Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bleeding for Mother Earth: The Blessings of Hypericum, Calendula and Martial Training

“To know and not to do, is not to know.” Lao Tse, Socrates and my Sensei! And a variation on that theme “Do or do not. There is no try.” Master Yoda.

Earth Day 2008 finds me back in Truth or Consequences, the Hot Springs oasis in the New Mexico desert, after a month travelling in new Mexico, Texas and the deserts of Mexico. I am making my way back to the Great White North, which by now will be less white than it was when I left it. An amber coloured, full, desert moon was hanging low over this dusty desert community with the quirky name, when I drove into town last night. My friends and colleagues, Karen and Antonio, and their friend Larry, a fellow tai chi instructor, visiting from Oregon, had the Hot Springs bath already fired up, so a late night mineral water soak was the order of the evening before bed. Ah those rejuvenating mineral waters! It was truly a pleasure to once again be soaking in the same hot mineral waters that the famous Apache warrior Geronimo used to heal his wounds. What a blessing, this still unspoiled oasis of healing hidden away in the New Mexico desert..

Karen, a homeopathic practitioner and midwife, and her husband Antonio, an Ayurvedic chef, bio-diesel expert and eco-friendly builder, are masters of natural health and sustainable living. So, Earth Day 2008 began with the customary freshly squeezed grapefruit and lemon juice. Oh, did I mention that Karen and Antonio are Raw Spirits, connoisseurs of fine raw vegan cuisine, which many experts say is the most eco-friendly, not to mention health conscious diet, on the planet. In fact, Karen was the one who initiated me into the raw food lifestyle last July. Last year, after attending the sundance ceremony where I had originally met them nearly 4 years ago, I made a stop in TorC while travelling in the opposite direction than I am now heading from Arizona to Texas, and the rest is history – eating mainly raw foods seemed like a healthy and earth friendly thing to me – so said, so done! Karen and Antonio are 99.9% raw and I still fluctuate between 95 to 75%, depending on how long I’ve been away from my raw food mentors…

Karen and Antonio have taken an old adobe style hot springs bathhouse and are in the process of renovating it and transforming it into a leading edge natural healing centre. Besides renovating the Hot Springs Mineral Baths, they are adding a treatment room and creating a workshop/teaching room, and they have surrounded the property with a papercrete wall. This centre will be a retreat for juice fasting and natural detoxification using raw foods, as well as offering homeopathy, hot springs soaks and other healing modalities. It is a work in progress. After downing our fresh juices and each going through our morning routines, a healthy midmorning salad, accompanied by guacamole, raw almond hummus and beijou, a Brazilian delicacy made from ground tapioca, all organic of course, were the order of the day. Considering that I was just coming out of a three day juice fast, having recently revived my bio-lunar juice fasting routine, and knew better than to fill up on oily foods so soon post fast, I did get carried away with the ‘raw wrap’- salad, guacamole AND nutty humus, surrounded by the yummy beijou wrapping. But, oh how sweet it was, healthy, fresh, earth-friendly AND tasty!.

Following our morning meal the four of us headed off to gather flat rocks for the outdoor hot springs pool that is being added to the healing centre by a foursome of incredible brothers who are master adobe workers and stonemasons extraordinaire. Antonio had already been on site early in the morning. Larry and I had watched a slideshow of the construction of the soak pool on Karen’s computer the night before, but I had yet to see the latest addition to the healing centre. We drove past a burnt down old ranch with a sill functional windmill and past the retaining wall for the Cuchillo Creek Dam, then along the gravel road beside the dry creek, which obviously must flood at some points in time otherwise there would be no need for such a high retaining wall. Gathering river rocks is not one of my usual Earth Day activities, but hiking through dry riverbeds amid the spiny ocotillo plants, chaparral bushes and cactuses with the occasional desert hare scurrying by, seemed like such an appropriate activity for a desert EarthDay. After all, we were outside in one of Mother Earth’s harsher environments, enjoying the elements in all their glory, at the same time being physically active and making a useful contribution to the construction of the healing centre.

It was hard work finding just the right flat rocks from among the thousands of rocks strewn alongside the gravel road, and harder work still hauling the rocks over to the wooden trailer hitched to Antonio’s car. With so many rocks to choose from it didn’t take the four of us long to have gathered enough to fill the bottom of the trailer. With Karen and Antonio’s two dogs racing madly behind the trailer we took off back to town. Arriving at the healing centre with the freshly gathered load of river rocks, we set about unloading the trailer. Most of the rocks were between 20-50 lbs, easily manageable by one person, but there were a few mother rocks, and one in particular, a beautiful cream coloured slightly dimpled rock, not the biggest of all the rocks we had collected, but close to it, must have weighed at least 125lbs. Larry was inching it off the trailer, so I went over to help him. Something told me not to lift that rock, a voice I would later realize was that of the rock itself, but seeing Larry trying to get it off the trailer by himself I ignored that warning. Mistake number one. The stone masons were all working in and around the pool, and Karen and Antonio were hefting other rocks around as I helped Larry get the rock to the edge of the trailer, ready for it’s no more than 2 foot drop to the ground. Both Larry and I were convinced that the rock would roll forward and on to the reddish brown dirt below. Mistake number two. Stones are dangerous and they have a mind of their own, or so I was told later by the elder stone-mason, and I now realized that to be the case.

