Well here we are approaching the end of August with the total eclipse of the sun coming on Monday 21 August 2017. Lots of change is looming and with five planets in retrograde, Mercury among them, I've had some interesting experiences both frustrating and magical in the last few days. If there was any doubt that certain things are simply "meant to be", that doubt has yet again been mitigated. If one is meant to have a certain experience, the energies will conspire to provide that lesson, and if you are not karmically destined to have a certain experience, no matter what the circumstances, Divine intervention may step in to block it.
After seeing a patient in Chester, I returned to my car and was about to back out of the parking space, except there was a large pickup truck to my right, blocking my view. Backing out of this space, places you right on Chester Pike where cars are going about 40 mph or more. Because I couldn't see, and knowing I was backing into traffic, I was obviously going slowly trying to inch my way out to where I could see. Suddenly, all the lights on my dashboard flashed on and the car stalled. Cars whizzed by behind me which would have taken my trunk out into the middle of Chester Pike! At first, I thought, "oh no, here's mercury retrograde wrecking havoc with my car." But it wasn't until I told a friend about it later that I realized I was spared from what would have been a tragic accident, and that someone or something had to have intervened. There was nothing wrong with the car; no problem restarting it, and no problems since. Seemingly out of nowhere, a man appeared to the left of me and I asked if he would be kind enough to guide me out of the space because I couldn't see. He gladly helped me and I was safe and sound and back on my way. When the car started right up again, I was simply grateful, but I didn't immediately see or appreciate the deeper meaning that occurred. Have you ever had an experience where you know that Divine intervention came in to move you toward something that you needed to experience, or protect you from something you were not meant to experience? I've had it happen many times....in spite of my resistance!
When things run their karmic course, the energies conspire to remove you from a situation that no longer serves to provide a lesson. When they haven't, it can seem like no matter what we do, the only choice is to surrender, feel the discomfort and subsequently, the lesson (which is usually in hindsight) and move through it with as much grace as possible. We don't usually move and grow when things are going great, when we are content, or simply maintaining the status quo. As I think back during this Mercury retrograde period of time, (where we are invited to review the past), I am remembering all of the discomfort that at the time was a drag, yet it propelled me to move into deeper and wider awareness, and more aligned with my true purpose and Self. Another thing that happened last week was a situation where a conflict reached intolerable levels despite all efforts to cultivate understanding and an amicable solution. Despite best efforts, I was pushing against a force that was pushing against me where I had to make a decision to keep wasting my energy in futile pursuit, or save my energy so I could open a door to something new and in alignment with me now. The energy was conspiring to push me out despite the rationalizations I was using to stay. I finally closed to door (on my birthday) and almost immediately, something new came in to support, uplift, and remind me, that when we remain in our personal Truth, it is not only for our good, but the highest good for all involved. And, lesson OVER! These days especially, we must be ever mindful of wasting our time and energy in toxic situations that serve no purpose other than to undermine and aggravate rather than nourish and heal. This can be applied to many situations in life. When we are meant to let something go, the messages are always there, and sometimes must become so strong that we are literally pushed out of situations where we are no longer meant to be for our own highest good.
In what areas of your life might you need to go deep to take inventory and let go to allow Divinity to show you a new way? It does always know better than we do, doesn't it? It is certainly a time of dismantling the old so we can all do something new. And the best place to start is with ourSelves. It is very easy to look outside of ourselves and call out what is wrong, point the finger and place blame, but the true work is within and where we can elicit the change we are all seeking for ourselves and for the planet. Be safe during Mercury Retrograde!
