When it comes to creating a vibrant life with good health and abundant energy, I find most people want a silver bullet. We want just one thing we can do to feel better. In many respects, diet seems to be the easiest, or at least the first place people start.
But health, wellness and thriving are about more than what we eat. What we think is just as important.
There are lots of ways we can alter the way we think. There is therapy, biofeedback, and my favorite – meditation.
The evidence is overwhelming about how effective meditation is in improving our health. A 2010 article in Neurology demonstrated that health-related quality of life, including incidences of depression, anxiety and fatigue, decreased significantly for those participating in a structured 8-week program of mindfulness training. Other studies have found that meditation produces lasting results in the brain (increasing connections) and improves proper immune system function.
I’ve practiced meditation on and off for many years. I started because I thought that was what you were supposed to do to be a better person. But when I started practicing as a way to sink into my body, become in tune with my rhythms and ease my fears, I began so see the health benefits. I became more relaxed. Perfection wasn’t an all consuming pursuit. I slept better.
The good news is that meditation isn’t just for yogis and Buddhist monks. Anyone can do it, anywhere. And it’s free. Here’s a basic plan that I use with clients to get started.
When starting out, it’s best to find a quiet place. Sit in a chair with your back supported and your feet on the ground, in a cross-legged position, or however else is comfortable. You can close your eyes or you can focus on a stationary point. Take a few cleansing breathes. You can chant Om three times if that helps clear your mind.
Scan your body from head to toe, relaxing as you go. Then observe your breath. In. Out. If thoughts enter your mind space, notice them but don’t chase them. Watch them float by like a fish in an aquarium. If you are apt to follow a thought, thank the thought for coming and tell you will get back to it when you’re done.
If this is your first time meditating, start with 5 minutes. Work your way up to 20 minutes. If you can’t find 20 minutes, do it for 5 minutes, 4 times a day.
How often should you meditate? This is a practice best done daily. And yes, I know it’s hard. It can be harder than getting your booty moving. But the benefits are tremendous.
Meditation cultivates awareness. When we are aware we begin to see ourselves in a different light. We see those behaviors that are self-destructive. We see how we choose to feel bad. We see how our thoughts undermine our health.
So the next time you reach for that slice of chocolate cake that will leave you bloated and brain-fogged, try sitting on the cushion. Discover why you engage in self-sabotaging behaviors. Your body will thank you from every level.
There is one question, I am rarely asked about, but I wish I was. Are there any dietary changes I can make to help ease my menstrual cramps? You bet there are. But before getting clinical, let me tell you my story and why I wish I was asked this more often.
Dysmeno – what?
Since 15, I have hated my ovaries and uterus. I just couldn’t make peace with them since they insisted on ganging up on me once a month and causing me extreme pain. By the time I was 16, I was on the pill for the sole purpose of easing my cramps, which were beginning to interfere with schoolwork. I still had cramps but they weren’t as debilitating.
In my mid-30’s, having just ended a relationship, and reading too many concerning things about birth control pills, I decided to go off them. Ugh. I was back on the ride of unbelievable monthly pain. I talked to my ob-gyn about it and we tried several things, including laparoscopy to rule out endometriosis. It wasn’t that and nothing was working. Instead, I was diagnosed with dysmenorrhea. I fancy term for painful menstrual cramps with no known cause. Great.
I decided to check my regular nutritional sources to see if there might be something I could do. They all suggested eliminating dairy. Ha. There was no way I was giving up my cheese. Instead, I chose to continue eating copious amounts of Advil each month.
I had completely forgotten about this prior research when I gave up dairy 18 months ago, following my multiple sclerosis diagnosis. (Since MS is more debilitating than my monthly cramps, I decided to end my love affair with cheese). Not only that, but my consumption of vegetables, especially dark leafy greens went from nil to 2-3 times a day.
I was so focused on MS that it took me a few months to realize that I was barely taking Advil anymore. Yes, it seemed my menstrual cramps were nothing more than a minor annoyance now. Holy cheese curd. Every woman should know this.
