This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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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)


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In silence

silentretreat-1Silence comes so easily. There is no need to read while eating. Everybody seems to prefer looking out into the jungle. I am lounging on the airy top floor of the main lodge, on a beanbag on the floor. There are couches and cushions and more beanbags, and an entire library of books to read. A handful of guests are digesting their dinner with me. Nobody makes a sound, except for the tokee that just woke up in the ceiling, and the rooster that seems to prefer sunset over sunrise in announcing his presence to the world. The first frogs just started their concert.

This is the real Bali, out here in the rice fields, by the jungle. Not in Ubud, in a fancy yoga gear shop, or in Canggu in a fine-dining restaurant. This is the experience I will seek when I come back (for a fourth time!). Beaches are gorgeous, but unfortunately always overdeveloped. Inland is where I find the real Bali, every time. With the frogs and the birds and the holy men chanting in their temple at every sunrise and sunset.
silentretreat-4(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Into the flames

silentretreat-5Last night there was a New Moon ceremony: agnihotra. The entire silent retreat sat in a large circle around a ceremonial fire, thirty faces lit up by the warm glow of the flames. We chanted a verse of giving things up to the fire. Over and over again for probably an entire hour. I lost track of time as I stared into the bowl of flicking flames.

A local holy man lead us into the ceremony, asking us to approach the fire one by one, to kneel before it, and to offer it something we would like to let go of, and to watch it burn. As the group chanted, trying to overpower the rumble of the rain on the tent roof of our bale, I walked to the fire in the center, knelt, greeted it, and moving my hand from my heart into the fire offered it all the anxiety and doubt I was feeling: doubt that what I have now will stay, and anxiety that I will do something wrong.

I watched my offering, my feelings, burn in the hot, orange flames, and scooped some of the smoky air over my face. No calm or peace entered my heart right then, but I wanted to believe that if one acts as if something were true, it may turn out to be true after all, after a while.

It is nearly dark again now. The frogs are joining the choir in multitudes out in the rice paddies. The cicadas have woken up, too. The jungle must be such an exciting place at night. And I doubt animals in the jungle feel anxiety and doubt.
silentretreat-8(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Off the beaten path

silentretreat-7The jungle is loud still at 5.30 am when the gong wakes me up for morning meditation. At 6 am the light changes to an otherworldly, soft purple and the animals of night leave their shift, one by one: an owl quietens, followed by the other night birds, and finally the cicadas. Just the next moment, a day bird picks up where its nocturnal colleagues left off: one loud, confident whistle, without a moment’s doubt that the sun will soon rise. The bird’s rival (or friend?) answers. And the day begins.

Down in the rice terraces a man has worked all day. He finished preparing the muddy soil this morning, evening it out with a big bamboo log. Then he spent all afternoon planting rice. He worked fast, sticking baby plants into a symmetrical grid. Afterwards he let the water run nearly empty through the irrigation channels. As long as there is rain on Bali, there will be rice. Unless the volcano erupts and all agriculture is lost for an entire season. It has happened before.

Here at the edge of the jungle, nestled between the rice fields, Nature rules. All we visitors can do is pack our belongings in a mouse and snake -safe box, put out our reading lamps into the sun, to be charged if the sun eventually does come out, and shoo out the bugs gotten lost into our rooms. silentretreat-3(Near Batu Karu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Headstand

SPbotanicgarden-1While the earthquake has thrown my Bali holiday upside down, I have also worked on standing upside down. Even after 4 years of practice, falling backwards from a headstand is a real fear. My headstand requires the vicinity of a wall or an instructor. I rarely need them, but sometimes I do.

And so, what a revelation it was to be shown how I can stack up my bones differently, engage my core, and end up in a slight forward tilt with absolutely no possibility of falling backwards. My back is hollow, hence I have stacked my bones following its lines, creating a curve and a balance too near the backwards tipping point. By forcing my back to straighten up, never letting go of the core hold, and feeling I am upright even if I feel a slight lean forward, the headstand feels so much more secure.

We often take our ability to stand and walk for granted. And so it is a humbling experience to have to consciously learn to stand upright (only this time it is indeed upside down).

(Canggu, Bali; August 2018)


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Retreating

retreatFor just one day I checked out of my own life. I reconnected with the person living that life instead. Under the skin of the person who travels 2-3 days a week for work, and consciously has to carve out time for life beyond a job she loves, are ants running around. The trick is, one only discovers them when one stops for a moment.

So today I sat down on my zafu and said hello to the ants running across my chest, on the inside of my skin. As I practised my walking meditation in 20 cm snow underneath sleeping apple trees, I could feel the ants go to sleep, too.

While I consciously choose to live than just to exist, in this context and in our culture, truly “living” usually means being active. Sometimes it is good to just let the world pass through us and truly feel it. The good, the bad, and the antsy.

(Kirkkonummi, Finland; January 2018)