Fishing Poles, Polestars and Lessons from Herman by Cynthia Briscoe

Fishing Poles,
Polestars and
Lessons from Herman

   by Cynthia Briscoe

Herman Aihara was a wise man, very much a philosopher. Not the kind of philosopher that tangles the mind by chewing endlessly on purely intellectual argument, but he was instead an “untangler of minds”. He possessed a constellate ability to connect the dots of being human in a relative world with universal natural law expressed within macrobiotic philosophy. He applied macrobiotic principles to many subjects of interest to him: fishing, healing, eating, breathing, chemistry, and more. No matter the subject, life provided a pulsing adventure with plenty of opportunity to ponder the meaning of life and what it means to be human

     How does one align oneself with this natural orderly movement that gives rise to all phenomena, including we humans and how we conduct ourselves? The Unique Principle in macrobiotic philosophy provided Herman a guiding polestar, a point of reference amidst a sea of change. His lectures often followed a spiralic pattern of thoughts traversing the rungs of creation from One Undifferentiated Unity to the bifurcation of Yin and Yang, and onward to ten thousand expressions. Eventually, he would land a haiku-like punchline. With just a few sage words, he often gifted students the kind of knowledge that gives good counsel during the best and worst of times.


Finding your Limitations

     Herman was not the type of teacher who placed himself on a lofty pedestal just beyond the reach of ordinary persons. He often humorously shared what he had learned from his own indiscretions. I recall attending my first formal macrobiotic lecture in Kansas City with Herman as the teacher. I was very much a newbie to macrobiotics. The gist of his lecture was: Do not become too healthy. This blew up my high ideals regarding macrobiotic practice, striving to adhere perfectly and rigidly to a macrobiotic approach to diet, admonishing myself if I strayed. 

     Herman’s wry idea was that if you become too healthy, it coincides that you also develop an over-poweringly healthy appetite for life and all the abundant, exuberant choices it offers, including unhealthy food. Once you reach the zenith of health, you forget how you achieved health, and then this huge appetite takes over and draws you back to consuming everything, including foods that may return you to sickness. So he humorously suggested that one find a balance, not in a perfect practice, but somewhere just below this, such that you maintain a core appetite for macrobiotic foods without becoming too narrow in your diet or inflexible in your thinking. Embedded within the expression of Natural Order is that once something reaches the apex of contraction or expansion, that climactic force naturally cycles toward its opposite. Therefore, conscious moderation is more sustainable, and leads to more balanced health and happiness.

     As an example, Herman retold his famous cheesecake story. He was invited to give lectures at a large gathering of 500 people. There were some Japanese people there who invited him out every evening after the lecture. The first night, he had cheesecake. It tasted so delicious, and the next day he suffered no negative repercussions. Lecturing was fine. The second night, also cheesecake. It was so delicious the first time, why not have it again! And fortunately for the second time, there was no problem. The third night came along, and his generous hosts knowing how he had so enjoyed the previous two nights’ cheesecake, insisted Herman enjoy it again. Having cheated fate two days in a row, Herman thought, “Why not?!” However, after the third night of cheesecake, he lost his voice the next day and could not lecture! So Herman shared the humbling lesson he learned from this experience: two pieces of cheesecake were OK, but not three! He thus humorously shared his foible as a lesson regarding finding your limitations. To me, Herman’s cheesecake story tickles that childlike place within us that needs to test boundaries in order to define ourselves. Even as adults, despite our best intentions, we often push boundaries beyond what is best for our own well-being.

     Regarding limitations, Herman lectured about homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to the range of balance our physiology must maintain in order to sustain life and normal bodily functions. For example, we have a normal range of temperature, centered around 98.6F. If we go too far on either side of this temperature, problems arise, even death. The same thing is true regarding the pH factor of our blood and inter-cellular fluid. We must maintain an acid-alkaline balance centered around 7.4. Herman famously taught much about this and how to maintain a healthy, slightly alkaline balance. In his view, slight variance into increased acidity of body fluids underpins almost all illness. The body has many mechanisms used to maintain a healthy equilibrium of homeostatic barometers. We must find our balance.

     Being human in the physical world means living in the condition of vacillation between the poles of yin and yang. We originate in a unified field of Oneness and are born into this most interesting world of complementary opposing forces. Yes, we have physical and biological boundaries that maintain life, but in many areas of life we are afforded great freedom to choose. In aspects of choice, we are the captain of our ship and must learn to navigate an undulating ocean of yin and yang. We can improve our judgment and navigational skills through study with great teachers like Herman, but even more so through personal life lessons acquired by trial and error.  Herman often said, “Physically we are unfree, spiritually we are free.” (Please see his Definition of Macrobiotics in this newsletter.)

