SUPERHUMAN Q+A: Dr. Kanchan Koya, Chief Spice Mama + Harvard-Trained PhD

Curiosity: food as medicine

Photo courtesy of Spice Spice Baby

Photo courtesy of Spice Spice Baby

Last month, WASN activated a hands-on class at Soho House in NYC with friend + inspiration Dr. Kanchan Koya, a mom and spices expert with a Ph.D. in Biomedicine from Harvard University and training from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She blends her training in molecular biology with the ancient wisdom of culinary spices to help people improve their health through food + natural medicine, and most recently published her first book Spice Spice Baby. We sat down with Kanchan to learn more about her powerful work & path:

Q+A:

  1. WASN: Hi Kanchan, let’s kick things off with sharing a bit about your background. Can you share more about your motivation for writing your most recent cookbook, Spice Spice Baby?

    KK: I grew up in India for the first 18 years of my life where spices are an integral part of our pantry and ‘pharmacy’. The idea that food and natural ingredients could be potent medicines was therefore, a part of my DNA. Fast forward to my PhD training at Harvard Medical School when my lab began to investigate the anti-cancer properties of turmeric and I truly believe that moment, sub-consciously at least, sparked the birth of Spice Spice Baby. A few years later, after I became a mother and started to focus on my son’s nutrition, I formally launched Spice Spice Baby as a platform to educate the world about spices and their science-backed health benefits. As the blog grew and I sensed a keen interest from my audience, I decided to self-publish the Spice Spice Baby cookbook, which formally established me as an expert on spices and their science-backed magic.

  2. WASN: As a proponent of ‘food as medicine,’ as well as traditional medicine, where do you see the future of medicine?

    KK: The best pharmaceutical drugs in the West are derived from nature so the idea that herbs and plants have healing powers is nothing new and indisputable. I sense more people feeling empowered to take responsibility for their own healing and vitality as we have access to more information about the potency of herbs and spices and plants which, when filtered and applied correctly, gives us immense power. I also sense that conventionally trainer doctors are turning to holistic approaches, herbs and plants as additional tools in their tool kits. Modern science is frantically studying ancient claims and often validating them. All of this together makes me feel that integrated, natural approaches are going to become more mainstream and accepted as powerful healing modalities in the near future.

  3. WASN: Can you share a bit about the research studies supporting the medicinal benefits of spices?

    KK: There is so much one can share here and my book, Spice Spice Baby takes a deeper dive into this very subject. Some of my favorite spices that display science-backed health benefits are turmeric which has anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, gut-healing, brain health boosting and other properties, cinnamon, which can regulate insulin function and therefore blood sugar, fennel which is a powerful healer of the digestive tract and star anise which is actually the starting point in the synthesis of Tamiflu, our most potent anti-viral drug. That’s why I always add star anise to my spiced chai in flu season. The list is long but those are some of my favorites.

  4. WASN: What are a few easy and effective ways to incorporate spices into our lives?

    KK: I like to encourage people to cook with spices every single day because that maximizes your exposure to their healing properties and makes food extra delicious! People often think that cooking with spices implies cooking a complicated, exotic dish but in reality, you can spice up your daily favorites. Some simple examples are turmeric on popcorn, cardamom in your oatmeal, sumac on oven roasted salmon, coriander on chicken, cumin with lentils, and cinnamon in your hot chocolate (use true or Ceylon cinnamon for its low liver toxin content). Basically, spices all day everyday as far as I’m concerned!

  5. WASN: What are some of your favorite spices and why?

    KK: Honestly, this is not a cop out but I love them all for different reasons. That said, there are a handful that I literally use every single day! Turmeric is incredibly versatile and has a plethora of health benefits so I use it all the time (combine with black pepper and a fat source to maximize the absorption of its bioactive compound, curcumin). Cardamom makes everything taste luxurious and delicious so I love using it in smoothies, pancakes, rice, banana bread and even coffee! Cinnamon gets sprinkled onto fresh fruit to keep that blood sugar spike in check and works beautifully in savory dishes too like my Moroccan Lentil Soup. I’m also completely obsessed with sumac which adds lemony, fruity notes and the most gorgeous color to dishes not to mention mega anti-oxidants.

