We are at the final Aspect on our rainbow journey of the 7 Systems of Health! This is the SPIRIT Aspect.
I can’t remember when I figured out that I was ‘spiritual’. Perhaps I’ve always believed in something Greater.
Though a “man-made” religion never felt like it was for me, I do find it difficult to believe that there’s not something more out there…
How can we not believe when we look all around us and realise how it is all so beautifully and intrically connected. Everything so finely fine-tuned to dance in synch and harmony. In balance. Surely that’s no coincidence?
To be honest, I don’t believe in extremes. Because when we’ve wandered too far either side of the spectrum we’ve lost that precious balance. Spirituality becomes religion and religion loses heart. It all becomes rigid and stuck.
Perhaps we don’t need strict rules to live a spiritual life? Maybe all we need to do, is to pause and open our eyes and other senses to all that is?
Within the 7 Systems of Health, the SPIRIT System is where we bring the most subtle elements of who we are, together.
We look at circadian rhythms, electromagnetic fields, and light. When it comes to lifestyle this is where looking at cleansing fits in, as well as being aware of toxicity in our food supply and environment.
The master gland for this System is the Pineal gland which is a tiny, pine cone shaped gland located pretty much in the middle of the brain, at about the same height as the point between our eyebrows.
This gland was the last endocrine gland whose function was discovered, and we may yet not know all that there is to know about it either. What we do know is that the Pineal gland secrets and regulates the production of melatonin which is our sleep hormone.
This is done through the recognition of light and darkness, through receptors. This regulation and recognition, is important to make sure that our 24h day-night cycle, circadian rhythm works as intended. Apart from being our body’s internal “clock”, melatonin also influences our reproductive organs and our immune system.
And if you’ve ever suffered with insomnia, or even a few sleepless nights, I won’t have to tell you about the effect this have on ones mental health, ability to make wise choices or to even function at all.
This Aspect of ourselves, can be considered our soul. In fact I read that the famous French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes was fascinated with the pineal gland. He even regarded it as the “principal seat of the soul, and the place in which all our thoughts are formed.”
So with that in mind, if we so wish and to ensure that this WHOLE system is in balance, it becomes important to look at what we feel is our (life) purpose.
The word CONNECTION becomes important here, which to me represents the spiritual underpinning that we are ALL connected.
Connected to eachother as humans, the interconnection between our body systems, and of course our larger connection to nature and all of life.
And although though religion belongs to the ROOT System, what you will find is that every major religion honours and teaches the importance and understanding of connection. So in a sense this is also how we circle back to the foundation and close the circle…
Lack of connection and a feeling of lack of purpose is one of the big imbalances you’ll find in this system. When we are feeling lonely, isolated and have a sense of hopelessness, it is most often because we’ve lost our connection. We feel dis-connected, which causes us to feel dis-ease and may eventually become disease. Because of course mind and body isn’t really separate.
So when do we lose hope and why? I don’t know if I feel totally qualified to answer a big philosophical question like this, but I’ll try doing it from my own experience.
Hopelessness can often come from a lack of connection when we feel misunderstood which in turn makes us feel alone. And when we feel alone or lonely we feel cut of from the rest of the world. When I look back at times in my own life where I have felt that hopelessness, it has almost always been because I lost connection as well as a sense of purpose.
Like those times when I’ve been in jobs in which I did not feel valued, respected and which did not give me a sense of satisfaction, rather they were just a means to an end. Which may be ok for a bit, just not indefinitely…
In an unsatisfactory intimate relationship, where again, I felt lonely, undervalued and “stuck”, but not sure how to get out of it and how to move forward.
And perhaps the biggest one of all, when I lost someone I loved and got struck by the pain of grief…
With some distance to these different events, some personal work and some self-reflection, I’ve come to believe that all these different kinds of hardships that we get handed in life, are part of our spiritual growth. It is in these times that we really need faith of some kind, as well as some guidance on how to live a life wholeheartedly.
These are the times that we will have to face head on the universal truth that we don’t have any control over what happens to us, only over how we choose to deal with it.
And here religion or any other type of spirituality is handy, maybe even essential for our survival, as we need tools to guide us so that we can pivot and grow, rather than becoming stagnant and stuck.
To me a big part of living a spiritual life is to take in the awe of nature. To stop and look up once in awhile and take in the grandeur of the starry night sky or (on the rare occasion that I’m up early) allowing myself to completely immerse myself in a beautiful sunrise.
This is being present. A gift. A gift which you can gift yourself, by paying attention to what’s going on around you as well as within you. Embrace it, try not to judge what is, and simply watch it unfold.
So with all of this I will give you my three suggestions for how you can nourish your SPIRIT through Food, Eating & Lifestyle
1. Food – Try minimising toxic exposure from your food as much as possible by choosing fresh, unprocessed foods, preferably organic as much as possible. Avoid drinking from plastic bottles or heating food in plastic as the toxic compounds from the plastic can leach into the food.
2. Eating- Give thanks to all of those who have provided you with your food. Gratitude is a powerful practice as a path to inner peace and happiness. The more we practice gratitude the more we realise all the things that we already have in our lives to be grateful for, which in turn brings us more to be grateful for. So why not start with the plate and your food? Doing this is also a beautiful way to acknowledge our interconnection with all of life.
3. Lifestyle – Do something that gives you meaning and fulfilment. Only you can know what this is. If you don’t yet feel like you’ve found your life’s calling or your higher purpose, then start small. Do ONE thing that gives you a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Perhaps it’s as simple as a random act of kindness? Or you give yourself permission to star gaze for 10 min? Or to finally go and buy those tubes of paint and a canvas to that you can play.
