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Last February I began my journey toward health with an introduction of raw food lifestyle into my life.  I have experienced amazing improvements in health and overall well being.  Now that my awareness was awakened there was no way for me to go back to how things were and I didn’t want to.  Some days it was hard to follow the lifestyle.  I slipped up.  I got frustrated and overwhelmed at time.   I wished there were more people around who sought health by bringing balance back to the body.  At times I seemed at odds with the world as I persisted on this newfound path, step by step, thought by thought, day by day, mostly on my own.  I read one book after another on raw food and natural healing.  Books helped, but I craved human connections, others to share my journey with. 

My desire to connect with people that have similar mindset brought me to Living Foods Institute (LFI) in Atlanta.  I originally came across their website in March or April and right away I knew that I wanted to go.  It was going to be tough to take time off for myself for ten days because that wasn’t something that I was used to doing.  For some reason it felt selfish to dedicate time for healing, but by now I knew better than to give in to negative thoughts of my restless mind.  There is nothing more important than health and taking time off to heal so that I can be a more positive and capable presence in lives of those who I love is not selfish in the least.  And so I made another wishful determination - I was going to go to LFI in the coming year.  By some miracle or law of universal attraction I was presented with such an opportunity in about six months.  I booked for February without another nagging afterthought, it was my wish manifesting.  I took the gift with gratitude and joyful excitement.  

It is funny how future is always so different from what we expect.  I wanted to go to Atlanta to learn more about raw food (in case a tidbit of important information managed to escape my attention after reading a dozen of books), to get hands on experience preparing recipes and, of course, to meet others who were interested in this kind of lifestyle.  Lucky me, I got so much more than I would have ever anticipated.  Let me start by saying that the whole place was physically created with love.  From the moment you walk in on the first morning of classes to the evening of graduation from the program on day ten, you are literally surrounded by positivity and joy.  It is so drastically different from the “real” world that it takes some getting used to before one can let the guard down and take a deep breath.  Worries and negative thoughts dissipated one by one in each one of us who attended the seminar and we relaxed into a mindset of healing. 

About thirty perfect strangers timidly introduced themselves.  Some came in hopes to heal a life-threatening illness and others wanted to learn more about raw living food to prevent illness from ever occurring.  I had tremendous respect for them all - it takes guts to follow your inner voice and to go against what is commonly accepted.  One of the first things we were taught was the importance of positive attitude.  Healing starts in the mind.  It is a thought and a feeling of being healthy.  Thus the routine of daily affirmations practiced at the center to reinforce our positive beliefs.  Our emotions play an integral part in either creating or disrupting the balance in our bodies.  When the negative feelings of pain, fear, regret or anger are held on to for a long time, they produce blockages of energy in our physical bodies and we manifest sickness or “dis-ease”.   Therefore, a path to health is through finding balance on all levels – physical, emotional and spiritual.  

For ten days we prepared and ate only organic raw vegan foods and, contrary to popular assumption, no one was starving.  We cleansed physically and emotionally, and even though some days were painful for some of us, we kept smiling and supporting each other on this journey because we understood that the process of releasing toxins is an essential part of healing.  With each day we bonded with each other more and more as our hearts opened to give and receive love.  We weren’t perfect strangers any longer as we witnessed each other’s pain when feelings bottled inside for years, or even decades, came to the surface with the help of healing foods and therapies.  We cried and laughed together.  We shared without holding back.  We found new ways to let go of the past and to forgive.  We discovered how similar we all are deep down, no matter what religion we followed or didn’t follow, no matter if we were rich or poor, what race we were thought to belong to or how we previously viewed ourselves.  We were there on a mission to heal ourselves peacefully and with respect toward the planet and our bodies, and to discover an even bigger mission called life, which is the process of spiritual growth through giving and receiving unconditional love.

