11 December 2012

Finding the Inner Glow of Winter

Nature shows us that Winter is a time of stillness and rest. Even with all the hustle we (now) associate with the holiday season, stillness is very close and very accessible to us, if we take a moment to look and feel for it.

It is the true richness of the season.

Today we are 10 days from Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a time of lighting lights, on trees and house and menorahs. We smile and greet others warmly. We give gifts and hope that they are what the other person wanted, fret over what the perfect gift might be.

Isn't it amazing that out of this time of barren branches, cold winds, and falling rain we find all this warmth emanating from inside? Maybe it's because we are stripped back to ourselves more in Winter, more able to find the glow within.

I've put a simple practice at the end of the post to guide you into what I'm talking about. Enjoy and let me know how it goes!

May your holidays be filled with your own inner glow.

Simple Stillness Practice 
Set a timer for 5 minutes and sit down in a comfortable chair. 
Take 3 deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth (pursed lips can aid in this), allowing your body to settle down.  
Now imagine falling snow, the quiet of a Winter's night.  Allow that quiet to surround you, as if you were standing alone in a field of falling snow. 
Let your body breathe deeply if that is natural, and also allow the breath to become more shallow as you relax. (We breathe deeply to bring on relaxation, but once relaxed the breath naturally becomes quite shallow.)    
Continue to breathe normally and simply connect to that experience of stillness. Be in that field, feel the quiet and stillness of Winter. 

10 October 2012

Put Your Hands in the Air

Have you stretched today?  Have you reached towards the sky with open hands, moved your neck around a bit, taken time to strrrrrrrretch?

Have you breathed today?  Have you noticed one breath as it moved in and out of your body?

Have you felt today?  Have you checked in with your body and self to see how you are doing?

How are you doing today that is beyond fine, bad, good, etc.?  How can you feed yourself better today than you did yesterday?

Can you call a friend, do something creative, stretch or sleep?  How about eating a beautiful piece of fruit, putting your face towards the sun, going for a long walk?

Take this moment to stand tall and straight and firm wherever you are.  Close your eyes, and imagine that you are a great mountain living a grand, slow life, moving with the Earth as it revolves through space, surrounded by stars.

Whatever you may be worried about, chances are that simply doing something - especially something very simple - will allay that worry, or at least clarify your mind enough to deal with it.

Slow down and calm the din in your head, feel into those feet that walk upon the Earth everyday.  Let go of worrying about yourself and turn your mind and effort towards love.  What's one thing you can do to love better today?

01 October 2012

Taking Care, Being Real, Loving True

The title(s) of this post is an aspiration for me, these are the qualities and experiences I am always reaching for in life.  How can I love better, reach deeper and higher, be more true.  Do you feel the same way?

As I've written here before (and apologies for the hiatus, it was a busy, incredible summer), I found some of my initial foundation for inspiration on the yoga mat.  But maybe I should pause here for a moment and talk about this notion of "foundation for inspiration".

It's hard to be inspired when you're scared.  It's impossible to be inspired when you are not open and looking in some way.  That is why finding your foundation for being 'okay' with life is so important, and why the Buddhists say that we need to meditate on death.

We need to deal with this profound reality: that we are mortal, and that the feeling that we are not is an illusion that will cause us to waste the time that we do have this time around.  When we do this, we learn to face our fears and act despite them.  Once we find this path, we can walk it again, and again, and again.  And we can love the journey.

I'm going to be diplomatic here and say that are many different ways to feel strong, to feel that secure foundation.  But I actually believe that there are proven methods that people have been using for thousands of years, and that those methods are directly available to us, and that we should just use them.  Let's start with Yoga.

Yoga provides a foundation for breath and body that is truly incredible.  If you've been thinking of it, just do it!  And within that, make time to laugh, cry, and eat.  The rest of your life will fall into place around all of that.  Without that foundation, the rest of your life will fall apart.  Or at least not come together too well.

I feel so strongly about this, that I would say to someone suffering from anxiety to go to yoga regularly before coming to therapy.  Try helping yourself first.  If you can't, then find someone you trust to help you get there.  But that's all I can really do, is try to help you to be able to help yourself.

I spent the summer in the mountains and in the city; in the embraces of friends I love and don't see very often; in the whirling changes of a business finding its way.  In all of that, I continued to return, again and again, as I always do, to the breath.  Center, center, center.  First, breathe.  First, breathe.  But first...  you have to learn how!

Have 10 minutes? Start with:
A piece on my website about belly-breathing
My new youtube hero Yogi Tara Stiles
Or some Beethoven with Bernstein
Close your eyes and breathe....