  6. WASN: Can you share a bit about the process of writing a book?

    KK: I wrote my cookbook when my younger child was 4 months old and honestly, it seemed wild and insane and such bad timing. But there was an inner knowing and calling that said I just had to create this book and that’s what propelled me despite the odds. I crowdfunded the book which helped me show up and do the work because I had so many backers I didn’t want to disappoint. Overall, writing a book seems impossible until it’s done but if you show up despite the resistance and just write every single day, it will come to fruition and be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.

  7. WASN: For our entrepreneurs, how did you go from Harvard scientist to entrepreneur and writer?

    KK: I had to overcome massive amounts of internal resistance, fear of being judged as a sell out by my scientist peers, fear of throwing away my PhD and ‘wasting it’, fear fear fear. But once I leaned in and listened to an inner calling that said loud and clear that I wanted to be at the intersection of food and health and educate and inspire people to feel their best in body and mind, the fear became background noise and I was able to move forward despite it.

  8. WASN: What are some tools, experiences or words of wisdom you can offer our community?

    KK: As Steven Pressfield says in his incredible and powerful book, The War Of Art, accept the fact that whenever you are called to do or create something that you know deep down is going to help your being evolve, expect resistance. And show up and do the work anyway! Resistance means you’re on the right track and you are doing what you are here to do.

  9. WASN: Where can we keep up with you and what can we expect from you next?

    KK: I am very active on Instagram @chiefspicemama and also share spice inspiration at www.spicespicebaby.com I recently launched a podcast, MOMLIGHT, that focuses on health and wellness for busy and tired mamas. I am working with women as a health coach through various Momlight digital offerings to help them feel their best in body mind and spirit using cutting edge science, ancient wisdom and spices, of course ;-) As for what to expect next, most likely another book with health boosting recipes and lifestyle as medicine tips.

  10. WASN: Lastly, what's filling you up in life right now?

    KK: Connection. Investing in connecting with my inner light and my inner wisdom. Connecting deeply with those around me - my kids, husband, parents, friends, strangers, social media community and so on. When I am focused on true and deep connection (not hyper connectivity via my smart phone), I am full. It does take work in today’s distracted world but I take that work very seriously.

SUPERHUMAN Q+A: Zayne Cowie, 9-Year Old Author + Climate Activist

Curiosity: climate change & activism

Photo courtesy of Eve Mosher, Zayne’s mom.

Photo courtesy of Eve Mosher, Zayne’s mom.

We were honored to sit down with a young and forward-thinking SUPERHUMAN Zayne Cowie, recently featured in the New York Times for his children’s book for grown-ups called Goodbye, Earth: A Story for Grown-Ups!  Zayne is a 9-year old climate activist and Friday striker who is passionate about saving our planet, and offered us some of his sage advice for how to make a difference, together.

Q+A:

  1. WASN: Hi Zayne, thanks so much for sharing Earth Day with us. Tell us what was your first a-ha moment to speak up about Climate Change?

    ZC: For me, it was when my mom read to me an article about Greta [Thunberg] 

  2. WASN: You've recently written Goodbye Earth!  in collaboration with the New York Times. Can you share a little bit about how the project came about?

    ZC: They contacted my mom and asked if I wanted to read the book for them. The New York Times wrote the book inspired by the tweets by me and other strikers. So really the book was written in collaboration with me and all the Friday strikers.

  3. WASN: What's one important message about activism that you want to share with our community?

    ZC: Go out on the streets and demand climate action. Real power lies with the people!

  4. WASN: What is one thing today we can do to take action against climate change? 

    ZC: Eat less meat. Stop flying and driving.

  5. WASN: Tell us, what's your superpower? 

    ZC: Being persistent and staying true to my mission!

