Weeding for a fuller life

The modern world seems to fuel itself on anxiety and hypervigilance, creating a tension loop and stressing the joy out of life. Many people crave something more, something better, a chance at peace and joy. But we do need to address our negative tendencies before we can truly cultivate the positive. Here is a passage from my new, soon to be released book – Seeds of mindfulness (Dover press) – that can help clear the path.

The negative clearance trick. As every gardener knows when you rake a fine tilt over the surface of your soil in order to sow your ornamental or vegetable seed, you can turn up to the surface some weed seeds and they too can germinate within your fresh sowed rows. You can end up with more corn poppy than corn or more nettle than nasturtiums.

You can get disparaged by this, so some gardeners pull a trick to clear the weed seed out first; they rake the ground a week before they intend to sow their crops, allowing the weeds to surface, germinate and expend their energy into new growth then hoe them off before sowing their profitable seed. We are not called Homo sapiens (wise human) for nothing.

Clearing the negative is not encouraging or indulging in negative thinking it is seeing the weeds for what they are – unproductive. And no matter how well you tend your garden there is always the possibility of a newly sprung weed. I may cultivate compassion and rational understanding but I am not immune to a twinge of anger around social injustice, I don’t have to feed it, just see it for what it is whenever it sprouts.

Often when we start a healing or self-dedicating task, our mind’s turbulence or socialised psychology can turn up weed thoughts and disincentives – “is this right for me”, “can I do this”, “you are hopeless”, “am I wasting my time”, “cop on to yourself”, “how am I going to keep this up” etc. Let all that arise then hoe each one off. Now we are free to sow, to sow the positive; “it is right for me”, “I can do this”, “this is the best use of my time”, etc . Positive affirmations yes but also the truth.

We have a natural bias towards a negative bias but with mindfulness we can also sow a positive bias – and yes it will thrive like a garden of all the ages.

Weeding the negative bias. Evolution has provided our minds with a negative bias – a caution reflex; literally to ‘think before you leap’ in case that gap between this side of the chasm and the green grass on the other side is just one stride too far and we fall to our death or despair. Those who ran and jumped without taking the time to think or at least build up some ‘running momentum’ got quickly removed from the gene pool. The worriers hung around and multiplied.

So doubting or having some ‘hang on a minute’ thoughts is a good thing. Except when they are not so much ‘life or death’ scenarios but intrude upon a life in pursuit of being fulfilled or worse make a life unfulfilled. We can learn to witness and even appreciate those butterflies in the belly or the ‘no way’ thought but also see beyond to where the rope bridge across is a better option.

We don’t have to weed every non-enthusiastic thought – some of them are more wildflowers than weeds but don’t fret that because mindfulness gifts the clarity to know the difference. The more we practice the more we find clarity. We will see what is holding us back and what is saving our life. Overtime we will edit out the weeds and let the wildflowers be reminders of our beautiful human nature – cautious but also courageous.

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home made dental care recipes for world oral health day

A bit of a curiosity on world oral health day – two historic recipes and one of my own modern interpretations – you don’t have to try but you might enjoy discovering the antecedents of modern toothpastes. Something to smile about.

The most ancient Methods of tooth whitening. Fire many have revolutionized primitive man, but some of its by-product may have civilized our look. In our far history it is believed that ancient man first utilized ground chalk, crushed rock minerals, white clay, ashes and even charcoal as a mouth and tooth cleanser. Seems counter intuitive but there just many have some justified method to this apparent madness as recent otc charcoal toothpastes and dental treatments testify.

Modern research could argue that activated charcoal placed in the mouth alters the pH balance and thus the health of the mouth. Certainly such changes are effective in eliminating the bad bacteria present in tooth decay and gingivitis and also in slowing cavity formation. Activated charcoal can draw toxins from the gums too.

