Things that shape my days

Elemental herbalism

Being a herbalist, I use what nature offers in the form of plants in a number of ways to optimise mine and others wellbeing. Primarily this involves creating personalised herbal tonics, or teas, taking into account the elemental qualities of each herb, their therapeutic actions and the recipients constitutional factors. Reflecting on the qualities of the many different herbal medicines has helped influence my view of many different aspects to life – the ebb and flow of heat/cold, dry/damp, toned or untoned (think of this as degrees of function or dysfunction) – how these impact myself and others, and how we can work with this knowledge to bring more balance to our experience each day.

These concepts also cross-over into the elemental theories foundational in many traditional medicine practices including the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems – the elements, after all, affect the energetic flow of all things. Herbalism can also extend into the kitchen – for example how we can adapt our culinary choices in order to respond to a physical need. This may include selecting a more pungently spiced dish with fresh ginger to aid a sluggish digestion; or taking a bitter tonic to help offset a fatty meal by increasing bile flow temporarily; or avoiding a certain food that creates inflammation in you, so you do not trigger undesirable symptoms either short-term or in your future. Which leads me to the next point…

 

Food as medicine

You are what you eat…quite literally. As Hippocrates said more than 2000 years ago “let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. It’s not a new concept – you can affect your physical self, vitality, mental health and overall wellbeing with the foods you choose to consume regularly; and also connect to the wider environment via your food choices. Eating and drinking are not passive, nor always benign, acts. Your food is actually information that you bring into your body and which it subsequently responds to. As food is broken down the particulate matter is ‘seen’ and understood at a chemical level as useful, or not, or even toxic – so do you nourish yourself or choose to burden your body with processed, useless non-foods or items that can be toxic, particularly with regards to dose?

I know that every choice matters and that ‘moderation’ is a myth so aim to only consume foods close to nature that offer nutrients my body or the beneficial microbial life within my gut can use. I choose not to be a pawn of the food industry and food marketers – so steer clear of heavily processed, refined and chemically-laden pseudo-foods. Food is medicine or poison – be mindful of this and how your food choices are impacting your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Developing a more mindful way of living brings me to my next influential practice…

 Mind-body awareness

The mind-body-spirit-environment interconnectivity is something I am personally aware of as I make an effort to observe both my inner and outer worlds. Taking time daily to pause and tune into any bodily sensations gives me insight into how I am physically, emotionally and spiritually each day; and offers an opportunity to reflect upon these and change course if what I am doing is detrimental. For example, I may note some excessive muscle stiffness and opt for a more gentle yoga practice that day, or take some magnesium to help speed up my recovery. Learning how to listen to myself and respond appropriately has taken time and practice, but is how I live more authentically and fine-tune how I flow through the world each day.

I have learned it’s most important to specifically observe my mental processes, as the mind can be harder to manage; but if not paid attention to it can run wild and not serve my highest good. It is equally important to me that I regularly expand beyond the limitations of my physical body using more expansive awareness techniques, and allow my spirit to connect to the wider world – this helps bring perspective. All of these practices increase my awareness and are a form of personalised mind-body medicine; allowing me to respond rather than react, and increases my resilience to everyday stressors.

Though being mindful means I am aware of all that is uncomfortable as well as all that is going well, many of these practices can induce the relaxation response, which leads to greater wellbeing. As building awareness has been a life-long process I have discovered a number of tools with which to so so, including meditation, art-making, personal journalling and reflection, regular reiki practice, and simply spending time in nature. However simply becoming more aware is not always enough, or fully realised without a method with which to express yourself…

Expressive art & creativity

Authentic self-expression is fundamental to wellbeing so finding a creative outlet is important. Art can take many forms (for me this might be painting, cooking, blending herbs and essences, gardening, building things, and dancing) and is an expressive language without boundaries. When art is used as therapy it offers healing and growth opportunities to everyone. For me, creating art projects or expressing myself via visual journalling has allowed me the opportunity to delve into everyday life challenges, or into transpersonal realms; to reaffirm my values, and explore future possibilities. Much of my creative expression now takes written form and through this I have learned that in order to be well I need regular time spent simply in my physical body – to move and not allow my mind to roam unnecessarily. I get this experience from walking in nature and from my physical yoga practice…

Yoga

From memory, my first experience with a yoga mat came in early 1997. A time when to practice yoga was less about physical asana (postures) and more about the practice of meditation in spaces filled with incense and chanting. Since then I have come and gone from the mat over the years but along the way I learned that yoga is a journey of ongoing self-inquiry. I currently have a physical practice six days a week for at least an hour each time, sometimes two, and it’s highly variable and often challenging, but always filled with growth potential and interest. Some days I flow and feel strong; other days I face some physical or mental challenge on the mat (because something in me hurts, feels overly stiff, i’m tired, it’s an unfamiliar posture, the room is too cold for my liking, or some other challenge to work with). My yoga practice is more than physical asana, extending to my regular meditation practice and breathwork, or pranayama. That said, my physical asana are extremely valuable to me as this commitment to practice builds my strength and balance, and improves my mobility.

Even a brief practice leaves me with something worthwhile despite not always being easy – in fact it is rarely, if ever, easy – but that’s the path I take regardless. Through observing my evolving yoga practice I have learned that even though I have a tendency to push myself too hard (not only on the mat but elsewhere in life!) it is possible to focus and work hard, but still be kind to myself and that to do otherwise is incongruent. This is why my commitment to a regular physical yoga practice and ongoing persistence even when it’s difficult has benefitted many other areas of my life. Being on the mat helps me explore what’s going on in my body each day, and showing up to classes in various parts of the world has led to the added bonus of connecting me to a global community I wouldn’t have met otherwise…

Exploring 

People and places, travelling and exploring – these are passions of mine since I first poured over world maps as a child – then became part of my life once I took my first hikes and camping trips, followed by explorations to Europe and SE Asia in my teens. Since then my many explorations have made me open my eyes to the new and unexpected, to learn how well I travel alone, as well as in company; taught me new levels of patience, and how little is under our control; and how this life has given me many opportunities to connect with interesting and inspiring people. Even better, I have gotten to experience so many new food cultures – after all, who doesn’t love culinary adventures?!

What I  have learned from my travels as a visitor, as well as from the opportunities to live long-term in a number of different places is that:

  • the majority of people the world over are good, and have the same needs and desires as one another – we are more alike than different;
  • it’s wise to remain open to new perspectives as there are many ways to view even the most seemingly simple things, and who’s to say what is ‘correct’ when truth can be relative;
  • it’s important we all take steps to protect this incredible planet we are a part of, and that if you are not actively participating in or pursuing a solution you are probably part of the problem – we are all responsible and can all make a difference;
  • even when life seems hard or unfair – it’s still good and we are fortunate to be experiencing it;
  • making memories and forming connections with a global community is worth so much more than accumulating material possessions in one place; and
  • it’s important to remain mindful of all you have to be grateful for, and simply be in the moment you have right now; you never know what will make for a great story in future, or what you will learn from.

 

Yoga image credit to: Ksenia Makagonova