Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Finding Balance

"There is eternal summer in a grateful heart."
Celia Thaxter


Summer is here, the Earth is in bloom. Hot, sunny days are balanced by cloudy, cooler days, and just like the shifting of seasons, there is transition of darkness into light. As visitors upon this Earth, all living beings are a part of nature. Influenced by changing conditions, we move through cycles, and are made up of native elements. Our bodies are a microcosm of the earth, full of rhythms, transitions, adaptation, and vibrant energies.

The season of summer reminds us that everything alive is made up of energy, which is the capacity or power to do work. Energy can exist in a variety of different forms, such as electrical, mechanical, manual, thermal, or nuclear, and can be transferred from one form to another. Active or passive, a balance exists in the nature of energy.

Understanding the nature of external energy is the first step in opening up to the internal energy that exists within each of us. There are ways to find balance in the mind, and in the body. In yogic philosophy, energy is broken up into feminine and masculine energies, known as Shiva and Shakti. Shiva is pure consciousness, Purusha. A primal masculine activating power pulled from the symbol of the sun. Shakti is the maternal provider of nourishing Prakriti. A comforting feminine principle of nature, symbolized by the changing phases of the moon. When these two energies unite, action, movement, and creation arise. This connection provides a pathway toward pure consciousness. Combining loving care, protection, vitality, clarity and knowledge.

In Taoism, the yin/yang symbol illustrates this essential balance that exists inside each of us. Qualities of these energies intermingle to create a balanced whole. The feminine yin energy connects us with the left side of the body. A darker, slower moving, passive, internal energy. The masculine yang energy connects us with the right side of the body. A lighter, faster-moving, active, external energy.

There are many layers of our inner and outer world. What is happening around us in our daily schedules or routines, universally and globally impacts our inner world. Practicing the art of silent observation, reflection and surrender can help us to adapt and survive the spontaneous qualities the external layers of our world throw at us. I like to relate these energies to actions that can stimulate the sympathetic response and the parasympathetic responses of the brain. Life is a constant balance, and we are intuitively searching moment to moment to find this balance within the mind and body. It is a safe, natural way to cope with the external world around us. Finding creative ways to bring an effort and an ease into our daily lives is a wonderful utilization of accessing the energies that already exist inside of us. Finding what is unique and preferred is the interesting part of the journey. Enjoy the guided breath described below, known as alternate nostril breathing. After 10-20 cycles of this breath, your mind will feel calmer, and your body more relaxed, creating a harmonious state of peace and balance.


"Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body."
Thich Nhat Hanh
Connect to Breath

Alternate nostril breath is a transformative breathing technique that brings a sense of peace and calm into the mind and body. Breathing in and out of each nostril independently, allows the feminine and masculine energies to move into balance.

Find a comfortable seat or lie down. Begin to relax your body, and breathe. Close your eyes. Noticing the inhale followed by the exhale is the first stage of finding balance. Slowly inhale through both nostrils, feel the ease of pulling the breath all the way into the body, fill up, and then with control exhale completely, allowing the breath to flow up the spine and out through both nostrils. Feel the warming breath on your upper lip. Pause. Hold the breath out of the body, and when ready, choose to breathe in again. Inhale slowly through both nostrils, fill up, and with control exhale completely. Take time to enjoy a couple more cycles of natural flow of breath. Inhale followed by exhale. Readjust your seat or body if lying down, make any adjustments to align your spine and relax. Rest your left hand down, and bring your right hand toward your face. Place the first two fingers on your forehead and press gently there. Close your eyes, returning to natural flow of breath, inhale followed by exhale, draw your awareness to the center of your forehead. Honor the sacred center of trust, intuition and inner wisdom that lies within each of us. Pause, linger in this place of breath and being. When ready exhale completely, and place your thumb over your right nostril. Slowly inhale through your left nostril. Take the time to fill your body up with breath, then place the first, second or both fingers over the left nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Notice the length of time it takes to fully release your breath, pause, then inhale through your right nostril. Close off your right nostril with your thumb, lift the fingers off your left nostril and exhale completely through your left nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, close left and exhale right. Inhale through the right nostril, close right and exhale left. Inhale through the left nostril, close left and exhale right. Inhale through the right nostril, close right and exhale left. Continue for a total of 10-20 cycles. When you feel ready, exhale slowly through your left nostril. Release your hand back down, realign your seat and spine. With focus and control, inhale slowly through both nostrils, feel the ease of the breath pull into the body. Enjoy the inflation of breath, hold for 1-2 seconds, and then exhale the breath through both nostrils. Return your breath to a natural awareness of inhale followed by exhale. Open your eyes, notice the state of your mind and body.


