New Years in Sri Lanka

I’m about 9 months post date on my blogs.  I seem to start blogs and then never get around to finishing them.  But I still want to make sure I write down what I remember so our kids have memories.  Let’s be honest, so I have memories.  This mommy memory loss is no joke.

Here goes…NEW YEARS IN SRI LANKA, 1-7 January 2017

Luckily, with a little help of the Universe making it nearly impossible to get to India for the New Year as I had hoped, we found ourselves looking forward to a week in Sri Lanka. Not knowing anything about Sri Lanka I decided to book through a tour company. The thought being, if this is our only chance to see Sri Lanka then I want it to be the most informative, spectacular, memorable, AND fun trip for everyone. With the help of the tour company Red Dot, we had just that.  To this date, Tad thinks our trip to Sri Lanka was our best yet.

Here is what made Sri Lanka an amazing family vacation.

Day 1: After a direct flight from Bahrain, and an Izzy who did not sleep very well (ugh), we arrived at the newly renovated Colombo airport.  Our driver, Aruna, met us there and made us feel very welcome and comfortable instantly.  His van was immaculate, his English very good, and there was even water waiting for us in the van.

The first Sri Lanka experience was surprisingly not the airport (as I had mentally prepared for) but the just the driving.  Within seconds of leaving the airport it was clear I should not look out the front window because it always looked like we were about to hit someone or someone was about to hit us.  Tad immediately pointed out that he was glad he wasn’t driving and happy to turn the wheel over to a professional.  At first it seemed chaotic but we learned after a few days that there is definite order within the chaos of driving in Sri Lanka.  Like many places, the law of gross ton, applies.  The bigger you are, you have the right of way.  You can pass as many cars as you want, even with cars heading straight at you, but be prepared to feel like you’re going to have a head-on-collision every time.  Still, it was worth every single penny to have someone drive us around for the week.

We jumped right into our vacation by heading straight to the to the Millenium Elephant Orphanage Foundation.  As I read from other family blogs, this stop is a good way to get the kids excited about being in Sri Lanka.  It worked.  It was perfect.  Even for Tad and I, the Elephant orphanage made us realize we had stepped into a totally different time and place.  Within a short walk from the front entrance, we were greeted with a huge field of elephants.  There is no glass or walls or anything between you and the elephants, just a few guys with sticks to guide and corral the elephants. Aruna had timed our arrival perfectly so we got to watch the tourist coveted “feeding.” Honestly, it hurt to watch because it looked so uncomfortable for the elephants. But apparently elephants like milk and I trust they are not hurting the elephants at an orphanage.  Right?

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As soon as the feeding was over, Aruna told us to follow him.  At first I was really annoyed he was taking us out of the park and not letting us look around.  But he was insistent we follow him and quickly.   He led across the main highway (a two way road), down a tourist-trap street filled with Sri Lankan knik-knaks, to a hotel that sat on a beautiful river.  He then said, “Sit here. Order tea. Eat lunch.” Little did we know the best elephant show of our lives was about to take place. We had the best seats in the house to watch the elephants bathing in the river.  Within 15 minutes a huge herd of elephants were parading right next to our table and heading to the river we were overlooking.  It was both magical and humbling.  All of a sudden it was clear these were not cozy little kittens but huge, powerful, smart creatures.

While some of the elephants were chained in the water, most were let free to just bathe. There were huge water guns spraying at the elephants (which they seemed to like) as well as fireman grade hoses spraying them off.  It was so funny to watch.  You could begin to see personality in the elephants and how they preferred to bathe.  My favorite had to be the ones who just plopped down and started rolling around.  I’m not quite sure who loved it more, the kids or Tad and I.

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After lunch we got back in the van for a few hour drive towards the Central Province of Sri Lanka.  Since we arrived in good time to our hotel area, Aruna suggested we visit the Dumbulla Caves, aka the Buddha caves.  I hadn’t included it on our itinerary because I wasn’t sure how the kids would do but I am so glad Aruna essentially forced us to go.  As you approach there are prayer flags strung above the road letting you know you’re approaching a very holy Buddhist site.  And holy, divine, and great it was.  From the parking lot, you turn a corner and BAM you’re greeted with one of the country’s tallest golden buddha statues.  My mouth dropped.  My heart fluttered.   It is by far the the tallest Buddha statue I’ve ever seen. It’s not the largest in the world, by far, but it’s still breath taking and emits an aura that is respectable.

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To see the caves, dating back 2700 years, you climb up a steep hill lined with monkeys and people selling floral offerings.  This was also the first glimpse into the Izzy show. Almost every person we passed swooned over Izzy, smiling, cooing, pinching her cheeks, kissing her head.  At this point, after being in Bahrain for so long these types of gestures don’t bother me and we follow Izzy’s cues.  Partly tired, partly uncomfortable she wanted Tad to carry her.  So while the rest of us walked, Tad carried his little movie star up the steep hill.  Trace was totally thrilled that he wasn’t sitting anymore and happily walked up the hill.

The Dumbulla Caves Monastary are still functioning and are the oldest preserved edifices in Sri Lanka.  The kids were scared of the caves but enjoyed running around looking at the lotus flowers in the ponds.  It was just the beginning of a full week of lotus flower excitement.  Tad and I each took our turn in the caves and were both happy to have visited the holy place.  The cave paintings are very well preserved and the statues are breathtaking.  I would have liked to sit and meditate in the caves but long gone are the days of traveling on my own time.  The kids were getting rowdy and it was time to head to the hotel.  My photos will not do this sacred place justice but these Google images will.  The Dumbulla Caves have a fascinating history and worth a read on Wikipedia.

We stayed two nights at the Elephas Resort in Sigiriya. It’s a small boutique style hotel with an eco-friendly attitude. Most memorably, it had the best shrimp dish I’ve ever had.

Day 2 in Sri Lanka we ventured to the famous Sigiriya, Lion’s Rock Fortress. The history of this fortress is impressive and captivating–a real life tale of rulers, harems, Buddhist monks, honor, and wars.  Walking around the pool gardens trying to imagine what it would have looked like in 5th century was exciting and unbelievable.  Aruna hired a guide who took us to the top which means the guide also carried Trace up all the steep and treacherous spots (there were many).  For most of the trip you’re climbing steep steps strapped to the side of a mountain with scaffolding…and not US standard scaffolding, Sri Lankan standards.  In retrospect, Tad said we totally got lucky that our guide didn’t get mad or upset at us or Trace and accidentally let Trace fall over the cliffs to a horrible death.  That never even crossed my mind.  We’re an adventurous family with good intuition and I thought it was good for us (said the mom not carrying a child up the steep steps). I was most proud of Tad knowing he isn’t the biggest fan of heights but he didn’t say anything and kept trucking along with Izzy in his arms.  Izzy, showed her love for all things adventurous and daring and had no troubles with the heights.  The top of Lion Mountain where the main palace was built had a spectacular view (as you might imagine) and was WORTH every sweaty step (again, said the mom not carrying a child and who loves heights).

That afternoon we arranged to go on an elephant safari at Kaudulla National Park.  We had our own private jeep and guide who knew which area of the park the elephants were gathered.   Apparently the elephants migrate between three main areas during the different seasons. Not only did we see the most spectacular wild elephant show ever imaginable (blew Day 1 out of the water), we got to see a wild elephant on the way to the park just cruising along the highway.   Elephants are spectacular, breath taking creatures even at the zoo but to see them in real life, in their habitat, playing together, fighting, eating, cruising, bathing…it makes me love them even more. It was this park that we also got to see our first peacock with its feathers raised. It was far away but still spectacular.

