Embracing the dark


In winter of 2015, I embarked upon an experiment to experience segmented sleep. (I was inspired by an intriguing article online by Clark Strand, where he described accessing a state of blissful transcendence akin to deep meditation.)

To get an inkling about segmented sleep, watch the 3 minute clip below which explains how artificial lighting at night has dramatically changed our sleeping patterns.

For four weeks, while housesitting a wonderfully private property in the countryside of Central Otago, I reset my circadian clock by avoiding all electrical lighting and digital devices from dusk to dawn. The experience was life changing.

There were no streetlights, no light trespass from neighbours – only glorious darkness once the sun set. Not only did I experience the mystical state Mr Strand described every single night, I also noticed with delight, every other sphere of my life benefitted.

Before I began, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew with every cell in my body it was something I had to try. (I’ve always been drawn to the night and feel most at home during the darkling hours.) Part of me wondered, if I’d be able to adhere to such a strict regime, and I wasn’t sure how practical it would be to implement – so what happened next was a welcome surprise.

On my very first evening, I was acutely aware of the soft and gentle transition of dusk. It’s my favourite time probably because of the hush that comes over the landscape, but I’d never been quite so keenly observant of the subtle power it holds – and something very special occurred, and continued to occur for the following 30 nights.

As the light began to fade, I felt a profound sense of calm come over me, and instead of filling in my evening with activity, I wanted to do the very opposite. I needed to savour the stillness. I sat in silence and let the sensations wash through me, and it was so pleasurable I thought, golly this could be a little addictive. It was at that moment I had an epiphany.

One month of dark evenings was going to be easy.

The thought that then followed, was, what am I going to do once my 30 days are up? How will I maintain the same degree of darkness when back in a rural setting with streetlights, car headlights and neighbours who love their security lights? This experience was too wonderful just to let it slip away. I had to find a way. In the meantime, I would devote myself to making the most of my dark nights.

Another change I observed which happened quickly, was the lovely sleepiness that came over me once night fell, and I found myself naturally gravitating to bed at the ridiculously early hour of 7pm. Once in bed though, I didn’t go to sleep, I lay there in blissful revery. There was no urgency, no pressure, just complete relaxation. After a few hours, sleep would come like the softest blanket, and then a few hours later, I would wake. But when I woke, I felt very calm, and the transition was gentle. In fact, gentleness was with me from dusk to dawn.

Just as Clark Strand mentions in his book, Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless AgeI was experiencing the magical, crystal clear and calm ‘hours of God’ in between the first and second phase of segmented sleep – and it was beautiful beyond words.

For two to three hours in the middle of the night, I also felt a deep sense of wonder that this state was so easy to access, as long as the lights remained off. I then discovered this was the ideal time to meditate and practice slow and gentle Yin yoga in front of the woodfire.

Many things changed while I enjoyed segmented sleep, one of which was the quality of my dreams. I’m a vivid dreamer having 2-3 a night. But the messages in my dreams with segmented sleep were infused with even more clarity and significance than usual. I would wake up from them thinking, fantastic! I’ve just gained some remarkable insight about my myself, my situation, and the world at large. It was so lovely and important I considered it a gift, as my waking hours were also enhanced.

Another important change was the urge to be busy and ‘productive’ disappeared. I’m a nightowl, and for years I’ve enjoyed devoting my evenings to creative work. This usually involves hours on the laptop as I write, research and design. I wondered if I’d miss this time, if I’d end up having to catch up during daylight, or that I might feel cheated in some way.

The funny thing is, I’ve never felt more balanced, creative and productive, even though from the outside looking in, I was doing far less – and I definitely didn’t feel cheated.

By doing less I was in fact, accomplishing more and I felt deeply rewarded.

My tranquil evenings became incredibly precious to me because of what they contained and offered; the joy of silence, the richness of serenity, the beauty of darkness, moments bright with creativity, and the profound connection I felt to the natural world around me. The less I did in my evenings, the richer they became. The fewer distractions in my environment, the calmer and clearer my mind. I felt all this delicious empty spaciousness inside, devoid of clutter, noise and activity.

