A Personal Approach to Wellness in a Time of Viral Fears #wellness

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Although I’m married to a physician, I’m not what you’d call a model patient. Last week I had my second ever mammogram. I’m 46. I also got a pap smear. My last one was five years ago. Both appear to have yielded normal results, so for now the cards seem to be stacked in my favor.

I’m up-to-date on my vaccinations, and I get the one for flu each year. Aside from going to the lab to have my TSH checked semi-regularly to ensure I’m on the proper dose of thyroid medication, I’m not a frequent visitor at the doctor’s office.  My approach to wellness, you could say, is part conventional and part unconventional.

In this time of hyper-fear over the latest virus to spread across the land, I thought I’d share some of the ways I have found to stay as healthy and balanced as possible. I believe there’s a no one-size-fits all approach, but if something here rings your bell, perhaps it means it was worthwhile to write this.

Supplementing with Inner Wisdom

 Please know this is not something I recommend everyone adopt instead of following the advice of their medical provider.  That said, there’s an innate truth to the wisdom you hold inside of you. Although my husband has urged me, in the past, to take a multivitamin, I found that my body rejects a formulated blend intended for daily intake by women. Within five minutes of taking the multivitamin, my body attempts to vomit it out of its system. Clearly there is something in there that my chemistry does not align with. We’re all unique.

Instead of the multivitamin, I have found my body likes to have enough vitamin D (many of us in northern climates especially do not get enough), which I take in capsule form. When I feel vulnerable to viruses and other pathogens, I find myself drawn to natural sources of vitamin C , as well as a wider than usual variety of fresh fruits and veggies in my diet each day. Organic and free of pesticides, if possible (I use Misfits Market for an affordable source).

I also drink (organic) tea. Sometimes three cups (usually not all the same kind) a day in the winter months. I tend to accumulate a variety of tea boxes in my pantry, and at the moment my go-to is Dandelion Root. My body craves it, so I give it a cup almost every day, with a swirl of raw, organic honey (as local as possible). Note: raw honey is not recommended for infants.

Balance, though, is not always easy to achieve everyday. There are days when I eat more sugar than I probably should and scoop ice cream instead of quinoa into my bowl. But there’s something to be said about eating love instead of fear, but more on that later. Instead of worrying too much about the occasional over-indulgence, I have found that my body will eventually tell me what it does or does not need. Often-times that wisdom will appear in my dreams.

When I dream of food, I pay attention. Dreams are tricky creatures and they like to speak in allegory and metaphor. Becoming attuned to the language of your dream-self can be incredibly valuable, and if you don’t know the answers you seek, your dreams will often reveal them to you in some form. Sometimes the answers are subtle, and sometimes they shout results without a shred of doubt as to their intended meaning. When my body was lacking calcium and magnesium, my dream-self brought through the message loud and clear one night, “you need more calcium and magnesium.” Okay. Roger that. If you are just beginning to explore the wisdom of your dreams, there are lots of resources out there. Denise Linn has a wonderful book about dreams, which helped to guide my own journey into dreamland.

Taking Care of the Subtle Energies

Science is just starting to prove the existence of the “subtle” energy centers in the body, popularly referred to as the chakras, but our far-distant ancestors never doubted their power to heal and transform the mind and body. Acupuncture, which targets the meridians that run through the chakras and the various organs of the body, is widely used in both the eastern and western sides of the globe.

Whenever I feel “off,” a half-hour or so of my time devoted to the practice of yoga will inevitably make me feel better. The physical practice of Yoga moves the subtle flows of energy in the body. It clears the channels that are blocked and aligns and balances the body’s energy systems. Whereas yoga works for me, another form of subtle-energy-focused exercise may resonate more for you, such as Tai Chi or Qigong. All work with the “Chi,” or “Qui,” the life force energy that moves through the body.

This life force that resides within the breath. There is, perhaps, nothing more important than the breath that moves through us. It carries our life force. A shallow breath impedes the flow of chi, and the held breath in fear can create density. Multiple studies have shown that mindful breathing calms the nervous system. Taking time to focus on inhaling and exhaling slowly and fully (please google mindful breathing if you don’t know how to) will be a gift to your body’s overall wellbeing.

Integrated into almost every yoga practice I teach, and in my home self-care regime, I like to incorporate some version of Donna Eden’s Daily Energy Routine . My yoga students love it and can attest to how it makes them feel better. It takes just five minutes (or less, I don’t always do all parts, but follow what I feel I need). Donna’s routine works directly with the body’s meridians and chakras, using tapping, gentle, targeted pressure, and the body’s breath.

