This summer I had the opportunity to practice the oft-touted phrase of ‘let go and go with the flow’. My partner, Josh, and I had spent the past few months planning and preparing for a section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I had a 3-year plan to complete each of the 70-150 mile sections in Washington state by 2020. This year we were planning to hike Rainy Pass in the North Cascades to the northern terminus in Manning Park, BC, Canada. I had been pouring over the maps and trail books, studying campsites and water sources, securing Canada border crossing permits, buying supplies and food, calling ranger stations to discuss conditions and permits. My parents flew into town and had lodging secured at the beginning to drop us off and the end to pick us up. Can you guess where this is going?? Yes, we didn’t get to go. Two days before the start of the hike, the section of trail was closed due to wildfires burning near or on the trail. (If you live in the area, you are probably keenly aware of the devastating season of fires we’ve experienced along with the coinciding poor air quality).
The first night I saw the PCT announcement, I have to admit that I didn’t sleep much, woke up in tears, and cried through most of my work day. I felt both angry and sad, along with a feeling of responsibility for the people who had made plans around our trip (mom, dad, Josh and sister). I was wallowing in the loss of a plan that I had spent so much time and energy perfecting. I was so upset; I could not let go. This trip had been my passion for the summer, preparing for this very section of trail, which was now completely off-limits to me due to circumstances way beyond my control. I also didn’t feel confident planning an entirely new trip at this point with only 2 days to prepare, so the sense of loss was heightened.
Here’s the pattern: attachment to a plan, preparation for the plan, loss of the plan, grief. In Buddhism this is described as ‘samsara’: in figurative terms, a cycle of grief, suffering brought on by impermanence and our own attachments.
I know about this cycle, but it doesn’t make the experience of it it any easier. I had to re-group. I discussed the options with my family and decided to re-do a section of trail that we had done 3 years prior, from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. This, in fact, was the only section of trail that you could currently do to completion due to wildfires burning state-wide. Granted, this plan meant that I didn’t get any closer to my 3-year goal of section hiking the WA PCT, but I had to start focusing on the array of positives that came with the new plan: mom could hike 3 days with us, less threat of smoke and fires, revisit a section we loved, get into my favorite alpine lake, etc. I had to focus on the ‘lotus in the mud’. When I focused on what I had lost, it was all grief. When I shifted my mindset, it was more positive. It took a few days to get there, but I was able to see it for what it was. Had we left two days earlier on the section we had planned to do, we would have been in danger, and most likely evacuated by firefighters part-way in.
In what you could see as irony, or perhaps fate, the trail we did hike took our boots through a burn area from 9 years before. This section took on a ghostly beauty. I know that fires (to some extent) are a natural part of a forest ecosystem, in fact some species of pinecone only release their seed under the stress of wildfire. I was in awe of the abundance of wildflowers growing up from the earth. The tree trunks left standing were white and black with char. But the fireweed, a vibrant purple, was thick and thriving. I appreciated the metaphor for my current situation. Things beyond our control often sweep our grand plans away, and we’re left to see the fireweed making its way in the undergrowth.
What are some of your wildfires?
The Obsession with Control
When one understands
The Truth of Impermanence,
One will cease to be obsessed with
While we all may have trouble sleeping from time to time, extended periods of sleeplessness (either trouble falling asleep or trouble staying asleep, aka insomnia) can be a real bummer. I suffer from insomnia occasionally, and have discovered that it goes in cycles, either hormonal or seasonal, and can be stress-induced (like after a death, move, or break-up). I’ll go over some common reasons for insomnia, plus a few simple tips for managing it more effectively. One thing that really helps me is to remember that insomnia is not life-threatening, and the more I stress about it, the worse it gets. Each cycle ends eventually, and there are ways to mitigate the negative effects.
The most common causes for insomnia are:
Poor sleep interacts cyclically with many psychological conditions. Insomnia can either be a cause or an effect of anxiety, stress, or depression; and may cause feelings of panic, dread or hopelessness. I interviewed a naturopathic doctor (ND) who specializes in sleep disorders (Catherine Darley), and learned that many doctors have little to no training in sleep. (When I saw my primary care doctor, her only advice was to try an over-the-counter sleep aid.) Of course, it can’t hurt to start with your PCP, but if you aren’t pleased with the results, continue to seek help from other sources until you are satisfied!