Day 3 we loaded up the van and headed to Kandy. And yes, it took all day. Sri Lanka, while having modern roads doesn’t mean the traffic or driving is fast. The twists, turns, and traffic made what would be a quick hour drive from point A to point B a six hour drive.  Knowing it would be a long drive, Aruna was really good at spacing out stops for us.  The first one was at an Ayurveda spice garden.  Having self-studied Ayurveda since I was a teenager and then becoming certified as an Ayurveda Wellness Counselor in the States, I was excited to see the medicinal plants in the wild.  To be honest it wasn’t anything spectacular but it was a good mini-ecological stop and opportunity to see Ayurveda medicinals in action.  Right at the end of our tour, Izzy tripped and fell slicing open her knee.  She couldn’t have done it at a better place.  Immediately 10 guys swooped around to help and calm her (obviously freaking her out more) and clean up her wound with traditional Ayurveda herbs.  I was thrilled to see Ayurveda from its motherland in action.  They applied crushed herbal powder onto her knee and told me to let it stay on as long as possible.  No joke, her knee healed surprisingly fast.

The next stop on our way to Kandy was at a friend’s of Arunas.  This family showed us how to use every part of the coconut tree from the nut itself (water, milk, oil) to making rope with the coconut shell husk, and woven mats from the fronds.  Being a lover of all things coconut, it was informative and impressive to see how the whole tree was used and processed to aid humans’ lives.  The kids each took a turn making coconut fiber ropes which they then carried with them throughout the trip like a trophy.  I liked that stop even more than the Ayurveda botanical gardens.

We arrived in Kandy at rush hour…although I have a feeling it’s always congested. After checking into our beautiful and modern hotel OZO Kandy, we took a guided tour at Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.  The Temple is one of the major pilgrimage places for Buddhists.  Honestly, I’m not sure what was more impressive our 98 y.o. tour guide or the temple.  Joking, not joking.  Our tour guide had Tad and I holding back laughter the entire time.  He was so sweet mannered and definitely knew every single piece of history about the Temple but was unable to field any of our questions without repeating his entire monologue again.  Neither Tad or I are Buddhist but we have both read lots of Eastern philosophy texts and Buddhist books.  The Temple took all of our breath away at different points.  The most notable moment was in the meditation hall near the actual tooth relic. Trace and Izzy, despite being squirmy since getting out of the car, sat still and silent while our Monk friend forced us to sit and “meditate.”  Clearly I was all about it but to see the whole family feel something unique and quieting was unexpected and heart warming.  As we exited the museum to conclude our tour the only rain of our trip poured down on us.  It was a welcomed blessing and “cleanse.”

We finished our only night in Kandy with a Sri Lankan cultural dance show.  Although Tad and I were very excited to see it, the kids took one look at the masks and nearly lost it. Okay, Izzy totally lost it. Trace lasted about 10 minutes then was too scared to go on. Oh well. That’s one of the things about traveling with toddlers–not everything is going to be a big win.  Tad and I have to make quick decisions and decide if it’s worth moving on, potentially having already paid for a ticket or fee, or to make the kids tolerate it because we really want experience/see it. We decided to leave the show and walk the long way home around Bogambara Lake which was a nice way to feel and see more of the city before heading to bed.

Despite spending most of Day 3 in the van, day 4 was our longest day on our total week long vacation.  Again, God bless our kids were growing therefore napping all the time, we drove about 250km from Kandy to Laya Safari Resort, due west of the Yala National Park entrance. Technically Google Maps says it takes about 5.5 hours but it took us 8.5 with scenic stops along the tea plantations and lunch in Nuwara Eliya.  For many, driving that long and far doesn’t sound like a way to spend vacation. For Tad and I, we totally love it! We got to see SO much of the gorgeous countryside we wouldn’t otherwise see. We also weren’t driving so we could nap when we wanted.  Since Tad and I love tea, stopping and taking a tour at the tea plantation was awesome. We learned so much and gained an even deeper appreciation and love for all things tea.  And like everywhere else in Sri Lanka, Izzy was asked to be in many family photos.  To me, it’s bizarre to even imagine why you’d ask a stranger to be in a family vacation photo but apparently it’s a thing.

Nuwara Eliya was a nice lunch stop with the best shrimp masala Tad and I have ever had.  This is where a lot of Indians and Middle Easterners come to vacation.  It definitely has a resort town feeling to it.  I’m sure there is a lot to do but we continued on.  The last stop before we left the mountains was in Ella.  Ella is Sri Lanka’s backpacker’s mecca.  It wreaked (literally and figuratively) of backpackers with all the quintessential backpackers places like the german bakery, internet cafes, smoothie and juice stands, lounges, yoga decks, and shopping.  While we stopped for a quick tea, and let Izzy indulge in her first experience with chocolate cake, it was nice for me to remember my backpacking days and think about how much I would have LOVED this town.  Now, as a married globe trotting mother of two, I realized I no longer desired this type of vacation spot and was truly happy to be where I was in life.  As we drove away with sounds of Bob Marley and ambient music playing from hippy-chic incense burning cafes, I felt like I was driving away from that part of my past for good.  It felt sweet and freeing.

When we did finally arrive to our next hotel, Laya Safari Resort, we realized just how far our money goes in a country like Sri Lanka. While the places we had stayed in were nice up to this point, this was another step up into luxury vacationing.  Lotus ponds greeted us at the front entrance, the property sat right on the Bay of Bengal, elephant markings were all over the property, and monkeys were playing and watching us humans from the rooftops as if we were the safari park.  This is also where Trace and Izzy learned the phrase: NO MUD, NO LOTUS.  The service and food were incredible and we were at the gateway to Sri Lanka’s coveted Yala National Park, one of the best safari parks in the country.  While we were assured it was a family friendly spot, I was a relieved when we were lead away from the beach front properties to our own private two bedroom Thicket Villa.  We were completely isolated by nature and the sky. The kids finally got to experience the night sky in all its glory and we even got our own monkey visitors the next day. 

Day 5 we began the day lounging around the pool and taking a walk-about on the beach… with the lifeguard.  At first I was really annoyed that he wouldn’t leave us alone but then I felt bad when Tad told me the lifeguard had lost all his family and many of his closest friends and teachers in the 2004 tsunami.  My heart sank when I learned this.  It was our first reminder of the devastating tsunami that changed the lives of thousands in this tiny country.  Hearing his past and reflecting on my annoyance made me remember to be more compassionate with all.  My perspective immediately shifted and I was grateful he cared about us so much.

That afternoon was our Safari Day at Yala National Park.  Right before our safari we had our own close-encounters with wild monkeys at our cabin.  What started off as, “oh look at the cute monkeys right there,” quickly escalated to Tad locking all the doors and witnessing a monkey throw itself against our patio door. We still don’t know if it was trying to get Izzy, open the door, or just show dominance. Either way, I no longer saw the cute hotel monkeys as “cute.” Instead, I wanted nothing to do with them.

As we began our private safari tour, I sat back with very low expectations.  Since we had already seen the most magnificent elephant safari I could imagine in Kaudulla, I wasn’t too worried if we saw anything else in Yala National Park.  The safari was filled with beautiful landscape and tons of animals but I also got really upset when we found ourselves in a jocking match with 20 other jeeps for the best view of a small family of elephants.  I know our driver just wanted us to get good photos but I just wanted us to stop, respect from afar, and watch them rather than worrying about being “the closest.”  I finally asked Aruna to tell our driver to stop and to just sit and watch.  When we did so, four or five elephants came really close to our jeep.  I got to stare into the eyes of a huge elephant and then as it stood there, I noticed the belly was moving.  It was a pregnant elephant.  I got chills watching her slowly pass us and watch the unborn elephant move from the outside.  I admit, I was teary.  It was a magical in-the-wild moment for me.  Four hours later filled with elephants, water buffalo, crocodiles, peacocks, an eagle eating a rabbit in a tree, and more peacocks, we were all beat and full of wild life sightings.  It really was spectacular and fun.  By the end, I had decided my new totem animal was the Water Buffalo and Izzy had a keen eye for peacocks.  Every time she saw one she yelled in her cute little toddler voice, “eecock, eecock.”  Izzy now has a peacock poster on her wall.

