Can Your Body Handle Changes in your Life?

 

You drag your feet to the end of each day. You catch every virus going. You can no longer eat (or drink) like you did when you were 25.Your nagging little digestive pain isn’t quite so quiet. You go from caring too much about things to not caring less.

What’s going on with you lately? Are you falling apart or just getting old? Or is it that life has taken a left turn and you’re not quite able to keep up?

Who was it who first said that change is the only constant?

Some changes are well thought-out choices, some are inevitable, and some pull the rug right out from under you. This is true for all of us.

Becoming a mother, losing a mother, losing a job or starting a new one, divorcing your husband, the kids moving out, a diagnosis (yours or another’s),… Life is full of transitions, with an ever-evolving need to recalibrate.

I’ve seen how outer transitions clearly show up directly in the body – in clients whose discomfort with a certain situation manifests as physical discomfort, disease and pain. Occasionally these women are conscious of that connection, quite often they’re not.

These cases walk into my office as

  • The 46-yr-old who understands, if reluctantly, that she needs to adapt her eating and lifestyle to reflect the creeping signs of age and perimenopause
  • The teacher whose irritable bowel finally drives her to get help – a cry of distress from deep inside that she can no longer digest the status quo with her husband
  • The writer who weeps in frustration before the basic task of preparing supper because of eating restrictions from the doctor, the same one who’s too unsettled from moving for the umpteenth time to grasp any sense of normal anywhere
  • The mother who wants to take charge of her body since several flus hit hard after her own mother dies; flip side to the one whose fibroids spawn complications as her kids move out
  • The professional who woke with labyrinthitis (dizziness from an inflammation of the inner ear) the week she retired.

In my 30s, my own expanding waistline signalled a need for me to grow in a different way.

Think about it. When you’ve felt your worst in body, had something major just shifted (or wanted to shift) in your life?

Could it be that these symptoms you’re experiencing during life’s transitions are a message from your body that something needs to change in YOU as well?

Health, by definition, is a balance whereby you have what it takes to cope with, and recuperate easily from, whatever ails you. When your life changes, it necessarily sets you off balance. In the best case scenario, you’re in a place in your body, mind and soul where you can regain your equilibrium without much ado.

However, when the transitions coincide with your usual aches & pains getting the better of you, or new ones showing up, when your anxiety’s up or your energy levels are down, it’s a sign that you were thrown more off-balance than you’d realized.

Your symptoms are a sign that you need to care for yourself more thoroughly, more consciously and more deeply than you have been.

I know what you’re thinking. When things are in flux – even when it’s your choice and all for the best – you’ve got to make sure everyone around you is looked after, not to mention the details and to-dos. How can you possibly think about yourself at a time like this?

If there’s one thing I hope you’ve learned by now as a wife and mother and multi-tasker extraordinaire, is that you can only be so, effectively, from a full cup.

Perhaps the discomfort you feel at these points is actually your body reminding you that NOW is the time to look after you. Dare I say, it’s the perfect opportunity to dig deeply into what YOU need to survive the upheaval and land on the solid ground of who you are.

I’ve spent the last year riding a physical, mental, emotional roller coaster through a move from my lifelong home in Montreal to Ottawa. Under two hundred kilometres’ distance, but light years in how far I’ve come in myself. Perhaps it’s this experience that has pushed me to own up to a strong compulsion to help women struggling with the pain of change to reach a new normal.

More than finding a healthy balance, I want these women to thrive, even blossom into their full, beautiful potential.

As a result, my work is undergoing a slight transition of its own. My client work still revolves around encouraging you to listen to your body for making your best healthy choices. My writing will continue to offer tips, stories and inspiration for finding whole health from the inside out. I will still encourage conversations in the Whole Health Dinner Party group around the same.

The upgrade will be that my focus is now on supporting women who feel the shifts and changes of life take a toll on their body, guiding them to care for themselves in ways that allow them to land safely, feeling healthy, on the other side.

