Spring is threatening to spring any minute here in Pennsylvania, and while I’ve at least been able to ditch the socks for indoor wear, I’m not quite ready to ditch the shoes for outdoors.
Speaking of shoes, have you ever really looked at the soles of yours? Especially the ones you wear most frequently?
How about the soles of your feet?
I see a LOT of feet in my practice, and they tell me a lot about how and where a person carries themselves (on which part of their feet, I mean, not the on planet :), as well as what may be underlying their seemingly unrelated-to-the-feet issues.
Our feet are the relationship, the literal interface between the rest of our bodies and the ground.
The quality of that relationship is affected by where we carry our weight when standing, walking, running, elevating, by the surface upon which we are doing all these things, and by the footwear enclosing these complex structures
Take your calluses (please! Ha ha… ahem…)
A callus (hardened skin) is a great example of how a very localized area of tissue cells responds and adapts to a repetitive force load over time, and can tell us a great deal about movement and shoe habits.
Some calluses are painful, depending on where and how they develop - often due to inappropriate footwear and misaligned body parts.
But, wider plane callusing on the bottoms of the feel, developed in response to frequent barefooting (especially on natural terrain), is not only desirable, but healthier
(See more about that in Nutritious Movement’s post, “Palm Reader”.)
To appreciate the complexity of the foot - with its 26 bones, 33 joints, and over a hundred muscles - is to understand how much of an impact restricted mobility in any of these joints can have, not just on the feet themselves, but the whole body.
An indicator like calluses (and even bunions, ‘hammertoes’, and ‘fallen’ arches) can give us information, not only about whether our shoes are appropriate, but also what may be going on in the quadriceps, knees, hips, even the shoulders and neck.
Stand on a piece of paper with bare feet and trace the outline - one sheet for each foot. Make sure to bring the pen or pencil down perpendicularly to the paper so it’s more true to the shape of your foot.
Now, take each of your most oft-worn shoes, and place them over the tracing. Can you see any of your outline? If so, this is a good visual of where your feet have to deform, or squish, to fit inside your shoe - usually for hours at a time.
Neatness doesn’t count. Don’t judge.
My most-worn Vivobarefoots pass the test!
Once my most loved shoes, but, not so much anymore :(
Where did my toes even go?? Huge FAIL, on several levels!
Sobering, yes? And this is just with standing still.
Add in walking, or ANY degree of elevation in the heel - both of which will change where the greatest loads of your body create pressure, 10,000 times a day - some of which you can also see in the way the soles of your shoes wear down.
So, now what?
There’s a lot you can do on your own to bring mobility, strength and flexibility back into your feet (which will also greatly benefit the rest of your body).
~ You can read Katy Bowman’s book, “Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief: The New Science of Healthy Feet (Get it here or here.)*
~ Or, if you’re ready to start transforming your environment to be more ‘nutritious’ for your feet, check out her book, “Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear.” (Get it here or here.)*
~ Try wearing ‘alignment socks’ - a passive but effective means of waking up the toe-spreading muscles that become constricted from long hours of shoe-wearing and toe-gripping. (You can get them from me in my office, or get them online here.)
~ Explore minimal footwear (though I do recommend pairing this transition with foot exercises as demonstrated in the books above - treat minimal shoes like you would taking on a new workout!)
I have three pairs of Vivobarefoots, and am an affiliate of their awesome company, because I love their product and their mission of sustainability.
But, there are many more great choices of minimal shoe companies out there, emerging in response to the growing demand for liberated feet!
~ Come to my classes!
Next month, I’m kicking off “Mindful Movement Multi-Vitamins” - weekly classes with a monthly theme - April being “Happy Feet, Happy Body!”
Each class will center around said theme, but will integrate (and often revisit) a few of Nutritious Movement’s Daily Movement Multivitamins*, qigong, and proprioceptive awareness exercises - as well as practically apply the skills to your unique and busy life.
(*Links marked with an asterisk are affiliate links, meaning, if you purchase after clicking on them, a little $$ will be directed my way. I am an enthusiast and usually consumer, of every product I promote. You are, of course, free to procure these items in any way you choose. :)
In this, the month of Love… (which, I know, there are mixed feelings about…) - I’d like to direct your attention to the mirror.
What do you see when you look there? Or, maybe more to the point - how do you feel when you see your reflection?