On Travels to Infinity

     During the final meal of each study program at Vega, Herman and Cornellia would join students and staff for dinner. It was a time to share food and friendship as well as to cast about thoughts and ideas. One evening, Herman, who was always the fisherman, cast his line upstream musing, “At night I go (to) Infinity. Morning time, I come back.” Then he patiently let that thought float along with the current, keeping a little tension on the line as he paused at each set of eyes searching for nibbles of recognition. 

     Then another cast arcs through the air, “Why do I come back? I think (it) must be boring living always in Perfect Oneness.” How could one not be hooked by his mischievous smile and eyes twinkling like a child who had just delivered the punchline to a hilarious joke?

     During lectures, when Herman pondered a thought seeking how to coalesce some complexity, he often braced his hands on his lower back and tipped sharply backward from the waist, casting his gaze skyward, searching. Then he would snap back upright and reel in, landing an inspiration from some realm above and beyond.

     In 1997 Herman was fishing in the Feather River. Without warning, a great deal of water was released from the dam. The river rose quickly and Herman was swept downstream, almost drowning. He was wearing tall fisherman’s wader boots that were steadily filling with water, and like any true fisherman, he managed to hang onto his fishing rod despite the deluge. He was naturally panicked, but the more he struggled, the more his waders filled with sinking water. He related that he then heard the steady voice of his beloved teacher, George Ohsawa, advising him, “Relax.” He did so and immediately began floating on his back. He said he felt so peaceful looking up at the clear blue sky. Another fisherman saw him, extended a branch and towed him safely to shore away from the swift current. 

     When David and I first began teaching macrobiotics in Kansas City, a conflict arose with a couple who had previously been teaching there. In an article David had written, he referred to Herman as one of his teachers. This person responded rather defiantly suggesting that David could not claim Herman as his teacher. David contacted Herman regarding this conflict. Herman’s simple response was, “Let Heaven be the judge.” In other words, in the highest realm of judgment, truth is singular in the unification of opposition. If what you are doing is sound, then all will be well and you will succeed. These words have been invaluable during times of conflict to unify opposing forces into peaceful resolution. Trust in the natural order because therein lies truth.

The Naming of Vega

     Perhaps there are some of you who heard the full story directly from Herman as to why he chose the name “Vega” for his and Cornellia’s macrobiotic study center in California. All I recall, is him saying something like “polestar.” So I did a little research.

     In 12,000 B.C., the star Vega was directly aligned with the north axis of the earth. As the earth’s axis shifted, Polaris became our current polestar. In the larger celestial movement, Vega will once again become the polestar in another 12,000-13,000 years. It’s the second brightest star in the night sky (read David’s article on Herman’s view about being second in the upcoming memorial edition of Macrobiotics Today) and the closest star to the sun. 

     To ancient mariners, the North Star provided a steady guidepost in the ever-changing celestial night sky. The steadiness, the stillness of that point allowed navigators to return back home to their loved ones. I believe Herman considered that singular point of reference to represent the highest level of judgment also known as the Unifying Principle in macrobiotics. This principle can guide us with navigational surety to bring us home when we have lost our way and traveled too far off course. 

     When Herman leaned back, searching to unify his thoughts, or gazed at the sky while floating down the river, he found peace and unification, just like an ancient mariner utilizing the polestar. Humans have always drawn lines connecting the dots of stars to form images and constellations that relate to the human condition. Herman as a teacher guided us to connect the illuminating points of life experiences to discover pattern and alignment within the backdrop of heavenly forces. The universe lies within ourselves and amongst each other, giving context to the world around us and what it means to being human.

     Knowing how to locate a polestar or even that one exists, affords us the comfort to relax, to accept ourselves for who we are as individuals and collectively as humans. We can play and explore how best to resonate with the vibrational patterns that gather up matter and form it into human beings. Each of us represents a unique individual expression of this Unique Principle, contributing to the collective evolution of human existence. If we travel too far from home, we know how to return, guided by a star directly overhead. 

     I wonder now if Herman is bored having returned to the infinite World. Or maybe he travels here from there just for grins and twinkles, or maybe to catch a 49’ers game or maybe to simply go fishing.

     As Herman would often say upon return from leaning backward, “Life is veerry in-ter-rest-ing…”



Make Your Own Delicious Mustard – It’s Easy!


Make Your Own Delicious Mustard – It’s Easy!

by Cynthia Briscoe

Last night David made the most delicious seitan. Yum. “Let’s have seitan deli sandwiches and soup for dinner!” I exclaimed. And since we both love mustard on seitan sandwiches, I went to fetch a bottle of it. However, when I went to squeeze the mustard bottle, the  “plph-fwwt-fwwt-fluppering” sound of not-enough-mustard dashed my sandwich dream. That was until I remembered the big jar of mustard seeds languishing in the spice drawer.
“I’ll surprise David and make some delicious home-made mustard  to compliment his tasty seitan,” or so I thought.

“Look before you leap.”
Sometimes I do quite the opposite, especially when blinded by a flash of inspiration. That’s how new recipes are born, right?  I’d wanted to try making mustard for a while, and now the perfect opportunity presented itself. I eagerly poured a cup of brown mustard seeds into the Magic Bullet blender. 

