2013 seemed to be the year of the mobile tablet: Apple iPad, Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy and more. Technology and its devices are creeping more and more into our bedrooms and living rooms, our purses and pockets, and the rest of our lives. So what does 2014 have in store for us?

For those of you who have been following my blog, you might know that I am not anti-technology but I am a cheerleader for putting it down for a while in order to better connect with our bodies, our loved ones and with nature (check out Put your hands up & step away from the iPad!). My ideas about this were challenged when I recently saw Spike Jonze’ new movie, Her.

Amy Adams in "Her"In the movie, “A lonely writer (Joaquin Phoenix) develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system (the voice of Scarlett Johansson) that’s designed to meet his every need.” I won’t spoil the ending for you, but the writer develops serious feelings for his operating system (OS) which helps pull him out of his post-divorce malaise. The OS gets him talking about his thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, and even gets him out of the house. (Who needs friends or a therapist when you have an OS like this?!)

While I sat in the theater I considered my own ideas about current cultures relationship to technology (social media in particular), and compared it to the messages in the film. I do see how technology and social media help connect people through ideas and common interests, and how it helps isolated people (such as a queer teen in a small town or a house bound person in the city) feel less alone. But I also have concerns about how it can create a barrier to true human contact, intimacy and authenticity. The reports of cyber-bullying and how much time people spend texting instead of talking saddens me. I’ve heard people say “I feel like I’ve lost a part of my body!” when they have lost their smart phone. Jonze did a great job of showing many sides of these cultural ideas about human connection and our relationship to technology.

So ask yourself, Is my relationship with my tablet/smart phone helping or hindering my life? In the end I think my answer to this question is the same to many about addictive behaviors: bring mindfulness and moderation to your use and find out. Bringing consciousness, intention and thoughtfulness to all of our actions is important. And watching our level of frequency or consumption to make sure we are not over-dosing and neglecting other important parts of our well-being is also important. I believe that balance will be different for each of us.

I seem to be on a self-expression kick lately, as my last post was about dancing away depression. Well now I’m going to tell you a story about the power of sound, voice and singing.

Recently I was invited to officiate a wedding for the first time. I was honored and excited to be asked, especially because it was for my older brother and his fiancee. I traveled a few days early for the rehearsal and to visit with family. However a few people began to get a little sick and the bug began to wander. I felt fine until the night before the wedding, so I went to the market and picked up my favorite natural remedies and immune boosters: vitamins, herbal elixirs, a neti pot, etc. The wedding wasn’t until 3pm the next day, so I rested a lot and took my healing medicines.

The next day I awoke feeling worse than before and I began to worry. Breakfast did not help and I just stayed in bed all morning, worrying about what I might do as th nausea set in. I seriously began to consider getting a substitute as my face paled and my energy waned.

Just after noon I decided to take a shower and get ready, as I was going even if I wasn’t able to officiate. The shower helped a bit and I started to sing a little to try to lift my spirits. Then I put on some of my favorite music and began to sing even more as I dressed in the hotel room. I felt my nausea and fatigue melting away, so I sang louder and louder, feeling my guts shift and move as I breathed deeper in my belly for more air and volume. Waves of emotion washed through me as I sang more, and it felt as if my immune system was following the waves of sound moving through my body, rinsing away germs and toxins.

By the time I put my shoes on, the color was back in my face and I felt good enough carry on with my duties for the day. I realized that my anxiety about conducting the ceremony and my sickness were feeding off of each other. The sound allowed the anxiety to transform and my body could heal itself as long as my mind was in a state of joy from the musical sounds moving through me. The sound waves of healing and joy continued throughout the ceremony and reception, which all went beautifully.

This was a wonderful reminder for me to remember the healing power of sound and singing. Our bodies are mostly made up of water, which sound easily moves through, carrying the quality of the sound waves and influencing all it touches. Next time you don’t feel well, sing your favorite song out loud for your entire body, mind and spirit to hear. It doesn’t matter how well you sing, but that you feel the joy of that song washing upon the shores of your organs and bones, nerves and cells.

Many people are getting ready right now to settle into their couch or favorite recliner for a long evening of red carpet interviews, flashy fashion viewing and celebrities – tonight are the Academy Awards! But you may want to take some time to go for a walk with the dog or hit the gym for a quick work out before you veg out in front of the boob-tube. Moving your body is not just good for your body, but good for your mind!