Whatever will fill your soul, do that. It is not only satisfying, it is also healing.
As we have now concluded our colourful journey through the 7 Systems of Health and we have traveled across the rainbow bridge from ROOT to SPIRIT, I will leave you with these words from what’s become one of my favourite authors, John O’Donohue;
“When the sense of destination becomes gracious, the journey can become an adventure of beauty”
If you want a recap of all the other Systems, you’ll find them here:
We travel upwards and on to the sixth System of Health – INSIGHT. Welcome to the place where your intuition, imagination, dreams and visions live! This is the system that includes eyes, sight, moods and sleep.
The main organ of the INSIGHT Aspect is the Brain. And the hormonal gland is the Pituitary gland. This master gland, together with the Hypothalamus (which is responsible for the production of some of the signaling hormones, that tell the other hormone glands what to do) oversees and orchestrates the show of what’s happening in the rest of the endocrine system.
The pituitary gland is made up of two parts, of the anterior lobe and posterior lobe. The anterior lobe produces and releases hormones. The posterior lobe does not produce hormones per se—this is done by nerve cells in the hypothalamus—but it does release them into the circulation.
It is the Pituitary gland which tells the other hormonal glands in the body what to do. This includes growth hormone, Thyroid stimulation hormone (TSH), Adrenocorticotropic hormone(ACTH) which in turn stimulates the adrenal glands to produce the stress response hormones. The Pituitary gland also affects and stimulate Follicle-stimulating hormone(FSH)which works with the Luteinizing hormone to ensure normal functioning of the ovaries and testes. Luteinizing hormone(LH). LH works with FSH to ensure normal functioning of the ovaries and testes. And finally the Pituitary gland has something to say about Prolactin hormone which is the hormone that stimulates breast milk production.
So this System is about hormones that affect the rest of our body. And it is about what we can see with our eyes, about the information that we take in, and how we use our intellect to process this information.
However, INSIGHT is also very much about what’s within. The inner wisdom that we all have, yet so easily brush aside, or struggle to trust…
Have you ever had a “hunch” about something? Perhaps you just said yes to something that simply “didn’t feel right”, but since it looked and seemed fine you went ahead anyway, only to find out afterwards that your intuition was right…
I sure do. One major life event, from many years ago now, that still stands out in my memory was when I went for an interview for a job. It seemed to be an excellent proposition on paper. An fabulous opportunity to further my career, decent pay and reasonable hours. I was moving on forward and upwards. Or at least so I thought. The interview itself went well, I got the job, we set a start date I and went back to hand in my notice for my other job. However, I can still recall the very subtle notion I had when leaving after the interview that something was not entirely right, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. So I pushed it aside and forged forward anyway.
I was going to write that this was a BIG mistake, and in many ways it was. The following months turned into some of the darkest days in my life. It is so many years ago now and I rarely think about that time. It was a brief moment in my life, though I am convinced that if I haven’t managed to pull myself together enough + having the support of some caring people at the time to sort out some logistical stuff, I’m not sure I would have made it as I was feeling worse by the day.
Now looking back, it was perhaps a mistake to not listening to my intuition at that time, however it also turned out to be a major learning opportunity. Since then, I’ve had many more great learning opportunities, and each time I get better and better at trusting my intuition.
So we access our inner wisdom by listening in. As well as reflecting on our life experiences. It’s only in the last few years I’ve come to realise the power of self-reflection, coupled with an attitude of openness and curiosity. Dropping any judging when doing any kind of reflecting is important, otherwise we just get stuck in a negative spiral, but when we approach it with an open mind, everything and everyone becomes our teacher.
Like my dear friend Marihet says “we hold the mirrors for each other”.
And when we turn inwards we will “see” that we already have all the knowledge within…
So how does the INSIGHT Aspect play out when it comes to Food, Eating and Lifestyle?
Let’s have a look and see, what ways you can strengthen your own INSIGHT!
1. Food – Any food that will affect our moods and cognitive function belongs here. So things like caffeine, cacao and berries are all good foods to strengthen your brain function and memory. Recent studies have shown blueberries to be particularly good to protect the brain against neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
We often forget about the healing powers of spices. Yes they are amazing to add to any meal to make it taste great, but they have very potent medicinal actions all by themselves. Just ask any herbalist! My own favourite ones are Turmeric (really strong antioxidant, anti inflammatory spice), Cinnamon (great to balance blood sugar and support the cells insulin sensitivity) and Cardamom (which is great for digestion, congestion and metabolism).
So up your intake of spices and aim for variety, eat more blue / purple foods and do indulge in some high quality high cacao content chocolate from time to time!
2. Eating – Start practicing using your intuition when it comes to making food choices. This may sound scary, difficult or even impossible. And for sure, it requires a hefty dose of trust, mixed with some practice. One of the arguments when people here the words “Intuitive Eating” is usually: “Oh if I ate that way I’d be huge, I’d be living on chocolate cake”. The thing is, maybe you would, for a little while. But our bodies are so much more intelligent than we give them credit for. However if we have spent a long time looking outside for answers, then it is going to take some time to “tune in”.
Going with our intuition requires a certain amount of surrendering. It is a bit like if you are having a conversation with a friend and you are too busy thinking about you’ll say next, so you don’t pay much attention to what your friend is actually saying. Before you can become really supportive you need to pay attention and listen.
