Moving Meditation

Meditation is a practice of focusing the mind – on an object, thought or activity. Meditation is often practiced seated or reclined with eyes closed in a quiet, calm setting. However, meditation can also be done while moving and in almost any setting.

Yoga itself can be experienced as a moving meditation. Yoga sessions begin with breath and body awareness and mindful meditation.  The body scan is a powerful and healing form of meditation, focusing slowly and without judgement on every part of the body. Body awareness naturally leads to breath awareness – observing and feeling the body move in unison with the breath. Focus shifts from the outer world to the inner realm with each breath and corresponding subtle movement.  Pranayama encompasses numerous methods to control the rhythm of the breath. Pranayama both energizes and calms body and mind.  Through meditation and pranayama, practioners gain the ability to be fully present in the moment, increase self-awareness, and achieve mental clarity and emotional calm. Yoga practioners move with the rhythm of their breath and heartbeat, expanding and extending on the inhale, and contracting and drawing inward on the exhale. Lingering in each pose, mind and body are one.

From Yogapedia:

Moving meditation is a meditative state – a shift of consciousness – while doing simple movements. It is a way of calming the mind and creating awareness.

Moving meditations include: walking meditation (including walking a labyrinth), forest bathing, tai chi, qigong, dance and even bringing mindfulness into daily tasks.

Walking Meditation

In addition to Yoga, I relish my walking meditations. A couple of years ago, I took Mindful-Based Stress Reduction training. My favorite session was the spring evening we practiced walking meditation around The Good Shepherd Center. I spent my time with just a couple of trees, focusing deeply from the base to the branches overhead and from the surface bark to the sap inside. Then I walked in expanding circles on the front lawn. I returned twice this year with my dog Sammie. We paused to feel the air, and the warmth of the sun. Sammie and I often walk in unison – she sniffs as I feel the ground beneath my feet. School was out for recess and the laughter of the children was a pleasant song to my ears.

Sabino Canyon on the winter solstice

On the early morning of the winter solstice, I walked alone in Sabino Canyon outside Tuscon, Arizona. The sun rose over peak after peak as I descended towards the valley floor. Every twist and turn was magical and glimmering. Time stood still as I breathed in the cold, crisp high desert air. Icy cold in the dark shadows, then basking in the warm sun, I savored every moment of my four-mile walk.

Walking meditation comes easily to me and is more enjoyable with each passing day. Learn more about walking meditation from Jack Kornfield.

Forest Bathing

Last spring, I went Forest Bathing at UW Arboretum with four dear friends. Our guide set the tone with a beginning meditation underneath a grand tree. The parks and forests of Puget Sound are my home. I spent a very long, peaceful seated meditation on the forest floor, experiencing the moist carpet beneath my body. I envisioned layer upon layer beneath the surface, supporting me and all of the living beings above ground.

Forest Bathing (shinrin-yoku) began in the early 1980’s. The premise is simple – spending time in the lush green forests is good for us.

The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness.

~ Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing

Walking the Labyrinth

This September, I walked the Redsun Labyrinth in Victor, Montana with my friend, Janet. Surrounded by the Bitteroot Mountains 40 miles south of Missoula, the setting is spectacular. It is 108’ in diameter, making it one of the largest in the U.S. Walking a labyrinth is a different experience than walking along a stream or in a forest. At the beginning, I often feel lost and anxious but then begin to trust the pattern and yield to the walking meditation. As Eve Hogan wrote,  Labyrinths invite our intuitive, pattern-seeking, symbolic mind to come forth.

Redsun Labyrinth

Tonight, I will celebrate New Years’ Eve and the end of another decade at St. Mark’s Cathedral walking the labyrinth with family and friends visiting from near and far.  

Many paths are possible; whichever path is sincerely traveled leads to inner peace.

~ Bhagavad Gita 4.11

Finding Wellness with Nature

moist forest
Cool, calming and moist NW forest

Environmental Wellness

In 1979, when Bill Hettler, developed the Six Dimension of Wellness, he defined Environmental Wellness as the ability to recognize our own responsibility for the quality of the air, the water and the land that surrounds us.

Over the last 40 years, our relationship with nature has changed dramatically. We have become more urban and by 2050, almost 70% of the world’s population will live in an urban setting. Fewer people live on farms or in rural areas. We spend more time indoors – often gazing at a screen and less time outdoors. This – despite all of the runners, boaters, hikers, surfers and skiers we see. Meanwhile, we are witnessing epidemics of obesity, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.

