Dream Bigger Dreams

WARNING: This blog is about to take a serious turn.

I started this blog in January 2016 to get my voice out there. At the time it felt important to share the research that I had uncovered as I sought greater health. But, the posts were taking an extremely long time to write and I lost interest. And then I found QOYA. And had the most amazing and magical year of growth and healing. I have finally been able to assemble some of the experiences into words and I would like to share that journey with you. I do not know where it will end up or how it will evolve, but this is the first step. I’m so glad you’re here and I look forward to hearing from you.

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Grounds at Kripalu

“I don’t know what I’m getting into… but I know that I need it,” I said to my husband as he drove me to the retreat center. Motherhood had rocked my world, my son was 2.5 years old and I needed a timeout. I longed to reconnect with myself and integrate all that had transpired since I made the transition from maiden to mother.

The atmosphere upon entering the Qoya retreat can be described as “instant community.” It was safe and warm and welcoming. I listened to many stories over the course of the week. There were metaphors and magic all around. We worked each day with archetypal themes that include: shedding what no longer serves, trusting ourselves, and opening to receive life’s sweetness. I felt so alive, so connected. Each day was rich and full, nourishing and enlightening.

And then I heard it, a story that brought my doubt bubbling to the surface and challenged my capacity to remain open. Several days into the retreat another woman shared how she had a reading done where the intuitive told her about a past life and that she had then seen visions of that life while dancing/journeying. I thought to myself, “At this point I know enough that I can’t say for certain that it’s not true… BUT I kinda don’t believe it could be true. I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

It was just too “out there.”

Later that evening I had an Energy Balancing session. I didn’t know what this was, but I had dedicated the week to living with an open heart and going where my intuition guided, so I booked the session. The session itself was fantastic. I could feel the energy moving through my body and realigning as the practitioner walked around the table and placed her hands on different areas of my body. At one point, as she worked near my heart, emotions bubbled to the surface and spontaneous tears began to leak from my eyes. When it was over she mentioned having seen something from one of my past lives. My heart sunk. I thought, “That session was great, why did she have to ruin it with this crazy talk?” And then she described what she had seen in her vision. My body shivered with goose bumps from head to toe. You know like when someone tells you something you know to be true but you don’t know how you know it? I couldn’t make intellectual sense of it but my body confirmed resonance. I went to bed that night a little unsettled, not quite sure what to make of what had transpired. My beliefs about how the world works were being challenged. 

Each of the previous mornings I had gotten up early to explore the grounds of the retreat center each morning. I set the intention to wake an hour earlier the following day. I craved some centering and have always felt at peace in nature. That day’s theme was Dreaming Bigger Dreams and the totem animal was Eagle. I didn’t set an alarm, I just trusted that my body would wake at the right time. At 5:27 my eyes popped open and I climbed down from my bunk. I moved with purpose. I made a cup of tea and picked up a map of the nearby hiking trails. I intended to sit on the steps and peruse the map, but when I walked out of the building I knew that I wanted to be near the sun, which was rising on the other side of the building. As I turned the corner, moving towards the rising sun, I saw signs for a meditation garden and headed in that direction. I sat down on a bench to sip my tea and determine which of the trails seemed most inviting. I saw that there was a trail called Eagle’s Nest. Since we would be working with the archetype of the eagle later in the day, that trail seemed the obvious choice.

I folded the map and started to stand when I heard something across the garden. I looked over and an eagle was settling on a low branch in a tree directly across from me. I stared in disbelief. And then I crept closer. And closer. Until I was kneeling at the bottom of the tree staring into this magnificent creature’s eyes. Heart exploding, I thanked the eagle for visiting and told it that I was open to any messages that it might have for me. I stayed with it for an hour and a half, just watching and listening. After that, I needed to head to breakfast so that I could get to the workshop on time.

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As I walked quickly down the path back to the building I shook my head. “Oh great!” I thought, “Now I’m one of THOSE people… Communing with eagles in the forest. Talking about past lives.” I didn’t know how to make sense of it. My head was spinning. I nearly bumped into a sign on the side of the road and when I looked up I saw that it said “Breathe. You’ve Arrived.” I smiled broadly and chuckled to myself.

 

The next day was the last day. My heart was so open. My soul was singing. I had experienced so much healing. I had connecting deeply with other amazing women.  I didn’t see how it could possibly get any better.

And then it did.

On the last morning, we were asked us to walk around the grounds with our music on shuffle. We were to notice which songs played and then listen for any signs that might offer guidance. As I walked along a path I came to a spot where I could either go up some steps that led to a large field or access the field around the other side of a stone wall. I danced back and forth for a moment, feeling into which way I was drawn. What had felt so unfamiliar at the beginning of the week now felt like second nature. I love the practice of letting my body lead me. I decided to choose the steps as Karen Drucker’s song This or Something Better played on my iPhone. I took a step. “I’m going to say yes to my dreams,” she sang.  And then another step. “Let my imagination soar,” the lyrics continued. I lifted my arms to symbolize a soaring motion, lifting my head to the sky. At that moment an eagle flew across the field. I started spinning and laughing, spinning and laughing, until tears began to flow down my cheeks. The eagle is meant to remind us to dream bigger dreams and here I was being visiting by two in two days! I knew that the universe was telling me that it was time to stop playing it small.

