Monday, March 15, 2010

Naturopathic Basics

I'm still here! This month I will begin a new series of short articles focusing on the basics of naturopathic medicine. For a quick intro, see my article for Chronic Babe, first published in 2007.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Metta Practice

“Metta” is shorthand for the Buddhist practice of compassion, in which we send peaceful intentions—sometimes known as “lovingkindness”—to ourselves, to our loved ones, and even further out into the world.

Here is a short, sweet version of the prayer:

Metta Prayer
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings awaken to the light of their true nature.
May all beings be free.

Try it when you are feeling most peaceful; share some of that feeling with the world.
Then, try it when you are feeling most agitated, and share some of the peaceful feeling with yourself.
You can find the full version of “The Great Peace Prayer of Buddha”, in many different translations, online.
Also see the works of Pema Chodron and Sharon Salzberg, both North American Buddhist teachers, for more information.
May you awaken to the light of your true nature.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Living Well, or Why We Do the Things We Do

As Stellaria continues to grow, I am often asked "why". Why do we offer such a range of classes? Yoga, t'ai chi, and meditation seem to fit with most people's ideas of "health", but why belly dance? Why knitting?
Like most questions that matter, the answer is deceptively simple: health is not just a physical concept. The longer I practice natural medicine, the more I cherish the philosophy of holism, defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as "...a theory that the universe and especially living nature is correctly seen in terms of interacting wholes (as of living organisms) that are more than the mere sum of elementary particles." Medicine is notorious for taking a compartmentalized view of the human being, and while it can be a useful perspective, it is also a severely limiting one.
Having a healthy body--one that has passed physical exams with flying colors, one without symptoms--doesn't guarantee feelings of wellbeing; nor is having a chronic illness an insurmountable impediment to feeling whole. Each of us is more than meets the eye, and an awful lot more than can be experienced through microscope, stethoscope, psychological assessment, or even the much-hyped full-body MRI.
My favorite of the Principles of Naturopathic Medicine is "Treat the Whole Person". For me, the whole person doesn't end at the physical, or even the psychological. What makes us whole is that which moves us to passion and to compassion. For most of us, it's more than one thing. Family and friends, of course; social and political issues; the power to make a difference in the world, to create and to change. I don't think I can emphasize that last thought enough. Human beings have a need to create, and if we don't fulfill that need, we feel stifled, empty, unwell.
What is it we long to create, what will fulfill that need? I can't answer that question for anyone else, but I do know some things that work for many of you: self-expression through writing, dance, and other arts; tangible assembly of something new through carpentry, knitting, sewing; nurturing growth through gardening, teaching, cooking. All of these things are important, and each of these things has the power to heal someone I know. Usually we don't know what works until we've tried it; there's no lab test or assessment we can offer you, to find out what will light that inner spark.
What we can offer is a place to try new things, and all within the perspective of the whole person. I select classes for our schedule that have the power to affect our students in a multitude of ways. Yoga and t'ai chi have well-recognized holistic benefits. The physical benefits of meditation continue to be fodder for scientific studies. Knitting and other forms of needlework are touted as stress reduction practices. Writing--a future offering--combines self-expression and self-examination, two valuable skills for living well.

Now, I'm not saying that any one of these things is the magical key to return you to harmony and bliss, any more than eating an apple a day really keeps the doctor away. But finding something that moves you is a key part of the picture. Always remember that you are more than the sum of your parts, and that honoring our wholeness is the first step to integrated wellness.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Worshipping the Orange

This is one of my favorite exercises in mindfulness. We discussed it
in the Meditation Level 2 class this week, and it was dubbed
"worshipping the orange" by one of the students. Quite appropriately.

First, find yourself a beautiful piece of fruit. This time of year, I
prefer citrus--luscious oranges, assertive grapefruits, sprightly
tangerines--you get the idea. If citrus disagrees with you, try a
banana or anything else of tropical origin.
Look at the orange. Allow yourself to admire it. Draw it with pastels
or crayons, watch how the sunlight creeps across its skin. Realize the
miraculous nature of this orange, a product of sunlight and warmth,
existing in our currently frigid climate. Let yourself be grateful for
that. (And, just for a moment, let yourself be grateful, instead of
guilty, for the supply lines bringing us food from around the world).

Pick up the orange. Run your fingers over its surface. Map it with
your fingerpads. If you were blind, would you recognize this fruit?
Bring it to your face, and inhale its fragrance. First with the skin
intact. Then nick the skin (or open the peel, with a banana) and let
the intensity of its aroma fill your senses. Feel gratitude for this
small miracle, the potency of the scent.

Peel the orange. Continue to admire it, and to immerse yourself in
your senses. Feel the texture of the skin against your fingers, and
the stickiness of the juice. Note all these sensations with gratitude.

Finally, take a bite. Again, immerse yourself in sensation and feel
gratitude for it. Repeat with each bite you take. Finish the orange
with admiration and gratitude.

Carry this feeling with you into the day.

**Cross-posted here and to the Stellaria Meditation Group

Thursday, February 7, 2008

You can dance right through your life...

My graduating class at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine named me "Most Likely to Turn Her Clinic Into a Dance Studio." I wasn't too long into the organizing of my wellness center that I realized that clinic as studio was a perfect description of what I wanted to do. Why? Because movement is at the heart of my experience of health.

I've always been a dancer. Or, more to the point, I haven't ever been able to stop dancing. I saw the movie Flashdance at the tender age of 9, and decided right then that I was going to be a dancer. I was too young to realize the silliness of the plot--that a nightclub dancer could make it into a prestigious ballet school on sheer force of will. I only knew that the main character wanted to dance, and so did I. She danced in a loft; I danced in my parents' basement. She didn't have the means to take dance classes; I had to take CCD and go to soccer practice on the two nights my hometown park district offered ballet. Still, I danced.