“Hmm…what kind of vinegar should I add?” I asked myself. “Oh, I know – the persimmon vinegar I made this past fall.” I was sure it would be deliciously tangy and sweet. So, I added enough persimmon vinegar to cover the top of the seeds and began grinding.

Quickly enough the little blender groaned for more liquid, I added the remainder of brown rice vinegar that was in another bottle. Still more liquid was needed, so I added some unfiltered apple cider vinegar, taking care not to let the mother vinegar slip into the blender. I tasted it and added additional water and more sea salt, as it was still pretty thick and pasty.
On the next taste It was horrible, something akin to bitter dirt – nothing like the mustard of my flavorful imagination. With deeply deflated enthusiasm, I shoved the mustard toward the back of the counter, abandoning it to the company of the food processor. I really meant to compost it that night, but with other distractions, I forgot.
Two days later, armed with a rubber spatula, I was ready to feed the failed mustard to the compost. But then, that ever-hopeful little voice told me to give it a farewell taste. Perhaps before it had only been a bad mustard dream. To my surprise, it now tasted like an expensive gourmet mustard – flavorfully pungent, very spicy, and with subtle tangy sweet undertones. 
Little did I know just how incredibly easy and foolproof it is to make your own mustard. With only three basic components, the possibilities are endless. There’s not even any cooking involved. Here’s a quick primer for what you need to know about the three main ingredients before launching into your own personal mustard adventure.

The 3 Main Components in Making Mustard
1. Mustard seeds come in two basic varieties: light and dark.  The lighter colored seeds, known as yellow or white, are milder tasting like the common yellow mustard. The darker colored seeds, referred to as black or brown, yield a spicier, more pungent and robust mustard. At least some of the seeds of either variety need to be broken or crushed in order to release the pungency.

2. The liquid can be varied but almost always includes some type of vinegar. Fruit or fruit juice, citrus, water, beer or other spirits my be added. Acidity unlocks and activates the spicy volatile chemistry in the mustard seeds. The more acidic the liquid, the slower the heat is unlocked and the longer the heat will stay in the mustard. Acidity sets the spicy flavor and preserves it. If no sour liquid is used, for example, if only water is used, the mustard will lose its potency within a couple of days. 
Also the temperature of the water/liquid used effects the flavor. Hot water deactivates the mustard enzymes and heat levels, while cold water keeps the burn intact.
 3.  Salt balances and enhances the flavor, and when combined with vinegar preserves the mustard for many months refrigerated, if not indefinitely. In fact basic mustard may dry out with age, but does not spoil.
4.  Optional additions such as herbs, spices, horseradish, hot peppers, chopped nuts, seeds, or sweeteners may be added for variety. Tumeric is often added to dial up the yellow color. Just add a pinch at a time until you get the desired color. Sweeteners tame the heat and give the mustard a sweet and sour tone.  
Basic Proportions for Making Mustard 
1 part mustard seeds
2 parts liquid
½ tsp. salt per cup of mustard or to taste
The seeds and liquid parts can be soaked for a couple of days before pureeing or the ingredients may be pureed and let rest for a couple of days. 
Start with ½ cup of mustard seeds and you will get about a pint of mustard. It’s fun and so easy to create your own gourmet mustard.

Some Interesting Historical Tidbits about Mustard
Ancient civilizations such as in China, Egypt, India and Mesopotamia used mustard seeds as early as 3,000-4,000 years ago. However, they used the seeds roasted or sautéed whole as a seasoning, not ground into a mustard sauce.
Romans were the first to turn mustard into a sauce, a precursor to what we squeeze out of a bottle today. One 3,000-year-old Roman recipe says to crush the mustard seeds and combine with grape must. Must is the first liquid pressed from grapes before fermenting into wine. This grape juice was cooked and reduced by about three quarters and was commonly used as a sweetener. The Latin name for mustard is “mustrum ardens” which translates to “burning must”.
One of the more curious historical mysteries of mustard lies here in California. In the springtime, fields and orchards, and margins along highways are awash in the intense yellow glow of flowering mustard. It is the black seed mustard variety. Yet mustard is not native to California. So how is it that mustard came to be so prevalent?
Some stories credit Father Junipero Serra for bringing mustard to California. He established the first mission in California in 1769. This was the first of 61 missions built along the 600 mile trail known as the Camino Real or Royal Road. The distance between missions was about 30 miles or a day’s travel by horseback. Purportedly, Father Serra and other Franciscan monks traveling from mission to mission, cast about mustard seeds to mark the trail with mustard plants. 
Why mustard and not some other plant? No one knows for sure, because it was not written. Some surmise that perhaps it was the symbolism of the yellow mustard flower itself. Each individual flower has four petals that form the shape of a cross, as do the flowers of all cruciferous plants. Or maybe it was the parable of the mustard seed when Jesus told his followers that if they had as much faith as the size of the small mustard seed, they could easily command the hills to move and they would move. The small mustard seeds have certainly come to command the hills of California. Mustard seed can rest in the ground for 50 years and still remain viable. Or perhaps it was simply sown for the practical value of mustard as food source. The leafy greens and the edible seeds are both nutritious and medicinal.
Regardless of the reason why mustard seeds were cast about, there is proof within the adobe bricks of the missions themselves. The bricks were made from local mud and straw. The earliest bricks show no signs of mustard pollen or seeds, only signs of native indigenous plants. Subsequent later adobe contains mustard signatures within the clay bricks.