Method: With a mortar and pestle grind to a fine powder some charcoal. Dip a clean toothbrush into the powdered charcoal, moisten your teeth with saliva and simply brush – gentle circular motions. Your mouth and teeth will go black at first but upon rinsing the whitening effect is noticeable – Your whole mouth and teeth will feel remarkably cleansed but there might be some residual taste – give it 10minutes then brush with your regular toothpaste or rinse with a proprietary or homemade mouth wash.

Top tip – Chose natural charcoal (from wood or coconut sources) – which can be sourced in health stores – and not petroleum based often in artists charcoal and bbq charcoal. Like any whitening treatment this is not for daily maintenance – over use can undermine enamel. No more than twice a week for a short booster treatment in advance of a wedding or other social function.

The oldest-known formula – “powder for white and perfect teeth” Retrieved from an Egyptian papyrus dated to the fourth century AD, now housed at the National Library in Vienna, Austria.


One drachma* of dried iris flower
Two drachmas of mint
One drachma of rock salt
20 grains of pepper

Method. Gather all of the ingredients together, crush all and mixed together. The pungent paste can be mixed with the mouths natural saliva to clean and strengthen teeth. Rub with cloth, (finger or soft bristle tooth brush) and rinse after.

Efficacy – salt is abrasive, sterilizing and drawing out of toxins. Black pepper is analgesic (subduing cavity pain), increases saliva, is antibacterial and traditionally utilized to strengthen gums and remedy loose teeth. Mint is a feature of all modern toothpastes for its freshness and disinfectant properties. Iris flowers and essence increase salvia production and contain active ingredients effective against gum disease and tooth decay – so much so that it is beginning to make an appearance in commercial dental products.

*a drachma is a Greek measurement – from drakhmē meaning ‘a handful’. There is nothing dangerous (toxic, photosensitive, or highly active) in this formula so empiricism can take a back seat to a handful of herbs and a pinch of pepper. From herbals of the 1500s on, a drachma as a medicine makers or “apothecaries’ unit” was a definable weight equal to 1/8 of an ounce or to 60 grains – perhaps reclaiming the original Egyptian value. So the choice is yours, I have tried this one at different proportions, and it really only lessens or strengths the pepper ration/ratio.

something a little more modern Treatment Grinning face toothpaste Coconut owes its naming to Spanish and Portuguese sailors of the C16th who employed the word coco – a then contemporary slang for “a grinning face” – to reference the features of the hairy nut with facial indentations – little did they know it could be employed to increase the wideness of a grin and turn it into a white smile.


• 8 tbsp. coconut oil
• 4 tbsp. baking soda
• 2 tbsp ground sea salt
• 1 tbsp tablespoon ground cinnamon or ground clove
Optional – 1 teaspoon stevia or xylitol (to sweeten) or 2 tbsp or more of vegetable glycerin (for toothpaste consistency and sweeter)

– You could mix in a cup, I like to mix all ingredients via a mortar and pestle to get a great paste. Then simply jar up. Keeps on a shelf for several months.

Efficacy – salt is abrasive and plaque lifting on teeth while calming on gums, backing soda similar and also stain removing and pH balancing. Cinnamon and clove are antibacterial and promote gum health. Coconut oil is antibacterial and draws toxins from gums and mouth. Stevia is plant based and one of the least tooth impactful sweeteners. Xylitol (similarly a commercially available sweetener) is protective of tooth enamel and clinical studies have shown potential to arrest carious lesions and prevent tooth decay – hence its appearance lately in mouthwashes and dental chewing gum.

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easy fun peel off face mask

Bored out of your brains self isolating lately, why not do a home pamper treatment to alleviate that and boost complexion? A fun one to try with kids and a great home remedy for teenagers with breakouts and problem skin.

tomato juice mask

Tomatoes as pulped face masks can be used by any skin type but they are of supreme benefit if you have oily, blemished or acned skin. The trick here is in the juice as delivery mechanism of phytonutrients and mineral content and astringent. The lycopene content protects against oxidative damage, the vitamin A component will rejuvenate, and the vitamin C content clarifies skin. Witch hazel boosts the astringency and Epsom salts encourage the flush of toxins.

