Is your exercise program missing this important ingredient?

Mind Shift is a new blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.

In the previous Mind Shift post, we talked about shifting from an exercise mindset to a movement mindset, the first reason being time. Today, we’ll cover the second reason: variety.

An exercise mindset categorizes movement into things like yoga, running, or weight lifting, and within each of these categories exists a subset of movements.

For example, with running, your body experiences a series of movements that get you from Point A to Point B, and those movements are pretty much the same every time you run. Of course, we could get into the micro movements of running over lumpy grass versus running over flat, level pavement, but even taking all of those micro movements into account, we’re still left with a limited subset of movements, given the full range of movements a body is capable of.

You’ve likely seen the headlines, “Sitting Is the New Smoking.” In response, there’s been a big move toward standing work stations. And sure, there are benefits to standing more and sitting less, but the overall problem of being in a static position for hours on end remains; we’re just swapping the static sitting position for the static standing position, resulting in our bodies inhabiting a teeny subset of its potential movements and postures.

And this brings us back to running. Or yoga. Or [insert exercise program here]. These exercises aren’t bad—not at all. They’re just a small subset of the possible movements your body can–and needs to–make. Yes, even yoga with its bendy, twisty postures. If you were to break down various poses into movements like hip flexion, ankle dorsiflexion, etc., the average class consists of a subset of movements performed over and over.

Let me repeat: This doesn’t make these exercise programs bad. I love yoga; it feels amazing, and I don’t plan to stop doing it anytime soon, but I do recognize that only doing yoga (or running, or cycling, or…) is the movement equivalent of only eating kale. Kale’s awesome, but on its own it’s not enough for a healthy life.

Shifting from the exercise mindset to the movement mindset allows us to tap into the fuller range of our bodies’ capabilities. When we think outside of the exercise box, we can grab onto a doorway and hang. We can start with our hands on the doorway at hip level, up a bit higher, a little higher still, hands above our head–each position adding a new movement variation.

While we’re at our spiffy standing work station, we can extend our foot behind us, top of the foot on the floor, stretching our ankle and foot in a way that it probably doesn’t experience very often. While we’re watching Netflix, we can sit on the floor and shift our arms, legs, pelvis, and torso into different positions, instead of letting the couch cast us into one or two predictable configurations.

Again, when we’re stuck looking at “valuable movement” only as working up a sweat while exercising, these smaller movements might seem insignificant, but so many of the issues we experience in our bodies are caused or exacerbated because we’re only moving our body in a limited number of ways and in a repetitive fashion.

In the next Mind Shift post, we’ll look at why this variety is so important, down to the cellular level. We’ll also see how areas of your body can stay stuck and unmoving even while your body as a whole is moving (e.g. while you’re running or doing yoga), and what to do about it.

The (surprising) downside to exercise

Mind Shift is a new blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.

The start of a new year is a time when many of us dust off our workout gear and head to the gym, so it’s the perfect time to talk about a very important distinction: exercise versus movement.

They’re the same, right?

Nope. And the difference holds the key to creating a healthier life, so let’s get into it.

When we think of exercise, we’re typically referring to specific activities done for the purpose of improving our physical health—perhaps lifting weights to build more muscle mass or jogging to enhance cardiovascular fitness. This creates a distinction between the movements your body does, say, during a fitness run or a yoga class versus the movements your body does throughout the rest of the day.

Why should you care? In this post, we’ll cover Reason Number One: time. Unless you’re an athlete or fitness professional, exercise usually takes up a relatively small portion of your waking hours. Even if you exercise for one hour, seven days a week—something many of us would consider to be a high level of physical activity–that’s a small percentage of your life spent moving.

Let’s do the math: Assuming you sleep eight hours a night, that leaves you with 16 waking hours a day, or 112 hours in a week. If seven of those hours are spent exercising, that’s 6% of your waking time. Scientists have coined a term, “active sedentarism,” to describe this scenario that many of us are living in.

When we look at the numbers, I’m not sure many of us would consider moving 6% of our waking time to be sufficient for health, although we’re so embedded in our sedentary culture, it’s sometimes tricky to really see things for what they are, so compare it with this: If someone told you that they ate a healthy diet 6% of the time, and then ate McDonalds the other 94%, would you consider that to be a “healthy diet”? I doubt it.

When we equate “valuable movement” with “exercise,” we’re then in the position of trying to find more time in our already jam-packed days to get to the gym or go for a run, because we’ve decided that those are the only kinds of movement that “count” in terms of our health.

When we shift from trying to get more exercise to trying to get more movement, we begin to see all the different ways that we are—or are not—moving throughout the entire day, and we can make tiny changes that really add up, much more so than the 6% of time we’re able to make it to the gym.

Outside of our exercise time, we tend to think in terms of conserving our energy, and thus, minimizing movements. For example, our kitchens might be arranged to minimize how much stooping, bending, reaching, or squatting we have to do to prepare food, because how many of us consider squatting down to get something from a low cupboard important to our health?  And then when it’s time to eat, we reflexively sit down in a chair.

When we view exercise as the only means of getting valuable movement into the day, we mentally check out the other 94% of the time, missing numerous opportunities to move our bodies and increase our wellbeing.

