Let’s Get Lost in a Forest!

Autumn at Wheeler Peak in Carson National Forest, NM

If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan Watts

The above quote describes the experience I had as I began hiking in the forests of the Western US.  What a difference it’s made in my worldview!  The hundreds of miles I’ve trekked among trees, boulders, rushing waters, shrubs, and wildlife have felt healing from the start, as if the forests have wrapped me in a maternal embrace.

Chama River in Carson National Forest, NM

The first forest to ever steal my heart was Carson National Forest surrounding Taos, New Mexico.  I’ve spent a good bit of time in the area, taking in much of its untamed beauty.  I’ll never forget a late fall hike at Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest mountain, looking at acres of Evergreens and Aspens in the distance with their streaks of dark green and vibrant yellow. I also have fond memories of picking piñon nuts and learning to prepare them inside their shells. The area’s forest includes Aspens, various Pines, Firs, Spruce, fragrant Sage, Rabbitbrush, and sometimes a gazillion wildflowers.  Part of the Chama River runs through the forest, occasionally flanked on one side by mountains.  I was, and still am, head over heels with the Carson NF area. In fact, after years of talking about my love for northern NM, friends and family were puzzled that I chose to move to Arizona instead.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. ~John Muir

Hiking Trail inside Coconino NF, Arizona

The Coconino National Forest played a key role in my selection of northern Arizona.  Humphrey’s Peak, which tops out at 12,633 feet and is sometimes snow-capped for long periods, can be seen throughout much of the forest, and became iconic in my mind.  Between the time I first felt at home here & the year I was able to become a resident, I missed Mt. Humphrey’s like a far-away loved one.  The forest has plentiful hiking trails and encompasses the country’s largest stand of Ponderosa Pine Trees.  With a climate similar to that of northern New Mexico, Aspens, Spruce, Firs, and Junipers can be found here, as well as a few ancient Bristlecone Pines and Cypress trees. Due to a great number of blooming trees and bushes, Springtime delivers an intoxicating fragrance to the air.  As a bonus, the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness is part of the forest, running parallel with Oak Creek between Flagstaff and Sedona.  This part of Red Rock Country is not as touristy as Sedona proper, yet its beauty could be superior.

A warm hike inside Dixie National Forest, Utah

Speaking of red rocks, southern Utah has its share inside Dixie National Forest.  From the first time I explored the area, I was struck by the gorgeous contrast between the burnt red of many of its rocks and the bold greens of surrounding trees, bushes, and grasses.  I’ve done quite a bit of hosteling, camping, hiking, and exploring of National Parks in and around the forest.  Bryce Canyon NP’s many hoodoos are unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  The simple act of driving through the beauty of Zion NP is a soothing experience, and hiking is even better.  Arches NP has some really unusual red rock formations, including, of course, arches!  Dixie National Forest’s desert-type terrain is dotted by plants, lakes and streams.

I absolutely believe in a greater spiritual power, far greater than I am, from which I have derived strength in moments of sadness or fear. That’s what I believe, and it was very, very strong in the forest. ~Jane Goodall

Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming

Further north and east lies the state of Wyoming.  After my first time driving almost the entire length of the state thinking what’s all the fuss about?, I came to the Bridger-Teton National Forest.  The nagging question disappeared from my mind, replaced by Oh, my . . . wow! . . . gorgeous!  The area contains 7 of the world’s largest glaciers, hundreds of alpine lakes, and a number of sweeping valleys.  Many headwaters can be found in the forest, including Two Ocean Creek, which is split by the Continental Divide to eventually make its way to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  The Grand Tetons are part of this stunning forest.  Considered an adolescent range due to their age of 10 million versus the Rockies’ 50-80 million years, the Tetons have experienced much less erosion, which accounts for their jagged tops.

Bridger-Teton NF, Wyoming

This post would not be complete without mention of Los Padres National Forest in California, which includes the breathtaking coast of Big Sur.  This forest includes over 200 hiking trails, 100 peaks, 150 springs, and almost 300 camping areas.  Impressive, huh?  If you ever visit the area, you will never forget its extraordinary beauty.  My first visit involved a month-long work-study program at Esalen Institute.  Each morning, I walked among the trees near the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean from the boarding house to the main property, taking photos & imprinting on my soul the aesthetics of this wondrous forest by the ocean.

Pacific Coast Hwy shrouded in fog, Los Padres NF, California

What an irony it is that these living beings in whose shade we sit, whose fruit we eat, whose limbs we climb . . . are so poorly understood. We need to come, as soon as possible, to a profound understanding and appreciation for trees and forests and the vital role they play, for they are among our best allies in the uncertain future that is unfolding. ~Jim Robbins, author of The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet

Forests have indeed changed my perception of myself and that of the world.  I have no doubt now that I belong; I am a part of Nature, as are you.  During my many hours among the trees, I have come to know a healing embrace: that of our Primal Mother.

