By Annalisa Bragg
Let’s dig into a little deeper into the idea of a tree as a model for balance. Balance is fluid, flexible, and subject to our surroundings. It is also an area that requires our awareness and attention. Revisiting the concept of the tree as a model for balance, I want to share a few observations about the structure of the tree.
First, there are the roots, vast and expansive and hidden. Then the trunk, the interface with the world, and the structural support for the tree organism. Next are branches, followed by smaller limbs, all ending with leaves, flowers, and fruit (seeds). Occasionally, a branch dies off and is either trimmed away or breaks off with the wind. Assuming there are no fungal or insect invasions, no major physical stress to the tree, the tree grows strong and healthy, reaching for the light, it’s arm upraised, almost in praise.
In the illustration below, notice how the roots are as vast and large as the tree itself. The trunk is strong and true, and the branches reach out in a balanced way, supporting the leafy crown. As above, so below comes to mind.
Now, consider how the roots are below ground – seeking nourishment, growing deep, providing structural support, mirroring the grandiosity of the tree itself. They lie both shallow and deep underground, hidden, in the dark (with the exception of mangroves and occasional roots that emerge and run along the ground) and quietly do what they do unappreciated and often unnoticed.
Similarities and Differences
Like a tree, we have a body (trunk), arms and legs (limbs), and a head (crown). We have fluids moving around within us to carry nourishment and wastes to the appropriate places. We respirate, exchanging gases with the environment around us. And, we are capable of selflessly sharing our gifts with the world – consider Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree -bringing our highest good to fruition for the betterment of the world.
Unlike a tree, we don’t have physical roots, only emotional, mental, and energetic ones. But those emotional, mental and energetic roots can run just as deep as a tree’s to support us in budding, blooming and producing juicy fruit. The questions then become, how do I nourish my own roots to feed my growth? How can I support the balance of growth in all areas of my life? Are my roots subconsciously dictating how I am growing?
And like a tree’s roots, it requires us to dive deeply into our underground soil, those dark and shadowy places, to ask ourselves some deep questions to consider. Yes, this process can get dirty, messy, even painful, and feel laborious. But it is our one wild and precious life, and we are the only ones who can do this work.
What do you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?
Nourishing our Roots
Roots draw up nourishment from the soil. From minerals in the soil to water below ground, the tree employs this embedded system to partially feed itself. Partially, because the leaves are also providing nourishment for the tree through the process of photosynthesis and respiration. There is balance in the way in which the tree is fed, from top and bottom.
As humans, we, too, are fed from top and bottom. Using the example of the practice of Japanese bonsai, consider how careful pruning and tending can create a work of beauty and integrity.
Looking at our own roots, we can figure out what is nourishing and ‘trim away’ any unhealthy roots that are not supporting our growth. We can work with deep inquiry into patterns, habits and beliefs that may or may not be helping us grow. What are we tapping into that is no longer useful? How can we change the direction of our taproot to be a tool for our own growth and fruition?
There are many ways to do this.
Listen – are you breathing just a little
And calling it a life?
The first step is becoming aware, growing still and quiet, and being willing to dig deep into the earthiness of our existence. Be curious about what and where your roots are drawing nourishment.
That can be as simple as lying down in a place where you won’t be disturbed for 10-20 minutes, or however long you wish to pursue the inquiry. You can use your favorite visualization for drawing you into a meditative state or work with this simple one:
Allow yourself to become grounded. Feel your body settling into your space and connect with your breath. Breath flowing in, and breath flowing out… Feel gratitude for the gift of life you are experiencing right now… Connect with your heart, and feel a steady thrum in your chest. Feel that same thrum pulsing in your arms and hands, your legs and feet… Tap into your higher power… Settle into this space of connection, and breathe into it. Then, as you feel ready, begin asking these questions:
- How is my spiritual life supporting me? Is there enough of a practice to sustain/nourish me?
- Is my health in a state of equilibrium? If not, what are the exact steps for me to come into equilibrium?
- What foods and beverages are providing optimum nutrients for me? Is anything amiss?
- Is work/life balance present for me?
- Am I fulfilled in my relationships? How can I bring greater balance here?
- Am I learning all that I want to learn? Do I feel stimulated mentally? What one or two things can I commit to learning in the immediate future to feed my heart and soul?
- What is the physical environment I thrive in? Is it present for me? If so, how can I nourish it further? If not, what are the steps I can take to create my optimum environment?
Visit our Discover What You Need page to help guide you in creating balance in all the areas of your life that ask for attention.
Go outside and find a tree that speaks to you. Step into the tree’s presence and feel it with closed eyes, breathing with the tree. You are truly communing with the tree now, as you are literally sharing breath with each other. Wait for an invitation to draw closer. When you feel it, move to the trunk of the tree.