A Dietary Prescription
There are many causes of severe menstrual cramps. So my experience may not be the same for you. Nevertheless, I and many others believe unresolved emotions, stress and diet play a significant role in the severity of our monthly menses. There are many books that discuss the effect unresolved emotions have on our menstrual cramps. Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom is especially good on this, so I won’t address that here.
As for stress, you probably know that you can never eliminate it. However, you can change the way you react to stressful situations. Try yoga, meditation or exercise to help you change your stress response. Anything that will get your body relaxed will help alleviate the pain of cramps.
Unresolved emotions and stress response can take a while to have an effect. So if you are tired of popping Advil or want to have a loving relationship with your feminine cycle, try these dietary recommendations:
- Eat dark leafy greens. Dark leafy greens provide you with a balanced proportion of magnesium and calcium, which is critical to reducing cramping. Most of us are deficient in magnesium in part because we don’t’ get it in our diet (it is easily processed out) and we consume far too much calcium in proportion. All that dairy and calcium supplements actually leaches magnesium from your system. Greens will help restore the right balance that will calm your uterine muscles.
- Eat sardines or taking an EFA supplement. Essential fatty acids are critical for proper menstrual system functioning and easing inflammation that results in pain.
- Eat lots of high fiber whole foods. Ditch the processed foods and base your diet on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Not only will this deliver a good balance of nutrients, but will also provide lots of good fiber. A happy digestive system leads to a happy reproductive system.
- Nix the meat, dairy and eggs. Red meat, dairy and eggs can increase cramping in those of us that have dark red, heavy menses. Not only does dairy interfere with our magnesium absorption as discussed above, but it can clog up the lymph system which backs up into our reproductive system leading to cramps and PMS. Note, if you are iron deficient, eating lots of greens, especially spinach should be enough to offset the absence of iron found in red meat.
A Few Supplements to Consider
I’m not a huge fan of supplements. I believe we can get what we need from food, if we are eating good quality organic food. However, when our body is out of balance, supplementation can be necessary. If your cramps are severe, try these:
- Probiotic. Helps metabolize estrogen and improves gut function. A properly working gut will ensure a healthy lymph system, while a backed up lymph system will adversely effect the menstrual cycle.
- Evening primrose oil. EPO is not cheap, but it can be very effective at having an anti-inflammatory effect that can reduce cramps.
- Vitamin B complex. Vitamin B helps our body handle stress. Since stress contributes to the severity of menstrual cramping, be sure to get your B-vitamins, especially if you find that eliminating red meat is helping.
Our monthly cycle is truly a beautiful thing. It is unfortunate that our bodies get out of balance and cause us pain. In addition to all of the above, remember to take time out for you at your time. Don’t try and push through the pain, but honor your body and take down time.
Laurie Erdman, JD, MS, CHHC is a sought after Get More Energy Expert, coach, speaker and writer who inspires, trains and mentors companies and individuals to extinguish burnout and unleash their energized potential and profitability. Creator of the Burnt Out To Balanced SystemTM, Laurie’s mission is helping high performing individuals recover from or avoid burnout so they can accelerate their careers and create their best life. Laurie brings her experience in the legal, business, coaching and health fields, as well as her personal experience with burnout, to help people bring their best self to life and companies create sustainable growth through engaged employees. Visit www.LaurieErdman.com to download her new book: Burnout. Identify It. Extinguish It. Ignite Your Life.
Now. Right now.
Take a deep breath and slowly exhale.
Snap your fingers.
Your breath goes in…
In and out.
Look up. The ceiling/sky is
Your breath goes in…
The walls/trees are
Your breath goes in and out.
In and out.
Touch your arm.
Your skin feels
How does your skin feel?
Take off your shoes.
Beneath your feet, the carpet/grass is soft, rough, warm, cold, wet, dry…
And, your breath goes in and out.
coffee/grass/stale air/fresh air/food/dirt/cleaning products…
What is that smell?