The same goes for your body. Start with simply listening too what it has to say. Then in the beginning of this practice, if you still feel the need to override your intuition with your intellect, go ahead. (Just like I did when changing jobs…) It will be a really valuable learning experience!
3. Lifestyle – Make sure you get enough sleep. We need sleep, this is the time the body detoxify and restore. If this is an area of your life that you are struggling with, look at what you can do to improve your sleep routine and sleep hygiene.
Try adding some guided meditations and visualisations to stimulate your insight and your imagination. Visualising can definitely help us access the possibilities, whether for healing or creative pursuits. As the saying goes “If you can dream it you can do it!”
If you are curious to see how balanced the Seven different Aspects of You are, Sign up below and take the Questionnaire!
Let’s continue our travels on the rainbow journey of discovery, of our Whole Selves. We have so far traversed the ROOT, the FLOW, the FIRE and the LOVE. We will now venture higher up and into what within the 7 Systems of Health™ is called the TRUTH. This Aspect of ourselves is the part where we express ourselves as who we truly are. Something that often takes courage, openness and a willingness to show up and be vulnerable.
The master hormonal gland of the TRUTH System is the thyroid gland, a gland that is deeply involved in our body’s metabolism. If this gland is out of whack, it will affect your whole body. This little butterfly look-alike gland, located in the throat area governs not just our body temperature but practically every cell in the body needs the stimulation of thyroid hormone to convert oxygen and calories into energy.
Some of the signs of a dysfunctioning thyroid gland are:
Overactive thyroid symptoms:
Increased heart rate / tachycardia
Increase in free circulating T3 & T4 hormones
The most common reason for hyperthyroidism is the autoimmune condition Grave’s Disease, which can be brought on by a stressful event such as loss of a partner.
Underactive thyroid symptoms:
Depression / low moods
Difficulty in losing weight
Lethargy/ fatigue which seems unexplained and hard to shift
Sensitivity to cold
This is by far more common than an overactive thyroid, and many people go un-diagnosed. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and still struggling to figure out what might be causing it, getting your thyroid function checked may be worth looking into.
(Source; Textbook of Natural Medicine by Joseph Pizzorno & Michael Murray; 2006 ed.)
But it’s not just the thyroid gland that is part of this System of Health. Our mouth, throat, neck, nose and ears also belong to the TRUTH system. Which makes sense if we dive into the symbolical meaning of “truth”. Because it is with these faculties we can express who we are and what our perception of our world looks like.
I think we sometimes forget the power that is held in words. Both how we communicate with others and the words we choose when we do, as well as becoming aware of how our internal dialogue goes. When we tune into that inner conversation, we often become amazed how negative and degrading it can be… That constant chatter that goes on inside our heads, which we may not even be consciously aware of, yet is there.
You may have experienced the power of words for yourself, like when someone gives you a compliment, or shared words of affection for you, with you. And likewise that harshness and hurt that comes from a negative comment, or even a misunderstanding because how you read or picked up someone else’s words triggered something in you, yet it may not have been the intention of the person who said it.
What particular words we choose to use can change the entire connotation of a sentence, which is why I think we should be as mindful as we can, when we communicate with each other. Or at least have the awareness that what I say may not always be received the way I intended, as it may also depend on what current experience the recipient is having. So how they respond may not actually have anything to do with me per se.
Within the TRUTH System we speak about Authenticity, Choice and Voice. Basically how we show up in this world, being true to ourselves and who we are. It sounds so simple and obvious, yet it can be so so difficult.
Most of the time, I think the reason for not showing up as who we are, standing in our personal truth with integrity is because we don’t believe it is safe to do so. Instead we might tell lies (to ourselves as well as others), perfect, people please or just stay quiet and say nothing at all. To be able to stand in our own TRUTH, we need to first define what that looks like, what our values are, those that we cannot compromise and bend on if we are to stay within our integrity.
And then we need to have the courage to be vulnerable and not compromise on them, which may mean having difficult conversations at times.
I also believe that in order to feel safe to show up and be vulnerable and true, we need to hold space for each other with non judgment, curiosity and compassion.
One of the current leading teachers on Courage and Vulnerability is Brené Brown. She has written a good few books on the topic, of which both Daring Greatly and Rising Strong are excellent reads and will help you realise that if you want to live a braver life, then you will fall, but that is also possible to get back up. And most of all, we need to discern who are the critics that actually count!
One interesting observation on this System of Health is; Can not speaking our Truth, and living a life true to who we are, affect the physical areas of this system? Maybe… Maybe not. Our personal TRUTHs may look different for everybody – only you can know what living your authentic life looks like)
But one thing I do know for sure is that it is definitely one questions that is worth exploring.
Your answers may come through looking at some of the other Aspects though, but being true to who we are and having the safe space to express that, is very healing indeed.
So what then can we do to support our TRUTH through means of foods, eating and lifestyle? Well here are some of my favourites:
1. Food – Any type of food that will moisturise your throat will support your TRUTH. So basically we are talking about soups, broths smoothies and other liquids like herbal teas. The one particular food that also belongs here is seaweed as it contain the all important mineral of iodine, which is integral for optimal functioning of the thyroid gland. We are lucky here in Ireland that we can get good clean sources of seaweed, however they question is, How do you incorporate it into your diet?