11 June 2012

Make Up Your Mind: The Importance of Calm

What's the problem?

When we feel stress, this is an important question to ask ourselves.  What really is the problem; what is it exactly that is causing me to be impatient, upset, rushed, or worried?

Next question: does it have to?

Anxiety always explains why.  Why this worry matters so much, why we must figure it out.  Right now!  But, do we?  Is this true?  Does our mind always tell the truth?

When clients are struggling with anxiety, I try to help them in many ways.  We learn to breathe deeply; I teach them mindfulness techniques; we go through past trauma, and try to understand underlying causes of deep-seated fears about life and living.  But, most of the time, this simply isn't enough.  In order to recover from anxiety, we have to really, truly, decide not to give in.  We have to fight!

Part of this fight is defining ourselves and our life.  Yes, this or that may go wrong, but do I want to live my life in worry and stress?  What actually is important to me? And, even more fundamentally, is this worry and stress helping?

These are the processes we have to go through.  I encourage clients to read widely and seek: seek meaning for themselves, seek to find something that will help them face life with courage and strength.

Once you start to put these ideas into practice, life seems less and less scary, and you become able to discern between anxiety and true concern.  Anxiety never results in a solution; anxiety is convinced that the sky is falling.

When we are anxious, we feel all alone, isolated and without help.  In the worst case, terrified.  One of the best remedies is to ask for help in calming down, but not with the problem your mind is grappling with.  Instead, real help lifts the needle off the skipping record, and keeps us from waiting endlessly for the song to end.

Here's something to try next time you are feeling anxious and need help.  Seek out the ear of a friend, spouse, sibling, therapist, or whomever you trust and say, "I've been feeling really anxious lately. I need some help calming down, can I talk to you for a minute?"

Then let them calm you.  Take in the words of this trusted confidante and trust them over the ruminations of your mind.  Breathe.  Believe them, allow them to help you, to comfort you.  Yes, there may be a problem, but is it as big as your mind and body are telling you?

The real problems and challenges of life will be there when you calm down, and then you can face them with your full heart and mind. This way of living results not only in better solutions, but in solutions that produce growth and transformation.  Life is supposed to be hard.  Grow and change -- you can do it!

You may have noticed a lot of use of the word 'we' in this post.  That's because I've been there, and I work everyday on my own anxiety.  Otherwise, how could I either be interested in helping others through it, or even know how to?

K. and I went to see the excellent, amazing, musical "Next to Normal" last week.  I was struck dumb by the entire thing, so beautiful, so incredibly produced and performed, and I wanted to share a few tidbits from one of the songs, when the therapist of the main character is trying to help her face herself.  He sings,
Make up your mind 
That you're strong enough.
Make up your mind—
Let the truth be revealed.
Admit what you've lost
And live with the cost...
At times it does hurt
To be healed.

Make up your mind
You can live at last.
Make up your mind
To be fully alive.
Embrace what's inside,
Replace what has died,
Then make up your mind
You'll survive.
Have a beautiful, calm, lovely June week.

20 April 2012

Change of Scenery

A few weeks ago, K. and I escaped to the beach...

We went to Rockaway Beach, a funny little place on the Northern Oregon Coast.  I have gone there for years at different times.  My family used to rent a condo there in the Winter when I was home from college for Christmas break.  We would ring in the New Year watching storms and burning presto logs.

The Oregon Coast is one of my favorite places to be and to go.  K. and I were headed there this particular weekend to brainstorm.  We are developing a new direction in our work together, or an extension of the direction we have.  

This new movement has begun with a simple talk we gave last week about the work we do together, that's part of what we were planning. And especially about what K. has to offer in terms of ideas, perspective, and solutions in dealing with emotional and mental struggles from a Chinese Medicine perspective.  

We gave the talk to a small group of therapists that I know, and it went really well.  I wasn't surprised that everyone there was very very interested in what K. had to say, because it is beautiful stuff.  And because he is an amazing doctor and human being.

K. and I spend a lot of time together.  A lot.  And we talk quite a bit about many things.  But to create this new thing we needed to get away.  Away from familiar scenes, away from dishes; we needed a new view.  And we found it at a sweet old family cabin in Rockaway.

We spent the weekend talking and making food, walking on the beach and watching the rain come down sideways.  And we headed for home on Sunday feeling refreshed and excited about this new direction, this new sharing.  It feels like it is time.

02 April 2012

Sunny Day Sweet Potato Soup

Hello.  It's been a while since I've written, and I blame the rain.  The rain has kept me inside, and from the long walks that inspire me to write and share.  But those are just excuses, and excuses are boring.

