Category Archives: life choices

5 Travel Tips For Wellness

Every year we leave our homes numerous times to visit family and friends and we check our health at the departure gate, not just our bags. This Thanksgiving bring your health and your eating regime with you so that you return from the holiday actually feeling rested.

1. Keep Drinking

Just because you are not in your office cubicle with your special office water bottle does not mean that you need to stop drinking all together.  Think of every long conversation or road trip as an opportunity to keep a glass of water or a water bottle near by. You don’t need to drink coffee or tea whenever you sit down, replace your extra holiday beverages with water and fight the bloated, fatigued, headachy feeling that comes from dehydration.

2. Stay Regular

The best test for wellness while traveling is definitely the bowels. They are an incredibly sensitive system in the body. If you have a tendency towards constipation drink one or two glass of warm or room temperature water immediately upon waking and then follow it with a hot beverage like herbal tea or hot water with a little lemon juice and honey. Hydrating first thing in the morning will replenish the inevitable dehydration that comes from sleeping and keep bowels moving. Avocados, prunes, beets, sweet potatoes, and walnuts are much safer and tastier than traveling with a laxative.  If you know you have a tendency towards loose stools avoid overly spicy foods, greasy foods and cold raw foods.  Those are too much for a travel weary stomach.

3. Sip and Savor

If you set your self up to avoid all the tasty treats of the season you will fail, be miserable or do both. Instead think about high quality ingredients. Instead of sitting yourself in front of a bowl of cheap candy, bring expensive organic chocolate with caramel and sea salt to share. It will make you slow down and savor it and everyone will love you. Look for the desserts that you know will taste best and if it doesn’t taste as good as you thought it would don’t finish it to be polite. If anyone says anything remind people you are on a diet and look for tastier calories elsewhere. In terms of alcohol, stay away from the cheap stuff. The taste won’t satisfy you and you’ll end up drinking too much. Also be careful of drinking alcohol because you are thirsty. Be well hydrated before drinking time begins and then you will be able to control your desire for taste, not hydration. Limit beverages to one or two in a long night and that way you will enjoy every allotted sip.

4. Be Gentle on the Road

Let’s face it on Wednesday most of us will hit the road to visit those we call most dear. Everyone will be worrying about all the work they didn’t finish at the office and stressing about their unreasonable holiday diet. We are all in the same boat. So when someone cuts you off on the New Jersey Turnpike instead of throwing out some age old phrase or mannerism you could remind yourself that the other driver is very excited about going to their home away from home. You both are full of love for your loved ones and even though you were scared for a moment you are both safe. The best place to practice mindfulness is on the road. Try to think loving thoughts of all the other drivers when you get gridlocked on the Mass Pike this year and then find something good on the radio.

5. Remember to Rest

We all set excellent expectations of long cat naps and late sleepy mornings on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, but by the time Thursday rolls around we are up at 5am to baste the turkey and up until 3am Friday morning reminiscing. Even though you are around the ones you love stay mindful of sleep cues. If you get overtired and grouchy you might start a fight you regret or end up convincing yourself you can’t stand your family. If you are going to stay up late, make sure it isn’t drastically different than your usual schedule and plan to nap the next day because the body likes to rise at the usual hour regardless of bedtime.

 

Taking Care of Yourself

Sunday morning I woke up with a sore throat. I had the little headache, the little cough, and the sneezes. My body was coming down with something. So I skipped biking to yoga class, which sounded like too much for my sinuses and my chills. I drank throat soothers tea with tons of honey and I sat on the couch all day.  I thought I was taking care of myself.

What was actually happening was what looked like taking care of myself. I did the things that came to mind if I was just going to skim the top of the list. I didn’t bother really questioning my body for what it needed. I did what I wanted to do. No, let me rephrase that. I did what I thought I deserved.

Yes, folks, here it is. So much of taking care of ourselves is the allotted amount, not the necessary amount. It is like buying organic. I’ll buy organic food as often as I can, but every once in a while I end up with something a tiny bit horrible in my cart because the organic costs $2 more, not just $1 more. Why am I drawing lines in some places and not others?

