2017 has been…

Exhausting?

Exhilarating?

Emotional?

Busy?

Whatever 2017 has been for you, we here at Troupe Zephyr have been through it, too. Mandy and I have been on an emotional roller coaster. While most of it has been high, we have had our share of lows. Through all of it, belly dance has helped us maintain our composure.

In times of celebration, we danced.

In times of stress, we danced.

In times of mourning, we danced.

Now…as 2018 is quickly approaching…we want to be sure we extend our sanity tool to all interested. Won’t you join us to dance at the Troupe Zephyr studio? Our beginner, intermediate and private classes are now forming. Contact us ASAP to book your spot.

Happy New Year to you all!

A ton of households in the world have a healing powerhouse plant on the window sill. It is the oldest medicinal plant on record and is sometimes referred to as “Lily of the Dessert.” Originating in Northern Africa, probably Sudan, Aloe Vera can grow 60 to 100 centimeters. This gives the succulent the potential to be taller than me! That is huge. ,

It is widely known to be of benefit to the skin (it makes an exceptional masque), especially when sunburn occurs, but aloe supplies other benefits some people may not know about.

Aloe and the gut

We know the juicy insides of the aloe leaves can be good for the skin, but it is also good for an irritated gut. Studies show it can decrease stomach acid secretions (Keshavarzi, Z., Rezapour, T. M., Vatanchian, M., Zare, M., Nabizade, H., Izanlu, M., . . . Shahveisi, K. (2014, March). The effects of aqueous extract of Aloe vera leaves on the gastric acid secretion and brain and intestinal water content following acetic acid-induced gastric ulcer in male rats. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25050311)

Think of it as a cooling gel pulling inflammation for the G.I. tract walls. With this pulling of inflammation, it also does some detoxifying. People suffering from hot, swollen conditions may want to consider giving aloe a whirl. This can result in a somewhat laxative effect. So if that is an issue for you, you may want to decrease how much you are using or discontinue use.

My huge Aloe at home.

Nutrients

Aloe is chock full of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. It contains the vitamins A, C, E, folic acid, choline, B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B6 and B12 (rare in plants). Twenty minerals including calcium, magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium, sodium, iron, potassium, copper, manganese are contained in the spiny-edged, stemless leaves. The enzymes in aloe (Aliiase, Alkaline phosphatase, Amylase, Bradykinase, Carboxypeptidase, Catalase, Cellulase, Lipase, Peroxidase) help to break down sugars and fats. Bradykinase, specifically, reduces inflammation (See the section above).  These components make aloe a very nutritive plant.

Immune benefits

Anthraquinones are present in Aloe, but just in the juice. Anthraquinones have analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. They can be toxic, but they are in just the right quantities to be okay in Aloe. If I am planning on consuming aloe vera juice, I prefer to use it in a prepackaged supplement from a company with a superb, complex quality control department and standards of procedure to ensure safety. 

In one study I read, aloe was successfully used against H. pylori (a bacteria strain often implicated in gastric ulcers) in in-vitro studies.( Cellini, L., Di, S., Di, E., Genovese, S., Locatelli, M., & Di, M. (2014, July). In vitro activity of Aloe vera inner gel against Helicobacter pylori strains. Retrieved November 15, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24597562)

The results are very promising and combine aloe’s benefit for the gut and the immune system.

 

When I was growing up, my grandma was a huge proponent of Aloe. Every time I break off a leaf of my giant alow plant at home, I can’t help but feel she is happy with my choice.

You know what? Sometimes I just want people to be happy. I want them to be giddy. I want them to shut up, drop the everyday drama B.S. and just BE HAPPY! That’s right, DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY! I understand. There’s some awful shit going on in the world. But, you are breathing. You are alive another day to try to improve things for yourself and those around you!

How does a person ditch the “hell in a hand-basket” mood?

I mean, really. How does a person even attempt to get him or herself dislodged from that emotional shitty wasteland? There’s a mix of opinions out there. Of course, I have one, too.

