Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Life Lessons From Hill Running

I adore hill running. I could go run a 5K hill run no problem. Stick me on a flat ground, 5K feels challenging. I think I get bored. I feel stagnant, even when I change up my pace. Hill running brings me a great big high that I struggle to find many other places in life. I love the burning of my muscles. I live for the mental grit it takes to get through a giant hill. I seriously train my mind just as much (if not MORE) than my body on those hills. One of my BFFs always asks for a check-in after a hill run. She knows I always learn something out there. It's a deep meditation for me in that I gain clarity, awareness and poignant understanding of human nature and what constitutes a purpose driven life.

I thought I'd share a (long) reflective writing piece I wrote many months back after a strong and enlightening hill run while I was going through a tough time. When you're done reading, tell me - where do you find your high in life?


Grief. It’s something I’ve had to deal with many times. From death, to miscarriage, to the dissolutions of lengthy relationships that had held me together through difficult times. One of the best ways I have used the overwhelm from grief has been to push my body outside its comfort zone, providing a temporary recluse from intense pain.

My legs effortlessly carry me toward the hill as the breeze reminds me that my body is still moving. This run feels eerily easily. I guess in comparison to the trials and challenges my heart has been through lately, it is. I’m mostly unaware how I’ve managed to find myself a mile from my parked car. One step at a time I suppose. One foot robotically in front of the other while the clock inevitably passes time.
My chest is heavy, my heart buckling under the pressure of the past week. I slow down my pace to maintain control as I descend the hill, goosebumps exploding over my body as adrenaline kicks in, preparing me for the challenge ahead. For that I am grateful. I haven’t eaten enough to provide my body the energy to tackle this monstrosity, I have to rely on the hormones secreted through massive amounts of stress and heart ache to get me through this one.

Why that hill, my friends ask me. They are worried about my well-being, about the lack of self-care I’ve been showing myself lately. They worry I will collapse under the pressure of the demands I’ve been loading myself with, both physically and emotionally. I can’t explain it to them. I can’t go for just a regular run. It’s not enough. It’s not enough of a push. I am acutely aware of the fact that I need a big challenge right now. Because it is there that I will grow the most, will learn the most and it is there I am forced to dig deeper than normal in an effort to find pieces of me I don’t normally recognize in the passing of day to day life – a strength I cannot typically conceive of, determination that outweighs my lack of ability, motivation that is driven by my aching spirit.

I need the hills. It is there I am able to see who I am…stripped of comfort. Strip me bare, and only then can I recognize who I am.
My legs effortlessly carry me toward The Hill as the breeze reminds me that my body is still moving.

What goes down must come up. And at the bottom of the hill, I turn and look up; a sight that could potentially defeat anyone. But I’m not anyone. I can do hard. And as I feel my jaw set, I am aware of the fiery determination in my soul that not a hill, a situation, a setback, nor a person, can touch. Will ever touch. My brows knit together as I whisper aloud, "you got this."

For the past couple weeks the hill has been whispering to me:

1. Notice where you are
On this particular day I ran slow but I didn’t stop. I recognized my pace wasn’t where it normally was and I allowed that to be ok. Was it really a fluke that my watch died on the way to my run? No, because neither my time nor pace were important. I needed to let go of the end result so my focus could inevitably shift to experiencing the lessons along the way.

2. You are OK
Katy Perry’s lyrics “This is the part of me that you’re never gonna ever take away from me” got me through The Hill today. There is a part of everyone that cannot be taken. Cannot be broken. It’s the center to which I ground myself when the world is feeling shaky. This is where the foundation needs to be built. This needs to maintain my focus. Here I am okay.

3. Stop looking at the long haul
I look down at my feet a lot when I run The Hill. When I glance to the top of the hill I am acutely aware of how lengthy the journey still is. It can be a defeating view from down below, only the climb visible, knowing the struggle to come and unable to see beyond. When grieving, sometimes all you can do is look down and know that you are moving. One step at a time.