SUPERHUMAN Q+A: Robyn Shapiro, Founder of Seek Food & 42 Birds, cricket evangelist & planetary entrepreneur

Curiosity: the future of sustainable protein & the future of food

Photo courtesy of Seek-Food.com

Photo courtesy of Seek-Food.com

We sat down with Robyn Shapiro, Founder of Seek Food, a sustainable snack foods company that creatively utilizes cricket protein. Seek was launched as a way to celebrate real food, along with the pride, joy, and connectivity that comes with eating the delicious things that nature provides. Although crickets may be small in size, they are big in possibilities. Crickets and other insects are not only rooted in ancient tradition and gastronomy, but they offer insight into a better way forward. And while the race is on to find alternative proteins, we need to discover that the answers are already here. Now is the time for us to return eating to crickets, the densest protein-rich food on earth.

Q+A:

  1. WASN: Let's begin with getting a 101 on Crickets, why have they been chosen as the basis of Seek to be built?

    RS: The world population continues to grow exponentially and the appetite for meat is growing along with it. We simply don't have enough land, feed, and water to support such a large increase in livestock production. Crickets are a smart alternative. Crickets use 15x less water, 12x less feed and 14x less land than beef. They also emit virtually no methane gas and do not experience pain as with mammals. Comparatively, livestock production is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging industries contributing more greenhouse gases than than cars, planes and all other forms of transportation combined. Crickets and edible insects are the food of the future -- this movement has been endorsed by everyone from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to the former-CEO of Pepsico, Indra Nooyi. By increasing the supply and options of edible insects, we can decrease our reliance on meat as the leading protein source and offer a sustainable, nutritious and affordable alternative. We don't have to sacrifice taste or nutrition for sustainability, and in fact, crickets rank right up there in terms of nutritional content. They’re have 3x more protein than beef, 2x more iron than spinach, 1.6x more calcium than milk and are high in B12 and omega 3’s. Additionally, they come with a long culinary history, which also acts as an extended set of data on how they can support a healthy human body and planet.

  2. WASN: Can you share with our community some of the biggest challenges facing our global food system right now?

    RS: This is a very loaded question and also a controversial one as there are different view points about what is wrong and how we make it right. I will try to synthesize this here based on my years of research and work in the space. I will also say that everything is connected so if you trace things back, one small action can have ripple effects. Additionally, things are constantly changing so, although this seems exhausting, we constantly need to educate and re-educate ourselves. With that said, one of the biggest issues is our level of consumption and the waste that naturally follows. Today, consumers have been trained to expect convenience, but there is a price for that in terms of the waste and use of chemical-based materials that goes along with it. Next, the amount of resources that going into raising livestock has long been a focus of environmentalists and rightfully so. These staggering statistics which I mentioned above are what led me to launch Seek. The next set of issues on our horizon are fresh water usage of which we do not pay the real cost for as well as our unattainable appetite for ocean wildlife. We need to move from a culture of getting what we want, when we want it to actually seeking out food that is local, in season and water ever our farmers and fishermen say we should eat. This might mean eating a certain type of fish that is invasive or a type of greens that are particularly abundant one season. If we can adjust our appetites accordingly, we can actually make a difference. The consumer is king/queen, and if we stop wanting what is unsustainable then producers will stop selling it to us. 

  3. WASN: What are some accessible everyday solutions we can start implementing for a more sustainable life? 

    RS: Again, this is a very big question, but a highly important one. We continue to be hit with disheartening statistics of environmental issues - 35% of food is wasted annually in the USOnly 9% of plastic since 1950 has been recycled, 2/3 of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by 2050at current rates we will drain our ocean of seafood by 2050, and rising sea levels will lead to a new generation of climate change refugees and more deadly and damaging storms.  It is extremely hard to comprehend this information, let alone understand how you can help. However, there are a number of things which people can do daily that will collectively make an impact. I like to practice what I preach so here are some things which I have incorporated into my lifestyle. Avoid single use plastics at all costs - this means taking your water bottle with you or bring a coffee mug to your local coffee shop to be filled. Cook your own food and compost vs. getting take out or frequenting restaurants. Use re-usable containers vs throw away plastic bags and take your own bag to the grocery store. Take a look at your consumption and look across all areas to see where you can minimize, from fast fashion to the water from your sink. I also recently participated in a clean up from Corre.gir, they are a Mexico City based organization that combines running with street cleanups. With the slogan reduce, reuse, recycle, I think they are a brilliant example of how you can combine a fun physical activity with a larger mission to empower individuals with an achievable action-oriented solution.

