As our lives continue to unfold, one thing is for sure; you can always come back to the body. The more you give your body a voice, the louder and clearer that voice becomes.
On one of my first days of university, our professor asked us to write down why we had chosen dance education as our vocation. I was only nineteen at the time and to be honest, this question puzzled me because I had never really thought about my choice – I just knew I had to. My inner guidance was certain that this was my path, even if logically it made little sense; I had very little formal dance training and certainly did not have the typical body of a dancer. That day, I wrote down something that I will never forget: ‘’dance is a form of awareness and if all people had access to dance knowledge, they could become aware of themselves, their bodies, emotions, others and then world around them’’. When I look back now many years later, I recognize that this may seem utopic – but that had actually been my experience. Therefore, I had a mission and a duty to transmit this knowledge. Though dance has surely been one big piece of the puzzle for me, it certainly isn’t the only path to creating change.
Over the years, I have come to understand that the body isn’t just a machine carrying our muscles, organs, bones and brain- the body is also the seat of our inner wisdom. Our body speaks to us continuously, guiding us towards this intrinsic intelligence if we take the time to listen and become conscious. Wisdom is different than knowledge in that it is innate; it goes beyond the logical mind. We are born with this inner ‘’knowing’’ of what is right for us. Our body delivers this truth to us in subtle ways such as through a ‘’gut feeling’’, an unwanted headache, pain or even immediate relief when plans get suddenly canceled. Yet, in a world that focuses on appearances and material possessions over spiritual growth as well as intellectual abilities over emotional or body intelligence, we begin to distance ourselves from this wisdom. Many of us are living on autopilot, losing sight of what we truly want and need. Our body is our compass, but most of us are just too busy, rushing through life and tuning out. Often, we wait until we burn out or breakdown before realizing that a certain habit, job, education program, relationship or workout no longer works for us. Think about it – how often do you check in with your body? Without body awareness, we can get lost. Awareness is vital, and not just to reach higher degrees of physical performance but for even deeper reasons than I initially thought. Here is why and how you can use your body to create more awareness and access the wealth of your own inner wisdom.
Why You Need Movement Awareness
The way we move and carry ourselves is largely unconscious and has been shaped by the values, family, culture and institutions we were raised in.In fact, we acquire throughout our development something called ‘’implicit memory’’; where our body learns to perform actions so that we don’t need to actively think of them. It allows us to do several things at once like move, speak and think. These patterns of movement have been programmed to help us develop skills and deal with everyday tasks while unburdening our attention to the abundance of possible details. Thomas Fuchs, a well-known phenomenologist, states that we are continuously re-enacting what we learned through ‘’body performances’’. In a sense, our bodies are the sum of our living past. Habitual patterns can reflect many aspects of our personality or occupation. Even how we interact with others; the way we stand, angle ourselves, cross our arms, avoid or engage in eye contact are mostly automated. Even though we pay little attention to our body language, most experts would agree that over 70% of communication is non-verbal. So without even being aware of it, our body is painting a portrait of who we are, how we think and how we relate to the outside world. Though these unconscious processes are necessary to function, there is a dark side to it. With a loss of awareness, we develop ‘’bad habits’’ that lead us to dysfunctional movement, thinking and feeling patterns as well as social interactions that don’t serve us very well. We all have our patterns – for better or worse.
The Good News
Insight into your own patterns of movement allows you to become familiar with your habits, supporting change towards body, mind and emotion integration.In that sense, you begin to feel more harmonious and whole. That being said, it would be impossible and frankly exhausting to be continuously aware of every inch of our bodies at every moment. Several movement methods such as Feldenkrais are based on increasing awareness of bodily sensations so that the brain can make new decisions on how to move. In Yoga, the goal is to go beyond your conditioning to find your truest nature. Pilates allows you to work more efficiently with the whole body while improving muscular balance and posture. Whatever method you choose, this is the key: only once you become aware of a pattern, can you begin to change it. Movement awareness gives you the power to change dysfunctional patterns and express the most authentic version of yourself. It brings you back to the present – not the You that was programmed decades ago.
How do I Access Movement Awareness Right Now?
The first step is to stop what you are doing right now and tap into sensations or bodily feelings (really, try it!). When we are in a thinking mode, we often cut off other ‘’parts’’ of ourselves like sensations. Ever been so concentrated on a task that you stop seeing or hearing what is going on around you? You can understand it as thinking being the exertion mode and sensing as a way for the body to recuperate. We need this work and rest cycle to maintain balance. Many of us are just living in our heads – we literally have thousands of thoughts everyday! But if we never tune into our sensing mechanisms, we become disconnected and never get to the recuperation part of the cycle. By connecting our feeling, sensing and thinking selves, we start to feel more whole, peaceful and connected. Here is how you can do this; as you are sitting here and reading this, ask yourself how you feel in this moment? Is your body holding any tension? How are you positioned? How are you breathing? Are you cold, warm? We are often unaware of the signals that our body is sending us – and yet our body has a built in capacity to monitor and make adjustments. Once you have checked in, you simply need to sense what your body needs to do right now to feel more comfortable. You might instinctively feel a need to yawn, shrug your shoulders, shake your hands, stretch your arms or get up from your chair. Self touch, like touching your face or hair is a way for us humans to self soothe if we have been in a thinking mode or stressed out for too long. The adjustment of our position helps us to connect to ourselves and self-assess. Self-monitoring is a vital part of self-care, especially important to our well being. The best part is that you can begin to practice right here and now in your seat! Essentially, it just needs to be something that feels good right now – no explanation needed. It isn’t something that you ‘’should do’’- it’s what your body is telling you. If it isn’t working and thoughts keep racing through your mind, you can start by taking a few deep breaths and focusing of the exhale; this helps us to calm the mind and access the sensing part of ourselves. Sometimes you need to be in a space away from regular daily stressors, which is when signing up for a mindful movement class can be helpful. Bottom line, the more you practice self-assessment, the easier it becomes and the happier the body and the mind will be. It’s that simple!
Awareness is an ongoing process of continuing education about yourself and the communication with yourself. What you need now will likely change tomorrow as we continue to evolve. As our lives continue to unfold, one thing is for sure; you can always come back to the body. The more you give your body a voice, the louder and clearer that voice becomes. This inner knowing or intuition is your compass and the seat of your power. The more you listen, the better able you will be to take care of your body, mind and spirit. You will better be able to discern what movement, person, situation, job, relationship is good for you. Even more, you will begin to feel centered and grounded. I believe that becoming a conscious mover is necessary to live an awakened life – and who wants to spend their life sleep walking?
I really do hope this helps on your journey to healing and happiness.
Eating or living for balance, and making small adjustments to get back into balance. I want to empower people through awareness.
Kimberly, you are a Wellness Coach, a Macrobiotic counselor, a Traditional Chinese Therapy and Food Energetics teacher, an Emotional Anatomy consultant, a yoga instructor and a Sound healer. Can you tell us where and when you developed your passion for the world of health, wellness and nutrition?
It started when I was living in China. I always enjoyed food, not healthy or non-healthy, just food in itself. I never understood why people would diet, not eat, not enjoy cooking or things like that. While I was there, I became interested in Chinese medicine but very much so on the food side of things. I started experimenting based on what my doctor and mentor were telling me my condition was. At the time, I was what they called a ‘’hot and damp constitution’’. So I experimented with foods and teas to cool my body temperature down. That got me started on the health and wellness side of things and the effects of food on my body. That was around 2005. I started self-experimenting on different fruits and vegetables and changing diets. In China, there is all this information available, a wide variety of vegetables and super foods there. I was just working a corporate job at the time. Slowly, I got more interested in food and nutrition, that is, Western nutrition. It was and still is very hard to learn Chinese medicine there in English. I started reading nutrition books and then did a course and became a Health Coach. It was a good mix between Western nutrition and seeing the holistic side of Chinese medicine, which is quite different. That really started off my journey in food and wellness. I was also rebalancing my body with massage, acupuncture and all the modalities available there.
Is it common to use these healing modalities in China?
Yes it’s traditionally how people would heal; through prevention and rebalancing the body rather than waiting until you get sick and then going to the doctor. That is what is happening now over there as well with Western medicine coming in. It’s very different to Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, which is all about prevention. Innately though, I think a lot of people in China and Asia know how to use food, teas or holistic ways to heal and rebalance the body.