Adapting to evenings without artificial light wasn’t actually a big deal and I found myself eagerly looking forward to the wonders of my nights. (Each one was different in some special way.) I used a single candle until I was ready for bed. I learned how little light I needed to do simple chores, and I adored the warm, cosy ambience of firelight, the smell of pine and sap, the warm glow of a burning wick, and the appreciation I felt for the bed I slept in.

I also became aware of just how dependent we are as a society on electricity, and how much LEDs, (those intensely bright white / blue lights) have infiltrated our lives. They are used in so many electrical appliances in the home they are now tricky to avoid. (Blue rich LEDs cause mayhem to our circadian clock, disrupting natural biological rhythms and dramatically reducing the quality of our sleep.)

I cooked my meals before night fell, and used a gas burner or the woodfire to heat up soups and casseroles. I arranged my nighttime snacks in the fridge so they were easy to access, and when I opened the fridge door, I covered my eyes with my arm, my face in the crook of my elbow, to avoid the bright light that came on. I turned off the modem, my mobile phone, the slow cooker, and the stereo – and I turned the phone to the wall so it’s illuminated display wasn’t on show. I used an old fashioned alarm clock (no digital lights) so I knew what hours I was keeping while I was in bed.

In the process, I discovered more about how the rods and cones in my eyes work. Everything slowed down to a gloriously gentle pace, and my senses were heightened. I enjoyed showers in the dark, and took my time to massage ghee and coconut oil into my skin afterwards. (Something I often rushed in the daytime.) I felt grounded, and in awe that if given the opportunity, I could feel so calm, content and clear – and I realised just how vital, uncompromised darkness is to my health and happiness. Most importantly, I appreciate more than I ever have before, what my body is capable of when I give it what it really needs – the full spectrum of darkness at night.

I am now familiar with a part of the human experience unknown to most of us and I’m grateful. Hopefully, more people will wake up to the fact that we need darkness just as much as we need daylight – and perhaps they may also discover the wonders of segmented sleep.

Listen to the following interview with Clark Strand, the author of Waking Up to the Dark – Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age.


Jessie Gamble briefly explains the importance of our body clock, our connection to nature, and the importance of darkness and segmented sleep.

Further Reading
The Siesta and the Midnight Sun: How Our Bodies Experience Time by Jessie Gamble.
Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age by Clark Strand, 2015
Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K. Randall, 2013
Evening’s Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe by Craig Koslofsky, 2011
At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime by  Roger Ekirch. WW Norton & Company, 2005.
Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival by TS Wileyand Brent Formby, 2001


Why Less is More

In conjunction with the publication of my article about minimalism in the spring issue 2015, of Yoga Scene, I’ve put together this post for those of you who want to learn more about this social movement. Below the documentaries and video clips, there is a list of wonderful books to read, with links where you can find them.

A brilliant documentary about consumerism

While filming “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things,” The Minimalists took time to answer questions about minimalism, decluttering, and life.

Less is more – Life Edited by Graham Hill 2015
Graham Hill explains how people can design their lives for more happiness with less stuff.

Writer and designer Graham Hill asks: Can having less stuff, in less room, lead to more happiness? He makes the case for taking up less space, and lays out three rules for editing your life.

Getting rid of 1000 things by Liz Wright 2014
Liz realised she spent a lot of time, money and resources buying and maintaining ‘stuff’. So, she set herself the challenge to get rid of 1,000 things from her life in an attempt to live more simply.

Barry Schwartz TedTalks

The 100 things challenge by Dave Bruno – TEDTalks
Dave is the author of The 100 Thing Challenge, a book that documents his challenge to live with less than 100 personal items for a year. Dave challenges our conceptualization of The American Dream and asks us what is truly necessary to live a fulfilled and happy life.

Matthieu Ricard: The habits of happiness 2008 TEDTalks
What is happiness, and how can we all get some? Buddhist monk, photographer and author Matthieu Ricard has devoted his life to these questions, and his answer is influenced by his faith as well as by his scientific turn of mind: We can train our minds in habits of happiness. Interwoven with his talk are stunning photographs of the Himalayas and of his spiritual community.