Here Comes the Sun, Part 2 Vitamin D Interview with Cynthia Vann


ABOUT CYNTHIA VANN: Cynthia is a respected member of the macrobiotic community. She is a dedicated long-time researcher, historian and archivist of macrobiotics. Cynthia attended the levels at the Kushi Institute and is a graduate from Macrobiotics America’s Counselor Training Program. She is currently enrolled in our Macrobiotic Chef Training Program. She is a macrobiotic counselor as well as consultant in iridology and sclerology. Cynthia compiled a 4-booklet series, Best of East West, containing many of the most popular seasonal recipes published in the East West Journal during the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. She is also an avid nature and hiking enthusiast. To contact Cynthia Vann:

      In Here Comes the Sun, Part 1, we looked at how we are “solar powered.” Humans can’t directly capture the sun’s energy like plants; we are dependent upon the plant world to do that for us. Plants photosynthesize sunlight and store it primarily as carbohydrate. We then ingest plants, and through digestion unlock plant sourced solar energy to fuel our very existence. Sun exposure is a different, yet essential way in which we “ingest” sunlight – not through food consumption and digestion, but through our skin. By exposing our skin to sunlight, we are nourished by transmuting the sun’s energy into Vitamin D. Here in Part 2, I present an interview with Cynthia Vann, who shares her personal experience and long-time research of Vit D. 

CB: Cynthia, what first led you to study Vit D?

CV: We were camping and hiking, about 8 miles in. On the last day I was enjoying a beautiful hike up the mountainside when I slipped on some loose shale. Reflexively, I broke the fall with my hand and heard a cracking sound. My companions helped me with the climb back down to camp and put a cast on it. I slept there overnight. The next day, I walked the 8 miles out. The injury was OK as long as I didn’t move it a certain way. After 2 days, I went to the ER and they patched it up. Well, that piqued my curiosity. I hadn’t had any prior breaks for decades, really. I’d recently had a bone density test that came out great. So I was surprised. 

Then I went to visit a friend, Mark Sorenson, who owns a spa. He had been studying Vit D quite extensively and had even written a book about it. He was giving lectures on the subject at hisspa. I had never considered Vit D to factor into my bone health and had never had my Vit D levels tested. He suggested that I get tested when I got home.

Also, there was a woman staying at the spa, who had been diagnosed with osteopenia. She had brittle bones and marked depression, as well as other bothersome  symptoms. Her Vit D level was at 6 ng/ml and it’s supposed to be at 40. She did a series of supplemental treatments and a sunbathing regime and raised her levels up to 40. Well, I was very impressed and my curiosity drove me to do extensive reading and research.

CB: So, the lady who did the sunbathing, how much of her skin was exposed and how long was her sunbath?

CV: She went out in a bikini. The length of time for sun exposure depends on your skin type. She was fairly light skinned. For pale skin, you don’t have to be out very long, maybe 5 minutes on each side. You don’t want to burn. The danger of sun tanning is not from tanning, it’s from burning. You learn how long you can sunbathe before you start to burn. That’s generally the amount of time it’s safe. 

CB: Would you say that when less skin is exposed, you should stay out longer? 

CV: No, you can’t make up for skin surface. It’s better to have more skin exposed. However, if you can’t have the skin exposed, by all means, still go out and get some sun.

For babies, Dr. Jym Moon said that the cheeks and the hands are enough for a baby. Just take care not to let the baby’s skin burn.

CB: I remember after my first delivery, the baby was slightly jaundiced. It was winter, and the midwife recommended having the baby lie naked on a blanket by a window with the sun coming through. Is the liver involved in Vit D production or storage?

CV:Yes, organ-wise, the liver is crucial along the pathway of Vit D production as well as the kidneys. Vit D is currently believed to be made by all the cells of the body, and not just bone cells, as previously believed. It’s very beneficial for all the organs. Each cell in our body has a Vit D receptor. Vit D deficiency can harm the DNA function. 

