Yoga as Meditation

Note to my regular readers: After writing about eating the whole food, plant-based way for almost four years now, I have decided to expand my horizons for this blog site and write on the subject of well being, which includes eating a whole food, plant-based diet but also stretches out into other areas of our lives that affect our well being. I believe that most of my readers will welcome this change because my readers tend to be more conscious of their own well being, as well as the well being of others and our environments, than probably the majority of the population. So, this transition seems like it should be a natural one to make although change is not always easy. I will continue to write about food and nutrition when the muses lead me in that direction, but I will also expand out into new territory as well. I hope you come along with me. Today's posting is on my experiences with meditation and yoga. Enjoy!

I have been practicing both meditation and yoga for a couple of years now, but it's only been lately that I have really come to recognize the true benefits of doing so. At first, they were just unique activities to engage in, but if you were to ask me why I did either, I couldn't really give you a good answer. It might have been because others I knew were doing meditation and yoga and they seemed to believe there was some benefit in doing so.

Meditation was the hardest for me to understand. I would sit, focusing on my breath or focusing on an imagined spot out in front of me, and I would start wondering why am I doing this. Being retired and having a comfortable but not lavish lifestyle, I was really under no stress in my life. I would do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Listening to others, they would talk about meditation quieting the mind and reducing stress. But I had no stress or very little stress to relieve. And because I walk every day, mostly on the nature trail, listening to the birds communicating with the other creatures in the woods, I found that to be quieting as well.

And yet, I persisted with doing meditation. Recently, I found a very practical use for meditation though. I banged my shin really hard the other night, and the pain from that was intense. It radiated throughout my entire leg. It was the kind of pain that I would normally rush to the bathroom and find a pain killer to take. But I've come to pride myself on the fact that because I follow a whole food, plant-based way of eating and because I regularly walk and do yoga and play pickleball, I don't need medications. While I still have some old, likely outdated pain killers, I prefer not to take them.

Remembering that pain is a mental thing, not a physical thing, I decided to first give meditation a chance. I began to quietly meditate, focusing on my breath, and I swear that within two minutes, this intense, radiating pain was completely gone. And it never came back. That's when I suddenly realized the importance of meditation. Meditation can control our bodies. Not just our physical pains, but also our anxieties, our depressions, our wants and desires. The Buddhist writer and founder of The Interdependence Project, Ethan Nichtern says in One City, A Declaration of Interdependence, that meditation gives us better mindfulness, awareness and insight. The changes may be subtle, but they are there. Oftentimes, our friends notice the changes before we do. For a good understanding of meditation, readers might check out Turning the Mind Into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham.

Note: I am no longer linking to items that readers can purchase because I've learned that doing so is labelled as an unnatural link by Google, and Google then places the website with the unnatural link, as well as the business linked to, lower down in its search criteria. I didn't know this until Bragg's recently contacted me and asked me to remove a link to their Liquid Aminos product. You know it's a serious issue when the manufacturer of a product doesn't want you linking to a site where readers can buy their product. But you can search for the books and DVDs and even the foods that I recommend on sites like Amazon or Barnes and Noble and easily find them. And you can rest assured that I am not personally profiting from my recommendations. All of my recommendations come from my personal beliefs in the products I mention.

In today's posting, I want to touch on yoga as meditation though. Yoga is another one of those things I started doing several years ago without fully understanding why. Was it physical exercise, like kind of a weird calisthentics? Was it something spiritual? Or was it just a fad? You might ask why I would do something when I don't know why I do it. And my answer is that I'm always inquisitive for new things and I'm always fascinated by the benefits I receive from doing something when I had no idea that I would receive such benefits in the beginning. It's like when I bought my first computer, an IBM PC Jr. I had no idea what I was going to do with it. I had no idea of what the power of a personal computer would become. And yet, I dived in and today I can't live without my computer. It's an integral part of my life.

And so it is with yoga. But I really came to see the benefits of yoga last February after I moved my yoga practice from the studio to my home. I made the change because the studio raised its prices again, and I began to find it more unaffordable. I prefer to save my money for travel and photography by cutting out other things like cable TV, frequent restaurant meals, and in-studio yoga. At the time, I thought that I would try cutting it out and hope that I didn't lose the discipline. But not only did I not lose the discipline, but my practice got better.

It got better because I began to focus on my breath. I know in the studio, we would be told to focus on our breath, but somehow I never did. Sometimes we moved too quickly, in fact, with one substitute, it was like a race to get through the yoga positions. Sometimes, I focused more on making sure I didn't look foolish in comparison to others. Sometimes, other participants distracted me. Or I would watch the clock.