There are a ton of supplements touted as being mood brighteners. Certain amino acids can be of assistance. Many supplements available in the USA are considered neurotransmitters in countries like Canada. Therefore, some of those supplements are not legally allowed to be sold. Personally, I am not convinced the best way to deal with mood issues are by directly tinkering with a person’s neurotransmitters. I prefer to use as many plant substances as possible.

Enter Damiana

Damiana (Turnera diffusa) is an herb I have suggested people use as a mood “brightener.” I feel it is an often overlooked gem of herbal tools. This plant is a native of Mexico, southern Texas, California, New Mexico and other south western areas. It is a shrub like bush with yellow flowers. The Mayan people used this plant for various reasons. It seems to have an overall tonic effect on the body (enhances digestion, etc). Because it is close, geographically, to where I live (the Great Lake region of the USA), it is AFFORDABLE!

Damiana is in the same botanical family as Passion flower. Incidentally, like Passion flower, it has long been prized as an anxiolytic.  Anxiolytic is a fancy word meaning it helps to lessen anxiety symptoms.

“..it (Damiana) has long been prized as an anxiolytic.  Anxiolytic is a fancy word meaning it helps to lessen anxiety symptoms.”

There has been research in to Damiana being an efficient aphrodisiac. Scientists have shown it increases the potency of “tired” rats, among other sexual side effects. Some of the studies I have read indicate this is due to Damiana increasing the nitric oxide in the blood stream.

Damiana acts as an aromatase inhibitor. This means it inhibits androgen from being made into estradiol (an estrogen sometimes linked to some types of cancers).

Damiana liqueur has a long history of use in Mexico and some claim it was used in the original recipe for Margaritas.

 

How do I use Damiana?

Damiana is very popular as a tea. It has a mild flavor. I do not add sweeteners to my teas, so it is nice this herb is not super bitter in flavor.

Encapsulated herbs is a simple and effective way to incorporate Damiana into one’s daily regimen. Be sure to find your Damiana from a company reputable for strict quality control and an excellent safety record.

*Note: excessive quantities of Damiana may cause loose stools (diarrhea). 

You can find Damiana in the Herbchick’s Shop*.

*The studies mentioned  and cited do not directly mention Nature’s Sunshine Products. Any Nature’s Sunshine Products purchased via the Herbchick’s Shop provide commissions for Lori the Herbchick….and she thanks you 😉

 

References

Damiana Benefits & Information (Turnera Diffusa). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-damiana.html

MIND-BLOWING BENEFITS OF DAMIANA HERB. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://globalfoodbook.com/benefits-of-damiana-aphrodisiac

Szewczyk, K., & Zidorn, C. (2014). Ethnobotany, phytochemistry, and bioactivity of the genus Turnera (Passifloraceae) with a focus on damiana—Turnera diffusa. Journal of Ethnopharmacology152(3), 424-443. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.01.019

Turnera diffusa – Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turnera_diffusa

Sweating profusely. Sticky palms. Dry mouth. The sudden urge to pee. Performing in public can be a terrifying experience. The genre doesn’t matter. A person can have an adrenaline response to all manners of public exposure, whether she is a seasoned veteran or a complete newbie. For me, dancing in public was not rally a big deal. I am a bit of a natural born ham. (Shhh…none of my long term friends are allowed to weigh in on this.) The terrifying part was performing ALONE.

Yup. Being on that stage is no big deal to me when I have others there to share the experience. It is as if being a part of a group deflects the gaze of too many people at one time. When I am a part of the group, I am only representing one faction of a population. There are equal representations with the entire group being there. It is the dreaded solo that strikes fear in my being. I know I am not alone!

DANCING IN PINK THING

I find many western raqs soloists like to use props. I love props. However, I have been forcing myself to perform solos sans all props. If I have a longer set – let’s say a fifteen minute bar/restaurant set – I think utilizing a veil entrance, followed by zilling and ending with a hard core drum solo would be bad ass! However, in most stage productions here in the US, each dancer or troupe is allowed about five to seven minutes. I started to feel as if I had a death grip on my veil…or cane…or hat…or fan veil..or what have you. WHY??? Why was I clinging to these things? Props can be shields to keep the audience focused on something else besides my dancing. For me, I felt as if I was a magician, keeping the audience focused on my prop to mask my lack of ability to convey musical emotions. So…I have ditched them. I still love my props. Trust me! Nothing says cool and awesome quite like a huge scimitar on a dancer’s head whilst she/he moves about. However, sometimes I feel it is time to dance with feeling, and leave the props behind. I have a very long way to go in this area, but I’m working on it. How about you? How’s your solo performance?