Starting right now, how can you sneak more movement into your day by doing things that you’d be doing anyway, just a little differently?

Can you put your coffee grounds on the top shelf and your mugs on the bottom, creating opportunities for reaching and stretching and squatting? Free CrossFit in the comfort of your own kitchen!

Can you sit on the floor while eating breakfast, and let your body indicate when it’s time to shift positions, perhaps sitting cross legged, then legs out in front, knees bent underneath you, etc? And if sitting on the floor isn’t comfortable yet, can you sit on a cushion (or cushions) of a different height than your usual chair, changing the geometry of your sitting position slightly?

While you’re talking on the phone at work, can you roll the soles of your feet on a tennis ball, introducing different movements to the many joints and tissues in your foot?

All of these actions are movements, and they’re just as valuable to your health as hitting the gym.

Now, to be clear I’m not advocating that you ditch your exercise program. But I am suggesting that you see your exercise time as just one part of an entire day of movement opportunities.

In the next Mind Shift post, we’ll talk about a second reason for shifting our perspective from exercise to movement. In the meantime, happy moving!



Can massage alter your genes?

Mind Shift is a new blog series where I turn my fascination with body-nerd research into bite-sized info chunks, designed to help you shift the way you think about–and live in–your body.

I offer a type of massage utilizing a technique known as myofascial release. “Myo” means muscle, but what the heck is fascia?

Fascia is a type of connective tissue in your body (other types include bone and, surprisingly, blood). If you’ve ever made chicken for dinner, the silvery white membrane covering the meat (muscle) is an example of fascia, but far from being just a covering for muscles, fascia is everywhere in your body. Fascia surrounds and interpenetrates all of your organs, your muscles, your bones, and even your nerves.

Let’s look more closely at fascia’s relationship with muscles to see just how amazing it is, and we’ll focus on one of your quadriceps muscles, the rectus femoris. For starters, fascia wraps around the entire  muscle like a wet suit, turning what would otherwise be just a pile of muscle fibers (aka muscles cells) into what we know as the rectus femoris. This “wet suit” is known as epimysium (“epi” = above, outer, over; “mysium” = muscle).

But the fascia doesn’t stop there: The muscle as a whole is organized into little bundles of muscle fibers, called fascicles, and each of these fascicles is wrapped up in–you guessed it–fascia. And then, like a Russian nesting doll, each of the muscle fibers (cells) contained within the fascicles is wrapped up in its own little fascial wet suit.

Source: Pearson Education

Check out the similarities between the above image and this diagram of a spinal nerve, which is also packaged in a series of fascial wet suits:

Unknown Source

Returning to the rectus femoris, this muscle is then anchored to your bones–specifically your pelvis (at a bony landmark called the AIIS) and one of your lower leg bones, the tibia–by tendons. The fascial wet suit surrounding your rectus femoris muscle extends beyond the ends of the muscle like the twisted ends of a Tootsie Roll wrapper and forms these tendons.


The key is that all of these fascial structures are continuous with each other. While science has divided them into separate structures and given them names, like tendons and epimysium, your entire bodywide network of fascia is continuous. The image above of a spinal nerve wrapped in fascia? That nerve fascia is connected, via this bodywide web, to the fascia forming your rectus femoris tendons, to the fascia surrounding your small intestines, and so on.

Even more interesting is recent research in the area of mechanotransduction. That’s quite a mouthful, but it refers to your cells’ ability to transform a mechanical input, like the pressure of the therapist’s hand during a massage, into electrical and chemical (electrochemical) signals within the cell. Hearing is another example of mechanotransduction, whereby the vibrational pressure of sound waves is relayed into signals that our brain interprets as sound.

What does this have to do with fascia? Well, more than we could cover in this post, but here’s one very cool example: Your cells have a special type of receptor called an integrin, and these integrins are anchored into the cell membrane. Think of the membrane as the little baggie containing all of the contents of the cell.

The integrins span across this cell membrane, and you can imagine them like a rubber band with one end dangling outside of the cell and the other end sticking into the inside of the cell. The end dangling outside of the cell is “plugged into” your fascia.

Let’s say you’re reaching to get a coffee mug from the cupboard, stretching your fascia as you move. As the fascia stretches, the “rubber band” of the integrin gets stretched, too, and it relays this mechanical information inside the cell, where it is then transformed into electrochemical signals. Why should you care? Well, these electrochemical signals have the ability to activate or deactivate your genes. 

This is huge, and it supports the growing field of research1 into the connections between faulty mechanotransduction and a host of diseases. It also begs the question: Is our sedentary culture leading to so many health issues, in part, because our cells aren’t getting the necessary stretching, squishing, vibration, and other movements that are vital to their–and our–health?

The next time you get a massage, think on this: So much more is happening than “just” the release of stress and muscle tension. You could be altering the very function of your genes.

Book Now on!

1Ingber, D. E. (2003). Mechanobiology and diseases of mechanotransduction. Annals of Medicine, 564-577. Retrieved January 22, 2018.




Life Lessons From My Sewing Machine

I try to stay open to wisdom from a variety of sources, but it isn’t often that I receive it from inanimate objects. Last weekend, I was working on a sewing project when–bingo! Lightning bolt of clarity.

