music-health

The Greek lyrical poet Archilochus said, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

This quote suggests that the ability to succeed is not based on chance, nor can someone expect to succeed based solely on his or her innate abilities. Success instead is the result of training in a focused manner, so that when faced with a critical situation, a reaction occurs without conscious thought—essentially, it has become an instinctual response born of dedicated practice.

The saying can also be interpreted in a broader fashion, reflecting one’s ability to change and to “push the envelope,” as great jazz musicians do. Basketball, my favorite sport, shares some similarities in approach. The combination of talent and training, with some scripted aspects of play and the freedom for spontaneous improvisation is the ultimate in team synergy. When played in this way, basketball is beautiful. The unscripted nature of the game is similar to the improvisational nature of jazz, in which the notes are often unknown in advance, and rely on the combination of thought (intelligence) and feeling response (heart).


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At this holy time of year as we approach Passover and Easter, I reflect on the ways in which my faith informs my life. And I consider the ways in which I can strengthen my connection to the divine.

The central emphasis of Eastern Christian monastic spirituality is the belief that we are called “to become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) In the words of St. Athanasius, God became man so that man might become God.

The Psalms and Christian Monastic Life

One of the most profound ways that I have found to infuse my daily life with my faith is to practice the advice of the Eastern Christian Saint ‘Theophan the Recluse.’ It is good, very good, to memorize several psalms and recite them while you are working or between tasks, doing this instead of short prayers sometimes, with concentration.

Early Christian disciples regarded the Book of Psalms as powerful and insightful doctrine, offering prophecy as well as praise. The 150 psalms of the Old Testament are the principal element of the entire Opus Dei, an institution of the Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity.


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Almost daily, we are warned of the dangers of exposure to toxins from pollutants in our air, water, food, home, and workplace. The reality of modern life is that no matter how careful we may be, we are inevitably exposed to a variety of toxins. For many people, knowing that toxins are linked to cancer, cardiovascular, neurological, and other diseases creates a great deal of anxiety.

What most people don’t realize is that virtually any substance can be toxic—even pure water. We’re constantly encouraged to drink plenty of water, but drinking too much water in a short period of time can cause hyponatremia (basically, water intoxication). In severe cases, water intoxication can lead to seizures, coma, and even death.

The example of water as a potential toxin makes it obvious that not all potential toxins are toxic at any level. And it raises the question: Should we take extreme measures to aggressively detoxify and rid our bodies of substances deemed toxic?

Fear and Misunderstanding Concerning Toxins

The reality is that it is impossible to avoid toxins in our modern world (and in truth, there have always been toxic substances in our environment). A vast industry has arisen that plays into the fear and misunderstanding of toxins. Many companies promote products that claim heavy duty “cleansing” of our organ systems, encouraging extreme approaches that can actually cause more harm to the body than the exposure itself.

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In my last post, I shared some of the many benefits of whole grains. From helping to protect against cancer and heart disease to improving digestion and metabolism, whole grains are essential to a healthy diet. Of all forms of grain, bread is the most commonly consumed in many countries. Whether it’s a loaf of crusty sourdough or a traditional flatbread, bread offers satisfying nourishment for body and soul.

Often called the “staff of life,” whole grain bread contains more nutrients ounce for ounce than meat, milk, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables. But beyond the excellent nutritional profile, there are emotional and spiritual aspects associated with the humble art of baking bread that offer sustenance on a deeper level.

Bread is Synonymous with the Essentials of Life

Bread is one of the most basic forms of food in many cultures and has been a part of the human diet for at least 30,000 years. “Give us this day, our daily bread,” from the Lord’s Prayer, is a holy reminder of the nourishment that bread provides. In the cultural vernacular, “bread and butter” is synonymous with the essentials of life.

A cornucopia of whole grains is available to us from around the world, including amaranth, barley, corn, oats, quinoa, rice, teff, and wheat (including heirloom varieties such as einkorn and kamut).

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Wheat, the most ancient of the cereal grains, is the most common flour for bread making. But bread can be made from many other grains native to a region.


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Whole Grain, Stone Ground, Organic Bread: It’s Good For You!

 If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know that I’m a big proponent of including grains in our daily diet. Not just any grains, though. Grains that are healthful for us are organic, whole grains, enjoyed either in their whole form or as freshly milled flour.

Despite the current dietary fad of shunning all grains, a growing body of evidence shows that increased intake of less-refined, whole-grain foods has numerous positive health benefits. People who consume greater amounts of whole grains are consistently shown to have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2-diabetes, and many cancers. People who eat whole grains also appear to have better digestive health and are likely to have a lower BMI and gain less weight over time. The bulk of the evidence for the advantages of whole-grains comes from observational studies, but researchers are discovering the same benefits in intervention studies, and are identifying the mechanisms behind the protective properties of whole grains.1

 Whole Grains Protect Against Cardiovascular Disease

 Here’s an example of the health protective benefits of whole grains: A meta-analysis of seven major studies showed that cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, or the need for a procedure to bypass or open a clogged artery) was 21% less likely in people who ate 2.5 or more servings of whole-grain foods per day compared with those who ate less than 2 servings per week.2


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Enhancing Cellular Defense Mechanisms with Adaptogens

Aging is associated with a decrease in adaptive abilities along with increased vulnerability to stress. At the same time, aging is a complex process involving a persistent activation of some stress response systems, often involving transcriptional reprogramming, and the activation of vitagenes, which can be consider a ‘geroprotective’ adaptation.13   Environmental stressors induce specific and predictable epigenetic changes that can eventually result in an adaptive response to the stimulus. It seems likely that mild stress-induced hormetic response involves mechanisms similar to those that underlie developmental epigenetic adaptations.

The illustration below shows the involvement of hormesis in the epigenetic processes that determine age-related disorders and longevity.14

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Dose–response curve depicting the quantitative features of hormesis

Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses.


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