Putting your hands on the trunk, gaze up. Breathe deeply as you allow your eyes to trace the trunk, the branches, the limbs, moving outward. Are there lichens growing on the bark? What is the branching pattern of the tree? Observe the leaves – what do you notice? Drink in all the colors represented.
Lean into the tree, touching the bark, feeling the roughness or smoothness of the tree’s skin.
Breathe deeply of the tree’s scent – is it green? Earthy? Pungent? Nutty? Neutral?
Have a seat at the base of the tree, leaning against the trunk.
Gently lean your forehead against the tree. Pause here, breathing, tuning into the tree – what thoughts, feelings, or images pop to mind?
In this quiet space, ask if the tree has a message for you. Quietly ‘listen.’
Before departing the tree’s presence, if inspired, practice tree pose.
In looking at our lives, we strive for balance. Balance requires our awareness and our attention. And like in any beautiful piece of music, certain instruments have their moments to shine, just like certain areas of our lives, to make a whole complete, synchronous symphony. The point is, are we cultivating our best selves by bringing our awareness and attention to all the important areas of our lives?
Consider this quote by Jana Kingsford:
Balance is not something you find.
It is what you create.
So, what are you creating?
By Nikki Nau
My oldest son turned 15 this year, and he was growing up in many ways. His attitude about life was maturing, and he was sharing insights about spirituality, justice, and truth. While observing his current place in the journey toward adulthood, I saw him meeting the cultural benchmarks of independence, like getting his driver’s permit and entering high school.
Somewhere in observing my son growing up, my husband and I began talking about coming of age ceremonies and wondering what these ceremonies are today. We started asking questions like:
Why do we have these rituals?
How have they served youth in the past?
What are the rituals we experienced during our youth and adolescence?
What are the intentions behind these ceremonies and benchmarks?
What emerged was an idea that became important for me as a mother watching my baby grow into a young man. As I later learned, it was an important part of my son’s journey as well. It began with inspirational words from the book Living Passages for the Whole Family by Shea Darian. In her book, Darian describes various ideas on creating a coming of age ceremony. For young men, she says:
“A youth receiving the affirmation of his most revered male elders and mentors to cultivate his emotional and spiritual life, as well as tending to the more traditionally male aspects of adulthood, can greatly affect a youth’s destiny, attitude, and choices.”
I realized I wanted to give my son a gift that symbolically affirmed my role as his mother while recognizing the reality that my part becomes less central in his life as he journeys closer to adulthood. I respect this natural progression, and I wanted him to know this. I also wanted to point out to him that he has amazing men in his life and these men are always available to him as he navigates the path to manhood.
I decided to ask the men in my son’s life to help me – the men who have watched him grow up and have had a positive impact on his formation. His grandfathers, uncle, great uncle, family friends, and our pastor all participated in the project. They did so graciously with such wisdom and love; it moves me deeply as I think about the words they shared with my son.
Here is the letter I sent to the men in my son’s life:
I am writing because my son will soon turn 15 years old (hard for me to believe) and I would like to put a gift together for him. I am hoping you can help.
We have been discussing coming of age ceremonies lately since we are we watching our boys get bigger and taller:), and especially now as our oldest enters high school. Our culture seems to have ‘dropped’ traditional coming of age ceremonies. However, we (my husband and I) believe we still need to affirm the beauty, spiritual power, and grace of growing up.
Here’s where you come in.
As he continues to move along his journey to adulthood, I want to gift him with the wise words from the men he loves, respects, and who have been a part of his youth. I want to give you the opportunity to share your wisdom, blessings, and guidance with him. If you feel moved, please share words, a song, favorite film, image or anything that you would like to pass on to him. I plan to compile them into a book for him.
I am asking you because:
You are important to my son.
You have been 15 years old at one time.
You have progressed through this leg of the journey to manhood.
You are one of his most revered male elders and mentor.
As mom, I realize my time of nurturing and guidance will become less and less relevant as he grows up. This symbolic gift allows me to share my blessings for him as he continues the journey. The compilation of your words and thoughts is a symbolic passing to him the affirmation of the male elders and mentors he can trust as his journey progresses.
Thank you for being who you are and being a part of my son’s life.
I sent this off with no idea of what would emerge. Those who chose to participate sent letters filled with love, wisdom, grace, and powerfully, gentle words. It brought tears to my eyes as I read their stunningly, beautiful messages.
After putting these words and photos into a book, my husband and I discussed how to give this special gift to our son. We decided to be intentional and simple.
My younger children went to grandma and grandpa’s house to play during a November Sunday afternoon. My husband built a fire in the fire ring and also a fire in the tiny cabin on our property. (Alternatively, we thought of building a fire in our fireplace in the house.)
I told my son we had a gift for him, and, like some of the birthdays from his childhood, today he would be going on a little journey. (We used to do scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, and other themed birthdays when the kids were young.)