Nourishing with Words

I am fortunate to have the means to support a healthy diet by purchasing mostly organically grown sources of food. Not everyone does. Perhaps equally important as the foods we consume, though, are the emotions, or words, we consume. We all know how awful negative words can feel when they are directed at us. The same rule applies to our own thoughts and self-directed words. What we say to ourselves matters. Which means what we say to ourselves while we eat matters too. Changing the chemistry of our words can change the chemistry of your body.

Sometimes, when people I encounter seem to be wrapped up in the fear, in particular over food, I like to share the story of my grandmother (who, by the way, is still living). Although my grandmother is not, by any means, positive with all the words she speaks to herself and others, she eats every bite of food with gratitude. Most of the good she eats is not organic, or even fresh. She grew up knowing starvation, and as a child who suffered the effects of the Great Depression, she also learned the power of gratitude on the body.  Every bite of food, and every drink of water, is a gift she brings into her body.

What we say to our bodies matters. Nourishing them with love can go a long way to improving our state of wellbeing. Be easy on yourself. Forgive, love, and express gratitude for your body and what goes into it.

Attune with Nature

There are so many benefits to being out in nature, and there is probably no need to list them all here. But, sometimes we can forget how powerful the natural world’s effects on our individual wellbeing are. I can think of no greater healing balm than that of the embrace of Mother Nature. For myself, I have found that walking outside, each day, with my two dogs is something I have come to depend upon. My senses attune to the frequency of nature’s rhythms, calming the troubles that might be weighing down my mind. The scattered mind and body ground through my walks, especially when they are on nature’s paths and not pavement. The energy of the trees lend specific wisdom and healing, as do the animal and insect visitors I encounter along my journeys. As within the world of dreams, I find that realm of the natural world is always ready to gift me with the answers and healing I might be seeking. I just need to open up to receive it.

If Your Teenager Won’t Hug You, Hug Your Pet(s)

In all seriousness, I have found my furry companions to be invaluable to my wellbeing. It’s true, I have two teenagers who don’t think hugging their parents is cool, so my dogs and cats get the bulk of my affection most days.  Anyone with a beloved pet knows how valuable they are to our health and wellbeing, and there’s science to support this.  Animals are highly tuned into our emotions, and I have found proof of this in my yoga classes. Without fail, Zelda-the-faithful-yoga-dog or Millie-the-sometimes-yoga-assistant-cat will make an appearance beside the mat of the person in most need of their love. Nothing quite compares to the love of an animal companion who is unconditionally present in our times of need.

What About You?

I’d love to hear what you do to stay balanced and maintain wellness, especially during times of increased stress. Please share your tips in the comments.

 

 

A Return to Winter & a Child-Like Joy

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

It snowed today. Soft flakes now spread over the evergreens and add white caps to the forest leaves turned brown. The return to winter’s cold brings a sense of calming peace with it. Like a big sigh has been released and we can settle back into normalcy for at least a little while. How long it will last is anyone’s guess.

Before lunch, I walked the roadways with the dogs and picked up other people’s garbage. The snow had not yet started to fall, but the sky was the gray of an impending storm. Ice replaced the puddled water at the end of my driveway. Frozen into cracked veins waiting for the next thaw. I found myself hoping it would be awhile before the water flowed again. Today, the birdsong is not so loud. Juncos gather droppings from the trees and blue jays rush overhead in their showy displays to be seen. And heard.

But the air is mostly quiet and still, and while I walked with my dogs the world around us appeared more balanced. Perhaps I saw what I wanted to see. The land cleared of artificial debris by my hands left a feeling a satisfaction inside of me. A small act, like dusting the sills of a window to make it clear again. It may not last long, but there is power inside deliberate moments.

After we arrived back home, I found myself pulled into the news while I ate a lunch of leftover dinner. Headlining the front page of the Sunday paper was a story about local teachers afraid of their students. I had to read it three times before it sank it. They were not talking about rebellious teenagers, but preschoolers and elementary age children. Young kids driven to violent acts of rage on a regular basis. Some fingers pointed to drug use by caregivers, others to unspeakable violence that must have been witnessed. While I read, I find myself wondering if we are all grasping at straws, unable to hold on to stability. There is the impulse to spiral into disbelief and despair when one reads such things.

