Estia is a haven in the busy streets of Jericho. Tucked away behind Walton Street, it has a calm and thankfully a clean air environment. When the windows are opened in summer there is not a slew of traffic passing by, instead you can hear the birds sing.
When I first explored the space I admired the cork floors and peaceful atmosphere, the companionable plants, the interesting products for sale, and the experience of the teachers. It is a studio for people who are working to improve every aspect of their health, body, mind, and heart. It embraces you, enfolds you into it’s safe subtle space and nurtures.
Estia has an intelligent approach to wellbeing. The ethos is holistic, which is why Kundalini Yoga fits in well. Kundalini Yoga is a technology that works on many levels to balance the psyche, the hormones in the body, the spiritual needs of the soul (without being religious), and the function of the brain.
If you live in or near Jericho and winter strikes cold, get yourself to Estia on 6 King Street and feel better as soon as you walk through the door. I hold Kundalini Yoga classes at Estia on Fridays 5:15 – 6:15pm and at my studio in Summertown 52 Lonsdale Road on Saturdays 10:30am. You are most welcome to both.
The transitions between seasons offer a wonderful chance to re-align with the flow of nature and can help with difficult emotional hurdles such as acceptance, and letting go.
As the number of autumns in my life stack up I recognise the season as a way to frame loss and death. Things become less painful, or at least I am more able to accept the pain and be content with it. The dogs at that timeless structure Stonehenge yesterday reminded me of the paradox: seasons pass, but all is now.
In the Prelude Wordsworth said ‘nature never did betray the heart that loved her’ It is true. Not that pain and illness, loss and confusion won’t assail us all, but that you will have the resources to accept and merge with what does happen in the end. If you can flow with nature, so can your difficult times. Everything passes.
Even the uncomfortable awareness of ageing is ameliorated by witnessing the rhythms of flora and fauna around us. WB Yeats, an Irish poet deeply immersed in Celtic and Classical mythology, meditated on the passage of time in The Wild Swans at Coole:
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, The first time on this shore, The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Yeats allows himself the melancholy that meditation on death might bring, while simultaneously acknowledging the anchoring effects of nature:
Their hearts have not grown old; Passion or conquest, wander where they will, Attend upon them still.
Swans represent beauty because of their grace. They stand for power with their incredible wings. Living on the water they are connected to intuition, awareness, and creativity. Their ease and calm on the water show unity of body and mind, and their silence represents the grace of the soul. In many cultures they symbolise harmony, and healing. In Celtic mythology they are a symbol for transience and all things concerning change.
In the end Yeats is poised, like the wing-beat of the swans, his resistance to change and growing older suspended.
Among what rushes will they build, By what lake’s edge or pool Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day To find they have flown away?
He accepts the mystery. It’s a fine line though, between surrender and asserting the will. In kundalini the practical approach is that you create your own destiny, for example with postures such as archer pose you strengthen your focus to aim true. All of the kriyas have an underlying structure to develop your grit and determination, so that you have the will power to manifest things in the world.
Yet in the practice you are also encouraged to deal with whatever comes up with grace. There is a certain joy to be felt from spontaneity and the freedom that not being set on a specific outcome can bring. That is why often kriyas contain moments of improvised dance or random movements. It is not just about will-power. It is about making your nervous system strong so that whatever occurs in life can be assimilated without knocking you to pieces. It is about seeing beyond apparent polarities to being able to work with all the paradoxes of life. Postures that emphasise Manipura (3rd chakra) strengthen will power, but there are seven other major chakras that given the chance to shine, will bring you all you need to live a joyful life.
‘Healthy, happy and holy’ was Yogi Bhajan’s motto for the organisation he started in order to lift up humanity 50 years ago in 1969. That is why it is called 3HO. He established drugless drug rehabilitation centres, and was a tireless advocate for world peace. In 1994 3HO became a member of the United Nations, and Yogi Bhajan started several businesses (Yogi Tea was one of them) to generate income for charity. On the 3HO website you can find accurate information about all aspects of Kundalini Yoga, Yogic philosophy and psychology.
