Friday, February 21, 2014

"Take Care"

A few years ago, I wrote this post about automatic language, the phenomenon by which we speak certain scripted statements and responses with little thought. It happens everywhere, when we say "I'm sorry" after bumping into a stranger, when we say Namasté at the end of yoga class, when we say "I'm good" when we are really not. I noticed myself using automatic language frequently, but one phrase has jumped out at me recently: "take care" (used as a salutation when parting with patients and friends).  Maybe I have even uttered the words to you personally.

Although I've noticed myself automatically spouting "take care," it actually has a lot of meaning for me. Because the problem with this phenomenon is not the use of words like "have a nice day" and "take care." The problem is when we do so mindlessly without being present in the moment and without being intentional about what we're communicating. So I'm calling myself out and taking this opportunity to fully explore this phrase and share it with you.

When I say take care, I truly mean it as a invitation for my communication partner to take care of themselves. Take care of yourself by not slipping in an icy parking lot after you leave, by making sure to eat a healthful meal that evening for dinner, or by asking for a hug or some quiet time if you need it later that day. I hope that true meaning comes through when it leaves my lips, I am asking you to please take care your mind body and spirit. Because after you leave my care and company, the rest is up to you.

I also say take care as an instruction. Inviting you to take care of the people around you, the small animals in under your charge, and the earth. Treat the living things around you with love and compassion. Listen mindfully. Spread health and security. Because as the Buddha said, "Happiness never decreases when shared"

I also mean "take care" as a sort of blessing. I am asking the universe take care of you after you leave my company. We can be met with so much out there in the world including physical and mental obstacles. I send you away with this tiny prayer for the universe to look after you.

I hope the salutation works on many levels. I hope you hear it and think to yourself "yes, I will take care of myself tonight in whatever way I need". I hope that the universe hears my prayer and makes an extra effort to put a cushion of care around you. Whatever comes your way. And I hope that you hear it as an invitation to also take care of the ones around you. Because we all need to do that for each other with love and compassion.

So time I say next time you speak or hear "take care" consider all of the many meanings of this phrase. I invite you to explore the phrases you use automatically, ponder the multilayered meanings, and breathe greater intention into your speech today.

And... Take Care. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Medicinal Spices

My mother, brother and I took a "Healthy Indian Cooking Class" with a group of people from her gym last month. The class was held at Food & Fashion of India in Nashua, NH. It is a small establishment, hidden in a strip mall on a busy commercial highway. Half Indian Grocery, half commercial kitchen, Food & Fashion is the type of place where you can buy gold bangles and Fenugrik Seeds and get a side of life wisdom. The cash register is facing North, and the painting of Ganesha is pointing East, because that is according to Vastu Shastra (an Ancient Indian doctrine for architecture) to promote successful business. The owner, Indira, is passionate about serving healthy flavorful food and sharing her message about the medicinal and health benefits of eating this way. She invites groups of 10 or so people at a time to teach her methods.

Indira, working her magic
The event as a whole was lovely. Indira danced around the kitchen, giving us each jobs to pour, toss, sprinkle, and stir. The kitchen smelled like garlic and spices and our mouths watered as we frantically scribbled notes on the method and measurements for each dish. The my classmates often chuckled as we tried to turn Indira's measurements ("a little bit" or "a lot" or about twice that much") into cups and teaspoons so we could recreate the masterpieces later at home. The morning ended with a big meal of Dahl, Cabbage Poriyal, Saag Paneer, Aloo Gobi, and Basmati Rice. We were full. And we spent some time chatting about the medicinal properties of the spices she uses.

Here are some of the gems that she shared

Turmeric: Anti inflammatory properties. Excellent for preventing pain from inflammation, arthritis, and dementia.

Mustard Seeds: Treats diarrhea. Swallow a spoon full four times over the course of 2 hours.

Anjuman Seeds: When added to cooked foods, prevents gas.

Methi Seeds: Prevents or treats constipation.

Hing: Helps digestion.

Jalapeños: Blood thinner.

Currently, it seems that there is so much information out there about avoiding certain substances and ingredients in out diets, or else there will be grave consiquences. This can make food and eating feel dangerous and scary. But learning about the powerful properties of the spices above reminded me once again about the incredible medicinal power of food. Whole healthy ingredients and flavorful spices can add to our lives and help our bodies stay healthy and strong!

What I Learned From My Yoga Injury

One of my most prized possessions is my health and vitality. I didn't think I took it for granted. No sir. Especially in my line of work, where I have the privilege to work with people during devastating illness and injury or at the end of their life. But when I experienced my own (relatively minor) physical injury last month I had an opportunity to learn a few lessons about myself, my body, and how I can live my life.

