If you're not familiar yet with Brian Leaf's work, you're missing out. There are many books on Yoga and Spirituality out there. My book shelf is full of them! However, few authors make the practice as accessible as he does with his real-world anecdotes and characteristic humor. This book is no different.
The Teacher Appears: 108 Prompts to Power your Yoga Practice isn't your typical yoga how-to. Formatted as more of a workbook, Leaf provides prompts to help you approach your practice a little differently, and see it in a new light. As a practitioner for the past 18 years, and teacher for the past 9, I am all too familiar with getting stuck in the practice. It's easy to stick with what is familiar, what's comfortable. It's much harder to step outside yourself and try a different approach. Casting aside your assumptions about what your practice is, can help you reconnect with that original intention of what brought you to the mat in the first place.
In addition to Leaf's creative and self-reflective approaches presented in the book, are tidbits of inspirational quotes and advice from other leading teachers in the yoga community. It gives the book more of a collaborative feel, and gave me a sense of just how vast our experience can be. There is no one way forward (in anything), but lots of winding and twisting paths that can ultimately lead us closer to our destination. We just need to stay open to get there, and that usually involves stepping outside your comfort zone and trying a new approach.
You'll find some great new approaches in this book! Read it, and yoga on!
Forgive the absence, but the past year has been a blur. The herbal clinic grew by leaps and bounds, my friends and I at Om Grown Yoga developed some amazingly lovely teas (the new drink of choice in Bryan/College Station!) AND guided some amazingly talented humans through their 200hr Yoga Therapy training. Be sure to check out the studio if you're ever in their neighborhood. Most importantly though, is the progress that all my health empowered clients made. Whether herbs, yoga therapeutics, or both, you guys made last year SO full of joy as I saw you gain more mobility, resolve health and pain issues, and just overall get back to balance. Thank You! Truly.
And to top the already full year off, we moved! I'm thrilled to announce I accepted a faculty position at the Vermont Center for Integrative Health. So we packed it all up, and two thousand miles later here we are in Montpelier, VT! So grateful for this amazing opportunity and to see all it brings.
The clinic is still going (although it looks a little different now!), we're still plotting lovely tea blends, and I'll be making guest teaching appearances during the next 200 hr. training. The wheel keeps turning, and it's such a privilege to continue the work with you.
I wish you all the happiest, healthiest year yet!
Although Fall and Winter are traditionally a time to go within and nourish ourselves, it is often quite the opposite. The holiday season, with its sweets, holiday parties, and increased activity can lead to imbalances in the body that manifest as fatigue, stress, and illness. To enjoy the holiday season amidst the chaos, consider adding a few adaptogenic herbs into your daily routine.
Adaptogens are herbs that help to provide balance, as well as restore and protect the body from every day stress. While they don't alter our mood, they do enhance our bodies ability to adapt to emotional and physical stress, allowing us to approach each day with vitality.
If you start to feel run down during the holiday season, these herbs might be for you.
1. Ashwagandha: Revered for millennia in India, Ashwagandha is known to boost the immune system and ease anxiety. It tonifies our entire system, while calming and strengthening the nervous system. Extremely useful if traveling to visit family!
2. Holy Basil: Also known as Tulsi, Holy Basil is another sacred herb in India. A member of the mint family, this herb is famous for balancing out the body, mind, and spirit. It's a powerful antioxidant, and has been shown to have antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Schisandra: This astringent berry has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Known as a tonic herb, it helps to reduce fatigue and increase physical performance as well as endurance. Perfect for those long and draining trips to the mall.
4. Rhodiola: This powerful adaptogen of the West has been studied in depth for its anti-stress and fatigue fighting properties. It also acts to protect the heart and liver, as well as improve memory.
5. Eleuthro: Commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Eleuthro is also known as Siberian Ginseng. Considered an exceptional tonic herb for thousands of years, Eleuthro helps to increase longevity and vitality during times of stress.
