Life

On Mindful Creativity

collage by Chelsea Owens, MFT and ATR

collage by Chelsea Owens, MFT and ATR

Lately, as a way of engaging in this life, I’ve been shifting my attention as I wander around San Francisco, with the intention to creatively engage by paying attention to my surroundings. I’ve been trying to pay less attention to my phone and actually look up at the sky, clouds, at more trees, noticing their differences in shape and form and how differently they all dance when it’s windy. I’ve noticed short vignettes on my commute that make my heart swell up and remind me that I'm alive: catching a glimpse of a surly, tattooed, and mustachioed delivery driver head-banging to and blasting Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at 8am, or a small child’s innocent glee at the sight of his classmate, subsequent embrace and exchange of excitement for the day ahead of them. My intention is to write down ten new things I notice each day as a way to creatively engage in the world. It usually ends up being more like two, but a work in practice. Mindful creative engagement with the world could be play or it could be serious. It could be an afternoon adventure, sitting in a forest, chopping vegetables for a meal, or painting- all are our own response to the natural world.   

Creative expression and art can be utilized as a modality to explore feelings, ease emotional conflicts, and foster self-awareness.

Art making and creativity has a potential to fulfill psychological and spiritual needs through personalizing spaces, expressing or reframing a narrative of one's identity, drawing attention to the immediacy of the present moment in one's body, or practicing as a concrete tool of grounding and self-soothing. Creative expression, when shared or cultivated in a community, can foster a sense of belonging and witnessing. Through exposing your vulnerable self, and opening to the fear or possibility of criticism, there is immense healing power through communion with others in understanding how completely brave it is to share parts of yourself in service of the hope of receiving acceptance and love, as well as understanding how completely we all feel and desire the same thing- to belong. The therapeutic application of mindfulness, or focusing one's attention and opening up awareness, can reduce anxiety and stress, and increase our ability to open to oneself and the world by shifting one's perspective of the world. Psychologist Ellen Langer states that mindfulness, or the noticing of new things, leads to more awareness of how things change depending on the context and perspective from which they are viewed- mindfulness then requires that we give up the fixed ways in which we’ve learned to look at the world.

Naturally then, the marriage of art making and mindfulness would be assumed to increase the possibility of healing parts of your wounded self, communicating thoughts and feelings, and noticing the ways you are or are not paying attention to yourself or the world. Creativity is not something that some people have and others don't- anyone can be creative. Our creative nature is a part of our daily lives, Langer says, from the way we speak to how we express our culture, and even in the seemingly mundane activities. However, often people’s self-imposed judgments show up as obstacles to expressing their creativity, such as what the end product “should” be, how things “should” look, or playing a script of fixed ways of looking at the world. In art therapy, we often address this- it’s not about the end product it’s about the process. Langer said we distinguish the product from the experience of creating it, and for most of us it is a terrifying prospect to imagine being judged in this way. If only we could put aside our concern for others’ judgment, creative engagement could transform our lives through whatever creative endeavors we choose. We often do things we know with certainty we will be good at. We often avoid things we know, usually without certainty, that we will not be good at. Who put that criteria there? Where did the good and bad come from and how could you challenge dichotomous thinking?

Ellen Langer says the more mindful, the less self-conscious we are; the more we know what we’re going to do before we do it, the more opportunity there is to be self-conscious and to process mindlessly- art can make us more mindful, and being more mindful may increase our ability to do and appreciate art. 

 

“I am an artist…I am here to live out loud.”

— Émile Zola

Contemplation:

How can you let your creativity and expression play, explore and be open to the world around you?

How do you want to expand?


*for further reading: Ellen Langer’s book On Becoming an Artist is a great resource on this topic, as well as her book Mindfuless.

collage by Chelsea Owens, MFT and ATR

collage by Chelsea Owens, MFT and ATR


 

JUST BEYOND YOURSELF

Just beyond

Yourself.

 

It’s where

you need

to be.

 

Half a step

into

self-forgetting

and the rest

restored

by what

you’ll meet.

 

There is a road

always beckoning.

 

When you see

the two sides

of it

closing together

at that far horizon

and deep in the foundations

of your own

heart

at exactly

the same

time,

that’s how

you know

it’s the road

you

have

to follow.

 

That’s how

you know

it’s where

you

have

to go.

 

That’s

how you know

you have to.

 

That's how you know.

 

Just beyond

yourself,

it’s

where you

need to be.

 

-David Whyte


Chelsea Owens is a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified art therapist committed to restoring balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Based in San Francisco, CA, Chelsea uses creativity, reflection, and expression with her clients to help illuminate communication from the inside out. Through joyful, light energy and her passion to empower retreat participants to access their true potential, Chelsea looks forward to help creativity flow at the  Wise and Wild Women’s retreat . For more information, please visit Chelsea at  www.chelseaowenstherapy.com

Chelsea Owens is a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified art therapist committed to restoring balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Based in San Francisco, CA, Chelsea uses creativity, reflection, and expression with her clients to help illuminate communication from the inside out. Through joyful, light energy and her passion to empower retreat participants to access their true potential, Chelsea looks forward to help creativity flow at the Wise and Wild Women’s retreat. For more information, please visit Chelsea at www.chelseaowenstherapy.com


Sit With Meditation: On The Abundance In Each Moment

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Breathe in and experience the fullness of the lungs, the expansion of the body, and the abundance that exists in each moment. May we think, speak, and act from this place of enough-ness and offer the practice up to the wellness and freedom for all beings.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu


Do You Neti? A Visit To The Baraka Ceramic Studio

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It's been about a decade since I first heard about using a neti pot to clean and rinse the nasal passage. One of my first yoga teachers recommended the practice when I was dealing with a gnarly cold. I remember googling "neti pot" back in 2007 and quickly dismissing the treatment. No way was I going to pour warm, salty water through my nose. Sounded uncomfortable and probably unhygienic. 

