WELLNESS FOR ALL-Originally published on- 11/17/2019
Attending workshops at the Kripalu Yoga Center in Stockbridge, MA is my favorite way to invest time and money. Learning from remarkable practitioners of yoga, coherent breathing, stress reduction, Ayurvedic-nutrition, and most recently Metta meditation has influenced my teaching, and ways of being. Expanding my views (literally and figuratively) helps me cultivate an open, curious mind. Without this wider lens, I’m embarrassed to write, I’m not 100% certain I’d notice the inequity of the current social landscape.
My October Berkshire visit for a Metta meditation workshop with Sharon Salzberg was deep and full of transformational moments. The practice of Loving Kindness is done silently, offering benevolent health, peace, and ease to yourself, acquaintances, enemies (perhaps a difficult stretch), and all sentient beings. Who knew sitting on your butt (at times in discomfort), has the potential to amplify circles, broaden awareness, settle anxieties, and shake you awake to the life you’re living.The act of wishing good-will to others, has the capacity to not only make your inner world more peaceful, but also foster acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion and love.
Social and racial disparities are obvious in wellness spaces such as Kripalu. Access to health enhancing programs seems reserved for the affluent few. Not unlike many college tours I’ve been on (primarily in New England), the Kripalu campus was overwhelmingly white. However, diversity was strongly represented by employees cleaning bathrooms, stocking cafeteria trays, and providing fresh towels. In mindfulness practice, they say change begins with noticing. Noticing when your mind has spun out in a fantasy, your itty-bitty committee has taken a turn for the worse, or paying attention to simple pleasures- like the gripping hug of a child, snowflakes on eyelashes, or the taste of a steaming cup of cocoa on a winter’s day. We can’t change what remains unseen.
During the meditation practices, when invited to wish positive, peaceful, healing energy to acquaintances/strangers, I knew precisely who I’d be offering blessings. I fantasize about a future where healthy living isn’t reserved for the privileged and monochromatic, and where we take care of the whole and not just the haves. A future where thoroughly seeing becomes prevalent, and un-noticing doesn’t feel right in our soul, and where all beings have access to the privilege of health and wellness.
Today (post- George Floyd's death), "un-noticing" is impossible. Excavating another layer since writing the above blog-post...why do wellness presenters look the same?
Are Black Americans facing greater health risks and hospitalization rates during COVID-19 because of people's choices and lifestyles, or circumstances beyond their control?
Vermont's rebirth is happening. Although I'm no stranger to this yearly transition, it always leaves me weak in the knees. The daffodils (standing energetically above), have risen to the occasion. The blue For-Get-Me-Nots are blanketing my gardens, valleys, and everywhere the wind has blown them. What began as a small bunch from my mom's garden, has grown into a sea of pastel blue waves throughout the entire property. When I slow down and take in the beauty, all else fades away. Pandemic, what pandemic? The fleeting moment is temporary, as all things are, but this magical space between "being" and the pull of thoughts, allows me to access a hint of a greater knowing.
Gardening was a way of life from a very early age for me. My mom's flower gardens were revered by neighbors, friends, and South Hero passerby. My parents grew veggies, and tended berry patches long before farm-to-table, organic-produce, and farmer's markets were IN. Back then it was called "feed a family of seven without breaking the bank."
No surprise this VT girl loves playing in the dirt. Whether it's tending to herbs, veggies, or picking from my prolific blueberry patch, I LOVE the "growing season". It's an opportunity to nurture that which nourishes me. Maintaining a connection to soil is healthy in many physiological ways, but the ways it serves my psychological-being is priceless.
When bulbs I planted in autumn show up in their splendor, my hope is restored. When green seedlings poke their heads out of countless rows, I trust the process. When my husband trucks home yet another load of compost, I'm ready to amend. When each of my children's life-trees bloom, I count my blessings; all four of them.
I wish you a magical Memorial weekend, full of light, flowers, and love.
Okay. Enough. Done. Day 54 of this social distancing thing, and I'm beginning to feel a wee bit off; see, I just wrote "wee"...enough said.
I'm not going to indulge in all the things I'm missing, because let's face it, you're most likely missing them too. I do feel terrible for young people who're are missing their "firsts": graduations, first year spring college experiences, proms, trips, etc. They wait anxiously for these passages, and the loss is real.
Please conspire with me for just a moment to curse (yup, a drunken sailor mouth I may have), this Vermont winter, I mean weather...my daffodils are hearty, but let's not push our luck, snow pile. So here's the thing, just like Vermont weather- wait a day and it'll change- I have noticed magical things during the past 54 days during COVID-19 shutdown.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Bake-offs and families sharing recipes over Zoom.
2. Harry Potter makes a come-back for a mom and daughter (my best friend in NH), as part of homeschooling.
3. While on the homeschool subject, kids are getting almost enough sleep; not having to rush to the bus😏
4. Parents and kids doing gym class together; never before have I seen so many folks out walking, running, biking, and playing.