"What you think you become. What you feel you attract. What  you imagine you create."
Buddha

Connect to our bodies and minds.

Daily Meditation can enhance your focus and concentration, bringing more space into your life. Be gentle with yourself. There is always room to grow. Loving kindness meditation is a form of metta meditation, a connection to love. Set simple intentions, tangible goals, and be a positive support to others. Send healing energy to those people and places who need it the most. One minute, five minutes, ten minutes, or more, carve out a small pocket of time to just sit or lie down. Close your eyes, connect to your breath, one inhale and exhale at a time. 


Connect to the Earth

Enjoy the warmth of the sun on your skin. Lie down in a garden, or the grass, and feel the soft Earth beneath you. Settle down into gravity, and sink into the arms of the Earth. Simply enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. Look, listen, feel, touch, and taste all the experiences. Eat foods that are locally grown, and in season. The five senses are our superpowers. Nourishing our bodies and minds with rest, healthy food, clean water, and exercise intensifies them. Create beauty around you. Plant and grow your own garden. Find ways to mend the damage done to our Earth. Reuse and recycle resources. Collect rainwater in a barrel for outside watering. Hang clean laundry on a line, and let the sun dry it instead. Bring your own bags to the market when shopping. Light a candle instead of using electricity. 

Being present without an agenda, provide time and space to listen, stay patient, peaceful, and open to connections that may otherwise be invisible to some. Enjoy a leisurely walk or a hike in nature. Go for a swim, or take a long bike ride. Notice the changing phases of the Moon, the Earth's seasons, and honor Mother Nature's oceans, lakes, mountains, and forests. 


"If your compassion doesn't include yourself, it is incomplete."
Buddha

Finding balance within ourselves acknowledges the importance of who we are. When we feel validated, there is more patient space to offer to others. We need to love, support, and strengthen ourselves, so we can then love, support, and strengthen those who need our nurturing, our care, and our attention. To empower and accept each other is crucial to our survival. Surrendering to the magic of our divine feminine and masculine energies, creates a universal peace.

We must believe that it is possible to share knowledge, to provide health care, to improve the safety and sanitary conditions of children and families globally, to protect our planetary resources, ~ such as food, water, air, soil, energy, and connecting to the goodness that all living beings require and deserve to thrive.

I have not been drawn to write. The transient, temporary seasons have served as an inspiration, a reminder of the inevitable constancy of change. Exposed, vulnerable, raw, my words are hanging on an extended branch for all to see, but only few to read. I accept that. I persevere. Writing provides an open space for me to let go of what no longer serves me. This blog is a gentle offering, subtle suggestions that have softened my resistance, and helped me to adapt to change. I hope they can help others too.

"When words are both true and kind they can change the world."
Buddha


"To write is to seek the truth behind one's inner chatter and then to put it out there. It is to believe we can improve upon the silence. It is to have faith in the power of words to provoke us, connect us, heal us. It is to have faith, period." 
Katrina Kenison




This post is dedicated to all those who are in the changing seasons of joy and blessings or heartache and loss, we are all in this together.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Green Smoothie

"When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need."
Ayurvedic Proverb



Here is my green smoothie recipe for increased energy and vitality! A great way to boost your metabolism, and help shift your body from winter into spring. This is a basic recipe tested and tasted, it works well with creative options (protein powders, collagen, spirulina) added in for a nutrition boost. If you want a sweeter version, a spoonful of raw honey or pure maple syrup will do the trick. So try it, experiment with your ingredients, and share your results!




For best results use a high power machine for breaking up raw vegetables and fruit fibers.

You will need:

1 washed organic green apple, a ripe pear or both! (cut up with skin on)

1/2 ripe avocado and/or 1 spoonful of *coconut oil

2 washed organic celery ribs (sliced to fit in your blender)

1/2 frozen banana (pre-peeled, cut up and frozen into chunks for easy use)

1 whole organic orange, clementine or lemon (ends cut off, freshly squeezed with a few slices of rind)

1 small washed organic carrot (cut up with skin on)

1 thumb-size piece of raw ginger (peeled and roughly cut-up)

moderate handful of organic washed baby spinach leaves or *super greens

1- 1 1/2 cups *coconut water, *aloe vera juice or cold spring water

Puree all ingredients and enjoy! Best if consumed in the morning.




*Benefits:

Green apples and pears are full of fiber! They promote cardiovascular, digestive and respiratory health. Best stored in refrigerator or cool environment.

