The Matrix Book Reviews

The Art Matrix Magazine Matrix Book Reviews features books under the umbrella theme of holistic well-being. Please stay tuned as Book Reviews and extended Book Talk Posts are added on a daily basis:)

The Matrix Book Talks

Body

Nonfiction

Ayurveda Beginner’s Guide: Essential Ayurvedic Principles and Practices to Balance and Heal Naturally by Susan Weis-Bohlan

The principle underlying Ayurveda is that we are both energy and matter combined. Each of us, as well as our environment, is made up of the five elements:

Space
Air
Fire
Water
Earth

These are the building blocks of our world. They create our foundation and structure (earth); movement and circulation (air and space); transformation, light, and metabolism (fire); and, cohesiveness, digestive juices, and secretions (water).

Mind, Body and Spirit of Everyday Ayurveda practices

Everything that happens in the physical body is reflected in the mind and spirit, and vice versa. In the book, we get a thorough but very relatable telling of how the five elements translate into our unique body compositions (your Dosha). Of the three doshas–Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, one is usually dominant. Identifying your dosha helps you to choose lifestyles and environmental conditions that create balance and holistic well-being.

According to Susan Weis-Bohlan, Ayurveda is a cleansing practice essential for everyday holistic well-being. One term she focuses her program on is panchakarma, which translates to five actions. It is a series of treatments that cleanse the body and rebuilds the tissues.

In Ayurveda, food is medicine so cooking nutritious food is the backbone of the practice. And the book explores the various reasons why this ancient system of healing may be the best answer for whatever ails you–physically, mentally, and emotionally. Everything you need to know to get started is within.

About the Author

Susan Weis-Bohlen has a full-time practice as an Ayurvedic consultant, cooking teacher, meditation teacher, and leader of sacred site tours. She attributes her meditation, yoga, and Ayurvedic practice to a near-death experience. During this NDE, she was offered a choice–to go back to the world as she knew it or to stay where she was.

She chose life. This intense experience led her to an understanding that we are much more than our bodies, and our minds can create our realities.

For Stress and Anxiety
  • Practice meditation daily.
  • Listen to chants or spiritual music.
  • Go on a media ‘fast’.
  • Include good oils in your diet like ghee, avocado, and olive.
  • Try stress-reducing herbs like aswaghandha, jatamansi, licorice, and calamus roots. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic. It is stress reducing and a sleep aid by deeply relaxing the nervous system. It also can support energy and rest when you need it.
  • Reduce your intake of caffeine–unless that causes you further stress. If so, reduce gradually.
  • Use calming essential oils like lavender, vanilla, and sandalwood. For Vata, for example which I am closely ‘tied’ to, I would choose oils that are warming, grounding, earth, and sweet, such as vanilla, rose, close, orange, bergamot, basil, geranium, patchouli, vetiver, fir needle, tangerine, and ylang ylang. The best Vata carrier oils are sesame, avocado, and castor.
  • Practice Cobra Pose, Cat and Cow Poses, and Sun Salutation. I checked out the Vata Yoga Guidelines in the book and could easily relate to the recommendation. “Vata, I know you want to fly and flow through your routine, but it’s best to slow it down.” Right. Therefore, I benefit from poses that promote grounding, rootedness, and deep breathing. These poses include Tree Pose, Mountain pose, and Child’s Pose. Warrior 1 and Warrior 2, when held for at least a minute, are also good choices. Each of these poses is described in the book as well. Moving slowly. and deliberately, I read, is best for the Vata mind, to reduce anxiety and nervousness. Breathe deeply and steadily. Keep it slow and rooted and relaxed.

It’s hard to find moments of quiet and stillness in our lives. So, suggests Weis-Bohlen, we have to create them, find time for them, be imaginative, and be insistent on taking a break from the daily grind. Learning to be playful, kicking off your shoes, and staring into space is a great way to begin.

Overall, I am highly convinced that Ayurveda Beginner’s Guide: Essential Ayurvedic Principles and Practices to Balance and Heal Naturally is an essential addition to your holistic well-being library!

Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

The Art of Fermentation is an in-depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world.

Katz shares practical information on fermenting vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, beats, meats, and more.

There is a transformative power of fermentation. We are inspired to try new recipes just to see what happens in the microbial first in the jars and then in our health.

The culture in this invisible world of fungi and bacteria is a community of the fermentos–of birth, change, and evolution. The theory is that we have so disordered the microbial ecology of our gut, we have induced a wide range of health problems. We are learning that one of the keys to well-being is the well-being of the microflora with whom we share our bodies.

Fermentation is culture. Katz writes that fermentation relates to culture in many different ways, corresponding with the many layers of meaning embedded in this important word. Culture constitutes the totality of all that humans seek to pass from generation to generation, including language, music, art, literature, scientific knowledge, and believe systems, as well as agriculture and culinary techniques (in both of which fermentation occupies a central role).

By reclaiming our food and our participation in the cultivation is a means of cultural revival. We shift from being purely users or consumers to reclaiming our dignity and power by becoming producers and creators. In doing so, we move towards a more harmonious way of life and greater resilience with our active participation, interconnectivity and local exchange.

Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica: on Health and Healing by Hildegard of Bingen 

Physica: on Health and Healing is one of two major medical treatises by medieval healer Hildegard von Bingen. It was presented in its entirety for the first time in English during the 900th anniversary of her birth.

As a saint, mystic, healer, visionary, fighter, Hildegard von Bingen stands as one of the great figures in the history of women.

Adding to this list of accomplishments and talents, von Bingen was a linguist, poet, artist, musician, playwright, biographer, theologian, preach, and spiritual counsellor. I would say that Hildegard von Bingen was a gifted polymath.

At a time when few women could write and most were denied a formal education, Hildegard von Bingen became a legendary healer, visionary, musician, artist, poet, and saint. Her works include twenty-seven symphonic compositions; Scivias, a compilation of her visions; and her two major medical works, Causae et Curae, a medical compendium, and Physica, published here in English in its entirety for the first time.

Healing systems for holistic health

This book is a seminal text in the development of Western herbal medicine. It presents nine categories of healing systems:

  • Plants
  • Elements
  • Trees
  • Stones
  • Fish
  • Birds
  • Animals
  • Reptiles, and,
  • Metals

Vicht is an interesting term I learned about in the book. It denotes a problem with metabolism, and includes tiredness, weakness, and loss of vitality. So what to do? One remedy in the book is ginger and cinnamon. Further, one should “take less sage than ginger, more fennel than sage, and crush them with a mortal, and strain it through a cloth.” The resulting mix goes into a bag for tea. This is simple remedy but the book as whole is a complex interplay of the nine categories of healing systems with time, measurements, seasons, and as many illnesses as you can think of, taken into the creation of this book.

And yet, in all of its complexity, it is moderation that Hildegard emphasizes as the key to good health. In a letter to Elizabeth of Schönau, another Benedictine visionary, she advised the use of discretion:

Do not lay on more strain than the body can endure. Immoderate straining and abstinence bring nothing useful to the soul. Hildegard von Bingen advocated a balanced diet, sufficient rest, alleviation of stress, and a wholesome moral life.

Von Bingen elaborates on their medicinal use. For holistic health, the system is closely related to Eastern medical approaches that are gaining respect today.

Physica has a strong affinity with the Eastern medical approaches gaining great respect today. We, the modern readers, who have interests in natural healing, will recognize the enormous truth in the theories of this 12th-century physician. The book reminds us that our cures for illness depend on our natural world and our place in it.

Happy Gut by Vincent Pedre

The gut is your own internal garden.

–Dr. Mark Hyman

This book, Happy Gut by Vincent Pedre, is introduced as the cleansing program to help you lose weight, gain energy, and eliminate pain. It is based on balancing the microbiome of your digestive system. And, according to Petre this can be done with a reboot and the Gut C.A.R.E. Program.

Based on the Functional medicine paradigm, this is an alternative approach to the standard Western model. The first chapters give us the theory, tips and strategies including a look at the emotional and physical connection to gut health. The Happy Gut Kitchen section helps us to shop, stock our kitchens and prepare foods/recipes to put the theory into practice.

The main thing you want from your digestive tract is that it does its job quietly, without talking back to you. You don’t want to know that it’s there.

Leo Galland, MD, Forward to Happy Gut
Fiction

The Plague by Albert Camus

A gripping tale of human unrelieved horror, of survival and resilience, and of the ways in which humankind confronts death, The Plague is at once a masterfully crafted novel, eloquently understated and epic in scope, and a parable of ageless moral resonance, profoundly relevant to our times.

In Oran, a coastal town in North Africa, the plague begins as a series of portents, unheeded by the people. It gradually becomes a omnipresent reality, obliterating all traces of the past and driving its victims to almost unearthly extremes of suffering, madness, and compassion.

Heart

Nonfiction

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thick Nhat Hanh reinforces the potential of transforming suffering into compassion, peace, joy, and liberation –all qualities of enlightenment.

I teach only suffering and the transformation of suffering

the Buddha

The main message in the book is that when we recognize, acknowledge and accept our own suffering, the Buddha in each of us will look at it, discover what has brought it about, and decide on the best course of action for resolution.

Essential on this path, writes Nhat, of life-long learning (and life-long enlightenments) are the:
1. Four Noble Truths

  • suffering
  • creating suffering
  • the cessation of suffering
  • the Eight-fold Path

2. Noble Eight-Fold Path

(with practices of “right” …)

  • view
  • thinking
  • speech
  • action
  • livelihood
  • diligence
  • mindfulness
  • concentration
What is ” right” you might ask?

Simply put, right is an adverb meaning in the right way, straight, or upright, not bent, crooked, or unbeneficial. Adding to these essentials, Hanh shares the Three Doors of Liberation, the Three Dharma Seals, and the Seven Factors of Awakening. All are insightful, applicable, and accessible for daily practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh shows us the connection
between personal, inner peace, and peace on earth.

