Thursday, March 27, 2008

Elephants Never Forget—They Eat Brahmi

The word “Brahmi” means the creative energy or intelligence of the Universe. It is used to refer to plants that appear to personify this energy by revitalizing the sensory organs of the body, in particular the nerves and brain cells. Sounds pretty good, huh? Want to know how to get some of that? Let’s take a look at the two herbs most commonly given this designation that we can find in the United States today: bacopa monniera or bacopa herpestis (known as bacopa) and Centella asiatica or Hydrocotyle asiatica (known as gotu kola or pennywort). Gotu kola is supposed to be a favorite food of elephants in South India.


Bacopa is considered to be the most important Ayervedic herb for treating brain problems and age-related mental decline as well as for improving cognitive processes such as memory. It is prescribed for all body types in the Ayervedic tradition because of its balancing effects.

The Central Drug Institute of India, established in 1953 to create formal scientific studies to determine how Ayervedic herbal remedies work, has studied bacopa. They found that the herb contains chemicals that help repair damaged neurons by augmenting kinase, the protein involved in the synthesis of new neurons to replace old ones. It has a strong antioxidant effect (similar to Vitamin E) that helps the body clean up toxins that damage DNA and cell membranes. It also aids blood circulation throughout the body, a known factor in the development of dementia for some people. Studies with rats have conclusively shown that rats treated with bacopa learn new skills faster than control subjects and retain the information longer. Preliminary studies with humans indicate similar effects.

Bacopa is currently being used in India to treat ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), age-related mental deterioration, and concentration difficulties due to stress. It has a mild sedative or nerve-calming effect and has been used successfully by people with irritable bowel syndrome and by those recovering from nervous breakdown. Unlike other herbs with sedating properties, however, bacopa increases mental clarity while reducing nervous anxiety. Bacopa is commonly taken in tea with sweeteners added or in capsule form. It can be used as a salad vegetable or added to soup but by itself it is very bitter.

Side Effects and Precautions: Bacopa is a diuretic and should not be used with diuretics or anti-diabetic drugs without a doctor’s supervision. It should not be used with methotrimeprazine, a potent CNS depressant analgesic. Other central nervous system drugs have not been tested for possible interactions at this time. Use of aminoglycoside antibiotics such as clindamycin increases bacopa’s sedating effect By itself it has no known side effects or toxicity at normal dosages.

Gotu Kola

Gotu Kola is thought of as a spiritual herb in Ayurveda as well as having superior rejuvenating effects throughout the body. It is commonly used in India to improve meditation. It is said to develop the crown chakra, the energy center at the top of the head, and to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Traditionally, gotu kola is used to strengthen the immune system, the adrenals and the circulatory system, and to promote healthy skin.

Studies have found three main chemical constituents in gotu kola. One has an antibiotic effect. The second, similar to Bacopa, is diuretic and slightly sedating. The third is a strong anti-inflammatory agent. It is also high in Vitamin B and K, magnesium, and calcium. It has been found to be extremely effective for wound healing and tissue repair, even being used in India to treat second and third degree burns. Studies with rats show that rats fed gotu kola retained new information significantly longer than control subjects. Preliminary results in one clinical trial with mentally retarded children showed increased scores on intelligence tests. Gotu Kola can be found as a tea, capsules, and tincture.

Side Effects and Precautions: Although widely used for skin ailments, gotu kola has been known to be a skin irritant for some people. It can cause headaches or elevate blood pressure in high doses and might create narcotic stupor with extreme usage. Do not use during pregnancy or if you have an overactive thyroid. Avoid using it with sedative drugs as the effect may be cumulative. It should also not be used with antidiabetic or cholesterol-lowering medications without a doctor’s supervision. Older adults should start with a lower dose and increase it if necessary.

Gotu kola should not be confused with the kola nut which contains caffeine and has a stimulating effect. Gotu kola is not the same plant and contains no caffeine.

Should you use either of these herbs?

Well, it always pays to consult your doctor to make sure they won’t conflict with medications you’re already taking but after doing that why not consider it? To be perfectly honest, there is no dementia medication on the market today (2005) that offers more than temporary symptomatic relief while allowing the disease to proceed unchecked. These herbs, especially bacopa, appear to actually repair damage and improve brain function. Follow your instincts. If you try it let your doctor know and monitor how it works and how it makes you feel.

The previous article is an excerpt from The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving. Click here to buy it now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How a Neuroscientist Has a Stroke

"Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened -- as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding -- she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another."

Way interesting! Very unexpected and shockingly spiritual. The physiology of spirituality? Or what? Check it out!