Exposure to harsh elements can damage a living being if improper nurturing does not occur. Are we wrapping our babes in our chosen world of violence? Turn on the TV and chances  are you will find rage or horror in some form. Exposure to violent acts harms the mature heart. Now we are seeing the real effects of what it does to the tender young souls whose eyes are exposed to more than they should see. We shatter ourselves and those we love when we expose without heed to the harsh elements outside of us. And sometimes, when we linger too long with them, they become a part of our being.

Beside this article, was one piece on funding being stripped from schools. In my town, there are often complaints about how the bulk of our budget goes to the education. If we don’t invest in our future, what can we expect it to look like? If we don’t infuse the warmth of love into the hearts of our children, instead of constant exposure to hatred and violence, can we really call ourselves “caregivers?”

The snow began to fall while I read, bringing the solace that could not be found inside the news. For a moment I started to place blame, pulled into the world of accusations that filled the news before me. There was a momentary feeling of frustration when I read the words of the superintendent I had tried to work with for years to bring a mindfulness-based supplementary education to our schools. Perhaps I had given up too soon. Maybe his mind was now changed, but one grows tired from pushing through resistance.

Instead, I looked forward to the two groups of youngsters who were waiting for me at another school. I thought of their exuberant bodies and excited young minds. Sometimes  wild, but always lovable. I thought about how it’s taken me a year to grow into the comfort of teaching the balance of yoga to within the realm of the unpredictability of  young children, and that sometimes there are still moments of frustration. A temporary frustration that, I have found now easily melts into joy when I step inside the child-mind and find the wonder of joy.

Later, dancing and laughing without care of judgement I found this joy. Freedom is a natural state of the child-mind and I am grateful to have the excuse to let it run loose. When you become like a child, you give the child you are with permission to let their true self shine through. Together we danced into animal poses and stomped the floor as though it was Earth. A little too loudly, perhaps, as it brought a teacher up for a moment, but we didn’t really care. Nor did she. Instead, we muffled, ever-so-slightly, our footsteps and danced some more. When we rested into our makeshift circle, we talked about what we loved, like unicorns and pegasus, rainbow socks, and dragon slippers. All things magic that are real to a child’s eyes accepted as truth, because in the end all that matters is the joy wrapped inside love.

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting, for a moment, with Possibility

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

It’s Monday morning. The teenagers are off to school, the husband to work. There is a dog on each couch. One beside me, the other off at a forty-five degree angle with her back turned to the edge. In the other room the pellet stove hums through fire and my home is filling with its warmth. Outside, the sun is rising to melt the frost that laces the ground in white, and dry the laundry that I have just hung on the line.  And, somewhere in the midst of trees and bushes the cats roam the early day.

Even though the hours spread before me without a tangible promise, inside the body the heart beats with possibility. It promises nothing but what I make of it. The routine of daily life is laid before me. I know I will walk and feed the dogs at midday. Pick the kids up a few hours later. But the in-between is mine to fill. There are no yoga classes to teach, except the one I will offer to myself after I finish this post.

Already I can see the blue of the mat spread across the wood. My muscles stir cells reaching through memory to begin again anew. An hour to dance with the vessel of form and stretch into the wonder that is life.

I think of the days when I would sit and wait for wonder to find me. An offer of something new through an email or phone call leading me down a path of exploration. Today there are no expectations. No disappointments of no magic beyond the mundane in the tangible. There is only me sitting in the stillness of possibility and the knowing that I have minutes to weave into the creation of hours. Words to follow onto the page and their journeys to explore.

Today brings the promise of the joy of creation. To traveling inside the labyrinth of the self and find the treasure of the seed waiting to sprout. The bud reaching for the touch of light to bloom. Words press me into the shadowlands in search of wonder. They have stories waiting there. Life in stasis, softly breathing as it waits to unfold. And so, I think, perhaps I will write their stories, not knowing what they will tell me yet, or where they will lead me to wander. It doesn’t matter where we will end up. The magic is in the endless opening. The light beckoning in the soft fire of the heart.

 

Chocorua Part 1: The Journey There

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Chocorua in early August

Sometimes the spirits of the land study you before you are allowed to study them. Their secrets held inside the membrane of earth and stone until you have proven yourself worthy of receiving.

Before we left that morning, I sealed acceptance into my aura. There was the knowing that I would be given what I needed to receive and perhaps not all that I yearned for. There is no rushing the land and its protectors, but a grateful, open-heart is always accepted.