  4. WASN: What does a more sustainable diet for you look like today and what do you think it will look like in the future?

    RS: The first way in which I maintain a sustainable diet is by cooking the large majority of my meals myself. Many people think they can’t do this because they are too busy or don’t have time, but like any new habit, once you practice it daily for a consistent period of time, it will stick. By cooking my own meals and ideally shopping at the farmers market, I am able to avoid using excess packaging and sending uneaten food to rot in landfills, not to mention eating healthier and saving money. I try to get the maximum use from every ingredient I use which might mean making stock from the bones after I roast a chicken to making a quick ricotta cheese from milk that is about to spoil. For any food that I can’t put to use, I will compost it in my building's new GrowNYC compost bin. I am also going to come out and say it - I am not a vegetarian, although I have greatly reduced the meat that I eat. This has been seen a one fix solution for many on how to solve environmental issues, and it is true that raising livestock is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases, not to mention animal rights issues. However, that is not the full story, and I encourage people to look at the full picture when deciding how it is best for them to eat sustainability. This means considering the water, land, transportation, packaging and chemicals associated with the foods you eat. When taking all this into consideration, I cannot think of another food that is more sustainable than eating insects. 

  5. WASN: Ok spill, some of your favorite Cricket recipes?

    RS: Well, 32 of my favorite recipes are featured in Seek’s new, The Cricket Cookbook.  We collaborated with award winning chefs from across the country to showcase the deliciousness and diversity of cooking with crickets. In the cookbook, you’ll find recipes for every meal of the day, and a guide on how to use our new set of cricket protein flours. For me, I love adding our cricket protein to my morning smoothie. It gives an extra protein boost and added B12 and omega 3’s, which are hard to near impossible to find from typical whole based smoothie ingredients. 

  6. WASN: Tell us what gets your creative juices flowing every day and how you best tap into your curiosity and creativity? 

    RS: Definitely daily meditation and yoga. For me to do anything creative I need to start with a fresh and clear mind. I am also a lover of efficiency and yoga checks all those boxes as it is physical, mental and spiritual. In fact, I also founded a sustainable yoga company, 42 Birds. The sustainability element comes from our use of materials where we focus on cork, which is not only the most sustainable type of forestry on the planet but it is also a 0% waste product. It is the only natural resource where the more you use, the more you help save vulnerable forests. Previously, 90% of cork sold was used by the wine industry but as they have shifted to more cost effective plastic and screw tops, corks forests are not being replanted and cared for, which is disrupting the entire eco system. The corks forests have the 3rd highest bio diversity in the world behind the Amazon rainforest and we actual get our name, 42 Birds, as that is the number of bird species which are indigenous to these magical forests. Back to the question at hand, I will also add that by spending time with people and in places that are different than me allows me to tap into my creativity. As Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, so I try to push myself outside of my comfort zone which allows me to look at the world and necessary solutions from a different perspective. 

SUPERHUMAN Q+A: Ara Katz, superorganism, supermom + pioneering microbiome entrepreneur

Curiosity: Science of the Human Body (and beyond)

Photo courtesy of HeyMama.co

Photo courtesy of HeyMama.co

We sat down with Ara Katz the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Seed, a life science and consumer health company that inspires us to go inside, way inside. Seed is pioneering the inquiry and application of microbiome science to improve human and planetary health. Ara works alongside Chief Consumer Probiotics Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid, and Seed’s Scientific Advisory Board Chair, Dr. Jacques Ravel. In collaboration with a global network of partners in clinical work, biofermentation, stabilization, and testing, Seed is setting a new standard in bacteria. Its environmental R+D arm, SeedLabs, also develops novel applications for bacteria to solve some of our biggest ecological challenges. Pre-order seed’s daily synbiotic with code “WORLDINSIDE20,” for a special deal, on us.

