This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Shinrin-yoku, every day

shinrin-yoku-3Shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing, every day. The Japanese prefer slow mindful sauntering instead of aerobic hiking. As a form of nature therapy, shinrin-yoku means not only crossing through a wood, but bathing in it: letting it fill one’s lungs, ears, nose, and eyes. It means not talking or listening to music, but listening to the birds, the grasshoppers, and the wind in the trees. And it means wandering off the path to caress the warm, dry bark of a tree, just because it feels like the best thing to do at the moment.shinrin-yoku-1That is why forest-bathing is best done alone. And while I like to alternate between running and walking through the forests in Loviisa, I still do it every day. And I come out from the forest feeling very centered and alive.
shinrin-yoku-2(Loviisa and Kotka, Finland; June 2020)


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Older, but better

booksLovely ones, it’s been a different spring and summer for all of us. All my sabbatical year plans flew out through the window: going back to San Sebastián to study Spanish in January, visiting friends in the US midwest in February, and finally walking underneath cherry trees in Kyoto in April.

Instead, in February I dove into a new work project. In March I freaked out about the job market post-coronavirus, and doubled down on career planning and job searching.

And in late March I turned forty. Forty years old. It certainly felt historic, considering the circumstances. When I think back of my 30th birthday, never in a million years would I have imagined celebrating it in a global pandemic lockdown, and in Denmark of all places.

That day I closed the door on an unexpected and difficult decade, which threw the components of my life in the air more than once. I find myself collecting books about aging, and planning a 360-health check at a private clinic once travel is possible: metabolism, hormones, epigenetics and biological age; and the whole nine yards. Oddly, floating in the middle of global and personal uncertainty it feels like a new start.

Also, there were gorgeous flowers, and a fantastic flødebolle-picnic by the lakes. I’m lucky.
bday(Copenhagen, Denmark; March 2020)


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In Copenhagen, confused and concerned

CPH-1Lovely ones, my new slow life has begun. In Copenhagen. For now. After two weeks in a lovely apartment in Østerbro I found myself in a furnished, bright little place in Nørrebro, with a view over the ring of lakes that divide the North half of town.

Instead of weekly travels to London and criss-cross the Nordics I now find myself on a monthly travel schedule to Belgium, plus a tour of a handful other European countries this spring (provided I can avoid coronavirus hotspots). Instead of crazy 8-9 hour workdays I find myself deeply entrenched in one project for 6-7 hours a day. Instead of dragging myself out for a run or onto the yoga mat at 5 pm I find myself running around the lakes mid-afternoon, before going back to work with more energy.

It all sounds wonderful, right? In truth this is a tough training in how to live with uncertainty: where will I live after May 1st? Where will I work next year? What if I can’t find a job if I really like? What if nobody will like me well enough to hire me? Is there a future for the relationship I’m in, now that I had to move out? What if I just can’t muster the energy to work all this out?

And the biggest question of all: I will turn 40 this year. How will I set myself up for success for the next 10 years, including healthy aging? CPH-2(Copenhagen, Denmark; January 2020)


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Silence

Devon-2Life is in a flux again, and how hard it was to just be present in silence for a long weekend in the Devon countryside. Instead I found myself thinking of the future, the past, or an alternative present. When work-hour sign-up was open I signed up for garden duty, to get outside. And when garden duty started I signed up to shovel compost, so I would be worn out by the time daily meditation sessions would begin.

The young man assigned to the same task quit after one day. So for an hour it was just me, a wheelbarrow, a spade, the compost, and a hungry robin fluttering around my wheelbarrow, taking good chances of being covered in muck before breakfast was done.

And then, then it was silence in sitting, and silence in walking. And some reflective words every night. And so much silent kindness, from fellow retreaters of all ages. It is what impresses on me most deeply each time I retreat into silence: an expression of kindness needs no words.(Devon, United Kingdom; December 2019)


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Sleep stories

There is something soothing about focusing one’s attention on a single voice which calmly and contentedly goes on about unimportant but poetic details. Like fuzzy, friendly bumblebees visiting a strawberry planting, or a base guitarist in a rock band who discovered that flowers were his true calling and opened a flower shop. I discovered the Headspace Sleepcasts when they were launched and have loved them since.