Blessings for Forest Healing,

Lisa

The Waterfall Effect

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. ~John Muir

Inside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

When I see the word waterfall, it evokes exquisite and peaceful yet powerful scenes of Nature.  When I see an actual waterfall, I often catch myself holding my breath, as if the awesome, wild beauty I’m witnessing might disappear if I breathe too loudly.  Do you have a similar response?

Through the years, I’ve visited a great many waterfalls, oftentimes reached by hiking trails.  Niagara Falls, between New York and Canada, is probably the largest I’ve seen; I seemed to capture more spray than falls in every photo I took!  Multnomah Falls in Oregon is one of the most striking, and the entire area around Portland is home to a host of waterfalls, large and small, lending itself to some amazing hikes. You may remember my photo of Hanging Lake in Colorado, a small green paradise a little over a mile up a canyon wall. Glacier National Park in Montana showcases some spectacular cascades. Yosemite National Park in California is known for its wealth of waterfall beauty.  In the Navajo Nation of northern Arizona, you will find Grand Falls, often called chocolate falls due to its muddy water from the Colorado River.  And in southern Utah, a sweet waterfall and shallow lake can be found at the end of a hiking trail in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon

In past posts, I’ve shared the idea that time near a waterfall is good for the gut’s microbiome and has a positive effect on immune function.  This post will give you more reasons to seek out waterfalls and bask in their glory.  Studies dating back to 1892 show that the natural force of water molecules crashing can cause electrical charges to separate.  As a result, some molecules gain an extra electron, and negative air ions, or NAIs, are formed, which studies show can be most valuable for health.  This process is referred to as spray electrification, or  simply, the waterfall effect

Yosemite National Park, California

According to an article published on the National Institute of Health site, the beneficial effect of NAIs include activation of natural killer cells and improved mental health, . . . which may reduce pain, including chronic pain. The article goes on to say that the changes made to the microbiome by NAIs (mentioned above) may also influence pain outcomes.  If helping with pain were the only benefit they offered, I’d say that’s reason enough to visit these spectacles of Nature.  But there’s more.

Niagara Falls, New York

A PubMed article states that studies reveal NAIs significantly reduced resting heart rate.  Further, it suggests that NAIs have a positive effect on the body’s circadian rhythms, which help regulate our sleep-wake cycle.  Could time at a waterfall resolve insomnia?

For a Healthline article entitled The Effect of Negative Ions, various research studies from the past century were examined.  Exposure to NAIs, the science shows, have resulted in reduced depression symptoms, improved cognitive performance, lessened stress, and increased fat metabolism.  The article goes on to say that it is the natural form of NAIs, not the manmade ones, that provide benefits, as there are risks associated with using electric ionizers in your home or office.

View from behind

You may have asked yourself, what about beaches and rapids and other waters that crash?  Negative air ions can be found there as well, but at lower levels.  This is due to the stronger force of gravity on waterfalls versus ocean waves or other crashing waters.  But, hey, if you’re within 10 miles of the sea and over 100 miles away from the nearest waterfall, by all means, catch some NAIs at the beach!

Grand Falls, aka Chocolate Falls, Arizona

Spending time near waterfalls not only puts us in a state of awe owing to their magnificent beauty, but also helps improve our health.  Whether you’re seeking relief from pain, sleep disturbances, or stress, or looking to boost immune function and fat metabolism, the waterfall effect may be reason enough for you and your family to plan a relaxing, healing excursion to one of these natural beauties.

Cascades of Blessings,

Lisa

Mindfulness: What’s in It for Me?

Mindfulness is a way of being present: paying attention to and accepting what is happening in our lives. It helps us to be aware of and step away from our automatic and habitual reactions to our everyday experiences. ~Elizabeth Thornton

If you’re a regular reader of Micro of the Macro, you know that I often touch on the subject of mindfulness in my posts.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, who studied under Thich Nhat Hanh and co-founded the Cambridge Zen Center, defines mindfulness as purposeful, nonjudgmental attention placed on the present moment.  A more practical explanation, in my opinion, is paying attention as opposed to allowing unconscious behaviors to run your life.  We are such creatures of habit that it’s easy to slip into mindlessness.  Have you ever driven your car home from work (or vacation!) and later realized you don’t remember the drive?  That’s an example of an unconscious habit taking over.