Here are some tips to treat mild/occasional insomnia:
Instead of sharing tips and tricks for getting through the holidays, I wanted to just say that in my experience, holidays can magnify the stresses of everyday life, whether it's around time, family, food, money, travel, work, expectations, etc.... in addition to that, being out of your routine can throw off sleep, eating, exercise, you name it. So I won't share my '10 tips for a successfully unstressful holiday'. There are no quick fixes for stress-- it's a life-long journey to be resourced and to understand what you can do for self-care and stress-management year-round.
I realized that a lot of stress in general and especially around the holidays is either an attachment to the past; positive or negative (ie nostalgia OR resentment), or an anxiety around the future (near or distant). The absolute best thing you can do for stress is to re-enter the present moment-- every sight, sound, taste, and sensation of it. Breathe in, breathe out, label everything that crosses through your mind as either a thought, emotion or sensation. Does this sound familiar? It's meditation in action.
Instead of sharing any profound wisdom about the holidays, my best offering is to re-post my deep relaxation practice. Do this type of relaxation and you will reset your brain, body, and emotions, and may find it easier to enter the present moment with ease.
This isn't one more thing on your to-do list, it's one less thing to do.
I recently took a fascinating class on Cannabis and CHABA (Cannabis Health and Beauty Aids) taught by Jen Chan, an LMT and leading activist in the field. CHABA are topical cannabis products that contain less than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis). Because of the extremely low levels of THC, these cannabis topicals won't make you high or make you test positive in a drug test for THC. In 2015 Washington State passed a bill (RCW 69.50.575) that takes CHABA off the controlled substance act pertaining to marijuana... that means they can be sold unregulated in retail stores and LMTs can legally use them in their practice! See the law here.
The active ingredient in CHABA is CBD (cannabidiol), a cannabinoid that has analgesic (pain relieving), anti-inflammatory, and anti-spasmodic properties, and none of the intoxicating properties of THC. Project CBD claims,
"Extensive preclinical research and some clinical studies have shown that CBD has strong anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, anti-depressant, anti-psychotic, anti-tumoral, and neuroprotective qualities."
In other words, there are so many things CBD can treat! Topical CBD products usually come in a cream or gel form. They act directly on the area applied to stop pain at its source (if you're a nerd, read about the Endocannabinoid System here).
Cannabis health & beauty aids may assist in the treatment of chronic and acute pain, arthritis, headaches/migraines, skin conditions (rashes, excema, psoriasis), bruises, sprains/strains, anxiety, depression... they've even been shown to help with nausea and pain of cancer treatment, and to minimize the effects of Parkinsons and MS. Doesn't that sound great??! More medical research needs to be done to prove all of these, but the current research is promising. Come try it out for yourself!
It's the time of year in the PNW where we fill the long days drinking in the sun and heat, smelling of tomato plants and squash, flocking to beaches, lakes and mountains. This summer Josh and I were lucky enough to be out backpacking every other weekend, culminating our summer trips with a 5-day section of the Pacific Crest Trail. My 68-year old trail-crushing mom came along and my sister and brother-in-law joined us for the first 3 days.
For a loooong time, I've been compelled to spend time in nature (Walden Pond, anyone?)... beyond the obvious benefits of getting away from society's tedium, I find that nature vacations are the most comprehensive getaway- boosting healthy thoughts and behaviors, resetting our brains, challenging ourselves physically and mentally, experiencing beauty, and immersing in the quiet. I even read that 'Forest Bathing' is being prescribed as a mindfulness and stress-reduction tool in some societies (duh!)
Here's what I love about spending time in the woods:
"A blade of grass is the journeywork of the stars" - Walt Whitman
1) It's simple. I'm not paying bills, responding to texts or emails, checking notifications or dealing with any of the stresses of daily life. I am simply waking up and walking from here to there. I set up my home in the evening and take it down the next morning. I heat water, I make food, I check a map, I carry everything I need with me on my back. No news, no politics, no notifications. I am untethered.
2) It's beautiful. Every trail has a beauty to it, whether it's the macro: wildflowers, old growth trees, mosses, fungi, deer... or the broad: mountains, alpine lakes, glaciers, meadows... I am in awe of the landscapes around me.
3) It's physical. It's obvious, but hiking is great exercise. I can feel my legs working, my heart pumping- I'm sweating and exhausted when I reach the end of the day. Walking is the most natural form of exercise, and doing it for hours at a time for days in a row feels like I'm working out all of the kinks. Although it's not easy, I come back feeling strong, refreshed and alive. I am amazed at my body's capacity to carry me so far.
