Me teaching my first yoga class at The Branches.

I joined a writing class recently, and one of the exercises was to take a decade of your life and compress it all into a single page of three-word sentences. One page. Only three words per sentence. It takes a lot of thought. What do you put in? What do you keep out? The point of the exercise is to summarize your life experience as compactly as possible. To remove anything superfluous and discover what is truly important to you.

Before embarking on this exercise, I read, and was inspired by the writing of many others in my class. They made it look so easy. Through this exercise, you could quickly see the focus in each of their lives. There is something about the three word sentence that leaves no room for prevarication. It’s simple and to the point. It makes things crystal clear.

But when I compressed my own life into a single page of three word sentences, I was struck by how sad it was. The previous decade of my life has been filled with mountains of all sizes. Lots of climbing. Lots of sorrow. There were plenty of times when everything seemed completely lost. Hadn’t I reached bottom yet? How was it even possible for more things to go wrong? Was anyone else finding life this hard, or was it just me?

It’s funny, but I began the last decade thinking that life would now be easier for me. That it would be on an up-swing from that point on. I figured I had served my time as a daughter, wife and mother. My children were growing up and starting to make their own, adult-sized decisions. I decided that the next decade would be just for me. For the first time in my life, I would focus on myself and my own growth.

Well, I did grow, but not in the way I thought I would. I look back now on the woman I once was, and I can see how naive she was. I can see how much she still had to learn. I can see all the painful moments that she will soon be facing, and I can think of no way to warn her. On the other hand, I can also say that, even knowing what I know now, I would still have made the same choices. I may have been naive, and I may have made some mistakes along the way, but I knew what was important to me, and I was willing to fight for it. I stayed true to myself. There is a certain peace that comes from that.

What all of this boils down to, is how proud I am of myself this month. That long decade of pain and sadness, all those years that I struggled to summarize in my writing exercise, did end on a bright note, after all: I was able to realize a long-held dream. Since I was a young mother, I have loved the practice of yoga, and dreamed of one day becoming a yoga teacher. However, I doubted my ability to complete the gruelling 250 hour yoga teacher training that would be required, especially after I became sick with CFS. I wasn’t sure my strength would hold up. I wasn’t sure I would have the energy. Well, this past year, I finally did it! I actually completed the training! It’s hard to believe. Not only did I complete the training, but I have now taught my first two classes!

If I were to give a message to my former self – to that woman of ten years ago – I think I would tell her to persevere. During those long, dark nights of the soul, I know that is what she most needs to hear. I might warn her that the next decade will be more challenging for her than anything she has experienced yet. But I would also tell her that she will be OK. That she has all the support she needs, both within herself and around her, to get through it. I would tell her that, even though there will be plenty of days when things seem dark and hopeless, there are many people who love her. And I would tell her to lean into that love.

I would especially tell her to soften towards herself. To show herself more of the kindness and care that she regularly shows to others. One of the big lessons I learned over the last number of years, is that the people who love me don’t care if I succeed or if I fail. They don’t care what clothes I wear, or if I’m rich or poor. They just want me to be happy, and they will do everything in their power to support me in that effort. I’ve been humbled by their care. My heart may have been broken into a million pieces over the last few years, but these people have also helped me put it back together again. I’m incredibly grateful.

Rehmannia Root

The luscious, black, moon-like discs of rehmannia root

Right now, in the middle of a heat wave, it is pleasant to look up into the dark, night-time sky and reflect on the moon. It looks so cool and white out there among the stars. It glows in a way that refreshes, in comparison to the more glaring, strident rays of the sun.

In Chinese medicine, the moon is said to be cooling and yin, in contrast to the sun’s hot, yang brightness. It symbolizes such qualities as femininity, delicacy, darkness, gentleness, and renewal. And as the moon reflects these qualities, so does our herb of the month: unprocessed rehmannia root.