Of course, be sure to consult your doctor or qualified healthcare practitioner for proper dosage before adding any herbs to your daily regiment. And enjoy the holiday season with vitality!
*This post was originally published for Kaplan's Center for Health and Wellness
It's coming! The holiday season is bearing down on us and will without a doubt fly by in a flash. As we approach this most wonderful time of year, take a few minutes to pause and consider how you will enjoy the season and avoid the guilt of overindulging.
1. Be Selective: Before you start munching on the first appetizer or party platter you see, take a little tour. Get a visual of all that is offered, and then choose wisely. If you fill your tiny plate with mostly fruits or veggies, you won't have room for that bacon wrapped pastry puff.
2. Get Creative: We all have those old family recipes that are essential this time of year. Consider transforming holiday favorites to have a healthy flair. Replace lard or Crisco with coconut oil or good old butter (in moderation). Replace white flour with whole wheat, almond, or oat flour. And you can almost always cut the sugar in half. You can still have the nostalgia without the digestive issues.
3. Remind Yourself: It's easy to rationalize that this time of year is just too crazy to think about nutrition. Now it's easier than ever to remind yourself what your nutritional goals are. Use your favorite nutrient tracking app (I personally like MyFitnessPal), or just keep a copy of your goals on your refrigerator. The points is--keep your nutritional plan front and center.
4. BYOB: Whether it's food or beverage, ask your host if you can contribute and then bring a healthy option. Most will welcome the offer.
5. Moderate: Enjoy, these sweet and savory flavors are part of the season! But do so in moderation. Savor eat bite, chew thoroughly and fully appreciate the tastes and flavors you experience. Eating healthy doesn't have to mean depriving yourself completely. But slow down....and enjoy the food, not the guilt.
*This post was originally published for the Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness
There are few things better than sitting outside with a nice cold beverage during a hot and sultry summer afternoon. Taking the time to pause and refresh yourself isn't just good for the body, but for the mind and spirit as well. Instead of going for the more traditional high sugar iced tea or lemonade, why not choose a cooling drink that has additional health benefits?
Hibiscus has a strongly cooling and refreshing nature. It's also a great anti-inflammatory, and shows promise in reducing high blood pressure and high cholesterol*. And it's delicious! Here's a recipe that will make you think twice before you choose that next sweet tea.
As always, be sure to talk to your health practitioner when adding a new herbal remedy into your daily regiment.
*Hopkins, AL et al. (2013). Hibiscus sabdariffa L. in the treatment of hypertension and hyperlipidemia: a comprehensive review of animal and human studies. Fitoterapia,85, 84-94.
*This post was originally published for the Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness*
It's August, and for many parts of the country that means spiking temperatures. I know more than a few friends who are ready for the Fall, dreaming about hoodies and hot cocoa. Until the first whisper of those cool breezes do hit, finding ways to stay balanced in the heat is key to our overall health and wellness.
Yoga can be a great way to stay balanced throughout the seasons. According to yoga's sister science, Ayurveda, summer is when Pitta (think hot, fiery, volatile) energy is in full force. We tend to be more active, social, and have an irregular schedule. Those who already have a Pitta dominant constitution (motivated, sharp-witted, fiery) need to be especially vigilant to stay in balance this time of year. If you've been having skin outbreaks, heartburn, or have been especially impatient or angry lately, you need to take a step back and cool down. Here are some yoga postures to help you do just that:
Cat/Cow: Place your hands underneath your shoulders, knees underneath your hips. Inhale as you arch your back, drawing your chest slightly forward and lifting your tailbone up towards the sky (Cow). Exhale and push deeply into the earth as you round your spine and release your head towards the earth (Cat). Repeat 3-5 times, integrating movement with breath. Moving with the breath helps to regulate the body temperature.
Puppy Pose: Take a deep breath in, and keeping the belly engaged start to walk your hands forward. You can drop to your forearms or keep them slightly lifted as you exhale and drop the chest down towards the floor. Keep the thighs vertical as you draw the breath deep into your belly. Allow yourself to get grounded here, drawing the cooling, nourishing breath in and releasing heat with each exhalation.