Celery is an excellent source of antioxidants, beneficial enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Celery lowers inflammation assisting in balanced cholesterol and blood pressure levels. A wonderful digestive aid, reducing bloating, protecting the liver and decreasing ulcers. It has amazing anti-microbial and chemo protective compounds called polyacetylenes that help reduce toxicity, and fight against cancer cell formation.

Bananas are instant energy, full of natural sugars (sucrose, fructose and glucose), amino acids (tryptophan boosting serotonin levels), iron, potassium, magnesium, and are high in soluble fiber.
The ripened dark patches on banana skin produces a substance called TNF (tumor necrosis factor) which has the ability to combat abnormal cells, promotes higher immunity enhancement and chemo protective qualities.

Avocado are high in heart healthy monounsaturated fats, promotes eye health and brain function, improving nutrient absorption. They are full of fiber, potassium and vitamin C.

Coconut oil is a natural saturated fat, that increases healthy (HDL) cholesterol levels in the body. Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids that are metabolized efficiently creating energy, boosting brain, cardiac, kidney and immune function. It is an anti-inflammatory, chemo protective oil that helps skin glow, prevents gum disease and tooth decay.

Citrus fruits are powerhouses with too many benefits to list here, but some amazing qualities enhance your brain, heart, kidneys, skin, bones, digestive and immune systems. The citrus peels contain 5-10 times more vitamins and nutrients than the fruit itself, so if you are using the rinds, buy organic and wash the fruit thoroughly. Citrus fruits are a solid source of fiber, folate, antioxidants, phytonutrients (biologically active compounds found in plants), and Vitamin C assisting in the absorption of iron.

Carrots are full of vitamins A, K, folate, B6 and minerals of manganese, potassium, copper and iron. They help balance blood sugar levels, assist in healthy heart and eyesight function, and boosts digestive and immune systems.

Ginger is a wonderful anti inflammatory digestive aid. It is a chemo protective, immune boosting and pain sensory inhibitor root spice. Best consumed raw, sliced or grated.

Super greens are kale, spinach, collards, beet and turnip greens, red and green romaine, swiss chard, arugula, parsley, and many more. They are full of vitamins A, C, E and K, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory. You really can't get enough of these nutrient dense greens filled with immune boosting power and cellular regenerators. Super greens can be eaten in their natural state (green leafy vegetables, broccoli), or in a compressed green powder, easing their way into smoothies. I personally like to promote the lesser processed foods, this smoothie tastes great with fresh green leafy super greens. Check your local health food store and explore the different options.

Coconut water has so many health benefits. It's an excellent anti-inflammatory, rehydration drink, full of electrolytes, amino acids and trace minerals boosting energy and balancing blood sugar levels. Coconut water contains cytokinins, the plant version of human cytokines. This hormone like substance enhances the reproductive, growth and development, skin repair, cellular healing, homeostatic regulation, blood clotting and immune systems of the body!

Aloe Vera juice is a rich source of hydrating antioxidants, cell growth stimulators, pain inhibitor properties, and essential nutrients. It's a powerhouse of calcium, sodium, iron, potassium, manganese,  zinc, folic acid, Vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E and amino acids.



Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl 2017

"No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted." Aesop


Friday morning. Spirit day. Sean says, "Mom! Where's my Patriots shirt?" Finding it in the bottom of the drawer, he put it on and the sleeves ended two inches above his wrist. "Mom, can I please wear it anyway?" Heading into school with a shirt too small for his growing body, we talked about getting a new Patriots shirt to wear on Sunday. After drop off, William and I visited my Mom for breakfast, then we started our list of errands. Four stores later, we discovered all Patriots gear for kids SOLD OUT!  I was becoming weary, and William was losing patience with me. Our last ditch effort to one more stop closer to home brought us to a small sports gear shop in Woburn. We walked in and saw lots of Patriots accessories, but again Patriots shirts sold out. All that was left were the expensive Super Bowl 2017 Jerseys at $75 a shirt! We talked with the young store clerk about the upcoming game, thinking it was just the three of us in the store, I heard another voice say, "Excuse me, but would you buy the jersey if I paid for half?" I peered around the large football display and saw an old man sitting on a bench trying on shoes. His bright blue eyes twinkled from under his tweed scally cap, his large belly shaking as he smiled, and asked me again, "I'm an old man with nothing but time and money, please let me donate half of the money for your son to have a jersey to wear on Sunday." I looked over at the store clerk, who was beaming from ear to ear, of course my eyes started to well up.