Our perception of nature and wild places has also changed. Many people take a family camping trip once or twice a year or visit a park on a sunny, summer day. But how many modern, urban dwellers have cleared a trail, walked in an old growth forest, observed animals in their natural habitat, or harvested their own food? How many children run free with wild abandon?

Humans both yearn for and are afraid of the wild within us and around us. Why do we both romanticize and demonize nature?

Wildness post 2
Mushrooms – some edible, some poisonous

Biophilia

The Biophilia Hypothesis (and my background in anthropology) can help explain human’s innate love and fear of nature. E.O. Wilson defined biophilia as the genetic basis for humans to focus on and affiliate with nature and other forms of life. Keen observation of animal behavior, changes in weather patterns, as well as knowledge of reliable food, shelter and water sources are all key to our survival. The fight/flight response and a fear of predators, storms and unpredictable fluctuations are critical to our viability. We need both social organizations and a knowledge of nature to survive. We need to cooperate with one another and understand the rhythms of  nature… to our marrow.

Throughout history, humans created complex communities while maintaining a close connection to the immediate environment. Around the globe, Homo sapiens became experts in the flora and fauna of each bioregion. We learned to follow the flow of rivers, navigate by the stars, migrate with the animals and transform grasses into “the staff of life”. Within the last hundred years or so, our direct reliance upon nature appeared to diminish as technology advanced. Or so it seemed. Loss of biodiversity, environmental degradation and fluctuations in climate affect all life forms, including humans.

Over the past thirty years the biophilia hypothesis (BET) has not only influenced the fields of conservation and environmentalism, but also architecture, public health and urban planning. Put simply, access to open spaces, parks, trees, lakes, rivers, beaches and thriving ecosystems create happier and healthier communities.


“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”
~ Kahlil Gibran

Wildness post 3
Gazing into the canopy

NW Nature and Health Symposium

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”

~ John Muir, Our National Parks

Although, John Muir could have spoken those words last week, he foresaw the 21st century dilemma over 100 years ago. Our relationship to nature is critical to life on planet earth, and to our own wellness. And recent studies support this claim.

This week I attended EarthLab’s Northwest Nature and Health Symposium at the University of Washington to learn what advances are being made in the emerging nature and wellness field.

Speakers presented papers about trauma and war, children’s health, and the role of nature on health and equity. The lunchtime interview was a conversation with Richard Louv, author of several books on biophilia, nature and wellness. We broke into small groups and discussed research needs and implementation in our communities. My small group discussed the needs of the 50+ age-group. There was a biophilic art and design exhibit displaying the proposed lid over I-5 in Seattle, Amazon’s spheres and other buildings designed to bring people closer to nature at home, at work and even in hospitals…. Or should I say, especially in places of healing.

A new program of EarthLab, Nature for Health has been launched, focusing on five sectors: veterans, children, the elderly, healthcare providers and underserved populations. I am excited to see what positive changes are ahead.

Communities are beginning to design more open spaces, neighborhood pocket parks, and plant street trees… and to design communities around nature. Nature is no longer the afterthought. Part of the healing process for the individual is to feel more fully present in one’s life, to be observant and in awe with a childlike wonder.

Bring it on Home!

Here are a few of my own tips to integrate nature into your life:

  • Take a break from TV, computers, phones, etc.
  • Plant a seed and watch it grow.
  • Decorate your home with houseplants.
  • Open your doors and windows and let the breeze in.
  • Go barefoot; wiggle your toes into the earth.
  • Watch the animals that live near you – when do the birds sing? What is feeding time?
  • Take a walk every day, if you can – otherwise sit outside or by an opened door for a few moments.
  • Grow your own food, or buy from a local farm.
  • Eat seasonally – learn what fruits and vegetables are in season in your area.
  • Visit a park, woods, stream, lake, meadow or marsh.
  • Look at the bark of a tree, a flower or a blade of grass, up front and personal.
  • Close your eyes and envision a deep forest, mountain or ocean.
  • Listen to the sounds of nature in your home, yard or outside your window.
  • Use plant medicines (essential oils and herbs) rather than artificial fragrances.
  • Watch the sunrise and sunset; gaze at the night sky.
  • Bathe in a forest!
  • Find out where your drinking water comes from – what is your watershed?
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle.
  • Volunteer for a trail clean-up.
Christmas Cactus
Schlumbergera – beginning to bloom

Photos taken by Heidi Lynne’.

Tips for a Healthy Summer

Happy Summer!

