Friday, November 29, 2013

Further thoughts on aging

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

My musings of yesterday elicited a lot of warmth and friendship  to which I am deeply grateful, yet many thoughts were provoked  which, it is  clear to me,   I need to clarify more of, in terms of  what I do and the conclusions that I have come to.

First, as some of you have pointed out, there is much more to longevity and wellness than just eating right.  I really try to practice what I preach, and I encourage my patients to daily address six aspects of their lives:  what, how the amounts and when they eat, proper hydration, proper breathing, gentle stretching exercises, sleep in the right amount and at the right time, and nourishing the soul and mind with joyful, expanding activities (for me as a Jew that means learning Torah, particularly Chasidus).  I don't want to go into details here as to the specifics of these activities, but would be glad to answer any questions that you have concerning them.

Second, though I don't wish upon any of you the loss of a loved one, it's very important not to project what you "think" I feel or need when relating to me, or anyone else for that matter.  I want to share with you the following story which illustrates this point: A soon to be five year old's parents asked him what he wanted for his birthday.  Without hesitation he answered, "A bike!" So came along his birthday, and after the party, his parents excitedly told him to close his eyes as they walked him down the hall to his bedroom where they would bring him to his birthday present.  He opened his eyes and lo and behold, there in front of his was...A racing car bed set!  They were all excited, but he was crushed. They just didn't get it: We must always remember that  bestowing kindness is predicated on having the sensitivity to give what the recipient wants and needs, not what the bestower projects that he needs.  Many people have come up to me and have related to me solemnly, telling me how sorry they are about my loss.  I've had close friends and relative who have actually not called me at all, or have delayed calling me because, as they confessed, they just didn't know what to say.  Though I can't speak for anyone else, and as I said, I don't wish my experience on anyone else, I will tell you this:  for someone so raw as I still am, to act solemnly around me brings me down and makes me feel depressed.  That's the wrong thing to do.  The most important thing for me is to connect.  I feel enormously blessed to have had my Chana Fayge for 35 years, and I feel comforted and aware of her loving protection constantly.  I really feel that she and the many holy people I have connected with, alive or eternal, are looking out for me, and that makes me enormously happy and grateful.  And, as I said, I keep VERY busy.

Now to wheat grass juice and my nutrition in general:  Indeed, as some of you have pointed out wheatgrass juice is energetically cold, and for someone like me, who tends to be Yang vacuous, integrating wheatgrass juice certainly requires more of an explanation.

First, though,  I must  make several comments relative to the above: One,  upon reflection   I would add two more major contributing major  factors to aging and death:

 Particularly for men,  who by our very nature are physically, emotionally and spiritually more Yang than women,  a third major factor contributing to aging and death must be the increasing inability to warm the Yang. This can be seen in many ways.  Biochemistry clearly has noted, for example, lower levels of androgens in the aging male population.   This is just one of many examples.

A fourth major contributing factor to aging and death is conflict and discord.  This should not  be confused with stimulation or competition.  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov notes an amazing phenomenon, that there is no such thing as "neutrality," whether it be internationally, interpersonally or internally. The concept of detente or peaceful coexistance is a lie.  There can be only conflict or harmony.  Now that harmony can be tense complex and multi-faceted, but if must  based upon trust and integrity.  Otherwise it is disingenuous, dishonest and doomed to failure.  The great author, systems theorist, inventor and futurist, Buckminster Fuller coined the term "Tensegrity" (combining the words tension and integrity) to describe this very idea.  And this concept applies to all relationships, which flourish when there is dynamic energy and interaction.  (I work a lot with married couples, and as with Chana and myself, we each grew enormously because of the dynamic energy and trust that we worked on and developed.)  The Jewish sages tell us that the word for peace is the same word as perfection, and the definition thereof, is when two opposites are made to work together, harmoniously complementing each other.  The same applies internally.  What is the result of unresolved conflict that leads to discord? irritation and inflammation.  This can show itself on many levels, not just physically.  And when it does the result can be autoimmune disease, cancer, deterioration and death,  and the four cardinal signs of inflammation: redness, pain, heat and swelling are all manifestations of this unresolved conflict in the body.   More than two hundred years ago, Rebbe Nachman in the most brilliant macro and very non-Western perspective recognized that internal conflict of the body's organs, systems and structures is the root cause illness.

