Switching Off: Taking Time Away From Multitasking and Electronic Devices

Over the past several years I have lived and worked in a variety of different cultural structures. From the hustle and bustle of high-level office environments to the quiet and stillness of ashrams and retreat centers, I’ve stayed in a full range of different paced societal rhythms. Yet, despite all of the extreme living conditions I have found myself in, none have been as challenging to find my balance as the historically inspiring and sparkling city of San Francisco. I have been curiously awed by the interesting dance of living a mindful and present life in a high-tech, fast paced, urban world. In order to not only survive, but to flourish, I have had to implement many of the mindfulness and meditative tools I acquired and put them into action.

The most recent technique I have put into practice is instilling regular and significant chunks of time in my schedule for phone and electronic free zones. Some of you may have heard of “electronic fasting,” where you go for a month or two without using the phone or internet. It is an extraordinary method to reset your system and help you become more mindful and present with the beauty all around you. However, many of us do not have the opportunity to regularly deactivate for such long periods of time from the electronic world. Thus, scheduling in “No-Phone Zones” into your schedule where you are able to completely unplug from the electronic messaging system is a much more favorable option.

Why would you do this you might ask? Some of you believe that you don’t have time to step away from your commitments or your family. However, this time is not just important for your emotional well-being, but is also important for strengthening your autoimmune responses which keep you a healthy and active family member and coworker. Our mind has a powerful effect on the body’s response systems. When our mind is constantly tied to electronic messaging devices, many of us begin to develop a ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ response so that we are continually waiting or checking our phones, emails, and social media, expecting some form of communication or new information. This anticipation leads to held tension in our bodies and stimulates our sympathetic nervous system, increasing our cortisol levels and secreting other hormones in our body. In small amounts these chemicals are helpful, as they help us to have a quick response time to events or to respond in the state of an emergency. However, when this stress response is permanently turned on there is a toxicity level that eventually develops, leading to all types of more serious physical and emotional disturbances.

Even if you are engaging in relaxing activities like meditation, leisurely strolls through the park, or dinner with friends, unless you have found a way to turn off the mind’s natural inclination to want to check your phone or messages you are still stimulating that stress response and creating unnecessary tension and chemical secretions in your body. Our parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and relax” part of our body that is the naturally built in to counterbalance stress, cannot turn on while our sympathetic nervous system is activated. So, if you are meditating but constantly listening out for your phone to ring, you are not giving yourself a fair chance to truly heal and restore your body. Over long periods of time this increased stress response will take its toll on your adrenals and your nervous system, leading to fatigue and other physical and mental imbalances.

So what’s the solution to living in an over stimulated urban city like San Francisco? Well, one suggestion would be to schedule into your busy lives these “electronic free” time zones.

I recommend for those that feel they are way too busy for this to start small. Try three hours a week to start and then a good solid window of three to four hours at least one day out of your weekend. This longer period of communication detox really gives your body and mind much needed time to simply be present with where you are and relax. You will find that afterwards, your ability to focus and the energy you have when you do rejoin the digital/electronic world will have increased immensely. For myself, I found my “will power” wasn’t strong enough to simply not check my phone. The patterning was so deeply ingrained that I had to either not bring my phone with me during these windows or turn my phone on airplane mode, telling my system that checking or expecting incoming messages was not even an option. You can play with this de-stress technique as you wish. The key is to really allow your body to unwind and let go of the tension it’s holding in anticipation of a message or incoming information.

In this way we can work to find a happy medium between the world of the mind and the heart and keep the body balanced while we grow and expand in our personal and professional lives. So remember: phones off, thumbs down, breath deep and take some time to just feel the world under your feet.

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Transforming Chocolate Addiction into Love and Medicine

Ever since I can remember, I have had a love affair with chocolate. Any form chocolate came in, I was open to it. Favorite cake? Chocolate. Favorite ice cream? Chocolate. Favorite desert? Anything chocolate.