Further Reading
The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life 2015 by Janice Kaplan
Rising Strong by Brene Brown 2015
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Wau we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown 2015
Living More With Less Kindle Edition by James Wallman 2014
Simplify Kindle Edition by Joshua Becker
Inside-Out Simplicity Kindle Edition by Joshua Becker
Living With Less: An Unexpected Key to Happiness (Simply for Students) Kindle Edition by Joshua Becker
Less Is More: How To Live With Less Stuff For Greater Health And Happiness (Minimal Living, Minimalist Living Tips) 2014 Kindle Edition by Zoe Ingram
The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
Less is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness Kindle Edition by Cecile Andrews
Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World Kindle Edition by Linda Breen Pierce
Living in the Land of Enough Kindle Edition by Courtney Carver

Light Pollution

In conjunction with the publication of my article about light pollution in the September / October 2015, issue of Organic NZ magazine, I’ve put together a great array of fascinating podcasts, interviews, presentations and such, including a reading list and scientific references, for those who want more information about this important topic.

Click below to listen to a captivating podcast by Vanessa Lowe the creator of Nocturne called ‘The Vanishing Dark’ or click here to visit her website and hear her other wonderful stories involving the darkness.

Paul Bogard Interview on Radio NZ.

Radio NZ interview with author and astrophotographer Paul Bogarde, and astronomer and astrophotographer John Field about artificial light and light pollution, updated at 12:15 pm on 12 April 2014.
Radio NZ interview

A fantastic explanation about the importance of darkness and better lighting practice.

The importance of protecting our dark night sky

Protecting our dark sky from light pollution here in Dunedin, NZ.

Ranger Kate explains why the night sky is important to her, and why we need to focus special attention on preserving this amazing piece of heritage.

The risks of light pollution

The negative environmental and biological effects of light pollution.

An inspiring TEDx TALK by New Zealand astrophotographer Mark Gee.

Even the Wall Street Journal has recently acknowledged the importance of looking after our circadian clock. Check out their article here.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) lists five ways to protect our night sky. To find out what they are click here. The IDA also lists five interesting facts about light pollution. Click here to find out more.

John Hearnshaw has written an excellent article published in July 2015, in the newspaper The Press about light pollution. You can read it by clicking here. He is an Emeritus Professor of Astronomy at the University of Canterbury and also the President of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand and Chair of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.

Not only does light pollution have a disasterous impact upon human health, the new brighter and more intense ‘energy efficient’ LED lights  are also proving detrimental to many other species including the firefly. To read more about this study published in August, 2015 click here. 

The following text explains how artificial night lighting effects insects: Attraction of insects to streetlamps in a rural setting in Germany. Source: Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting. Catherine Rich & Travis Longcore (eds). 2006. Island Press. Pages 281-304.

Insect Behavior Toward Lights
The first thing noted was the behavior of the insects toward lights, described in three ways. The first effect is the near effect on individual insects, called the fixated or capture effect, which many have noticed regarding insects and lights, creating the cliché of like a moth to a flame. However, what most people have not noticed is the fact that some insects will fly towards, and actually stop, some distance before a light, stuck there all night as if dazzled by the light. To them, it must be an incomprehensible sight, something well beyond the natural instinct they have encoded in their DNA. Being so captured by the light means that they then are then unable to perform their basic functions for life, such as to find food or to reproduce. Thus they are removed from gene pool and the species suffers, because some human just can’t be bothered to turn off the light. Others insects fly directly into the light, only to get killed by the hot glass surface. Still others try to naturally fly at angles to the light, assuming it is the distant Moon, only to enter into an ever tighter spiral around the light and hence become caught by the light. Such insects either become easy prey for other animals or eventually just exhaust themselves, falling dead to the ground.

