Saturday, February 24, 2007

Living vs. Non-living systems

For me, breath distinguishes between living and non-living organisms. Some organisms we can't see breathing, but they do, in fact, breathe (i.e. plants, trees, etc.). I see breath as the uniting force of all living beings. I feel this sometimes when I'm practicing meditation and deep breathing techniques. It puts me in touch with the divinity within me (within all of us, really) and our interconnectedness.

Speaking of pranayama, I want to share a breathing technique that I practice daily. It's very effective for energetic balancing and stress management. Enjoy. . . .

Nadi Sodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
If you don't do anything else, this is a simple yoga breathing exercise that can be done virtually anywhere, anyplace. You will be glad you did. It is simply dynamic!
The name alternate nostril breathing is due to the fact that we alternate between the two nostrils when we do the breathing. Yogis believe that this exercise will clean and rejuvenate your vital channels of energy, thus the name nadi sodhana (purification of nadis or channels).
With this exercise, we breathe through only one nostril at a time. The logic behind this exercise is that normal breathing does alternate from one nostril to the other at various times during the day. In a healthy person the breath will alternate between nostrils about every two hours. Because most of us are not in optimum health, this time period varies considerably between people and further reduces our vitality. According to the yogis, when the breath continues to flow in one nostril for more than two hours, as it does with most of us, it will have an adverse effect on our health. If the right nostril is involved, the result is mental and nervous disturbance. If the left nostril is involved, the result is chronic fatigue and reduced brain function. The longer the flow of breath in one nostril, the more serious the illness will be.
The exercise produces optimum function to both sides of the brain: that is optimum creativity and optimum logical verbal activity. This also creates a more balanced person, since both halves of the brain are functioning property.
The yogis consider this to be the best technique to calm the mind and the nervous system.


Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Do this to the count of four seconds.
Immediately close the left nostril with your right ring finger and little finger, and at the same time remove your thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through this nostril. Do this to the count of eight seconds. This completes a half round.
Inhale through the right nostril to the count of four seconds. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and exhale through the left nostril to the count of eight seconds. This completes one full round.
Start by doing three rounds, adding one per week until you are doing seven rounds.
Alternate nostril breathing should not be practiced if you have a cold or if your nasal passages are blocked in any way. Forced breathing through the nose may lead to complications. In pranayama it is important to follow this rule: under no circumstances should anything be forced. If you use the nostrils for breath control they must be unobstructed. If they are not, you must practice throat breathing.

For more info on pranayama, visit

Use of language and tools in chimps

I believe such research is incredibly significant to making discoveries about the evolution of our species. We've learned that humans and chimps share 99% of the same DNA, so observing how chimps acquire language and other survival tools could likely tell us how we did the same. It seems that chimps are catching up to us in terms of intellectual development. Maybe in 100,000 years, chimps will be identical with modern-day humans. I wonder where we will be....probably like computers or aliens!

"Chinese medicine gaining respectability in the West"

A few things came up for me in reading this article. First, the stories of the patients who turned to TCM when Western medicine couldn't help them resonated with me. I have the same background; I fell through the cracks in the Western healthcare system onto TCM's doorstep, and in a life-threatening state. TCM helped me reclaim my life from severe, chronic health issues and gave me my purpose: to pass its healing powers onto others. Every time I hear a story of someone finding relief in the arms of TCM when nothing else worked is always a magical moment for me. I love TCM so much!

Second, the growing number of Western medical institutions that are now offering TCM modalities gives me hope for a full integration of East and West medical traditions someday. Two of the Western hospitals that were discussed are here in the Bay Area. My godfather works for Kaiser in SF and he says that they have several acupuncturists on staff. I think that the modern research on TCM coming out of Harvard and other prestigious institutions is the most important contribution to TCM growing in this country. I plan to do research studies and thus help to ground the field of TCM into the cold, hard facts that Western society appreciates.

Third, I was angered by the uneducated comments made by the Stanford professor of the "voodoo," placebo nature of TCM. It's frustrating that on top of the overwhelming complexity of TCM and having to learn so much Western medicine that we have to deal with the cynicism, doubts, and attacks from conventional doctors. But as long as we continue to do clinical studies on the efficacy of TCM and give the doctors cold, hard facts, I believe we will receive more and more of their support and cooperation in delivering integrative medicine.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Can diversification save a species?