So what does it matter if your life is controlled unconsciously?  Well I’m glad you asked.  The big-picture answer is that by living in this manner, you are sleepwalking through your time on the planet. Each of our lives takes place within a cosmic embrace of love and blessings, if only we take the time to notice.  The sound of crickets, birdsong, ocean waves, a child’s laugh; the sight of butterflies, wildflowers, and a star-lit sky; the smell of blossoming plants; the taste of fresh foods; the gentle touch of a beloved friend: all exquisite details that can be taken for granted or completely missed when we’re in auto-pilot.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~Mary Oliver

But there’s more to that answer.  Living unconsciously means that you miss out on the profusion of benefits for physical, mental, and emotional health that mindfulness offers.  According to an article from the American Psychological Association, over 200 studies have shown that mindfulness is effective at boosting immune function, decreasing chronic pain, reducing stress, and helping with depression.  These benefits, the article states, could be due to changes in the brain’s regulation of emotions, resulting in decreased rumination on negative thoughts.  Whether you meditate, practice yoga, do tai chi, watch wildlife, work in a garden, or evoke presence in some other manner, you may discover that you’re doing wonders for your health and peace of mind.

UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine shares a write-up addressing mindfulness studies that have shown positive impacts on relationships between couples as well as those between parents & children.  Additionally, mindful parenting is . . . linked to more positive behavior in kids, the article says.  The reduction of stress through better emotional regulation seems to be a recurring theme.

In a study from Central Michigan University, subjects that listened to mindfulness recordings were found to have decreased age and race biases as compared with control subjects.  The practice allows us to rely less on previously established associations, the abstract indicates.  To me, this implies that these prejudices can be broken down rather quickly, an idea with great potential for our times.

A US News & World Report article on addiction recovery speaks to the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation for reducing substance abuse, including trials that are linked to reductions in impulsivity, cravings, and relapses.  A hallmark (of addicts) is that they’re very rarely in the now.  They’re either regretting the past . . . or dreading the future, according to Katie Witkiewitz, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico.  The practice of mindfulness, therefore, could play an important roleHowever, as with most holistic modalities, more research is needed before it can be incorporated into standardized treatment.

Fortunately, research on the power of mindfulness is expanding.  A Mindful Magazine essay examines the directions of a few of the leaders in the field.  Planned studies include exploring the effects of mindfulness on childbirth, neurological development, memory preservation, cellular aging, and inflammation.  Perhaps these researchers are working from the premise that our bodies simply function better when we pay attention to our lives.  What do you think?

Learning to be present can enrich your existence and improve your health on every level.  Awareness of life’s moment to moment offerings can result in big, positive results, helping you to recognize your life’s beautiful cosmic embrace.  From reducing stress to strengthening relationships to helping with recovery from addiction, the benefits of mindfulness practices for you and those you love cannot be overestimated. 

We need to awaken ourselves. We need to practice mindfulness if we want to have a future, if we want to save ourselves and the planet. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Blessings for Presence,

Lisa

The Generosity of Plants

This week, I’ve begun reading The Well-Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature by Sue Stuart-Smith.  The book presents various research findings on working with Nature and draws beautiful parallels between gardening and developing a healthy mindset.  Stuart-Smith is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and her book was chosen by The Times, Britain’s oldest national daily newspaper, as one of the best books of 2020.  I guess you can tell I’m pretty excited about it, as I’m not even halfway through, but already wanting to share!

Early on, the author asserts that our species emerged in the savannah landscapes of Africa, and over the course of evolution, our nervous and immune systems have been primed to function best in response to various aspects of the natural world.  These aspects, she says, include the microbes we eat and breathe, the amount of sunlight we are exposed to, and the natural vegetation around us.  Further, she states, When we work with nature outside us, we work with nature inside us.  

Stuart-Smith shares research done with many subjects in diverse environments.  She’s visited prisons to witness the difference that gardening programs have made for inmates, in some cases offering them opportunities to find work as gardeners post-release, which has been shown to lessen chances of recidivism.  She also writes of a garden project done for inner-city 7-year-olds with a high rate of learning disabilities, which not only resulted in a sense of pride and accomplishment for the little ones, but also transformed their sense of self-esteem and motivation.  Additionally, she addresses the use of therapeutic horticulture for those with depression, trauma, and anxiety, as studies have shown that the benefits of regular gardening are similar to those of cognitive behavioral therapy.  

I am enjoying the book immensely not only because it supports the ideas of Micro of the Macro, but also because of the memories it evokes.  As a small child, I often worked with my grandmother and uncle in our family garden.  No matter what was going on, working in the garden brought me into the present moment, with the sweet smells of tomato vines and dark soil, the intense feel of the sun on my skin, and the sight of bumblebees attracted to the yellow squash and cucumber blooms.  Years later, when I began hiking on a regular basis, I learned to treasure the smells of mountain tree blossoms and spruce needles, Ponderosa Pine bark, and an occasional deliciously earthy whiff of unknown origin.  Being present in this manner provides a calming escape from past regrets and worries of the future, wouldn’t you agree? 

