get naked in 2014!

I’ve never been one for making resolutions. I just do it, or don’t do it. But we were sitting around the table last night discussing our resolve and my kids came up with some good ones: eat more, talk like a robot, exercise on the balance ball. OK…. I need one too! And I have decided that I resolve to be naked more. Yep. I’m 35 and somehow revelling in the joy of nudity has slipped out of my life.

Self-consciousness has crept in over the years and with it a defensive posture, a discomfort with myself, walls and masks and the dreaded self-loathing.

And I know I am not the only one. I see my ability to delight in another’s body, the way I love every inch of my long-term lover, the way I snuggle babies and look with no judgement on my family and friends–I accept them, I admire them, I overlook their flaws. Cause who cares,right? Love turns a soft light on the faces of our beloveds. I resolve to turn that light of adoration on my own body.

There is a power in revealing ourselves as we are, in an honest look at our armpits and asscracks that cannot be reached with clothes on. This does indeed become a metaphor for all of our masking, all of our walls, all of our repressions and delusions. Because I want to get physically naked but emotionally naked too. Our body is not all that we are. But it cannot be ignored forever, we cannot think our way out of this. We have to feel it.

To be comfortable in one’s own skin is a gift we can give to ourselves-and an example we can set for others too. To stand nude in a non-defensive posture, proudly, sensually, fully inhabiting my body and banishing worry about wrinkles and errant hairs and “rough elbows” whatever the hell that means…loving my muscles and letting go of my ideals of perfection..that is my resolution and my gift to myself.

I shall be welcoming this year naked in every sense of the word, open to all that is ahead.

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Is it hot out here or is it just me?

So, it’s winter. I am going on and on writing about how y’all should get your asses outside- but I am not really saying HOW. How does one stay warm in 8 degree weather anyway? Because extreme cold, like extreme heat, is indeed potentially dangerous. Frostbite and hypothermia do exist, so take along a map or something! But I digress.

The fact is, I take a walk in the woods, sometimes a run, sometimes a slog, every day. In all weather, even if I don’t feel my best or don’t really feel like heading out. It is my mental health plan and supports my physical health too. This regularity  is partly thanks to my very motivating super-high-energy!!TM spotty dog and partly due to a slight addiction to endorphins. My hike is very steep and hilly, going from about 1,000 feet above sea level up to about  2,000 and then back down. Here are my tips:

1. Eat fat. You are not as likely to be a heat-generating furnace on a piece of toast as you are on a nice lardy fried egg.I eat nuts and nut butters, real butter, olive oil, avocados, cream, handmade lard, eggs, and so forth. Good healthy fats, not like cottonseed oil and margarine. And I don’t worry so much about the alleged “last 10 pounds”–I am cheerful about my strong, sturdy medium-sized body when I head out into a blizzard.

2. Apply oils. The best way to be oily is to stop obsessively removing your body’s oils. I am not saying “never shower” but when it is quite cold I do more rinsing than scrubbing of my arms and legs. I apply intense lip balm and I’ll slather my face and body with the natural oil of my choice before going out.

3. Feet/head/core. That means always be sure those are well cared for, the rest won’t matter as much if they are not. I always wear a scarf and at least bring along a hat. I am way into wool socks and I wear tall wool slippers as my footwear in the snow. Sounds weird, but I swear by wool and good barefoot boots are hard to find. I prefer Merino wool, if possible. (It is thin and tends not to itch.)

4. Layers.As I said, I am into wool and silk too. Yeah, I know that stuff is expensive–go nuts at the thrift store or purchase fabric and make your own. Don’t suffer in wet cotton when wool retains it’s warmth even when somewhat wet! Long johns or tights, knee socks, undershirts and even bras and underpants now all come in wool and silk. Layers are helpful because I will sometimes get quite hot and take them off.Image

5. Circulation. Keep your blood moving, and do the work to keep your body’s blood flowing well. I like to do some stretches and trigger point exercises to keep stuff open and remove blockages to good circulation.

6. Keep it reasonable inside. I set my house temp in the mid-50s because I find that going from a very hot space to a very cold one is jarring. Oh yeah and I am cheap.I am not some freak against all climate control but  It seems that we as a culture create these f-ed up super hot spaces in the winter where we work or live in a t-shirt! (I am pro-sweater.) Or in the summer we’ll wear a sweatshirt in air-conditioned spaces… this does affect us. The adaptability and resilience that helps us enjoy the outdoors is something we need to actively cultivate, to work at and practice in this culture! 