When did you get into Yoga?
Hmm well, I’ve always enjoyed moving, like in school for example. I’m not very tall or ‘’athletic’’ but I’ve always been active. I remember somehow getting into the girl basketball team but then I saw these people dancing around. It turns out it was step aerobics and so I switched to that the next week. I love being in a group setting and the social aspect of it. That was my introduction to aerobics and fitness. It’s really important for me even now, like if I’ve been really busy and not moved that much, I feel it in my whole body, even with my emotions and stress levels. I love anything from walking, to dancing and swimming. Yoga came in a little later. I did tend to gravitate towards more the Yang style of Yoga; sweaty and really feeling it. I was also really interested in martial arts, so I also did karate. Then in 2012, I tried Yin Yoga and actually hated it. I thought it was horrible; all I could think about was: ‘’why is this so slow?? I’m in pain, I can’t move and I am frustrated’’. But at the end, I felt amazing and I realized that that is actually what I need, not all these fast paced hot and power yoga and dance classes. I realized that I really needed to slow down. A lot of people don’t like Yin Yoga, especially those who need it the most. I was just thinking how this is what the world needs; It’s become a really important part of my work. This was also flowing into my love for Chinese medicine and everything that goes with it. Yin Yoga includes the 5 elements. Anything that includes the 5 elements is just so interesting to me. The 5 Elements are the foundations of Chinese Medicine philosopy; the Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water elements are found in nature all around us and reflect our inner body and holistic health too.
In the last 10 years, I’ve definitely been enjoying the slower movement. I also came across Yoga Nidra and it’s really that next level of slowness and stillness, which was again really hard at first. It’s all about balance really. A lot of us spend our lives busy, stressed out and moving at a fast pace and then we do Tai Chi when we are 80, but really we should do slow things at all stages of life! Too much Yin can of course be bad for you because then you would become lazy and slow but I find most people need this slowing down for sure.
Your previous brand was actually called Yin Lifetstyle, where the concept was to introduce more Yin into people’s lives through Yin Yoga, Qi Gong and food therapy. Could you help us clarify the concept of Yin and Yang and why this balance is so important?
I was so out of balance, I was so Yang. The concept is duality; so like black and white, night and day, sun and moon, hot and cold. It can be extreme but more importantly, what it means is that we need a little bit of both to make all the beautiful things in between. It’s about balance and balancing everything in life. It’s about wellness practices that provide that balance. Again, it’s not just do Yin things, but at the time I noticed that there was too much stress and fast pace things like cross fit. There’s nothing wrong with it unless if that’s all people do; they go from their stressful jobs to their high intensity training and eat foods that are dense and heavy. Then they wake up, take stimulants like caffeine and do it all over again. Yin Lifestyle was a concept to offer people a slower pace of thinking, living, breathing and eating. It’s like I’m trying to offer something that people don’t know they need yet. There’s been a huge growth though in Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra and Qi Gong. More and more people are getting trained in it through workshops, retreats and teacher trainings. The funny thing is that they are not new styles; they are old wisdoms coming back, which is very exciting for Chinese medicine.
I have now transitioned and am incorporating all my passions in one with Qi Food Therapy website and platform, focusing on the food, food energetics and holistic approach to nutrition and lifestyle.
What are some of the benefits you have seen in clients when they introduce more Yin into their lives?
So if I stick with food and maybe a practice like Yin Yoga; a lot of them go through the day calmer and they appreciate that time for themselves a lot more. With regular practice they see the benefits of being able to breathe better, to sleep better and being less reactive. Often, people will feel more centered, focused and less forgetful. A lot of people are scattered, rushing and living in their heads. Just by slowing down the nervous system, they can function a better, especially moms, office people and those who are the busiest in our society. They are usually the ones who see the biggest results. What follows also is better digestion; a lot of people suffering from digestive issues. It’s not that one food or Yin Yoga will cure it all but with that holistic approach, the body is better capable of chewing, digesting and resting. The funny thing is that people often didn’t know how much they would love it. And it’s the smallest things make biggest difference; whether it’s breakfast, adding grains or meditation. It usually takes time but sometimes they can feel the effects just after one session or after a week or two of practice. The body wants to be happy and balanced but we just keep pushing it.
You also co-founded a plant-based nutrition cooking studio and health food store in Shanghai, which was the only one of its kind in China for many years. What was your vision when you started the project?
I don’t know that we had a vision. It seemed like a good idea to us! At the time, I was working in a bank. It was the end of this Shanghai World Expo and two of my friends and I wanted to do our own thing so they were like ‘’quit your job!’’ and so I did. We started with a consulting job for two years. Then I started to teach cooking classes with some other health coaches and food experts. At the time, you couldn’t buy things like quinoa and brown rice easily. People wanted the tools and ingredients. We literally started with Ikea shelves; it was a tiny little shop. Eventually we moved into a bigger shop that had eco products and took it over. My vision has always been about food education, teaching people about food choices. Nutrition is part of it but at its core, it has always been food therapy; using food therapeutically to balance the body, mind and spirit. Food energetics is part of it as well; what is the energy behind food, how we grow it, cook it and eat it, it is transformative. People were not really ready for that back then. Now there are different retailers that started selling nuts, seeds, grains, supplements and protein powders, most of them online. We had an actual physical space, which was very important to connect with people, have cooking classes and allow people to see the foods, touch them and taste them. The company was called Sprout Lifestyle and the tag line was Growing Healthy Habits. The idea was to plant seeds in people’s minds and show them small steps that they could take to change their food habits. It was a holistic place; we had all sorts of events, workshops and yoga classes. The vision itself was to spread healthy food and education.
What an incredible and ambitious endeavor.
It was amazing but it was a lot of work!
You were a pioneer in the field of plant-based nutrition in China. What is your biggest take-away from running a health food store and event business?
Well it was a success in terms of community and social impact, but less so financially. So I think the biggest takeaway from that is being more business smart. I mean what I got out of that was very rewarding and a lot of the information I was teaching there has led me to this point now where I can and want to create programs and relevant modern content. It was a great way to practice and train or coach other people. Another take away would be to keep going even if it is hard. For example the biggest challenge at the time was that I had to learn nutrition in another language on the job.
It sounds like a rich learning experience with a lot of hurdles!
Yes and I am not done. I will be going back to Asia and I feel that there will be a round two to do. It will be around food therapy and food energy. There is still a lot of groundwork in nutrition to do. They don’t really learn about it there but because they innately know a little about Chinese medicine, when we teach things there that are related to the five elements they pick it up fast.
Looking at the nutrition side of things, in recent years, food therapy and medical diet therapy of traditional Chinese medicine have been increasingly applied in clinical nutrition therapy. What are some of the therapeutic effects of applying TCM principles to our diets?
Well we see food as fuel in Western nutrition where as in TCM and oriental health care (traditional) it isn’t really seen that way; nutrition is more functional and for enjoyment. It’s knowing what foods are for what season and knowing what foods help you with a particular condition. For example, if you want to sleep better, have more energy, for period pain or any specific health imbalance. Innately the people there knew this. Probably all great grandmas in the world knew this and somewhere along the way, we got disconnected with our food, the environment and the seasons. Food was used for nourishment, therapeutic and functional purposes. Even the vocabulary between Western nutrition and TCM is very different; Western nutrition breaks everything down, like macro and micronutrients. TCM is more holistic, and uses food to tonify, nourish, cultivate and boost different organs for example. Traditionally, even with these herbal preparations, if you go way back in time, they knew that this bark and flower were good for a cough. That’s the connection that we’ve lost; it isn’t just scientific. So instead of waking up and thinking what do I want, we can actually take the time to listen to the body, which is one of the best kinds of therapy.
Coming back to your question, using food as medicine would probably be the best answer. So seeing daily foods as an opportunity to stay healthy and rebalance. Then there is a layer of when you’re sick. In the West if you are sick you eat chicken soup or take vitamin C. In my opinion, it’s quite limited. In TCM, they will tell you to take a certain herb or reduce this kind of food. They will be very specific as to how to rebalance the condition in a more holistic way. You don’t need to go buy medication, everything is natural. All simple, daily foods have a function that can help you whether it is a fruit or a grain. There are also a lot more foods, ingredients and food categories in Asia, especially the vegetables, herbs and seasonings. So if you had a specific condition you would use those to help rebalance.
