THE JUNGLE EFFECT: The Healthiest Diets From Around The World—Why They Work And How to Make Them Work For You by Daphne Miller, MD

I was a devoted Vegetarian turned Vegan until 2013, when an exercise injury left me unable to walk or stand longer than five minutes. After months of tests, traditional medical specialists found no reason for the excruciating pain. I tried all the alternative therapies that were available to me. A Chinese acupuncturist was able to lessen the pain, but it always returned, sometimes worse than before. By the time I started to think I might never be physically active again, the acupuncturist said my Vegan diet might be hindering my recovery. According to Chinese medicine pain comes from stagnant chi. He believed if I added animal energy—meat—to my diet, the chi would slowly begin to flow again. The pain was so bad I jumped on the meat wagon and indulged in steak that same night.

Maybe it was psychological desperation, but I believed I felt better the next morning. My body also seemed to crave more meat, so meat became a staple on my shopping list. My mind kept saying, I’m doing this for my health, but emotionally I was torn. I’d been a vegetarian for so long eating meat felt like a betrayal. I couldn’t accept that adding meat back into my diet wasn’t any different than choosing to eliminate it. To me it wasn’t a dietary choice, it was a Cardinal Sin.

Only then did I see the ultimate problem. I was afraid of meat, or more precisely, afraid of food. Before I became a vegetarian I had gone through an anorexic phase, which was followed by a phase of secretive binging. The meat issue made me realize my choice to be vegetarian or vegan was just another way for me to wage war against my fear of food. Enter Daphne Miller, MD and The Jungle Effect, my bridge to finding peace with food.

Dr. Daphne Miller is a board-certified family physician. She has a private practice in San Francisco and teaches nutrition and integrative medicine at the University of California. Dr. Miller’s research into indigenous diets was prompted by her patient Angela whose battle with excess weight, high blood pressure and knee problems were eliminated when she returned to the foods she ate while growing up in the rainforest.

I’ve eaten and sweated through an eclectic mound of diet and exercise programs. They all seemed logical. None had staying power. The Jungle Effect is not a diet book, or exercise program. It is however, a book that will provide such outstanding information and evidence that your current point of view on food and exercise will be shaken and may, in fact, change. This healthier attitude will stem from the combination of Dr. Miller’s research and the patient stories she shares. Each patient story is from a person like you and me—no celebrities with personal trainers and culinary chefs on their payroll are highlighted these pages. Yay!

The majority of serious health problems that we are experiencing in the United States can be traced back to poor diet […] Each patient whose story is featured in this book has a different ethnic and cultural heritage as well as a distinct set of health issues […] A return to an indigenous style of eating helped them accomplish a diverse set of health goals including weight control, blood sugar and cholesterol management, and improvement in energy and mood. 

The Jungle Effect takes a look at specific cold spots—places in the world where the rate of certain health issues are minimal because of the indigenous diet eaten—such as Mexico, Greece, and Iceland, and shows us how to regain control of our health and prevent disease. You’ll learn how avocados and sweet potatoes can prevent Colon Cancer, something relatively rare in West Africa, and how tomatoes, watermelon and egg yolks offset breast and prostrate cancers in Okinawa, Japan.

The entire book was fascinating, the more I read the more I wanted to read. But the most helpful portion of The Jungle Effect for me was Part Three. This is where Daphne Miller shares the recipes she acquired on her indigenous food journey and how to go about shopping for these foods in our modern world. She also included a section on the best ways to cook certain ingredients. For optimum health she recommends you rotate through all the recipes in the book. It’s a marvelous idea. I wish I could say I’ve done it.

I have, however, tried many of the recipes, even the meat dishes. They were delicious. And thanks to The Jungle Effect, I’ve experimented with all kinds of foods and kept a journal about how my body responded for the last nine months. During that time I got rid of my sense of betrayal over eating meat and discovered I could enjoy it. But my experimentation has shown me how much I prefer a vegetable based diet. I could call myself a vegetarian, but I now prefer to say I’m a whole-food foodie who doesn’t eat meat. I buy fresh, local and organic at least 90% of the time, and my new favorite place for recipes is on-line at New Roots.

For the first time ever, I no longer fear food. I have Daphne Miller to thank for this extraordinary change in my life. Whether you’re afraid of food or not, The Jungle Effect is one book on health that needs to be required reading because everyone needs to eat, and health makes living a lot more fun.