Does your kitchen and pantry support your new and improved dedication to health and wellbeing? Just like we want our home be a sanctuary, the kitchen is a big part of that as most people consider it the heart of the home. In counseling clients trying to make lifestyle changes, specifically for weight reduction, some of the resistance I encounter when I ask why processed food is even in the house, is that, “it is there for the kids”. After I laugh, I suggest that their kids (and kids’ friends) should not be eating that stuff either! That’s when opposition rears its head, as if it’s the accepted norm for kids to eat junk food and their health will be resilient to it forever. I only wish I knew in my teens, 20s and 30s what I know now about nutrition through Ayurveda, meditation & yoga practice, and how much can be done to prevent dis-ease before it starts and how we can support longevity through our choices that nurture our unique nature. It’s so much easier to learn healthy lifestyle habits when you are young rather than after you have acquired bad habits (and possibly an illness) because of stress and lack of time when all the responsibilities of a multi-tasked life have taken over. But many people are already there, and it doesn’t help to beat ourselves up over what was, but rather to make slow, conscious changes that can support a life of health, vitality, healing, and happiness and decrease the continuation of habits that will inevitably lead to illness and possibly an early death.
A pantry and kitchen that favors healthy, organic, local, seasonal and natural foods and beverages over FLUNC foods (Frozen, Leftover, Unnatural, Nuked and Canned) will support your efforts when temptation is there to throw you off track. This is only until you get used to how good you will feel when you learn to listen to your healthy body as to what foods contribute to true nourishment, ease of digestion and elimination and good health, and it is rarely the ones with labels! So take a good look at your pantry and in your refrigerator. Foods without labels are the best, but if there are labels, look out for too many ingredients, chemicals, unnecessary additives like MSG and dyes, excess salt, white flour and white sugar, and especially HFCS (high fructose corn syrup). I was very disturbed one time when I couldn’t find one bottle of Balsamic vinegar that didn’t have caramel color! Why balsamic vinegar needs a color additive is beyond me, but these are the questions we should all start to ask and send a message by not purchasing them. Many of these additives are also in the pharmaceuticals that you may be taking (listed as “inactive” ingredients), as well as in products you may use on your body and in your mouth, but that is a subject for another post and should also be considered. Check expiration dates and get rid of food, beverages, condiments or spices that are not fresh and outdated. Get rid of your microwave; it will save counter space and food tastes better when cooked in the oven or on the stove with fresh herbs and spices. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and if you do eat meat/eggs/dairy, be sure it is wild caught/free range, grass fed, organic and antibiotic-free from animals that have not been tortured and mercilessly slaughtered. Let your pantry, fridge and kitchen reflect the healthy choices you are now making for yourself and your family. Keep the workspace in your kitchen clean and clutter-free so you are not stressed when preparing and consuming food and cook with love.
Many times when we are tempted to go for something that doesn’t support our goals, it is not because we are hungry physically, but hungry for something else. Take a moment to tune in and see what it is you are truly needing in that moment. Just that mindfulness can go a long way in helping you make better choices. So enjoy your clean and healthy pantry and kitchen and set an example for the kids and their friends. You will be doing yourself (and them) and great favor! ; )
Oil pulling (Kandava or Gundusha) is another ancient technique that works deep within the tissues to loosen and dislodge toxins that build up all throughout the physiology (and mind). In Ayurvedva we believe in oleation inside and out! In Western culture (which is thankfully changing), oil and fat has been the enemy. Since oil contains more calories, it is incorrectly labeled as something that can cause us to be fat. Nothing could be further from the Truth. Oils have so many benefits that are too numerous to mention here, but a few related to oil pulling are anti-microbial properties, lubrication, whiter teeth, healthier gums, relief of bad breath and other conditions related to dryness, and healthier skin, hair and bones.