4. Speed doesn’t matter. Effort matters
One step at a time I was moving, and I needed to accept that for today, that’s all I had in me. And that had to be okay. Who gave a shit if I felt I could be lapped by a snail? I was still doing it. If I were to measure my success by my speed, I would be a failure. I choose to see my effort as a success and honour my body’s need to slow down today (much to my silent annoyance)

5. Keep faith
What keeps my feet moving when I struggle? Hope. Hope that over the top a better landscape will replace my current one. Hope that over the top I will see a beauty that lacks in the current place on that hill. Faith that as I approach the top I will find my worth along the journey. Sometimes it’s about letting go and holding onto nothing other than the invisible thread of faith

6. Move with the hurt
The Hill hurts. It hurts so much some days that my mind tells me I cannot do it. I often need to tell my mind to take a hike and that yes, I can do it. I WILL do it. My feet keep moving. Somehow. Someway. They keep trudging along. With the hurt, not from it. And that’s how I make it – IN it, not shrinking from it.

7. Evolution happens along the journey
Once I get to the top of The Hill, my lungs are burning, my legs are on fire and I can barely breathe. But I celebrate the victory. I came out a different person that I was on, and before The Hill.

More confident
Aware of the power I possess.
Knowing I can do whatever the fuck I want. Despite the obstacles in front of me.

An evolution occurs that never could have, had I not been granted this opportunity to tackle The Hill.

We never know our strength and our power until we are forced to dig deeper than we ever have before. I should consciously do this more often. I need reminders of my power in this world sometimes.

8. Find Gratitude
I hate The Hill but I am also so grateful for it. On that hill I am capable of learning so much. In the space of pain and fear I am forced to face myself and question what matters. I am forced to look within, and find strength that nobody else can give me. Only me. During difficult times you have to be open to feel it for it, accept it, and use it to propel you forward.

Had that Hill not been there I would still believe I’m only capable of running short distances. I wouldn’t know the strength that lies within me. I wouldn’t know the expansion and growth that exist outside of my comfort zone.

So while the process of grief is anything but pleasant, exist with the awareness that you are evolving and find gratitude in whatever you can. Gratitude makes the journey worth something.

9. Be Gentle With You
There are times you want to quit. There are times you fall apart, as I did many times in the middle of The Hill. There will be times you quit, and that’s ok. Quitting is not the same as failing. Failing is not trying. These days need to be okay, because there will be days you DO find the strength to get up that Hill. And only then can you truly appreciate what you have and who you are. Only through loss can you truly be stripped clean, with the clear ability to see what really matters. Be gentle with you through the struggle, and be gentle with you through the triumphs.

10. Stay open & compassionate. Despite the hurt

Your love to others
Your kindness to strangers
Your gifts to the world
Your respect and appreciation to yourself
Give, and never stop:
Not when fear shows up, telling you there’s nothing better
Not when doubt creeps in, whispering “you’re not enough”
Not when rejection slams you to the ground, shaking your sense of self
Just keep moving. And loving. And giving.

11. Post-traumatic Growth
Why do some people flourish after setbacks while others wallow and self-destruct? In Psychology there is a concept of post traumatic growth which we don’t often hear about. We only hear about post-traumatic stress. But what if you could take your hurts and fears and bundle them into something that can serve the world in a good way? What if you could use those hurts to evolve yourself into a better, kinder, softer, gentler, more compassionate human being? This is what the Hill does to me while my feet move along its spine; it gently molds me into someone better.

For all these reasons and so many more - thank you Hill.
For all that you teach me about life, love, loss & resiliency. Sometimes I hate you with all that I am, but every day I will approach you with gratitude and respect for all that you teach me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Calm & Strong

I taught a yoga class last week and the theme was "calm and strong." We did lots of challenging poses that I encouraged the women to feel calm and strong within.

I love yoga for so many reasons but one of them is for the parallels and metaphors that it shows me to life off the mat.

So the other night I had an interesting observation as the group was in Eagle pose (a challenging standing balance pose). I noticed that as soon as they felt the wobble in the pose, the distraction caused them to avert their eyes from their gazing spot and they would topple over.

I noticed the resistance they displayed when faced with what felt like instability.

I gently reminded them all that calm and strong doesn't always mean still. If they were to just allow their ankle to wobble, they would fare better. The ankle's job is to provide stability. Through movement. Ironic right? But often we find the greatest balance within both a challenge and the movement.