That is where I go for some ideas. But in the first instance I always go to nature.
If the only thing that truly exists is now, the space around us and our connection to Source, then most other things must be distractions.
You are probably familiar with the idea that most people are ruled more strongly by their negative minds – the mind that wants to keep us safe, warns us of imminent danger, and ensures we don’t repeat things that hurt us in the past. That’s why stories we make up about ourselves and our history can get in the way of us reaching for our infinite potential in the present, sabotaging ourselves before we even look into trying.
There are some people who have wonderfully open positive minds, who will see opportunity, be energetic about exploring new things, and ignore the long list of “but what if “ calamity scenarios that tend to arise.
Then there is the neutral mind, which is what yoga helps to bring. Meditation in particular gives clarity of insight and dissolves imaginary blocks. The Yoga Beat has an Instagram page, but posts are infrequent, as most often when there is free time this yogi is meditating! It is why Facebook and Twitter do not feature in the diurnal round of The Yoga Beat, and I am pretty sure it is why life generally feels good. The only way to some amount of serenity is from the inside. No amount of external reward, trophy, or stimulation can achieve the peace of being well attuned to your Source. So why not do less of the internet and more of the innernet?
Yogi Bhajan wisely said “vibrate the cosmos, the cosmos shall clear the path” A yogi recently asked me how do you vibrate the cosmos?
Through mantra, meditation, celestial communication, and looking at the stars. All of these put you in alignment with the vibrations of the cosmos. There are other things too, certain acts of love. You recognise them. You access the innernet.
He didn’t say the cosmos will clear your path. He said the path. A nice distinction which goes well with the shift from me to we that the Aquarian age is said to bring.
Yogi Bhajan also said “there is a way through every block.” It is a shrewd insight. A PhD in psychology as well as a kundalini master, he saw how we place limitations on our abilities by closing down our vision with stories that do not serve us. Our perceived handicaps slow us down. Distractions take us away from the intuitive clarity that meditation brings – or any activity that helps us vibrate the cosmos. Usually practicing silence, or pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, and dharana single pointed focus.
Social media dulls the senses. Pictures are often edited to make colours more intense, light more brilliant, experiences are curated to show only the best bits. It induces stress: there is always more to look at, and someone is always having a more fantastic life than we are. You will always need a brighter photo to follow the last one.
With yoga you know that everyone is having the same life, you know that there is nothing to keep up with except cosmic consciousness, and everything really does look more brilliant and intense because your eyes are healthy and your inner eye is perspicacious.
Just as your mind should serve you, so should your social media. If you choose, you can let the internet be the slave, and let the innernet be the master that leads you to freedom.
When we practice our yoga at the Oxford studio the feel is relaxed and friendly. Being just round the corner from the shops is pretty convenient, and the busy Summertown environment makes it easy to run errands or visit a favourite coffee shop after class.
Right now the studio is being expanded and underfloor heating installed, ready for cosy autumn yoga sessions. By September we will be in the swing of classes again.
At the same time work has been going on apace at the barns in Wareham. Fourfields Barn is ancient, the farm goes back to the Domesday Book and is listed as Beastewell. This is a name I am particularly fond of, because it conjures up an image of healthy animals drinking from the rivers nearby. Work has been continuous since last autumn: planting and harvesting vegetables, expanding the flower garden, cleaning and restoring furniture, fixing up the barns, planning retreats and hosting friends, writers, and yogis for relaxing visits.
The barns have lovely large oak beams and brick walls with lime mortar, they are a perfect size for yoga classes and recreation. It has been a labour of love bringing the barns back to their original beauty during the summer break from teaching.
The angle is often held in kriyas and meditations. It is the angle of the sun to the earth in the two hours before dawn when many kundalini yogis like to practice their sadhana.
Sadhana is any daily activity that puts you in touch with your higher self. It usually involves some exercise, some meditation, some creative activity or form of gratitude. It means you decide your day, it gives you mental stamina. As a result your day is more original and meaningful. Mindfulness is a huge result of a daily sadhana, and if you try it you will see results immediately.