From my understanding of TCM, the five internal organs: heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidneys are connected to the five flavors of food: spicy, sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Can you give us an example as to how the organs are connected to different tastes?
What you described is the five elements, which applies to pretty much everything. In the West we have four seasons but in TCM there are five because they include a fifth season, which is late summer, where we need more calm and certain organs need attending to. These are related to the five elements in nature, which are Fire, Metal, Water, Air and Earth. Then there are many layers on top of these elements and flavor is one of them. It’s not so much that they separated the flavors, but that they correlated a flavor with an element. So it isn’t just necessarily a flavor for a specific organ, ideally we learn how to balance them all in cooking. There is definitely a certain correlation, for example: sour for the liver in the spring. Which makes sense; so including more lemons, citrus, and vinegars. It helps that organ but it also helps that element and season as well. Eating spicy food in the summer doesn’t just help the heart organ, it helps that whole fire element so that it has this energy of heat, ‘’upwardness’’ and we sweat more to release heat. So it’s more of an energetic quality that a flavor brings. Lemons for the liver is the most direct example; it does help that organ but in the bigger picture, it’s that whole season, that part of that cycle. Also, each organ has a pair. For example heart and small intestine, liver and gallbladder, lungs and the large intestine, kidneys and urinary bladder, stomach and spleen, so it’s actually 10 organs and if one is out of balance, the other one usually is too. If we take it further, those five elements represent five emotional states. It’s a fascinating, multi layered concept, which is why I love it so much.
If we go back to flavors though, all good chefs will make a dish that has all five elements, at least a little. A good curry traditionally would have all flavors; the sweetness would come for example with the carrots or sweet vegetables (i’m not talking about adding sugar). People who are eating a lot of junk food probably don’t have the taste buds to appreciate the different flavors. Thai people have amazing flavor palates. It’s so simple but there is a lot going on in a curry. I believe all traditional food cultures have that too whether it’s Italian, Greek, French, etc. But modern day eating is often over simplified with too much sugar or salt.
So what happens when we eat too much or to little of one of these flavors?
So it’s important to know that there are massive differences between sugars; like refined white sugar and coconut sugar. But that aside, too much of anything creates an imbalance. Say too much of the healthy sweet or salty flavor, will affect the one on the other end, in front or behind it and the organs associated to it. So with diabetes for example, it’s an earth element health issue, including the spleen, pancreas and stomach that isn’t functioning well. We would then look at that element and change the quality of the sugar and the sweets, using different ingredients and strengthening that organ. Too much salt on the other hand will impact the kidneys and that element which is a water element. The approach would be to rebalance that element; which is a bundle of flavors, foods, organs and as you mentioned, emotions. With the example of sugar, the sweet flavor is associated with the stomach and the spleen, which when is not in balance, the biggest issue is worry and anxiety – which is a lot of people! The thing is when people quit sugar, it should be about removing the refined sugars out of your life like the ones in soft drinks and cookies. We still need all five elements and if you remove one, you will crave it because you need it. It’s more about changing the quality and the variety of the sweet flavor. So just adding in more pumpkin, carrots, roots, fruits (but maybe low glycemic fruits) and switching the sweeteners you have at home makes a huge difference. Sweetness is a good thing in balance! The imbalance can be that the organ is not functioning properly, there is too much anxiety in your life and you need to work on that. It will also affect another element at the same time on different levels; for example seasonally. If you don’t look after the liver and gallbladder in the Spring, it will affect the next season and it will affect the liver next year.
We live in a world of cycles, seasons and we are very out of tune with that. If you drink too much, eat a lot of fatty, oily foods now you might compromise your liver when it’s supposed to be at its best and healthiest. That might hit you later. People might do a once a year detox, which in the Spring is a great time to do it but how you eat the rest of the time matters just as much, if not more.
Traditional Medicine also considers foods various properties, including warm, hot, cold and cool. Why is it important to understand the ‘’temperature’’ energy of foods? How do they affect the body?
I would say that everything we’ve discussed so far about the elements is like at an introduction level. To dive into the temperature would be at the second or third level, it’s not as vital but definitely interesting. It’s more about the quality of food as well as the temperature. An obvious example in Chinese Medicine would be lamb; it’s a very warming meat. Eating it in winter is a good idea. Eating watermelon, cucumber or mint in summer is really good to cool the body down. It’s not about putting it in the refrigerator, it’s the food itself in nature, the way it is grown in nature to help us manage the heat outside. Nature intended these foods to help us rebalance. This is how we use to eat – seasonally. By doing so, you don’t need to worry about your spleen or liver; if sprouts and greens grow in the Spring we should eat more of those foods. The problem in the modern world is that things are available all year round; we’re eating bananas and spinach all year round and often too much of it. We are out of sync. Then you can look at the qualitative nature of the foods and the best way to understand it is to experience it. So on a hot day, try having peppermint tea. In TCM they definitely have this idea of hot and cold which is hard to wrap our heads around it because part of it is the actual temperature but a bigger part of it is this inherent quality of the food. You can definitely look at a list of hot/cold foods but it’s really when you’ve experienced eating a food in a certain season that you can remember the effect of it. So now that it is Spring, eat loads of sprouts, leafs, green vegetables; there is that upward, cleansing energy that makes you feel amazing.
Even the colors of foods can guide us to choose the right foods to treat a condition. Can you give us an example?
Again, it’s more about rebalancing the elements. Each of the five elements has a predominant color, it doesn’t mean you eat only green foods in Spring, it means you eat more of them. Red is the fire in summer season, so like watermelon, chilies, red quinoa and red rice. Late summer is an orangey/earthy brown color, so ingredients like pumpkin, sweet potatoes and carrots. Autumn is silver or white, like daikon (Chinese/Korean radish) and lotus root. In winter the color is a dark blue, brown or purple, like kidney beans, mushrooms and sea vegetables. I would eat those at different times of the year as well but the basis is color variety balance.
I know you are particularly a fan of the word dampness, what does this mean and how do we know if we have too much of it in our bodies?
Each element has an external weather condition that harms that organ system. In TCM it’s called the six evils. Dampness in the unpleasant condition of the Earth element and I talk about because I experienced it a lot. The moisture, humidity and wetness outside creates dampness in the body. You can think of it as mold in a house, or like a steam room. It means excess moisture is being held in the body. The most common example in the West would be Edema; swelling of the ankles, sometimes diarrhea, or some bloating and digestive issues because the Spleen and digestive system are not happy.
So how do we remove the excess dampness in the body?
There are many ways to alleviate that. First of all, you can check your external conditions, if your living in the middle of rice fields or in a humid tropical place, there is water all around you. Your constitution is important too. If you are suffering because of foods, you have to look at the ones that are making it worse, as well as those that help to alleviate that condition. For example, there are foods that make you pee more; helping the spleen and bladder work more efficiently. Some people don’t have this problem at all. For most people, I get really tired, my legs get heavy, I have tummy issues and it’s purely because of my constitution.
I love this topic so much I have a whole e-book about it on my website, covering some theory and a variety of recipes and ingredients for people to try preparing at home.
Who can determine our constitutional patterns? How does this help us find our own best diet?
One way would be seeing a Chinese doctor, even if you are not sick, just for a diagnosis and general observation. Through that process, they can see what elements you may be more dominant in and of course tell you any conditions you have, and the organs you are more susceptible to have an imbalance in. That’s probably the best way. If it seems that you have absolutely no health issues, then you can do an online test. They will ask about different things like your sleep, bowel movements, the color of your face and then you can get an assessment. Is it accurate? Usually. And it’s okay if you are healthy and just curious. The other way is called the 9 Star Ki (which means energy) and it is based on your birthday, which tells you your predominant elements. It’s not accurate to diagnose somebody but it gives a fun reading on your personality, the kinds of foods you like and how to look after yourself. I do recommend that everyone go to a TCM doctor just to have a diagnosis and maybe some acupuncture. There is always something we can rebalance.
Your training in nutrition spans from Western science, to TCM food therapy and Macrobiotics and you obviously have a passion for teaching and sharing your knowledge. What do you hope people can learn?