This was the main point of a recent presentation on Natural Beauty I gave at a local library. (Yeah, not so much about swapping out your Maybelline for Evan Healy, or seven ways to make an avocado mask…).
It matters because what we see - in light of how we even define ‘beauty’ and whether we ‘measure up’ - informs not only how we feel about ourselves, but what choices we make about what we do to or put on or in our bodies.
We are bombarded by messages from all angles about how we should look - all of which keep us in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction and self-critique.
Now, the quest for beauty is nothing new ... every culture has its standards - many of which we can’t relate to today. Whether spiritually-driven, or to look more wealthy, or more fertile, some of these beauty practices would be taken to extremes, even to the result of illness or disfigurement. (Think: lead-based face paint, corsets, and foot binding).
Are we any more enlightened today?
Our society values thinness… and, of course, youthfulness. But I would say, even more detrimental to our well-being - flawlessness.
We are a culture that values appearance over function. Personality over character. We’re presented images - not only of models with certain supposedly desirable attributes, but images of them that have been enhanced, photo-shopped - practically devoid of ‘natural’.
Which comes back to the question, what are you seeing? And, also, how do you define beauty?
For those interested in the phrase ‘natural beauty’ - how would you define that?
I asked that question at the presentation… because adding ‘natural’ seems to have a more specific meaning for us.
For some, it might mean achieving some of the same cultural standards of beauty, but with non-toxic methods.
It might also be a description of someone who’s ‘just born with it’, who needs little adornment (But again, born with ‘what’ exactly?)
Drilling down, it could be applied to someone who’s inner light and love for life shines through, no matter the external aesthetic proportions. And, sometimes, this beauty is only discovered through continued relationship, rather than apprehended right away.
So, ‘natural beauty’ has something to do with integrity, perhaps. Radiating one’s life as it is, with no masks, which may also include one’s state of health.
When we define natural beauty this way, we begin to see that it’s more of an inside job. And, as I recently determined, it’s a behavior.
We are all on a spectrum of how honestly we can say we ‘love ourselves’… some of us being very, very far from that capability.
But, can we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of love, rather than the filters a multi-gazillion-dollar ‘beauty care’ industry (and I will include the diet and fitness industries) have implanted in our vision?
Can we see ourselves as a loving parent would gaze at a child, or the way God sees us?
When I look in the mirror (and it depends on the time of day, month, year, lighting, etc..lol), I see wrinkles of a 52-year old. I see 3 am worry and really-need-a-vacation circles under my eyes. February complexion. I see my mom in the area around my mouth and jaw. I see streaks of well-earned gray hair. My dad’s Roman nose and Sicilian eyebrows. Short legs, generous glutes (didja like how I put that?) and broad shoulders.
I also see eyes becoming clearer and more knowing with age. A mouth that smiles more and speaks up more with every passing year. I see a fleshier body than in my 20’s but, still strong and in some ways, much stronger. I see grace that’s part my mother and part qigong. I see peace in my visage from a lot, and I mean a LOT, of breathing and prayer.
It’s all there. My life as I’m living it, and a decreased desire to hide any of it the older I get… only to enhance it with more living, more connection, more emotion, more tenderness and care for my body and my soul.
Beauty is a choice of interpretation. Sometimes, you have to look for it. Hard. Turn off the critical filters and the quest for flawlessness (as some humans define it). But, it can be found everywhere.
The more I choose to see beauty, the more I do see it and create it around me. Radiate it outward. And on and on it goes. Beauty is a behavior.
Whatever the cause, it leaves a lot of us with a sense of never being quite caught up, content, fulfilled, complete.
As least, that’s how I’ve been feeling in recent years.
But, I’ve been learning to narrow the scope of what’s possible.
Which maybe sounds like a really negative and certainly countercultural way of saying, “I can only so do much in my limited human time span,” but I believe few would argue with.
I’ve written about this before, about how the near-omniscience that our technology can deliver insidiously implies how many things and experiences - even virtually - are available to us, making the ‘to-do’ (and the, therefore, ‘undone’) list way too long … and without our consciously questioning of whether that is even possible, we underestimate what kind of impact this may be having on our feelings of stress, anxiety, and inadequacy.
Just because we can doesn’t mean we can.
Take my email (please! haha… ) as an example.