Ten years later, when I was dealing with yet another wild cold, I mustered enough courage to give it a try. I was home in Florida at the time, visiting family for the holidays and went to the local health foods store in search for a neti pot. I unknowingly picked up a hand-crafted ceramic Baraka pot. It's beautiful design and grounded-ness made the idea of nasal rinsing a bit more inviting. I also bought the Baraka Infused Mineral Salts because I figured if I was going to pour salty water through each nostril, the salts might as well have some lovely essential oils. It's all about self-love and rituals, my friend.

This time around, I approached the neti pot with a bit more knowledge, openness, and context. Nasal irrigation has been around for thousands of years, as old as Ayurveda medicine itself. One of the core principles in the Ayurvedic philosophy is that we digest and experience the world around us through our five senses; thus, the Ayurvedic tradition teaches one to keep these sense organs clean to support healthy digestion (physically, mentally, and emotionally) and inspire clear perception and intentional engagement with the self and surrounding world. I'd already been practicing oil pulling, tongue scraping, and self-oil massage (abhyanga) and felt ready to give the neti pot a try. I carefully mixed a heaping 1/2 teaspoon of salt into the pot and gave it a go. After a few adjustments in the angle (you need to tilt your head down and to the side so the water doesn't go down your throat) the water came pouring out! It was instant relief and I was truly amazed at how less congested I was after the treatment. Not only that, but my cold was gone within a few days.

I don't have allergies and really don't get sick very often; however, I still use my neti pot about once a week. For me, it's a nourishing and cleansing ritual that supports clear perception. I want to awaken my senses and engage fully with the world around me and the Ayurvedic rituals, like the neti pot, support this intention.

If you are at all curious about nasal irrigation, I highly recommend the Baraka products. I recently visited the ceramics studio and was struck by their holistic, green, and mindful approach to design and production. They source clay and herbal ingredients as close to home as possible and are careful in their manufacturing and packaging practices. They are committed to the happiness of the their employees, customers, and planet and are striving to support others in living their best lives.

Om Namaste

Meredith

 

 

Sadhana: Awaken and Energize Your Home Practice

Hi and Happy New Year!

I'm very excited to whole-heartedly invite you to my first offering of the year, Sadhana: Awaken and Energize Your Home Practice. This workshop will be offered four times in 2018 and is designed to be a year-long investigation of YOGA as a living and practical practice.

Together, we will explore and cultivate a home practice that feels alive, nourishing, and sustainable for YOU. This will include movement, breath work, and meditation. All of this will be steeped in the teachings of the Yoga-Sutra and there will be a special interest in the yamas and niyamas, the first two limbs of the 8-limbed path described by Pantanjali. We will use the yamas and niyamas as launching points for contemplation, awakening, and integration. They will be our inspiration to fold into our essence or spirit wisdom IN ORDER TO unfold back out into the world with more clarity, attention, and intention.

May this practice be an offering to all beings everywhere. May our thoughts, words, and actions contribute to the well-being and freedom from suffering for all.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

Suggested Reading:
Yoga For a World Out of Balance by Michael Stone

Schedule & Structure:
This training will be offered four times in 2018 (1/14, 3/17, 8/12, 12/9). Students can either attend a single session OR commit to a year-long investigation in philosophy and life practice.*

*Meredith’s Tues/Thurs morning classes FOLLOWING the session are included in this program.

This course provides 3 Elective Contact Hours for YGSF’s 300 Hour Program [3 Yoga Alliance® CEUs].

Tuition is $75, or $55 if you enroll by 12/31.

YGSF Members receive 10% off the regular price of this workshop. Alumni receive 15% off the regular price of this workshop.

Sit With Meditation: Sankalpa, the Heart's Longing

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Welcome to another episode of Sit With, A Meditation and Contemplation Podcast. In this practice, we start by calling Ganesh, the Remover of obstacles and the Lord of new beginnings. We come through 108 rounds of the mantra and deep seeded vibration, "OM GAM GANAPATAYE NAMAHA." From this initiation, we remember sankalpa. In yoga sankalpa is the heart's longing of how we want to feel and BE in this life.

Let an emotion, a word, or maybe a phrase arise in the body, around the heart, and in the mind and from this remembrance welcome a devotion. It's from this place that we have the opportunity to align our thoughts, words, and actions to this sankalpa, or heart-filled intention.

Yoga, NOW, is an offering to the well-being, the freedom, and the sweet joy for all beings everywhere. Yoga, NOW, is a living and practical practice to be awake, compassionate, and loving in the world. Yoga, NOW, is a way of being in this new year and in each moment.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhanvantu

OM NAMASTE

Sit With Meditation: From the End, It Simply Starts Again

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If you need a reminder of the magical land and life we live in and all the nourishment she provides, head to Big Sur, California, stand on the Earth, listen to the waves, and watch the sun rise and set. It will inspire, energize, and connect you to all the good feels and may even help clarify some matters of the mind. 

I recently made a big life decision that has had some significant and moving effects. After a year of wishy-washy thoughts, wobbling back and forth trying to make it work, I finally got clear and brave enough to end a relationship that deep down I knew wasn't right for either us. Within a week of that decision, I found a new place to call home and moved in with a sweet friend from college. The timing was incredible. The day before the break up, my friend emailed me asking if she knew of any apartment openings. She got a job in Oakland and was moving back to the Bay Area. I didn't know of any off the top of my head but I threw out the idea of us potentially finding a place together. A quick Craigslist search led me to a fully furnished and recently remodeled flat with a beautiful backyard and yoga deck (pictures and practice videos to come!)! Things were in movement and I met with the owners who were lovely and kind and passionate about life. They were looking for someone to take good care of their home while they took some time off to travel the world.

