Where’s the Tipping Point?

Originally published for www.triskelecollaborative.com

The founder of Triskele Collaborative, Kim Adams, and I met with an astute wellness coach who works for an insurance company this morning, and we spent a good bit of time bouncing ideas around about how, when, and where the tipping point will happen in our country’s health care system when it is able to truly prevent disease and promote “health”. We all understand that the system as it’s currently set up incentivizes medical care and services over preventation. Even if you have zero knowledge on this topic but watch television enough to notice that every fourth commercial is for a pharmaceutical, you already have some understanding of this perspective. Only two countries in the world allow direct to consumer drug advertisements- the U.S. and New Zealand. This is not to say we are against pharmaceuticals or don’t appreciate biomedical innovation; to the contrary. But consider this: 70% of Americans take at least one prescription drug, 13% of our population is on an anti-depressant, and research suggests smarter medication use could save us $213 billion in health care costs. I am remembering a quote by William Osler, Founding Father of Johns Hopkins Hospital: “One of the first duties of the physicians is to educate the masses not to take medicine.”

infographic

Source: Bipartisan Policy Center

The founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale lived and worked around the same time as Osler, reflecting his sentiments on the role of health care: “The very first requirement in a hospital is that it should do the sick no harm.” But harm it has done. In the process of trying to heal, hospital-acquired infections are among the top five leading causes of death in U.S. patients admitted to the hospital. Health care spending exceeds our spending on war and education combined in our country, but we still have some of the lowest health outcomes and the highest infant mortality rate of the 27 wealthiest countries in the world (for these and other curious statistics on health inequality and mortality in the U.S., visit www.infobombing.org).

Clearly, something has to change. And soon.

Well what those outside of the health care industry do about this? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Consider the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) 2014 forecast that cancer cases worldwide will rise by 75% in the next two decades. It is estimated that 90-95% of cancer diagnoses in the United States are rooted in environmental and lifestyle factors, including 25-30% from tobacco use, and 30-35% attributable to diet. Cancer does not happen overnight. In many cases, it is a disease process many years in the making with tumor propagation happening more readily in the presence of chronic inflammation, depression, stress, and lack of social support. For more information, read Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes.

(University of Washington family medicine professor and pioneer palliative care doctor Dr. Stu Farber died on February 27 of this year after battling acute myelogenous leukemia. His story “Living Every Minute” is a thoughtful account of what it’s like to be a patient catapulted inside medical the system after having served for years from the outside as an end-of-life provider. His words are revelations, offering a new systemic perspective of his life’s work.)

This all brings me back to Triskele Collaborative, our meeting this morning, and the efforts we and other organizations are making to help reach a tipping point in the arena of workplace well-being. As our colleague Chris Free so adequately stated, “To many people a ‘wellness program’ means it’s an app on your phone that if you push the button enough, you get a gift certificate to Applebee’s.” That’s not what Triskele is about, and that was never the intent of all the wellness initiatives being implemented by various insurance companies in response to the Affordable Care Act either. But why are these jokes so prevalent in the health and wellness world? Because artificial incentives and lip service programs are merely an artifact of the strangulated larger system of “profits before people” we often experience in corporate reality. We insert hopeful programs like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, and the needle has microscopically shifted toward lowering childhood obesity rates. Even still, many are still faced with trending lifestyle norms that encourage us to be sedentary and isolated far more than we’d like on a regular basis (Seattle traffic, ahem!) If we are going to shift this tide, we have to step away from these conversations and wade upstream as far as possible, to collectively envision a different way of being. And a different way of working.

Let’s hold hands Red Rover style as we collectively wade our way up this turbulent stream…

My story is familiar to many in the health care community. The reason I wanted to become a nurse was to help people prevent disease and support the whole health of my patients, however they define optimal health to be. That means I listen and get to know them as a person, stepping away from my human tendency toward judgment and all the “rules” of the system (moderate cardiovascular fitness five times a week, 5-7 fruits and vegetables a day, etc. etc.) as much as possible. I wanted to be able to truly hear patients, to get to know them and connect with them on a human level, and support them in facing an illness or making personal behavior changes they identify as needing to happen.

Unfortunately our medical system does not always support this idealistic notion of patient-centered nursing I embarked on almost a decade ago. I also began under the impression that our evidence based practice research held all the answers, and that being an advanced practice nurse would just be a matter of knowing when and where to identify the best options for patients. But as Dr. Colin Champ says in the introduction of his book Misguided Medicine, “Fifty percent of medicine is wrong.” That’s right, when investigators look at large, rigorous and randomized trials over time, evidence shows that reversals in established medical practices are the norm about half of the time.

Thankfully I was re-aligned with my intention as a nurse when I began working in environmental health with a non-profit called Health Care Without Harm that focused on identifying and preventing the ways in which our health care system causes harm to our patients and planet. My world further opened after following a desire to promote self-care in nursing, so I began wellness coach trainings with Vera Whole Health and the International Nurse Coach Association. It was as if a huge light bulb went off in my head showing me how to integrate everything I’d read and understood about the mind/body/spiritual aspects of health from authors like Dean Ornish, Deepak Chopra, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Candace Pert, and Bruce Lipton. These physicians and medical researchers teach us what we innately know to be true: that genes are not our destiny, that health is intricately connected with environment, relationships, and lifestyle, and that we often underestimate the remarkable capacity of our mind and spirit to promote health and healing.

patient doctorThen, when I finally met Triskele Collaborative’s visionary founder Kim Adams (also a nurse!), I knew I was in alignment with my purpose. The people and organizations that have been attracted to Triskele’s work finally feel like “my tribe”. We are looking at and health and well-being from a systems perspective and helping businesses re-design the way they do business, from the micro to the macrocosm. This group has waded far, far upstream and joined the movement of edge runners1 who have begun throwing out the life rafts. We can change the system and we are, but we need all hands on deck.

The purpose of Triskele Collaborative is to transform businesses into innovative and thriving entities by modeling living systems. We understand that in order to do this, organizations must invest in the well-being of their people, the chemicals and building blocks of living systems. We understand that when people come before profits- when we are able to identify the unique talent of each individual and care about them as people, this investment in humanity makes employees not only more engaged, innovative, happy, and healthy at work, but the bi-product is a healthier financial bottom line for the business (not to mention it’s great PR and a magnet for Millennials!).

What does this mean? Without getting too detailed, it could mean something different for each organization. As a baseline, it could be a Whole Ecosystem Health Assessment© of your business, measuring individual and group health culture, presenteeism, and engagement to find where your priority interventions lie. It could be a strategic growth plan with the executive team or helping build sustainable stress management into your employee training program. It could be focusing on individual goals with a 1:1 Triskele Catalyst Coach2 or engaging in a self-directed online smoking cessation program. Perhaps you’d like us to co-create standard operating procedures around conducting meetings or setting email boundaries within your business. It could also involve a discussion with Triskele’s insurance consultant to identify whether switching to a self-funded plan is the right strategy for your company.

At the core of Triskele Collaborative is a desire to help businesses do things differently. To shift from the “Predict and Control” machine model hierarchy to the “Sense and Respond” mechanisms inherent in living systems. This means we take your unique situation and priorities into consideration to design a well-being program that fits your one-of-a-kind organization.

Tracking the Return on Investment (ROI) of the well-being investments you make with Triskele is critically important. Another reason why many discussions around workplace health and wellness programs are so limited is that they are often reduced to exclusively tracking savings around reduced health care costs. While this is critically important, Triskele also offers systemic workplace interventions with significant ROI and capacity to improve employee and business health across the board. A snapshot of these include: 1) Emotional Wellness Programs, an estimated 116:1 to 240:1 ROI, 2) Employee Engagement Programs, estimated 300% operating margin ROI, 40% reduction in turnover, improved customer service and innovation, and 3) Process Improvement, Efficiency, Lean Technology, with a wide ROI ranges of 30-900% improvements well documented.

Many Triskele consultants have health care experience, so we look to the most efficient self-managing system the world has ever known as our guide, the human body. Our bodies have the capacity to autonomously and simultaneously perform thousands of tasks daily that keep us alive- converting food to energy, filtering air to breath, warding off harmful microbes and viruses through our circulatory and lymphatic systems, repairing wounds, rebuilding cellular matrix, and mentally responding to the world around us. Without conscious intervention, multiple organ systems function interdependently so that we can breath, move, absorb and release energy, perform cognitive tasks, engage with other human beings, and even nurture new life.

The ultimate goal of a business should be that it is organized in such a way that it can not only nurture the talent and potential of each individual employee, but also be flexible to potential threats and opportunities amidst a chaotic system.

When and how will healthy behaviors and environments become the primary driver of health- rather than what we spend on being healthy?

We are wading our way upstream because we realize we can’t wait for the system to change. We must shift our perspective, leveraging health and well-being from the inside out, rather than the opposite way around. We may also need to shift our value of health care services as the primary driver of “ being healthy.”

Our “health” is all of life as we experience it. It is having friends we communicate with and can confide in when we need to. It’s having jobs and hobbies where we feel like our lives have meaning and we are creating something for the greater good. It is knowing how and with whom we experience energy and actively seeking that joy each and everyday, not just on weekends or on vacation. This means building “health” into our workdays and understanding our well-being to be something that is energetically connected to every other living system we encounter- including the places where we work.

In Conclusion

The Law of Diffusion of Innovations seeks to explain how, why, and when new ideas, technology, and movements spread throughout cultures. The theory communicates how new concepts are spread through channels in a social system. In this model:

  • The first 2.5% of the population innovators
  • The next 13.5% are early adopters (perhaps you could call them “first followers”)
  • The next 34% are the early majority
  • The next 34% are the late majority
  • The last 16% are laggards

Innovators and early adopters are more comfortable making that gut decision based on what they believe about the world. (People will do things that prove what they believe). The law says that if you want mass-market acceptance of an idea, you cannot have it until you achieve the tipping point between 15-18% market penetration.

A few characteristics make adoption innovation more likely within an organization, which is both an aggregate of individuals and its system. They include: 1) tension for change (motivation & ability), 2) innovation-system fit (compatibility), and 3) assessment of implications.

I interpret this to mean that until we have 15-18% of businesses that adopting this living system model of organizational evolution, we may not see the tipping point that makes your workday a life-giving and health promoting experience. Nor will we connect that the health of a business is dynamically interconnected to the well-being of its people. “So how do we measure this movement?” you may ask. Contact us today. We’d love to talk with you more about it.

The time is ripe for a tipping point in health and business. The time is ripe for Triskele Collaborative.

*Disclaimer: I have yet to actually read The Tipping Point…

1Edge Runners, a term coined by Leland Kaiser referring to health futurists who push their ideas forward, often against strong resistance. The momentum and results from these people often lead to necessary and permanent changes in systems and practices. Source: American Academy of Nurses, “Raise the Voice”, (2006).

2Triskele Catalyst Coaches are our combined team of executive coaches, life coaches, and integrative nurse coaches with a collected wealth of knowledge and experience. A catalyst is any substance that helps to accelerate a chemical reaction. The team of Triskele Catalyst Coaches will work with you to target the outcome you want with the timing you need, in an individual or group context.