It would be years before I performed in public, and even longer before I took a formal dance class. Still, dancing was the thread that ran through my days. I played sports, I did aerobics, I lifted weights and jogged and swam and did yoga, and sometimes I did none of those things. But I could never stop dancing. A few days without that kind of movement--and it wasn't just movement, of course, it was self-expression--left me feeling cranky and sick. I had to dance. It wasn't about staying in shape, or honing my technique; it was about preserving my sanity.

Some people feel this way about writing, others about playing an instrument, or cooking. In a way I was lucky that it was moving that made me feel most like myself. I didn't need to force myself to go to a gym to meet the requirements for "healthy movement"--I could get my workout in any of the tiny apartment bedrooms I lived in. When I moved to New York City, I feared having to give up my dancing due to lack of space. Instead I found myself living in a loft in Brooklyn--a very raw artists' den, a sublet of a sublet--but I had room to dance.

So my blood pressure and heart rate stayed low, my muscles stayed strong, and I stayed sane.

I've been dancing now for 3/4 of my life, and there's no end in sight. If I had a wish for all of my patients, all of my students, all the people who come into my center, it would be this: I wish you find the way to move that moves you. Because moving should be a joy, not a chore. Forget about comparing the aerobic benefits of yoga to the estimated caloric expenditure in weight lifting to the predicted joint damage incurred by running. Just keep trying different things until you find yourself having so much fun moving that you don't want to stop. And then-- don't stop.

You never know. Finding the joy in movement might lead you somewhere entirely new.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Gold Star Method

I've been thinking a lot about change lately. For one thing, it's the beginning of a brand-new year (Welcome to the Future!). For another, it has become very clear to me that the main purpose of my job is to help people create change in their lives. I don't erase the world's illnesses with magical natural substances (as wonderful as that would be), nor do I open the door to some esoteric knowledge that allows those around me to rise to a higher state of consciousness. Quite simply, I assist my clients in choosing the things they would like to change, and then I help them find the tools, and the will, to make those changes.

Which leads me to ponder, once again, the question of how best to encourage change. We hear a lot about negative methods--"If I don't lose five pounds by Wednesday, I cannot eat anything that tastes good. Ever." Advertising is full of supposedly positive messages built around a core of self-loathing "You would feel so much better, if only you could..." "You deserve to look this good! (Why don't you?)" and so forth. Negative methods are certainly familiar, but are they effective? I'm not so sure.

Without the tools of punishment or self-abasement, how can we create change? We all choose goals that should make us feel better, in and of themselves. But if the goal is too large, too unattainable, we set ourselves up for failure, right from the start. This is the classic problem with New Year's Resolutions. We make a Great Big Promise to make a Great Big Change in our lives, and when that change doesn't materialize, we have a Great Big load of Guilt to add to our pile. Happy New Year!

Last month I visited my youngest nephew and his family. He is nearly four years old, and like a lot of people his age, he has a chart on his refrigerator. The chart lists the things that he is meant to do every day, and each time he does one of those things, he gets a check mark. When he has enough check marks, he gets a sticker on his chart. Does this sound familiar? My nephew gets rewarded, in a small but tangible way, each time he does the things he needs to do--gets himself dressed, brushes his teeth, says "thank you", and so forth. His small reward teaches him that it's good to do these things, and over time, these things become habits. Good habits, at that.

The Gold Star Method--do the thing you're supposed to do, get a star. Collect enough stars, and you've earned yourself a new good habit. When I thought about it a little more, I realized I'd used this method a lot in my own life--developed a strong Yoga practice, worked up to running two miles a day, studied for Board exams, rehearsed for endless performances... In November, I even met a huge writing goal this way. (See Nanowrimo for a wonderful approach to self-motivation.)

When we're talking about making changes for better health, and a better life, what you do matters much more than what you didn't do. If you go for a walk three days this week, be proud of those three days; don't waste your time berating yourself about the other four. The fact that you did walk matters so much more than the fact that you should have walked more.

We've talked about 30-day challenges before. This month, instead of a challenge, here is my offer to you: choose a habit you'd like to create in your life. Then do that thing, as much as you can. If you collect seven check marks--representing seven days of your good habit--come and see me (or send me a message). I'll give you a Star. We can repeat this as many times as you like. I have a lot of stars on hand.

Oh yeah, here's what I'm intending to do more of in 2008: Yoga. Write. Create. Give out lots and lots and lots of Gold Stars.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Meditation Challenge: Day 32??

From a series of posts sent to our Meditation 30Day Challenge group.


I have to confess, June got the better of me. By Saturday, the 30-day Challenge had come down to a Day 30 Challenge: I was bound and determined to meditate that day. As fate and scheduling would have it, though, I spent the morning well into the afternoon working on business, then the evening was devoted to the production and performance of our latest belly dance extravaganza. Still, I was determined that when I got home...alas, when I got home, I fell asleep. So did June come to an end.
Sunday I spent up in Michigan, picking black raspberries. We picked 10 quarts worth, between 3 of us. By the end, I was thoroughly scratched, sunburned, and serene. If you have ever spent hours gleaning fruit from bushes, you may have known the joy of one-pointed focus as I did. It was a marvelous day, but despite my best intentions, I never made it to the cushion.

At first I felt that I'd let all of you down. Today, I have a different perspective. I would like to continue the challenge: It's a brand-new month, with 30 days left in it. I will keep the Yahoo! group up and running, and continue to send out periodic missives. How do you feel? Would you like to keep this going?