Periodically, I’ll feature a book that I think readers may find inspirational, helpful or informative.The underlying pages to this tab suggest books and videos that can support the journey to optimum health and greater well-being. This page and the underlying pages will be updated with new reading suggestions.
Dan Harris’s 10% Happier is the autobiography of a skeptical television journalist who reluctantly accepted the assignment covering the religion beat for ABC News. In that role, Harris explored popular, self-help spirituality (including profiles of Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra) and was introduced to Buddhism and meditation. In the second half of the book, Harris introduces us to major figures in the “Jew-Bu” world–that is, Jewish Americans who have become, since the 1970s, the leading writers and teachers of Buddhist practice–including Mark Epstein and Joseph Goldstein.
Goldstein is featured in the long chapter recounting a 10-day meditation retreat, where Harris had wild swings of experience: jubilation, misery, boredom, hopefulness. That chapter and those that follow track Harris’ transformation from the jaded reporter that we meet in the early parts of the story. For Harris, meditation provided a solution to personal problems, including the relentless, negative mental chatter of his “ego” mind, which initially drew him to Tolle’s writings. Harris notes research suggesting the myriad benefits (health, emotional and even professional) of a mindfulness practice. Over time, it has helped him to find career satisfaction and learn to be a nicer person. He seems to have become much more than 10% happier. Appendices provide basic practice instructions and answer common questions about meditation.
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Mark Bittman’s VB6 (Eat Vegan Before 6:00) provides a part-time vegetarian solution for those who want to manage their weight, improve health and avoid eating-related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. The book emphasizes the importance of avoiding junk food (loaded with sugars and refined grains), as well as reducing intake of meat. It encourages readers to cook more at home, use plant-based recipes for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Bitttman teaches how to stock a pantry, prepare large batches of staples and re-purpose leftovers, to make this VB6 approach workable.
The first third of this book is a well-written introduction to nutrition and health for the layman. Using a minimum of scientific jargon, this section explains whole and refined grains; blood sugar, glycemic index and load; HDL and LDL cholesterol, Omega-3 and -6 fats; and other basic nutrition concepts for those who need this information. Rejecting deprivation dieting and perfectionism in all its forms, VB6 is designed as a pragmatic alternative to cold-turkey veganism. Bittman prefers a flexible approach that allows occasional indulgences without guilt. Nothing is forbidden, but guidelines are clear; and for those who want it, the author provides a 28-day program featuring his recipes for meals and snacks.
Arianna Huffington’s Thrive provides an overview of many different techniques and reforms that individuals and organizations can adopt to address to the “hunger to live our lives with more meaning and purpose, more happiness and joy, and less unnecessary stress and burnout.” The strength of this book is not to lay out a simple plan, a few things to do. Rather, Huffington describes the predicament that millions of Americans share: overwork, insufficient sleep, undernourishment, disconnection from their own inner wisdom. She references numerous practices, apps and other tools that can help, for example, to cultivate a meditation practice or disconnect from online attachments. While the focus may appear to be on high income, driven professionals, such as many of those in the author’s social circles, Thrive contains information and resources that could be just as beneficial to a college student or an office worker. Final sections on Wonder (exploring art and nature, for example) and Giving (volunteering and more) provide an inspirational conclusion. This is a good introduction to practical self-care to alleviate some of the worst effects of the way we live now.