Taking better care of myself is what has really kept me away, and I think that is a good thing.  I sit all day long, so I have been focusing on the act of not-sitting, when I can.  And this very non-action has kept me away from blogging.

But tonight it is beautiful in Portland, and light at 7:35.  I looked out of my office window at evening clouds drifting to the West and thought, I'd like to write about that.

The clouds are purple and thin and puffy, and the light outside is dimming with every word I write, turning the sky lavender and blue blue blue.  It is lovely.  (Imagine perfect photo here.)

I went to a new yoga studio today and emerged from class relaxed and energized.  The teacher taught in a way I remembered and liked, and it felt very much like home.

I also made soup today, before my yoga class, that K. and I are about to enjoy, as soon as I stop sitting.   I often make soup on Monday mornings, cleaning out the fridge and potato drawer.  Today's felt like a bridge between winter and spring and went something like this:

Get out a good-sized pot.  One that is too big for a long handle.  Better to go big than small.

  • Heat up about 4 cups of broth or water over mediumish heat.
  • Chop & add stuff while the liquid is warming, like...
  • 1 sweet potato, chopped into nutish-sized pieces.
  • Other stuff.  I added two carrots, a last bit of fennel, and a leek, all chopped.  
  • More stuff.  I added a stalk of lemongrass that had been beaten a few times and a few slices of ginger.  You could add fresh herbs, or dried ones.
  • Add salt.  Don't be afraid.  I added about 1.5 tbsp. of fine sea salt from France.  
  • If you're lucky enough to have it in the cupboard, add a can of coconut milk.  Yes, the whole can, the fatty lusciousness, too.

Stir and sigh and wonder if there's anything else you'd like to add.  Open your mind. Then, add it.

(Make sure everything can swim a bit, you don't want it to be too stuffy in there.  If you can't make a figure 8 with your wooden spoon comfortably, add a bit of water.)

  • Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.  (Electric stove read Hi then Med-Low) 
  • Cook about 20 minutes, till the sweet potatoes and carrots are tender.  Can you put a fork through it?
  • Take out lemongrass, ginger, and anything else that won't blend well with the others, i.e. you wouldn't be able to chomp it raw without getting something in your teeth.

Blend.  Use an immersion blender or do it in batches in the cuisinart.

Season.  Add more salt (if desired), some pepper.  Maybe some Thai chili paste, butter, fish sauce, or cream.  Whatever you have that sounds good.

Stir more.  Taste, add more things or not.


I recommend adding stuff on top when you eat it.  I added some chopped hazelnuts, mint leaves, and feta.

Tonight, I'll add some yogurt and olive oil, I think; and more mint and nuts.  Maybe olives...

mmmm.....  have a delicious evening.

12 March 2012

Are you on a journey?

Are you on a journey?

This question popped into my mind today as I searched for a new yoga home.  Not just a class, but a home. I read a quote by a student on a particular website, something about the teacher understanding the journey that that student was on, the one that others did not understand. From the tone of the quote, you could infer that the journeyer herself didn't even understand it. And it occurred to me that that mystery is the heart of the best kind of journey.

Hatha Yoga began the journey I am still on, the journey that has and continues to deepen and beautify my life, some years ago now.  I was a stressed-out, cynical twentysomething who could not put her head to sleep.  I could not stop worrying, thinking, agonizing over the future and myself and what might happen tomorrow.  And I loved to complain.

Then, one day, my massage therapist told me that I should go take classes from her friend Nan.  I can remember the moment so clearly: my head in a face cradle peering at her painted toenails.  Maybe that's because that bit of advice changed so much for me.

Nan had her own studio in the upstairs of a building in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.  Under a pyramidal roof of exposed beams,  surrounded by ladies of all shapes, sizes, and ages, I discovered something new.  I rolled and unrolled a yoga mat.  I stretched my legs using straps and sat on blocks.  I felt the earth under my hands and feet.  I learned that I had a side-body and sit-bones.  I sweat while standing still.  I laid on the floor and felt my body; and slowly, surely, my mind began to settle down.  I found Savasana.

Finding Savasana, or corpse pose, changed my life.  I found stillness and levity and a kind of peace I had not experienced as a adult.  Yoga buoyed me up when I was drowning in my own future.  I would lay on the floor, my mind quiet and content, my body vibrating with energy and exercise, and feel glad and grateful to just be alive and to be me.  I was feeling a level of contentment with myself and life that I had never experienced.  It makes me giddy just thinking about it.

From that point onward, that core feeling and experience became the foundation of my life. I realized that I would rather live a life feeling at peace and connected to myself and the earth, than endlessly worry about what was going to happen tomorrow.  I decided to let my sense of beauty and hope guide my actions.  I began to make my own experience of happiness-my state of mind-the priority in my life.

