Sunday, December 31, 2006

Healing Through Writing

While in my creative writing program in grad school, I picked up a copy of Louise DeSalvo's Writing as a Way of Healing. It's been on my bookshelf as a loyal companion ever since.

I think I've always written as a way to move through the hardships of my life -- to reckon with change, loss, depression, and trauma. DeSalvo's book, though, illuminates the specific psychological implications of writing in the healing process. The key, DeSalvo writes, is to "link feelings to events" in the healing narrative. When writing about our pain, it is important to be specific. She adds, "many researchers have observed that the inability to render pain and trauma explicitly, describing it instead in vague and general terms, signifies that the person has not yet entered the process of healing."

There are times when I am not ready to be specific, when the grief is so big or dense that I can't even see what's in front of me. But, when I am ready to face my pain, I have found specificity is the key. I write every little detail. It is exhausting, but afterwards, I feel an emotional "lift" -- a similar feeling I experience after receiving a Reiki treatment.

If you're at all interested in learning more about the power of writing as a healing modality, I highly recommend DeSalvo's book. For more information, visit Amazon.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is a common issue for many of us in the northwest -- and especially during the fall and winter months.

In her poem, "February: Thinking of Flowers," Jane Kenyon writes:

"A single green sprouting thing / would restore me...."

I have felt this yearning almost every February of my life. Spring feels like it takes so long to arrive, and the tree buds, crocuses, and sunlight cannot come soon enough.

Those of us who do feel adversely affected by the lack of light during these dark months must find ways to compensate--to feel "green" inside.

I'd like to share a few of the ways I have tried to stay afloat during the S.A.D. months in my life:

  • Full-spectrum light therapy.* I have a 10,000 lux light therapy box and sit in front of it for 30-minutes to an hour for a mood "boost."
  • Dawn machine. This light box gives me a 45-minute dawn in the morning: the light gradually gets brighter in the morning, helping to wake my body gently.
  • Fresh foods. While my body craves carbohydrates this time of the year, fresh fruits and vegetables truly help me feel more energetic and vibrant. When I eat a colorful salad I imagine that I am consuming a bit of spring.
  • Walking. A very wise psychiatrist friend of mine advocates walking outside for at least 20-30 minutes every morning. Even when it is cloudy out, we still absorb the necessary light into our eyes.
  • Creativity. Express your S.A.D. through writing or art. One year I did a series of finger paintings depicting my frustration with the incessant cloudy days.
  • Sleep. I tend to want to over-sleep when I am depressed, but it is important to get plenty of uninterrupted sleep. So, I strike a balance. I allow myself a bit more hibernation sleep during the winter months, but if I do sleep in, I make sure to take a good, long walk in the morning.
  • Aromatherapy. I add fresh, vibrant scents to my baths and lotions. I tend to use the citruses -- grapefruit, mandarin orange, lemon, and tangerine. These scents wake me up and make me feel the energy of the sun.
When depressed it can be hard to do any of these things, so I try to be gentle on myself and praise myself for small accomplishments.

What do you do to keep yourself vibrant and healthy during the winter? I'd love to hear about your experiences.

*I now offer full-spectrum light therapy as a regular offering in my practice. For an additional charge, clients may add a 30-minute light therapy session, which includes an aromatherapy foot soak and a warm cup of tea.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cold-Fighting Aromatherapy!

The other day I was convinced I was getting a cold. I felt heavy in my head and scratchy in my throat. I could feel that irritating autumn cold forcing its way through my immune system. So, what did I do to ward off this cold?

I drank lots of fluids, took vitamin C and zinc, and relaxed in a tea tree oil bath. Yes, tea tree oil!

I have found essential oils to be quite effective in the prevention of colds. Many essential oils help boost your immune system, including the following:

tea tree oil
myrrh oil
thyme oil
oregano oil
bergamot oil
orange oil

So, next time you are just beginning to feel the sniffles, mix a few drops of one or a combination of these oils into your bath (do not exceed 6-8 drops total). Breathe deeply and allow these oils to soak into your body.

Friday, November 03, 2006

What's Your Enneagram Type?


This week I attended a fascinating workshop led by Jack Blackburn called "Enneagram Applications for Bodyworkers."

An enneagram is a nine-pointed diagram, which depicts the nine major human personalities. These personality types (or archetypes) reveal our strengths/points of growth as well as our weaknesses/challenges. As you can see from the graphic above, I am a "4" or "The Individualist." What does this mean? Well, I'll get to that later.

While the enneagram symbol has been around a very long time, apparently a fellow named George Gurdjieff brought the enneagram symbol to the West around 1900. Oscar Ichazo, a Chilean man, was the first to create the symbol's personality types and his work was developed even further by psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo.