• 50ml of tomato juice
• 1 tablespoon of witch hazel extract
• 1 teaspoon Epsom salts
• 1 tablespoon agar agar or other vegetable gelatine

Method – Heat (not boil) the tomato juice via a bain-marie and then add all other ingredients, keep over heat and stir until the gelatine fully dissolves. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Application – Pat on to face (avoiding your eyes) allow to dry completely (it may begin to naturally peel at this point) then wash/peel the mask off.

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hand care in flu season

What with all the hand washing and hand sanitizer use lately, here are some rejuvenating treatments to replenish your hands natural oil barrier and soothe any irritated skin.

Firming skin cream a pampering treat to over-washed or garden-stressed hands

• 6 tablespoons of witch-hazel extract
• 6 tablespoons of grape seed oil (or substitute with olive oil or coconut oil)
• 1 tablespoon of grated beeswax
• 1 tablespoon of grated/granulated emulsifying wax

Method – Warm the oil in a bain-marie, add the waxes and keep heat on until fully melted , remove from heat and slowly add the witch hazel, whisking as you go. Allow to cool for 20 minutes and whisk gain to final creamy consistency.

Luxurious hand lotion to moisturise and repair

• 1 cup raw/solid shea butter
• 1 cup coconut oil
• ½ cup of almond oil
• 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Method – Using a bain-marie melt the coconut oil and shea butter together. Remove from heat, fold in the almond oil and vanilla extract. Cool for 20 minutes before hand whisking up some meringue like peaks. Alternately a slight chill in fridge for 20mins at this point will help whip up a creamier thicker butter-like consistency – with the aid of an electric whisk for best results. Decant to storage container. End product stores in fridge or cool bathroom for 3weeks.

Banana and avocado hand mask – for intense conditioning

Method – blend ½ a banana with two tablespoons of avocado oil and a t-spoon of honey – a good tip is to coat onto hand then glove with surgical glove, coat second hand and glove it also. Relax for half an hour, remove gloves and rinse hands with tepid water.

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The body scan for mindfulness and peace of mind

A popular mindful exercise is the body scan – a practice where you check in with your body – bring your attention to it in a systematic way. It is a way of slowing the pace before a meditation, it is a way to check in with the self at the end of a long day, it is a way to take control when distressed. It is also a way to get some ‘awareness of the body in the body’ – a prime pillar of mindfulness.

I like it because you can do in on a crowded train, or the garden, or in an elevator, as easily as in a mediation room. Ok for the first few times you might want to do it sitting in a chair, lying on your bed or in an undisturbed location. As a meditation it is generally practiced as a 10-15minute exercise. But after a few goes you can find a duration that suits you best or modify it to meet the need. A 2min body check-in might make a crowded elevator or escalator jaunt into a positive opportunity for mindfulness whereas a long commute on a bus, train or plane may be more suited to a 20min plus exercise. With new self isolating protocols around seasonal flu and newer viruses becoming the new norm, ways of checking in with oneself or a means of taking a time out are all the more beneficial to mental and physical well being. Mindfulness is being of purpose but it can suit your purpose too.

You can do a body scan standing, sitting, even lying down. It is a simple noticing exercise. Whatever position you have adopted start by noticing your posture, are you standing, sitting, lying. Bring your attention to the shape you make, become aware of the frame of your body. Inhale, exhale. Notice your body in its physical realm, how the ground is beneath your feet, your solidity in standing, or how the chair supports your bum and back or how lying on the bed holds your body. If you notice a physical sensation or have a thought response such as ‘my neck is stiff’, ‘my feet are tired’, ‘my shoulders are relaxed’, just notice, don’t judge. Inhale, exhale. Your mind is aware of your corporality now; you are bringing awareness to being of a body. Next we will bring our attention through the body.