Cobra Pose: Draw yourself forward through the crown of your head and come onto your belly. Place the hands under the shoulders, elbows in closely to your sides. With a deep inhalation pull the chest forward and through the hands, coming up any amount that feels good. Keep the tops of the feet grounded behind you to stabilize the lower back. This gentle backbend can apply beneficial pressure to the belly to release heat from the abdomen. Press back to Puppy pose to release the lower back.
Seated Forward Fold: Come to a comfortable seated posture. Extend the legs long, about hip distance apart, and ground down through your tailbone. Engage the deep belly as you extend up through the crown of your head. Inhale and reach up, elongating the spine. Exhale and slowly fold forward, bending the knees as much as you need to. Place the hands on the thighs, shins, or feet. Let each inhalation come in like a wave, lengthening the spine, and each exhale softening into the posture. Forward folds cool the mind and body, allowing yourself to go inward in a time of transition.
Bridge Pose: Make your way onto your back. From here, bend your knees and place your feet about hip distance apart, fingertips just grazing your heels. As you exhale, push down and away through your feet to lift your hips off the ground. You can stay here, or inhale and reach your arms up and over your head, hips still lifted. Slowly draw the arms back up, through center, and down to the ground as you slowly melt the hips down. Integrate this movement a few more times, pulling cooling breath up to the top lobes of the lungs.
Reclined Twist: Extend both legs long, and reach up and over the head. Extend through fingers and heels. As you exhale, curl into both knees, hugging them into you.
Let your head and shoulders rest on the ground, arms out wide to the sides, palms facing up. Take a nice deep breath in, slowly lower your bent knees over to the right as you exhale, shifting your gaze to the opposite hand. Hold for 2-3 breaths, and repeat on the other side. Twisting helps to cool the blood, releasing heat from the intestines and the liver.
*This post was originally published for the Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness*
I have a confession to make. I read a lot of parenting books. Let's face it, parenting is hard. And I can use all the help I can get! While we might like to idealize it into sticky kisses and early morning snuggles, that is definitely not the whole picture. There's crying, tantrums, and power struggles mixed into sleepless nights and stressed out days. But yes, there are sticky kisses and morning snuggles. Finding the balance between these two realities can be quite challenging.
So when asked to review Parenting with Presence by Susan Stiffelman, of course I jumped at the chance. Who doesn't want a more conscious, confident, and caring kid? Stiffleman, a marriage and family therapist, says that even though most parents subscribe to the belief that inner growth happens as a result of daily meditation, mindfulness retreats, and/or inspiration from wise luminaries, it is actually their children who can be their greatest teachers. “When it comes to parenting, it seems that although we may not have knowingly signed up for the ‘course’ our children offer, we nonetheless find ourselves forced to profoundly grow, and grow up,” writes Stiffelman. “In this respect, I believe our children can become our greatest teachers. While we may not deliberately choose to have a baby so that we can heal wounds from our childhood or become a better version of ourselves, in fact, those opportunities — and thousands more — are birthed right along with our children.”
It's all about perspective right? How we view our universe and our reality. Instead of reacting, taking a moment to pause can change the whole scene. Easier said than done, but Stiffelman gives some great tips to help along the way, which I've shared below. If you're looking for a new approach to your family situation, check it out. It might just change your reality.
Five Tips for Parenting With Presence
I had meditated from the time I was sixteen, so as I approached motherhood, I was certain I would be spared those dramatic, stressful moments I saw frazzled parents having with their children. Yelling or shouting? I would be too centered to succumb to that level of frustration. Trying to rush my child to get where we were going? I was confident about my ability to slow down and live in the moment.