Day 6 we drove along the south coast and finally experienced the Sri Lankan coastal vibes.  Between the cities that were bustling with tuk tuk’s, horn honking, ladies in beautifully colored saris, and the aromas of delicious Sri Lankan food were vast stretches of coconut lined turquois white sandy beaches.  We even got to see the Sri Lankan famous stilt fisherman (either for tourist purposes or because they were really fishing, probably a little of both).  We arrived mid-day at another amazing hotel, Mosvold Villas in Ahangama Bay.  The minute they opened their private gates I felt like we were transported to an entirely new Sri Lanka. And we were. It was the beach life version of Sri Lanka. While we had experienced a large touristy hotel for lunch, we were thrilled to be staying at small private boutique hotel with only 8 rooms. I HIGHLY recommend this small hotel chain. It was amazing! In fact, to this day it is still one of my favorite hotels of all time. Then again, maybe it’s my association because I FINALLY got to go surfing!!!! IN SRI LANKA!!!!!!! I hadn’t been surfing since June 2014 when we moved away from Oceanside, California. Over two years later, thanks to Tad watching the little ones on the beach, I got to go surfing in Sri Lanka!!!! Insert biggest Haunani smile you can imagine.

Ahangama is just west of the popular Weligama Bay and surf breaks.   There were plenty of surf lessons in Ahangama but not a lot of wave catching.  That wasn’t going to deter me.  After I found the board I wanted from a beach hut, the owner told me there was a reef break at the far east side of the bay.  At the time there was only one other guy surfing and one lady patiently waiting on the beach for the waves to pick up.  I didn’t waist any time.  I said my little prayer to the ocean Goddesses and jumped right in.  Now before I make myself sound better than I am, I do NOT call myself a “surfer.” I like to surf.  I love the water.  I can paddle out, catch a wave, and repeat.  I can surf but I leave the term “surfer” for the ladies and gentlemen who live on the water.  At this point in my life, and the long sabbatical since 2014, I am more like a visitor or surf vacationer.  I wish it were different, and maybe some day we’ll get stationed near a surfing town again, but for now I was beyond giddy, excited, and pumped to be catching little 1-2ft waves. Seriously, smile from ear to ear.  And since there was only two of us out, it was a wave factory–wave, after wave for just the two of us.  Eventually 4-5 more people paddled out and that’s when I decided I’d go in.  My last wave even brought me all the way to the beach.  It was the perfect exclamation mark to an amazing family vacation.  That night ended with a mediocre last meal in a beach restaurant that lost power.  Little did we know the lack-luster last meal on vacation would become a Drake family vacation trend.

Day 7, our final day in Sri Lanka, we woke very early to go whale watching. While the warf and marina experience was very exciting and the kids loved it (when they weren’t sleeping), Tad and I wish we had stayed at the hotel for the morning.  We did see a few whales but it didn’t come without me getting super worked up. The whale watching mirrored the Yala safari experience. When a whale was discovered all the whale watching boats (maybe 10 in our area) would go into high speed to chase the whale. Again, I’m sure it’s because they want the passengers to get good photos but it made my heart sink. I want to respect the whale in its environment, not scare the poor thing.   Logistically there are so many people crammed onto the boats anyway, good luck capturing a decent photo unless you’re willing to hand your camera and a few rupees to one of the deckhands.

By the time the whale watching tour was over, we were already exhausted but had to pull ourselves together for a quick turnaround to the airport. By that point, Bahrain felt so foreign again, so distant, and we were all pretty excited to get back. Sri Lanka was so good to us but we also were ready to settle into 2017 in Bahrain. Surprisingly, it was a little emotional for me to say good-bye to Aruna, our driver. I didn’t anticipate it but a week on the road in a foreign country makes you very fond of your driver. Like an Uncle you didn’t know you had until you realize he’s willing to do anything to protect you, make you have a good time, and be straight up honest with you about religion, politics, people, and philosophy. He was fantastic. If anyone wants his number, I still have it and am happy to share it with you. To this day, several months later, Izzy still asks about Aruna and every time she sees a grey van asks, “Aruna?”

Sri Lanka was more amazing and more enriching to our senses than we had anticipated. The people were beyond friendly…something to be said about traveling in a Buddhist country…and the food delicious.  My favorite way to describe Sri Lanka is: Sri Lanka is all the best parts of India without the grime, crime, and anxiety.  For those of you who are afraid or uncertain about traveling to India (I don’t blame you having been there several times) but want to travel to a country that is very far away from the western world, I recommend Sri Lanka.  People who have been to south India say Sri Lanka is like South India.  I doubt it.  Nothing will be just like Sri Lanka. Only Sri Lanka can be Sri Lanka. There is a magic there that will enter your spirit and you will come home with a little more of Buddha’s smile shining from within.

Aloha & Namaste

Final note:  Due to weird computer issues, I’m having troubles getting my Sri Lanka photos uploaded.  If you would like to see photos from our Sri Lanka trip, click HERE.  It will take you to Facebook where we have an entire album dedicated to our Sri Lanka vacation.

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Asian Medicine Wisdom for Late Summer

Even if you don’t fully experience the dramatic environmental changes of the Seasons, everyone knows them: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Did you know in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is a celebrated fifth season?! Well, it’s not celebrated in the sense of holidays, Hallmark cards or other hooplah, but it is acknowledged as its own distinct time of the year and has dramatic impacts on our health if we are not mindful or aware of how it may affect our overall health.

“Late Summer” is known for the final days of summer when the temperatures are typically very hot, humidity increases but there may be a day or two of surprising cooler temperatures, as Autumn approaches. This time of the year is all about building reserves, like our ancestors who were preparing for long cold autumns and winters. Late Summer is ruled by the Chinese Medicine element of Earth. The Earth element symbolizes, and is closely related to the organs of digestion, particularly the Spleen (a not-so-talked-about organ in Western medicine unless you need it removed) and Stomach. Because Earth likes to be warm and dry, the excess heat, or surprising cold, along with humidity (a quality of wetness) has the tendency to challenge our digestion system in Late Summer, especially if your digestion system is already prone to being out of balance, are overweight, or have congestion in the body. Since the tendency int he Summer is to party, be more laid back and enjoy we tend to eat more foods that can challenge our digestion system: frozen drinks, frozen blended drinks and smoothies, overly cheesy or oily dips, more processed and sugary food to accommodate the long road trips, travels, or BBQ’s like chips, hot dogs, soda, ice cream and cakes. If we don’t take time in the Late Summer to get-back-on-track, it is common to see the following ailments, or signs of being imbalanced during Late Summer appear:

weight gain
lethargy
chronic fatigue
cloudiness of the mind
lack of motivation
feeling “burned out”
muscle weakness
flare-ups of chronic pain or injuries
exasperated fibromyalgia
digestion troubles even with no desire to eat or drink
feeling “ungrounded”

There is a famous, and misleading, saying, “You are what you eat.” After years of clinic practice and learning more about the digestive system than most (due to my own challenges with digestion growing up), I truly believe and teach my patients about the importance of “YOU ARE WHAT YOU DIGEST” (not what you eat). This concept was taught to me by the renowned International Ayurveda Physician, Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, who has just released a new book The Hot Belly Diet. The difference is, you can eat as “perfectly” as possible but without the digestive fire and balance, your body is not necessarily benefitting from the organic, free range, non-gmo, etc. food. If your body is not properly digesting the foods and drinks you consume, your body is not sorting, absorbing and processing what your body really needs. Remember, every-body is unique with individualized needs.  And if the body is not digesting properly, or is out of balance, the mind is not properly digesting experiences and chronic mental and/or emotional stress build as well. Overtime if your digestive system is chronically imbalanced, other organs, tissues, bodily systems and the mind begin to suffer. Our Diegstion System is considered to be the utmost importance when it comes to building immunity, improving overall health, maintaining weight, feeling vital and motivated and having clarity of the mind.

