Tag Archives: exercise

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


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.  




Depression Dance Trois


This is the last entry for this particular series.  However, rest assured that I will revisit this theme quite a bit.  It is important to me.  So many of us suffer with depression.  It is painfully common (I will be sharing my theories as to why that is) and too often fatal.

I promised that this time, I would be super practical and tell you the ways in which I keep the lead in my dance with depression.

In no particular order:

1. I don’t write in a journal when I feel sad.  This was the most counter-productive practice that I had.  When I would flip through old journals and diaries, they would always start the same way, almost verbatim: “I’m feeling so depressed and worthless again…”  Then, I would fill pages with just how horrible life was and how horrible I was.  I haven’t written about my depressive episodes anymore.  I don’t write while I’m in a depressive episode anymore.  It it so much easier for me to release and move through it without dwelling.

2. I eat a lot of fat.  Yep, I said it.  Olive oil, yes, but mostly coconut oil, palm oil, pork fat, beef lard, egg yolks, coconut milk, avocado, macadamia nuts and I see you over there, butter!  I eat fat at every meal.  Since I shifted to eating this way, my mood has been incredibly even.  Fat = happiness to me.

3.   I don’t eat sugar.  I am mostly consistent with this.  I will have days where I have more fruit than others, and every once in a while, I’ll have a slice of flourless chocolate torte, but in general, I don’t eat sugar.  I can’t pat myself on the back enough for taking this decision and changing my behavior.  For years, I was stuck on the feel low-eat sugar-feel high-crash lower-eat more sugar-feel not quite as high-crash even lower cycle.  It takes a while to break the cycle, but the steadiness I feel in myself is so worth it!

4.  I go outside.  Every day.  As much as I can.  I am a heliophile.  I, in a weird paradox, don’t like the heat, but bright sunlight?  Yes, please.  The light is important to my mood, certainly, but it’s so much more than that.  The corners and flatness of inside affect my mood.  I crave curving tree branches and the kisses of the breeze.  I need to smell grass and pines and other things that I can’t quite identify.  All of it.  There is something so ‘internal’ about staying inside that pushes me deeper inside my brain.  This is not a good thing for me.  I need to be reminded that life is going on all around me and that I am part of the world as a fleshy, sensory creature engaged in the beauty that is.

5.  I have learned to distinguish between listening to my depression and obeying my depression.  My depression and I no longer pretend the other doesn’t exist.  We discuss things.  This sounds a little cuckoo, but what I mean by this is that my depression is one part of me and the healthy adult that I now give the most permission to run the show, is another part of me.  When my depression rises up in any way, no matter how small, that is a sign that in some way, I’m not taking the best care of myself.  (This is how depression becomes an ally, by the way.  It signals that deeper, more comprehensive self-care is needed.)  But, I do not OBEY my depression.  Often, my depression will rise and tell me to isolate myself.  This usually means that I have not been caring for my relationships well enough and that that part of my life needs some nurturing.

6.  I express my anger.  One of my pet peeves is the delineation between “negative” emotions and “positive” emotions.  This is a horrible disservice that we do to ourselves.  You don’t have good emotions and bad emotions.  You just feel things.  Some are uncomfortable sometimes, but that’s okay.  (The discomfort comes more from what society deems appropriate for the occasion then the actual emotion, by the way.  Laughing at a funeral is just as uncomfortable as crying bitterly at a wedding.)  Anger is a wonderful emotion!  Here are the rules of anger: a) express it without hurting yourself and b) express it without hurting others.  The best way that I’ve found to express my anger is to say: “I’m angry.”  And, then, try to figure out why.  Nearly always, it is because a boundary of mine has been crossed somehow.  It is valuable information to deepen relationships, both with myself and with others.  Then, I use the energy  that anger gives me to do something about what made me angry.

7.  I have one religion and my god is sleep.  My dad always used to say, “Sleep is sacred.”  I inherited that belief.  It has taken me a long time to find the right amount of sleep.  When I don’t sleep enough, I am priming the pump for all sorts of depressing hormones to flush through me.  When I sleep too much, I disengage from life and the melatonin never gets a chance to get out of my system and all sorts of depressing hormones flush through me.  Right now that it is winter, I need a solid 9 hours to 9 1/2.  During the summer, I scale it down to 7 1/2 or 8.  That is where the goodness lives.