7. Attitude. No, I do not believe you can just repress feelings of coldness and be warm but I do think what we choose to focus on and value is ONE of the pieces that shape our world. Take a moment to appreciate your surroundings, the gift of movement, and the fact that winter or any current weather is a natural part of life.It is a force of nature, not an inconvenience. The  media doesn’t help, as they constantly claim weather is “dumping on us, pounding us, hammering us, barrelling up the coast, melting us, destroying all that is good and holy in the world and punching out kittens and angels.” (actual quote?) Have you ever seen kids spend hours outside sledding even though it is noticeably cold? It is because they are living in the moment and the joy and have yet to learn to hate weather. We humans have great abilities to adapt and to enjoy life, much of which is culturally unsupported amidst endless learned  whining and bitching about weather, seasons, wetness, cold, heat, bugs, scary stuff, poop and the perceived evils of getting up off the couch. The desire to go out is a huge part of the success. You have every right to say “I do not want to go for a walk”….just be honest about why.

8. Movement. You may feel cold standing outside in 18 degree weather. So stop standing around! Move that body while you still can. (obviously I apologize if you can’t move your body, I understand and this doesn’t apply to you.) 

9. Stay dry. Though I don’t at all mind getting wet outside my few bad winter experiences have involved wet feet. I like to block water and wind. I’ll even bring an extra pair of socks on a long hike just in case.

10. Thermos. If I am going out for more than an hour I like to bring a warm beverage. Hot chicory chocolate with a splash of cinnamon? Vanilla Rooibos chai? A little linden infusion, perhaps? Whatever you like, but it is fun and I like to hydrate, even when it is cold.

Although I am enthusiastic about going outdoors in all weather I do indeed have moments of doubt. I do not always want to go and I sometimes struggle to get motivated. But so far I have NEVER regretted a single hike,  not in any weather. It seems that. somehow, once I am out there and moving, the whole world conspires to move me forward, to support my personal quest for endorphins and health, everything seems just a little sharper and I warm up and get into the zone and my dog is just sooo thrilled and she’s a freaking inspiration and there are birds and it is all just too much. It feels to me like it is worth the effort, and I wish this joy upon all who seek it.

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Use your Power well.

I have been surprised lately at the degree of hateful comments aimed towards pregnant women exercising, specifically but not exclusively towards women doing Crossfit. Commenters seem to be very concerned that the fetus could be harmed. But imagine a world where those who sit at home commenting on every damn thing on the internet actually turned their outrage into action? Because death while Mom exercises is sure as hell not in the list of top 15 fetal deaths as reported by the CDC! 

What are some real  dangers to the fetus? Air pollution, heavy metals contamination, radiation. Poverty, domestic violence, maternal diabetes. It seems a whole lot easier to blame Mom for society’s ills rather than take on systematic failures to support families, protect our environment and create a just world. 

It is also interesting that people now see exercise as a choice Moms are making, putting themselves first. Historically exercise has just been life. Most people, pregnant or not, would have to chop wood and haul water, forage or hunt, carry heavy stuff and walk around. We now view exercise as a special activity that we go somewhere to perform which many people can opt out of thanks to “modern conveniences”. Additionally, pregnancy is not a disease it is a normal physiological state. Our bodies are designed to carry a fetus and there are built-in protectors. Yes, in certain rare cases a woman should rest. Sure, it may not be the best time to try something absolutely brand new. But you can swing a freakin kettlebell.

It is classist to forget that throughout this country and the world many women continue to work their asses off during pregnancy. It is sexist to see Moms as martyrs who should give up their own physical and mental health and community support to grow a baby.

Ultimately, exercise is a basic human need and right with major benefits to pretty much everyone including most pregnant women and their fetuses– from helping to manage depression and anxiety to supporting  cardiovascular health to building balance and core strength. A basic cost/benefit analysis shows that it can keep some women off meds by helping them to manage health issues, and  excess medications can actually endanger us–though in some cases they are clearly needed.