I started the year off with action. On January 1st I completed a Yoga Mala Practice of 108 Sun Salutations with a dear friend and teacher, Jenn Maniates. It was tough but amazing! And I went home and rested and soaked in epsom salts, as advised. Then my partner and I travelled to Kripalu for a long weekend of yoga and hiking (and also some dancing thrown in). I felt great! My body felt strong and my mind was clear. So ready to take on the new year. But then, a few days after returning home, I hopped out of my car to walk into work and something happened. All of a sudden I could barely walk (let alone do dozens of poses or hike a mountain). I am lucky enough to work with some really skilled Physical Therapists and as soon as I walked into the building I heard "what happened to you??" You can't sneak any gait disturbances past them!

It turned out that there was a fancy name for my injury: I "overdid it." Too much flexibility and not enough strength around my hip caused irritation and pain in the joint and nerves. It was weeks of rest and rehab before I was pain free. And I was so impatient, I thought I would never feel better again. As I started to ease back into my normal activities, the many gifts that came with this injury came into the light.

I finally went to a yoga class last week. I did the whole practice but took a lot of modified poses. I approached my teacher after class to tell him the whole story, how I was recovering, and all I was discovering in the process. When I was done, he said "congratulations!" I smiled and thanked him, because I did uncover many gifts in this experience.

1. You don't know what you've got till it's gone. I thought I was grateful for my health and physical body. But once it was not available to me, then given back, THAT'S when I was REALLY grateful. Trotting up the stairs, sitting cross legged without pain, and just generally moving around pain free is such a blessing after knowing the alternative. I will treat my body with tenderness and gratitude.

2. My injury colored everything. This particular lesson works in two directions. First, it reminded me that there is much more going on for people than meets the eye. My pain and lack of mobility made me cranky and sad, but it was pretty much invisible to others around me (except my rehab therapy friends who could detect my limping a mile away). Compared to some, my injury was brief and mild, but it had a major affect on me. Especially because I was exploring it as more than just a physical injury, and lots of thoughts and feeling were coming up around it. There is a quote I love "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." And I will.
But also, I had an opportunity and a responsibility to put aside my thoughts and fears about this injury, put it in perspective, and (as the now famous British WWII poster says) "Carry on." I will keep calm and carry on.

3. Even something healthy can cause injury when not in balance. As I hobbled around I thought "but I was doing healthy things!" I am naturally flexible, but others are naturally strong. And we tend to prefer exercise that comes more easily to us, so even in my strength building yoga classes, I was tending to sink more into flexibility work and skip the heavy strength stuff. Now I know, when you stretch yourself, you have to protect yourself... or you wreck yourself. And yes, exercising is healthy, but too much of any one thing can throw us out of balance. The same goes for healthy eating. When choosing food becomes so strict that there is no pleasure, we miss out on one of the important ways food and other things we consume "feed us." I will seek balance in all my affairs.

4. Mindfulness goes a long way. After learning all about the way hips work, and asking tons of questions about exactly what was going on with my pain, I began to notice all the ways I created this weakness/imbalance in my body. I realized that I often cross my legs tightly, or stand in a funny unsupported way, or move quickly in and out of twisty positions. Bad habits formed purely out of living day to day and not knowing the affect they have on me. It reminded me of teaching my patients abdominal breathing, and how they often say they had no idea there was any other way. Mindfulness is a practice, thus it is not meant to be done perfectly all the time, but the more mindfulness and awareness we can bring into our every breath, every movement, every interaction, the more we can create the experiences we want. Now, when I am standing in line at the grocery store I can check my posture for places I am sinking into those bad habits, forgive myself, breathe, and correct. I will bring more mindfulness into my physical body and my life.

5. Doing less can be so much more. I've been back to my regular activities for a week or two now, and the most important lesson I've learned is that "less can be more." Before this injury, and especially when I was new to yoga, I would always reach for the deepest expression of the pose, and that felt good. But now that I have more experience, I see the benefits of building a pose from the ground up and attending to the subtle alignments and micromovements within each pose. I really value exploring these subtleties and I can feel how this work is what makes me grow, not the fancy body positions (which can be a nice bonus of a developed and advanced practice). I took a class with a favorite teacher recently, and I gingerly moved in and out of poses, caring for my still-recovering hip. It was a powerful and centering practice. We ended with a simple spinal twist and I could feel this twist in a whole new way, just because of how attentive to my body I had been. It was divine! When I drove home, the snowy landscape made me happy in a new way. And once in my cozy house, my cup of tea sweetened with maple syrup tasted incredible. All of these thoughts and sensations were hightened because of my careful and thoughtful attention to the subtleties of my body. I will explore doing less to see what more it will bring.

These lessons came from my yoga practice, but I believe they are beautifully applicable to many situations in life. I can see many places where I can find more balance (in my schedule, my food, and my relationships). I can see where I can experiment with doing less (in interactions with friends and clients, in my daily activities). Can you? Can you see the gifts in an unfortunate or inconvenient situation in your life?