You can do it head to toe or from toe to head – doesn’t really matter which direction, the idea is a systematic scan of the whole body, a gentle sweep and check-in with the parts that make the whole. I often do it standing so commence with my feet. You can wiggle your toes to bring your mind there. Become aware of your toes, then bring your attention to your feet, notice any sensation ache, numbness or tingling – notice but do not judge or go into the sensation. Next move to the ankle, repeat process, next to shin, then to knee, spend a little time noticing and experiencing each section, next to thigh, to buttocks, to lower back and right up to neck, you can scan fingers to shoulders and then into head. Notice. Experience. Be present to the body and its parts. End by bringing your attention back to the entire body, its posture, its solidity, its sum of parts. Inhale, exhale. Take a moment to come back to the room and then continue your day.

If you chose you can make this exercise a relaxation scan, you can allow that noticed sensation or any tension present in the body part to cool or soften. This systematic ‘attention giving’ to each section of the body, infusing it with loving kindness and intended relaxation is also good practice. The two options are equally valid. Both sharpen your attention capacity, both bring your body into the now. Both engage a brain-body chemistry and signalling that is more conducive to less anxiety and better wellness perception.

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Time to muster a mustard foot bath

The ground powdered spice of Mustard (Brassica alba, b. nigra, b. juncea) is traditionally utilized in footbaths to ease migraine and other tensions via the belief that drawing blood to the feet lowers cranial pressure, certainly a mustard foot bath can be both relaxing to self and stimulating to the system in a manner conducive to homeostasis.

Mustard footbaths have also been employed in folk-use to draw toxins from the body and via their counter irritant heat being a boost to circulation and endorphin release, to ease body aches and pains and to answer nasal congestion, fatigue and other symptoms of cold and flu. The warm foot bath enhanced by mustard’s phytochemicals opens skin pores across our body and stimulates sweat glands into going about their business of removing toxins from the body. This detox being beneficial to all sorts of conditions but the sweating out of a fever, bronchial complaint or viral infection is one of the most ancient remedies.

Mustard footbaths in triggering a relaxation response are conducive to a less stressed day but also to a better night’s sleep. It is taking a time out, but it is also a proactive step in toning up your system when under the weather that does some real good. Self-empowerment being a lift to spirits and to immune function, while confusion, uncertainty and dread only damps immune system and personal perception of wellbeing. So in light of recent considerations around coronavirus-related self isolation and social distancing, a foot bath is such a pampering treat.

How to Prepare: It is so simple, warm enough water to fill a basin to a depth that you can soak your feet in, the water can be lukewarm to comfortably hot, no need for pipping hot, the natural heat in the mustard will also warm up the feet and trigger all of the above. You will only need 1-2 tablespoons of powdered mustard to make the basinful of water active. You could add a spoonful of Epsom salts or sea salt to intensify the soak and be remedial to your skin, you could even add a few drops of lavender essential oil to add extra relaxation to the process.

How to use. Traditionally it is a process of a 10-20minute soak. Don’t injure overpowering heat. This is meant to be as relaxing as it is therapeutic. Pat feet dry after. You can use some foot moisturiser to cool down feet if very red post treatment.

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The essential on steam inhalations for respiratory ailments

There is a knack to it and more on that later but utilizing steam therapy (inhaling steam) to relieve respiratory complaints has been around a long time – back to edo period Japan, back to the ancient Rome and the ancient Egyptian physicians. It moves in and out of favour and there are some sceptics but if you have ever tried it for yourself then there is no doubt that it moves more than mucus. The practice has been employed to easy the symptoms of cold, flu, cough, sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma, copd and other restrictive breathing complaints.