To say that week changed my life doesn’t even begin to cover it. My heart, like the Grinch’s, expanded 10 sizes. It was like 5 years of therapy in 5 days. The biggest takeaway   is that I left KNOWING, really deep in my bones, KNOWING having fully experienced in my body, KNOWING that ANYTHING is possible. ANYTHING.

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Close up of altar designed by Sarah Charlesworth

If this story speaks to you, if you want to learn more about how to listen to your body and tune in to your intuition find a Qoya Class and GO!

And if you are inspired to dance with me, I offer monthly Qoya classes and am leading a one day Midsummer Magic retreat on July 23rd.

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Patience Please. I’m Creating a Dream

Those are the words that dramatically stood out from the two hour playlist I created to honor the cycle of the moon, the cycle of the seasons, the cycle of my life. The words play over and over in my mind, reminding me to have faith and continue working towards my dreams. You can listen to Creating a Dream by Xavier Rudd here.

Last night’s Full Moon in Aquarius also happened to be a partial solar eclipse. I read that this eclipse completed a 19 year cycle, providing an ending to what was beginning 19 years ago. In August of 1998 I was days away from leaving for college, embarking on my dream of someday becoming an art therapist. I was soon to be clear of the confines and limitations that came with being a minor under my parents’ roof. I would have the space to fully express myself, make my own mistakes, and to feel into who I would become.

In light of this, I felt called to create a ceremony about letting go of certain aspects of who I was and who I am so that I can more fully step into who I am becoming. I spent a lot of time thinking about my 18-year-old self, reflecting on the hopes and dreams I once held dear. I marveled at my courage and determination, and extended compassion for my  tendencies to hide and binge drink.

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I sipped cacao out of my grandmother’s china. I asked the cacao, a sacred plant medicine, to gently open my heart and show me what it is that I need to see at this time so that I may release what no longer serves, heal the tender spots, and align with my highest good. (For more on Cacao Ceremony, check out my post here.) I used movement to get out of my head and bring myself fully into the present moment. I circled through my whole body, inviting in a feminine flow. I used movement as metaphor to open my heart and activated my creative center by waking up my hips.

I used oracle cards for inspiration with journaling. I wrote about who I was, who I am, and who I desire to become. I honored my strengths and limitations, noting how far I have come. I wrote down and spoke aloud what it is that I am ready to release and offered it to the fire. I wrote down and spoke aloud my dreams and desires and, as a sign of releasing my attachment to outcome, I offered those to the fire as well.

Then, I gave thanks for who I was 19 years ago and for what I released- noting the ways those habits/beliefs/actions actually served me before becoming a hindrance. I didn’t make them wrong, I know that I was doing the best that I could. I gave thanks for the challenges that are present in my life right now, looking for the lessons and the ways they are here to teach me. I gave thanks for my “chariot moments” the ones where I felt powerful, proud, aligned. I tend to focus on growth and things yet to be achieved and too rarely celebrate these moments. I make a note to celebrate myself more often.

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I gave thanks for my beloved when I noticed that the color scheme and flowers I selected for the ceremony were the same as the ones from our wedding. I marveled at how my 23-year-old self could have chosen a man who would turn out to be an amazing father and truly supportive partner. There’s no way he could have anticipated all the ways that I would challenge him, myself, and us. And yet we have managed to remain together through it all. I’ve had two different intuitive readers tell me that we’ve been together for several lifetimes. Although I can’t say for certain if this is true, it does allow me to lean in, to surrender, to open up, to tear down walls, to love him even more. Which, I guess, is the whole point. And for that I am so grateful.

With that, the last of my gratitudes spoken for the evening, I thought my work and the ceremony were complete. I bundled the Despacho (gratitude offering), blew out the candles, washed the china, and headed home. However, when I attempted to fall asleep, I discovered that I wasn’t quite done. I needed to rage. I was angry about all the things that I needed but didn’t have as a child, as a young women, even now. It hurt. I wanted those things. I was worthy of those things. I NEEDED those things. And yet, I was careful not to fall too far into victimhood because I also KNOW the tremendous gifts that I received in the absence of those needs and desires. Gifts that make me a better parent, therapist/healer, partner, and person on this planet. I felt both so intensely – the anger and the gratitude. It was so powerful to be able to hold that paradox.

Then came the tears, a release valve for the anger. I cried for that little girl. I sent her so much love. I witnessed her pain. I witnessed her courage. As I cried I felt the weight of these burdens detach, leaving an opening in their release. And in that moment I felt myself own the strength and the lessons. I could actually feel myself embody more of my power and become who I am meant to be. I felt a truly a tremendous transformational shift. I felt…. whole. I received deep healing for those wounds I’ve been carrying for 19-37 years.

 

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It is in shifting energy in this way that we are able to heal, to become whole, to embody  our dreams, and to serve the highest good. In order to show up fully as ourselves, to do our sacred work in the world, to mother our children, to be in partnership, we must be able to embrace our shadow, as well as, our light. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “You have to feel it to heal it.” The shift I describe happened because I allowed myself to feel it all, trusting that when witnessed, the feelings would simply move through me.