If you read the previous couple posts, you notice a common theme: enzymes are essential. It is true, though, that some experts worry you could become dependent upon enzyme supplementation. They are concerned your body may decrease, or even stop, production of it’s own magic chemical catalysts. It is not my intention to guide anyone to that kind of state! So it should be mentioned that I use enzymes after heavy protein meals and during times of uncomfortable bloat. Holiday meals are one of these times. Hell…I’m just human. I have no more self control around the goodies than anyone else. This also means I am no stranger to the discomfort from the bloating and digestive pain which may accompany this type of event. That is when I break out the slam dunk of enzymes.

 

But what if you have a general feeling of digestive distress?

A general feeling a gastric distress is pretty common, from I have noticed from working with clients for over 22 years now. What are you supposed to do if you are one of these people experiencing the general feelings of light indigestion? You definitely do not want to discourage your body from making these essential chemical movers and shakers. They are the secret sauce that makes the chemical bonds dissolve and free the nutrients for your body to take in.

 

Enter bitters

“Bitters” is a term identifying herbs containing certain components known as tannins and other constituents which give a bitter taste to the plant. Coffee is a common bitter, tannin possessing, beverage which falls in this category. Dark chocolate, dandelion greens (one of my favorites), green tea, and more are also members of this group. As I kid, I watched a lot of old movies (hey! I had no choice! We didn’t have cable on the farm). Remember how the sophisticates in the movies of the 1950’s would have a martini before big a dinner? Vermouth serves as a spirit AND as a bitter.

Coffee contains bitter tannins

The bitter flavor serves a very important purpose. When the taste receptors in your mouth recognize the bitter flavors, they send a message to your brain as an advanced warning that food is going to be coming. This gets the juices flowing. The salivary glands start putting out the waterworks, the mucous membranes in the throat get ready to coat and swallow, the stomach starts churning. The intestines pick up peristaltic action. It’s kind of like pre-heating the oven before putting the bread in. It creates favorable conditions, like the secretion of bile for fats digestion, to allow for the best possible environment to achieve maximum conversion of the food you eat.

 

Now, think of the grocery store you go to every day. Just how much bitter stuff do you see? Even if you stick to the outside aisles, where the least processed foods normally reside, the shelves are filled with sweet tasting treats, creamy icings, bright colored fruits and veggies. There are very few true bitters sold in these areas any more. Arugula is an example of a bitter herb/salad fixing which works to stimulate digestive functions. So next time you get a before-dinner salad, don’t pick it out and set it off to the side, eat it. Trade in that sweet dressing and use a balsamic and olive oil blend instead, perhaps.

 

An easy aperitif

An aperitif is an alcoholic beverage containing bitter herbs used as a pre-meal sipper. Sales is a very popular liqueur in France flavored by one of the most popular, and efficient bitters, gentian. Hops in beer is also a very efficient bitter herb. This might explain why those people of German decent drink so much of it. Just imagine how it may help the digestive tract get prepared for the sausage dishes my ancestors loved! Dark, hop-sy beers are still bitter and I do like them, a lot.   However, alcoholic beverages are not always an acceptable practice, especially in the workplace. Could you imagine the backlash on that? Holy Crimeny!!

Gentian is commonly contained in liqueurs used as aperitifs

How about an extract of herbs containing these bitter wonders, instead? One of my favorites is Digestive Bitters Tonic. It is safe for adults and children alike. It may help, just as all of the above mentioned bitters, to aid in the digestion processes. It even has a touch of stevia to take the edge off the bitterness and cardamom to relax the digestive tract just a bit to ease the expulsion of gas, etc (yes – I’m talking about burping and farting).

You can check out Digestive Bitters Tonic in the Herbchick’s Shop by clicking here.