One other observation that I have noted, is the shocking lack of purpose and awareness in general that I have noticed with students of Chinese medicine and natural healing in the  way they eat.  It was astonishing to me as I attended both masters and doctoral programs to see the junk food that these future doctors, leaders and teachers of the sick were themselves ingesting.  Now in retrospect, a little bit older wiser and more tolerant, I understand why--and I can explain by presenting you with the following image:  imagine a cone. at the bottom it's wide and the higher it goes the narrower it gets. This cone really reflects what we can get away with in terms of what and how we eat.  When we are in our 20's most of us have the latitude to eat pretty much what we want without consequence. In our 30's a little less so, in our 40's a little less so.  Once we hit our 50's we had better wake up, because eating wrongly, even if we've eaten that way our whole lives will begin to cause us pain, suffering and illness.  And this latitude gets narrower and narrower as we age.  That's the down side.  But the good news is, if you DON'T cheat.  If you train yourself to eat ALWAYS in a manner in which you listen to your body and  put yourself  in touch with your body, not eating what you, specifically shouldn't  (of course also following the recommendations in the 2nd paragraph above) I believe that you can live happily and healthily well past 110.  The holy Jewish  sages, (Maimonides and others) by the way, tell us, that in the early days of mankind, when lifespans were enormously long, some longer than 900 years, not everyone lived such long lives.  Only the select people mentioned in  Genesis lived long, and specifically because of how they lived, ate, breathed and conducted themselves.  For us as we age, it's important that we think less about the pleasure that we give ourselves and more about the pleasure that we give others, our environment, and our Creator.

Now to wheatgrass juice and me:  So if I, as a 61 year old male also have to concern myself with my Yang, (as well as inheriting a weak digestive tract from my mother  and my father's father)  how can I ingest and benefit from something as cold as wheatgrass juice? (By the way, for those of you who are not familiar, at least here in LA, wheat grass juice is inexpensive and readily available. Virtually every health food store in my area has a wheat grass juicer.  They grow it on trays, cut it with a scissors while wearing disposable gloves, and juice it with a special juicer used only for wheat grass, so there is no issue with kashrus.  Generally the cost is somewhere around $2.00 for the first ounce, and $1.00 for each additional ounce.  I buy 3 ounces at a time spending under $10 per week.)

 The answer is that daily, three times a day, I take a number of Chinese herbal formulas in pill form, as well as drinking  thrice daily, home-made room temperature green smoothies (to which I add a spritz of Vietnamese cinnamon and ginger powder).  Again, I've grown to know my body quite well, knowing what I need, as well as how much of each medicine I need, and as such have developed a protocol (doses and elements of which I vary slightly based upon how I feel each day) which addresses the following issues:  mildly nourishing The Kidneys while also warming, nourishing and harmonizing the  Spleen and stomach Yang and Qi, draining dampness and dispelling cold.  Regulating the Middle Jiao Qi, eliminating food stagnation, and mildly moving the Liver Qi, and finally, mildly moving the blood, and  dissolving and dissipating phlegm and nodules, softening hardness.  Though this may sound overwhelming, it is important to know that this is for me, and though elements may apply to someone else, we all need to look within, train ourselves to filter out all the noise and distraction that pollutes our lives,  fine-tune our receivers and   become better listeners.

A practice that I engage in daily is to go to a quiet and natural place, and literally just talk, like a child talking to a loving parent or as one friend to another.  I start off by reviewing the past day, what I've done, even small things that I regret and could have done differently, articulating my regret and resolving to make the next day better. Then I say thank you for the enormous blessings that I have in my life, again out loud, and again, even for little things, because they too matter!  Finally, I acknowledge that I'm not so great, I don't really deserve anything that I've been given, but nonetheless, You, my Father, my Friend and my Lover, you are so good to me.  And if you could maybe give me such and such that I don't have,  I could really serve you better.

In terms of Mankind's ever-longing search for longevity, for the fountain of youth we must view this search with the right perspective.  This is a wonderful world in which we live.  This is the only world in which we can better ourselves and those that come into our sphere of influence by our actions. Our lives must be used to unselfishly love, give and expand ourselves, until we have truly completed what we were brought into this world for, our soul correction.  Perhaps there are those who can influence themselves, others and the world by going into a monastery, meditating and peacefully harmonizing themselves internally.  But this is not the Jewish way.  The Jewish way of longevity is to interact, to actively heal and to resolve conflict while maintaining individuality and integrity, not just getting along. It is the antithesis or being boring!

I have a lot yet to do, and G-d willing I hope to be around for quite some time. I look forward to sharing the ride together with you!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thoughts of Aging and What to Do About It.

Dear friends and colleagues,

As you may know, I lost the love of my life, my precious Chana Fayge a little over 2 months ago.  Thank G-d I've kept very busy with changes that I've made in my life (to help elevate her soul) and with my practice. We were blessed to know each other exactly 35 years, almost to the day.

I've also thought a lot about the 23 years that she suffered, what I did, and what I could have done. 