In machine sewing, you use your hands to guide the fabric through the machine, and when I first started sewing I was what I would call an “overly agro sewer” (if your bro-speak is rusty, agro=aggressive). With my leading hand, I would actively tug the fabric forward, and with my guiding hand, I would push the fabric toward the needle. (Accomplished sewers are probably shaking their heads as they read this.)

What’s the big deal? Well, my stitches looked like crap, because most fabrics will feed into the machine just fine by themselves, thank you very much; they just need a little guidance to ensure that they don’t go veering off to the left or right.

In a similar fashion, when we’re overly pushy or pull-y in life, the seams and stitches of our days start to feel (and possibly look) like crap. For me, this manifests most often in one of two ways:

  1. “Pulling on the fabric” equates to trying to drag other people along on my plans, overriding their natural direction and rhythm. I can also drag myself along, overriding my natural direction and rhythm. (If you hear yourself using the word “should” a lot, pause and check for fabric pulling.)
  2. “Pushing on the fabric” happens when I’m trying to force situations to unfold in a way or at a pace that doesn’t feel natural.

Does this mean I need to just sit back and do nothing? Not at all, but my role is more about guiding the fabric of my life than it is about pulling or pushing it through. If I completely removed my hands from the fabric, the seam would likely start swerving and eventually get completely off track, but through the choices I make, I can guide the fabric along.

When I’m trying to decide the next step, I can be wary of options characterized by “pulling on the fabric:” trying to bring people along who either don’t want to come or who wish to travel at their own pace, as well as subjecting myself to rigid timetables or to-dos that trigger procrastination or resentment.

I can also be on the lookout for options characterized by “pushing on the fabric”: forcing events in non-organic ways. Pushing is sometimes more tricky to detect than pulling, so what do I mean by “non-organic ways”? If you’ve taken action and it’s met with continual resistance, a slow-as-molasses pace, or a rising tension in your body-mind-soul, that’s often a red flag that fabric-pushing territory is up ahead. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to throw in the towel (fabric pun!), but it could mean that:

  1. The timing is off. This could refer to “not right now–try again later” or that the pace is going to move slower than you anticipated and trying to speed things up will only create bunched seams, aka suffering.
  2. The method is off. Maybe you’ve got the right idea but you’re approaching it in a way that isn’t working. Experiment; try a different angle. Still meeting resistance? Refer back to Point 1.

Of course, there is the third possibility: This just ain’t the way to go. Not now, maybe not ever, and pushing the fabric through will only leave you with a bunched up seam (can we draw a parallel with bunched up, tense muscles?).

Guiding, as opposed to pulling or pushing, requires a flexible, responsive approach. We might set out with an idea, but as the fabric of our days moves along and we meet resistance, we have the choice to start yanking, start pushing…or adjust.

Resistance can be a very helpful reminder to pause, check in, and see if we’re forcing things, people, or ourselves to do things that don’t feel organic. When we notice this, we always have the option to return to guiding the fabric through and allowing the natural flow of life to provide the momentum, a momentum that we can then shape with our choices.

When we try to create the force of Universal Momentum on our own, it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed and exhausted. And more to the point, it isn’t necessary, nor does it help. It just leaves us with bunched seams.

So, leave the generation of Universal Momentum to, well, the Universe, and focus your precious energy on guiding that momentum with empowered choices–choices that don’t come from a place of pushing or pulling.

The hidden messages of physical tension

In my own life and in working with massage clients, I’ve noticed a pattern: When we don’t create and maintain healthy boundaries in our relationships, it seems that our bodies try to compensate by creating physical “boundaries,” which we then experience as tension, constriction, or illness.

Here are just a few examples:

  • We say yes to plans that we don’t want to do, and then we get sick and can’t go.
  • We don’t speak our truth, we agree to things we don’t actually agree with, say things we don’t mean, and we lose our voice or feel tension in our neck and jaw.
  • We feel like we have to do everything ourselves or it won’t get done, so we take on other people’s stuff and our back starts to hurt.
  • We repeatedly ignore our intuition and walk into situations we know aren’t good for us, and our knees and feet start acting up.

Our bodies are wonderfully unique, so the ways in which your body compensates could be quite different from this list, but the basic concept remains: We need healthy boundaries to exist in this world, and if we’re not setting them in our relationships, our bodies will pick up the slack.

This might sound bizarre, but you are likely familiar with a more extreme example of this: trauma. Whether it be in your own life or someone you know, it’s all too easy to see the link between a traumatic boundary violation and the body’s ability to remember and “record” this violation in the form of tension, illness, hypersensitivity to touch, and so forth.

While this is a massive topic, too wide ranging to completely cover here, let’s talk about a couple ways to explore this concept in your own life and in your own body.

Find the tension

For starters, get in touch with where in your body you feel tension or discomfort. Quite often, we’re so used to feeling, say, constriction in our jaw or a dull ache in our knees that we don’t even notice it anymore.

Take some time to sit, stand, or lay down, and do a body scan, slowly moving your awareness from your head to your toes, sensing any tension or pain. If this feels difficult, try tensing each part of your body individually, and notice what it feels like when you release this tension. Can you sense that your body isn’t fully releasing in any areas?