Right now I’m getting lots of bodywork for back pain, I get weekly or biweekly acupuncture and I’m on a slew of expensive vitamins to recover from grad school. Most people would say that is really taking care of myself. Today, with this fourth day of a sore throat, I’m less certain.

All of that would be enough if I hadn’t put myself through the ringer for the last three years. Truth has it grad school + commuting + planning a wedding = longer than two months of recovery.

Today this really dirty word came into my mind. Pampering. I was in the shower exfoliating months of dead skin off my body and hardened feet and feeling fabulous. That is when it happened, the thought slipped through my mind—you just needed a little pampering today.

It almost ruined my whole shower. For three years I occasionally showered, I occasionally washed my hair and the closest thing to pampering was cutting my fingernails, which is technically an obligation for someone who pushes on people’s abdomens for a living.  I did not pamper myself and I certainly didn’t allow my mind to dream up ways that would make my body feel less chaotic, more appreciated.

That’s what I’m getting at today. Appreciation. This word feels less dirty and a little more aggressive.

Are you appreciating yourself?  Really it is a challenge.

Think of the way we take care of plants. We water them when they start to droop. Think of the way we take care of our cars, we wait until a light comes on. What if we didn’t take care of our bodies, we instead appreciated our bodies every day.

What if we asked our bodies every morning what they wanted from the day and listened? How would that change our little worlds?

When asked, my sore throat wants to neti, it wants to rinse with salt water, it wants to stay better hydrated and eat salty foods. It wants a nap sometime this afternoon and a little fresh mint in my water. I haven’t tried any of those things all week because I didn’t ask. Now I’ve got a treatment plan.

Balance: Juggling Business, Life, and Sanity

Everyone knows the perks of owning your own business, but the downsides are less obvious. I love Window of Heaven Acupuncture & Yoga. It is the most exciting and wonderful job I could possibly imagine, but I think I need to remember it is a job from time to time.

When I am passionate about something my work ethic goes slightly haywire. The month of October has been a crash course in how much my mind can sustain.

Grad school is nothing compared to the hours I’ve been putting in behind my computer writing blog posts, planning marketing schemes, seeing patients, scheduling appointments and keeping up correspondence with long lost friends who have swept back into my life through the start of this business. Whew. It’s been great and it’s been full.

It isn’t sustainable, even if it is tons of fun. Bosses don’t require employees to show up for work before they shower or brush their teeth. I should be drawing the boundaries within the business in a more precise fashion.

I decided to make and publish new employment rules for Window of Heaven employees. Right now they only pertain to me, but I will respect them more if I contemplate having future employees.

  1. No work before 8am or after 9pm (small steps)
  2. Show up clean, fed and dressed to the office every morning
  3. Weekend work is capped at 5 hours per weekend
  4. Employees are required to attend one yoga class per week in addition to personal practice for inspiration purposes
  5. Lunch is to be eaten before 12:00pm every day
  6. Employees must drink 6+ glasses of water every day during work
  7. Vacations and days off are fully unplugged (no email, no facebook, no phone)

I am the owner of Window of Heaven Acupuncture & Yoga, but I’m also a yogini, teacher, fiction writer, poet, avid reader, wife, sister, daughter, friend, dancer, bread baker, church member, walker, biker, movie watcher, gardener, cleaner, organizer and napper.

Running a heart-centered business requires that I am in balance in my life. Balance, like chaos, is contagious. Which would I prefer my patients catch? The answer is obvious.

This post will go live, I hope at least, on Friday morning at 9am.  When it goes live I plan to be sitting having my hair done in a fancy salon in preparation for my sister’s wedding. Most of this week I won’t be working or thinking about work. I’ll be playing the role of sister (and Matron of Honor) full time. See you again Monday the 29th.