One way is to add some as sprinkle of seasoning to soups and salads. Or add strands of kombu seaweed to your soups and casseroles when cooking. The other option is to use Chlorella or Spirulina which are both micro algea and can be bought conveniently in powder or tablet form.y
A word of warning here is that, A. They are pretty potent so a little goes a long way, and B. The flavour is very green, so until you get use to the flavour and want to use it, I suggest getting tablets rather than destroying your smoothies with it…
2. Eating – How do we eat in a way that supports our TRUTH? How can we actually eat in such away that is congruent with who we are? Well the best way, is to cultivate awareness and become more mindful. Mindful about your food choices. Do they serve your needs and your health? Mindful when you eat; let all your senses be fully present and engaged in the experience. This will allow you to enjoy your meal in a whole different way, giving you more pleasure and satisfaction which can translate to eating less overall.
Choice is also about variety. So get curious and try new things and aim for a wide variety of different types of foods. Remember about eating the Rainbow?
And lastly, don’t forget to chew! This simple tips can have revolutionary effect on both the amount of food you eat as well as your digestive system. Digestion actually starts in the mouth (well even before that as our stomachs even get prepared from the smells of food. Ever been salivating when you’ve smelt something you find delicious?) So please use your teeth. They are there for a reason.
3. Lifestyle – Try to define your non negotiable values. What are these? What does it look like when you are living in your TRUTH / integrity? What are the triggers (situations, people, foods, choices, thought, beliefs) which may keep you living outside your integrity? What may standing in the way of you living and expressing your whole self? Journal on these questions.
Words hold power – create some positive affirmations to write on post-it notes, and stick them in strategic place where you can see them daily. I know have a whole bunch of word and affirmations around my office, as gentle reminders and as a way of programming my subconscious mind. If you are struggling to come up with your own, then go and check out Louise Hay, the queen of affirmations!
One thing to note with affirmations is to pick ones that feels true. If they are not congruent with how you feel, if it is too far of a stretch from where you are, and saying the words feel forced or false, then go and find another one. If it is feeling false or forced, then it is not aligned with your truth.
Lastly, singing, humming and / or chanting can also be a supportive vehicle to get your TRUTH System more balanced. Have fun with it!
If you want a recap of the other Systems of Health that I’ve already covered you’ll find them here:
It’s time to dive into the LOVE Aspect of Self, and the Seven Systems of Health™! And perhaps this is the perfect time to do so with May Day, Beltane and Valborg (as it is called in Sweden), all celebrations to mark the beginning of Summer, having just been.
May is one of those beautiful transition months with a special light and feeling of true renewal. And when everything is bursting into bloom, expansive and GREEN. Summer is not yet here but Spring is out full force. Just like LOVE.
Most of us think about romantic love when we hear the word LOVE. That thrilling, exhilarating feeling that can be totally all consuming. But LOVE is so much more that that. It is truly the glue that holds everything together. When we talk about the LOVE Aspect in the Seven Systems of Health™, we talk about service, compassion and even passion. And not just towards others but for ourselves as well.
The Heart is the organ connected to the LOVE Aspect. It really couldn’t be anything else could it! The other body parts connected to this Aspect is areas connected to the heart in some way, by direct function or by area of location. Arms and hands. Both body parts which we use to offer loving embrace and connection to each other.
The Lungs and blood vessels as well as Lymphatic System belongs to this Aspect. All part of circulation and oxygenation, bringing the nutrients absorbed from the small intestine into the blood stream and filtered through the liver to the rest of the body. So that it can get the nourishment it needs.
But what about all the more “non tangible” parts of this Aspect? Like service and compassion.
In the past few months, I have been on what feels like a book bingeing mission. Blended with some self exploration. It has been really healing I have to say.
A. Because I’m so curious and I love learning.
B. Because I believe that if you are on a mission to help others then a must in this process is to learn more about yourself, so you can be of service in the best way possible. Somehow it seems much easier to relate to others’ struggles when we can see and feel our shared common humanity. It becomes much easier to relate and to have empathy. To say “me too”.
So let’s talk about service.
We give and take care of others as a way of being of service. It feels nice to be nice. But here’s the catch. How we give, plays a big role in how we’ll end up feeling.
What place is our giving coming from?
If we give selflessly and endlessly without boundaries, chances are that we will either be taken advantage of, or end up being burnt out. Or maybe both. And then resentment festers and grows… It may even feel painful. Not nice.
If we give from a place of always expecting something in return, then we are also setting ourselves up for resentment. Why? Because people may, or may not return the favour. And when they don’t, we end up feeling disappointed. Because we assumed or expected that they somehow would or should.
And if we do things for others just to “keep the peace” or to keep them happy, whilst compromising on our own integrity we are operating from a “people pleasing place”. Which can also lead to… Yes you guessed it! Resentment and burn out.
Then there’s the other side of giving – receiving. Oh boy it that a hard one!
For me this receiving bit is certainly something I have been struggling with. And I’m guessing (I hope!) I’m not alone in that either… It takes vulnerability and courage to ask for help, and to let someone in. Especially if / when we are so used to doing it all ourselves.
Look at it like this though, if your bank account it full of out goings but there’s never any money coming in, eventually you’ll end up with no funds. Which mean you’ll simply have nothing more to give…Whether it is money or energy.
If we are burnt to a crisp, full of resentment and self-loath, as an aftermath of struggling with people pleasing and perfectionism, then we certainly have nothing to give to others, regardless if we want to or not.
We cannot give from an empty cup. And sometimes we need to allow someone else but ourselves, to step in and to fill it up.
