Archive for October, 2012

Opening up to Change: A Yoga Retreat Crucible

Posted on October 29, 2012. Filed under: Yoga |

I was on a yoga retreat the other weekend.   Sounds simple doesn’t it?  But it was not only my first, but ended up being quite profound for me partly because of a rough start.   So I decided to make this one of my occasional personal and yoga related posts.   Admittedly, it has taken me a while to pull this out of me.  In fact, every time I thought it was time to birth this post, it crawled back up my metaphorical uterus (I used to be in a doctoral program in Women’s history so a metaphorical uterus was very handy.)

Cabin at the Retreat (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

A lot of people focus on retreats (spiritual, yoga and otherwise) as valuable because they can get away from those distractions that they feel impede them from deepening their practice.  But I find there is another aspect which can be just as important.   Where you lose those normal routines, habits, familiarity and security of your daily life and it tends to shake at some of emotional structures that may need to work on or have been ignored.  In other words, suddenly being in a different place with different routines, structures, rules, etc. can bring a little emotional earthquake and who knows what arises out of that rubble.  And that definitely was my experience.

Plus it takes me a while to adjust to things before I feel comfortable enough to be present.  Be it a couple of hours in the morning, a couple of days in a new place or a couple of meetings with new people – some part of me needs to be quiet and observe to feel safe and secure before connecting out.   New place, new people, new things but you’re only there a short time so you really don’t have that luxury in these circumstances.  This also totally shows up in my yoga practice where it takes me a few times to even remotely get something slightly new.  😉

Then there was the yoga practice itself which I approached with trepidation.  I had never gone on a retreat before, could I do it?  That was 10 hours of yoga in just a couple of days, that’s a whole lot yoga.  Some of the sessions were three hours long, could I do that?  For me, it represented some hard work, but thanks to the teachers it was not scary at all and it was the best part.  If fact, it is where the magic began!

A yoga practice can be a powerful microcosm of your life and how you are in it.  Because of that a yoga practice can be a bit of crucible for re-shaping your life and a good yoga retreat even more so.

Essentially you have a vessel where with intense focused energy you can break down separate parts or broken pieces and meld them together to something new and stronger.   Or another way to put it is that the old structures and blockages are stressed until they no longer hold allowing new ones to form.

In Ayurvedic terms I’m predominately Vata with Pitta as my secondary.  Not so much Kapha.  But I like thinking of such things as what your strengths and tendencies are.  So for me, I’m very connected to my brain, my mind is a special skill, well developed, etc.  – big honking surprise there.  And I have some connections and strengths in the emotional/spiritual realm.  But groundedness and connection to my body – embarrassing not so at times.

How much so?  Well, I often joke that in my yoga practice I’ve started dialog with parts of my body that I’ve never dealt with before – I really didn’t know they were there.  Sadly, not always a joke – and on more than one occasion my teacher would ask how an asana felt, etc. only to be greeted with a very blank stare.  🙂

So during the retreat all the little tricks my mind uses to maintain control via routines, habits, knowing the land of the land, etc.  just weren’t there.   Nor were the emotional crutches and barriers working so well.   So my stuff came up in spades.  And combining that with the deep growth in yoga practice created an opportunity to build my connection to my body, ground myself and grow, that I wouldn’t normally have, in a powerful new way.

I didn’t realize this was happening at first during the retreat but I definitely started noticing the shifts in the weeks afterward.  Even now I’m kind of amazed at some of the changes in my practice, approach to practice and in my life and my approach to it as well.  Really amazed.

Does that mean the work is done?  I’m fixed, better, amazing, etc.?



Sorry I was laughing aloud at the notion.   I’m far from amazing with lots and lots of work still to do.    Working on yourself is a continuing journey and process.  You’re never there.  If you’re doing it right you can play in a wonderland of adventurous change, exploration and learning.  It is where frustrations, breakdowns and setbacks abound but also where the excitement is found.   Frankly, if anyone thinks, or acts like, they are “there” – that’s funny at best and sometimes a bit sad, IMO.  “There” is stagnation at best.  No matter how it may seem at the time.

What I did do was get shaken up and change, get a glimpse of new possibilities.  And the profound realization of the notion that yes I can do it.

But that’s all my insane .02

Sum Up:

Which is all a long way of saying:  I went on a yoga retreat, stuff came up and with the help of my teachers I deepened my practice and myself – and even had fun doing it!

And that is just made of awesome.

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Herbal Medicine Making: I’ve Got the Rhythm in Me!

Posted on October 10, 2012. Filed under: Urban Herbalism | Tags: , , |

I awoke the other night enveloped in the grip of the season’s cold.  Cold enough to break out the blankets and contemplate the heater, as I did I decided it was now time to harvest the Skullcap and Basil plants I have growing on my window seat in my bedroom (but first I went back to sleep because I’m a crazy Herbalist but not a get up at 3 AM to make herbal medicine crazy herbalist!)  From that I decided to give a quirky little run through of a typical medicine making for me.

After I thank the plants for their gift and have removed what I need, I usually lay them out to wilt a bit on some paper bags in my room safely away from the cats:

Basil and Skullcap Freshly Harvest (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

While that happens I try to decide what I want to make.