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Thursday, June 21st, 2018 is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and the first day of summer. When summer arrives, many of us are excited to put away the blankets and sweaters in exchange for T-shirts, sandals and shorts. Many of us stay up later, move more, eat less and generally change our daily routines, patterns and habits. When we think of summer, we think of vacations, festivals, bar-b-ques, picnics, swimming, hiking, biking, boating and more outdoor exercise. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we try to cram as much fun as we can into a few short months.

Not everyone loves this hot season – many people have allergies or languish in the heat. Ayurveda offers tips for all of us to maintain our wellness and vitality throughout each and every season.

 

sunset-1913108_960_720
Pitta energy combines the elements of fire and water. (Photo from Pixabay.com)

 

The Ayurvedic approach

According to Ayurveda, the hot, bright, sharp qualities of Pitta energy increase during summer.  Signs of excess Pitta may include heartburn, excessive body heat and sweating, skin rashes, irritability and anger. We can find balance by changing our diet, Yoga practice and daily routine with each season.

Guidelines for a healthy summer include:

  • Choose cooling and calming pranayama (breathing exercises) for 5 – 10 minutes each morning; inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth with a curled tongue.
  • Begin your day with a massage using coconut or sunflower oil.
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton, linen and silk clothing in lighter colors.
  • Cook in the morning, not during the heat of the day.
  • Adjust your sleeping patterns – stay up a little later and savor a nap in the early afternoon.
  • Avoid excessive exercise during the middle of the day.
  • Take walks at dawn and in the moonlight.
  • Add sandalwood, rose, vetiver or jasmine to your cool bath or after a cool shower.
  • Apply rose water, mixed with witch hazel and aloe vera to your face and neck.
  • Stay hydrated!

Diet and nutrition

  • Avoid hot and spicy foods, as well as salty and pungent flavors that may aggravate Pitta.
  • Avoid sour foods like sour cream, vinegar and ketchup.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Drink cooling mint and hibiscus teas, lime juice and coconut water.
  • Add more sweet, bitter, and astringent tasting foods that are light in nature and eat less sour, salty and pungent flavors.
  • Enjoy the fresh bounty of fruits and vegetables in season:
    • Asparagus, green beans, kale, cucumbers, leafy greens and cabbage
    • Berries, melons, nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots
  • Cook using ghee or coconut oil; add mint, cilantro, parsley, fennel, anise and cardamom to your dishes.

 

Pitta-pacifying coleslaw for your summer picnic:

1/3 cup shelled & toasted pumpkin seeds
1 t Bragg’s amino acids
1 cup finely shredded white cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/3 cup seedless golden or black raisins (optional)
2 T sunflower oil
1 T lemon juice
1 t maple syrup
1/4 t ground tumeric
3 T organic crème fraiche or cream cheese
2 T organic heavy cream
1 t dried dill
1 t dried mint

Toss toasted pumpkin seeds in Bragg’s amino acids while still warm. Add cabbage, carrot, and raisins.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, turmeric, crème fraiche, cream, dill and mint. Pour this dressing over the cabbage mixture, toss well and serve.

Yoga practice in the summer

Morning yoga twist
Gentle standing twist in the meditation hall at Tarumitra in Patna, India

  • Excess Pitta can be reduced by practicing in an effortless, non-goal oriented approach. Simply back off from your urge to go further.
  • Many people garden in the summer and spend time hunched over, weeding. To counteract the strain on the back and legs, stand in mountain with arms outstretched; do gentle standing twists.
  • Practice in the coolness of the morning with a gentle flow rather than staying longer in static poses. Move slowly and select more calming, grounding poses such as child’s pose and gentle forward bends.
  • Do not push or strain your muscles through over-exertion.
  • Choose asanas that massage, strengthen, and release tension in the abdominal region such as cat/cow, cobra, boat, lateral stretches, and gentle twists.
  • End your practice with a longer rest in shavasana.

Rosebuds

Summer in the South

The Oriole sings in the greening grove
As if he were half-way waiting,
The rosebuds peep from their hoods of green,
Timid, and hesitating.
The rain comes down in a torrent sweep
And the nights smell warm and pinety,
The garden thrives, but the tender shoots
Are yellow-green and tiny.
Then a flash of sun on a waiting hill,
Streams laugh that erst were quiet,
The sky smiles down with a dazzling blue
And the woods run mad with riot.

~ by Paul Laurence Dunbar
My sources:

Eat Taste Heal: An Ayurvedic Guidebook and Cookbook for Modern Living  ~ by Thomas Yarema, MD, Daniel Rhoda, and Chef Johnny

Branniganhttps://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/seasonal-guides/summer-guide/

http://yogadigest.com/ayurvedas-prescription-for-summer/

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/10-ayurvedic-tips-for-summer

Kerala Ayurveda Academy Wellness Counselor Program

Take a Hike!