Q+A:

  1. WASN: From a high level perspective, what is the microbiome, and why have you made it your life’s work?

    AK: The microbiome is the collective genetic material of all the microorganisms (mostly bacteria, but also fungi, protozoa, and viruses) that live in and on your body. They constitute approximately 50% of you by cell count—an invisible, but powerful half. The microbiome, which scientists are referring to as our “lost organ”, is redefining health and radically transforming our approach to medicine, hygiene, diet, living, and the choices we make for ourselves, our children, and our planet.

  2. WASN: What do we know about the role of the microbiome on human health and wellbeing?

    AK: The microbiome plays a systems-wide role in the human body. There’s almost no function in the human body that our bacterial symbionts and their metabolites aren’t connected to. Let’s start with what you’ve probably already heard of—your gut. Trillions of beneficial bacteria reside along your epithelial wall and (partly by sheer strength in numbers):

    • maintain your gut barrier integrity, making it difficult for inhospitable bacteria to penetrate.

    • maintain an acidic environment to dissuade certain alkaline-loving pathogenic bacteria from taking root.

    • support the secretion of intestinal mucus and collaborate closely with your gut’s ‘gatekeepers’ (tight junctions) to modulate what should (ie. nutrients) or shouldn’t (i.e. undigested food particles or pathogenic bacteria) pass through to the body.

    And certain bacteria even produce neurotransmitters that stimulate muscle contractions—yes, we’re talking about pooping.

    When we eat, certain microbial genes code for enzymes that break down food we otherwise couldn’t—think complex carbohydrates, like fiber. Through this process, bacteria also produce short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, which fuel the cells lining your colon and strengthen your protective intestinal mucosa. Butyrate, specifically, has powerful anti-inflammatory effects beyond the gut, reducing oxidative stress (imbalance between free radicals and detoxifying antioxidants) and managing the production of regulatory T-cells (the ones that help your body distinguish between self and intruder).

    Beyond this, bacteria also synthesize essential vitamins B and K, defend against E. coli and other intruders in the urogenital tract, and for women, balance pH and protect from unwanted yeast in the vaginal biome. Their health is critical to the health of our entire body—from heart to skin to metabolism to immune function.

    All this to say that our bacteria play an incredibly complex and critical role in helping us thrive. Scientists are consistently discovering new associations between our microbiome and our health. For example, new findings around the gut-brain axis are emerging which indicate that our gut flora may even impact our mood, appetite, behavior, and circadian rhythm—functions we previously thought were relegated just to the brain.

  3. WASN: What is a recent discovery in human microbiome research that gets you super excited?

    AK: In November of last year, a tentative finding uncovered an exhilarating and unexpectedly intimate relationship between microbes and the brain—and the possibility of a ‘brain microbiome’. Neuroanatomist Rosalinda Robert's lab at the University of Alabama in Birmingham examines the differences between healthy subjects and those with schizophrenia through identifying differences between slices of brain tissue preserved in the hours after death. Five years ago, an undergraduate in the lab saw unidentified rod-shaped objects that would show up in finely-detailed images of these brain slices. The team dismissed them at first, but they would persistently show up. This year, through consultation with colleagues at UAB, it was unveiled that they were bacteria.

    To date, the team has found bacteria in every brain they’ve checked—34 in all—about half of them healthy, and half from people with schizophrenia.

    Until now, we believed the blood-brain barrier was impenetrable, and that if it were, it would cause life-threatening inflammation. But this preliminary finding, if confirmed, would vastly shift our understanding of how microbes can coexist and interact with our brain, and potentially even regulate its immune activity.

  4. WASN: What is one misconception about our microbiome you wish more people knew?

    AK: Most people associate the microbiome with gut health, and with good reason—the majority of these 38,000,000,000,000 microorganisms reside in your gastrointestinal tract. But what many don’t realize is that there are also diverse communities of microbes residing in places like your mouth, your skin, and your armpits. And just like in your gut, the delicate balance between host (human) and microorganisms is responsible for a healthy ecosystem.

    On your skin, for example, synbiotic bacteria occupy a wide range of skin niches, protecting against invasion by more pathogenic ones (i.e. the acne-causing Propionibacterium acnes). Others play a role in educating the billions of human T cells, priming them to decipher between friend and foe and respond appropriately to pathogens. And just like in the gut, perturbations (both internal or external, like genetic variation or cosmetics or excessive use of hand sanitizers) to this ecosystem can manifest as consequences to our skin health.