THE GREAT WORK OF YOUR LIFE: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope

Books entertain, educate, inspire, enlighten and allow us to live lives we’re not brave enough to embrace. Then one day, when you stand at the crossroads filled with doubt, a book presents itself. The material within turns you on your head and all the pieces of your life tumble into place, and the true path of your life crystalizes like the Yellow Brick Road. This was my experience with Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life.

Stephen Cope, the director of the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living, takes us ringside on his examination of the two-thousand-year-old Bhagavad Gita. Much like watching movies with the director’s commentary, Cope educates us on the Pillars of Dharma by offering up the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna from the Gita, and giving examples of these principles in action by shining light on well-known people who inherently embraced their dharma like Jane Goodall, Henry David Thoreau and Ludwig von Beethoven, as well as individuals like you and me. The famous illustrators of dharma at work truly clarify the Four Pillars of Dharma.

 Look to Your Dharma

Do it Full Out

Let Go of the Fruits

Turn it Over to God

However, it’s the ordinary individuals that make this book hit us where we live. Each one of these stories shed light on my own struggles throughout life and provided me with an objective window to examine where I’ve been, and where I ultimately must go to live a fulfilled life.

After reading The Great Work of Your Life, I wish I could find a way to get every junior and senior in high school, every college student, teacher and parent to read this book. I was a college professor, so I know first hand too many students study for degrees because their parents have corralled them into it, or the media has made them believe it’s the only way to be successful. Students spend four years making their parents happy, or living under delusions of grandeur, then they spend the next ten to fifteen years—sometimes more—trying to undo the damage, or in misery that seems to them has no real source, while their parents watch from the fretful, criticizing sidelines. All of this can be avoided if students, parents and teachers understood how to tap into their own dharma.

It is better to fail at your own Dharma than to succeed at the Dharma of someone else. 

And remember the wisdom of mystic Thomas Merton.

Every man has a vocation to be someone, but he must understand clearly that in order to fulfill this vocation he can only be one person: himself. 

My wish, of course is impossible. It is also impractical because in order to find your true dharma you must be in a place in your life where you are ready to receive it. An addict can go through a slew of interventions, but unless he is ready to change his life for himself, in many ways those meetings are nothing more than hot air.

We only know who we are by trying on various versions of ourselves. We try various dharmas on to see if they fit. 

Still, it’s a relief to know The Great Work of Your Life exists. That it’s on the shelves ready to fall into reader’s hands, or to be recommended to someone, even if they’re not ready, because one day they’ll be tangled in doubt and they’ll reach for it.

Cope’s book is not only for those individuals who are lost and confused. Many people become content with vocations they did not desire. My father’s dream was to become a Veterinarian. Then the war came, and a marriage and children. He took a job as an estimator for a construction company. He gave everything to his job and became one of the top estimators in the area. He bought a house and sent three kids to college. I wouldn’t call him a happy man, but he has lived a contented life. So what can this dharma stuff offer a man like my father?

…we are likely to interpret feelings of exhaustion and boredom as the signal to retire. But couldn’t they just as easily be the call to reinvent ourselves?…

We tend to think leaping off cliffs is for the young. But no. Actually—when better to leap off cliffs? (T.S. Eliot said it: “Old men ought to be explorers.”) 

Life continually throws us curves and canyons to jump over. Knowing who you are and embracing your path won’t eliminate the troubles of life, but it will make life easier to navigate. When we are centered and whole, we are open to options we otherwise would be blind to.

I imagine a certain percentage of readers are thinking, “But I’ve already read The Secret and The Power of Now, what do I need this book for?” Well, I’ve read those books too. If I were going to recommend one of those books I would pick The Power of Now. For me, Tolle’s book explains why the material in The Secret works. When I read Eckhart Tolle’s book, every word resonates with me. The trouble comes after. How do I go about incorporating the concepts into my daily life? Let me clarify, The Great Work of Your Life is not a how to book. It doesn’t say do this and you’ll get that. What Cope’s work does do exquisitely is reveal that all of the answers we’re looking for are within us and shares the blueprint for how every individual can embrace their own. Oh, Happy Day!

Meet your Dharma. Read The Great Work of Your Life.