CB:  In that case, since our body replaces 40-50 billion cells per day, Vit D is consequential for healing and cell regeneration. Simple things like bruises or cuts would take longer to heal if Vit D levels are low.                
CV:   Bob Pirello, had been macrobiotic for 20 years. He was very athletic, jogging daily. He broke his foot while running a marathon and also discovered that he had lumber fractures. He was very surprised to find that his bones had become very fragile, equivalent to a man in his 80’s. He wrote a book about his recovery titled Beating Osteoporosis Naturally Easily Sensibly.

CB: I recall that after that happening, he and his wife changed their diet from a long-time oil and protein restricted diet. They researched different kinds of oil, such as hemp oil and some other kinds of fat. He began including good quality oil in his diet, consuming more protein, and he fully recovered. What role does fat play in metabolizing Vit D?

CV: Fat is needed to produce and store the Vit D that our body transmutes from sunlight because it is a fat-soluble vitamin. Vit D is actually a hormone. We talk about Vit D like it’s vitamin, but it’s actually a sterol hormone that acts like a vitamin. 

CB:Does it matter what kind of oil, whether plant sourced or animal sourced? Often fish oil is recommended. Does it matter?

CV: No, just as long as it’s a fat, our body can use it in conjunction with sun exposure to make and store it’s own Vit D. 

CB:  It is true that Vit D is almost totally absent from plant sources with the exception of mushrooms exposed to UVB light.

CV:  Some amount of Vit D is present in fatty foods of animal origin, such as butter, milk, cheese, fatty fish, liver (Vit D  is stored in the liver), and eggs. Even then, the amount of Vit D contained in animal foods is limited and varies depending upon how much exposure to the sun that the animal had.

To get 65 IU’s (International Units) of Vit D, you would need to consume 
    1 pint non-enriched whole milk 
    3 TBSP butter
     One egg 

As you can see, you would have to consume an abundance of those foods and also accept the health risks that coincide with consumption of those foods. Because of the scarcity of Vit D in foods, it appears that nature has given us another path to receive Vit D. We can simply expose our skin to the UVB rpays of sunlight and make Vit D for ourselves, independent from animal sources.

The recommended 600 IU level set by the RDA is an artificial level. It’s more like 1500 IU that we need. That’s why exposure to sunlight is so important.

CB: Now that 1500 IU, is that how much you would normally need or is that for someone who is deficient?

CV: That’s how much you would need if you are deficient. 

CB: So 600 IU is the standard amount an average person would need per day?

CV: Well, it’s really kind of low. In my earlier research, I found that 800 IU is better. This can vary from person to person. It’s advisable to have a test to assess your own condition. However, receiving Vit D via sun exposure does not pose the risks of Vit D toxicity that can happen when taking Vit D supplements.

CB: Aside from a medical test, are there any markers to indicate that a person is possibly deficient?

CV: Ok. My girlfriend was macrobiotic for 25 years. She recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome by practicing macrobiotics. So she is very grateful to macrobiotics, but she still had this consistent bronchitis every year at the same time. 

After studying Vit D, I looked at my friend objectively. I suggested she get tested for Vit D deficiiency. I had seen from researchers that respiratory diseases respond best to sunlight. In fact, before we had antibiotics, sunlight (heliotherapy) was the most common way to treat tuberculosis, asthma and bronchitis. Then when antibiotics came along, sunlight therapy was dropped. This was in the 1920’s.

My friend eventually got tested and her levels were at 15. I told her that number was really low and that she would benefit by increasing her Vit D levels. She decided to do the sunbathing. She did that for a year and got retested and it was over 40. So she was happy to know how much sun exposure she needed to stay healthy. And after 5-6 years, she had no more bouts of bronchitis.

CB:It’s interesting to consider this, because colds, bronchitis and pneumonia tend to occur more in the winter months when there is less sunlight.

So let’s say a person is low in Vit D and they want to expose themselves to the sun, what would you recommend in terms of how much exposure? Is it so much time per day, how many times per week and for what length of time?

CV: As far as frequency of sunbathing, it depends upon individual health needs, geographical location, time of year and age. Plus it depends upon how the person reacts to the sunlight. You want to stop before you get burned. Most people know what their limit is before they get burned. Some people can go all day in the sun and not get burned. And the nice thing to know about sunbathing and Vit D is that, unlike supplementation, you will not overdose on Vit D.  When you take the sunlight in through the skin, the body automatically cuts off production with long exposure. That’s also how melanin production, resulting in skin tanning, protects you from taking in too much Vit D.

CB: So you’re also saying that the person’s skin tone and the amount of melanin the person has in their skin, would also factor in as to how much sun exposure an individual needs.

CV: Yes. For example, an African American would need to be in the sun for about 3 hours to make the same amount of VitD as a pale person would in 5 minutes, This is due to the concentration of melanin in the skin. Sunlight does not penetrate darker skin as efficiently as pale skin. A pale person can sit under an umbrella and not even have the sun directly touch them, having only reflected light, and they can make
Vit D.
CB: So say a person is infirm and they are in the house a lot. If they sit by a window, would that be enough to help them improve their Vit D levels?

