Category Archives: body

Reader Question: Toxins

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What toxins are in our bodies and how to get rid of them? -Victoria

This is another great question from Victoria.

This entire concept of toxins has really spawned an entire industry based on cleansing the body.  Cleanse.  Clean.  Pure.

“Toxin” is one of those words that I’d like to see eradicated for a while.  It has created so much fear and a certain attitude of war against the body.

I’m not denying that we live in something of a cesspool of our own creation, most definitely.  However, we focus our energy on cleansing the body of the individual instead of stopping the toxic things at their source.  For example, a large part of the toxins that we ingest are in our water.  Instead of us getting really angry about that, we’ve allowed corporations to charge us money for “clean water” in bottles (plastic of course which are toxic).

Okay, reining myself back in.  That wasn’t really the question.

We are contextual beings.  What that means is that our body cannot be separated from its environment.  If you’ve ever looked at single celled organisms through a microscope, you now that they are “swimming’ through a solution of something.  There’s not just empty space between them.  It’s the same idea with us.  The “empty space” that you see between yourself and the person next to you or the tree a few feet away is not empty at all.  It’s swirling with life, dust, pollen, and all sorts of other things.  So, we are only as “non-toxic”  as our environment.

Our bodies co-evolved with everything else in our environment.  This means that we evolved all sorts of “cleansing” mechanisms naturally and within ourselves.  We have several organs who do that: the skin, the liver, the kidneys, the intestines, the lungs, etc.  A well nourished healthy body cleanses itself naturally.

However, we as a species have been very busy creating new toxins to fill that “empty space” between things.  The body may need a little additional help.

The things that we now have to deal with are pesticides in our food, radiation in the air and water, sugar, vegetable oils, genetically modified foods and strange chemical combinations created by industry.  These are the biggies.

Some of these are pretty easy to control.  Stop eating sugar and vegetable oils and GMO foods.  Source your water from a spring or use a filter for the tap.  Get angry about industry and see what you can do about your local area.  (This is hard.  Very, very hard.  Money and politics are strong forces in this day and age.)

Here are the other things that you can do:

1.  Eat well.  You eat to very literally create yourself.  What you eat is broken down and used by your body to repair and make more of you on a cellular level.

2.  Nourish your organs.  Your organs regenerate.  Your skin, your liver….you basically get new ones every few weeks to months.  So, give your body the best nutrients to build organs that are capable of cleansing the body, not just limp along trying to survive.

3.  Eat clay.  Find some edible clay and take a little bit in each day.  Just a bit.  I make toothpaste with mine.  Other times, I dissolve a little bit in my water.  This really helps with radioactivity, but it also helps with other poisons and is full of minerals.  Other mammals do this and its a traditional practice in nearly all cultures.

4.  Sweat.  A sauna is such a nice passive way to do this.  Moving intensely and with purpose is also really nice.  I’m not a big fan of gyms.  I find it far more satisfying to sweat doing something really productive.  Carry the groceries up the 5 flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator.  Scrub the kitchen floor with a brush.  Really allow your body to live in your life.

5.  Look into herbs.  There are herbs that correspond with particular organs.  I prefer to use herbs that nourish my liver or my skin instead of stronger, really medicinal ones that have an actual cleansing effect on the body.  I’d rather that my body know it has allies that are working with it instead of substances that are nearly as toxic as the substances that it is trying to detoxify itself from.

Cleansing when the body is compromised in any way can be harsh and further break down the body’s vitality.  Instead, find ways to nourish the body in little ways daily.  Keep your environment authentic.

And, remember that dirty and toxic are not the same thing.  Going outside and rolling around in the mud or playing in the dirt is actually really good for you.

Disclaimer: Everything here is my opinion and for information purposes only.  What you do with that information is your responsibility alone.

Easier said than done.

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Health tips are happening on my Facebook page lately.  It’s just evolving in that direction.  Yesterday’s was the following:

“Eat when you’re hungry.  Don’t eat when you’re not.”

Yeah, groundbreaking stuff, there. I could almost hear the collective muttering, “duh” in a hushed exhale.

I concede that it’s not news.  It’s not avant garde.  It’s not the latest scientific breakthrough.