Done and done. We got the place, signed the lease, and moved in the next week. My friend had already had her flight booked from Korea to SFO, landing on November 20th. The apartment happened to be available November 19th. The process moved swiftly and effortlessly, and I seriously couldn't have crafted a better plan or executed it more efficiently.

But that's how life is sometimes, especially when you make a decision based on some solid intuition. I'm certainly still digesting and processing all that has happened and all that is still evolving but one thing is for sure- the universe is full of energy. There are flows, tides, and rhythms that are strong and fierce and awe-inspiring. As humans we are a PART of nature and have the potential to be swept up by the flow. I made a choice that I knew was going to put me in a period of transition; however, the experience has been nothing but gentle and graceful and that is something I am utterly thankful for. I felt like I was in a strong current getting pulled tenderly through the vast and mysterious ocean, all wide-eyed and curious as to what the present moment had to offer. 

Which brings me to this week's mediation and contemplation...

In this mediation I guide you to the bottom of the exhale and encourage you to linger in the emptiness, only to observe and experience the new and life-giving inhale. The teachings of yoga suggest a life-death-life again cycle and the breath teaches us that everything exists in one breath. It's from the bottom or the death of the exhale that we begin again and feel into the fullness and richness of this life. Yoga teaches us that everything arises, unfolds, and then passes away. This body, our work, and our relationships are all impermanent and ever-changing and evolving. It's when we live in the illusion of permanence that we tend to get stuck or experience suffering in some way. It's when we cling or grip too tightly to an idea that we often lose sight of what is actually happening in this moment. In yoga, this is avidya, or the inability to see things or be with things as they are. It arises from the notion of wanting this moment to be different in some way. We think if only this relationship was like... or if only I had that job... or if only I had more experience... THEN I would be more satisfied, happier, or more content. This is a dangerous illusion and only causes dukkha, or suffering, pain, or dissatisfaction. 

Yoga is a way of being and meditation is a practice of returning, over and over again, to the present moment. Everything exists in this moment. All the love, magic, and life we long for exists in THIS moment because all we really have is the present. Even when the shit hits the fan and we lose a job, end a relationship, or watch a loved one pass away, we still have this moment and this life. And even though we can't control very much, we can control where and how we place our attention. Meditation is the art of attention, a gathering back to and a remembrance of all that we do have in this moment. This moment is the home of great potential, serendipitous interactions, and beautiful relationships with the world. 

So whether you are going through your own transition or you simply want to hone your sense of attention, this practice is for you. I hope you find it as rich and life-giving as I do.

Lots of Love,

M

Episode 1 of Sit With: Breathe and Be AWAKE in the World

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HELLO!

I am so excited to share the very first episode of Sit With: A Meditation and Contemplation Podcast. In this week's episode, I take some time guiding you to a comfortable and sustainable seat. It certainly takes some effort to sit nice and tall but the key is finding the EASE within the effort or the SOFTNESS within the structure. This is true for the yoga practice and the life practice, as well- right? If you need a visual or some extra support in finding a seat, please watch this beautiful video . I share some different sitting options as well as some general meditation tips. Once we are settled, I guide you through a 4-part breathing technique used to lengthen the breath, strengthen the lungs, and activate prana or life-force in the body.

The parts are:

  1. The Inhalation
  2. A Moment of Retention
  3. The Exhalation
  4. Another Moment of Retention (with breath held out)

I follow up with a simple, focal point meditation. In today's practice, the focal point is the tip of nose and specifically feeling each breath come in and through the nostrils. If you are newer to this practice, the mind will wander almost immediately. I talk a bit about the habits of the mind and where it tends to go. The important thing to remember is that meditation is a PRACTICE and mindfulness is knowing where the attention is. It might be a while until you even notice that the mind has wandered, but when you do... AHA! This is the moment to PRACTICE letting go of whatever has arisen and to practice shifting the attention back to the focal point. The cycle of drifting and returning will happen again and again so be patient, kind, and gentle with yourself. Over time, you will be able to rest the attention on the focal point longer- experiencing space, calm, and clarity.

For me, this is the HEART of yoga. This practice of sitting and noticing where my mind, attention, and energy is has been life-changing and life-giving. It has given me the ability to know when thoughts, emotions, and sensations arise and it has given me the tools to pause, connect to my wisdom and THEN respond and engage in life. You might notice yourself reacting less and responding with more intention and direction. This is a powerful, empowering, and really gentle and kind practice and I hope you find it as energizing as I do. 

As always, please comment or email me with any questions, experiences, or insights. I love hearing from you!

Lots of Love,

Meredith

 

Introducing Sit With: A Meditation and Contemplation Podcast

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I am so excited to share my newest project, Sit With: A Meditation and Contemplation podcast! This will be a weekly invitation to start your week with clarity, calm, and intention. I will be sharing simple and accessible meditation practices that I have found life-changing and life-giving. I love yoga and the movement practice but for me, meditation is the HEART of yoga. It is through this practice that I have learned to know where my attention is and to more consciously and kindly CHOOSE where and how to place it. Meditation has given me the tools and skills to be awake in the world. It is through this practice of sitting that I am more able to walk through my days and life with rich energy, vitality, and passion. 

So mark your calendars, subscribe below, and join me Monday, November 13th for our very first episode!

Lots of Love,

Meredith


The Queen Of All Tomatoes: Early Girls from Live Earth Farm

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Earlier this month I discovered Early Girl tomatoes. I was shopping at Monterey Market in Berkeley, California when a huge box of the most amazingly vibrant tomatoes caught my eye. A worker was unloading them and I simply asked, "What are those?" Before he could even respond, the lady next to him said, "The most delicious tomatoes you'll ever eat. Just get a whole bag full." The worker went on to tell me that they were Early Girls, a dry-farmed tomato variety. He told me that the tomatoes are just watered a few times right when they are planted, and are then left to do their plant magic! The result is a smaller, yet more flavorful tomato. I was sold, did what the lady recommended, and brought a whole bag home.

