general health

Pitta Project

Summer Solstice

Here we are at the peak of summer -- the summer solstice! It's the longest day of the year, and the official first day of Summer.

For many people, there's a felt difference in their energy, urges, even physical and mental states in the different seasons. Summer has long been revered as a time of increased creativity and stamina as well as maturation and manifestation of ideas and projects that may have begun this winter or spring.

In Ayurveda, summer is associated with PItta, which consists of the fire and water elements and governs transformation. Similar to the energetic qualities and beliefs about summer and fire, pitta is related to drive, intensity, precision, passion, intelligence and a desire for things to be orderly.

When untamed, pitta can veer into irritability, judgment, criticism, resentment and excessive perfectionism.  Think of the stereotypical "type A" personality and you've got a deranged (the Ayurvedic term for "out of balance") pitta.

This is not to say that pitta is a bad -- on the contrary. We all contain multitudes and are naturally combinations of many qualities. In Ayurveda the approach is often about finding counter-balance to help support harmony among the systems.

In fact, as a generally cold and dry person (my constitution is predominately Vata, associated with air and ether), a little fire under me can be a good thing.

My Pitta Project

Somewhere in the past week I saw/heard (it's very vata of me to not remember) of someone doing 100 squats a day for 30 days. I wondered if this might not be a fun project for my little twig legs, which are strong, but not that shapely. (I even took "before" pictures!)

I started my 100 squats with perhaps too much vigor, throwing in some lunge dips in the park last Friday. Pearl and I took a long, hot walk and my legs were pretty spent afterward.

Saturday I figured out that I can do 50 squats in the two minutes of my timed toothbrush. Bonus that I can see myself in the mirror and make posture adjustments in the shoulders and spine as necessary.

By my class on Sunday morning I was 250 squats in and unable to go up or down our stairs without sounding like a wounded animal. I shared my new goal with the class, and one person wisely responded that muscles need a day off for recovery. Ah, yes, moderation! Guess I have a little pitta in me after all.

This week another student wrote and said she might come up with her own Pitta Project, which inspired this post.

Maybe you, too, have a reasonable summer goal that can be supported by all this bright energy.

To call a senator every day.
To drink a half gallon of water every day.
To eat only plant-based food four days a week.
To walk a mile every morning.

Make it measurable and give it an end date. Your inner pitta will like that specificity. :)

Let me know if you come up with one and we'll do them together.

 

Unsupportive Resources

If you recognize that your main resources are unhealthy or harmful, like social media, video games, alcohol or other substances, here are a few things to consider.

First, know that it's totally normal to self-regulate! You aren't bad because you utilize a way of regulating that also isn't good for you. It's working in some way or you wouldn't do it. 

windows

The good news is there's something to be learned from the activity or substance. There's an effect of self regulation that is important and useful.

What are the qualities of that?
How do you feel when engaging with that "resource"?
Do you feel relaxed?
Present?
Engaged?

Start to notice, even look for, times and activities where you feel that quality outside of that activity/substance. You can even practice feeling that quality without the "thing."

Take the effect of the self regulation attempt and practice it separate from the unhealthy or harmful activity or substance. 

It's quite simplistic to talk about replacing an unhealthy resource just by noticing what it gives you or inserting a more helpful resource. However, when we do this with complete awareness of the body and what's happening in the physiology, the effects can be profound. 

Of course, substitutions probably won't feel exactly the same and making any kind of habit change takes work. But bringing in the body aspect and tracking the felt-sense experience will help make that shift with more honestly, awareness and nervous system support.

If you haven't already, check the post on ideas on identifying more positive resources.

 

*If you have an addiction or need clinical support, please seek out a therapist or treatment program for support and loving care.

 

Self-Regulating :: Resources

We all have ways that we self-regulate when we're stressed. Some might be less than ideal -- Facebook scrolling, online shopping or mindless eating -- and we might not even be aware of some of the ways we self-soothe, for example if you unconsciously stroke your thumb on your leg.

These are all attempts at finding a resource -- something we use to help stabilize our nervous system in times of distress.

