Your Health Liberty
The freedom of choice.
This is ultimately what America stands for, is it not? Ok, in literal verbiage, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But if you whittle that down to a concept, one might argue that this phrase represents the notion of choice over the way we direct our lives, which is a mindset shift from “the government is telling me what to do.”
Before I go on, please note that yoga – as I interpret, practice, and teach it – has no agenda. It merely exists for us to orient ourselves in our lives, and learn about all the options we have to manage ourselves, our health, and our lives. It’s not about political right and wrong, or even “health” right and wrong. Its about options. Choices. Think of it like ice cream flavors. Yum.
Speaking of health, as the national holiday came and went last week, I suffered the worst congestion cough and head cold that I’ve had in years. It put me absolutely on my back on Wednesday, unable to do anything but rest and recuperate.
It was very reminiscent of the routine types of colds I used to get due to severe allergies to life, ahem, dust, trees, mold, ragweed – basically, things you breathe in from the outdoors and the indoors… real fun time of life that was. It was this state of ill-health that committed me to yoga in the first place ten years ago. Being slammed back in the seat titled, “Terrible Immune System” got me thinking about choices…
One of the biggest lessons of yoga is that our health (and its close cousin happiness) is intrinsically linked to our choices. Now, I’m not talking about genetically inherited diseases. I am not medically trained to understand complex illness caused by genetic mutation. But the choices we make regarding everyday activities that affect our health and quality of life can be contributors to bigger problems down the road or simply contribute to the litany of current and common ailments – lethargy, inflammation, depression, anxiety, or the strength of our immune system and body in general. Those choices are tricky little suckers.
While I am a total proponent of western medicine for helping with major medical problems or even minor ones where it’s simply your fastest path back to health (I mean, set your intentions, do your practice, pray to whatever god you choose, but also do what works, amiright?), often there are small, daily choices that when we can observe them (without judgement, yogis), and make self-loving choices that are better for us, they can make a world of difference on our health and happiness. These little brats, ahem, choices are the ones I’m talking about. This is where that whole humility thing comes in. (Trust, we’re all in the boat of humanity – I’m the blond in the back trying to get everyone to sing kumbayah and breathe.) Yoga helps us look at the whole of our lives beyond simply “healthy or sick,” and make determinations about where we can make adjustments – choices.
So, clearly, I drink the yoga-koolaid. I’ve slowly (very very slowly) made changes to my lifestyle choices over the last ten years since I got “serious” about yoga. I am now what most Midwesterners would call a pedigreed hippie. (I like to think that being one with mother nature can also demand an esteemed title, don’t you think?) On the coasts, I’m just “quirky.” Point being, yoga – in the way that I practice and teach it – is about way way way more than a bunch of poses with names that are hard to prononce. Which brings me to my choices that helped contribute to the annoying Cold-of-Independence-Day-2018.
In a nutshell, what led me to my health demise last week started a few weeks ago. Being that I have a history with a delicate-flower-like immune system, I do all kinds of “crazy” things, such as be a stickler about my 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and be very particular about alcohol and refined sugars, and generally skip gluten altogether – all things that affect inflammation and the immune system. They are not all hard and fast rules, but I know that usually, I can only get away with cheating on one before the domino effect takes over. Would I prefer to stay up partying like a rock star until two in the morning? Or even just stay up practicing yoga late into the night? (Love me my pre-bed yoga, and often recommend it for anxiety-prone and those with trouble sleeping.) Would I prefer to eat pizza over many other options? Hell yes. But what I learned long ago as I faced the music that I am not one of those work-horse-immune-system people, is that I had to stop focusing on the things I couldn’t do, and pour all my energy into focusing on the part that I liked about the new choice. I did a poor job of this in the last few weeks of June where there was one-too-many warm-weather cocktails, a-few-too-many indulgently late nights, and a pile of work that had to be pushed through. Commence immune system break down.
So back to those changes, I mean choices. It isn’t easy. Some days – many days – I failed. (Clearly, hence the cold last week.) But in making changes slowly, I truly learned to like the choices that work better for me and my immune system, which made me love my life a whole lot more. Instead of being sick and tired much of the time, I learned what foods, schedule, parasympathetic-nervous-system-pacifying-poses, and people I needed to surround myself with to be healthy and physically / emotionally / mentally present for my life. Key to this success was to take these changes one by one. I committed to my yoga practice. And to listening to my body, even when it meant pushing back deadlines, canceling plans, etc. I cut things out, or added things in, allowing a few months for each new adjustment. Patience was, and still is one of my biggest hurdles, but at least there’s a dialogue between what I know I want, and what I know reality to be. And I made it to the other side to say LIFE IS SO MUCH BETTER NOW. Thank Goddess.
So I felt that it was fitting on our country’s birthday, where we celebrate INDEPENDENCE, that I write a blog post about choices, and how closely that is related to independent thinking, and yoga. Sometimes, the recommended course of action doesn’t work, or is well-intentioned, but may not be the best for you, individually. Step one to figuring it out? (ESSENTIAL – DO NOT SKIP BEFORE GOING TO STEP TWO) Take time for you and your thoughts, without distraction from anything – what do you know about yourself? What are you avoiding? What are you resisting? Write these things down. Make them look pretty on fancy paper and nice handwriting or ugly on a cheesy mailer with a sharpie, whatever suits your soul. Be willing to stop looking outward for the right answer from an expert or “someone who is xyz qualified.” That doesn’t mean don’t get opinions and professional council – but – Step two – be willing to stick with your choices long enough (eight-to-twelve weeks) to see how they affect you, and be willing to shut out any voice that doesn’t coincide with what truly lifts up your health and spirits. Silently forgive your mother / father / spouse / child / doctor / therapist / friend for trying to hand you their answer. Find your own. Trust it. Protect it. Love it. If its the right choice, it will undoubtedly love you back.
SO! If one of your tough choices is sugar, like mine was (to eat, or not to eat, that is… ok a bad joke) – this recipe is a GREAT cheater for getting a little sweet-tooth fix, without the white sugar. Indeed sugar in fruits is still sugar, but if you’re “canary-sensitivo” like me, you might find the energy sap is far less with natural sugars than white refined sugar like I did. Plus it’s great for the season!
RHUBARB (STRAWBERRY) SAUCE (sans white sugar)
- 2-3 cups chopped rhubarb (available at farmer’s markets this summer!):
- 1-2 cups cut, ripe strawberries (optional – less for less sweet, more for more sweet):
- 1 cup chopped dates:
- 1 tsp. pure almond extract (not pictured)
Cook it all down in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add as much as water as you like to your preferred consistency. Enjoy warm or cold over yogurt, ice cream, or just with a spoon!
Peace out(side and in),