Calm is a place within. It is induced with the breath; intentional long, deep and slow breaths to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Strong comes from a silent and steady commitment to get through to the other side no matter the degree of discomfort. The messiness between doesn't reduce the degree of strength that exists. Even though we believe that to be the truth.

Neither mean stillness. Neither mean perfect. Neither mean a lack of obstacles or challenges. We make assumptions that when we feel the wobble (in balance poses or in the form of discomfort in life), we must stop and have therefore failed.

No! The wobble reminds us to focus on what we want. It's an alarm clock to our conscious mind, reminding us to ride the wave of the wobble, rather than fight it.

Calm and strong can (and should!) exist amongst the chaos and storm. Together they require internal stability and centering. Calm & strong involve faltering. And getting back up to try again. They both quietly commit to trying no matter what and whisper "you are okay" when you wonder. They are there, you just have to let them in.

It's incorrect to think that being calm and strong (on or off the mat) means the same as non-struggle. After all, it's through the struggle that the greatest lessons and evolutions happen.

The only way out is through right? So if you're going to get through, you might as well put on your game face, find your center and stick to that no matter how insane the storm around you is.

This is one of the things I adore about yoga, both in practice and as a teacher. I have these lightbulb moments when suddenly LIFE makes sense to me and I discover a new way to exist in this world that fills me and keeps me expanding with joy.

Tell me...what are some of your favourite insights you have gained during your own practice?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Arming the Immune System

'Tis the season around here for illness! Last week I spent 7 days straight dealing with at least one vomiting child. We've NEVER had a flu issue before but right now it's spreading like wildfire. My youngest goes to Nursery School (he's the one who brought it home) and they ended up shutting down his entire school one day because everyone was sick with it.

In knowing this, I ramped up my self-care and spent extra time and energy nurturing my immune system (or as my kids would say - loading up the army!)In the end, all I came down with was a couple dizzy of feeling under the weather (bit of nausea, dizziness and fatigue). Considering I had been basically swimming in vomit, I consider this a win!

I posted a YouTube video outlining the ways I boost my immune system when I am surrounded by extra germs (typically in September and January) or when I start to feel something coming. When I follow these practices, I RARELY end up with anything, and if I do, it's a very mild form from what others around me were dealing with. The times I am actually sick are reflective of the neglect I've put into myself and my immune system.

I wanted to share these tips with you as I've had inquiries lately on how to boost the immune system naturally. Keep in mind, I have daily practices and habits that keep my immune system quite strong all the time, these are just my top 11 extras.

1) Take a Quality Probiotic
Approximately 80% of your immune system is found in your gut, and a greater percentage of my clients show imbalances with their gut flora. My kids and I take probiotics every single day, non-negotiable.

2) Zinc Lozenges
Zinc is wonderful for the immune system. Go with the lozenges as they will dissolve close to the nasal passages and fight right there!

3) Echinacea Tea
Echinacea is an herbal remedy great for preventing and treating colds and other viral illnesses

4) Essential Oils
When you use a QUALITY essential oil (not the ones you can buy in most stores), you have a huge advantage health-wise. Essential oils are pure extracts from plants, and as we all know, nature is FULL of therapeutic properties. There is a blend I use from doTerra that I adore when we aren't feeling amazing, called onGuard. There is also a blend I take in an empty capsule (oregano, lemon, tea tree, OnGuard and Frankincense). If you aren't using DoTerra brand you likely shouldn't be ingesting essential oils as they tend to be filled with synthetics, so please do your research.

5) Make a Germ Busting Tea
Mix hot water in a mug with 1T raw honey, 1T apple cider vinegar, dash of cayenne, 1T turmeric, 1/4 tsp ginger, juice of a half a lemon and stir well. This tea you can drink a few times a day and is FULL of bacteria fighting properties

6) Manage Your Stress
Long term, chronic stress suppresses the immune system. Manage your stress daily and you will notice a big difference in your health and well-being. I will write a post about specific ways to arm your stress response in a future post, stay tuned.

7) Drink Lots of Water
Drinking lots of water helps flush toxins from the water and helps the body function at it's best

8) Lighten Your Digestive Load
Your digestive system uses up a TON of energy. In order to reserve energy for repair and fighting, it's a good idea to lean toward foods that are easier to digest, such as smoothies and soups. You still want to load your body with nutrients to equip your immune system but you also don't want loads of solid foods that take away time and energy.