I walked over to the kind man, as he proceeded to open his wallet, and hand over $40 cash to the store clerk. Denying such a beautiful gesture would have been a sin. I squeaked out a "thank you", and the tears kept rolling. "Why are you crying?" asked the old man. I took a deep breath to compose myself, and started explaining how this is the first Super Bowl without my Dad, and how he would have bought my son a Patriots jersey already in anticipation of Sunday's game. I sat down on the bench next to this sweet old man, I gave him a hug, we exchanged warm introductions and talked more. He asked me about my Dad, his name, and how he came to pass away. It was easy to tell him what happened, and the similarities between this stranger and my Dad became quite palpable. My Dad was a giving man, he was all about my boys. He was also a businessman, and would frequently offer up deals and transactions with me. We had such a genuine exchange of understanding and connection, turning the conversation slowly into a more up-lifting one, "My name is Paul", he said. "I'm a retired dentist from Woburn. I have 8 children and too many grand children to keep up with. What is life without small happinesses in your day? Let me give you this gift in honor of your Dad. A little present from Phil in Heaven."

20 minutes passed before I made it up to the counter to complete the purchase of the Patriots jersey for my son. The store clerk commented on how Paul came in the store all the time, and was a great guy. The clerk proceeded to give me his employee discount, and knocked off another $10 from the jersey! Thanking him too, I ended up paying $20 for a Super Bowl 2017 Tom Brady jersey for my lucky 8 year old son.

William gave Paul a high-five, and he received one more hug from me. I left the store with a full heart, a renewed sense of hope for humanity, and the realization that Earth Angels do exist, we just have to stay open to finding them.

Go Patriots!


"The heart that gives, gathers." Tao Te Ching


"It's not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of spirit." J.R.R Tolkien


"All you need is LOVE is all you need." Lennon & McCartney

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Yoga for Everyone


"True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn't care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga its essence must be embodied. "  A. Palkhivala



Yoga is a movement based therapy that offers benefits of stress reduction, increased strength, balance, and flexibility. The sanskrit word, "yoga" is defined as "to yoke", "draw together", or "unite". Yoga combines and coordinates breath with movement. There are many different types of yoga to explore, finding a specific style of yoga that suits your needs is personal preference. Take the time to read the details of a specific class, arrive early to meet the teacher, and ask questions as yoga classes can vary in levels. A beginner class is gentle on the body, and can offer specific instruction for alignment and safety. A basic flow class is low impact, informative and energizing. Intermediate or vigorous can be challenging, postures build upon each other to strengthen and balance the body. Many teachers and studios offer private yoga classes to help you get started. Yoga is for everyone. It can be done anywhere, anytime. It's non-competitive and adaptable. Yoga harnesses the power of your breath, elevating and empowering your potential, strength, and confidence.


Yoga helps to create the mind, body, breath connection. 


The mind can be a complicated, layered and chaotic place to be. Time travel is alive and well in the mind as we move from the past, present, and future within our thoughts. We all have responsibilities in our lives to fulfill, and the lists of things to remember and accomplish can get long. With an awake mind we can begin to concentrate, focus more clearly and bring space and balance into a busy mind. Mindfulness is the active awareness of what is happening to us and in us moment to moment. It is an access point to which we can begin to explore the interior landscape of ourselves without judgment. Utilizing the breath as an anchor, we can gently begin to stay present with all aspects of the breath. We are always in transition. Change is constant, our bodies teach us this everyday.


The breath is essential to life. 


Learning to breathe consciously can help restore balance in the mind and body. Some benefits observed are reduced feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, blood pressure stabilization, increased energy levels and relaxation. Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts can be influenced by our breath. Physiologically, the stress response triggers the sympathetic nervous system which prepares your body for perceived danger, rapid, shallow breathing, increased heart rate and blood pressure. When you consciously breathe deeply, slowly, and with awareness, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This can help bring a sense of confidence, control and calm into the mind which assists in slowing down the breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.


"Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together." B.K.S Iyengar



A purposeful and attentive yoga practice has been my focus over the last 12 years. A slow flow yoga class emphasizes mindful breathing, being, and moving of the body. Deliberate movements coordinated with breath gently increase circulation within the body, adds fluidity to the joints, provides strength, balance, and mobility in the extremities and spine.

As we become more connected to what is happening while moving and breathing, physical sensation is explored. Engaging and experiencing slower movement is about learning how to stay in the present moment, to let superfluous thoughts go, and start to craft non-judgmental emotions towards ourselves, to find contentment, healing and well being in mind and body.  Just as every experience has the potential to teach us, moving the body slowly with purpose, while keeping the mind awakened to the breath builds a greater whole body awareness.