  5. WASN: What are the best ways to take care of our microbiome?

    AK: In 2007, the National Institutes of Health launched the Human Microbiome Project. Backed with $173 million in funding, it was tasked with the goal of characterizing the human microbiome to determine if changes in microbiome composition could be linked to health and disease. The project encompassed five years of research and over 200 scientists, and concluded in 2012 that there is no universally healthy microbiome. Like your genome, your microbiome is entirely unique to you. And it’s changing, constantly. External factors like diet, exercise, medicine, and even sleep, can all impact and alter the composition of your microbiome on a daily basis.

    The one thing we do know is that scientists view diversity (of the species within you) as a marker of health—makes sense when you think about the importance of biodiversity in any ecosystem. While the research is early, scientists have seen a universal association between loss of diversity and disease—autoimmune, allergies, autism, asthma, diabetes, obesity, and more.

    When it comes to the health of your microbiome, what you can ask is this—are my bacteria working optimally with my body to perform the functions critical to my health? How can I support my microbiome in the daily choices I make? Is the antibiotic my doctor just prescribed absolutely necessary? Am I eating for myself or also for my 38,000,000,000,000 within? Am I getting enough fiber? Should I be incorporating probiotics and prebiotics into my routine?

    When it comes to diet, most people don’t eat enough fiber, which is critical to the health of your microbiome. In the past year, compelling research has shown that it’s not just about eating a mostly plant-based diet, but also the diversity of those plants—so consume as many different vegetables as you can each week versus being a kale creature of habit.

    A few simple guidelines to diet, through the lens of the microbiome:

    • high abundance of diverse source of plant fibers and polyphenols (like vegetables, walnuts, pomegranates, berries, and green tea)

    • high in fiber and microbiota-accessible carbohydrates (like broccoli, brussels sprouts, beans, and sweet potatoes)

    • high in Omega-3 and monounsaturated fat (like salmon, sardines, avocados, and olive oil)

    • low in sugar, preservative agents, processed foods, food additives

    • low in saturated fat (encourages growth of fat loving bacteria)

    • low in animal protein

    Common culprits that perturb the microbiome include:

    • Western diet (high intake of red meat, processed foods, fried foods, high-sugar foods and beverages, and refined grains)

    • Sugar

    • Stress

    • Tobacco

    • Alcohol

    • Decreased breastfeeding

    • City living

    • Environmental factors

    • Antibiotics / Antibacterials

    • NSAIDs (i.e. aspirin and Advil)

  6. WASN: You’ve shared your belief that science is inherently a spiritual practice—can you share more about that perspective?

    AK: The scientific method, much like spirituality, is a framework of questioning and a catalyst for deep knowing. It is a methodology for experimentation with no attachment to outcome (hypothesis > experiment> observe > learn > iterate). That it’s been conflated with Western medicine or big pharma is a disservice to its origin, how it’s shaped our world, and its potential. We are in a moment where what is fact and truth is called into question every day—and while all methods have their flaws when put into human hands, I find science is more Buddhist and grounded in non-attachment than many of the expressions of spirituality I am exposed to daily.

  7. WASN: When it comes to microbiome research + product development, what are you most excited to delve into in the next 5-10 years?

    AK: The connection between human and planetary health and reconciling them as one—the microbiome is a pathway for this. The microbiome offers an entire perspective shift, a profound new lens through which to see (or unsee) many long held truths and to harness that new perspective to develop solutions to many of the biggest problems facing our collective health.

  8. WASN: How do you tap into the power of curiosity in your daily life?

    AK: I ask questions. A lot of them.

SUPERHUMAN Q+A: Amy Jindra, Love Coach, Author, Artist

Curiosity: Love + Sexuality

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We sat down with Amy, a coach, author and artist who is passionate about sharing sacred sexuality and the healing it brings through tantra. She takes great pride in helping create a world without shame and guilt, especially around sexuality and our bodies, so that everyone can live a fully expressed and vivid life. She has brought her teachings to women all over the world from New York to LA, Vancouver and Australia. Her new book of poetry, Woman and Me, is now available on Amazon.