The lady was right! They were the most delicious tomatoes I ever tasted and couldn't help but eat three whole, raw tomatoes when I got home. Like literally, I just ate them like you would an apple. After I took a moment to pause and gain some composure, I decided to make gazpacho! You might remember that we had a few 100° plus days earlier this month so I needed some thing cooling and refreshing. You can check out that recipe and the Gazpacho Goodness post here. It was simply divine and perfectly delicious.

The thing is, once you get a taste for Early Girls, you won't want anything else.

The tomatoes whispered and reminded me that it’s OK to be vulnerable and that there is actually great authenticity and desirability in being delicate and fully seen.

I have come to realize, over and over again, that as much as you look for something, something also finds you. Through a series of choices and a commitment to following your heart, you arrive at something that you have no choice but to accept: to learn more, work for, live with, or live for. It becomes a part of you and you become a part of it. You become a dedicated Spirit committed to the path, the direction, the life that has found you. Teaching yoga and meditation is that for me AND I'm starting to discover and get pulled by plants and the land as well. Vegetables, herbs, and aromatherapy keep walking into my life and I feel like I have no choice but to walk with them. I am particularly drawn to specific plants such as frankincense, calendula, eggplant, olives, and now dry-farmed tomatoes.  

After I ate my first Early Girl, I had this urgent need to know where these perfect little tomatoes came from and after a bit of online researching, I found Live Earth Farm in Watsonville, CA. They are committed to growing exceptional food with care and respect for the land. They grow all the amazing things: apples, strawberries, kale, lettuce, carrots, peppers, beets, summer squash and what I now call the Queen, Early Girls, dry-farmed tomatoes. 

Shelby, farmer, holder of the land, and spirited human being, greeted me with kindness and open arms. She showed me to the tomato fields and set me free! It felt like she was saying, "My farm is your farm," and the land was saying, "This is yours and you are mine." There was a harmony, a peace, and wildness to the time I spent wandering and being in the fields. The tomatoes whispered and reminded me that it's OK to be vulnerable and that there is actually great authenticity and desirability in being delicate and fully seen. 

I know this is a start of a life-long relationship and I'm excited to learn more and experiment with different recipes. If you are near Watsonville, I highly, HIGHLY recommend a visit. They have lots of u-pick weekends and a few yearly events. Right now you can pick strawberries and tomatoes and soon you will be able to pick apples! And on Saturday, October 21st Earth Live Farm is hosting a Harvest Festival with apple cider pressing, pumpkin decorating, tractor rides, live music, and lots of goodies. Check it all out here. 

And now I'll leave you with a contemplation:

What does the land offer?

What do we offer to the land?

How do our actions affect the land?

How can we, human beings, be more mindful, respectful, and compassionate to the life and nourishment all around us?

Peace Out,

M


Being Well On-The-Go

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Being well on-the-go is learning to be kind to yourself.
— Sydney Leto

If you travel for work or have a case of wanderlust, you may be able to relate to the challenge of feeling well, aligned, and nourished on-the-go.

I'm writing this from a real-time perspective, as I am currently in Greensville, South Carolina where I have been for the past few days leading a Wise and Wild Women's retreat at Furman University. Directly before that, I was visiting family in Florida while also being visited BY Hurricane Irma. The past two weeks have been unpredictable, a little unstable, and awe-inspiring to say the least... and I loved every minute of it.

Outside of my regular teaching schedule, I'm not one to follow a daily routine. Over the years and through a LOT of trial and error, I have realized that I actually thrive in the more organic, go-with-the-flow sort of moments. For a long a time, I felt guilty, shameful, and reckless when I would make little and life decisions more spontaneously; however, now I KNOW that it's actually energizing and life-fulfilling for me to be present and to move through life from a place of intuition. Schedules and routines are draining and make me feel stuck. Travel and fluidity feed my fire, fill my soul, and allow me to engage more FULLY with the people, animals, and land around me.

However, I know this isn't true for everyone and I recently sat down with my good friend and most wonderful teacher and human being Sydney Leto who travels and leads outdoor adventures for a living. Below she talks about her perspective on wellness and shares all her tricks, tools, and wisdom for staying grounded, energized, and nourished while living on-the-go.


Meredith: How do you describe your work?

Sydney: I am an active travel guide for a company called Backroads. The company started in Oakland nearly forty years ago and now offers mostly six day hiking and cycling tours all around the world. While a major part of the job is being active outdoors and exploring new places, an even bigger part is supporting and caring for our guests. I am everything from a hiking guide to a caterer, a bike mechanic to a DJ, an expert to a driver.

Meredith: What do you love about your work?

Sydney: I love the people I get to collaborate with each day. The Backroads community is an incredible coming-together of open minded, beauty seeking adventurers who are always looking to be a little bit better.

At first communal living was a challenge for me me, and at times it still is, but now I love walking into the house and knowing that one of my coworkers/roommates will probably offer some seed of inspiration - either through picking up an instrument or asking an interesting question.

Meredith: What are some of the challenges you face in this “on the go” lifestyle?

Sydney: It is next to impossible to know when you will have space, or create a solid routine. Most mornings I wake up in a new bed, in a shared room, with likely two other people. The greatest challenge is establishing simple rituals that help me feel grounded when everything around me is constantly changing.

Meredith: How do you start to describe what it means to be “well?”

Sydney: Being well on-the-go is learning to be kind to yourself. This was my greatest challenge as a new leader.