The next two effects are broader in scale and their far potent effects vary according to background conditions, such the lunar phase or from localized sky glow. They include the crash barrier effect, where a string of lights, such as those along a road that crosses an insect flight path, becomes a actual fence to those insects, prohibiting their crossing. This effect stops the insect’s movement across the land. The final effect is the vacuum cleaner effect, where the insects are drawn out of their environment to their deaths by a light making the landscape evacuated of life. A brighter lunar phase reduces the contrast of the lights and hence their effect. The lights’ strength variations depend on the height of the lights, background sky glow from light pollution sources, and range from 400-600m for dark sky conditions or 50m for full moon conditions, though there is some discussion on how to measure the effect.

A time lapse clip of insects attracted to artificial light by Charlie McCarthy.

Paul Bogard. 2014.The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light.
Paul Bogard. 2008. Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark.
Abraham Haim and Boris A Portnov. 2013. Light Pollution as a New Risk Factor for Human Breast and Prostate Cancers.
International Dark-Sky Association. 2012. Fighting Light Pollution: Smart Lighting Solutions for Individuals and Communities.
Josiane Meier et al (eds). 2014. Urban Lighting, Light Pollution and Society.
Bob Mizon. 2012. Light Pollution: Responses and Remedies. Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series.
C Rich and T Longcore. 2005. Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting.
TS Wileyand Brent Formby. 2001. Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival.
Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting by Catherine Rich and Travis Longcore.
Fighting Light Pollution: Smart Lighting Solutions for Individuals and Communities by The International Dark-Sky Association

1. T. Longcore, C. Rich. 2004. Ecological light pollution. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2(4):191-198.
2. F. Falchi, P. Cinzano, C.D. Elvidge, D.M. Keith, A. Haim. Limiting the impact of light pollution on human health, environment and stellar visibility. J Environ Manage. 2011 Oct;92(10):2714-2.
3. R. Chepesiuk. 2009. Missing the dark: Health effects of light pollution. Environ Health Perspect. 117(1): A20–A27.
4. Welsh and D. Farrington. 2008. Effects of improved street lighting on crime. Campbell Systematic Reviews.
5. britastro.org/dark-skies/crime.html
6. R. Steinbach et al. 2015. The effect of reduced street lighting on road casualties and crime in England and Wales: controlled interrupted time series analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health.
7. M. Aubé et al. 2013. Evaluating Potential Spectral Impacts of Various Artificial Lights on Melatonin Suppression, Photosynthesis, and Star Visibility. PLOS.
8. J. Navara, R. J. Nelson. 2007. The dark side of light at night: physiological, epidemiological, and ecological consequences. J. Pineal Research. 43(3):215-224.
9.B. Christian, et al. 2014. The Impact of light source spectral power distribution on sky glow. J. Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer. Vol 139:21–26.
10. C. Bruce-White, M. Shardlow. 2011. A review of the impact of artificial light on invertebrates: Putting the backbone into invertebrate conservation. Peterborough, UK: Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust. p.32.
11. S.A. Gauthreaux, C.G. Belser. 2006. Effects of artificial night lighting on migrating birds. In: Rich C, Longcore T, editors. Ecological consequences of artificial night lighting. Washington DC: Island Press. 67–93.
12. R.G. Stevens. 2011. Testing the light at night (LAN) theory for breast cancer causation. Chronobiol Int 28(8): 653–656.
13. I. Kloog, R.G. Stevens, A. Haim, B.A. Portnoy. 2010. Nighttime light level co-distributes with breast cancer incidence. Cancer Causes Control 21: 2059–2068.
14. I. Kloog, A. Haim, R.G. Stevens, B.A. Portnov. 2009. Global co-distribution of light at night (LAN) and cancers of prostate, colon, and lung in men. Chronobiol Int 26(1): 108–125.
15. L.K. Fonken, J.L. Workman, J.C. Walton, Z.M. Weil, J.S. Morris, et al. 2010. Light at night increases body mass by shifting the time of food intake. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 107(43): 18664–18669.
16. K. Spiegel, K. Knutson, R. Leproult, E. Tasali, E. Van Cauter. 2005. Sleep loss: A novel risk factor for insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. J Appl Physiol 99(5): 2008–2019.
17. S.W. Lockley, G.C. Brainard, C.A. Czeisler. 2003. High sensitivity of the human circadian melatonin rhythm to resetting by short wavelength light. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 88(9): 4502–4505.
18. C. Cajochen, S. Frey, D. Anders, J. Späti, M. Bues, et al. 2011. Evening exposure to a light-emitting diodes (LED)-backlit computer screen affects circadian physiology and cognitive performance. J Appl Physiol 110: 1432–1438.
19. M.S. Rea, J.P. Freyssinier. 2009. Outdoor lighting: Visual efficacy (ASSIST recommends, Volume 6, Issue 2). New York: Lighting Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. p.14.

