Elemental Health

Nature’s simplest, most powerful biohacks can be found right outside your door.
So much of health begins with conscious awareness of our relationship to environment. Photo: Stephen Hocking

By Amely Greeven

It sometimes feels like my mind swings like a pendulum from one day to the next. Confident, on one end of the arc, that the rough times we are living in will give way to a more awakened and resilient reality; gripped, on the other, by the equally real-seeming specter of things falling apart. In the middle of the pendulum swing is me, a mother of an 8-year old, a wife, a writer earning a living and a woman entering perimenopause. A person who like many others is trying to keep her footing between two extremes.

One thing started to hit me: My mental field is impossibly crowded with constantly updating, undeniably important information about every conceivable outcome from enlightened to doomed. Coupled with the life stage I’m in—where my little kid has now got big teeth and doesn’t need me like she did, and I am starting my inevitable slow turn toward a third act of womanhood—I feel cut off from my body at times, and far from the core of who I am. That disconnection is not helpful in a historical moment when conviction and clarity and courage are what’s needed more than ever.

In an earlier era, I might have used discomfort to bridge this delta. Hard physical workouts to find my way back to my inner hero and fire up my personal flame. That’s still a goal—physically, I want to be as strong as can be for whatever the future brings. But maybe I’m wiser as I’m older; I note the foundation on which to do that level of heavy lifting isn’t there right now. I have to start somewhere simpler, one that accepts the place I’m currently in.

If I’m honest, fantasies of cushy kinds of reconnection dance before my eyes, like sinking into a sanctuary kitted out with the accoutrements of energy healing I get to write about as a health and wellness author. I’d love to curl up before a BioCharger, a next-level frequency device which costs as much as a serviceable used car. Or escape to an organic-linen resort with a hardcover journal and pen, and time for long meditations. But I’ve unhooked from the lifestyle that might make any of that attainable; my husband and I decamped some years ago to a rural corner of far eastern California to raise our daughter in raw nature. We took a pay cut to do it. My methods of anchoring back into myself have to be simple and immediately available.

I call Katie Grossman, a specialist in the Ayurvedic acupressure practice of Marma therapy and holistic health coach, and someone whose perspective on healing I always enjoy. She muses, “One of the things we can forget in the quest to heal is how to just be a human; we get so used to other people telling us what to do that we forget what we already have.” Katie thinks that so much of health starts with the conscious awareness of our relationship to our environment. Knowing that I live down a dirt road in the mountains, she encourages, “Use nature to recalibrate you. Use it as your tuning fork.” Living simply and remotely has been a saving grace over the last two-plus years of global turmoil; it can be that for me now.

My first instinct is to go fully Spartan. Would cold-water plunges—not hard to pull off where I live, at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas—drop me into my body with an affirming shock? I’ve studied the science of this much-touted “positive stress,” but my intuition says to pause before jumping in. I’m a typical ectomorph, very low in body fat and borderline underweight. From an Ayurvedic perspective, my Vata-dominant constitution, already prone to anxious stirring, wouldn’t do well with this in winter. Katie agrees: “In certain body types, at certain seasons, cold plunging might be medicinal, but there’s no one size fits all. I’m noticing a lot of my clients who do this habitually are mentally not peaceful; they’re in a state of fight or flight.” I want to be more grounded, not spiraling in circles. That one may have to wait.

I consider if daily intermittent fasting would make me feel more empowered. I’m drawn to it in the name of metabolic flexibility—boosting my cellular ability to burn fats and carbohydrates efficiently, a key to healthy aging. Compressing my meals into a smaller window with longer periods of non-eating seems cavewoman-ish enough to quickly reroot me and ignite more awareness of my physiology. After talking with Cynthia Thurlow—a nurse practitioner and fasting expert whose new book, Intermittent Fasting Transformation, details the safest way for women to use the protocol (not rigidly, always attuned to their menstrual cycles, and only after stress is managed and sleep dialed in)—I decide that I can play with the principles loosely, but set none of it in stone. I’m a candidate for beefing up, and while “time restricted eating” can certainly be part of muscle building, until I’ve established my bigger baseline it could be too restrictive. (Cynthia makes a persuasive case for one piece of biohacking technology, though—a glucose monitor to measure how my blood sugars respond to different meals: “As you head toward menopause, you lose insulin sensitivity.”)

Ultimately, the path back to myself is guided by the most essential thing of all: light. Ever since I moved to a place with no street lamps (no streets, actually) and a real-life planetarium show occurring every night after dark, I have become obsessed with returning to a more natural relationship to light. LEDs have become my kryptonite and every bulb in our house is amber-colored, making it feel like a pioneer world after dark. But I’ve never reliably and consistently done the one thing that Matt Maruca, founder of Ra Optics, a pioneering brand of light therapy eyewear and creator of a healthy living protocol he calls The Light Diet, has evangelized about for several years: exposing myself to the day’s first rays of light every morning. In simplest terms, when the infrared light that is most prevalent in the light spectrum at dawn and dusk hits the retinas of the eyes, it signals the hypothalamus—the master regulator of the body’s circadian rhythms, hormones, neurotransmitters and metabolism—to send the right messages around the body for the right functions to occur at the right times. (Infrared light, and balanced exposure to the full spectrum of natural light during the day, is even shown to boost the energy-making mitochondria and the healthy production of dopamine.)