Open your ears.
You hear birds/talking/arguing/the whir of a fan/nothing/everything.
And, your breath goes in and out.
Your breath goes in and out.
Your breath goes in and out.
Return to your normal activities.
Repeat daily. More often if possible.
Any questions? Any comments?
Astrology posts are currently sponsored by Empowering Wellness, combining massage therapy, energy medicine and coaching into an integrated body-centered approach to women’s wellness, pain management and trauma recovery.
Pisces encourages letting go of who you think you are, so that you can remember who you are. As Pisces peels away the masks of identity, it reveals the face of compassion; it accesses the strength of benevolence. The heart of a Pisces is supersensitive, and seeks to express the soul itself. The eyes of a Pisces are visionary, the vision a reflection of the power of love.
– Elizabeth Rose Campbell
On Monday, February 18, at 7:02am EST, the Sun enters the mutable, water sign of Pisces. This is the last month of the year, when we let go of what we no longer need. When we get the clearest vision of ourselves and others. When we nourish our soil for the seeds we will plant with the New Year that begins when the Sun enters Aries, on March 20.
Pisces energy is especially potent at the moment.
- Sun in Pisces – February 18 through March 20
- Mercury in Pisces – February 5 through April 13
- Venus in Pisces – February 25 through March 21
- Mars in Pisces – February 1 until March 12
- Neptune, the ruling planet of Pisces, in Pisces – 2012 until 2025
From February 25 through March 12, the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Neptune will be in Pisces! On March 10 and 11, the Moon will be there too.
No matter what role Pisces plays in your personal chart, I guarantee you are experiencing the Fishes. All over social media, I see, or hear reports of, people being distracted. Defensive, irritable and lashing out. One person said that people are finally showing their “true selves,” as if they no longer have the energy to hide behind their masks. With this much concentrated energy in Pisces, we cannot hide who we are from others, nor from ourselves.
At the moment, we’re all SUBMERGED in the watery depths of consciousness, and as the Sun and Venus also move into the sign of the fishes, we’re going to go even deeper. Many people do not like what they are finding on the ocean floor and are projecting their anger and discomfort onto others. I’ve found myself projecting, and I’ve been projected upon.
Basically, we can do this with a pressurized suite and oxygen tank – purposely scheduling meditations, free writing exercises, and visits to a therapist, if needed. Or, we can fight it all the way, struggling to get back to the surface, gasping for air.
To fully understand the “shadow” side of Pisces, which is what most of us, unfamiliar with Piscean energy, seem to be facing, I am excerpting from The Inner Sky: The Dynamic New Astrology for Everyone, by Steven Forrest. I’ve bolded phrases for emphasis.
Pisces must be fascinated with its own consciousness. Without that bewitchment, all evolutionary work would by stymied. And yet that fascination of itself is insufficient. It must be directed and disciplined. Failure there leads to horrors.
Your mind floods with images and impressions. An overwhelming tide of emotion, a tide of fear and vain dreams, rushes through awareness, overwhelming the personality. And Pisces just sits there, eyes wide as saucers, while the cellars and dungeons of the mind erupt, shattering the individuality.
If those explosions from the deep self cannot safely be channeled into creativity and meditation, they are more fatal than the guillotine, and more brutal for their slowness.
We can all gain profound insights about ourselves during this time. We can find the love, creativity and compassion that Pisces does so well. But, only if we are DIRECTED AND DISCIPLINED.
Pisces discipline, though, is easy. It flows. All we have to do is be purposely still and float. Pay attention to our breathing. Shut our eyes and visualize.
Prescription: When you find yourself getting defensive or irritated… Don’t analyze. Just stop and be mindful of your breathing. Depending on the circumstances, you may only be able to do this for a few seconds. That’s okay. As I said before, the Pisces energy is POWERFUL now; even seconds can make a difference.
When you find yourself as the recipient of someone else’s defensive irritability, don’t analyze. Just stop and pay attention to your breathing.
