Fetid cabbage!

Ah, spring. A time of muddy pants and chilly streams, rebirth and almost-losing-boots, discovery and fresh air. Here is a photo story of my recent Eastern Skunk Cabbage
(Symplocarpum foetidum!) root harvest. This is NOT about how to use it, though i have provided a GREAT link about use, this is just about the sheer joy of mucking about with plant allies!

http://greenmanramblings.blogspot.com/2009/09/swampy-medicine-for-swampy-lungs.html

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Angel with her root
Angel with her root

Lauren
Lauren

the creature
the creature

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Play with your Herbs!

When we think of the tools of an herbalist, we may think of Felcos, or a first aid kit. An intake form or a Ball jar. We definitely think of the analyzing brain, sitting in a serious chair and paging through stacks of books. All of these tools are indeed helpful in providing herbal support to people. However, I propose that another important tool to explore is PLAY. Sometimes we forget how much a playful spirit can give to us! On many levels there are benefits to recommending and incorporating both physical and mental play into our lives and our practice. 

Healing can be a serious business. Ailing folks come to us every day in need of our help. Listening to the stories, providing support and solutions is good work. But it IS work–and play can help us to navigate burnout.

Play helps us to build a dynamic type of herbalism, a living and breathing force, an art– instead of a dusty historical practice. Play can make herbalism and healing more holistic and can contribute to a re-vitalization of all involved. (plants too!) At its most basic level play is an outlet, and energy needs outlets.  I would argue that many who come to an herbalist or other healer present with a stuck-ness or a stagnation. I do recommend herbs here for both emotional and physical movement. But to stop there feels very limited to me. I may then suggest play to:

-help us process feelings and input.

-uncover hidden aspects/roots of the problem.

-generate ideas towards a  resolution.

-tap into deeper states of knowing.

-move lymphatics and promote circulation.

Play can help us to stop over-identifying as a patient or as a diagnosis, help us get out of our cyclical thinking and into a different state of being. Do you remember time just floating by while doodling or playing house, riding bikes with no destination or making out for hours? Have you ever just let go of your life and worries and embodied a mythical figure or an animal? Climbed trees or rocks all day with no plans or floated in the ocean like a seabird? It is a way of feeling integrated. Integrated into a storyline or a group of people, integrated into a piece of land or body of water….integrated into time and space. Basically the opposite of day-to-day life.

**Note that I am not promoting a disconnected state of being. Living in a fantasy world is not the same as embodied play–I am talking about grounded play which incorporates movement and has a beginning and an end.**

Play can also be a way to practice movement. For those who avoid structured exercise, play can be the solution to get moving and enjoy it. Insomnia and poor sleep quality are very common complaints–try play! Physically and mentally, the outlet supports healthy rest. Sexual dysfunction? Try play. Mild depression and anxiety? At the risk of sounding repetitive, have you played lately?

Outdoor play can help ground us and support us with fresh air and a delightfully uneven surface to navigate. (Important! Get off the concrete !) We also can practice “working play” such as foraging, tracking and gathering-a way to lose ourselves in a task that is primal and fulfilling. In a sense we lose ourselves to find ourselves–losing the 2014-responsible-wired-matching-outfit-upright-linear-worried self and finding the soiled human-animal interactive parts, the connected ancestral wild parts. Cause we are both, and more.

And ultimately play can help us to build resilience, to express ourselves more fully and to interact more with our environment and community. To grasp that we win some and we lose some, and life goes on. To see that we can take turns as “the leader”. Play is an innate drive and can be cultivated. You can’t do it “wrong”. It helps us to overcome fears and reclaim our nature, to restore ourselves and our power. 

So far I have been referring mainly to practitioners suggesting play to our clients but how can we as practitioners use play to become better? Other than using play to improve our own selves, we can use it as a practice for  problem-solving. How do humans gain new perspectives? Play. Have you ever needed to look at a problem differently, as a healer? Logic is great, truly, but there are times when it makes sense to get outside of that to find creative solutions. 
Ultimately, play is an important problem-solving tool. It can be used in many different ways, and we can find out which way works for us. We can bridge our different levels, and bridge the separations between ourselves and others, ourselves and the earth, plants, animals-if only for a moment. Hell, don’t knock moments of bliss–they can be a moment we didn’t even know was possible…Play can help us to lose ourselves and, in so doing, to find ourselves.