The Dark Side of Blue Light

In conjunction with the publication of my article in the July / August 2015 issue, I’ve put together this post which provides more information to those of you interested in this subject. You can also find further scientific references about the negative effects of blue light exposure at the bottom of this post.

Click here to read a helpful article aimed at parents, published in the Baltimore Sun, explaining how teenagers can get the sleep they need for health and wellbeing by implementing good habits regarding the use of technology.

Light and Health Program Director Mariana Figueiro, from the Lighting Research Center (LRC) and Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, reveals surprising facts about the effects of light – its presence, its absence, and its patterns – on human health.

Learn about the fascinating mysteries of sleep.

Learn about a nifty free software app to reduce the blue light that is emitted from your digital devices.

Click here to install the free software called F.lux

For iPhones and iPads you can install this free blue light filter app by clicking here.

For Android run devices, install the free app Twilight.

For information about protecting your eyes from blue light exposure by wearing crizal prevencia glass lens watch the following clips.

For a wonderful in depth explanation about the history, development and effects of blue light on the human body please click here.

Further Scientific References
Due to the limited word count in Organic NZ Magazine, here are the references I was unable to include at the end of my article.

A. Chang, D. Aeschbacha, J. F. Duffy and C. A. Czeislera. 2014.Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. PNAS. vol. 112:no. 4:1232–1237.
Click here for the full pdf version.

M. Figueiro, D. Overington.
Self-luminous devices and melatonin suppression in adolescents. Lighting Res. Technol. 2015; 0: 1–10.
Click here for the document.

E. Chamorro, C. Bonnin-Arias, M. Pérez-Carrasco, J. Muñoz de Luna, D. Vázquez, C. Sánchez-Ramos. 2013. Effects of Light-emitting Diode Radiations on Human Retinal Pigment Epithelial Cells In Vitro. Photopchemistry and Photobiology. Vol 89 (2) 468-473. Click here for the abstract.

D. C. Holzman. 2010. What’s in a Colour? The Unique Human Health Effects of Blue Light. Environ Health Perspect. 118(1): A22–A27. 
Click here for the full pdf version.

A. Dominguez-Rodriguez, P. Abreu-Gonzalez, J.J. Sanchez-Sanchez, J.C. Kaski, R.J. Reiter. 2010. Melatonin and circadian biology in human cardiovascular disease. J Pineal Res. 49(1):14-22. Click here for the abstract.

D.E. Blask. 2009. Melatonin, sleep disturbance and cancer risk. Sleep Med Rev. 13(4):257-64. Click here for the abstract.

According to the 2015 study above by M. Figueiro and D. Overington: While people are using an iPad at night their body produces 55% less melatonin.

After shutting off the lights (and the iPad), they took an extra 10 minutes to fall asleep.
When they did fall asleep, they had less REM sleep during the night.
The next morning, the iPad readers felt sleepier, and it took them “hours longer” to feel alert. The book readers quickly felt more alert immediately upon waking.
When it was time for bed the next night, the iPad readers’ circadian clocks were delayed by more than 90 minutes. Their bodies began to feel tired an hour and a half later than normal, because they were exposed to alerting light from the iPad the night before.

Each participant was tested with both the iPad and reading a book. Books on paper did not suppress melatonin or cause participants to feel groggy the next day.