In my defense, however, chances are mighty, mighty good that you’re not following this old, ratty advice.  Chances are pretty good that you are probably trying to find ways to eat less than you are actually hungry for a lot of the time and eating way past that full signal other times.  How do I know that?  What, am I made of stone?  These things I speak of are things with which I am familiar, my friends.

Of course, in some part of your mind, or maybe a lot of your mind, you think that you can’t follow this little “rule” because there’s something quite wrong with you.  I mean, really, it’s so easy a kid could do it.  And before we cram crazy messages into their tender brains, they all do.

So if you can’t do it, what’s wrong with you?

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  That’s right.  There’s nothing wrong with you.

There is probably something wrong with the nourishment that you are receiving though.  I’ll bet a shiny new quarter on it, actually.

Here are the reasons that I think following this most obvious and simple guideline is so difficult:

1.  We’re told that the body is not to be trusted.  We get this message from early on from everywhere.  So, when it’s 10:30 on a Tuesday morning and you’re still not hungry but stuff down some breakfast because you’ve been told that “it’s the most important meal of the day” or it’s 8:15 on a Monday night and your stomach is growling but you ignore it because “you’re not supposed to eat past 7”, you do this because you don’t trust your body.

2.  You are malnourished.  You will continue to eat until you get the nutrients that you need, not the calories that you need.  This is a crucial distinction.  We’ve shifted in the past 100 years to the caloric model of eating.  You can eat a pint or more of low-fat ice cream during a commercial break.  Just TRY and eat that much liver.  And if liver is gross to you, you can change that to steak.  Your body wants nutrients first and foremost.  You understand this.  A tablespoon of white sugar is not the same thing as a tablespoon of just about anything else.  The calories may be the same but the drive to eat more will not be sated with the sugar.  There are no nutrients.  None.  And worse, foods such as sugar and white flour actually use up your stores of other nutrients to digest.  So, you’re not getting “no nutrition”, you’re getting “negative nutrition”.  And what do you need?  Positive nutrition in order to feel full, good, and healthy.

3.  Malnutrition is not just a matter of food.  If you feel agitated, you may need to go for a walk or punch a pillow.  Cake will not allow the emotion to move through.  Cake will numb it and repress it and that can feel helpful at times, but the agitation is still there, just buried under cake.  The starvation you feel when loneliness overtakes you?  French fries really don’t give a flip about your struggles.  Friends do.  The craving you have for affection will not be met by squirting the whole can of whipped cream in your mouth.  This cycle only creates more agitation, more loneliness, more cravings for human touch.  In the same way negative nutrition creates deeper and deeper deficits, using food to do something it’s not meant to do, creates deeper and deeper emotional deficits.

4.  Portion prescriptions.  Once you are able to connect with your hunger, portions are the stupidest thing EVER.  There are days when I eat 5 snacks a day.  None are big enough to be called a meal.  Others, I eat the traditional 3 squares.  Some, I eat one big meal with a steak so big it can’t fit on the plate.  Once in a long while, I only want a smoothie for the whole day. Portions as mandated from the heavens assume that you are the same, day in, day out.  They assume that your level of activity is identical every day.  They assume that your hormones never fluctuate.  They assume that you at 18 is the same as you at 45.  Yes, I know there are “formulas” that allow for variance, but, really? Formulas?  How hungry are you today?  Well, eat.  If you’re not, don’t.  You don’t have to eat 5 meals a day if you’re not hungry five times a day.

I could probably go on and on but this will dissolve into a rant instead of something useful REAL quick, so I’ll stop there.  In short, eat when you’re hungry.  Don’t eat when you’re not.  Basically, Nourish yourself into Freedom.

If you haven’t joined us for #30daymove, yet, it’s not too late.  Never too late!

Reader question: Water?

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Larissa writes:  Water.  “don’t drink tap water.  don’t drink water from plastic bottles. use a filter. not all filters are ok., etc. etc.” are things that we hear all the time.  How is water essential to our health ? What minerals are there in water ? Is A lemon carbonated Perrier only pleasurable but also a healthy nourishing nutrient ? Salt and lemon in water to rehydrate ?