Sensuality: Why It Isn’t Sex and Why We Desperately Need More Of It

In our society, even this word is loaded. This is one of the many fights of my life. I am a sensual person. If anyone has ever seen me sick or with an injury they know that I have a very low pain threshold. I experience all the sensations of the body in a rather heightened way. I’m talking about sensing. Noticing with the senses. Sensuality would be the enjoyment of this noticing. Sensuality is not by nature sexual. Sexuality isn’t always in practice sensual—though it should be, everything should be.

Society’s inability to separate sensuality from sexuality is where a lot of our problems begin. If people were comfortable finding pleasure with the senses (smell, taste, touch, sound, sight) they might not find the same drive towards an excessive sexual appetite or a food-based appetite.

I try to do a lot of partner work in my classes to encourage people to touch each other in a sensual, non-sexual way. Intimacy of touch is very reassuring to the nervous system and very satisfying for our need to connect with others, but it also is a skill set that some people don’t have. Whether it is touching the low back to feel your partner breathe into their kidneys in child pose or sitting back to back to experience the movements of the ribcage, it is obvious that these are not loaded postures. These are safe, easy postures that are very calming.

One of the ways I teach people how to stretch or strengthen is to encourage them to follow sensation. When my students actually follow sensation the atmosphere in the room changes and everyone’s postures are softer, easier and so much more beautiful. I know they’ve felt it because they walk out of class smiling.

I think it is important to have a list of favorite sensual experiences that can be turned to when you are feeling down or even stressed. So today I’m going to share my current favorite sensual experiences.

Recent Feasts for My Senses

  • Bright green ground cover on all the farms in Western Mass
  • Crunching of dry maple leaves on my walk to the office
  • My fully recovered sitz bones that now don’t mind my bike seat
  • New squishy handlebar covers that I can feel even through my mittens
  • Wearing a scarf all the time again
  • Pesto we made last week with all the basil before the frost hit Friday night
  • How much faster and brighter a child’s pulse is than an adult pulse
  • Twig tea with milk in the mornings
  • Mt. Tom almost fully yellow
  • Sleeping beneath my down comforter

If you need more inspiration check out this amazing article on why five senses is just not the whole truth.

Please share your recent favorite sensual experiences. It encourages people to go out and try them so the enjoyment spreads!

Discipline: Practice Lesson #1

Merriam Webster defines “discipline” in the following variety of ways: punishment, instruction, a field of study, training that corrects moral character, control gained by enforcing obedience or order, orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior, self-control. All that exhausts me.

Let’s talk about the difference between practice and discipline. Maybe there isn’t one in current rhetoric. Maybe the line is fuzzy, but I want them to be separate.

The aerobic instructors at the Y where I teach think it is incredibly funny that the yoga students are notoriously rude to them if the aerobic instructors run a minute or two over. I know it is true because I watch my own devoted students become fireballs of fury if a class before us is not orderly about exiting the studio.

So here is the truth. The more developed the yoga practice the more one knows how desperately the yoga is needed.  Beginner students may be grumpy and irritable people, but they don’t correlate their new exercise program to their emotions or stability. Intermediate students are usually diehards—they are the newest addicts, they see the difference and need their fix more often than any other group. Advanced students are so busy trying to incorporate their yoga into their driving patterns, their relationships and their workplace that they sometimes forget to show up on the mat. And teachers-yeah well, we are the craziest out there and we need to be surrounded by it at all times in order to stand a chance in this world. But all of that is practice, not discipline.

Practice is about development, change, evolution, betterment, discovery, enjoyment, fulfillment, struggle, challenge, fight, strength, devotion, the unknown and the known.

Discipline is about routine.  Do we learn much from routine, other than that it keeps us organized and sane? Not much. In order to learn from our routine, we have to make it a practice. We need to stay deliberate and mindful. To better explain I will share a current list of my personal practices and disciplines.