So heavy was that mother rock, that in less than a flash, after we launched it off the edge of the trailer, the top end fell back and crushed the middle finger on my right hand against the metal bar at the bottom of the trailer. It all happened in the blinking of an eye, and here is my first blessing, -- years and years of martial arts training have sharpened my reflexes, not enough so that I listened to that voice that told me not to help lift the heavy rock, I guess that must come with more years of training than I currently have under my belts, but enough that I almost instantaneously pulled my finger out from behind the over hundred pound rock. Many martial artists train so that they can protect themselves if by chance they are attacked unexpectedly in a dark alley. For me my years of training have been put to use in many more mundane settings – the time I slipped on the cobblestones of a road under repair in Real de Catorce, Mexico and landed on my butt without spilling my orange juice, the time when I knocked my camera off the table and caught it before it touched the ground, or when I slid on the ice this past winter and did a break fall without losing a drop of the hot tea I was carrying, and now this, my Lightening Speed Removing Finger About To Be Crushed By a Heavy Rock Technique! If I had not been so caught up in the numbed finger with blood spewing out at the moment I would have patted myself on the back and started counting my blessings and saying thanks to my Sensei for every time he gave me a tongue lashing when I wanted to stop training. Ooos Sensei!

Utilizing my newly developed Lightening Speed Removing Finger About To Be Crushed By a Heavy Rock Technique allowed me to escape with out a single broken bone, with only two inches of ripped flesh, a hanging black and blue fingernail that will soon fall off, a swollen throbbing bloody fingertip with a few gashes and several millilitres of blood spilled on Mother Earth. One of the best possible scenarios, all things considered! Again, here’s where my martial training brought yet another blessing. I learned many years ago that if I am injured in the dojo it is my fault, no one else’s. Blaming my sparring partner when I do not block, or move off centre line is just not an option. The responsibility was mine, and the lesson was for me. All those years of martial inspired wellness training kicked in on the spot. There were no tears, none of the freaking out that Karen later told me she would have expected with an injury of that intensity, no ‘Woe is me’ anywhere in my psyche as I jumped about shaking my now throbbing and bloody finger as the warm red blood spewed over my green shirt, on to my beige pants and down on to reddish brown Mother Earth. In fact my first thought was ‘I wonder why that happened?’ and my second thought was ‘I wonder why I needed to give Mother Earth an offering of my blood on Earth Day?’ My Sensei would be proud, that is, after he finished chewing me out for not listening to my gut in the first place!

On to blessing number three. All of this happened in front of the not yet finished, but still with many natural remedies inside, healing centre and not up the dry creek, in the middle of nowhere with only a collection of no doubt medicinal, but not terribly useful at the time, desert bushes in sight. Less than two minutes after I had finished making my Earth Day Offering to Mother Earth with the accompanying Sacred Dance of the Wounded Finger, I was sitting in the healing centre with my finger in a cup with a mixture of hypericum tincture, calendula tincture and cold water. Cold has never felt so good! Hypericum, or common St John’s Wort, makes a deep red tincture that is a strong antibiotic and widely used by herbalists and other healers for treating wounds, bruises and other injuries. It is best known for it ability to helps with internal nerve damage as well as to repair skin damage.. Calendula is also strongly antiseptic. It helps to stop bleeding and to assist in the healing of wounds and burns. Now, I ask, why are so few people aware of these vital first aid remedies? Why don’t all hospitals carry them, not just natural healing centres? I think back to when I slammed the same right middle finger in a car door as a young child. We were living in Jamaica at the time and my mother, who is knowlegeable about certain herbs and remedies, would have loved to know something that would have rapidly eased the pain of her then crying and Dancing with the Wounded Finger little daughter, not that those herbs are that common in Jamaica, but neither are many that are found in the local drug store!

Back to the healing centre in the desert, with the by then only slightly gushing wounded finger. Karen usually uses LM potencies of homeopathic remedies, they were all in her office, so out came a bottle of 200C Hypericum. When the bleeding had mostly subsided Karen wrapped my finger in sterile gauze covered with a natural skin ointment. Viola! Fifteen minutes after the Lightening Speed Removing Finger About To Be Crushed By a Heavy Rock Technique, Earth Day Blood Offering and accompanying Sacred Dance, my finger was all bandaged up and I was dismissed from further rock lifting volunteer duties for the rest of the day. Blessing number five, my now sore back tells me. Thank you to the ‘common weed’ hypericum that became the powerful tincture! Blessing number six. Thank you to the once beautiful calendula! Blessing number seven. And last but by no means least, thank you to Karen, the wise practitioner, who knew exactly what to do and which remedies to use. Blessing number eight! . Blessing number nine was knowing Reiki and using it to facilitate the healing.