So if you are truly concerned about the health of other people’s fetuses please do something!! Get off your ass and help our environment. Promote a living wage, health care access or improved education for ALL. Help end all violence against women and children. Support clean air and water, safe shelter and healthy food. Be a mentor, a teacher, a leader, a volunteer. You have a lot more power  to do good, stop wasting it. Image

Unpacking herbalism

“It doesn’t matter how long you have forgotten, only how soon you remember”-the Buddha

 

The way we approach our own health and wellness always comes from somewhere. Whether it is our family, friends, job, our culture, the media, the health care industry, the “alternative” health care industry or a direct phone line to Zeus our attitudes and beliefs about our bodies do not and cannot exist in isolation from this input. There is a practice amongst people who like to talk about their feelings called unpacking. Groups unpack their beliefs like an imaginary backpack, examining them in a greater context and deciding what to let go, what to hang onto and what it all means. I propose that the herbal community unpack, as a community and as individuals, our ideas and decide anew what we believe in–and continue to do so forever, or  until pigs fly.

We humans are often trying to view ourselves in isolation and treat ourselves/others in isolation from our communities, our cultures, our personal baggage, our environment and our patterns. While in acute situations this is not a huge problem, as your trauma or your alignment or your emotional baggage doesn’t really matter as much when you just need a wound cleaned out or some mucus thinned, it is a HUGE yes huge aspect of  chronic conditions.

I believe that making symptomatic fixes in chronic health and wellness situations without viewing the context, causes and feelings involved is not really alternative health care at all. It is merely the substitution of  Mullein for NyQuil, the substitution of Valerian for Ambien, never facing your inner life.

“We don’t ever isolate. You’re a system of systems.”-Kelly Starrett

I propose that we, as herbalists and other health practitioners, say “Look, I can give you something to get you through this, to help shift your energy and/or support this body system or transformation. But in order to achieve long-lasting wellness you need to examine your patterns. You need to unpack your health.” We can choose to reach across modalities to form alliances with other types of practitioners and educators, “alternative” or not,  including open-minded MDs and PTs, nurses and therapists. We can work together using mutual aid concepts in many cases rather than see false separations.

Why is this important? Because, my friends, what actually heals? It is not herbalists that heal. It is not the plants that heal. Plants support our healing, but they generally cannot force it upon us…nor do they want to. That’s a human trait. Plants help us by removing blockages to healing, supporting processes like circulation, elimination, lymphatic movement, relaxation. Plants help us find the space for healing to happen…and it is the body that heals itself. Tension constricts and blocks both energy and actual fluids and substances which bring healing to our body parts. The removal of tension allows healing juice to circulate freely.

Herbalists and health practitioners ideally help this happen by observing and teaching folks about patterns, matchmaking between person and plant medicine, helping people find their plant allies, listening, offering gentle nudges about nutrition or movement and referring people toward further assistance such as massage or therapy or movement coaching when appropriate and/or sharing information and education too.

In addition to plants I feel like movement is important to explore further here. Paying attention to how we move, how it feels, our body’s alignment, our long-held patterns and our compensations can do wonders for improving our body’s flow. It makes no sense to repeatedly apply a salve to a “bad knee”, for example,  without fully exploring all the causes of the pain–from poor mechanics to weak muscles to restricted circulation to evil shoes to long-held trauma. Even if not all causes can be immediately resolved just knowing what they are and observing our own patterns can shift the way we view our pain. Pain is, ultimately,  the body’s voice and should be respected as such.

We often think of pain as being caused by a big dramatic injury or illness but in fact it can be caused by a lifetime of poorly performed functions which. over time, add up to stress on a body part or system. Our culture is not built for wellness and the way we spend a lot of our time contributes to pain and  dis-ease. Shoes and other fashions, obsessions with odor elimination, chairs, tools, sitting, driving, TVs everywhere, processed foods, air pollution, all of this crap adds up to a big ol’ excessive load on our emotional and physical selves. Unpack it! Examine it! 

I am absolutely not suggesting we stop using herbs to treat our health issues. Merely that we do not do so in isolation, or without context. By combining our herbal knowledge with deep nutrition, body movement, strength training, emotional release, therapeutic talking and/or touch, community building, environmental restoration, massage, attention to alignment and mobility work we can actually take over the whole world with wellness! Go forth, my friends, and take your lighter backpack along for the ride.Image