The 5-day study was conducted by Anne-Marie Chang, Daniel Aeschbach, Jeanne F. Duffy, and Charles A. Czeisler at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital).

This study shows that the bright blue light from displays at night is impacting our sleep. If you stay up late reading a bright iPad until just before bedtime, your sleep will be negatively affected, and your body will expect to stay up later the next night (as much as 90 minutes later). You may have trouble winding down, feeling alert when you should be getting tired.

This level of melatonin suppression is quite large. Melatonin is known as the sleep hormone, and has many functions in the body related to sleep. It is also a strong anti-inflammatory known to suppress cancer cell growth.

Because the circadian shift of using an iPad at night is very large, only a few nights of staying up late reading might put your body several hours out of phase with your normal routine.

In 2012, the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health made this recommendation:
“Recognises that exposure to excessive light at night, including extended use of various electronic media, can disrupt sleep or exacerbate sleep disorders, especially in children and adolescents. This effect can be minimized by using dim red lighting in the nighttime bedroom environment.”

The Yogic Benefits of Ghee

Ghee_Lamp_8401_BLOGHomemade ghee candle. Image by Kyra Xavia

In conjunction with the publication of Yoga Scene, April 2015, which includes my article about the ‘Yogic Benefits of Ghee,’ I’ve put together this post to provide information about how to make your own ghee at home, as well as some clips which explain various techniques that enhance wellbeing using ghee.

Not only is ghee an effective digestive aid, it lubricates joints, softens tendons, and nourishes the skin, also making your skin and hair shiny and healthy. Ghee enhances the memory too, and calms a scattered and agitated mind.

Ghee has been around for thousands of years and it’s one of the most healing and nourishing substances on Earth.

The following clip demonstrates how easy it is to apply abhyanga (self massage) using ghee to nourish skin, brighten the complexion, and calm the nervous system.

To make ghee candles

The Benefits of Ghee


Ghee_8241_BLOGHomemade ghee made from raw, cultured, organic butter. Image by Kyra Xavia

In conjunction with the publication of my article titled ‘Glorious ghee’ in the May / June, 2015 issue of Organic NZ Magazine, I’ve put together this post with clips that explain the many benefits of ghee, as well as instructions on how to make your own at home. If you’re curious about the special energetic qualities of this medicinal food in regards to Ayurveda medicine and how it can enhance your Yoga and meditation practice, please check out another post here.

The following short clip discusses why ghee is different to butter.

Ghee also contains an important vitamin called K2. The following clip explains more but I would recommend including homemade ghee instead of taking a supplement.

To make ghee at home yourself, follow the simple method shown in the following youtube clip.
Always use unsalted, cultured, certified organic, pasture raised butter.

The Crucial Role of Whales

It’s becoming clear that whales do far more than scientists ever imagined and their crucial role is only now being understood in a wider context.

Before their numbers were reduced, it seems that whales might have been responsible for removing tens of millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year.

Quite simply, whales can help change the climate.

If humanity ensured the return of the great whales by protecting them and their environment, they could undo some of the damage done, both to the living systems of the sea, and to the atmosphere.

Editor: Steve Agnos
Producer: Chris Agnos
Narration: George Monbiot

For more from George Monbiot, visit monbiot.com/ and for more on rewilding check out George Monbiot’s book Feral: rewilding the land, the sea and human life.

Music Credits:
Cylinder 2 – Chris Zabriskie
Dramatic Film Strings (Cinematic Movie Soundtrack) – Ramazan Yuksel

Film Credits:
The majority of footage found in this film was generously donated courtesy of Peter Schneider of underwatercam.tv.