~Addendum~

On January 12, 2017, I had the privilege to host a workshop introducing and discussing the benefits of yoga for a group of people looking to develop and maintain a healthier lifestyle. The information I have written for this blog post was the foundation for the presentation, but an instinctive need to embody the experience of yoga persisted. At the heart of the discussion and the practice was the breath, as it continues to be the spark, the greatest connection of mind and body. Perhaps it was the auspicious nature of the full moon that evening that allowed such an open, honest flow of conversation and insights. I would like to take this opportunity to further explore some of the amazing questions that were asked that evening. Expanding on the concept of creating an imaginary tool box filled with unique ways of coping with the ordinary stress of life, and assisting in the process of positive lifestyle change.

1. What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a term used to describe a more attentive way of being. Staying focused on the present moment, staying aware of one task at a time, consciously noticing, watching, and observing what is happening to us and in us without judgment or reaction. There are so many distractions in today's society, the immediate access of information can be a blessing and a curse. Mindfulness helps to break down what is important moment to moment. What can wait? What can be deleted from our "to do" list? What is necessary in this moment? Subtle questions to ask to keep us on track, a reminder of what our goal or goals may be. Synergistically, the term Mindfulness works easily with meditation. Meditation is a quiet practice of sitting or lying down where the focus is to go inside and explore the layers of the mind, the sensations of the body, and the inflation and deflation of the breath. During my yoga training at the Kripalu Center of Yoga and Health, I was taught the Practice of Being Present, which included 5 principles to help stay on track. "BRFWA" is an acronym for Breathe ~ Relax ~ Feel ~ Watch ~ Allow, a simple technique for being present with our moment to moment experience.

The Practice of Being Present

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health

2. How does yoga help me to stay healthy?

As described above, yoga is an exercise that guides the body to move in conjunction with the breath. Moving the body burns calories, improves circulation, builds strength, balance and assists in the process of becoming more flexible. Stretching muscles, tendons, ligaments and massaging inner organs are the key intentions of a yoga practice. Breathing in and out with awareness, and moving the physical body helps to keep the mind focused on the present moment. In life we must have balance. Most of us have to work and that is different for everyone. Sitting, standing, lifting, or driving, work can offer may hazards to the body. Making choices over meals that bring us energy may or may not be that easily accessible due to time or financial constraints. Practicing yoga or any exercise can help keep us healthy by increasing our heart, and working out the body in different ways than our profession or job position allows. The practice of yoga can help us make better choices about what will truly nourish and benefit the mental and physical body. A yoga practice helps to gently guide how we can listen to our bodies. We are encouraged to find our "edge", a place where your body feels challenged. Yoga is an effort and it is also easeful. Being guided by comfort and breath, we rest when needed. Yoga teaches discipline, with a regular practice of showing up on your mat, and showing up for yourself. Yoga opens space for kindness and gratitude that what you are doing is enough in this moment. At the end of a class, thankfulness and appreciation is a closing intention. Try your first free yoga class with me every Wednesday evening 730-9p in Winchester, MA at Yoga Mandala.
3. What does connecting to the breath mean?

In a normal busy day we breathe quick and shallow, it becomes automatic. The breath is a necessity of life, the body knows this, and helps us out by doing it for us. When we take the time to regain control and focus over our breath we bring back a powerful tool to help rebalance our mind and body. Connecting to breath means noticing, watching, becoming aware of how it feels to breathe deeper, causing an expansion of the upper chest and rib cage and fullness into the lower abdomen. Filling up our lungs with breath increases the availability of oxygen to our bodies, actively exhaling, releasing the breath from the body, helps to create a sense of calm and peace in mind and body. Dr. Herbert Benson of the MGH Mind Body Institute wrote a book in 1975 called, 'The Relaxation Response.' His research, studies, and published articles discuss the body's response to stress. The findings discuss how the relaxation response alleviates symptoms of anxiety, and also affects factors such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and brain activity. The body interacts with the breath at a specific point in the breathing cycle, the exhale. The moment the breath is completely out of the body is the exhale. This conscious pause has a great effect on our ability to learn new information, to take control, and to refocus. Acknowledging the breath, and its subtle changes, helps to change the way we think, opening up possibilities of behavior modification.

It was a pleasure and a humbling experience to engage such a wonderful group of people. I look forward to the next workshop on March 14, 2017!