Although we can derive amazing benefits from plants, their compassionate actions aren’t exclusively for humans.  In a delightfully-written article for Bay Nature, a 20-year-old publication advocating for the good of the environment, Endria Richardson brings our attention to the generosity of the California Redwoods.  Their biology, she states, does not require open-heartedness or a daily decision to be kind; it simply is, as a matter of design. This biology, or blueprint for being, can give rise to collective wellbeing: needles drop, bark is shed, a rich duff develops that protects not only one tree’s roots, but the root networks of clusters of trees.  During the time I lived among the Coastal Redwoods of Sonoma County, I was fascinated to learn about their root system; their underground support of each other allows them to grow to dizzying heights and withstand high winds.  On hiking trails, I also witnessed new trees sprouting from old, seemingly lifeless trunks.  Richardson continues her article by writing that acts of Redwood generosity help not only other trees, but also contribute to the lives of a variety of plants, animals, birds, and berries high off the forest floor. 

In an article written for the US Forest Service, we learn the extent of selflessness of the humble wildflower.  They support entire ecosystems . . . Butterflies and other insects, small birds, and animals depend on seeds, nectar, and pollen for their food supply and life support, according to the write-up.  Are you noticing a pattern?

Believe it or not, even weeds can demonstrate generosity!  A Mother Earth News article shares that some weeds can benefit surrounding plants by protecting the soil, pulling up water and nutrients from great depths, and helping with insect control.  (Check out the article to determine which weeds you should keep!)

Nature provides us with an endless array of magnanimous acts.  The plant kingdom supports not only our well being, but also the health of its various members as well as other life.  This generosity seems to be part of Nature’s design of plants. Working with vegetation gives us access to that life-enriching bounty.

Blessings for Generosity,

Lisa

Pope Francis, I Disagree: A Tribute to Earth Day

Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The original version of this heavily-edited post was first shared last year. The sorrowful effects of the pandemic are on the rise again in many countries and the senseless destruction of our planet continues. The message here becomes more urgent each day.

Since he was first elected, Pope Francis has been my favorite pontiff. I’m not Catholic, but I admire the fact that he’s not afraid to regularly speak out against corruption, specifically the neglect and exploitation of our natural environment for profit, as is common on a grand scale. For these reasons and many others, I feel he is a world leader in the truest sense.

Recently, the Pope expressed his belief that coronavirus could be Nature’s response to climate change. He was quoted in a UK periodical saying, “There is an expression in Spanish: God always forgives, we forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the last part of that statement.

In honor of Earth Day, I present my defense of Nature, and therefore, my disagreement with the Pope.

The widespread death and health decline brought about by Covid-19 is unlike any other health crisis we’ve seen in the past 100 years. I’m on board with the idea that much of the fallout may be attributed to the (internal and external) functionings of Nature struggling from abuse and neglect; it’s hard for me to fathom how so many of us ignore the simple needs of our bodies and our Earth. But I don’t agree with the words Nature never forgives.

In my opinion, our external natural environment must attempt an ongoing balance of sorts, similar to our internal Nature’s constant drive for homeostasis. (For example, when we get too cold or too hot, we shiver or sweat, which reestablishes our normal body temperature set point.) The global warming callously caused by our species is like a disease to our planet. As a result, the natural world sometimes unfolds in ways resulting in death and destruction. I believe this devastation is related to rebalancing on some level more so than Nature’s unwillingness to forgive. What do you think?

Hope springs eternal – a revegetated Sunset Crater Volcano, Northern Arizona

In the podcast Food Independence and Planetary Evolution, Rich Roll, author of Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself, talks with triple-board certified Zach Bush, MD, about the wretched state of our food supply. In large part, the conversation centers around the soil-decimating and gut-destroying glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer which is used extensively in non-organic and non-regenerative commercial farming.) Dr. Bush, after speaking more than an hour on the sad and unjust consequences of using glyphosate and other current farming practices, shared the concept of biological grace, which he defines as the ability to heal faster than injured.

His first example of this idea relates to the microbiome of the gut. He talks about some of his clinic’s patients who, after a lifetime of damaging disregard for their health, can make a few simple changes and see health problems improve or reverse in a matter of weeks or months. These changes, including physician-monitored short-term fasting and (largely) ridding their lives of harmful chemicals, give a much-needed break to their biological systems, allowing Nature’s healing force to rush in and restore health, instantly forgiving the former myriad of abuses.