Book of the Month!

The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving has been named "Book of the Month" by the Parkinson's Disease Association of San Diego.

And it's now available on, Barnes & Noble and Borders Books online . . . although I receive more of a royalty if you buy it from

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mama Love Perfume

In a previous article I mentioned that I started doing my current work as a Spiritual Counselor and Flower Essence/Aromatherapy perfume maker directly as a result of the work I did as a Family Consultant. All the perfumes I make were designed for healing benefits. Several of them are appropriate for family caregivers and their patients.

The first one, "Mama Love for Healthy Boundaries," was originally named "For Balanced Caregiving". I specifically designed it with family caregivers in mind. Anyone who spends a lot of time helping others through difficult experiences needs to know how to be loving and kind yet able to remain clear-headed, grounded and firm in their own boundaries. How else can you give to others without depletion? This formula uses two different kinds of Yarrow flower essence (described in the previous article) and Yarrow essential oil, with Sandalwood and Patchouli.

"Mama Love for Releasing Worry and Fear" has been one of my best-sellers. It's a good one for both caregivers and patients. (Be sure to try a small amount first to be sure.) Try rubbing some on bunched up shoulders or back muscles, pour a tiny amount into a bath, or add several drops to a spray bottle with water and mist yourself or your patient. By the way, I have no idea if using this perfume as a spray with an agitated patient would help calm them down. If you'd like to try it send me an email. If you have a patient who tends to have episodes of extreme anxiety and agitation I'll send you a bottle free of charge as long as you promise to let me know how it works for them.

"Releasing Worry and Fear" can be a great sleep formula if anxiety is at the root of your insomnia. Another great sleep formula is "Mama Love for Restful Sleep." It's not like a sleeping pill -- for most people it won't put them right down. And for chronic cases of insomnia it really makes a difference if you use it twice a day -- once in the afternoon and then again before bed. The effect accumulates with regular use but it is not recommend as a daily practice for more than three weeks at a time. (It's wise to take a break from ALL aromatherapy products for a little while from time to time to gauge how your body is handling it and whether you even need it anymore.) "Restful Sleep" contains Chamomile, Nicotiana and Spikenard for their powerful healing effects.

Flower Essences for Family Caregiving, Part 2

Photo by Richard Old,

Please be aware that the information contained in this article and throughout this site are meant to provide the reader with a wide array of choices. The information provided should NOT be construed as medical or psychiatric advice and should not be assumed to be an adequate substitute for conventional medical care.

An Excerpt from the Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving:

On my off hours I like to make all natural perfume for both sweet-smelling and healing effects by combining essential oils used in aromatherapy with flower essences. Flower essences are rarely used in perfume—they have no smell—but I have come to depend on them as one of my first lines of defense in working with otherwise intransigent emotional/spiritual issues in my own life.

How Do they Work?

Whenever a person has a thought, and particularly when it is an emotionally-laden thought, the body produces a vast array of neurochemicals that tell various body processes what to do next. In situations one perceives as dangerous, for example, adrenaline is produced to help us gear up to fight or run away. In other situations many other chemical compounds are produced and all these substances affect the physical functioning of our bodies in a great variety of ways. For example, studies have shown that the biochemicals we associate with depression have a great effect on the immune system. Test subjects who reported feeling depressed were much more likely to get sick when exposed to a cold virus than test subjects who were not. As you might imagine, when a depressed mental state lasts long enough the body is left vulnerable to attack by a wide variety of organisms.

Flower essences were developed over 60 years ago by the famous and well-respected immunologist and homeopathic English physician Edward Bach. Working with a wide variety of patients just after the first World War he came to the conclusion that a person’s emotional well-being and mental attitude had more to do with health and healing than any medicine he could offer.

Homeopathics work on both the physical body and the emotions. Nobody understands for sure what mechanism is involved but it appears that, like a vaccine, they actually inspire the body to produce whatever compounds it needs to counteract the illness it has contracted. Bach created both vaccines and homeopathic remedies. He was also somewhat familiar with herbal remedies and discovered through his research that flowers seem to have a specific affinity for emotional symptomology. Bach eventually left his thriving London practice to move to the country to develop safe flower-based homeopathics and the now world famous Bach Flower Remedies (or flower essences) were the result.

In my role as a Family Caregiving Consultant I am not allowed to use Flower Essences with my clients but there are many occasions in which I think they could be applicable. For those of you interested in exploring this modality here are just a few of the ones you might want to consider.