The moment I gave up the comfort of my everyday routine in San Francisco was the same moment I began forcing control in other parts of my life. What I learned is that when you're constantly in motion though, the best lesson is to have a sense of self while maintaining a flexible mind. In this lifestyle, most days will not go as imagined - a hike might get rained out, a guest might need special attention, your five minutes of morning quiet might be interrupted, you might eat something you normally wouldn't - but through being kind to yourself, rather than critical and spiraling out of control for days, you can bounce back and be even better the next time you encounter a challenging situation. Through this lifestyle I've learned that being well is flowing with the stream rather than grasping and working against it. It is living in a way that is lovely - with yourself and the world around you.

Meredith: What are some tips/tools you have to stay well?

Sydney: Creating a self-care toolbox is essential, for any type of lifestyle. For me, it is hard to find physical space for practice, so instead I try to find space in my mind first. Each morning, before I lift my head off the pillow, I simply observe where I am, how I feel, and notice the qualities. By this I mean that if I am feeling foggy, I simply observe that state, without spinning a story about it. If I'm feeling rested, I observe that state just the same. Then, I take a moment to set my intention for the day. I ask myself, “how do I want to feel today?” And then I determine what I need to do to feel that way. It isn't a particularly long time that I lay in bed thinking, maybe two minutes. Then, I get up.

Another ritual that helps me feel grounded on the go is simply preparing a thermos for the day with hot water and lemon. I also need coffee, so I have a smaller thermos for that. Breakfast - even eating something - is essential. It's the one meal I seem to have the most control over, so I do my best to have something juicy and filling, like fresh fruit and some nuts or oatmeal.

I've also heard that hugging someone first thing in the morning will help you live longer. Just saying.

Meredith: You were mostly recently in ALASKA! Tell us about that.

Sydney: When I was first sent to Alaska, I had no idea what to expect. I was totally ignorant - I didn't even realize that Alaska had mountains! But, this place is perfect. Alaska is water. It's green, it's blue, it's gray and it's dramatic. I didn't realize how distracted I was living in a city until I found myself in vast Alaska. This place makes you crave something simple, it tempts you to pursue peace and quiet. It's totally creative.

Meredith: And where are you off to next? 

Sydney: Next up I am heading out east to Nantucket, Vermont and Maine. After living in San Francisco for three years, where it's always mild, I am so excited to experience a full fall season again. There is something so comforting about the fall, it always feels like a homecoming.

 

Keep up with Sydney, her travels, and her committment to staying well by following @sydleto on Instagram. 

Intuitive Recipe: Cold Lentil Salad

Cold Lentil salad

Cold Lentil salad

Living and growing up in Florida trained me to manage the hot and humid weather and so while most everyone around me was complaining and saying "I am hot," this past weekend, I happily embraced the rare muggy and intense heat. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that Saturday was my FIRST beach day in California, where I actually wore a bathing suit and went INTO the ocean.

I never, never thought that day would come but it did and it was a much needed and enlightening homecoming. It inspired me to think about my life in California and how long I'll really be able to live here. I am a beach and warm weather girl and know I will one day find my way back to a more tropical location to call HOME. There are lots of things I appreciate about California, like the most delicious and accessible produce, wild landscapes, and open and curious people, but I know in my heart California is not HOME for me. My body and mind and overall wellness thrive in warmer and wetter climates.

But for now I'm here in Berkeley and know there is work, good work, to be done.

So when the 100 degrees hit us last week I noticed one, and I realize it's a big one, difference between 100 degrees in Florida and 100 degrees in Berkeley. There is NO air conditioning here, or at least not in my modest cottage. So while the indoors, pools, and beaches are a respite in Florida, it's a little more difficult to cool off here in California. We bought fans and went to the beach, and ate cooling foods and drinks. 

I already shared my delicious dry farmed tomato gazpacho recipe and plan to add it to our "go-to" recipe list. Seriously, if you have never tried a dry farmed tomato, please go out and find one. They only water the tomatoes when they are planted, which results in a smaller and more flavorful tomato. Srsly, tho... it means business. 

Here is another fabulous cooling meal with LOTS of protein. The original recipe with exact amounts is here, but I used it mostly to gather key ingredients. If you've been reading my Intuitive Recipe posts, you'll know I am practicing my intuition by cooking from a place of "feeling" and with LOTS of taste tests.

It turned out perfect and much more filling than the gazpacho recipe. Did you know there are 18 grams of protein in one cup of boiled lentils? So if you are looking for a refreshing and protein-rich meal, this is your gal!

As always, please comment below with any questions or thoughts and if you find this recipe tasty, share with friends and family.

Light and Love,

Meredith


Cold Lentil Salad Recipe

Remember, this is a guideline and it's purposefully vague. Practice your intuition, be playful, and do lots of taste tests! 

Ingredients:

Green lentils, two bay leaves, some garlic, olive oil, salt, whole grain mustard, sherry vinegar, cucumbers, mint, tomatoes, pitted olives, and avocado.

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Process:

Place lentils, garlic cloves, and bay leaves in a pot and pour water until it's covered by two inches. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat until it's a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender. Drain and chill in the refrigerator until cold. 

While the lentils are chilling, whisk together mustard, vinegar, salt and olive oil.

Chop up the cucumbers, mint, tomatoes, olives, and avocado.

When the lentils are cold, stir in the vegetables and dressing and there you have it! A deliciously cooling and filling meal for your hottest of days. 


Live With Verve: A Conversation With The Magical Dr. Aidan

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If you have been around me long enough, you have probably heard me mention my magical witch doctor, the AMAZING Dr. Aidan. She helps me connect to my intuitive and subtle energetic nature, creates space and ease in my body, and is my personal cheerleader and dropper of deep wisdom. She practices a unique stye of chiropractic that's focused on helping you notice and sustainably change physical patterns in your body and your relationship with these patterns in your life. This style of chiropractic work is called Network Spinal Analysis and Reorganizational Healing and it's pure magic and really, REALLY hard to describe. I have such subtle and yet profound experiences with Dr. Aidan and then have a really hard time telling people about them and just end up saying, "She's magic. You just have to go and see for yourself." I recently sat down with Dr. Aidan and asked her how she would start to describe Network Care and this is what she said:


The Magical Dr. Aidan: Network care is an intersection between nervous system health and physiology, consciousness, physics, and personal growth. People usually come in because there is some problem they want to get rid of, some pain... and we describe pain as any uncomfortable experience that interrupts your life... so that isn't always physical. Sometimes it's emotional or some area of your life that is challenging.