Full disclosure: Larissa is one my very best friends and she very humbly allows me to think I always know what I’m talking about.  The woman is smart as a whip, however, and keeps me on my toes!  We’re going to have to get her to do a guest post here.

There are a lot of questions in this request for an answer.  Let’s try and take them one by one.

1.  How is water essential to our health?

Well, we are, on average, 60% water.  Babies are like 80%.  (That’s why they are so plump and delicious!)  The water that we drink becomes our blood.  We use water for these processes in the body: 

a.) gets oxygen to our cells

b.) between our joints, there is something called synovial fluid, the efficacy and “cushiness” of our joints depends on the amount of hydration we take in

c.) our cells communicate with each other-water make this communication more effective/efficient

d.) water maintains normal electrical properties of cells (yep, I saw the Matrix, too and yep, we probably could be used as batteries and that’s why we are in pods of fluid in those movies)

e.) our lymphatic system’s function depends on two things: 1. movement-it’s a kinetic system that requires movement to flow and 2. water-our lymphatic fluid’s viscosity is directly influenced by our water intake

f.) we are better able to regulate our body temperature when we are well hydrated (when you  consider the incredibly narrow range of healthy body temperature that we have and the incredibly broad range of environments in which humans live, you start to understand how crucial this is.)

g.) water removes waste from the body’s metabolic processes

There’s more, but I think you’re getting the picture.  The short answer is “water is important”.

2.  What minerals are in water?

This is a deceptively simple question to answer.  Water, on a molecular level, is hydrogen and oxygen (dihydrogen monoxide for my geeks out there.  holla!)  However, the hydrogen and oxygen molecules act as a matrix (little m) for other things.  The minerals in water are incredibly variable according to the water source.  (My go-to guy for all anything water related is Daniel Vitalis, for those of you interested in a vastly more in-depth study of this.)  What that means is that the minerals in Perrier are going to be different than the minerals in San Pellegrino.  Are you still with me?

Now, once you understand that, you’ll see that water from different sources really is not the same thing.  We drink water to hydrate, yes, but it is also a valuable source of nutrition.  It is not just “wet”.  I was lucky enough to grow up drinking water that came from a spring not far from my house.  We never drank milk in my house, except on rare occasions when the farmer came by with his cow.  (You’d tell him how many jars of milk you wanted-that you’d provide-and he’d milk the cow right there in your yard.  True story.)  Why do I mention this?  Because, the water I grew up on fed through limestone rock.  I can remember waiting until the end of my meal to drink my water (as is my culture) and there would be limestone sediment at the bottom of the glass, so rich in minerals was that water!  Also, no fear of calcium deficiency, either.

So, the minerals in water are location dependent and source dependent.  

3. Is a lemon carbonated Perrier only pleasurable but also a healthy nourishing nutrient?

Yes.  It is both.  For people who live in cities and source their water (actually “tap liquid”, according to Daniel Vitalis) from the tap, mineral waters are a wonderful addition to the diet.  I love to have sparkling water on a regular basis.  I tend to brand hop.  Appolinaris is a personal favorite, but I don’t do it frequently because of the whole “I love the earth and I’m paying for jet fuel and pollution by buying this.” thing.  Water is incredibly heavy!!  So, bottled water is not my favorite way to destroy the earth.  

4.  Salt and lemon in water to rehydrate?

Yes, to both.  Of course, I’m not talking about table salt, which you should probably get rid of A.S.A.P.  Table salt is pretty much strictly sodium chloride and iodine.  It will create an imbalance in the body on a mineral level, so please, sea salt.  I vary my salt intake from different sources and every single time I go home to Haiti, I bring back a quart or so of local sea salt.  True salt is also rich in minerals.  Adding salt to denatured water helps remineralize it.  As far as lemon and vinegar in water goes, I can remember reading that it helps with the availability of the water to the cells but can’t find the reference anymore, so take that with a grain of (sea) salt.  Adding lemon and vinegar does do other things that are more frequently and commonly documented, like aiding with digestion and “stronger” blood.

5.  This wasn’t asked outright but was implied at the beginning of the question.  Water sources:

Worst: Plastic bottles.  Absolute worst.  Don’t do it.  We are becoming plastic people.  Literally.  Water is the more powerful solvent.  When you drink water from plastic, you are also drinking plastic.  