How to do it: Upon awakening and on an empty stomach after brushing your teeth and tongue, take about 1 Tbs of coconut or sesame oil and gently swish it in your mouth for about 15-20 minutes. (If you are new to the process, start with 1 teaspoon and try 5 minutes as it might take some getting used to.) If that seems like a lot of time, again, start with a few minutes and work up to it. I find that doing it first thing in the morning while I am in the kitchen boiling the water for lemon-ginger water, cutting up fruit for breakfast or making a smoothie, feeding my pets, getting my things ready to go out the door, 20 minutes goes pretty fast. Do not swallow any of the oil as you will be putting the toxins back that you just pulled out. The oil has a chelating effect of bonding to toxins so that they can be eliminated from the body. Discard the oil (and the toxins) into the trash (not the sink) and rinse your mouth. Observe how your mouth feels and watch the results over time. Whiter teeth, healthier gums, glowing skin and perhaps even some greater benefits like fewer colds, clear sinuses, relief of jaw pain and inflammation, softer skin, better complexion, and better health overall! Wouldn’t you rather put this in your mouth than the chemicals found in mouthwash? Give it a try and see for yourself!
My home is my sanctuary. My office is also my sanctuary. These are places where I walk in and just feel "Ahhhhhhh". This is how your home, your office, and even your car, or places where you spend a lot of time, should be. How much does your home contribute to your sense of health, wellbeing and ease? A great deal! When your home or office is a mess, cluttered, and disorganized, this creates mental and emotional turbulence that supports the stress response rather than a restful awareness response in the body-mind. This can translate into chemicals being released in the body that contribute to dis-ease, weight gain and other issues that make us feel fatigued, unhealthy, unhappy, frustrated or discontent. In the ancient arts of Feng Shui (environmental aspect of Chinese Medicine) or Vastu Shastra (the environmental balance aspect of Ayurveda), the environment plays a big part in how we feel, how we attract prosperity into our lives, how harmonious or disharmonious our relationships are, and how energy in our life flows in general.
Take the time to go through your home and see where you might eliminate clutter (the first rule of Feng Shui and Vastu). The extreme expression is hoarding for which there is always a deeper issue(s) at hand and these underlying issues need to be confronted and gently dealt with so as to heal at the first cause. Think of how you feel when you clean out a drawer, a closet or a room. It feels good, doesn't it? Where there is clutter, there is stagnation and just like the energy channels of the body, when we clean up clutter and unblock the stagnation or blockage, prana or life force is restored and we feel better, physically, emotionally and spiritually. The same is true in our environment, and since we are simply extensions of our environment, these things affect us in subtle and not so subtle ways. A clear desk invites a clear mind. Getting into a clean car or walking into a clean, uncluttered house or office invites health, wellbeing, prosperity, and harmony. There will be more on this later, but for now, how do you feel reverence for your home, your office, car or anywhere you spend your time? Is there fragrance, beauty, flow, connection, and a sense of openness and possibility? I have things that I do to create and nurture that sense of reverence I have for my home and office. I adore flowers and always have fresh flowers in their various stages on the kitchen and coffee tables and in the bedroom. I light incense and a candle when I enter my home or office as ritual and a point of transition from home to work or vice versa. Take a moment to think or better yet, feel, who you are when you are in these places and do they speak to the reverence your have for your Self and your environment? What can you do to make your environment more conducive to the goals and dreams you have set for yourself, your relationships, your career and home life. In the quiet moments of contemplation about this, you may be surprised as to what you discover... Ahhhhh. ; )
A daily self-massage (known in Sanskrit as Abhyanga) with herbalized massage oil is one of the most important tools to activate your inner pharmacy and balance your doshas. The skin is the largest organ of the body; it helps us maintain our temperature and is a way by which we can ingest nutrients and release toxins from the body. In Ayurveda, we do a daily self-massage from head to toe as part of our morning routine.