When I wandered back outside to observe the rest of the rock moving activities I was given a gentle, but yet very martial like lecture by the elder stone mason, “Stones are very dangerous.” He told me, and made his point by repeating that statement at least four times throughout our conversation. “You cannot hurry. You must take your time when working with stones and listen to them. The stones will speak to you.” Wow! New Mexican Zen or what! The stone had told me not to pick it up, but I didn’t listen, and a less than an hour later I get a lecture from a man with a more than 40 year relationship with stones basically telling me to stay focused, be in the moment, move slowly and listen to the stones and to my gut! I almost said Ooos Sensei when he was done. That too was a blessing..

Well, my Lightening Speed Removing Finger About To Be Crushed By a Heavy Rock Technique saved my finger but ruined any thoughts I might have had about a future career as even an assistant stone mason! Oh well, maybe in my next life! But it did provide me with the perfect opportunity to shed my blood on Mother Earth, in a relatively controlled manner, and not in the way that our current global habits and patterns of greed and disharmony are causing so many people to do involuntarily around the world! The Lightening Speed Removing Finger About To Be Crushed By a Heavy Rock Technique, Earth Day Blood Offering and the accompanying Sacred Dance of the Wounded Finger allowed me to learn many sacred lessons on Earth Day. Blessing number ten, and probably the most powerful blessing of all.

Lesson One: Always listen to my gut, and to all the elements of nature. They do communicate with me and I can hear them, if I have a relation with them [the elements and my instincts], and if I take the time to listen.

Lesson Two: Always stay focused. Live in the moment. Move slowly and develop a relationship with whatever you are working with.

Lesson Three: Always give thanks to the Creator for the healing properties of herbs, natural remedies, martial training and the power of chi!

StayWell and Travel with Spirit, in Beauty and Truth, Spirit Traveller.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Arriving in Truth

Arriving in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico late on Monday night after driving 13 hours that day and meeting up with more people at every stop who were interested in the SmartCar ... it is such a conversation piece... everywhere i go the questions are -- Is it Electric? What's the gas mileage like? etc, etc ... So many people seem interested in the smallness of the car. I even had one man, who reallly wanted to buy a SmartCar, but was vetoed by his wife, ask me to drive by his house to show her the car. Most people have never seen a SmartCar in person.

Arriving in back in TorC is a wonderful experience. This is an incredible little desert town that has been hidden away but is becoming a mecca of spiritually enlightened people who are concerned about the environment and into natural and alternative health. Karen and Antonio are remodeling an old Hot Springs bath house and turning it into a healing centre. The town is very small and an odd mixture of very chic hot spring spas in colourful southwest style adobe buildings, lovely old adobe houses and very rundown trailers and trailer parks, health food stores, chiropractors and thrift stores. It is a town in transformation it seems.

Karen has a young midwifery student coming to stay with them for 10 days prior to heading off to her training in southern New Mexico. She is doing an exchange, working around the centre so that Karen can focus on the online courses she is developing. They are heading to Las Cruses to pick her up the morning after I arrive. I have settled in and done some writing. My computer is not happy and it's keyboard is acting up. My computer is my lifeline.

I head off to Las Cruses with Karen and Antiono. There is a major brush fire several miles of the highway. We notice the smoke shortly after getting on the highway. The huge clouds of smoke are billowing up. You can see the bluish white smoke with black clouds from miles away. It is wafting towards a nearby community ... It looks just like a cloud as it gets there. The community has no idea that there may be chemicals and toxins in the clouds that heading their way. we speculate on the origin on fo the fire. It has become a large brush fire. As we drive closer we can see the fire spreading. We take a few pictures and say a prayer that no one is injured and continue on our way.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Heading on Down the Road

Yesterday I left the Aamjiwnang reserve in Sarnia, Ont, where I had stayed overnight with my friend Ron and his wife and family. I am driving a SmartCar, so my car is loaded down, between my back packs, books, laptop, sleeping bag, blanket, groceries and karate and kobudo gear. I get to the bridge to the US and, as my father predicted, the border guard asks me, 'How do I know you're going to come back?' after he looks into the car and see the passenger seat piled up with stuff and I tell him I am not coming back till May. My response was, well, my drivers license and car registration expire on my birthday in May, so i have to be back by then. His response, "Well you could just let them expire if you're not planning on coming back."

I guess he's right. It'd be a stupid thing to do, but I could. Then he asks to see in the back of the car -- it's a Smart car. Really, there is about as much room as a very small trunk at the back... just enough for my big back pack and a few other bags. He opens the back and immediately closes it and says 'You can be on your way'. I was going to ask him what made him quickly change his mind from thinking of me as a would be illegal alien to someone who can just head on down the road, but decided not to ask. I do think that driving a green SmartCar may have had something to do with this change of mind tho... after all, it is not exactly an inconspicuous car -- and i certainly could not get all my worldly possessions in the car, even if it was packed to the hilt which it almost is.

So, driving a Smart in the US is a novel experience indeed. I have yet to stop anywhere without getting at least one comment from someone. The first place I stop to fill up in Michigan, the gas station attendant asks me what type of car it is. He already knows it is sold by Mercedes and tells me that last year someone from Canada had stopped there with a similar car and told him they were going to be introduced in the US this year, but he says he hasn't seen any since. He says he hears they get 80 miles to the gallon. I can't tell him because I operate in kilometres and litres. I tell him how much it costs to fill up and how far I can go. Wow! he says.