To see what hidden tension feels like, try this simple exercise. If you spend a good amount of time sitting (like most of us do these days), you might be surprised by what you find in this pose. Lay on the floor, either on carpet or some other cushioning, like a yoga mat. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, heels about a foot away from your butt. An easy way to measure this is to start with your feet directly below your knees, then scooch them another 3-4″ away from your hips.

Rest your hands on your belly or down by your sides, palms facing down (don’t bring your arms above your head or up by your shoulders as this changes the stretch). Take some time to get in touch with your breathing, slowing down the inhales and exhales for at least ten rounds of breath.

Now, shift your awareness to your hips. Do you notice any tension there, any sense that something is holding on to keep your legs locked in position?

Then, try this: move your awareness to your hamstrings (the backs of your thighs), noticing the length from the backs of your knees all the way to your glutes. If you imagine letting this length elongate or soften, like a wet noodle, do you feel any resistance, maybe tension kicking in to keep your knees from falling open or collapsing inward?

Play with this for a few more rounds of breath, and when you’re ready to come out, roll onto your side and rest in fetal position for a few breaths before slowly moving up to a seated position.

Bonus: In doing this exercise, you also gave your psoas muscle a chance to release.

Play with symbolism

Once you’ve located at least one area of tension, focus your awareness there. For example, if your shoulders are tense, you might choose to close your eyes and bring your attention to your shoulders. What does tension feel like in this area–how would you describe it? Do any phrases or images come to mind, even if they don’t make sense?

Start to play with any words or phrases, any images that arise in a more figurative way. For example, if you described your shoulder tension as “shrugging,” perhaps as you turn it over in your mind, you associate this with shrugging in indecision, which then leads you to the awareness that you’ve become disconnected from what you want, think, and feel because you’re overly focused on what other people want, think and feel.

You see yourself in a situation where someone is asking you to do something, and while you don’t feel excited about it you find yourself shrugging and agreeing: “Sure, why not?”

This leads you to the realization that you don’t feel like you have a right to assert your own wants and needs, that it’s rude or selfish to do so, and you start to see how every denial of your own experience creates a little more stress, a little more tension in your shoulders until you can’t remember what it felt like to have shoulders that weren’t creeping up towards your ears, aching for a massage.

Help a body out

Of course, finding the tension and uncovering the emotional and energetic layers is just the beginning. To release that tension, you’ll need to combine physical efforts, such as bodywork and stretching, with creating boundaries in healthier ways so your body doesn’t have to do that for you.

If you continue to rely on your body to create relationship boundaries, tension will persist, regardless of how many massages or yoga classes you’ve had this month. To deepen the healing, you might try reading books about boundary setting, codependence, and healthy communication. This is a great place to start.

But like any change, you have to actually practice it and live it, not just read and think about it. Therapy is an excellent tool for unlearning unhelpful boundary patterns and learning new ways of relating to yourself and others.

If you notice that trying to set boundaries feels uncomfortable–perhaps you feel guilty or selfish when you say no–therapy can help you uncover the “rules” you learned, likely as a child, that it feels like you’re violating by setting healthy boundaries. It can help you rewrite your life rules on your own terms in a way that allows you the space to express yourself authentically.

And the more space you create in your life through healthy boundaries, the more spaciousness you will feel in your body. It’s a win-win.

The Upside to Not Having a F#&*ing Clue

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Dervish and the Mermaid, and Pace Smith, the show’s co-host, was recounting her and her wife’s six-month adventure of living in an RV, and specifically, what came up when they changed their minds and decided they were done living on the road. Pace struggled with a fear of looking flaky and inconsistent simply because life had changed and their minds had changed with it.

I’ve written in the past about the power of changing your mind (and the difference between that and being a flake), but here I want to focus on another aspect of mind changing: When we embark on a path, we don’t know where it will lead. We might think we know, but really, anything beyond the present is pure conjecture.

Hands down, the most common reason I hear when someone (myself included) is hesitant to take action is that they don’t know where it’ll lead. Yet, if we acknowledge that, in reality, we never know the future, this reason doesn’t hold much water. Not knowing how things will turn out is not a convincing reason for staying put.

Pace says:

If we had all the information up front we might not have made the same decision, but I think that would have been a shame because it was such an enriching experience. We might not have been bold enough to face up to the known dangers, but we were bold enough to face up to the unknown dangers. And I’m glad that we experienced them, and it was definitely the right choice.

This brings to mind the tarot’s Fool card, that necessary energy of curiosity and naïveté that allows us to take healthy risks and go with the flow rather than holing up in our house because we can’t anticipate and control every conceivable step.

This also ties into guidance. I have found that when we receive guidance from our Wise Self, spirit guides, etc. rarely are we given more than the next one, maybe two steps…and this can feel frustrating, to put it mildly. But while we might think we want the entire map, if we had it spread out in front of us it might be so daunting that we’d choose to stay in and watch Netflix instead.

When we’re only given the next step or two, we can take life in more manageable, bite-sized chunks, and this process is wildly effective if we take action on the one or two steps we’re privy to right now. But if we’re holding out, waiting for the entire map to appear before we take a single step, we’re likely to stay stuck and unsure.

Being okay with changing our minds is our secret weapon in this process. It helps ease some of the ego’s rising panic that every misstep will spell permanent doom and destruction. In reality, if something doesn’t work out we can pause, reevaluate, change our minds, and try something else.