My son and his dad started by the outdoor fire. My husband recalls talking about growing up and the importance of being true to yourself. While the things of the world seem very important now – clothes, basketball, peer acceptance – inner soul work is always part of the journey. Being able to honor both brings balance and harmony to your life.
After spending some time with dad by the fire, my son was sent down to the tiny cabin – a 10’x10’ room with a wood burning stove. There he met me – mom knitting by the fire.
I read him the letter from me:
As your 15th birthday was approaching, Dad and I were talking about how you are changing and growing in really amazing ways, and how we would like to somehow acknowledge the journey of manhood that you are traveling.
As your mom, sometimes it is hard for me to accept that you are a young man and moving into the world. I remember holding you as a tiny baby, meeting you for the first time, and looking into your eyes with great love. You continue to teach me so much as I strive to support you with love, guidance, and some boundaries. I will always be your mom, of course, and I always love you with everything I’ve got. And I am always here to listen and to share. But I am your mom, and I do not really understand the ways of men.
I was inspired by this quote from Shea Darian in the book, Living Passages for the Whole Family:
“A youth receiving the affirmation of his most revered male elders and mentors to cultivate his emotional and spiritual life, as well as tending to the more traditionally male aspects of adulthood, can greatly affect a youth’s destiny, attitude, and choices.”
This book is from some of the men who love you and care about you deeply – some of your male mentors and elders. They are sharing beautiful, loving, wise words with you. What a gift! You are truly blessed and that brings me so much joy.
Love you always, mom
Space to Receive
I then gave him the book and sat quietly knitting as he read the words from these amazing men. He opened the first page and started to read the letter from his dad. He paused and said, “I feel like this is a really big deal.”
He continued to read. Paused once and a while to take a deep breath. “This is so crazy.” I could hear the emotion welling up in his voice.
When he finished reading all the letters, we talked for a while. He was very emotional – these words and love touched him deeply. We all know it can be hard to express the depth of emotion in the midst of experiencing it. But my son articulated so beautifully: “I just have never known them (these men) in this way before.”
I think he voiced the vibrant beauty and freedom of this gift. These men were given an invitation, and those who took it revealed the depth of their own wisdom and gave it to this young man. Together, we created a profound gift that ripples beyond my son, and husband, and myself, and into the lives of each of the men who shared, and into the lives we will ALL continue to touch.
My son will have these words forever, and they will continue to unfold in meaning as he continues to grow and experience life. I am grateful beyond words for this gift.
The reason I share this story is to reveal how we can very simply create a profound experience for our children given the right intention. I had no set expectations for this gift. I just knew I wanted to do something for my son. What was created by a group of us was a very meaningful experience for my son. When I told him I wanted to share this story with some other moms, he encouraged me to do so, and made me promise I would give this same gift to both of his brothers. This testimony alone helps me to understand the depth of his experience.
Here are some simple steps to consider if you decide to create a coming of age gift or ceremony for your child.
- Simply set the intention.
- What do you want to give your child?
- What is the purpose of you giving a gift or creating a ceremony?
- What do you want to pass along to your child?
- Reach out – write a letter.
- Who do you want to be a part of this gift or experience?
- Send it.
- Some will respond and others won’t, and that is all ok. Create something from whatever shows up. And give them a timeline – I think it helps.
- Follow through and create something that is good enough for now and safe enough to try.
- The intention is the key; perfection can be released.
- Present the gift in a simple, intentional way.
- Give quiet, distraction-free time for your child to accept the gift and to begin processing it.
- Do it all with love.
- Root every step in love -because this is all about loving our children and being free in that love.
I encourage you to be courageous and intentional and most of all, I invite you to create a gift or ceremony that is uniquely and truly from your own heart to your child.
By Nikki Nau
“Belonging is the innate human desire to be a part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
By Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection
Compassion, Kindness, and Love for oneself
Acceptance of self may be one of the most significant challenges we all face. Acceptance that is free of pride, vanity, and illusion allows us to accept all our mistakes. Recognizing and working with our imperfections frees us from shame and regret. Accepting oneself includes paying attention to one’s needs, being kind to oneself, and loving unconditionally. Self-acceptance does not hinge on what we say or do, or how we look, or who we know; it is only about being who we are.
Forgive Your Imperfections
In the search for true belonging, you must first authentically belong to yourself. Belonging to yourself means loving yourself even when you make mistakes. Mistakes are normal and part of our growth as whole human beings (mind, body, and soul). Understanding this essential process of making mistakes, learning, and moving forward is not selfish. Thomas Merton, a 20th Century Trappist monk, reveals that our mistakes are often for the benefit of others.
“It is by making mistakes that we gain experience, not only for ourselves but for others. And though our experience prevents neither ourselves nor others from making the same mistake many times, the repeated experience still has a positive value”.