9) Stay Away From Dairy
Dairy is very mucous forming in the body and tends to clog up all the channels needed for clearing out toxins. Especially avoid dairy if there is a tendency toward ear infections or pain, stuffy noses or constipation

10) Stay Away From Sugar
I've mentioned this many times before but 1 teaspoon of sugar can paralyze immune functioning for up to 6 hours. Stay far, far away from processed foods full of sugar when you are trying to arm your immune system

11) Get Lots of Rest
Your body needs to REST to repair. Set your to-do list aside, gather your tribe to help with your kids and REST. I know it isn't easy to do but it's so important for your body to spend its energy fighting rather than working out, stressing out and DOING

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Healing Herbal Teas

I posted a video last week about my favourite herbal teas. During the winter even my bones feel cold, so I find myself drinking lots and lots (and lots) of tea. Caffeine doesn't sit well with me - it can affect blood sugar levels, adrenal functioning and thyroid functioning, all of which I have had issues with on and off over the years. I even limit my green tea. So I stick to herbal tea. As a Holistic Nutritionist, everything going into my body needs to have a purpose. I don't often throw things down the hatch just for fun (80/20 rule!). I wanted to share with you some of my favourite herbal teas and the health benefits they have, and this is how I decide which tea I'll be drinking any given moment.

1. Egyptian Licorice
Taste-wise, my body LOVES this tea! Licorice tea is amazing for adrenal support and digestive functioning. I drink this whenever I'm not feeling my best, or if I don't see a specific need for any of the other tea choices.

2. Mint
Mint tea is also one of my favourites. It helps support the digestive system, helping to relieve gas, bloating and nausea. I love drinking it after a heavy meal, or whenever my belly isn't feeling great.

3. Echinacea
Echinacea is my go-to tea for when I start to feel the slightest bit of anything coming on. Echniacea is known, in the herbal world, for helping boost the immune system. While I realize research isn't conclusive in this area, I know that for me, when I combine this tea and a zinc lozenge at the first signs of a cold, I NEVER end up sick.

4. Rooibos
Rooibos tea is super high in antioxidants, making it great for overall health and for fighting free radicals and inflammation. I suggest drinking it if there are any noticeable physical symptoms such as fatigue, aches or feeling under the weather. It also contains Vitamin C, aiding the immune system.

5. Chai
Chai tea isn't naturally caffeine free as it's black tea mixed typically with various herbs such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger and pepper. Chai tea is therefore super high in antioxidants, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It's also good for the digestive system, joint pain and the immune system. I don't drink chai tea much as I'm sensitive to caffeine but it's a great option for those who can handle a bit.

6. Calming
This is a specific blend from the Yogi tea brand, but I couldn't leave it out. If you don't have this tea brand near you, I suppose you could settle for a simple Chamomile tea. Calming is a blend of teas (chamomile, lavender, lemon grass, licorice and more)designed to relax and calm the body. I drink it at night before bed or anytime I'm feeling extra stressed out of overwhelmed.

7. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a great tea for reducing headaches, menstrual cramps and anxiety all while supporting the digestive system and helping improve sleep.

8. Dandelion
Dandelion tea has many health benefits - it helps support the liver and immune system, helps promote body cleansing, helps reduce inflammation, blood pressure and cholesterol. I drink lots of this tea anytime I participate in my Higher Vibes Cleanse or just if I'm noticeably cleaning up my diet.

9. Rosehip
Rosehip tea is also high in antioxidants, while helping reduce blood pressure and inflammation

10. Ginger

I love ginger (in tea form or not!) for how well it soothes my stomach. It's also great at boosting the immune system
Reducing cold and flu symptoms and for digestive complains such as nausea or bloating. Anytime I feel my belly isn't at it's best I drink this or peppermint tea.

So there you go. That's my roundup of some of my favourite herbal tea options, obviously not an exhaustive list. You can often find herbal tea on sale, it's not something you ever really need to pay full price for, so keep your eyes open. Start your stockpile of tea, so that next time you are boiling the kettle you can ask your body what it needs, and you may be surprised at which tea stands out to you. Your body always knows

Let me know which your favourite(s) are!

xo Rachel