CV: It should. Say that the window blocks some of the UVB, but if a plant can grow in a window, then you can get enough Vit D, I would think.

CB: A lot of people are afraid of sun exposure. They wear sunblock for fear of skin cancer. What would you suggest? Do you think melanoma is actually related to sun exposure or does it have its roots somewhere else in a person’s health?

CV: There are several studies out on melanoma. One study that interested me was a study of outdoor workers. They discovered that the melanoma rates for the outdoor workers was lower than the rates for the indoor workers. So what sense does that make regarding this sunlight scare?

I think it’s a real problem that people do not understand that it’s not sunlight that causes skin cancer


. It’s the internal quality of your blood that cause skin eruptions to come out. That poor quality blood condition may be hidden until you get a catalyst such as the sun to bring those things out through the skin. 

CB:  I know that’s true for things like age spots, freckles or those dark splotchy areas on the face or hands. From a macrobiotic perspective, those types of dark splotchy pigmentation come from consumption of sugar, excessive fruit and fruit juice, and lactose or milk sugar. 

CV:That’s the “darkening effect” Dr. Lustig talks about. He really dislikes soda pop! It’s just heat and sugar causing the dark spots.

CB: Like baking cookies, huh? 

CV: (Laughing) Yes.

CB: I remember as a teenager, I developed a real sensitivity to the sun. If I was out in the sun for a long time, my face and the fleshy web on my hands between the thumb and index finger would swell, become very puffy, red and itchy. I now know that this condition resulted from eating lots of sugar growing up.  Every once in a while I come across someone who suffers from that condition and tell them, “Oh, stop the sugar! It will clear up.”
Sugar also plays such a detrimental role in the rise of diabetes. Studies are now indicating that low Vit D also factors into the rising rates of diabetes. Pregnant women with low Vit D levels can develop pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes. One question doctors often ask pregnant women is if they have head sweating, as head sweating can indicate low levels of Vit D.

We didn’t really talk about depression, and I also wondered if Vit D has any effect on the depression that may coincide with postpartum, menstrual cycles and menopause for women. 

CV: In my experience, and of course I discovered Vit D after I was menopausal, I can say that it does help with depression, but overall the things we do with food in Macrobiotics was the most helpful, like cutting out sugar. Sugar is a real disruptor of Vit D storage. We are depleted every time we overload ourselves with extreme yin, including alcohol and caffeine. Over consumption of these extreme foods depletes Vit D, enabling a deficient state. And yes, we may experience depression as well as achiness, muscle weakness and bone deterioration – all symptoms associated with low Vit D levels.

CB: Vit D has a lot to do with how we metabolize calcium. Is that correct?

CV:Yes. If we are Vit D deficient, we are going to have bones at risk of fracture. Metabolized variants of Vit D regulate the absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus needed to mineralize the bones.

CB: As people age, they are increasingly concerned about their bone health. Consequently, they load up on calcium supplements. How do you view that?

CV: Well, that would not be my way of building strong bones. I would tell the person to stop alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and excessive consumption of fruit and fruit juices. Then make sure that their Vit D levels are good and check if they need to be out in the sun more. 

CB: That’s good advice. Overloading on calcium, especially with supplements, can lead to hypercalcemia. Excess calcium can harden blood vessels, damage the kidneys and precipitate stone formation. 

Are there any at-home tests that you can purchase to check your Vit D levels or do you need to have a blood test done medically?

CV: You don’t need a doctor. You can find out through They will send you a kit every 6 months as long as you are signed up. It’s $60 per test. That’s roughly what you would pay a doctor with Medicare,

There’s a wide range of opinion by medical doctors regarding the parameters for normal and safe levels of Vit D. We’ve seen a naturopathic doctor who insists that you be at 75. I view 40 as enough. Everyone has their own opinion, and there is really no absolute right number. It also varies among individuals depending upon whether they suffer from low Vit D levels, and whether the deficiency has been prolonged, resulting in negative health issues. In the latter case, you may need 75 levels for a while to ameliorate a deficient condition.

CB: Well, Cynthia Vann, you have certainly simplified much of the confusing and often contradictory advise when it comes to Vit D. Most of us definitely can benefit from more sun exposure than the time spent going to and from our car when shopping. From what you say, it is important to spend a healthy amount of time in the sun. Skin exposure is the surest and safest way to get our Vit D since the quantity of Vit D in food is minimal. You’ve provided some great tips to remove the sun fear factor and make the sun our friend and health ally.

CV:  Plants make chlorophyllfrom sunlight. We make Vit Dfrom sunlight. I guess in some sense, you could say Vit D is our “chlorophyll.” 

CB: I love that! Well thank you so much, Cynthia, for your time and your studies, and for all the good information that you share. I  appreciate your love for learning and research.