I am just beginning my process of learning this system, but I have already gleaned much from learning about my type as "The Individualist."

According to the Enneagram Institute website, at my best, I am...

"Profoundly creative, expressing the personal and the universal, possibly in a work of art. Inspired, self-renewing and regenerating: able to transform all [my] experiences into something valuable: self-creative. Self-aware, introspective, on the "search for self," aware of feelings and inner impulses. Sensitive and intuitive both to self and others: gentle, tactful, compassionate."

And at my not-so-best, I...

"Interiorize everything, taking everything personally, but become self-absorbed and introverted, moody and hypersensitive, shy and self-conscious, unable to be spontaneous or to "get out of themselves." Stay withdrawn to protect [my] self-image and to buy time to sort out feelings."

When I am stressed I may take on negative traits of "The Helper" and at my strongest I may take on the positive qualities of "The Reformer."

What type are you?

1. The Reformer (or Perfectionist)
2. The Helper (or Supporter)
3. The Achiever (or Motivator)
4. The Individualist (or Romantic Melancholic)
5. The Observer (or Investigator)
6. The Loyalist (or Devil's Advocate)
7. The Enthusiast (or Optimist)
8. The Challenger (or Leader)
9. The Mediator (or Peacemaker)

To take the free 36-question enneagram test from the Enneagram Institute, click here.

Scroll down just a bit and the questions will appear with multiple choice buttons to click.

Feel free to post your type here and your thoughts about it. Remember that knowing and understanding your type is not meant to box you in. I see aspects of myself in most of the types.

I look forward to hearing what you discover!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Find a New Perspective…


When I was in graduate school and having to write several poems a week, I often found myself stuck for ideas, inspiration, and fresh images. I’d stop and start, pace the living room, feed my parakeet, write a bit more, make some tea, wash a few dirty mugs, and finally force myself to produce something of quality by staring at my computer screen with the powerful eyes of Superman, willing the right words to the page. If I had only listened to the messages my body was sending me!

I believe there is something very physical about creativity. It does not merely jump from our brains and onto the canvas, journal page, or computer screen. My body was telling me to move when I was stuck. All of my pacing and fussing with my environment meant that I needed a new perspective. I believed myself to be a “bad girl” for getting up from my desk so often to fidget with the physical world. But, this movement was exactly what I needed.

There is something profound about physically finding a new perspective when you are stuck. I can just feel the stagnation when I think of classrooms filled with students sitting in straight rows and staff meetings where people are forced to sit for two hours in stale, dry rooms and try to think up brilliant ideas.

As a guest teacher in some community college classes over the last year, I’ve led an exercise where students must physically find a new perspective in the classroom. At first they look at me blankly and step two feet in one direction. I have to explain that they really need to alter their perspective. I tell them to climb on top of and underneath tables; move to the front of the room where the teacher normally stands; hang off the chair backwards and look at the ceiling. Once I give them this permission, the energy really gets moving. In once class, a student tried to fit his whole body into the recycle bin! I tell the students that finding a new perspective in their environment will invariably create a new perspective on their work.

Try this: Sit under your desk, stand on your head, turn the lights off and walk in circles, sit at a different table to write, climb a tree. Find another perspective that is unusual (but safe) to help jumpstart your ideas when you’re at a stand still.

P.S. As a write this, I am sitting in my closet looking up at my colorful clothes hanging above me. Where are you?

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Good Night

Today I spent the afternoon with my friend Corbin, a writer and a mother of two. We ate lunch, shared our current writing projects, and took a lovely walk through her neighborhood. Throughout our conversations, the subject of sleep emerged. We talked about lack of sleep, in particular, and the repercussions of this. Luckily, I have not experienced a great deal of insomnia in my life, but I know many who struggle with falling and staying asleep. And, I don’t know how parents endure years of interrupted sleep. Corbin, while certainly affected by lack of sleep, deals with it gracefully. For one thing, she takes naps, something I have just learned to do this past year.

My heart goes out to those of you who struggle with sleep on a regular basis. I know on a very small scale how one poor night sleep can adversely affect my day and how life can seem a little less vibrant and a tad blurry. I know that for many people, insomnia is a serious and constant struggle. A poor sleep cycle is hard to break, but there are things you can do to enhance your chance of a more peaceful night’s sleep. What I have to offer is from the realm of aromatherapy.

Try this: Aromatherapy Bath

Before bed, soak your tired bones in warm water filled with calming essential oils. Add to your bath 2 drops marjoram oil, 2 drops ylang ylang oil, 2 drops chamomile oil, and 2 drops lavender oil.