Late Summer is associated with building nourishment at the body, mind and spirit level.  If we enter Autumn with healthy, balanced digestion, strong immune system and clarity of mind, we have the reserves and stores to last through the drying, cold and harsh months (can be harsh mentally and emotionally–think SAD, Seasonal Affect Disorder).  Furthermore, when we are full, we have enough to share with others and won’t be as drained or get as sick, especially in preparation for the busy holiday season.

Preventative medicine begins NOW in Late Summer to build the digestive fire and immunity.  If you enter the Autumn and Winter with low reserves of physical, mental and emotional energy, you are much more likely to experience the reoccurring cold, flu, respiratory conditions and bodily pains of the winter.

Tips for Late Summer:

  • Begin to create your daily routine you’ll carry over into the Autumn with exercise, meditation, yoga, sleep, food, rest.
  • Visit your acupuncturist to get a digestion tune-up.
  • Movement: Take a walk after every meal.  Minimum 1000 steps. Ideally, until you build a light sweat.
  • Exercise: sweat at least 4-5 days/week, if not every day. If you feel more exhausted or lethargic after you exercise, you’re sweating too much, in Chinese Medicine lingo, loosing too much essential qi. Ideally, you want to feel energetic and vital after you exercise.
  • If you practice yoga asana, focus on the Prana Vayu of Samana, twists and wide legged forward folding poses.
  • Meditation: Samana meditation, color yellow, themes: grounding, nourishing, filling the vessel/body, releasing the emotion of “worry,” feeling whole from the inside out.
  • Food:  Eat more warm, cooked, foods and beverages. Add ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and cardamom to your meals and beverages (even your smoothies!). Avoid icy foods and beverages, cold foods, overly fried foods, high sugar foods and overly processed foods. Overtime, these will quell the digestive fire and throw your digestion out of imbalance.
  • Recommended food choices: soups, stews, casseroles, baked or roasted food.
  • Beverage: Twig Tea, Barley Tea, Oolong Tea, Chai, sip on warm lemon water throughout the day.

Spring Wisdom: Spring into Action

Aloha!

It’s been a long time since I last blogged but for good reason.  I am now a mother!  I have never felt so blessed, more humbled and more inspired in my life.  My intention is to share this joy and inspiration with you via more blogs and exciting offerings in 2014 and beyond.  Stay tuned (hint, hint, sign up for my blogs via email).

With that said, let’s get down to Spring business.

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Spring is the time for renewing your commitment to yourself, your health and wellness goals, your relationships and cleansing, a.k.a. Spring Cleaning. Why wait? Let the natural flow of the Spring season assist you in this internal process.

Spring is here (at least in Southern California it is) and you can sure tell by the awakening of all the senses when you walk outside.  The sun is up longer.  The baby birds have hatched and are chirping away…at 4am.  The smell of citrus blossoms and other spring annuals fill the air.  The mornings are cool and crisp rejuvenating the whole body with a deep breath.  The afternoon sun kisses the skin in the most sensual way that makes the whole body glisten with new life.  There’s also a lot more eye candy at the farmer’s market.  Noooo, not that type of eye candy (well ok, that too), but more vegetables and fruits to tease the eyes and pocket book.

Even if you’re not in Southern California, or your Spring has not yet arrived, continue reading this blog so you can begin to prepare your body for the most healthful Spring yet.

Cherry BlossomsSpring is the season of renewal and rejuvenation.  After a long winter “hibernation” (check out my blog: Winter Wisdom) or slowing down of the internal and external world, spring is when the seeds of life, love and all relationships begin anew.  Like the new sprouts poking their heads up from the dark earth into the shining bright light, our bodies and minds are in harmony with the same natural process.  Remember, YOU ARE ONE WITH NATURE.  This is the time to allow the inner and outer self to start new, clean out the old winter funk and prepare the body and mind for a fun filled summer.

As a clinician, this is the time when I begin to see more upper respiratory conditions (colds, flus and allergies), chronic congestion, irregular digestion, pain conditions, unexplained weight gain, and other conditions caused by in-activity of body or mind (overweight, depression, lethargy).  These conditions can be understood from from an Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine perspective.

In Ayurveda, Spring is dominated by the qualities of Kapha.  Kapha begins in late winter and continues into Spring bringing with it to the body and mind: dark, heavy, inert, cold, oily, static, soft and cloudy qualities.  This is why I don’t, do not, recommend starting “New Year Resolutions” in January.  There is not natural energy in your environment or internally to keep you inspired and motivated.  January is a time for rest, staying inward and being contemplative.  However, Spring is the perfect time to begin that “New Year” resolution.  If anyone asks, say you’re following the Lunar New Year calendar.

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, spring is dominated by the qualities of Wood, governed by the organs of the Liver and Gallbladder.   The qualities of Wood are to grow, be active, reach out, distribute and move. Subsequently, the Liver and Gallbladder have similar qualities of movement, cleansing, decisiveness and regulation of physical, emotional and mental energy, referred to as “qi”.

We can integrate this Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine wisdom to give us a full perspective of how to stay healthy in Spring.  The natural tendency of the body and mind are to be Kapha in the Spring: slow, heavy and clouded.  Chinese Medicine wisdom tells us how we can balance these Kapha forces by choosing actions and foods that are more Wood in quality: moving, cleansing and rejuvenating.  Since the liver is responsible for governing healthy emotional balance, this is also the perfect time to release any stuffed emotions, resentment, anger or frustration making room for more sunlight (literally and figuratively) to fill in that space.  Kapha likes to settle in the chest, so it’s also very important to exercise the lungs either with more physical exercise, breathing exercises and chest opening stretches.

Morning Heart Opener

The main overall theme of renewal and rejuvenation of spring can be summed up into the common phrase “Spring Cleaning.”  Below is a guideline of ways you can implement Spring Cleaning in your life, inside and out.  Don’t worry about doing all of these.  Choose one or two and start there.  Typically starting with something external to the body (the last bullet) feels so good, you will begin to naturally feel inspired to make more changes more internally.