Less worse but not by much: Tap water.  Most of the water is flouridated (carcinogen), chlorinated (carcinogen) and completely ‘purified’-denatured and demineralized.  At least you’re not drinking plastic?  Well, maybe, but whatever anyone is flushing down their toilet, it’s eventually getting back to you.  I’m not talking about sewage, because that’s properly taken out of the flow, but prescription medications, etc.  Those chemicals are finding their way into the water source regardless.

Even less worse: Filtered tap water.  This is a good solution for most people.  Personally, I would filter it through a really good filter, the best that you can afford, and I would add a little vinegar and some salt to it.  Maybe a half a Tablespoon of each to a gallon.  (I’m spitballing here and saying what I would do.)

The good stuff:  Find a spring.  Spring water is where it’s at.  When I was living in the cabin, I would drive an hour every two-three weeks to fill glass carboys with spring water.  Since I’ve moved, I haven’t yet found an easy to get to source.  My old spring is two hours away.  It’s becoming more and more worth it to make the trek.  I’ve been drinking the tap water here and it is not the same.  At.  All.  It doesn’t taste right nor is it hydrating me.  I just have to get a couple more carboys to make the trek less frequently, but I will probably be doing the trip this weekend.  It.  Is.  That.  Important.  And.  That.  Different.

Thanks Larissa for a great question!  I hope the information provided was useful.

*Disclaimer:  Everything I say on this blog is my opinion and just provided for information purposes only.  What you choose to do with that information is your responsibility.  

 

Let’s talk about stress. Again.

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A couple weeks ago, I offered up an idea that maybe a lot of the problem with stress is our perception of it.  We live in a both/and universe which means that two (seemingly) contradictory ideas can coexist.  What that means is that although your perception of what is stressing you out goes a very long way it the way it affects you, stress and the hormones that cascade through you are very real, and very physical.

 

Here are some things to think about:

 

1. Stress requires a response.  That’s pretty inherent in the way we’ve defined it.  Stress is anything that requires/promotes/stimulates a response from the body.  

 

2. Get rid of the unnecessary conversations.  This both metaphorical and literal.  There are so many things that we do that we think we have to, but that we really don’t.  You don’t have to work so hard to afford a bigger house.  You don’t have to exercise 7 days a week. You don’t have to have people in your life that bring you down.  You don’t have to be on Facebook. (BLASPHEMY!) You don’t have to always be reachable.  

 

3. It’s physical.  Even “mental”stress is physical stress.  You body releases the same hormones thinking about something stressful as when you’re experiencing something stressful.  

 

4. Be physical.  Move the locus of control from your “mind” to your body.  That fatigue you power through?  The holidays that you buy your way through even though you can’t afford it and most of the stuff you buy people don’t want?  (Put down that CVS stuffed animal with the stupid plastic flower it’s holding.  Nobody REALLY wants it.)  Get a massage instead or go for a walk.  Sleep.  Listen to what your body is telling you it needs.  Stop trying to convince it that it’s wrong.  

 

5. Respond.  If you have eliminated all the unnecessary, respond with authority to the necessary.  Take back your power.  Find a solution.  Run away fast if it’s dangerous.  Do.

 

6.  Nourish yourself, nourish yourself, nourish yourself.  When we are responding to stressors, our bodies will deplete of certain essential vitamins and minerals.  Keep yourself well fed, well rested, etc.

 

 

7.  Find other ways than food to nourish yourself.  On that last note, when you are in a chronically stressed state, don’t eat so much.  The digestive system pretty much shuts down when we are acutely stressed.  Forcing food down is a bad idea.  Food is there to feed you, not take care of your feelings.  It is okay to skip breakfast.  It is okay to have just some bone broth for dinner.  It’s okay to skip a meal or two.  This is natural.  This is also much easier to do when you are really feeding yourself with nutrient density the rest of the time.  A well nourished body is one that can handle stress far better than a malnourished one.