Try this: Nighttime Pillow Spritzer.

Pour distilled water into a spray bottle and add 3 drops lavender oil, 2 drops rose oil, 2 drops chamomile oil, and 2 drops ylang ylang oil. Spray your pillow and sheets–and the air—just before climbing into bed.

Note: Any one of the essential oils listed above can be used on its own. So, if all you have is lavender oil, use that for your bath and spritzer. I have given clients a simple lavender and ylang ylang spritzer, and many found it very calming before bed.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Art of Grounding

Over the past two days I have physically exerted myself more than usual. Yesterday I went on a considerable run and today a 32-mile bike ride. What I’ve discovered these last two days is that I haven’t been paying much attention to the lower half of my body. During my run, in particular, I found myself tuning into the weight of my body as it hit the earth with each stride. I heard the crunch of my shoes against the gravel and felt how my joints endured the force of my body as if moved through space. As I write this entry, my hips, thighs, knees, and feet are aching. In some ways I like this feeling because I’m reminded that the lower half of my body actually exists.

Like most of us, I spend a considerable amount of time living in my heart, throat, and head. My stress and worry seem to collect in these upper chakras, and over time, I neglect the foundation of my body: the Root or First Chakra.

This First Chakra extends from the coccyx to the toes and it is the chakra that teaches the art of grounding. This chakra, in its simplest description, is about survival—our primal and instinctual need to survive and protect ourselves. It is also about living in the present moment, in your body, and feeling the life-giving earth beneath your feet. When this chakra is closed or neglected it is easy to feel “spacey,” unclear, worried, anxious, and stuck.

How can you feel more grounded?

Try one of these:

* Walk or run. Feel your feet against the earth. Connect with the lower half of your body as you move by listening to the sounds you make when your body meets the earth.

* Jump up and Down or Dance. Pretend you are a kid again and playfully jump up and down. Even better: find a soft piece of earth and jump or dance on it while barefoot. Feel dirt sift through your toes.

* Rest. Yes – rest! Turn off your brain for a while and sink into the being that is your body. Find a comfortable spot to relax and bring your consciousness down to your legs and feet. Feel the weight of your legs and let this weight sink into your couch, chair, or bed.

* Foot bath. Fill a tub with some warm water and a few drops of something fragrant if you like (something earthy like ginger, bergamot, or cedar essential oils would be nice). Draw the energy from your body down to your feet and notice if you feel any different. More grounded, perhaps?

Image credit: Root Chakra image above from the Akashan Pathways website.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Massage Your Ears!

Memory listening ear massage--in the Brain Gym pedagogy it's called “The Thinking Cap”--is a simple self-massage technique that stimulates over 400 acupuncture points in the ears. By simply massaging your ears from top to bottom using your thumbs and pointer fingers, you access all of these points in just a few seconds.

Ear massage is especially helpful for people who frequently feel over-stimulated by too many sounds and need help in discerning distressing or irrelevant sounds from relevant ones. This technique is also known to help with short-term memory; to relax the cranial bones, jaw, tongue, and face muscles; and to improve hearing and concentration.

I find this exercise to be especially helpful when I need to listen more clearly, concentrate more acutely, or to relax my jaw. When I give massage to those who describe neck or jaw pain, I almost always incorporate ear massage, for I find that it opens the jaw, softens the face, and even loosens tight neck muscles.

Try this: During your next long meeting or class, when you feel you are about to fade out, give your ears a little attention. Massage each ear for 20-30 seconds. Let me know how it works!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dreaming & Meaning

I have always had vivid dreams. I can still recall dreams I had as a child. And, this week, for some reason, I am having intense dreams every night. These dreams are action-packed, somewhat disturbing, and vivid. I must be processing a lot these days, for my subconscious seems to be shouting at me. I imagine many of you can relate to this experience, although I know a few people who rarely recall their dreams.

So, what do we do with all of the colorful, bizarre, and poignant images and symbols in our dreams? Do you write down your dreams? Keep a journal next to your bed at night? And, how can we take what we're creating during slumber and find deep meaning in the tidal waves, hairless giraffes, and suitcases full of baby bottles?

I take a very personal approach to dream analysis.* So, for the moment, if it is actually possible, try to step away from the "collective consciousness" with all of the usual dream meanings and interpretations we've all heard, and Try this:

Part I: Write down your dream. Be sure to include every detail you remember, from the color of your grandfather's sweater to the sounds and smells. And remember to write down what your dreaming experience was like. Were you aware you were dreaming? Could you make decisions in your dream? Were you an active "character" in your dream or observing from the sidelines or from above?