A few years ago, after having had my life running on high speed for months, I realised that if I did not make some kind of change, my health would suffer. So I went and booked myself into a silent (yes, silent!) Vipassana retreat.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to talk… And my friends where all like “Linn how will you manage being silent for five days??!!”. Turns out that being silent wasn’t the hardest part for me. The greatest challenge at the time was actually learning how sit with boredom. But that’s a story for another day!
As a complete meditation novice, sitting still and trying to observe my thoughts was so difficult and trying. We practiced a few types of meditaion over the course of the retreat, both formal Vipassana (insight) meditation, walking meditation and another form of Buddhist meditation called Metta or Loving-Kindness meditation.
The experience of practicing loving-kindness meditation left me with a tool to practice more compassion. A way of open my heart, both towards myself and towards others. Because even if we are struggling to wish ourselves well, when we extend the intention to ALL Beings, that includes us as well.
Also to me, with my busy mind, having a mantra of some kind made it a little easier to stay focused. I love this kind of mediation so much and I want to share the benefits with all of you here! So when I was preparing to write this post I invited someone with more experience and expertise in this area than me.
Lyndsey Burton is a Holistic Therapist, Coach and Mindfulness Teacher. She helps people reduce stress, calm the chatty mind and heal on mind, body and soul level so that they can enjoy the journey we call life.
Lyndsey will give us the reasons of why we should introduce some loving-kindness mediation practice into our lives, so that we can support and nourish our LOVE Aspect.
3 Benefits of the Loving Kindness Meditation
Most of our powerful thoughts and emotions can be described in two words, Love or Fear. Now, I’m not talking about the mundane day to day thoughts and emotions that help us get jobs done, I’m talking about the ones that can lift us up or knock us off our feet when we are least expecting it.
Sometimes all it takes is an unintentional negative comment from someone and our critical self-talk and emotions take front stage.
This is where the Loving Kindness Meditation can really help.
Basically the Loving Kindness Meditation (or Metta as it was originally named) is a practice to help us become more caring, loving and compassionate towards ourselves, others and all living things. It is a way to connect to love and shine a light on fear. It is the practice of the heart and we are planting tiny seeds of loving-kindness, that in time will grow into something more beautiful than you would ever be able to imagine.
If you like the sound of becoming a nicer, happier, kinder, more compassionate person then read on my friend.
(Ed. note; And who wouldn’t?)
How can this practice help you I hear you say? Well to be honest there are hundreds of ways and the list is never ending, however it can all be stripped down to that one word LOVE. But to give you some clarity around the practice, I will share with you three benefits that I feel (from my own experience and that of many of my clients) have helped us all get on the path to compassion.
1. It will help you become more MINDFUL of your inner reactions to the outer world
Yes people will do and say things that piss you off. Someone might pull out on you on the motorway. You may not get the coffee you asked for and your kids may not give a damn that you have changed all your plans to taxi them around the country (the latter is common in our house).
However if you spend as little a 5 or 10 minutes a day for a couple of weeks, these outside occurrences tend not to upset your inner world as much. This means you will learn to respond to life rather than walk around reacting to everything. All of this = A nicer you!
2. It increases your positive vibe
The meditation is all about spending a little time wishing yourself and others well. This in turn helps you to see that we all just want to be happy, which increases your ability to feel more positive about life. You can feel a greater sense of life purpose and meaning in what would normally seem like mundane daily events.
3. It decreases stress
We all suffer from stress in our daily life. Some stress is good. However if we experience high levels of stress over a long period of time it can become detrimental to our health and wellbeing. By practicing the loving-kindness meditation we can step into the realm of forgiveness. We forgive others from the past, like the idiot that cut us up on the motorway and the kids for ruining our social lives.
The main person I had to learn to forgive in my loving-kindness practice was me (but thats’ a whole other blog). If there are less people out there to rock our inner boat, there is less to stress about. I share with my students that forgiveness through compassion is nothing to do with the person who has hurt us as they have their own karma. It IS about letting go of the fear, anger, hurt, sadness or whatever we have carried around in our beautiful bodies.
So, there are just a few reasons to give the Loving Kindness Meditation a bash. I would gently guide you towards practicing it for 30 days so you can let it permeate your cells.
Thanks Lyndsey for these words of wisdom and benefits of loving-kindness meditation.
So apart from bringing some loving-kindness mediation practice into our daily lives, what else can we do to nourish our LOVE Aspect?
1. Food – There is no escaping vegetables! Green ones of course, which will give us important minerals like magnesium but all kinds of vegetables have important effect on our health and wellbeing. And it’s not just the vitamins, minerals and fiber that they contain, it is also all the hundreds of plant specific compounds, phytonutrients, that they contain which plays a roll in heart health, immune function and feeding our friendly gut bacteria. If you are not in love with vegetables already, then it’s about time you start courting that relationship! They are truly your best friends when it comes to health.
2. Eating – To be perfectly honest here, this is one of my personal missions… To support people to start making food (and lifestyle) choices out of care and compassion for themselves. I believe that if we are making choices from this place, rather than from external influences, our choices may be different and that there would be less struggle with between body-mind-plate.
What food choices would you be making if you where using this approach? Would it differ from what you are doing now?
3. Lifestyle – Movement / exercise falls under the LOVE Aspect too. Our heart is a muscle and like all our other muscles it needs exercise to strengthen. And so does our lungs. My one (well two…) tips when it comes to exercise is; keep it varied. Mix up strength training ( weights, yoga, Pilates) with some more cardio based types (walking, running, cycling, swimming, hiking, dancing) so that you get an all round experience and let all of your body work.