So people usually come in to try to get rid of their pain and as they become more connected and resourceful they start to learn how to manage their pain and realize that it's about their life, it's always about their life. And so they go from trying to get rid of their pain to being able to manage their pain more effectively to learning how to participate more FULLY in their life.

Pain is always a messenger! The whole purpose of pain is to tell you to STOP. Take inventory. Do something different. And so it's never my intention to get rid of someone's pain. It's my intention for them to have more energy and resources to make the changes their systems are asking them to make.

Meredith: When you talk about it like that, it reminds me of these books I've been reading by Michael Stone who talks a lot about vitality and connecting to an energy and resources to be more AWAKE in the world.

Dr. Aidan: Totally. I mean it's all a function of the available energy we have. And whether we are talking about healing or business or relationships, it doesn't matter. Everything is operating the best it can with the amount of energy it has available. And all disease and all symptoms and all breakdowns in our lives, in our body, in our work, or in relationships means that there is not enough energy. And so the only solution is energy efficiency.

There's not much in life we can control, but we can control where we focus our attention and we can control what we make something mean, which first requires an ability to recognize what you are automatically making it mean in some subconscious way and then choosing something different there... and we can choose what and how much energy we bring to whatever it is in that moment- these things are clearly under our control and yet we spend so much energy trying to change the circumstances instead of shifting our state, our energetic state. 

And things like yoga and meditation and network care that are focused on having someone be more present, more consciously aware and mindful, help people operate more efficiently in their bodies and in their lives, which ripples beyond the physical, shifting emotional and cognitive states. This efficiency allows for more creativity. It allows us to be more grateful. It allows us to access higher states of consciousness that are available to us as human beings. And if we go into a stress response, that's not available.

Meredith: And so the work you do with the gateways.. like what exactly is a gateway? Is it the channel that allows energy to enter and move through?

Dr. Aidan:  Gateways are the places where we make our contacts on the spine. And what's really different about where and how we make contact on the spine is that most chiropractors and most health care practitioners look to interact and engage in the part of the body where the problem is. And the place we make contact is actually where the nervous system and body is most aware and connected and resourceful. Kinda like the eye of a storm. And so if someone comes in with neck pain, there is usually this gateway that is this little oasis in the center of tension.

Meredith: And you can feel it?

Dr. Aidan: Yes and when you get to a gateway, the whole body relaxes. People will immediately start breathing and moving. We release tension through movement, breath, sound, and heat, which is part of why yoga is so powerful for de-stressing. And this is all innate but by the time we are adults we are so condition to hold still, to not move, to not express emotion, and to certainly not make any sound about it for fear of looking weird. 


But Seriously... do you ever catch your self holding back? Staying quiet? Being still? Moving or speaking in a way that is socially or culturally accepted or expected?

And how good does it feel to just dance, run, sing, yell, or speak your mind?

I think this is why my work and practice with the feminine and intuitive movement has been SO powerful, nourishing, and inspiring for me- the movement is free and easy, the movement releases tension and cultivates clarity, the movement energizes. Intuitive movement, yoga, meditation, eating whole foods and plants, and network care are all ways I stay connected to my vitality, my spirit, my VERVE.

How do you stay well and energized?

If any of Dr. Aidan's words piqued your interest, I would highly, HIGHLY recommend seeing her! You can learn more at her website or call her amazing assistant Marisol at 415-695-4440. 


Bali's Embodied Wisdom

I think perhaps the photographs can share more than my words ever could, so please peruse and take time and pleasure in them. Of course, I'm still processing all I experienced and will continue to, as humans do, create my narratives and memories for all that I saw and felt as well as my expectations and dreams for what I hope to see and feel again (or not). And as my lived experience sits in this body and through this time with the other life around me, certainly a clarity, a wholeness, a wisdom begins to emanate and merge with the story bigger than myself.

Pay attention to the lush jungle, listen to the lyrical melody of the birds and insects, see the open and close and open again of the lotus flower, and it's easy to remember the richness of the Earth, this planet we are so privileged to be a part of. Observe and say, "hello," to the people who walk, engage with, and deeply honor this land and you start to remember that we are invited, welcomed, and responsible for taking good care of it.

My time in Bali has encouraged me to notice myself, and human beings collectively, as a part of the natural world. The human body is born from the Earth and it will return to it once again, and for this brief moment in time we are supported, held, and sustained by Her. We need Mother Earth and her generous resources while we are here and it is up to us to take only what we need. In yoga, this is the practice of aparigraha, or non-gripping- physically and mentally. The thoughts, words, and actions we choose will most certainly have an effect and leave an imprint for the many humans and life forms that will come after we are gone. So how much water do we really need to wash the dishes? How much food do we really need to buy or order at the restaurant? How much plastic, packaging, and waste are we wanting to produce? How will my thought loops and patterns manifest? How will my words and actions affect the lives and future lives I share this planet with? These are some of the questions Bali asked and is challenging me to explore deeper as a I re-enter my life here.

Bali tells us that we live within nature and as nature. Bali tells us to honor what is here and what is being offered. Bali tells us to be aware of the effects of our choices, to know everything is interwoven, to consume mindfully, and to be a part of the harmony and radiance of the world.

OM OM OM

2017- The Year of DEVOTION

Austin Weaver Photography                                                                                  Ormond Beach, FL 

Austin Weaver Photography                                                                                  Ormond Beach, FL 

I gave myself a lot of time and space to reflect and sit quietly as I approached and entered the new year, and what I discovered was this very gentle yearning that is being brought slowly to a rolling boil.

