Water—Elixir of Life
When you're thirsty, is there anything more satisfying than a glass of crystal clear water? It's a rare experience these days to drink pure, unadulterated water, but if you do happen upon this experience, as I did on a trip into the mountains of Croatia a couple of years ago, there's nothing a human can make that can compare. Even though flavorless, the feeling it gave me as I drank that elixir that tumbled over rocks in a mountain stream left me feeling satisfied and refreshed. If I'm feeling tired or drained, there's nothing that cleanses my spirit quite like sitting or walking by a moving river or stream. The negative ions produced by the movement of water purify the air and have a beneficial impact on mood and health.
Our Bodies' Need for Water
Water plays an important role in virtually every bodily function. It bathes the cells, organs and joints, regulates body temperature, detoxifies the body by carrying waste out of the system, delivers nutrients from our foods through the bloodstream to nourish all the tissues and organs. This is but a few of water's myriad functions in the human body. Although the body is predominantly composed of water and all day long we drink tea, coffee and sodas, the reality is most humans are chronically dehydrated. Our bodies are constantly losing water through perspiration, urination and even the simple act of exhaling, which releases water vapor. This loss is increased with exercise and being exposed to warmer temperatures, so our need for water intake increases too.
There are also many environmental factors that increase our need for water, such as pollutants that need to be detoxified from our bodies and indoor heating and air conditioning that can further dehydrate our bodies. For many of us, our dietary habits also play a role in causing dehydration. Overuse of salt, especially adding salt to our foods at the table, can deplete the body cells of water. Not all beverages actually quench our thirst—many of them are laden with artificial sweeteners, chemicals, dyes and preservatives that cause all sorts of health problems and increase our bodies' need for water to detoxify our system. Drinks containing caffeine can also put stress on the kidneys, which are vital for maintaining water balance in the body.
Not Just Any Water
The first time I saw water flowing from a tap was when I was about 7 years old and we got plumbing in our home for the first time. I was fascinated. I spent most of my day flushing the toilet and watching the cistern be refilled with water. Up until then, our toilet was an outhouse and our drinking water came from the well down the road or from a pump, which was a bit of a walk from our home. We collected the rainwater in a barrel outside our house, and this was used mainly for bathing and for rinsing our hair. To this day, I know my granny would turn in her grave if she saw the copious amounts of water we "waste" in our daily showers, not to mention the amount of times we flush the toilet.
In those days, we knew nothing of "bottled water"—water was something that flowed from natural sources, and there was no question as to whether it was fit for drinking. The ownership of water is a fairly recent phenomenon, and now we have so many "brands" of water on the market—it's become a multinational business. We bottle it and ship it far and wide. We purify it, sanitize it, ionize it, alkalize it. We offer purity from places like Fiji or Hawaii to be savored in a plastic bottle worldwide. Even the stuff that comes from our taps has been treated with chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride. Much of our tap water has a taste and a smell that is uncharacteristic for such a naturally pure substance.
When and why you should drink water
I believe the best solution to our current water situation is to find a good water filter that will purify our tap water. For traveling purposes, I often just use a small jug filter, but it's not optimum because there are still some chemicals and contaminants that will not be filtered out this way. There's a broad range of water filters available on the market these days, so do a little research and find a filter that will suit your needs. When I am home in L.A., I have spring water delivered in large glass bottles to my home once a month and have a nice dispenser in my kitchen. This is also an option and a very worthwhile investment if you can find a water company that will deliver in your area.
When to Drink
As well as what to drink, when to drink is a consideration. I'm a great believer in the wisdom of the body and that, when heeded, it will dictate its needs. Thirst is a signal from our body that it's dehydrated, and it is wise to respond to that signal with some pure water. Drinking while eating is not always the best practice, as some experts claim that this can dilute the digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid necessary for optimum digestion. I like to start my day with a large glass of room temperature water with a twist of lemon or lime juice. Apart from loving the flavor and feeling of being cleansed it imparts, these acid citrus fruits, when consumed, alkalize the body and help cleanse the liver.