Well, that would not be the last wow! I would get on the first day of my trip. Everywhere I stopped the response was the same. Wow! Every gas station I have stopped at someone has asked me either how many miles do I get to the gallon, or whether the car is very fuel efficient or a similar question, to the man who pulled his car into the parking lot of he motel i stopped at last night to ask me what kind of car it was,whether it was electric, how many miles to the gallon I get and to tell me that it was the smallest car he has ever seen. Well it is the smallest car i have ever driven i replied!

I have spoken to more people on this trip than ever on any previous trip. Everyone has been very positive, with one exception. In the second service station I stopped at i went to the washroom after filling up and paying. When I came out and was walking back towards my car, the attendant says to me "Someone asked whose ugly car is that?' As she says that a big guy who had been in an aisle close by shows up. She points to him. I say -- "You mean you don't like my green SmartCar? I think it is beautiful." He says 'Your car's ugly. My Ford Explorer is beautiful." I say " I think my car is beautiful too" He says "I don't care if it costs $100 bucks to fill up, my car is beautiful, and I could just squish your car." Well, what can you say to that -- My response, 'yes, but it would leave a big dent!" as I walked out of the service station. Interesting how just seeing my SmartCar brought up alllll those issues...

This morning I was reading an online article that critiqued bio-fuel as a false solution to greenhouse gases and suggested that growing corn for ethanol in the US will be taking corn away from the food supply that could be used to feed hungry children. I've been thinking about converting my diesel SmartCar to biodiesel because although my car consumes a relatively small amount of fossil fuel, it still uses fossil fuel, and as an interim solution bio-diesel is a step in the right direction, especially if it is made from recycled biofuel. But, more than anything the article made me think that with people who still have the "Your car's ugly, mine's beautiful; I don't care if it cost $100 to fill up; and I can squish your car with my car" attitude, no wonder we've still got a long way to go towards healing this planet!

staywell and travel with Spirit, Spirit Traveller

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Welcome to 2008! Eight Tips for a Healthier 2008.

May 2008 bring you all peace, love, truth, beauty and expand your limits in all the right ways! Maybe you won't be able to do a one finger handstand like the Shaolin monk shown above but you can certainly do something or things that you have never done before!

Now, coming from a long line of people who give advice whether it is asked for or not, I could claim it is in my genes, as my father suggested in his holiday newsletter this year, but environmental health promoter and ex-molecular geneticist that I am, I am sure that my lifestyle choices and the environments I have inhabited, all those good epigenetic influences, also play a significant role in my
unsolicited advice-giving behaviour.

Whatever the reason, let me regale you with my 8 Simple Tips for a Healthier 2008:

1) Breathe Deeply -- as often as you can. Fill your lungs with the breathe of life. Allow those tiny molecules of oxygen to connect your lungs with the elements of all life on earth.

2) Eat Naturally -- eat fewer processed foods. Chow down on fruits and vegetables. Have a huge raw salad at least once a day. Drink more water. Choose seeds, nuts and sprouts as snacks. Whatever you eat becomes who you are.

3) Sleep Well -- Get lots of sleep. Go to bed before 9:30pm one day a week. Wind down before bedtime -- shut off the computer and the TV and give your brain time to relax. Keep a dream journal.

4) Move your body often -- Take a 20 minute walk in nature every day. Take stretch breaks at work ... dance when no one is watching. Do yoga, tai chi, karate, aerobics, breakdancing, belly dancing,pilates, push ups, sit ups -- whatever it takes. Go running. Stretch your limits.

5) Connect with Others and Create Community -- Smile at strangers on the street. Speak in elevators. Help old people cross the road. Talk to your neighbours. Hire a local kid to do a job that need to be done.

6) Love the Earth -- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle more ... Conserve water and energy ... Choose green cleaners and personal care products... eat organic ... celebrate the seasons ... spend more time in nature.

7) Have the Courage to Try Things that Seem Impossible -- do something you have never done before and thought you couldn't do. Take a new route when you go to work. Go somewhere different every week. Study something new for half and hour every day.

8) Follow Your Dream!! -- Find your dream and pursue it! Now is the time! The world is changing. Be part of the solution. Develop an attitude of gratitude. Be positive and thankful for what you have and who you are.

Check out two inspiring videos that have been shared with me -- videos that remind us that the world indeed is changing and our choices make us a part of the solution, or a part of the problem .... http://theshiftmovie.com/index2.html

and NEVER forget the line from that 1949 Sigman and Russell song sung by Linda Rondstadt in 1983 -- Crazy He Calls Me -- 'the difficult I'll do right now; the impossible will take a little time' ... enjoy ....

Curious about epigenetics -- check out this video ....

StayWell and Travel with Spirit, in Beauty and Truth, The SpiritTraveller

Friday, November 16, 2007

Classical Martial Arts Training: An Eastern Inspired Path to Wellness and Empowerment

"The primary meaning of the kata is for the performer himself. If he is unable to immerse himself in the kata and so release his emotions or life force, a master will say of the performer that he is still "in the dance", unable to emote or express his feelings at will" The Karate Dojo. Sensei Peter Urban.