Like someone said, I, too, would love to listen to the Night Town sleepcast lady read a phone book. Who is she? Also the narrator of Rainday Antiques and Slow Train seems to have friends. He does sound a little like Sir David Attenborough. Wish it was less of a mystery!

(Copenhagen, Denmark; February 2020)


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My favorite yin yoga sequence

flowerLovely ones, something quite different for a change: my favorite yin yoga sequence. Why? Because yin yoga complements both daily stress as well as most types of workout, including ashtanga yoga. Yin poses first stretch the muscles open and then go to work on the connective tissue: the fascia, tendons, and ligaments. Not only are knotted muscles relieved, but blood flow into joints increases, as does overall flexibility.

The trick is to find a version of a pose that works for your body. One that is challenging but soft enough to allow you to stay in it for at least two minutes, preferably four or longer. Any stretches that make you grind your teeth and sweat within thirty seconds have no place in yin yoga.

I believe in a yin practice designed for each individual body and its issues, depending on how it is built and how it is exercised. Here is my routine, and why I love each pose. Links lead to photos, instructions, and summary of benefits.

  1. Spinal twist, first gently with both legs bent and perhaps one hand pushing the top knee down. For me this works more on the IT tendon and fascia on the outside of the thigh than it does on the spine.
  2. Spinal twist, the deep version with one leg straight along the spine line and the other bent, knee nearing the floor. Both twists are essential for the health of my back and I sometimes do these in bed, first thing in the morning.
  3. Broken (or open) wing pose. It was not easy to find a visual description of my version. To stretch my chest and shoulders I roll over the outstretched arm with a straight leg, placing the other leg on the outside of the straight one and supporting myself with my free hand. Great pose if you spend hours in front of the computer on a daily basis.
  4. Butterfly pose. This is not for hips or hamstrings, but for stretching the lower back. I place my forearms and elbows on the floor in front of my shins, hands facing forward. I stay for at least five minutes, beyond relaxing my lower back muscles, until I feel the ligaments loosen.
  5. Fire log pose. Stretches first the glutes and then the deep hip and piriformis. Hip opener for lotus pose. I usually lean over to one side, supporting my weight on my forearms and placing my forehead on the top foot.
  6. Half frog pose. Leads into frog pose but stretches different adductors for me, the ones that go tight from running.
  7. Frog pose. The idea is to ultimately have your shins, knees, and thighs on the floor, but I have never seen anyone able to do this. This pose is nearly unbearable for me at times of high stress or anxiety, because it stretches deep groin and hip muscles, where so much emotion resides. I also find this nearly unbearable during my period and tend to skip it at those times.
  8. Savasana, preferably as a heart-opener with a bolster or block under my spine to stretch my chest and shoulders.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; January 2020)


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Sauna squeeze

Mon-6One late September night seven women squeezed into the oddest little sauna I have ever seen. There was sweat, steam, the fresh scent of birch twigs, and laughter. And there was nearly no light as candles would melt in the heat of the stove. Also, oddly, there was no water except for what was carried in in a bucket. Anyone wishing to wash themselves needed to do so outside, under the garden shower, in the moonlight (or in the main house bathroom).

I have understood these “sauna barrels” are all the rage in Denmark. And quite far removed from the Finnish purpose of sauna: a warm place to wash and scrub oneself as clean as possible. Furthermore, the Danes are currently much into “saunagus”: a scheduled program run by a sauna master in a public sauna or during a private event. This usually entails aromatherapy oils, steam, ice buckets, and potentially a relaxation or meditation exercise while people sit or lie down on the benches in the heat. Oddly for a Finn, the sauna master can also turn out to be a magician dressed in black-tie (how sweaty!) or a stand-up comedian. And if nothing else, he or she is expected to at least be able to spin towels in the air in a fancy way. All this is also quite far removed from the Finnish spartan sauna tradition, where not many words are spoken and certainly no tricks are performed as the sauna is a serious place for quiet and contemplation.