It's so simple, so beautiful, so challenging and peaceful. I put one foot in front of the other, I hear my poles clicking against the rocks, I breathe in and out, I laugh with my companions, I lay flat on the ground, I dip in cold water, I see the stars at night. Soon I'll put my pack away until next season, wrap up in scarves and Seahawks gear, and reminisce about the long, hot summer.
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” - Henry David Thoreau
How many of you are annoyed at how much you use your phone? Are you bothered when a friend or partner uses his/her phone in front of you? How about when you see people walking down the street, sitting on the bus, eating, DRIVING with their head tilted down staring into the screen? The common thread here is annoyance. It's like a nagging stupid little bug that buzzes and buzzes and never goes away. I know I'm not the only one, and I don't see how this pattern will get better as we move into the future.
One glaring aspect of this phenomenon is that many of us check our devices to find a sense of connection through social media. I know I do! However, the reality that I've experienced is that I feel empty and less connected after checking my news feed. And very often it actually takes me away from present moment social interactions. The connection I feel through the device is false, temporary and illusory.
As a health coach, I specialize in behavior change. What a perfect situation we have here for an experiment! I've been annoyed for a long time, but in the past week I decided to take steps towards changing my behavior (remember, you can only change YOUR behavior... your partner has to make his or her own choices and you can choose how you react). One thing I've noticed is that the first step is mindfulness. If you don't even notice you're using you're phone, how can you change the pattern of addiction?
Here are a few tips for changing phone/device behavior:
1- Move your apps around to break your habit. My first step was to move my Facebook app off the toolbar on my home screen and into my entertainment folder. I noticed my checking pattern reduce dramatically when I had to take 3 extra steps (slide, tap, tap) to check the app.
2- Don't take your phone bed. I check my phone last thing before bed and first thing in the morning. And I use my phone as alarm. WHY is it so hard to get myself to meditate for 10 minutes per day when I scroll mindlessly through Facebook for 10 minutes every morning? WTF? I'm buying a wake-up light RIGHT NOW........... as soon as it arrives, the phone will stay charging in the kitchen at night.
3- Track your app usage. Why not fight fire with fire? The irony of using an app to diminish your app usage is not lost on me. There are numerous free apps that can track your usage and either gently remind you or kick you off when you've reached a self-imposed usage limit. Here's one article. Let me know if you find an app you love! I just downloaded Moment for my iPhone. My sister is using a program called "waste no time" on her work computer. Do you like it, Sarah @blueyedgenes?
4- Take a technology fast. Here's one you can do with a friend or partner! Designate a day or part of a day where phones are off or silenced. The very act of putting your phone away from arm's length will automatically make you check it less. Maybe you'll find another activity you love... like interacting with a human! :) You could even use this as a chance to use an 'I' statement: 'When you read your phone while we're having a conversation, I feel like our connection is lost. I feel dismissed and diminished.'
5- Try something new. What are some ways you can think of to change your technology behaviors? With just 3 seconds of brainstorming I came up with 1- leave the phone at home when I go out for socializing, 2- take a 5 minute walk outside instead of catching up on notifications at work 3- silence or disable all notifications on the phone 4- post less and check less 5- take yourself off or interact less with unnecessary apps (Twitter or Instagram not fun anymore? WTF is Vine?) 6- put it on airplane mode when you're feeling 'checky' 7- designate a day for checking Facebook and stay off the rest of the week 8- use a language app to learn new skills instead of reading through a newsfeed (yes you're still looking at your phone, but it's fruitful!)
I'm so excited that I don't have to be stuck in a behavior I don't like. Will you join me in ending the epidemic of 'scrolliosis'? You don't have to quit cold-turkey to change a behavior. Little changes can make big impacts.
After my query into how to keep your life organized, I started reading a dear little book by Marie Kondo called "the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering an organizing". This book is simply adorable to read, and teaches a message about tidying and reorganizing your home, and in the process reshaping your life. She has a method for dealing with every category in your home, and recommends spending a good chunk of time doing a complete overhaul that will change your way of dealing with things forever... so you never have to do it again! "Make it a special event, not a daily chore. If you do a little each day, you'll never get it done." I'll give a brief overview of my favorite messages from this book.