I’ve been exasperated recently by the tyranny of my own email inbox. It’s not even real stuff! Just bits of data, but all attached to an agreement I made to allow it in.
Too many hours embarrassingly managing and culling it all, and the conflicted emotions around the obligations I feel to read, respond, or procrastinate on, as if I’m being rude (or, will miss some key piece of life-changing wisdom! God forbid!) by deleting or unsubscribing, have left me feeling depleted and depressed.
Sad. I know.
Because I know this is no way to spend a life. A life that is way too short as it is.
The older I get, the fewer and deeper the relationships I yearn to cultivate and engage with.
For an introvert like myself, I need a lot of time to warm up and process, whether it's a conversation, or a longer relationship, or a concept. The more to-do’s I have on my list, whether on paper or in my head, the less time I feel like I have to do that loving work.
“My pace of work (that’s pretty-speak for workaholism), has been a speed-skate over the dark patches of my self: my fear, my wounds, and my tremulous self worth. Which is to say, I’ve been working my ass off to avoid much of my humanity. Seems to be a universal part of our condition.”
And it reminded me of a key point I keep making when teaching qigong or restorative exercise - that part of the practice - a really hard part of the practice - is slowing down enough to feel where your limitations are, where the work comes in.
More often, and definitely more as we age, as we are literally moving through life, we are rely increasingly on momentum to propel us.
Momentum can take over where our own physical strength is lacking, hides the fact that even IS lacking - which is fine to a point, until we lose even the ability to generate that momentum.
Two points being expressed here, but in the same vein:
Freeing up space does mean being able to to slow down and enjoy what’s here. Slow down time, even.
Yet, freeing up space means saying no to stuff. It means loss. It means admitting our limitations and the fact there are some things we may never get to do in life.
Enjoying what’s left, what’s here, what’s right in front of us, means getting intimate. Curious. Learning more - about an other, or ourselves - than we might initially feel comfortable with, but where growth and true actualization can happen.
There is peace to be found in embracing the container of our mortality.
If spaciousness and depth and slowing down in order to feel your life more fully are important to you, what are some things you can move off your plate, out of your mental bandwidth? What are you are afraid of missing out on or offending if you culled them from your life?
Even though I think about this topic a lot, it seems appropriate to get clear on this as we enter into the holiday season (of buy! buy! buy!) and begin a fresh new year with fresh new intentions of good, old slow-moving hours of spaciousness.
I'd love to hear from you. Comment below, or hit ‘reply’ if you’d prefer it to be private.
... not especially poetic. Like, "beauty", or "connection", or "courage", of "self care".
In fact, it even ignores one of my guidelines for setting intention, which is to declare what you DO want, not what you don't.
sunrise, moonset ... new year's clarity - by gina loree marks 1/2/18
Yet, after shuffling through a few good candidates, and learning from my teacher Katy Bowman, that sometimes we have to release chronic holding patterns before we can find our true alignment, this is the word made the most sense for now. That being:
Yes. The process of eliminating toxins.
Toxins being those things not in alignment with our design which can make us sick ... or, even at low cumulative levels, disrupt or inhibit our natural life processes.
Which eventually will make us sick.
Nourishment is all well and good, but a body with gunked up and overburdened organs can't assimilate nutrients and support that body in an effective way.
A soul with deep rooted stories about its worthlessness wouldn't be able to internalize all the sincerest affirmations in the world.
A favorite internet voice of mine, author Jen Louden, recently asked a compelling question:
"What would 2018 look like if you stayed on your own side entirely, no matter what?"
(She does not include this article on her site, so if you'd like to read it, let me know, and I'll forward it to ya. It's lovely...)
It was this question that determined my settling on this word, as all the ways I've NOT been on my own side had becoming a recurring observation as of late.
As in, all the ways I've been blocking or postponing my own well-being and life expression, and how that lack of expression has been turning inward to ferment and poison. (Interestingly, in Chinese Medicine, the Liver - being a major detoxifying organ of the body - holds also the energy of self-expression and creativity.)
Here's my short list (and maybe you have yours...)
Getting all the housework/chores done before I work on my own business projects (which I, surprisingly, always seem to run out of time for)
Signing up for emails that I don't have time to read, thereby transforming my inbox into its own time-sucking project
Eating foods out of convenience or politeness that I know will make me feel yucky
Holding back from saying/writing something potentially controversial that might 'offend', even if it comes from my heart with good intention (and then mistrusting my intention)
Neglecting my own body mechanics or energy levels in order to accommodate clients
Imbibing in a glass of wine at the end of the day to gain temporary relief from the anguish of all of the above. And then another. And then another...