 

8.  Play.  You can do this physically by going outside and climbing a tree or making mud pies or snow forts.  You can also do this with attitude.  The vast majority of the things that stress us out now are not a life and death situation like they were for our ancestors.  We still behave as it they are.  Release the clench you have on the stressors defining you.  It will not KILL you to be 10 minutes late.  It may kill you when you chronically freak out about traffic, weakening your heart and immune system.  It may kill you when you speed to make up for it.  

 

9.  Give it 30 seconds.  Jump up and down, shake your hands furiously, move.  But, not for long, when you are acutely stressed.  Your body is expecting that.  The chemicals that flood your blood stream are not meant to be there for long.  You evolved from the survivors.  And the survivors ran.  They ran hard.  Or they fought.  They fought hard.  But, they did neither for long.  Just enough to get to safety.  

10.  Your body is not wrong.  We have designed a lifestyle that didn’t really consult the body.  We erroneously allow the lifestyle to take precedence.  Then, we get angry when the body can’t keep up.  The body is not wrong.  It’s more than possible that the lifestyle is.  You have the power to recreate a lifestyle that honors the body.  This is how to have freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Question: Small Habits

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Victoria asks:

Hi jenny! … am very excited to follow your tips and articles on living life freely.
(Could you talk about)….small lifestyle changes or habits that can make a big difference. Perhaps your top 8 or something… little routines, rituals or habits you have that make a big difference.

Oh, Victoria, I love you so much I’ll give you ten.  And, since this really is about living freely you can do all ten, just one, or NONE.  🙂

This took quite a bit of thought actually because once something is routine, it falls under the radar as an actual practice and just becomes “life”.  Some of these are probably as basic as it gets, some may seem a little strange, and I hope some are at least fun.

1.  I eat a substantial (in comparison to the S.A.D.-that’s Standard American Diet) amount of saturated fat.  Most of it is from animals as saturated fat tends to be found there, but I also love coconut oil and coconut milk.  (It’s one of two canned foods that I consume on the regular because coconut milk in a carton is such a no-go.  Read the label.  It’s mostly stuff other than coconut milk.  They have to put stuff in it to keep if from going solid in your fridge.)

Why?  Saturated fat is the most stable of all the fats.  It is the one that has been consumed forever by our species.  We make our cell membranes and create our nervous systems from it.  It is a really great source of energy.  It makes our fat-soluble vitamins actually usable by the body.  Our modern low fat diets have led to us having about 1/10 of the levels of our grandparents of these vitamins.  Remember, you can eat as many carrots as you want but without the fat, you can’t use any of the vitamin A they provide.  And still crisp boiled carrots quickly sauteed in butter with garlic and parsley?  Delicious!

2. I am in bed before 10:30 as a general rule.  Often, before 9:30 so I can be asleep by 10.

Why?  The body heals itself between the hours of 10 p.m. – 2 a.m.  The brain processes the day’s information, traumas, and events to make sense of them between the hours of 2 a.m. – 6 a.m.  If you lose out on that sleep, that healing can not take place.  Being a shift worker that works nights is one of the worst things that you can do for your health.  Shift work is recognized as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization.  Robb Wolf likes to say that you should get as much sleep as you can without getting divorced or fired.

3. I eat clay.  On purpose.  I used to drink it mixed in water but now I make an herbal toothpaste with clay as the base that I use daily.

Why?  Clay is cationic and helps bond with radioactivity in the body and helping it exit.  With the amount of computer exposure, radioactive exposure that we are all (mostly unknowingly) subjected to, this is a really great health practice.  In Haiti, there was the myth that Haitians ate dirt to ward off starvation during the embargo years.  Actually, the clay tablets, not dirt, have always been and are still sold in the markets and just make a pretty regular part of the traditional diet.

4.  I have a dog.

Why? This may not be a small habit, but it doesn’t have to be a dog that you choose to adopt.  It can be a plant, a parakeet, a cat, or a monitor lizard.  Knowing that a living thing depends on me grounds me to the natural world.  Being witness to the way that life REALLY works, like the time my dog decimated my chicken flock in 5 minutes, keeps me from falling prey to a lot of wishful thinking and sentimentality about the way I wish things work.  Also, having living species other than humans around reminds me that I have needs based on my being a human being that are wholly natural.  To acknowledge and meet those needs is wisdom and the gateway to freedom.