Sort by category, not location. So, sort all your clothes at once and all your books at another time, etc, instead of doing it room-by-room.
Discard first. Start by visualizing your destination, and keep that in mind as you go. My absolute favorite rule in this book (the one that will really change your relationship to stuff) is to only keep those items that when you hold them and touch them BRING YOU JOY. If for any reason something doesn't spark joy for you, discard it. When you can’t throw something away, hold it and tap in to why you bought it. Has it served it’s purpose? Maybe it taught you what doesn’t suit you, or brought you a thrill for those few moments in the dressing room. Take old items which you have been unable to part from and "...free them from the prison to which you have relegated them. Help them leave that deserted isle to which you have exiled them. Let them go with gratitude."
Another favorite moment came when I read the chapter "Papers rule of thumb: discard everything" ... YES!... Now I feel free from my prison of papers. She presents great tips and rules about each category and why it's OK to discard almost all papers. YESSSSSS!
The chapter on clothes (a great place to start the tidying process) explains how you need to take all clothes out of drawers, closets, storage bins, and lay them out on the floor. Select which ones to discard first, those that don’t bring you joy when you hold them (even if you wore it yesterday). Then the ones you keep, she explains how to fold them in a way that makes them happy. I got a hoot out of the sock chapter: "the socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet. The time they spend in your drawer is the only chance to rest… what treatment could be worse than this?"
Kondo speaks of a 'click-point', or a perfect amount of 'stuff' to own that feels right for you. As you put things in order, you'll see what your 'true values' are, the things that you keep that bring you joy can often open up to you what your passions are in life. You can discard all the rest.
The deeper message of the book is that so much of the clutter you hang on to stems from either your clinging to the past or your anxiety about the future. Can you look at items in your home and see that truth?
I had the privilege of attending a restorative yoga teacher training with Jodi Boone last weekend. Restorative yoga is a very restful form of yoga where you 'hold' poses for longer than a normal yoga class while supported by blocks, blankets and bolsters. The beauty of this type of yoga is that it's the antidote to stress, and you may experience a profound feeling of peace and relaxation during and after the practice. I was drawn to this type of yoga after attending many 'power', flow, Bikram and vinyasa types of yoga classes. I would often feel like I got a good workout for my heart and muscles, but it didn't feel like yoga, and I wasn't receiving the benefits of feeling rested and peaceful. I knew that yoga was originally developed to prepare the body and mind for meditation, and these fast-paced classes were not doing that for me. Faster forms of yoga have benefits for sure, but to truly get the restful benefits of peace for body and mind, it's necessary to slow down and restore.
Another aspect of a restorative yoga practice is that studies have shown it to be correlated with healthy weight and weight loss. Why? Because so many of us have stressful lives, and high levels stress hormones like cortisol encourage bodies to hang on to fat cells, and are linked to belly fat and weight gain. Restorative yoga moves your body's nervous system from the sympathetic 'fight or flight' mode to the parasympathetic 'rest and digest' mode. Do you think our bodies might process food better if we slow down and let them? In the parasympathetic mode, blood flows from your extremities back to your core so your heart, liver and organs can get the blood and nourishment they need for optimal functioning. Restorative yoga is like an adult nap, and when you rest with awareness, there are profound benefits for your body and mind.
Check Jodi's and Heather's websites for some restorative classes around Seattle.
I want to know what you do to stay organized! I'd like to do an 'independent study' on ways to stay on top of the many 'to-do' lists, plans, chores, errands, etc that we have. Do you ever feel like you're swimming upstream in it?
Do you have an app you love? Do you have an organizational scheme for your stack of papers? Do you keep notes in your head? Do you journal on paper or on your phone? Do you use a calendar with reminders? Is your email inbox your 'to-do' list? Is there a book that really helped you? Did you simplify something? What do you do to manage the many hats you wear?
I bet that even if you don't feel organized, there is one part of your life that you have pretty well set up. What is that part of your life? What do you do there to stay on top of things. For example, I use a billing software for my business that acts as bookkeeping tool, and I use the same app for both scheduling and invoicing which keeps all my clients' info in one place. I put today's client folders in one stack in my office, move them to another stack when they need to be billed, then after I bill and invoice, I file them away. Hence, feels like there is a streamlined flow between paper and online records (this was not always the case and it used to drain me!)
Where do you thrive in organizing your life?
Please leave comments!
I am a lifetime learner and researcher in happy, healthy, fun living.