If you are interested in this type of transformational work for yourself, I would be truly honored if you would join me for An Exploration of Shadow and Light. During this new moon ceremony, on the eve of the great American eclipse, we will call upon the bold courage of the Leo archetype to shine light on our shadows and mine them for wisdom, integration, and healing.

(If you’re reading this after August 20th, check out my current offerings on Instagram.)

Make space for your heart to speak

Last week I sent a newsletter to my subscribers that was titled

SELF-CARE IS THE SECRET TO SUCCESS

I wrote:

“How does that feel in your body?

What if it were true? Would that change how you treat yourself?

I personally experienced quite a bit of resistance when I upped my  self-care game. Feelings of guilt, selfishness, and unworthiness all bubbled to the surface. And they were loud. Putting myself first was in direct opposition to the messages in our culture in general and how I was raised in particular.

And yet, so many successful women, women whom I greatly admire, were sharing that when they fully committed to self-care they experienced big shifts in their lives.

So, I continued on with my research…. acknowledging my discomfort while allowing myself to soften into the pleasure. Over time, the negative voices shifted to a whisper. I began to notice that as I opened to receiving more pleasure in my life not only did I feel great, but everyone else benefitted too!

And so I’ve become super dedicated not only to my own self-care, but to encouraging other women to dive in as well. It’s my whole mission behind Coventina Healing Arts- to offer women opportunities to care for themselves.”

And then, as it often does, life gave me the opportunity to practice what I preach.

On Saturday I led a lengthy ceremony that celebrated a mother-to-be. It required a lot of preparation in the days leading up to it and several hours of travel time added on to the ceremony itself. It was a beautiful and joyous occasion. I felt deeply honored to have participated in this special event. It also left me feeling a bit depleted. I began to pick at myself- focusing on the ways that it could have been better, rather than basking in the glow of the gift I had offered.

I was anxious and exhausted.

I had a Bliss & Gratitude Ceremony scheduled for the following evening. It’s an event that I look forward to each month. I definitely receive as much as I give each time I offer it. And yet, I just knew that I had to cancel. I needed to ground and recoup my energy. And I was desperate for some family time. We had tickets to attend a festival that I was really looking forward to having my son experience. It would involve him experiencing several “firsts.” Those moments are pure gold.

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When I signed on to cancel the B&G event I saw that several women in the community had clicked “interested.” I was flooded with guilt. I would love their participation and support and I have been working diligently to foster this community.

I cancelled anyway. I listened to my body and decided to trust that if they were interested now they would be next month as well. Or the month after………

Prior to attending the festival I took some time to sit in ritual to recognize the full moon. I needed to feel grounded and I desired to reconnect with my intuition.

I opened an email from Liz Worth. (I adore her weekly emails and she offers great suggestions for inquiry at the new and full moon.)

Her prompts included:

-Examine any unnecessary pressure that you put on yourself.

-Release any tendencies to hustle too hard.

-Release any shame or judgement you might put on yourself for wanting to take a break or rest.

She also posed the following questions. Below are the answers I received through pulling tarot cards and dialoging with the words/images:

  1. How can I be easier on myself? A) Surround myself with beauty: family, arts, nature.
  2. What can I release to create more flow? A) Holding on to the notion of completion or arriving. Having expectations that I should be somewhere other than where I am.
  3. Where am I putting too much pressure on myself? A) comparison. perfectionism.
  4. What can I stop doing altogether? A) Stop resisting. Stop struggling.

I really needed to hear all of this! I could feel my body relax as the truth of these words landed in my heart.

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As I considered these ideas, the question that popped into my head was:

What if you were guaranteed to be financially cared for? What if you new it was coming? Would you behave differently now?

This question spoke directly to the underlying fear that was feeding my guilt, anxiety and feelings unworthiness.

My heart gushed:

“Yes!! I’d relax into my learning. I’d indulge in decadent self-care.”

That was profound. A single word came to mind that summed this up:

allow

I had successfully cleared away the ramblings of my monkey mind and made space for my heart to speak.

And that felt really really good. I felt grounded and open to fully experiencing all the firsts that the day had in store.

My intention between now and the new moon is to indulge in decadent self-care.

I’d love to hear from you:

Do you make space to listen to your heart speak? How do you stay committed to self-care? What rituals or practices do you have to ground yourself when you are feeling anxious?

An invitation:

Join me for Midsummer Magic on July 23rd. It’s going to be a nourishing day of self-care where we will turn down the noise of distraction so we can turn up the volume of our hearts. We will dance. We will create. We will sip cacao. We will give thanks. We will journal. We will connect with like-minded women. We will laugh. We will cry. We will practice listening to our intuition. We will shed what no longer serves us. Each of these practices will form the path so that we can align with our heart’s desires.

Bliss & Gratitude

It wasn’t that long ago that I created and participated in my first ceremony. Or, should I say, my first consciously created ceremony. I’ve attended my share of graduations, weddings, baby showers, and birthday parties. The difference, to me, is in the mindful way it was created and performed.

This particular ceremony was a suggested activity in an online course I was taking with Dr. Anne Davin called Feminosity. (I HIGHLY recommend it by the way.) At first I felt a bit of resistance… I’m going to do WHAT? But I also felt a great deal of curiosity. So, I packed my bag with sage, a few sticks, and my journal. I went into it with a completely open mind and no expectations. I was amazed by the shift I felt. Nature offered several pertinent metaphors for contemplation. My logical mind couldn’t and still can’t explain what my heart experienced, but I can tell you that it was powerful! From that point on I’ve made a sincere effort to incorporate ceremony into my life.