 

 

 

 

 

If I Could Talk to Dad Today…

As we settle into a new year and slowly digest the feasibility of our “2015 Resolutions”, let’s take a moment to question how the word “resolution” can set us up for failure and to explore how our individual goals relate to the rapid advancement in human evolution we’re now experiencing. Rather than focusing on losses and gains in 2014 and hopes and fears for 2015, I find myself reflecting on the large scale acceleration toward universal human consciousness, a trajectory that’s gaining momentum like never before in the history of our planet (except for maybe 80,000 years ago, but we’ll get to that later…).

Now back to my criticism of “resolutions” for a moment. From a coaching standpoint, the word is limited in its perspective and framing, which is why fewer than 10% of all stated resolutions actually stick all year long. By saying “I resolve to x,y,z…”, we leave out the all important elements of intention and relationship to personal values, driving forces behind those who are able to manifest and sustain a desired behavior change. When we’re too vague or too specific in our “resolutions”, we don’t allow wiggle room for the many ways in which they could manifest nor do we connect a value basis for why this should happen. Thirdly, “resolutions” are more likely to succeed when we connect them to our personal strengths, which motivate sustained effort and progress toward a goal. And last but not least, goals, resolutions, whatever you may call them, are MUCH more likely to be achieved if we write them down and re-visit them regularly. Do with that what you will. :)

This time of year more than thinking about goals, I find my mind wandering to my dad and the conversations I’d love to have with him while sitting outside on the porch drinking coffee together in the morning as we both loved to do.

My father was a hardworking entrepreneur who loved to forecast trends he thought would happen in the future. In short, he was a visionary. He described the cellular phone market and many facets of telecommunication to me years before they existed. In the 1980’s he predicted large universities from all over the world would broadcast lectures to share with one another, that everyone would have a cellular phone as small as the palm of their hand and that we’d all have a small ID chips embedded in our wrists that held our identity and even our credit card strip so we could scan our wrists to make transactions (that last one is a bit scary but not impossible). Dad passed away on January 19, 2003, 12 years ago today. What I wouldn’t give to sit down with him today and talk about how he sees our world, our shifting global perspective, and what he predicts will happen in the next 50 years. I can only imagine what he’d have to say…

“Hard Work, Honesty, and Good Luck”

“Success is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.” –Colin Powell

My father’s father, Naseep Thomas, came to the United States from Lebanon on June 10, 1912 on a vessel named Tollbridge. My grandfather Naseep worked with his father John Thomas (my father was named after him) as a dry goods merchant for many years after they settled near the East Texas town of Tyler. They worked very hard and were honest businessmen, developing a reputation of being reliable and friendly immigrants in East Texas. They would often travel as much as 30 miles a day, peddling lace and other dry goods, and “saving every penny”. It was a significant moment for the family when my great grandfather John Thomas had saved enough to invest in a horse and buggy for his business so he could then travel farther and carry more than he could on foot.

My grandfather Naseep and his siblings all developed the same hardworking and honest traits their father and mother had taught them, and he also saved every penny. Popee (as we called him) also grew up to be a calculated and savvy businessman. Without his father knowing, my grandfather saved enough to make a small investment in an East Texas oil well. Popee was so terrified from the time he committed his money until the moment they learned it would be a successful well, that he fled town to stay with relatives in El Paso, fearing his father would punish him for being careless with their hard-earned livelihood if the investment failed. Luckily my grandfather’s intuition (or luck as he said) served him, and- although not an extravagant revenue source- it represented the first time his family was able to live without fear of not being able to put food on the table. And so began a tradition of honor and gratitude in my family for the fruits of the earth and its natural resources, particularly oil and gas from East Texas.

What would my father have to say today if we could talk about the fact that that the consequences of good fortune many have seen from the oil and gas industry and that first carried his father out of poverty is now linked to the question of whether or not humans will roam the earth two centuries from now? What would he say about carbon emissions  increasing at a rate of 2% per year, contributing to the highest concentrations of greenhouse gases on earth in 800,000 years, and now changing global weather patters?

Perhaps we’d talk about how “excellence has outdone itself” in our global quest to extract more and more fossil fuels from the earth to support a growing population and consumer driven economy that has made unsafe the air we breath, causing global icecaps to melt and our oceans to rise at an unprecedented rate. What would Dad invest in or imagine we could create given our new technology in renewable energy sources?

(p.s. If you want to read more on the science but from a source that is not too excessive or dry, check out the U.K. Royal Society’s “Climate Change: Evidence and Causes.” It’s clear and accessible and includes common questions like, “If the world is warming, why are some winters and summers still very cold?” and “How fast is sea level rising?”)

“Live By Your Word”

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” –Joseph Pristley

Dad never wanted to rely on email as a means of doing business, and in 2003, he saw things headed that direction. Dad loved people, and he feared a reliance on email would take away from the value of doing business with a handshake, a phone call, or the all important face-to-face conversation. He was right. Even though Dad predicted the rapid progression toward cellular phones use for mobile communication (he used to carry a chunky “Zack Morris” original banana phone in his car), he’d likely be both astonished and downtrodden by the way we rely so heavily on email, text messaging, and other forms of technology to communicate big ideas with one another. Given that an estimated 60-90% of communication is non-verbal, messages being primarily conveyed through other cues including body language and vocal elements, I believe Dad’s resistance to email and electronic-based communication as a primary means of doing business was correct. It would be MOST entertaining to join Dad in making fun of my brother, who is easier to get in touch with via Facebook messenger than a phone call! (granted, it is his job). J

I recently had a meaningful conversation with a friend and former colleague from my work with international non-profit Health Care Without Harm. Many of their employees and contractors work from their home offices all over the world, getting together a few times a year for conferences and group planning. The nature of their work almost requires it, developing environmental health programs for hospitals nationally and implementing them regionally. She mentioned that although her position has been quite rewarding, she was realizing how hard it has been for her to work in the virtual world: she and her co-workers across the country are collaborating on important, world changing projects together, yet they desire the ability to connect with one another face-to-face more often than is feasible. She mentioned that a couple of her colleagues were battling autoimmune illnesses and said, “I can’t help but wonder if the stress of this virtual workplace has contributed to their disease.”

An intelligent client and I were also talking the other day when she reflected on the difference in communication styles between her oldest son in his early thirties and her youngest son in his mid-twenties. The younger one is involved in online media and constantly using text messages and Facebook for information exchange and as a means of relational communicating. She said her older son prefers communication similar to her own style- face to face or over the phone. She paused for a moment and asked me directly, “I wonder if this is changing us- as in humans?” The short answer is…yes, it is.

My father died before I began building my “nursing tool belt” and before the many recent advances in the fields of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and epigenetics we’ve experienced over the past 12 years. If he were here, I’d love to talk to him about the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI)- the study between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the body. Our bodies are “Living Matrices”, energy fields that absorb and emit information from every other field they encounter, whether it be people, animals, food, or our environments. It is true that my friend’s theory about the potential of autoimmune disease to evolve from a solitary work environment is absolutely possible. We all notice how our encounters with certain people fill us with energy and we feel a synergistic “heart flutter” when spending time with people who make us happy. And other times we feel energy drains from encounters, where our gut becomes heavy and we experience the need to distance ourselves from someone. Again, I am in awe of advances in scientific research over recent years that offer insight to the evolution of our species and confirm the intuitive thoughts we may or may not have had about human nature and our interactions with one another.

And to answer my client’s question with one small piece of evidence- communication channels that rely more heavily on social media and an overload of information rather than our previously exclusive face-face talks, handwritten letters, and phone calls distract from a phenomenon many successful businesspeople learn known as “hypercommunication”, or the ability to access information from intuition- outside of his or her personal knowledge base. Stress, anxiety, and a hyperactive brain are known to prevent hypercommunication.

Nature illustrates hypercommunication in countless ways as a means of survival. Take for example ants, where hypercommunication is woven into daily existence. When the queen ant is physically removed from her colony, the other ants continue to build according to the plan. However, if the queen ant is killed even while not in the colony, all the ants from her colony become aimless and the work instantly halts.

No matter how much or little we must rely on electronic communication in our relationships and working life, let us never forget the critical need for human touch, for looking someone in the eye and telling them how you care for them, and for listening to the whispers of your own “Living Matrix”- hinting toward something out of balance, words left unsaid, or appreciation for honoring your innate intuition.

Life Force Energy

“A human being falsely identifies himself with his physical form because the life currents from the soul are breath-conveyed into the flesh with such intense power that man mistakes the effect for a cause, and idolatrously imagines the body to have life of its own.” -Paramahansa Yoganada, Autobiography of a Yogi
During the 2010-2011 Winter Break from my Masters in Community/Public Health Nursing, I visited Belize to volunteer with a team of midwives in the San Ignacio Community Hospital. It was incredible to witness the miracle of childbirth within this cultural and medical realm- how little modern medicine intervened during what is considered a natural part of life. Ibuprofen was given for labor pains, we monitored the mother and baby’s vitals, and provided emotional support to the moms, but other than these minimal interventions, I basically helped the midwives keep our patients and their families as comfortable as possible until delivery. The births I witnessed were beautiful, emotional, and miraculous. The experience for these families was also a radical contrast to those I’ve observed in the U.S.

Don’t get me wrong, when (if) the time comes for me to have a baby, I’ll be significantly relieved to know that the options of having an epidural or emergency C-section should I need them would be immediately available. But I still recall with reverence the purity of my experience in San Ignacio- and my rejuvenated awe for our physiological “life force energy” toward optimal functioning- without modern medical interventions.

The human body is not a mere mass of organs and bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments, arteries and veins, hormones and neurotransmitters. Each of us is a brilliant, perfectly choreographed orchestra, an energetic field with billions of atoms, seamlessly and constantly balancing input and output information from the world outside our field and our unconscious mind within. Coming from someone who took “physics for poets” during undergrad, this new respect for Quantum Physics has been a significant shift. But it means everything to me as a nurse, a coach, and a yogi, and in dealing with some of my own health issues (hypothyroidism and Celiac Disease). I began nursing school with a strong desire to help “fix” those suffering from disease and under the impression that modern medicine offered all the tools and research needed to do this; I now lovingly embrace the absurdity of my preconceived notion.

The process of combining integrative wellness coaching with nursing honors the life force energy within each of us. It turns the prescriptive notion of “provider as expert” on its back. Instead it shifts the paradigm to prioritize intuitive wisdom of each individual as the expert in co-creating a plan of care. It asks what optimal health looks like for each person and defines our real and imagined boundaries for getting there. Coaching is about connecting with heart, offering support for the journey, and guiding clients to be present with what is before collaboratively moving forward. It challenges reductionist diagnoses by getting us out of our heads and into our bodies and by exploring the relationship of symptoms to source. It honors the impact of body, mind, spirit, and environment on our whole health and recognizes that humans are living systems and relational beings. “Health” isn’t static, and it doesn’t happen by checking all the boxes on your insurance wellness survey.

In February of last year, I was fortunate enough to meet a nurse who utilized the concepts of Emotional Intelligence and our Living Matrix in her own work, introduced me to psychoneuroimmunology, and who applied the concepts of integrative wellness into an evidence-based systems perspective by looking at how health is generated or impaired by our work environments. She’s also outlined the template for business owners to link ROI measures with investment in the “health” of their workforce (and work processes). Her name is Kim Adams, and her business is Triskele Collaborative. I am thankful to be working with Triskele as their Integrative Wellness Consultant “hub”.