For me, this year is about DEVOTION: 

1. To the practice of yoga and to the clear teaching to show up over and over and OVER again.

2. To the teachers- to all those that came before us, who have walked this path, and who have so graciously passed the wisdom down the lineage.

3. To the community- to our neighbors and their neighbors and their neighbors, and so it goes.

4. To Mother Earth and to her nourishing, healing, and inspiring offerings.

5. To the Self- to the Atman, the inherent light and love that is our inheritance.

May this devotion lead to more peace, clarity, and equanimity in the collective consciousness.

OM NAMASTE

Meredith

Thoughts on Children, School and Education

What you do with what you know is the important thing. To know is not enough.
— John Rice

Education and life are deeply intertwined. Most of us are “schooled” for eight, twelve, fifteen years or more! We gain knowledge and collect experiences of all sorts and kinds... and then what? As educator at the liberal Black Mountain College said, “What you do with what you know is the important thing. To know is not enough.”

But of course, knowing must come first. We must know our family and our culture. We must know the mind and the body. Above all, we must know the Self. I believe knowledge is power and that it can set you free, but who exactly is the “you” that is being referred to and what is it freeing you from? Are “you” the collection of letters that make up your name? Are you John’s daughter or Andrew’s wife? Are you 5’5 or a dancer? An educator or engineer? And what if these identities were to change? Would it affect who “you” are?

It is through the knowledge of the mind and the body that we can begin to know ourselves- our consciousness, spirit, chi, prana or whatever label fits in this moment. We begin to be aware of the mind and understand that we are what sees thoughts pass by, and what feels emotions, and what experiences sense objects. We begin to understand that our essence of consciousness is NOT our thoughts, emotions, or body- it is what observes these things. And as we begin to be more aware of our Self, we are set free from the clinging on to these fleeting others that our conscious observes. With this awareness and understanding of Self, we are can embrace the freedom in being citizens that fully participate in a democratic society and deeply and authentically practice compassion, integrity, courage, and love.

I believe art and nature are the center of education as they cultivate close observation, physical engagement, service, and play. It is through both the healing and creative arts that give rise to a rich sense of self and community, and it is through nature we connect to the natural rhythms of life. Art and nature also naturally presents itself with opportunities to innovate, ask questions, and solve problems.

With this awareness and understanding of Self, we are can embrace the freedom in being citizens that fully participate in a democratic society and deeply and authentically practice compassion, integrity, courage, and love.
— Meredith Holt
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I believe the school day should give children experiences and opportunities to construct, create, and actively inquire. The center of gravity needs to be INSIDE the child, where children have a motive to demand information. A child is already full of activities and ideas, and it is the teacher’s role to mold and give direction to the child’s energized social, constructive, expressive and inquiry activities and instincts. May we begin with the child’s ideas, impulses and interests. May we meet each child where she is, given where her family is and what her family has experienced and passed along the lineage. May we meet each child with compassion and fierce advocacy.

And thus I believe in a light-hearted and project-based curriculum with play, art and the children at the center. I believe in a compassionate approach, meeting each individual child were she is, while fiercely advocating for her growth, intellect, well-being, and passion to deeply understand herself and serve the world with a free heart and mind. 


Honoring the Practice, My Teacher Janet Stone, and this LIFE

This is why I love spring. It is full of hope.
— someone in Cliff's Variety

Two weeks ago I overheard someone in San Francisco's Cliff's Variety store say, "This is why I love spring. It's full of hope." I was shopping for a few kitchen items for my new cosy home before heading to yoga class at Yoga Tree Castro. I paused briefly to put the statement in my back pocket before quickly finishing my errands and heading to the studio.

On my mat, next to one hundred other mats, I heard my teacher Janet Stone talk with clarity and insight. She has a way of not saying much while speaking to the depths of my soul. That night she spoke of our internal rhythms- the in breath and the out breath, the expansion and the contraction, the rise and the fall- and how it matches the universal rhythms of night and day, light and dark, heaven and earth, life and death. She has that secret way of making you feel like you are actually a part of this world.

She then had us connect to the space in-between- the movement, time, and space in-between the inhale and exhale. Although she has spoken of this before and I have practiced and taught this idea many times over, this night it felt real in a way I had never understood it before. 

I realized that spring is full of hope because it is that time in-between... in-between winter and summer. It is a season where we celebrate the magic and the potential that exists in the in-between moments. AHA! EACH moment is an in-between moment! Each moment has the magic and potential for growth, healing, joy, and love.

Despite the epiphany that night, the polarities continue to show up in my life. I teach kindergarten at an all girls school and there is conversation about girl and boy, masculine and feminine. I heard the inspiring Bryan Stevenson, lawyer and social activist, publicly talk about black and white, justice and injustice, hope and despair. And all around me I catch myself labeling people, situations, and things as good or bad, right or wrong.

Then I remember that this is the practice! When I do have the awareness of my own binary thinking, I practice coming back to the teaching of the space in-between. I practice being fully awake to what is and simply being present for the magical spectrum of this life.

I practice being fully awake to what is and simply being present for the magical spectrum of this life.
Water and Light by Holly Anderson

Water and Light by Holly Anderson

As my teacher travels here, there and everywhere (maybe she is in Singapore or Bali, I can't quite keep track), may she know that her teachings continue to evolve and be understood in deeper ways. May we all take a moment to honor our own teachers. May we take a moment to honor our teacher's teacher and their teacher's teacher. May we take a moment to honor the lineage of this practice of yoga and may we honor this thing we call life.

To learn more about Janet Stone, visit her website.