Mainly two things. Number one is awareness: body and health awareness. We rely a lot on external systems to tell us what to eat and how to cook. I think it’s more important that they embody it, experience it and actually see how it feels. We are very disconnected from our bodies. The second one is balance. Eating or living for balance, and making small adjustments to get back into balance. I want to empower people through awareness. Ideally, they learn about what their body needs and how to cook for themselves. It would be so much easier if we learned cooking in school!
You have a new book published in 2019 called Chinese Superfoods. Can you give us an example of the power of one of these Superfoods?
The book is predominantly recipes because a lot of the younger generations don’t know how to cook. It’s a dying art; it’s so easy to eat out. So the superfoods in there are everyday superfoods like goji berries, tofu, vegetables – it’s really over simplified. In the West we have really fancy and expensive ingredients that you may not use. But I like foods that are practical and simple; broccoli is a superfood. It’s nutrient dense and functional for health. Chinese Yam or Sweet potato is a Superfood, and is really good for your liver Qi. All the root foods are really energizing; they’re very satisfying, nourishing because of how they are grown. Another example is leeks; which is good in Spring time and if you look at the shape of the leek and how it’s grown, it goes straight up just like asparagus with upward energy. That’s the same energy of the season, which we need. It goes back to that energetic quality and understanding that each food has an energy and a function to help us achieve more vitality. A lot of foods we eat don’t give us any energy or vitality. I’m not talking about raw or cooked though, in my opinion, cooking things can add another quality, it doesn’t mean that the food is dead. Whether you steam, roast, bake or eat a carrot raw, it’s still good for you. You might loose the vitamin C but there are many other benefits in cooking it.
Do you have any upcoming courses/classes that we should know about?
Well an important note is my new website is www.qifoodtherapy.com. On there are 5 ebooks; one is in Chinese food medicine, one is about vegan and dairy alternatives, another one is about dampness. The website is a platform for sharing not just food and nutrition, but food therapy. There will also be e-courses coming up very soon and I also offer private sessions. The first online course is going to be on cycles, the five elements and all these different layers of it like flavors, colors and seasons. I really look forward to sharing with more people on these topics.
So many exciting things in store for you and the people that will learn from you! If you could leave us with a message today, what would that be?
It terms of food, wellness and nutrition, I would say keep an open mind and try- new foods, ingredients or cooking styles. Experiment and see for yourself, it’s not something you can learn from a book, you have to get in there and roll up your sleeves.
Thank you so much for your time, enthusiasm and generosity!
When I decided I wanted to major in dance many years ago, my mother must have thought I was delusional. I don’t blame her; I was nearly seventeen, I had no formal training, no long-term plan, just a deep desire to move like a dancer. What I lacked in ability (and sense of reality) I made up for in sheer determination and drive. I was the whatever it takes girl. Even if I had to practice in the morning, on my lunch break and on weekends. That also meant I had to work shifts on my days off to be able to afford the extra classes. Being at the bottom became my strength because it kept me motivated, disciplined and humble. The downside to those backbreaking days is that I developed an unusually high tolerance for fatigue, overwork and physical pain. I saw the body as a machine that I could control and place demands on, no matter how unreasonable. And if the results weren’t there, all I had to do was to push harder. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a relentless hard worker, but if there is something I have learned, it’s that if we keep running on credit, it’s only a matter of time before we crash. I had to learn that lesson way too many times. Nowadays, I move not to perform but because of the freedom, connection and joy it provides for me. That is the true gift. It took a long gruelling journey of self-discovery, failures, fall-outs and breaking points to get here but I am finally finding myself at peace with how much my body and mind can deliver.
But in a world that values achievement, appearances and material over health and happiness, how can we start to accept ourselves and our limitations? How do we become ‘’unstuck’’ from our own self-destructive patterns? I know this might sound sentimental but even science is catching up to what ancient traditions have been trying to tell us for thousands of years: what we need is compassion!
So What Is Compassion and Why Is It Good for Us?
Many spiritual traditions speak of the importance of compassion. Buddha spoke of compassion thousands of years ago as part of the path to enlightenment. It is believed that compassion allows us to move away from a ‘’I’’ centered worldview to the ‘’other-centeredness’’ view which allows us to see reality more clearly and accurately. In other words, compassion is a gateway to understanding the human experience through the eyes of others. I’ve come to interpret compassion as kindness, understanding and acceptance. It is something that connects us to not only others, but also to ourselves. However, it’s more than just the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel what they feel; it’s a way of being and must be practiced. It applies to all beings and therefore it helps us understand that we are not superior to anyone, thing or animal; we are part of a whole. In Buddhism, compassion is part of the Four Immeasurables along with loving-kindness, joy and equanimity. Interestingly though, out of the four qualities, compassion is the one most closely linked to suffering because it means being able to sit with our pain, which in turn gives us the ability to free ourselves from it. Even in psychology, the definition of compassion includes a sensitivity to suffering in ourselves and others with a desire to alleviate or prevent it. Research has actually shown that we are physiologically best regulated when we feel loved, wanted, connected and loving rather than indifferent, disliking and hating – whether it is towards others or ourselves. Tania Singer’s recent neuroscience of compassion shows us that some pain-sensitive parts of the brain are activated when we empathize (or feel) with someone in pain; showing us that we are much more connected to others than we are aware of. It has been shown however that empathy activates negative emotions, which can become too overwhelming. On the other hand, if we feel compassion for someone else, different neural networks associated with affiliation and reward come into play and we feel concern, love and warmth. Thus, by actively practicing compassion, we can begin to develop a motivation to help others without getting burned out. Feel me my empathic friends?
Self-Compassion – The Key to Freedom?
Paul Gilbert, the founder of Compassion Focused Therapy found that most of his patients, many severely depressed, were relatively comfortable with being compassionate with others but receiving compassion and self-compassion was almost an impossible task. During his practice as a psychologist, he was using cognitive behavioral therapy to help his patients develop healthier thought patterns, but they would do this in a cold and robotic manner. They didn’t know how to be genuinely kind to themselves. So why is it so challenging for many of us to receive compassion? Research actually found that it might be particularly difficult for people coming from a background of violence, addiction or abuse. I have to admit, this hit home. One thing that is still difficult for me to share is that I grew up with a father with a mental illness and a violent temper. As a child, I learned to stay quiet, do as I was told and carry on. There was little space for feeling sorry for myself. Developing self-compassion has definitely been a challenge but what helped me tremendously was to surround myself with empathetic people; whether it was friends, acquaintances, or a therapist. The uncanny thing in my experience is that if you tend to be on the masochistic side, you often attract people with a similar mindset who will tell you to suck it up when things get hard. Though I am not a fan of pity parties, if you can’t have empathy for others that is usually my cue to walk in the other direction.
So how does compassion and self-compassion set us free? The answer is something much more profound than I initially thought; by helping us access and heal our shame. In other words, those parts of us that seem to be unacceptable, disgusting and bad; whether it is past or present emotions, thoughts, actions or even trauma. Shame can keep us a hostage and a prisoner of the past. It tells us that we don’t deserve love or kindness. It is that part of us that we don’t want to admit or reveal to others. Jung calls these darker areas of our minds the ‘’Shadow Self’’, and we all have one. The main problem with shame is that it is the most disconnecting of all emotions. It creates a barrier between us, the people we love and even ourselves. If we keep it bottled up inside, it permeates every area of our life, whether we realize it or not. Shame is like a poison we carry and hold onto inside of us that expresses itself in destructive ways like anger, depression and rage. So how do we start to mend these unforgiving ‘’truths’’? By expressing them out loud, preferably in the presence of a compassionate person, group or therapist. A big part of my personal healing has been sharing my story, which felt like a dirty little secret for decades. Though it is definitely a process with many layers, as soon as you put words to it, you start to set that part of yourself free and it no longer owns you. Self-compassion allows for the vulnerability to admit your humanness and forgive yourself. You could even start with dabbling in a journal without censorship and end with a feeling of forgiveness (I like to place my hand on my heart for that). The unfolding is often painful but the rewards are much greater than you can imagine. In my adult life, I was lucky enough to have the presence of a few kind non-judgmental souls, which helped me to realize that I am good enough as is. That is the gift of living and receiving compassion and I believe is the key to setting ourselves free.
I really do hope this helps on your journey to healing and happiness.