8. (How awkward…a list of eight things.  Why does that feel funny?)  I move.  Nothing has ever been as effective as a daily pick me up as movement has been for me. I don’t call it exercise because it doesn’t have to be structured training, I just need to move.  I usually combine the going outside and moving thing.  I’m efficient that way.  I walk or run or dance or do push ups or yoga or just pose like an elephant.  It doesn’t matter as long as its dynamic.  Again, this takes me out of the labyrinth of my brain and brings me back to the rest of me….the part that knows how to take the lead in the dance.

These are my methods of managing my depression.  If you are depressed, I would suggest that you go see a therapist or psychiatrist to make sure that you don’t need medication.  There’s NO shame in that.  It happens to the very best of us.  If you’ve found ways of your own to dance with your depression or your (fill in the blank with whatever your challenge is), I’d LOVE to hear about it and about you!

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Nourishing ourselves into freedom!

Trickster or Treatment


First of all, I am so sorry for my absence.  I’ve missed writing here.  My mother, who has been ill for a few months from pancreatic cancer, passed away.  My sisters and I were there in the room with her, holding her hand when she went.  It was very peaceful.  Then, we got to plan the memorial service according to her wishes, held at the beach.  It was really quite lovely…even in the midst of a hurricane.  The waves were the largest I’d ever seen them here.  The water is usually mirror still.  I’ve spent the past couple of days sleeping..finally.  So, that’s pretty much where I’ve been.  It’s good to be back.

I love Halloween.  Even better is the Day of the Dead tomorrow or All Saints Day, whatevs.

When this time of the year rolls around, I generally turn my thoughts to death.  I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating what I consider to be a healthy attitude towards it.  My own death doesn’t frighten me.  I don’t hold many things to be True, unchangeable and steadfast, but this I do: facing and accepting the inevitability of my death is the most important work that one can undertake to set oneself free.  The inevitability of everyone’s death should also nurture in us a deep respect for their fragility.  This is more true than True because somehow my own death is far easier to accept than the inevitable death of those I love.  Their death makes me feel clingy to them instead.  But, lately, I’ve done my duty with death.

Here’s what I really wanted to talk to you about.  In all mythologies, there is a trickster.  In the mythology of my country, we have the gede (hard “g”).  Tricksters are generally given high status in human stories because tricksters dare to see things and push us to see things that can be uncomfortable but are ultimately to our own betterment.  In essence, they are the archetype of dangerous play (and if you’re playing doesn’t have even a touch of danger, you may not be doing it right.  🙂 )  The danger come from pushing the guidelines of society to their breaking point and often past it.

When I think of health (held up as a nearly impossible ‘holy grail’ these days) and society’s role upon it, I see that we can take one of two approaches to it.  There is the treatment of the ‘condition’.  The treatment is sanctioned by society, does not mess with the status quo, often creates a dependence of some kind, and generally doesn’t demand anything of the person undergoing the treatment.  It is all quite passive, prescriptive…..and, gulp, dull.

Enter the trickster.  With the trickster comes the game.  For a game to be well played, there needs to be knowledge of the rules.  This helps you look the rules in the eye as you break them.  With the trickster, you need to engage fully in the process with awareness.  The trickster will get you question everything.  She will get you to play with the issue.  The trickster will urge you to detach yourself from the social ramifications of a situation.  He will get you to laugh at the constraints you’ve placed on yourself.  The trickster shatters preconceptions.

Let’s look at the same “problem” from the two points of view.  We’ll look at weight loss.

First the treatment:

The very first assumption that the treatment subjects you to is that you have to lose weight at all.  You really might now have to, but the societal prescription to be ultra-thin is already assumed.  With treatment, you get very clear markers of progress that may have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Next, to maintain its own…integrity?…society will make sure that you understand that this problem is somehow all on your shoulders.  These are some of the things you will hear: you have no willpower, you have no self-love, you have no merit, you have no intelligence, you have less worth.  You will NOT hear: this culture that we humans made up a while ago has failed you.

Then, you will be given the party line.  Watch your portion intake.  Eat everything in moderation.  Exercise 3x a week for 30 minutes.

If you fail (and according to this treatment, you WILL), you can repeat the whole cycle for the rest of your life with a never questioned dependence on the treatment.