In theory, parenting with presence sounds easy enough. Putting it into practice in real time with real children is another thing altogether. No one can push our buttons the way our kids can — ignoring repeated requests to come to dinner after we’ve made something healthy and tasty, or refusing to stay in their beds when we’ve run out of steam and desperately want to go to sleep. Sometimes we lose our cool, and our way.
Parenting shows us just how human we are. Humbling, yes, but if we relax into the experience rather than resist the difficult moments, it can be one of the greatest opportunities we will ever have to learn how to love more deeply, live more fully in the moment and become more open-hearted versions of ourselves. A blessing of untold magnitude, but one with a never-ending invitation to stretch and grow.
Here are a few of the things I have learned about parenting with presence:
Be good enough. Our children don’t need us to be saintly or enlightened. We just need to be good enough. Don't allow mean, critical voices in your head to tell you that you're not adequately conscious or evolved. That voice -- the one telling you that if you were more "spiritual," you wouldn't yell at your kids-- is not your friend. It is only with a heart that is at ease with our imperfections that we can truly embrace the opportunities for spiritual growth that come with being a parent. When you lose your way, touch your heart with a “There, there” as you would comfort a child, and begin anew.
When your buttons get pushed, look beneath the surface. None of us like being ignored or dealing with tantrums. But when we feel especially triggered by our child’s unpleasant behavior, unfinished business from our own childhood may be rearing its ugly head. If your child’s anger makes your blood boil, it may be rekindling memories of a parent’s explosive temper. If you feel painfully disrespected when your kids pretend they don’t hear you, it may be activating the hurt of being ignored as a child. Our children can be invaluable beacons of light, illuminating our emotional dark corners to catalyze deep healing and open us to extraordinary dimensions of love and acceptance.
Commit to moments of full engagement. Most of us juggle the demands of our lives by giving partial attention to each activity without being fully present for any of them. We listen halfheartedly to our child’s story about Show and Tell while our wandering mind thinks over the emails we need to send. We rush our kids through brushing their teeth, counting the moments until we can fall wearily into bed. When our kids sense our divided attention, they often generate chaos and drama to bring all of us into the room, even if their behavior results in threats or punishments. Focus on the one thing you're doing, whether it's serving a snack or changing a diaper. Investing even a few moments of fully-engaged time with your kids can bring greater joy to your parenting life.
Challenge fear. Many parents are driven by anxiety. What will happen if she doesn’t finish her homework? What if he refuses to eat dinner…again? When we are ruled by fear, we tend to come across to our children as desperate and needy, effectively putting them in charge of our happiness. Make friends with the worst case scenario so it has less of a hold over you.
Unplug. These days it is nearly impossible to visit a park and not find parents checking their devices while the kids play, or strolling their baby while chatting on their cell phone. Rarely do you see families in a restaurant without at least one person—often a child— on some kind of digital device. We all know that the digital revolution has brought amazing things to our lives, but our children need regular doses of our presence. Yes, it’s great that you can reach out for the support of your cyber-tribe when you’re feeling isolated with little kids. But the next time your cell phone beeps, try staying a little longer in the 3D world.
My now twenty-four year old son walks into the house as I’m finishing up this article. I feel the tug of my writing, but the pull on my heart is stronger and I stand up to share a hug and a few moments of “How’ve ya been?” as we catch up after not seeing each other for a few days.
I have enjoyed many soul-nurturing experiences in my life but to this day, seeing my son still splits open my heart like nothing else can. Through the many rough patches and the countless days when I fell miles short of being as conscious as I had hoped to be, this love remains. Pure, perfect and miraculous.
Susan Stiffelman, mft is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and the Huffington Post’s weekly “Parent Coach” advice columnist. She lives in Malibu, California where she is an aspiring banjo player, a determined tap-dancer, and an optimistic gardener. Visit her online at http://www.ParentingwithPresence.com.
Based on the book Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids ©2015 by Susan Stiffelman. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com
Recently I was asked to speak for a local support group for people who suffer from Fibromyalgia. I think they have the best name---Fibro Fight Club!-- and are led by a passionate lady who has lived with this condition for many years.