And beyond the ability to change our mind, we will also benefit from the ability to not judge ourselves when we do. If we accept that the future is unknown, that we can only get information by interacting with life (and not by staying home thinking about what might happen if we were to interact with life), then there’s no getting around it: We will make choices, some of those will turn out differently than we thought, and we’ll change our minds.

It really doesn’t have to be any more epic than that, folks. We’re not expected to know the future. We’re not expected to stay and think and be the same from now until the day we die.

We’re here to learn, to grow, to experiment, to adapt, to change course, and to change course again.

While our culture might prize being consistent cogs delivering predictable, day-in-and-day-out performance, life has other plans, and we will be far happier, healthier, wiser, more creative, and more fulfilled if we give ourselves the freedom to evolve.


Life Advice From a Demon

In a fantastic graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, the main character is having a chat with a demon who gives her a piece of profoundly useful advice. The demon says:

It’s perfectly normal to bury a thing that you’d rather not admit…We–in my profession–definitely encourage humans to keep secrets from themselves. Nothing makes you sicker faster than that!

So, let’s cut to the chase. Many of us spend a massive amount of energy trying to distance ourselves from what we’re experiencing—our emotions, feelings, needs, wants, sensations, you name it. We might say, “Not true! I get together every Friday to hash out the week with friends over wine.” But I would argue that hashing out, while potentially useful, is not the same as being present with our experience.

Being present means sitting with the experience as it arises. It doesn’t mean texting a friend about it. Or posting on Facebook. Or creating a story in our minds about why we’re having this experience. We don’t have to “figure anything out” in these moments; we just have to be and allow whatever our experience is to just be, too.

Feeling angry? Be present with the anger. Feeling anxious? Ditto. Feeling elated? Ditto.

When we choose to be present, we are choosing not to engage in the multitude of distractions available to help us check out: shopping, eating, whipping out our phone, Instagramming, zoning out, complaining, criticizing ourselves, and the list goes on. We aren’t narrating our experience through thoughts or words, we’re just being with it.

When we practice in this way, we might become aware of just how much energy was previously being thrown at distractions. Spoiler alert: This could amount to nearly all of our daily energy that’s not being used for basic metabolic function. Seriously. We live in a culture of distraction.

The good news? When we choose presence over distraction, we suddenly have access to this previously tied-up energy. Ever wish you had more time and energy to do the things you want to do? Start making deposits in the bank of Being Present, and you will likely be surprised by just how much energy you actually have.

[Cue infomercial voice over.] But that’s not all!

Remember what the demon said about keeping secrets from ourselves: “Nothing makes you sicker faster than that!” When we choose distraction, we create secrets. Instead of being conscious of our experience, we shove it away and add it to the Bank of Secrets, where it acts like a toxic sludge to our system.

All of those emotions, feelings, needs, and wants don’t simply go away because we’re not consciously aware of them. Oh my, no. Instead, they build and expand in our unconscious, and they dictate our lives from beyond our awareness, yanking us around like a puppet on a string. To paraphrase Jung, when we fail to make the unconscious conscious, we project it onto the world around us and we call it fate.

Today, what can you remain present for? Can you allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, want what you want, need what you need?

Each moment you have a choice: You can be present, or you can choose distraction.

Your experience is valuable. It deserves the space to just be. And the more you allow yourself to be, the more energy you will have, the less secrets you’ll keep, and the less you will feel yanked around by factors beyond your control.

Not too shabby a return for simply allowing what already is to exist.


The 2017 Lion’s Gate: The Sun and Sirius

The astrological occurrence referred to as the Lion’s Gate occurs each year when the Sun is in the sign of Leo and is in alignment with Siruis. The Sun has an affinity for Leo (in astrological parlance, the Sun is “ruled by” Leo), which means that the Sun-Leo combo is powerful in and of itself, but it’s ramped up even more by the addition of Sirius.

While Sirius, the “Dog Star,” is technically a star system, not a single star, to the naked eye it appears as a solitary star. It’s the brightest star in the night sky, being 25 times more luminous and two times larger than our own Sun. This has led many to view Sirius as a second sun, or Spiritual Sun.

Why should we care?

During the opening of the Lion’s Gate, with the Sun and Sirius in alignment, we’re experiencing double the light energy of the Sun, which is symbolic of higher consciousness–in other words, we’ve got Sun energy on steroids. If we tap into this energy, our own conscious awareness can increase exponentially.

To understand this process more fully, I asked my guides for insights during meditation, and lest this become The World’s Longest Blog Post, I’ll stick to the key points.

I was led to connections within the tarot, starting with the Strength card, a card that is typically depicted with a lion. The Strength card contains the infinity symbol, or lemniscate, which looks like a sideways number 8. Interestingly, the Lion’s Gate occurs in the eight month of the year (August), and is thought to reach its peak on the eighth day of the month.

What other cards in the tarot contain the infinity symbol? Traditionally, out of all seventy-eight cards, only two others contain this symbol: the two of pentacles and the Magician.

I was led to the following spread of cards:

The two of pentacles at the base speaks to our dual nature–the truth that we are both physical and spiritual–and this union of our inner polarity is very important. It can be thought of as the union of our inner masculine and feminine energies, our intellect and our intuition, our yang and our yin, our spirit and our body.