That late September night, seven women crammed into the sauna barrel. It was so dark we could not read the labels of the aromatherapy oils, so each scoopful of scented water turning into steam on the hot rocks was a surprise: mint, ylang-ylang, lemongrass, or something else? And there was much chatter and laughter, more than I am used to. Such joy took much space during that weekend, among new-found friends.Mon-5(Island of Møn, Denmark; September 2019)


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The last weekend of the summer

Mon-2The sunlight still brightened the beach sand to a brilliant white, even if it was the last weekend of September. For many hours during those three days, I sat on the cool sand watching the little swirls of water rolling in, perhaps all the way from German shores. Mon-4We were just seven women on this private weekend retreat, of many ages and cultures. The old white-washed farmhouse on the countryside of Møn island filled with moments of laughter, moments of silence, and the scent of delicious vegetarian food. Mornings were for yoga and reflection, afternoons for silent meditation and skinny dipping, and evenings for dining, sauna, and sharing.

It was as if the unusually long Danish summer ended that Sunday, when we locked the doors and began the drive back up South.Mon-1(Island of Møn, Denmark; September 2019)


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Warmth of the sun in a cup

curcuminWhisked into hot almond milk, curcumin latte is the warmth of the sun in a cup. This one comes with ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper for extra heat. Heat is good, not only in the winter, but also as a digestive for people whose bellies burn with a slow flame, like me.

Curcumin comes from turmeric, the ginger-resembling root that makes one’s fingers yellow when handling it. And as turmeric only contains a few percent of curcumin, quite a few roots have gone into one curcumin latte – for my good health. Yum.

(Brande, Denmark; June 2019)


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Time for a winter reset

kitchariWinter detoxes and spring cleanses never seem to go out of mode. To be honest, as a scientist I do not believe in quick “detoxing” (I also do not believe one can “wring toxins out of the liver” while squeezing into certain yoga poses). But I do believe in resetting metabolism: resetting energy intake and resetting cravings for salt, sugar, fat, pickles, candy – you name your own craving.

And so, nearly my entire adult life I have taken a timeout of one to three weeks, early on in the year, and focused on clean, healthy, often light food. I have tried a version of the “heart surgery diet” or the “cabbage soup diet” – mainly for excess fluid loss and carb reset, not weight loss. I have also tried three or four different Goop detoxes and found them insanely expensive, adventurous, and delicious.

The past few years I have used a version of an ayurvedic kitchari detox. My ayurvedic dosha is pitta – except for that some of it, and especially my digestive system, is kapha. The combination of mung bean dhal, lots of spices, pickled ginger, and a little rice just works. Especially if you have a slow metabolism or kapha imbalance, or just feel tired during the winter time you might want to give this a go.

The catch with this winter reset, first published on Oh Holy Basil, is that you really must like this dish because it is all you eat. Every day. The recommendation is a three-day diet but I throw in a light almond milk based smoothie every morning and combine that with the kitchari for seven days. Why on earth?? Because it gives my stomach a well-deserved rest. No surprises. No difficult-to-digest raw vegetables, bloating short carbs and sugars, and no chemical additives or caffeine or alcohol. Just highly nutritious, easy-to-digest, clean foods. Every day. And this dish is delicious, especially with the condiments of pickled ginger, shredded coconut, sesame seeds, and fresh cilantro.

My week-long simple reset is as follows:

Morning: Half a lemon squeezed into a glass of warm water, with a dash of cayenne pepper stirred through (to wake up my kapha belly). Followed by a 4 dl smoothie blended from a banana, almond milk, super green powder (think spirulina, wheat shoots, nettle), and maca powder.