If this is you, tell us how change affects you, and where you need the most support when life changes directions. When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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How to Nourish YOU for the Coming Year

 

I step out my front door after a heavy snowfall. The expanse of white blanketing my lawn is pristine – not a rabbit trail, nor a wind drift in sight – it’s pure, clean and full of possibility. I get a satisfying thrill to be the first one to make a mark. Today, it’s a footprint. Other times it’s an angel.

That’s exactly how I feel on the first of the year. As if by turning to a fresh page on the calendar, I’ve wiped everything clean and get to start again; I get to make my mark on the year in any way I desire.

I get to step forward as the person I want to become.

I get to feed and dress and entertain myself in a way that reflects the wants and needs of that “new” me.

I get to enjoy relationships with a whole new heart.

I get to share my reaffirmed values through work and service to others.

The possibilities are vast – all emanating from me.

All starting from that 1st step.

2017 is going to be a big year. I can feel it.

Am I feeling the excitement brewing as Canada turns 150, as Montreal turns 375, as most of my friends and I turn 50, my eldest son, 25?

Politically, we’ll see a whole new world – terrifying and thrilling in equal measure.

Maybe I’m tuned into the cosmic pull of numerology. 2+0+1+7=10, the culmination of one cycle and the start of the next; as well as (1+0=1) the very beginning. Maybe I’m feeling the onset of the Year of the Fire Rooster – vibrantly social and healthy.

Whatever influences and environment and waves push and pull against you through the coming year, at the centre is you. YOU are the only part over which you have control. YOU are the only tool you have for creating waves – through your own care & feeding, in how you interact with others, in how you vibrate in the world through work & community – your footprints.

Will they be made of carbon or snow? Of fairy dust or hard facts? The choice is yours.

It all starts with you.

Before you make that first step each day, though, be sure to start out knowing who you are in that moment. Connect with YOU first. Action comes next.

Huh?!? What does all this mumbo-jumbo mean?

It means that the best way to be yourself, to feel like yourself and stay nourished through your day, is to start each morning with a bit of ritual: a morning routine.

A morning routine ensures that you start your day nourished body, mind and soul.

A morning routine wipes the slate clean like that freshly fallen snow. Without necessarily getting rid of yesterday’s transgressions, it contains forgiveness for them, and hope for tomorrow’s wins.

A morning routine ensures that you have had time to yourself and for yourself, no matter what the rest of the day holds. It gives you the space to focus inward before engaging outward.

When life rips the rug out from under you, a morning routine maintains a constant, a beacon to which you can tether yourself to get safely to the other side.

A morning routine connects all parts of you into an integrated whole from which you can better make decisions about work, food, leisure… basically, how you want to spend your time, energy and money through the coming day.

The daily practice of a morning routine fosters discipline. Not the strict, whip-cracking type. Ritual establishes boundaries as a safe container for who you are, what you will & won’t do, what you will & won’t let in…or out…of your life.

A morning routine starts the conversation in which you can listen to your body – her needs, her hopes, her fears.

A morning routine gives you the space to connect with the Divine, a conversation with a greater power. This includes the petitions for what you need as well as listening for a response.

If there’s time for nothing else on a given day – the connection to self and spirit are the non-negotiable pieces to my morning, in the form of breathe.

Feeling my breathe move into my body’s centre, then settling into that space as it leaves.

That way, I start each day with a calm nervous system.

I start each day with a dose of oxytocin – bi-product of connection, which lowers cortisol levels, with its residual waves to improved blood sugar, immunity and libido.

I start the day, saying, “This is ME.”

I take each step from there.

Your morning routine will likely look different than mine. It will vary, depending on whether your day includes a marathon or a day of leisure, kids or just you, being at home or on the road. Your routine may alternate depending on the type of work you do, or where your values and priorities lie.

One thing that remains the same for each of us, whether you will be teaching kindergarten or spear-heading a corporate merger, starting out your day grounded into YOU will set you up for more energy, success and happiness at the end of it.

My morning routine has evolved over time and continues to evolve as my needs shift through the seasons and the circumstances of life. For the next four posts, through the months of quiet hibernation in winter, it’s the perfect time to share some aspects of my morning routine, not as specific rules, but as guidelines for possibility.