A table at a farmers market in Taos, New Mexico

Dr. Bush goes on to address soil health within the same paradigm. Decades of using genetically modified seeds, applying glyphosate, mono-cropping, and tilling are killing the life in our soils, resulting in, among other calamities, smaller yields with greatly reduced nutrient content. His estimates show that about 98% of the earth’s soils are now depleted in a similar manner. According to Dr. Bush, if these harmful measures are stopped, biodiversity can return to the soil within a single growing season. His team has partnered with the Soil Health Academy, and together, they have witnessed this renewal in over a million acres. In my mind, this, too, epitomizes Nature’s forgiveness.

In light of this information, I would like to say humbly, Thank you, Pope Francis, for calling the world’s attention to our ailing planet during a time of darkness like none we’ve known. But science backed by experience disproves your statement “Nature never forgives.” This clarification could critically impact our ability to overcome and move forward. Although the pandemic continues to rage, regardless of its source, I choose to work daily to achieve biological grace for the health of my body and my Planet.

Blessings for Forgiveness & Grace,

Lisa

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. ~Anne Lamott

Frittata Primavera

Packed with fresh herbs, tomatoes, shallots, and green onions, and requiring just over half an hour from start to finish, this tasty stovetop frittata is a favorite Sunday morning breakfast in our house.

The first vegan egg-like dish I learned to prepare, although delicious, took way too long. First there was the chopping, next the mixing & resting of the batter, followed by the sautéing of the veggies, the frying of the batter, and finally the steaming. Ugh! By the time I sat down to eat, I was famished! You can imagine how thrilled I was to find a similar recipe that, once modified, takes a lot less time and might be even tastier!

And, you know if I’m sharing it with you, it has to be healthy! Shallots have good amounts of potassium, Vitamin C & Vitamin B6, and may help with allergies, bone health, weight, and circulation. Tomatoes are rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin K1, and lycopene, which can help reduce risks of cancer and heart disease. Fresh dill is a great source of various plant compounds that can play a role in kidney, liver, heart, and brain health. Fresh basil is packed with nutrition, including good amounts of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, manganese, copper, and iron, as well as several essential oils that are antibacterial & anti-inflammatory. And chickpea flour (in addition to a fabulous flavor) has a great deal more calcium, potassium, and fiber than wheat flour.

Give this recipe a try, and let me know if you find it to be a party on your palate!

Many thanks to Vegan Sandra for the original recipe.

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients
2/3 cup chickpea flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
Several grinds of black pepper
3/4 cup water
1-2 shallots, minced
2-3 green onions, chopped into 1/4 inch segments
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped into 1/4 inch fronds
2 tbsp fresh basil, cut into 1/4 inch chiffonade
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, leaves chopped, but not too fine
1/2 cup Heirloom tomato, diced
2 tbsp avocado oil (or olive oil)

Directions
Hand mix the first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the water & whisk until well combined. Add the shallots, green onions, 3 fresh herbs, and tomato, stirring thoroughly. Coat a large pan with the oil and heat for 2 – 3 minutes on medium. Add half the batter (or all of it if your pan is large enough) and cook for 5 minutes. Flip, using 2 spatulas if needed, reduce heat to the higher side of medium-low, and cook an additional 3-4 minutes, until mostly golden brown. Repeat with the rest of batter if you didn’t cook it all at once.

Serve alongside avocado, and for you big eaters, add a couple pieces of toast. Enjoy!

5 Ways to Nudge Your Body Toward Optimal Function

The human body is a marvel.  Its ultra-intelligent design allows it to operate in ways without even requiring our attention.  The billions and billions of chemical reactions occurring each second are nothing short of symphonic.  The habits that become your lifestyle radically influence that symphony, for better or worse.  By providing your 70 trillion cells with the support they need to function at their highest levels, you make it possible to prevent or reverse disease, increase energy, and lengthen your time on the planet.  

In his book The Healer Within, Roger Jahnke, Doctor of Classical Chinese Medicine, explains, “Dozens of spontaneous self-healing mechanisms . . . are programmed to sustain or restore our health and vitality automatically.” And further, “The foundation of all self-healing, health enhancement, stress mastery, and personal empowerment is deep relaxation.” Below, you will find some of the best techniques I know to help you develop that foundational sweet spot.  (Reminder: I’m not a medical professional, and you should consult your Doc or NP prior to trying anything new.)