I had met Chocorua over the winter, when I had turned a bend in the road and found myself faced with its head of stone, balded in patches of white from the snow, looming before me. It was one of those moments when the body defies words. My daughter looked at me, and I at her, with the same knowing. Someday, I would return. There was no discussion.

We drove the rest of the way to her ski meet immersed in our own thoughts, my eyes blinking away the moisture bought on by our encounter with Mt. Chocorua. Why, I wondered, have I not seen you before? 

I have lived in NH since I was nearly five years old. The mountain I had just passed, a mere 1.5 hours from my childhood home. I must have heard of it, even “seen” it in my travels.  I have learned, thought, that we do not truly see until the land is ready to be seen.

And, so I found myself traveling the roads to Chocorua six months later. Now mid-summer, there was no snow, but plenty of heat. We had just over twenty-four hours for our trip, and this would be our first night away without our children, ages 14 and 15, since they were born. A strange way to celebrate a slightly belated 20th wedding anniversary, perhaps, but my husband, like my daughter, understands my desires even if he doesn’t entirely comprehend them. When I found out he had booked us a night in North Conway so we could celebrate two decades of marriage by hiking the legendary mountain, I was deeply touched. My only reservation was that we would not have enough time.

Which was part of the letting go.

The morning began with tension after the release that yoga brings. I had a morning class to teach, and when I returned home, it was to find my husband nowhere near ready to go. I have a long history with time controlled by the minutes that tick by on the clock. I loathe being “late,” in whatever circumstance that involves. It’s not easy for me to let it go. I had breathed acceptance into my body at the start of the day, and it was not going to allow me to forget it.

When finally we got on the road, an hour after I had hoped we would leave, my husband and I found ourselves doing our individual best to release the threads of tension between us. That is until twenty-five minutes into our journey he realized he had forgotten his dress clothes, and, true to his nature, blamed it on my long-battle with time. Once more I found myself breathing into acceptance as we turned the car around.

It was a mostly wordless journey back home. When we arrived our daughter, just recently having woken, greeted us with some surprise as she smiled above the top of the couch. We had now lost about two hours of the day, by my calculations with the clock, but my body knew it was what we needed. This test of letting go of what we tend to hold onto, if we could.

And we did, gradually at first, as we settled back into an uneasy silence. My husband making the first offering of peace by placing his right hand on my thigh as he navigated the road back toward the mountain with his left. I felt the letting go as I met his offering with the wrap of my hand around his. Our journey now officially underway with all we needed packed in the car, even though later we would lament not having brought more. Not in terms of clothing, but in terms of supplies for the long walk ahead of us. In our determination to hike 3.5 thousand footer, we had not given much thought to the long, indirect path we had chosen to get to the top.  Chosen as though it was not a choice, because it was the path walked before the white man had landed on the shores of New England.

To be continued…

What Should a Yoga Practice with Kids & Teens Be? #Yoga #KidsYoga #TeenYoga

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Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

This week will mark the end of my first sessions of full-immersion into the world of teaching yoga to kids. What has felt like an initiation by fire, with five different classes of kids ages 3-17, has left me with more questions than answers. What is, I find myself wondering, the “correct” way to teach yoga to kids and teens? Or, is there one?

Each day is different. You can arrive with a lesson plan, sets of props, and a bag filled with yoga-themed goodies, and some days this will be grand. On other days, you may as well throw it all out the window. At least that’s how it was for me.

Humans are creatures driven by their emotions, which can be impacted by not only their own internal state of being, but by the emotions of those around them, and the energy pervading the planet. Children, in particular, are highly empathic beings, easily influenced by the inner and outer emotional body.

Some days, I would arrive to a yoga class and find the energy of peace and happiness pervading the classroom. Joy easily filled us, and our yoga practice would flow like a stream of clear water. On other days, the air would be thick with humid emotions. Restless bodies trapped in an airless room were all striving for release. Who could blame them? If I were five, I too would rather be outdoors running free. Heck, even at 45, my body prefers freedom when it feels trapped in a space of confinement.

So what does one do on these days? I don’t have all the answers.

Ideally, yoga would travel to meet us where we are, at any given time. We would take it outdoors when the weather calls us to plant our feet on the grass and align our pulse with Nature’s. But, sometimes we must make do with what we are given. Closed, airless rooms.

There are days when I pretty much gave up. Threw in the towel, you might say, and mostly observed and accepted, as best I could. Taking the few precious moments when they arrived to engage a wild child in a yoga asana or breath.

