Friday began - blah.
It was cold and rainy, although we definitely needed the rain I had gotten spoiled by the warm sunny summer days that we truly had enjoyed outdoors (note: grateful), even amidst a pandemic. Friday began by me missing my Yin yoga class that I was planning to take as a student. Taking a class is still a gift when you're a Yin teacher! After a delayed start I headed to the dermatologist for my annual skin check, (and yes, we all need to do this. It's Breast Cancer Awareness month did you know? Have you made your annual appointments for your girls and your skin?). I left the dermatologist with several frozen spots, not so pleasant five-second 'shots' to say the least, and a bandaid, thanks to those aluminum foil lined album covers and baby oil in my teens (Please use sunscreen daily!). Hmm, is this the start of my weekend?
With a 'happy place' detour (I LOVE grocery shopping) at Whole Foods to pick up supplies for the weekend that I couldn't find at my local grocer, I headed home to run an afternoon errand with my husband. A two hour drive north errand, in the rain. We listened to and discussed a Rich Roll podcast while I kept my eyes ready for good foliage pics to send his brother, but the splatting raindrops, 18-wheeler mist and thumping windshield wipers kept getting in the way of a good photo or video.
We were heading to pick up our restored 1950s Old Town motorboat that had been winterized for storage. After we made it to the boat shop, with 15 minutes to spare before their gates closed (we had already missed it once), we bounced and jounced through the water-filled potholes of the dirt parking lot to hook up the trailer, and headed to our family 'camp' for one last fall walk through. Rather than driving into our driveway and having to turn around with a boat in tow in tight surroundings, we had parked across our next door neighbor's driveway and walked through the woods, in the light drizzle, to our cabin. I did the inside walk-through as my husband took care of the outside.
There is something about this old log cabin in the woods with a glassy lake, and the silence of all the ski boats, jet ski and pontoons put to bed for the winter, that causes you to pause, take notice of your surroundings and inhale s-l-o-w-l-y... and then exhale with a smile - even if in the rain. All around me were the colorful leaves I was looking for! I was surrounded by a bed of brilliant maple leaves framed by yellow. I stood there grinning and took a picture of my feet in the leaves, as if the nail polish were intentionally chosen for this moment and the embroidery on my jeans to accent nature's beauty as well. My husband came around the corner of the cabin and asked, "What are you doing???" My feeling reminded me of when I was a kid, jumping through puddles in the street and swooshing my feet through the fall leaves in the yard. I looked up, ripped off my raincoat, threw it to the side in the rain and said, "Take a picture. It is SO beautiful!"
So often we hurry through our days, working, going to appointments, 'judging' the weather (even when the change is desperately needed), annoyed by something that happened or disappointed by what didn't work out, when all around us is the beauty we were meant to see. Slow down. Your body needs rest. Practicing presence is a PRACTICE.
For many years I commuted to Boston with my father for work. Back then I certainly wasn't looking at technology in my hands, I was probably napping (being a teenager or working during college break). I can hear his voice saying, "Look up. See what is happening around us." He would make note of a new store or restaurant on the drive, a car passing by (as a father of five driving a wagon or SUV he loved little sporty cars, which he eventually got to enjoy). He would give us driving instructions on how to drive in traffic and to leave the window cracked to hear for approaching cars, your engine, or God forbid a flat tire, and would give directions of getting to where we were going - of course the 'back' way. He wanted us present in the car whether we were passengers or a driver. My Dad told me they built their home where they did so that he could drive by a particular lake on his way home each night and gaze at the peacefulness of the reservoir, just before arriving home to a busy house.
I am thankful for those early lessons of observation and practicing presence. I am thankful for my church family who always teach gratitude. I am grateful for my yoga teachers Shannon, Kim, Amy and Josh who continue to nudge the practice of presence along. I am grateful for my students and clients whom I get to encourage along as well. I am thankful for yesterday's rainy day that kept me too late in bed, removed an item or two from my morning calendar (God knew what I needed that day), and placed a rainy hush over the woods so that I would NOTICE the peaceful-riot of colorful beauty around me and say, "Thank you".
If there can be a perfect day, today was it. We intended to go for a short hike in the woods and our planned exercise ended up being more like Forest Bathing.
The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, translated literally ‘forest-bath’. Today we are so immersed in the busyness of our lives, compounded with the use of technology which keeps our vision laser-focused to our hands or screens, that we are separated from the healing gift God gave us in nature. Shinrin-yoku helps to bridge that gap and bring our senses back to nature and it’s natural soothing abilities. One could pay a certified Forest Bathing guide to lead you through a forest bath experience for a couple hours or you could simply go for a walk in nature and allow mother nature to lead you by the hand. It’s a sort of Yin style of meditation where you allow yourself to be carried by the waves of your senses through a forest, no goal, no destination.