But at home, I learned to shut my eyes and to move through the yoga positions more slowly and gracefully to the music of Putumayo Presents Yoga, focused entirely on my breath and not distracted by anything else. The practice of yoga became peaceful and meditative. It became an act of meditation in and of itself. And I now understand why I do it. It's physical, it's spiritual, it induces peaceful feelings and it's meditative.

I've found this for myself. I hope you have or can find it for yourself too. And I hope that you find my expansion of subject matter worthwhile. Please feel free to letting me know what you think. Write to me at jlsmith.jim@gmail.com


It's Not Selfish to be Whole Food, Plant-Based

While my last posting was generally well received, there were a few comments that said that people who eat whole food, plant-based are being selfish if they aren't doing it for the animals in addition to doing it for nutrition. I've also read that same sentiment recently by some others online and in Facebook groups.

I want to dispel such notions because one, they are not true and two, such sentiments tend to lead us away from the good we can do for ourselves and in the world by eliminating animal products from our diets. If anything, it could be considered selfish to eat whatever you want, including animal products, without regard for the effect of such dietary habits on the planet's climate, environment, our fellow man and other species that live among us. But eating whole food, plant-based addresses all of those issues and makes a positive impact in the world we live in.

We should not criticize anybody's motives for what they do. All we can really do is look at a person's actions to make a judgment about whether or not what that person is doing is good or bad. If I don't eat meat, it matters not a bit whether I do it out of compassion for animals, out of concern for the environment or out of interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The end results are the same. I will accomplish all of those things. Our goal is not to get people saying they are ethical vegans; our goal is to improve the environment, the climate, our health and our treatment of animals. And we do that one mouthful at a time by resolving to eat a vegan or whole food, plant-based diet.

To say that a person is selfish because they eat whole food, plant-based for health reasons is like saying a person who goes jogging in the morning is selfish if they are doing it for their health. It's not selfish to take actions that will sustain and improve our health. In fact, I believe that we have a moral obligation to keep ourselves as healthy as we can. And that means, among other things like exercise, getting enough sleep, meditating or praying (depending on your beliefs) and moving around, we need to follow a WFPB way of eating.

Why is it a moral obligation? There are many reasons. To start with, when we don't keep ourselves as healthy as we can, we risk becoming burdens to other people, such as our children or other family members or good friends. Not only do we affect our own lives in a negative way when we come down with serious chronic diseases, but we also can often take away the lives of others too. Being a caregiver is hard work. I know because I've done it. And while caregivers love us and will do whatever it takes to care for us, we have a duty to do what we can so as to not become that burden on them.

Before going further, let me state that people do get sick through no fault of their own, and they do require extensive care as a result. This in no way is intended to shed guilt on them. But I think we can all agree that there is way more chronic illness in the world than there needs to be, and much of it is preventable. And if it can be prevented then morally, we should do what we can to prevent it. The exception might be the independently wealthy person who has no need to depend on family or friends for support if they become ill. Such a person can just pay his way to good care.

But that's not the only reason that maintaining our health is a moral imperative. There's also the ridiculous costs that all members of society pay today for health insurance, dental insurance and long-term care insurance. These costs come about because of so many people being on some kind of prescription medication and/or being so unhealthy they need to make many trips to the doctor's offices. Today, health insurance and long-term care insurance, in particular, are becoming more and more unaffordable. This is exacerbated by the poor dietary and lifestyle choices that so many people make. We all pay those costs. And I believe if we all considered it our moral obligation to stay healthy, then we would not be placing such high costs on others.

Along those lines, Americans are paying too much in taxes for that same reason. Medicare is 15% of the national budget and Medicaid accounts for over $500 billion of spending (some of that is federal and some of that is state funding). In addition, government employees receive benefits that pay for significant portions of their health insurance. The taxes we pay, whether to the federal government or to the state, have to cover those costs, and those costs are in addition to the costs of individual health insurance policies that we all carry.

And finally, eating whole food, plant-based means being there for our children, grandchildren, spouse and other immediate family members. It means having the energy to play with your children and grandchildren. It means having the mental acuity to help your children and grandchildren with their school work. It means having the energy to volunteer and to help out those less fortunate. It means having the health to work at a successful relationship with your spouse. It means making the lives of others around you better because of your energy and mental acuity and interest in life. All of these things are improved by eating WFPB.

