Tame your Food Dragon – Boost your Brain!

The above picture is my attempt at drawing an untamed dragon. We all have them and they are nasty as they leave scars in your way of life and affect your health. For example I love dark chocolate but if my food dragon is untamed I’ll binge on way too much per day and feel jittery and bloated and that’s a whopping 500kcals added to my daily intake in just one day of weakness. A tamed food dragon (or any other identified major habitual tendency in your life) brings you so much strength and confidence into your life. Instead of reflecting and seeing scars you will be writing a food diary and rejoicing in no time! What are your dragon scars telling you about your habits? Write them down asap and start to work on them!

Here is some inspiration to tame your food dragon! 3 Meals to boost your brain and stabilise your mood! based on a list of 12 foods to eat to manage depression, anxiety, mania and bipolar.

As a nutritionist interested in the affect of diet on ones body and mind I have read a lot of papers that back up the claims made by Bipolar UK’s excellent #letstalkaboutbipolar awareness campaign. I take no credit for creating the list, that kudos goes to the good people who work for that great charity.

Of course optimum nutrition for the mind is very important for everyone and we only have to look at ancient dietary advice from India where the therapeutic Sattvic diet was developed to try and steer people into eating fresh wholesome foods that did not have an agitating or depressive effect on the mind. Therefore even if you do not suffer from any of the above symptoms you will benefit from adding these great foods into your diet.

If you are interested in booking a one to one to help identify and tame your dragons please visit the classes page for more information.

Here is the list of foods expertly put together by Bipolar UK. I have also added a little bit of extra information at times to help boost your inspiration!

  1. Avocados.
    1. The monounsaturated “good” fats help to keep receptors in the brain sensitive to serotonin, a neurotransmitter thought to boost mood.
  2. Beans.
    1. Pinto, chickpea (garbanzo) and mung are the greatest sources of Vitamin B9 (folic acid, or folate). Studies have shown that a body that lacks folic acid has a higher than normal level of the amino acid homocysteine, which is a condition that has been linked to bipolar disorder. If you follow optimum nutritionist Patrick Holford’s work you will see that homocysteine is linked to many health conditions and can be used as an indicator for risk of Alzheimer’s.
  3. Brazil nuts
    1. An excellent source of the mineral selenium and several studies have linked low selenium levels to low mood. It is well know that selenium levels in soil are lower than they used to be which impacts the abundance of this mineral in sources like flour.
  4. Chocolate
    1. Rich in a variety of mood-lifting ingredients (including phenylethylamine, a neurotransmitter that appears to relieve depression symptoms) that are most concentrated in dark chocolate. Some studies have also shown that the power anti-oxidants found within cocoa acts as an anti-inflammatory and chronic inflammation is also linked to depression.
  5. Cottage Cheese
    1. Not only is it a good source of Vitamin B12 but it also contains plenty of whey protein, which has been shown to decrease anxiety and irritability.
  6. Fruit.
    1. All of it is good! But Vitamin B6 rich bananas are known to build serotonin levels. All fruit also has an abundance of polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant.
  7. Liver
    1. Very rich in vitamin B9 which converts carbohydrates to glucose. Glucose is the brains preferred source of energy. High blood sugars also contribute to mood swings and inflammation.
  8. Salmon
    1. Rich in omega 3 fatty acids vital for the brain and the anti-inflammatory pathways and EPA and DHA are difficult to find outside of fish, algae and seaweed. The body can convert other forms of omega 3 but it is not very good at it. Salmon is also rich in protein and tyrosine, which the body uses to create two mood stabilising neurotransmitters, dopamine and noradrenaline.
  9. Spinach
    1. Rich source of vitamin B9 but it is also full of vitamins C, E and and antioxidants and even has Iron in it. A high proportion of the UK’s population are thought to be deficient in Iron.
  10. Sunflower seeds
    1. Rich in vitamin B9. One handful will give you more than half of your daily recommended amount of folate and magnesium.
  11. Tofu
    1. Protein that can be found in tofu has been found to lower cholesterol which can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It is also a good vegetarian source of protein the bodies building blocks to create neurotransmitters for the brain such as serotonin and dopamine.
  12. Walnuts
    1. Cholesterol free, low in fat, filled with vitamins B6, B9, E and protein. Walnuts also boost omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