And make sure that you choose exercise that is FUN whilst you are at it. It makes it much easier to return to the next session even if you feel stiff and sore the next day(s).
This month I want to introduce you to the FIRE Aspect of Health (and Self) as per the concept of Food and Spirit™. We will slowly be working our way through each Aspect, though I have more “generic” explanations is the pipeline! I am gradually weaving the concept of Food and Spirit into my way of practicing, focusing more and more on helping people specifically with struggles around food and emotional eating.
Having spoken to people in interviews about this over the past weeks, have given me further insights. Food and eating can be so complicated sometimes… And when it is, it can become all-consuming and very draining too. A real energy sucker, that’s for sure. I know, because I have been there.
So with that in mind, lets dive into the FIRE Aspect. This Aspect is all about, digestion, energy, thoughts and transformation.
I think that the FIRE Aspect is where most people can easily recognise their own imbalances. We live in such an incredibly fast paced society, and it seem to be increasing by the minute. Faster internet, shorter attention-span…
We consume more added sugar than ever, which means quicker energy into the body. We often relay on easier and more convenient ways to eat, whilst we take less time to stop and enjoy it. We always seem to be going somewhere, doing something. We’re encouraged to think BIG. Do more. BE more. And sometimes it begins to feel like we’re on this never stopping merry-go-around…
Visualise a burning fire. If you pour petrol on it you will have a big blaze, but it will burn out quiet quickly. This is us when we are living the fast paced lifestyle. We don’t have time to plan or shop, let alone cook meals from scratch. We crave sugar, which is natural because the stress hormone cortisol is tied in with the liver and pushes blood sugar levels up. So we eat more sugar. Of course it’s just so super easy to do, because all the added sugar tends to hangout / hideout in processed convenience foods. And as you know, eating healthy on-the-go is like an (almost) non existent option. Ever paused to notice what’s on offer in every petrol station and corner shop? Unless you bring your own food with you, making healthier choices when on the road is so hard.
When the blood sugar drops, we get low in energy and to pick us up we fuel up with caffeine and / or something sweet and the roller coaster ride continues. I actually wrote a more in-depth article about it for Workout Empire here .
What people also told me in these interview were, that when they would “cave in” and have something sweet / processed they said that they tend to start beating themselves up about it, or even obsessing about what they had or why they had it. Adding more stress and more fuel to the already blazing fire. And that leads us on to the part of the FIRE Aspect that’s connected to thoughts.
It’s estimated that we have between 50.000 – 60.000 thoughts per day. Luckily most of them are filtered out. However the thing is that, the ones we do tend to pay attention to are mostly the negative ones, which we play on repeat over and over. And other times we are so wrapped up in our minds and the speed of life that we don’t really pay attention at all. We hold such incredible power within when it comes to our thoughts. So much more, then we appreciate sometimes I think.
I’ve come to realise that this power can best be harnessed by working on changing our perception to what we are experiencing. (I was going to write either, or but to be honest I think changing our perception is really where it’s at). Changing our perception means that we are then empowered to take a different approach entirely, or respond to an event that’s happening to us with better clarity and this may mean not to take any action at all. Sometimes leaning in and experience the uncomfortableness or pain is (only) what it takes to let it pass, because it may just be a thought or feeling. Not an actual event that needs solving…
We really don’t have all that much control over what happens in life, as much as we like to think we do! But we have the power to choose how we respond and react to things that comes along. For me to release (and relish) this power it has to start with awareness. Without awareness, any kind of response will always be subconscious, out of an old established pattern and on autopilot. When I am aware; aware of the situation, aware of what I am feeling, aware of how these feelings feel in my body and aware that I now have an opportunity to decide for myself how I want to react and respond, that’s when I am empowered.
How does that old saying go?
“Life is 10% of what happens and 90% of how we react to it”
From experience, I’ve found that sweeping things (feelings) “under the carpet” is not the way to go. They tend to show up in some other form at a later stage. And this is coming form someone who use to clean her room by simply sweeping everything on the desk into a drawer – to be dealt with later… How symbolic is that?
Luckily I have learnt a few things since I was 10… One of these being that when life is hard, as it is sometimes, the most efficient way of dealing with these hardships and curve balls is to not run, but to face them. And by not running, I mean from the emotions themselves. By all means if you realise that you are in a situation that is not serving your health and wellbeing, then use this realisation as away to muster up the courage you need to get out! (I’ve had a few of those too.)
So cut a long story short, we hold some tremendous power if we choose to harness our thoughts in a positive way. This doesn’t mean that you will always be happy and think positive thoughts though. I’m not sure that it’s even possible, natural nor necessarily healthy. But it will mean that YOU have the power to tune into how your thoughts are effecting how you feel, and with some awareness practice you will be able to pay more attention to which ones you want to fuel and feed, and which stories that you need to drop.
The Digestive System is also included under the FIRE Aspect of Health. It makes sense as our digestive system is where the assimilation of the food we eat happens. This is the system where what we take in from the outside world is transformed into fuel and energy for our cells, which in turn make sure that our bodies function as a whole.