Love Your Water
Just as I always encourage putting love and good energy into your food as you prepare it, it seems that your water also responds to a little loving. I read a book by Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto called The Message from Water in which he documented, by photographing frozen water crystals, the fact that water responds to our thoughts, energy vibrations and emotions and the energy in its environment. So next time you go to drink a glass of water, give it a little love and feel how it nourishes your body and soul.
The Water Element
In traditional Chinese medicine, all phenomena are viewed in terms of the Five Elements—water, wood, fire, earth and metal. Each element has corresponding organs of the body, seasons and time of day when that element is most active as well as colors, tastes, emotions and foods that nourish those organs. Winter is water element time. The organs associated with water are kidney and bladder, the emotion is fear, the color black, dark blue or purple and the taste is salty. Salt, from natural sources like the sea, is a vital nutrient for all bodily functions, but in excess it can deplete the kidneys. Foods that are nourishing to the kidneys and bladder are black beans, azuki beans, fish and seaweeds, blueberries and blackberries. Kidneys need warmth, so keep the lower back area warm, particularly in the wintertime, and enjoy some comforting winter foods like warming soups and stews. My Black Bean Soup with Chunky Funky Salsa is nourishing for the kidneys.
Take on the water challenge
Apart from the obvious—drinking water—there are many other therapeutic benefits to water. Because of its fluid nature, when you experience any kind of muscle stiffness or spasms, there's nothing quite so relaxing and liberating as getting into a warm bath. I was once suffering from quite a severe lower backache, and someone recommended that when I was in the shower to alternate between hot and cold water for about five minutes, focusing on my area of pain—30 seconds hot, then 30 seconds cold. This increases circulation and causes the muscles to expand and contract. After doing this several times, my backache was completely gone.
Whenever possible, I try to visit a natural hot springs, as I just love the feeling of getting into natural therapeutic waters, particularly if there's a hot and a cold pool available. I had a 10-hour layover at the Tokyo airport last year, and I took myself to a traditional Japanese bath house. I was the only person there who spoke English, and I spent all day getting in and out of what looked like tea baths. I have no idea what was in them and nobody was able to explain to me, but at the end of the day, I got on my plane bound for L.A. feeling like a newborn baby.
To reduce a fever, it is often recommended to apply an ice pack to the body, but towels dipped in cold water and wrung out will be equally effective. Wrap the cold towel around the body and then wrap up in a bath towel or blanket until you break a sweat. Alternatively, you can put cold towels on the forehead to draw out a fever, changing them once they start to heat up. If you're feeling like waking yourself up, there's nothing quite like a cold shower or a dip in the ocean to get the energy and circulation moving.
The Water Challenge
Little steps can have a big impact. I'm going to offer you a challenge, and no you don't have to climb a mountain or run a marathon, you simply have to drink some water. Just for a week, starting whenever you feel ready, every time you're feeling the thirst, instead of reaching for a soda or an ice-cold beer, reach instead for a glass of water. If you have a water filter, even better—the purer the water, of course the better. If you don't have a filter, you will find that many health food stores or supermarkets have a water filtration system where you can fill up large bottles with purified water for a small price.
I love to make jugs of naturally flavored waters with fruits, vegetables and herbs—they're delightfully refreshing and served in large glass jugs, make a lovely predinner drink at a dinner party. To make the infusion, you can start with cold water or, for a stronger flavor, with hot (not boiling) water, as this will help extract flavor. Set the water aside until cool and you can chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving, or add some ice cubes. Children will enjoy the flavored water with a little natural sweetener added, such as maple or agave syrup. Here are some of my favorite combinations:
- Slices of orange, lemon and lime with fresh mint sprigs
- Lemon and cucumber
- Pineapple chunks and slices of fresh ginger
- Dried rosebuds or rose petals—you can use fresh, but the dried have a more concentrated flavor
- Fresh or dried lavender
Whiskey in the Irish language translates as "uisce beatha," which literally means "water of life." Is there any wonder we can't get enough of the stuff?
Some people claim that drinking their water emissions—a.k.a. urine therapy—has magical health benefits. To each their own—I think I'll stick with my whiskey!