In a way, they stole the body away from us; we should have this education in school
Lena: You’ve had a long and fruitful career in the world of health and wellness, starting with different massage therapy techniques before transitioning your career into teaching movement; when did you develop a passion for movement?
Cecilia: I always had a passion for movement. As a child, I could never sit still; I was always running around and climbing trees. I did a lot of track and field, running around in the forest and I have been working professionally with horses. I started as a massage therapist and took my first course in 1982. I was injured a lot in my childhood. I was a very fast runner but I had to stop running when I was around 13 or 14 because I had bilateral achilles tendonitis; I got 10 cortisone injections in each Achilles tendon. I also started to get a lot of pain in my lower back. All of that led me to massage. That was more to learn about my own body because I never really got any help from chiropractors or doctors, my pain kept coming back. I was not planning to be a massage therapist full time but one thing led to another. I Started with Pilates in 2004. I needed more tools for clients, I noticed that people were sitting too much, they needed more help to move, to get active again and find their core muscles.
So massage therapy was then not a long-term solution for your clients?
No, I could help them to get rid of their tensions, pains but for them, they needed to take more self-responsibility.
You are a fully certified Stott Pilates Instructor, a trained and experienced Garuda instructor and in the last few years, you have dedicated yourself to becoming a Slings Myofascial Practitioner and Teacher Trainer for the Art of Motion Academy based on the work of Tom Myers. What led you to choose this particular path in the world of movement?
Pilates had a great effect on my body; I finally got help with my mobile body. I started to get stability in my pelvis. Pilates gave me stability but it made me kind of rigid at the same time and then in 2012, I started with Garuda and I found more movement joy in it. It was also more in line with my idea of Fascia Movement. I have been working manually with fascia since 1994 when I took my first course in connective tissue massage. There wasn’t much literature on fascia, it was more of mouth to mouth and we were like nerds talking about it in the basement. I began to work with a Swedish ‘’Naprapat’’ who had been in contact with Rolfing in the US and then I started assisting him in his Revolving courses – which is a myofascial technique that he developed and was inspired by the work of Ida Rolf. So that is where my interest and knowledge in fascia started.
So how did you come into contact with the Art of Motion’s Academy Slings Myofascial training course?
First through Garuda; it’s a technique that has a fascial movement quality. I love Garuda and it’s an amazing technique but it didn’t give me all the answers I was looking for. I wanted to know more. In 2016, I read about the course Anatomy Trains in motion that was going to be held at Anatomy Trains Summer School in Maine . I read Tom Myers book, Anatomy Trains when the first edition came out in 1999. Tom Myers was also in Sweden in 2011 to give a manual workshop. That was the first time I met him. His work for manual therapists has always been a big inspiration for me. The Anatomy Trains Summer School program in Maine and Anatomy Trains in Motion, was the first course being given outside of Switzerland – and I just had to go there to learn the movements based on Tom Myers myofascial slings. So that is how I found Anatomy Trains in Motion.
Who is Karin Gurtner?
She is from Switzerland originally and had her own Pilates Education program. Then she started to read Tom Myers books. She realized that there is more than muscles and wanted to understand more about the fascial system, so she took the whole Manual Therapy Anatomy Trains education: Structual Integration. Not to be a manual practitioner but more to understand why and how; what is really happening in the body. How can we move with these myofascial lines? After the education, she went back home; she developed the Slings Myofascial Training and the first course of that training was Anatomy Trains in Motion . She is amazing, how she really goes outside the box and can build something and create. She presented the material to Tom based on his myofascial lines and he said ”wow yes”. That’s how the Anatomy Trains in Motion started. He gets contacted from people often saying they have the perfect myofascial movement technique. It took some time but eventually, he took her under his wings and she was allowed to use the name Anatomy Trains in Motion.
That is very impressive and inspiring.
For someone that may find the term myofascial a little abstract, could you give us some examples of movements or techniques used to stimulate fascia?
Don’t get me wrong, all movements are a collaboration of fascia and muscles. Pilates is training the Fascia also. In training though it is possible to adress one system more than the other. Let’s say you train more traditional weight lifting, you focus then more on the muscle fibres; when you are running it is more the cardiovascular system. Karin Gurtner has defined 12 different movement qualities of the fascia; muscle collaboration is one of them like when the muscle and the fascia are working in collaboration. Tensile strength is another quality when you lengthen in opposition. That is a way to strengthen the fascia.
Plasticity is another fascia quality. In Yin Yoga for example, they work more with the plastic quality, when you lengthen the fascia. There is also elasticity, buoyancy; there are many different ways of working the fascia. What is unique in Karen’s work is that she combines these 12 qualities in her movement sequences.
Can you explain in your words, what is fascia and why it is important for everyone, whether they are weight lifters, dancers, or the everyday person to know about it?
Wow what a big question! Fascia is the biodynamic tissue that connects every muscle, bone, organ, and nerve in the body; it connects everything and separates everything in the body at same time. It is a communication and sensory system. Some fascia is very solid like tendons, ligaments, endomysium, epimysium, perimysium and aponeurosis. But the fascia is also a part of the extracellular matrix, what is between all the muscles and allows the sliding, gliding and communicating in between structures of the body. The periosteum (the tissue enveloping the bones) is also fascia.
Fascia needs to be moved, stressed; you need to elongate it for example with pendular movement like cats do. When you sit too much or just don’t move your body in different directions, it can retract and create adhesions. That’s the normal physiological response. Like every morning when we wake up, or we have been sitting for a long time we are a little bit stiff. When we move our bodies in different directions like in yoga, we also stimulate the fascia ”cytes” which is a cell devoted to fascial gliding, between the different layers in our bodies. There is a research from Carla Stecco in Italy; a big fascia researcher who has seen that when we move, when we stretch, we stimulate the fascia cytes to create more Hyaluron. That is basically our lotion, our glide in the body and in the joints. It’s the same when you put coconut oil in the fridge, it gets rigid, but when you stir it, when you warm it, there is a change in the viscosity.
This is important, because stiffness can come from lack of movement, trauma, and a common problem today: sitting too much. Lack of movement will decrease communication in the body; it stiffens up and creates adhesions. The fascia glues together. It’s like if you wash your favourite angora jumper too hot; it gets too small and tight and it shrinks. It is the same with collagen (one of the components in fascia). It has been shown that if you don’t stretch it and stress it, it sticks together.
Does this ‘’gluing’’ together of the fascia automatically create pain?
It can create pain. It is one of the reasons we feel pain. But since it’s a whole body system, I can have for example pain in my shoulder but it may be coming from some rigidity in my ankle. Old scars are a kind of adhesion; after an operation or injury; the scar tissue is also a kind of fascia. And if I have a scar somewhere, there will be a pull and that will create an imbalance. That is why it is necessary to keep the fascia system elastic and open. Having tightness in the fascia system is like wearing a too small bodysuit.
What kind of positive changes have you seen in yourself or your clients when you started to use the Slings Myofascial training method?
First of all, I don’t have pain in my body anymore as long as I keep doing my Slings training to keep my myofascial system stimulated. When I went to Maine in 2016, I had bilateral plantar fasciitis and I had pain in my lower back. Pains that had come and gone in my body since I was twelve years old. After I started to understand the myofascial lines and how to move with them and keep them open and connected, the less pain I would feel. It has given me an axis to keep the body open. All of us have different movement patterns, parts that will contract easier; Slings Myofascial training helps my body and I can help other people’s bodies to stay away from dysfunctional patterns. We are tensegrity models. Most people work from traditional anatomy, with the levers system. When you learn the fascia anatomy, you start to have to rethink the whole anatomy. We realize that the bones are floating in this myofascial continual web. That is what I have felt in my own body; understanding how you can move with the myofascial slings. I have also seen it in clients; it’s opened up my eyes even more. For whatever reason they come to me whether it is back pain or other issues, It has given me tools to open up the whole body.
Personally, Slings have also helped me open a lot of up frozen traumas in my body. The Slings Myofascial training has allowed me to embody, to get in contact with my body and open up these stored traumas on a deep level. The more in contact we are with our bodies the more open, resilient, the more and the brain and body communicate and become one.