One of this years hot nominees is Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro. At the core the plot is your typical boy meets girl romance, with a twist – the two main characters are believed to be bipolar, which makes for some unusual and entertaining chemistry. However, one of the ways these two people primarily connect is through dance. Lawrence’s character has entered a dance contest and needs a partner, and gets Cooper to assist her in this endeavor. It’s interesting to see both their verbal and non-verbal communication during their rehearsals, which at times seems to be contradictory. But what I noticed was how through their daily rehearsals they were able to forget about their worldly troubles by getting into their bodies and have fun dancing and creating choreography together.

The lesson here is twofold. The first is that by getting into our bodies and moving we are able to be present in the moment, releasing worry, depression and anxiety. Despite what people think about multitasking, the brain can only focus on one thing at once. Forms of artistic expression such as creating choreography force us to be present with that one thing and letting in our thoughts of suffering (not mention the exercise and increase in oxygenation of the body). The second lesson is that creating and communicating with another person is extremely rewarding and builds a strong foundation of trust and collaboration in relationships.

So if you struggle with emotions such as anxiety or depression, or you want to build connection in your relationships, step away from your screen and move your body. Have a spontaneous dance-break with your partner or family, and dance those blues away!

Winter is probably the most challenging time of the year with cold and flu season upon us, as well as the mental and emotional stress the holidays may put on us; in addition to the common occurrence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which frequently goes unattended. SAD is actually one of the best examples of how the seasonal changes can effect us, simply through the decrease of sunlight we receive due to fewer daylight hours, cloudy weather and staying inside to avoid falling temperatures.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Elson Haas at his practice, Preventive Medical Center of Marin, where he and his staff support people by employing integrative and preventive healing systems such as nutrition, body therapy and herbal and homeopathic medicines. Dr. Haas is the author of “Staying Healthy With the Seasons,” first published in 1981, one the ground breaking guides on keeping oneself healthy by staying mindfully attuned to the natural rhythms of the Earth.

 

With a little discipline and some simple tips, we can stay on top of our physical and emotional health during the winter months. In “Staying Healthy With the Seasons” Dr. Haas uses the model of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which associates winter with the element of water, as one way to guide us in making healthy seasonal choices. The chapter on winter begins by discussing its connection to the element of water, which makes sense, as it is the rainy/snowy time of year in many regions. However winter can also be very drying to the human system because of the cold air, so it’s important to stay hydrated with warm soothing teas, soups and broths. When we are sick and run down, our physical well-being greatly effects our emotional well-being.

The element of water is also associated with the emotions in TCM as well as many other healing systems. Winter can be emotionally challenging for many reasons, such as the aforementioned SAD and holiday stress, as well as loneliness for those who feel isolated by family or community during a celebratory time of year. Making time for self-care and reaching out for support is paramount now. Taking baths, exercising and getting extra sleep and rest are all ways to support your mood and body.

The cold, dark months are also a time for inner reflection. Many people take inventory of their life in the last year and make resolutions on January first, letting go of old patterns and starting afresh. So take some time to reflect upon both your past and your present, making changes where necessary for staying healthy through the season.

Happy New Year!

*Here’s a little bonus list of 7 Foods for Winter Blues.

Over the last twelve years I’ve been on a journey which has significantly changed my relationship to my body, the food I consume and my personal and spiritual practices. (Read Part 1 here if you missed it.)

Eating Habits & Digestion: About eight years ago I began to notice that my body was not digesting food in quite the same as it used to. I thought I was becoming lactose intolerant and after talking to friends, it sounded like a common occurrence among my peers in their late 20’s – but why? I was pretty upset because I enjoyed my dairy products thoroughly: cheese, ice cream, yogurt, milk on my cereal, etc. I grew up being told on TV every Saturday morning about milk – “It does a body good!” (Little did we know then about the possible dangers of rBGH.)

I decided to go visit an Ayurvedic Practitioner, per the suggestion of a classmate who had seen big changes in her digestion after working with one for a few months. In the first visit I filled out an extensive questionnaire about my current state of health, lifestyle and history. I then met with my practitioner who spent an hour asking me more questions about my symptoms and goals, and explaining the possible treatment plans. I returned the following week after she had analyzed the data from the questionnaire and we came up with an outline of how to begin revitalizing my digestive system.

