Friday, March 30, 2012

Meditation, Sleep, CBT-I... written by Gene Bammel

Meditation has been described in many ways, and there are distinctively different ways of meditating. There will be Buddhist meditators at the upcoming Consciousness Conference in Tucson, and they will set aside an hour each day, and invite beginners to "sit" with them. "How best to meditate? Simply sit still; calm your body, and then, calm down your mind. Think of nothing in particular, and do not worry about where your consciousness takes you. Within a few minutes, you will find that your body and your mind have attained a level of tranquillity that will remain with you the rest of the day." Religiously disposed meditators  might begin by thinking of Psalm 46: "Be still, and acknowledge that I am God."  " Others might begin with the invitation of Jesus in Mark 6: "Come apart, and rest awhile." Some psychologists have worked with "centering meditation," encouraging the practitioner to focus on a particular problem, the antidote to the problem, and cultivating the emotions needed to cope with the problem.

Some people seldom have a problem with sleep. Most people, however, will experience periods of some sleep disturbances, sometimes for clearly physiological reasons, at other times for emotional stresses. At sleep clinics, insomniacs often state that some nameless anxiety is the partner in their sleep difficulties. If you wake up in the middle of the night and are "anxious" about some event of the day that did not disturb you then, but does now, you are probably having a fairly universal experience. But if it happens continually, and over truly trivial matters, you probably have something specialists would classify as an anxiety disorder. "More than 40 million American adults are affected by anxiety disorders each year. However, it's often hard to judge when normal feelings of worry, fear, and stress cross the line and become a serious condition that impacts both your emotional and physical health." --Harvard Health Letter. And that is where "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Insomnia," or "CBT-I" for short, comes in. Sleep clinics often try to wean long-term insomniacs off the strong medications they have been taking, by having them attend a few sessions with a psychologist who practices this form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The heart of the therapy is as ancient as the Greek and Roman Stoics, and as modern as the Reinhold Niehbuhr serenity prayer. There are things you can change, and things you can't change, and it takes prudence to know the difference. Or as Marcus Aurelius said: "Be like the rock against which the waves continually break: it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it." In the ancient world, there were more Stoics than there were Platonists or Aristotelians, and for good reason: Stoicism is a philosophy that works. It accepts that bad things happen to good people, and tells you to take that in stride, and get on with your life. And the ancient world had large scale problems in some ways similar to the kinds of problems we encounter, although our problems may have a more global scale. The ancient world had a way of saying you can disagree without being disagreeable or hostile, but we seem to be losing some of that good sense. 

For the most part, scholars tend to be charitable in their arguments with each other, even political scientists. We have seen recently, in the public sphere, inflammatory remarks by politicians and others, where not only hostility, but enmity or hatred accompany the verbal interplay. Those scenes are disturbing, and could be sources for what might keep people awake at times they would rather be sleeping. I have no prescription to cure whatever political ills afflict us, but I do have an antidote to the "hidden anxiety" that may disturb the sleep of some. Time set aside for meditation might put the body into a more tranquil state; it might move deeply into the physiology of emotions, and put the body at rest, which may keep the mind tranquil. The sleep specialists say that the root source of some of the sleep problems of older people is due to arthritis: the joints of the body send disturbing messages when they are not moved, and may awaken one from even the deepest of sleeps. Surely some of the repressed emotions of the day, some of the raw emotions from challenging encounters, may affect our psyches in a similar manner, and bring us to wakefulness that is not easily subdued. Perhaps the daily practice of meditation, or a meditative form of Tai-Chi, might put our minds at rest, the way a warm bath might ameliorate arthritic problems. And for those who have the good fortune to sleep soundly almost all the time: meditation might either promote even deeper sleep, or, it might make them more aware of the kinds of problems that keep other people awake late into the night! Whichever outcome, setting aside a few minutes each day for the practice of some form of meditation is all but guaranteed to produce beneficial results...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Roasted Artichokes & Vegan Aioli

If you are a long time reader of my blog, you know that about three years ago I fell in love with the roasted artichokes served at The Cheesecake Factory. Recently I was in Arizona and made sure I got to a Cheesecake Factory just so I could eat them again. Then I came home and made them! Enjoy!

Roasted Artichokes and Vegan Aioli

Roasted Artichokes
2 artichokes
2 lemons
4 cloves garlic, peeled
8 - 10 T olive oil

Break off and discard the outer layers of leaves on each artichoke. With a scissors, snip off the thorny tip of the remaining leaves. Cut the artichokes in half. Slice a lemon so you have four slices. In a pan large enough to hold the artichokes tightly, lay the lemon slices down with a garlic clove on top of each. Lay the artichokes on top of the lemon slices and squeeze the juice from one lemon over the top. Drizzle the olive oil over the top as well. Seal the pan well with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes.

Once roasted, use a spoon to remove the choke and grill the artichokes lightly before serving (this step is optional, but well worth it). Serve with the vegan aioli sauce.... wonderful!