Play can help us accept ourselves, help us to manage our anger, burnout and stagnation too~we can push ourselves into new levels of practice, challenge our ingrained patterns and rote ways of thinking, bust out of cycles that no longer serve us.

And, most importantly, play can bring us pleasure. A simple pleasure of feeling the sun on our backs while we lose ourselves in examining river stones or the joyful pleasure of watching our basket fill up with wild blueberries…the pleasure of touch and sensuality or sounds. The underlying pleasure and self-acceptance can be an anchor in life’s storms and ground us on our journey. Health and healing are serious undertakings, we hold other people’s lives and trust and stories with respect and compassion. But it is not THAT serious–almost nothing exists which cannot give us a moment of humor, insight or creativity if we know how to look at it through the lens of play.

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The foundation.

What has been proven, in studies, to build bones, to support mental health, to support recovery from addiction, and to be “as effective as” some medications such as statins in treating chronic disease? Exercise. Yet many of us don’t do it. Why not? I’d like to suggest that we don’t believe in it. Sure, we may believe the statistics about exercise. We may know, in our heads, that exercise is “good” for us. But we don’t all believe in it with our core, with the place where our truths reside. I would like to suggest that exercise itself is part of the problem. Culturally, it is seen as a chore and a punishment. Get through it, and move on to “real” life. Rehabilitation is seen as something to check off the to-do list–temporary–not a life-long practice of self-care. A guilt-inducing series of movements we perform under duress to help us stop hating ourselves–hating our bodies and our lives. How’s that working out for ya, America?

May I suggest we drop that whole line of bull and get on board with movement? Movement is NOT just exercise. It is locomotion. It is art. You can’t really do it wrong. Even if your body is non-conforming, your mind is atypical, your soul is really weird, some kind of movement is right for you.

Have we let beautiful people steal exercise from us? Have we let corporations hand sports over to professionals and schoolkids only? Have we bought in to the idea that we don’t have the right body type or equipment or outfit, not enough space or time or support? Have we lost the drive to get our asses up that tree or that mountain and see what it all looks like from another angle? 

I know I did. Yes, it happened to me. I saw exercise as a chore, a duty, something to “get through”. I’ll do it tomorrow.  I was not putting my love into it, nor my pelvis. I was in a state of separation and I allowed fear to keep me from moving in certain ways. One day I wondered–What the heck am I doing?

Where do our movements come from? Why do we walk, sit, dance in certain ways? Or not–Why do we hold back from moving in other ways? How much does our culture, our history, our social circle, our furniture, our clunky shoes and our intimate desire affect our own movements, our own idea of what is OK? 

For example, have we learned to stop jumping off things because it is not proper? Have we learned to sit down and be quiet? Have we learned to take up less space, be very careful, stop arousing certain feelings? Don’t lift heavy stuff lest you”get big” whatever the hell that means? Minimize. What movements are we suppressing to fit in?

 

What are we suppressing when we walk on a treadmill, going on and on to nowhere, or lift a 3-pound dumbbell over and over 100 times hoping to tone our triceps for beach season? What about training for beach season really supports our humanity, our self-love, our re-integration? I think it just re-inforces our fears. 

I had my own fears, and most of them were realized when I started throwing myself into movement. My pants fell down in Zumba class. I threw up. My glutes hurt and I didn’t really know how to shake my booty. I started lifting a tiny kettlebell. But I just kept doing it until I fell in love with myself all over again. I woke up one day and remembered what it feels like to have a body–and why I should care. I don’t give a rat’s ass if I have cellulite or jiggly arms. I don’t care if I “glow” or if I have a thigh gap. I am fast. I am strong. I move to rebel and I move to get hungry and tired and sweaty. I move to participate and I move because I have to. 

We are in a place, as a culture, where I believe movement is what will help save us. Movement will help us to get free, to unlearn all the baggage that keeps us sitting down all day.To bring back the joy, and maybe some endo-cannibinoids too.  Movement will help us to let go, to say “this is who I am!” and to play again. Movement will help us to re-connect to each other and ourselves and help us manage our anger and confusion. One day we will see movement for what it is–just a practice, with no right or wrong ways to be. Movement is self-care which we can scale to our level and  empowerment which we can tuck away for a rainy day. Movement is the foundation we can build ourselves upon, and that is the meaning for me.

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http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3276339/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22442371
http://journal.crossfit.com/2014/03/sweat-and-sobriety.tpl