October is a breast cancer month.  There are a number of walks sponsored by big corporations to draw our attention to the problem and to raise more money for finding a cure.  As great as it is that money is raised and women are reminded to self examine their chest for early detection, it really is not enough.  Early detection is not prevention, by any means.  And although it greatly increases the chances of survival, the person still has to go through an incredible amount of suffering.  There must be a better way!  And there is - multiple studies have been done on relationship between diet and health, and diet and cancer specifically.  It has been shown that a person has a huge say in the matter, even though we are led to believe otherwise.  Genetics play a small role in causing cancer.  It is said that in reality only about 5 percent of cases are related to inherited genes, all other cases are connected to environment and behavioral patterns. 

As a society, we are conditioned to think that we need meat and dairy to be healthy.  We are bombarded by endless commercials of fast food, junk food, frozen dinners, milk for calcium ads, cleaning products, makeup and such.  The companies pay a lot of money to make sure people buy their products, and it works – most of the people spend their money on the things that look desirable on TV.  But, if you think about it for a second, it is easy to realize that people are not the ones benefiting from consumption of those products.  Most cleaning products contain highly toxic substances and we seem to be proud of that.  In our obsession to get rid of germs and dirt and attempts to make life easier for ourselves we are willing to overlook that the substances are harming us as well.  We inhale the toxins as we breathe.  They enter our bodies though our skin.  I was surprised that even something as innocent as makeup often contains cancer causing chemicals and substances that damage our nervous and reproductive systems.  I think that once we realize that primary reason of advertisements is to make profit for the manufacturer, it will be easier for us to take them with a grain of salt and question whether something will or will not benefit us. 

As a first step, I started with eating consciously, meaning that I was aware of what I was putting in my body as food.  I looked at each item carefully, read the labels and determined if my body will benefit or be harmed by my choice.  It is not about calorie counting and it is not about fat content or sugar content or how much the food was artificially enriched with vitamins.  The easy way to determine if something is good for you is seek foods that haven’t been processed at all, like fresh raw fruits and vegetable and to eliminate foods that contain over processed ingredients such as white flour, sugar (choose an occasional dried cane juice, honey or dates instead), salt (choose sea salt or just go with extra lemon juice which is an excellent addition to a salad), white rice, fructose corn syrup, oil that has been heated (heating oil molecules breaks their structure converting them to something that is not only indigestible by our bodies but also to something that can harm us), frozen dinners and foods that have been microwaved (the process of heating foods in the microwave also breaks the molecular structure of the food making it toxic, even carcinogenic).

The harmful food list can go on and on.  In fact, it seems that most of the supermarket foods should be on the taboo list, that’s how low we have scooped where it comes to nutrition in this day and age.  Food doesn’t mean nutrition to the most of us - it means taste and convenience instead.  But can you nourish your body in any way solely on taste and convenience?  Of course not - and that is why there are so many overweight and malnourished individuals in the US today.  There are no advertisements that tell the public that animal products such as red meat, poultry, eggs and dairy greatly increase our chances of suffering from heart disease, cancer and diabetes (among other things).  There is no fast paced monologue that follows a burger commercial listing potential side effects as in case of an advertisement of a new drug that is being introduced to the market.  There is no requirement for it, no profit to be made from such a disclosure and a great deal of money spent by the meat and dairy industry to deny the facts found in research. 

So, since we cannot expect the entities that benefit from selling those items to acknowledge the role they play in harming our health and to spend some money informing the public of remarkable findings of various research studies, we need to rely on our own judgment and on sources that are trustworthy and don’t have vested interest in what we consume to provide us with this information.  One of such examples is John Robbins, the person who was supposed to inherit Baskin Robbins and who walked away from the family business and its fortune to be true to himself.  Early on he recognized the connection between diet and health and has worked hard to educate people about proper nutrition.  It is easy to see that companies that make millions and sometimes billions of dollars from sales have a conflict of interest and that people who willingly walk away from fortunes have a sincere goal to improve the lives of ordinary people. 