Academic Sources:
Stephen Nicol et al, 2010. Southern Ocean iron fertilization by baleen whales and Antarctic krill. Fish and Fisheries, vol 11, pp 203–209.
Kakani Katija and John O. Dabiri, 2009. A viscosity-enhanced mechanism for biogenic ocean mixing. Nature, Vol. 460, pp 624-627. doi:10.1038/nature08207
Joe Roman and James J. McCarthy, 2010) The Whale Pump: Marine Mammals Enhance Primary Productivity in a Coastal Basin. PLoS ONE vol 5 no 10, pp 1-8. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0013255
Daniel G. Boyce, Marlon R. Lewis and Boris Worm, 2010. Global phytoplankton decline over the past century. Nature, Vol. 466, pp591-596. doi:10.1038/nature09268
Steve Nichol, 12th July 2011. Vital Giants: why living seas need whales. New Scientist, No.2820. http://www.newscientist.com/article/m…
Trish J. Lavery et al, 2010. Iron defecation by sperm whales stimulates carbon export in the Southern Ocean. Proceedings of the Royal Society: B. Vol 277, pp 3527-3531.doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.0863
James A. Estes, et al, 2011. Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth. Science, Vol 333, pp 301-306. doi: 10.1126/science.1205106


That Unique Smell of Rainfall on Earth Finally Explained

Scientists may have discovered how that distinct smell of rain on earth (known as petrichor) occurs.

Using high-speed cameras, MIT researchers observed that when a raindrop hits a surface, it traps tiny air bubbles at the point of contact.
The bubbles then shoot upward, ultimately bursting from the drop in a fizz of aerosols.

Interestingly, the study showed that not all surfaces and not all rainfall intensities are conducive to generating aerosols.
Heavy rains, for example, are not ideal for aerosol production, nor is rain falling on sand.

“Until now, people didn’t know that aerosols could be generated from raindrops on soil,” explains Youngsoo Joung, a coauthor of the study. “This finding should be a good reference for future work, illuminating microbes and chemicals existing inside soil and other natural materials, and how they can be delivered in the environment, and possibly to humans.”

We may finally have a scientific explanation as to why walking in the forest after a spring rain is so energising and uplifting. (You’re experiencing natural aromatherapy along with a perfect dose of beneficial bacteria.)
Once again the vital relationship between beneficial soil bacteria to human health is coming to the fore, suggesting there may be even more reason to spend time close to nature.

Organic Skincare


This post has been created in conjunction with the publication of my article about organic skincare in the January / February 2015 issue of Organic NZ magazine.

Natural and organic skincare is experiencing a global boom as consumers wake up to the fact that conventional products contain a plethora of harmful ingredients. With so many new products coming onto the market and many brands jumping on the greenwashing bandwagon, how can consumers know what brands to trust? Well for starters, there are some important distinctions between natural and organic.

The word ‘natural’ has been so misused as a selling point by the advertising industry that it means very little. For an entertaining look at the greenwashing that goes on in the advertising and packaging of ‘natural’ products, watch this clip. Although it focuses on food, the same misleading approach can also apply to personal care products.


Certified natural products are definitely a healthier option than conventional products, but they are not certified organic.

To create a recognised standard for products made with natural ingredients, the German certifying agency BDIH was established in 2001.

European-based Natrue followed suit in 2007 with three different certifications:
1) natural,
2) natural with an organic portion,
3) certified organic
All have the same logo (see below) but a different subheading, so if you’re wanting a certified organic product registered with Natrue, read labels carefully. To learn more about Natrue standards visit  www.natrue.org.



Certified organic products must meet standards that surpass natural certification. Today, organic certification is the best guarantee consumers have that skincare products are safe, healthy and environmentally sustainable. Organic manufacturers, producers and processors are subject to rigorous inspections by third-party inspectors, and only products that meet the highest standard (containing more than 95% certified organic ingredients) will be free from harsh synthetic surfactants, artificial fragrances, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals, GMOs, nanoparticles, and plastic microbeads.

But there are two different tiers within most certified organic standards –
1 – Products with a minimum of 95% certified organic ingredients and,
2 – Products made with a minimum of 70% certified organic ingredients.

But matters can get complicated for consumers because not all organic standards are the same and labelling requirements differ.

For more information about different organic certifiers and their standards please click here.

New Zealand has two main organic certifiers:
AsureQuality doesn’t have a separate health and beauty standard, but as long as skincare brands meet their organic production standards (for farming and food) they can gain certification.