And then, beating myself up for not doing a damn thing differently. Again.
It's that last point that echoed in Jen's post.
"I am writing the second draft of my memoir and one pattern has emerged that is so painful to see: I spent a lot of my time being far too hard on myself. Even cruel. Seeing scenes emerge on the page where I was absolutely certain I was too dumb, too unlovable, too whatever, to do or have what I wanted, has brought me to my knees many times.
Of course, it wasn't just being hard on myself that was painful, it was also the resulting isolation, the dreams I gave up on because of the self-criticism, and the weeks lost to depression. (Bold face mine.)
I thought that being hard on myself was how I motivated myself. Turns out, that's how you demotivate yourself. How you increase your anxiety and the feeling of being a fraud."
Does this feel familiar? Did you just whisper a silent 'Yeah, me too...'?
It's helpful, I guess, to know we're not alone.
Still, the heavy lifting work that only we can do still lies ahead of us - to challenge and purge those stories and change the script.
Her article goes on with examples of rephrasing those conversations with self in a more loving, compassionate way (like what we might say to our best friend were she abusing herself so).
But, the truth is, detoxification in any form is hard. We adapt to the poison. We may even become dependent upon it, even as it slowly drains away our life force.
Our relationships become based on what we feed ourselves, and how we process our life experiences. To become healthy is to change EVERYTHING.
Byron Katie asks, "Who would you be without those thoughts? Without those stories?"
As much as we yearn to lay down the self-destruction and purge ourselves of what's making us ill, tired, heavy, less than the bright, beautiful, creative beings we are meant to be, the demons we give quarter to are known. Familiar and safe.
Indeed, who would we be without those stories?
Detoxing is a leap of faith. Faith that your body and soul still have enough substance and resilience to withstand the process itself, as well as that the results - no matter what - will have been worth the struggle (which will be life-long...)
For many, it takes a hitting of rock bottom - waking up to the reality that there's no where else to go but up, or into the grave - to finally find the resolve to purge.
For me, it's only been felt as an emerging, gnawing discomfort and frustration, tinged with occasional anxiety and depression. (Plus, a recent incident in which I totally choked during a corporate presentation. You wanna talk about cruel and scathing self-criticism, held up as proof that I. Totally. Suck. I almost quit my practice that day. How I managed to turn it around within the next hour as a 'learning experience' could only be described as an act of grace.)
I'm a youthful 51 years old in many ways. In others, I feel so much older, with obsessive thoughts about how little time I have left on this planet.
Another toxic story to jettison or reframe? Yeah, probably...
My desire for this year is not just for myself to clear the blocks, purge the toxic habits and stories.
Because if you find yourself in these words, and you have the courage to detox as well, maybe we can support and encourage each other. Maybe together we can make this year the one in which we emerge healthy, whole and shining, and a living expression of Who We Really Are.
I'm convinced the world cannot wait another minute for this. (But, hey, no pressure... ;)
It seems butterflies are more or less the quintessential metaphor for transformation - am I right?
But what about clinginess and hesitation?
Because of a good friend, whose enthusiasm and butterfly obsession rubbed off on me, I had the honor of 'raising' a bunch of caterpillars from egg to adult Monarch - a one month and six day project that became strangely addictive.
Besides learning that the little buggers are basically eating and pooping machines until they go into chrysalis stage, I was able to watch and predict their process of emergence, right down to the hour.
Nature can teach you a thing or two about patient observation.
Emerging Monarch - YouTube
So, in case you didn't know, once the butterfly - miraculously reformed from the goop the caterpillar dissolved into - splits open the casing and drops out, it doesn't just immediately take to the skies.
It can't yet.
The wings have yet to fully unfurl, and they're still heavy from the dampness of the cocoon. Or, so I surmised, based on the way it would cling like the dickens with tiny sticky feet to its cocoon shell, all the while, body and still-compact wings twisting back and forth in the breeze.
The last one I witnessed emerged (lovingly named #10) seemed to be exerting a particular effort, as one foot then another would lose its hold and then frantically try to regain it. I realized that gravity still played a huge role here, and losing this battle could mean dropping with potentially fatal damage to the wings.