-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island
Living and learning are part of our daily experience. When you accept that making mistakes helps you learn and helps others learn, you can more easily forgive yourself and move forward.
“You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great”.
by Maya Angelou
Once you accept yourself, be brave enough to be yourself. Confidence in who we are draws deep into our wells of courage. The messages of the world often beat us down and make us question ourselves. Often we are inspired to go against the comfort of the status quo because we are awake and aware of our inner spirit. This can put us in a vulnerable place. While vulnerability may elicit thoughts of weakness, the reality is that allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and authentic is a reflection of our courage. Being who we really are is our destiny and our calling in this life. Denying this can sidetrack us along the way. Being vulnerable enough to ask for and accept help, and admit when you are wrong helps you expand into the full awareness of who you are meant to be.
It is not always comfortable to be who you are. Sometimes you have to speak up when it is uncomfortable, and sometimes you have to deeply listen when you really want to scream at someone! Going deep within oneself while residing in courage and strength, love and compassion are challenging and worth the struggle. As Maya Angelou says, “The reward is great!” We have to push ourselves, take the next step, and trust that the reward is great even though we cannot even begin to imagine how great it is.
Belonging Is Not About Fitting In
Fitting in is about being like everyone else. In contrast, being authentic and uniquely you are gifts to yourself and everyone around you. Being who you are allows you to engage in meaningful relationships instead of shallow ones. Being yourself means you just show up and be you. It helps to understand that comments from others are most likely reflections of their inner struggles and not judgments about you. And if you do sense judgment, you always have the option to inquire deeper and ask for more information. You also have the opportunity to free yourself from owning judgment – it’s not about you, it’s about another person’s perspective.
Miguel Ruiz’s wise words from the book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom explains:
“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”
Being Alone is Not Loneliness
When we know ourselves, and we can love ourselves, then we are comfortable with being alone. Being alone in a quiet space helps us to connect with the divine within us and connecting with our source gives us our highest sense of belonging. Time for quiet contemplation is essential in our journey to understand and love ourselves. In silence, we can more clearly hear the quiet voice of the divine and the needs of our soul.
Self-acceptance is about being guided by the love within yourself. It is about recognizing yourself, who you are and all of your circumstances – good or bad- and working with the divine source to move through daily life. In this process of intentionally surrendering to the highest power of Love, you begin to recognize the love given to you at every moment of your life. This love is the same love you have permission to give yourself – unconditional and infinite – and the same love you can give to others.
Healthy Boundaries Stated with Love
When we love ourselves, we experience the freedom to establish healthy boundaries with love. First, we have to understand our own needs clearly. Then we state our needs with kindness and love. Of course, we need to honor the boundaries we set and stick to them in order to authentically respect ourselves. These are essential steps in developing healthy relationships. We create healthy boundaries not to punish others but to honor ourselves, to be honest about our abilities, and to respect those we love by communicating our needs.
In a loving relationship, we honor each other’s needs and feel honored when someone feels comfortable enough to voice their needs. In unbalanced relationships, setting boundaries is imperative for the survival of both people. Setting boundaries honors the innate dignity of every human being. Someone who violates these boundaries without respect towards you may be a toxic entity in your life. Stating boundaries helps to identify what needs to be weeded out of your daily existence or gives clarity on what you can release. Setting parameters also offers you the opportunity to interact with others with more compassion and empathy.
Brene Brown reflects on her research around true belonging in Braving the Wilderness:
“Participants who put true belonging into practice talked openly about their boundaries. … The clearer and more respected the boundaries, the higher the level of empathy and compassion for others. Fewer clear boundaries, less openness. It’s hard to stay kind-hearted when you feel people are taking advantage of you or threatening you”.
Be In Community
We, in this human family, are all connected whether we are aware of it, or not, and we belong with each other in community. We are made to connect with each other. A community can be your family or a best friend; it can be your office co-workers or your book study group. And we often overlook the broader community of nature in which we inherently belong. Our belonging expands beyond our families, friends, and communities into the larger world of all of humanity and all of nature. Spending time in the natural world is a beautiful place to remember our essential connections and allows us to welcome peace and strength. Remember your crucial relationships in this life: You always belong to yourself, to the Divine, to nature, and to the human family.
Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Each of us is invited to participate in creating the beloved community envisioned by the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It begins with loving and accepting ourselves and then being authentic and loving in our relationships with others. Intentionally connecting with your soul and bringing forth the gifts of your genuine being are qualitative changes we can all make. Moving into the world in this way creates a ripple of love and compassion that begins to change the lives of others.
The best way to do this is to be who you are. There is no need to make excuses or hide our true selves. When we are comfortable with ourselves, we are naturally drawn to communities that support and accept us. Being alone in a quiet soul space allows us to hear the gentle voice of the divine and the forward calling of our lives.