Rehmannia root, particularly the unprocessed version, is a wonderfully cooling herb. In contrast to the stronger, more forceful heat clearing properties of an herb like Chinese gentian (last month’s monograph), it cools gently, like the moon. It soothes and nourishes depleted and dried out tissues, plumping them up and adding a glow. It’s gentle, moistening qualities makes it good at relieving all symptoms related to dryness, such as deep thirst, dry mouth and throat, or dry constipation.

Rehmannia root also resembles the shape of the moon, being traditionally cut into a round, disc-like shapes. It is dark in colour, calling to mind the new moon and its mysterious qualities. And interestingly, its effects are felt most strikingly in the evening and night, as it helps to clear away hot flashes, night sweats, and low-grade afternoon fever.

Unprocessed rehmannia root has a specific action on the heart, the seat of emotion and compassion. It cools gently, without depleting. And since a cool, well nourished heart is essential for good sleep, rehmannia’s soothing qualities can be very helpful in curbing sleep issues, when the moon shines most brightly.

Finally, unprocessed rehmannia root is excellent at stopping any episodes of unexplained bleeding, such as bloody nose, spitting of blood, blood in the urine, or excessive menstrual bleeding. When blood escapes from tissues like this, it is said to be due to too much “heat” in the blood. By directly cooling the blood, rehmannia root calms its stormy nature, and keeps it contained so that unexplained bleeding is stopped.

Raw rehmannia root is one of the ingredients in our Shou Wu Plus tincture, a product I often recommend to people after they have completed a long period of liver and gallbladder flushing. It moistens tissues and nourishes organs that may have become depleted through the cleansing process. It cools the heart, liver and kidneys and can improve sleep. Because it nourishes the heart so effectively, it can also help to quell feelings of anxiety, agitation, and nervousness.

If you think your body would benefit from the gentle, compassionate, soothing qualities of the moon, why not give our Shou Wu Plus tincture a try?

The Value of Support

This is me, second from the left, with my friends and my air boot.

A few weeks ago, I had an unfortunate accident. It was a minor one, and a silly one, really, but it had consequences that have put me in a bit of a funk. What happened? I stubbed my pinky toe on the foot of my living room couch and fractured it. Yes, fractured it! It’s just another example of the kind of general clumsiness that I often exhibit. I seem to have a lack of awareness of my physical boundaries, and when I’m rushed or stressed it often results in some kind of injury.

My schedule is pretty busy, and so I remember staring at that fractured toe for awhile, even as it throbbed painfully. The way I saw it, I had a couple of options: I could just leave it and keep hobbling on through the rest of the day, ignoring the pain. It would no doubt feel better eventually. But as I continued to stare at that toe, now pointed out 45 degrees in the wrong direction, I knew deep down in my gut that it needed attention. It looked obviously broken.

I was still reluctant to take action, though. It would mean putting people out. Someone would have to drive me to the hospital, maybe even sit with me while I was there. The waiting would likely take hours, completely ruining the rest of the evening. The more people got dragged into this, the more unhappiness it would create. And all because of my clumsiness.

But when I showed my toe to my husband, Mike, he was decisive and uncomplaining. He got up right away, helped me into the car and drove me to the hospital. If COVID hadn’t changed the rules, he would’ve willingly sat with me in the waiting room and made an effort to entertain me as I stared despondently at my foot. I know he would have because throughout our marriage, he’s always been the strong one. I’ve never known him to grumble or gripe about anything, and there’s been plenty of things he could’ve griped about.

This whole situation got me thinking about support, and how important it is to each of us. None of us gets anywhere in life without someone to support us. The support could be financial. It could be emotional. It could even just be physical – the simple lending of hands when you’re about to move, the chopping and stirring when you’re trying to cook, the walking of the dog when you’re too sick to get off the couch.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have had the support of many different people. I’m indebted to my parents for raising me up in the first place, to my aunts and uncles who kept their doors open, and lent me a shoulder to cry on in times of trouble. To my in-laws, who welcomed me into their home and supported me financially when I became ill. To my husband, of course. No words are sufficient to express the level of gratitude I feel towards him on a daily basis.