Meal 1 – Roasted Salmon with Garlic Buttered Leeks
35 minutes. Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 cloves of garlic
4 leeks
1 lemon
4 salmon fillets
Black pepper
Butter
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Thyme

Meal 2 – Chickpea Waldorf salad with Apples, Celery, Grapes and Walnuts

30 minutes. Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 sticks of celery

142g baby spinach

2 gala apples

1 tin of chickpeas

1 cup of plain Greek yogurt

250g red grapes

1 cup of walnuts

Apple cider vinegar

Black pepper

Dijon mustard

Honey

Salt

Meal 3 – Creamy Chocolate Almond Smoothie with Banana and Avocado

10 minutes. Serves 4

Ingredients:

Unsweetened almond milk

1 avocado

6 bananas

Cinnamon 

Cocoa powder

Natural almond butter

Pure maple syrup

Salt

Can you come up with an inspirational meal to share? Leave a description or link to it in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

If you are interested in booking a one to one to help identify and tame your dragons please visit the classes page for more information.

Thank you for reading please link and subscribe if you enjoyed it or found benefit!

An Ocean Wave

A spontaneous attempt at poetry. Do you like it? Leave a comment and let me know. Mark

An Ocean wave crashes violently upon the shore
  with a soothing melody.
Repeating. Tshhhh
Repeating. Tshhhh
Repeating. Tshhhh
Singing a lullaby, reassuring disconnected hearts
  that Nature is with them.
Nurturing. Mmmm
Destructive.
Nurturing. Mmmm
The Yin and Yang of the beaches.
The ebbing, flowing water line the centre point
  between land and water.
Balance.
Lessons from the Seas.
Gratitude.

Mark Smith after a sunrise beach stroll at Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland

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Tong Len

The Great Oak is not a religious book but a big thank you to Ringu Tulku Rinpoche for teaching me the wonderful practice of Tong Len. Tibetan for Giving and Receiving, a profoundly powerful mediation suitable for all religions and none.

This is a chapter, sneak peak from my Novel, The Great Oak. If all goes to plan it will be available early next year. In this chapter Master Salix practices Tong Len before teaching his students to go on a very dangerous adventure into the shadow realm. I hope you enjoy it and why not follow along with the meditation ? If you love it or have suggestions please leave a comment below. Love and light, Mark

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How a Master Prepares for Class

Master Salix arrived at the temple early that day. He had not slept well and his mind was agitated as he went through all the scenarios that could go right and wrong in the lessons that had been prepared for his students. The shadow training was dangerous and yet required. If only he had the same faith in the strength of his students personalities as Master Quercus did. What if they enjoyed it? What if they became sadists? Worse still what if they got lost completely in the dark side? He felt the anxiety rising in his heart centre and then his pulse and breathing quicken. A tightness in his muscles. An uneasy feeling throughout his body. 

‘What a wonderfully complex organism this human body is.’ He thought to himself. ‘So in-tune with everything. Every thought. Every action and so intuitive too. Such wonderful potential. We must win this war and free humanity to be the compassionate carers of the universe that they were designed to be.’ That thought warmed his heart and with that energy and intention he settled into an easy lotus position and began a giving and taking cleansing meditation. 