We are made to experience joy and laughter, and these can indeed be the best medicine for us. Connecting with others and doing fun stuff can be one of the best healing choices we make in our lives. Creating and supporting a beloved community comes with hard work and joyful playtime. Embrace the challenges of the tasks at hand and enjoy the rewards of the joy and laughter that follow.
Ask Questions and Listen Deeply
“I am determined to practice deep listening. I am determined to practice loving speech.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart
A healthy culture claims all our identities. Belonging does not mean identical. The real beauty of true belonging is when you are accepted even when you have a different opinion than others in the group. In our current age of bi-partisan, wall building, and finger pointing, engaging in civil discussions that maintain respect, love, and deep listening even through disagreements encourages deep healing and transformation. Instead of needing to have the last word and attempt to convince others, ask questions and sincerely try to understand someone else’s perspective. If you accept yourself, and you are authentically comfortable with who you are, your confidence allows you the freedom to hear other’s ideas without needing to own or resist them.
True belonging Begins Within
True belonging begins within you. You must accept and belong to yourself first. Then, you can recognize you belong to the divine within you, to your fellow human family, and to the natural world that sustains you. True belonging is part of the journey to whole healing. I invite you to open your mind and spirit to this love of self and to bring this love into the communities you belong. You are the light in this world; please let yourself shine.
By Nikki Nau
Your home is your haven.
It is one’s place of residence and the social unit formed by a family living together.
It becomes a familiar or usual setting, a congenial environment, and the focus of one’s domestic attention.
You feel relaxed and comfortable, in harmony with the surroundings, and on familiar ground in your home.
These descriptions from Merriam-Webster dictionary reflect what many of us experience, or hope to experience, in our homes. We know that home is so much more than the place we live. It is where we gather and spend time with family and friends. At home, we relax and let down guards constructed as we cope with the demands of our day. We rest and sleep here to release the stress of the day and to rejuvenate our bodies, minds, and spirit.
Your home should be your haven, and it should also be a healthy space. The indoor environment of your home directly impacts your health and peace of mind. When you are investing in home repairs or remodeling projects, take a moment to think through the myriad of building supply options. Making informed decisions about the materials and products you bring into your home can contribute to a healthy indoor environment for you and your family.
Healthy Living – Healthy Home
While working on remodeling projects for over 20 years, my husband and I continually research building products and practices that keep homes free of toxic chemicals, materials, and influences. Unfortunately, there are many products on the market that are harmful to your health. Here are five common choices you can make to avoid toxins in your home.
1. Choose water-based paint versus oil based paint
There is a common myth upheld that oil-based paint and finishes are superior to water-based finishes. While several years ago this may have been true, results from in-field product testing reveal many water-based finishes that perform just as well as oil-based products. The drawback of using oil is the outgassing from carcinogenic and irritating volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some oil product odors remain in a closed home for months after application; therefore continually exposing inhabitant toxins. This chemical exposure is especially risky for children, the elderly, and anyone with chemical sensitivity or a compromised immune system.
2. Choose floor covering with low or no VOC
Carpet and vinyl flooring are the worst offenders of VOC exposure in your home. Find out what is in your carpet and carpet pad before you install it. Carpet installation can bring a flood of toxic chemicals into your home. Vinyl is synthetic resin or plastic consisting of polyvinyl chloride or a related polymer – a mixture of chemicals and colorants. Outgassing (VOCs emitted over time) can occur for a few days to several weeks.
Greenguard Certification is a third-party certifier that can help buyers identify interior products and materials that have low chemical emissions. They have a full database of products and manufacturers who meet the Greenguard standards.
3. Avoid formaldehyde adhesives
Do research and find out what glues are used in furniture, cabinetry, and subfloor products before you purchase them. You should be able to obtain this information from the product manufacturers. If you can’t find that information then you may want to steer away from them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “At low levels, breathing in formaldehyde can cause eye, nose and throat irritation. At higher levels, formaldehyde exposure can cause skin rashes, shortness of breath, wheezing and changes in lung function. Children, the elderly and people with asthma or other breathing problems may be more sensitive to the effects of formaldehyde.”
4. Think twice about using smart home devices
SMART (Self-Monitoring Analysis And Reporting Technology) home technology uses Internet-connected devices to remotely manage and monitor systems and appliances like lights, fans, thermostats, and locks. Currently, the long-term effects of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) are unknown. However, research is showing, EMR and EMF (electromagnetic frequency) affect the health of human beings.
Read Elana Amsterdam’s testimony of her new home’s wireless technology aggravating her multiple sclerosis. The Green Home that Almost Killed Me
Discerning the best use of technology is a challenge we all face today. I try to determine the best use of technology with questions like:
- How does using this technology make me a more balanced individual?
- Does the use of this technology help me to get my essential work done, or does the technology become a distraction in my work?
- How can the technology bring the task at hand to a more efficient or more elevated use?