5.  I don’t wear underwire bras.  And frequently none at all.  

Why?  There are certainly studies on both sides of this issue.  Since I happen to think my boobs are pretty cool, I’ve decided to minimize the risks.  Some studies do say that the lymphatic tissue, dependent on movement, is healthier when the natural flow if uninterrupted by such hardcore “support”.  Also, I feel vhary ze francais when I go au naturel.

6.  I installed f.lux on to my computer.

Why?  Blue light can interfere with our melatonin production.  F.lux is an application that can be programmed to your time zone and starts to remove blue light from your monitor as blue light is being naturally removed from the outdoors as sunset approaches.  Melatonin is the hormone that is largely responsible for sleep.  As melatonin rises, cortisol (known as the “stress hormone”) lowers and you can sleep.  So, part of the issue with being on the computer past sunset (just part…there are others) is the issue of blue light interfering with the rise in melatonin necessary for a good night’s sleep.

7. I do the booty dance.

Why?  In this Western culture we tend to move forward.  Really think about how often your body moves within all the dimensions available to it.  Even our fitness model works within the back and forth and very rarely to the side to side and hardly ever in the all around.  Just the act of releasing the hips and letting them rotate all the way around helps with blood flow, helps keep certain muscles toned, and is a really good reminder that we move in tunnel vision.  It can really help with creativity as well.

**The booty dance is a dance so named by my son when he was five.  It looks something like this:  With legs hip distance apart, bend knees so that they are soft.  Rotate hips, pelvis, and well, booty, in a full circle.  Go in both directions and go as fast or as slow as feels good to you.  It’s a great thing to try every hour on the hour throughout the day.  

8.  I hug my son and anyone else who’ll let me.

Why?  When the fetus is developing, the same layer of tissue that forms the brain forms the skin.  Yeah, I’ll wait while you let that sink in.

I know, right?  Touch, loving and appropriate, is one of the things that I find most lacking in this adopted culture of mine.  We need touch as much as we need food.  We are primates.  When you spend any time watching primates, either on Animal Planet or in real life, just observe how much of their time they spend touching each other.  It’s a lot.  And, in their world, just like in ours, the animals that are touched less are not as healthy as those who are touched more.

9.  I drink herbal infusions.  I learned this from the one and only Susun Weed and she calls if one of her three best ideas.  It is.

Why?  Well, first, what?  An infusion differs from a tea because the herb is “steeped” for four hours minimum.  I don’t recommend that just any herb be used for this, but instead use the class of herbs that are called “nourishing” herbs.  My favorite ones are stinging nettle, oatstraw, comfrey leaf, linden, red rasberry and red clover.  There are a few more, but that’s my short list.

Now, why?  One of the things that we most lack in our diet is not vitamins necessarily but minerals.  There are wonderful minerals in plants.  We often can’t access them because of the cell wall that plants have and we don’t.  Taking dried plant material and pouring boiling water over it and letting it sit breaks apart that cell wall and releases the minerals to us in a way that we can really use them.  The ritual of boiling my water at night and setting the herbs to sit in it in my mason jar, then, straining the water through a sieve, squeezing the herbs to get the very last drops of nutrition and drinking throughout the day….it grounds my day.  It is a concrete reminder of my nourishment as priority AND as something simple and ancient.

10.  I don’t use soap.  

Why?  Why?  Why?  Okay, not never and not nowhere.  I use soap on my pits and my bum and my feet.  For the rest of me, I dry brush before I jump in the shower and then use oil, right now it’s sesame, while I’m still wet.  Our skin’s acid mantle is our first line of defense and soap strips it.  Dry brushing stimulates the lymphatic system, really exfoliates the dead skin off, and also increases blood flow to the skin.  Special note to my ladies:  Using soap on your lady part is a HUMONGOUS no-no.  That flower cleans itself.  Soap really disrupts the pH balance.  It is supposed to be acidic to keep itself safe.  It will bloom when rinsed well.  If you feel that that’s not enough (it is, I promise!) you can add a little vinegar or lime juice to the rinse water.  And, I don’t know if this is still something anyone does, but do NOT douche!  Pas une bonne idee!