Over the next year I visited my practitioner ever 3-4 weeks for an hour visit. She was very attentive and I felt very much cared for during those visits. We started by looking at what foods supported my constitution and which weakened my digestion. I also learned new habits to cultivate around my eating, particularly the quality (organic being best) and preparation of the food and myself (including my state of mind while eating). I discovered that I would mostly eat for the sake of refueling and often in a hurry or while anxious.It is very important to use all of your senses for optimum digestion, and to create the best environment for the mind and body while eating. The quality of most food in our modern western culture is not very high; and for some it takes extra time, care and money to eat things which are healthy and nourishing to our whole beings. Also, the fast paced and digital world we live in does not help those of us with a weakened digestion or constitution. We often don’t take time to be present with our body and food, and that is paramount. It is foreign for many to sit and savor our food, fully chewing every bite and allowing our body to absorb all the nutrients that food can bring us. (I have co-lead a couple of workshops using mindfulness to help people become more attuned to their bodies and cultivate a harmonious relationship with food.)

Over time I began to feel much better as my digestion improved and I slowed down, listening to what my body really craved and what it didn’t want. This can be a difficult task, as many of us use food to help cope with feelings which are uncomfortable. Creating healthy ways to help regulate those difficult emotions can make changing our relationship to food and our body much easier. This was where my yoga practice (discussed in my previous article) really helped with my anxiety and anger, so my gut didn’t have to hold those feelings and it could properly absorb my food.

My relationship to food and my body around my digestion continues to challenge me to move toward health, and is a excellent barometer for what is happening in my life. I mindfully listen to my body and spirit, for it shows me what is out of balance and how to move toward health every day.

(If you would like to work with a nutritionist and improve your relationship with food and your body, please check out Marnie Northrop & Gina Knepell.)

Many sacred holidays are celebrated this week which mostly focus on the memory of our ancestors, and in particular those who have died in the last year. It is through their memory that we honor their effect on the world and on our own lives. When anyone who has touched our lives, even in the smallest of ways, passes on, something inside of us shifts.

The loss of their presence may trigger a variety of thoughts or feelings. We may feel sadness or anger that they were taken from us. We may contemplate our own mortality and think about what we want to do with our short lives – What have I been putting off? There is no right or wrong way to move through the experiences of grief & loss.

This time of year brings these aspects of our inner experience forward, as the images of the macabre are more visible and acceptable, even if just for a short time. What is this mystery called Death? It is important to acknowledge and examine our own response to loss, and not to push it away.

Over the years of working with people it has become quite apparent that many in our culture have a hard time with endings of all kinds. Some people don’t like to say goodbye, some disappear on the last day of school or work, while others may pretend like everything is as it always was and then quietly slip out the back door. But acknowledging the end of a cycle is just as important as the beginning. There is completion, graduation, resolution, and space for something new to emerge.

So let us honor and remember what was and what has passed; let us feel our emotions of grief & loss to allow the suffering to wash through us; and let us celebrate that which is still to come in the space that loss has opened up for us.

Over the last twelve years I’ve been on a journey which has drastically changed my relationship to my body and the food I consume. As a kid I didn’t play sports nor was I very active, and as a result I was not in tune with my body and its needs. Growing up in the 80’s there was a lot of buzz in the media about being health conscious, with cartoon campaigns to educate children about their bodies, food, and how to live healthy lives. Now as an adult, I’ve greatly changed how I relate to my body and what I put into it. As a psychotherapist I also understand how our physical health greatly affects our mood, our outlook on life and our connection to the universe. This is my story of that journey.

Yoga: My first step into reconnection with my body began with yoga in 2001. Y2K was a year behind us and the world was happy that all our computers were still working and modern civilization had not come to a stand-still. The dot.com crash was in full force and techies were fleeing the Bay Area like rats on a sinking ship, as their funds were rapidly absorbed by credit cards bills. The twin towers were still standing, but not for long.

I had moved into a new apartment in the Mission after my last roommates got married and ventured north. One of my new roommates told me about a nearby yoga ashram, which he jokingly called a “cult” because many of the teachers lived there and only wore white clothing. I had done yoga with a friend in their home a few times before but I had never taken a class, so I thought I’d check it out. I felt like I should start focusing on my physical health now that I was in my early 20’s, and given that I was exploring a variety of spiritual practices at the time, yoga sounded like a good fit.