If you have, or have ever had, issues with your digestive system you know how it can take over your entire life. When it’s functioning well we don’t worry about it or hardly notice it at all. But, boy when it doesn’t function, is it ever present on your mind! As a Nutritional Therapist, it has been drilled into me from the start that all health / disease originates in the gut. Gut health is the place to start, with almost everything, regardless if your patient is presenting with mood / mind symptoms or if there’s an autoimmune condition going on. Why? Because it’s all connected. (If you’d like some help to sort your digestive system out, then please feel free to contact me)
In the past few years, research has also intensified on what is going on within our digestive system, particularly when it comes to intestinal health and the bugs that live there. These organism are called Microbiota and their collective genes are called Microbiome. It turns out that we have MORE microorganisms living in our digestive tract than the amount of cells we’re made up of. So who’s the host really?
As research is emerging we are beginning to understand, not only who these guys effect the digestive process, but also how they can influence other areas of our health, such as cognition, mood, immunity and skin. I even recently heard at a conference that our microbiota is the first line defense when it comes to detoxification(!) So we need to mind these dudes. Best thing to do is; to reduce stress load, reducing added sugar and intake of processed foods and to make sure that theyget fed their preferred fuel, which happens to be good for the rest of our bodies in general to. The preferred fuel? Colourful wholesome fruit and vegetables!
So how you can keep your FIRE nicely fueled whilst preventing it from burning out? Here are three tips and take aways that you can put into practice straightway!
1. Food – Do a food inventory. How much added sugar are you consuming? What colour is the food on your plate? Is it full of colour from the rainbow or is it mostly brown / yellowish foods dominating the picture? Is your food representing a symbolic “burnt out” state of you?
Focus on adding more warming spices like ginger and turmeric which are also bright yellow. And other spices like cinnamon and cardamom which support blood sugar balancing and digestive health. And add more brightly coloured yellow fruits and vegetables to your diet too. This soup from last month is a great place to start!
2. Eating – Are you eating to pick yourself up when you feel tired? Are you eating on the go? Do you eat when you are stressed? Once you have gathered some awareness around what your eating habits look like, try to counter act it by carving out at least one meal a day where you take your time to fully engage with your meal. Slow down, smell it, tastes it and chew it! You will most likely be more satisfied and may even eat less as a result. And I can guarantee you that your digestive system will thank you too!
You can pick up my Food & Emotion Log here if you need some help to get clear on this.
3. Lifestyle – Do an energy inventory. This exercise is one of my favourites from Food & Spirit™.
Divide a piece of paper in two. In one column write down anything that gives you energy. People, places, foods and activities. If it feels a little hard, stay with it for a bit and try to dig deep. Make it as exhaustive as you can.
Then on the other side, make another list of everything that takes your energy. Again make it as exhaustive as you can.
Now compare the two lists and imagine that you only have one pool of energy to draw from. Where would you rather spend your energy? It might not be possible to let go of all the energy drainers, but see where it actually is possible to make a change. As well as that, see what you need to do more of! Balance is always where it’s at.
I love this quote (not sure who said it) when it comes to energy and life balance.
“If we are not willing to spend our energy on creating what we want, we will have to spend it on what we get.”
P.S I’ve included a picture of my dog Ojay as he’s one of my greatest ways of balancing my stress & FIRE Aspect!
This month I will talk about the Aspect of FLOW. This Aspect of Health as according to the concept of Food & Spirit™ is the second Aspect and is represented by the colour Orange,(my least favourite colour) it’s connected to the reproductive organs and thus it involves fertility, sexuality and partnerships of two.
The FLOW is where we tie in the emotional and the creativity parts of ourselves.
From a physiological perspective, this Aspect covers the bladder, the kidneys and our pelvis area (which holds all these vital organs as well as the reproductive organs). The large intestine is also included here. In fact constipation can be considered a FLOW complaint. Thing are “stuck” and not moving through. Often people who experience constipation may be holding on to some underlying unresolved emotional issues too.
When we talk about foods to nourish the FLOW we talk about water, healthy fats, fish (water), nuts and seeds (healthy fat), orange coloured foods and tropical foods (which usually have a high water content).
Out of all the 7 Aspects this one is very symbolic (well they all are really, but this one more than some others, I think) and perhaps looking at it in this light makes it easier to remember. Fats, and oils in particular are fluid. Water is fluid and flowing. Our kidneys and bladder is in control of the water regulation in our bodies, and we need healthy fats for healthy cells, healthy reproductive organs and of course essential fatty acids can have a positive impact on our emotions too. Our brain is made up of fat so we certainly need it!
Let’s talk about emotions. Or perhaps calling them e-motions would be better. Well at least it would be better for us if we could just let them flow through rather than getting stuck in them. Easier said than done though… Have you ever had someone say something to you which made you all upset, only to have the scenario playing on repeat in your head, over and over afterwards? I know I have.
Or like how we are often taught or perhaps even told as kids that showing our emotions makes us vulnerable. So rather than letting our tears flow, we try to keep it all in, putting on a brave face trying to get on with things. This may work for sometime but it usually comes back and bites us in another way, sometimes in form of dis-ease and other times as cravings or even outburst of anger if one feels like it’s all over-flowing. And if we don’t let it out in one way or another and instead shut it all off, try to bury it we will also close the door on all the positive emotions to flow through too. This is something Brené Brown talks a lot about in her books. She says ” You cannot selectively numb one emotion. If you shut off one, you shut them all off.”
I think we all have our own “numbing tools” for some it may be drugs or alcohol, for others it’s food, whereas others use busyness, shopping or perhaps even excessive exercising. Anything to take that edge of feeling, when it’s too painful to feel. And sometimes we need to do that, just to survive. The problem is when this becomes something we do all the time. We’re feeling sad, mad, bad or angry upset or any other kind of negative emotion that hurts. It’s not a nice place to be. So we use whatever seems appropriate to take the edge off.