Bottom line is that people need to know and I am willing to be scoffed at and hated by the companies that might lose potential profit.  If that’s what it takes, so be it!  From more places we hear about products that are harmful to us - the better.  The more people stand up who are aware of the benefits that a healthful diet can provide - the better.  Sometimes a piece of information has to be presented to us from countless sources to convince us that there is something to it and worth looking into, even if it means that one has to go against what is widely accepted by our society.  I think that we can all greatly benefit from an awareness walk, a walk that will truly contribute to preventing and possibly healing cancer.  What is more beneficial - a walk for early detection of one cancer or a walk that significantly reduces our chances of getting a whole spectrum of cancers as well as other sicknesses that cause countless deaths which could have been prevented if people had the knowledge and weren’t so afraid to step out of the norm? 

It is impossible to not feel more peaceful after a sincere yoga practice, after all its very principles are built on integrating all the aspects of life and its focus is on bringing our true, wise, more compassionate sense of selves out and into the world.  Sadly, there are a lot of places now that forget the yogic roots and associate the practice solely with physical appearance.  My yoga body is a great benefit, but it is only a tip of the iceberg, so I believe that people whose sole desire is to acquire a yoga body of their own are missing out on the rest of the benefits that it provides.  Of course, some of the deeper benefits of yoga will still be felt even if they are not what the person strives for.  Many report a sense of calm after a workout because yoga is a natural stress relief tool.  

When I started to practice yoga eleven years ago, I wanted to condition my body and to improve my balance and flexibility.  Stress relief was not something that I have expected, but I noticed that even on the most stressful of days I felt anxiety relief practically few minutes into a workout.  It worked faster than running!  With time I came to expect that serenity from yoga without knowing much about its roots.  I have continuously done yoga, mixing it with the other workout routines, instinctively seeking it on days when I needed to find my inner center.   In the beginning of this year I wasn’t feeling that well. Going for a run was the last thing on my mind, some days I struggled to get off the couch after a minor activity around the house.  I felt drowsy from the lack of energy and gentle beginner yoga seemed all I could manage at a time.  

After February and my switch to raw food vegetarian and then vegan lifestyle, I regained all my energy and then some.  However, most of the days, I choose yoga over all other possible forms of exercise.  I don’t need to work hard to burn fat anymore as my body naturally maintains its ultimate weight.  I work out more days a week than I previously had because I have more energy to do so, but yoga doesn’t feel like a tedious task.  It has become a part of my daily routine and an integral part of my life.  A reach for a yoga mat first thing in the morning is like taking a deep breath and doing sun salutations is my saying hello to the world.  I have awoken from sleep.  I am here with the start of a new day.  I am devoted to creating peace on my yoga mat and taking it everywhere I go. 

My mom and I were convinced by the book and I was willing to try it, there was no point waiting until the health was declined to the point when one is bedridden before “scooping down” to unconventional methods that others scoffed at.  “Cures cancer, ha!” – most people said, “Wouldn’t doctors know about this?”  My boyfriend was very skeptical and, like most people I was surrounded by, discouraged me from undertaking the “experiment”.  It was very hard for him to watch me change in front of his eyes.  All over a sudden I didn’t drink coffee, milk or soda anymore, nor did I eat any processed foods, foods containing heated oil, white flour, sugar or meat.  Some days everything I ate was raw and vegan.  I fervently defended my newfound beliefs and to provide him with more evidence I started researching holistic healing online.  There were so many stories of people overcoming serous and “incurable” illnesses and they were all talking about the Raw Food Vegan Diet.  I got numerous books on the subject and hungrily read them.  After dealing with negativity and disbelief from friends and coworkers, I wanted to establish connections with people with similar mindset and reading those books was almost like talking to people who wrote them.

The biopsy results came back negative!  I was to be retested again later in the year.  I breathed a sigh of relief and continued to chant and read.  I wasn’t switching back to Standard American Diet (SAD, it really is sad!) now that I knew the things that I knew.  My eyes have been opened and in a way I am glad that the whole incident happened.  It caused me to really delve into my being, to learn and discover things that I was not aware of, important things that every person should know so that they can make educated decisions about their health.  By April, after a month of closely following the system I finally overcame a three week “cold” that I was having, lost 18 pounds (I went a little faster than was suggested when switching, thus creating a sped up process of detoxification), going back to my high school weight and had loads of energy to run in circles if I wanted to.  My stomach problems that tormented me on almost daily basis were gone, the allergies, and with them constant sneezing and sinus headaches, were nonexistent. 