How to do it:
Warm the oil so it is pleasant feeling to the skin. Starting with the head, massaging the scalp, ears and face, moving down to the neck and shoulders, on to the arms and hands, the chest, belly, and back (as far as you can reach comfortably), the buttocks, pelvis and hips, legs and feet. Massage with circular motion on the joints and long strokes on the long bones. If you do not have time for a full body massage (which really only takes about 5-7 minutes), at least do the head, neck, and feet. You really can’t do it wrong and do not be attached to doing it “right”. What’s important is your intention of self-love and giving something to yourself that is nurturing, nourishing and empathetic. Human touch has been found to be very important in health and wellbeing. Babies who are not touched and held can actually suffer developmental and cognitive issues and even death. If you do not have a partner and/or are not getting enough hugs, it can be detrimental to your overall health and wellbeing in ways which you may be unaware. Sometimes we are lacking in this area and distract ourselves with busyness so as not to face our loneliness and/or lack of physical connection with people. Abhyanga is a way of giving that loving, nurturing touch to yourself. Lubricating the body-mind on the outside with oil is a way to loosen toxins from the physiology, decrease physical rigidity, as well as bring awareness to the other ways we may be mentally rigid in our lives. Immune function is another significant benefit of self-massage as the lymph glands located just below the skin do not have a pump like the heart, and rely on movement and massage to release toxins and promote cleansing and detoxification. In addition, self-massage has the following benefits:
Vata (heavier, heating) Sesame, Almond (can add essential oils lavender, vanilla, cardamom, rose)
Pitta (cooling, soothing) Coconut, Sunflower, Olive (can add essential oils sandalwood, patchouli, jasmine, peppermint)
Kapha (lighter, warming) Safflower, Sunflower, Mustard (can add citrus, ginger, peppermint)
There will be more on the doshas in a later post, but in the meantime, enjoy the benefits of this ancient practice as you continue your journey of resurrecting the health and wellbeing you deserve. Enjoy! ; )
In Ayurveda, digestion is everything! This is not only the digestion of our food, but the digestion of our experiences through our five senses and extra senses. The digestive fire or Agni, as we call it, needs to be robust and burning brightly so that all of what we ingest, both physically (through food) and mentally/emotionally (through experiences) can be thoroughly metabolized. This can be likened to a fire burning in your fireplace. When it's burning brightly and beautifully it gives off adequate light, heat, and beauty. When it's dwindling down to ashes and coals it provides nothing but toxic residue. And if it's burning out of control, it'll burn the house down. Your belly is that fireplace. You've heard the term "fire in your belly"? Well this is literally what fuels all processes including our passion, creativity and determination! Without it, we can feel tired, fatigued, depressed, defeated, and sick which affects our ability to work, play, have good relationships, be of service, and manifest our dreams. We want to feed our body-mind-heart-spirit with nutrients (both physical and metaphysical) that create something called Ojas, or subtle nourishment, immunity, or essence. Ojas is the result of ingesting foods, beverages and experiences that are nourishing to the physiology, mind, heart, and spirit. Ama, or toxic residue, on the other hand, is the result of ingesting foods and experiences that are harsh, full of chemicals from processing, and detrimental to the physiology, mind and spirit. The body-mind is in a constant state of needing to digest all that happens to it and around it 24/7! That includes our experiences and the emotions those experiences produce. Wherever there is energy, there is digestion, and the food and experiences we take in must be digested and processed resulting in either Ama or Ojas.
Take the time today to bring awareness to everything you put into your body with regard to foods and beverages. How do you start your day; with a cup of caffeine, processed creamer loaded with artificial ingredients, and white sugar? Do you skip breakfast due to time constraints? Do you snack on junk food at the office, skip lunch and then are famished at dinner? Do you smoke, drink, or eat in excess? What types of food do you put in your shopping cart; foods around the perimeter of the store or processed foods from the middle aisles that you microwave to add insult to injury?
Now take the time to bring awareness to the other ways you feed yourself. Are you compelled to multitask? Do you watch violence on TV (including the news) just before going to sleep? Is your job or career a source of toxicity or are you in your dharma, doing what you love? Are your relationships toxic and depleting to your energy, or nurturing, compassionate, and loving? All of these things contribute to either Ama or Ojas. There will definitely be more on this later. In the meantime, there's lots of grist for the mill here. The first step is awareness. Many times and for many reasons we get into habits that contribute to illness and dis-ease without even realizing it. Take the time to step back and look at your life as a detached observer, without judgement, and see where you are being invited to make some changes that will create Ojas! ; )
I hear it all the time, “I ‘m not flexible. I can’t do yoga.”