I believe it can based on my experiences with gardening. When I lived with a women's healing community, we had a garden and planted greens every spring. We made sure to diversify our selection of greens because they made one another grow stronger and protected each other against bugs, weather conditions, etc. During our first year of the garden, the only green we planted was rainbow chard, and we lost the entire crop. This seems to make sense in terms of humans as well. I've witnessed people seek out partners with different traits than them so that their genetic material is stronger for their children. I think our species would have died off long ago if it wasn't for adaptability and diversification. But I don't believe it's the only thing that can save a species. Today, for example, I think that in order to save the human race, we need to heal the planet and practice loving kindness towards one another. Who's with me?

The chicken or the egg?

I appreciated the article on this timeless theoretical conundrum. It never made sense to me to believe that a chicken was created out of thin air and then laid an egg. But I couldn't see how an egg could have been made without a chicken. I never considered the possibility that a chicken could have been created from the egg of two non-chickens. So now I'm definitely behind the argument that the egg came first, and I'm excited to bring the information from the article to my next dinner party discussion.

"I always eat my broccoli"

Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables. I never used to eat the stems until recently. They're great added to stir frys and soups. I remember reading an article in college about how to get children to eat vegetables like broccoli. It said the key was to pair it with a food that the kids enjoyed (i.e. cheese). This supposedly creates a positive association with the vegetable and soon enough you won't need to pair it with another food to get kids to eat it. So start your kids off with melting cheese on top of broccoli (or on all veggies for that matter) and I'll bet that they'll end up being broccoli lovers. I also plan to educate my children about the health benefits of eating such foods. I think it's disempowering to tell children to do things and not explain why. It's a lot of work being a conscious parent, but I can't imagine anything more rewarding.

Monday, February 12, 2007

How do you think chimps and humans diverged as species?

I believe in intelligent design (the theory that intelligent causes are responsible for the origin of the universe and of life in all its diversity) and that we diverged as a species because a Higher Power wanted us to. As discussed in the article on human-chimpanzee speciation, I found it all-too-mysterious that our mixed lineage with chimps (due to inbreeding) died off quickly. The article said itself that "something very unusual happened at the time of speciation." What I hear from this statement is that the Great Spirit was working its magic. I don't believe that nature and complex biological structures evolve by chance but rather by a purposeful design. It just doesn't make sense to me any other way. I am fully behind the saying that science only goes so far, then comes God. But it was fascinating to learn about the latest research in genetic mapping and evolutionary technologies.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Can we raise levels of dopamine ourselves?

I believe we can and the article on the treatment of Parkinson's certainly supports the idea that we have the ability to do so. I have had many "natural highs" in my life that felt similar to the experiences when I've been on drugs that have acted on my dopamine levels. Falling/being in love, for instance, definitely gets the "feel-good" chemicals going in the brain (i.e. dopamine, serotonin). Yoga, meditation, taking a hot tub, eating chocolate, and having sex are other natural ways that I think we can kick up dopamine levels. I appreciated the article on how sex is an effective stress reduction therapy. The human body has limitless potential and there are so many "tools" in the world to help us feel well without having to resort to drugs. Below I'm going to post a forward I received on "natural highs." Enjoy the richness of life. . . . .

Natural Highs
1. Falling in love.
2. Laughing so hard your face hurts.
3. A hot shower.
4. No lines at the supermarket.
5. A special glance.
6. Getting mail.
7. Taking a drive on a pretty road.
8. Hearing your favorite song on the radio.
9. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside.
10. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer.
11. Chocolate milkshake (vanilla or strawberry).
12. A bubble bath.
13. Giggling.
14. A good conversation.
15. The beach.
16. Finding a 20 dollar bill in your coat from last winter.
17. Laughing at yourself.
18. Looking into their eyes and knowing they Love you
19. Midnight phone calls that last for hours.
20. Running through sprinklers.
21. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all.
22. Having someone tell you that you're beautiful.
23. Laughing at an inside joke .
24. Friends.
25. Accidentally overhearing someone say something nice about you.
26. Waking up and realizing you still have a few hours left to sleep.
27. Your first kiss (either the very first or with a new partner).
28. Making new friends or spending time with old ones.
29 Playing with a new puppy.
30. Having someone play with your hair.
31. Sweet dreams.
32. Hot chocolate.
33. Road trips with friends.
34. Swinging on swings.
35.. Making eye contact with a cute stranger.
36. Making chocolate chip cookies.
37. Having your friends send you homemade cookies.
38 . Holding hands with someone you care about.
39. Running into an old friend and realizing that some things (good or bad) never change.
40. Watching the expression on someone's face as they open a much desired present from you.
41. Watching the sunrise.
42. Getting out of bed every morning and being grateful for another beautiful day.
43. Knowing that somebody misses you.
44. Getting a hug from someone you care about deeply.
45. Knowing you've done the right thing, no matter what other people think.