So, the bottom line is, it's not selfish to eat whole food, plant-based for health reasons. Those reasons are just as valid as are reasons for doing it for the environment or reasons for doing it out of compassion and kindness toward animals. Eating whole food, plant-based for our health is an act of love and compassion. It's an act of love and compassion for our own bodies and our own worth in the world and it's an act of love and compassion for others as well. It's an act of love and compassion for the environment and for the climate. And finally, it's an act of love for the animal world.


We Are Not Vegans, Part II

A couple years ago, I wrote what turned out to be quite a controversial posting titled, "We Are Not Vegans." I'm not linking to it here because if I were writing it today, I would write it differently. But it's easily found by searching on my blog site or even easier by just picking it off of the list of "Most Popular Blogs" in the right hand column of my blog site. It's still in the top ten of all-time most read blogs that I've written.

But with the publication of John Mackey's book, The Whole Foods Diet, with Dr. Alona Pulde and Dr. Matthew Lederman, the question of being vegan has come up again. As most of my readers know, John Mackey is the founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market (and Dr. Pulde and Dr. Lederman are the doctors in the documentary Forks Over Knives). John Mackey does not eat any animal products. But he sells animal products in his stores, and he allows for some animal products in his new book. To be fair, so does Dr. Campbell in The China Study and so does Dr. Greger in How Not to Die.

So, a friend of mine asked me, "How can John Mackey be called a vegan when he operates a chain of grocery stores that sell animal products?" And that's a fair question that gets to the heart of today's blog posting. Mackey addresses that question in his book, although not really to my satisfaction. The point I want to make today, as I did in my earlier posting on the subject, is that eating whole food, plant-based is not the same as being a vegan. Being WFPB is not being vegan and being vegan is not necessarily eating whole food, plant-based. The two are entirely different concepts, and it's important to recognize the difference. I'll address here why it's important from both sides --- from the side of the vegan and from the side of the WFPB eater.

First, I'll point out that being vegan is about much more than what you don't eat, and it says nothing about what you do eat. That's because veganism is not about food. Being vegan is about not exploiting animals. It is about having a compassionate attitude towards all animals. As Gene Baur told me on the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise, being vegan is about kindness. It's about being kind to all forms of life, both to animals and to our fellow brothers and sisters in the human race (another subject I touch on further below).

Vegans don't just not eat animal products. Vegans also don't do a lot of other things that exploit animals. For example, vegans don't take their children to the zoo or to the circus or to watch captive dolphins splashing around in confined spaces. Vegans don't go to southern cities like New Orleans or Charleston or Savannah and take horse-drawn carriage tours of the city. Vegans don't wear any wool, silk or leather clothing. Vegans don't have leather car seats. Vegans are aware of personal products, likes soaps and shampoos and perfumes that are made with animal products and they don't buy those products. Vegans don't buy products that are the result of animal testing. None of this is any small measure. There are animal products in everything from condoms to wine and everything in between. Even organic vegetables are usually grown in manure that comes from feedlots that exploit animals for their food. But there are farms cropping up for vegans that grow organic vegetables without using animal manure.

The point is, being vegan is not about what you eat or don't eat. Being vegan is a lifestyle. Being vegan is a commitment to being kind and compassionate. The fact that you don't eat animals is just one part of being vegan.

On the other hand, being whole food, plant-based, while it can lead to becoming a vegan, is not in and of itself being a vegan. Being whole food, plant-based is about nutrition. The fact that it is also good for the environment, good for mitigating climate change and good for animal welfare, among other things, are really side effects of the movement. And they are good side effects as well as compelling arguments for going whole food, plant-based. But the overall message of the WFPB way of eating is for our nutritional health.

I always say it's not about what you don't eat; it's about what you do eat. A person can eat whole food, plant-based and have good health and still occasionally eat a slice of pizza with cheese or an egg omelette (as examples). It's how you predominantly eat that counts and makes a difference toward your health. Being WFPB emphasizes certain foods like dark green leafy greens, beans, berries, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fruits and so forth. It minimizes processed foods, oils and animal foods. But it's not vegan.

I think this is important because I hear so many people who are eating whole food, plant-based calling themselves vegan, when in fact they are not. And when we go into a restaurant and tell the waiter we are vegan and ask him to bring us something vegan, we are not at all assured of getting anything that is whole food, plant-based. We might get fried zucchini for example. That could be vegan, but it's certainly not WFPB. So, saying that we are vegan to the waiter is useless.