Q+A:

  1. WASN: We hear the term Tantra used often in our circles—would you share a basic overview of what Tantra is?
    AJ:
    Tantra is practiced and described in very many different ways. The main principles of Tantra is to see the sacred and holy in the physical form (our body), to see the divine in everything (not rejecting anything as not being a part of God/Goddess). Tantra shows us that pleasure can open the door to enlightenment or heaven. Tantra also teaches that universal power is feminine.So what does that mean for us Westerners?It trickles into not seeing feminine aspects of life as less than masculine. It teaches us through practice to find bliss and happiness even in chaos and suffering. It's also a form of feminism. Many ancient lineages are lead by female priestesses and worship the power of the Goddesses. Something that I had been searching for in Western religion was the celebration of being a woman, and I couldn't find it. It also doesn't reject sexuality and sensuality, but sees it as holy, sacred and powerful.In our culture we are obsessed with sex, but repelled by intimacy it’s so easy to disconnect. Tantra is a bridge back to health, back to pleasure and authentic intimacy.

  2. WASN: What are a few ways to add the embodiment of tantra into your day to day life?

    AJ: Breathwork is an incredible way to be present with your body and clear your mind. Incorporating pleasure into your everyday life by slowing down, listening to your desires. Something as simple as really tasting your food without distractions can transport you to bliss and joy. A practice that has become a luxury in our society.

  3. WASN: You've spent time researching and teaching about the Goddess archetypes, can you explain more about what that means?

    AJ: Shakti is the name for the feminine power of creation. We all (men and women) hold shakti. It is our creative energy and our sexual energy, it is also aspects of our consciousness. I find the archetypes give us permission to access parts of ourselves to grow, evolve, create and heal. For instance- if we have trouble letting go or accessing anger- you can devote your practice to Kali- the fierce warrior goddess of rebirth and death. If we are seeking to create more beauty or abundance- we can bring in aspects of Lakshmi the giver of Gifts, Beauty and Boons. There are thousands of goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. Not unlike Carl Jung's archetypes, we can begin to grow and expand through aspects of the Goddesses. The goddess is also associated with Kundalini, or spiritual awakening. So as we open to these energies, ideas and practices, we become transformed ourselves.

  4. WASN: What are some of the the differences between Tantra and Western approaches to love and intimacy?

    AJ: In the West, we have our roles to play and have modeled most relationships around the nuclear family. Shame and guilt are woven into dynamics of marriages, dating, sex. Which can cause depression, anxiety and overall mundane relating. In Tantra, you are your first soulmate. The key to universal love and romantic love is unlocked when we are able to sit with ourselves and see the divine. Also, there is no rejection, just presence. So as we grow and change- we continue to see ourselves and our partners as divine. Instead of dating being a daunting interview process, it becomes a dance that you invite someone into. Sex becomes a prayer or a meditation, not just an urge or a peak.

  5. WASN: Why has dating and love become so difficult or has been painted that way through media?

    AJ: I do think dating or love is difficult. The pressures of evolving and no longer ticking the boxes that our parents and grandparents did can cause some major upheaval. The deeper we know ourselves the easier relationships and dating and love becomes. We've been taught to settle in so many ways. There has been so much fear instilled in us that if we find someone that chooses us, we better keep them. When in reality, it's physics. Like attracts like, and nature does not like a vacuum. If we create space for a relationship or partnership, it will come. We just need to be really clear on what we want, and feel full within ourselves. 

  6. WASN: How do you wake up your own curiosity?

    AJ: It's a practice. Slowing down is key to allow curiosity and creativity. Learning to allow pleasure and desire is key to being curious about life. There's a sanskrit term Lila that describes life as a cosmic game or movie playing out. A reminder that everyone is playing a part in a movie, do we want to have a boring movie with no highs and lows? Or do we want to have a vibrant life filled with expression, pleasure and transcendence?