Vegan Aioli

1/2 C Vegeniase
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/4 t juice from capers
Zest of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients into a small bowl and mix. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Note: The pic isn't mine.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pasta Primavera

This recipe came to my attention courtesy of my beautiful daughter and her boyfriend. The two of them made this over the weekend and enjoyed it so much I received an email containing the recipe along with photos! They found it on the Food Network website from Giada De Laurentis (I've included the link below). My daughter said it was easy to make and fairly flavorful. Her other comments were that it was good either hot or cold, but she preferred it cold, so it sounds like a great lunch too. The recipe below is a copy of what appears on the website but I added the two notes, "minus tomatoes," and "great for the omni's in the house". Thanks Lo!!!

Pasta Primavera
Makes about 6 servings  


  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
  • 2 medium zucchini or 1 large zucchini, cut into thin strips
  • 2 yellow squash, cut into thin strips
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian herbs or herbes de Provence
  • 1 pound farfalle (bowtie pasta)
  • 15 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (great for the omni's in the house)


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

On a large heavy baking sheet, toss all of the vegetables (minus tomatoes) with the oil, salt, pepper, and dried herbs to coat. Transfer half of the vegetable mixture to another heavy large baking sheet and arrange evenly over the baking sheets. Bake until the carrots are tender and the vegetables begin to brown, stirring after the first 10 minutes, about 20 minutes total.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Toss the pasta with the vegetable mixtures in a large bowl to combine. Toss with the cherry tomatoes and enough reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Season the pasta with salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve immediately.

Friday, March 9, 2012

"To sleep, perchance to dream..." by my Uncle Gene

"Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care." Sleep has been much in the news lately, and what I have heard at two recent seminars may be of interest to you. First of all, Dr. Suzanne Salamon, who writes for the Harvard Health Letter, said: "Sleeping pills, in general, are problematic for older people. They lead to grogginess the next day and may contribute to cognitive problems, poor balance and falls." So, do older people have more problems getting to sleep and staying asleep? And if so, Why? Turns out, there has been some recent research on circadian rhythms, the daily ups and downs of energy our bodies experience. These rhythms are stimulated by how much light, and what kind of light we are getting. As we age, we do not process the blue part of the light spectrum as well. By the time you are fifty, you are only processing 50% of the light needed to fully stimulate your circadian rhythms, and, by the time you are 75, only 17%. Bottom line: unless you are very lucky, as you get older, you will not sleep as well.

Well, is that really a problem? Wouldn't it be great to have more active hours? More hours awake are only valuable if you feel you can be enjoyably active during those hours. There are some things to be concerned about, if your sleep has deteriorated. Poor sleep does raise blood pressure and blood sugar, and not only makes people less efficient in what they do, it also detracts from taking delight in what might otherwise be pleasurable pursuits.  What constitutes poor sleep? Basically, not getting as much as you feel you need. How many hours of sleep do you really need? The need  varies from person to person, but most people "need" at least six hours of sleep, and seven to eight hours  seems to be ideal. The first three hours of sleep produce physiological restoration, the next three, some degree of mental restoration. You do go through four "sleep cycles" during the night, reaching R.E.M. sleep, or "Rapid Eye Movement," and then you repeat the cycle, which may last about ninety minutes. Your first dreams of the night may last only a few seconds, the last one may last for ten minutes! Most people actually "wake up" four or five times a night, but unless you get up, you probably don't remember your instants of wakefulness. 

What can you do to get a good night's sleep? There is a lot of evidence that regular exercisers sleep better than non-exercisers, and those who exercise earlier in the day sleep better than those who exercise later in the day. Several doctors suggest that watching the news at bedtime is not a good idea: it is mostly bad news, and you should calm down, relax, meditate, or take a warm bath, or a little bit of warm milk, rather than get yourself excited or upset by what TV has to show you. It takes most people five to twenty minutes to fall asleep. Some people insist that an alcoholic "nightcap" helps them sleep, but the research indicates that while alcohol may make you drowsy, it does not promote sound sleep. What about sleeping pills? The doctors who work with insomniacs acknowledge that pills may help temporarily, but persistently caution against the prolonged use of sleeping pills, including OTC medications like Tylenol PM. One doctor speculated that the ingredient in most of these drugs would not be cleared by the FDA, if it were tested by current standards. 

In research studies, even drinking one cup of regular coffee leaves caffeine in the system seven hours later. "Four cups in the morning is equivalent to having one cup at 10 pm." Some people who insist that coffee does not bother them, find out that switching to Decaf really makes a difference. Some people seem to benefit from taking melatonin, which is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland, and that does have something to do with circadian rhythms. However, as with all "supplements," getting the good stuff and getting the right dosage is not easy. One other factor that seems to correlate with older people having sleep problems: as you get older, the level of cortisol in your system, increases. Cortisol is a stress hormone, and stresses that were once easily dismissed can have a greater effect on people as they age. ("It takes less to stress us out as we get older.") Which brings me to the last corrective for sleep problems: CBT, or "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy." Even a couple sessions have proved beneficial to people having serious problems sleeping. To find an expert in CBT, you may have to contact a nearby sleep clinic, or talk to your medical professional. Sleep, as Shakespeare said, is the "balm of hurt minds," so having gotten this off my mind, I think I will go take a brief nap, in the hope of being fully restored to my youthful energies...