When you are not reacting to defensive irritability, take the opportunity to CHOOSE a longer meditation. Pisces is a highly imaginative sign, so I’ve been doing visualization meditations. I’ve visualized myself diving down to the ocean floor, breathing the water, leaning against a rock and watching the fish swim by. Occasionally, I swim with them. I’ve found this to be deeply relaxing.
Finally, I recommend the following intuitive exercise from Intuitive Astrology by Elizabeth Rose Campbell, as a way to connect with your positive, inner Pisces energy. If you’re having great difficulty during this time, or are around people who are, I’d do this on a daily basis.
Imagine that the most loving part of you has always been and always will be. This love is aware of itself but needs no mask. Imagine that every contact you have ever had with love – through your family, animals, or strangers – has merged with the love you already were. Imagine this love as unstoppable and creative, yet one that rides light in the saddle despite its power. Imagine that love appearing to you as a face – a version of your face. This face smiles at you with an ancient tenderness and love deeper than the ocean. What do you see and feel as you smile back?
Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it… Success is shy – it won’t come out while you’re watching. – Tennessee Williams
For about one and half months now, I’ve been attending Metaphysical Church. This church resembles the traditional Christian churches that I’ve attended, in more ways than not. We sing some very old hymns. We say the Metaphysical Lord’s Prayer, which is almost exactly the same as the traditional Lord’s Prayer, but instead of “deliver us from evil,” we say, “deliver us from error.” The donation plate is passed every Sunday but before we give our tithe, we hold our money and recite an abundance affirmation. There is a large painting of Jesus on the wall. (Which actually, isn’t like the church where I grew up because it believed that images of any kind in the sanctuary, was idolatrous.) There is a message/sermon every week. But, the sermon often includes messages from Spirit. Or, the words of Buddha. Animal symbolism. In other words, just my kind of place! (I can’t believe this church exists, honestly.)
A couple of weeks ago, the Pastor talked about a message from Spirit that she had received when she was much younger. She was told that she would be receiving something wonderful soon. She didn’t know what she would receive, or how she would receive it. But, she was excited. And, she became obsessed with it. Will it come in the mail? Will it be a phone call? A person? Is it money? A job? Why is it not here? When is it coming? Is today the day? As time went on, she became more and more obsessed with WHEN this promised goodness would arrive, and WHY is wasn’t there yet.
Months later, she received another message from Spirit. It went something like this: “We’ll never tell you to expect something again. You became so obsessed with it that you BLOCKED it from coming.”
You wanna honestly know the first thoughts that went through my head?
Son of a bitch.
(Is that a sexist curse? I never thought of that before… but, you get my point.)
So, to create our reality, we must think the thought and say the word and do the deed. But, when we’re hanging out, waiting for everything to align perfectly, there is a possibility that we can BLOCK our own manifestations, just because we’re impatient?! You have got to be kidding me!
I get the point of Divine Timing. That there is value in the process. That there is a Yin component to my Yang creation. You can’t speed up the process of a caterpillar in the chrysalis; plants take time to grow…You get the chicken by hatching the egg – not by smashing it. – Arnold Glasgow
I get it. I do. But, what the pastor was telling me was that not only did I need to wait out the process but I had to be HAPPY ABOUT IT?! That seemed like too much. THAT seemed impossible.
The next week, I was taking the bus into the local university to do research on the American suffragists. I usually read on the bus, and my latest book is Sherrie Dillard’s The Miracle Worker’s Handbook: Seven Levels of Power and Manifestation of the Virgin Mary. (Sherrie Dillard is a psychic and medium who also writes a monthly column for FemCentral.) I was raised in a Christian church but it was a church that was quite “anti-Catholic.” We did not have images in the sanctuary, and we certainly did not give Mary any special powers. Prayer to Her was considered heresy. I have family members who probably think that reading this book is more sinful than my astrology! (But, both will equally send me to the hell they believe in, so I guess ranking isn’t that important.)