If you are hesitant about participating in ceremony, I totally get it. It is common to have pre-conceived notions or fears about something you’ve never experienced before. At its most basic, a ceremony is really a set of tasks that are done to mark or celebrate an occasion. In this sense, your next bath can be a done as a ceremony. I believe our modern lives are in desperate need of more ceremony. It has become a bit of a status symbol to frequently declare how stressed out and tired we are. We have lost touch with the beauty of life’s cycles, our own included.

In hopes of lifting the veil of mystery that shrouds the term, I’d like to describe one of my favorite ceremonies. I hope that it resonates and takes some of the otherness out of the practice. Perhaps it will even inspire you to create and perform your own ceremony. I call it Bliss & Gratitude. It is a combination of a Cacao Ceremony and a Despacho Gratitude Ceremony. I experienced these ceremonies through my participation in Qoya retreats and teacher trainings. I am forever grateful to Rochelle for sharing these traditions with me. (I should note that my interest is in offering these experiences for women, but they are equally great for men.)

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As the women enter the room they are greeted by the scents of sage, cacao and rose petals. Flickering candles, music playing, and a beautifully set table signal that they have stepped from the mundane into the sacred. I love setting up for this event as it provides another way for me to express my creativity and to create something beautiful. I think of it as a gift from my heart and for my heart.

I open each ceremony by asking everyone to pull an oracle card. If you’ve never done this before, the idea is that each card contains an archetype. All of us hold these archetypes within us, but the one we pull provides a mirror, in that moment, for us to reflect upon. Questions to consider: Why is this particular card showing up for you? Is it the image that you connect to? Perhaps the words caught your eye? Sometimes you know right away why it’s the perfect card and other times you have to talk it out a bit- we always share our responses with the group or with a partner. Starting this way gives each woman a chance to place her voice in the circle. It can also inspire her intention for the ceremony. (It’s also a great practice for learning to trust your intuition, but that’s a story for another day.)

Sea Salt, Cinnamon, Cayenne, honey & coconut milk are added to the pure cacao.

A Cacao Ceremony invites you to move deeply into your heart and connect with yourself in a way that awakens self-love. Together in ceremony we drink cacao sourced from traditionally produced cacao, grown by farmers in Guatemala, produced ethically, sustainably and in fair trade. Cacao awakens the creative and vital energies of the body when used in a ceremonial way. Participants often describe feeling as if their heart is literally opening like a flower.

What is Cacao?

Cacao is what chocolate is made from. It is the seed of a tropical fruit known as Theobroma Cacao.

How is it different from chocolate?

Cacao is the pure form of chocolate. Most chocolate has milk added which interferes with absorption and inhibits the feel-good effects. Additionally, the processing that chocolate undergoes further diminishes the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

What are the benefits?

Cacao contains the neurotransmitters serotonin, tryptophan and dopamine -which help promote feelings of wellbeing.The alkaloids, neurotransmitters, neuromodulators, vitamins and minerals specific to cacao have a particularly nourishing effect on the human body. When you consume cacao prepared for ceremony, all the mood enhancing neurochemicals in cacao activate; there is increased blood flow and nutrition to the brain, heart and skin, awareness and focus is heightened, and sensations are intensified.

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The idea of a Despacho Gratitude Ceremony is simple; you say thank you. You say thank you for as much as you can think of. And then you keep saying thank you until you feel like you could say thank you for hours. It is medicine for the soul.

The Despacho originates from the Q’ero Shamans in Peru. It is often the first thing done to bring healing-no matter the condition or desire- whether it be to heal from losing a loved one, to welcome a new soul to the earth, to honor a birthday, to heal from a break up, to call in love, to start a business, to experience physical healing, etc.

This is more than just creating a checklist i.e. I’m grateful for: my house, my job, my dog. This ceremony asks you to get really specific and to bring that energy of gratitude into your body to honor that aspect of your life. This ceremony has helped me to heal many aspects- letting go of past relationships, forgiveness, and it reminds me to see what I already have (rather than always wanting more). I often find myself welling up with tears of joy, almost overwhelmed with how beautiful my life is. It is said that by giving thanks you open up space for what you desire to come to you. Doing this in circle, hearing from other women, I realize that her story is also my story. That we are all one. I have found that the more I practice this the more my life expands.

HOLD UP!

Let’s just stop for there for a moment… how fabulous is that?! I just said that by setting a beautiful space, and expressing gratitude that I feel in my whole body, in the company of amazing women, whose stories touch me deeply… my life gets better!

And better.  

I’ve been testing out the theory for a year now and I can honestly say that I’ve found this to be true.

This is not to say that this practice eliminates all hardships and my life is now all rainbows and butterflies. It is to say that when you slow down and express gratitude for the abundance that already exists in your life, it opens the way for more abundance to flow in.

