Experience A Healthy Body

Healthy Body                             

A healthy body refers to the health of the whole human organism – mind, body, and spirit. Are you intellectually stimulated on a regular basis? Are you clear-headed and emotionally balanced? Your body reflects what is happening in your whole human organism. Does your body feel good? Do you experience ample sleep, regular movement and physical work, clean food and water? If so, you may be experiencing optimal health and enjoying the benefits.

Do you feel physical pain or discomfort? Are you experiencing other physical symptoms? These are important markers showing you a path to healing. Your body –  the vessel that houses your spirit -gives you continuous feedback with your feeling, thinking, and behaving. If you do not feel your that your body is as healthy as it could be, this portal may provide you with valuable information.

Symptoms of imbalance: aches, pains, rashes, dis-ease, any symptoms that lead to a physical diagnosis

Signs of Fulfillment:  physical, mental and emotional well-being

Affects: Peace of Mind, Fulfilling Relationships, Emotional Well-being, Creative Expression, Financial Abundance, Community/Belonging, Meaningful Work, Harmonious Home

Life balance, gifts of march

By Annalisa Bragg

 

Timely elements

March is moving in like a lion here in Minnesota.  It is icy, snowy-blowy, and the wind roars around our home. Tree branches are tossed in the tempest, flinging icy snow from their surfaces.  The giant Norway spruces are dancing in the wind, sometimes gentle and slow, other times writhing with intensity, depending on the frequency of the “music.”  Grandmother Willow, as we call her, has her long “hair” in tangles as the wind and snow swirl about her.

Watching this, I am grateful to be warm, dry and protected.  I take a deep smooth breath in and feel grateful my breath isn’t taken from me by this raging, roaring lion.  In this state of awareness, I consider those who are exposed to these elements and wonder how they are coping.  With compassion, I hold them in my heart, and send out a prayer for protection for all these brothers and sisters, human and animal alike…

Seeking balance, spring, gifts of trees

I am reminded of Muir’s quote:

 

A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm,

waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship.

But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.

~ John Muir

 

What are the internal songs you are hearing in this springtime?

Defining Balance

The balance to March moving in like a lion is that, as the saying goes, it goes out like a lamb – softer, warmer, gentler (at least in theory).  March is a month holding balance in other ways, too, in that it contains the Equinox. According to Merriam-Webster, “equinox descends from aequus, the Latin word for ‘equal,’ and nox, the Latin word for ‘night’—a fitting history for a word that describes days of the year when the daytime and nighttime are equal in length. In the northern hemisphere, the vernal equinox marks the first day of spring and occurs when the sun moves north across the equator. (Vernal comes from the Latin word ver, meaning ‘spring.’) “

Other examples of balance and stirrings in the natural world in March are what we see happening with the animals and the trees.  With the lengthening of light and warmer temperatures, animals begin stirring out of their hibernations. As human animals, we feel these stirrings, too.

Looking at the tree’s response to this season, we see and benefit from the balancing act of the trees stirring to life again.  We’ve seen the starkness of the trees, seemingly lifeless in their ‘hibernation’ or winter dormancy. As the sun warms the trees and the earth in spring, the trees begin a process of awakening.  This awakening involves the lifeblood of the tree-what we know as sap. This awakening stimulates the sap to flow up from the roots (where it has remained cool and grown sweet) into the branches of the tree. The flowing sap delivers necessary nutrition for the branches, for the growth of the leaves, and to foster the process of photosynthesis.  This flow of sap is vital for the tree to survive. It is sweet, juicy, and fluid. This process is a balancing act that is dependent on the seasons: spring/sap flows, blooming, greening; summer/growth and food production; autumn/harvesting, releasing and preparing for dormancy; winter/dormancy. Consider how your life mirrors these seasonal changes.

Life balance, gifts of march

Photo by Fabrice Villard

Nature works efficiently because it maintains a sense of balance, of harmony, of homeostasis.  Revisiting Merriam-Webster, homeostasis is defined as:

“a relatively stable state of equilibrium or a tendency toward such a state between the different but interdependent elements or groups of elements of an organism, population, or group.”

 

In essence, balance.  But balance doesn’t imply rigidity or no change. On the contrary, balance is fluid, flowing and vibrant, like the sap of a tree, and is guided by the seasons of life.  It flows one way and then the other. We can work in this space by consciously accepting the sometimes messy nature of coming into balance, even by realizing that sometimes feeling off or irritated is part of the process of finding equilibrium. We tend to aspire towards peace and equanimity at all costs, but all the little movements and adjustments are part of that homeostasis, even if they feel uncomfortable or undesirable.  By embracing these ‘ruffled’ states, we can see that these, too, are tools to bring us back into balance. As such, balance is the state of equilibrium we find as we flow with these seasons of life.

 

A tangible way to play with balance and to observe some of these fluid concepts in practice is to work with the balancing yoga asana, Tree pose ( Vrkasana).

 

Balance in Action

For Tree pose (Vrkasana):

 

Stand — Be barefoot and stand. Whether you are on a mat or a firm surface really depends on your preference for stability.  For further stability, you may wish to have a stable chair back, a counter surface or a wall at the ready. Stand in Mountain pose (Tadasana) and root deeply into your mat/floor.  Just like a tree establishing a strong foundation, consciously extend your “roots,” anchor yourself to the floor/earth, and feel into the full length and width of your feet. Observe the balance between the right and left sides of your body.  Feel the crown of the head extend toward the heavens. Breathe.

 

Gaze —  As you feel grounded through the feet and your posture, bring your gaze forward, landing on a point at eye-height, something that will be stationary.  This is your drishti point or focal point. Keep the gaze steady and focused, yet soft. Breathe.