Today we headed out on a trail and were swiftly drawn in by the dappled light drifting through the canopy of the forest, watching the light dance it’s way along our path through the flickering leaves above. My senses were on high alert as I had read someone had recently seen a mountain lion nearby. Was that crack and thump an approaching mountain lion slinking nearby? Oh, just a pine cone knocked loose by a scampering squirrel high above and falling from a towering stately pine. Soon my caution settled down and I noticed a sound, a brook or a stream maybe, and followed it’s calling. Down an embankment we went following the hypnotic sound of the gurgling of a low stream as it passed around the water-worn rocks, drawing me further downstream as I thought back to catching crawfish with my kids in a creek behind their childhood home. We took a seat on a smooth boulder and I studied the different details of furled lichen nearby, and chuckled to myself allowing another memory to seep in of a challenging hike we were on where I distracted myself by seeing how many types of lichen and mushrooms I could photograph to escape from the heat and exhaustion! The lichen carried me away until the caw of a blue jay awakened me. As I looked up to spot the pair of birds that woke me from my trip back in time, the bright green of a delicate fern grove caught my eye and drew me in closer. We had noticed much of the other foliage being limp with dehydration from the summer’s drought, but the ferns amazingly had dug their perennial roots into the bed of the decomposed earth and reached what water was left of the formerly cascading stream between the rocks, allowing this vibrant green, fairy garden to thrive.
After bumping into another couple who pointed the way back to a trail we continued to notice the forest with all our senses bathing in a ‘hike’ to nowhere. The smell of the decomposing floor, the breeze blowing through the leaves still on their branches, the cool breathy brush of fall’s kiss on our cheeks and the symphony of the many different calls of birds. The contrast in our footing changed as we passed over wet, mossy rocks onto dry boulders. We noticed the the spring of decomposed leaves and partially rotted logs contrasted by the firmness of a pine grove as we stepped back onto the trail.
I once knew a man who would take a nature bath every morning five steps from his back door (the max he could walk at the time), which was really a form of Yin meditation simply following the loop of his senses. He would step out onto his deck and close his eyes and follow the call of a certain bird for a couple minutes. For the next few minutes he would then follow the calls of another bird species. Next, he might move onto the the chattering calls of squirrels as they jumped from branch to branch seemingly defying gravity on their springy trampolines. Then he would follow the sound of a motorboat in the harbor as it pulsed along envisioning what it would feel like to be coasting across the crests of waves one after another. Before heading in he would allow the air to awaken his skin whether it be a cool breeze or the warmth from the sun. This is a form of meditation allowing yourself to be immersed in a nature bath.
I recommend you get out and experience Shinrin-yoku on your own this week. Actually, each week if you can, and right through the seasons changes noticing the differences between the business of nature’s life in the summer versus the quiet of the cold winter! Enjoy the magical beauty of nature through your all five of your senses giving you the gift of peace and joy. If you don’t have a forest nearby to bath in, or are unable to walk into one, you could enjoy many of the healing benefits by pulling a chair out your back door or lay in your backyard (think of watching the clouds endlessly as a child). Begin by noticing what you see around you and especially above you. Then close your eyes if you are not walking and allow time to slip away as your senses wash over you.
I just heard it is WORLD KINDNESS DAY. I once read you should write your obituary the way you'd like to be remembered and then live up to it. I’m sure we all have someone who pops into our minds as a very kind person whom we try to emulate. The first person who always pops into my mind is my aunt. Called ‘Aunty’ by her 14 nieces and nephews, and many more great nieces and nephews, she was known as ‘Honey’ to her siblings, friends and the entire town of Medford, and everyone who met her. Need I say more!
Aunty was the person who always found the good in EVERY person. I never heard her gossip or say a negative thing about anyone. It’s the little things. Teens in Medford would come and hang out with her, talking about their problems in her sitting room next to the kitchen. She would listen and encourage them. Every fall she would hire these teens to help print the envelopes and mail 40,000 desk calendars for the family business. No matter where she was she had friends from every generation, and truly loved being surrounded by youth.
