Winter Solstice, The old and new

It’s bleak in the winter, cold, we often just want to snuggle up with a hot chocolate a blanket, a book, near a good warm fire, some alone, others with special people, pets, in the comfort of “home”. In  thinking of our physical, mental, and spiritual need of “balance” it is important to remind ourselves about some of the old to new world traditions, and how we may benefit from better understanding towards an improved life.

Celebrating the winter and summer solstice goes back to ancient times in places like Syria where it seems we only hear negative press these days. These traditions were more often linked to astronomy, once linked to the ancient gods of Greece and Rome (the sun-God Apollo); the Celts and places like Stonehenge were thought to keep track of these solstice related equinoxes, and we can learn much from even the Farmer’s Almanac!

Even more interesting this year after about 150 years we witnessed the “Super” Blue Blood Full Moon a rare phenomenon. Indeed it makes Ancient Greek Temples like the Parthenon aglow! Notably our more traditional customs and celebrations are simply, ways to bridge the pagan with the modern religious and cultural world, hence we can learn more about commonality,  tolerance and respect.

d3f76162-02db-474d-8105-c416d523deeb.jpegCelebrate in your own way, and think of adapting the following:

1) Warm drinks  — whether cinnamon spice in warm apple cider, or mulled wine are good “heating” drinks for the body. There are many great recipes.

2) Red red wine — those who live to enjoy wine might like more reds accompanied by heavier foods — and yes you’re allowed more fat this time of year, it is necessary as it burns more easily ! Remember winter fruits like quince and pomegranates (check out more on the latter tradition, here). Enjoying with friends or other special people does wonders for your mental health.


3) Keep body covered — take care of keeping warm with hat, scarves, gloves and mittens. I’m a big fan of checking out interesting ideas on Etsy! Wool or wool-blend pants, sweaters, socks are better heat conductors. Though fur is glamorous and warm let’s not overdo it and think of those animals…is it necessary?

4) Keep active — take care when shoveling snow for the back and the heart. Try some winter sports like skiing, ice skating, hockey, or simply making angels in the snow and snowmen, have fun regardless!

5) Embrace the light — you can reflect on yesteryear by adding light in your home (or workplace if allowed) via a fireplace, candles (careful of too many paraffins not good for you to breathe in too many toxins), a favorite brand is Yankee Candles.

Speaking of entrepreneurs, has anyone checked out the story of how this young teen “Yankee” from Massachusetts made his first scented candle from melted crayons for his mom which turned into a worldwide success? Candles indeed make our senses both calming and excitable — not referring necessarily to scenes from the movies “Nine and a Half Weeks” or “Fifty Shades of Grey” though some say the former movie was more interesting and “healthier” than the latter in terms of women’s relationship limits.  Hmmm. It certainly gives a different meaning to physical and mental exercise (!)


The language of medicinal plants from the ancient world through modern times

Dr. Alain Touwaide in the beginning of this month mesmerized his audience presenting the “Hyppocrates’ Legacy: Greek Medicine in the Mediterranean and Beyond” showcasing his 40+ years of research experience as a classicist and scholar of the Byzantine world, taking us on a “medicinal plant journey” from Ancient Greece (Hellas), the Mediterranean and Middle East, through the Byzantine Empire and Middle Ages,the west, and tying in our modern times. A speaker of 12 languages, university lecturer and researcher, and Scientific Director of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions; Touwaide, with the support of Emanuela Appetiti (cultural anthropologist, Touwaide’s wife and research partner) gave his audience a true “intercultural” lesson of sorts.  He helped us travel back to the days of Pedanius Dioscorides (Πεδάνιος Διοσκουρίδης) of Anazarbus (the then ancient Hellenic world, now modern Turkey) through Byzantine and modern times… Medicinal plants (e.g. Δρακόντιον) from archaeological representation, art, to actual plant.


Johnson papyrus fragment of an illustrated herb

How fascinating to learn about the circulation of information via a papyrus and how this may have had effect on translation, since this medium was often recycled — the ancients and those through the middle ages printed on top of other manuscripts in order for this information to eventually reach the ‘commoners.’ We wonder, what has been erased at the base!??

Furthermore, the Greek concept of “ιατρό σόφια” or “γιατροσόφια” (meaning wisdom of medicine passed on from your grandmother) may indeed be one of those very useful things to more carefully look into –an oral and written tradition carried through the ages to our modern days. Indeed, we see that most of the world still uses traditional plants as therapies — these “traditional”,”alternative” or “complementary” medicines (see World Health Organization for the differentiating definitions), may be plants or herbs we use in our everyday cooking like basil and garlic, or for stress and pain reduction like lavender and peppermint. As a matter of fact there are several webpages dedicated to grandma’s medicinal knowledge or “γιατροσόφια” like this one and one interesting one that is tied to the “Agion Oros” (Mount Athos holy mountain, Northern Greece).