5. Returning birds, spring flowers, and blooming bushes all being "noticed" with greater passion than most fast-paced springs. Mother nature is taking this opportunity to show us what's possible!
6. Zoom virtual cocktail gatherings...way more fun than the striped-shirt wearing kid's Zoom I watched as a teenager👯
7. The sound of fire trucks and car horns celebrating kids on bus routes.
8. Gas expenses down, grocery bills up, dinning-out costs down, gluten consumption up...machine-drying jeans a definite no, no right now!
9. Happy, socialized, unconditionally-LOVING pets!
10. Lastly, the ease of rush-hour on our little I-89 interstate; this I relish in.
I wish you continuous magical silver linings as Vermont slowly reopens.
Take good care, be well, and notice what you're noticing.
Have I ever told you about how I communicate with my Dad? He passed 19 years ago at age 64; yes, way too young. For many years now, when I look out in the distance at Camels Hump, I communicate with him; sometimes in Waterbury when I'm on my way back from a walk, run, or bike ride. Other times, while driving back from Burlington from the back-side of the mountain.
Why the mountain top? Soon after his death, I'd make myself move my body, in an attempt to overcome raw angst, empty heart, and bitter appetite. One day I stopped on my way home and looked toward the mountain and asked for guidance. That's when it happened: the connection. From then on, the mountain became "our" place; the place I could say to him what I never had the chance to say. The place I'd launch my prayers. The place I leaned hard on. The place that was bigger than all my insurmountable pain.
To this day, 19 years later, Camels Hump rises out of the clouds each day and offers a spot to pitch my humanity-tent. She (I'm certain she's a she, due to her strength), never fails me. She's familiar with my innards. She allows the sun to slide down her back in the evening, and wakes with me in the morning. Some days she catches clouds in her tall branches, but winds comb them away and she's waits for me in her glory.
I hope I never misinterpret her hight, cold-shoulder, and ruggedness for cruelty or abandonment. I hope when my wounds open, I don't hesitate to look up and ask for guidance again, and again, and again.
I'm grateful I found her. Are you grappling with a loss? You can borrow her if you’d like.
I hope each and every one of you are healthy and have your most valuable needs (shelter, food, healthy- family & friends) met during this time.
My goal is to stay in touch and offer practices that may help ease your body, mind, and spirit during periods of information-overload and situation-overwhelm. This week's practice is simple and can be done anytime you're feeling the need of a reset.
Postural set up
Sit in a comfortable chair, crown of head lifted, chest open, belly relaxed, open palms (facing ceiling) on lap, feet flat on floor.
Take long deep breaths in through your nose allowing the belly to expand as the diaphragm moves downward, and exhale out your mouth with softened jawline and relaxed brow.
Attention & noticing
With each breath cycle focus on the following:
1. Breath #1- Bring your attention to your palms...notice any sensations of heaviness, tingling, or warmth.
2. Breath #2- Guide your attention to the bottoms of your feet...notice toes and forefoot position (encourage them to soften, uncurl, and open), root the outside and inside edges of your feet down, connect to the floor...foundation...and earth.
3. Breath #3- Allow this in-breath to expand your chest cavity (ribs wide, collarbones lifted, sternum wide), as you exhale relax your face, neck, shoulders, belly, and pelvic floor.
Part 2- gratitude-attitude
Use same breath technique- in through the nose, out the mouth. Focus on the following:
1. Breath #1- Bring to your mind's eye to several beings that you're grateful for (pets included).
2. Breath #2- Bring awareness to needs that are being met during this time...food, warm home, clean water, face masks, technology- making it possible for kid's education and virtual work to continue.
3. Breath #3 Repeat in your head and heart "help me stay open to life's gifts during this period of social distancing, family inter-connectedness, and economic shifts.”
Thanks for all your messages. I'm grateful for your friendship, honor the path you're on, and stand beside you.
Happy practicing 💜
During this extended period of time being inside, we’re forced to literally go inside. Throughout the years in Mindful Movement classes, many of you are privy to how connecting with breath, movement, and awareness of thought is an “inside job”. Each of us takes on this job for ourselves. No resumé tweaking, outsourcing, or “getting” through the last three years until retirement; only you, when ready, can do this kind of work.
Now more than ever, as our homes become smaller (or is this just me?), you may need a practice to lean on. Our new normal will continue to shift and morph, provoking confusion and loss of what we thought we controlled. Using your body as a tool to connect, engage, and release is available to you always. This isn't a plea to get fit; far from it. It’s an invitation to access subtleties such as: softened jawline, relaxed shoulders, uninhibited movements, and most importantly an open heart.
My greatest joy as an instructor has been witnessing you leave the studio unharnessed from the restraint of a guarded exterior. You have the capacity to continue this journey of transformation. My hope is that you find space, time, and a reservoir of innerwill to practice.
I’m supporting you from afar and praying for the health, safety, and wellness of you and your families.
Minimizing the effects of life-on-hold if you're anything like me, when life throws curve balls, normalcy goes out the window. Do routine-disruptions derail your healthy habits too? Why is it difficult to stay on track in times of stress?