DEVOTION: a memoir by Dani Shapiro

If you’ve ever been in a class where the material was over your head, chances are you prefaced a question with, “This may be a stupid question, but…” And the teacher encouraged you by saying, “There are no stupid questions. There’s probably a lot of other students in the class wondering the same.”

In Devotion, Dani Shapiro has asked all the questions we have wondered about and been too afraid or embarrassed to voice, or explore. By sharing her quest for spiritual answers she opens the door for others to pick up their bravery and journey forth.

Devotion is a personal journey that resonates universally because it embraces a massive phenomenon—our society’s inability to be comfortable with our own thoughts.

I wasn’t hearing my own breath. I was always either stuck in the past, or obsessing about the future, while the present heaped its gifts on me, screaming for attention.

When silence knocks we run in fear of what we may find when we come face to face with what’s inside of us. 

Some powerful piece of my identity withered like an underused muscle.

As I accompanied Dani Shapiro on her journey each page was a wake up call for being present and I was grateful. Thankful that Devotion wasn’t a how to book on finding religion, or a step-by-step guide for developing faith. Shapiro offers no concrete answers.

The moment you say ‘I have got it’, you have lost everything you had…the moment you say ‘I am satisfied with that,’ that means stagnation has come. That is the end of your learning…let me do what I cannot do, not what I can do. —B.K.S. Iyengar

Shapiro’s willingness to live with the questions of faith reminds us that our questions are our fuel—they keep us alive and active. The quest outweighs the answers in importance because who we are, where we are going and what we need is always shifting. 

Moving through fear is its own leap of faith.

After reading both of Shapiro’s memoirs I am ready to leap anywhere she goes. She writes with a clear authenticity that is unmatchable. In Devotion, she jumps from one memorable moment to another, she’s all over her life. It could be chronologically confusing, but her investment in each event deepens our trust and we never doubt the end will provide illumination.

Those who have read In Slow Motion know that Shapiro’s backstory is not idyllic. Her references to the past in Devotion could’ve reeked of self-indulgent woe, but her attention to clarity allows the backstory in while keeping the present journey crisp and lively. Whether you look at the content of the memoir or the craft in her writing it’s impossible to miss the underlying theme of choices that runs through Shapiro’s life—another constant that resonates through all our lives, which we often spend too little time examining. Maybe it’s time to start asking the tough questions.

Choose Devotion.

HAPPY YOGA: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing To Worry About by Steve Ross

I woke up with Steve Ross for years. Inhale Yoga with Steve Ross was on the Oxygen network at six a.m. from 2000 to 2010. Because I needed to leave for work at seven, I taped the show and did my workout from five until six in the morning. I have since worn out the tapes and fried my VHS player. I was addicted to Inhale Yoga for many reasons: Steve’s effortless smile, humor, the rocking beat of the music he played and the happiness I walked away with at the end of each session. One day I might venture out to the west coast and experience his effervescence in person at Maha Yoga, in the meantime I have Happy Yoga.

There is no need to have a background in yoga to reap the benefits from Ross’s book. But my guess is by the time you finish reading you’ll be searching for a yoga class. That said, although each chapter ends with a few asanas that reinforce the material, this is not a detailed instructional book on yoga poses. Happy Yoga sheds light on the aspects of yoga often overlooked in Western classes, where the focus is often on toning and dropping pounds.

From intriguing chapter titles like You’re Not Fat (And Neither Am I) to the offering of sage advice:

Your trials did not come to punish you, but to awaken you—to make you realize that you are part of Spirit and that just behind the spark of life is the flame of infinity.

—Paramahansa Yogananda

Ross invites readers to consider the possibility of change in their lives through Inner Yoga exercises. Without pressure, dares or guilt Happy Yoga shines light in the shadows of your life and simply asks, “Is this the way you want to live?” And if you’d like to change each chapter presents suggestions on how you may transform into a happier you.

Real yoga is about transcending the serious and allowing joy into your life, your body, your mind and hopefully your practice itself. It’s about lightening up.

Whether you’ve been studying yoga for years or haven’t quite managed to step onto a mat, Ross’s book will inspire and guide you to a deeper level of understanding through his clarity, humor and love for this ancient Eastern philosophy.

Worry less, breathe more and wake up your life with Happy Yoga.