regret it too late.

Because I was exhausted from my Europe travels through Russia, Germany, Austria, I brewed myself an herbal tea from the plants of the meadow right after arrival. The underground is limestone that let so many plants thrive: yarrow, meadowsweet, narrow-leafed plantain, stinging nettle, heal-all, broad-leafed plantain, red clover, eyebright, silverweed, Good King Henry, dandelion, sweet Annie. To which I added herbs from the kitchen garden: parsley, cilantro, rosemary, lovage, basil, oregano, thyme. Of course, other plants grew there that where not useful for my tea as they are poisonous, like cranesbill, coltsfoot, bell flower, buttercup, and a variety of spring-flowering bulbs like crocus and scilla that were now out of bloom. The tea had a gorgeous aroma, and I felt better and stronger immediately. Wish I could take such a meadow home!

My garden at home, lovely as it is, does not come close. Its plant variety is not as great, the individual plants are not as sturdy, their green is not as deep, their aroma is not as overpowering. From this exceptional plant health we can assume that their polyphenol content is higher, and that their healing power is greater. Mostly, it is the strong sun out there that enables such a lush growth. But also the absence of pollution of air, soil and water so prevalent where we live. Earth just isn’t that primal anymore as it is high in the alpine and sub-alpine meadows. I am coming home with a new yearning, namely to preserve what we have, and perhaps even return our planet to more health. Because, the life of plants, and animals, and humans are closely interwoven here on Earth, none can survive alone.

In my books, and here on the blog, I am touting fresh foods over processed foods. Fresh does not only mean harvested recently and stored for not too long, but also containing a high amount of vital nutrients. Up there, in the mountain meadow, I learned that degrees of freshness exist: Fresh from the supermarket: good. Fresh from your garden or directly from the farm: better. Fresh from an alpine meadow: best.

From Mouth to Anus

May 15, 2013

Tags: order, food, water, addiction to food, additive, aging, air, almond milk, antibiotic resistance, antibiotics, anus, baby, bacteria, bowels, brushing, buttermilk, cancer-breeding, caplets, capsules, carrageenan, caries, cosmetics, dairy - dangers of, dairy-free, dental hygiene, dentist, disease, fat, feed lots, fermented foods, flossing, fluoride, fluoride toothpaste, From Mouth to Anus, fruit, fruit substitute, full fat content, gastrointestinal tract, gene-technologically inserted, gum disease, gut-healthy, H2-receptor blockers, heartburn, hormones, household cleaners, inflammatory, ingredients, inhumane animal husbandry, improved, Internet, intestinal health, kefir, kimchi, labels, live cultures, meat, medication, medicine, microbiome, milk, milk products, milk proteins, miso, Mother Earth, mouth, mouth mucosa, natural, neem-based, no man is an island, nursing home, odor, oral cavity: acidity, oral health, organic, pasteurizing, patient, physician, plaque, poisonous, pollutants, Prevacid, Prilosec, probiotic powder, probiotics, processed, proton-pump inhibitors, quest, sauerkraut, skin, soap, soil, skimmed, societies – "primitive”, sour cream, stomach ache, sugar, sugar-free, sweetener, swish & swallow, swishing, Tagamet, tapioca, teeth, teeth brushing, tooth powder, tempeh, yogurt, Zantac

Medicine, for me, is a quest for my healthier self, and healthier patients. I am learning something new every day. In a way, I feel sorry for my patients of so many years ago – now, I think, I could help them so much better.

This also implies that you – the patient – could possibly be a step ahead of your physician, if you are trying to figure out what makes your body feel better and stronger and more awake, and happier. With the Internet, we all have more information at our fingertips, flawed and good information, for sure – but more of the latter. If you ask me.