AssureQuality Organic Logo

BioGro developed their health and beauty standards as recently as June 2013. BioGro also adopted Natrue certification under license.

Both certifiers have two tiers for organic health and beauty products.

95%+    Products with a minimum of 95% certified organic ingredients are identified by the words ‘certified organic’ and the certifier’s logo on the front of products (displaying the actual percentage is voluntary).

70%+    Products ‘made with organic ingredients’ contain a minimum of 70% certified organic ingredients. Products must display the percentage of certified organic ingredients alongside the certifier’s logo. With this category, BioGro doesn’t allow its logo on the front, while AsureQuality allows its logo on the front of packaging along with the words ‘certified organic’.

NOTE: Water, minerals, salts and preservatives cannot be included as organic ingredients in the 95%+ or the 70%+ (but may be in the remaining portion of up to 5% or up to 30%).


The following five brands are those I use myself and feel confident recommending. Plantae and Viola are made here in New Zealand. Mukti is produced in Australia. Mukti and Viola package their products in glass, with Mukti using biophotonic glass, which protects, preserves and energises the products naturally. Dr Hauschka, Plantae and Weleda apply anthroposophical principles in the harvesting of ingredients and the manufacturing of their products. 

Dr Hauschka


The Benefits of Fermented Foods


In conjunction with the publication of my article in Organic NZ magazine (September / October issue, 2014), I’ve put this post together explaining why fermented or cultured food in our diet plays such a crucial role to well-being, especially in regards to the human microbiome. (Due space restrictions in the magazine, the references for the article are posted here.)

1 – E Clair et al. Effects of Roundup and glyphosate on three food microorganisms: Geotrichum candidum, Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus. Curr Microbiol. May 2012 64(5).
2 – M. Frémont et al. High-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing reveals alterations of intestinal microbiota in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome patients. Anaerobe. Aug 2013.
3 – A.K Adiloğlu, et al. The effect of kefir consumption on human immune system: a cytokine study. Mikrobiyoloji Bulteni 2013, 47(2).
4 – Z.B Guzel-Setdim et al. Review: functional properties of kefir. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. Mar 2011 51(3).
5 – H. Szaefer et al. Modulation of CYP1A1, CYP1A2 and CYP1B1 expression by cabbage juices and indoles in human breast cell lines. Nutr Cancer Aug 2012 64(6) .
6 – B.E. Licznerska et al, Modulation of CYP19 expression by cabbage juices and their active components: indole-3-carbinol and 3,3′-diindolylmethene in human breast epithelial cell. Eur J Nutr. Aug 2013 52(5).
7 – K.Y. Park et al. Health benefits of kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) as a probiotic food. J Med Food. Jan 2014 17(1).

Drinking_Kefir_6116_Web                                                                           Photo: Kyra Xavia, www.kyraxavia.com

It’s now widely accepted that a modern lifestyle and diet can negatively impact the diverse community of microorganisms responsible for health (the human microbiome), but restoring and maintaining bacterial balance can be as simple and enjoyable as consuming fermented foods that you can make at home. It’s also more cost effective for supporting digestive health long-term than purchasing probiotic supplements.

For further reading and recipes see the end of this post.

The following clips explain how health depends upon the human microbiome.

Click here to watch a great interview that discusses the breakthroughs in understanding the importance of the human microbiome.

For further reading and recipes to make your own cultured foods
• Missing Microbes. Martin J. Blaser (2014)
• An Epidemic of Absence. Moises Velasquez-Manoff (2013)
• Fermented Foods, vol. 1: Fermented Vegetables, vol. 2: Milk Kefir, vol. 3: Water Kefir. Meghan Grande (2014)
• Fermented Foods for Health. Deirdre Rawlings (2013)
• Real Food Fermentation. Alex Lewin (2012)
• Wild Fermentation and The Art Of Fermentation. Sandor Ellix Katz (2011, 2012)
• Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. Michael Pollan (2010)
• Nourishing Traditions. Sally Fallon and Mary Enig (1999)