While it can be difficult to answer these questions, the primary objective is to think ‘why’ before adopting a technology rather than using it just because everyone else is.
As you strive to create a harmonious home, consider making an EMF/ EMR free zone and contribute to the well-being of your family.
Here are easy steps to take to reduce EMF/ RF exposure in your home and to create a sleep sanctuary.
5. Air duct cleaning removes contaminants
After completing any remodeling project, get your ductwork cleaned. Regardless of how well you prepare and separate a remodeled space from the rest your home, the dust gets everywhere. Cleaning your ductwork after the project is complete prevents allergens and contaminants from circulating in your home.
Create Healthy Living in a Harmonious Home
In general, ask a lot of questions. Make sure you understand the entire process of the remodeling project from beginning to end, including safety measures taken. Do your research on the products you are using. And work with professionals who share your values and concerns.
Toxic Free is Only Part of Healthy Home
In my experience, a healthy home is a place where:
- People’s emotional well-being is honored
- People are respected and loved
- The indoor environment is free of toxic chemicals, materials, and influences
- The shelter itself is durable, safe, and sound
Other articles on our site discuss these aspects of a healthy home. We invite you to take a look.
By Diane Przymus
- 60-second facial massage: Begin by pushing your index fingers along both sides of your nose, take a deep breath, count to 5 and release. Now place the pads of your fingers against your cheekbones and push upwards with gradually increasing pressure. Continue pushing and moving the fingers along the curve of the cheekbones until you reach the ears. Pull and rub the lobes of the ears. Next, massage the temples three times. Slide your fingers (while applying pressure up the bridge of the nose and across the eyebrows. Push your fingers up the forehead to the hairline and begin rubbing in circles around the contours of the face and scalp. Rub your palms together and place the heated palms across your closed eyes for 5-10 seconds. Take a deep breath and sense the difference.
- Neck release: Clears the sinuses and releases neck tension. Starting on either side of your spine, push the pads of your middle and ring fingers on both hands up against the base of your head. Massage areas that are sore and slowly make your way towards both ears. Make light circles down your neck until you meet your shoulders where you can apply a deep downward pressure for 3-5 seconds.
- Shoulder release: Bring one hand over your opposite shoulder and dig your fingers into the trapezius muscle while pulling forward, squeeze and release. Do this three times and then repeat for the opposite side. Next, use the pads of your fingertips and your palms to massage the pectoral muscles on your chest. Hold points that are tender for at least 10 seconds while breathing deeply. Much of our shoulder tension is often related to tight anterior muscles. End by rolling your shoulders forward and backwards.
- Low back soother: This is great for easing low back pain and inducing the relaxation response. Rub your hands together until you feel warmth being generated. Bend forward and bring your hands to your low back. Allow the warmth to penetrate into your low back and follow with gentle palm or knuckle circles and light tapping with the palms. End by holding the palms on the low back for 30 seconds.
- Acupressure points to feel calm and connected: Using the pads of your four fingers, lightly press on the middle of the sternum (the top finger should rest about 3 inches below the collar bone). With your other hand, press the pads of your index and your middle finger in the space between the eyebrows (above the nose). This is the traditional third eye position, otherwise known in acupuncture as GV 24.5. Hold these points simultaneously while breathing deeply for at least one minute. Next place the palm of the hand that was resting on the third eye on the top and center of the head. Hold this point simultaneously with the chest point. It can help us feel centered and release stress and anxiety.
By Nikki Nau
Go home to nature and let nature heal you.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Nature Has Healing Power
Many of us intuitively know the healing power of nature. We seek the quiet, peaceful experiences of hiking in the woods, paddling on a calm lake, or listening to the waves of the ocean. Some of us live a fast-paced existence where the sound of traffic and machinery becomes background noise. The experience of urban sensory overload becomes normal, and we forget about the healing aspects of the natural world. Some of us have lived our entire lives in an urban environment, and the experience of nature’s calm and healing is unknown to us.
The natural world is a place for healing our entire human organism – mind, body, and spirit. Nature provides a hiatus for reducing stress, improving cognitive function, and experiencing our connection with each other and the natural cycles of our planet.
As Richard Louv explains in his book, The Nature Principle:
“Health isn’t just the absence of illness or pain, it’s also physical, emotional, mental, intellectual, and spiritual fitness – in short, it’s about the joy of being alive.” (1)
Science Explains Healing Effects of Nature
Researchers and scientists have been noting the positive effects of nature on sick people for decades.
In the early 1900’s, Florence Nightingale’s famous Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not textbook explains:
“It is the unqualified result of all my experience with the sick, that second only to their need of fresh air is their need of light. It is a curious thing to observe how almost all patients lie with their faces turned to the light, exactly as plants always make their way towards the light.”
Nightingale observed people’s draw to natural sunlight during recovery from illness.