Frankly, I’ve never given Mary that much thought. When I was in growing up, we didn’t talk about her, except at Christmas. And, after I left the church, she didn’t come up. But, Sherrie graciously provided a book to me, and asked if I would review it on FemCentral; I was highly curious.
So, I’m sitting on the bus, with this message about blocking my own manifestations rattling around in my brain, and I open the Mary book to my bookmarked page, which just happens to be the chapter, “Doubt and Waiting: Pregnancy.”
In this book, Sherrie takes us through the levels of manifestation, using Mary’s life as an analogy – specifically, the time from the visitation by Archangel Gabriel, to the conception, pregnancy and birth. But, the book is much more than an analogy. Sherrie invites us to work with Mary, as a Divine Being. To ask her to help us as we create out lives.
I spent the majority of the first 20 years of my life in prayer. I’ve prayed to God. I’ve prayed to Jesus. I’ve never prayed to Mary. And, just a few years ago, I would probably not have been open to it. But, Sherrie’s examples of the miracles experienced by her clients, and herself, made me pause. I considered that maybe there was something to this. (Which seems radical to me but I realize a tradition of praying to Mary goes back for centuries and is quite standard in Catholicism.)
That day on the bus, this passage connected with me, “Waiting creates an inner vacuum which grace will fill. It is the ego self, that needs to know and becomes frustrated and stressed when it does not have a plan. The power of divine miraculous alchemy works in secret. Accept this. Do not rush about stressed, anxious and looking to others for affirmation and assurance. Go within and surrender to the unknown, the period of waiting and the deeper work of grace. Remember that this is a step in the process of spiritual refinement, one that brings with it inner transformation and eventual joy.”
Accept, surrender. I wanted to do this! I had no idea how. My mind races with doubts and worries and expectations. Mindfulness and meditation has calmed it down considerably but I’m far from passively waiting with great faith that a divine miracle is in the works.
I turned the page and found this prayer and meditation,
Divine Mary full of Grace
Holy Mother of all Creation
Fill my mind with your thoughts
You might want to close your eyes, inhale calming and clearing breaths and recite this stanza several times. With your divine intuitive senses see the soft glow of her presence, hear the whisper of her kindness and wisdom, smell the fragrance of a fresh spring breeze, feel her warmth and open your mind to the vibrations of her divine thoughts. Relax in this quiet stillness. Keep repeating the line: Fill my mind with your thoughts Feel your mind open…receive the divine mind… I am abundance… I am infinite supply… Divine creative activity manifests infinite possibilities… ask and it is yours.
Use this meditation when negativity, doubt or despair surfaces. Fill your mind with the truth of an unlimited source, which is always available, wise and loving. Hear the thoughts of the expansive realm of divine mind.
It’s been less one week since I read this passage. But, I’ve probably recited this prayer thousands of times since then (I told you my mind is obsessive). And the thing is, it’s working. I didn’t realize how skeptical I was, until I found myself being surprised that it worked! I am more at peace and have more faith that I can manifest what I want and need. But, of course, since I’m still in the “pregnancy” phase, you have to take my word for it. (Actually, I suspect I’m in labor, so WATCH OUT!)
Sherrie’s monthly FemCentral post will be featured this Sunday, and it is about Mary and the reemergence of the Divine Feminine. I have personally felt more connected to the Feminine, and to Mary, since I started working through her book. If Mary and this book call to you, I encourage you to explore it. If you’ve read the book, I encourage you to share your experiences below!
Wanna win a free book?!
One more thing…Sherrie also graciously gave me a copy of her book to GIVE AWAY. I’ve been thinking about how to do this, and decided to ask people to submit suggestions for the weekly, FemCentral “woman of the week.” The person you suggest must come from your country (or state, if you are in the US), and I will need a link to a biography. The “woman of the week” can be living, or have passed, but I do ask that she be “undeservedly obscure.” In other words, someone that most people have never heard of. If you’d like examples of previous “women of the week,” I’ve got over two years worth for you to browse through!