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is my favorite Nervine and one of my favorite herbs.  Somehow the Turtles song Happy Together” (Youtube video) goes through my head when I think of it.  (Someday I’ll do a blog post about it to the tune of that song perhaps with some photos of Skullcap and I frolicking, but back to THIS post…)  Skullcap is one of the more polite mint families members was very “Oh, I’d like to be tincture.  Please and Thank you.”  Which is just right.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a tougher member of the Mint family and had a bit of tone of “Screw that! I want to be a Glycerite.” For some reason when I grow Basil it always swears like a sailor.  But as usual with our plant friends, it was so right.

I have a little altar I use for meditation which I re-arrange a bit for medicine making experiments.

Altar for Medicine Making (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

And I leave some of my favorite statues there in support (Thanks Ganesha, Healing Buddha and Tara!)

Next I like to do something to enliven my spirits while I work.   In my case, I love putting on some music and often dancing a bit while I work.   And I’m not remotely ashamed to say I made the Basil Glycerite (using about 3 parts glycerin and 1 part filtered water) I was cranking some Electric Light Orchestra, while for the Skullcap Tincture (using about 5 parts organic cane alcohol, 4 parts filtered water and 1 part glycerin – which is the menstruum blend I’ve been playing with lately) it was the Four Tops!

Medicine Magic Begins (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

I put the wax paper between the lids and menstruum both because of evaporation potentially rusting the lid parts and BPA protection.

Mind you, I also made a bunch of bark tinctures since I was on a roll including White Oak, White Willow, Jamaican Dogwood and Wild Cherry.   So I have a nice kitchen cabinet of them along side some infused honeys in process.

And then I speak with and check them daily (which I talked about before.)  And even though I check them regularly, I like to enter in a special google calendar when I made them and set up some reminders about the appropriate time.   I’m a six to eight week medicine maker myself – but some call out for early pressing out while others need to work more.

Does this mean you should be making a music mix tape for medicine making? It’s totally up to you.  For me, the point isn’t the music but working in a joyful and lively way.   Or anything that syncs your intention with what you are making.   I just particularly like music to set mood and up my energy and spirits – and it is more fun to dance to while working.  I do the same thing when I’m cooking, despite the cats shaking their heads as I bop to some Bollywood tune while making dinner…

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Pine Trees – True Punk Love

Posted on October 2, 2012. Filed under: Plant Friends, Trees |

To me, Pine trees are totally Punkers.

The ever cool Siouxsie Sioux

Not only in appearance with their spiky hair and studded cones, but in the most important way as the band the Wrecks sang it so right “Punk is an Attitude” (Youtube video) and “Pine is an attitude” too.

There’s a special attitude and presence about Pine (Pinus spp.) trees in nature – they just stand out in a special way.  There’s their quality as an evergreen, that wonderful scent, the strong essence of strength that permeates the areas they are in.

White Pine Tree (Pinus strobus)

But sadly, just like Punk, their greatness has been co-opted into lack luster products.   Pine scented everything; Pine cleaners with no actual Pine, etc.  All of which hint at the truth of Pine – it is amazing cleanser.   It can actually clean and disinfect with great ease as well as offer spiritual and energetic cleansing.  But that’s just a part of it.

In the herbalist purvey is generally noted as an antibacterial, antioxidant, antiseptic, expectorant, demulcent and diuretic and is generally considered a warming agent.  The needles and bark have special affinities for the respiratory system making for its frequent use for congestion, coughs, lung infections where it helps to clear mucus and fight infections – it pairs wonderfully with Eucalyptus for all of that.  They have been used to ease tonsillitis and laryngitis.  And they also work well helping to flush the bladder and kidneys.

I love using it for its skin related properties.  The resin is the sap that seeps from wounds in the tree and is part of the tree’s defense against infections and is very antimicrobial and a strong disinfectant because of it.  You can use it on skin wounds (chew it for gum disorders and tooth problems!) and its natural drawing action helps with cuts, splinters, boils, abscesses and insect bites.   While the needles and bark can be used to make infused oil which is great for the skin – soothing, healing and greatly calming energetically.  I also make a hair oil with pine, nettles and lavender – which is nothing short of amazing!

Pine needle baths are warming and a great thing to enjoy in winter just throw some in your bath water – or in satchels to put in the water if you don’t want to clean them up out of the tub.  But not too close to bedtime or it might energize you too much.   I find that Pine needle tea imbues you with a wonderful sense of serenity.

Pine also is filled with nutritious goodness.  The needles are rich in vitamin A & C and plantation slaves used boil the needles with molasses as a vitamin and mineral tonic.  Let’s not forget pine nuts which are chock full of minerals such as potassium and magnesium.  Some Native American tribes frequently ate the bark and made teas from it and the needles for those reasons.  The Adirondack Indians name comes from the word “tree eaters.”

In the spiritual realm Pine is a symbol of immortality and the branches often used to cleanse worship areas.  The Iroquois use the bundle of five needles (White Pine) as a symbol of the Five Nations joined together and tell a story that I love:

“I, Dekandwi’d1, and the union lords now uproot the tallest pine tree and into the cavity thereby made we cast all weapons of war. Into the depths of the earth, down into the deep under-earth currents of water flowing to unknown regions we cast all the weapons of strife. We bury them from sight and we plant again the tree. Thus shall the Great Peace, Kayd”narh6’kS’wa, be established.”  (Certain Iroquois Tree Myths and Symbols by Arthur C. Parker.  American Anthropologist , New Series, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 1912), pp. 608-620)

Pretty nifty huh?  It cleansed the evils of war and violence.

Pine is wonderful.  Spend time getting to know it and work with it and you’ll love it too.

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