Take for instance the stomach problems that plagued me when I was younger. Setting out with conventional drugs like H2-receptor blockers (Tagamet, Zantac) and proton-pump inhibitors (Prilosec, Prevacid) years ago, I at least got the problem under control. Then, twenty years the, I found that at the root of my heartburn and stomach aches were allergies: I left out the offending foods – and I dropped all meds, and never looked back.

Forward a bit, and I discovered probiotics – bacteria that are helpful for the intestines. They improved my bowels, and I took them faithfully for many years. I still recommend them to nearly every patient I encounter. Many studies link probiotics to good clinical outcomes, even if we have not yet quite figured out all the intricacies of how they work. One thing is sure: What you eat helps or destroys the microbiome that coexists in your body. A microbiome is the whole entity of bacteria, good or bad, that thrives with you, in you, on you.

Don’t worry – the good guys are winning right now. Otherwise you would be dead. But that the good guys are winning is not guaranteed – it could change any moment. You could crowd out the good guys with sugar, or commercial dairy, or destroy them with a course of antibiotics) or meat from one of those inhumane, antibiotic-resistance breeding feed lots – the list is long how you can hurt your microbiome inside and outside; cosmetics and household cleaners are high on the list. But even if we did everything right in our personal lives, outside forces can destroy your good bacteria – pollutants in water, air and soil.

Not to be an alarmist, but no man is an island, and if we don’t preserve our Mother Earth, we surely can forget about the intricacies of feeding our coworkers - our good bacteria - the right amount of this and that.

Health comes down to the health of our gastrointestinal tract. Lately, I have found that probiotics can be applied not just as capsules or caplets, but as probiotic foods. A big group which I just mention in passing are fermented foods – sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, tempeh, and so on. “Fermented” can be taken as another word for “loaded with gut-healthy bacteria”.

I have argued widely against the dangers of dairy – and still do. Ninety-nine-point nine percent of dairy is bad for you because of the highly inflammatory proteins and cancer-breeding hormones (be it naturally occurring, or gene-technologically inserted). But there is a tiny fraction of organic dairy that contains live cultures. Examples are yogurt, kefir, buttermilk and sour cream. But only, if they truly are organic, contain live cultures and have absolutely no additives that turn a good food into a nightmare: sugars, sweeteners, fruit, fruit substitutes, tapioca, carrageenan, and so on. In my mind, to qualify as natural they also have to have their full fat content – nothing skimmed or improved or processed any way other than pasteurizing – and the good bacteria have to be added afterward. Fat is not the culprit in milk and milk products – milk proteins are. Not only are they inflammatory, but also addictive. Now you can even get dairy-free organic yogurts, made for instance from almond milk. Or probiotic powders, ready to be dissolved in warm water. But always read the labels for ingredients!

Good dairy bacteria do not take away dairy’s inflammatory proteins and cancer-causing hormones. Therefore these probiotics should be taken in small amounts – very small amounts, indeed: a sip or a teaspoon full is the serving size here. And you don’t eat or drink them. You swish them around in your mouth as long as you can stand it, or unless you forget about them, and finally swallow them.

Probiotics thus taken increase not only your gut health, but especially your oral health. Studies show that probiotics swished around in the mouth after brushing your teeth reduce caries and gum disease in most cases – and I bet the result would be even better if people would add a healthy, sugar-free diet on top of this.

Using this to fight caries sure beats taking poisonous fluoride. Fluoride made me always uneasy: Studies link fluoride to cancer and neurotoxicity. But other studies clearly showed that it reduced caries – and I had not yet come by a natural method to preserve my teeth. Granted, “primitive” societies usually boast perfect teeth, but I had not quite found out why. Not sure, why, but sugar-free nutrition was probably the main cause. Then again, who of us modern Americans can boast a totally absolutely sugar-free diet – since infancy? Not that I know anyone.

Still, I am a believer in brushing and flossing (and also with good results, I have to say) – and don’t want to get rid of that. But neither fluoride toothpaste appealed to me, nor the brutal cleaning of my teeth at the dentist’s office twice a year. There is nothing natural in putting sharp metal scraping objects in your mouth. Now I am using an organic, neem-based tooth powder most of the time.