Because resourcing is something we do naturally and can probably do with more consciousness (thus increasing its effectiveness) it can be helpful to identify what we currently use to soothe and give ourselves more options, if necessary.

flower arrangement

Types of Resources

Internal

  • Places in the body that are relaxed, pleasant, reliable, connected, non-reactive, can move and respond
  • Moving the body in ways that feel relaxing, discharging, enlivening, pain-free
  • Breath that is free and unrestricted
  • Prayer, affirmations, connection to the divine, spirit or universe
  • Acts of self care
  • Presence, consciousness, awareness, meditation

External 

  • Places, people or activities, real or imagined, that are comforting and stabilizing
    • nature, rooms or places in your home, trusted people, pets, music, exercise or activities, travel, religious or spiritual places
  • A therapist or support group
  • Safe and appropriate touch
fresh flowers

 

Again, we all self-regulate throughout the day. If I'm feeling stressed, I might shake off my shoulders and/or take a walk. On another day I might have a chai and check email.

It's the effect I'm looking for -- to diffuse my stress or anxiety, to take a break from the thing that is stressful, hopefully broadening my perspective around it.

The first option - a shake of the shoulders and a walk - is probably the more healthful option. So I can really be aware of how that shake and walk make me feel:

What are the sensations in my body?
Where are they?
What effects do they have?

Simply noticing these things can help me the next time I need to pick which self regulation to go with.  It can also help imprint the "non-stressed" state as I go back to what I was doing.

 

Curious about what your go-to resources are? Make a list!!

Here's part of mine:

Internal -- noticing or moving my hands, a head bobble, moving my jaw/face, recalling a line from a poem or a song, making little sounds, joint movements like shoulder rolls.

External -- nature and being outside, journalling, podcasts and music, walk/stretch/yoga, essential oils and good smells, fresh flowers, my faminals, friends and Greg, my therapist.

Since identifying this list a few months ago, I've spent less time online and on my phone, I've been reading more and seeing friends more regularly. Knowing that I have simple accessible resources in every moment helps ease my anxiety.

As you identify your resources, notice what happens in your body as you think about them and write them down. Sometimes just thinking about a resource is supportive.

What if you realize that your main resources are unhealthy? We all have mildly unhealthy outlets, but if your main support is also harming you in some way, here are some ideas.

 

Amazing Ants

New York City is a wonderful example of how no system works in isolation.

(We'll get to the ants in a minute.)

The city of Manhattan, like all cities, has main systems that keep things running smoothly -- water, garbage, sewer, electricity, import/export and traffic, to name a few.  It may seem that these systems are separate and autonomous. 

But consider this: if any one of those systems gets clogged or shut down, it will affect many if not most of the other systems.

If the electricity goes out, that affects traffic lights, and traffic jams affect the timely and efficient transport of the garbage. If long term, the overflow of garbage might eventually impact the sewage or even water systems.

Or if the water system shuts down, that's going to wreak havoc on pedestrian and auto traffic, as well as the import and export of goods on/off the island -- people trying to get water already on the island, other people trying to get water to the island, still other people trying to get off the island. This would impact the garbage and recycling systems with an increase in plastic bottles. That extra processing could affect the electrical systems with an increase in energy. 

And on and on.

new york city ants

Here's where the ants come in. Did you know that for every human on the planet, there's over a million ants?

And ants make up their own system in New York City -- Waste Removal.

Those ants in New York City eat the equivalent of 60,000 hot dogs a year!

Isn't that amazing!?

Watch this two-minute video from National Geographic on how vital ants are to the ecosystem of Manhattan.

So what?

Well, if you watch the video, you heard that it is conceivable that without the ants, there would be more rats and pigeons in New York, and they can carry disease. So maybe disease goes up. Or maybe the means of controlling the rats and birds causes other toxic issues. Yikes!

What's the larger point?

Our bodies are just like this. No system works in isolation. From digestive to respiratory to endocrine to cognitive to sensory to skeletal to spiritual. All communicate and affect one another. Whole body, whole person, whole health.

This is a friendly reminder that every part of you wants and needs loving attention and conscious care in order to keep running optimally. You can't "make up for" eating poopy food or forgo some amount of healthy movement every day. What you put on your body and in your home counts too.

What you do matters.

So, like the ants, let's keep doing our best!

 

7 New Habits for Earth Month

Many of us consider every day to be "earth day." Still, it's good to have an even brighter spotlight on ways we can improve.

It's easy to get down about the state of the environment, so I go back to a trusty mantra and tell myself again and again, What You Do Matters. It's all a drop in the bucket. And if we all believe that and do even a little bit, together it makes a difference.

 

In that spirit, here are 7 ideas for Earth Month.

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1. Mail old mascara wands to the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge's Wands for Wildlife program. The brushes are repurposed to help groom rescued animals. How fabulous is that?