Since Greece is among the top three biodiversities in the world, could this not be cultivated more systematically in turn to produce and retain knowledge, create more jobs, and even tourism by rebuilding some of those ancient sites for consulting on medical care the revitalizing of the Ἀσκληπιεῖον – Asklepieion as a way to help the country look to something more positive in the midst of the ongoing crisis for the last almost ten years? Rumor has it that the Greek WWF may be thinking of more serious plant biodiversity proposals in the near future, we hope so!  The first ‘hospital’ was created by the “Asclepiads” inspired through Hippocrates’ original work (we all recall the Hyppocratic Oath), these ancient physicians  followed the cult of Asclepius and the temple of healing. The most well-known asklepieia in Greece today are the Asclepieion in Kos & the Asklepieion of Epidaurus — more that existed in the ancient Hellenic world, some are found in modern-day Turkey.  As an aside, it seems that there is a catalogue of physician’s “oaths” affecting the code of ethics that doctors still use today (anyone want to do a linguistical comparative study in context of the various historical times?).

Dr. Touwaide referred to terms like “diffusion of pharmacotherapies” or reconstructing the “life of the book” (pressed plants in books, etc.), and how the knowledge of a book was transmitted to common people — diffusion through translation (Arabic science is rooted in Greek science) as he showed us remnants from Arabic Baghdad of the 9th century….even in arabic one can clearly see mention of certain terms within the texts and even the image of Asclepius shown in a more culturally-specific and acceptable form that would be more geared for the middle east arabic-speaking world. Indeed we share a common language and interest, can this not overcome any modern-day barriers?


Modern symbol in U.S. Medicine, the caduceus

The Asclepius staff is pictured in the U.S. as Herme’s “Caduceus” a universal images used for modern day medicine but there is so much more to those snakes than even we know (healing snakebites, etc.). It turns out that the original staff by Asclepius had one snake and nothing to do with ‘wings’…. this was exclusive to the messenger god Hermes, so another case of mistaken ancient-to-modern identity!

Thanks Alain…just in time for winter and thinking of prevention and healing of our common colds the flu, health problems I’m sure we all experience and likely natural cures that stand the test of time…

The Olympic Spirit – post games thoughts


The Olympic flame

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan (double Olympic champion for basketball, US team)

“So I’ve never felt that I was more special or something because I didn’t have legs. What makes me special is that I run fast.” Marlou Van Rhijn, Netherlands (London 2012 Gold medalist)

Looking through the history of the Olympics, which began in ancient Olympia, Southern Greece (Peloponnese) as a cult to Zeus eventually morphing around 776 BC as inter-state athletic games, is today for most modern athletes the “field of dreams.” Those relatively unknown, and often those well-known Olympics winners went on to win glory or simply to “re-live” the experience (the ancients crowned winners with the olive wreath of the sacred olive groves which grew in Olympia called “kotinos”κότινος,  while in the modern Olympics we have more formalized international committees and subcommittees crowning winners with bronze, silver, and gold medals). Historically given other types of rewards (e.g. money) by their state or country upon return, and we may say the athlete becomes an “ambassador” for their country. More importantly then, as it still is now, the  “eternal fame” (“αιώνια δόξα”) for the athlete — the ancient Olympiad winners had their names written in a catalog kept in the holy shrine in Olympia…thus why we still know of and admire those persons today!

Every four years we are reminded of the beauty, ethos, sportsmanship, and peace-keeping spirit of the Olympic Games. Even in the most turbulent of times, there was a calling for the Olympic Truce and if members did not keep their part they would be expelled from the games. Prerequisites for participation in the Olympics, especially in the archaic and classical period, were to be a Greek, male (man or boy) and to honor the twelve gods of Olympus. To be a “free citizen”, meant not having committed murder and not having violated the institution of the Sacred Truce — the suspension of hostilities from before, during, and after the Games. The Sacred Truce took place during the period that the ancient Greek cities participated in the Olympics, so that the conduct of the Olympics and the transportation of the spectators of the Games were achieved without problems.

The Rio 2016 Olympic event was the XXXI (or 31st) Olympiad.  The opening and closing ceremonies combine the essence of ancient to modern games, while giving us a “taste” of the country’s best promoted culture. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stated on the day of the Ceremony of the Ignition of the Olympic Flame in preparation of the Rio Olympiad (21 April, 2016):

“From this moment on the Olympic flame will spread the Olympic Values of tolerance, solidarity and peace to all Brazilians and indeed to all people in the world.  The Olympic Values are eternal values — they were as relevant in ancient times as they are today. Like no other human activity, sport is about bringing people together in the spirit of friendship and respect. Sport always builds bridges, it never erects walls. In a world shaken by crisis, the message that our shared humanity is greater than the forces that divide us, is more relevant than ever before…” (para. 4) “The Olympic Games give us all hope that a better world is possible. Together, we can change the world” (para. 7).