After the initial key switch to eat more naturally, I continued experimenting with foods that were still on the menu and eliminated a few more.  By June, I was vegan (except for honey) and proud!  I wanted to stop eating meat for the longest time, ever since I became a Buddhist.  Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism doesn’t have a requirement for people to be vegetarians, it is something that each one of us has to come to realize on our own, but I always knew that one day I will do it.  I love animals and eating flesh disturbs and disgusts me.  Any time that I ate meat in the past, I had to pretend that it wasn’t a piece of an animal that I had in my mouth.  I have to admit that some of it, clean boneless stakes and white chicken meat, tasted good, as long as the thought of what it was that I was eating didn’t cross my mind.   Sometimes it did and I then I had to urgently search for a napkin to spit the food out before it caused me to gag.  

Just like my ex-husband dismissed my interest in Buddhism as another one of my unfinished projects, my boyfriend didn’t think that the whole “I don’t eat meat anymore” streak would last.  Well, I have been chanting for almost eight years and have no intention of ever stopping.  The same goes for being vegan.  Just because something is new doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious!  Besides, there isn’t one reason for me to come back to eating meat. Innocent animals live a life of suffering, get tortured and then get killed so that humans can have some food on their plates that they can’t even digest properly because their bodies aren’t made for assimilating animal protein.  Growing stock for meat consumption majorly contributes to pollution of our environment.  It isn’t good for my health and even the idea of tasting it is repelling.  There is no more pretending that the stake is not some poor cow dissected in pieces.  I can see its sad eyes looking at me with horror as it is being jolted by a shock of electricity.  I want to weep for it.  I want to beg its forgiveness for my greedy selfish appetite of the past, for other people who don’t know any better and for those who just don’t give a damn.  Humans have been rewarded with independence, intelligence and creativity.  But we, misunderstanding the gift announced that we are superior to all and let our egos grow out of proportion.  Instead of fulfilling our roles as the protectors of the Earth, we selfishly proceed to mow everything that stands in the way of getting what we want.  

An abrupt awakening to a possible challenge that my body was facing last February got me revisiting my existing beliefs about health, doctors and food.  After the initial shock subsided and I could again think somewhat clearly, I decided that I was done relying on others when it came to my health.  As a Buddhist, I know that I am responsible for my health, my happiness and my wellbeing.  There is no external source to pray to, no predetermined destiny to follow without having a say.  Therefore, I have the freedom to choose what I’ll do and what kind of effects I’ll create in my life.  I continuously applied this to my life in all other aspects, except for when I fell ill, that is.  I chanted for positive energy and best doctors, which is all good and well.  But I forgot, or rather it didn’t occur to me, to chant about what I can do to help myself.  However, in case of this particular challenge, passing the reins of my life to doctors was simply not an option. 

I took a walk, letting the cool February air sober me up and get me focused on the task at hand - being healthy.  Immediately, all other worries not only seemed insignificant in comparison, but it became clear that I had to be more relaxed about everyday things that I often stress myself over in order for them not to become the very reasons of my disease.  I am a workaholic and at times when there is a problem at work I would still search for a solution while I ride on a train, exercise, or wash dishes at home.   There seemed to be no boundary where my job ends and my personal life begins, I was all merged and as a result of that my work duties tended to transgress on everything else in my life.  I would often skip meals, stay late, and back in the day when I was still married, come to work on an occasional Saturday “to catch up”.   It wasn’t healthy or fair, and it had to stop because the stress that my attitude toward work was generating was contributing to my health problems.  As I walked and sipped ginger tea that replaced my usual morning coffee I saw hope ahead.  