Part II: After you have recorded your dream, scan your writing for important words and circle them. Don't spend too much time on this portion of the exercise. Obviously, key people, objects, places, and emotional states would be most useful to identify.

Part III: Now, rewrite your dream replacing most of the words you have circled with the meaning you attribute to these words. Here's an example:

Original sentence: "I was floating in the ocean attached to a picnic table, while my family swam away, leaving me with all their luggage."

Analyzed sentence: "I was floating in uncertainty attached to my childhood, while my security swam away, leaving me with all their [emotional?] baggage."

Part IV: Feel free to re-write your renditions a few times to get to the heart of the matter. Feel free to post your re-written dream here!

*I attribute this approach to Leslie Conton, Ph.D.
, a cultural/ transpersonal anthropologist and Fairhaven College professor.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

It's Not All in Your Head

“It makes no difference to the brain/body system whether something actually happened or not. What we feel about our experience creates our ‘reality,’ our model of the world. Emotion releases hormonal patterns which activate circulation, muscles and organic response as well as etching memory. Again, the brain and body respond in exactly the same way to both real and imagined experience.”

– Gordon Stokes & Daniel Whiteside, Tools of the Trade

“A little bit stressed is like a little bit pregnant. There is no such thing as a small stressor. All stressors go into one pot to assault your body’s resources. In other words, stress accumulates.”

–Sharon Promislow, Making the Brain Body Connection

When I was a teenager, my mother and I frequently watched those “women in peril” made-for-TV movies on Sunday nights, starring Judith Light or Meredith Baxter Birney or some other mainstream TV actress. Usually halfway through the two-hour special, our paranoia kicked in and we began securing all the windows and doors. Was that a sound coming from downstairs? I’m afraid to go to the bathroom by myself! Stand outside the door! By the end of the show, we’d be so hyped up, so full of anxiety, that we’d block all the doors to outside so we’d have an early warning system in case someone tried to break in. And, during those nights, we often had bad dreams and trouble sleeping.

Even today I’m still trying to understand why in the world we watched those shows. They terrified us, and even more, they increased our already-heightened worries about being women in our culture. Certainly, we felt relieved at the end when the woman escaped, overcame a difficult situation, or achieved some kind of triumphant result. But, what was the cost?

I tell this story because it is just one example of the ways in which I have experienced self-created anxiety when there was no real threat. I mostly felt “spooked” after watching those shows, but I have also experienced true panic attacks—anxiety that emerged because of overwhelm, stress, or trauma.
Most of us experience moments when anxiety takes over, even when there are no real threats to our safety or survival. Think of the anxiety you feel before public speaking or prior to a job interview or a test. Regardless of the cause – whether real, imagined, or re-recreated from a past trauma – we experience anxiety in our physical body. Our body reacts whether or not a sabre-toothed tiger is actually chasing us. If we think he is chasing us, then our body believes us.

What does your anxiety feel like? I feel the fight/flight center of my body (or Third Chakra) activating and I feel the blood rush away from my extremities and to my center, my core. Breathing becomes difficult, labored, and I have often had to still myself by conscious breathing techniques. Sometimes I've felt faint, other times very tired and unable to think. Everyone experiences anxiety differently, but there are things we can do in the moment to care for ourselves.

One such self-care activity I have used with much success is called Balance Breathing. Balance Breathing, or Alternate-Nostril Breathing, is a technique I learned from a friend, but many people use this technique in different healing modalities. While the theory behind this breathing is to create balance between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, I find it incredibly calming, and have lulled myself out of feelings of anxiety—as well as acute panic attacks—using this technique.

Try this: Balance Breathing. You will be using your thumb and index finger to open and close your left and right nostrils. For example, if you are right handed, close your right nostril with your right thumb, take a full breath in and out of your left nostril, then close your left nostril with your right pointer finger and breathe in and out of your right nostril. Because this breathing takes some focus and time (be very slow and deliberate with each inhalation and exhalation), you will soon notice your whole mind-body system calming down. Give this technique some time to work. I’ve done Balance Breathing for five to ten minutes before. Usually, though, after two-three minutes you’ll notice a difference.

Try this: Explore your anxiety through finger painting. Anxiety can reflect some deep-rooted fears that could well be released through the act of painting. Get a piece of paper, wear grubby clothes, set out your paints, and get messy. What does your anxiety look like? Feel like? Is it hot red, screaming yellow, or cold ice blue? Do several paintings if you like, until you feel you’ve expressed your anxiety or until you feel a little shift in your body. For me, I sometimes suddenly feel tired. Then, I know I am done. What is this like for you?