Practices

  • Recovering from Grad School
  • Resting
  • Morning Journaling
  • Lunch as a meditation not a multitasking session
  • Teaching yoga mindfully and safely
  • Starting a heart-centered business
  • Writing a wellness blog
  • Loving my husband
  • Staying in touch with friends and family

Disciplines

  • Drinking enough water
  • Showering more often
  • Eating at the table
  • Brushing my teeth 2x/day
  • Taking vitamins
  • Keeping a clean kitchen
  • 8-9 hours of sleep each night

 If we think of time on the mat as a discipline it becomes not just part of the routine, but part of the mindlessness of our day. There is enough mindlessness in our days. I want you to show up on your mat, or to any practice you have because you can’t wait to get there and do it again. It offers something so challenging you want another day of fight, or something so bewildering you want to figure it out, or something so delicious you can’t wait to slip back into it.

This week I invite you to make a list of all your practices and disciplines. Then start to think about how much time you could commit to a new daily practice to improve the overall quality of your health. Could you do five minutes a day and maybe 20 on Sundays? Could you do two hours on Sundays and 30 minutes on Friday night? Think it over, be creative and be very, very reasonable. Don’t forget about other time commitments. Don’t forget about fun time and times you are tired and without ambition. Make a list of times and write those down as well.

Important note: You don’t have to know what you are going to do with that time yet. Just think about how much time and energy you have available. Take one week to start to be more conscious of the current practices and disciplines in your life and how you maintain them. Pay close attention to the primary practice in your life and notice all the subtle practices within it that help keep it strong. They are helpful to remember and appreciate as well.

The Practice

One of the reasons I love my Friday morning class is that my students let me talk about “The Practice” off the mat. I dabble with little bits in my other classes, but I get the sense that the Friday regulars are hungry for it. Maybe it is just the Friday time slot because they come in wearied from the week, or maybe the students are just in the routine of thinking beyond asana, or posture.

Last night I read Heather Church’s recent post Eleven Steps to a Happy Life; My Joy Practice. I like that she takes her yoga and her practice to so many different places. She titles it her Joy Practice, but what she conveys is her full practice, the life practice. Which is very suggestive of how she wants to live her life—with a focus on joy. What I want to talk about today is the current practice, perhaps even a finite practice.

You may think that my practice right now is starting a wildly successful heart-centered acupuncture and yoga business. Let me assure you it is not. My practice right now is recovering from grad school. Starting a business that feeds me spiritually, physically, and intellectually is a key component to that practice, but only one part. Recovery in the short term and sustained health is a necessary practice if I want to help people heal for a living.

For the month of October I’ve decided to really contemplate the word “practice” and make a list of what I want my health practice to include and what I want my health to look like. In doing this I’ve decided to invite you along and offer four weeks worth of practice-oriented guidance and conversation.

To begin this process I want to start by discussing the idea of this moment’s practice. This moment in your life that is, not just in your day. What is your focal point? What is most important to you? Maybe it is the biggest struggle. Maybe it is your greatest joy. It may not even be that obvious to you until you stop and think about it.

Start with the number one thing. It may be one thing that is culminating in a month or three months like planning a wedding or having a baby. Or it might be something with no end in sight like raising a teenager or loving a partner. Whatever it is I invite you to name it this weekend. Own it. Maybe even write it down on a piece of paper and put it someplace special where you can see. Be proud of your current practice. Give it the weight it deserves.

Please comment on facebook or on my website and share your practice. If you are one of my students catch me after class and tell me your practice if you like. Tell other people in your life. It is your life’s work at the moment.

Gateways

Yesterday was my first official day in my amazing space downtown. As I busied myself before my first appointment I remembered a thousand and one things that were crucial and needed immediate doing. This is how it always happens. That is, how I lose track of time and end up late. It was only while speedwalking downtown that I realized I had not left time to buy tape to put up my new door signs that my husband just finished designing. Rather than be more stressed and more late, I thought I would just put the sign up after my last appointment. Big mistake.

None of my clients could find the space. Even though they all immediately went to the right door number they were terrified to knock on the door because my name wasn’t there. I ended up in the hallway ushering flustered and stressed clients into my office. That wasn’t how I had imagined it. I want the step into the waiting room to be the first step towards recovery, not the first step towards raising one’s blood pressure.