 

Enzymes go to work the second something is placed in your mouth.

OK, so maybe enzymes aren’t exactly “magical,” but they definitely work magically wonderful. The minute you place food into your mouth, location specific enzymes are secreted to break down the simple sugars and starches. Salivary amylase (a.k.a. ptyalin), along with salivary lipase, goes to work on them to get a head start on those nutrients to break them down into smaller units for the next stages.

The stomach is where the proteins are broken down by Hydrochloric acid and pepsin (pepsinogen). The heat, acid, enzymes and churning actions of the stomach muscle go to work on the chewed (hopefully) food.

Notice, I said Hydrochloric acid digests protein. While many people have been conditioned to believe stomach acid is the cause for ills, it is actually very necessary. Pepsin even is dependent upon this acid being present to be active. Remember this when you see commercials for those very famous “purple pills” which shut off the proton pumps in the stomach. Proton pumps are where the acid is secreted. If they shut off, they decrease the stomach acid available to “turn on” the pepsin to get those proteins digested. So, yes, they decrease acid reflux….but they may increase indigestion and the feelings of bloat or nagging “rock in the gut” like complaints.

 

As the food moves out of the stomach, it enters the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. This is where the rest of the digestion initiates. Pancreatic amylase goes to work on the partially digested sugars and starches; trypsin and chymotrypsin start the end processing of the proteins; and fats are finally acted upon by lipase in bile. Other, more specialized enzymes, exist to aid in the digestion of certain things. One example is lactase breaking down milk sugar (called lactose). The pulsating waves of peristalsis move this ball of goo through the small intestines to the jejunum and the illium – each section possessing very different, specialized structures – and nutrients being taken into the blood stream by the millions of teeny blood vessels running throughout the organ. The stuff leftover (mostly fluids and fibers) are moved into the large intestine (colon) and the water absorption/regulation takes place.

Enzyme Supplementation

Those who suffer from bloating, gas, bouts of constipation, and other gastro-intestinal issues may have seen advertisements for dietary enzymes supplements. They are marketed to relieve these types of complaints. Some are marketed to assist with specialty enzymes, like lactose and those which break down beans, in order to ease the symptoms of gastric distress felt by some.

There is some disagreement over whether or not these supplementations are even necessary. Some doctors argue a lot of the enzymes are digested before they even get to the proper spot to be of any use. Others are proponents and support their use, wholeheartedly. What is a confused consumer to do? My best advice is to use your head. Have you tried them? Did it increase your feelings of gastric distress or alleviate them? Do you have a medical condition like a peptic ulcer which would be irritated by them? These are questions only you can answer.

What I will say is this: I use enzymes. They help reduce my feelings of a brick being dropped into my gut and help regulate bowel movements. However, I do not feel enzyme supplementation should be “forever thing.” Of course there’s a lot of varied debate, but a “usual” recommendation is to use them for a few months and then ease off. They can be used after or during heavier (think larger) meals or intermittently. A multi-enzyme supplement may contain the following (but certainly is not limited to these):

  •  Alpha-galactosidase
  •  Amylase
  •  Bromelain
  •  Cellulase
  •  Glucoamylase
  •  Hemicellulase
  •  Invertase [Sucrase]
  •  Lactase
  •  Lipase
  •  Maltase
  •  Papain
  •  Peptidase
  •  Protease
  •  Phytase

These are both enzymes usually found in the body, and those found in some foods. However, if there is an acid deficiency or a low level of other enzymes, those food bound enzymes may not ever be “unlocked” to work. What a catch-22, huh?

 

The body was designed to secrete these on its own. As an herbalist, it is my job to suggest natural plant based items which may help your body do what it is designed to do. That being said, check in for the next installment regarding uses for enzymes which may interest you even more.

Sources (among others) :

http://www.amymyersmd.com/2016/04/digestive-enzymes/

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2013/04/23/digestive-enzymes-help-or-hype

https://www.womentowomen.com/digestive-health/functions-of-digestive-enzymes/

http://www.doctoroz.com/article/boosting-your-immunity-enzymes

 

 

I’m sure you have seen the commercials for laundry detergents using “enzyme action” to rid your clothing of stains. Perhaps you’ve heard of enzymatic products for cleaning other items, like certain metals? But do you really know what enzymes are?