2. Choose the right appliance for the job. Electric kettles use less energy than stovetop ones. A toaster oven uses up to half the energy of a conventional electric oven. An electric slow cooker makes soups and stews using less wattage than a stove. It truly pays to pick the right appliance.

3. Buy cardboard-packaged products rather than plastic. Something in a box is better than a bag when you have the choice.

4. Stop junk mail. Technology is making it easy to opt out of unwanted ads and offers. Opt out of credit or insurance offers, one click will cancel catalogs with Catalog Choice and I can't wait to try the Paper Karma app -- just take a picture of the junk mail and it will unsubscribe for you.

5. Plant a pot of Milkweed. It's a favorite of our bee friends.

6. Allow foods to cool completely before putting them in the frig. This saves energy and reduces the opportunity for bacteria growth.

7. For you gardeners... 

  • Sprinkle cornmeal gluten around plants to keep weed seeds from germinating. Just don't use it in the veggie garden -- it keeps all seeds from germinating. 
  • A pinch of salt at the base of a weed will kill it naturally.
  • Use up your old petroleum jelly around the edge of pots and planters to help keep snails and slugs out. (Just don't use petroleum jelly on your body -- it's ew!)
  • Use epsom salts as fertilizer for greener, brighter, more growth and flowers.
  • Grate a bar of Irish Spring soap around plants and sprouting perennials to deter unwanted furry friends. (That one sounds pretty weird, but if it works!)

 

Of course there are the basics -- 

  • buying only recycled paper products (like TP and paper towels, plates and napkins if you have to use them),
  • using non-toxic (which means non-mainstream) green cleaning products,
  • taking your own shopping bags
  • carrying your own water bottle (no bottled water!!)
  • and obviously eating no/fewer animal products :)

But we can do better than basic. Remember, what you do matters.

 

Side note, I signed up for the Sierra Club's Nationwide Hike on Earth Day (April 22nd). You can join a group or do an easy solo walk through the park. It's just a way to use our bodies, celebrate being outside and know we're doing it collectively... all for a cause. Check it out.

 

Resources: Nature Moms, Real Simple, Veg News

3-step morning routine

It has come to my attention that not everyone scrapes their tongue first thing in the morning. 

And that they might be interested in learning about such things.

So for you curious, voyeur-types, here are the three things I do every single morning. BONUS that you actually get a video of all of these things at the end.

 

First, I scrape my tongue. 

tongue scraper

Disclaimer: once you scrape your tongue, there's no going back. You'll wonder why you haven't heard of this before and you'll never be able to not scrape it again.

An Ayurvedic practice, tongue scraping is said to help remove the bacteria, toxins and dead cells that grow on the tongue overnight. Keeping the tongue clean is said to help digestion, boost immunity and help with overall oral hygiene.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that scraping nine times was auspicious (or superstitious!), so that's how many times I scrape. 

Sometimes they stock tongue scrapers at health food stores like the Natural Foods Co Op, or you can get one online.

 

Next, I put oil in my nostrils.

nasya

This is an Ayurvedic practice called Nasya, which helps moisten and lubricate the tissue of the nostrils, said to help fend off colds and ease allergies.

There's special naysa oil (this is why I buy if I don't make my own), but you can test it out with sesame, coconut, olive, jojoba or almond.

Blow your nose, put a drop of oil on each pinkie finger and swipe around the nasal passages. A bit of a sharp "sniff" will help distribute the oil deeper into the passages.

 

lemon water

Last, I have a large glass of warm lemon water.

Said to help cleanse and kick-start the digestive track, this is a great way to hydrate before having your morning beverage of choice, especially coffee, which is dehydrating.

I recently got some metal straws and started drinking my lemon water that way to help keep the lemon off my enamel. This makes it feel extra fancy.

 

These three habits help ground me and support my other practices. What you do each day matters -- consider bringing these into your morning routine. Your body will thank you!

You can see it all in action below!

       

My sleep test

Tired of being tired

For years I have dealt with insomnia. Some of it seemed "normal" -- anxiety over buying my first house, restlessness before an early flight, worried about a meeting the next day.

Those temporary and situational bouts of sleeplessness were manageable and passed.

But over the years, the occasional night of sleeplessness worsened to long stretches of insomnia. Months on end of sleeping for what seemed like only a few hours a night, feeling exhausted and physically stressed.