Have you ever headed out on a road trip, stopped to fuel up, and left the gas station with a big blueberry cake, I mean muffin (even though you ate breakfast 30 minutes ago)? On most days those sugar laden, cakes of comfort, presented in their glass castles go unnoticed. But when off our daily routine, we tend to migrate from healthy practices.How about when your day is compressed? Taking time for movement or meditation seems frivolous right? When life is turned upside down, routines are ignored, organization ceases to exist, and self-care practices seem self-ish.
If the COVID-19 situation has you feeling out of sorts, you're not alone. I've heard from countless clients sharing the same dilemma! People have reported feeling: Low energy, sluggish digestion, sleeping difficulty, anxious, helplessness, and pain brought about from lack of mobility and too much tension.
Now more than ever it's important to shore up your health and wellness! Mindful Movement wants to help you during this challenging time. Although the benefits garnered from community-group classes are hard to replicate, moving together virtually can:
Mindful Movement practices:
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I could use this newsletter to convey heart healthy habits that may help stave off heart disease, but I’ll refrain from the soft lecture. Not because the disease is on the decline, nor because I’ve thrown in the towel on my personal healthy lifestyle habits. Rather, I’ve come to understand more than ever, improved emotional (heart) health comes, not from eating salmon in lieu of steak, running weekly, or meditating. These practices can’t hurt, but nothing takes the place of listening deeply to your heart.
Inner-work practices are helping me to: expand my emotional clarity, be a witness to what is (without adding unnecessary drama), allow me to “be me”, forgive childhood grievances, let go of precious friends (some who decided to let go first), and be willing to “be wrong” during arguments that have the capacity to hurt beyond what “being right” is worth. Make no mistake, the stubborn, tough-fighting Taurus in me is still learning. But I can honestly say, like the green Christmas Grinch, my heart has grown exponentially, and I feel love more profoundly than ever.
It’s difficult, arduous, and painful work. So why bother?
I believe sharing love’s reverberational-energy, has the power to heal beyond our wildest dreams (and I’m that girl who loves to dream)! I believe when this energy is shared, it grows. It’s been said, “heal thyself, heal the world”. Imagine if we all could spend a moment on the moon. How could we not consider the part we play here on this phenomenal blue planet we call home? Mindful Movement incorporates stillness, movement, and music; inviting you to breathe, feel, heal, and grow your heart, one beat at a time.
A sea of warm faces looked up at me; they were patiently waiting to learn a movement routine that would contribute to living strong, vital, and healthy lives. One is humbled when a room full of people show up at the Waterbury Library on cold Vermont mornings. I recognized some of these delightful faces from teacher conferences, volunteer activities, and various other functions. This is a cross section of the community that has shared immeasurable generosity, compassion, and guidance to myself and family over the past 25 years.
As class begins, sharing the importance of maintaining strong physiques as we age escapes my mouth with ease. Perhaps it’s the Vermont farm girl in me, or the popular zen notion that paying attention while carrying water, and chopping wood, are in fact life’s purpose. As I've often shared in class, “We use our head and our heart to create gifts and offerings that benefit and beautify the world.” Having a healthy physical body to share and transport these gifts is helpful.
Many thanks to Judi Byron, the library’s Adult Coordinator. I'm honored to serve a community that has shared valuable wisdom and virtues with many. If you’ve been on the fence about participating in the various movement practices the library offers, I encourage you to take the leap; your body, mind, and heart will benefit immensely!
Wishing you health, peace, and the warmth of community,
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
― Fred Rogers
Have you seen all the white, Subaru foresters on the roads? It happens every time I get a new car! The color, make, and model seem to explode in popularity. In reality, this isn't true; my brain is simply in "white Forester" awareness mode.
The same thing happens when I watch too much news, or listen to too many hours of doom and gloom podcasts about the fate of the world. I hyper-focus on negativity, which propels me into feeling hopeless, fearful, and useless in regards to creating change.
During morning classes, we continue offering loving kindness; thoughts, and blessings of peace, ease, good-health, and love for all. Perhaps small in comparison to what the world is in need of, but thoughts are things, and it feels good to hurl positive things rather than pitchforks.
Although Seth Godin's blog posts don't always resonate with me, the post below hit me smack in the head. Enjoy.
Perfect is the enemy of good.
Of course it is.
But that simple sentence becomes more urgent when we realize that nothing (and no one) is perfect. How could it be? And so, if your hero, your cause, your holiday, your background, your relationship… if it’s not perfect, does that mean you should hide it? Be ashamed of it? Be afraid of it?
We’re surrounded by injustice, and yesterday was even worse. It’s so easy to find things that are imperfect and criticize them or worse, shame them.
Better, I think, to find glimmers of good and seek to amplify them. Mistakes can be seen, errors can be improved upon, progress can be made. But only if we embrace the chance for good.
The imperfect is an opportunity for better.
Thank you for sitting still with me.
Thank you for believing in possibilities.
Thank you for amplifying the good, and sharing your prayers.
Becky Widschwenter- Mindful Movement with Becky