Category Archives: self-care

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.

 

Listening To What The Body Has To Say

I posted an article on WoH’s facebook page the other day about the difference between listening and hearing. It explored how hearing is a safety mechanism so we can decipher if something is about to fall on us or if a burglar walks in at night. Even in the deepest parts of sleep our body is censoring what it thinks we need to listen to and what we can ignore. Take for instance the end of my long savasana this morning when I realized that there were three enormous trucks digging a whole in the pavement right outside my window. Hmmm. Missed that.

But that isn’t the type of listening I was thinking about this morning when I decided to skip the early morning yoga class I like on Wednesdays and instead stayed home to practice. I was literally two minutes away from leaving when I heard this rather confident, strong voice inside of me call up, don’t go to class stay home. My inner monologue immediately called this voice lazy. To which the voice challenged do a more vigorous practice at home and do the postures you know your body needs.

There was no arguing with that. So as soon as my husband left I rolled out my mat gathered my props and sat down. Immediately the voice started throwing out pose names. It wanted to start in supported supta baddha konasana. It wanted to take a long headstand and shoulderstand. It wanted a significant amount of twisting and all the big hip openers. It turned out to be a glorious practice.  At the end I jumped up to shower and the voice swooped back in and insisted on a long savasana stating that I needed to rest for a full afternoon of patients and an evening workshop. So I did and felt more rested because of it.

I use the word “listen” when I teach my students how to check in with their bodies. Yet, this recent article on the difference between listening and hearing makes me wonder if I’ve been hearing what my body needs and fully ignoring what my body wants.

Be careful before you immediately censor the messages from your body, maybe they are healthier messages than you think they are. Maybe your body is actually desperate for something that would make your day easier and you miss out on that opportunity.

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.

G-Y-N


I don’t even know how to start this post. I just know I need to write it.

50% of the people in this world will bleed monthly for a significant portion of their life. It happens. The good men of the world will support numerous women during their menstrual cycle, whether it is as a partner, friend, co-worker, or family member. The bad men of the world will exacerbate the cycles of the women near them. Really everyone has to deal with periods.

I love to talk about the things people don’t like to talk about, so a women’s cycle has always topped my list of favorite discussion topics. Now that I’m in business smoothing out women’s menstrual cycles and occasionally making it more fertile I’ve got even more to say.

I don’t have a problem with periods or bleeding or the changes that happen right before and right after. I have a problem with women who don’t respect their body. The cycle is one of the best weathervanes of the body. It reveals to us how strong we are, how much blood we have, how much heat we have, how much qi we have.

So to celebrate the fabulous menstrual cycle I’m planning the next six weeks to discuss periods. One Window of Heaven Words post per week will be about bleeding. Here is the line up to get you excited.

Week One: PMS

Week Two: Blood

Week Three: Duration and Frequency

Week Four: Cramps

Week Five: Temperature

Week Six: Female Intuition During the Cycle

Male readers, it is time to step up and be the mindful one in the relationship whether it is as a partner, family member or friend. Sometimes women can’t see the rhythms as they experience them. Read these posts, learn a little something about the mysterious 28 days and be an advocate for the women in your life!

Just think some of you will get to ovulate, bleed and ovulate again while you are learning. Aren’t you excited!

Image credit: nobilior / 123RF Stock Photo

Observation: Practice Lesson #4

As this is the last post in the Practice series I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what makes people stick to a routine. I’ve already talked about how I don’t think that discipline builds a practice or keeps it going, I’ve talked about lighting a spark to keep the fire alive in your practice and I’ve helped brainstorm ideas for the actually composition of a practice. Now what is going to keep you showing up every morning, every Thursday at 6:30 or Sundays at 3, whatever your chosen time slot.

This is what led me to the fundamental question: what do you gain from a practice?

I tried to think of the people in my life who have practices that don’t involve yoga, because I know all the benefits of doing yoga on a regular basis. I wanted to see the benefits of their non-exercise based practices. Two immediately came to mind. First would be my parents’ practice of drinking coffee together every morning in their living room. They don’t down their coffee over breakfast, they instead take about half an hour (sometimes more) and just drink their coffee and chat. They use it as a time to catch up, make plans for the day and to de-stress if the day is going to be hectic. I know it lowers both of their stress levels and I know it is the secret to their marriage. The other practice would be that of my father-in-law’s writing on Saturday mornings. In the midst of raising four boys and maintaining a very full career, he devoted each Saturday morning throughout his life to writing. It helped him keep the mindset of a writer, allowed for alone time in a busy household and energized him for the week.

These are two successful, long-term practices that are very simple, but additions to a busy lifestyle. So why when things get crazy did they keep them? Why is it worth showing up on your mat again and again?

Observation. Think of all the people in our lives we pay to observe us: doctors, therapists, supervisors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc. We want someone else to see the patterns, to notice the thing we’ve missed. And don’t get me wrong—that is a necessary skill set. Every time my acupuncturist treats me she sheds new light on this body of mine that I try to figure out 24 hours a day. We need that outside advice, but we also need to make sure that when we see these caregivers we know what is normal.

Even if normal isn’t healthy, it is worth knowing about. A practice lets you compare every single day to every other day that you do the same thing. Yoga students can attest to that first down dog in a practice when you first check in with the body. Think of the first down dog after vacation or after you’ve been for a long hike. The body is entirely different than the last time. We need to be able to compare.