Enter the trickster.  Enter a little insecurity.  Like I said before, with the trickster you must engage.

The first question the trickster may ask might be along the lines of this:  Do you really need to lose weight or are all your girlfriends just really jealous of your public speaking ability?  Do you really need to lose weight or are you really just wanting to get a divorce?  Do you really need to lose weight or do you feel weighted down by this job that is stripping all the joy from your life?  Is your weight the issue or do you wish you knew how to fly a plane? (Really, the treatment finds safety in attributing your malaise to something visible that they can point to.  The trickster loves to play with dreams.)  If you decide that you do really want to lose weight, the trickster won’t be satisfied with that.  She’ll want to know why.  He’ll want to know what that MEANS to you.

Then, and this is the fun part, comes the process.  The trickster will not be satisfied with pat answers to anything.  Your journey will depend on your ability to question the answers that you’ve been given.

Why should my portions be the same size every day when some days I’m hardly hungry and other days I’m famished?  Why should I eat everything in moderation if some things just aren’t good for me?  Why should I exercise 3x a week for 30 minutes a pop when I would rather hike for three hours on a Saturday and deadlift my bodyweight for 5 minutes on a Wednesday?  Why should my culture dictate to me that I should be 5’11 and 110 pounds when I’m 5’3 and feel ill when I drop below 130?

Most of all, the trickster will get you to play.  Concepts become toys and regulations become malleable.  You become your own authority.

Following the treatment is easier.  Being passive is always easier than being engaged.  But, it sure isn’t nearly as much fun.
Speaking of fun, here’s a video from my favorite Haitian roots band.  I’ll be at their Gede Ball tomorrow night.

just keep me comfortable.


“A tiger only needs three things to be comfortable. Lots of food, sleep, and…actually, no it’s just those two things.” -Colleen Houck

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about comfort.  So many seek out comfort above all things.  We’ve basically got an entire society based on the quest for comfort, for convenience.  It’s not that I sneer in the general direction of comfort, but it is something to be judicious about.  Comfort is to be used wisely.  In my own life, comfort is for lazy Sundays and for nighttime.  I work the comfort muscle to exhaustion with the best mattress, sheets, and pillows!  Comfort is also for clothing.  If it itches or cuts of my circulation ANY where at all, FORGET it.

There is, however, an interesting thing that happens when one’s relationship to comfort becomes a little skewed.  When one places their comfort above all things, a strange thing starts to happen.  The circumstances in which one is comfortable become narrower and narrower.  Maybe you’ve met (or have been…or still are) the person who finds comfort sitting on the couch for hours.  Soon, you’ll need a softer couch and a sharper T.V. screen.  Then, you’ll need to lie down on the couch instead of sitting.  Then, you’ll want to watch T.V. in bed with only pureed foods.  Do you see where I’m going?

The opposite is true.  When you are always pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, the zone only gets bigger and bigger.  If you’re out for a walk and it starts to drizzle, instead of running inside you keep walking, the next time it rains, it will be comfortable.  Walking barefoot in the soft grass will lead to walking barefoot in the woods.  Trying a new food that seems a bit strange at first will lead to the discover of a whole new cuisine.  Talking to a person you don’t know very well could lead to being a public speaker.  Do you see where I’m going?

Find ways to be awkward.  Discover a new way to be uncomfortable today.

Here are some ideas:

1. Apologize for something you did, even if you’re not wrong.

2. Go 1/4 of a mile further than you’re used to on your walk.

3. Take a different route to the grocery store.

4. Eat a meal with your fingers, outside…in a full squat.

5. Take a cold shower.

6. Introduce yourself to someone that intimidates you.

7. Learn a new skill.

8. Go somewhere you never thought you’d go.

9. Read a book written by an author that you completely disagree with.

10.  Don’t wear shoes.

Have fun with this!

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Pretty Lies, Deux


Alright, I may have unintentionally misled you.  I was hoping to tell you all that you needed to have to be healthy this week, but I realized that I wanted to make sure that you could see what you did not need first.  What follows is a list of what you have been told that you would need to be healthy and happy, but you don’t need at all.

1. Gym membership-I actually have one of these and it’s not for the reasons you may think.  I live in a little cabin in the woods with no running water.  It’s a great place to see other people and to get a nice hot shower.  I also enjoy the steam room.  But, I don’t need this for my health.  Neither do you.  I much prefer to be outside, going for a hike, running around with my dog, or just doing some push-ups in my little cabin in the woods.