Chocolate has been my go to sweet food for decades and a giver of immense amounts of pleasure and comfort when I was in need of emotional support. However, over the last few years, as I have journeyed to heal my relationship with food and my body, I have begun to connect with food, and especially chocolate, in a new way. Learning more about the origins of where my food comes from and connecting more with farming practices and the earth has allowed me to see food as MEDECINE as well as an energy source. I’ve learned that using food as a constant emotional crutch is not only unhealthy, but can eventually become life threatening.

Below you will find three techniques I’ve used to help overcome and manage my food cravings and addictions, especially for chocolate.

1. Connecting with the Source of Our Hunger:

 In my efforts to discover new tools and alternative techniques for nurturing emotional imbalances, I have come to fully embrace the concept “You are what you eat.” By making conscious choices about what we put in to our bodies and why, we can do a better job at keeping ourselves balanced and healthy.

Before putting anything in my body, I now ask myself the following questions:

“Am I really hungry right now?” “What part of me is hungry?” “What am I hungry for?”

By playing with these questions, I’ve learned that there are many hungry mouths inside of my body. Taking the time to listen to which part of you is actually hungry before you eat can help you be more clear on how to best feed yourself. For example, if my stomach is the one that’s grumbling, then perhaps I need a meal that will give me more heartsustenance and energy throughout the day. If my mind is the one calling for food, which happens more when I am writing, reading or focusing on creative projects, I am more selective about giving myself liquids or specific foods and herbs that help me to focus and concentrate. If my heart is hungry, most of the time it’s not food that my body wants, but some type of emotional nurturing or love that is required. Finding out what part of yourself is hungry and listening to what it is wanting will help you to keep a more balanced lifestyle.

In addition to connecting with internal physical and emotional needs, I am also learning about the nutritional value the food I consume carries. As a vegan with a family history of anemia, I was overjoyed to learn how Cacao could feed my body with iron, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, zinc, potassium and a wealth of other essential minerals and nutrients. The more I develop a personal connection with Cacao, the less and less I crave any kinds of other sweets or junk foods.

2. Replacing Deprivation with Abundance:

 Another way to deal with battling food cravings, especially for chocolates or sweets, is to simply allow yourself to have as much food as you want (as long as it is in its raw, healthy, unprocessed form and not loaded down with sugars). By allowing myself to have as much raw Cacao as I want, I actually need much less to be satisfied and notice my cravings for other foods subsiding throughout the day. Letting go of the “forbidden fruit” aspect of chocolate immediately began to free the obsession my inner child had with wanting it. Think about it. When someone says, “don’t think of pink elephants,” what is the first thing you think of? When you tell yourself you can’t have something or something is bad, your subconscious and the little child within you wants it even more. If you go the opposite route and allow yourself to be filled with a sense of abundance and a plethora of options, you become less and less interested in overindulging and become interested in other things that are more satisfying.

3. Creating Your Own Chocolate:

I have also found that becoming more involved in the creation and preparation of my food has reduced my food cravings and addictive tendencies. I no longer buy chocolate at stores and am now fully enjoying the process of making my own chocolate.

For those of us who have not become gourmet chocolate makers, you might be surprised at how easy it is to make raw chocolate at home. It is a fun and rewarding process and caningredients take less than fifteen minutes if you keep it simple.

The basic recipe (taken from The Veggie Nook) I have been using is as follows:

  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • 2/3 cup raw Cacao powder
  • 1-1½ large tablespoons of raw or natural Honey (flavor to taste depending on how sweet you would like it)

The process is quite simple. Take the coconut oil and heat it in a small pot over a low flame until the oil has become translucent. As soon as it becomes clear, remove it from the flame. Then, as you add in and stir the Cacao and honey, you have created chocolate! You can make it into truffles, molds or even add in nuts, coconut and almond butter. Play with it. I’ve found the more creative I become in making my food the more love I am putting into it and thus, the more nourished I become.