It isn’t just trauma, stress also gets stored in the body, that is why it’s so important to move. All the sitting and then stress on top of that that people are experiencing…When animals are stressed they shake; like a gazelle or a rabbit after being chased. When the predator is gone and they feel safe again, they jump or shake and then start to eat again as if nothing. Unfortunately, we can store traumas and stress, we move less and less and become more and more rigid and stiff. This tension we build up in our bodies also compresses our organs and nerves; around each nerve you have three layers of fascia and around each organ you have fascia. The cell communication gets less effective. We need this body to be body and adaptable.
So do you believe that anyone can benefit from incorporating the principles of Myofascial training into their regular training?
Definitely. They can incorporate into their regular training. Everyone needs mobility and strength training. Often what you see in the Yoga studios are these very mobile people who can do all these amazing movements and often at the gym you see these rigid people. Well I am exaggerating, but more often than not it is true. It’s about finding the balance. Usually what you are getting drawn to is what you are good at. All of us have our constitution. Tom Myers calls it Vikings or Temple Dancers. Some are more rigid in their constitution and some are more mobile. We have to figure out what kind of body did I get in this life, what does my body need? I cannot compare myself to you or my neighbor because I am exceptional in my constitution, in my history. With the Slings Myofascial Training you start to discover more things about your body and yourself. That is why I like so much this expression: body and mind training.
There has been a big increase in interest in Fascia in the health and fitness world. Do you believe it may be the missing link?
Definitely. To understand historically, you can go all the way back to Vesalius, the father of anatomy in the 16th century when he began to dissect dead bodies. In those days, the bodies belonged to the church, so it was forbidden. When they started to dissect and to draw anatomy, they took away the fascia, they scraped away all the connective tissue. Still today in anatomy books, you don’t see any fascia. You only see the tendons and ligaments, all the rest doesn’t exist. When I first learned about fascia, in massage training reading traditional anatomy I learned that it was more or less just a packing material for the muscles. Anatomy will have to be rewritten in the future. We need to incorporate the fascia, you cannot deny its importance. It is there for a reason, it’s a communicative, sensory system, it is a movement system in the body.
In the old days, we have always separated things in the body; looking at each part and that is very important to look at each part but we also have to look at the system from a whole. Everything is depending on everything in a way; all parts are communicating. Which explains why pain in the shoulder could come from a knee. To understand the whole body we need to look at the fascia system. Now it’s hype; everyone is talking about fascia. But we can go back to A.T. Still, the Father of Osteopathic Medicine; he spoke about fascia. He wrote about it and understood it was there. Also Ida Rolf who is the Mother of Rolfing. She also spoke about fascia. Even Chinese Medicine; how they look at the body in a different way. What is interesting is the TCM acupuncture meridians; 80 percent collaborate with the Myofascial Slings meridians. Tom used the term meridians because he was a sailor and he was thinking of the meridians connecting the earth. In Reflexology, they connect the foot to the brain and the body. Professor Helen Langevin, who is known for studying the effects of acupuncture, could see that when they put the needles in fascia. She compared it to putting the fork in the spaghetti and when you twist the fork, you get the connection. In Chinese Acupuncture, you have stagnation in the energy, so they open up energy pathways with the needles in the fascia and when you twist the needles, you open up these stagnations.
You continue to motivate, inspire and educate your clients, family and clients with such generosity and passion. What is the message you would like to convey to them?
Keep moving; motion is lotion! What you don’t use, you lose.
We only have one body and that is what we are going to carry around for so many years until we die. I want to keep educating people so that they can understand the body so everyone becomes the expert of their own body. In a way, they stole the body away from us; we should have this education in school. If we had learned more in this way and to understand our bodies earlier in school, we would be in a much healthier state. The more you understand your body, the more you understand how it functions, how to eat, get quality sleep, good movement the better we would feel. I wish that everyone would have the accessibility to that knowledge.
Yes that is so well said, and I also wish that more people will have access to and awaken to the knowledge that is available to them. It saddens me that people are dependent on a system that focuses on disease management and not health.
I am over 60 and I have never felt as much movement freedom in my body as I do now. I’ve always been training and moving, I’ve done martial arts, riding, weight lifting yoga, but understanding the myofascial slings and Karin’s work really gave me back my movement freedom. I will always keep on learning and still have a lot to learn – we are born to die ‘’unfinished’’.
There is nothing more freeing and precious than having that freedom.
Yes and I feel sorry for those who haven’t experienced movement freedom and joy in their body. Also those don’t have that experience and accessibility. You don’t know what you don’t know. You need references to understand.
It’s often when people are in pain that they start to look for answers.
Yes but you have to look at how many years has taken to get this pain. Most pains have built up for years. People often come to me and say that they got a slipped disc from lifting their arm but it’s really from years and years of immobility, adhesions, imbalances and overload.
I really appreciate you sharing your time and knowledge. Your story and path in the world of health and movement is unique and inspiring. Thank you!
I would like to share with you a very personal experience. After my mother passed away and even during her years of battling cancer, I felt very powerless. I admit that it is very painful to watch and see someone you love in pain and deteriorate – but the worse part is feeling helpless. The only way I knew how to cope at the time was to ask for nothing; I didn’t want her to have the added burden of taking care of me. After she passed, it was the most uncertain time of my life – I had lost my compass, time froze and nothing made sense. How was I going to go on without her? In an instant, I was casted out into the ‘’real world’’ and to be honest, I was very naïve about the challenges I was going to face. However, there is something that lives inside of me that lives inside of all of us and can only grow as we face adversity: resilience. I believe that life throws at us what we can handle. Not what we want, not what we expect, not what is easy but what we need to learn that will lead us to our highest potential.
Back in those days, there weren’t many alternative care options and my mother and I had no clue about the power of mindset, nutrition or lifestyle. Though I understand the need for standard medical care, I do believe that the western model lacks in wisdom and self-empowerment. Naturopathic medicine and Ayurveda for example have a holistic approach, usually including the participation of the patient. This is where our power lies; we must become a part of the equation as we start to heal our bodies, minds and souls. It is time to take our power back.
The ‘’Go to’’ Question
My greatest heartbreak was without a doubt loosing my mother. She was a diamond in the rough; the kind of sweetness a person rarely comes across in a lifetime. But like with all tragedies, there are gifts, usually invisible but powerful. It would be a close friend of my mother’s (someone I call my guardian angel) that would teach me about the power of words. In my most frantic state, she would quickly redirect my focus to: what can I do? In other words, where does my own power lie in this moment? I was clear on what I could not do; I could not bring my mother back, I could not change the system that had failed me nor annihilate cancer. But was there any way I could pick up the pieces and regain my dignity? Was there anything I could do to honour her? Absolutely. If we take the time listen, the next step to take will usually appear. And if you start rambling about all the reasons why you can’t do something, give yourself the 5-second rule. Your first answer is usually the right one. We always have a choice; we can give up and crumble or roll up our sleeves and have the courage to take the next step, as small and insignificant as it may seem. If we sit in blame, we give our power away to someone else; whether that is a person or the government or whomever’s fault it is. It’s like we are handing over the driver’s seat to someone else. We may not get to choose our challenges but we always have the opportunity to co-write the story. One thing I have learned is that there is always something. There is something I can learn, there is something I can forgive, there is a part of me I can start healing and I can honour those who didn’t get the chance to live their full potential. In the context of this worldwide pandemic, some things are bigger than us and beyond our control, but you can decide how you will react and contribute. Will you make the problem bigger by adding blame, judgment and fear or will you look for the blessings, the lessons, and the opportunities to create change and find solutions?
Immune System is Key
Our immune system constantly interacts with our internal and external environment protecting us from viruses, bacteria, yeasts, fungi, foreign proteins and even cancer cells. At the front line of our complex defense system is the skin and our mucous membranes. The lymphatic system on the other hand is the circulatory system that removes foreign cells and proteins, dumping them into the blood so that they can be broken down and eliminated. The lympathic system relies on muscle activity and exercise for the lymph to circulate. Even the functioning of your liver is important because it detoxifies the body from substances that are taxing to the immune system. The immune system may well be one of the determining factors of our state of health. Some of us may have an overactive or underactive immune system – our genetic blueprints are unique. A common sign of an overactive immune system is allergies. On the other hand, if you are prone to recurrent colds and infections, chances are you need to strengthen your immune system. There are a number of factors that either enhance or suppress the immune system aside from genetics; this is where our power lies. Stress, intense emotional experiences, chemicals in foods and water, nutrition deficiencies, a diet high in hydrogenated fats and refined sugars, pollution, excessive iron are all lowering the immune system’s efficacy. On the other end of the spectrum, a healthy diet, specific vitamins and minerals, probiotics, an optimistic attitude, exercise, relaxation and sleep are just a few factors that support the optimal function of the immune system.