A swift end before the unfathomably long journey to Mexico could even begin.
Fortunately, that did not happen, and, as with the nine cage mates that preceded it, he/she hung out to dry for several hours.
Eventually, it would walk/hang around other parts of the enclosure ceiling, check out the vacant shells of previous inhabitants, and stretch the delicate orange and black wings every so often as if to test them out.
Why did this intrigue me so?
I guess I found it encouraging.
The whole idea of one's entire being disintegrating into goop and then reassembling into a creature that in no way resembles its former self - while lovely as a thought - is hard for me to identify with as a human (biblical connotations aside), so metamorphosis as a metaphor doesn't work so well.
However, suddenly finding oneself endowed with the apparatus for astounding feats of flight, only, not automatically equipped with the readiness to use it, so you hang on for dear life to your old way of being as long as you can ... that I totally get.
Common word here?Process. And what I now realize is just because you are now in view, you still have to take action and move forward.
When you're ready. It's a process.
And, it cannot be rushed. Or, for that matter delayed. I pulled Monarch #2 out the cage too early, not yet knowing better, and those poor wings just hung there limply. Lesson learned, and on the flip side, I pretty much knew you really shouldn't hang on to them as pets. They have a purpose and a journey, and you gotta let them go when the time comes.
Which they are somehow programmed to know. They know when it's time to surrender to the wind, and leave behind their vessels of protection and transformation for-evah.
I'm also pretty sure they don't overthink or romanticize or try to wring out very possible meaning and platitude for human life experience about this process like we humans do, and for that, I'm a little envious.
It can be exhausting.
Anyway, I guess all that means (or, I'd like to think it means) that just because I'm still not magically where I hoped I might be this time last year, that 'coming into view' still winds my stomach into knots, that I haven't taken to the skies yet, maybe it's because my wings are still unfurling.
But, at some point, that will no longer serve me as an excuse.
In the meantime, let's see what guiding words emerge for us for 2018 ... share yours below!
As much as I thrive in the spring and summer, I do enjoy the colder seasons as well - in fact, as I write this, I'm watching this fall/winter's first snowfall from my office window. It's lovely.
What I don't look forward to is the onslaught of cold and flu season. (Like, does anyone, really?)
Whether it hits me and mine (which, thankfully, is not all that often), or my clients, it's bad for business. :)
So, this seems like a good time to talk about an interesting concept in Chinese Medicine, the Wei Chi.
While immunology as a field is extremely complex and is still revealing its mysteries to western medicine, the idea of Wei Chi (a phrase which here is pronounced 'way-chee' and loosely translates as 'defensive life force') in Chinese medicine, can be conceptualized as a field surrounding the surface of the body, much like guards at the city gates.
It's a somewhat different understanding of 'pathogens' - germs that invade the body which we're helpless against, without the aids of medicines - but instead places the focus of prevention through, breathwork, herbs, massage and diet - ideally cultivating a strong and vital force to ward off not only external attackers, but helping to maintain a healthy internal balance.
The idea of Wei Chi may seem simplistic - even a bit superstitious - but let's look at it a little more closely.
(Disclaimer: The metaphorical nature of Chinese Medicine can leave it open to a wide variety of interpretations. This is both its wisdom and its weakness for us. Google 'wei chi' and you'll see what I mean. My opinion is that there is truth being revealed wherein, about how a body in context within its environment functions, and it's the fun for us to figure out what the heck is meant by this. Just my interpretation. ;)
While Wei Chi (because it is primarily a 'superficial' qi field, I suppose) is often associated with the Lung meridian, I read recently that it is more under the function of the Stomach/Spleen meridians.
Huh??? Okay, let me back up.
The concept of "Lungs" in Chinese Medicine refers not only to the organs proper, but to their function of respiration, exchange with the external environment, (therefore, healthy relationship), emotions of grief, melancholy, vulnerability, and trust, but also includes the skin as 'the third Lung' - as it also breathes, and creates a barrier (healthy relationship again!). And, when we think of colds and flus, we tend to associate those with the organs of respiration: nose, mouth, throat, lungs, bronchial tubes, etc. It makes sense that a robust Wei Chi depends on guarding and strengthening the lungs.
So, when I heard about the Stomach/Spleen association, I had to ask, well, why? I mean, didn't you?