We need to say that we are whole food, plant-based. I know the argument that waiters understand the word vegan, but they don't understand the words, whole food plant-based. That's a cop-out. The word vegan didn't always exist. It's not a word that's written into our DNA. In fact, the word vegan is only 3 years older than me; it originated in 1944. Certainly, in 1944, if you went into a restaurant and told the waiter you were vegan, they would look at you quizzically. Nobody knew what it meant. It had to be explained.

So, why can't we do the same? Why can't we explain what it means to be whole food, plant-based? Instead of co-opting a word that means something entirely different from what we are, why don't we use our own terminology and explain what it means? Then eventually, just as the word vegan came to be universally understood, so will the words whole food, plant-based.

There's another reason for shedding the word vegan. That is, vegans don't have a good reputation in the general population. Don't get me wrong, there are many fine vegans who are kind and compassionate towards all. But there are a few who are not as kind and compassionate toward their fellow human beings as they are towards animals. And that leaves a bad taste in the average person's mouth. Getting in someone's face about how they eat or what they wear and attacking their morality does not win converts to your side. But it does leave a sour taste, and it results in a bad reputation for the vegan movement in general.

This is unfortunate because animals truly are being exploited and put into positions of pain and fear. It's a terrible situation, and as I've said before, we should all strive to be as vegan as we can be.
And even push ourselves to go further than we think we can go in that regard. But we also need to recognize that we live in a culture that has exploited animals for a long, long time, and that's not going to change overnight. People's attitudes about it are not going to change overnight. There are deep religious convictions about the role of animals in our world for many people. There are deep cultural traditions that dictate how people eat. There's peer pressure. There's what's taught in schools. There's the influence of big business. There's just a lot that goes into people's attitudes toward animals.

Vegans get a bad reputation when they don't recognize that complexity, when they don't show compassion and kindness toward others. Just as vegans accuse others of speciesism, so can they be accused of speciesism when they show compassion and kindness toward other animals but not towards the homo sapiens species. And the bad taste that people get towards vegans can turn them off to trying the WFPB way of eating if they are given the impression that it is a vegan diet.

In conclusion, be what you are. If you are truly a vegan and don't exploit animals in any form (a very honorable and ethical person to be and one I strive to be), then be a true vegan and show kindness and compassion to all species, including homo sapiens. But if you are eating whole food, plant-based for the nutritional benefits, then don't call yourself vegan because it won't necessarily get you what you want in a restaurant and it may turn off others from trying this way of eating. Call it what it is --- a whole food, plant-based way of eating.

Eat Fiber. Period.

If there is one word that describes how I eat, that describes what it means to be truly whole food plant-based for health reasons, that describes what Dr. Greger tells us in How Not to Die, that describes what Dr. Campbell tells us in Whole, that describes everything we need to know about nutrition --- that word would be fiber. To me, any diet, any nutritional study, any food that is not high in fiber is one to be limited or eliminated from my diet.

And if I could describe to someone else how to follow a whole food, plant-based diet in two words, those two words would be Eat Fiber. While it says the same thing, that's even simpler than Michael Pollan's admonition to "Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not Too Much." It can all be boiled down to eating fiber.

I'm going to go into the why of that in a little bit, but first let me ask that you just think about it for a minute. Think about why we say no oil because of the fat content of oil and yet, we consider nuts to be acceptable even though they too are very high in fat. What's the difference? The difference is nuts also are high in fiber. Oil has no fiber. So, oil has little in the way of health benefits whereas nut eaters have been found to live longer. Nuts have been found to help with weight loss and to improve endothelial function, just the opposite of what you would expect. Fiber is what is different between nuts and oils. You might argue that nuts have more nutrients, but that's not necessarily the case. Before I went WFPB, I used to use walnut oil on my salads, thinking it was nutritious. The nutrients are there, but we're less likely to absorb the nutrients from walnut oil than we are from walnuts themselves.

And that brings me to supplements. Most experts agree that we shouldn't waste our money on supplements. Supplements don't seem to have the efficacy that eating the food has. Why not? Again, I will argue that it's fiber. Supplements don't contain fiber. Whole plant-based foods do contain fiber. Fiber is what helps our bodies to absorb the nutrients in the foods.

Want another example? Think about fruit and sugar. Much has been made of the obesity epidemic in our country and how that correlates with the rise in sugar consumption. I'm going to offer another correlation in a minute, but for now, let's just stay with sugar. The problematic sugar is fructose, which is in sodas, candies and lots of processed and bakery-developed foods. But it's also in fruit. Eat or consume the fructose in sodas, candies and lots of processed and bakery-developed foods and you're likely to get fat. Eat the fructose in fruit and the same problem doesn't exist. I can attest to that because I've started eating five bananas in the morning and another two bananas in the evening plus a grapefruit and berries each morning, along with fruit for snacks and I've begun losing weight again. What's the difference? A can of soda doesn't have any fiber. Fruits do have fiber.