So how can we nourish this complex multi-faceted defense system made of organs, bone marrow, cells, antibodies and chemicals in order to keep it strong? I like to think of the immune system as a sports team; each player has its position and role and everyone needs to help out. Each player also needs a specific set of nutrients in order to perform optimally. So if you know your diet is not optimal at the moment, you may be missing essential nutrients like vitamin A, C, D, zinc, vitamin E and selenium. One of the best and most cost efficient ways to get the essentials is to take a basic multi vitamin and mineral supplement. Of course, nothing can replace a healthy diet that includes sufficient water, fiber, adequate protein, and essential fatty acids.
Vitamin C in particular has been shown to increase production of ‘‘interferon’’, a substance with antiviral effects. Levels of this vitamin are often decreased in the presence of stress, surgery, colds and other infections. If you choose to take a vitamin C supplement, make sure it includes bioflavonoids, which increase cellular defense against microbes. You may not be able to stop a pandemic, but you can empower yourself and your loved ones to take steps towards and stronger and healthier immune system.
Though it is important to remain informed, everyday, many of us are bombarded with news that creates more uncertainty and keeps us in a state of fear and anxiety. Interestingly enough, our bodies have the same physiological reaction to stress whether it is coming from our external environment or from our thoughts and feelings. In other words, just by thinking about what we fear, we send our bodies into fight or flight mode. This stress response increases our heart rate, blood pressure, constricts blood vessels, decreases blood flow to the digestive tract and internal organs and even raises blood sugar levels. So you can start to imagine what happens to our bodies over time if we are constantly thinking about a potential threat. Chronic stress can cause anything from headaches to backaches to increased infections; not to mention stress’ correlation to several diseases including cancer. Remember that the media’s job is to keep you hooked. There is no secret formula on how much media coverage and ‘’corona talk’’ you should let in; you need to make this conscious decision for yourself.
The opposite of activating the stress mechanisms in the body is the parasympathetic system – your rest and repair mode. There are so many wonderful ways to nurture this: meditation, affirmations, yoga and breathing. In this state, we digest food properly, we make the hormones the body needs, and we repair muscles. It is believed that the more we stay in this state, the healthier we are. So if you are stuck inside, take this wonderful opportunity to meditate, pick up a book you have been wanting to read, learn a new recipe, try a new yoga routine, listen to beautiful music or my favorite emotional release technique: dancing!
When I look back and this crisis will have passed, I hope that I can be proud of the person I was and the choices I made. I hope that I did my best to be compassionate, kind and use this time wisely.
In the meantime, stay strong in mind and spirit so that you can continue to shine your light. We will get through this.
My entire life, I felt a strong connection to Sweden. In 2016, I left it all : the ‘’safe’’ career, the apartment, the car, my students, friends, family and connections I cared deeply about to propel myself into uncertainty. I knew that I would need to adjust to the culture but I would have never imagined that the weather would be an issue since I was moving from Canada. However, it wasn’t the cold winters that were the biggest challenge ; it was the darkness. In November and December for example, there are very few hours of daylight, if any. Part of Sweden’s charm though is that you can see electrical candlesticks shining through the windows of almost every home. On the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Swedes celebrate Advent, which means arrival ; where they light the first candle on the advent candlestick. It is a sign that Christmas is coming ; but for me it was a reminder that this period too shall pass and that there is light at the end of this tunnel.
Now, you don’t need to have lived in Sweden to know what it is like to be in dark place in your life. Life has its seasons too and we can’t always be in that blissful, flowing and energetic state. These dark periods are usually a space where the days overlap ; time seems to be frozen and you may even want to hibernate indefinitely. You might feel heavy, isolated, sad, hopeless, depleted or all of the above. So what can you do to make this time not only more bearable but also move through it with grace and energy? Over the years, I have actually learned to not only appreciate, but also embrace the dark seasons in life as a time to go inwards, slow down, heal and reassess. Hopefully these five tips will help make your journey a little brighter.
There are days when I want to move to a tropical island – Maybe you can relate too? Yet, when I started to become attuned with Nature’s or life’s seasons and stopped trying to resist reality, it became much more manageable. If we really listen, the change of seasons brings a necessary shift not only in terms of weather, but also in the energy inside of us and around us. The fall for example is a harvesting and gathering time of the year and it is a time to pay attention to our own thoughts and feelings. Just like the trees, we have the opportunity to shed the layers of what we have accumulated throughout the year – that which no longer serves us. It is time to sit with our own thoughts, disappointments and feelings. Perhaps we have been feeling a certain way about a job, a partner or friend and it is time to acknowledge those feelings. Maybe we realize that we have been taking on too much for too long ; perhaps we need to accept that we too are changing. Transitions are uncomfortable but they can become a beautiful catalyst for the change that needs to happen. During this time there also seems to be a need to slow down, rest, ground and go inwards. We tend to try to push ourselves through life at full speed until we eventually crash. For many years, I overstretched myself ; juggling jobs, studying, dancing and taking care of others. I was burning the candle at both ends and my body payed a heavy price. The takeaway should be that what we resist or ignore not only persists but it continues to grow like bad weeds. In other words, if you are cursing the darkness or pretending that it’s business as usual, you might actually be making it worse. When I take the time to slow down and attune to the season, I feel intuitively that I am in the right place. It’s a sense of congruence or wholeness. That is usually when my greatest insights about life, relationships and career emerge. What shows up might not be pretty or convenient but there is nothing more freeing than living your most authentic life and knowing the truth. You become unstoppable, doubt starts to fade and magic starts to happen.
It is no surprise that many of us feel fatigued during the dark seasons. We might need to accept that our bodies and minds need more rest, but it may also be that our diet isn’t giving us what we need. Modern technology and global trade has allowed us to have access to all types of foods all year round, but that may not be in our favor. Mother Nature is very cleaver and understands what our bodies need at different times of the year. Autumn for example gives us rich and dense foods that need to be heated such as whole grains, squashes and sweet potatoes. The Winter is often a time for rich, warm and heavier foods that protect us from the cold. If you are indeed feeling tired, it can be really helpful to eat a diet full of easily digested complex carbs. I am of course not talking about sugar or processed carbs (aka junk food). Whole grains such as brown rice and starchy vegetables create wonderful sustaining sources of energy known as ATP. Carbs have gotten a bad reputation in the last years, but healthy complex carbs are loaded with essential nutrients and fiber that nourish us, improve digestion and help balance our blood sugar levels (which is key in maintaining energy). Of course, every person is a little different so listen to your own body and stick to whole foods as much as possible. Eating too many processed and chemical laden foods causes the liver to overwork and can make you even more tired.
It is also likely that you have heard of the need for vitamin D during winter season but did you know that studies have shown that people living in the Northern Hemisphere are Vitamin D deficient for several months of the year? Vitamin D is essential for several important functions in the body such as bone health and immunity. Also, there is increasing evidence that there is an association between Vitamin D insufficiency and depression. The National Institute for Health recommends 600 IU’s per day of the sunshine vitamin for adults up to 70 – although this could differ according to your country, so please check. Also, increasing the amount of B vitamin’s is helpful for converting carbs, fats and protein into usable energy. Taking a B-complex supplement has been a game changer for me during the most hectic times in my life. I believe that not enough attention is put on the level of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) in our bodies yet the body needs them to carry out many functions. We are eating plenty but somehow many of us are still malnourished – that is our bodies are starving for these precious gems of nutrition. However, if you are chronically exhausted, it is best to visit your medical health professional. Personally, I have greatly benefited from visiting a Naturopath who helped me understand the importance of nutrition as well as creating sustainable and positive lifestyle habits.