Ahh! After being on the road for 10 months and doing only sporadic training, I am back into my regular martial arts routine, and oh what a joy it is!! Most people know about the health and wellness benefits of yoga, but few are aware of the benefits of another Eastern tradition, classical martial arts training. Before I started seriously training 8 years ago, I was like many women who pictured karate, the only martial art I knew much about at the time, as a ‘sport ‘ for teens or twenty something or thirty something men, like my two younger brothers that practiced it. I had dabbled in yoga over the years and taken a few continuing education classes in tae kwon do and karate, but saw them as means of exercising, not much different than the aerobics classes that I loved to attend. It was only when I started doing classical martial arts training in a dojo [translation – place of the way or centre of spiritual enlightenment, or on the more mundane level, a school of martial arts] that offered a variety of different arts that I began to understand what was meant by ‘training’ as opposed to taking yet another fitness program that lasted about as long as it took me to get bored of it. It was this idea of training, of progressive improvement towards a goal, the goal being mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being, that has allowed me to ‘stick with the program’ and to reap some of the rewards.

Back in the days when I was an undergraduate student in Genetics, more years ago than I care to remember, I was the studious keener who got good grades because I spent lots and lots of time studying – sitting in front of books, typewriters and later my computer. My diet wasn’t all that great and I loved to reward myself for all my hard work with yummy goodies, so needless to say I was few pounds over weight. This had been my pattern since high school. Being an achievement oriented person that came from a family and a culture that sweated the small stuff, I had learned to push myself to the max and to really stress myself out at exam times, when I had to do a presentation or generally whenever I found myself in a time crunch. Trying to do more was always better from that point of view. The aerobics classes I took during my undergrad years and the dance and yoga I did in grad school helped to reduce my stress and maintain my weight but, I never really lost weight, and try as I might, my lung capacity was not the best and, all the exercise I did didn’t really relieve my stress because when the time crunch arrived, the first thing to go was the exercise. My stressed out mind would always tell me that I didn’t have time for it!

When I was working full time and finishing up a doctorate in environmental studies, the stress of work and school and the bodily fluctuations of peri-menopause began to catch up with me with more and more sleepless nights and less and less energy. One day I walked into a dojo that I had passed almost every day for 4 months since I started working in the area and it really changed my life, or maybe saved my life, who’s to know. I was 39 when I began training, at the time, one of the older beginners in my dojo. At first I started doing Tai Chi because I wanted to relax and the truth was that even though I had been working in health education and health promotion for years and knew all the theories and explained them to others I was still not totally applying them to my life.

In fact, overachiever that I was, it took me twice as long to get things as some of the other people who started at the same time, but already know how to really relax and go with the flow. I was so busy trying to ‘get it’, to figure out how to move like the black belts and instructors, that I didn’t really tune in to the thing that was so different from all those aerobics classes, dance classes and hours at the gym – the flow of chi or vital energy in my body, the importance of my breath and that present moment awareness. I hadn’t yet learned that less can be more – less thought and slower movement. It was three years into my tai chi training while also doing practicing the daily meditations I had learned years before, that I really began to be able to go with the flow of my energy and the energy of the chi field, or the field of vital energy, created when a group of like minded people are focusing on the same movements at the same time with the same intent. It took me three years of focusing my intent on feeling the energy in the movements and consciously willing myself in my first twice a week, then three times a week, then daily practice to let go of my need to always be right and to always know what I was doing, that is to finally start to learn not sweat the small stuff.

As I practiced tai chi chuan and ghi gung regularly and with intent, I learned to be more relaxed, not only while I was training but at work and in my studies. In my early 40’s after a lifetime as a type A worrywart I was learning to develop inner peace. Once I began to feel the chi I understood in an experiential way, not in a theoretical way, that there was a flow and a harmony to the Universe, there were forces greater than myself that I could not comprehend or begin to understand, but which I could tune into, if I slowed down, quieted my mind, which took me a long time to learn to do, and learned to focus. Research on Tai chi has found that it increases focus and mental concentration, enhances circulation and helps to balance the functioning of the internal organs, promotes proper posture and helps to calm the mind. My experiential knowledge has corroborated these studies. Through my training I learned to pay attention to my breath and in times of stress, how to co-ordinate my breathing with my movement. On a more spiritual note, the meditation and inner exploration taught me how to connect to our inner self and to become more balanced and whole person. Tai chi had started me down an incredible path towards mental, emotional and physical wellness.

After training in tai chi for a couple of years I became interested in Iaido, Japanese sword, one of the other arts taught in the dojo I was at and began to train in that as well. There is a hardness and a rigidity to iaido that is so different from the softer more internal martial arts yet there is also a grace and flow to the movement, very similar to tai chi and chi gung, and an incredible attention to detail as one repeats the then 10, now 12 cuts, over and over and over again, ever refining the detail of the body movement. I had always been an ideas person, a big picture kind of gal, and the detail and repetition of iaido combined with what I was learning from my tai chi training forced me to focus my attention and allowed me to begin developing a more zen-like mind, one that could focus on many details at the same time, even in stressful conditions. When I had reached a basic level of proficiency in tai chi and iaido, and was exposed to kobudo and goju-ryu karate at a dojo seminar, my enquiring mind, wanted more. I started with kobudo and later added karate to my plate.