A key point though. I don't make smoothies with my fruit. I eat the whole fruit. I don't want to do anything that will remove or lessen the fiber content of my foods. So forget smoothies, juices and the likes. You might be ingesting the nutrition, but unless you're ingesting it with fiber, you're probably losing the nutrition.

I really came to realize this after reading the book 10% Human by Alanna Collen. I learned about that book on the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise this past month. Dr. Michael Klaper recommended it for further reading at the end of his talk on leaky gut syndrome.  In the book, she talks about how our bodies are made up of trillions of bacterial microbes, and those microbes play a significant role in our lives. Interestingly, they can affect the way we think, what we eat, what illnesses we'll get and more.

But there are things that interfere with our microbes too or can cause us to have the wrong microbes. Think about antibiotics for example. Antibiotics came into being in the forties, and we've known since the fifties that antibiotics can be used to fatten farm animals. And guess what? That's exactly what farmers have done. They've pumped antibiotics into the animals and the animals have gotten fatter faster. In fact, chickens have gotten so fat in some cases, they can't stand on their own two legs. And the antibiotics that are fed to the animals ends up in our bodies because of our consumption of animals and the foods that are fertilized with their manure. Naturally, if other mammals get fat from consuming antibiotics, then it stands to reason that we would too.

So, that's the other correlation with our obesity epidemic. Our nation has gotten fatter as animals have been given antibiotics (and as our doctors have over-prescribed antibiotics for us). So, is sugar really the culprit behind the obesity epidemic or are antibiotics? I'm going to say neither. I'm going to say lack of fiber. And I'll point out that sugar has no fiber and antibiotics exacerbate the lack of fiber, thus making lack of fiber the direct cause and sugar and antibiotics being indirect causes.

Fiber is what feeds our good gut bacteria. In that sense, fiber is the ultimate prebiotic. And when we give our good bacteria the food they want to eat, then we are creating our own probiotics, which is good because the amount of good bacteria that you can consume in probiotics is minuscule compared to the number of bacteria in your gut. Our good bacteria are what keeps our weight in check. Our good bacteria are what break down our foods and ensure that our bodies get key nutrients needed. And fiber is what keeps our good bacteria fed and working on our behalf.

Most Americans today don't get anywhere near enough fiber. Fiber is nonexistent in most meats, oils, dairy products, processed foods, baked goods, desserts, etc. Even foods labelled as whole grain, such as breads or pastas that you might buy, are woefully short on fiber in many cases when compared to whole plant-based foods from the produce department.

Eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds is an act of eating lots of fiber. And that's an act of cultivating and growing the good bacteria in our bodies that will enhance our health and keep our weight in check. Eating other foods has the potential to destroy that gut biome and to place one in poorer health and to inhibit the nutrients in the foods eaten from making their way to places needed in the body.

So, in two words: Eat Fiber. Lots and lots of fiber. As I've always said, being WFPB is not about what we don't eat, it's about what we do eat. If you make sure that at least 95% of the calories you consume every day are high fiber foods, then the stuff we don't eat will not come up in your diet to any great extent. Instead of rejecting high fat foods, that can cause you to eliminate things like nuts and seeds that truly are good for you, think instead about eating high fiber foods and about how much fiber you can pack into your day. You'll be pleased you did.

Four New Recipes Just Posted

I've posted four new recipes to my other blogsite, The Art of Plant-Based Meal Creation, If you are currently subscribed to WFPB Guy (aka Finally Our Time) and you want to see my recipes going forward, then you should also subscribe to my new blog, The Art of Plant-Based Meal Creation. You can click here to be taken to that blog site. The four new recipes will be the top posting.

The four recipes are for a good all-American meal of BBQ soy curls (that your friends will think is chicken or pork), baked beans, mac 'n no cheese and cherry nice dream. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've served this recipe of soy curls to my non-vegan friends and had them ask me to leave them the leftovers. They all love it. And my grandchildren always ask me for the cherry nice dream. And they don't ask for something unless they really like it. So, this is a good and tasty but healthy whole food, plant-based meal that works for everybody.

I made it this past Saturday night to take to a friend's surprise birthday party, and I was astounded at how good everything came out. I hope you will find it to your liking as well.