Then I returned home and checked messages to find that no one had left a message all day long. I was crushed, not a single person had called. Then I realized I hadn’t put my new business announcement on my voicemail message. That is when it hit. Gateways. All the doorways, all the avenues, all the entrances to my new business were blocked. What a way to send the signal out to the universe that I am still a hurried and frantic rush of preparations.

So here it is. The signs are on the door. The message has been changed. Preparations will never be fully done, but I am ready to start. I declare to all the universe that I am now ready and willing to treat people. Let the phone calls and emails and inquiries begin.

All of this makes me think about a friend who after years of feeling stuck in a challenging job decided to clear away the overgrown bushes from the front yard of her house and almost immediately she got a new job and changed her life.

Gateways are important. Think about the quality of the immune system as we head into flu season. Think about the importance of boundaries in professional and personal relationships. Gateways make or break us. For three years I’ve been telling people I’m tired. And while it was true, it was a way of closing doors. In the last year of grad school I didn’t sub for the other yoga teachers at the Y and my class attendance dropped a little. Not much, but definitely a little. You might think they are not related, but I do. I was saying no to everything. Every gateway in my life was closed to get me through to the end of school.

Things are different now. After six weeks of sleeping in my own bed I am feeling quite recharged. I’m living in the moment in between a forward fold and backbend where you resettle the spine, soften the body and then anchor down through the tail to flow open. I’m right there, right now. The number of doors and windows necessary to open this business, and to really return to my community, feels immense. But I’m up for the challenge.

My History of Beginnings

Starting this new business is a definite beginning, but unexpectedly it is also a spiraling back to the numerous places in my life that helped bring me to this point. This whirling of names and faces from the past coming out to show support reaffirms I am on the right course and that somehow all along they saw this coming.

I started practicing yoga in my bedroom when I was a freshman in high school. Every night after my parents went to sleep I would pull out my copy of The Sivananda Companion to Yoga. This creased and flattened book introduced me to pranayama, meditation, postures and a healthy diet. When I started practicing I didn’t know anyone else who did yoga. Literally no one. My mother and aunt had taken one class together in the 70s, but that was it. This was before google and certainly before the idea of finding a yoga studio in the yellow pages was feasible.

I was alone in this new exciting world. Everyone in my life knew the word “yoga” the way they knew the word “tofu” but had never tried either. I still remember the first time I saw a “Namaste” bumper sticker. My father and I were in Santa Fe and we took a picture of it we were so excited.

In college the yoga morphed into dance and from there into the desire for anatomy training. When I graduated from college I just decided to pick a town, move there and figure life out. Because the universe provides in its mysterious ways I stumbled into my first job and found my first two mentors. These two amazing co-workers taught me everything I know about employment, job searches and how to build a career.

I was your typical post-private school elitist who thought I could just roll out a resume and everyone would come knocking at my door. But you don’t make or even start a career by looking through the want ads. My two brilliant co-workers taught me the first step to getting a job is knowing what it is you want and what it is you have to offer. Then they taught me not to compartmentalize my life. Instead of thinking of writing as my only career option and having a mile long list of interests and passions, I could design a career path. I could imagine a career that incorporated writing, yoga, health, nutrition, business, organizing things, planning, birthwork, sexualities, researching, helping others and dance all at the same time. In fact if I could figure out an angle and had the guts to try, I could actually make a living from the delightful mix of all of my interests.

Now years later, though not many, I’ve got my angle. For five years the IRS has received taxes from the occupation: yoga teacher. This year I could add the occupations: acupuncturist, herbalist, doula, writer and business owner to the list, but I won’t in order to avoid confusing them.

My point is your path is there for the finding. You must first know deeply what it is you want. You have to find that which causes the utmost passion. That which makes you desperate to know more. Then you brainstorm and push and pull. You ask questions, you get hung up and you get confused. Yet all the while you have to trust that your desires are worth exploring. Let me say that again, your desires are worth exploring.

As my insightful father-in-law said to me the other day “You’re going to have a rich time building this practice, whether you get rich or not.” This has already proven itself tenfold. The opening of this business has reminded me of the richness of my community. Thank you to my marvelous network of loved ones, friends, mentors, inspirations, students, teachers, clients and patients. This beginning is the most spectacular homecoming of my life.