  1. Yoga – It took me many years to understand the statements get out of your head and drop into your body, bits of advice often dispensed by my well-meaning yoga teachers.  But finally, it hit me: by placing my attention on my breath and body alignment during poses, I put aside the process of jumping from one distracting thought to another for the duration of the class.  Dropping into my body calms my mind, and this calm stays with me for hours afterwards.  (Plus, all that stretching, twisting and bending keeps me an arm’s length away from aging!) According to an article in Psychology Today, regular yoga results in the central nervous system’s release of GABA, a chemical which works to suppress anxiety for hours after the practice ends.  Check out my friend Cindy’s blog Unique Times for some quick, heart-opening hybrid practices.  She’s a bright light and a great motivator. 
  1. Massage – According to an article from Mayo Clinic, massage is good for not only stress release, sore muscles, and circulation, but also insomnia, nerve pain, fibromyalgia and digestive disorders.  I have been a huge fan of massage as far back as I can remember, primarily because it feels so good to get my stuck energy remobilized!  In the past, I’ve gone once a month, but for the past few years, I’ve increased my time on the table to twice per month.  My neck and shoulders are much happier!  No massage therapist? No problem. Even self-massage can yield benefits.
Massage tables on the cliffs of Big Sur, CA
  1. Meditation – This practice dates back for thousands of years, and I’m guessing the reason it’s still around is because it is so advantageous.  U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine published an article stating that in addition to meditation boosting emotions, decreasing anxiety, and helping with depression, it also improves heart function, slows age-related cognitive decline, and strengthens the immune system.  What’s more, I’ve read from other sources that it increases creativity.  Years ago, when living and working at a Buddhist Retreat Center in Northern California, I had a regular meditation practice.  Presently, I am renewing that commitment.  A huge thank you to my neighbor, Jan, for introducing me to the Headspace Guide to Meditation on Netflix.  I find guided meditations easier than going it alone.
Music night at the hostel with the Tin Man and Scarecrow
  1. Music – Research shows that Celtic music, jazz, classical, and Native American music are great for reducing stress, says an article on Chopra.com.  In addition, playing an instrument or singing causes endorphins (happy chemicals) to be released in the body.  The article goes on to say this is especially beneficial for children and cancer patients.  Personally, I can’t imagine getting through a single day without listening to music, humming, singing, and a little dancing, can you?
Golden Gate Park
  1. Nature – I’ll bet you knew this was coming, didn’t you?!  As I write this post, I’m sitting outside in the warm Arizona sunshine listening to birdsong and the wind blowing through the trees.  According to the article Why Nature Sounds Help You Relax, According to Science on Health.com, sounds such as rustling leaves and a babbling brook can help reduce stressful fight or flight feelings and increase the body’s capacity for relaxation.  

As you can see, these techniques not only help you achieve the foundation of relaxation needed by your body for optimal function; they have beneficial side effects as well. Combining one or more of them with other healthy habits can be the key to unlocking your best possible life. What could be better?!

What are your favorite relaxation techniques?  If you don’t normally honor your body’s need to relax, would you do me the favor of trying one of these?  I’d love to hear your experience.

Blessings for Healthy Foundations,

Lisa

The Sweetness of Spring

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

This beauty recently came to me via text from a beloved cousin. Thanks, Deb!

For the past few days, I’ve noticed the birds are back and making their happy presence known. I took time out this morning to admire the black, white, and vibrant red of two acorn woodpeckers out a back window. In preparation for the return of the hummingbirds, I’ve planned to hang their brightly colored feeder in a couple weeks. And after two days of snow last week, we stood for a long while in the warm sunshine enjoying the sights and sounds of a large paddling of ducks in a drainage pond. In the hopeful spirit of this miraculous season, I’ve talked to neighbors about planting, given a lot of thought to getting rid of things I haven’t used in a while, and am actively changing up my diet. I cannot recall ever being this enamored with Spring.

Acorn Woodpecker

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing, as it does, no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible. ~Mary Oliver

I remember as a small child dressing in a pastel yellow dress, lacy bonnet, white ruffled ankle socks, and black patent leather Mary Janes for church, closely followed by an egg hunt with cousins. Oh how I loved hunting for Easter eggs! It was by far my favorite part of the holiday; I enjoyed it more than the chocolate bunnies!

Elements of our Easter holiday originated in Ancient Mesopotamia’s spring equinox celebrations, as far back as 2400 BCE, according to an article on the website Learn Religions. Celebrated on the first Sunday after the first post-equinox full moon, the name Easter was probably derived from Eoster, the lunar goddess who was celebrated on the first post-equinox full moon. It was believed that on that day, the lunar goddess mated with the solar god, and their child would be born on the winter solstice of December 21st. The hare and the egg were symbolic of this celebration for their representations of fertility and new life.

The gardens at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. ~Rachel Carson

The birthing of animals in Springtime is certainly a reason to make merry. Years ago, when I first met my life partner, he was living on a horse farm in central Florida, and I spent a lot of time with him there. I can’t tell you how many hours we spent in the different paddocks, loving up all the horses, getting the young ones to trust us, and witnessing foal watch! It’s so exciting when the broodmares are expected to give birth at anytime. And the foals’ first few days of life, as they learn to feed and walk and play: what an absolute joy to watch!