If you're still with me...
The ST/SP, of course, includes those organs (and the pancreas) of digestion and breakdown of food, as well as the capacity for self-nourishment, self-care, nourishment of others, grounding - the energy of which manifests in the 'flesh' of the body, i.e., the muscles.
Guess what goose bumps are?
Tiny contracted muscles called arrector pili (which, for years, I thought was erector pili, 'cuz, ya know, they stand up...).
Muscles contract when we get cold to: 1) generate heat (like, when shivering), and 2), according to this article, to hold heat in between the hair follicles, which for mammals, provides insulation.
This is part of our naturally-developed thermostat system, which is responsive, and I believe, has a lot to do with a healthy immune system.
Here's another thing.
Contraction of muscle tissue is a bio-electric process. And, from what I've learned - where there's electric current, there's an electromagnetic field generated. Is that what these Chinese folks were talking about regarding qi? And, with healthy and frequent movement (i.e., contraction and expansion of muscles, including arrector pili) we cultivate a healthy qi field, which for reasons I cannot yet explain, has a role to play in how efficiently we can ward off illness?
"Gaze upon my awesome Wei Chi!!"
I use that phrase - 'ward off illness' - tentatively, because, I as of yet, do not want to plant this image in your head of germs bouncing off some kind of force field around your body, which, while cool, is probably not how all that works.
But I truly do believe that our over-reliance on climate control (as well as many other attempts of controlling our external circumstances) diminishes our own internal response systems and vitality.
I also believe that, in addition to diet and other factors, our choices to avoid experiencing fluctuations in the natural environment, as well as sedentary habits that do not facilitate the movement of lymphatic fluid (our waste disposal system) play a huge role in the prevalence and frequency of illness.
We can become so familiar with a place, we hardly notice it anymore.
photo by gina loree marks
This place can be as close as your own backyard, or your own body.
Glennie Kindred's beautiful and practical guide, "Letting in the Wild Edges" makes the compelling case for exploring the boundaries of our known worlds ("the undiscovered country of the nearby*"), and reacquainting with the 'edges' - the wild, forgotten, overlooked, overgrown and neglected places where nature will take the advantage to re-assert herself.
It is in this reacquaintance that we remember our own wild edges - the aspects of ourselves that we push aside in favor of the known, the logical, the safe (which, yes, there is a place for, but it can be overdone...).
By allowing ourselves to wander, observe and just be gives us space for the naturalness and intuitive parts of ourselves to again have a place in the conversation of our lives.
Of course, communing in this way with nature requires movement.
And, as you know, I'm all about movement.
(Note: This isn't just about getting out to the 'wilderness' - it's about exploring the edges of your property, or noticing and appreciating weeds pushing up through sidewalks, or in abandoned lots ... bringing your awareness to how tenacious the life force of nature is, how easily it can integrate and even overcome all our creations if we allowed it - and more importantly, that this living tenacity is within us, as well.)
"Letting in the Wild Edges" begins with a four-part introduction about the practical reasons and applications for one's relationship with the world outside the walls; from 'wild' gardening', to kitchen medicine to seasonal celebrations.
The second section is divided into an eight-part guide: how to approach each season and the in-betweens in all their wildness and glory, with activities to participate in each one, whole-bodied and mindful.
I am excited and eager to share this book with you for several reasons:
One: I love the outdoors, but admittedly, am not very adventurous.
I haven't camped for many years, and it would take me some conditioning to prepare for a hike of any significant length. Yet, I know how much better and sane I feel even when I walk in the woods for a bit, or work in my yard for an hour.
Meaning - For me, it doesn't take much moving in nature to rebalance my mood and perspective, so I can start where I am. And, so can you.
Two: I know that movement in natural settings is like whole, healthy food for the body and its trillions of cells.
Uneven surfaces, dappled light and shadows, sunshine, wind, chill, even rain on the skin, scents, air quality - all these features 'move' the body in so many and much-needed ways that a gym simply cannot provide.
But, not every body is capable or comfortable. So, I'm offering a weekly class beginning January: 2018, called "Movement for Life" - a gentle training of sorts to help you navigate the environment, both indoors and out, in the most nutritious way possible. Will also include group walks. :)
Three: I have long been questioning how I can more effectively align my practice and my blog posts with the seasonal cycles of Chinese Medicine in a meaningful and applicable way; so that you (and I) can care for our own and our families' health.