Scientists have also revealed faster recovery times for patients who have exposure to nature during their hospital stays. Psychologist and architect, Roger Ulrich wanted to test his hypothesis that nature views could reduce patient stress and lead to better clinical outcomes. He examined the records of gallbladder-surgery patients over six years. Some of the patients recovered in rooms with a view of trees, while others recovered in rooms with a view of a brick wall. Those with a view of nature requested less pain medication, spent fewer days in the hospital, and had better attitudes than patients looking at a brick wall. (2)
True healing addresses more than physical symptoms, it also takes into account emotional and psychological pain. Studies reveal the psychological effect of exposure to green space in urban environments. Scientists Frances Kuo and William Sullivan studied the effects of green space adjacent to living areas. Chicago Illinois residents, who live in similar socioeconomic circumstances, were significantly impacted by different outdoor courtyards and views from their apartments.
People who had access to courtyards with grass and trees experienced 56 percent fewer violent crimes than their neighbors with concrete courtyards. Kuo suggests it was not only the experience of the green space but also the community building that occurred in that space. Residents with green courtyards reported their neighbors were more willing to help and support each other. (3)
Nature Healing Therapy
Although scientists continue to study the effects of nature on the different aspects of human experience, there are many nature healing therapies currently working for people all over the world. Here are two examples from Norway and Japan.
Green Care – Norway
In Norway, Green Care farms offer services to schools as well as health and social care organizations. Green care is the term used in Norway “for welfare services that use farms as arenas for education, child and youth services, occupational training, health and care services. “
In 2012, there were 1,100 farms in Norway that offered services for mental health problems, addiction, truancy, dementia, occupational training, and integration. Both the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development have prepared the strategy for Green Care on a national level, and there is a multitude of other Norwegian organizations that support and participate in the growing movement. (4)
People who participate in Green Care Farm therapies report:
- Improved moods after spending time on the farms
- Learning subtle social cues from animals and ways to translate that to human relationships
- Increased self-esteem and self-confidence
Therapists and other Green Care Farm participants share the social science benefits of interacting with animals on farms:
- Participants feel a sense of belonging and learn empathy from interactions with the animals and other participants.
- Participants experience achievement and a sense of purpose by taking on responsibilities to care for the animals.
- Overall, participants feel better after spending time on the farm.
Green Care is expanding to other European countries such as the United Kingdom. For more information:
Forest Medicine – Japan
Yoshifumi Miyazaki, director of the Center for the Environment Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University, conducted a study revealing people’s cortisol level (a stress hormone) lowered 13.4% when they gazed at forest scenery for just 20 minutes. Another study showed an increase in natural killer (NK) cells after people were active in a green setting. As NK cells increase, the innate immune response follows.
These scientific studies, along with other research, have led to the accepted Japanese health care concept called “forest medicine.” Forest medicine, also known as “forest bathing,” is drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Forest Therapy trails each year for long walks and increased health benefits.
Author Florence Williams reveals the science behind some of these health benefits in her book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.
The health benefits Japanese researchers have found, include:
- Improved concentration and cognitive skills
- Reduced stress
- Improved immune function
The forest bathing movement is moving across the globe as people see the benefits of spending time in nature. Nature and Forest Therapy training and education are spreading throughout North America.
For more information, check out: http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/ and
Experience the Healing Effects of Nature
We can all benefit from spending more time in nature. I feel more focused, more grounded, and more at peace if I take even a short walk under the trees or near water. Here are some simple steps you can take to create a personal nature therapy.
- Go outside. Take a walk every week or better yet, every day (even if it is short). Walk under trees or near water, and in a quiet place.
- Spend a minimum of 5 hours per month in natural settings. Going to a wilderness setting is ideal; however, an urban, woodland area or park has nearly the same effect.
- Plan vacations where you can spend time in a natural area.
- Overall, the more time you spend in the natural world, the better you feel!
We Are Part of the Natural World
Scientists will continue to conduct studies that pinpoint the different elements of nature and how they benefit the cognitive, physical and emotional health of humans. However, it is important to remember, we are whole human organisms – mind, body, and spirit. We are a part of the natural world – not separate from it.
As Florence Williams points out in The Nature Fix:
“I find the intellectual compulsion to break apart the pieces of nature and examine them one by one both interesting and troubling. I understand it’s the way science typically works: to understand a system, you have to understand the parts, find the mechanism, put your flag on a piece of new ground. The poets would find this nonsense. It’s not just the smell of the cypress, or the sound of the birds, or the color of green that unlocks the pathway to health in our brains. We’re full sensory beings, or at least we were once built to be. Isn’t it possible that it’s only when you open all the doors – literally and figuratively – that the real magic happens?”
Nature – Where We Belong
Go outside and be a part of the natural world that is our home. This is where human beings are meant to be and where we find our sense of purpose and belonging. Although it is easy to forget in our fast-paced, technological world, the truth of our deep connection to nature never goes away – even if it is temporarily forgotten. Be with nature and experience the healing power yourself.