I would give almost anything to be able to talk to my dad about Triskele and how he sees its potential to impact sustainable business practices through Energy Management and Leadership Optimization, Lean Process Improvement, and of course, Integrative Wellness Coaching. Dad himself would probably hire us to evaluate his work process and help him quiet the inner voice that always told him to do more, go faster, work harder. He’d often tell me during our annual summer vacations to Florida that he wished he knew how to “turn it off” when it came to constantly thinking about business. He’d likely agree when I say it was his greatest asset and also his greatest weakness.
Out of the cave, Into the light

“The most exciting breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” – John Naisbitt
Toward the end of my trip to Belize, I took a phenomenal spelunking tour through the Actun Tunichil Muknal (Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre). Our tour guide was an indigenous Belizean who could trace his Mayan roots back over 14 generations. After swimming through the underwater entrance into the cave, our guide asked the group to hold hands, close our eyes, and walk together through waist-high waters into the dark cavernous mouth. Ancient Mayans believed caves to be a mystical portal between the world of the living and the underworld of spirits and the deceased. We reached a point after about ten minutes of walking when the guide told us to open our eyes. Pitch-black darkness surrounded us in that cold wet den, and one tiny crack of sunlight peaked through the ceiling of the cave overhead.

At the end of our tour, I asked our guide if he thought the world was going to end on December 21, 2012 as the Mayan Calendar predicted. He explained that Spanish invasions had ruined any Mayan calendars prophesying events after this date, which is part of the reason why eschatological theories predicted that to be the end of humanity. Although he said he didn’t believe our world would a year from then, he did say his Mayan ancestors unequivocally predicted that this date symbolized a global shift in consciousness, or a universal spiritual awakening in mankind.

Three years later enmeshed in the reality that is climate change, I am coming to terms with the Mayan Prophecy. And I choose to focus on the silver linings of this global shift. In many ways we are adapting to new ways of living consciously. We are coming together in interdisciplinary teams to examine the ways in which our “excellence has outdone itself” in technology that shifts the way we interact and communicate, in our ability to extract and manipulate Mother Earth’s resources, and ways of live that rob us of “whole health”. We are examining what feeds not only our physical bodies, but our minds and spirits, understanding “health” to be all of life. We are recognizing that “progress” is worthless if it moves us away from the life-giving force that is love and the spiritual glue that are community and faith. We are shifting paradigms from the merits of consumerism and introspection toward a discussion of what is feeds us as planet, toward “The Power of Outrospection”, and why this “One Mind” as Dr. Larry Dossey frames it, is critical to our survival like never more.

This universal spiritual awakening necessitates that we tune out of the incessant hum of our frenetic lives so we can tune in- to the wisdom of our bodies, to nurturing our relationships, to the beauty of the natural world. These lessons are timeless and free, yet so often we avoid them, clinging to our own ego and agendas… I know that Dad would remind me of these things through his words and more importantly, his actions. By time spent fishing and BBQ’ing and savoring the last bit of every sunset- and in his appreciation and joy of all the little things that make life worth living.

Is Evolution Repeating Itself on a Global Scale?

“It is paradoxical, yet true, to say, that the more we know, the more ignorant we become in the absolute sense, for it is only through enlightenment that we become conscious of our limitations. Precisely one of the most gratifying results of intellectual evolution is the continuous opening up of new and greater prospects.” –Nikola Tesla

Research of the mitochondrial DNA of Ancient Africans suggest that a rapid expansion of cognitive capacity in the humans living in eastern or southern Africa took place between 80,000 and 60,000 years ago may have helped our ancestors move out of Africa and into Europe and Western Asia, beginning the shift toward global colonization. These brain mutations also coincided with significant environmental shifts happening at the same time: a period of rapid climate change when rainfall varied by up to 50% annually.

“It would, in short, be possible to see changes in human technology, subsistence, settlement patterns, and associated patterns of communication as a fairly direct response to the new environmental challenges that emerged at this time,” says Paul Mellars, professor of prehistory and human evolution at the University of Cambridge in England. He states that one likely trigger for our rapid cognitive and cultural advances in human evolution was climate change. Changes in rain patterns and environmental shifts may have forced humans to develop new technologies as they searched for viable food sources in efforts to survive.

We are currently exposed to as much information in one single day as our Neanderthal ancestors were in their entire lives 60,000 years ago. We’ve been forced to expand our cognitive capacity and invent new technologies in response to rapidly changing physical, cultural, and sociological environments. And now climate change is accelerating this shift even more. The concepts of Neuroplasticity and Cognitive Load Theory are both relevant in navigating our way forward down the path of human evolution.

In his book One Mind Dr. Larry Dossey shares a private conversation with physicist David Bohm as they exchanged ideas on universal meaning and the mind’s role in healing (Bohm gained international recognition in the 20th century for his theory of unitary consciousness through a perspective of modern physics). Larry says he asked Bohm about his opinion of the future of humankind, saying “Do you think we’ll make it?” to which Bohm paused intently before replying, “Yes. Barely,” (p. 33).

My 2015 Intention: SPREAD LOVE

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” –MLK, Jr.

While reveling in the glow of fireworks and champagne with friends and my boyfriend on a rooftop party 19 days ago, a stranger approached me smiling. Before I could say anything, he’d given me a huge hug, put his hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye to say, “You are beautiful. You are beautiful because you are so full of love and joy, I can just see it radiating from your smile. Please, SPREAD LOVE in 2015! This is the year to spread love.” I thanked him and promised, “In 2015, I will spread love.” I think he continued sharing this message with everyone on the rooftop, but I appreciated his words wholeheartedly. This is the year to SPREAD LOVE!!!

In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom Dr. Rachel Remen reflects on our obstacles to “spreading love”: “Perfectionism is the belief that life is broken…[It] is so widespread in this culture that we actually have had to invent another word for love. “Unconditional love,” we say. Yet, all love is unconditional. Anything else is just approval.” (p. 47).

In coaching we call it “unconditional positive regard”, the ability to see people as their best self, particularly when they can’t remember who their “best self” is at the moment. Or perhaps they’ve never experienced their best self? This is also why I wanted to become a nurse- I am my most authentic self when I see and love people in their best light, perfect as they were created to be at every moment. We are so judgmental of ourselves and of others, whether consciously or unconsciously. The ego is a part of survival at its core; so no matter where we are in our personal evolution and in our awareness of judgment and biases, as humans the ego still permeates some part of our psyche while we are on earth.

My parents had three children together, and I was the eldest. My mom told when I was born, my dad looked at her said, “I finally understand what you were talking about- about ‘unconditional love’. There is nothing this little girl can say or do that will every make me love her less than I do at this moment. She is perfect. My love for her is perfect.”

If Dad were here today, I would relish in talking to him about the frequency of the spirit— how three years after many thought mankind would end its time on planet earth that we are learning everyday how we (ALL of us!) are capable of more than we ever thought or imagined possible. And we are also recognizing the temptation for “Excellence to outdo itself” in our evolution. We have learned to re-ignite thousands year-old practices such as mindfulness, yoga, looking toward nature to design progress, and slowly removing our egos from self-imposed silos to remember our universal purpose.

As a nurse and cheerleader for environmental health, I often forget how little is required of me to heal: many times the only requirements are that I step away from self-judgment and the guilt of feeling like I should always being doing more, and to simply spread love. My intention in 2015 is to spread love, to view myself and others in that perfect light of unconditional love every single one of us deserves. To live in the joy of unconditional love my Dad felt when he first saw his children, which was given to him from his parents and from our Creator. As we move forward toward the global transition of “One Mind” and intentional living, let us not hold back in our desire to SPREAD LOVE- in how we view ourselves and one another, in honoring the limits of earth’s finite natural resources, and in appreciation for our time on this planet, which is if nothing else, is finite and precious.

“During extraordinary historical moments…the usual categories dividing ‘activists’ from ‘regular people’ became meaningless because the project of changing society was so deeply woven into the project of life. Activists were, quite simply, everyone.” -Naomi Klein for The Nation, October 6, 2014

Louisiana History is Knocking on the Door- Will the EPA Answer?

During a closed-door meeting this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Louisiana State officials and environmental health professionals they plan to conduct more open test burns of M6 at Camp Minden in Louisiana in preparation for the disposal of 16 million pounds of explosive artillery disposal- the largest in U.S. history. “But only after we award the contract for the open burn”, the EPA told officials. Meanwhile the EPA has been ignoring citizen concerns and scientific research on the public and environmental health implications of a large-scale hazardous waste disposal decision that will impact the State of Louisiana for years to come. Sound familiar?

The hidden M6 stockpile was discovered in late 2012 after an explosion blasted in the middle of the night near Doyline, LA, sending a 7,000 ft plume into the air, rattling buildings and homes up to four miles away. A subsequent investigation led to the discovery of 16 million pounds of M6, now stored in 98 bunkers at Camp Minden. The emergency remediation results from gross negligence on behalf of the company, Explo Systems Inc., now bankrupt and assets dissolves with six employees indicted on criminal negligence charges of improper storage. The Army Explosive Safety Board advised that risk of further explosions significantly increases by August 2015 as stabilizers continue to degrade. Disposal of the M6 is of imminent concern.

During a November 2014 public meeting, EPA Region 6 Director Carl Edlund assured community members and state officials that a controlled open burn is the least expensive and safest disposal method for human and environmental health, and bids are being collected to conduct the open air burn at Camp Minden. After the private meeting this week Edlund dodged questions regarding health implications of the burn from Louisiana legislators and environmental toxicologists saying he was afraid his ride was going to leave him.

Yet a number of concerned Louisiana citizens and industry experts are not buying it. A newly formed Facebook Group “Concerned Citizens of the Camp Minden Burn” gained over 3,500 members in less than a week. They have raised significant red flags to legislators, including Louisiana State Senator David Vitter, who addressed a letter to the EPA January 6 asking for specific answers around the safety of an open-air burn due to serious concerns about the environmental and public health hazards of this material. Louisiana State University Chemistry professor Dr. Brian Salvatore notes the health risks of chemicals in M6 are alarming: “The three main components of M6 are all derivatives of aromatic hydrocarbons, each with significant toxicity, ranging from respiratory irritation, carcinogenicity and endocrine disruption. Of greatest concern among these substances are dinitrotoluene (DNT) and dibutylphthalate (DBP).” Known health risks of the chemicals range from liver and kidney cancer in mice to reproductive damage in adults and impaired fetal development, particularly abnormal development of male genitalia. Dinitrotoluene as it exists in the form 2,6-DNT is also water soluble, so it can be taken up by plants and wildlife and stored in adipose tissue. DNT is toxic if breathed, orally ingested, or absorbed through the skin.

Dr. Salvatore continues: “Of chief concern in the proposed open-tray burn are the thermal stability and moderate volatility of these aromatic compounds. Both DNT and DBP have modest boiling points (around 300 °C) and both are quite stable to heat, in contrast to some readily combustible hydrocarbons (like those found in gasoline). This means that rather than being combusted in the flames during an open-tray burn, significant amounts of these materials may simply vaporize and become airborne. Once airborne, these chemicals and their partially-combusted toxic byproducts could endanger both human health and wildlife many miles away, not only in Doyline and Minden, but also in Ruston and even the Shreveport-Bossier and Monroe metropolitan areas.”