They became moments of self-observation too. I would notice my own emotions, tipping toward frustration, futility, and sometimes anger. Unruly children can be cruel and disrespectful, often without intention. I found myself searching for the rare moments when I could reign them in, and teach them that there is more to yoga than moving the body into animal-like postures to find the seed of goodness within and grow it.

Even the kindest child can turn into a monster when their peers are unruly. It is not fun to watch. It is, just the opposite. Yet, we learn and grow from these moments as best we can. Moments when I found myself resisting the urge to yell. To take a small body and shake it into awareness after it reached into a bowl to grab a helpless fish, or stuffed tissues up its nose while grinning wickedly in my face.

Oh yes, there were those days when anything and everything that felt like it could go wrong did, and I would wish for a miracle that never came. Although I don’t believe in corporal punishment of any form for children, I do believe children in the society I live in tend to be over-indulged and, for the most part, lack an understanding that there are consequences to actions, even though punishment of any form is not given. And herein, perhaps, lies the gift for me.

I have found, as much as I try, that although I love to make yoga fun in creative ways, I am not a yoga teacher who finds home in the make-believe. Elaborate stories filled with action, songs, and props are not my thing. When I create these types of classes, I find that the children easily get bored unless you change the scene and plot each week. To me, this takes too much effort and feels contrived. It feeds the over-stimulated mind I am working to calm.

This, to me, is not yoga. Yoga, for me, is finding the seed of each essence held inside those restless bodies and allowing it to bloom into being. In whatever small, or big way, it is willing to bloom. And, sometimes we simply need to take away what does not work, including the children who are not ready, or wiling to engage in the practice of yoga. In each class I taught, there were always at least two children who were not ready, or interested in yoga. At least not this stage in their lives. Or, with Miss Alethea. And, that is okay.

On those rare occasions when these children left the classroom, the energy transformed.  Children who would normally follow the reckless leader(s) when present, were now engaged  and attentive. Their sharp mind tuned to my soft words inviting them to find their own yoga dance as I gently guided them along.

Sometimes an entire group needed to leave. Last week, I found myself down to two students in the last fifteen minutes of one class. Two five-year-olds who could be as unruly as the rest, remained with me while their four peers left, one-by-one, to join their other classmates on the playground. They were fifteen magical minutes. Two bright minds focused on my voice as they danced from pose to pose. “Show me how you would go from Dog Pose into Cat Pose?” “From Warrior One, into Warrior Two?” I simply sat, watched, and gently asked as the magic unfolded through their bodies.

Sometimes, the ideal yoga class is two students. Sometimes it is only fifteen minutes. And that is okay. More than okay.

The same thing happened during my middle-school yoga class last week. More than half the students were not present, due to a sport’s commitment. A group of five girls, all friends, who would rather socialize and fool around with each other than practice yoga together were absent. Instead, I had four students, two boys and two girls, who were engaged for an entire class without interruption. It was a thing of beauty.

And so I find myself asking if it is unfair, or fair, to request true engagement in the form of commitment to yoga when the person is a child? I think, perhaps, it is. From what I have seen, even a three-year-old can be engaged. There is a reason I have not mentioned my two preschool classes in this post yet. They are my largest classes, but they are also my “best” in many ways. Yes, there are challenges. The wanting to hug the teacher, and sit next to her. The friends who need to sit apart least they wrestle the entire class….but, for the most part, they are perfect in their imperfections. The students young enough to listen to their teacher without resistance, still hold a desire to please and learn. It’s easy to release the inner child when there is joy dancing around you, and a half-hour passes quickly with these children.

And so, I find myself at that point of endings that calls me to assess and evaluate before I can determine the next path to take. Still, there are more questions than answers before me, but I know I want to keep walking the path of yoga with children.

 

The Hummingbird’s Visit #YogaPoetry

While sitting on the porch this afternoon, I had a visit from the resident hummingbird and found myself pulled into the stillness of the present to bear witness to life. While it is all too  easy to try to take over life in our hurry to live it, sometimes it is worthwhile to allow it to take over us. If even for just a few moments.

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Sometimes it is enough

to watch the circle of life

and listen to the rise and fall of its notes

How the sky screams the hawk’s warning

before a spirit lifts from the body of a chipmunk

to rejoin the infinite expanse

Hidden in the green, the house cat

skulks as though it were in Africa

The dimensions of size and place lost

to the memories of cells

In the stillness of the moment

tense is erased by the rhythm

of the breath’s own steady rise and fall

inviting the heart to find

the harmony of the dance