According to the dictionary, enzymes are “a substance produced by a living organism that acts as a catalyst to bring about a specific biochemical reaction.” So every single act of breaking something down and putting things together in the body (or pretty much any living organism) is made possible by enzymes. Every single action form the replication of DNA and RNA all the way to breaking down nutrients is made possible by these specialty protein powerhouses. What I am going to concentrate on, here, are the enzymes responsible for digesting foods. These are commonly known as DIGESTIVE ENZYMES.

Digestive Enzymes are classified as hydrolases. These are the types of enzymes which break things down into tiny building blocks. There are many different types of enzymes. Each is specific to a certain type of food or food component. An example is pepsin and trypsin working specifically on proteins; or, lipase working directly upon dietary fats. But, where do these enzymes come from? Are we just born with them? Do we consume them?

Starch digestion begins in the mouth with the enzymes contained in saliva. This breaks down simple sugars as the food is mechanically broke down by the action of chewing. In the stomach, hydrochloric acid and pepsin work to break down the proteins as the stomach itself churns and works the food around (incidentally, did you know acid is required for the production of pepsin? hmmmm). The small intestine is where the liver and pancreas sends enzymes to break down the long chains of proteins into smaller and smaller amino acids which can then be adsorbed by the small intestinal walls, into the blood stream and sent out to the cells for fuel. These are the enzymes which the human body is responsible for producing by itself. This is a list of enzymes, along with their sources and functions: https://scioly.org/wiki/index.php/Digestive_Secretion_List

There are wsome enzymes present in the foods we eat which can act as digestive aids. An example of this is bromelain and its ability to help break down meats. When I was a kid, my grandma used to cook pork with pineapple. I’m sure it was because she liked the taste, but she was helping make that pork easier for our stomachs to digest. Many veggies and fruits contain enzymes with various beneficial roles.

Any damages to the lining of the gut (stomach and/or intestine) can impair the body’s ability to secrete enzymes and/or absorb the broken down food products. This can be very concerning as painful conditions like indigestion, acid reflux, etc often occur. And if you noticed my note above, acid is required for the activation of some enzymes. What catch 22!

The next series of post installments will deal with enzymes. I want to investigate their functions, benefits, and how you can use them to help yourself.

 

 

 

 

photo: Lori and Mandy Naseelah  with Zoey Jakes (center). October 2015
THEY ARE IN PINK AND POINTING AT A GIRL IN THE MIDDLE HOLDING A CERTIFICATE

With Schoolhouse Raqs fast approaching, I have been thinking back on all of the workshops I have ever taken. There have been a lot! I have been rather privileged to belong to a great lineage of dancers through my primary teacher, which traces back to Fifi Abdou (love that woman). Add to that the long list of dancers whom I have taken workshops. Local and regional favorites, as well as some very well known dancers, are on that roll. Taletha Al Badr, Avassa, Zoey Jakes, Chandara Gamal, Laylia White, Yasmina Ramsey, Amy Sigil…the list goes on and on.

One may think I would stop taking workshops at some point. Or perhaps I may start to feel as if I must only follow my own style. However, I want more workshops. I would love to soak up all of the energy, knowledge and wisdom from every dancer possible. I have a “style,” I think. But to me, each and every workshop is an opportunity to learn a new move, a new way of doing the same move, a look at my self as a dancer and to admire those great dancers around me. I may know a lot at this point in the game, but I definitely have a long way to go, and I don’t ever presume any one dancer ever knows it ALL (except maybe Fifi…lol). Workshops are where I get to tap into all that makes the art what is.

I once read that great runners never try to beat someone else’s time. The great runners run to beat his/her own previous time. This is how I feel workshops should be. I am not looking to exactly duplicate the style of that dancer, but to improve my own style. Maybe I will learn a new a favorite move. Maybe I will just tuck that move into my mental “file” to be pulled out at a later date while hammering out a choreography. Maybe I’ll use it in during an improv because it suddenly feels like the time and place to throw it in. However, if I had never taken the workshop, I would not even have that particular tool in my box to pull out.