How you make your own routine is up to you.

Do you have a morning routine, or a non-negotiable bit to your day? We’d love to hear about it! When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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The Health Benefits of Sisterhood

 

People laugh at me sometimes, with how obsessed I am with book club. More than guiding my current reading habits and being an outlet for intellectual curiosity, it takes up priority space in my calendar. Some would say I’m almost religious about it. Could be.

One thing I know for sure: that one night each month feeds my soul.

I used to have a similar take on a choir I’d joined for a time. About the art school office I worked in for 10 years. About natural health school. About hanging with my friends – girls’ night dinner parties being the cherry on the cake.

The common denominator in all these enriching scenarios? Female community.

(Maybe my need for such circles is a bit religious. Being part of a value-based collective certainly adds appeal to any religion. Having stepped away from the Catholic Church I was raised in, my need might be greater than someone who’s stayed more fully connected to a specific faith.)

My girlfriends, and the other clutches of women I mention above, were key to my survival post-divorce. Over 5 tumultuous years, I first learned how a non-judgmental circle of women (& a few special men) grants me

  • the courage to surrender the masks/labels and be myself;
  • the safe space in which to pour my hopes and fears;
  • shoulders to cry on, buddies to dance with;
  • the permission to put myself first (not that we women need it, but we think we do).

I learned that a strong group makes each individual woman stronger.

Being immersed in a community of like-minded, supportive women is the most direct route to knowing and loving yourself.

This solid container works for anything you want to improve really, however, in terms of health, the support of a group is proven to speed recovery and reduce risks of recurrence.

As part of a community, you have a built-in buddy system – someone to hold you accountable, to cheer you on, to hold your hand when things get rough, and to celebrate with you when they go well.

Knowing someone has your back in that way makes it easier to step out of your comfort zone.

On my own, I doubt I’d have had the energy to find another man, let alone explore the world of online dating. Without the love of friends and colleagues, jumping full-tilt into a new line of study might not have been so effortless, and I may never have discovered a new career – one that continues to stretch and fulfill me 14 years later.

A healthy relationship and enriching work serve to nourish you in mind and soul – essential pieces of your health picture.

More than just having a body free of disease, health literally means to be whole. To have balance in the lifestyle choices you make, so you can enjoy balance in your life.

That “being healthy” umbrella covers every part of your life – relationships, heart & soul, mind, work, money, society. It’s not just about the perfect body or a body free of disease. In fact (this is a discussion to explore further another day), it’s possible to be healthy even with a disease.

Every part of your life stands to improve with the health-giving support of a collective.

Community also means a place to ask questions and learn from the experience of others.

In recent years, I’ve discovered pockets of loving circles online. Some of the small Facebook groups I belong to hold the same magic as I’ve experienced in person. They might be a network of colleagues and other alternative health practitioners; financial advice; business support for solopreneurs; accountability and cheerleading through a challenge or a course. I’m also a part of deep spiritual circles through the internet.

I have connected with like-minded women all over the globe who I now consider good friends.

No matter the area of life, my book club, my friends, these online groups all prove to me yet again that it takes a village to raise a healthy woman.

Which is precisely why I have opened a community of my own. The Whole Health Dinner Party is a closed Facebook group for members of my community. It’s a place to talk about food and body and soul and life. For asking niggling questions and sharing thoughts. A place for conversation about health in all its shapes and forms.

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The Soul of Bone Broth

 

Have you noticed that you can’t turn around these days without tripping over someone extolling the virtues of bone broth?

Recipes, videos, blogs and expert interviews – guilty as charged. I have been suggesting bone broth to clients with everything from IBD to arthritis to breast cancer. Heck, it even makes a great body booster for my athletic sons.

What’s the deal? Is this truly a revolutionary superfood or just the flavour of the month, and why is it making such a huge comeback?

I’ve known that bone broth is the ideal supplement for nourishing, well, your bones. It’s one of Nature’s calcium supplements, along with the other minerals and protein your bones need. By steeping all the nutrients from one set of bones into liquid, they’re easily assimilated for yours.