How it works. Steam inhalation involves the careful introduction of warm, moist air into our airways, through the nose and mouth. That steam-enriched air can moisten the respiratory tract easing discomfort and by allowing the gentle heat to dilate blood vessels and open the airways further, eases breathing difficulties. The heat also thins mucus thus breaking up any congestion and further allowing a better air flow. The warmth also improves blood circulation which apart from helping to oxygenate lungs more efficiently actually triggers an immune system response and delivers that slightly elevated white blood cell production to where it needs to go – to tackle that bacterial cough or to that viral upper respiratory tract infection.

How to do it. The naysayers on steam therapy always cite scalding yourself or how steam is not natural. Well having a shower you breathe in steam and you don’t cook your lungs or strip seven layers of skin off. So when it comes to a steam inhalation from a bowel or basin – don’t have it scalding, think comfortable shower temperature. Boil the kettle let it sit a minute or so and then add the hot water to your receptacle that you have placed on a sturdy counter or table top. Again let it rest a minute or so before availing of. I know you will take every precaution not to scald yourself but the purpose of this is that within the safe range of standard shower temperatures there is no irritation of lung lining so we are slowly getting to that place with the two rests. Also those who boil the kettle and dive straight in are not able to tolerate the heat for long and so get minimal benefit, it is not a sweat lodge or sauna, its simply some moistened warm air. Too hot and you may trigger wheezing or exacerbations.

Fetch a towel that is of sufficient size to drape over your head and shoulders and which will when you lean over the receptacle enable you to make a tent that traps the steam in your breathing zone. There is no optimum distance, you don’t have to have your nose touching the water (in fact don’t), 20cm or more away from the water is ample to let the steam rise toward your face. You can breathe normally through nose and mouth and the moisten and warmed air will be naturally inhaled. No need to go yogic breathing, just as you are. A few deeper breaths every now and then is no harm. 3 minutes under the tent will yield rewards but most regular users of this approach remain for 5-10minutes.

How to boost it with essential oils. You can boost the effectiveness of the bronchodilation, expectorant and antimicrobial effects of the steam inhalation by utilizing essential oils with more of those actions in their repertoire. You could start off with as little as 5drops but generally 10-20 drops to a basin will infuse in the steam and via the nasal passages and inhalation also deliver the active volatile oils to the lungs.

Here are eight essentials that are antibacterial and antiviral and offer bronchodilation too

• Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
• Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
• Lemonbalm aka Melissa (Melissa officinalis)
• Neroli (Citrus aurantium)
• Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
• Sage (Salvia officinalis)
• Tee tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
• Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

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Three reasons to boil a kettle in flu season

For clogged up nasal congestion, raspy breathing or a boost to under-the-weather mugginess, the best thing you can do is boil a kettle. I have three tricks here that you can use the boiling water for.

a mustard foot bath is very beneficial in clearing head congestion and in stimulating our sweat glands to helps the body rid itself of toxins and be better equipped to fight any seasonal infection – bacterial or viral. It is also physically and psychologically relaxing and the heat to feet improves all round circulation which benefits natural bronchodilation and easy breathing. 1-3tsp dried mustard to a basin of lukewarm water. 10-20minute soak.

a steam inhalation with a sprig of thyme, to open airways; hot water in a basin, allow to cool a little so not scalding but still some steam rising, towel over head and inhale the therapeutic steam which opens the respiratory tract and helps soften mucus and speed up the drip to clear quicker- the thyme releases volatile oils in the heat that strengthen and detox nasal cavities. Its soothes throat too. Breathe through nose and mouth. Duration 3-10mins.

a cup of tea any warm drink stimulates nerves connected to the nasal cavities and helps activate their natural clearance mechanism but green tea also triggers bronchodilation and stimulates our bodies to release interferon – our own potent antiviral agent. So if all of your symptoms are virus related, a quick cuppa will hit the spot. There is also phytochemistry there that relaxes mind, stimulates energy and settles the tensions of being unwell.

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a no fooling blackberry and elderberry fool

A  blackberry and elderberry fool  is a tasty treat to tackle colds, flu and other seasonal viral infections.  You can run out and buy up all the immune boosting supplements and by the time they ‘kick in’ to your system your cold or flu may naturally have run its course but this one is instant and its great if your children are sick and they turn their nose up at echinacea tincture drops.