Both kobudo and karate are more external arts, which focus methods of formation of power and on expressing one’s internal power. I found them both physically more demanding than tai chi, chi-gung or iaido, but my solid footing in meditative movement that I had developed through my tai chi practice was to serve me well as I ramped up into a more physical martial practice. While I was not training as many hours in each of the arts as many of my dojo colleagues who focused on one art or the other, there was an element of cross-training that benefited all my arts and the chi or energy development was common to all. Training is indeed training, and learning to integrate the hard and the soft elements of the different arts has taught me valuable lessons for everyday life. When I finally learned to apply various principles from each of martial art to the realm of everyday life, I was better at making spontaneous decisions, at interacting with difficult people, diffusing potentially challenging situations and at maintaining a positive mental attitude.

My one mistake with my training was that spending as much time as I did in the dojo, training and instructing in the various different arts, often up to 18 hours a week, I had given up the daily home-based practice I had developed in earlier years. I would learn how important the personal practice aspect of martial arts training was when I went on the road. Over the past 10 months I have been travelling in the US and Mexico and though I started off with great intent, after a while my regular practice diminished and I found myself only training periodically. Physically my body has felt the effects and this recent respite has allowed me to see really clearly what I was getting from my regular martial arts training. As a form of physical exercise, martial arts training in a dojo, is not only an active individual practice, but also a social endeavour. It involves aerobic conditioning through cardiovascular exercises that work the muscles and help practitioners to develop strength, speed, balance, coordination, awareness, stamina and endurance. I lost a lot of each of these during my hiatus though it happened so slowly that I didn’t really notice until I entered a heritage run sponsored by the American Indians in Texas and found that not only had I gained back much of the weight I had lost through consistent training, which my tight clothes had clued me in on, but my lung capacity was nowhere near what it was when I was training and my endurance had rapidly declined in less than a year of no longer regular training. My poor placement in that race made me reflect on what I had been missing over the past months. I had the technology. I know more katas, chi gung exercises and tai chi sets than I could shake a stick at, after all, I had assisted and taught kobudo, tai chi and karate classes for several years now, but despite my commitment to my physical health, the social environment that the dojo provided me was not there. Gone was the comraderie of the two women who had gone from white to orange belt in karate with me. Gone was the cohesiveness of the group of 6, 5 guys and myself, who had graded for shodan together, and assisted each other with difficult moves and combinations. Gone was the spiritual bantering with the other tai chi instructors and I slacked off.

But, my time away taught me how valuable my training, and the environment in which I had been training, has been. While in Arizona I eventually did find an Aikido dojo, which also had a great ambience and later began learning a new form of healing chi gung. I realized that the variety of movements and exercises we do in the different martial arts I practice are not only beneficial for health and fitness, but kept my mind, which seems to require a lot of change and stimulus, from getting bored with the same old, same old routine. A few years ago I read a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM, 2004: 143-147) and can now attest that my experiential knowledge substantiates what they found, which is that martial arts training is a complete form of exercise which decreases body fat and promotes physical strength and flexibility in middle aged practitioners. Over the years the constant challenge as one moves from one belt to another, from one art to another, becoming proficient at one thing only long enough to grade and then add more complex and newer elements, has also helped me to boast my confidence and my self-esteem in a way that none of my many academic achievements did. It taught me how to take control of my life and not let circumstances control me or stress me out. Martial arts training has been a path to empowerment for me where I have learned important lessons about energy, vital life force and mostly about power and methods of formation of power.

As an academic, though now more of an ex-academic, I lived in my head and spent most of my time out of touch with my body. Martial arts training showed me how to tap into my internal power and how and when to externalize that power. I learned how to be assertive and balance that assertiveness with a sense of respect for myself and for others, something assertiveness training workshops never quite managed to do. It showed me tactics and tactical thinking and gave me the confidence to avoid conflicts and provided me with methods of conflict resolutions when conflicts arise. As well as techniques for avoiding conflict, I, after being somewhat of a introvert most my life gained the confidence which allowed me to go off and travel for 10 months, putting my life in the hands of various people I didn’t know and hanging out in places I knew little about. The ability to just jump off the cliff and know you will be taken care of is a really valuable asset to have in one’s mental health and wellness toolkit. This lessons I learned from my years of martial arts training about present moment awareness, living in the now, being confident, resolving conflicts and know how and when to defend myself are mind-body wellness tools that are particularly importance to women, but also to men, living, working and travelling in our increasingly complex and chaotic world today.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mayan Art and Hispanic Culture

Mayan Art and Hispanic Culture – September 28, 2007

While in Albuquerque waiting to connect with Karen and Antonio who would take me to the people who were going to host us while we took part in the traditional medicine and healing gathering, I met up with Linda who was in Albuquerque to take part in a Civil Rights event at which her uncle, a champion for civil rights in the Hispanic community, was being honoured.