Attending my first hatha yoga class I thoroughly enjoyed the calm spirit of the ashram right away, the quiet yet friendly people and the challenge of the asanas. Being someone who is frequently in his head, yoga was a good fit because learning how to get my body into the poses was kind of like a puzzle at first.

A few months later (now post 9/11) I lost my job and started volunteering at the ashram in exchange for free classes. I began to learn more about the different branches of yoga: meditation, breathing, chanting, etc.; I also learned a little about ayurveda, which looks more at diet and lifestyle (more on this later). It felt very comfortable for me to be there, yet challenging for my mind, body and spirit too. I went to the ashram regularly for almost three years until I moved out of the neighborhood. I continued to hold aspects of yoga in my life, but not in the same way again for a few years.

Just over a year ago yoga came back more fully into my life, again with the invitation from a friend to attend a class together. I learned about the new trend of donation classes where you pay what you can, as yoga had become quite popular and expensive. I eventually found an Iyengar teacher I resonated with, which was a good fit for my constitution by focusing on proper alignment and calming the mind. I committed to two classes a week and after just a few months not only did I see changes in my body and energy levels, but I noticed my anxiety and anger levels reduced significantly – two traits which had become more pronounced since my first stint with yoga. Yoga is a great vehicle to learn about the mind-body connection, which I feel is a crucial education in our digital age of disconnection.

I continue to practice hatha yoga as well as other branches, and work to honor the principles of ayurveda which support my specific constitution. I encourage others to cultivate a mind-body practice as well, as I find this can lay a strong foundation for healing dis-ease on all levels: mind, body & spirit.

(Coming soon: Part 2 of my journey I’ll share about my struggles with food and digestion, and how that has colored my self-esteem and relationships.)

When we are young we will do anything we can to fit in: we want to be liked and accepted, so we’ll dress like our friends, talk like them, agree with them (even if we don’t), etc. Then as we age, we have the desire to be different and unique, unlike any other that has come before us. We want to stand out. Or do we?

 

Some people have no desire to stand out, and that’s okay too. There is power in diversity. But the pressure to be one way or another is so strong, it can cause intense inner turmoil. In the last few years there has been a lot of focus in the news and media on bullying among kids for being different. A person can get stuck in their head, creating layers of fears and complexes on top of their true self. Over time this can result in an unintentional hiding of the core being, making it difficult to relate and connect with others in true intimacy. This hiding may not be apparent and we may feel alone or isolated, not understanding why we aren’t being seen or heard by those around us.

These layers, masks or complexes need understanding and compassion, because they were acquired to help us, to protect us when we felt in danger. But as we mature and cultivate healthy adult relationships, we can start to let these layers go or put them up on a shelf (along with that high school yearbook). Taking each one, listening to it and saying “thank you,” we can begin to loosen and remove each layer; slowly and safely allowing our true, authentic self to be seen and loved by those closest to us.

What does it mean to have mixed feelings about something? How can I love someone and fear them at the same time? It can sometimes be confusing to have both a negative and positive charge for something at the same time. Often times this occurs when our true self wants something, but our family, spiritual community, or other group to which we belong, says that we shouldn’t want that thing. This dynamic is especially apparent when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity: many people still live in fear of being rejected and persecuted for moving toward their true nature.

This confluence of polarities inside of us is also commonly seen when different parts of the self are in conflict: the head and the heart, the mind and the body, etc. I recently had an experience where my heart and my will were in conflict. My heart wanted to open and move forward to connect, but my will and my body did not feel safe; wanting to retreat out of a perceived danger. From this place of fear, anger or aggression can easily arise as a natural defense mechanism. Our biology as human animals is programmed to respond to fear and danger by fight, flight or freeze; and the fighting brings out anger and aggression to keep us safe. This mixed signal of attraction by the heart and repelling by the will can often be difficult for us and others to comprehend.

Recently someone told me they often have urges to pick fights with their partner–that there was something gratifying about it, but they couldn’t quite put their finger on it. I wondered if they just wanted connection, contact, and engagement with their partner. I remembered back to my childhood when my older brother would pick on me, tackling me to the floor for a quick wrestle. I did not like this at all, but there was something satisfying about it for him. It could have been about power, but I also think there was an aspect of connection and intimacy in the play which my brother enjoyed and wanted to have with me as his sibling. There is a way in which the body speaks that the mind may not understand, and the self tries to get what it wants: connection & intimacy.