For me, my drug of choice was food. Looking back I’m not sure that when it all started, it was something that I was even aware of that I was doing. I was stuck in a situation which left me feeling sad, hopeless and stuck. And as I couldn’t see a way out at the time, I used food as a way to numb things. I actually think it started off as a subconscious act. To take the edge off.
The thing is though, that if we keep numbing ourselves we are also shutting off the ability to let the light in. To be able to feel happiness and joy. And the other side of the coin is that usually the drugs of choice; food and alcohol at least, also effects our nervous system so from a biochemical perspective we become even more susceptible to feelings of low mood and even depression. A vicious cycle in other words.
Let’s talk about cravings. So many times we eat for other reasons than physical hunger. Many times we eat for purely emotional reasons. I know, because I spent a long time doing just that. It took a long time to wean myself off the impulse of eating just because I was feeling. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one having had this experience either… I’ve seen so many women, but also men, doing the same thing in my clinical practice. It can be an utterly debilitating experience. Stuck in this stuffing-our-emotions-down-with-food cycle.
So what did I do to finally break the cycle and to step off the merry-go-around? I wish I could tell you that I met someone who just waved their magic wand and it was all easy peasy ever after… Not really. But I am here to tell you that it can be done.I’ve done it myself and I’ve coached others to the path of doing the same.
For me the first step was to decide that I no longer wanted to be where I was at. I finally had enough. Let’s call this part acknowledgement. After that, I bought a day-to-day diary and started to write down everything I ate and drank every day, with a few notes to how I was feeling, on occasion. When I started my food diary, I didn’t actually change anything I was doing. In the beginning I simply just wrote. And with my best ability I tried to be as non-judgmental as I could towards myself too. If you’ve never done a seriously to-the-core honest food diary, then I urge you to try it. There are so many things and so many times we eat without paying attention. At. All.
This became my first step to cultivate awareness. I believe that without this kind of insight into what was truly going on, there would have been no possibility of longterm, sustainable change. After all I had already tried numerous diet plans and systems, which I could never stick to. From my new found awareness I finally had a place from where I could start making conscious decisions. This is true power, or empowerment. Once you are aware, every single choice you make is your own. No more driving on autopilot! Perhaps this seems like a scary place to be. But this is where trust comes in. Trust to know that you are capable of making the best food choices for you. Trust that even if you make a choice that you think you may regret later, (and even if you do regret it) you just put trust in that it was a great learning opportunity.
Trust that with this kind of empowerment comes freedom.
Then there’s the emotion and feelingside to the equation of course. If we are to be able to let our feelings flow through, we need to trust that they will do just so. I love reminding myself of the saying “this too shall pass”. Or what the renowned father of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) John Kabat-Zinn says “Breath and let be”.It serves as a reminder that we don’t need to act or re-act to everything we experience. Sometime the best thing to do is to just stay with the uncomfortableness rather than trying to fix it. And when you stay there, you will realise that just like after rain, sunshine always follows. But we must trust that it does, even if in the beginning we don’t necessarily believe that it is so.
So how can we express our emotions in a more healthy way, so that they don’t become stuck and stagnant causing issues in our body and with our health? Creativity!“But I’m not an artist or very artistic”, I hear you say. Something the majority of us will say in fact. Followed by “I don’t have time for that.” Taking time out of our busy, hectic life for some creativity is a bit like schedule in exercise, it is necessary for our health and it serves as a way of refueling the tank, which give you more energy to do all your “must-dos”. Have you noticed all the adult colouring books that seems to be on display everywhere? Someone somewhere is obviously on to something…
And don’t limit your thinking to that being creative is just about writing, painting / drawing or singing and dancing. If none of those are calling your name, then why not get creative in the kitchen, or in the garden? Or go build something with your hands. I was pondering this the other day and though of my dad and brother. They may not being good at drawing or “art” but they are certainly creative as they both love making and building things. They have already built a house and is on to the second one!
In my book, anything that you do which will take you to a state of bliss, to a place where you forget time and space and where you exist solely in the here and NOW, a state of utter FLOW – use that as your creativity.
This month I invite you to take some time to nourish your FLOW. Here are three ways you can do it:
1. Food – Focus on incorporating healthy fats into your daily diet in form of avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil or any other coconut product. Eat some fish (oily fish will give you a two-in-one), if you eat fish. And of course try to get as wide a variety of orange coloured foods as you can in too!
2. Eating – Try paying attention to if you are eating out of physical hunger or if you are eating for emotional reasons. A great question you can ask yourself everytime you reach for food is “Why do I want it?”. Some of the answers that come up may surprise you!
3. Lifestyle – Get creative! What does creativity mean to you? How can you get some more FLOW and creativity in your everyday life? Put your hands in the dirt, bring out a paint brush, try a new recipe, use your camera, or perhaps buy one of those mandala colouring books. Do whatever it take so get those creative juices flowing! You will be duly rewarded – it comes in the form of joy 🙂
Oh and if you don’t believe me or want to take my word for how important it is to bring some creativity back into our lives (for those of us who may have gotten sidetracked on this one) then have a listen to THIS AMAZING podcast.
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO CREATE SOME MORE FLOW IN YOUR LIFE? PLEASE SHARE WITH ME BELOW!
I’d love to know 🙂
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