Ok, back to Bliss and Gratitude…. At the end of ceremony, I make sure to honor the fact that we were able to make time and space in our lives to do something that feels good. As women we often care for ourselves last, always giving to others first. Participating in a ceremony such as this is a gift that you give to yourself and to the other women who have shown up to witness you. Each ceremony takes on its own energy and vitality, it doesn’t become rote. Finally, the despacho is wrapped and offered back to the earth through burning it in a fire, placing it in running water, or burying it in mother earth.

phases of a despacho
If you’d like to learn more about how to do a Despacho, check out Rochelle’s video tutorial on the Qoya website. 

If you’d like to join me in Cold Spring, NY for a Bliss & Gratitude Ceremony, find the schedule on my website.

Suggestions for creating your own ceremony:

You can start simple… you don’t need this wide variety of ingredients. Use what you have in your cupboard. Take a walk and collect things that inspire you. (I frequently pluck the petals from a rose and use each one to express gratitude.) There really is no way you can do it wrong- just approach with an open and sincere heart!

The basics (do one or all- as you wish):

Find a time when you will not be interrupted.

Light a candle.

Play some music.

Take a few deep breaths and let go of external thoughts/ to-do lists

Pull an oracle card (there are even apps if you don’t have a deck).

Set an intention.

Begin the ceremony: themes could be related to giving thanks, honoring yourself, your cycle, the moon or season, or simply meditate for guidance.

Notice: any shifts in how you feel and messages or inspiration that come.

To end the ceremony: give thanks.

Are you inspired to create your own ceremony?

Please write to me, I’d love to hear about your experience!

And if you haven’t already, I invite you to read my post on Dreaming Bigger Dreams that describes more of the magic that ceremony has brought into my life.

Another Year of Living, Another Year to Grow

Last week, my birthday marked the passing of another year. I consider this a special time to reflect on the year that passed. I ask myself, what am I proud to have accomplished? What are the things I did that made me really happy? And where would I request a “redo?” I also set goals and intentions for the year that lies before me. I focus not on the fact that I’m getting older, but celebrate the fact that I am growing wiser.

In case you are wondering: The homemade muffin and frosting (pictured above) fit in to my real food lifestyle. Eating it I felt nourished and special, without the sugar rush and cravings that follow the processed versions. The pumpkin carrot muffin is from Nom Nom Paleo. And the decadent frosting (made from cashews) is from PaleOMG.

Abundance

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase an item through my link you will not be charged extra but I will receive a small percentage of your purchase. I only recommend products that I have personally researched or tried and loved. I hope you love them too. Thank you for your support!


 

One Word Theme

I have been listening to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, Happier, for several months now. By the way, I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already. It’s a little bright spot in my week that makes my long commute fly by. Each episode contains useful tips and relatable stories. It usually makes me laugh and always gives me something to think about. And if you have not read her book, Better than Before, that is all about habit change- I suggest you do yourself a favor and pick up a copy today!

But I digress…. Gretchen suggests picking a one-word theme for the year as a way to make a resolution or shape your year. You can read about that here.

The word that I chose for the year is ABUNDANCE. I’m not just talking about money; I want to experience abundance in all aspects of my life. When I think about abundance, I think about quality, about giving AND receiving. A simple reminder that there is more than enough.

It has been said that doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life. And that is what I aspire to do. Tuning in to my passions and being truly gratitude for all that I have are areas that I want to concentrate on this year. If you haven’t read my post on gratitude, check it out here.

Wayne Dyer says that abundance is not something we acquire… it’s something we tune in to. I aim to be fearlessly open; A state of allowing that feels relaxed, calm, open, harmonious, and joyous. I want to relinquish my need to control or attach to an outcome.

I also chose a mantra to support my theme: What would love do?

When I find myself hesitating, holding back, or contemplating my options, I plan to ask myself this simple little question. I really like how it has the potential to reframe and bring to the fore what is really important.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks

Family Hike

When my husband asked what I’d like to do for my birthday, it took me all of 5 seconds to exclaim, “Hike, of course!” When hiking, I am present, happy, connected, and vibrantly alive.

In fact, I also chose to close out year 35 with a hike. My son and I are part of a group of adventurous babywearing hiking mamas. I am incredibly grateful to have these mamas in my life. Not so long ago, I found myself in a new town, in the middle of winter, with an infant, and this group offered me a community and restored my sanity. To read more about these Half Pint Hikes, click here.

On the day of my 36th birthday, the sky was a brilliant shade of blue with just a few clouds along the horizon. The sun shone brilliantly down on us as we hiked to the Fire Tower. My husband endured brutal wind gusts and confronted his fear of heights as he climbed to the top. With our son on his back. Yeah, he’s pretty special.

Fun Fact: The Fire Tower on top Mount Nimham, itself more than 1200 feet high, stands 90′ above the mountain top making it the tallest existing fire tower in New York State. The view from the tower is all-encompassing, taking in NYC to the south through to the Berkshires and the Catskills 75 miles away.

Hiking has become our way to mark special occasions. It is how we celebrated the purchase of our first home, my first mother’s day, and our son’s first birthday. I love that we continue to carry on this tradition. We have made so many precious memories.

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Fearless Art Making Ritual

After our hike, I chose to spend the afternoon in my studio/office participating in a virtual art experiential. In addition to being a holistic minded hiking mama, I’m also an art therapist. I understand the power of the creative process and have used it to heal myself and others. I don’t spend nearly enough time making art as I would like.