The Thing About Coffee
Swedes are one of the biggest coffee consumers in the world, so I know they will not be thrilled with me for saying that your caffeine consumption may actually be making you more fatigued. Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant and produces a temporary increase in mental clarity and energy levels, however it has several adverse effects. Caffeine stimulates the adrenals and initially lowers blood sugar levels, often leading to hunger or cravings for sweets. The rapid spiking and dropping of blood sugar levels often leads to tiredness, making you want to drink more. Caffeine is also a diuretic, leading to loss of liquids, minerals and vitamins that the body requires to function optimally. The other issue is that the amount needed to create that initial ‘’kick’’ effect increases with regular use and eventually we need the drug to function. So if you cannot live without your coffee, make sure you are taking a basic vitamin and mineral supplement, drinking enough water and keeping your blood sugar levels steady. I have found that the more balanced diet I consume with enough healthy fats (including nuts, seeds, avocado and healthy oils) combined with enough rest, the less caffeine I need. Matcha, green or herbal teas can be wonderful alternatives and offer many health benefits!
Breathe, Revitalize, Move
Ok this one is straightforward: we need to breathe deeper! Oxygen is the most vital nutrient, yet most of us are shallow breathers and do not use its energy potential. Deeper breathing energizes our bodies. Often when I am teaching a group, I am amazed to see the immense tension people hold in their chest, shoulder and rib area. That is why I like the ‘’neutral’’ Pilates position lying on your back with the knees bent or legs supported. This allows you to be in a tension free position, which then allows for the ribcage to move more freely. The movement of the ribs should be three-dimensional – think like a balloon filling up with air. Try to relax the neck and shoulder muscles. We really just need to notice the breath for it to naturally become smoother and deeper. It’s a free mindfulness practice that you can implement at any time.
In these dark times, we may feel the need to slow down but the human body is meant to move – think of it as essential as eating and breathing. Even if you are feeling tired and lethargic, there is a movement routine out there for you that will fit your mood as well as uplift and energize your body and mind. I recommend finding a mindful movement practice that focuses on breath and posture. It doesn’t have to be high intensity to give us major benefits – remember that a little goes a long way. Whether it is Yoga, Pilates, Garuda, Dance or Tai Chi ; choose something that lights you up – soon you won’t be able to live without it! Good posture also helps us breath better, invigorates us and improves how we feel about ourselves. Another bonus is that these mindful practices make us aware of our tensions and blockages; which can then be released by movement. Muscle constrictions are costly in terms of energy. Don’t get me wrong, I do like an upbeat and intense workout but just like with our lives, we tend to be forceful with our bodies. Add stress to that and we become walking balls of tension. I always notice how peaceful a person is by the way they move and carry themselves with flow and ease. Make sure you schedule in the time though ; when I am tight on time, 15 minutes is all I need to make a world of difference.
Remember That the Light Will Come
Whether the darkness is literal or figurative, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the layers of our own despair – but I promise that these feelings will fade if you let them. You don’t need to have a plan or all the answers as to how you will make it through. If there is something I have learned it’s that the human spirit is infinitely resilient. Consider the idea that the light cannot exist without its opposite – like night and day. And just like a plant, the light needs us to nourish it for it to grow. What you focus on has the power to change how you feel. I used to ask myself over and over ‘’why me? Why did this happen?’’. After years of self-torment, I realized that none of those questions were useful or even helpful. When you get sick and tired of being at a dead end, you need to start asking yourself better questions. For example: what do I have right now in this moment that is good? What do I truly need in this moment? What lights me up? What can I do right now to bring me a little piece of joy or happiness? It can be the smallest of things: lighting a candle, petting your dog, cuddling up while sipping a cup of your favorite warm drink… Bottom line ; Ask powerful questions. Notice. Listen.
The darkest times of my life are the reason why I am able to savor the most ordinary moments ; why I see the miracles of mundane acts of kindness and love. They have made me incredibly resilient and forged the strength of my character. There is nothing more powerful than someone who has been broken to pieces in their darkest moments and built themselves back up. I embrace the darkness because I know that at the end of this road there is always a rainbow, you just need to have a little faith.
‘’Only in the darkness can you see the stars’’ – Martin Luther King. Jr.
Have you ever asked yourself what is the driving force in your life? What motivates you to get out of bed, put makeup on, climb the corporate ladder, workout, maintain a difficult relationship or update your status on social media? The truth is that my life has been a constant dance between dreaded obligations, my multiple passions and the desire to help others. For over a decade, I was in that space of just ‘’surviving’’ the day, the next week, month or year; there was no way I could fathom having a list of long term goals or a dream board. Purpose and fun were nowhere on the to do list. I just had to pull through until my next break.
Then something happened – I got tired of being exhausted, anxious and unhappy. I had become a dance educator at an inner city school because I wanted to make a difference – and to be fair, it was one the most rewarding experiences of my life. Sadly it came at a price that I was no longer willing to pay; the sacrifice of my own health and happiness. At 28, I was at a breaking point; I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror gasping for air and trying to pull myself together for the next group. The truth is I had taken on too much for too long – I was one who always said yes; the one who always had to over-deliver; the one who believed I could save a crumbling education system; the one who could juggle multiple jobs and play caretaker. I was superwoman – or at least I wanted to be. The truth is I was overworked, drowning in my own grief from of the loss of my parents, in pain from neglecting my own body and buried in a mountain of debt. How was I going to get myself out? It seemed impossible – but I was desperate for change.
As crazy as this may sound, I heard a voice from within tell me; there is more, it doesn’t have to be this way; you matter too and you deserve to be happy. Call it universe, intuition, divine intervention or whatever you like; those words changed everything for the simple reason that I didn’t even know that any of those things were possible for me. I thought happiness, money, family, and health were for others more fortunate – NOT an underdog like me.
I had no idea how I was going to create the change that I needed but it started with just that; believing that things could get better. And slowly over the course of several years, they did. At first, I didn’t know where to turn but I started by looking for answers outside of my immediate environment; going to new places, reading and meeting new people with different perspectives. Most importantly, I stopped playing people pleaser/saviour and started listening to my own inner guidance.
Because that is the thing is when you are too busy proving yourself to everyone else, your blinders make you blind to the world outside of your own and you end up missing all the signs and possibilities.
Interestingly enough, the greatest catalyst of my transformation would fall into my lap in the form of a book. A Naturopath had introduced this book to me years before – the same Naturopath who had helped me wean off my anti-depressant medication using the power of plant medicine, food and lifestyle changes. She had pointed out the book ‘’Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom’’ to me, by Dr. Christiane Northrup. To which my first thought was: ‘’Yeah yeah, I don’t have time to read a book lady!’’ Several months later the title popped into my head again and I knew I needed to get it. When I finally read the introduction, I could not put the book down; It was one of my life’s biggest AHA’s.
I had been living an illusion my whole life. I wasn’t superwoman – I was a martyr! Like many other women, I had been conditioned by a selfless mother and by a culture that tells us that nice women put everyone else’s needs ahead of her own. She never says no and endures the mistreatment of others. The praise of self-sacrifice had been reaffirmed to me over and over throughout my dance training. Since I was particularly stiff, had the ‘’wrong’’ body type and lacked training I had to make up for it by working 10x harder than the others – even when it did damage to my body. My self-worth and confidence had been built upon my resilience and ability to endure, but that all backfired – eventually.
So why am I writing this are you wondering? Why did I decide to create Heart & Body Wisdom? Because it has become imperative for me to clarify what my driving force is. After all this isn’t just a means to an end. Heart and Body Wisdom was created from the heart; as my soul project, with a big mission.
So here is my honest and truest answer; I have had a long-time burning desire to share my mother’s and my own story in the hope that it can inspire change. I believe I was put here to challenge our legacy of self-neglect – but also to help heal, elevate and teach others how to better take care of their bodies, while also listening to their own inner wisdom. And now, I am finally giving myself permission to give voice to my purpose and dreams.
It took me a long time to understand that it is all of our birthright’s to have an extraordinary, meaningful life. I also know that when we are feeling our best, we overflow with more to share with others. We can give from a place of power, love and abundance – instead of lack and bitterness. So my mission is to serve YOU my purpose-driven-big-hearted-kind-souls on your journey to a strong, healthy and vibrant life.
I know I still have a long way to go – I don’t pretend to have all the answers and I consider myself a student for life. But after more than decade of working as a teacher, movement educator and more recently a nutrition and health coach, I find myself finally ready to humbly share my knowledge and lessons with you.
I am excited to share this windy journey with you and I only hope I can be of service to as many as possible on this journey of healing and happiness.