Ways to Spring Clean:

  • Increase your physical activity or change up your exercise routine to be a bit more challenging (length, duration or activity).  An invigorating walk or mindful movement practice (yoga, tai chi or qi gong) first thing in the morning will break-up the physical and mental kapha tendencies.
  • This is a great time to begin yoga since yoga focuses on strengthening the ligaments and tendons which are governed by the Wood and Liver energies.
  • Meditate daily: focus on releasing stuffed emotions, trauma, resentment, anger, or frustration.  To assist in this process, I recommend visualizing a green or emerald color light to wash through the body or fill any areas of the body that feel stuck.
  • Acupuncture:  Your favorite acupuncturist can help to move and smooth imbalanced Liver qi, helping you feel more balanced and inspired to live the life you know you deserve.
  • Breathe more!  This goes hand-in-hand with increasing your physical activity.  If you increase your exercise routine, or start a new one, you will naturally breathe deeper and for longer.  First thing in the morning, step outside and take 10-20 deep, long, full breaths.  For those of you who practice yoga regularly, practice more invigorating pranayama like kpala bhati, brahma breathing, or fire breath.
  • Sweat.  Try to sweat at least 5-7 days a week.  Even if you can’t sweat through physical exercise or yoga (best recommendations), take a hot bath, visit a sauna or steam room.  You should feel invigorated after a sweat.  If you feel tired or lazy, you’ve sweat too much.  Take a day or two to build up your energy before you do anything strenuous.
  • Drink 1 cup of warm lemon water first thing in the morning.  Warm up 1 cup water and squeeze 1/2 a lemon into the water.  Chug.  Yes, chug.  If there is one internal Spring Cleaning guideline to start with, start here!  Sip on warm lemon water throughout the day for additional cleansing.
  • Eat in Season!  Eat GREEN!  Eat Bitter!  Other tastes to focus on: pungent/spicy (in moderation), astringent like grapefruits and lemons, and pickled items.  If you don’t know what’s in season, go to your local farmer’s market, or just read this blog.  Leafy greens, sprouts, and green veggies (artichokes, asparagus) are abundant right now.  For good reason.  The bitter taste in these foods cuts through damp, phlegm and thick mucus (all forms of kapha build up in the body).  Bitter also helps to cleanse the liver, the blood and digestive tract, allowing the body to feel more energized.
  • Recommended teas and drinks for Spring: Dandelion root tea, burdock root tea, milk thistle, peppermint, gao ju lang/Immortal Tea, Ginger tea, Kombucha.
  • Clean out your environment: closets, computer files, office space, book shelves, collections and storage spaces.  If you’re having a hard time implementing one of the above suggestions for yourself, start with your external environment.  This will usually inspire you to feel better internally as well.

Spring can be a scary time for some people, because spring is yet another time (like Autumn) for change and transformation.  Spring is the gateway to Summer.  Autumn is the gateway to Winter.  Especially after a cozy winter routine of eating hardier foods, enjoying the warmth of staying inside longer and sleeping longer (hopefully), Spring can be a love-hate relationship.  However, as Alan Cohen, states so beautifully, “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new.  But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful.  There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”  So I invite you to be courageous, clean inside and out, physically and mentally and allow yourself to be inspired by the renewal of life this spring. In short, be an example for others this Spring. Move your body and mind in the direction you want, not what others want for you.  Release anger, frustration or stored emotions in healthy ways like exercise, mindful movement, meditation and yoga.

Note: Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine are constantly guiding us to find our balance in physical, emotional and mental health.  Balance is an individualized feeling and point of awareness that only you can truly know.  Each season allows us the opportunity to dive into different areas of our life to create a whole complete circle, or flow, of health and wellness.  By following the seasonal patterns of Nature, you can learn infinite wisdom of how to stay in your own flow and balance.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This is a reference work.  It is not meant for diagnosis or treatment and it is not substitute for consultation with a licensed health care professional.  Please visit your primary health care provider before starting new exercise or diet routines.  

Healthy Travel Tips

Traveling, whether for work or play, can be fun aaaaand incredibly taxing on the body and mind.  The key for maintaining optimal health, vibrant energy and regular digestion is to prepare the body for travel before your actual flight or driving day.  I begin eating a Vata balancing diet the week before I travel.  See the attached sheet for food recommendations.  For many, the stress begins before you even have to deal with crowds at the airport or traffic on the highway.  By the time your trip is over your body has tried to keep up with the stressful demands of travel and then it takes another week once you’ve returned to feel like you’re back in your “normal” home routine.  No wander so many people love the idea of travel but find it incredibly taxing on their body and mind.  Follow these few simple tricks to make your your travels less stressful and more fulfilling for body, mind and spirit.

PREPARATION – the more you prepare, the less stress you have the day of travel.

  • Begin eating a Vata balancing diet the week before you travel.
  • Reduce pre-travel stress by planning ahead.  Make a list of all the things you think you need 5 days before your departure date. Go shopping if you need anything. 2-3 days before, lie everything out.  Cut back on the amount of clothes or add where you forgot something (i.e. comfortable clothes for the hotel room or work out clothes).  See Haunani’s healthy travel essentials packing list below.
  • Print the Vata balancing diet and put it with your carry-on bag.
  • Try to get regular exercise, at least 30 min/day prior to leaving.
  • Prepare your techy gadgets for travel: Download any software, movies, books you will want for your trip.
  • If you love practicing yoga, do a google search of yoga studios in your destination.  Print their schedule or save on your desktop/favorites.

THE DAY BEFORE YOU LEAVE – again, it’s about planning and preparing.

  • Pack your bags and/or suitcase (including carry-ons) the day/night before you leave.
  • Double-check your check list as you pack.
  • Your carry-on should include: all the chargers your need, essential oils, chia seeds, book/reader, laptop/paper & pen, healthy quick snack(s) for the travel, scarf.
  • Print 2 copies of your itinerary and your boarding passes.  Place one itinerary in your carry-on, the other in your luggage.
  • Empty out your purse or wallet and only take the ID and Credit cards you’ll use. Nothing like losing your wallet while you’re traveling and coming home to replace ALL the cards, saving cards, ID’s, etc that you didn’t even need while you were traveling.
  • Get Cash (just in case someone doesn’t take a card).  Better safe than sorry.
  • Make yourself a healthy snack to take with you to the airport or car ride including your favorite calming tea, like chamomile, mint, Tazo “Passion,” or Yogi “relax”, or “Smooth move” if you get constipated.
  • Examples:  mixed nuts.  1 apple.  1 orange.  protein powder in a shaker (do not fill with liquid).  slices of swiss cheese and rice crackers.

DURING YOUR TRAVELS (planes, trains and automobiles) – It’s go with the flow time!

Meditating at the airport doesn't have to look like this.  Just sit in a chair, or floor, with the eyes closed hands resting on your lap and begin to watch your breath.

Meditating at the airport doesn’t have to look like this. Just sit in a chair, or floor, with your eyes closed, hands resting on your lap and begin to watch your breath.

  • Go with the flow.  Now you’re in the flow and most of the travel details are out of your control.  Avoid getting overly stressed, emotional or angry.  Perfect time to practice “letting go” and “gratitude.”  Check out my blog Breathe. Connect. Be titled “Gratitude as an Act of Devotion”  to hear how my mom turned her seemingly horrible flight experience into a wonderful trip with free upgrades.
  • Drink WARM or HOT liquids as much as possible.  Drink warm water and tea every so often.
  • Stay warm.  Ever get chilled on the plane?  This coupled with the stress of travel = a cold waiting to happen at your destination sight.  Always travel in layers.
  • If you tend to get constipated when you travel, drink more warm water and tea and AVOID alcohol, caffeine and ice drinks/foods.
  • Take all the seated time to meditate, practice breathing exercises/pranayama and even maybe get some gentle yoga stretches in at the terminal.
  • Take the stairs!  Avoid elevators and escalators if you can.
  • During the flight or long car ride, take about 5-10 minutes, for every 2 hours of sitting to flex and relax different muscles of the body, especially the legs, hips, glutes and abdominals.  Again, another great time to meditate at 35,000 feet…talk about levitating!

AT YOUR DESTINATION – Time to enjoy!