With oral swishing probiotics we gently provide a mildly acidic environment in our mouths for a few minutes. That cleans your teeth of plaque and implants healthy bacteria into the lining of your mouth, which then can grow during the next hours, or overnight, and fight bad bacteria. The result is amazing. And natural.

We take for granted that with advancing age we will lose our teeth, and that diseases will creep up on us. Ever been to a nursing home? A certain old-age odor emanates from those old bodies. We think the odor is normal. It is not. If one eats well, nourishes one’s oral cavity and intestines, in their entire length, and not destroys the precious skin bacteria with harsh soaps and cosmetics, we would smell like babies until our final days (and those will come even if we take good care of ourselves, but I bet those final days with be sweeter and easier if you have lived your life well).

Working on the microbiome in my mouth – that has been the newest station on my medical quest. In a way, this quest has been a journey from mouth to anus - and still is.

Absolutely Unnecessary Products

April 26, 2012

Tags: order, water food, Absolutely Unnecessary Products, advertisement, air, aldehyde, anti-bacterial, artery-clogging, artificial sweetener, asthma, baking soda, benzene, brain-fogging, California, cancer, chemical, chores, chronic disease, clothing, coconut oil, cold water, dairy, detergent, douche – vaginal, dryer, dryer sheet, drying, facelift, food color, fragrance, Earth, energy – naturally, financially difficult times, fresh air, freshness, garlic, Gulf War Syndrome, household, inflammatory, liposuction, make-up, moisturizer, money saving, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, nutrition, olive oil, pollution, power drink, product, quality of life, recreational drug, resources – finite, rush hour, scent, sexy, shower, sleep, smell, soap, soil, stevia, suburban, sugar, sweetener, theater, toxic drink, toxic food, toxic fumes, toxic products, toy, towel, vaginal douche, veganburger, vegetable, vinegar, VOC, volatile organic compounds - VOC, walking, washing machine, Wonderbread

When I lived in California for a few months last winter, all the dryers stood on the same spot on all the porches – it was one of those modern, boring, suburban communities. All the households used the same detergents and dryer sheets. The same cloying scent was standing in the air - always. After rush hour, the smell peaked: All the dudes and gals coming home from work and did they daily home chores.

Dryer sheets are unnecessary (and toxic) products. Many volatile organic compounds are released in the air with every drying course, plus aldehydes, benzene, and other substances that are proven or under suspicion to promote cancer, asthma, and other chronic diseases. “Multiple Chemical Sensitivities” is such a syndrome, closely related to the “Gulf War Syndrome”. Researcher suspect that sitting around all day in barracks, exposed to toxic foods, toxic drinks, toxic fumes, toxic recreational drugs might be the root cause.

Even worse: Because the fragrances in dryer sheets are manufactured to last and last and last, it is near-impossible to get them out of your machine and out of your clothing (try vinegar and baking soda!).

You think your laundry smells FRESH?? That’s the power of advertisement. Does a guy who walks by me (or stands in the elevator with me) smell FRESH? Or SEXY? To me he smells chemical, and uninformed. - When I put my face in my hard towels, they smell lovely - because they are dried on the line, outside. Dryer sheets and vaginal douches would top my list of absolutely unnecessary products. But the list is close to endless, I fear.

Let’s start such a list! Because Earth is getting too small for all the people living on it, we can make an effort to omit – and perhaps ban! – all products that do not enhance the quality of life but only use up precious resources and pollute air, soil and water. Not to mention use up our money in financially difficult times.