  7. WASN: What is one piece of wisdom you would like to share with our community?

    AJ: Sexuality is a small piece of Tantra. However we are desperate for intimacy, connection and to understand and own our sexuality. We are seeking pieces of ourselves externally. There's so much room for control, abuse and rejection of ourselves through shame and guilt. There are many spiritual paths that will help you transform and feel connected. Tantra includes the body, a practice I so desperately needed to see my divinity in order to release past trauma and guilt. Even if Tantra is not your path, the message that your sexual energy is powerful and available, your body is intelligent and your desires are a good thing- we can start living from a more powerful place.

SUPERHUMAN Q+A: Rafael Espinal, NYC Councilman

Curiosity: Getting Involved in Local Government + Driving Policy Change

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We sat down with friend and inspiration Rafael Espinal, Bushwick City Councilman and candidate for NYC Public Advocate, to learn more about who he is and what inspired him to become the visionary, compassionate public servant + SUPERHUMAN he is today. You can meet Rafael + learn more about his work on January 30th at The Assemblage NoMad. Free RSVP here with code BROOKLYN.

Q+A:

  1. WASN: How do you start your day?

    RE: I wake up with enough time to be able to slowly get ready for the day. I like to take my time showering, getting dressed, and eating light breakfast. It's my form of mediation and the only time I really have full control of my time. Once I step out the door, I'm at the mercy of my calendar and constituency. 

  2. WASN: What is one book that changed your perspective, impacted you for the better or made you think differently?

    RE: I wasn't much of a reader. I connected more with visuals and films until recently. I would say The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo unlocked a part of my brain that subconsciously always understood that we can understand our destiny if we were more mindful and connected with the universe.

  3. WASN: As a child, where would we find you?

    RE: As a child you would find me in 3 places. From April to August I spent a lot of time urban gardening with my dad in our backyard in Brooklyn. If I wasn't in the yard, I would likely be in my front stoop with friends or playing Nintendo in our living room.

  4. WASN: What is your SUPERPOWER?

    RE: The ability to listen and set aside my ego

  5. WASN: If you could sit down to dinner tonight with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

  6. RE: Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. As an aspiring filmmaker, when I grew up in Brooklyn it was difficult to point to local role models. Brooklyn was a tough place with a lot of societal, economical and environmental issues. After first watching Requiem for a Dream and learning that it was created by a Brooklyn native it made me realize that it is possible to have a strong societal impact, even if you're from Brooklyn. 

  7. WASN: What gets you into a flow state?

    RE: I'm an introvert, so I need a lot of quiet and alone time in order to recharge. Once I am able to set my own pace, I follow it with a light healthy meal and a fresh cup of coffee. That regimen usually allows me to hit my flow state. 

  8. WASN: What is one pivotal moment that shifted your path?

    RE: When I realized that anything is possible as long as you focus your energy towards a goal. I began to realize that after I got my first job in government. I worked the front desk of a governmental office at the age of 23, but I remember thinking to myself that I wanted to accomplish more. I set a clear goal of becoming the Chief of Staff, which is the highest position in an elected officials office. I was able to do that within 2 years by putting my energy behind it. 

  9. WASN: What is your favorite way to play?

    RE: Im an introvert, but at the end of the day,  I enjoy being in social safe spaces. I spend a lot of time in local bars and restaurants that I am familiar with the staff and owners. Any sort of venue that feels safe is amazing.

  10. WASN: What are you deeply curious about?

    RE: What happens to us as conscious beings after we die. What does it all mean. Why are we here? How did we come to be?

About Rafael:

Rafael Espinal, 35, has emerged as a national leader fighting on behalf of the issues that affect millennials and help to green our planet. When he was first elected at the age of 26, Rafael was the youngest elected officials in New York State. Since then, Council Member Espinal has made history with the repeal of the notorious ‘no dancing’ cabaret law and the creation of New York City’s landmark Office of Nightlife. Is other legislative initiatives include: requiring all public bathrooms to have diaper changing stations regardless of gender, a bill on the “right to disconnect” from digital communications after working hours, and a package of legislation related to banning single-use plastic bottles at NYC parks and beaches and prohibiting plastic straws in restaurants, sports arenas and bars. Council Member Espinal worked with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to create the city’s first-ever website of urban agriculture and to support community gardens. Council Member Espinal is a lifelong resident of Brooklyn.