At 19 years old Aunty was paralyzed in an automobile accident. Never did she ask ‘why me’. For years she lay in bed writing hundreds of letters each week to her penpals serving in WWII. When they returned she learned how to walk again with the paralyzed vets ‘swinging through’ her crutches. She became an accomplished artist, eventually got her driver’s license again, and after my grandfather passed away she bought a very worn summer cottage overlooking the Bay of Fundy and renovated it. For the next 35 years she drove to Nova Scotia each Fourth of July with my grandmother and any family member who wanted to join them. She would bake bread and cook over a wood burning stove, take the neighbor kids berry picking and make jams for the neighbors, painting the views with anyone who wanted to join her. Once again her kindness spread across the farms on the bluffs of Nova Scotia and townspeople looked forward to her summer arrival and warm smile. As kids, all of us nieces and nephews spent years in her kitchen over Holy Thursday and Good Friday kneading pounds and pounds of flour and helping to make the dozens of loaves of Italian Easter bread that she would gift to everyone. Aunty lived her entire life with her parents, and later in life the caregiving roles turned and she was there to care for my grandmother living with Alzheimers.
When we began to have children I knew I wanted to name one after her. I figured if my child was just 10% her they would be an incredibly kind person. I got my wish and our daughter is named after her. She sees the good in people others may not even notice. Who pops into your mind on World Kindness Day?
Every morning I read devotions to remind myself to start my day centered. Others meditate. Today at yoga class we lifted up the tragedies of lives lost this past week between the diving boat fire and Hurricane Dorian to the powers of the universe. We ALL go through tough periods in our lives, myself included. This Peace is what has always gotten me through these times. I liked this from ‘The Mustard Seed’ daily devotion today:
Filled to the Brim-
The glass sits on the table filled to the halfway mark. Is it half full? Or is it half empty? Some people give one answer, and others say the opposite. The goal is to be the positive person who looks at the glass and says, “Half full.” The reality is that the glass is completely full! Part of it is filled with liquid; part of it is filled with air.
Sometimes it is easy to focus on the emptiness in our lives. We want to be full of joy, full of peace, full of hope. But often that seems impossible because too many people and situations drain our joy, peace, and hope.
These are the times we must remember that God’s Holy Spirit is always in us like the air we cannot see in the glass. He desires to fill us with good things and to assure us that God is at work in our lives. He enables us to focus on our loving God who cares for us. Then we can know true joy and the peace that surpasses all understanding. They are ours through faith in Jesus Christ.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
I got back from vacation with a garden full of ripe tomatoes! My favorite thing to do with an abundance of tomatoes is simple Italian cooking: core them, rub them with olive or avocado oil, and add some fresh crushed garlic in the cored hole. Place the tomatoes on a hot grill, cover it, and by the time your pasta is cooked the skins of the tomatoes have split, tomatoes are soft and dinner is ready! Could not be easier or more flavorful. Healthy eating is using what nature gives you in season and using the whole food without processing it.
After the skins have split, roughly cut the tomatoes up in a bowl with two knives and serve topped with some slivered fresh basil over your noodles. I used edamame noodles (naturally high in protein and gluten free) as well as zucchini spiraled noodles (also in abundance from the garden!). Both took less than 5 minutes to cook.
I love making dinner with what I grow in my garden! I hope you will try it too. Buon Appetito!
Hint: If you have an important buisness meeting the next day you may not want to use a clove of garlic per tomato!
You know, I look at this newly released endless list of shampoos, shower gels, hand soaps, all with a known cancer causing ingredient cocamide diethanolamine in them, and it simply confirms my choice to switch to #betterbeauty four years ago. I have a child who has had brain and thyroid tumors. I have another child on the Spectrum. You know what? ‘Know more. Do Better" is my motto. The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) reports that nothing has changed since 2013 when these chemicals and products were reported to have cancer-causing chemicals.
Chemical exposures put children at greater risk. “Because they are smaller, children are more highly exposed for their weight than adults. Children’s bodies also are undergoing critical stages of development... Now new research shows that environmental exposures can change how our genes are expressed – not genetic mutations, but whether genes are turned on or off and how they are read. These changes in gene expression, known as epigenetic changes, can also be passed on to future generations," says Environmental Working Group.
We are all able to reduce the chemical exposures of our family by simple behavioral changes and switching out for safer products. Leave your shoes and the chemicals on them at the door. Skip handling your credit card receipts - have it emailed. Switch out plastic food storage and microwaving to glass containers. Switch out plastic shower curtain liners to polyester quick dry fabric. Switch out your personal care products with clean products, without the known harmful chemicals.