  • Continue eating a Vata Balancing diet as much as possible while you’re traveling.
  • Go with the Flow.  Refer to “During your travels”
  • Exercise 20-30 minutes every day.  A brisk walk around the hotel parking lot will make a huge difference regardless how silly you look.  Better yet, do yoga or a quick calisthenics routine in your room. Use the hotel stairs/emergency stairs to get a quick cardio workout.
  • Wake up 20-30 minutes earlier to get a light stretch and meditation to start your day.
  • Reduce stress by waking up earlier or going to bed so you can wake up early.
  • Attitude of gratitude.  Today, we take traveling, work and family for granted (most of the time).  Recognize how lucky you are to be seeing a new part of the world, meeting new people (even if you don’t get along) and cherish the experience of discovering more about the world you live in.
  • Again, dress in layers and keep your temperature comfortable.  Especially if you’ll be sharing conference rooms with others, the temperature will always fluctuate to meet the needs of a variety of people.  Be prepared to stay warm or remove layers.

So there you have it, my travel tips on how to stay healthy and happy while you travel.  Life is full of unexpected turbulence (yes, pun intended), especially when we travel.  Travel is the best time to practice patience, going with the flow and gratitude.  May your next trip be filled with more smiles than grimaces and healthy digestion!

What’s in Haunani’s bag every trip? 

Haunani’s Healthy Travel Essentials

  • Herbal tea (box or a few teabags in a plastic baggie)
    • Here are some I recommend
      • Any tea box that says “Relax,” “Calm”, “Meditate.”
      • Tazo “Passion”
      • Yogi “Smooth move” if you get constipated
      • Chamomile
  • Calming essential oil.  I typically only travel with one.  I choose the one that smells the best to me at the time: lavendar, “clarity,” “calming,” bergamot, rose, gardenia, sandalwood.
  • Chia seeds – a must have for keeping your digestion regular.  I add 1 Tablespoon of chia seeds to hot water during the flight and I’ll do the same that same night before I go to bed.
  • Scarf/wrap or beanie/ski cap to stay warm on the plane
  • Journal/Paper & Pen or laptop.  At 35,000 feet, I typically get incredibly creative.  Rather than try to keep things in my head for later, I write them down immediately.  I’ve written entire business plans on trips and have come up with many inventions.  Now if I could only find someone to fund those ideas.
  • A good book or reader with books you’ve been wanting to read but didn’t have the time for.  Now you do.

Optional de-stress items:

  • incense (1-2 sticks) – careful if you get a non-smoking room
  • 1 candle – careful if you’re traveling to hot weather, you don’t want your candle to melt on your stuff.
  • yoga mat – there are several travel yoga mats on the market or even yogi toes.  I no longer travel with a mat and choose to just use a hotel towel or find a grassy space where I can find one.  In the end, mat or no mat, I don’t let it stop me from practicing.

Six Tastes of Ayurveda

At the age of five, maybe even earlier, I was often plagued by stomach aches.  It mostly happened after I ate.  My parents, relatively western in their ways, did what any suburban middle-class parents would do, they took me to my pediatrician.  I loved my Pediatrician.  She was untouchable to me.  It was so cool when she used a tongue depressor that was individually wrapped.  I loved the pink syrup she gave me when I had sore throats and I loved looking through the drawers in my waiting room.  Unfortunately, despite her coolness factor, my stomach aches continued.  There was no definite diagnosis and only some mention after an allergy test that I might be lactose intolerant.  The tiny purple pill which was brand spanking new on the market (now one of Pharmaceuticals top sellers Prillosac) didn’t even help.  I did do a little bit better with lactose free milk but ice cream, cheese, pizza, all those yummy kids foods always made me sick and were out of the question.

In my teens, my stomach aches got worst and worst.  After a trip to France, where I had very little stomach issues even eating their stinky cheese, I returned stateside with horrible cramping stomach aches.  After several mildly invasive tests, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  They told me it was a newer diagnosis that was just being used.   The doctor told me, “Eat what you can and avoid the things that give you an upset stomach.”  Duuuuuuuuhhhh!  That’s what I was doing.  Eating rice and apple juice.  Do you think I would have spent my time coming to you if I didn’t already know that?!  I was frustrated.

About the same time, my mom had picked-up a book from a garage sale and gave it to me saying, “I think this is for you.”  The title was Yoga and Ayurveda by David Frawley.  I had nooooooo idea what yoga or Ayurveda was (neither did my mom) but when I randomly opened it up, I saw charts of foods.  With a quick scan I discovered a book that discussed food as medicine.  I began reading hastily.  Within days I was learning that people had different body constitutions and foods reacted differently to different people.  This all made perfect sense to me.  It was like a lightbulb turned-on, one that was familiar yet so new.  I felt like I finally found hope for reducing my stomach upset.  That was the beginning with my love affair with Ayurveda.  I still had no idea what yoga was and it would be another three years before I took my first asana yoga class.

Ayurveda is a complete system of medicine.  Where biomedicine treats diseases with biomedical pharmaceuticals and surgery, Ayurveda prefers to use food, spices, lifestyle modifications, exercise, meditation, aromatherapy, mantra, manual therapies like massage and herbal formulas, or surgery in severe illness or disease.  Ayurveda’s focus is on establishing and maintaining health and wellness in order to prevent disease.

Hippocrates Food MedicineWhile many people believe Hippocrates coined the term “food is medicine,” this is actually an old Ayurveda saying that dates back thousands of years prior to Hippocrates.  Food is such a key component to health and wellness because we eat several times a day.  Ayurveda has dissected food to a science.  The reason why food is medicine is because anything we put in our mouths has a taste and a post-digestive effect.  Each taste stimulates a different part of the tongue which sends signals to the digestive system to ramp up for ingestion and begin producing the right enzymes to digest the incoming food or beverage.  Furthermore, Ayurveda explains how each taste has a medicine value based on its qualities and elemental properties.  It’s these elemental properties that act on the body in a myriad of ways to create balance, cleansing, healing or even imbalance.

To date, I know of no other culture or medicine that looks at food and tastes so closely.  This is different from the western idea of nutrient and vitamin values.  Nutrients and values are just labels but do not explain why they do what they do to the body.  Ayurveda does.  Of all the years I’ve been studying Ayurveda (over 16 years now) I am still fascinated by the science of food and the six tastes.

I’ve compiled a quick .pdf (Six tastes handout) for you to look at which gives a more detailed description of the six tastes and how they affect the body.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.  Furthermore, if you have more to add, please do.  I am forever a student, willing to contemplate more.

Gift Yourself this Holiday Season

Whether you like it or not it’s the time of giving.  Giving gifts, giving your time to family, shopping, traffic, going to obligatory work functions, holiday parties and giving your immune system an extra test with travel.  Unfortunately, if we’re not careful and give of yourself too much you end up sick, stressed out, overwhelmed or the Scrooge.

Gift Yourself ImageThat’s why I’m dedicating this article to all of you who need permission to gift yourself this holiday season.  Sometimes we just need permission to do the things we know we ought to do.

As a stress reduction specialist (I’ve been using this term more and more since someone told me this is one of my specialties), I find that when people don’t take care of themselves during the year, the holidays become overwhelming, tiring and stressful.  In a time when there is much to celebrate, many people focus on the obligations rather than the attitude of gratitude or truly gifting another from the heart.  Furthermore, when it’s time to receive a gift from someone, people don’t know how to truly appreciate this act because we’re burnt out, feeling unworthy or again, being Scrooge.