– The Dalai Lama

The Tent Dwellers by Albert Bigelow Paine

Once more, to-night, the woods are white
That lee so dim and far,
Where the wild trout hide and the moose abide
Under the northern star.

The north wood, and in this book, it is woods of Nova Scotia, Canada does not offer, welcome, or respond readily to the lover of conventional luxury and the smaller comforts of living. Luxury is there, surely, but it is the luxury that rewards effort, and privation, and toil.

It is the comfort of food and warmth and dry clothes after a day of endurance–a day of wet, and dragging weariness, and bitter chill. It is the bliss of reaching, after long, toilsome travel, a place where you can meet the trout–the splendid, full-grown wild trout, in his native home, knowing that you will not find a picnic party on every brook and a fisherman behind every tree.

Finally, it is the preciousness of isolation, the remoteness from people who dig up and tear down and destroy–who shriek themselves hoarse in the market place and make the world ugly and discordant, and life a short and fevered span in which the soul has a chance to become no more than a feeble and crumpled thing…

A certain kind of heart and soul

And, if that kind of soul please you, don’t go to the woods. It will be only a place of mosquitoes, and general wetness, and discomfort. You won’t care for it. You will hate it.

But, if you are willing to:

  • get wet and stay wet,
  • and get cold and stay cold,
  • be bruised, and scuffed, and bitten
  • and be hungry, thirsty, to have your muscles strained. and sore from unusual taxation,

… then go!

You welcome all these things, not once, but many times, for the sake of moments of pure triumph. You find larger luxury which comes with the comfort of the camp and the conquest of the wilderness …

… the journey of the Tent Dweller is one for you!

The wilderness will welcome you, and teach you, and take you to its heart.

And, you will find your own soul there; and the discovery will be worthwhile!

Fiction

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is an enchanting novel about an electric and impassioned love affair …

—an enchanting love story rich with history and a sense of place

USA Today

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman and the Butterfly Girl.

My father was both a scientist and a magician, but he declared that it was in literature wherein we discover our truest natures. When I as only a child he gave me the poet Whitman to read, along with the plays of Shakespeare. In such great works I found enlightenment….

Coralie in The Museum of Extraordinary Things

One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River.

Alice Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a tender and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. Using a unique style, Hoffman alternates between third and first-person narrative with different characters narrating in first-person for different chapters throughout the book.

It is a lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people.

The New York Times Book Review

Symbolism, Parallels, and Metaphors

  • fire and the effect it has on the characters and the people of New York
  • Coralie and Jane Eyre
  • night swims and sexual exploitation
  • the lion’s cage and the bravery inside you
  • dreams as a recurring motif: exposing inner lives and connections with the past and the future
  • deception and corruption
  • self-aggrandizement and those who bend the rules
  • animals revealing something about the characters
  • innate evil
  • moral ambiguity
  • New York City as a rapidly evolving, volatile place: transformations

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice.

Letting go…
Eddie says, “the past was what we carried with us, threaded to the future, and we decide whether to keep it close or let it go…”

When Eddie photographs the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance. And he ignites the heart of Coralie.

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end.
But, I do not talk of the beginning of the end.

–Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Mind

Nonfiction

Lost Connections by Johann Hari

Reflections on depression in Johann Hari’s “Lost Connections” expands thinking about our mental health, hope, and holistic well-being in this world.

This is the life we get to create for ourselves.

Lost Connections

Johann Hari is a special writer, a great researcher, and a great wordsmith, writes Touré. This look at depression has changed the way I think about it–a thinking expansion leading to a paradigm shift.

Unhappy and depressed are very different things

Yet, from depression and anxiety, there is an inevitable continuum to unhappiness. Further, we consider that the primary cause of all depression and anxiety is in the world, and the way we are living in it.

The pain seemed unmanageable and I wanted to excuse myself from the world ..

… and then I experienced one of the very few epiphanies of my life– “I am depressed! It’s not all in my head! I’m not unhappy, I’m not weak–I’m depressed!”

Lost Connections
So, there are questions to ask deepening our understanding of how depression happens:
  • What’s happening in your life?
  • Is there anything hurting you that we might want to change?
  • and …
What are the life fundamentals leading to dwindling self-confidence and low self-esteem, feeding a strong desire to relieve anxiety and stress?

These factors drive us toward compulsive habits and behaviours that we use as a coping mechanism to deal with the uncertainties of life. These behaviours provide us with a sense of control, while at the same time redirecting our attention away from our problems.

Hari, as did I, begins as a true believer in purely organic causes of depression. Then, he explores a more expansive view that takes in a psychodynamic origin as well …

This isn’t an easy journey to recovery…

As you will read, in Johann Hari’s book, “Lost Connections,” Hari initially clung to his old story about why his depression was caused by his brain being “broken.” He tells the story of a major shift in paradigms.

“An exquisitely lucid treatise on why no person is, has been, or ever should be an island. This book is the most exciting thing I’ve read this year. From slightly seedy to suicidal–however you are feeling–read this book and it will honestly help you to understand which roads we must walk if we want to see true, lasting change.”

— Emma Thompson

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