I recently finished Dr. Lissa Rankin’s book, The Anatomy of a Calling. This book both inspired and terrified me. It has had an incredibly profound effect on how I view my passions and understand my purpose. When I saw that Dr. Rankin was offering a virtual art experience on my birthday, I knew this was how I needed to spend my afternoon.

Dr. Rankin and her colleague, Shiloh Sophia, led the group in conversation and creative ritual. It is difficult to put into words all that transpired but I will share these two concepts that particularly resonated with me:

  • Consider that every time you choose love you weave it into a fabric that becomes something larger.
  • Develop a new relationship with uncertainty, get comfortable with the discomfort and even welcome it. Uncertainty is a gateway to possibility.

 

I’d say the year is off to a great start. I am open and grateful, inviting love and abundance to flow through me.

How do you celebrate your birthday? I’d love to hear about your rituals and if you have chosen a word to shape your year.


 

Recommended Reading:

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life

The Anatomy of a Calling: A Doctor’s Journey from the Head to the Heart and a Prescription for Finding Your Life’s Purpose

 

Are Organic Foods Worth the Expense?

Standing in the produce section of the grocery store, my head is on a swivel, going back and forth between the conventional broccoli and the organic broccoli. The conventional broccoli is half the price and nearly twice as big. What’s the big deal about organic I wondered, is it worth it? Fast forward about 7 years to present present day and this case is officially closed. I remember the questions and confusion that crowded my thoughts in those early days. In order to understand how I came to the conclusion that organic food is very much, indeed, without a shadow of a doubt, worth it, let’s start by exploring what exactly is present in conventional food that is not present in organic food.

Pay the farmer nowor the doctor later

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase an item through my link you will not be charged extra but I will receive a small percentage of your purchase. I only recommend products that I have personally researched or tried and loved. I hope you love them too. Thank you for your support!


 

What is Glyphosate?

 Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the US. It is used in agriculture and forestry, on lawns and gardens, and for weeds in industrial areas. Glyphosate was first registered for use in the U.S. in 1974 by Monsanto, (the company that also brought us DDT and Agent Orange). Despite Monsanto’s claims that it is safe, and even biodegradable, serious concerns have been raised that link glyphosate to a widening array of chronic conditions. The US consumes 25% of the glyphosate in use.

In 1996, with the advent of GMO “Roundup Ready” crops, the use of glyphosate skyrocketed. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or genetically “engineered” (GE) foods, are live organisms whose genetic components have been artificially manipulated in a laboratory setting through creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and even viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. Now that the pesticide doesn’t kill the plant, they can spray the entire field. Over time the weeds have become resistant to the herbicide, requiring them to use even more.

In May 2013, despite huge opposition, Monsanto was awarded an increase in the permitted tolerance levels of glyphosate residue in crops. Just this week the FDA announced that it was going to begin testing for glyphosate residue in soybeans, corn, milk and eggs, among other potential foods. Prior to this, the FDA has not performed independent tests on whether higher residue levels of glyphosate were dangerous to humans or the environment, instead relying on tests and data provided by Monsanto.

What does it do to our bodies?

 The International Agency for Research on Cancer called glyphosate a “probable carcinogen.”  It has also been tied to development of antibiotic resistance in common disease-causing bacteria. In addition, there’s a growing body of evidence that it is responsible for hormone disruption, infertility, organ damage and birth defects.

Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior scientist at MIT who has been conducting research there for over three decades, provides a thorough overview of how glyphosate impacts the body.  

There are 3 main ways Glyphosate Impacts the Body

1) Interferes with Shikimate Pathway

  • The Shikimate Pathway is: metabolic route used by bacteria fungi, algae, parasites and plants for the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids. This pathway is not found in humans; however, it is found with the microbes that live within our gut microbiome. The products of this pathway are the essential amino acids.
  • Glyphosate harms gut bacteria in the same way that it harms the plant. Especially horrifying is the fact that it seems to primarily affect beneficial bacteria, killing them and allowing pathogens to overgrow.
  • These pathogens create excess toxins. Toxins lead to inflammation. Inflammation interferes with communication among the endocrine, central nervous, digestive, and cardiovascular/respiratory systems. Researchers are linking inflammation to a widening array of chronic conditions.
  • Gut bacteria out number our human cells 10:1. This makes the Shikimate Pathway pretty important.
  • Responsible for disease- diabetes, heart disease, mood swings, digestive issues
  • Disrupts bioavailability of folate: Gut microbes are responsible for making folate.

 2) Blocks Cytochrome P450 (CYP)

  • One of the roles of CYP is to metabolize chemicals and potentially toxic compounds, principally in the liver.
  • Glyphosate gets into the cells in the liver and disables CYP and disrupting detox and related to sulfur deficiency
  • Impairs: sex hormones, detoxification, vitamin D production, bile acid production
  • Associated diseases: obesity, infertility, autism, high LDL cholesterol

3)  Chelates Minerals and Promotes Deficiencies

  • The human body depends on minerals for a wide variety of functions. The best way to get them is through your diet so that your body can utilize them properly. Minerals in food are more bioavailable than in supplements.
  • Glyphosate chelates the minerals in your gut, meaning the gut bacteria cannot access them. This is unfortunate because our gut bacteria need minerals to work properly.
  • Glyphosate disrupts the management of manganese, iron, cobalt (cobalamin) and molybdenum, and copper.