There is a quote that I live by, “learn to love yourself before you can truly love another.”   This same psychology can also be used when it comes to gifting.  Learn to gift yourself before you truly give to others.  Easier said than done.  Learning how to gift yourself is learning how to appreciate and find gratitude for your own life and authentic self.  Learning how to gift yourself also teaches you how to receive.  Yes, RECEIVE.  Gifting is an act of moving energy from yourself outward.  When you gift yourself, you practice receiving, or moving energy from the external to the internal.  Receiving is just as important as giving but in a culture that is focused on the external objects to make us happy, many of us have forgotten how to receive with an open heart. I’m encouraging you this holiday season to gift yourself by taking care of yourself and doing things that you find indulgent but are actually very simple.  Watch your thoughts when you decide to gift yourself and notice how you receive.  Also notice how you give.  The holidays are such a beautiful time of the year for celebration and fun, take care of yourself and learn the balance of giving and receiving to truly optimize this special time of the year.

Top ten gifts to give yourself this holiday season:

Breathe! Take 5-10 releasing breathes in the car, in the shower, bathroom stall, really ANYWHERE.  How to: Take a nice deep slow breath in through the nose.  Hold the breath for 1-2 seconds and gather up any emotions or stress.  Then exhale, breathe out, with a sigh or the sound of ‘haaaa.’  Repeat as necessary.  Caution: you can cause lightheaded.  Please do not overdo.  5-10 breaths is plenty!

Mooooove your body.  Remember to move and stretch during your travels.  If you’re driving, during your rest stops walk around the parking lot, do some push ups on a bench or some squats in the parking lot.  Yes, people will look at you but again, by taking care of yourself (and having fun doing so) gives permission for all the other achy travelers to move too.  If you’re flying, remember to flex your legs, ankles and glutes/buttocks regularly.  When you’re waiting in lines try to balance on one leg.  Maybe even jog or speed walk to your next gate, not because you’re about to miss your flight but because you’ll feel better once you get there.

Foot massage.  Did you know there are millions of nerve endings that send signals through your whole body when you massage your feet. Foot reflexology is based on this principle.  How to:  Sit on the floor a comfy chair, cross one of your legs and begin massaging the heck out of your foot, ankle and calf.  Better yet, get a friend or loved one to do it for  you!  If you don’t have a foot or hate feet, keep reading to check out another gift you can give yourself.

Self Oil Massage.  That’s right, oil yourself up.  Use a natural oil like coconut oil, sesame oil (not toasted, it should look golden), olive oil or jojoba oil. gently warm the oil in a double boiler, coffee warmer or on the stove.  Be careful not to burn yourself or overheat the oil.  If the oil begins to smoke, start over.  With your warm, body temperature oil, begin by applying some to the scalp.  Then cover the body making circles at joints and long sweeping motions on limbs and torso.  Let the oil sit for 15-20 minutes.  Enjoy your favorite cup of tea (gift yourself #4) and then take a hot shower without soap to wash the oils off.  This is an ancient healing secret from the East.  It is a therapy to create balance of the body and all the tissues.  If you go to a spa and get this done you’ll be dishing out $150-$350.  Yes, gift yourself!

Hand massage.  Like the foot, did you know there are millions of nerve endings that send signals through the whole body when you massage your hands?!  Massage each hand for 10 minutes.  Better yet, have a friend or loved one massage it for you.  Kids are great at giving hand massages and very healing and intuitive by nature.

Indulge in your FAVORITE cup of tea or coffee.  Not sure about you, but I tend to buy tea in bulk, not a high-end tea but something I know will GET THE JOB DONE.  My husband who is a coffee drinker tends to do the same.  HOWEVER, why not give yourself permission to go out and buy your all time favorite tea or coffee for the holidays?  Sipping on it while you get a foot massage or after you’ve given yourself a full body massage will feel like you’re the Queen or King of the neighborhood.  Which I’m sure you already are 😉

Sleep in as long as you want.  Arrange with your partner, spouse or family to give you one morning where you can sleep in as long as you want.  Some of you already do, so don’t choose this as a gift to yourself.  Others of you, including myself, have pets or kids to take care of.  Sleep is so incredibly important to reducing stress from the body and mind.  When we don’t give ourselves permission to get sleep until we naturally wake up, we are adding more stress to our lives.

Do one thing you LOVE to do.  Novel idea, right?!  In the clinic, I like to give my clients homework assignments between sessions.  The most often “prescribed” homework is asking a client to do something they absolutely LOVE to do but never do anymore.  One lady in New York loved walking around looking at the old architecture and taking photos.  She hadn’t done this in over 10 years even though she walked everywhere and lived on the upper east side, an amazing area for her passion.  Another lady just wanted time to sit with her cat in her lap, turn off all the gadgets and watch the world walk by.  Another man wanted to continue to write on a screen play he began 18 years earlier.  By giving themselves permission, each of these people did what they LOVED!  You should have seen the smiles on their faces during our next session.  TRY IT, that’s why you LOVE IT!

Buy yourself a gift.  In the Business and Money section of the Times this week, there is an article New Holiday Tradition: Buying Yourself a Gift.  While I’m attempting to keep the gift yourself idea focused on health and wellness, I have to admit there is something incredibly satisfying and healing when you buy yourself a gift for no reason.  A REAL GIFT that is, not something for the house, your pet or work.  A gift is something you’d probably never buy for yourself because of the thirty reasons of why you could use something else…for the house, pet or kids.  It doesn’t have to be something huge, lavish or expensive.  Maybe it’s hand lotion, a favorite candle or a hard-cover book.  Imagine that, a real book?!

Write or express your dreams, goals and aspirations for 2013.  This is not the same as a New Year Resolution.  This is about giving yourself permission to dream and dream big.  Not only learn from the past and decide to move forward with all the wisdom you’ve gained but maybe in this process learn something new about yourself.  Attempt to get out of the usual things you dream or think about and go wild.  Questions to ask yourself: If money weren’t an issue, I’d__________.  If I had all the time in the world, I’d_____ or may day would ____________.  When I look back at this time next year, I want to feel __________ or be able to say, I did ______________.  I want to learn about _____ in 2013.  The biggest lessons of life have come from ___________________.  I’ll use this knowledge in 2013 to _____________.

Choose an Attitude of Gratitude.  The holidays are the perfect time to point out who’s glass is half-empty and whose glass if half-full.  Unfortunately, the half-empty mentality is much easier to follow and fall into its unforgiving jaws.  IF however, you are a half-full or overly full mentality type, keep it up this holiday, even around friends and family.  You may get picked on, you may even be asked the most silly questions like why or how can you be so happy,  but more importantly you give others permission to live this way as well.  I can’t think of a better gift…and it’s free!  Remember, even the smallest and most simplest things can turn our world around.

Caution:  If you feel silly gifting yourself, you’re not alone.  More importantly, you’re probably doing it right.  Don’t worry what others think, just have fun.  After all, the holidays are a time for having fun and being silly! 

Gratitude as an Act of Devotion

When the hustle and bustle of the holiday season grabs you by the arm, neck, throat, or well, you know what, rather than fight back, smile at it this year and say “Thank you.”

Huh? Thank you???

Yep, “Thank You!” with a big smile of course.

With this week being Thanksgiving we are constantly being reminded to be grateful. I love it! A week where everyone is practicing and engaging in yoga. Alright, I have to admit, I tend to view my life in terms of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, the five elements, the eight limbs of yoga or Vedic wisdom. That’s just how I see things.

http://haunanichong.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/gratitude-sunset.jpgIshvara Pranidhana is a sanskrit term used and practiced a lot in yoga. It means “Devotion to Supreme God.” It’s one of the Niyamas, or personal observances, outlined in the Yoga Sutras by Pantanjali. If the word “God” freaks you out, like it did me for many decades, use a term that does resonate with you like “Love,” “the Universe,” “Divine,” “Nature” or “All Things.” One of the easiest ways to practice Ishvara Pranidhana is by feeling, being, and acknowledging gratitude in your life. When we truly feel and share our gratitude internally and externally, magic happens all around–improved energy, better sleep, people treat us better, random acts of kindness come out of nowhere (and really, they aren’t so random). Don’t believe me?