Here is the list – not ordered by urgency just by what came to my mind:

1. Dryer sheets
2. Vaginal douches
3. Wonderbread (or any other nutrient-poor replacement of the real things made from scratch)
4. Anti-bacterial soap (except in medical settings – and even there I’d challenge the wisdom of using them)
5. Toys that are used a day, and then never again
6. Liposuction – go for a walk instead. Daily.
7. Moisturizer (use coconut oil after your shower – if you need it. On your whole body)
8. Artificial sweetener (if you really want to stick with the over-sweet taste you have been raised on, try stevia! At least, it is natural)
9. Dairy (most inflammatory, artery-clogging, brain-fogging food there is – right there with sugars)
10. Toner (splash you face with cold water whenever there is a possibility
11. Make-up (in most cases, except in professional situations like theater)
12. Veganburgers (or any fake “health” food. Cook a vegetable with olive oil and garlic. Or two. Or three. – That’s it!)
13. Food colors – Who needs neon-red and neon green and neon-purple in their mouth??
14. Facelifts
15. Power drinks (go to bed early enough so that your body gets energy naturally)

Help me! Let’s make this a looooong list!

How Many Chinese Does It Take To Screw In A Light Bulb?

July 21, 2011

Tags: water, order, Africa, arid region, Buddhism, camel ride, cave entrance, China, Chinese, cities, competitiveness, cultures, deforestation, desert, desert crossing, desert fort, desert - man-made, Dunhuang, earth, fertilization, France, Germany, Gobi Desert, Great Britain, How Many Chinese Does It Take To Screw In A Light Bulb?, Japan, Jewish property, joblessness, Lanzhou, leaves, light bulb - energy-saving, looting, Mogaoku, museum, Namib Desert, Nazis, Netherlands, nomad hordes, oasis, prayer, Qin dynasty, reforestation, roots, sand, sand dune buggy rides, sandstorm, soil, stress, tourism, traveler, tree planting, trees, USA, wages

This is not a joke, of course. This morning, they came to the hotel room – three of them: A woman, politely knocking and explaining the procedure (by gestures – my Chinese is bad); a man who carried the equipment; another man who screwed in the bulb nimbly and knowledgeable. The bulb was the energy-saving kind.

And all along they had fun, not bothered by efficiency or other Western values. This way, the Chinese government gives everybody a job – at extremely low wages. The Netherlands are another country that thrives on job sharing: People work less hours per week, take a cut in their salaries – and enjoy their increased free time. We, on the other hand, rather have excellent salaries (or the dream that we some day will have them) - and pay with stress, competitiveness and joblessness.

This light bulb changing took place in Dunhuang, in the Gobi Desert. Dunhuang is an ancient oasis and now a modern tourist attraction, with sand dune buggy rides (which I really can’t stand – but the males in our group think differently), camel rides (which I am not sure about) and a wonderful hotel that looks like an ancient desert fort.

In case you think Dunhuang is a little oasis like in the cartoons, it is a city of nearly 200,000 inhabitants that accommodates about a million visitors per year.

In the bathroom is a sign that reminds us that water is the “spring of life” and asks us to preserve every drop of it. Dunhuang is an oasis that is fed by a river that comes from the nearby mountains. Last months, they told us, the river was swelling above the bridge and areas were under water. Now the riverbed is stone-dry.

The Gobi Desert is – unlike the Namib Desert in Africa, about which I wrote before – a man-made desert: People cut down all the trees without reforestation. Without the deep roots and the leaves that fertilized the earth, the soil could hold no longer water. The result was sand, sand, sand – desert. And as always with deforestation, the cities and cultures that were once blossoming faltered and vanished.

Around Lanzhou, in a totally arid region, there is a huge reforestation program underway. I heard it is done this way: Every worker is getting one day per week off to plant trees and to maintain the trees. The outcome can easily be monitored: The trees live or die.

Near the Dunhuang oasis are the Mogaoku – a row of hundreds of caves cut into the rock and furnished with Buddhist shrines. This oasis that has revived travelers for thousands of years was the perfect place to pray for a safe return from the perilous desert crossings – or give thanks, on return. The caves had been built from the earliest Qin times until the thirteenth century, when nomad hordes threatened the area. So, the cave entrances were covered up by bricks and plaster and rocks – and sandstorms further made the sites unknowable.