Is there a drug around for just about everything?

It seems that way this day in age. I definitely agree that Americans are over-medicated and that there are many natural alternatives for the drugs that treat common ailments. What is frustrating to me is Western medicine's blatant dismissal of the investigation of the root causes of diseases. In my experience, the Western doctors that I've seen have been quick to prescribe me medications for my mood swings, amenorrhea, acne, eating disorder, anxiety, etc. without bothering to ask me about or address the underlying causes (emotions, diet, stress, exercise, and other lifestyle factors). I was very upset after reading the article on a drug that supposedly cures gambling addiction. Drugs such as this likely create serious chemical changes in the brain and don't address the reason why the addiction developed in the first place. Prescribing drugs for every disharmony, especially psycho-spiritual diseases such as addiction, is lazy and very dangerous. I believe in focusing on education, prevention, and empowering people to take their health into their own hands through healthy-lifestyle choices. The fact that we have to keep tweaking the drugs on the market because our bodies become resistant to them proves that often drugs are not a sustainable method of treatment (as discussed in the article on the latest antibiotic on the market). And many times we don't even know if a drug works! They're given out like candy and we don't even know if they work!!! We saw this in the article on the placebo effect of a treatment for Parkinson's. Those who were given the drug and those who weren't both showed improvement. I'm obviously passionate about this issue due to my own negative experiences with drugs and Western medical therapies. I feel deeply honored to bring the alternative of Chinese and Integrative medicine to people.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Impressions of Human Genetic Evolution

Lots of deep, fascinating stuff in this site. It blew my mind to think that we all evolved from molecules that were created by heat, gas and light in the early atmosphere. I also liked the theory that life began around thermal vents caused by volcanic activity on the ocean floor. I appreciated the reality check that in the 3.5 billion year history of life, our Homo Sapien species was born only 200,000 years ago in Africa. I had no idea that we diversified so quickly in 100,000 years. It was also interesting to learn about the genetic lineages of the African-American, Polynesian, and American-Indian populations. I did not know that African-Americans were actually a hybrid of African and European peoples, nor that American-Indians are most closely related to Mongolians (so their name is very misleading!). We've all come so far in such a short amount of time, relatively speaking. I wonder what evolution has in store for us....

Prokaryotes, Eukaryotes, & Viruses Tutorial

I really appreciated this tutorial, especially the explanation of the differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, which I never quite understood from high school biology. The information on viruses was fascinating. I didn't know exactly how viruses worked, but the description of them being intracellular parasites that infect a cell and take over its genetic make-up really made sense to me. I also found the following statistic to be staggering: "since 1981, there have been 2.5 million deaths by AIDS and 20-40 million deaths by malaria." This makes me wonder why we have focused our efforts so heavily on the dialogue and cure of AIDS, and yet malaria has been a much more pervasive killer. I greatly appreciated the end of the tutorial that's entitled, "Sympathy for the life of bacteria." It was really funny and creative how they presented the information. I think similar presentations would be very effective for high school students in order to make the material more engaging.

Humans & Chimps--Similar DNA thoughts

99.4% of the most critical DNA sites are identical in human and chimp genes”
What do you make of this?

It does seem like we are like chimps in every way, from our body structure to our behaviors and temperment. This probably has huge implications for research and understanding human biology and evolution, next to the human genome itself, particularly what sets us apart from other animals. From the knowledge that I've acquired, I know that speech is a human-specific trait, but beyond that I don't know what our other genetic differences are. I did additional research because I was a bit skeptical of this statistic, and I found while many similarities between the human and chimp genomes exist, about 35 million DNA-base pairs differ, each of which, like most mammalian genomes, contains about 3 billion base pairs. In addition, there are another 5 million sites that differ because of an insertion or deletion in one of the lineages, along with a much smaller number of chromosomal rearrangements. So, although 99% makes it sound like human and chimps are the same, we still have huge amounts of genetic differences along crucial genetic protein lines.

I also found this passage from a random website to be interesting: "Human DNA is 98 percent the same as the DNA of chimpanzees; but it's also 70 percent the same as the DNA of yeast. So what makes humans uniquely different from chimpanzees or yeast? One thing might be the way in which we created language and culture, and how we developed these things in different ways all over the earth." Fun thoughts. . . . .