 

Center —  Next bring the hands together at your heart, gently pressing the palms together to bring your energy to this centered place.  Feel the pressure of the palms against each other. Notice the heat transfer between them. Imagine, like the spring-awakening tree, you are drawing energy up from your roots, and that energy is moving into and between your hands.  Breathe.

 

Draw –Now you are preparing to draw that energy/sap up further.  As you feel ready to shift your weight to one foot, draw up the other foot and gently place its sole on the ankle, calf, or inner thigh (depending on your flexibility and balance strength) of the standing leg. Start low and go slow.  Be sure to not place the foot on the knee. Open the elevated legs’ knee out to the side. Observe your balance and the rooting action of the grounded foot. Consider that balance is fluid, not rigid. You may observe all the micro-adjustments involved in maintaining balance – a perfect example of this fluidity.  Balance is achieved through movement. Breathe, and notice how breath is fluid, too.

 

Firm — Begin to more fully engage both legs by pressing the elevated leg into the standing leg, and the standing leg into the elevated leg.  Feel the strength of your ‘trunk,’ and the stability that is created by firming each leg into the other. Remember that a tree’s strength lies in its ability to be flexible and bend.  We, too, find strength when we remember to be flexible and bend in the winds of life. Breathe, and feel your breath join with the imaginary winds of change and occasional storms of life.

 

Extend — If your balance is challenged, continue to work here (with support, if needed), breathing and observing.  Extend compassion to yourself if you find your balance is not present for you. This is a practice, a constantly changing, ebbing and flowing (just like sap) practice.  What is present for you today will be different again tomorrow.

 

Reach — To complete the pose, bring your awareness back to your hands pressing together, and elevate the hands through your midline to ‘settle’ suspended over your head.  Your arms create a diamond shape around your head. If there is any discomfort in the shoulders, open the hands to shoulder distance. Hold here and breathe.

 

Bask — To release the pose, open your “branches” (arms) outward, palms up, opening into the fullness of a mature tree and hold for a few breaths.  For an additional challenge, bring your gaze upward, and possibly even lift your sternum toward the sky and hold. Bask in the “glow” of the warm sun shining upon your heart and breathe it in.  As you feel ready, release the leg and arms. Feel free to move or shake any body part that needs release. Breathe deeply.

 

Practice on the other side.

 

Further support

Additional questions to guide your process:

  • Are there areas of my life that need balancing?
  • As I identify those areas, what actionable steps can I take to bring greater balance?
  • What are the juicy areas of my life?  How can I infuse more sweetness into those areas?
  • What areas of my life are springing forth with energy and vitality?
    • What do I want to nurture further?
    • what do I need to thin or prune away?

 

To hear an audio guide through this practice, listen to this Spring Tree Pose

Allow the example of the tree to remind you of your fluid, ever-changing nature.  In seeking a sweet and juicy life, embrace the notion of fluid balance.

We are part of nature. The seasons and cycles that transform our natural world, also move and create changes within us. Look around and see and smell the burst of vibrant flowers and leaves.  Imagine that powerful life giving energy is rushing forth within you. It is your time to bloom! New ideas, visions, plans, expressions may flood you. As much as possible, create space to allow these vibrant new beginnings to take root in your life. Open to the possibilities; create strategies and actions plans to nurture them.  Be open to the springs and creeks teeming with life within you.  And set clear, loving boundaries.

Through the 4000 year old lens of  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we are a microcosm of nature. We can look to nature to understand the processes and cycles going on within us. In TCM, there are 5 elements that encompass and create life as we know it: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. These elements correspond to the seasons. The season of Spring represents the Wood element and is a time when the energies of the Liver and Gallbladder organs are most active. In TCM, Liver and Gallbladder have slightly different functions than their Western specifications. I will capitalize the name of the organs when I refer to them from a TCM context. Just to be clear: if someone is experiencing symptoms of TCM specified Liver stagnation, it does not necessarily mean there is anything wrong with their liver function from a Western Medicine perspective. TCM often picks up on subtle fluctuations and imbalances that would not be detected under a western lens. This sensitivity is what allows it to be a truly preventative health modality. However, it is important to keep in mind that balance is a dynamic process and our ability to tune in and listen at a subtle level empowers us to course correct or seek professional help as needed.

In TCM, the Liver organ stores blood, and controls the flow of Qi (vital energy) throughout the body. If this Liver and Gallbladder energy gets stagnant, we may experience irritability, headaches, redness in the eyes, and/or tendonitis. Many of us are familiar with the complementary opposites conveyed in the yin yang symbol. This balance or lack of balance also shows up in our bodies. For example, if we do not have enough Liver Yin in the body to ground the Liver Yang, we may wake up in the night with our mind racing unable to go back to sleep.

Over the past 15 years practicing Shiatsu, I have seen my clients come in with an increase of Liver related complaints: more headaches, increased irritability, and tighter shoulders and necks are common symptoms. Here are 5 self-care practices that I suggest for balancing the flow of Liver and Gallbladder qi:

  1. Begin the day with meditation, exercise or yoga. This helps to get your energy moving smoothly.
  2. Drink a glass of water with fresh lemon (squeeze up to one whole lemon).
  3. Increase raw foods and add cooling, bitter greens in your salads – dandelion leaves, French sorrel and endives are great additions.
  4. Hold this acupressure point: Liver 3
  5. Allow yourself time to be truly present, enliven your senses by spending time in nature and receiving some bodywork or acupuncture.
community, belonging,

Image result for mosquito pictures
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:

https://off.com/en/education/active-ingredients/7-myths-and-facts-about-deet

healthcenter.indiana.edu/answers/insect-precautions.shtml

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:

https://wellnessmama.com/2565/homemade-bug-spray/

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!

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