Don’t feel pressured to be doing a huge fancy practice each morning at dawn though. It is your thing entirely. For some it is a walk in nature. For others a swim in the sea or a river. Others may want to be silent and meditate. Others create music or art, surf or ski, skate or run. There are yogis who love to chant and that is how they reach their inner guru. It changes too, so what works for you for a few weeks/ months/ years might morph into a different activity as time goes on.
You probably do a sadhana of your own without even realising it. Those times when you have felt most together and in control of your destiny, it is likely that you spent some moments each day sustaining and enriching your Self.
Back to sixty degrees. When sun’s rays hit the planet before dawn at a longitude and latitude of sixty degrees, the power available for you is huge and it is when you will get the most return out of your sadhana. For maximum results use these ambrosial hours to your advantage, and find it so much easier to be in your Truth all day long!
Kundalini Yoga uses a lot of angles and straight lines for the most efficient energy flow, so sixty degrees is part of that. There are also meridians in the body that are stimulated when you hold your limbs at different angles.
So for ego-eradicator, you hold your arms out at sixty degrees and breathe kapalabhati. This strengthens the heart and lungs. It also strengthens the nervous system. Not only that; it is called ego eradicator because it opens the heart centre and brings balance.
When you lift your legs up by ninety degrees the higher glands – pineal, and pituitary – are stimulated. It is also good for your memory.
A bit less than a ninety degree lift and you stimulate the thyroid and parathyroid. Above two feet you affect the lungs, heart, and stomach. Under two feet you stimulate the gall bladder, spleen, liver, and pancreas.
You get the picture. Meridians and the finer energy centres, or chakras are a big part of the reason for the shapes in Kundalini Yoga. It is a science of angles, and the subtle body is strengthened as well as the physical.
When you walk in the moonlight the feeling is so different from a walk at dawn. Even when the light is cool and water shimmers from a low winter sun, the quality of light from the moon evokes more reluctant blue thoughts, blue, and subconscious.
The full moon coming up on Tuesday is often called a snow moon as it tends to be the coldest part of the year. February moons really are distinctly strange and strong. This super moon is closest to the earth and appears large in the sky. It is obdurate and solicits you to enquire within.
I walk with my dogs, their white markings glow like beacons. The moon could have me howling; it’s been a tough couple of years. Geese fly over our heads and I remember how my mother used to love seeing them too. I think of matriarchal winter, the triple goddess in the moon. Maid, mother, and crone: my grandmother, my mother and me huddled in coffee shops together, sharing moments. Letting the moons pass by in each other’s company, our lives intertwining and finally unraveling.
Walking under this moon I recall how strong my grandmother had been in the face of all that she dealt with in life – and it was a lot. Even when she lost her only child my mother, she kept herself going day after day. It was because I saw her so selfless as she accepted the finality of my mother’s death with such fortitude, that I was able to hold myself together when inevitably I lost her too, almost a year later.
No, however inevitable something might be, we still struggle against it. I felt like an orphan of course, still do, but compared to what my grandmother dealt with, I’ve had it pretty easy. What’s easy about death? The moon makes us face it. The moon month after month tells us make the most of now because there are only so many more moons in your lifetime. It’s why I will always walk in moonlight. I was so abject after last year that I allowed myself some new companions: the sort of dogs that I grew up with, dogs that I have been promising myself ever since I left the family home thirty years ago. Thirty years of promising. That’s about 365 full moons.
On full moons now some yogis and friends gather, we build a fire on the meadow, the moon shining up at us from the river. Sometimes we dance, sometimes we write. Sometimes we just sit and chat and drink mulled wine. It has happened a few times that the full moon coincides with one of our yoga retreats, and then it is a magical combination;of mantras and dance and feeling fit. It’s a good feeling to know that every full moon is spent with people I care about and admire, because pretty soon my life will be spent too, and I wouldn’t be able to hide any regrets from the stark blue light of the moon.