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,

for going out, I found, was really going in.

― John MuirJohn of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

 

Emerson Thoreau Amble
Along the Emerson-Thoreau Amble

Last fall, my friend Sydney and I visited New England and stayed for several nights in Concord, Massachusetts. We followed the two-mile Emerson-Thoreau Amble from Emerson’s house to Walden Pond. As we walked, we could almost hear the two authors discussing their latest book, article or poem. I am more of an ambler than a brisk walker myself, gazing at the changing light in the sky (transitory light effects), smelling the flowers, feeling the bark on the trees and finding small worlds underfoot. On my travels, I find a trail, neighborhood or market where I can meander. Step out of your car and embrace the world at a walker’s pace!

The Art of Strolling

I learned the fine art of strolling from my father. As we walked along Worley Lane, he taught me to embrace every moment of our precious, short life and to savor the beauty that surrounds us….concord grapes ripening in the sun were one of his favorites. Walking was also one of the best times to discuss ideas, my studies and his current book.

My walking cast fixed
Ready for another day of third grade.

My meandering ways led to my “arrest” in the first grade by the one and only cop in my hometown! He found me skipping along to school half an hour after the late bell. There was just too much to explore on my way! My teacher was unphased when he brought me to class since I was well-behaved and an eager student. Yes – I am one of those people who grew up in the midwest and walked a mile in the snow to school every day. I even walked to school on my walking cast after breaking my ankle. Besides those famous snowy days, there were many days when the sun shone through the red and golden leaves or the soft rain moistened the earth.  I enjoyed visiting with older neighbors on my way to and from school. I feel fortunate that I cultivated the love of walking, hiking and strolling at a young age.

Hiking and Breath Walking

North Cascades with Mandy
North Cascades with Mandy at 13

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with many beautiful mountain hikes, wide, rolling rivers and stunning beach walks.  Hiking in the fresh, clean air is a tonic to my mind, body and spirit. The stress of daily living is erased and a calmness washes over me – I feel rejuvenated, vital and full of prana (life force). I dream of spending weeks or months walking on one of the pilgrimage walks found in various parts of  the world.  To tread on ancient paths creates a powerful connection with the past, present and future. Even when I walk along a familiar path, I envision the animals and people who walked before me. In reality, most of my walks are with my dog in a nearby park or through our neighborhood – observing the daily changes in our little part of the world. It is rare that I do not find at least 10 minutes for my “daily constitutional”.

Sometimes I practice breath walking:

Remember that breath walking – as with any meditation technique – should not be pursued with a grim determination to “get it right”. The point is to cultivate openness, relaxation and awareness which can include awareness of your undisciplined, wandering mind.

– Andrew Weil 

The Health Benefits of Walking for Older Adults

I think we all agree that walking is beneficial, especially as we age. According to American Senior Communities, a regular walking routine provides the following benefits:

  • Improves heart health
  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Reduces pain
  • Inexpensive
  • Promotes social engagement
  • Elevates your mood

How can you add walking to your daily routine? As many people say, it takes 21 days to change a habit. Some suggestions include creating a schedule that includes a daily walk, find a walking partner, volunteer to walk a foster dog or join a walking group. For people living in the Seattle area, Sound Steps, offered through LifeLong Recreation lists lots of walking opportunities for seniors.

Find a Role Model

Walking inspiration
A life well-lived

During graduate school, I found a picture of a joyful older woman in People magazine – of all places. I kept her picture in my notebook of inspirations and accomplishments ever since. I hoped that by the time I reach my later years that I will walk with strength, integrity, confidence and joy. I realized that achieving my goal meant greeting each and every day with a zest for living and gathering the strength and will to walk…. smiling upon a stranger…. and giving more than I take…. This has not always been easy – I had a bout of sciatica at 50 and could not walk for a week. I have had periods of sadness, loss and loneliness along the way. But I never let go of my goals –  to tread lightly upon the earth and bring more joy than sadness to those I touch.

And a Hope for the Future

The first time I visited Europe I noticed all of the families walking in the evening. I wondered why so many Americans jump into their cars and rush to the next destination. The “sedentary epidemic” only continues to worsen and Americans’ health is suffering because of it. My hope is that more and more Americans will begin to enjoy the benefits of walking. And that we will design our communities with open spaces, accessible paths and quiet, contemplative places. May you walk in peace and beauty all of the days of your life.

Walking before our Ohio picnic
Walking with my dear nephew Dave