Centaury is the classic Bach flower essence for the “wounded healers” amongst us—those who derive their sense of self-worth by taking care of others’ needs while neglecting their own. Using the Martyr archetype as a role model seems noble and is a very common choice, but it can lead to dangerously codependent behavior in the long run. For example, caregivers in this state frequently attempt to avoid a demented relative’s anxiety about allowing paid help into the house by doing what has to be done themselves. Even when the patient’s needs steadily progress to the point of needing 24-hr care this kind of caregiver dutifully tries to keep the status quo intact, compromising their own well-being and, ultimately, the well-being of the one who now depends on them alone.

Centaury increases a person’s ability to balance other people’s needs with their own. And as one begins to develop the self-love and self-respect needed from the inside out, the compulsion to serve others through excessive servitude falls away and better approaches to family caregiving can then be carried out.

Caregivers in the Elm state of mind aren’t Martyrs—they’re trying to be Supermen! They overestimate what is realistically possible, swoop in to save the day, and become overwhelmed with despair and self-doubt when it doesn’t work out. Caregivers in this condition need support to get help, using their innate leadership abilities to organize a care team that can manage the care receiver’s needs over the long haul. Elm helps them develop a more realistic point of view so they can tackle the job, feeling more rested and relaxed, and confident that what needs to be done is, with help, within their power to achieve after all.

When a person is constantly giving their full attention to other people, and worrying about them when they’re not actually in their sight, they never quite relax and often lose sight of their own needs. It’s normal to want to work hard to protect those we love—just think of how a mama bear fights to protect her cubs. Interestingly enough, ancient Roman soldiers often brought Yarrow with them when they went off to fight. Yarrow acts like a protective shield, helping a person bring their attention back to themselves as needed throughout the day. White Yarrow strengthens the integrity of a person as a whole, Golden Yarrow works specifically with vulnerability caused by low self-esteem, and Pink Yarrow helps people who are overly affected by other people’s emotions.

Olive and Garlic
Working with stress effectively is one thing, but what if the caregiver has already slipped into a state of exhaustion and near collapse? I had a friend come to me in this state. She worked full-time, had a father who needed caregiving help, she was still breast-feeding her young child, and had a husband who was feeling needy because of a crisis at his job. She wailed “I’m SO tired! I feel like everyone in my life is sucking me dry!” I gave her Olive and Garlic flower essences and a week later she came back, happy and full of energy. “You’re making magic potions!” she said. Within a week she had laid down some ground rules at home, decided to shut off her cell phone and let voicemail pick up after a certain time every day, she talked to her husband about how she felt and, with his increased support and understanding, was finally starting to make inroads to getting her own needs met.

Olive flower essence is specific for exhaustion and soul-weariness. It helps a person draw on inner resources for support when physical support has been lacking. Garlic gives added strength and the ability to actively resist intrusions that would otherwise do harm.

Flower Essences for Family Caregiving, Part 1

I currently make my living as a spiritual counselor and healer. I also have a small flower essence & aromatherapy organic, all-natural perfume company. This might seem like a far cry from my work as a Family Caregiving Consultant but in reality it was my work at the Alzheimer's Association and Del Mar Caregiver Resource Center that directly led to the work I do today.

Most of the families I worked with were hungry for alternative resources for helping themselves and their patients. $100/month Aricept prescriptions that didn't seem to do a lot of good after the initial few weeks and months take quite a bite out of the family budget. Plus people really want to know what's best for themselves and their loved ones. What diet seems to help best? Exercise? Herbs? Vitamins? What about healing therapies? I researched many of these topics over the years and wrote about them as best as I could. I'll be sharing excerpts from The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving about these things over the next several weeks.

The healing modality nearest and dearest to my heart today is one of the least well-known -- in this country at least -- Flower Essence Therapy, the work of Dr. Edward Bach. Here's an excerpt from The Power to Flower, the book I'm writing today:

In 1996 I had a spiritual crisis that led to an uncontrolled psychic opening that terrified me at first and permanently changed my worldview. Intuitive capacities I used to think were the realm of psychics and mystics became my everyday experience and I had to learn a new way of dealing with life and the part I wanted to play in it. I studied medical intuition and various forms of energy healing and practiced using those skills with clients on my evenings and weekends. During the day I worked in the healthcare system as a family consultant for people taking care of family members with Alzheimer’s Disease or other incurable brain-impairing illnesses.