Kindred's book (while not Chinese Medicine-oriented) is giving me a template to work with, so look for how that manifests in the months to come. I hope you'll join me!
Lastly: the book begins with a suggestion for preparing an exploration 'rucksack' to keep on hand in preparation for short-term jaunts. And (as I was prepping my own) I thought, 'What a great gift idea for a fellow explorer - A "Wild Edges" Kit!'
Some ideas to put together your own "Wild Edges Exploration Kit":
I hope this is inspires you - and, if so, you share your discoveries with us!
* Title is mentioned in "Letting in the Wild Edges", attributed to Roger Deakin, and referenced also in "The Wild Places", by Roger McFarlane:
“There is wildness everywhere,” Roger had written once, “if we only stop in our tracks and look around us.” To him, the present-day and the close-at-hand were as astonishing as the long-gone and the far-afield. He was an explorer of the undiscovered country of the nearby.
…I had started to refocus. I was becoming increasingly interested in this understanding of wildness not as something which was hived off from human life, but which existed unexpectedly around and within it: in cities, backyards, roadsides, hedges, field boundaries or spinnies…. And it was there in the margins, interzones and rough cusps of the country: quarry rim, derelict factory and motorway verge." ~ from "The Wild Places", by Roger McFarlane, about his explorations of Great Britain and Ireland with Roger Deakin
** Links to the books and to VIVOBAREFOOT boots are affiliate links, meaning, if you choose to purchase through those links, I'll make a small commission.
Here in the U.S. this week, many of us will be celebrating Thanksgiving.
As it seems to be a culturally-accepted practice to overindulge, I'm taking this opportunity to offer some suggestions for lessening the impact (unless you're into that sort of thing) ;), to go a little easier on the digestive system, and maybe even enjoy the holidays (or any meal) a little more, without the aftermath of abdominal discomfort.
If you happen to be celebrating in the company of supportive friends and family, invite them along in these practices! It could be the start of a whole new holiday tradition!
Preparing the space (internally and externally).
There is probably not more traditional background sound than "the game" blaring on the t.v. while grandpa snoozes on the sofa.
Far be it from me to break from tradition.
~ But, if you're not of the sports-watching ilk, consider setting an intentionally peaceful mood to dine by.
Healthy digestion requires the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system to be activated (as opposed to the orthosympathetic, or 'fight-or-flight' branch, activated by noise, lights and other stimulus. Turn off the screens and phone (at least during the meal), bring in soft music and natural lighting, and suggest conversational topics that avoid emotional triggers to allow for less-stressed digesting.
~ Try to refrain from drinking fluids a half hour before and after (and during) your meal.
Having a little something handy to sip if needed is fine, but the practice of 'washing down' your food with a beverage has the effect of diluting the saliva and stomach acids necessary for digestive efficiency. Also, avoid icy cold beverages any time if you can, particularly if you have a tendency toward feeling cold, or often experience dull stomach pains or heartburn after eating.
~ Conversely, try sipping something warm before a meal, like broth or miso soup. Miso soup, properly prepared, contains live enzymes which support healthy gut bacteria.
Embrace a moment of grace.
~ This needn't be a religious practice, but sharing in a few moments of silence before lifting the utensils can help you and your companions transition peacefully from the bustle of preparation and settling in to the table, signaling to your nervous system that it's time to center down and enjoy.
Chinese Medicine would say that digestion really begins with the eyes and nose, so allowing your senses to take in the sights and smells placed before you can trigger the appetite and get the juices flowing in preparation for what's to come.
Even just taking a few cleansing breaths will allow your body to settle down and your organs to relax.
Savor the meal.
~ Chew. Your. Food. If you do nothing else (yet) to support your digestion, this is an excellent habit to cultivate.
And, I get it. I am notorious for wolfing down my meals - I don't know why. But, digestion begins in the mouth. In fact, a good deal of carb breakdown happens with the saliva, which means less stress on the tummy.
Different foods require different breaking-down components, so prolonging the chewing stage allows for the whole digestive system to better prepare for what's coming down the pike. The recommended amount of chewing (like 20-30 times minimum) should leave your food basically liquefied, which can take some patience to work up to, fer sure.