Linda took time out of her busy schedule to visit the Mayan textile exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Centre (NHCC) and I met up with her there. The NHCC was launching an exhibition of Mayan Textile Art, which showcases “Mayan textiles which, as works of art, reflect the splendor and continuity of the Mayan culture.” There were two other related exhibits opening at the same time - Threads of a Different Colour: Guatemalan Textiles from the John Shaw Collection, a collection of very colourful hand woven huipiles, or blouses, from Guatemala, and as well, an exhibition of the photographs of Linda Montoya called Mayan Indians – Weavers of Colour, which documents Linda Montoya’s journey to Chiapas Mexico to connect with Mayan Indian women and children.

The textiles were exquisite. Each colourful and intricately woven piece was only surpassed by the neighbouring piece, each a work of art with delicate traditional and modern patterns with detailed designs. Each of the vibrant red, green, yellow, blue and white pieces spoke to the time and patience involved in weaving the fabric and putting together the blouse. Each one was a testimonial to the creativity and artistry that lives in the Mayan soul that is expressed so beautifully, so colourfully in each piece – each similar, but at the same time completely unique. The vibrant colours and intricate work reminded me of the yarn art and the beadwork of the Huichols that I had visited with in Real and the Sierras. The vibrant colours and the designs of the Mayan, like the Huichols, are a reflection of their spiritual beliefs and their view of the world. Art for them is not something to only hang on the wall to be admired, as these pieces were, but art is practical, art is an intimate aspect of everyday life. In fact, art is life, as clothes and colours are life.

After a brief tour of the textile exhibit, Linda had to leave to rejoin her family before flying back to San Antonio. I stayed for a video presentation and discussion of latinos in WWII. This was an aspect of history that I knew nothing about and was interested in finding out more. While waiting for the film to start I met an interesting woman who told me she was a historian. She asked me where my Spanish ancestors were from. The truth is I don’t know, but I said that I thought they might come from Toledo given the connection I had to that city while I was in Spain. I had not felt that connection in any of the other places I had visited in Spain. Putting her historian hat on she began to explain the history and meaning of the name Toledo. We talked for a while and as the mathematics would have it, in a crowed centre, with many people in beautiful outfits present for the opening of the Mayan Textile and the video presentation, I would connect with someone who had an interest and knowledge of holistic medicine and natural healing. She talked to me about curanderas and about three herbs with incredible healing properties, one of which was the common culinary herb rosemary. She herself had used rosemary when she had broken her arm, which she had set herself after she had treated it using rosemary to draw the swelling, blood and toxins from her arm, so that she could set her arm She had not gone to see a physician and her arm, which was still sporting an adjustable support was healing nicely. I suspected that she had more knowledge than she let on, who knows, maybe she was a curandera herself, but I did not have too much time to talk with her as the film was starting.

The session was opened by Eduardo Diaz, the director of the NHCC and featured Hector Galan, who had been producing programs for public television documenting the works of Latinos. He produced the 2 clips that were shown. The first was part of the story of latino mineros and their struggle for fair wages and equal pay and told the story of their role in WWII. The second clip was from a 14 hour PBS series on WWII. Galán noted that when it was about to air there were no latinos featured in the entire series and the reason he was given for that was that no latinos came forward when they were looking for stories. Sound familiar? No doubt wherever the call went out for stories it was not in Spanish, and did not appear in any of the Hispanic media.

When Galan reviewed the footage, he noted that there were many latinos in the WWII footage but they had no voice. The piece he showed featured two latinos talking about their experiences. It was shown at the end of the first show of the series. He noted that the battle of omission had been won but the war wasn’t. Many people were still very unhappy about how the latinos were placed and the fact that there weren’t more in the series. An all too familiar story of the dominant culture eyes that do not see what is outside of their field of view and why the struggle for representation and for social justice is as important now as it has ever been.

The clip that was shown was an eye opener for me as it recounted that, unlike the situation with the African American and Japanese American troops, the Hispanics shared barracks and eating quarters with the white personnel. This was the first time that many of the Hispanic and white boys had experienced that type of intermingling and it changed both groups of men. One of the latino veterans mentioned that even though when he came back to the US he still faced the same discrimination that he had when he left, he had been changed because he had risked his life and fought for his country and knew that this country was just as much his as it was the property of the white servicemen he had fought alongside.

What an evening it was from Mayan textiles to the latino presence in WWII. The events at the National Hispanic Cultural Centre cleverly intermingled art and social justice, colour and beauty. It was a veritable feast for the eyes!

A Gathering of Traditional Medicine and Healing in Albuquerque

A Gathering of Traditional Medicine and Healing in Albuquerque – Saturday September 29/2007.

After saying goodbye to Masauke, Linda and all the other healers I had been working with, learning from and sharing information with over the past months, I sadly left San Antonio and the wonderful community of people that had become family to me. I made my way to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico to collaborate with Karen and Antonio, who I knew from the Sundance, and who are starting a healing centre with many of the elements of the centre I want to start in Toronto. I arrived in TorC just long enough to unpack and drop off my luggage at their house before I headed off to Albuquerque where Karen and I had been invited to take part in a gathering of Traditional Medicine and Healing.