And I realized that this was all my choice.

Since then, my inner practice has shifted and moved in many different directions, but the light ignited in Nan's studio, on a dark, Seattle evening in early Spring, has never gone out.  Thank you, Nan, wherever you are!

When I moved to Portland, I tried to find another Nan, but I found my life partner instead, and a happy, fulfilled life ensued.  It always seemed like there would be time and that I would "get back into it", and soon.  But now here I am, 11 years later (!), trying to find another place to move and stand and rest.  Maybe now I'm ready for a next step with Yoga.  I am so looking forward to what this new part of the journey will bring.

24 February 2012

Grateful for Support and Love

I have not felt like writing lately, or felt that I had anything to share with the world in general; and I have missed this place.

I have very much been in my own world, in a good way, enjoying life and friends and having close moments with people who are important to me.  I have felt close and loved; I have been taken care of and taken care.  I am grateful.  And now I am back.

Yesterday, as K. and I wound down from a day's work and were getting ready to go home, a young girl wandered into the clinic.  She set down a large backpack and looked at me, big blue eyes peering through long curly hair, and said in a shaky voice that she had come in because she saw the sign for our clinic and "...liked it."  She wanted to know about massage, because she has been thinking about becoming a massage therapist.  She was wearing a big fur hat that accentuated her small frame and had a Starbucks cup in her hand. She told me that she is homeless, but won't always be.

She sat down in our waiting room and asked me about how we started our clinic.  Looking around our space, a space I so much take for granted, she looked at me and quietly asked, "How do you do this?  How did this... happen?"

I told her about school and choices, first we did this and then that.  I talked about different modalities, requirements, etc.  I told her that our massage therapist Ashley would be glad to talk to her when she had a moment.  But there is a lot that I didn't say.

Confluence would neither exist nor continue to exist without our loving community of family, friends, and colleagues.  I felt them all around me in those moments, as I talked to this young, vulnerable person, the lack of support in her own life so present it stung.  I felt embarrassed by my good fortune.  I wanted to help and I felt helpless.  So, we talked.

Yesterday happened to be the birthday of one of my greatest supports, my father's mother, Irene Robison Carney. She would have been 98.  She passed away 10 years ago this summer, just after K. and I passed the one year mark of our relationship.  I am so glad he got to meet her.

My Grammy was a woman of strength, beauty, faith, family, and food.  The impact of her presence in my life cannot be overstated.  She was a role model and an example.  She believed in me and told me so over and over again.  And showed me over and over again.  And the money she left me when she left this world made our clinic possible.  I miss her so much, but her support lives on in so many ways.  Thank you Grammy.

I didn't all tell this to our visitor, but when she left I gave her a chocolate bar and enough money to maybe get a room for the night.  It felt like a pittance.  What I really hope is that I gave her some true kindness.  Tonight, as I get ready for my weekend, I give thanks to everyone who loves me and lets me love them, and pray that that young girl is safe.

19 January 2012

Happiness is Now

K. and I went down to his hometown, Grants Pass, Oregon, this past weekend to give his folks a hand in beginning to clean out the house they have lived in for 40 years, the photos in this post are from that trip.

They have a beautiful older home, filled with important things, things that symbolize the memories and moments that make up the life of a family.  We kept some of them, and got rid of others, and spent some time together.  And I took some time to walk around a lovely small town on a quiet, cold January Saturday, and think about happiness.

Do you ever think to yourself, "I should be happy, I have so much." Or wonder, "Why am I not happy?"  I think a lot of people with material comfort do, especially when they are just starting out in life.  They look out towards the future, confused and without direction, and wonder, "What is wrong with me? Why do I not know what I want?"  I know that's how I was as I tried to see ahead.

This constellation of feelings has a lot to do with not understanding happiness. What is happiness?  Should I be happy?  Why?  And why should I be happy because I have things?  How have we come to equate the two in our mind?

09 January 2012

Space to Roam

Going away for the holiday is something unique for me, for us.  I have to admit that I did not know what to expect, from myself or from the holiday before me.  What happened was quite lovely.  Relaxation, open blue skies, time to not be a in a hurry.

I have to thank my lovely sister-in-law, Kristin, for this gift. She planned our time with them so well that I did not need to think or worry or concern myself with tomorrow. Thank you, Kristin, for our wonderful vacation!

Being away, being someplace new, allowed for space to see and feel, listen and be awake to myself in ways I haven't been able to for a while. There was snow and blue sky and warm, warm sun...

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