Everything that is in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.
–Hildegard of Bingen
(3) (The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, by Florence Williams p. 110) http://www.florencewilliams.com/the-nature-fix/
I was sitting at my desk chatting with a friend last week in the evening hours. The weather had been warmish that day, so my ankles were bare. I finished my conversation and realized my ankles were itchy. Taking a closer look by drawing my legs up into my lap, I discovered multiple mosquito bites! Then, up from the depths, a mosquito hummed…
Realizing I was not prepared for mosquito season, I quickly jumped online and tapped into my Young Living account. Must order oils to make repellent! In my opinion, we (Minnesotans) have more than the traditional four seasons here: winter, mud, spring, mosquito/summer, and autumn.
In what seems like another lifetime, I was an outdoor educator, spending many hours of the day outside, and often 24 hours per day while leading wilderness trips. I never liked bug repellent, finding it stinky, oily and just gross. I would often wear warmer clothes than the weather warranted just to keep covered and inaccessible. But I distinctly remember the time when I could no longer use conventional/chemical repellent anymore.
I had been working for a YMCA camp as the Adventure Learning Center Coordinator. My days were spent outside, facilitating groups through the high ropes courses and low adventure elements, training others and doing course maintenance. The camp, being in a somewhat boggy area and situated on a lake, proved to be a major breeding ground for mosquitoes, often jokingly referred to as Minnesota’s other state bird. The camp was generous enough to provide us with “bug dope” for personal use as well as for our group members, who often were under-dressed and without their own repellent. Dousing ourselves in DEET-based sprays was de riguer during the summer (mid-May through August) months.
The first summer I worked at this camp, I began noticing the consistent effects of DEET-use on my body. A pattern of gut-problems began to emerge: I would spray, and within a few hours, terrible bowel cramps would ensue, followed by diarrhea. It began to affect my ability to do my job. All other things being the same, it correlated to use of bug spray. I did a little experiment and used plant oil-based sprays, and my symptoms disappeared. That was enough for me! I never looked back, and that was 15+ years ago.
If you are noticing curious symptoms following DEET use, research it. You will run across a huge variety of responses, but don’t dismiss your own experience. Trust the sense that something is not right, and look for alternatives to support you.
Here are some other links to further your education on DEET:
I figured if it will melt plastics, it is probably not so good for my skin, my internal systems or my nervous system.
Now, a few years older and somewhat wiser, my general rule of thumb is, if I won’t put it in my mouth, it doesn’t go on my skin. What?!? Yes. Our skin is our biggest organ, and it is extremely effective in transferring things into our systems. To maintain my health and well-being, that is the guide that I use and ask my kids to use.
In my research to find safe, effective mosquito/bug repellant, I have come across many plant oils that contain energetic ‘disruptors’ that disturb the mosquitoes antennae enough to discourage biting.
Neem oil is one of those. Widely used in India for centuries to thwart biting mosquitoes (as well as other healthcare uses), Neem has also proved very effective in reducing malaria cases in India. Now consider: India has many tropical regions and mosquitoes are rampant. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes (actually there are more!), and mosquitoes are rampant. I figured if Neem is effective against malaria on the other side of the world, surely it can help me not get bitten here. And it does! Admittedly, it is not the most pleasant smelling oil, but I have found it to be effective. I have watched as mosquitoes even land on me, but within moments fly away, bite free. The way I use it is to mix it with olive oil or coconut oil and we smear it on our skin. This summer I may also try to add a few other essential oils that will make it a little more yummy smelling.
Speaking of yummy smelling, these are some of the essentials oils that can go into Homemade Bug Spray: choose from Citronella, Clove, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Cajeput, Eucalyptus, Cedar, Catnip, Lavender, Mint, Cinnamon, and Rose. Below you will find several suggestions for combinations.
This one is borrowed from Amanda Soule’s book The Rhythm of Family:
1 teaspoon of lemongrass oil
1 teaspoon of eucalyptus oil
1 teaspoon of citronella oil
7 ounces of witch hazel
8-0z spray bottle (amber or blue glass is best for the stability of the oils)
Mix all the ingredients in the spray bottle. Shake well before each use. Avoid contact with eyes, nose and mouth. Reapply as desired.
And Katie of WellnessMama has some great recipes with techniques on her website:
Finally, I have read that taking Neem internally, increasing garlic consumption (or garlic capsules), or increasing the B vitamins all help to reduce bites. Since everyone’s chemistry is unique to them, carefully experiment with a variety of spray mixtures or supplements to find the one that works best for you. After you find the combination that works for you, come back here to share what is effective so others can be bite-free, too.
Don’t allow the mosquitoes to hold you hostage this summer. Get outside and soak up all the beauty this season has to offer you, body, mind and spirit. And have fun!