Over the long weekend, I travelled back home, to the small town where I grew up, and had the chance to visit with old friends. The joy I felt at reconnecting with these friendly, familiar faces was unbounded, and I realized just then how much they have supported me too. Not only do they show up for me each time I visit home, taking time out of their busy schedules to meet up, but they also provide emotional support. They make an effort to understand me, to offer their sympathy for whatever I’m going through, and most importantly, they’ve taught me how to dance in the rain.

Each of my friends have contended with a host of problems throughout their adult lives, among them spousal abuse, divorce, single motherhood, teen pregnancy, chronic anxiety, and even major heart surgery. I think it’s safe to say that none of us quite expected our lives turn out the way they did. It’s also safe to say that each of us have learned through these experiences what truly matters: friendship, humility, kindness, and that all-important ability to laugh, no matter what your circumstances. We do a lot of laughing.

And so, as I stare at the air boot that now protects my pinky toe, I see another example of the value of support. I know this boot will not heal me. I know that my foot will still hurt. I know that I will still find it difficult to walk, and half the summer will be gone before I can enjoy a good hike. There are no magical powers here.

But like all the other supports in my life, things have become infinitely easier because of it. Enveloped by its protection, I can actually walk without limping. I am protected from further injury. I continue to heal, and I heal more quickly. And as I consider the level of protection that surrounds both me and my foot, I understand what it all truly means. It means that, despite everything, even my clumsiness, I am loved.

The Waayyy Behind Book Club

Introducing the Waayyy Behind Book Club! Inspired by a book-crazy friend of mine, I thought I’d post every month about the books I’ve been reading. I am an English Literature Major, so understandably, reading is a particular passion of mine. I read, on average, about one book per week, although sometimes I read more than that, depending on how much free time I have. If I have difficulty sleeping, I reach for a book. If I’m stressed, I reach for a book. If I’m bored, I reach for a book. A lot of reading tends to get done when books become your emotional crutch!

Keep in mind that these will NOT be current reads (hence the name “Waayyy Behind”). I find it far too stressful to keep up with what’s currently popular. The books I list here will be old, out of the news, perhaps even forgotten. They will have been recommended to me by friends. I might have read an interesting article about them, or perhaps I saw them on some kind of “Best of” list.

Feel free to comment on my picks if you’ve read the same book yourself. Or, if a book piques your interest, ask me about it and I’ll be happy to give you an overview. You can even suggest other books to me if you think I might like them. I -love- to talk about books, so all comments are welcome and valued!

Without further ado, the books I’ve read this month are: Influenza by John M Barry, Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto, In an Unspoken Voice by Peter Levine, and Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers.

Influenza was particularly intriguing, as it chronicled the 1918 pandemic. You could tell the author meant some of the events to shock us (The streets were empty because everyone was afraid to go out! People were wearing masks everywhere! People would pick up goods outside of shops rather than enter them! ), but having experienced pretty much the same thing over the last few years, I could only nod, wearily. Their pandemic experience was different from ours in a number of ways, and if you’re curious, I can provide more details.

Anne of Avonlea is the second book in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s famous Anne of Green Gables series. I realized recently that I’ve never read further than the first book, even though I love the main character. So, that’s why this old book suddenly appeared on my reading list this month.

The Namesake, The Lake, and Gaudy Night were books I had read articles about, and heard were very good. Both The Namesake and The Lake have won some awards, and Gaudy Night is considered by many to be the best of Dorothy L Sayers books. (She’s a famous crime novelist from the last century).

I think my favourite book this month was In an Unspoken Voice by Peter Levine. It was a fascinating book about the Polyvagal Theory and how our bodies hold trauma. It even included some exercises you could do to release blocked energy from your own body. I learned a lot. It turns out that thinking or talking about traumatic experiences does little to actually heal them. Self-compassion and a willingness to feel difficult emotions is key.

So, what have you been reading lately? Anything good?