Environmental toxicologist and former Louisiana Tech University professor Bob Flournoy recognizes this as a concern not only for Louisiana residents: “This open burn method, depending on the weather and winds, is going to impact not just Webster Parish, but all of northern Louisiana and probably parts of Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas.” Another strong opponent of open-air burn has been the nearby Mahaffey Farms, one of Louisiana’s largest and oldest organic farms located only 15 miles from Camp Minden.

The EPA cites expediency and cost as their reasoning for selecting open-air burn as preferred disposal method, but what if neither are true? In early 2014 Louisiana-based Madden Contracting tested an incinerator method that would dispose of the M6 in 177 days as opposed to the open burn which could take anywhere from one to three years, dependent upon weather conditions. Not only that, but Madden estimates closed incineration would be 1,600 times less toxic than an open pit burn (referring to parts per million of noxious gases released in burning) and would cost $18 million- versus the $22 to $30 million proposed for burning disposal methods.

Let’s take a moment to step back in history, and I ask the EPA to join me in considering the M6 controversy in a lens of lessons learned over the past five years until now. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill exploded at the BP-operated Macondo Prospect. Eleven people were killed and 17 were injured. Crude oil spewed and hysteria ensued for 87 days as an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico before the well was capped on July 15. BP began spraying two dispersant products, Corexit EC9500A and EC9527A, in efforts to clean up the oil and prevent its spread to Gulf coastlines even though the EPA understood that Corexit EC9500A and EC9527A were neither the least toxic, nor the most effective among EPA-approved dispersants.

On May 19 after the EPA gave BP 24 hours to identify a less toxic alternative to Corexit dispersant and 72 hours to use it, BP Spokesman Scott Dean noted, “Corexit is an EPA pre-approved, effective, low-toxicity dispersant that is readily available, and we continue to use it.” An unprecedented 1.9 million gallons of chemical dispersants were applied to subsea and surface waters along the Gulf Coast for months. Keep in mind that these products, Corexit EC9500A and EC9527A, were banned from use in the UK at the time.

After conducting its own evaluation on August 2nd, the EPA said dispersants did no more harm to the environment than the oil and that they stopped a large amount of oil from reaching the coast by breaking it down faster. On June 10th, 2011, one year after dispersants had already been applied, a lawsuit against the EPA required full disclosure of the chemical product ingredients in dispersants. A publication titled The Chaos of Clean-Up was released by Toxipedia Consulting and outlined potential health and environmental impacts of the 57 ingredients used in dispersant products: ranging from carcinogens to neurological and reproductive toxins, these 57 ingredients pose health hazards to every organ system in the human body.

Fast forward to 2013 when a study from Georgia Tech and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes was published in Environmental Pollution confirming that the Corexit did indeed exert a synergistic effect when mixed with oil, increasing the toxicity by 52 times over oil exposure alone. Later that year the American Journal of Medicine released a study by Mark D’Andrea of 247 BP oil spill clean-up workers, showing their exposure increased risk of developing cancer and other illnesses as the oil and dispersant mixture significantly altered blood profiles, liver enzymes, and somatic symptoms.

In retrospect the BP Oil Spill disaster was a perfect storm: the former Minerals Management Service (U.S. Department of Interior) had granted the Deepwater Horizon well a routine “categorical exclusion” from undergoing a comprehensive environmental assessment impact statement because it was considered a low risk well, and BP was known to insiders as the “cowboys of the offshore drilling industry”, cutting corners where possible to speed up timelines and cut safety measures.

But the situation the EPA and Louisiana elected officials now face at Camp Minden is different even though our lessons from history can and should be applied. Energy companies are not lobbying against spending time and money to analyze worst-case scenarios. The evidence of ill health effects from burning ammunitions like M6 already exist in towns like Merrimac, Wisconsin. Burning even one ounce of M6 in Canada is illegal due to its toxicity. The EPA’s declaration of Camp Minden as a Superfund site allows them to create a “categorical exclusion” for conducting a proper Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed control open-air burn, and it’s a hauntingly similar scenario of hard lessons learned in the aftermath of the BP Oil Spill.

Sea levels are already rising faster along the coast of Louisiana faster than anywhere else in the world. My home state represents a gateway to our nation’s internal waterways and has historically supplied a significant amount of the country’s natural gas and oil reserves, not to mention countless other natural resources and industrial goods. The State of Louisiana and its people have offered more in the way of commodities and financial revenue to the United States than many states combined, yet it has also served as a conglomerated dumping ground for our country’s most egregious waste. The concerned citizens and legislators of Louisiana are not sitting back asking the EPA or industry to take care of it this time. They are organized, and they are offering alternative solutions and are prepared to help. They are just asking that this time, for once, this resilient state not be forced to externalize the health of its people and its land for the sake of expediency and convenience.

“During extraordinary historical moments…the usual categories dividing ‘activists’ from ‘regular people’ became meaningless because the project of changing society was so deeply woven into the project of life. Activists were, quite simply, everyone.” -Naomi Klein for The Nation, October 6, 2014

 

First, You Have to Face the Wall

IMG_2967 I am thankful to be back in the U.S. of A. after a phenomenal two-week yoga teacher training: Tony Sanchez’s 84 Asanas Master Core System in Los Cabos, Mexico. Doing a hot yoga “tt” is something that’s been on my bucket list since 2010, at least. Although I wasn’t even familiar with Tony four years ago, I feel very fortunate that fate has once again intervened and manifested this dream in a way that’s even more fulfilling and aligned with my life values than the plans I’d been aspiring toward back then. Read more about Tony and his amazing training workshops on his website: http://tonysanchezyoga.com/

Bikram Choudhury’s “Hot Yoga” practice (aka Bikram’s Torture Chamber) became popularized in the U.S. during the 1970’s in California largely in part because of a loyal following by celebrities such as Shirley Maclaine. The Bikram hot yoga series is rigorous and specific in the way it is to be practiced. The room must be 105 degree Farenheit, approximately 60% humidity (a heat index of 149 degrees) and 90 minutes long. Students practice 26 postures, most repeated twice. Water should not be consumed until after the Eagle Pose. The teachers learn Bikram’s posture descriptions verbatim, repeating steps and encouraging the ideal “asana” or posture form word for word, regardless of the person’s body type or practice experience. Bikram has built an empire of loyal followers over the years, but unfortunately much of his success has begun to “outdo” itself. The legal battles over whether a yoga series can be trademarked or not in addition to Bikram’s sense of amorous entitlement with his female students are an unfortunate focus of his legacy in recent years. For an interesting perspective on the ethics of ownership when it comes to yoga postures, check out this New IMG_2972Yorker interview with Yoga to the People founder Greg Gumucio: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2012/02/06/120206ta_talk_mcgrath

If you’re curious, a couple articles on Bikram’s unraveling:

Despite this drama, “hot yoga” (not exclusively Bikram) is a practice I’ve relished since 2003, beginning when my father passed away during sophomore year of college. Any previous “stress management” tactics I’d utilized to deal with uncomfortable and unpredictable moments in life suddenly felt irrelevant in the face of his unexpected death. Prayer left me despondent, begging God for answers and repressing the urge to be angry with Him for allowing this to happen. Long distance running, an activity I’d considered fun and satisfying since middle school, was also something I loved to do because of and with Dad. In the months after he passed, I still looked forward to going for long Saturday trail runs in beautiful Percy Warner Park outside Nashville. But mid-run I would see something that reminded me of him- a deer grazing or a hawk perched in a tree- and my mind would wander to the marathon we always wanted to run together, and I’d be overwhelmed with emotion, and possibly less relaxed than when I arrived. Luckily, I’ve been extremely blessed to have loving friends and family, without whom I might still feel lost- faith, yoga, and running aside. Time also has a beautiful way of healing…

When I entered the Nashville Hot Yoga studio for the first time a couple months months after Dad passed, it was the first time I felt my mind grow quiet and my body melt into a state of relaxation. First of all, the room was hot and humid, the lights dim, and the postures challenging. As I slowly learned to get into and hold the poses while remembering to breath and balance demanded all of my attention and focus. Secondly, instead of my inner competitive ego pushing my body and breath to their “PR” max like when I ran, I felt the beautiful connection of my breath with the movement of my limbs and the extension of my spine. The awareness of synchronizing breath and body, the emphasis on alignment rather than perfection, and the catharsis of sweating all felt so natural. Phenomenal actually.

For the first time in months, I was able to really let go. Not until the ending Savasana lying on my back, did the tears begin to stream down my face as they blended with a sweat surrendered Corpse Pose. This time the tears were punctuated with anger and sorrow, but also with joy and relief- for the bittersweet Alpha and Omega of life- and all there was (is) to learn in its interim. They were tears of understanding that I’d never discover anything worth knowing by my own sheer willpower alone. That I needed to be stripped of my own understanding and ego, broken and rebuilt, proud yet defeated, seeing but never touching perfection, all in 90 minutes. Over and over again…

Obviously I was immediately hooked. When I ran my first marathon two years later, it was cross training combined with lots of hot yoga- rather than copious pavement pounding- that filled my training regimen. By extending the capacity of lungs and limbs, strengthening my back and abdominal muscles, and internalizing a keen “mind over matter” mantra, that 26.2 miles was easier than any other race I’d finished. And perhaps my dad was also running alongside me in spirit. No doubt. :-)

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Fellow Southern friend Wendy, a phenomenal Bikram teacher! Enjoying her bday dinner (you’ll never guess her age). Doing pizza and whiskey on the rocks and a perfect Pigeon Pose- like it’s her job. ;)

When my desire to share this love of yoga via teaching first began during nursing school, I was sure I’d end up doing Choudhury Bikram’s training so that I could have an option to teach in one of his certified studios. His training is in the form of a nine-week boot camp offered twice a year with an exorbitant price tag, and about 400 students attend. This was the certification all the teachers I’d taken classes with at the Sweatbox and Bikram Yoga of Seattle had done. These studios and teachers have changed my life, and I’m so thankful for the movement Bikram started because of these amazing people. There were also several times I wondered whether or not I could’ve endured the PNW’s dark cold winter months while balancing the emotional intensity of an advanced practice nursing immersion program while living away from family without the sweet refuge of that hot yoga studio. Likely so, but it didn’t seem that way for a while!

Without getting too political or gossipy here, I will just leave it with the fact that a) I’m very thankful for the lineage Bikram began and the many phenomenal gurus he trained (ESPECIALLY Tony Sanchez!!) who I have learned SO MUCH from over the years and b) I’m even more grateful for the fact that I was encouraged by a trusted source to learn about Tony Sanchez and his trainings. Granted, I have much more practice to go until I feel as prepared or confident as I’d like to be in front of an experienced class of yogis and yoginis, but this is a solid start! Ole, Ole, Ole!!! :)

A little background- Tony Sanchez was a student of Bikram’s in the 1970’s and managed one of his studios in San Francisco. Tony told us he came to yoga after a teenage heartbreak. He found himself looking for ways to find fulfillment after this experience. He did some research and found Chourdoroy Bikram and the demanding practice of hot yoga. Then he immersed himself…

After leaving San Francisco (about 15 years ago?), Tony said he needed time to “face the wall.” To read and research and meditate on his purpose in sharing this practice with the world. He and his lovely wife Sandy, a former student of his from San Francisco, moved to Los Cabos Mexico where Tony studied philosophy, physics, literature religion, and every other topic it seems…and where Tony developed an even more intimate personal yoga practice. Tony and Sandy, along with a number of other elite yoga studio owners and instructors, are now carrying the baton of extending Bikram’s legacy by offering a yoga practice that is designed as it was originally intended- for its sustainable and therapeutic health benefits.