Recent studies are proving that this very basic, traditional food is also loaded with glucosamine, condroitin and balanced electrolytes, including highly absorbable potassium. It’s being touted as the cure for leaky gut and dysbiosis. It calms inflammation and detoxifies your digestive tract. It nourishes you when you’re pregnant; it rejuvenates you when you’re ill.

My goodness, it really is a super food!

You might know me enough to realize that my trust in bone broth goes much deeper than those wonderful physical benefits.

Broth is at the basis of some pretty ancient traditions: show me a Jewish grandmother who doesn’t make chicken soup. What about congee, the Chinese equivalent? Soups cross every culture – phó, dal, wonton, Korean hot pot, Mexican avocado soup, minestrone,…

This isn’t coincidence. These practices developed from very basic human practices: ancient traditions that use every last piece of the animal they killed. Not the “yucky” parts we usually throw away, bones and cartilage and fat and organs are the gold! Think about it: your structure and your organs are the core part of you, the most essential, so it stands to reason that they should be storehouses for your most essential nutrients.

Maybe it was because of the fat scare in the 90s that turned us off these good bits. Maybe it was growing awareness of environmental toxicity that compelled us to chuck the skin and the liver. Then, we became overly concerned with building muscle, which somehow translated to a need to eat more muscle (lean meat). Slowly over the last few decades, our focus shifted from enjoying the whole animal, to only wanting boneless breasts and tenderloin.

The return to whole food seems radical, but it’s just a natural return of the pendulum after so many years feeding ourselves partial foods and non-foods. Some things obviously need peeling or gentle cooking, but the goal is to eat it as close to how it grows in Nature. All of it – the seeds, the pith, the leaves, the roots – not just the starch and the sugars.

It’s not just about the plants, either. Eating whole food also means eating an animal whole. Ok, you might not eat an entire cow at one meal, but a family of 4 or 6 through a year…sure!

Eating the whole animal means getting what you can out of the gristle, the gizzards and the bone, not just the “meat”.

There’s also the convenience of cooking lean, boneless meat. Nothing to trim or clean; just pop it on the grill or in the pan and (voila!) healthy fast food at home. We live fast, we eat fast, we want our meals to be ready fast. I can’t tell you how many women in my office tell me they don’t have time to make healthy meals.

At the risk of sounding like an annoying mother, Rome wasn’t built in a day. To have anything of quality – a house, a dress, shoes… or a healthy body, is not something that appears fully-formed overnight. It takes time and effort and persistence.

Your body regenerates completely every 7 years. Which means that it could take that amount of time to shift your health fully. There is no magic bullet – no herb, no superfood, no drug – that will cure you tomorrow.

You are in the driver’s seat of your own healing with the choices you make, the food you eat, the thoughts you think, the feelings you express and words you speak. All that you receive into your body and that you emit from your being form the dynamic creation of your health. It’s a wave, a pulse, an ever-shifting breath. It is eternal. It takes time. Wait…scratch that…it’s timeless.

When you feed your body with such “slow” food as bone broth, you are infusing the water, not only with nutrients, you are accessing the health and energy of the animal, of the plants he ate, of the plants you’ve added to the pot.

Having a crock-pot on the go for a day or two harks back to the kettle on the fire, the hearth of the family home, the core of the community. It’s the women around the fire-pit, tending, caring, nurturing. You’re heating the house and nourishing your family with nothing less than basic nutrition, I dare say, with love.

Nothing fancy or difficult about it, either. Same method your grandmother used (bones and veggies covered with water), with the simple addition of some vinegar to draw out the minerals and break down the protein. Let it simmer ever so gently for a good long time (3-4 hours for fish, 24 for poultry or up to 48 for beef).

If truly time is of concern to you, why not engage some of that community spirit to your benefit? Get a couple of friends to start bone broth sharing: everyone collects their organic bones in the freezer, then each month, one of you tends the fire. You can even make a party of everyone coming by with their jars for their share the wealth.