Why is this important? When we disconnect from one pole or the other, the rejected aspect doesn’t disappear, it merely gets shoved into the subconscious. Pacing around in our subconscious like a pent-up lion, this rejected half still holds great power, influencing our thoughts, words, and actions, but because it’s outside of our awareness, we have no say in its effects. We’re like a puppet whose strings are being yanked by an invisible puppeteer.

In order to reclaim our power, we must reintegrate this rejected part of ourselves. If we rely on linear, intellectual processing for all of our decision making, it’s time to temper that with the wisdom of our intuition. If we are stuck in our heads most of the day, it’s time to bring some of our awareness back to our body, perhaps through healthy, mindful movement and bodywork. If we’re always in go-go-go mode, it’s time to cultivate balance by carving out time for restorative stillness.

This leads to another important aspect of our dual nature: Because we are both spiritual and physical, we possess the powers of both states of being. We have the ability to interact in the spiritual plane and in the physical, and indeed, if we are to find fulfillment in this life, it is our duty to learn how to interact with both realms masterfully.

How do we do this? In a nutshell, by honoring the unique capabilities of each mode of existence. Think of it this way: The spiritual plane has certain qualities, such as infinity, non-locality, and perfect expression. The physical plane has different, complementary qualities, such as finite existence/the experience of time, location in space, and partial expression.

Now–and this is important–this does not make the physical less than the spiritual. We are not aiming to transcend the physical in favor of the spiritual. We are seeking to master the different skills that each plane requires. For example, in the spiritual plane, we can experience the sensation of being One with all things and of existing in all places at once. (Some might call this “enlightenment.”)

In the physical plane, we must choose to be in one location at a time. If we do not respect this quality, we spread ourselves too thin, trying to be everywhere at once, saying yes to too many things, loading our calendar to the breaking point.

In the spiritual plane, we are perfect, but in the physical plane, we must accept the beautiful mess of this temporary existence. Our bodies will not last forever, and our health is not served by trying to achieve perfection through rigid diets, buying more clothes, forcing our bodies through workouts even when it hurts.

The Quest for Wholeness

Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz writes in her book, Alchemy:

If you take the image of the devouring lion this is quite clear. If I think I ought to be top dog everywhere, have the most beautiful partner, have money, be happy, and so on, that is a paradise fantasy…The fantasy itself is entirely legitimate, it has the idea of…a perfect state, a perfect harmony…but naturally if projected onto outside life and wanted there, in the here and now, that is impossible. The way in which the person wants to realize the fantasy is childish, but in itself it is valuable and has nothing wrong or unhealthy in it.

When we take the perfection of spiritual oneness and we try to recreate that through our job, our stuff, our body, our relationships, we put massive pressure on temporary, ever-changing physical existence. But when we get that feeling of wholeness through spiritual means (whatever that practice might look like for us), we free ourselves from seeking this transcendence by buying more stuff, eating more food, having more sex, and so on. And then, we can actually enjoy the stuff, the food, and the sex, because we’re not expecting it to make us complete or to stick around forever.

In the Strength card, we see the lion subdued, not by brute force but by the calm presence of the woman. When we yoke our life passions to the calm presence of the higher self–when we unite our physical and spiritual nature–they support each other in an endless feedback loop shown by the lemniscate. We’re able to enjoy the dual nature of life to the fullest: We can savor earthly experiences without trying to attain impermanence or a state of perfection through them, because we are already in touch with that infinite perfection through our spiritual nature.

The massive creative energy that is freed up by not trying to force reality to be anything but what it is can be channeled into manifesting what our soul needs and wants in this life, shown in the Magician card. The Magician channels the powers of the Above and the Below (there’s that dual nature again), and uses them to create. This is a vital piece of the puzzle, for if we learn to channel these energies and we don’t put them to good use, they can become overwhelming and destructive. Roseanne Cash described the creative muse as an energy that becomes toxic if it doesn’t get used.

It is our responsibility to use this energy wisely, and we can do this in any number of ways. For example, we can spend it on projects that truly light us up, whether they be for pleasure or profit.

By being mindful of how we spend energy through our words: Do we complain, gossip, and engage in negative self-talk or do we express gratitude, truth, and useful information?

By being mindful of the thoughts we lend energy to: Are we caught up in cyclical thoughts of worry and anger or do we find ways to pause the ego’s soundtrack, perhaps through meditation or movement, leaving space and stillness for new ideas and insights to generate?

Putting It All Together

To tie the cards together, the foundation of the two of pentacles represents the necessity of acknowledging our dual nature. We are both spiritual and physical. Incorporating this realization into our daily life gives rise to Strength and the ability to masterfully relate to the spiritual and the divine, equipping us with the Magician’s powers to create the life our soul is craving. This entire process both gives rise to and is fed by the light of the Sun, the light of higher consciousness, and the more we engage this creative process, the more we will operate from this place of higher wisdom.