I’ve also noticed that eating chocolate in this way helps me feel more focused, energized and alert and I have energy that lasts for much longer periods of time. This is a refreshing contrast to eating chocolate bars heavily loaded with processed sugars and artificial sweeteners which increase your cravings and cause you to feel tired and drowsy afterwards.

I’m looking forward to continuing this exploration with Cacao and sharing all the ways to play with this healthy and inspiring super food!

 

 

Creative Visualization Exercise for 2016

Flowing with the fresh and exciting energy that January has brought, I wanted to offer a meditation exercise to start 2016 off right. This guided visualization is designed to help you open to your unlimited creative potential and to gain greater clarity and insight on the deeper projects and visions you want to bring into the world in this upcoming year. By opening and expanding these natural and creative energies within you, you can be more open to attracting the opportunities and spaces which are waiting for you to make your dreams a reality. So find a comfy pillow, lay out your yoga mat and enjoy!

Resting the Machine

In today’s modern, capitalistic, world so many of us struggle to find the balance in our lives. Rest and relaxation are usually the last things we allow ourselves to be fed with. We hear the call to succeed in life and we storm full speed ahead, thinking that if we push to the brink, to the breaking point, than we will become stronger, wiser, and more effective human beings. We stuff ourselves filled with pills, liquid and food and expect to become like the energizer bunny that never stops moving. However, there is a reason why machines have warning signs. There is a reason why, when you drive your car past the red line, it sputters to a halt on the highway. There is a reason why when we push ourselves beyond what our body is capable of, to feed the hunger of our minds and spirits, our bodies break down and we become sick, depressed and express a variety of other physical and emotional imbalances.

Since as far back as I can remember, I have always been prone to extremes. When I was happy and joyful I was ECSTATIC! When I was sad, lonely or angry I would fall into deep manic depressions. In both situations, I was always catapulted to act out in a variety of quite insane scenarios. What I have come to realize is that life truly is about the balance; understanding that there are times to put your foot on the accelerator and go full speed ahead and times to come to a complete halt. However, if you operate in either of these functions twenty four-seven, your body is surely to break as all of your physical and emotional regulation systems become completely disrupted.

Having worked the last several months in a nutritional health store, I have seen so many people, including myself, purchasing mass amounts of supplements. We are seeking a quick fix to help us regulate our systems that we have decided, ever so kindly, to streamline into overdrive. We spend large sums of money on anything that helps us make mind over body a reality. This disparity and inequality between the spirit and vessel leads to serious disturbances. Where does our want for overstimulation leave our bodies? Why is it that sleep and time are ignored as credible forms of alternative medicine? Our bodies want to heal themselves. They know exactly what they need to create homeostasis and they are constantly striving to maintain this equilibrium.

Thus, when we feel exhausted and depleted, why can’t we just take some time to sleep first? Perhaps take a few days, a few weeks to go somewhere peaceful and just rest? Well, many of us argue that we have jobs that won’t allow for this kind of nonsense or children or families and we just don’t have the time. Yet, if we went to our jobs and our families and told them: “I need this one day to rest. I need this week to retreat and be alone. This is not a selfish need but a serious physical necessity so that I can continue to be a loving mother, an efficient and helpful employee and a caring friend,” what might the results be? How many of us have actually tried asking first before we so boldly assume we cannot give ourselves what we truly need? I’ve come to the conclusion that it is simply our own fear and for many of us, what is endearingly called FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. We are afraid that taking ourselves out of the “game” and on to the sidelines will somehow hinder us from achieving all that we want in this world. Yet, quite the opposite occurs. By taking the time to be in stillness and peace, not only does our mind and spirit have time to heal but our autonomic nervous system has time to balance as well. Constant stress, lack of sleep and stimulation imbalances our adrenal glands, our sympathetic nervous system and negatively impacts both our physical and emotional well-being.