It is pretty phenomenal when you consider what Tony and Sandy have achieved in a brief amount of time. They are the silver lining many have been searching for in the face of a practice that has in many circles now grown into a financially incentivized and competitive focus. I really love the premise of Tony’s (word of mouth only) marketing as defined on his website: Tony Sanchez here. A few years ago I left the mainstream yoga world to pursue personal mastery in Mexico. Despite being featured in some of the biggest news outlets & yoga magazines, I’m now what many consider, “the world’s leading underground yoga master”. Yea he is…

The series Tony teaches incorporates some of Bikram’s 26 posture series but also many more, and they are based on the Ghosh lineage. Tony chose the Ghosh lineage for a number of reasons. Bishnu Charan Ghosh was the first yoga to incorporate cross training into his practice, not claiming that yoga alone was adequate fitness for a healthy body. He particularly advocated for weight training to help strengthen the postures.

Bishnu Ghosh mentioned three main physical practices in Hatha yoga:

  1. Asana
  2. Pranayama
  3. Bandha

At the beginning asana was done mainly for meditation. After the 10th century asana was practiced for therapeutic objectives as well as for meditative practices. Prana-yama means breath and extension. This practice can be performed as independent exercises or in combination with asana. Asana becomes more effective when pranayama is introduced. And bandha, Ghosh described bandha as “controlling power”. According to Ghosh the successful yoga practitioner can control the internal organs, respiration, digestion and circulation with the practice of bandha (Excerpt from http://www.ghoshyoga.com/)

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Tony rocking Crow Pose going into headstand

Did I mention that not only has Tony won two international gold medals in yoga competitions, but also he is now 58 years old and can still do every posture almost perfectly? Watching Tony practice is like witnessing a prayer- body and mind in perfect communion with spirit. Tony doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. Or masters the asana, rather.

In many ways you could also say Tony is the alter ego of Bikram’s legacy. In recent years Bikram has become known for collecting Rolls Royce’s and Rolex watches. Tony only owns the same Volkswagen Golf he bought in 1995 and doesn’t wear a watch. Bikram trains teaches using a dialogue manual which is to be repeated verbatim, encouraging students to push harder until the “ideal” posture is reached. Tony teaches the postures with us, emphasizing alignment and focused patience and tuning into information from the five senses rather than pushing toward the ideal manifestation of the poses. During class we discussed posture modifications based on injury and capacity as well as specific anatomical and physiological health benefits. Instead of being given a dialogue to memorize, Tony haf us write our dialogue based on our notes, by watching his videos, and most importantly, by regularly practicing ourselves so we can intuitively describe the poses. He calls this “experiential versus intellectual teaching.” This way we can also easily modify the postures for injury, age, pregnancy, body type, etc. Potentially the greatest insight Tony emphasized during our training is that as instructors, we must consistently cultivate our own personal yoga practice, not just practicing in other’s classes. We must experience and know how the practice impacts us on a deeper, internal level if we are to truly share yoga with others. This makes complete sense. I’m slowing building in more time for it in my daily routine.

The first few days practicing with Tony were a HUGE transition and learning curve from any yoga I’d previously practiced. “We’ve become very rigid in our quest for flexibility,” remarked Tony’s assistant instructor (another phenomenal yogi) Kevin Lincicome. It is so true!

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Fish tacos + beach, YES please!

The first big epiphany I had to encounter was how to gauge and absorb my practice without mirrors! A great lesson as it turns out. Instead of using the reflection for reference, I had to really tune into my body and feel the alignment of hips, shoulders, and back. I didn’t push any further until my balance was solid and alignment in the proper planes. The emphasis began with feeling instead of seeing my body, finding its center, and aligning the anatomical planes: saggital, coronal, and transverse. In Tony’s training he teaches that alignment and maintaining integrity of the spine are everything, no matter how deeply you can go into the posture. Even though I’m a sucker for the deepest Camel possible, Amen!!

I mentioned that Tony emphasizes yoga as a lifestyle and therapeutic exercise rather than a pursuit of posture perfection. Other comparable practices such as ballet, gymnastics, and ice-skating often resemble art rather than therapy, sacrificing the limits of the body and potential for injury in exchange for beauty and form. He continues to extrapolate on this theme daily with insight into the nature of yoga as a “therapy”:

  • Yoga benefits come from holding postures in proper alignment, with constant awareness of the breath, and at least five seconds of peaceful stillness.
  • We have the five senses to be able to absorb information. Without utilizing attention to the senses we move away from being able to maintain internal reflection and sensing when the body is pushing too hard.
  • Strength + Flexibility = Balance. Yoga alone is not sufficient to cultivate both strength and flexibility to the best of our ability. We need cross training…
  • We can learn more from the postures that challenge us the most and take the longest to do
  • There is a difference between Good (extending, building) and Bad (burning) pain. Tensile vs. bone pain. Visible vs. internal injury. Let’s teach students (and ourselves) how to know the difference and avoid injury.
  • Practice going into the postures from the core outward. Always prioritize the spine before thinking about fully extending the arms and legs.
  • “Locking the knee”- over contraction (knee hyperextension) can lead to injury and is wasted energy that could be used to align the posture. Instead relax, align your body, and stay conscious of the spine. Make sure you regulate the breathing and go into the posture slowly to your max. you build quad muscle and avoid injury but not hyperextending a locked out knee.
  • Reciprocal Inhibition- When you contract the front of the thighs and the quads, your hamstrings are going to relax in the back. You have to support the knee joint enough to prevent hyperextension of either the hamstrings or the quadriceps. Ultimately if you are hyper extending the knees on a regular basis, you can actually weaken the quads- and increase your risk of injury. Slightly bending the knees while going into the poses and during the asana if needed will help build muscle and prevent injury.
  • Everybody’s different. Every Body is different. The first day Tony asked for the tallest, shortest, oldest, youngest, skinniest, and heaviest students to all stand together in the front. We are each unique with individual needs and physical capacity. We must honor our own needs and limits when practicing. “The perfect pose” does not exist for every single person. Chose positions according to the unique needs of each student.

We had many interesting conversations about the heat component of Bikram yoga- its health benefits and risks as well as the role it plays in those who are addicted to the extreme. Yoga was originally intended to be practiced in a way that heat would be generated from the internal body. Bikram yoga is practiced in a room that is 105 degrees. I for one, love the heat. I grew up in Louisiana, and Seattle is below 60 (cold for a Southern girl!) at least half the year. Even summer temps may be in the 50’s or 60’s, and the hot room is so inviting and relaxing. I mean “Ommmm”…

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Daily shower #3 hairdo

I’m also half Lebanese. I think this part of my physiological make-up (not to mention a Vata/Kapha dosha) makes me even more predisposed to the heat. Sometimes I think I seriously just need it. BUT (and this is huge!), practicing the Masters Core System in Los Cabos these past two weeks have been hugely liberating in many ways. First of all, it wasn’t exactly cool there, and I do sweat easily, so there was plenty of detox happening (and my body was adequately bendy). But the main epiphany I’ve taken away is that my compulsion to have to make it to a beloved Bikram studio x number of days per week or find studios when traveling is partially a mental crutch for me. Beginning in 2010, I’ve experienced several moments of conscious neuroses over making it to a Bikram class to relish the heat. This has included skipping much-needed sleep, being late for dinner with friends, and even getting in a bike accident, riding too quickly so I could make it to class in time. I mean seriously?! Although I’ve made a successful conscious effort over the past year to acknowledge, laugh at, and liberate this impulse, it feels very healthy to really know that if I can’t make it to a 90-minute class one day, cultivating my own practice in the privacy of my house or trying a new studio will always be immensely beneficial. Not to mention it might even make me a better teacher, whether it’s Bikram or another type of yoga. This is a no brainer! But my habit loop only recently acknowledged it. ;)

There are, as many of you suspect or intellectually know, plenty of health risks associated with practicing in extreme heat. These include but are not limited to over stretching and injuring muscles, ligaments, and/or tendons. Hypotonic dehydration (when proportionally more water than sodium is lost from the body), kidney stones, potential fertility concerns for men (hot tubs can impact sperm count, what what?), not to mention just fear of the heat and increased risk of fainting/cardiac episodes are all very real. Especially for those who grew up in Seattle and have a more sensitive capacity for enduring that ball of fire we see so rarely. I know a couple people whose adrenal glands start pumping cortisol just at the thought of being trapped in a 105 degree room for 90 minutes. It makes sense…

If you are going to practice for the first time or are a loyal heat lover, make sure to hydrate with electrolytes in addition to water. You can lose anywhere from 3-5 pounds of water weight per class. Given that the human body is over 2/3 water mass, this deficit impacts every organ system (particularly kidneys) as you flush toxins out of the body. This amount of heat can even result in brain swelling…make sure you hydrate before and after and tune into your body’s needs. There are lots of natural electrolyte recipes out there if you don’t want to spend a fortune or pour food dyes down your throat. I really like this one from “Wellness Mama”: http://wellnessmama.com/2575/natural-sports-drink-alternatives-recipe/

If you’d like a great read on the health benefits and risks of practicing yoga, I’d recommend The Science of Yoga by William Broad: http://www.amazon.com/The-Science-Yoga-Risks-Rewards/dp/1451641435

If you can’t commit to an entire book but are still curious, check out this literature review on PubMed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20105062

More than anything, we should use the practice of yoga to engage our five senses and truly acknowledge what our bodies need and why. Because as Tony said, “If you never smile at your internal organs, it’s like having strangers working for you.” (Cracks me up!)

Check out this interesting article on organ-emotion links and Chinese medicine from The Way of Qigong : The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing by Ken Cohen: http://www.sahej.com/organ-emotion_printready.html

In conclusion, Bikram’s training has been a phenomenal foundation for many people to learn, practice, and teach yoga, and I’m thankful the practice led me to Tony Sanchez. A dear mentor once asked me “How do you know when you’re ready to teach?” She didn’t have an answer for me but wanted me to consider it in preparation. I’ve had dozens of thoughts about this since our chat three years ago. But it comes down to this: it’s not about me. It is about the fact that I am a vessel, and this is a primary therapeutic tool my body needs to keep this ship running. Whether or not I convince others of the same reverence is irrelevant. But I do have a profound respect for the practice such that I’m willing to be used to help liberate others as well (not used in the way Bikram might have hoped). My capacity to see the practice as a reverence to the fact that all our bodies and minds are vessels of potential and energy to be cultivated- seems worthy enough to teach. After all, this is only a tipping point….