I've tried everything under the sun. Tinctures, herbs, OTC sleeping aids, pharmaceutical drugs, natural remedies, eating certain things, not eating other things, all kinds of body practices...and some of it worked for a while, but not consistently.

I felt totally helpless and hopeless upon going to bed -- will this be a good night's sleep or not? The question itself creates an anxiety loop that makes sleep less and less likely.

Going to the science

I started hearing about other ways to work with insomnia -- ways that could be as effective as prescription drugs. By addressing the mental aspect, one could repattern the brain to avoid those potholes of sleeplessness. I began working with some of these techniques, as well as being more accountable for my "sleep hygiene." And miraculously, I started sleeping.

This did not happen overnight (no pun intended) -- it took patience, discipline and effort. 

But OH was it worth it. There is NOTHING like getting a good night's sleep, especially consistently!

Putting my new techniques to the test

sleep products

Travel is another time when sleep can be disrupted. This past weekend I had a training in Berkeley. I was about to put my newfound sleep to the test.

I packed my normal nighttime routine essentials... AND an ambien just in case.

I had three nights to experiment with sleeping well away from home.

 

IT WORKED

I slept!! If you've suffered from insomnia, you know that this is a big deal!

Especially because I was at a training and I wanted to be fresh and alert for learning.

Part of the success is that I've made new patterns around sleep and my brain is more accustomed to nighttime + bed = sleep. The other success was that the techniques were powerful enough to work outside of the comforts of home. 

All the effort and inconvenience of these past months paid off. 

 

Are you tired of insomnia?

If you've suffered from sleeplessness and want some support, tools and resources, join me this coming Sunday for: 

Tired of Insomnia?
Sunday, March 11, 1-3:30 pm

We will cover:

  • sleep preparation
  • physical practices that can calm the nervous system
  • mental/cognitive tools to get and stay asleep
  • natural aids that help support a sleepy state
  • and more


If you plan to sign up, please do so early -- I have homework for you this week that will be part of the workshop.  


Register HERE. I'll get back to you within 24 hours with your homework and additional information.

Part of changing the patterns of insomnia is not making a big deal about going to bed. This is hard to do when it's been a stressful thing for a long time.

Getting restful, restoring sleep changes EVERYTHING. Your body, your nervous system, your work, your relationships will all thank you!

Let me know if you have questions. And if you have friends who could benefit from this workshop, please pass this along.

Michelle


yoga props

200 Hr Yoga Teacher Training


If you are looking for a space to question and move and grow, this is a beautiful way to do it. 

Read about this opportunity. 
Or contact me to chat. That's what I'm here for.

 

manage your waste line

This was the clever title of an article in the SF Chronicle this past Sunday. Molly de Vries, from Mill Valley, is a self-described "passionate advocate for living a (nearly) non-disposable life." Though she refreshingly admits, "I'm not a minimalist. I'm even a bit of a hoarder."

As someone who strives -- and often fails -- to refuse single-use items like cups, straws and napkins, instead using ones I've brought with me, this article caught my attention.

Like with pretty much everything, I don't think there's a magic pill, forever-after here. For me, it's being reminded again and again of the importance, even urgency, of making small changes.

And then it's about MAKING small changes. Remembering just one time to put the mug in my car before the trip to a get a chai. Then it's a little easier to remember the second time. And on and on.

The Chronicle article included de Vries "baby step" action items. I liked them and thought you might, too.

If you have tips on how to spare the single-use "disposables," I'd love to hear. And if you're up for doing a 30 day Refuse Single-Use pledge, let me know! It's been on my mind and it's always more fun to do something like that with a pal.

 

Baby steps toward big actions

Molly De Vries realizes that the idea of achieving a zero-waste life can seem paralyzing, and she insists it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. “Moving toward a nondisposable life is less about perfection and more about deep awareness and lots of tiny actions,” she says. Below are some of her suggestions for inching one’s way into the pool.

Arm yourself with information. Plastic pollution is a growing plague: clogging waterways, damaging marine ecosystems and entering the food web. Learn more at www.5gyres.com.

Know your waste stream. Every city hauler picks up different items for compost, recycling and landfill. Check your hauler’s website for specifics on what goes where. 

Produce doesn’t require a plastic or compost bag. To keep greens crisp and fresh longer, wash lettuce, wrap in a clean textile like a furoshiki, and place in an airtight box in the fridge.

Know where your food comes from. “I don’t want to see ‘USA’ on my carrots; are they from California?” de Vries says.