My mom just shared a story with me the other day. She travels a lot for work and got stuck on the east coast due to a broken airplane part. Her flight to San Francisco was delayed for 48 hours. While the majority of the people were kicking and screaming over the situation, she decided to take another approach. She surrendered to the situation and decided to take the perspective that “everybody is trying to fix the situation (flight mechanics, customer service representatives, etc). I should be grateful for all these people working to get me home safely.” While others were shouting and yelling at the ticket agents, she decided to smile and let them know she was thankful for their hard work. Just by expressing her sincere gratitude, not getting upset or blaming the people who were trying to help her get home sooner, she was rerouted and given a first class seat for no extra fee. Presto! A random gift based in gratitude.

Granted, I’m an optimist, but I know my life runs much more smoothly when I’m not fighting myself, the urge to be somewhere else (even if it’s in a long line at the store) or needing something else. I’ve learned through the years that if I ditch the December Downers, self-pity parties and let the Frantic Shopper or Family Drama Queen take a vacation, my life is so much richer and easy.

http://haunanichong.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/holiday-dinner-smiles.jpgThis holiday season, feel the feeling of gratitude and find gratitude in all aspects of your life (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual). You can express gratitude inwardly and silently or outwardly through gestures and words. Express your gratitude outwardly by smiling to yourself for no reason, smiling at strangers, listening to a friend, sibling, or person on the street who always tries to start a conversation with you. Inwardly, practice gratitude through how you perceive yourself, your state of mind as you move through the airport, cash register, and sitting with family. Most importantly, share your gratitude to the Universe, or Divine, by saying “thank you” and truly feel this gratitude in every cell of your being. When we acknowledge all the gifts and blessings in our life the Universe responds with “You’re welcome.” Don’t be surprised if “You’re welcome” is an unexpected gift you’ve been patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for.

What “yoga is” to me.

At some point during my studies in Yoga, Oriental Medicine, Hawaiian Healing and Ayurveda a teacher once shared with me, “Until you can see Love in all things, until you can Love all people, you’re not ready to practice this medicine.”  I remember being floored, my gut turned inside out (at the time, not good for my IBS, which I’m happy to share is completely healed through Natural Medicine), my dreams dashed for a second, but my heart was racing and the internal me was shouting “Yes, Yes, Yes!”  This was a moment in time when I realized I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Of all the modalities I have studied, in my own heart I consider them all a form and practice of Yoga.  Yoga, in the more general sense of “unification of the present,” is a path to seeing, feeling, hearing, observing and being connected to all things.

In an attempt to bring more clarity to what this means for me in a practical sense, I want to share what yoga is to me.

Yoga is…

Uniting the body, mind, emotions and spirit with the breath of all life.

A breath of life that eventually shows its identity of all things to be LOVE.

Feeling the breath of life breath you.

Where challenges become opportunities to grow and expand our boundaries, and deepen our relationship and understanding of God, of Love.

Hearing the sound of your own heart’s song in the stillness of your mind, and then living in accordance to your authentic heart song, without inhibition.

Choosing Love first.

Forgiving.

Seeing Transformation as a Way of Life.

Recognizing the interconnectedness of ALL life, including your self and choosing to live in HARMONY, in BALANCE, and with RESPECT for all things.

LOVING yourself, recognizing that before you can truly Love another, you must first begin to Love yourself.

The art of remembering, returning to your own Heart Light and refusing to let others tell you otherwise.

Yoga is YOU…You were born from yoga, born into yoga, and will die in yoga.  Yoga is your, his, her, my true nature.  The stillness of the mind simply reminds us of our true nature and our true nature is experienced in Yoga.

Asian Medicine Wisdom for Autumn

It’s Autumn which means several things in my world.  Autumn is a wonderful transitional season.  The mornings begin to have a nice crisp in the air once again that just screams to the lungs…Wake up!   And as soon as I take in a deep breath, my body responds with AAAAH!  Oh Autumn, how I love thee.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, a.k.a TCM, Autumn is correlated to the element of Metal.  For all you non-TCM geeks, without even having to try to figure out what that means just consider what the qualities of metal are.  Don’t give yourself an aneurysm thinking about it.  Just consider.  Let me get you started.  Metal is ___(fill in adjective here)______________.  Voila!  Now you can begin to relate to the season of Autumn more personally.  Consider how these qualities apply to your own life, your relationships, mental state, habits, or more importantly how you can use these qualities to bring more balance in your life, i.e. cutting things out of your life that no longer serve you or help you to be the best you can be.

Yes, Autumn, as metal, is more sharp or cutting than the playful energy of summer.  Things all around us begin to show their life’s cycle: wilting, withering, changing colors, falling off trees.  Woah woah waoh, not to get you depressed.  This is a natural cycle and part of your own nature of being.  Asian Medicine is all about celebrating the nature of things and since YOU ARE A PART OF nature, this means celebrating YOU!  This is the perfect time to allow what needs to naturally die away, go.  Let go.  The nature of Metal.  AND when we let go, that creates space allowing for the opposite to occur…receptivity or filling.

More TCM geeky stuff that you should know is the metal element is connected with the Lungs and Large Intestine.  The yin and yang organs of receptivity and letting go.  These images and connections become the perfect guidelines for the natural processes in our own life, no?

In Ayurveda, Autumn is associated with the dosha, or imbalances, of Vata.  Vata is represented by the elements of Air and Space just like the Lungs and Large Intestine.  In fact, the house of Vata is the…drum roll please…Large Intestine.  Coincidence?  Never is.  More like Divine connection!  At this time of the year, it is natural for things in our lives to become irregular, mobile, quick, dry, cold, light, and rough.  Not just on a physical level (lungs and large intestine) but at the mental/emotional level as well.  Both TCM and Ayurveda give us guidelines of how to live with the seasons and not allow these qualities to take over too much and create dis-ease or illness.

During the change of the seasons, Vata, the energy of movement, is predominant. It’s important to avoid excesses in all areas of your life at this time.  Breathing exercises and meditation are important to practice every day.  Begin packing a scarf or top-layer with you every time you leave the house, just in case the weather shifts.  When the weather gets windy, protect your neck.  Most importantly, nurture moderation and stress-free living to keep the immune system functioning at its peak performance.

General food guidelines to follow at this time of the year include:
1) Eat foods that are sweet (whole grains, not cookies), sour & salty (rock salt, not potato chips)
2) Limit the intake of spicy, raw, cold, and light foods. i.e. cold salads, sushi, and cold bean salads.
3) Enjoy warm, cooked foods, a variety of proteins, and healthy fats.

Consider, sipping on the following Vata Balancing Tea throughout the day to help make the transition of the seasons easier on the mind and body.

Ingredients:
1C water
3 deep breaths
1 Intention of “Balance”
1/4 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ajwain (available at most local Natural Food store)
sweetener (optional): sucanat, rice syrup

Directions:
Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and add spices. Cover and steep, or use a coffee/tea press, for 3-5 minutes. Sweeten to taste & serve. Serves 1.

Enjoy with balance and the intention of letting go those things in your life (thoughts, habits, relationships) that no longer serve you while being more receptive, or filling your life with things that DO serve you. This is Autumn! Enjoy.

Aloha & Namaste

To learn more specifically about your personal constitution and what foods, spices, beverages, breathing exercises and physical exercises or yoga asana are best to bring your body and mind into balance, call or e-mail Haunani today to schedule your private 1-to-1 session.