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Tropicana, the only place we’d eat with Dad when we visited & our celebratory last dinner spot with Tony

This trip was the first time I’ve been back to Mexico since visiting Los Cabos with our dad twenty years ago. I think we even stayed in the same Holiday Inn Resort! Although I wasn’t painting wooden parrots by the pool the entire time like our last trip. :)

“Face the wall.” Tony says that if we don’t fully understand something, we have an obligation to research and experiment first so we can teach from a mechanical understanding and science-based perspective that is health promoting. We have to “face the wall” rather than infuse guesswork into teaching. And he says we must always “train the next generation to be better than us…Everybody is different. Every body is different. Anything worthwhile has to be cultivated on a personal basis. Don’t push yourself into the perfect pose for anyone but yourself.” This is valuable advice well beyond the yoga studio and in many facets of our conscious lives.

Focus on what you want to cultivate- in your practice and your life. Is it flexibility? Is it peace and connection to your body, mind, and spirit? Is it muscular strength, lung capacity, or increased energy? Perhaps it’s balance and being non-judgmental with yourself or others. Whatever it is you intentionally and diligently focus on cultivating in your yoga practice will also begin to show up in your life. And keep in mind a quote that was shared from our co-instructor Kevin: “It doesn’t matter how deeply you go into the pose- as long as you like the person you are while you’re in it.”

And some final advice I will take to heart for myself from Tony, today and everyday: “I am an explorer in life. But I’m not so curious to learn everything about the world. I want to enjoy this life and the time I have left in it…The Universe is potential. Anything is possible- if you have belief in yourself, intention, and concentration.” Our lives are what we make of them- moment-to-moment, posture-to-posture, thought-to-thought- each and everyday.

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation. His books and teachings have changed my perspective on religion and spirituality and how we define conscious living. I thought a lot about his writings while in Mexico. In his book The Naked Now, Rohr deconstructs the holy nature of our breath:

The Jewish name for God – Yahweh – was not spoken, but breathed. Its correct pronunciation is an attempt to imitate the sound of inhalation and exhalation. We do that every moment: our first and last word as we enter and leave the world…. The one thing we do every moment of our lives is therefore to speak the name of God. This makes it our first and our last word as we enter and leave the world.”

Our breath is everything. We are all energy- vibrations passing, flowing through, in and around other vibrations. Our awareness of our own energy and that which we give to and take from others undeniably changes our physical and emotional vibrations and the energy we put in the world (need evidence? Be amazed: http://www.heartmath.com/). Yoga creates a distance between an external stimulus and our internal response. When we learn to cultivate stillness and awareness of our own energy during yoga and take that with us into our lives, the world becomes a better place, one breath at a time.

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“Yoga is like a living entity that keeps evolving according to the needs of society.”  –Tony Sanchez

Mixed Media of Thai Cooking + Thoughts on Food Scarcity~

Compulsory Splurge: Thai Cooking Class at the World Renown Blue Elephant

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Oh my goodness, where to begin…once again, although I’ve “hand journalled” in my blogging absence, it seems somewhat futile to try and recount experiences so many days after they took place and now that I’m back home. Much of the below was transcribed in real time. It’s not entirely that I was being lazy in sharing via blog (maybe a little), but every time it seemed I sat down to write, my mini keyboard that I recently bought to travel with me and the new inherited iPad decided that it didn’t want to work! And typing extensively on the iPad just isn’t worth it.

So, back to the Blue Elephant. This cooking class was my splurge, and it was SO worth it. The Blue Elephant started as a restaurant 33 years ago when a Thai woman married a Belgian man and wanted to share the phenomenal cuisine of her culture with the rest of the civilized world. Thank goodness she did! They now boast cooking schools in both Bangkok and Phuket as well as restaurants all over the world. Unfortunately, they’ve yet to open one in the U.S. I think Seattle would be an ideal first. I’ll see what can be done about that…

I decided to join the morning cooking class as it included a market tour (oh heck yea!). I’d had so many questions roaming the Kathu market, not only about so many of the fruits and veggies and meats I’ve never seen before, but also about the industry and trade of the market vendors. Surely there are stories lingering in every stall.

Upon entering the beautiful restored governor’s mansion where the new Blue Elephant Phuket has recently opened, I was greeted by Charles, Tony, Kim, and Chantelle.  Tony offered me a drink (coffee please!), and I sat down to chat with him, Kim, and Chantelle. Kim says he is pleased to hear I’m from Seattle and that he is proud of us for voting to legalize gay marriage and marijuana. “Our pleasure!”, I offered. Kim, Chantelle, and I chatted about global politics and cuisine for a bit and started brainstorming whether or not we had access to Thai ingredients in our respective countries. Chantelle is a beautiful, middle-age French chef who owned a restaurant in rural France (not sure which town), but she’s now retired and living on the coast of Spain. Kim, I later found out, is the general manager and also the son of the Blue Elephant founders and (I assume the son of chef Mrs. Nooror Somany Steppe). Kim was pleased to hear about Uwajimaya Market and the fact that we have access to such a broad array of Asian ingredients in Seattle. He also seemed amused with my (completely lacking) attempt at speaking some French. Chantelle’s English was exquisite, but we sometimes met in the middle with the French & English, occasionally repeating words in both our languages.

The head chef Charles then left us with Tony to take our tour of the Phuket Market. Oh my gosh. I was in heaven. Really, I was having this surreal sort of daydream that I was a chef for a day, off with my colleagues to pick the best ingredients to inspire our evening menu. Tony is half Thai, half American, and guess what?! He was born in Texas, too. He also went to NYU for film school before returning to Thailand and attending the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok. With film and culinary degrees, Tony said he feels he now has the flexibility to explore and travel and pursue his primary passion- photography. He’s a witty, well-rounded and talented guy, and I was excited to have a peer (and Thai culinary expert) who could handle my incessant questions- and random sense of humor.

Rather than talk through all the ingredients we learned about at the market, here’s a general overview of the ones we discussed:

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Chilis– there are many varieties. I love the Bird’s eye chili. Often when you sit down to eat, the table will have an assortment of “condiments” including chopped Bird’s Eye Chili, vinegar, sugar, and a shrimp paste or fish sauce.

Coriander– we call it cilantro. TomAtoes Tomatoes.

Curry powder– So I didn’t realize this, but Thai curries are usually always made with fresh pastes rather than curry powder! There’s red, yellow, and green. Green is the hottest and also usually the sweetest since more sugar is used to cut the heat.

Durian fruit– it stinks to high heaven, but if you can get past that, tastes quite delicious. That is, if you can also get past the fact that the consistency is a mix between hard-boiled egg yolk and an artichoke heart.

Kaffir lime leaves– used in all sorts of Thai soups and curries. Either cooked whole or finely chopped. These are something like $14/lb where I’ve seen them sold in the States! I was mesmerized to watch Tony chop these things into oblivion.

Morning glory– this is the Thai equivalent of spinach. Generally served raw and often in soups.

Lemongrass– oh divine! This herb is chopped finely and used extensively in many Thai dishes- curries, spicy soups, and salads. The owner of the yoga studio Kwan makes lemongrass candles for mass export, and they phenomenal!

Banana flowers– eaten often in chip form. They’re very good for breastfeeding mothers.

Shrimp & fish pastes– These are made by fermenting ground shrimp & salt. The smell is intense! Think: fish bait. These are added to several dishes for taste & consistency. I encountered it first when I was eating dinner at a street vendor’s my first night. It’s often packaged in a small container that resembles play dough. The pink plastic lid had me pretty perplexed. I’m glad I didn’t dump it on my chicken stir-fry.

Tamarind– sweet & sour. This comes pickled, dehydrated, in seasoning form. The Thai love their Tamarind.

Thai sweet basil– I love this stuff. It’s used in curries and stir-fry, etc. I’ve made a Thai pesto out of it in Seattle, delish.

Tumeric– yellow colored root originally brought over by the Muslim settlers in Thailand. Used in “Northern style” curries such as Mussaman. They also often use the whole root to flavor while cooking then remove before serving, similar to bay leaves. Tumeric has phenomenal health properties.

Galangal/Thai ginger– I think this is slightly sweeter than the ginger I usually buy. Either way either one, I love it! Candied, minced, pureed in juice- get out your mortar & pestle, I dig ginger.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)– Tony says the Chinese first introduced this addictive substance to Thai cuisine, and it’s his least favorite table at the market. There’s hoards of it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monosodium_glutamate

Spearmint/cucumber/long beans– these are often served as dish accompaniments and used as palette cleansers.

Palm & Coconut Oils– palm oil is the predominate cooking oil used, similar to our olive oil. It is quite high in saturated fat (81%), as is coconut oil (86%). My mom and I recently had a conversation on why coconut oil is being touted as such a great health food lately. It turns out that many of the health benefits stem from presence of lauric and capric acid, which have antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, AND antibacterial properites! Plus, coconuts are rich in Vitamins E and K as well as iron and potassium. Tony mentioned that drinking coconut milk can lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. Apparently these properties and the pH of coconut water (they call it juice) made it a successful alternative to saline solution during war times! Wowsers. I haven’t checked his facts- yet. J Tony seemed entertained when I told him that coconut water has become such a popularized sport drink in the U.S. It seriously quenches after hot yoga! But I suppose the Thai knew that a long time ago. But then again, they also never had to put Mangosteen in a pill form to make it attractive. It’s always been a staple Thai fruit.

Palm/Betel (Areca) Nut– slices may be wrapped in betel leaf with lime, clove, cardamom, and/or other spices and eaten. It has a fresh, peppery taste. The betel nut is also chewed on as a form of tobacco, and it causes the teeth to turn pink. As I learned when visiting the Sea Gypsy village, the Thai people used to think those with white teeth (when foreigners first arrived) were unattractive. They don’t have pink, rotting teeth, therefore they must not be able to afford their chew! It’s all just a differential…

Tony bought us tastes of various foods as we toured the market and we shared them as we walked and chatted. Once we returned to the restaurant, he left us in the capable hands of Charles, head chef of Blue Elephant. Might I just say that Charles is pretty hysterical and quite impressive. We found out through the course of talking that he not only manages much of the business at their Bangkok restaurant and school, but Charles oversees almost every element of the new restaurant in Phuket- helping hire and staff employees, menu planning, budgets & purchasing, décor, everything. Chantelle had many more technical questions in this arena as she has a background in the business. I was thoroughly impressed that a) Charles knows of (and was excited about!) Tacoma and b) He has the most impeccable manicure with bubble gum pink polish I’ve ever seen. And he cooks 12 hours a day! I must know his secret.