Beautycounter has taken the guess work out of shopping, never using the 1500 ingredients of known or questionable toxins on their The Never List. I know the products are safe, and they are third party tested to confirm. They advocate in Washington for updating the Personal Care laws to be health protective too. One mission-focused source simplifies my shopping and home! If the hand soap and lotion (which I use ten times a day), body care, mineral-based sunscreen, shampoos, baby products for my great nieces and nephews, facial skin care or makeup aren’t Beautycounter - I don’t buy it. Simple. Friends don't let friends use harmful products. You may want to check it out. A high performing and much safer choice is Beautycounter https://bit.ly/2ZeQ9JR
Spring seemed to be a long time coming in the Northeast and now that it’s here I was craving a basic barbecue night and have my husband fire up his Weber grill. Knowing that we don’t want to eat beef for many reasons, and I didn’t want to eat a frozen veggie burger with gluten and preservatives, I made them myself.
Processed food contributes to many health problems due to preservatives, chemical additives, high fructose corn syrup and gluten. People need to eliminate processed food from their lives - plain and simple. There is nothing healthy about meals made IN a plant. Eat your meals made OF whole plants!
So when I wanted to make a good veggie burger I checked out one of my vegan cookbooks geared to MEN. Where else would I look? The Engine 2 Cookbook by Rip and Jane Esselstyn is a cookbook geared towards men and simple cooking. Recipes created to improve the health of the employees at a firehouse where men and women need nutritious energy and tasty food! These “Up and At ‘Em Burgers” were delicious topped by grilled pineapple drizzled with balsamic vinegar, grilled jalapeño, a spoonful of fresh sauerkraut (we like ), slice of tomato and lettuce. Mine was put on a gluten free bun - because I need to be gluten-free (yes, it gets a little messy, but think of it as finger-licking good!). We also had a yummy coleslaw with broccoli, carrot and red cabbage slaw dressed with Engine 2 Mango Lemon Dressing. Perfect ending to a nice spring weekend! #Engine2 #Upandatemburger #mangolemondressing #coachingwholehealth
People reduce stress in different ways. Some go for a run, some meditate or do yoga, others read or knit or maybe pour themself a drink (not the best habit to get in to to reduce stress by the way). Have you ever noticed how a child calms down after swinging? We adults need to listen to our bodies the way babies naturally do and find ways to quiet down our systems.
Yesterday when I got home after a long day at work I went for a walk around my neighborhood and took in what had popped out during our THREE weeks of rain. Nature’s beauty! It wasn't a wet, muddy road - it was brilliant colorful flowers, budding conifers, textures of branches and suspended raindrops that had been left for us by nature! Some people find their phones are a distraction, I find the camera on my phone allows me to be present and notice the tiny details of what surrounds me. It slows me down. I notice colors, textures, the awe of God’s creativity. When I got home 30 minutes later I felt like I had the afternoon off. Find ways that YOUR body responds to, to slow down and reset. Constant elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels are not good for your health. #destress #photography #nature_perfection #coachingwholehealth #floraandfauna #springtime #raindrops
I hear over and over from people “I’m just pre-diabetic”. This is serious folks! If you do not turn around your way of eating and make lifestyle changes you will most likely be diabetic in five years...and diabetes is the leading cause of heart disease and strokes. Alzheimers is now called Type III Diabetes.
Move intentionally every day like walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes. It can be two 15 minute walks. Movement is one of the best preventers.
Try to remove stress or at least decrease it. Stress kicks off your sympathetic nervous system, causing cortisol to raise in your system and cortisol raises your blood sugar. Try practicing deep breathing when you are feeling stressed - four second inhale, six second exhale. Focus on your breath in your nose or your chest and belly inflating and deflating in waves, repeat 6 times. That's one minute of focused breath. Everyone has ONE minute. When you come home from work or school, take five minutes to yourself and simply lay on your back with your legs up the wall for 5 minutes of downtime. If you have young children teach them to join you and you all line up with legs up the wall and your eyes closed. Amazing!
Switch out processed foods (the enemy) for whole food the way nature provides them. Add a fruit (berries are wonderful!) and veggie to every meal. At least 75% of your plate should be plants at every meal. Look at your plate like a pie with four sections. Two should be filled with 1c green veggies (zucchini, broccoli, beans, asparagus, kale, baby greens, cucumber), one section with 1/2c grain or potato, one section with 1/2c. protein or 3-4oz. of your choice like legumes, lentils, lean grass-fed meats, wild fish, 2 eggs - whatever your preference. Then add a 1/2c bowl of fresh fruit.
In order to prevent Type II diabetes increase movement, reduce stress and eat whole food from natures farm-acy. These simple changes can lower your blood sugar and improve your health outcome dramatically. For more science behind the diagnosis.
Educator, coach, Yin Yoga instructor and advocate for healthy, toxin-free living. Organic gardener, whole-food, plant-based cook. Service-minded Rotarian. Photographer. Storyteller.