Victoria, thanks for this great question!  As I was writing, about 5 other habits came to mind.  Maybe there will be a part two to this if you all find this useful!  I will know that you find it useful by you commenting below.  🙂

Also, Nourishing Freedom is on le livre du visage, where you are free to habitually like us.

Wabi-sabi and Body Image

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“Perfection is poverty.”-Ryan Drum

I have a tea cup that someone I love gave me for Christmas a few years ago.  One day, when I was moving some things around in the cabin, my table fell over and everything on it broke.  The tea cup lost most of its handle.  It’s still the cup I use almost daily.  It is just the right size to have a large cup of tea and I can still cradle it comfortable in one hand.

Even longer ago, during a particularly strong Japanophilic phase I was going through (Kurasowa films, language classes, matcha tea with the little whisk, learning the proper way to wear a kimono) I came across the concept of Wabi-sabi.  It was like all great discoveries.  It seemed new but it just reinforced something I had decided was part of my identity anyway.

Since I was little, I loved old things.  I loved the cracked, the weathered, and the worn.  The patched jean was so much more pleasing to me than the stiff denim of the new.  Clothes that were new to me would sit in my closet to “age” until they took on my smell, relaxed their starchy posture, and felt like they belonged to me.  I preferred dishes that had been used for a long time by others and furniture that knew things.  

My father was 48 when I was born.  His friends with their lines and their graying temples were robust laughers, image-rich story tellers and could walk up and down hills with a sprightliness that I though all people of their age had.  And they were infinitely more interesting than people who had not yet LIVED.

When I was sitting in a classroom at the Southeastern Herbal conference six or seven years ago, Ryan Drum, forager, seaweed collector, white haired wild man, started his lecture with the quote above.  “Perfection is poverty.”  It got me sit ramrod straight as I had somehow lost my way.  Perfection was what I wanted so badly then.  

I had forgotten all that was truly important to me.  And, my body was suffering.  I wasn’t the one who came from a place of ill health or weight problems.  I just thought I did.  It wasn’t until I really devoted myself to perfect health and perfect body that both fell promptly to pieces.

Wabi-sabi is an acceptance and reverence for the impermanence of things, for the imperfection of things.  The hair thin fissures in a pot make it exquisite.  The fraying shoulder of the gray cardigan that I wear is what makes it special.  The new holes that need to be patched in my jeans are what make them mine.  The pot, the cardigan, the jeans…my tea cup: they are not beautiful to me in spite of these things.  They are beautiful to me BECAUSE of those things.

The current constructed cultural idea of beauty is a certain type of perfection.  It is a perfection that 97% of people can never achieve except through starvation, Draconian exercise regimes, and plastic surgery.  Not to mention chemical hair dyes.  It is the denial of age.  The shunning of the body itself.  It is rooted in deception.  It is impossible without deception.  Now that photoshop is used without impunity, even the 3% look more perfect than they already are.  In other words, the examples of the ideal that we uphold don’t even look like that.

But, the thing that I find the most sad is that the stories are all gone.  We are being taught to appreciate the uniform, blank, scar-less, line-less, age-less ideal.  It is nothing more than a blank page.  There is no story.  We have fetishized the absent.

My pinky toe is about half the length of my others.  I get that from my dad.  I have been graying for years, at before the age of 40, I’m about 25% there.  My legs are strong.  My belly is soft.  I just learned that I can carry a tune.  I can dance.  My right shoulder hunches forward a little and my neck needs special care since an auto accident.  I am short and round.  Curvy, low-rise.  I have 4 large tattoos.  I am not beautiful in spite of all these things but beautiful because of them.  

My body holds my story.  You can see what my story is if you look at my with attention.  When I look at you, I see your story, too.  You don’t have to say a word.  

The story is always being told and can be taken in any direction that you want.  Time, nourishment, movement, rest…so many other things are all the contributing characters in your story.  Your body is the story, itself: its beauty, its tragedy, its comedy, its poignancy.  There can be that humbling moment of breath-taking expansion of the incredible chance that that story gets to be told at all.  Tell the story truthfully.  The details matter.  