Very welcoming and warm, these souls have suffered for many years from pain, emotional fluctuations, and stress. One of the hardest parts of working with someone with Fibromyalgia is that each person presents different symptoms, and these symptoms can change by the hour. It has made many doctors throw their hands up, and can lead to a feelings of helplessness for those who suffer from it.
While individualized care is really essential for anyone suffering from Fibromyalgia, there are certain treatments that can be effective. Here's a few of my favorites:
Joint & Muscle Pain
§ Cayenne and Menthol Oil: reduces intensity of pain signals
§ Lavender Oil: Reduces inflammation and increases emotional well-being
§ Ginger Baths: Ginger boosts the anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties of other herbs and mobilizes the body's own healing agents to ease the pain of fibromyalgia and arthritis.
§ Willow Bark Tea: provides the equivalent of a low aspirin dose, without the stomach upset that aspirin can cause. It can take a few weeks to build up in your system before you notice a difference.
§ Depression: Lemon Balm, St. John’s Wort, Milk Oats, Rhodiola
§ Chronic Fatigue: Ginseng, Eleuthro, Ashwagandha, Bitters
§ Insomnia: Chamomile, passionflower, lavender, Skullcap
§ Stress Management: All of the above!
§ Use a few herbs for a variety of symptoms!
o High nutrients, proper diet
o Magnesium rich foods: Leafy greens, seeds and nuts, fish, avocados, bananas, dark chocolate, yogurt. Oat straw and Nettle Infusions.
o Healthy oils: Flax oil, fish oil, fatty fish such as trout, cod, halibut, mackerel and salmon, nuts, whole grains
o High Fiber: need to trap toxins and move them out of the body.
o Avoid Processed Foods: dairy products, meat, and margarine
o Reduce: Hot (spicy) and fried foods; processed sugar; very bitter and astringent foods like brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes. Excessive black tea, coffee, alcohol, yogurt, chocolate, cocoa.
o Hydrate! 8 glasses of water, fresh juices and herbal teas to flush out toxins
o Investigate: gluten sensitivity
o Proper exercise and stress management: Yoga, journaling, walking, fresh air, friends and family, community support
Considering your own unique constitution can also be very helpful with this condition. Called Doshas in Ayurvedic Medicine, it can help us approach the disease from a more individualized perspective. You can take an online quiz here to find out what your own unique constitution is.
If you or someone you love is suffering from Fibromyalgia, try some of these techniques to find a little respite.
Every January there's a trend of increased enrollment at fitness centers, high sales of exercise equipment, and lots of sign ups for weight loss programs. Although our New Year's Resolutions have a positive intention, they also have an unintended consequence. Adrenal fatigue and hormone imbalance run rampant this time of year. And it's no wonder! The holidays already leave us feeling depleted and exhausted, and jumping right into a new diet and exercise program can be a recipe for disaster.
Getting those crazy hormones back in balance before you dive into any new regiment is essential.
These are the bodies’ chemical messengers and they travel through the blood stream to our tissues and organs to affect everything from growth, metabolism, reproduction, mood, sleep, etc.
These are constantly in flux, but when levels are consistently out of balance it can lead not only to adrenal fatigue, but to skin problems, depression, weight gain, thyroid issues, fertility problems, menstrual issues, low energy, and insomnia as well.
While there’s no one size fits all answer to hormone imbalance—you have to think about lifestyle and dietary changes-- there are some great preventative herbs and supplements you can use to balance your levels to alleviate the symptoms.
Many of these are your old favorites!