Other benefits of chewing well:
~ You've probably already heard, the slower you eat, the sooner you'll get the satiation signal not to overdo it. Whether you heed that signal, of course, is another matter.
~ Higher quality food tastes better longer. If you've ever tried to savor a fast food burger beyond three bites, you'll know what I mean. Foods high is starch, fat and preservatives don't stand up well to breaking down, flavor-wise. Likewise, properly prepared whole foods taste better the longer you chew them.
~ Chewing well helps your brain! This research study explores how the mechanical process of mastication has a positive effect on cognitive memory function. Lots of jargon here, but just a glance will illustrate how many other systems are affected by the simple act of processing food.
Nourish the hara.
The hara (abdomen, in Japanese) benefits greatly from massage, either from a bodyworker or yourself, or other movements and activities, such as walking.
While we've somehow turning walking after a meal into a means of absolution for our sins or overeating, this is when our bodies need to focus resources internally on digesting. Try a short walk before the meal, even if it's a little chilly, to stimulate the appetite.
When you consider that until recently, humans used to have to do a bit of physical activity to even acquire food, you'll see this makes a little more sense biologically.
Oops, I did it again...
Okay, so that third helping of mom's stuffing was just too much to resist.
(In Qigong, certain sounds are used, in addition to breathing and movements, to help nourish and heal the internal organs.)
"The sound, "whooooo', is a Taoist healing sound that stimulates and balances the stomach, spleen and pancreas.
You can use it every day as a general tonic for strengthening these organs, or whenever you have indigestion, or have overeaten. The normal pronunciation is 'who', but when using it as a healing sound, we pronounce it sub-vocally (as though you're blowing out a candle.)
1) Sit up straight, and place the fingertips from both hands on your solar plexus (the area between your rib cage and navel).
2) Take a deep breath in, and, as you slowly breathe our, make the whispering sound, 'whhhoooooo'. While making this sound, slowly bend forward and press your fingertips into your solar plexus.
3) As you sit up, breathe in deeply.
4) Repeat 4-5 times."
Again, these are practices you can incorporate any time, for any meal (unless you're eating in the car, which is a whole 'nuther issue!)
Have you ever noticed the transitions of the Equinoxes (summer to fall, winter to spring) seem to be more tumultuous - physically and emotionally?
photo by gina loree marks
Maybe it’s the dramatic shift in directional momentum - in summer to fall, the energy shifts from outward and expansive to downward and in; likewise, from winter to spring, it's the rush of energy from the depths moving upward and outward.
In both cases, many people tend to get more colds, more fatigue, and more emotional.
These are also optimal times for "cleaning house", though with somewhat different intentions.
Liver (in Chinese Medicine) is the Organ of Spring, (and our largest 'cleansing' organ) so, it makes sense that this time of year inspires us to spring clean. Autumn is associated with Large Intestine (and yes, Lungs, as I've written previously), which is an eliminative organ.
Spring cleaning - while about clearing out the excesses of winter (whether of stuff, heavy winter clothes or bodily toxins) - is a preparation for new growth and activity. It's a welcoming and opening for freshness and creativity - opening the windows, tuning up the bikes, turning the garden for plantings.
Autumn cleaning is more like, a the risk of sounding morbid, getting one’s affairs in order.
It's about paring down to the essentials of comfort and home, clearing out the dead flower beds; putting the patio furniture away (that ALWAYS makes me sad…) In olden days, it meant the last harvest was done, pulled in and processed, and life now was simplified to the basics of staying warm and fed, and attending to the deeper, inwardly, spiritual matters of life.
Spring Cleaning is about making space for new growth, new energy and new creation. Autumn Cleaning is about clearing out what’s left from all that growth to make space for rest and restoration.
Doesn't that sound lovely?
And, of course, easier said than done.
In our culture, autumn is almost like it's own new year, as school and other routines pick up again, and, well, we all know how anything but restful the holiday season has become.
Still, we can use this season of letting go, to, well, let go.
While the Lungs teach us the depths of our love in the form of grief, the digestive process of elimination via the Large Intestine offers us the lightness of unburdening and relief.
What can you let go of as this year comes to close, not with the intention of letting anything new come in (which it will anyway, life is funny like that), but just for the sheer joy of feeling sweet relief?
What's bogging you down, stopping you up, yes, I will even say constipating* your life that you can now just release and flush away?
I invite you to have fun with that... and share your thoughts if you want.