We made a total of four dishes:

  • Kai Phad Prik Tua Fak Yao- a delicious red curry (“You like the spice more than the Thai!” GUILTY.)
  • Yum Ma- Muang Plaa Krob- a spicy green mango salad with crispy fish
  • Tom Kha Sai Mapraow Orn- Coconut milk soup with chicken and young coconut flesh- Holy Yum!
  • Chor Muang- crispy golden bag stuffed with prawn and crab

I felt like I was on some episode of Top Chef (I wish) getting to cook alongside such accomplished chefs! My ineptitude became apparent in some of the cutting. Charles would name a type of cutting technique, and they would go to town. I was slowing following suit, but it was great fun all the same. It was most entertaining to see how three dishes could turn out completely different even though we all had the same ingredients in front of us! Charles’s dishes were impeccable, of course. Chantelle’s were always beautiful. Mine were acceptable- I think. I kept hesitating to add all the fish sauce because it’s seriously so salty. At the end Charles would taste mine, and tell me to add more sauce. Hehe. Apparently I did have some “technique” when folding the dough into flower shapes to make “beautiful golden bags.” Folding I can do well. No inherent risk of battle wounds. ;)

There is so much to love and respect about Thai cuisine, and I dare say it also reflects my desired cooking style. First of all, they are often unorthodox in strictly adhering to specific measurements for each ingredient. I also only follow recipes to the “t” when I have to, i.e. when baking. Secondly, the superfluous use delightful and colorful herbs and vegetables is so much fun! Yet, it’s not out of control; there’s a yin and yang to each dish (rather than the occasional anarchy of mine): if you add excess peppers, you temper with a little sugar or sweet basil. Too much bird’s eye chilli? Add more coconut milk. I also love that the Thai tend to have a “zero waste” policy when it comes to food usage. Dehydrated shrimp shells and even fish scales are used in dishes, particularly salads, to create a crunchy consistency! They creatively incorporate the roots, seeds, greens, and oddball animal pieces into some part of their dishes, hence respecting the living creatures that provide for their nourishment in the process. This is also the Buddhist way.

A few days later Tony and I were watching the National Geographic channel (aka Nat Geo) with some of his friends when the topic of food scarcity somehow came up. I’m not sure his source, but Tony said that we currently produce enough food in the world to feed 36 BILLION PEOPLE. There are currently over 7 billion living on this planet, and yet an estimated 925 million are hungry at this very moment (http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm).

It seems ironic- or not- that so much of what I’ve been reading (Ishmael, Thich Nhat Hanh, & A New Earth) and thinking about on this trip seem to converge on the theme of over-consumption and under “nourishment”. By consumption I mean not just food but anything the greedy ego wants to want more than it wants to have, anything driven by the blind aim of profit, and anything that will, at least in the short-term, fill some sense of longing or incompleteness the ego may have. By nourishment, I also mean the enlightenment and freedom of giving and receiving that which you truly need- no more, no less, not in the name of greedy abandon- and being truly fulfilled. Recognizing the “habit energy” of our consumption-driven society and stepping away to realize, this is enough. My ego is hardwired like ever other human’s to play into this pursuit of compulsive, competitive gathering, yet as Tolle says, “The ego is destined to dissolve.”

The food industry is the number one producer of waste in the United States. After that is health care. Our ever growing and warming planet is one in serious turmoil, yet our systemic global evolution continues to propel this momentous proliferation. If we do not eventually have a shift in the global consciousness of this market of over-consumption and undernourishment (the food industry being a huge culprit), we may no longer have access to the abundant resources we do today. As a side note, this also brings me back to the Mayan Prophesy of December 21, 2012, which I’ve been peripherally contemplating for a while now. I don’t believe it will be the end of the world by the way (a Mayan in Belize personally confirmed this), but I do believe it may herald a global shift, and hopefully a positive one. Their calendar suggests it will be the beginning of a spiritual enlightenment. Couldn’t be a bad thing, right? Also apparently the Spanish invaders in Central America burned the calendars that came afterwards, so we should be in the clear. :)

I don’t mean to end such a lively post with Debbie Downer jargon, but I can’t help but think of these things when visiting a country that was pure in its natural state probably 30 years ago, and now has construction cranes lining every 50 meters of the Phuket coastline. It is still a country of regal beauty and abundant resources, don’t get me wrong. Even so, I’d like to try and be a “Leaver” tourist, appreciating yet not depleting the bounty Thailand has to offer, here and now. And so with a thankful heart and a happy belly, I leave you with “food for thought” via the wise words of Daniel Quinn:

Man’s destiny was to conquer and rule the world, and this is what he’s done–almost. He hasn’t quite made it, and it looks as though this may be his undoing. The problem is that man’s conquest of the world has itself devastated the world. And in spite of all the mastery we’ve attained, we don’t have enough mastery to stop devastating the world–or to repair the devastation we’ve already wrought. We’ve poured our poisons into the world as though it were a bottomless pit–and we go on gobbling them up. It’s hard to imaging how the world could survive another century of this abuse, but nobody’s really doing anything about it. It’s a problem our children will have to solve, or their children…. Increasing food production to feed an increased population results in yet another increase in population.

I have amazing news for you. Man is not alone on this planet. He is part of a community, upon which he depends absolutely. Trial and error isn’t a bad way to learn how to build an aircraft, but it can be a disastrous way to learn how to build a civilization.

Namaste, fellow Earthlings.

Trailing Tony & Chantelle into the Phuket Market

Curry pastes, yummy!

The pink “1000 Year Old Eggs” are salted & preserved. Yikes.

A coconut press for separating into the exterior meat scraps for dessert shreds & interior liquid for coconut milk/juice.

Thai basil

Mangosteens

Rambutan fruit. I found a tiny one in Ballard when running. Wondered if I should taste it but never did.

Tofu, soy, more tofu. Take it easy if you’re male; could cause gynecomastia!

Buddhist Spirit House. Because they believe all land/buildings are haunted, they chose to create a house for the spirits, feeding & watering regularly to keep any potential unrest at bay.

How would you like to chop 5,000 chicken legs a day?

Galanga & Tumeric, oh my!

My curry dish, a little oily but delicious all the same.

Durian fruit

Coconut lime soup. I will be repeating this one.

Charles preparing his station.

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Bikram’s Torture Chamber in a Tropical Locale- Grab Your Hand Towel!

Whew! I’m actually quite thankful that it rained for about three days and cooled the air a bit because the combination of daily Bikram yoga, sultry tropical air, and eating spicy food as much as possible has me feeling positively… well wet! As I was coming back from a short run around the Bang Wad Reservior and Phuket Country Club Golf Course, I stopped by the Bikram office to say hello to Sono for a chat. “Are you wet from sweating or the rain?” Sono asked. It had just finished pouring, but I’d also just been on my first real run since arriving. “Both!” I exclaimed. It seems as though I’ve been dewey or soaking ever since arriving, whether it be in a Bikram class, in the sweltering heat with a bike helmet on, or in one of the daily (albeit brief) monsoon rain showers. I must’ve quit noticing. Glad I remembered to wear this waterproof Seattle skin!
http://jamie-monk.blogspot.com/2008/06/evening-at-bang-wad-reservoir-and-dam.html

For those unfamiliar with the Bikram style of hot yoga, it is a beautiful, disciplined, and highly addictive practice. The 90 minute sequence of 26 hathas or poses performed in a-105 degree studio began to change the way Americans exercise when Chourdhury Bikram was granted a U.S. visa in 1972. Bikram prescribed his “torture chamber” yoga to President Nixon who was battling years of ineffective treatment for a painful battle with phlebitis. In return Nixon granted Bikram American citizenship, gifted him with taxpayer funds to open his first three studios, and the rest is history.

Chourhury Bikram

http://www.bikramyoga.com/BikramYoga/about_bikram_yoga.php

I’ve personally been a hot yoga addict since 2003. I began practicing shortly after my father died, at a time when my aching heart and racing mind were unable to find stillness in the prayer and running rituals that had always sufficiently quelled. I found that the controlled pranayama breathing, focus required to execute the poses, and rush of peacefuly relaxation afterwards were an ideal antidote to the inner unrest. I would incorporate silent prayer into my practice, using the space to grow keenly aware and honest with myself about information my body was trying to tell me and to silence the inner dialogue and free itself for the universe to act on me. This may all sound hokey to those who do not practice yoga or even to those who do, but I assure you many other yogis will agree- when the practice becomes your norm, nothing else will quite compare.

The yoga studio in Phuket is pure to the Bikram specifications. They even have Bikram brand towels! I appreciate that everyone agrees to and subscribes to the same terminology, particularly when teaching. I had a funny experience when after class the other day, Sono came into the locker room when I was changing. She mentioned that they do not allow the color green in the studio because Bikram does not like the color green. I’d been wearing my teal green Lucy tank top, and it was the second time in a week! Oops. I hadn’t even read the memo on the studio door which included this request. Of course I had to fact check and read something about green being an unlucky color…I don’t want to repeat the story because I’m not sure of the source.

First of all, I will say it is so wonderful to be able to come to class not thinking about my next meeting or an email I need to write…This lesson should be adopted all the time once back in the real world in Seattle. If you’re going to go to class, go, and don’t let your mind drift to anything else. I’ve also reinforced on vacation how time-consuming (and worth it) this addiction is! A 90-minute class that requires a shower afterwards. It’s bet to practice early in the morning or last thing in the afternoon.

As I entered my first class here, I suddenly thought to myself- “Wait a second, is this going to be in English?” Haha, yes! Of course. Bikram has scripted almost every word and position of the practice for the yoga teachers. His very specific instruction has been revised over the years, but it is taught the same all world. Which brings me to a few comical components of the instructions I’ve begun to contemplate over the last few days:

“Lift up and stretch your body right and left, right and left, until you cannot stretch any more.” -This is never really the case :).

“Touch your head to your knees like a Japanese ham sandwich.” -What in the world is a Japanese ham sandwich?? And why is it any tighter than say a Portuguese ham sandwich?

“Open your chest like a flower petal blooming.” -Are there any men offended by this? Nevermind; any male practicing regularly probably has a healthy and unbiased ego.

“Lift your chest up and your head back; your back is supposed to hurt.” -For several reasons, I don’t always agree with this statement.

“Lift your heel and place it as high as possible on your costume.” -Do other languages translate “costume” to mean body?? Je ne sais quoi.

I did a “double” the other day- 2 classes in a row- I felt so stretchy during camel round 2, it was tempting to try this. Yea right!

In conclusion, I am so very thankful to have the time and space to be praciting (almost!) daily and with such a wonderfully kind and skilled community of Bikram-purist teachers and students. And yes, my Excretory System has been turbo charging its engines! ;P

Read more for yourself:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1451641427

http://ies.albeniz.leganes.educa.madrid.org/3_Dep/BioGeo/3ESOM_Chapter6ExcretorySystem.pdf

Namaste.

“If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing poles.” -Doug Larson

Salubrious, Salacious, Spicy: Slip into the sensations of (former) Siam.

It’s always a bit daunting to write an adequate update when it feels so much has happened. So let’s cut to the chase: I am entirely enamoured with Thailand. And its misquitos are completely enamoured with me! Obviously.

First of all, I have to start with scooter riding- it’s completely amazing! Yes, I’m still alive somehow. Thinking back to the accident I had on a bike in 2003, the moped was twice as heavy, and my feet definitely did not touch the ground. Not a great way to start considering you’re riding with an experienced group of adrenaline junkies through a winding hilly island. Plus, I wasn’t practicing yoga then, so balance gave way to clumsy MM most of the time. Yes, that was doomed to fail. But Peppermint Patty-my lovely Thai crotch rocket- and I have been getting along just swimmingly (so far!). She’s named for her “Scoopy”-not-to-be-confused-with-Snoopy helmet, white color, and indolent yet athletic thrust.