For a more in-depth understanding of how this all ties together, I strongly recommend grabbing a cup of (organic) green tea and watching this interview with Dr. Seneff.

 

How do we avoid Glyphosate?

It’s important to understand that the glyphosate sprayed on conventional and genetically engineered crops actually becomes systemic throughout the plant, so it cannot be washed off. It’s inside the plant.

Moms Across America, frustrated by the lack of education, testing and labeling of GMOs conducted their own national study.  Their testing found glyphosate residue in water, urine and even breastmilk. The discovery of levels of glyphosate in breast milk that are much higher than any reported results for urine samples is a great concern. This data suggests that glyphosate is bio-accumulative, building up in the body over a period of time. Researchers in Argentina even found glyphosate residue in sterile gauze, cotton, and tampons.

So truly, the only way to eliminate it from your diet is to avoid conventionally grown foods and processed foods, and to eat as many organic foods as possible. Organic standards do not permit glyphosate. Do not confuse this with labels that say “natural” or “all-natural.” These are NOT regulated, and are often GMO!

This is equally, if not more, important when it comes to meat and other animal products, as factory-farmed animals are typically raised on a GMO diet, and glyphosate has been found in every organ, including the muscles.

GMO “Roundup Ready” crops (so common in processed foods)

  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Canola (rapeseed)
  • Sugar Beets
  • Alfalfa
  • Cotton
  • Tobacco

Crops heavily sprayed with Glyphosate prior to harvest

  • Wheat
  • Sugar Cane
  • Certain types of Beans

GMO sugar-4

How to detox from glyphosate

 The problem is that glyphosate accumulates throughout your body and it can be difficult to get out. While charcoal has shown some effectiveness in animals, it remains unclear just how efficacious it might be for humans.

Dr. Seneff recommends routinely soaking in magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) baths as a means to detox and increase sulfur in the body. She suggests using ½ cup in really hot water and soaking for twenty minutes. This is preferred over taking a sulfur supplement (such as chondroitin sulfate) because it can be absorbed through the skin and bypass your gut mucosa.

What we know for sure- It is much harder to reverse the damage once it’s done, so avoid glyphosate from the start—especially in your child’s diet.

283.5 million lbs glyphosate-7

Learn More:

Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods

Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating

An interview with Jeffrey Smith, author of Genetic Roulette and Seeds of Deception: https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/interview-jeffrey-smith-gm-food-safety

 

 

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4456713/

http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416

More About Glyphosate (RoundUp)

http://ecowatch.com/2015/01/23/health-problems-linked-to-monsanto-roundup/

http://www.panna.org/blog/roundup-cancer-future-food?

 

 

Let’s Talk About Fat

Did you ever stop to think about the fact that despite being advised to follow a low fat diet we are heavier and sicker than ever before?  Would you be surprised to learn that the rise in obesity corresponds to the demonization of fat and cholesterol? Have you tried a low-fat diet only to find yourself hungry and irritable, or craving fatty foods so intensely you can hardly focus on anything else? If you can relate to any of this, you’ll want to read on.

Nina Teicholz Big Fat Surprise-2

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase an item through my link you will not be charged extra but I will receive a small percentage of your purchase. I only recommend products that I have personally researched or tried and loved. I hope you love them too. Thank you for your support!


 

Our bodies need fat to function properly. Here are a few of the ways fat works in our bodies:

  • Saturated fats act as carriers for fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).
  • They don’t trigger insulin release, helping to stabilize blood sugar
  • Increase satiety because they slow down absorption
  • Provide a long burning consistent source of energy
  • Saturated fats provide building blocks for hormones and cell membrane

I want to investigate the different types of fats, but before I do, I feel like I must answer your burning question:

Doesn’t saturated fat cause high cholesterol and lead to heart disease?

And the answer appears to be… Nope!

In 2010, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition conducted a meta-analysis where they pooled data from 21 studies. These studies followed over 350,000 people- 11,000 of whom developed cardiovascular disease- over an average of 14 years. The analysis concluded that there is no relationship between the intake of saturated fat and the incidence of heart disease or stroke.

In fact, dietary cholesterol has very little impact on overall cholesterol in most people. While there are those considered to be “high responders” it is important to note that while increasing dietary cholesterol did raise overall cholesterol, it did not affect the ratio of “good” to “bad” cholesterol, nor did it increase the risk of heart disease.

Did you know that our bodies actually produce cholesterol? It serves as a building block for cell structures and hormones. Cholesterol also plays a role in Vitamin D and serotonin production, as well as brain function. It is also supports the immune system and is a powerful antioxidant. Another fun fact: breast milk is high in cholesterol. (If cholesterol were so bad for us, why would nature supply it to babies?) The fact is, people with higher cholesterol tend to be healthier and live longer.

There are risks to having too little cholesterol in the body. Low cholesterol is a risk factor for heart arrhythmia. (This is what kills you when you have a heart attack) There is also an association between low cholesterol memory loss (also a well known side effect of Lipitor). Alzheimer’s patients with the lowest cholesterol have the worst symptoms.