In 1900, a monk discovered one of the caves by chance. By selling a script or a statue here and there, Western museums got wind of the treasures here, and came in several expeditions and bought up everything they could lay hands on. Thus, the old manuscripts and statues ended in the museums of Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the USA. There they have been preserved probably better than in China – nevertheless, it is a loss China deeply regrets. Other than the lootings of Jewish property by the Nazis and allied forces, these were regular transactions, and it is unlikely that the Chinese will recover the treasures.

Osama bin Laden Is Dead – And The World Is Not A Safer Place. Nor Healthier

May 2, 2011

Tags: order, water, air, almsgiving, America, animals, Baha’i, blessing – threefold, books, Buddhism, burial at sea, Christianity, Christian Scientists, compassion, desperado, disaster - threefold, Earth, East – West, energy, family, fanaticism, fire, history, homeland security, humans, humility, Hussein - Saddam, Islam, jihad, Judaism, killing, minerals, mixing 'n matching, moderation, murderer, Muslim, Nazi, Nuremberg Trial, neighbor, Osama bin Laden, Osama bin Laden Is Dead – And The World Is Not A Safer Place - Nor Healthier, Pantheism, plants, politics, poverty, religion, responsibility, revenge, sacred, self-respect, soil, spirit, stones, Taoism, Three Jewels, Wicca, world, Zakat

Before, I was determined to keep out of politics on my blog. Which is not easy when events are global and terribly important.

Yes, Osama bin Laden masterminded horrible things – among others, he killed more Muslims than Americans. For that he should have gone to trial and be sentenced. Because killing a man who has killed does not make anything right. The Nazis got their Nuremberg Trial. Saddam Hussein in Iraq got a trial and an execution, and he is mostly gone; in him, we did not create a martyr. But in bin Laden we did – even if we buried his corpse in the ocean to prevent a new Mecca.

In a way, I am like many Americans today: relieved. In another way, this is not a good day for America - I know this will not be the end of the story. Revenge will finally get to our homeland again.

It is easy to blame religions on the endless wars between East and West. I happen to think that better economic and political systems will give desperado Muslims better goals in life, and will make jihad obsolete.

My friends are of all colors, and of many religions. We can learn from different religious teachings. Here are a few I like - and excuse my mixing 'n matching:

1. Christianity: Love your neighbor like yourself. Means: Do good, so that you can respect yourself. Means also: Muslims are our neighbors, too. Even murderers are our neighbors.
2. Buddhism: Before we are born, we choose our parents – to learn something important. Means: Don’t blame your parents if your life is not what you thought it should be.
3. Judaism: Revere your family, books, history.
4. Wicca: What you do good, will come back to you as threefold blessing. Same with what you do bad: threefold disaster.
5. Pantheism: The World is alive and filled with spirit. Humans, animals, plants, stones and minerals, the water, soil, air, fire – they all are sacred energy. With even a single one of these missing, Earth will perish.
6. Taoism: Hold up the Three Jewels: Compassion, Moderation, Humility.
7. Islam: Zakat (Almsgiving): A fixed portion of your income should go to the poor.
8. Baha’i: Fanaticism is forbidden.
9. Christian Scientists: One should take responsibility for one's health.

You can probably provide more ideas – we don’t have to engage in religious wars. Let me know what believes are important for you!

Today is Beltane!