Here Comes The Sun, Part 1: The Sun Within You by Cynthia Briscoe

It’s hard to believe that less than five centuries ago, people believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. Copernicus’s heliocentric proposal was published in 1543 shortly before his death.  His treatise was then somewhat shelved. It took another 100 years to “come to light” when Galileo attempted to build upon Copernican theory. A sun-centered view of God’s creation was such a radical departure from the accepted earth-centered cosmology that the very idea was considered heresy against the Church and Galileo was promptly placed under house arrest.

Scientific understanding of our solar system is still evolving today as well as our view of our place within the cosmology of  newly accepted theories. Regardless of human stellar opinion, the sun shines on.

Aveline Kushi once taught us a children’s song called “Amaterasu” which translates, “the Sun is our Mother”. This concept was something I had never really considered in this way. In fact the sun, in my mind, was just there. It came up in the morning and went down at night. For my whole life, I had taken the sun for granted.

From a child’s simple perspective, I recall a visceral and aesthetic moment in the sun. In one instance, I was laying on my back in the cool green grass, looking up at the swaying rhythm of the tree canopy above. The white sunlight dancing in partnership with limbs and leaves, was brilliantly blinding white in contrast to the cool, soft leaf shadows. It caused me to squint and my eyes to tear. I remember sinking into the delicious lullaby of dancing, green-shaded notes contrasting with the staccato of blinding white light.

Squinting through the narrowest of slits, I was fascinated to see a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of rainbow orbs caught within my lashes. I don’t remember how long I stayed in that moment, but the tiny memory stuck with me all these years. Perhaps that was the moment I became so enthralled with color. If there were no sun, there would be no color.

How is it that we can even see colors? The child within me wonders. Could it be because we internalize sunlight or that our biology evolved dependent upon sunlight?

We Are Solar Powered

If you think about it, our very existence is coalescent to the sun. If the sun was removed from the equation of life, there could be no life as we know it.

We literally “eat” sunshine, perhaps not directly as we think of ingesting a meal, but further down the food chain. Unlike plants, we cannot go outside and wave our arms in the air and collect sunlight to fuel ourselves. Fortunately for us, plants can. Through photosynthesis, plants turn sunlight into various forms of carbohydrate, which is the baseline fuel source for humans and animals. Carbohydrates are converted storehouses of sun energy primarily sourced through the vegetable world.

Even if a person chooses to eat meat, that person is still consuming sunlight via the animal that consumed the plants, that became flesh, which is then eaten. Eating meat inserts an animal between you and your source of energy in the food chain.

After plants do the work of capturing sunlight and converting it into carbohydrate, we humans are able to recover the sunlight through our process of digestion in order to become useable energy. Our bodies are designed to do so as a perfect compliment to the plant world.

The Sun’s Center within Eastern Cosmology and Healing
Ancient Chinese scholars were astute observers of the natural world. They understood the world to be subject to two opposing, yet complementary forces of energy. These two forces comprising the Whole, followed orderly patterns of change. This concept became known as the Unifying Principle, or the governing laws of Yin and Yang. Yin represents upward expanding energy sourced from the earth’s rotation and magnetic forces, and Yang represents downward contracting energy of forces emitted from heavenly movement, mosy closely from the sun. The mingling of these two forces in various proportions gives rise to all phenomena. Yin/Yang Theory further evolved into The Five Transformations Theory, which is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Feng Shui and Martial Arts.

Early roots of the Five Transformations Theory depict the Five Elements representing the four cardinal directions, with the Earth Element placed in the center as a fulcrum and stabilizing force through which all energies transform. Fire and Water form a central axis as Full Yang and Full Yin respectively. Wood (rising, expanding change) and Metal (descending, contracting changes) are transitions between the two extremes.

Truly, a miracle occurs when the two primary energies collide, sparking life. This miracle occurs in the mid region or earth plane of manifested energy depicted as the Earth Element n the Five Transformations Theory.

The human body can be viewed as a miniature version of the larger macrocosm of these two main energies at play: the ascending earthly Chi and the descending heavenly Chi. The center of the torso is where these two forces along the main axis are most equally balanced in proportion.

This is the home of the Five Transformations Earth Element, representing the Stomach and Spleen/Pancreas. It is through this center that we digest our food. Digestion is the portal through which we unlock the  solar energy within the food we consume and make that energy available as fuel. This process is referred to as “separating the pure from the impure”. The Stomach “cooks” the food, with digestive acids. The Spleen extracts the “pure” energy essence from the food, in contrast to the “impure” or physical food components. The Pancreas is the “brain” that signals the liver to release glycogen (stored carbohydrate) and determines how much glucose is needed to fuel the cells. You can see that Chinese Medicine views these “organs” more as an energy processesing center rather than the anatomical function of these physical organs in Western Medicine.

Further, a parallel can be drawn between the Earth Element and the solar plexus in the chakra system

. The rainbow colors of the 7 chakras depict the various vibrational waves lengths of pure sunlight. This system, too, acknowledges the sun’s significant central position within the body. The solar plexus, or sun center, represents the union of the pure non-manifest vibration of the heavens with the earthly forces of more dense physical vibration that gives us the gift of life within a physical body.