Baby is bravely curious with Mom close by

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. ~Audrey Hepburn

Humble beginnings

The sprouting of new plant life is a process that showcases the unparalleled design of Nature. Just think of the potential and perseverance a tiny seed must contain to reach maturity and bear fruit! I have neighbors who have already purchased seeds for planting in their gardens. And in many parts of the country, flowers will soon be flourishing, sometimes taking over fields as far as the eye can see. Savoring the exquisite view of a field of wildflowers is a fine way to spend part of a warm sunny afternoon.

Near Taos, NM

A flower blossoms for its own joy. ~Oscar Wilde

It’s also spring cleaning season! I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of cleaning, but I feel so much better when it’s done. And donating things that I no longer use is like a healthy purge. According to an article in Psychology Today, physical clutter can easily result in psychological clutter. Too much disorganized “stuff” can cause you to feel less than comfortable at home or in the office. It can also lead to feelings of being out of control and contribute to poor eating habits. Once internalized, clutter slows neural pathways, leading to memory loss as we age. Ok, I’ve got a bit of spring cleaning to do . . .

Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller. Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow. Soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs or the black prickly branches of bare oaks and beeches and elms. ~C.S. Lewis

Another transition into the Spring season should be eating lighter foods, according to the principles of Ayurveda, one of the oldest wellness systems in recorded history. Leaving behind the cold months of Winter, we should be eating fewer heavy, oily, sweet, and salty foods, opting instead for lighter foods including salads, leafy (especially bitter) greens, other vegetables, sprouts, beans, and berries. Seasonal eating works with the biology of our bodies, and can increase fat burning and decrease seasonal allergies.

A tiny bit of loveliness

The functions of your body are vested in Nature’s rebirth. I hope you will make a point of benefitting from the sublime gifts of our new season. Take your family on an outdoor outing, try some new recipes, or get rid of some stuff you don’t need anymore. May the abundant hope and beauty of the season cause you to reflect on the miracle in which we are all immersed. Happy Easter!

Tender green leaves on Aspen trees

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration
. . . ~D.H. Lawrence

Springtime Blessings,

Lisa

Trails of Renewal

Trail in Grand Teton National Park

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something . . . that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

That subtle something that Stevenson references above is love, in my opinion. Hiking for miles in areas surrounded by mountains, stately trees, and wildlife I’d never seen in their natural habitat, with amazing skies overhead and occasional otherworldly deserts, all punctuated by streams, rivers, lakes, and seas: these are the gifts of Mother Nature that resolved my sense of disenchantment (see Escaping Normal for more on this), healed my thinking, and delivered me into the realization of oneness with Her. Can anything other than love mend one so thoroughly?

Over the course of 3 years, I visited many places known for their visual charm, where I hiked hundreds of miles. I encountered moose, buffalo, elk, bears, marmots, all kinds of birds & reptiles, deer, squirrels, and chipmunks. The sights, sounds, and smells of these explorations in Nature were rejuvenating. And the experiences I had will forever make me smile.

Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God. ~George Washington Carver

The Teton Trail where I encountered “Chippy”

My funniest memory of hiking was on a trail in the Teton Range of Wyoming surrounded by autumn-kissed leaves, grandfather evergreens, and plentiful ground cover. I had been on the trail for a long while without passing another hiker, so I was in a bit of a meditative state. As I rounded a cliff, a sudden, severe screech shattered the silence, scaring me to shivers. Continuing onward, I soon saw the culprit: a tiny chipmunk, the apparent sentinel of the forest, screeching more frequently as I approached him! You little *%&#!

Part of our hike in Germany

One of my most unusual hikes was in Northern Germany with a friend I was visiting. It was a long hike, through lots of hilly rural settings. We were on a trail for most of the day, but we also traipsed through a cow pasture. I voiced my concern that perhaps we were off the trail, and I was afraid we were going to be shot, but my friend assured me that her neighbors were a bit more lenient than mine in the US!

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. ~John Muir

Cathedral Wash trail

Cathedral Wash in Northern Arizona has been my most challenging hike, both physically and mentally. The trail drops about 400 feet in elevation through layers of sandstone which become towering cliffs on both sides of the trail in places. Many of the drops of 3 to 30 feet require an assessment as to how to descend to the next part of the trail, and there is some scrambling involved. The first time I hiked it, there were no cairns (markers) indicating the best way to proceed. On my second visit, the trail had been marked, but it had recently rained, and the best way to hike the dry trail is different from the best way to hike the trail with inches-deep water in places! Cathedral Wash ends with a breathtaking view of the rushing Colorado River just outside the Grand Canyon.