April 30, 2011

Tags: Water, food, herbs, movement, order, annihilation, annuals, bacterial life, Beltane, blooming, broomstick, celebration, chemicals, cherry blossoms, children’s children, chives, daffodil, desert, Earth, fall, Gaia, gardening, gardening methods - unorthodox, global warming, green, leaves, May Dance, May First, mutations, Nature, nature religion, neo-paganism, non-turning of the soil, nourishing, novel, nuclear devastation, ozone hole, paganism, perennials, political, radiation, renewal – yearly, rite, ritual, science, Sebastian Kneipp - Water Doctor, soil, spring, spring rites, stepping stones, summer, Today Is Beltane!, tulip, walking, water tables, Wiccan, witches

Beltane is the ancient rite of greeting and revering spring, celebrated on the night that leads into the First of May. I don’t believe in witches riding on broomsticks – or, to rephrase this, modern science interprets the broomstick a bit different. But in my novel “Sebastian Kneipp, Water Doctor” the broomstick and Beltane play a major role. For that reason alone, Beltane is special for me.

The most amazing features of Nature are that she brought us forth and nourishes us, and that she renews herself yearly.

This force of renewal is enormous – but it is not inexhaustible. We can come to a point of no return if we are not careful with old Gaia, and that point of no return could come in several scenarios, all not pretty: Nuclear devastation – and in the past we have come close to several political annihilation situations. Lowering the water tables so that wide parts of the Earth would turn into deserts until nothing green grows anymore. Biological mutations in our genome, started by chemicals we deem safe now but might find out too late they are not. Overheating of the Earth – global warming; there are still people who deny that this is happening, in the face of science. Overexposure to radiation by increasing the ozone hole (we are working mightily on that one).

In my garden I practice what I call non-turning of the soil – it’s a leisurely and useful form of gardening. I leave the leaves on the beds in the fall (the neighbors got used to my untidy garden and seem to have forgiven me because they Oh! And Ah! in spring, summer and fall at the blooming results of my unorthodox gardening methods. - If one doesn’t step on the soil, one doesn’t compact the soil, so one doesn’t have to turn the soil. Between perennials, annuals and bushes my garden the stepping stones. I never, ever step on the soil because I know it is teeming with beneficial bacterial life that will be trampled and choked if I do.

So, I don’t care if you celebrate Beltane with a Wiccan ritual (be aware that most of this nature religion is less ancient than we usually think – most comes from nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ revival of old paganism) or with a Dance into May or with a walk under cherries blossoms or along daffodils and tulips or with a salad sprinkled with the first chives from the garden. But l do care that we not trample and choke our good old Earth and preserve her for our children and children’s children.

The thought haunts me that one day nobody might be able ever to celebrate spring anymore – either because Spring has ceased to return, or nobody is left to celebrate …

I Hate The Gym – You Too?

February 6, 2011

Tags: movement, water, food, adhesives, aeration of rooms, anger, asbestos, birds’ songs, bliss, brooks, building materials, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, cleaning supplies, confusion, copiers, correction fluid, cosmetics, craft materials, degreasing products, depression, detergent, drywalls, endorphins, energy - increased, engagement, exercise, ficus, floor coverings, flowers, garden, glues, grass, green, gym, high blood pressure, houseplants, I Hate The Gym – You Too?, indoor, indoor pollution, lacquers, meta-analysis, molds, muscles, music, NordicTrack machine, outdoor, outdoor pollution, paints, Parkinson's, permanent markers, philodendron – heartleaf, printers, radon, revitalization, skiing - cross-country, smell, snowstorm, soil, sounds, spider plant, tension, terrain - uneven, upholstery, varnish, wall-to-wall carpeting, waves, wax, wind, window open, wood preservatives, workout

My intense dislike of the gym just got a scientific underpinning: A meta-analysis reveals that exercise done outdoors has more benefits that the one indoors. A meta-analysis is not a study from scratch but reviews already existing studies. In this case, researchers tried to figure out if there are benefits to exercise in a natural outdoors environment vs a confined gym.

The disadvantage of a meta-analysis is that the original studies might be flawed – in spite that the researchers tried to weed out those studies – and that their flaws get compounded. In this case, the original studies were furthermore hampered by not using objective measurements of wellbeing but “self-reported” statements: People just talked about how much better they felt outdoors than indoors.