There is always something to take away from workshops – always.

And so, with this sentiment in place, I want to formally invite you all to our spring “thaw out” event: Schoolhouse Raqs. Please see the info at http://www.troupezephyr.com/schoolhouse-raqs. Also be sure to check out our autumn event, Gypsy Mystique, as more details become available. 

“Time, time, time
See what’s become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities
I was so hard to please”

(The Bangles – Hazy Shade Of Winter Lyrics | MetroLyrics)

 

Oh the possibilities!

It is time for me to talk about Thyme. Many people have heard for this plant, but few have first hand knowledge or use it. I feel it is an often neglected plant as it can be easily disregarded as “just a kitchen herb.” But what an herb it is! It holds the potential to be a huge immune booster in this time of anti-biotic resistance. You see, thyme has long been used in respiratory ailments. The ancient Romans used it for this purposes and are thought to be the ones who introduced it to Britain. During the time of the plague of Black Death, small bouquets of thyme were sniffed to aid those hoping to avoid catching the illness. IT has been noted by the herbalist Culpepper to be “…a noble strengthener of the lungs, as notable a one as grows, nor is there a better remedy growing for hooping cough. It purgeth the body of phlegm and is an excellent remedy for shortness of breath. It is so harmless you need not fear the use of it. An ointment made of it takes away hot swellings and warts, helps the sciatica and dullness of sight and takes away any pains and hardness of the spleen: it is excellent for those that are troubled with the gout and the herb taken anyway inwardly is of great comfort to the stomach.” Gerard, a notable herbalist in the Middle Ages,  suggested its use for pains in the head, leprosy and the “falling sickness.”

Have you used Listerine? One of the ingredients in the popular mouthwash is Thymol. This is the oil of thyme. While many sources insist the active ingredients in Listerine have no benefit at all, I beg to differ, All of the active ingredients have been shown to be bactericidal to some degree. Not only does it taste great with lemon on baked white fish, but it has been long used in the meat industry during the preservation process. Studies as recent as 2016 show thyme has a bactericidal effect on the the strains of bacteria causing meat born pathogens, like listeria, etc.

At a time where a lot of us are coming out the “Hazy Shades of Winter,” Thyme is one natural tool in the chest to combat those seasonal illnesses which seem to crop up.

Thyme to use it

I, personally, love to use thyme for respiratory illness. There is a blend I particularly suggest to my family and clients, called Fenugreek & Thyme, which may help to reduce the inflammation of the sinus mucous membranes and relieve that feeling of pressure in the head.

A tea (decoction) of thyme herb may be sipped to help when there is sore throat and/or inflammation of the tonsils.

Thyme has been used as a carmative, as well. This means it relaxes smooth muscles and allows for the alleviation of indigestion like feelings.

Some studies suggest that using Thyme may enhance the effect of some other antibacterial substances. In an age of antibiotic resistant infections, this is good to know.

The essential oil of thyme (thymol) has been shown to be antimicrobial in many studies. I like to add a few drops of thyme oil to my mop water and to the solution I use to clean my bathroom. I have seen the essential oil of thyme included in many blends used as deodorants, both for the armpits and the house. Making a rinse containing a few drops of thyme essential oil may help to prevent skin rashes and/or infections. Studies have been done on the decoction of thyme used as a wash, of sorts, to deter acne. In one such study, it outperformed OTC acne remedies.

**Thyme oil may be irritating to some. It is suggested to do a patch test when investigating using the essential oil for yourself. It is contraindicated in times of pregnancy.

Isn’t about Thyme you use it, too?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/t/thygar16.html, accessed 2/21/2017

 

http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-thyme.html, accessed 02/21/2017

http://www.healthline.com/health/health-benefits-of-thyme, accessed 02/21/2017

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-823-thyme.aspx?activeingredientid=823&activeingredientname=thyme, accessed 02/21/2017

http://www.offthegridnews.com/alternative-health/medicinal-uses-of-thyme/, accessed 02/21/2017

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266016.php, accessed 02/21/2017