I will be accepting submissions for one week (until May 9). Then, I’ll put the name of everyone who submitted in a big bowl and draw the winner! Email your submission to email@example.com
I was going to spend an entire week on meditation but based on some feedback and discussions, I’ll be taking us in a completely different direction tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy this post from March 22, 2011.
Saturday I had an unexpected entire day to myself and decided to spend at least part of it in nature. I go hiking a lot with my son but it’s not exactly “tranquil” (he’s 9). It’s fun and good exercise but not a time for meditation. So, Saturday I went on a meditative hike, by myself, and before I started, I asked the Universe to “speak” to me. The trail I picked is on the grounds of a 19th century historic home and it runs along a river, ending at a pond in the home’s back yard. I probably walk this trail once a month.
Nothing in particular happened along the trail but when I stopped at the pond, I heard lots of splashing. I occasionally see fish leaping here, so I looked closer. What I saw seemed to be a lot of sticks poking up out of the water. When I saw them moving, I realized they were swimming turtles.
I had a seat and looked beneath the water. I could see DOZENS of turtles. Then, I heard the splashing again. Many of the turtles were mating, and the males kept falling off. But, they’d just climb back up again (which was a little difficult because the females kept swimming!). Lots of people passed by while I was sitting there but no one else seemed the least bit interested in the pond or the splashing turtles.
Last fall, Avia Venefica taught a 6 week series of webinars for FemCentral, on animal symbolism. One week a student asked how we are to know when an animal is a “symbol” and when it is just an animal, doing its normal thing. Avia replied that she sees “auras” and when she can see an animal’s aura, she knows it’s carrying a message for her. I don’t see auras. But, I usually just “know” when something is a sign. Often, it’s because the animal, or its activity, is out of the ordinary. Although it’s March, and mating season, I’ve never seen a single turtle in this pond before. And the fact that I was the only one noticing it, further reinforced my intuition.
I immediately identified with the turtles because 1 – I’m an introvert, and 2 – in my astrological chart, the fourth house is the most prominent (ruled by Cancer, the crab – another animal with a shell). When I got home, I did what I always do when Nature has spoken to me. I checked Ted Andrews, Animal Speak, The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, and Avia Venefica’s website.
The turtle is the symbol of the primal mother. To the Native Americans, turtle is a symbol of Mother Earth and a reminder that she provides for all of our needs. Turtles represent patience and perseverance. “Turtle reminds us that all we need for all that we do is available to us, if we approach it in the right manner and time.”
Some questions that Ted Andrews poses for “turtle meditation”: Is my life becoming too hectic? Am I not taking time for myself? That’s exactly why I decided to go on the “natural meditation” on Saturday! (See last Friday’s post.)
The final activity I do, when trying to interpret animal symbolism, is meditate on the animal. I’ll close my eyes and picture the animal in my mind. Usually, at that point, a whole movie starts playing. When I meditated on these turtles, I saw myself sitting at the edge of the pond. I immediately turned into a small turtle myself, and something very large appeared behind me, casting a dark shadow. I could never see what it was but it flipped me onto my back (not a good position for a turtle!). The turtles in the pond came to my rescue and dragged me into the water. We went down very deep and hid in the mud. While we were down there, we knew that time was passing. Things were changing on land. But, we stayed the same. When we felt safe, we surfaced, and all the danger was gone.
When you are exploring an animal message, I definitely recommend checking out Avia Venefica’s website and Ted Andrews book. Other things to consider is where the animal makes its home – air (knowledge), water (intuition), earth (grounded practicality and nourishment). What are its strengths and weaknesses? Striking colors? Predators? Prey? Read scientific articles about the animal. Meditate on it.
The turtles I saw were aquatic (sliders - shown in picture above), so they represent intuition and psychic ability. They lay their eggs in the earth, however, and I must apply my creativity and intuition within the physical world.
I’ll be sharing unusual meditative exercise all week. In the meantime, please share your personal experiences, wisdom and questions regarding animal totems!