Connection and intimacy are necessary for life, but they do not have to be verbal – in fact, they largely are not. I commonly hear one part of a couple say they want more intimacy or emotional connection from the other. This usually comes from the partner who might be more verbal about their feelings, expecting the other to reciprocate in the same way. They might not be “hearing” how their partners body is “speaking” to them – how they are patting them on the back, caressing their cheek, or petting their hair can speak volumes about how they feel about their partner.

What do we do when our body language gives off mixed messages? It’s important to cultivate self awareness of our own. There are a variety of somatic (body oriented) therapies that can promote and build this understanding and self awareness. Hakomi is one modality I use with clients to help them listen to what their body is saying, which their conscious mind may miss. This understanding can help us have more patience with ourselves and our relationships. We can also begin to help our partners understand the mixed messages programmed into our bodies.

The dance of intimacy is a constant unfolding to the self and to the other. It’s important to listen to the rhythms of our body and our heart to keep the dance of life exciting.

Or…. How to Wirelessly Sync to Mother Nature

Yesterday I got a smart phone. Not because I wanted to, per se, but because it was necessary. I had a flip phone that was probably four years old and worked great! As a matter of fact, I only charged it about twice a week and it took about twenty minutes to fully charge. It didn’t take pictures or go on the internet, but I didn’t mind. That’s what my lap top is for, right? Well, to my dismay, I have noticed that people don’t really talk on phones anymore – they mostly send texts. (I would call and leave a message, and minutes later I’d get a text. I’d call right back and leave another message. Why can’t you just press TALK?!) And it was getting to a point where I couldn’t read texts I was getting from friends because the technology on my phone was behind the times. But the main reason I got the smart phone was for work, since I don’t have internet access in my office. I’ll stop troubling you with all the details of this wifi puzzle.

Many of the people I work with struggle with a variety of stressors and anxieties in their life. They say their mind spins out of control, their body tenses up with pain in the back, neck and shoulders, or clenching their jaw. And they forget about self care and other supportive plans we have come up with. They ask how to stop or slow this down, and I offer ideas about diet and exercise. But I think one of the best things is to reduce consumption of media and technology. I suggest that people turn off their computers, phones, tablets and TV’s, and get out of the house.

Right now I’m remembering my mom’s voice from when I was a kid, saying, “Why don’t you go outside and play? Go ride your bike and get some fresh air.” I’m sure she wanted some space in the house, but she also knew that moving my body, breathing in fresh oxygen and playing in the dirt was good for me. Which it is!

A new term by Richard Louv, has been coined Nature Deficit Disorder. Essentially saying that as our relationship to nature has dwindled, so has our health and well-being. Hmmm… There is also a new practice/movement called Earthing, which posits that by having direct, physical contact with the Earth we are able to discharge and rebalance the electromagnetic stress we carry in our body. (I imagine the charge increases as we engage more and more with computers and cell phones.) Our bodies, especially our brains, have electrical impulses constantly running through them. Is it a stretch to think that exposure to more electricity affects the electrical current in our bodies? And what is it doing to our brains, thoughts and emotions?

Two weeks ago I attended the Applied EcoPsychology Conference put on by Holos Institute, in Berkeley. The keynote speaker was cultural anthropologist and award-winning author, Angeles Arrien. She spoke about the wisdom of the earth and the people of the lands: the solid and grounded Mountain People; the quiet and introspective Desert People; the flexible and creative Bamboo People, etc.  She also spoke of a counsel of tribal  elders from around the world, who gathered at the turn of the century to discuss what was most important for our planet to focus on in the next fifty years. They noticed the common message they had all been receiving was this: “When the wisdom of the Sky merges with the wisdom of the Earth, and they are braided together through the Human Heart, we will have a Rainbow People.” Arrien proposed that this translated to the weaving together of technology (wisdom of the Sky) with the wisdom of nature in a harmonious way to cultivate the heart of humanity. I can see how this is starting to happen slowly, and I look forward to more. But until that time, I think I’ll take off my shoes and make some mud pies.