What techniques or approaches work for you? Feel free to share your experiences if you like.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Where Does Your Silence Live?

When I give Reiki sessions, one of the areas most frequently blocked or restricted in my clients is the throat, or Fifth Chakra. This throat chakra extends from your larynx to your clavicle bones and its energetic or metaphorical meaning has to do with communication, expression, and speaking your truth. No wonder this chakra is so frequently restricted. How often to we hold our feelings and thoughts deep inside, never letting them out to see the light of day? How often do we hold our words in tight because we feel uncertain or unsafe?

In my art blog, Quiet Girl Gallery, I have included a few lines from one of my poems which speaks to this silence. It reads, "Deep in the pit of my throat, they cling to the larynx like barnacles...but tonight when I hear them chattering, I feel a build-up of grief for the lives I haven't let them lead."

What words have remained unuttered for you, locked inside so tightly? What do you feel has remained unexpressed for too long?

Try this: Scan your body. Locate the place in your body where your silence lives. For this exercise, what I mean by silence is the place in your body that is the source of your silencing yourself when you know you should speak up and you don’t. Close your eyes and scan your body until you get a “hit,” a feeling or sensation, and then write from that place about the ways in which you silence yourself. This place could be your throat or somewhere else entirely. Is there a particular moment from the past that comes to mind? Imagine that the place of silence is now allowed to speak. What does it have to tell you?

[Picture credit: Sanatan Society website.]

Friday, August 25, 2006

Deep Belly Breathing

“The brain needs more oxygen under stress…”
—Sharon Promislow, Making the Brain Body Connection

For some reason, I've been breathing quite shallowly lately. Perhaps my stress level has risen a bit these last few days, or perhaps I'm following some old pattern of breathing. When I breathe shallowly, I end up straining my scalene muscles, neck muscles that lift my rib cage during inhalation. I also cannot think as clearly during stress. And, decision-making becomes almost impossible. What helps me? Deep belly breathing.

I learned the following technique from Brain Gym, a system of educational kinesiology developed by Paul and Gail Dennison.

Deep belly breathing involves sitting or lying comfortably with both hands placed gently on my belly. I inhale through my nose, allowing my belly to expand into my hands, and then I exhale through my mouth. By expanding my belly and ribcage fully, I allow for more oxygen to enter my brain-body system. With such full breath, my blood pressure is more apt to lower and my heart rate to decrease. In essence, I am feeding my brain and body oxygen to function properly. And, when I imagine stress leaving my body with each full exhale, I feel more centered and relaxed.

Try this: Place your hands on your stomach and take some deep belly breaths, focusing on the fullness of each breath. Notice how this increase in oxygen makes you feel.

After experiencing the deep belly breathing exercise, continue your focus on your belly. What life has your belly had? Write with focus on your belly, from your belly, about its life. (If you lose focus, place your hands on your stomach and take a few deep breaths again.) What shapes has it taken and what emotions does it hold deep inside? Write about when you’ve sucked it in, causing your breath to feel shallow and tight? Or, write about when it is most relaxed and free.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

When You're Stuck, Move

“When I have a shock, I walk to metabolize it. Walking, seeking only to move and in moving “move” something through, I often come to an entirely different idea.”
—Julia Cameron, The Right to Write

I’m a firm believer in physically moving when I feel mentally “stuck” or stressed. During exercise, not only do I find that my mood increases with the release of endorphins, but my body feels more alive with the increased oxygen intake. I also feel more able to calmly process any problems I seem to be having.

A friend of mine, a high school teacher, described a “walking it off” method many schools are employing to help with student behavior problems. Instead of sitting in an office or in detention, a student may, for example, take a walk around the track with a school counselor. By walking, the troubled student is able to “cool off” and perhaps even process his or her issues while simultaneously physically moving through the problems via walking. I use walking in a similar way, and I find that I often feel a greater sense of clarity after a good walk around the block.

Try this: The next time you feel stuck -- whether mentally stuck on a project or idea or emotionally stuck during an argument with your partner -- get up and move. Walk around the block, dance in your living room, stretch, jump up and down. Get your blood moving and follow this new flow to a place of better understanding and clarity.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


I welcome you to The Healing Nest, my blog dedicated to holistic healing for people and animals. I bring to this blog my experience as a massage therapist, poet, artist, and Reiki practitioner for both people and animals.

I believe that the body holds deep emotions and that these emotions may be uncovered and/or released through bodywork, energywork, and creative expression. The intention of this blog is to share with you some insights, experiences, and exercises that may be helpful in your healing process -- whether this healing is needed on the physical, emotional, or spiritual level.

Thank you for stopping by!

In peace,