Perhaps my ideas are bit too far out in left field for you. Then, look at it this way: taking the time to make your own bone broth is a way of slowing down and taking a breath in the middle of your go-getter life. See it as an act of self-care, an act of self-love, to supply yourself and your family with the most exquisite nourishment you can offer.

There are countless recipes out there for how to make and use bone broth – what’s your favourite? When you share in the comments, you open possibilities for others.

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feature image: bouillon by esmée scholte via freeimages.com

How to Dance Your Way to Better Health

 

More and more, the experts are telling us to clear blocked emotions as a necessary part in your healing journey. Dr. Northrup’s “You have to feel it to heal it” and other variations make complete sense. Yet, many of us – my hand’s raised her – are so out of touch with how we feel, it’s a challenge to truly GET that concept.

There was no room in my upbringing for the full spectrum of emotions – how many of you had parents who gave you space tantrums? Laughter or tears or outbursts of any kind, my brothers and I were told to “settle down”. The only emotions we ever saw in full regalia was anger – my father’s, sometimes my mother’s when we’d driven her completely up the wall – and never something we were free to send back in their direction.

Raised to use my head, I had little inkling that the feelings I knew had any depth beyond the small ripple they created in my mind and moods. Being a good girl, I was encouraged to keep it that way.

Believe it or not, I actually learned how to feel from a book. I was at my first yoga retreat, and picked up a stray copy of Gay & Kathleen Hendricks’ Conscious Loving. That was when, at age 29, I learned that emotions are felt in the body. Yoga was the doorway to my more fully realized self, in that it gave me the tools and space to start along a path of integrating all my parts – body, mind, heart & soul.

It’s been a long, ongoing process to learn – nearly another 20 years for me to find the courage to explore my feelings to their very fullest. For the longest time, I was scared of big emotions, in others as well as myself. They are so chaotic, unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

And you know what it’s like, you want to do things that make you happy and get through the negative emotions as quickly as possible.

Thing is, emotions are neither good nor bad. Like the rain, they have no inherent value. In cold & dark November, it’s depressing, at the end of a scorching July day, it’s a godsend. The rain necessary for life to shift and change and grow.

We try so hard to increase our joy, always looking for the shortcut or the magic bullet to happiness & love, that we’ve lost touch with the healthy aspects of anger, fear and sadness. We have no time in our schedules to give them space, so we ignore them, override them with a smile or suppress them with pills, alcohol, sugar and other drugs.

Emotions are like water. Close them up for too long and two things can happen. With no hint of movement, the pool stagnates, creating a breeding ground for mould, bacteria, parasites (auto-immunity, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, IBD,…) Holding back a river requires a strong dam and a lot of physical energy, depleting your body’s defenses and feeding such states as anxiety or depression. There’s also the risk that the slightest crack in the wall will release a wild, even destructive flood.

Like water, e-motions are nothing more than energy-in-motion. They need to flow. They become unhealthy when we avoid them or let them get pent up.

Your core emotions, and the physiological responses they create in your body are part of your communication system. They are in place as part of your survival.

Follow the movement, the dance each one invites you to share and you’ll see what I mean.

(I’m serious, stand up and do this with me – maybe one day soon I’ll add a video to help this along.)

We start with Joy or Desire.

Think of something that has made you just overflow with happiness. Where do you feel it? Likely, it’s somewhere in your torso, your heart centre. Sit with it a moment until you feel the movement in there. Perhaps it’s open-chested, shoulders back, leaning in.

Desire is a step forward.

It says, This feels good, this nourishes me, let’s go for it!

It connects you to the world and people and situations that light you up. That nurture you and help you grow. It’s that feeling of a little girl seeing her mom after a long absence and running to her full-tilt, with open arms.

The direct opposite of Joy is Sadness.

Think of something that makes you sad. Where do you feel it and how does it move? Still in your torso, I bet, though closing inward this time. Sadness retreats, curls you into a ball.

It tells you where you’ve disconnected, be it consciously or not, from your loved ones, your community, your sources of nourishment.