He took a long in breath and prepared to start phase one of the practice. From then on every time he breathed in fully and deeply he felt the presence of all the sentient beings from the six realms; human beings, animals, hungry ghosts, hell beings, Demi gods and heavenly beings. All of the different types of beings throughout space. All of them desperately wanting to be free from suffering. Desperately wanting to be happy and joyful but not able to be. Once he established a connection with his mind he felt all the sufferings of all the beings. Their pains, anguish, dissatisfaction and diseases. He also included all the things that cause them to suffer. Their anger, ignorance, attachment, negative emotions, negative habitual tendencies and their accumulation of negative karma. All of the causes and results of suffering he breathed in. He imagined that as he did so the suffering came out of their body like smoke, like cloud, like pollution. All of the suffering forming a large, dark cloud. Next he felt that all these negativities from all the beings in the form of the thick, dark cloud went inside him through his nostrils on his deep, long inhales and was attacking his own ego. His own negative karma. His own negative emotions. His own pain and suffering and problems and illnesses which he imagined like a dark ball surrounding his heart centre like a thick tar. He started to feel the dark cloud of negativities eating up his own negative, dark ball encasing his heart. Like acid was eating matter or like a chemical was eating something else which is dissolvable and after a few moments the thick shell of his own ego, negative karma, pain and problems was crushed and started to break up. Each crack and small hole in the dark shell around his heart let out rays of brilliant, bright light until eventually the shell cracked open completely and became obliterated.

With his own negativities exhausted he felt his natural goodness burst out from his heart centre. The essence of his consciousness. His golden nature being released from the obscuration of negativity. All of the golden qualities of his pristine awareness. The wisdom, compassion, joy, positive energy, his healing power and his loving nature began to shine out like a bright sun. With all of his positiveness shining out he felt all the negativity that he had breathed in had completely dissolved in one instant. Like light dissolves the darkness. When a light is switched on in a dark room whether that darkness was there for thousands of years and that darkness is so dark that you can not see even one centimetre it does not matter. As soon as the light goes on all of the darkness goes in one moment. In that instant the darkness can not remain when the light is there. In the same way he felt that all those negative things that he had breathed in, that he had taken on, were completely gone, obliterated. 

It was time to start phase two of the practice. With his golden heart bursting out positive rays of light he sat in a joyful, kind, compassionate, clear and wise state. He felt the energy of the healing and purifying rays of light doing their loving work throughout his entire body. All of the pain from his body and mind. All of his negative emotions, ignorance and negative habitual tendencies becoming totally purified. Once he felt that his whole body was a ball of light, joyful, compassionate, energetic and blissful he concentrated on that feeling and relaxed into it. In his mind’s eye the forceful light like the sun shone throughout his body from every pore and touched all the sentient beings. He started visualising all the Beings he felt that he was helping. He started with his students and friends and then started to add more and more complexity. The monks and nuns and residents in the monastery. The people of Scotland. The people of Great Britain, Europe and all over the world. All the beings who live in this world. All Beings in the state between lives. All of the different forms of life not only on this world but throughout space. All the cosmos. After building up every Being known to his mind he acknowledged that wherever there was space there could be Beings and so he imagined and felt as though the healing and purifying light emitting from him reached out throughout space and felt like all of the Beings within the universe had become purified, healed and transformed and that they all felt completely joyful, completely well, completely compassionate and kind. Blissful and wise without any attachment, aversion or fear. Totally satisfied.

After a long while the master’s mind became tired and the positive feeling faded. At that point Master Salix knew that it was time for phase three of the practice and just sat and relaxed his mind. He allowed his mind to relax and settle in peace. Not thinking about the past. Not thinking about the future. Not holding onto the present moment. Just relaxed in now. Just being. Letting the sounds be. Letting his thoughts be. 

After a long while Master Salix’s mind started to have thoughts again. After the thoughts came the emotions. Deciding that he had become distracted enough he knew that it was time to begin phase one of the practice again and started to breathe in all the negative things of all the sentient beings with a long and deep breath just as he did before and started the whole process again.

The Great Ones of Light felt his effort and joined him in his practice. It would not be long before he had to teach phase two of shadow training and this was the perfect preparation.

Mark Smith, The Great Oak

Searching for some light? Look to your centre

Scottish winters can be difficult. This musing was written in 2016 as it is not yet November we still have time to practice stillness to find the joy within.