Briefly, the solar plexis rules:

1) turning food matter into energy through digestion.
2) Digesting thoughts and ideas and transforming those ideas into goals, and goals into action.
3) It represents who we are in this life, our intellectual clarity, and also our will power.

As we enter the summer season of longer days and more direct sunlight in the northern hemisphere, let us celebrate the sun both outside and inside of us for the role it plays in giving us life. When we reside in darker days remember that you are made of sunlight. Remember when you eat the food that sustains you, that you are ingesting the sun’s power. May the power of that gift activate your dreams into reality.

In Part 2 of “Here Comes the Sun”: An informative and clarifying interview with Cynthia Vann regarding a healthy relationship with the sun and Vitamin D production.

Making Your Own Dried Daikon with David Briscoe

 Nutrition & Benefits of Dried “Kiriboshi” Daikon

When compared to the same weight of raw daikon, kiriboshi-daikon contains fifteen times more calcium to strengthen bones and teeth, 32 times more iron to prevent pernicious anemia, and ten times more vitamins B1 and B2 to support metabolism. Because the volume decreases to approximately one tenth when dried, kiriboshi-daikon is a more efficient way to absorb nutrients. As a rich source of dietary fiber, it improves digestion and promotes beautiful skin. Kiriboshi-daikon is effective in weight-loss diets because it gives a sense of fullness even in small quantities. It also works to restore liver and stomach functions weakened by hangover, and it mitigates sensitivity to cold through its heat insulating action. Kiriboshi-daikon was a valuable food in the past when fresh vegetables were not readily available. Today, it is desired as a food packed with the nutrients that many people lack.


 Recipe for Cooking Dried Daikon

Dried Daikon with Onion, Burdock and Carrot

2 cups dried daikon, soaked (discard the soaking water)
1 onion, cut in ¼ inch wedges
6-8 inches burdock root, cut into ½ inch rounds
4 large dried shitake, soaked until completely soft, cut into quarters (save soaking
1 carrot, cut into wedges
Sesame oil
Sea salt

1. Sauté the onion with some sesame oil until caramelized. Then sauté the burdock,
dried daikon and then carrot, adding salt.
2. Add shitake water to half the height of the ingredients.
3. Bring up to pressure and cook for 10 minutes.
4. Bring down pressure and carefully reduce most of the liquid.
5. Finish seasoning with shoyu if needed.

I never paid much attention to dried daikon. It was one of those imported macrobiotic specialty foods that was hard to find

. Where I lived, it had to be mail ordered. Besides, it was usually recommended in the books as a home remedy or special dish for specific conditions. So, I never viewed it as a regular food.  It faded from use in my kitchen, and the two packages I had on hand, moved to the dark back corner of a kitchen drawer. Occasionally, over the years, I would encounter them while searching for something, and the dried daikon would look darker and unappealing as the years passed.

There also developed a general aversion in the macrobiotic community to the use of dried daikon, as some counselors would advise against its use, admonishing people that they were becoming “too yang,” and that dried daikon would only make them more so. All in all dried daikon fell out of favor and was all but forgotten by most macrobiotic cooks.

Some years ago, Cynthia and I set out on a mission to see how many of the imported macrobiotic foods we could make ourselves. So far we’ve made miso, natto, umeboshi, ume vinegar, ume ginger pickles, takuan rice bran pickles, brown rice syrup, shoyu, amasake, tempeh, naturally leavened bread. We had been inspired years before by our late, great cooking master, the inimitable and irreplaceable Cornellia Aihara. She taught that the spirit of macrobiotics encouraged us to make as many of our foods at home as possible, with local ingredients. So, at her Vega Study Center in California, students were very fortunate to learn from her how to make miso, shoyu, umeboshi and more. “What will you do if boat stops coming from Japan?” she would say. As it turned out, she was right. The boat didn’t stop coming from Japan, but the recent nuclear disaster there caused many outside of Japan to be very wary of eating imported Japanese foods. Some stopped eating them altogether. So, a few weeks ago, just when I thought I’d about made everything at home that had only been imported before, the idea popped up in my head: “Wait. Dried daikon!” And I began to research how it is made, its benefits, its nutritional make up…and, yes, I made some!

Generally, dried daikon has been considered a winter food, and the drying was originally done to preserve daikon through the cold season. However, it’s not necessary to view dried daikon in such a limited light.n It can be enjoyed anytime of the year. And don’t worry, using it now and then won’r make you too yang. You’d have to use an awful lot of it, on a regular basis, to get such an effect!

Some might say “Why bother?” Well, after you learn about dried daikon’s superior nutritional content, you might want to try it, too.

See the video below….

« Previous Entries

Powered by Macrobiotics America-Macrobiotics Global | Designed by David Briscoe