And so the 833 individuals sound less scientific but gushing when reporting how they are feeling after their exercise in nature: “Compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date.”

I believe them even without a proper study because going to a gym would make me depressed – and I am not a depressed person to start with. On the other hand, when I putter around in the garden, I am suffused by bliss. Working out on my ages-old NordicTrack machine in the basement strengthens my muscles; going cross-country skiing lifts my spirit.

Clearly, working out in a gym increases endorphins and makes one feel better. But outside, we have the added benefit of light in our eyes and on our skin – which has been shown to decrease depression and boost vitamin D production. For once, Boston did not have another snow storm today so that I could not fill my outdoor needs by snow shoveling but I hacked away on ice for a good hour – to prepare for the next snowfall which is forecast for this week.

Outside, there's also less pollution. Contrary to common assumptions, indoor pollution generally is much higher than outdoor pollution (unless you live directly at a busy highway or near a spewing factory) – thanks to detergents and other cleaning supplies, cosmetics, wood preservatives, paints, varnish and lacquers, drywalls, molds, radon, asbestos, carbon monoxide, copiers, printers, correction fluid, glues and craft materials, wax, permanent markers, adhesives, degreasing products, building materials, upholstery, wall-to-wall carpeting and other floor coverings – to name some.

Therefore it is recommended that we aerate each room at least twice a day by pushing the windows open for fifteen minutes. And that we sleep with windows open all night. Asking around, I find that not many people do either.

Outside has usually uneven terrain – different from the even floor of a standard gym. The unevenness leads to better muscle workout – without that we notice the extra effort. This lowers blood pressure and might stave off Parkinson's.

Another advantage of the great outdoors is the color green: We are hard-wired to love a green landscape because green signals plants that produce oxygen and food for us, and hold precious water in place. Green is soothing to our eyes, and to our minds. There is not much life in eternal ice or the dry desert – green is our life. You can reduce indoor air pollution by having houseplants – heartleaf philodendron, spider plant and ficus are not hard to keep alive.

For the benefits of outdoors, let’s not forget the smell of flowers, mowed lawns, freshly turned soil. And the sounds: birds’ songs, rustling wind, lapping waves, babbling brooks – music to our ears.

Of course, researchers now call for better studies to measure all that. But you and I have known it all along: Outdoors is better!

We Are Hard-Wired For Awe, Respect, Morals

May 7, 2010

Tags: order, water, air, art, awe, babies, books, education, families, Good Mother Earth, justice, kindness, money, morals, music, Nature, nurturing traditions, power, religion, respect, sex, soil, spirituality, We Are Hard-Wired For Awe - Respect - Morals, worldwide community

A Yale study just concluded that babies already can differ between good and bad behavior. In eighty percent of cases, the baby chose the “good guy” puppet after they had seen a short puppet show.

Exactly what I always thought: We are hard-wired for awe, respect and morals. Unfortunately, we are also hard-wired to follow peer-pressure – and those two forces fight war over our souls. To enforce the knowledge of good and bad, we need a nurturing culture around us, in families, and schools.

Let’s not take morals too narrowly, though. Most morals have very little to do with sex (after all, it is a biological drive and, in all cultures and religions, has been hard to suppress), and very much to do with money and power. (Does not mean that I am a libertine; just means that sniffing out other people’s bedroom habits is not my cup of tea).

Religions often abuse our innate longing for goodness and request obedience to their rules and superiors. I personally think goodness is already undermined if you have somebody paid as a priest/minister/pastor; I hold that people should come together voluntarily and should stay unpaid lay celebrants. Religions that preach to hate, should be out. Spirituality that fosters kindness should be in.

This is what I want to see celebrated: Nature foremost because we would not be here without Good Mother Earth and her water, air and soil, families, nurturing traditions, worldwide community, justice, music, art, education and books.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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