The only thing that’s real is what is present in deep dreamless sleep.
Do you find you sleep better after a bracing walk; a swim in a cold river or the sea; a day of fresh air, tree-climbing, and open sky?
Do you notice that if you brave the cold, literally and metaphorically, you come out feeling better for it, more relaxed?
Those moments in my life when I have felt complete repose have been after such times. Which is why I like Wim Hof for the authentic inspiration that he is.
He braves the cold. They call him The Ice Man. He’s admired by the intellectual dark web. He’s not distracted by the swamp of post modernism and culture wars or a misunderstanding of the paradox of polarities. He just gets on with uniting himself with something greater than himself, something vast, awe-inspiring.
He swims in freezing cold oceans. He climbs Everest in shorts. Now even death holds no fear for him.
If you’re beginning to sense Jung in the background, yes of course you’re right. It’s not just your organs you flush out when you immerse in cold water. It’s your subconscious too. You are doing shadow work.
Wim Hof has shown in laboratory conditions that he and a group of people he trained with his cold water swimming techniques, combined with meditation, that they could trigger the vagus nerve at will. This enabled them to immunise themselves from a virus that was injected into them. It took only 15 minutes for results to show.
What happens on a cellular level happens on a psychic and a spiritual level too. That’s why shadow work is so important. In Kundalini Yoga, a large part of our Level 2 training is shadow work. We address it throughout our teaching lives in White Tantra. It is also integrated into the kriyas (sets of physical exercises, mantras, and breathing techniques) This is reaching in to the most abhorrent disgusting self loathing awful monstrous parts of the sub- and unconscious to face what we absolutely do not want to face at all costs.
These are the things that some of us would spend our whole lives avoiding. These are also things that some of us would rather die than acknowledge. It is deeply uncomfortable work. It is work that has to get done on a cultural level too. Carl Jung talked of collective shadows.
Some socio-cultural analysts say we are stuck on the road to nowhere in the current post modern relativist egalitarian atmosphere. They say that it is preventing us from moving forward to our collective higher consciousness. Some would say it is a necessary step towards higher consciousness.
Relativism can take us only so far. Humans cannot function without absolutes, whether we like it or not. Doctors decided that alcoholics were doomed to their fate, that the struggle would be pointless, until Alcoholics Anonymous took on the Jungian recommendation to acknowledge a power greater than themselves. It helped recovering drinkers exercise mastery over their shadow monsters instead of being at their mercy.
It’s not just a cold swim, or an icy walk. It’s being in awe of the sea and the mountain and at the same time wanting to be subsumed. It is getting out of your own way, leaving ego aside to reach a truer Self. Yes, it is getting in touch with the absolute.
Stella Shakerchi and Chris Leuenberger invite you to join them in their yoga & creativity retreat held at Casina Settarte, a permaculture paradise and retreat center for somatic dance and performing arts in the beautiful nature of Puglia, Southern Italy.
Enjoy relaxing yet focused daily yoga sessions that will fit your yoga needs. Surrender to the flow of your innate creative potential and try somatic dance and/or creative writing.
While on your leisure time you can go for extensive strolls in the surrounding pine woods and olive groves, swim and play at the nearby beach and maybe after dinner join mantra chanting to calm your mind.
You will go home inspired and recharged!
Stella Shakerchi teaches creative writing and yoga in Oxford.
Chris Leuenberger is a Swiss dancer / choreographer working internationally. Both are 500hr RYT yoga teachers.
Casina Settarte is a place where the sun is reflected on the white roofs of the Trulli sprouting here and there amongst the green of olive groves. Here daily life is marked by the principles of love for the land, mindfulness and care for every living being.
Founded in 1993 in Puglia, Italy, Casina Settarte is a centre for creative development and education alongside the practice of sustainability, a place of creative research and experimentation surrounded by nature.
Comprising two dance studios and multi-use outdoor spaces, the centre focuses on movement, arts & crafts and permaculture with a particular focus on dance and contact improvisation.