Many people fearfully talk about an impending healthcare crisis tied to the aging baby boom population but anyone who works with eldercare issues today can tell you that the crisis is already here. Healthcare costs are astronomical yet the amount of time a doctor typically spends with a patient has decreased while the number of pharmaceutical drug-related illnesses has gone up dramatically. According to the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association the cost of possibly preventable drug related illness and death in the United States more than doubled in just the five years between the initial study done in 1995 and a follow-up in 2000.

All day long for six years I heard stories about how people’s lives were being devastated by the financial and emotional burdens of 24 hour caregiving and time and again I heard the same stories of how these illnesses appeared to take hold. “Grandma was ok until Grandpa died.” “Auntie has lived alone for years and she has always been anxious. We didn’t even know she had dementia because she’s always acted this way. It’s just worse now.” “Dad was just fine until he was forced into retirement. He didn’t know what to do with his life after that and then everything started to fall apart.” I heard these stories so often that after awhile I deemed it a miracle when I came across a patient whose symptoms did not appear to result from an emotional trauma or a history of isolation, anxiety or depression.

Most of these people were so far into their illnesses that neither conventional nor alternative medicine had much to offer them. Yet doctors would prescribe medications at $100 and up per month that sometimes had serious side effects for many years at a time even though widely available drug trials had shown that, statistically, these drugs were only effective on the average of 6 months to a year. Many of the patients I met were taking 5-6 equally expensive medications at the same time for symptomatic relief of a wide variety of other health concerns.

Meanwhile at home I was experimenting with using flower essences to reverse long-standing emotional problems that I believed could lead to disease and was having interesting results. My remedy combinations never cost more than $10-20, I rarely had to take them for long, and except for the occasional short-lived intensification of symptoms just before healing (which can usually be avoided—I’ll show you how) they had no side effects whatsoever. Yet I couldn’t get people to try them. I wasn’t allowed to recommend flower essences within the confines of my day job, and even though my evening clients appeared to trust me they were too frightened to try a formula their doctor had not prescribed. Besides, who ever heard of using flowers in brandy and water for emotional relief? They didn’t understand it and from my own life experience I understood why and I knew I wanted to do something to change that.

The things that make herbal remedies a solid choice for people dealing with physical complaints could make them an equally appealing choice for people seeking help with emotional problems. However, the vast majority of Americans have little or no idea of how a physical plant substance could possibly be used to help in this way. My book will address these issues and take it further by delving into the world of psychoneuroimmunology to explain from a physiological point of view how health can be affected by emotion through its connection to immune response.

There are times when accidents or exposure to toxic chemicals or air- or insect-borne illnesses make us sick. But it has been shown repeatedly that our susceptibility to illness and our ability to recover has more to do with mental attitude and emotional well-being than any other factor. I believe that if we not only acknowledged the intimate connection between our emotional and physical well-being but gave people tools to work with their emotional distress we wouldn’t have as big a medical crisis today and most people’s medical bills wouldn’t be nearly as high. Dr. Edward Bach, the immunologist and medical doctor credited with originating Flower Essence Therapy, I’m sure would agree. He developed his flower remedies for that very purpose and intended that they be used as a system of self-care accessible to anyone without the need for extensive medical training.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Value of Respite

"To do great work a man must be very idle as well as very industrious."
-- Samuel Butler

"Sometimes, on a summer morning, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumacs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller's wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.

"I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been."
--Henry David Thoreau

For me a respite from daily work gives me a chance to remember the beauty of the world around me, to rest, fill up and get an indication of what my heart and spirit need for me to receive.

I used to make patchwork quilts. There's an old early American tradition to always put one square in upside down, sideways, or in some other way not quite right. The idea being that striving for perfection leaves no room for the unexpected to come in. God comes in through the cracks, so to speak, when we let go of doing it "right." When we let go, relax, and just let things be, an opportunity arises for God to come in.

Our way of doing things came be so harsh, damaging, short-sighted, even completely wrong. And filling up every minute with those things we harshly think we absolutely MUST do seems so virtuous, so necessary, so right, we get can get stuck in situations our Highest Guidance would never allow.

But there needs to be room for the Spirit to speak. That's why the Sabbath was created. A time to meditate, pray, check in.

Time off. . . a day of rest. . . sabbath. When was the last time you said "yes" to it?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Brief Respite

Another excerpt from The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving. Click here to buy it now.

The word “respite” means relief, time out, rest. I spend a lot of my day helping caregivers figure out how to have time for themselves, free of caregiving duties, so they can relax, rest, and renew themselves. Sometimes the people I help have been so tied up with caregiving that the afternoon off I arrange for them is overwhelming at first. They can’t believe their good fortune... and then they don’t know what to do with it.