Lunch and dinner: Kitchari with rice and condiments, as much as you feel like having. Have some more in-between meals if you feel hungry. If you go for an entire week, make sure you go plenty on the ghee or coconut oil, and cook the mung beans well. I prefer to sprout them for up to 36 hours in a bowl of water in room-temperature prior to cooking, to aid my digestion. I also add up to twice as much spices than in the recipe below (and go even heavier on the turmeric).

To drink: No alcohol, of course. No caffeine also means no black or green tea. Only that glass of fresh lemon water in the morning, followed by herbal teas and water. There are lots of gently and tastily spiced herbal teas out there. Not sure how much good they actually do, but for example the Pukka brand is good for exploration during a reset.

This is not a diet to lose weight; it is a diet for feeling good. You might end up losing some fluid and weight if you go for an entire week. If you do not feel your stomach, even after a heavy meal, this diet is probably working for you. You also do not need expensive adaptogens and Moon Dust (google it if you don’t know what it is) but I like to throw in the things I normally take: holy basil, maca, ashwagandha if I am under pressure at work, and vitamin D + calcium as well as vitamin B12 (as I am vegetarian).

An actual reset is also about resetting one’s mind. Try yoga, meditation, or just sitting in stillness, listening to sounds around you and to your own body. Read, go for walks in Nature, or take a bath. Try to spend less time consuming anything in your life that is not either bringing you a sense of calm or a sense of self-improvement (and that includes dramatic tabloid news, Facebook, and cat videos on Youtube).

The recipe for the actual dish follows below, with a grateful nod to Dillon at Oh Holy Basil. If you have tried this, or another “detox” / cleanse / reset you absolutely recommend, please drop me a line as I do like to experiment and improve.

INGREDIENTS

The dal:
  • 1 cup yellow split mung beans (not the whole green ones she says, but I’ve never found yellow ones anywhere), washed and soaked at least 6 hours, preferably overnight, see note
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
  • ½ teaspoon mustard seed
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seed
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • pinch asafetida, if available, otherwise omit it
  • 6 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 2-3 cups turnips, sunchokes or other mild root vegetables, thinly sliced into half moons
  • ½ bunch of kale or the reserved turnip greens from the turnips, sliced very thin
  • 1 lime, juiced
The best rice ever:
  • 1 cup basmati rice, preferably soaked for one hour, otherwise rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups boiling water
Garnishes:
  • cilantro leaves
  • lime
  • shredded coconut
  • sesame seeds
  • melted ghee
  • ginger tonic, recipe follows

INSTRUCTIONS

For the dal:
  1. Drain and rinse the mung beans in a fine mesh sieve and leave them to drain of their excess water.
  2. In a medium pot, heat the ghee or coconut oil, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick over medium heat until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Immediately add the turmeric, asafetida and mung beans and cook, stirring frequently for about a minute. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, partially covered and cook for about 45 minutes or until the mung beans have broken down, loosing their district form. Add the root vegetables and salt and cook for 15-20 minutes more, until they are quite soft. Add the greens and cook about five minutes more. Turn off the heat and add the lime juice. While the dal is cooking, make the rice.
For the best rice ever:
  1. Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse a couple of times.
  2. Heat the ghee or coconut oil, cumin seeds and cardamom pods over medium heat and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently for a minute or two more, until the rice is well toasted but not yet browning. Add the boiling water and boil the rice, uncovered for five minutes. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until all of the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes.
  3. To serve put some rice into a bowl and ladle the dal over top of it. Garnish with cilantro, a hearty squeeze of lime juice, the coconut, sesame seeds and melted ghee, if using. Top with a couple of teaspoons of the ginger tonic.

NOTES

If you forget to soak your mung beans overnight, do not dismay. You can do a quick soak by pouring boiling water over them and letting them soak for just one hour.

GINGER TONIC

This digestive tonic can be taken before meals to aid digestion and stimulate the agni. I also put some on top of my kitchari.
INGREDIENTS
  • a large piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into tiny cubes
  • lime juice
  • sea salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place the ginger in a small bowl and coat with a liberal squeeze of lime juice. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and set aside to let marinate for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

 

(Brande, Denmark; February 2019)