Casina Settarte runs projects, courses and workshops throughout the year, lead by the Casina staff and visiting teachers.
– One large dance studio / yoga shala of 200 square meters with wooden floor. The space is protected from sun and rain and has open sides with blinds that can be pulled down for further protection from wind, rain or sun.
– One small studio 7x5m with wooden floor, central heating and a wonderful view.
Casina Settarte is surrounded by 2 hectares of land with Olive groves, fig trees, wild herbs (thyme, capers, oregano), almond trees and an organic garden which you can use for relaxation, research and creation.
The Geodesic Dome
The Casina Settarte community recently built a Geodesic dome 7 meters in diameter for open air activities. The wooden structure is comprised of a complex network of triangles, hexagons and pentagons and is particularly suitable for energy work and meditations.
During this retreat you will have two daily yoga classes with Chris and Stella. Experience extensive sessions of Vinyasa yoga, kundalini, restorative yoga, and celestial communication (mantras with extended mudras) in the evening.
To make full use of the life-affirming benefits of a regular yoga practice and to help unleash your creativity, we offer a choice of workshops in creative writing or somatic dance on three afternoons.
Typical Day Schedule
You will start your day with a 90 minutes Vinyasa class in the morning sun. After your class and relaxation session you will have your breakfast. There is sufficient time to rest, go for a walk in the surrounding nature or treat yourself to a massage until lunch. If you can’t get enough of the yoga, we will give the option of taking a shorter Kundalini yoga class right before lunch.
Should you wish to spend a larger portion of the day swimming and relaxing at the nearby beach or going on an excursion for trekking or sightseeing, we can arrange a picnic lunch.
In the late afternoon you will have a choice of creative writing or somatic dance workshops (Monday, Wednesday, Friday).
On Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday we will offer a 90 minutes restorative evening yoga class with meditation or yoga nidra.
After dinner you’re invited to join us for 20 minutes of mantras with music and mudras.
In this retreat healthy vegetarian yogic food will be served. The cuisine is
typical of Puglia, based on genuine daily products – lots of fresh vegetables and fruit naturally grown on the Casina Settarte permaculture farm.
The following meals are included in the price: breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks Should you have special dietary requirements, kindly send an inquiry to Chris: firstname.lastname@example.org
Casina Settarte has various accommodation options available:
The Trullo: a beautiful traditional southern Italian home. 3-4 beds, 1 doubleon the ground floor and 1 double/ 2 singles on the mezzanine, a bathroomand kitchenette; for close friends or couples
The Craniosacral Studio: double bed with ensuite bathroom next to thestudio, recommended for couples
The Lamia: quaint stone dormitory. 4 single beds with a kitchen andbathroom
Il Grottino / Cave: 3 – 4 single beds in a room carved into the rock
The Fish House: a rustic wooden bungalow with 3 single beds and seaviews on clear days
The Pine Forest: a perfect camping ground with shaded areas and flatsurfaces that can accommodate up to 10 tents
Accommodation Options and Cost:
Camping (up to 10 tents) EURO 499
Fish House (3 single beds) EURO 559
Il Grottino / Cave (3 – 4 single beds) EORO 559
Lamia (4 single beds) EURO 595
Trullo (2 double beds or 1 double/2 single) EURO 635
Craniosacral Studio (1 double bed) EURO 635
2 daily yoga classes Vinyasa, Restorative (and kundalini for those who want)
7 nights accommodation
daily yogic breakfast, lunch, and dinner
choice of creative writing or somatic dance workshop on 3 afternoons
mantra singing and celestial communication sessions after dinner
teas, coffees, and water
use of all facilities
free pickup from Ostuni train station
Wi-FiWhat’s not included:
airfares / train journeys to Ostuni
massagesThings to doThere are many options for you to spend your free time on your retreat:
You can use the large Casina Settarte permaculture estate with its pine forests and olive groves for leisurely walks / hikes and to explore your personal meditation, mindfulness or movement practice.