If you have been feeling cloudy, foggy, heavy, sad, weighed down or depressed lately, one suggestion would be to try simply resting and being still for a moment. Turn off the television, the cell phone, the laptop and computer. Ask your partner, a friend or sitter to watch the children for a few hours. Take a personal day from work and just simply REST and RELAX. Let go of the guilt or fear about what might happen if you treat yourself to this peace and know that this is preventive medicine that will save you so much time, money and energy in the future. As I enter into my own personal period of stillness, rest and reflection (perfectly timed with the upcoming holiday season and seasonal cycle) I look forward to the healing and rejuvenation that will come with it. I wish you all a merry rest and much cheer and may your hearts, minds and bodies be restored to wholeness for the beauty of this New Year.

 

The Magic of Cleaning Under Your Bed

Many associate broomsticks with witchcraft, flying and other mystical activities. Whatever esoteric reasoning lies behind this connection, it is challenging to deny the effectiveness with which a good sweep of the broombroomstick-wizards-pty-ltd-canberra-wholesalers-0428-938x704 can alter a space. Over the last several years I have come to realize how important it is for mental well being to keep a clean and organized living space. Physical locations where you spend a majority of your time (home, office, car, etc.) are a reflection of your internal state of mind but they also have the power to alter your emotions and mental clarity.

Have you ever noticed when you are feeling sick, tired, stressed or depressed that your bedroom or home becomes messy and disorganized? This is a mirror of what’s happening inside yourself and understanding this can empower you to change your emotional state of mind. One step towards transformation and healing is actively maintaining a clean and orderly home or work environment. It is remarkable how quickly stress or frustration can dissipate when you are working, eating or sleeping in a clean and structured space.

From moody and emotional teen to joyful, positive and energetic healer, it is quite amusing to see the transformation my bedroom cleanliness standards have undergone. As my mother and college roommates can attest to, growing up it was a rare occasion to find my bed made and clothes folded and put away. However, over the last several years as I’ve dived into mindfulness practices, I have trained myself to make my bed as soon as I wake up in the morning. This practice starts my day and creates a center of order and clearness that carries me to the next activity with peace and focus. I do my best to execute an intensive cleaning of my living space at least once a week. It is astonishing how much dust, cobwebs and piles of things accumulate under the bed, in the closet and in hidden drawers! By actively and regularly sweeping out the dust and ordering our belongings we can prevent buildup of dirt, mold and physical chaos that results from neglect and lack of care.

Hopefully one can begin to see the analogy I’m leading up to with tidying up your room and cleaning out your mind of emotional and mental frustration. Just as it is important to have a daily/weekly cleaning practice, it is equally important to have mindfulness practices in your life that help you move stuck energy and manage stress, anxiety, fear, anger and all the other natural emotions which arise in our daily lives. From sitting meditations, dance, art, sports, EFT, and many forms of therapy, there is a plethora of techniques out there that can help you keep your mind at peace and clean out the negative residue of unwanted stress or strain.

If you find yourself feeling stuck, blocked, sad or angry, I suggest taking a look around your room, pick up a broom and have at it! You will soon discover the magic sweeping, folding and stacking can create for a more calm and balanced way of living.

Meditation on Gratitude

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is the feeling of knowing that you have been given everything you could ever need or want in this life and being thankful. It is the feeling of knowing that you are whole, you are well, you are alive and breathing and that is enough. It is releasing and letting go of seeking anything beyond yourself and coming in to seeing what is right before your very eyes.

Gratitude is the key to lightening the burden of the soul so that it has space to become what it was meant to be. It creates fertile soil for the heart to open and expand. Gratitude allows for creativity and ingenuity to flow through us as opposed to holding on to any remnants of scarcity fears and projections.

Interestingly enough, many of the worlds richest people are the most miserable. Why is this? Perhaps the plethora of reminders become lost amidst the illusion of comfort and security, making one complacent in honoring the fleeting nature of existence. Perhaps those with less material goods are forced on a daily basis to find joy in what is given to them and needs become less, thus gratitude is more easily attainable.