Caregivers report apologetically that they couldn’t think of anything to do so they took a nap or watched television or just sat and stared at the wall. I always say “Congratulations! People spend millions of dollars on psychotherapy trying to learn to stop working so hard and you did it on the first try!”

We always think that we have to be productive to be good, to be worthwhile, to earn the attention and affection of others. I had a surprising awakening on this subject myself when I made the acquaintance of a counselor visiting the United States from India. She always commented on how busy Americans seemed to be and how their busyness was tied to their feelings of self-esteem. She had taken to asking her American clients to lie down on her couch and do nothing while she stroked their foreheads and told them how valuable to the world they were, how precious they were, just lying there breathing. She would remind them of how deeply lovable they were as infants when they couldn’t do much more than that and how they were still the same precious beings they were when they were born. Her clients would just break down and cry. The concept of being OK just lying still was just so foreign.

Try turning the conditioning around: tell yourself that you are already OK and, like all other human beings, you deserve a day of rest. This used to be a normal concept—a day of rest, Sabbath, Shabbat—and you get to have this even if it’s not Saturday or Sunday.

Still need help? Try these relaxing suggestions:

  • Take a walk
  • Watch a sunset
  • Read a book uninterrupted
  • Rent a video
  • Write a letter
  • Have lunch with a friend
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Sing or dance to your favorite record
  • Take up bird watching
  • Take a class
  • Visit a museum
  • Buy some ice cream
  • Play with your grandkids
  • Play a musical instrument, draw or paint
  • Call a friend
  • Meditate or pray

Monday, March 10, 2008

And On the Seventh Day God Rested

When I was a Family Caregiving Consultant it sometimes seemed like the bulk of my job was about helping people figure out how to get a break. Forget 9 to 5 living, most of my caregivers worked at least a half-time job, took care of their kids, then went over to grandpa's place to clean his house, give him his meds, make him dinner, make sure he was safe. Every day without a break. And that was just in the early stage of Alzheimer's Disease or some other progressive dementia.

Little bit by little bit the diseases progressed. At first it would all seem manageable. "I can handle this. No big deal." Then grandpa would need a little bit more. "No problem, I can adjust." Then it would progress again. And again. And again. And again without end.

One day the caregiver hears the alarm clock ring and can't make herself adjust anymore. She's sick, burnt out, unable to face the day ahead. And the caregiver thinks something must be wrong with them because what they thought was a manageable situation is now the source of complete overwhelm. What they don’t realize is that, over time, their situations have dramatically changed... but it happened so gradually it was hard to justify making a change in how things got done.

This is understandable. Supposedly, if you put a frog in boiling water it will hop out to save its life as fast as it can but if you put one in cold water and slowly turn up the heat the frog doesn’t recognize the incremental changes until it’s too late and dies.

I recently went through a period of enforced respite, not from caregiving, but from my job. I was sick with the flu. You know the kind that lays you out flat on your back and keeps you that way long past the point when you think you should have recovered? I'd feel better, try to go back to life as usual and in less than 1/2 a day be back on my back again. And I'm still not 100%.

But luckily I remembered something. Sometimes when God, the Universe, your Higher Self, or your inner being needs you to pay attention to something you refuse to look at, something outside of yourself will happen to make sure you address what you need. Before I got sick I went through a period of workaholism. Look at how many entries this blog had in January to see what I mean. And this isn't the only blog or website I take care of. I have several. It didn't seem like too much to think I could write almost every day in every single one of them. Especially this one. After all, half or more of the entries have been excerpted from a book that's already written.

But that's what it's like with creeping workaholism. Each individual thing that gets taken on really IS no big deal. But add them all together. . .

Even professionals in the field can lose perspective. Turns out I had to be put down so I could take the time to look at my life objectively. To think, to dream, to notice what hasn't been working -- time to take those things off my plate! -- to notice where I take on too much because I've come to think no one else will. I even found out that if I let go of the reins my partner will do a better job than I do! He does it a different way, but so what? It turns out I deserved to let go a bit and be shown a better possibility for getting things done. Work less, accomplish more! That's his way. No harm in that.

Burn-out comes from doing way more than the average person would ever do if they were to come at the job fresh. The responsibilities keep getting piled on the plate, you don't notice, you just keep taking on more. And then you wake up and you're in over your head in boiling water wondering how you got there and how on earth you're going to get out.

Take a break. Please. On the seventh day even God rested.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hello Again

No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth. My whole household has had the flu -- for more than a month now! We'd get better and then get sick again. I'll tell you, it's been frustrating. I still have very little I want to say but new blogs will be coming soon.