2. Special footwear-There are dozens upon dozens of articles explaining the benefits of going barefoot.  I hike barefoot, run barefoot, Zumba barefoot, ad infinitum.  When the terrain gets a little too prickly I do wear my Vibrams, but it’s fine to just avoid that type of terrain.  The only possible exception is in the weight room around less conscientious folks.  A barbell on the bare instep is the sixth circle of hell.

3. Juicer-Oh, juice.  Apparently, fresh, raw juices cure cancer, get your children to behave, bring about world peace, and can do your taxes.  It’s a decent treat, but you can get incredibly healthy without one more thing to take up counter space and clean.

4. Vegetarianism-This is the pinnacle (well, right beneath veganism, just easier to attain) of a healthy diet, we’re told.  But, there is and never has been an optimally healthy human population that eats this way.

5. Early wake-up to run or another punishing workout-If you’re setting your alarm early, slapping the snooze button, then dragging your heavy carcass out of bed to work out with bleary eyes, you’re not doing yourself any favors.  The release of cortisol that this stress creates and then the cumulative sleep deprivation that builds will eventually have your body flipping you the bird in any way it can: increased fat storage, flus, lower pain threshold, forgetfulness, and my pet favorite, depression.  Sleep, beauty!

6. Fat avoidance-Dry hair, depression (there she is again!), mood disturbances, hunger, dry skin…really, fat free and low fat diets have done nothing helpful for us.  They’ve done tremendous favors to the diet industry and the weird food products industry, though.  Have some butter or lard today and nourish your cells!

7. Whole grains-Please, please, please, just say no!  If you aren’t ready to get off the grains quite yet, ferment them!  They are not a great source of nutrition, bleak actually when compared to meats or vegetables.  They are also enveloped in little toxins that are only meant for the birds.

8. Caloric restriction-This one’s a tricky one.  When you eat foods that are truly dense in nutrition, they are high in calories but it takes less of them to satiate you.  However, close attention (or any, really) to caloric intake affects the psychology of a person and can easily make one overly aware of every bite and that does not for a happy person make.

9. 30 minutes, 3x a week-Hello, Monotony, this is your twin sister Boredom speaking.  Besides the crushing tedium and it’s cascade of emotional effects, your body is so much happier when it gets surprised by something new and even more giddy when you play stochastically.  How about 15 minutes of intense dog chasing today, a 2 hour hike tomorrow, and floating in a pool the next day?

10. Eliminate all stress-Quite the mantra we have going on these days.  Eliminate stress, eradicate it.  However, you eliminate all stress and it’s impossible to get out of bed in the morning.  Instead, find the appropriate level and the appropriate game with stress.  That’s how I see stress: it’s an ally for play.  It always demands a physical reaction and fluctuated in intensity.  It takes a lot more self-knowledge to discover what is the level that you feel most alive at.

11.  Slather up in SPF 50 and stay away from windows-avoid the sun!-Or, how about instead, you get a few minutes of quality sun exposure a day and bypass the vitamin D deficiency and the rampant sadness that happens when we, heliophilic creatures that we are, avoid it.

12. Detoxification supplements/teas/treatments-You have innate detox strategies.  They are called the skin, the kidneys, the liver, the bowel, the lymph, etc.  Instead of punishing your body with harsh programs and disgusting concoctions, support it with movement, appropriate food to the season, plenty of sleep, and lots of emotional expression.  Laugh ’til you cry and cry ’til the laughter wells up.

13. Superfoods-Do people in the Himalayas ship in blackberries as their super fruit?  I get that there is a spectrum of nutrition that food stretches across.  But, don’t believe the hype that a food from across the globe is somehow superior to the food that grows in your region.  My heart goes out to people that do not have access to much other than food products, but, when food (not products) are available, eat well from the local abundance.  That is super enough.

Local lunch while in Kenya: goat and sukumu wiki!  Nyama choma. 

I’m posting a day early because I am headed to NYC for a couple days before my graduation with some of my dearest friends.  Laughter, sushi, Broadway, and a possible new piercing?  Nourishment and Freedom!  See you next week when I will let you know all that you need to have to be healthy.