I started reading the book that my mom urged me to read for years now.  The author of the book, Maya Gogulan, was seriously ill.  She was bedridden for over a year and was deemed to die by her doctors.  She was slowly approaching her end when she found out about Nishi System of Health.  This system combines a diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables with special exercises that improve circulation and help detoxification that even people who are bedridden can do, thus cleansing the body of toxins and nourishing it so that it could heal itself.  Within few months of eating this way and performing the exercises she was not only out of bed, but leading a normal life, completely overcoming her illness.  She surprised doctors when she came by the hospital, they thought that she surely died by then.  But, as amazed by her miraculous recovery as they were, no one was interested in learning how she did it.  The doctors wanted to continue doing what they were doing.  So, being a journalist, she took it upon herself to let people know about their options by writing books and giving lectures.  Through her knowledge many were able to overcome cancer, the tumors shrank in front of the doctors eyes.  As part of her book, Maya included research done by renowned dietitians on the effects that different foods have on our bodies, the role of vitamins, minerals and enzymes, and the consequences of taking over the counter and prescription drugs.  As I read the book it all started to fall into place and make sense.  The way our bodies work is amazing, we don’t give them enough credit!  Instead, we over abuse them, poison them and take them for granted.  I gained tremendous appreciation and respect for my body, it is truly a temple!  

A day before my birthday my mom, my brother, my son and I went out to eat, but for some strange reason the restaurant that I wanted to go to was closed.  My boyfriend teased that it wasn’t strange at all that one of the few Raw Food restaurants in Queens will be closed down.  I felt sad, disappointed and cheated out of a healthy meal as we headed to Chilies’ instead, my brother was hungry and he just had to eat something.   We arrived and were seated promptly.  The waiter was very pleasant and respectful of my finicky vegan requests, “No cheese, no cream, no bacon, got it”.   I found something decent to eat and even though it wasn’t organic (good luck finding that when eating out!!) or all raw (I had some brown rice and beans on the side for my big salad), and definitely made with table salt (hate that cooks put that crap in the food and call themselves chefs), I enjoyed it with realization that it didn’t have to be all or nothing kind of deal. 

For me, a true Virgo perfectionist, this is a huge step away from the very principles that drive me forward.  Everything needs to be in order and I need to be in control of every situation that I am involved in, well at least as far as it comes to me and everything that has to do with me.  Giving up control is not something that I like to do, so you would never see me drunk or riding crazy roller coasters.  I always wear a seatbelt, even as a passenger in the back seat.  I imitate the beeping sound that the car makes when someone in the front seat is driving without a seat belt without thinking about it.  My boyfriend, who has a nasty habit of driving around without buckling up, complains that I am annoying, and that’s when I usually realize that I am making the beeping sound again, “Sorry, just want you to be safe.”  How selfish of me, but I want people that I love to stay around longer!  Driving without a seatbelt to me is asking for an early departure.

However uncomfortable it is for me to accept that life is rarely if ever perfect, if I look for that feeling of perfection and tie it in with happiness on top of that, I will never be happy or content and spend my life on an unrealistic quest toward an unreachable goal in misery.  Buddhism teaches that happiness is not the absence of problems and I totally agree.  I filed for a divorce, had a surgery and was in a car accident within three month of each other in 2007, but through every challenge I was accompanied by protection – an order of protection from the Family Court, a doctor that I have personally known and trusted my life to and a seat belt together with a sense of calm that enabled me to respond the best possible way for us to stay alive.  Thankfully, I don’t leave a husband with anger issues, go through emergency surgeries or collide with Hummers every day!!!  I don’t wish that on anyone, especially if they don’t feel any pain relief even after being given morphine.   Suffering seems to be an inseparable part of life, and yet there is always an ability to feel joy, no matter what the circumstances are.  2007 was the most difficult year for me, but all through the challenges and even physical pain I was able to feel happiness - I was alive, I was free and I was starting over.   From major life emergencies to a disappointment over a closed restaurant, we are constantly reminded that absolute happiness is within us and can’t be taken away.  Life is truly not an “all or nothing kind of deal”.  


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