Sugar is far more damaging to the heart than fat ever was, and we’re

Where did we even get the idea that saturated fat causes heart disease?

How did this happen? It’s called the diet- heart hypothesis. And it was based on faulty research from the start. It is described in this fun little clip:

While my research unearthed conflicting dates regarding the first heart attack, there is no questioning the fact that the rise in heart disease has raised serious concern. Rates of heart disease began to rise in the 1920s and have skyrocketed to a point where 65 million Americans are afflicted. Despite fat watching and cholesterol obsessing for well over half a century, heart disease and obesity rates continue to climb. What’s going on? Have we villainized the wrong player? I’d say so. I am convinced that real foods contain the perfect ratios of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids and fatty acids to nourish our bodies. The real villains are the food-like substances that are highly processed and loaded with unrecognizable ingredients. I will write more on that later.

Researchers at UCLA recently discovered that 75% of heart attack victims didn’t have high cholesterol. Rather than questioning their theory, they simply lowered the threshold of what was considered high cholesterol. As Liz Wolfe wittily describes in her book, Eat the Yolks, this practice successfully sells more statins but hasn’t done a thing to stop heart disease.

Let’s look at the 3 different types of essential fatty acids:

All fatty acids are chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached to the carbon atoms.

  • Saturated Fats: Have the maximum possible number of hydrogen atoms attached to every carbon atom, making them resistant to oxidative damage caused by light, heat, and air. They are more stable than the other types, making them the preferred choice for cooking. (lard, tallow, butter, full fat dairy, coconut, palm)
  • Monounsaturated Fats: When a pair of hydrogen atoms in the middle of a chain is missing, creating a gap that leaves two carbon atoms connected by a double bond rather than a single bond. It has one gap making it less stable than the saturated fat. Liquid at room temperature but may start to solidify in the refrigerator. (olive, avocado)
  • Polyunsaturated Fats: When there are two or more unsecured bonds, so there is more than one gap. These are even less stable. (safflower, sesame, corn, soybean)

Almost all fats are a blend of saturated and unsaturated but the ratio varies. For example, tallow (beef fat) is 54% unsaturated, lard is 60% unsaturated, and chicken fat is about 70% unsaturated. Dr. Mary Enig, in her book Know Your Fats, reminds us that totally unsaturated fats are nonexistent in natural foods.

Beware Trans Fats

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (Crisco) was developed in the early 1900’s to prolong shelf life. Production increased during WWII and butter consumption dropped to ¼ of what it was. At the same time hydrogenated vegetable oil consumption increased 200%. We now know that Trans Fats are associated with cancer, heart disease, inflammation and infertility. And yet, according to WebMd, they are in 40% of the products on supermarket shelves. They can be found in items such as cakes, cookies, pies, crackers and margarine.

A law was passed in 2006 that required labeling of Trans Fats. This was good news… if it weren’t for the loophole. A food product can contain less than .5 gram per serving and still be labeled free of trans fat. So, rather than relying on the “No Trans Fat” label, make sure partially hydrogenated oil isn’t listed as an ingredient.

 

Canola Oil: Healthy Alternative?

Here’s a clip describing how canola oil is made. Ask yourself if you consider this healthy.

Solvent wash and bleaching… How in the world is your body supposed to recognize that as food?

When it comes to choosing your fats consider:

  • How processed is it
  • Is it stable
  • What nutrients does it contain

It is time to question what we’ve been taught. Let’s return to a time when we were in tune with nature and followed our instincts instead of listening to food “experts” who are heavily influenced by manufactures. Your great grandmother didn’t need a commercial to help her decide what to eat. And neither should you.

Liz Wolfe Eat the Yolks-2

Healthy fats come from healthy sources

It is important to choose your fats from organic pastured animals. Toxins are stored in the fat so you want to make sure you are getting the best quality that you can afford.

 

To learn more about which fats are best for cooking and which should be used cold, here’s an excellent chart put together by Diane SanFilippo, BS, NC.

Another reason to avoid processed seed/vegetable oils: GMO’s. In the US, 93% soybeans, 88% corn, 94% cottonseed and 90% canola is genetically modified. So if you must continue to eat these, at least make sure they are organic.

I still remember the trepidation that came with those first (glorious) mouthfuls of fat. I found myself eating avocado by the spoonful and scooping butter and coconut into my coffee wondering “Could this all be true?” And then, “Mmmmmm, I sure hope so.” That was over three years ago and I have never looked back. I was someone who was always snacking, if I didn’t eat for awhile I felt shaky and irritable. I left that behind along with my non-fat latte. The low-fat dogma is so ingrained in our culture that few people question it, I know I sure didn’t. But once you do, your body will thank you.

Have you increased your fat intake? What were the results? Share your experience, I’d love to hear all about it.


 

Additional Resources:

Eight doctors talk about the myths of Saturated Fat and Cholesterol in this video

Chris Masterjohn speaks about Saturated Fat and Cholesterol in this podcast

 

References:

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz

Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolfe

Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol by Mary Enig

http://chriskresser.com/the-diet-heart-myth-cholesterol-and-saturated-fat-are-not-the-enemy/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19852882

http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1133027

http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/05/19/why-cholesterol-may-not-be-the-cause-of-heart-disease/