The gathering was organized by Kalpulli Izkalli, a community organization that is a grassroots intergenerational action and resource centre dedicated to transforming the health and environment of the local community, Their motto, Healing Ourselves, Healing the Earth is one of the concepts I have used for years in the courses I have taught, so I immediately resonated with this wonderful organization and their incredible event. Kalpuli Izkalli was started as an effort to create an alternative institute that could serve as a model for “integrating strategies to educate, advocate, and take action on those changes necessary to protect human life and the earth, and her resources with proactive alternatives that promote traditional knowledge and ethics of behaviour that celebrate the intrinsic value and sacredness of the natural world and its interdependence on humanity.”

“Kalpulli Izkalli are Nahuatl words meaning Kalpulli (Community) and Izkalli (House of the Light/Resurgence). Kalpulli Izkalli was formed in 1996 to promote, preserve and protect cultural and traditional practices. They are dedicated to community healing through these practices which include agriculture, medicine and traditional healing, ceremony, as well as the use of art, music, dance, writing and individual creativity to enhance personal, family, community and general human development. Kalpulli Izkalli exists to strengthen the capacity for individuals and families to create positive changes in the way we live that foster healing and renewal for ourselves and Mother Earth.”

The health fair took place in the parking lot of the Topakhal Clinic. The Topakhal Clinic (House of our Medicine Clinic) is one of the projects of Kalpulli Izkalli. It is a family practice clinic which combines Western and Eastern medicine, allopathic and naturopathic approaches. It has a beautiful community garden and a well designed clinic with treatment rooms, a small community kitchen and even an altar room for ceremony! What a progressive community health centre. I have been involved in the community health centre movement in Toronto for many years and have yet to see one with such an incredible integration of traditional and Western medeicines.

The gathering began with a Danza Azteca ceremony which honoured Mayahuel, the Guardian of Medicinal plants and healing and dona Predicanda, a local curandera or traditional healer, who had been healing the community for more than 60 years. Dona Predicanda was born with the ‘don’, the healing gift and grew up learnig from her grandmother, an indigenous curendera from Chihuahua, Mexico. Dona Predicanda and twp other curanderas were presented with plaques and honoured in the ceremony.

All the healers who had volunteered their services, myself included, were called into the centre of the circle of Aztec dancers to stand in front of the curanderas who were being honoured to be blessed with copal, prayers and agua de flores, flower water. After our blessing and the presentation of the plaques of honour to the curanderas, the Aztec dancers continued their dance into the early afternoon. The large group of Aztec dancers and drummers dressed in colourful clothing and elaborate feathered headdresses occupied most of the large parking lot. Information tables and healing tents had been set up around the perimeters of the parking lot. There was information on pregnancy and childbirth, breastfeeding, services for people who had been physically or sexually abused, and information on local environmental justice projects.

In the two tents close to ours there were massage therapists, Reiki practitioners and curanderas offering limpias or spiritual cleansings. There were three practitioners in our tent, Karen Ferreira, a homeopathic doctor who was providing information on healthy natural foods and homeopathic consultations; Dr Miguel Ortega, an iridologist from Cuernavaca, Mexico, who was staying with the same people who were hosting our little group, and who was examining eyes/doing iridology consultations and I was doing energy work and bodywork, incorporating some of the techniques I had learned from Masauke and company despite the fact that I had left my feathers in San Antonio.

We had a large number of people sign up for all of the different therapies when we first set up the tent but we were following Sundance rules and waiting for the ceremony to be over before we began the treatments. It was only some time after noon, when the woman who had been the first to sign up came over to find out if I would work on her that we found out that the tradition in Mexico was different from the Navajo Sundance tradition and that treatments were common while the dancing was going on. With that information in hand, I started working on her and from that time on wards there was a steady stream of people coming to our tent all afternoon. The treatments continued even when high winds suddenly began to blow and the tent almost came down around me and the woman I was working on. Karen and the husband of the client Miguel was working on grabbed the tent poles as the wind picked up, and along with the small group of people who quickly jumped in to help, they saved the day. We continued to work even after many of the information tables had been packed up and other practitioners had left. Miguel closed up shop finishing his last consultation under a tree as a group of volunteers came to take the tent down around him. Like at the sundance our services were voluntary.

It was a beautiful event which for me really demonstrated the integration of traditional and western medicine, as the regular Family Practice clinic was going on inside the Tophkal clinic. The waiting room was full of clients while the fair was going on and periodically the practitioners and interns from the clinic would come out to watch or take part in the ceremony. Many of the traditional practitioner who were practicing in the healing tents also provide services in the Tophkal clinic. All in all, the day was an amazing example of a community based model for integrative wellness – integrating traditional medicine, natural healing with ceremony, wonderfully healthy food and western clinical services. Bravo Kalpulli Izkali for a job well done!

For more information on Kalpulli Izkali and their annual gathering of traditional Medicine and Healing visit www.kalpulliizkali.org

For more information on Homeopathy or the Gaia Sophia visit www.gaiasophia.com