Magnesium- Magnesium supports hundreds of reactions in the body and often contributes to better sleep (which is great for hormones!). You can find this in powder or liquid form. 300-350mg/day
Food Sources: Leafy greens, seeds and nuts, fish, avocados, bananas, dark chocolate, yogurt
Vitamin D- A pre-hormone that is deeply supportive of hormone function. Best obtained from the sun if possible, or from a D3 supplement. 800-1000 IU/daily
Food Sources: beef, liver, cheeses, egg yolks, mushrooms & cod liver oil
Omega 3 Fatty Acids- These essentials create healthy cell membranes so hormones reach their destination more easily. They also help maintain and repair hormone receptor sites. Fish oil is one of the best sources of omega-3s but can contain harmful levels of mercury, so look for ones with "tested for heavy metals" or "filtered free of environmental pollutants" on their labels.
500 mg per day
Food Sources: Fish, nuts, eggs, leafy greens, whole grains
Ashwagandha- Acts as an adaptogen—a substance that helps balance hormone excesses or deficits by boosting the efficiency of the sites where hormones bind with cells. Used in Ayurvedic medicine to help resolve adrenal and thyroid-hormone imbalances, ashwagandha allows the body to better cope with stress.
Recommended dose: 600 mg per day
Asian Ginseng- An adaptogenic herb that helps alleviate a variety of symptoms, particularly the fuzzy thinking that can accompany a reproductive-hormonal imbalance as well as the hot temper and low immunity associated with stress-hormone imbalances.
Recommended dose: 200-400 mg per day, with at least 4 percent ginsenosides
Dong Quai- Can help balance estrogen levels that are too high or too low. This adaptogenic herb has been used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years to relieve PMS, hot flashes, and menstrual cramps.
Recommended dose: 150-300 mg per day
Rhodiola- Adaptogenic rhodiola has been the subject of more than 180 studies, which have shown it to increase thyroid function, help the body adapt to stress, reduce fatigue, boost strength, improve brain function, and lift mood.
Recommended dose: 100 mg daily of a standardized form containing at least 2.6 percent rosavin and 1 percent salidroside
Vitex- Also called chaste berry, the herb regulates hormonal balance and menstrual cycle, normalizing estrogen along with progesterone. Treats mood swings, acne, depression, and PMS.
Recommended Dose: 225 mg in capsules.
Important Note on Supplement Quality
Not all supplements are created equal!
o Do your research: Important to remember that the FDA treats supplements as foods rather than medicines. This means that makers of supplements don’t have to prove that they are safe or effective before they put them on the market. They are only pulled off the market AFTER adverse affects have been reported. Find a quality brand, and stick with it
o Be wary of Claims: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A quality supplement won’t promise to “cure” anything.
o GMP’s: Choose a supplement that adheres to good manufacturing processes, and is certified by a 3rd party. Look for USP, NSF, or Consumer Lab seals on the label.
o Whole Food Supplements: Look for supplements that are plant based rather than synthetic. These will break down and assimilate much more effectively in the body.
o Reputable Brands : Rainbow Light, Garden of Life, New Chapter, Planetary Herbals, Mega Foods, Nature’s Plus
Now go ahead, get back in balance. And get to work on those resolutions!
In addition to using herbal allies like Wild Cherry Bark Cough Syrup to start to clear a cough and congestion, there are other simple ways to break up phlegm, open the lungs, and clear sinuses. Many people use a humidifier this time of year, and you can easily add essential oils to these in order to inhale the volatile oils (be sure to check the manufacturer recommendations). Similarly, you can create an herbal steam for a more targeted approach.
But you don't have to stop at using just the essential oils. Incorporating thyme and peppermint into your diet this time of year is a great preventative as well. Other delicious foods that can help keep your respiratory system healthy are garlic, ginger, and onions. Even cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg have warming properties that can not only assist digestion, but keep blood circulating to warm the lungs and keep the tissue healthy. It's no wonder that we crave these flavors this time of year!
If we start tuning into these seasonal cravings more, vs. just grabbing the easiest pre-packaged item on the shelf, we can dramatically change our health and wellness. So tune in, and enjoy the flavors of the season.
*This post was originally published with Kaplan's Center for Health and Wellness*
I am constantly amazed by the healing power of yoga and herbs. They inspire me to heal, to write, to teach, and to keep exploring.