We can arrange trips to the beach, to the famous whitewashed town of Ostuni or to the …. Valley for more extensive trekking and sightseeing.
Maybe you feel like treating yourself to a massage. Massages are offered at favorable retreat prices.
Arrival & Departure
Arrival is on Saturday afternoon, September 22nd. Departure is on Saturday, September 29th by noon-time.
As we are in a remote place we can help you arrange your travel plans so that we can all save time, money and the environment.
We provide a free shuttle service from the train station of Ostuni (15 minutes from Casina Settarte).
The nearest airports are Bari and Brindisi. From Bari and Brindisi it is easy to reach Ostuni by train (half an hour from Brindisi, 1 hour from Bari).
Renting a car:
Car sharing makes the cheap rental cars even cheaper. At Brindisi or and Bari airport you can rent a car starting from 80 € per week. We will send an email before the trip and put all interested participants in contact.
Payment by bank transfer or Paypal
To confirm your space please text Stella 0740 212 6826
Can I extol the virtues and delights of a summer in Britain anywhere nearly enough? When the sun comes out here life is a holiday. I have never seen a smile quite like the look of wonder as an English gent takes his pint outside to sit on the pub wall in the sun; as a child trundles up to the rock pools and realises the sand is warm; as the surfer takes her dog to the beach and they spend the day together playing in the waves; as the old couple sit and enjoy the fragrances and colours of the garden they have spent years creating together. Paradise. The word comes form an old Persian word ‘Pardeiza’ meaning ‘Garden’.
Summer lets your bones relax. Your body opens up, time opens up, space expands. It all seems a lot better than it was and life is good. In Oxford today we chanted the Antaar Naad Mantra. ‘Antaar’ is the essence of and ‘Naad’ is the sacred sound. It is a full moon meditation which names the infinite origin, and the creativity on earth, woven together and projected through sound. This mantra gives mastery of the spoken word, protection, and wisdom of past present and future.
We practiced a kundalini kriya called Moon Kriya, where we chant “Har!” (creation) while moving our hands to stimulate one of our moon meridians. We also practiced Kriya to Make You Enchantingly Beautiful. Yes there is such a kriya. This ends with the mantra “Hum” which means We, uniting us because as Russell Brand will tell you: we are all One!
We also chanted the first lines of Guru Gobind Singh’s powerful prayer, Jaap Sahib: the wonderful Mul Mantra, considered the highest mantra. It talks of Primal Truth, of Creator and creation being one. Truth within and in the universes beyond time, beyond birth and death. It contains the root of sound that is the basis of all mantras. It orients like a compass to keep consciousness of our soul.
Then we chanted Chattr Chakkr Varti, which brings you back to your power, aligning it to the power of nature pervading in all the four directions, self – illumined and united with all. These are the last four lines of Jap Ji. Chattr Chakkr Varti removes fear and anxiety. It instills courage, fearlessness and brings victory. It gives self-command and self-grace.
And to seal in all that mastery, power, truth and grace, we chanted “Ad guray nameh, jugad guray nameh, sat guray nameh, siri guru deve nameh” which means ‘I call on the primal wisdom, the wisdom true through the ages, the true wisdom, the great unseen wisdom.’ You are guided from the primal core through every moment of experience, in your heart’s deepest truth by the infinity of your highest self. This mantra clears clouds of doubt and surrounds the magnetic field with protective light.
Tomorrow on 28th I will celebrate the June full moon – called Strawberry Moon by native Americans, also Rose Moon, Mead Moon, and Hot Moon – by swimming in the river at Portmeadow. The water is warm and the moon is tantalising as it promises secrets to be found in the depths. Swans pass silently by with signets and geese fly over. The ducks are outrageous as usual and sometimes the horses stop to take a drink at the opposite bank. This is when it feels so good to be on the planet – and it doesn’t cost a thing. Wahe Guru!