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As I sit watching the mid November Sun setting at 4pm and the ice that failed to thaw grow in stature.
As the stresses of Winter and the strains of the festive season approach. 
As I hope desperately for the willpower not to stray too far from good habits and stay healthy and happy during the dark winter.
I search for the light within.
Moving to my centre I find stillness, courage, inspiration.
As I move back out I bring warmth and Love.

Through Yoga we can look within, we can use it as a mirror to know ourselves. I encourage you to spend some time to sit and be still after your asana practice and reap the unfathomable benefits for body and mind. Yoga is after all as Patanjali put it 2500 years ago, “The cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.”

Wiser people than I have written about returning to our centre and I share with you the famous words of Boethius 480-524AD from The Consolation of Philosophy:

Imagine a set of revolving concentric circles. The inmost one comes closest to the simplicity of the centre, while forming itself a kind of centre for those set outside it to revolve around. The circle furthest out rotates through a wider orbit and the greater its distance from the indivisible centre point, the greater the space it spreads through. Anything that joins itself to the middle circle is brought close to simplicity, and no longer spreads out widely. In the same way whatever moves any distance from the primary intelligence becomes enmeshed in ever stronger chains of Fate and everything is freer from Fate the closer it seeks the centre of things.

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy.

If you like what you read here perhaps you would like my online classes. Book here… https://app.ubindi.com/Mark.Smith/

Why, what, who, where and when

As this is my first blog I will try to keep it concise. I do love using creative writing to illustrate my point, connect with your imagination and entertain you but those delights can await you on another day.

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Mark at the beautiful glass houses in Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 2019

Why does this site exist?
Health and wellbeing is about more than exercise and good nutrition there is also a philosophical and psychological side to us very complicated humans and there is evidence that we have been wrestling with optimum health since recorded time. All you have to do is read an ancient story like the Mahabharata, ancient Roman nutritional experiments, Ayurveda or some of the works of Shakespeare and we can see that technology may have changed but humans have not. I believe, and hope to prove to you by inspiring you to practice what you learn here, and you know intuitively, that if you get your movement, nutrition, connection with nature and or work/life/financial balance wrong you can easily lose your euthymic rhythm. What does that mean? You will become temporarily depressed, anxious, agitated, manic or all the above. A euthymic rhythm tends to be measured between 0-10, 5 being the ideal. When at 5 you can describe yourself as being euthymic or in a state of euthymia. A happy, productive and calm state. In the yoga world perhaps this state would be called samadhi. This is up for debate. Let’s leave that for another day. If you near 0 you are very depressed and likely need help from health professionals or loved ones. Likewise if you near 10 you are way too manic and although that high will feel good it is also not a good state to be in for long and you may regret your actions. It is natural for us all to fluctuate in these moods and levels of energy but if we want to be at our optimum it is best to aim for a euthymic state.

What am I trying to do?
I am trying to be in optimal health in body and mind for my age as I am now and I want to help and inspire others to do the same.

Who am I?
My name is Mark Smith and I am a yoga teacher and nutritionist living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Pre covid lockdown you could find me teaching yoga and meditation at various venues, you could come along to a nutrition talk, volunteer for teacher training in the Macmillan Cancer Support Gentle Movement programme which I delivered throughout Scotland or you could see me in the library working on my first novel, The Great Oak. Hopefully some or all of that will restart soon! The reason I tell you this is not only to display some experience but also to build up trust.

Where am I and where can I help?
If you live in Edinburgh East or Central I’d love to see you at a in-person class however with the new technologies and events in the world anyone can join my online classes. If you are interested in the schedule please you’ll find it here: https://app.ubindi.com/Mark.Smith/

When is the right time?
With half of the worlds population either obese, depressed or anxious and the proven benefits on survival chances from a covid 19 infection if you are not overweight the time is most definitely now. I was going to wait until my book was finished or my iOS app that I’m writing to aide this page but instead I’ll just share with you the development process of those projects while we all connect to our inner wisdom and get centred, fit and healthy.

I hope that you find benefit from my work. Peace and Love, Mark