Monday, March 31, 2008

8 Weeks to Optimum Health/Spontaneous Healing (DVD), Andrew Weil, MD

Movie Review by Zinta Aistars

Most of us know when what we are hearing resonates as good, common sense. Working in the health care field, I am always attuned to what is new, what is well-tested old in this area. This is not the first documentary I have watched with Dr. Andrew Weil, nor will it be the last. I receive his health e-newsletters, and I currently have two of his books on order (the book that accompanies this documentary, in fact, as well as "Healthy Aging," for which I also have viewed the documentary). By now, call me a fan. He makes sense.

What appeals to me most in his proposal of an eight-week program to health, leading to a lifestyle of good health maintenance, is his background in both conventional, traditional medicine (he is a Harvard graduate in medicine), and his intellectual curiosity and openness (he has traveled the world to learn various approaches and methods) to what we often hear referred to as "alternative medicine." Dr. Weil eschews that phrase. The word "alternative," after all, implies something separate and perhaps even a little faddish. What he propones, however, is traditional medical care (herbs won't do when you are having a heart attack) integrated with healthy habits in diet, exercise, and spiritual, emotional, intellectual areas. The mistake, he says, is that traditional medicine too often tends to forget that we are more than physical bodies. We are body-mind-spirit, a paradigm of three interconnected systems, all affecting the other. Health care should be not only about putting out fires, taking care of us when we are already sick, but about health maintenance and preventive behaviors.

Now, that makes sense.

Dr. Weil has a very pleasant manner in presenting his ideas. He doesn't miss a beat; his presentation is easy to listen to, easy to understand and absorb. His countenance is equally pleasant, with eyes seemingly permanently crinkled at the corners with a smile. He himself, now 67, seems an excellent exemplification of good health habits and their benefits.

His talk addresses the parameters of integrated medicine, how he developed the concept and the organization he now directs; healthy dietary habits; the role of exercise (walking most every day is sufficient and is the one exercise that causes little or no injury or stress to the body over a lifetime) and breathing; the concept of being emotionally at peace in one's life to maintain good health (stress, he says, is the cause of most all of our disease and sickness); and more.

The idea behind the eight weeks is that we change most effectively when we change gradually, and he discusses gradual, small changes that we can easily make in our lives over a period of time, each week integrating something healthy into our diets, increasing our walking time from 10 minutes to 45 minutes daily, going on a "news boycott" for a day to several days so that we aren't constantly hit with a barage of negativity, avoiding negativity in general in our lives and relationships, and simply taking time to breathe, deeply and restfully.

The second section on spontaneous healing builds on the first, basing good health on the idea that our bodies are naturally constructed for health, not sickness, and that maintaining good health, using the metaphor of a clean river, is more about getting the obstructions out of the way for good flow, keeping the sludge out of the river system, and all in all, our bodies are resilient and will heal themselves if we don't keep dumping so much mess into them - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Distinguished Guest by Sue Miller

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

· Paperback: 272 pages
· Publisher: Harper Perennial, 1999
· Price: $13.00
· ISBN-10: 0060930004
· ISBN-13: 978-0060930004

The Distinguished Guest was my first, no doubt too long in coming, dip into the work of bestselling author, Sue Miller. Within the first few pages, indeed, first few lines, I had to wonder what had taken me so long to make this discovery for myself. Here was a literary talent, wide and deep, for the discerning reader. The pages turned if not with great speed, then certainly relish, in the manner that one approaches a gourmet meal rather than a buffet.

The novel centers around aging writer, Lily Maynard, having achieved literary fame in her 70s with her frank memoirs of a failed marriage to a priest, along with riveting fiction that explored racial issues. Lily has Parkinson’s disease, and we witness how her faculties fail her as her short but bright writing career comes to an end. Her memory no longer holds the threads of plot and storyline, her mind wanders, her hands can no longer hold a pen. She takes up residence at her son’s home, what is to be a temporary stay while awaiting an opening at a nursing home, but becomes her final residence. We learn about her through her interactions, strained as they can be, with her son and daughter-in-law, through an on-going interview with a journalist, and various other characters, casual or scholarly, that come in and out of her life in her final days.

All of which are fascinating, and Miller here shows herself to be a master of walking the literary tightrope with admirable balance. Never too much, never too little, always dead center, straight up and on target. Miller understands the concept of “less is more” and uses it to best advantage. Some of Miller’s best writing, in fact, I found to be her voice coming through Lily’s:

“In those summer Sundays of our new marriage, I could sometimes experience the hour or so in church as a kind of drug, a near-aphrodisiac really. All my senses were dilated by it, by the gradual and powerful accumulation of layers of physical awareness combined with my own spiritual hunger, my greed, really. The Midwest heat outside was always intense by eleven o’clock, and the dark little church was cool and damp by contrast. When you entered the doors, there was a long, dizzying moment of welcome blindness, accompanied, for me, by a near-sexual weakening in my legs. The air inside smelled deliciously of mildew, a mushroomy, earthy odor that changed slowly as the space filled up with people…

“I always arrived early because I couldn’t bear the idea of the eyes of the congregation on me as I walked to my place alone. The young minister’s new wife…”

Miller guides us with expertise to see the subtle nuances of young growing old, of the slow and frustrating, almost shameful, ravages of disease, of the disconnect between family members, of the limitations of pride, and the sly cruelties between mother and son, and those, too, between husband and wife. Here is family like most families, with truths being hidden and half-hidden, games played and unwound, mild flirtations that hint of ruination, yet hold back just in time. It is as if almost nothing happens—only everything does.

Even the conclusion of this story is laced with nuance, as life often is, so that it can be seen both as tragic and yet right, if one steps just to one side of it. There is good and bad and all the shades between in all that is life and all that is death.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Into the River Somewhere by Mark Jackley

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Paperback (chapbook), 27 pgs.
Publisher: Finishing Line Press, 2007
Price: $14.00
ISBN: 978-1-59924-224-8

Life—and poetry—is in the simple things. In the details. In the short words of everyday, out of the mouths of common folk. God is found, or invited to join in, when a father shampoos his little girl’s hair. Or watches his eight-year-old create art with her Crayolas. Christmas becomes poignant in a convenience store, scanning a Rolling Stone magazine. Bonds are formed while sitting shoulder to shoulder on a slightly worn patch of grass. And death is averted, one moment longer, when we slide the gun back into the drawer.

This is how poet Mark Jackley sees the world through his poetic lens. If a verse of everyday words does not enchant you, dig deeper, stay longer. You will find it draws you in. Surprises you just when you think there is nothing new for you. Because Jackley is right: what moves us most and what touches us deepest are precisely the little things and the momentary glimpses, passing images, impressions that haunt us forever, emotions that linger long after doors appear to be closed. Nothing pretentious in this poet. He is heart on sleeve, and the sleeve is rolled up.

What My Father Smoked

Borkum Riff, tamped into his pipe
his finger spade-like,
tobacco moist as earth
to which the men he lost
in war returned,
whom I doubt he ever buried
in his armchair in the dark.

A sudden flame – I see him glow,
wreathed in smoke, palming ashes.

Yes, that simple. Don’t just read that little poem once. Read it again, and the smoke drifts around your head, you begin to smell it, draw it into your lungs. Read it a third time. Now you feel the moist earth, and the crumbling of human flesh back into earth, ashes to ashes, and a lost soul somewhere crumbling a little, too. Read it again.

Read it yet again.