You owe it to yourself to know what the body is capable of, what it is learning to do and when it has achieved something it didn’t expect. This isn’t just about injury and illness, though aren’t those two reasons enough? This is also about improving and the ability to be proud of yourself. With equal positive awareness it is also about aging and noticing what may be harder than it used to be.

The better we are able to say, hmmm, this is new, when something catches us off guard—the better equipped we are to walk into a doctor’s office and say this is new and I’m worried. Knowledge is power, but it requires regular observation.

When you show up to your next practice, be mindful. Do your day’s work. See what there is to see. Make a list of all the things you want to observe from this perspective. My parents are not just drinking coffee; they are monitoring their marriage, making sure it is healthy every morning. My father-in-law isn’t just writing, he is taking time to be an artist and see how his artist-self is after a week.

What observations are out there for the viewing in your practice?

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.

Composition: Practice Lesson #3

Now we get to the filler. You know what your practice is, you know how much time and energy you can devote to it, you know how to keep the passion alive, now we figure out the specifics.

Making an Outline

Every recipe has a list of ingredients and a set order of steps to best prepare a dish. Yoga doesn’t have to be any different.

  1. Centering
  2. Warm-ups
  3. Standing Postures
  4. Core work and/or backbending
  5. Twists
  6. Inversions and/or cooling postures
  7. Sivasana

That being said if you have five minutes to be on the mat you don’t need to do shoulderstand or sivasana. But you do need to break down all the goals you have for your practice and think about which aspects are most important to you. For instance, my back is my trouble area so my practice usually consists of breath work, core work, hamstring and quad stretches, back bends and twists. For quite a while now I’ve been skimping on standing postures because it isn’t in my practice. You have to know what you are capable of and get the results from the practice that you need.

Ideas

Some of you already have tons of materials. You know you love pigeon pose and hate wide forward folds but know you need to do them. You know how many sun salutations is a work out and how much is being lazy. Others of you don’t know postures or sequencing because you are new to yoga altogether or you’ve become so well trained at listening that you don’t really know how to do the postures alone. So here is a list of resources.

Pose Ideas

Dos and Don’ts

If you are getting bored with the same old

If you need a pranayama app

My list of great yoga books

Start thinking about the elements you want to be part of your practice and literally start practicing. See how long it takes to do a short centering, followed by 3 sun salutations, a couple hip openers and a 10 minute sivasana. Then switch it up the next day. Start practicing your practice to make it work for you.

Things to consider

  1. Your favorite pose: why do you love it?
  2. Your nemesis pose: why do you hate it?
  3. What physical ailments or health issues should be addressed with your practice? (ie low back pain, knee issues, depression, headaches, anxiety, etc.)
  4. Should your personal practice be supplemented by group classes once a week for inspiration and to check on proper alignment? Or is your practice going to three classes a week?
  5. Where in your home are you going to practice? Do you need anything in order to practice?

This week I encourage you to start the physical part of your practice. If it is a mental or emotional practice make sure you define clear parts and goals and aspects of your practice to help you stay to task. Best of luck to you! Happy practicing.

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.

Sick Day(s)

One of my husband’s greatest strengths is how well he gets sick. When he gets sick his body goes to war.  I can almost hear his immune system rising up and fighting from within him. He gets high fevers easily and sweats profusely like the body is not just pushing, but propelling out the germs. He stays home from school and doesn’t leave the bed, sleeping in four to six hour stretches during the day. He lets his mind shut down and his body takes over. It is a sight to be seen.

I, on the other hand, am not very good at being sick. For the last two days I have been home sick contemplating the immune system and how to rest deeply to make the body heal faster. After two days of being in the house and watching an absurd amount of television I have nothing to report, no brilliant lessons learned. Rest is hard.

Last Friday I taught an entire yoga class on the concept of yield. We did some partner work sitting back to back with another yoga student in the class and practicing yielding against each other. Yield by definition is relational. It is not a giving over completely, but a resting against to feel what comes back to meet you. In order to yield to a partner’s back you have to be able to support their yield and give equal yield back. The meeting halfway creates a safe place to rest. That is yield. It is fundamental piece of embodyoga,TM the style yoga that I practice and teach. If we first find the earth and can yield to it, we can begin to push away and find the support of the earth in more challenging postures.

Canceling class and staying in bed all day is not necessarily yielding. The last two days have included more grumbling and fighting of the cold and not much yielding.

So what would yielding look like? What would it feel like? Yielding would be canceling my afternoon appointments right now instead of waiting a few more hours to fail again. I’m not going to be strong enough to treat patients in a few hours. I know that now.  Yielding would be using a gentle soothing voice in my head when I talk to myself and say it is okay to be sick. This morning on this third morning of sinus pain and body aches I need to hear that I’m going to continue to take very good care of myself and will continue to as long as it takes. If I have to be out sick all week, that is okay. My students and patients will understand.

I love how difficult it is to tell if pictures of the sun low in the sky are sunset or sunrise pictures. This is a sunset picture. I’m using it to tell my body that today I am still sick. We took this picture through a dusty, scratched old window and I love the graininess of the view. That is how I feel with my sinuses fully clogged and this lightheadedness that threatens to tip me over every time I stand up. I am not emerging from this illness today. If I take very good care of myself I may or may not feel better tomorrow. I’m not going to be attached to any outcome. Today the sun is setting, the sickness is still in deep. I can be okay with that.

To the rest of you home sick—may you recover quickly and peacefully and remember for the body to falter it must be warring against something very powerful. Have faith in the strength of the body to overcome, it will.