It’s part of your survival in the same way that a seed ensures the survival of a plant. The seed’s job is to disconnect, to leave the mother plant. It’s a tightly closed capsule that contains all the energy and nutrients necessary to create a whole new plant. Once it finds the ideal environment and gets exposed to a bit of water, it cracks open.

When you’re sad – usually at the (forced or planned) disconnection from someone or something you love – you can feel uprooted. It’s survival to gather your resources and save your energy until conditions seem safe again. Shedding a few tears (or buckets-full!) will eventually crack open your heart and mind to re-engage with life.

Anger is your inner mama-bear at work.

Without going overboard, think of a situation that pisses you off. Notice where it sits in your body and how it wants to move. It yells and waves its arms around and snarls and wants to throw things – it basically says, Keep the hell away from me!

Anger can be scary in that it is large and loud, but it’s purpose is not to inflict harm.

Anger protects your from harm. It helps you set and maintain healthy boundaries – that perimeter of safe, personal space around you. It kicks in when that safety has been breached.

Bears don’t attack people for the heck of it. Generally a wild animal will only attack if you’re too close to their shelter, their food or their children – when you’ve threatened their basic needs.

If you’re angry (frustrated, irritated, impatient, annoyed, irritable,…) it’s an indication that your survival, that one of your needs – what you need to both survive and thrive – has been removed or threatened. (See this list of basic human needs that, yes, include things like touch and attention.)

Anger moves up and out. It’s loud and needs a lot of space. Follow that flow – better out than in!

A child psychologist once gave me the “anger rules” for my boys. They basically say you’re allowed to be angry, you’re just not allowed to hurt anyone (including yourself) nor damage anything. She encouraged us to make an angry corner where the kids were allowed to punch pillows, shred paper, yell & scream or whack a door frame with a tea towel when the need arose.

Try giving yourself permission to do the same. You might even want to put on a timer so you don’t go too far overboard. (The tea towel one is great, especially when you also yell all the furious, horrible things you want to say to the person/situation that has you riled.) Let loose in your tantrum! Then let yourself settle back into the calm. You’ll find that you are now able to deal with whatever was bothering you with a more rational & productive approach.

Maybe I’ve left Fear for last because it’s my own particular nemesis.

Call it childhood programming or part of my path, but fear is my first reaction to any situation even remotely out of my comfort zone. It blows up to unreasonable proportions. I’m a great one for lying in bed at 3 am turning molehills in mountains that threaten to crush me in their shadows.

What scares you? How does it show up in your body? Fear is a step backwards…or in my case, turns me around and has me run away screaming. Fear can also freeze you in place.

Its purpose is to keep you out of harm’s way. When you get to the edge of a cliff staying stock-still or stepping back are the only wise choices.

Fear says, This doesn’t feel right, let’s get out of here, or check things out before taking another step. When you’re walking down a dark road, it’s the feeling that reminds you to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Fear has a tricky counterpart: it can be the feeling your ego sends when you’re about to walk down an unfamiliar road. Because you have no way of knowing which twists and turns and cliffs you’re likely to encounter, it tries to prevent you from going that way at all.

I’ve learned to use this type of fear as a tool: it reminds me when to step back to reassess and informs me of how huge the potential reward and growth will be at the other end. (This can be a strange concept to wrap your head around – some days, I’m not sure if I get it fully myself – it will likely show up as its own exploration in a later blog.)

Emotions are the energy of life. The dances they lead you on are the steps to a more fulfilled, more expanded, more fully actualized version of you.

Emotions are the cues to being fully yourself. In the physiological world, the distinction between what yours and what isn’t falls in the realm of the immune system. Giving free flow to how you feel will improve your ability to stay strong in the face of disease.

Want to know the beautiful part of exploring my emotions? The more space and time I give them, the less afraid I become of them, the more confidence I have to say what I need to say, the more likely I am to express what I truly need. The repercussions of this on my life blossom continuously.

How do you move with and through your emotions? Which one gives you the hardest time? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

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PS I’ve started using Bach Flower Essences to help support myself and clients through the many movements of this dance. If you want to know more about them, contact me here.