Undergoing Alchemical Transformation

In alchemy, the lion is connected to a stage of transformation known as Fermentation and Putrefaction. From Dennis William Hauck’s The Emerald Tablet:

Before Fermentation, a person can appear hopelessly depressed, passive, and unreliable. The alchemists called this fertile precondition ‘digestion’ or Putrefaction, and connected it with the worldly and proud Fire sign of Leo…The search of the Leo person is for living wholeness, and generally Leos are known for their power, confidence, and domineering personality, though that all comes crashing down during Putrefaction…Once fermented, a person becomes suddenly alive and irrepressibly hopeful because their attention is diverted…to something higher.”

Whether or not your Sun sign is Leo, we all have Leo energy within us, and how we choose to channel that energy is important, because it impacts our ability to feel Whole and whether we continually seek that sense of wholeness through more stuff, more power over others and ourselves, more attention, more, more, more…or whether we find this wholeness through our spiritual nature.

The Lion’s Gate Ritual

To activate the powers of your dual nature during the Lion’s Gate, try this simple ritual. It works with the concept of Fermentation to foster the union of your spiritual and physical nature. You will need a fermented beverage, like kombucha or kefir (yes, wine counts, too).

Pour yourself a glass of the fermented drink, set it aside, and find a place where you can dance without being disturbed. Take a few moments to get in touch with your breath, feeling the breath moving throughout your body with each inhale, emptying out on the exhale. Even with this “simple” act, feel the union of the physical body and the spiritual breath, the one feeding the other feeding the other in an endless loop.

And now, prepare for movement. Crank up some music…and dance! Let yourself be wild and free. It doesn’t matter what you look like, just get into your body and out of your head. Dance until you feel energized, flushed, full of life–heart pounding, lungs pumping, limbs flowing (or flailing, depending on your style!).

When this feels complete, come into stillness. Find a comfortable seated position and have your fermented beverage handy. With your dominant hand, slowly trace the infinity symbol in the air in front of you, following the movement with your eyes. Do this about eight times, then switch hands and repeat. Feel the balancing energy of this symbol seeping into your body, mind, and soul.

Close your eyes. Allow stillness to gradually take over, feeling this transition from physical exertion to spiritual stillness. Say aloud or to yourself, “I unite body, mind, and soul in a way that is correct and good for me.”

Hold the cup of fermented beverage at heart center, and imagine it filling with the combined light of the Sun and Sirius, the light of higher consciousness. When ready, drink from the cup (leaving a bit left over), and feel your consciousness expanding as this energy enters your body and radiates outward, filling your entire energy field.

Sit in meditation for as little or as long as you like, asking for insights that will help you in this process of integrating flesh and spirit, helping you to operate from a place of higher consciousness. What do you most need to know right now?

When this process feels complete, come back to the here and now. You can stomp your feet to ground yourself, then pour the rest of the beverage onto the Earth, saying aloud or to yourself, “May all beings benefit from the gifts of higher consciousness.”

Journal about the experience, making note of any insights that came through or any questions that remain, so you can refer back in the coming days. You will continue to get guidance long after the ritual, and journaling will help you see the emerging threads and themes.





Following Your Fault-Lines Home

Flipping through an old journal, I came across a passage I copied down from the book Cave: Nature and Culture:

W. H. Auden, who so loved the karst shires of the Northern Pennines, adored limestone. What most moved him about it was the way it eroded. Limestone’s solubility in water means that any fault-lines in the original rock get slowly deepened by a process of soft liquid wear. In this way, the form into which the limestone grows over time is determined first by its flaws. For Auden, this was a human as well as a geological quality: he found in limestone an honesty—an acknowledgment that we are as defined by our faults as by our substance.

In my own personal work, I have seen a gradual transition, mapped in the pages of my journals, from trying to eradicate my perceived faults to learning how to simply be present with them and to see what they have to teach me. And in my clients, the most striking transformations I have been lucky enough to witness have taken place, not as a result of further self-denial and hard-handed discipline, but from a compassionate acceptance of self.

It seems that the main challenge to self-acceptance is the fear that if we accept these “awful” things about ourselves, they’ll run rampant and ruin our lives.

The ego believes that our rejection of these faults is the only thing keeping us from destruction; it’s the dam holding the waters at bay. And all the while, we search and search for a feeling of wholeness, yet, as long as we continue to reject aspects of ourselves, this wholeness eludes us. It is only when we accept ourselves, fully–wholly–that we can feel whole. So, rather than serving as gateways to our destruction, these faults are our ticket home, our return to a state of wholeness.

There’s another interesting facet to these “faults.” I have found that, hidden in their core, these faults contain my greatest gifts, unique creations wrought by my history, my individual fault-lines, and erosion patterns worn by the waters of my life (water being symbolic of emotions and the unconscious realms). These ingredients interact to shape the gifts that I, and I alone, have to offer.

So, too, your gifts are a unique alchemical mix of your fault-lines and their interaction with life. When we accept these faults, they teach us. They teach us about our weaknesses, yes, and this can trigger feelings of vulnerability and shame, but they also teach us of our greatest strengths. If we can be present with the uncomfortable emotions that arise when we witness our fault-lines, we can penetrate the veil, beyond which lies our hidden gifts.

And as Auden intuited, “we are as defined by our faults as by our substance,” so even if we choose to shun these qualities, they shape us nonetheless, but in this shunning we lose the precious gifts they contain. Far better to embrace these fault-lines, weathering the discomfort (and it will pass; it always does), so we can reclaim the gifts they bring.