Giulia Enders won the 2012 science slam in Berlin for her presentation of some of the material in Gut. It is a revealing read and the drawings by her sister Jill make the science more palatable. (pun intended) The great thing about this book is that it is comprehensive without being overwhelming. It gives a good overview of gut activity and its importance as a system that interacts deeply with our other systems, but also invites further study on some of the chapter content which moves systematically from the oesophagus and digestive organs to allergies and intolerances, the role of gut flora, and how to keep gut flora balanced. A particularly interesting chapter is ‘The Bad Guys” followed by a chapter on the good gut flora we want to encourage. Another chapter that fascinates is “the Brain and the Gut”
Our gut talks to our brain. Probably in many ways, one way Enders mentions is by sending impulses via nerve fibres. When your gut is struggling, your brain does not function as well as it should. Depression and memory loss have been measured in controlled experiments to be affected by gut health. A healthy microbiome – a diverse happy mix of gut bacteria – is essential for good physiological health. It’s not just mood and memory that are affected by insufficient gut bacteria. As with the FODMAP reactions, severe arthritis, psoriasis eye problems, eczema, problems arising from an aggravated immune system, as well as clinical depression can occur. When gut bacteria from people with depression was administered to rats they all developed depressive behaviours that they had not displayed before. We don’t need to harm rats to know this, everyone instinctively knows there is a huge link between gut and brain function. It is just that decades of doctors insisting that food has nothing to do with your health has thrown people off the path.
Enders points to a hopeless situation where a woman was at death’s door with digestive problems, so as a final last ditch attempt they used some of her husband’s gut microbes essentially as a suppository and she was completely healed within weeks. It was because he had healthy gut microbiome and it worked to stabilise hers. If you are a vet or work with animals, you will know that this has been in use for decades. The sterile requirements for human medicine make research slow. It’s great to be clean, but as with the FDA when they told Nun and cheese maker Noella Marcellino (more on her next week) to stop using a wooden bucket and use a stainless steel one instead. They thought they were doing the right thing keeping everything sterile, but of course there needs to be a certain amount of good bacteria around to deal with the undesirable bacteria. Using a stainless steel bucket resulted in e-coli, eventually arguing her case, in 2014 Marcellino was allowed to go back to using the wooden bucket. We all know (I hope) that wood is an excellent self-cleaner and has its own natural oils for that. The same applies to your gut. You need exactly the right balance of good and bad bacteria to keep everything balanced.
Enders includes some wonderful entertaining drawings in her book “Gut” which illustrate the whole process of digestion from the thought, aroma and sight of food, to our responses days after eating. She makes biology fun, which I never thought possible, and she allows for the fact that there is a huge amount yet to be done in gut research. I read the 2017 revised edition, she first presented the material in 2012 which you can see on YouTube and published the book in 2014 it is academic with full references. Her final few pages are devoted to encouraging our ‘Clever Cravings for Fermented Foods’ Her description here is a great reminder to steer ourselves away from processed foods. We naturally know what is good for us, true, but foods that we would never want to eat or drink are disguised by the addition of things that our bodies recognise to make them palatable. The result is that we willingly eat and drink all sorts of things that are awful for our health. So fine is this process, that just the addition of citric acid can fool us. It is ‘something that several million years of evolution has not been able to prepare us for’ A glass of water loaded with sugar (as much as in a Coke) would be undrinkable and disgusting. Add a small amount of citric acid (representing the phosphoric acid in Coke) and suddenly you have a delicious drink. It is because our bodies are familiar with acid from fruit and in combination with other foods it gains our trust.
So yes we do know what’s good for us, but when combined or processed? No. We most certainly do not!
Throughout the book Enders explores the idea of fermented pre-digested foods as one way to encourage a balanced micro biome. In the final section she shows us how to use good bacteria to ferment vegetables. She recommends cabbage, carrots and gherkins that are organic and have no pesticides on them. Some foods that encourage good flora are asparagus, artichokes, onion, garlic, parsnip, potato salad, sauerkraut, yoghurt, leek, salsify, endives. Things from the sunflower family. Eat them regularly. Try it. See how you feel.
Next time Noella Marcellino and the wooden bucket.