 

Let’s talk about stress, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. (Part One)

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Let’s talk about all the good things and that bad things it may be.  Let’s talk about stress.

Thank you Salt n’ Peppah.

How tired are you of thinking about stress?  Hearing about it?  Managing it?  Eliminating it?  Yada yada, blah blah.

One of the most difficult aspects of our modern, technologically driven life is that we tend to believe that everything functions the way our devices do.  Binary code.  Something is either one thing or it’s the other.  

So, the story you’ve probably heard is that stress bad.  No stress good.

The truth of the universe in which we are gloriously enmeshed is that it is a both/and place.  Stress is both good and bad.  

It’s been years since massage school.  More than a decade in human years and I haven’t thought about the actual Hans Selye created word of “eustress” since then.  But, the concept has been on my mind quite a bit.  When I created Nourishing Freedom’s basic aspects of health, I deliberately designated one of them to the “appropriate level of stress” for the individual.  

“Eu-” is the prefix used in Science to designate “true or good”.  Your cells are eukaryotic because they have a nucleus.  So, they’re “true” cells.  Sorry, prokaryotes.  You’re such posers.  (JK!  You’re awesome and my mitochondria remembers when we used to chill together in the primordial soup!)  With that little tangent, “eustress” is the good stress that we experience.  

Whoa. Good stress?  Of course.  When you get back to the actual understanding that stress is pretty much anything that requires a response from the body, you see that you are constantly experiencing stressors.  A drop in temperature is a stressor, having to get out of bed in the morning is a stressor, exercise is a stressor (yeah, I said it!), someone saying your name in a crowd is a stressor, ad infinitum.  “Stress” is the conversation, constant and uninterrupted, that you are having with your environment.

For clarity, I hope that you understand that EVERYTHING is your environment.  We have tossed the word around so much that with environment we tend to think of trees and dying rivers and little animals that our grandchildren won’t know.  Your environment, though, is everything from the shampoo that you use (or don’t…go no ‘poo, go no ‘poo, GO!) to the paint colors that you choose to cover your walls in to that unfortunate bag of Doritos that  you scarfed last night at midnight after one too many Big Bang Theory downloads on YouTube.  It’s the humming of your refrigerator and the howling of the wind through the pine trees.  It is the uncertainty of a moon-less night and the amount of sunlight you bathe in during the day.  It’s the feeling of the wool sweater on your skin to the loud neighbors that just can’t seem to get along.  Your environment is the people you touch or walk past during your day and the animals that share the park with you on your lunch break.  It is the pace at which you run or the sway with which you dance.  All of these things are your environment and the dialogue between you and it is so intimate that it really should be called by its 19th century name for talking intently: intercourse.

That conversation, for our purposes, is what stress actually is.  If the environment is the call, we are the response.  Since we have the capacity (as does every other living thing) to impact its environment) we are the call and the environment is the response.  And that communion is stress.  

How do you feel about stress now?

Hopefully a little differently.  It doesn’t seem to be quite so….nefarious, does it?

Good.  Because you know what the MAJOR difference between stress (the bad stuff) and eustress (the good stuff)?  Our perception.  That’s it.  

I will grant you this.  The amount of stressors and demands for response that we often have in an average day are inhuman and inhumane.  Our bodies DO struggle to keep up with the constancy of the permeating barrage.  It does overwhelm.  Or, we allow it to. 

There is a lovely path to walk with stress when we take a playful approach to it.  It’s invigorating to find the right thread of conversation with our environment.  As any conversation, it does take two, but all it takes is one person to alter the tone of the conversation, or the topic, and the conversation is now different.  You CAN have a screaming match with your environment.  Of course, you can.  You have that authority.  You also accept the responsibility of the fallout of that.  Some of them might be chronic exhaustion, horrible digestive pain and issues, hair loss, migraines, body pain.  You are also able to speak tenderly with your environment, find mutually beneficial solutions to things.  So, this street is particularly congested at 5:30 so I can take the back road.  Or I really enjoy the buzz I get from working hard on a project or a couple weeks and the decadence that comes with doing nothing for a whole week.  

You may find that some amazing solutions can be found when you stop arguing with your environment.  When you stop and listen, you may hear some things you didn’t even know.