Syncing myself to the grander, cosmic patterns that my body has evolved with over eons sounds comforting and reliable in a world of utterly unsettled change. But there’s that part about getting out of bed. The nudge to commit comes via a batch of ultra-bitter Ayurvedic herbs that Dr. Jayant Lokhande, aka “Dr. Jay,” an Ayurvedic doctor and botanical medicine formulator, sends in the mail. I’d asked for something to help smooth the transition away from my fertile years. On the jar in tiny lettering, his handwriting says: “Take 45 minutes before sunrise and sunset.” Up before dawn it is.

I start by going to bed a lot earlier, to make the wake-up less painful. (Nothing good comes from sacrificing sleep, I have learned.) When 5:45AM comes, I throw on my sweats, aware that each morning from here on out (until daylight savings time hits) will demand a few minutes of earlier rising. But the moment I’m out the door, my dog Pepper alongside me and neighborhood cats sprinting after us over the sagebrush, I realize I’m not tired at all. I head to an elevated plateau at the end of our property that faces east toward the White Mountains, the majestic threshold separating our land from Death Valley. A subtle glow lights the ridge line from behind—the sun won’t actually break the top for 40 minutes more—as hues of morning gold merge with nighttime’s final gray-blues. The bottoms of the few clouds above turn shocking pink. The setting moon behind my head watches the show with me. Walking slowly, I let my eyeballs soak it all in while I say my morning prayers and tether my mind into my body, as energy integration specialist Suzy Miller has taught me to do before launching into the kid-to-school whirlwind. After the whole world is lit, I go inside to put the kettle on.

Greeting first light becomes one thing I can do in a world full of things I can’t change. I like how my body’s intelligence starts to wake me up without an alarm (not needing blackout curtains in my bedroom helps with this) and to wind me down at a primal, early hour. Coincidence or not—and helped by the herbs—my menstrual cycle normalizes from its recent perimenopause ping-ponging around. But it’s the subtler effects, a few layers deeper in from the physical, that move me the most. Calibrating myself to the sun makes me more hopeful—not just about the world, but about my place in it too. Matt Maruca encourages me to sink into the process I’m engaging in, not fixate on the outcome. He says that any elemental biohack can do more than regulate your biochemistry. Rising early to bathe in light or plunge in ice baths or even meditate with an energy device that merges human innovation with natural frequencies feels transforming because it reconnects you to things that may have felt out of reach—your personal potential to change and evolve and grow, and your small participation in a grand orchestration of elements, rhythms and natural forces in a universe that itself is constantly evolving.

My predawn patrol feels so small, an intimate, unseen gesture unwitnessed by other humans. Yet it tethers me back to something large. In going outside every morning, I’ve remembered that how I feel and how I age is an inside job, yet nature is all around to help me do it. As I strut out to my sandy plateau, I hear Dr. Jay’s words in my mind: “Life is really very simple; we are the one complicating it.”


For balanced body and mind, connect with nature. Photo: Pexels

Try These Three Natural Biohacks

1. Unite With Nature

“Ayurveda is known as the science of longevity, and in my opinion, longevity is determined by your relationship to nature,” says Ayurvedic Marma practitioner Katie Grossman. “Your body is constantly filtering your environment, so wherever you are living—city or country or suburb—the more natural everything in your environment is, the more it eases the pressure on the body, contributing to that longevity. If you don’t live with wilderness outside your door, it’s OK. Every time you eat is an opportunity to unite with nature, because your food is your connection to the Earth.

“When you shop for food, notice how touching and picking farmers market fare feels different from items that have been zapped sterile in the grocery store. Enjoy handling the dirt on them—that’s you interacting with nature, right there! (Wash before eating.) Make friends with a farmer or two at the market and, weird as it sounds, ask them to give you a little soil from their farm. Put it in a small container, and touch and smell it from time to time. Letting your senses take in rich, healthy, microbe-filled soil is a tiny thing that can help you benefit from nature’s power. Your body comprises far more bacteria and other microbes than human cells, after all! And always fill your home and work space with plants.” brainbellybody.com

2. Fasting In Stages

Cynthia Thurlow, nurse practitioner, nutritionist and author of Intermittent Fasting Transformation, says that fasting can be a really powerful, low-tech way to honor the biorhythms of your body. “But women need to fast differently than men, and I advise slightly different strategies depending on your phase of life,” she says. “If you are under 35, a flexible fasting schedule—such as practicing time restricted eating every other day or a few days a week—can help ensure you don’t risk disrupting your menstrual cycle while getting many benefits. (I don’t advise intermittent fasting if you are planning on becoming pregnant, are pregnant or breastfeeding.) The first three weeks of your cycle are the best time to fast; conversely, fasting during the final week of your cycle may lead you to get depleted in the nutrients and hormones necessary for your luteal phase. If you are older than 40, are moving toward perimenopause, are going through menopause or have completed it, you can typically follow a more regular fasting schedule. All of this is outlined in my book.” cynthiathurlow.com

3. Light the Way

“Remember your eyes are the key to charging your body and helping it chill out too,” says Ra Optics founder Matt Maruca. “They are your most powerful sensor of your environment. Getting outside in sunrise light (without wearing glasses or UV-blocking contact lenses) is, biologically speaking, the be-all and end-all, but sunset light has a huge impact too. During the day, if you can open the windows and let natural light flood your space, then even if you’re working at a screen, the near infrared light from outside will help your body stay in balance—these rays get filtered by glass. If you cannot do that, especially if you’re working under fluorescent or LED lighting, wearing daytime yellow lenses can help keep the blue/red light in healthier balance, while also reducing eyestrain and headaches. But remember that even when you can’t modify any of this, you have unlimited health and expansion within you. There are so many ways to tap into your inner light! It is all a grand experiment. Stay curious about the bigger journey.” raoptics.com