I want to share with you what I think is a remarkable observation that I have made, and which has changed my life.  Follow me carefully if you will:  As any student of Chinese medical theory and gerontology will tell you, to the best of my limited knowledge as a clinician, there are essentially two prevailing schools of thought as to what precipitates aging and the debilitation that accompanies it:   Blood Stasis and  Yin Vacuity. I would contend that they really are two manifestations of the same phenomenon.  Think about hemoglobin:  Hemoglobin is the iron containing and oxygen/Co2  transporting protein constituent of the red blood.  Amazingly hemoglobin makes up 97% of the dry weight of erythrocytes and over 1/3 of the total weight (counting H2O). Remember also, that we humans are over 2/3 water.   Now from a Western Biomedical perspective, there are any number of factors that we know contribute to aging, but certainly three such common contributing factors are malnutrition/malabsorption, dehydration and oxygen deprivation. These obviously have a major impact on the Blood and Yin, both in terms of volume and motility. 

So with that background in mind, I began to think: what can one do differently to nutritionally nourish the Yin and move the Blood.  Or to state it differently, what can one do to promote the production of healthy hemoglobin?

Then I remembered reading in Victoria Boutenko's book, "Green for Life" that chlorophyll is essentially an analog of hemoglobin, meaning that they're almost identical chemically.  And what food substance is the most concentrated form of chlorophyll?  Wheat grass juice.  

So I started drinking wheat grass juice, (and as a matter of fact, a half a dropper of wheat grass juice was the last food that Chana ingested before her passing) but there was a problem.  I was getting a little headachy and nauseous having it, and it tended to give me a little diarrhea.  I read that this is a typical Herxheimer die-off reaction, but I didn't buy that entirely.  Rather, I recalled yet one more interesting phenomenon of biochemistry: the Goldilocks principle when administering any medicinal substance: Too little will be ineffective, and too much will illicit a toxic reaction.  The dose has to be "just right!"

 So instead of taking small amounts, one or two ounces at a time, I started experimenting with much smaller doses: one teaspoon with each meal, and with each green smoothie (which I make myself), essentially ingesting 6 teaspoons or one ounce per day. (BTW, wheat grass juice is very volatile, must be refrigerated and should be used up within 3 days).  

The result is that I have no side effects whatsoever, and I feel like I have a new lease on life:  I have remarkable energy, I am clear-minded and  my vision has improved.  I am very aware of my intestinal motility (it's actually a pleasant sensation) and my elimination is efficient but not loose at all.  It's just very simply, a wonderful sense of feeling vibrant and alive, not slowing down and getting old.

Of course this is all anecdotal, but I wanted to share it with you for your consideration.

Friday, November 15, 2013

"Key" l'olam chasdo--For His kindness is endless

 For some unknown reason, when I was on the way to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport)  bringing my wife to her final resting place on Har Hazeisim, I brought along my keys, including one of my two electronic car keys.   Unfortunately, before I left Israel, I couldn't find my keys, but suspected that they fell behind a bookshelf in my grandchildren's room. I didn't really think about them much until last week,  but when I mentioned it to my son about a week about, he started looking for them, found them 2 days ago, and said that he would mail them to me.

Now yesteday afternoon., after a day of patients, I came home, had something to eat, walked down the alley to shul for  mincha, walked a few blocks to do two errands and then came home to go to my car to run a few errands for Shabbos. Though I did have my keys, and assumed that I also had my electronic car key, my Prius "did not detect" the presence of the key, so it obviously fell off. Anyway, I  retraced my steps first to shul, then to the fish store, then to the bank. No key.  I did some hisbodedus, happy that Hashem had given my this test and wondering what he was trying to teach me. I said the special segula to find a lost object, "Amar Reb Binyomin..."  and put aside tzedoko as a redemption, but. still no key. Then I remembered that my son was mailing me my other set of keys, and I realized that maybe Tatty (Dad) is telling me that I don't need to drive for a few days.  Who knows what would happen?   Also, it was a reminder of one of the 10 principles of Jewish medicine: He always creates the cure before the illness. 

I might yet find them, I dunno.  But whatever happens I know that Tatty gives me exactly what I need, and even in adversity, it could have been worse.  I find it compelling that my son and I just happened to speak of my keys earlier in the week and that the set in Israel were found, just before I lost my car key here. 

This morning, I realized when I woke up that it would be quite far for me to walk to Beis Yehuda (the shul where I have been davening for the last month each morning) so what should I do?  Then I remembered that when I came back from Israel, for the first two weeks I had walked each morning the 3 blocks to daven at the Mesivta, Rabbi Nechemia Langer's Yeshiva high school for some of the very best boys who had graduated from the Chasidishe Cheder.   The davening there is slow, intense, and enthusiastic. They also begin davening an hour earlier, than where I had been davening. I again realized, that  Hashem was talking to me, guiding me and directing me.  He knew that when I davened at Bais Yehuda, I was arriving late for my first patient.  He knew that my neshama needs to connect with a fiery and thoughtful davening rather than a rushed and mechanical davening which I wasn't keeping up with anyway.  So what did he do?  He woke me up by "guiding me" to lose my "key," and to remember my other "Key:" Key l'olam chasdo!