The truth is, you’re inflexible because you don’t do yoga! (this applies to the mind as well, by the way). You can't expect to magically be able to do the asanas (poses) of yoga perfectly when you haven't stretched in decades. This especially goes for the men! Yoga is literally for every body. Because the essence of yoga is union ~ of body, mind, heart and spirit, within ourselves , with each other, the planet and the cosmos; the practice of it, no matter how quiet or rigorous, is about bringing more awareness to every aspect of your Being. It’s not important that you can twist your body into a pretzel – most people can’t – even yoga teachers. What’s important is that you spend some time each day on your mat to be present with your body, mind, and spirit. That is, really feeling your body & the messages it is sending you, the state of your mind and emotions, and connecting to your soul – that aspect of you that is perfect just as it is and the part you get to take with you when you leave this plane.
Commit to at least 10-15 minutes of gentle stretching and deep breathing each day and feel the difference it will make in your strength, flexibility, and balance. This, by the way, translates to strength, flexibility, balance in your life. Commit to trying it for a month – take a class, buy a book, watch a video, Google “gentle yoga”, there are even classes online – there are many, many resources out there to help you learn. There are also variations on every pose that provide equal benefit and inspire you to go deeper - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Yoga is a practice that can always take you deeper so you do not need to learn everything at once. See if you don’t notice a difference in yourself after several weeks. Others may notice too. So relax, stretch and breathe! You’ll find yourself craving it and just like when you exercise and meditate regularly, noticing even more when you don’t do it. Your joints, your muscles, your mind, your digestion, and much more will thank you! Enjoy!!
"Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth." ~ Walt Whitman
Sleep is a very important topic. In Ayurveda, (the over 5000 year-old natural healing philosophy from India), poor nutrition is the mother of all disease and insomnia is the father. Getting enough sleep is extremely important in helping us live a life of health, happiness and vitality and yet insomnia is a problem that affects a large number of people especially in United States. Some of the causes of insomnia include headaches, excess intake of coffee, tea or soda, worries, negative thoughts, pain, stress, drinking alcohol in excess at night, anxiety, depression, unhealthy lifestyle, toxic relationships, unsatisfying jobs, and illness. Treating the cause of insomnia is obviously the best idea, however, while you are working on that you need to get some sleep.
Hopefully, you have already initiated a meditation practice for overall stress reduction and relaxation. This will help with sleep. Yoga and Pranayama (breathing techniques) can also be helpful to decompress and unite body, mind and spirit. If you are having trouble falling asleep because your mind is racing, try journaling before bed with an intention to “download” your thoughts and worries. Trust that because these things are in your journal, you no longer need to keep them in your mind, thereby giving yourself permission to rest and fall asleep easily. Additional remedies include regularly drinking a glass of warm milk with ½ teaspoon of honey and/or cardamom or nutmeg before bed, taking a warm bath using aroma therapy oils such as lavender or peace & calming, massaging the bottoms of the feet and ears with a relaxing or soothing massage oil. Do not do any invigorating exercise, intense work or reading, or watch violence on TV (including and especially the news!) right before bed as these things are too stimulating to the physiology and not conducive to relaxation and sleep. Create a peaceful, cool, quiet, dark, and calming atmosphere in your bedroom which should be without a TV and only used for two things. ; ) Create a comforting bedtime routine that will help you relax and prepare for restful sleep. Herbs like Ashwagandha can also be helpful in relaxing the mind as well as rejuvenating the body. Be sure to eat a diet rich in B-Complex vitamins and including vegetables, and whole grains. Get to bed by no later than 10:30 PM before Pitta (fire & water), the natural energizing and detoxifying time (10PM – 2AM) kicks in, and be sure to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night depending upon what is right for you. Sleeping from 10 PM – 6 AM is truly different than sleeping from 12 MN to 8 AM! While both 8 hours of time, better quality sleep is obtained in the hours before midnight. Try it for yourself, even if you consider yourself a night owl as I did, and experience the difference. Going to sleep between 10 and 10:30 PM will be easier than trying to fall asleep at 11 PM or thereafter when that second wind inevitably kicks in and we can feel energized.... then it will be even harder to get to sleep and the sleep will be restless. Sleep is a time for for the body-mind to rest so it can heal itself. Detoxification intensifies during sleep time so that the body is able to rid itself of toxins in the morning. Without enough sleep, toxins build up and can create illness, Adequate sleep keeps our cortisol and adrenaline levels in check and assists in weight loss if that is one of your goals. Don't we all just feel better when we get enough sleep? That can even translate to better relationships!