As Dylan was driving me to get the bike in Chalong, I was picking his brain for safety and handling tips and tricks. Dylan: “You ride a bike in Seattle, right?” Me: “Yes, but it doesn’t have a motor!” Totally different ballgame. He said when he went to get his license, they made him drive approx. 20 m on a concrete beam slightly wider than the median road paint. If you fell off, you automatically failed. Ha! I totally would have failed. It’s funny they were so strict about the exam, yet an “anything goes” spirit seems to dominate every rider I’ve seen- and yet not a single cop- this entire past week. If I start to get nervous, all I have to do is glance around to see a family of 4 all huddled on a bike the same size and maybe one with a helmet, toddler riding shotgun, and relax: “We’re all on this circus highway together! Keep your cool, MM.”

Anyhow, other than the fact that the corners of the hexagon lock essentially melted into a circle, I’ve had a blast whizzing around various nooks and crannies of Phuket, which absolutely would’ve taken ten times longer on a “bicycle.”I’m thankful that 1) Each time I ascend the winding steep pass to drive the 15 minutes from Kathu where I’m staying to the Western beaches (Hat Kalim, Hat Kamala, Hat Surin, Hat Karon, or Hat Kata, NOT Patong- think Girls Gone Wild juxtaposed w/ Bourbon Street) I always seem to be driving behind a sanely paced female; 2) I randomly packed my riding gloves; 3) I confirmed that the roadside carts everywhere selling liter-sized glass bottles with urine-looking liquids are indeed the gas stations. I shan’t walk far if I find myself on “E.”

I did have a small incident when leaving Central Festival today…let’s just say it involved knocking over a plastic gate on a sharp corner. All left unscathed except my soft ego. Pretty hysterical.[/caption

[caption id="attachment_478" align="alignright" width="300"]Scorching sun almost everyday, monsoon-like rains almost every night. This *might* never get old! This may never get old. Scorching sun almost everyday. Monsooning rains almost every night. Ahhh…

I am staying in the town of Kathu, on the island of Phuket, Thailand. Phuket is surrounded by the Andaman Sea on the east, west, and south, and borders the Phang-Nga province in the north. Kathu is centrally located on Phuket and predominately inhabited by native Thai people. The only tourists I’ve really met here are others doing the Bikram yoga holiday (many more long-term) and several girls around my age involved in a program called SHE (self-help and empowerment) which aims to guide women in Thailand out of sex trafficing. It is truly admirable and challenging work these women are doing. http://www.shethailand.org/. Thailand is a global hub for sex trade and exploitation, with migrants, minorities, and transients regularly falling victim. Needless to say, my evening activities don’t fit the pimp criteria, but i do wish I’d brought more pants. http://www.humantrafficking.org/countries/thailand

I’m looking forward to meeting up with some of the women involved in the SHE program at on Thursday to celebrate Loi Krathong. Loi Krathong is one of Thailand’s most beloved festivals, taking place on the first full moon of the 12th lunar month. People gather on nearby waterways and release origami boats made of banana leaves and decorated with flowers or candles onto the water. The guesture is to thank the river goddess for providing fields and forests and to ask forgiveness for the pollution of humans. How appropriate…I look forward to sharing photos as I’m sure it will be a beautiful event.

In addition to the SHE women and a brilliant Irish doctor on sabbatical, all of the native Thai people I’ve met are so amazingly kind and happy! I don’t know if it is the warm-hearted nature of the Buddhist culture (it’s considered rude to frown; I’d be walking around with a goofy grin here even if I didn’t know this tidbit!) or that I constantly look like I need help, but I feel very welcome and at peace with the local folk- from the phenomenal hospitality of Bikram friends Dylan, Mon, Koy, & Sono, to the woman in the yoga locker room who helped tie my scarf into a halter top, to the adorable couple at a cafe who insisted I hold their baby and take photos, even to these cute neighborhood dogs who wanted to hang and cuddle at my feet while I did some laundry! We may all have something to learn from this Buddhist way of living in “loving presence.”

Koy, Mon, & Dylan shared a Thanksgiving meal!

I made “Thai Tarot & Sweet Potatoes”

Baby Sanya is one month old. :)

“Life is what we are alive to…Be alive to…goodness, kindness, purity, love, history, poetry, music, flowers, stars, God, and eternal hope.” -Maltbie Babock

Coming soon: SPICY, tittilating (&/ terrifying) tastes of Thailand!

Critters: it’s what’s for dinner.

Everything you can’t bring with you…plus some obligatory baggage.

In my lovely apartment at Latika Mansion!

Today is my third in Thailand and just like any international trip, it’s been full of fun surprises I couldn’t possibly have anticipated (and has yet to offer any of the challenges I was banking on encountering!) Technical challenges are always my weakness- like how I’m typing at a snail’s pace from an iPad as the bluetooth keyboard is “iffy” (mom may text faster!) and the cheap camera connection adaptor i got on Amazon is apparently a lemon? So I’m taking pictures of camera photos from the iPad! Plenty of folks I know may be flabbergasted at these adaptations, but I’m just trying to go with the flow for now.

This morning is the first time I felt I’m recovering from the sleep deprivation/confusion of having traveled for over 24 hours and being in a foreign place where the dialect (spoken & written) doesn’t resonate with any familiar part of my brain. The smells are different, most foods 80% unrecognizable (what is bottled collagen really & does it work?!), yet the novelty of it all and kind funny people I keep meeting are glorious!!

Happy self-portrait

This rule is going to take some getting used to.

It’s raining right now, around 7am, and in an hour, one of the yoga instructors Dylan is going to give me a ride to his 8:30 class. Dylan is from Canada and has been super helpful in giving me the lowdown en englais, s’il vous plais! I’m hoping to join him and his wife Mon so we can exchange some Thai & American (fusion?) cooking lessons- Yea!!!

How and why did I get here you might ask? Well…at the end of the summer I ran across an add for Bikram holiday in Phuket and said jokingly to my man: “Hey, why don’t we just ¥uck it in Phuket?!” I was serious; we’d been casually talking about planning an international trip together, but our joint schedules couldn’t realistically weave the whim into reality at that point. Since then, he and I have parted ways, yet stars began to align my life for this adventure: a hot yoga teacher training I was supposed to be doing in Seattle right now was cancelled, I had penciled in a couple vacation weeks from work before 2013, and Seattle’s rainy overcast season began- and has yet to cede- its ambitious deluge. So YES! It dawned on me quickly that I was indeed going to “Phuckit” in Phuket (pronounced Pooket). Two weeks Unlimited Bikram yoga + room & board near some of the most beautiful places in the world for $400? Might be my best decision ever. :-)

The trip began as many do- with the lists and the planning and the conjuring up images and expectations in my mind (all the while trying and almost convincing 3 people to join…;) And then I was so proud when my clothing for 3 weeks successfully fit into this lovely compression sack!
WHERE are your shoes?” my mom declared when I sent her the photo. Anyone who knows my mom (“Gigi Dolly” to my brother) knows she has a knack for overpacking. Try as I might, I’m often guilty of following in her footsteps- with toiletries at least. But I have learned that packing can be an art- and backpack packing an obligatory art: enough functional & fun clothing options so that unnecessary shopping isn’t tempting; the essential hygiene/personal care/emergency items when traveling to an unfamiliar country, appropriate & minimal # shoes, and finally- DON’T bring so much that you kick yourself for having a sore back and tired feet and annoyed that you only wore half the shirts you thought you needed. I always fail when it comes to books…that’s what vacation is about, right?! Catching up on everything you’ve been wanting to read? The whole “electronic” book concept is slowing growing more attractive. But the leathery, musty stench of old books will always be one of my favorites. So “Kindle” is going to remain in the periphery vocabulary, thank you. And it’s always fun to find a book exchange on vacation or just give them away before flying home; don’t have Shades of Grey in Thailand? Enjoy!

Other thoughts on packing…I had a lovely conversation with a new friend the other day who is an engineer for a company that makes outdoor clothing & gear- climbing, hiking, camping, etc. He mentioned how watching the industry grow into a lusty, competitive, consumption-driven whirlwind has changed his personal perspective when hiking; less is more. Staying within safety’s realm, don’t let the obsessive race of having the latest or greatest gear taint the beauty or purpose of what it is you’re aiming to do- keep it simple and just get away! One item I opted to leave at the last minute- my favorite camera. I brought a cheap waterproof Vivitar to avoid worrying about damaging or losing the other one. Some items I did bring at the last minute: a harmonica (no self-proclaimed talent just fun) and a foot buff “shower multi-tool”. Considering the fact that Thai/Buddhists consider feet to be profane plus my feet will probably take a serious toll from walking and beaching, this little pleasure should come in handy. Devil’s in the details!

Ok, I really must get going soon, but first a few lessons learned from my aforementioned partner, past travels, and pearls to be ingrained while in Thailand (this is the obligatory baggage part :):

1. Be a “yes” woman (or man). “Never underestimate the absolutes importance-and difficulty- of starting each encounter with a primal ‘yes.’ ” -Richard Rohr
2. Relish in the little pleasures, i.e., juicing w dandelions.
3. Devil’s in the details; try to floss floss.
4. Question, research, experiment, repeat.
5. Organize & prioritize. Do one thing at a time & do it well.
6. Smiling is a universal language. Don’t hide your voracious laughter.
7. And likewise, embrace your inner nerd.
8. Indulge in (and share) what brings you joy- a jaunt in the woods, a taste of fine chocolate, a Thai massage…
9. Be present. Yes you could be in a million places, but wherever you are, be fully there.
10. Mind your nose. Smells can be powerfully honest guides.
11. The smell of fear is contagious; be smart but don’t expect to be a victim.
12. When traveling abroad, always make time & space to learn from the locals and embrace their culture.
13. Get out of your own way. Within safety’s limits (not running outside at night for example, ahem…) sky’s the limit when you’re open & ready!

“I have wandered all my life, and I have traveled; the difference between the two is this- we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” -Hilaire Belloc

*******Fast forward 14 hours********

Whoa, what a day! I finally made it to the beach- three beaches actually. Patong, Hat Kalim, & Hat Kamala which are about 20 minutes away via “motorbike”. THANK my bejesus for Dylan’s generous offer to help me find a one to rent. Originally I thought I could find a bike/bicycle to ride around the island or would walk quite a bit. Dylan must’ve thought I was off my rocker! This really isn’t efficiently possible. I have to admit that I was scared out of my mind to ride at first. Not only am I haunted by a moped crash on my first and only time driving one at age 20, but there are seriously minimal driving laws around here, even fewer traffic lights, and tons of traffic-yikes! But today after some guided practice, i think i broke my 9 year-old old fear! Woohoo!

There’s way too much to see and do on Phuket without motored wheels, and taxis or a car rental aren’t in my budget. Plus this is WAY more fun! Tomorrow I’ll try to get a pic of me on my crotch rocket (rented from Happy Days B&B) and of some pics of the delicious street food. I don’t know what I ate for dinner, but it rocked! And my lips were beet red from the spice factor afterwards. “Want more spicey?” “Chai chai!” Tomorrow- more yoga & beaching & cooking with Mon. I told her I’ll try to make them a “Thai” version of a Thanksgiving dish…coconut sweet potato pie, anyone? Lah gorn!