Make a personal commitment to refuse obvious items. No more plastic water bottles, disposable cutlery, straws, disposable coffee cups. And use real tableware when entertaining (it’s nicer, anyway!) rather than disposable plates and cutlery.

Collect cloth shopping bags. Use for produce and bulk-bin items such as grains, pasta, nuts and dried fruit (also a good way to avoid excess packaging).

Build a cleaning pantry. And choose cleansers with basic, pure ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, castile soap, essential oils.

Patronize. Frequent markets and products that support good practices by offering organic local ingredients, minimal packaging and quality products built to last.

Try something new. Try washing clothes in cold water and line drying; eating less meat; looking for alternatives to driving; planting an herb garden. Small actions lead naturally to bigger ones, and it’s easier than trying to do everything at once.

 

See the full article here.

 

cold care protocol

After almost two years of not getting a cold, last week I had one. But it was mild and short and I fully believe all my "woo woo" oils and herbs and "face rubbing" (as my guy says) made the difference.

After sharing pieces of what I do to keep immunity high, I thought I'd just give you the whole low-down. So here it is.

My normal daily routine has a lot of immune-boosting built into it, for example, my daily facial massage, putting oil in my nostrils and the herbs that I take in the form of teas and tinctures.

But when it comes to cold care, you gotta go with big hitters.

If you feel a cold coming on

The tickle in your throat, the little bit of excess mucus, the pressure in the ears. Whatever your early warning sign is, heed it.

1. Use Ravensara essential oil 4 times a day around and in your ears, on the lymph nodes under the jaw, a dab at the base of the skull and a dab on the sacrum/tail. Use about 4 drops total each application. This is medicine -- it doesn't take much. It's like a safe antibiotic. It's antiviral, antifungal, antimicrobial. You will not find it in a grocery store. Here are two companies I've purchased from online.

2. Start doing a lymphatic massage several times a day. The lymph system is part of the immune system and it's essential to keep things moving, help those little cleaning factories do their job.

3. Get Wellness Formula. (See pic below.) There are lots of immunity boost supplements out there, I just happen to have great results with this one. Get the capsules instead of the tablets -- they are a little easier on the stomach. Take with food -- 3 capsules 4 times a day.

4. Might as well get some mushrooms, too. (See pic below.) I've used the Host Defense brand, Comprehensive Immunity Support capsules, spray and tincture, all with great result. I've also purchased medicinal mushroom tinctures through Etsy (less expensively).

5. Old fashioned fluids (warm water constantly throughout the day) and rest. If you're fighting something, don't go run errands (first of all, no one wants your germs), don't work out -- let your body use that energy to fight off the bug.

6. Studies show a reduction in upper respiratory infections in people who gargle warm salt water 3 times a day.

7. Other great supplements to consider: chyawanprash, astragalus, ginger (fresh or capsules), vitamins A and C, zinc, echinacea. Notice which pull or speak to you. Just don't take them aaaaallll at the same time.

 My winter-season immunity boosters.

My winter-season immunity boosters.

If you have a cold

1. Stay home. Rest. I know this is hard to do. The world might stop turning if you have to cancel something or don't show up to that meeting!!  Seriously, I get that it can be inconvenient. I cancelled three things I really wanted to do last week. But pushing it can just worsen and prolong the symptoms and severity.

2. Keep doing all the things above.

3. Steam.

4. Puffs Plus. I don't even know why companies are allowed to make any paper products from non-recycled content. But when I have a cold, I buy the lotion-infused tissue with no apologies.

5. Nourish lightly. You know the saying, Feed a fever, starve a cold? Your body uses a lot of energy to digest food. And you want that energy to be directed at getting better. Eat light, simple and warm foods like soups and broth, cooked seasonal veggies and stewed fruit. Avoid rich and heavy foods as well as dairy, sugary treats and breads, and anything cold, frozen, dry and raw, which are all harder to digest.

6. Gentle movement. Once you feel up to it, try some gentle movement, especially easy stretching of the neck, shoulders and spine. The lymphatic system does not have its own pump, so we can help keep things flowing my moving our bodies. Shoulder rolls, neck stretches and cat/cow type articulation are all great.

7. Don't try to move on too quickly. How many people, maybe including yourself, have you heard say that they thought they felt better so they went back to their routines...and then got sick again. Ease back into your regular calendar of things slowly. Be gentle with yourself.

 

I hope you have no need for these ideas, but if you do, may they be of help and inspiration. Do you have cold-proof tactics? Share!