NBC Sports – Olympic Talk April 20, 2016

The High Priestess, Greek actress Katerina Lehou on the Ceremony of the Ignition of the Olympic Flame offered a mock prayer for the city of Rio appealing to Apollo, the mythological Sun god, to send his rays to light the Olympic Flame for the city of Rio: “..and you Zeus, give peace to all nations of the earth…”

Notably in a recent talk by Dr. Kleanthi (Cleo) Pateraki titled: “The role of ancient Olympia in a period of crisis for Greece, Europe and the world” at the Europe in Discourse: Identity, Diversity, Borders conference hosted by Hellenic American University, 23-25 September, 2016, pointed out to her audience that ancient Olympia could offer mankind high ideals and firm human (Olympic) values, such as freedom, democracy, the concepts of “fair play”, of the harmonious balance between body and mind, on which it could build, after the crisis, the new culture of Greece, Europe and the world. The youth of Greece, Europe and the world should be nurtured with Olympic values. In the Rio Olympics (5th-21st August 2016) as Dr. Pateraki discussed, we viewed one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship by the two track runners Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’ Agostino. Both athletes were praised for their “Olympic spirit” and were recognized for ‘fair play’ subsequently awarded the Fair Play Award by the International Fair Play Committee with the support of the International Olympics Committee stating (2016, August 20):

At their core, the games are about the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect. They are about FAIR PLAY and HUMAN SPIRIT.


D’Agostino & Hamblin (Source: Runner’s World, Aug. 17, 2016)

The Paralympics that end after the regular Olympic games in September (see Paralympics Rio) for the last 15 years have provided us some of the most memorable successes of all athletic careers — athletes who may be born or through illness or accident have a disability or through illness or an accident, overcome personal barriers channeling their energy into goals making it in this worldwide event! The trailer called “We’re the Superhumans” says it all…

Barriers can be what we defined as physical, mental, or what society defines as “being different” yet athletes like swimmer Michael Phelps go on to break country, worldwide, and even historical records.  Michael, started swimming imageat the age of 7 in order to best channel his excess energy as two years later was diagnosed with Attention Deficit & Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). His mom would always advocate for her son, countering teachers with “what are you doing to help him?” when she was told “he can’t do this.” Advocating for one’s rights and one’s health, are indeed a very important part of advancing health literacy. Working with a team of people is not only necessary to create or foster Olympic athletes but help us as individuals become better and more successful adults.

Communities who host Olympic games need to be mindful of sustainability issues… let not this just be a ‘one-time deal’.  When the Olympics in Athens 2004 happened, people came from all over the world to volunteer and share in the cultural heritage of the games.  However, as photos taken 10 years later in 2014 proclaim, venues have become abandoned and these ‘new ruins’ as one paper’s headlines indicate have become a £7billion white elephant. This is harmful to a declining environment,  shows the continued economic and community crisis, and depletes people’s spirit and hopes for a country’s future.The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, stated last summer that perhaps one way for Greece to pay its debts and get over the ‘crisis’ would be for the country permanently hosts the games…one interesting idea, but that likely means the loss of the olympic spirit in the modern sense which needs to be embedded within the global context since each country shares its own values of culture and sportsmanship using their social and marketing techniques and may improve the “way things are done.” This may include adding fresh ideas and improving the quality of delivery. Perhaps then, Greece should host every 12 or 20 years?

I recently came across some “Olympics ideas” on Pinterest of how to hold an Olympics event in your own community (senior center, schools, etc.) with creative ideas to improve physical activity and foster team play. Other ideas on how residents, staff and visitors came together to create their own team experience and supporting countries as an “in-house Olympics” was also a positive idea expressed in the 2012 Nursing and Residential Care Journal to experience the 2012 UK Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. The emphasis on seniors contributes to increasing physical activity efforts in the context of the Olympics and indeed a great way to contribute to health literacy.



In closing, we also need not forget issues of doping both for athletes’ long-term health and for the game outcomes as this is of particular concern for the purpose of the Olympics, as younger people seek good role models.

Keep positive, as philosopher Epicurus from the 4th century BC said: “You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity” (Source: ) Beyond a country’s attained “medals” let us be mindful of the athletes’ personal struggles, the communities involved in making a worldwide spectator event, and more importantly the spirit of the Olympic Games. As the official lyrics of the Athens 2004 Olympics proclaim, Pass the Flame, Unite the World….see you in Tokyo, Japan in 2020!