Blackberries may be in season or from frozen. Elderberry syrup can be bought from local health stores or from a homemade batch.

how to assemble.   At the base of a glass or serving bowl place a portion of blackberries – or you could use blueberries – the dark pigments in these fruits contain antioxidants to pep up your energy levels and speed recovery but also store polyphenols which are actively antiviral in the human system.

Next add a dollop of natural yoghurt which will feed the good gut flora which is responsible for signalling your brain to release antibodies and fight off infections – a healthy gut is a healthy self.

A sprinkle of some raw (or overnight) oats – which provide energy and some happy brain chemistry (their rich b6 content helps produce serotonin) – so while  improved mood is beneficial to immune function during illness the oats also contain beta-glucan which helps white blood cells travel to the site of an infection more quickly.

Finally, a swirl of syrup of elderberry which is one of the most potent antivirals – it breaks the hook structure of viruses and stops them gripping to your cell walls, making it easier for your immune system to gobble them up. That and its quite tasty.


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Simple homemade hand sanitizers for flu season.

What with a new corona virus and older seasonal viruses on the radar, there has been a run on alcohol-based hand sanitizers lately. The thing is those products are antibacterial in the main and while hand hygiene is essential to not contracting or spreading viruses, is there a way to make a more effective antiviral sanitizer?

Well the answer is yes.

Alcohol based. Alcohol has long been utilized as a disinfectant and does exert strong antibacterial and milder antiviral activity. We can boost its effectiveness by adding anti-viral essential oils such as tea tee, lemon balm, lavender, thyme, oregano or neroli. Not all essential oils are antiviral but these ones are.
You can measure to the volume of your container or spray bottle with a ratio of 20drops of essential oil (be that a single from list above or combination of two or more) to every 2 fl oz (60 ml) of grain alcohol (high proof vodka) or rubbing alcohol from local pharmacy. This simple mix can be utilized as a spritz or combined with a thickening agent (aloe gel, glycerine, carrageen or agar) to yield a gel consistency.

Aloe vera based. Aloe vera is a natural antimicrobial agent and also a skin tonic used to treat topical infections and moisturize skin, helping to protect the skins own naturally barriers to infection. Beyond disarming bacteria, the anthraquinones in aloe vera have antiviral agency. Again, it can be boosted by addition of anti-viral essential oils such as tea tee, lemon balm, lavender, thyme, oregano or neroli.
We can stick with a ration profile of 20 drops of essential oil to every 2 fl oz (60 ml) of gel. This will maintain the gel consistency of the aloe. It can be diluted with alcohol or which hazel if you wish to make it more of quicker drying spritz.

Witch hazel based. The astringent nature of the tannin rich distillation of witch hazel has a long history of helping to repair broken skin, and fight bacterial infection. The gallic acid, hamamelitannin, and other tannic compounds are also antiviral. We can also boost its effectiveness by adding anti-viral essential oils such as tea tee, lemon balm, lavender, thyme, oregano or neroli.
To keep it simple 20 drops of essential oil to every 2 fl oz (60 ml) witch hazel is effective and pleasantly aromatic.

Combination blend. A liquid base of 50:50 alcohol and witch hazel can be thickened up the consistency of your choosing with aloe vera and other thickeners (listed above) and enhanced with a single or combination antiviral essential oil.

Users note. The pure essential oil and alcohol or witch hazel blends may store in drawer or handbag/backpack pocket indefinably but generally to a year. Gels or spritzes mixed with aloe or other solid agents have an expected shelf life of 3-6months. The spritzes can be self-drying but the gels take longer to absorb in before it is safe to go about your day without slippy, sticky or wet hands.

Remember to wash hands regularly as well (with normal soapy water) and to keep your immune system heathy.

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