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit. ~Edward Abbey

Hanging Lake up Glenwood Canyon

The trail that resulted in the most unexpected beauty at the end was the ascent up Glenwood Canyon, Colorado to Hanging Lake. I had heard good things about it from fellow rafters the day prior, but nothing could have prepared me for its extraordinary beauty. This is also the trail on which I learned one of my most important hiking lessons: always have extra camera batteries on hand! I got a few nice shots, but not nearly as many as I would have liked.

Hiking among California Redwoods

Hiking through the California Redwoods on a trail that took me to the waters of the Pacific Ocean qualifies as one of my most inspiring hikes. Glorious Redwoods enveloped me for most of the hike, and near the end, the view opened up to deep blue sky, gently crashing waves, and the rocky coast of Northern California. What a spectacular reveal!

The scene at the end of the Redwood trail

All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.
~Alexander Pope

View from a trail inside the Grand Canyon

In addition to the trails already mentioned, I’ve also trekked through a rainforest on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, made my way to the tops of waterfalls at Yosemite, and explored much of California’s Sierra Nevada. I have witnessed on foot the majesty that is Glacier National Park. I enjoyed a number of waterfalls while hiking the Columbia River Gorge and descended to the water’s edge at Crater Lake. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, wandered up and down the red rocks of Sedona, and traversed a great many tree roots and boulders on the way to the top of Mt. Humphrey’s, the highest peak in Arizona. Hiking the great outdoors has been good for me physically, but I feel it has served me even better psychologically and spiritually.

Sedona’s Secret Mountain Wilderness

Nature has an incredible capacity to heal and rejuvenate us. Hiking among mountains, trees, lakes, oceans, and wildlife, I know I am at one with this awesome creation; I belong. The healing love that emanates from Nature is like no other: She is, after all, our collective Mother.

Sweeping View from the top of Mt. Humphrey’s

Rocks and waters, . . . are words of God, and so are men. We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. ~John Muir

Blessings for Oneness,

Lisa

Red Rocks on the Water

The lovely little desert town of Sedona, Arizona, has more than 400 miles of trails for hiking and biking, and is surrounded by 1.8 million acres of forest land, according to visitsedona.com. Not bad for a destination known for its spas and luxury resorts! The rich colors of Sedona’s earth and trees are a delight for the senses. And as much as I love the trails and forestland in the area, my favorite part of Sedona is where the red rocks meet the waters of Oak Creek.


My first experience of Oak Creek was many years ago with a fellow hosteler from Switzerland and a guide. We were thrilled with the areas the guide shared with us, which were not open to the general public. We visited a sacred hollowed-out rock high on a ledge surrounded by breathtaking views. We hiked for miles in areas where we saw nothing but awe-inspiring vistas of trees and shrubs dotting red and orange rock formations. Finally, we found ourselves at a creek with towering colored cliffs on one side and old growth trees on the other. I will never forget how peaceful it was. And gorgeous!


Slide Rock State Park, on Oak Creek just north of Sedona, is a popular destination in the warmer months. The park is on a 43-acre historic apple orchard, and its 80 feet of narrow waters are open for swimming, sliding, and wading. There are also a few short hiking trails for those who’d like the opportunity to warm up after spending time in the extremely cold water!

One of the most photographed images in the Southwest, according to The USDA Forest Service, is the reflection of Cathedral Rock in Oak Creek at Red Rock Crossing, which can be seen inside Crescent Moon Recreation Area. This park offers a picnic area with views unlike any other. There are hiking trails, and fishing and swimming are allowed. We soaked up the beauty while strolling along the water’s edge and soaking our feet in the creek afterwards.

Many of the hiking trails in Sedona run alongside or on occasion cross Oak Creek, but there is one trail that zigzags it: West Fork. My favorite time to hike this trail is either spring or fall: during springtime, the area is strewn with flowers and blooming trees, and in autumn, leaves are at their most brilliant reds and golds. Crossing the creek can be tricky in places when recent rain and snowfall has been plentiful. Most crossings involve navigating rocks or a fallen tree.

Even if you choose not to hire a guide or pay to enter a park, there are other ways to enjoy Sedona’s Oak Creek. Check out a trail that takes you to the water, and pack some food in a backpack for a hike & picnic. Bring the little ones in their bathing suits with small water toys. Or simply find a place near the creek where you can hear the water rushing and take some time to meditate. However you choose to enjoy it, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Many folks visit Sedona for luxurious accommodations offered among the extraordinary beauty of the red rocks, but the area offers so much more. Whether you are looking to hike, wade, swim, fish, photograph, or simply soak up some natural beauty, Oak Creek takes the beauty of Sedona to the next level.

Blessings for Beauty,

Lisa

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