And if you are feeling adrift, unsure as to what your soul is being called to do, tracing your inner fault-lines will lead you back to your purpose. Remember, these lines are unique to you and you alone, and they contain gifts that require activation in order to fulfill your soul’s purpose. Like a spiritual scavenger hunt, the more of these gifts you assemble, the more their purpose will be come clear. If, metaphorically speaking, you unearth a whisk, a book of pastry recipes, and a bag of flour, perhaps yours is the path of a baker.

My path has led me from being painfully shy (as a child, I cried when people–my own family–gathered around to watch me open birthday presents, and later in life, I agonized over quitting jobs that required me to stand up in front of even the smallest of groups), to sitting with the extreme discomfort that arose in these situations, to eventually uncovering a powerful desire to teach, to speak, and to lead. What clues and gifts do your discomforts contain?

Follow your fault-lines. They will lead you home to yourself and to the wholeness and purpose that awaits.

Why We Must Burn Away Our Fear

On the last New Moon (July 23), I performed a ritual to prepare myself for what is known as a Black Moon Cycle. A Black Moon occurs when two New Moons fall within the same solar month; the second of the two moons is known as a Black Moon. While New Moons in general are a potent time for setting intentions and starting new endeavors, a Black Moon ushers in a period of momentous change, which lasts until the next Black Moon (July 31, 2019). This period is marked by major transformations, transformations that can alter the very course of our lives.

My guides led me on a meditation during my Black Moon ritual, and in this meditation, I visited each of the twelve astrological houses to receive guidance relevant to each house. If you’re unfamiliar with astrological houses, you can think of them as different areas of your life. The first house, for example, is related to our sense of self, our identity. It’s very connected to our survival instinct, and often, many of the actions of the first house are instinctive and automatic unless we’ve done work to make these patterns more conscious.

And it is in this first house that I received a message related to fear and its effects, not only during this life but beyond.

When I entered the first house, I found myself in my grandparents’ house, where I lived for the first few years of my life. Traveling through the rooms, I encountered different family members, each engaged in activities ranging from curious to disturbing, and each with important messages. But it was in the living room where I met one of my ancestors, and I began to cry when I saw that his skin and hair were smoking and glowing, like the embers of a fire.

“What is happening to you?” It was almost unbearable to see him this way, and he replied, “Burn away in life what does not serve or you will burn in death.”

We only had what seemed like brief moments to talk before he disappeared, but he explained that this burning is not a punishment, it is merely a necessary freeing of the soul from the baggage accumulated in life. He said, “In life, we use fear as an excuse to accumulate ‘protective’ baggage, from actual, physical things to rigid beliefs and patterns of being. This all must be burned away if our souls are to return to their original state after death.”

He explained that this is where our images of hell come from–this burning away, this purging of all that does not serve, the things we could have released in life but chose to cling to instead. Again, this burning isn’t done as punishment–it’s a necessary release of dead weight, but it is far better to willingly choose to release these things here, now, in life, so that our journey into death can be one of joy and peace.

Trial By Fire

How do we, as my ancestor described, “burn away in life what does not serve”? This advice reminds me of the alchemical step of calcination, the burning away of ego “detritus” that is preventing us from seeing ourselves and everything and everyone around us as Divine. A powerful way to engage the process of calcination is an exercise that I like to call Trial By Fire.

Trial By Fire can be performed anytime you are struggling with fear in its many forms: limited or rigid beliefs, procrastination, “over analysis paralysis” (aka, getting stuck in endless thinking and never doing), perfectionism, negative self-talk, shame, harmful competition and comparison, harsh judgement of self and others, and the list goes on.

While the antidote is simple, it’s not always easy: To perform Trial By Fire, you take action. End of story. When you’re afraid of teaching that workshop, you do it anyway. When you’re afraid of publishing that blog post because perfectionism would have you tweaking it from now until the end of time, you do it anyway. When you’re afraid to apply for that job because limited beliefs are convincing you that it can’t possibly work out, you do it anyway.

Take action. We burn away fear by dragging it into the light of reality, by putting fear’s loud theories to the test. Did we actually die as a result of giving that workshop? Did the internet explode because we published that imperfect post? Did our lives self-destruct because we applied for that job? Nope, nope, and nope.

Fear’s power lies in its ability to prevent us from taking action. It keeps us stuck in our heads, thinking that we’re somehow safe by not doing anything. But all this time, we’re accumulating layer upon layer of “protective” baggage; our souls are getting heavier and heavier each time we allow fear to dictate our choices.

Fear sounds awfully convincing, but it’s nothing more than a slick marketing campaign, designed to keep you numbed out and mindlessly consuming something–anything–to distract yourself from fear’s dire predictions.

To lighten your load, willingly choose to burn away the things that no longer serve you. Acknowledge your fear, and do it anyway. Stop waiting for some imagined “perfect” opportunity. Embrace what’s in the here and now; be willing to sacrifice the perfect fantasy and challenge the fear-based thoughts.

Put them to the test.

Subject them to a Trial By Fire.

What action can you take today?

Until August 17, 2017, I am offering a special Black Moon Session at my healing practice in Columbia, MO. Learn more here.