So where do we find the middle? How can we merge this new world of abundance and prosperity with the lessons learned from living without?

As we move into a sociological and cultural shift of “Present Time” – the notion that all that exists and is of importance is happening right NOW – perhaps we can remind each other to live this daily meditation. Perhaps we can remind each other that physical representations of wealth are only symbols for the ability to be in equal exchange with the world around us and are simply tools for us to share and create as a whole. Perhaps we can remind each other of what gives true meaning to life; Love, unity, connection, harmony and creation. When we find ourselves feeling anxious, fearful, angry or sad regarding our current perceived state of wealth and joy, perhaps we can take a look at what we do have in that moment. For many of us, we will find that we always have everything we need in that instance. Those of us who are being challenged to let go of material attachments can perhaps start to evaluate what it is they truly need in life to be joyful and alive.

There is a wealth that is infinite and it lives within our hearts and minds. Our power to create, to sing, to connect and unite is what makes all the beauty in the world. Money, food, houses, cars, and school – these are all tools used in the process of creation. They aid us in moving from point A to point B. They help us to focus our energies to make things happen in this world. Yet many times we forget that they are simply a gateway for one person to connect to another, for one people to connect with themselves. They are part of a greater arch leading us from the world of individuation into the illumination of unification.

How many times a day do you say thank you for the gift of experiencing your life in this moment? How many times a day do you say thank you for your body’s ability to breathe? To see? To touch? To feel? Perhaps we can all take this number and multiply it times three. Together we can expand our practice of gratitude in a practical and action oriented way to transform the heart of our world. Let’s move from impoverished to nourished simply by saying thank you.

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Diving into the Waves of the Bay

Many of you have seen me praise the healing powers of dance and especially 5 Rhythms®. This spiritual body practice continues to inspire me with its organic, raw, alchemical power. By tuning in to our body and the beat, we free ourselves from our minds and the stories that they generate. Once the mind is turned off and the ego takes a back seat, that is when the true Spirit of life has a chance to enter. Throughout history, many spiritual and medicinal disciplines have advocated for the strong healing power that dance brings. Along with clearing your thoughts, you also free stuck emotions and energy in the body that permits your “Qi”, or life force, to flow more freely.

Today the waters within me were given a chance to be shaken and stirred and parts of myself that had become stagnant began to flow again. This morning I attended my first Sweat Your Prayers® class with the talented Alessandro Moruzzi and Vehllia Tranne. These two teachers bring a deep understanding of their practice that forms a very powerful and supportive container for students to let go and embrace their elemental natures. Demonstrating through movement, music and poetic guidance, they take you on a journey of reconnection to the miracle of the body. Exploring each part – the feet, the hips, the shoulders, the neck, the hands – leads to a transcendence of perception. As I grounded in my feet, feeling the earth holding me, my movements became more fluid or more rapid, depending on where the music took me. Yet, I saw that the more I deepened my focus in my body and my breath, the more space I had to create through my physical expression. Their wisdom and artistry, combined with live drumming, created a sanctuary of healing and liberation.

To those who say they are not dancers or don’t know how or don’t like to dance, I urge you to find a 5 Rhythms® class in your area. Dance is not only part of our nature but it is a fundamental aspect of the rhythm of life. By placing yourself in the right container for such an experience, you can open to so much more than a body practice. This art form teaches you how to connect to yourself and the world around you in a new way. You can allow yourself to be reborn in this space and trust that the waves and rhythms of life will hold you in your process. For many who have difficulty practicing sitting meditations, this is also a space for you to explore connecting to your breath in a joyful, healthy and insightful way.static1.squarespace.com

San Francisco’s City Waves is located at 386 Moraga Ave (at Arguello Blvd). Their classes are Tuesdays from 7:30pm – 9:30pm ($20) and Sundays 10:00am – 12:00pm ($15). I hope to see you all there; sweating, stomping and swaying in this beautiful journey of Self-discovery.