Life Changes

We all go through them. They spring up just at the moment we thought we were getting comfortable. And then boom, life goes haywire. I’m in a life change right now. Starting my own business, or a different aspect of the business and simply finishing school is a major life change. Like all things that I do, this change is rather scattered, chaotic and ungraceful. Things will eventually smooth out. I know this and I’m doing my best to open my self to the universe and just trust.

One of the key components to my yoga teaching is the lesson of allowance. I teach it because it baffles me. The more I teach it, the more I can almost see it and the more I know I need it in my life. The way I teach it to beginners is simply by asking them to witness their breath. Everyone can do that. Everyone can watch his or herself breathe (insert feel if the word watch scares you too much). But the practice, as every advanced yoga practitioner knows, is to watch the breath and not change it. Just witness it with all of its gloriously perfect imperfection and let it stay as it is. Some people don’t breath, they gasp every now and then. Others pant little shallow breaths. Other people are shallow breathers who every once in a while give a huge sigh to release the breathing diaphragm.  Whatever our pattern is, we obviously do it all day long—making it a rather sustainable practice. We are not going to keel over momentarily for breathing so poorly, but as soon as we witness the breath we want it to change. We want it to be better.

Right now I am witnessing the life change. I am seeing that I have successfully graduated from school and I am honoring that in all its significance. But I also want to hit the ground running with my new business. So I am alternating between periods of deep rest and insane activity. Which looks more like not sleeping at night and needing to take long naps to catch up. Not very effective.

So here is my goal for myself and the one I challenge you to on this rainy day when the seasons are adjusting slightly, but steadily. What is the change coming? Name it. Spell it out. Right it down. Read it to yourself. Then sit for as long as you can—60 seconds, 5 minutes, whatever you can spare and just watch your body respond. Allow your body to just be present with it. Racing heart, rapid breathing, extreme fatigue, sheer panic, excitement, smiling, release of the jaw, tension in the neck. There is no negative, there is no positive. There is just response. Stay present, stay interested and then get up and go face the change head on.

Conversation Officially Started

After three years of Acupuncture school and roughly 90,000 miles of driving the Mass Pike to class and home again I am in recovery, both intellectually and physically.  While I am, of course, grappling with the threat of pending student loans and the usual concerns about starting a new part of my business, I am struggling with something new I didn’t expect—a loss of community to discuss the zillion things I am forever contemplating. In the last three years I’ve started making brief manifestos of discoveries I had made about the body at the beginning of each of my yoga classes. And while I will no doubt still be doing that, I want a place to go into greater detail and allow for links to further information for those that are interested in the topic.

Instead of branching out into this next phase alone, I’m reaching out for you. I already know who I am. I am Courtney Hill Wulsin, Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist, Yoga Teacher, Writer, Doula, Dancer, Reiki Master. I specialize in teaching people how to find comfort in their body and enjoy the sensuality of movement and awareness. It is you that interests me as I start this communication with the greater world.

You must be a reader who finds interest in the body and mind. You would have to be a wandering sort, like myself, who seeks answers in unusual places and never trusts anything that doesn’t resonate inside the body, as well as inside the mind. You would be interested in medicine as a means to prevent disease, not cure it. You would define wellness not as an absence of symptoms, but as a strength and sturdiness of body that brings you joy and comfort. You would be interested in learning about all the systems of the body and how to use metaphor to understand those systems. You would have to be an art lover and see the body as the world’s most beautiful work of art. If those things do describe you than perhaps you would care about my ramblings, even if you don’t attend my classes or seek out my services as an acupuncturist.

I am starting to write today as a declaration. I want to integrate. For three years I’ve been integrating with select, classmates, students and clients, but now I’m throwing the doors open and asking for others to join me on this path. Come integrate with me, suggest books, correct me, ask questions, get confused, get excited. Whatever it is. This is Window of Heaven Acupuncture and Yoga and I am Courtney Hill Wulsin and as of today, we are open for business. Conversation officially started.