OM NAMASTE,

Meredith

Cultivating A Morning Ritual

Mornings have always been a magical time for me- the peace and quiet that is available is unlike anything I can find amongst the busy day. I have found, for me, it is the perfect time to nourish and cleanse the body, mind and spirit, and to clearly set the path for an open and energized day. Below are my recommendations for a morning ritual. Start with one or try them all! Try it for TWO weeks and see if it makes a difference in your life.

1. Wake before the sunrise- I have found that there is a deep and calming energy to be felt right before the sun rises. I feel rooted in the Earth and a part of the universal rhythm of day and night, rise and fall, open and close.

2. Drink a glass of hot lemon water- Simply squeeze a bit of lemon juice in a hot glass of water. This will hydrate the body and cleanse toxins from the day before. I DO still drink coffee because what can I say... I LOVE the smell and taste. But I usually have my coffee after a few hours of waking and moving.

3. Wash your face- Abhyanga is a form of ayurvedic medicine that involves massaging the WHOLE body with warm coconut oil. Traditionally it is done before the day starts, before you shower and practice yoga. During the week, I tend to simply wash my face with COLD water and apply coconut oil on after. It leave my skin feeling hydrated and smooth. I usually hold the full Abhyanga practice for the weekend mornings. 

4. Practice pranayama- I say this in my class ALL the time but the word, "yama" means the creation or the maintance of breath and "prana" is life force or energy. By moving the breath, we can begin to shift the energy in the body. There are all types of breathwork in the practice of yoga but I particularly like to practice KAPALBHATI breath in the winter season. It is short exhales through the nose with a contraction of the belly in toward the spine. It acts as a furnace, heating the body, and is also very energizing and cleansing. A set is 20, 50, or a 100 exhales. Come through two or three sets.

5. Move- Come through nine simple sun salutations- any variation that will leave you feeling good and energized. Move SLOWLY- one breath, one movement, one thought at a time.

6. Meditate- Sit in meditation for 5-10 minutes. The attention can be set on the sensation of moving the breath in and out. You will notice that the mind will begin to wander- either to the past or the future- and this practice is choosing to bring the attention back to the present moment. Don't be discouraged if the mind moves A LOT! The nature of the mind is to move, so see and welcome the wandering as an opportunity to PRACTICE meditation. That is all it is- a PRACTICE.

If you want some guidance, a community or support- come practice with me at Yoga Garden SF. I teach a vinyasa class M/W/F mornings at 6 am and a yoga and meditation class T/Th mornings at 6:15 am. And as I said earlier- keep it simple and attainable in the beginning. Maybe wake 10 minutes early and try one of these practices until it becomes a habit. Then add on. Be curious, stay open and observe the difference it makes in your daily life. 

Light and Love,

M


The Rhythm of Fear and Courage

Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in SPITE of my fear.
— Michael Hyatt


When I quit my job teaching first grade, nearly two years ago now, I was scared. I felt like a little girl... like my 5-year-old self on the first day of kindergarten or my 10-year-old self giving my first class presentation. I felt the very same tightness in my chest and the many tears welling in my eyes.

As I sat in the Head of School's office for what seemed like a lifetime, there were moments of physical paralysis that hid the violent movement of my mind.

"Should I quit? What would the families think? And the faculty and staff?  They will lose respect for me, and I won't be able to recover. No one will hire me after this. What will I do? How will I support myself in San Francisco?"

There was a moment when I felt like I would be forever stuck in this swirling vortex of despair. You see, the nature of the mind is to move and to wander, and it likes to attach to thoughts of the past or thoughts and expectations for the future. This is the ego, a state of suffering, and its aim is to limit and hold you back from your inherent GREATNESS.

"Meredith, Sally is ready for you."

The assistant to the Head of School lifted my trance, and I found the rise and fall of the rhythm of my breath. I was able to shift my attention to the truth of the present moment, and in THAT moment I knew I was not happy. Teaching and being in the classroom had previously brought me energy, satisfaction, and joy. But in my last months I felt drained, sad and starved. I knew something was not right- there was pain in my body and in my heart. I wasn't sleeping well, was barely eating and felt like I was in a dense fog that wouldn't clear.

I spent a lot of time in meditation and prayer before I made this decision. I dropped below the surface of my thoughts and listened to the deep inner wisdom of my body. I trusted the intuition telling me my time in that classroom was over, and I had the FAITH that my journey was taking a turn to heal myself and the world in a better way.

So despite the fear I had for the future, I courageously expressed my truth.

I cried in front of the Head of School that day. I REALLY cried as I exposed my feelings of fear, shame and sadness to the leader of the workplace. And believe it or not, she heard me and showed up with a powerful presence. She handed me tissues and spoke with a motherly knowing. She nurtured my emotions and encouraged the healing of my soul. I left that day feeling thankful, enlightened and hopeful for a new day when all leaders will engage with and honor the more fluid modes of thought and feeling, and I am filled with a profound gratitude for her soft understanding and her FIERCE guidance.

I learned that people SHOW UP with conviction when you allow yourself the freedom of vulnerability. I learned that humanity is inherently loving if we allow ourselves to open and be loved.

Life continues and the fear is still present. I feel it now in my new relationships and business ventures. My ego tells me that I am not good enough, I'm not beautiful or lovable, that I don't know enough, and that I just can't do it. But instead of screaming at me, it is just a gentle whisper. I recieve the hum of those thoughts, and practice recognizing and HONORING the emotion of fear. I let myself feel the intensity with gentleness - taking a bubble bath and/or just allowing myself to cry. The practice of yoga has taught me to feel authentically and LET GO with intention and faith. 

So if you feel afraid- BE with that feeling. Scream, shake, cry- do whatever you need to do to honor THAT part of you. And be grateful that the fear is just that... a PART of you and just ONE beat of the rhythm. Take a deep breath, look for the opportunity to be vulnerable and courageous, and express your truth with conviction.


Love,
M