Lack of sleep can cause problems in doing every day work and activity and deplete the immune system thus inviting a number of various other symptoms and illnesses. Insomnia is not a problem that should be ignored or written off as minor. Remember, it is easier to treat a little insomnia or any other minor symptom or seed of illness before it becomes an abnormality on a lab report or diagnostic test. So pay attention to your sleep habits and try some of the remedies listed above if you feel you are suffering from insomnia for more than a couple of days. Be willing to look at the reasons why you might be having insomnia and remove the first cause. Not only will you feel better and more rested, but you will be doing your body and mind a great benefit in the prevention of illness.
Did you know that drinking a hot cup of lemon-ginger water first thing in the morning is a great way to perpetually cleanse and detoxify the body on an ongoing basis? How many of us start the day with a big cup of coffee first thing in the morning? Do you think that a big hit of caffeine is just what your stomach and adrenal glands really desire first thing in the morning before you eat? Coffee stimulates the adrenals to produce more adrenaline (like in the fight/flight or stress response), and is a diuretic so it doesn’t really count as hydration. Do you find that you need even more coffee to keep you going during the day? Do the highs and lows leave you feeling jittery for a few hours and then subsequently exhausted? Sometimes coffee can contribute to anxiety and insomnia even when ingested in the morning. Being a coffee lover myself, I never thought I would be able to give it up, but what I have found is that when I start my day with this healthy and soothing drink, my desire for coffee literally diminishes and sometimes disappears. Try it and see for yourself.
1 C boiling water
1 tsp fresh grated or sliced ginger (or ½ tsp dry ginger if you don’t have fresh, but fresh is always better)
¼ - ½ fresh squeezed lemon (or lime)
Experiment with the amount of lemon & ginger and add a touch of honey or Stevia if you desire a little sweetness.
Mix together & let the ingredients steep for a few minutes. Drink as hot as you can tolerate comfortably.
-Lemon is cleansing to the liver, stimulates digestive juices, is alkalizing to the body and freshens breath.
-Ginger is the universal herb in Ayurvedic Medicine. It is cleansing and detoxifying to the body, enhances digestion, kindles the appetite & digestive fire, and increases the metabolism if you want to lose weight.
-Facilitates morning elimination in a very natural way.
-Gentle yet stimulating to the physiology.
-Hydrates the body after a night of fasting
-When you have overindulged, (sugar, alcohol, caffeine, etc.) this is a great way to detoxify, hydrate, and clear any residual after effects gently and immediately.
Try it every morning for one week and see if you don’t feel cleaner, more vibrant and healthier without the highs and lows of caffeine consumption; benefits you will want to continue!! You might even find like I have, that when you have this first, you may not want coffee, or when you do have it, it will not be on an empty stomach which is much better for your body/mind overall.
To your health ~ Enjoy!!
Dr. Joanna Carmichael is an RN, Dr. of Metaphysics, Divinity, Interfaith Minister, Ayurveda Practitioner, Spiritual Teacher and Founder & CEO of the Kalyana Centre in Narberth, PA