I am excited to announce that I will be collaborating with a few awesome ladies this winter to present a 6-week virtual program that will assist all participants with achieving their wellness goals as we enter the new year!
2020 has been rather stressful and a more unpredictable year than most. That is why we are excited to support you with the offering of holistic tools and classes such as yoga therapy, cosmic readings, meditation and more as we journey forward into a better state of well-being during these confusing times. The program will run from December 14, 2020 to January 23, 2021.
The leaves are falling from the trees and the weather is cooling. The active summer vibes are transitioning into modes of relaxation and some species of animals are beginning preparation for hibernation. It’s the season of Autumn!
Like the macrocosm of Earth, the body is capable of sustaining itself through the carrying out of various cycles and activities that operate in an interconnected flow, vitalized by what is referred to as “qi” or “chi”. This is the energy that flows through and connects all forms of life as the animating force that ignites us beyond pure mechanical functioning and bodily existence. Within this cyclical system are five elements; metal being the element associated with Autumn.
The Fall is a natural time for slowing down, enjoying the harvest of what we’ve sown the previous year and planning to store the abundance of what we’ve gathered for the coming winter; so does Traditional Chinese Medicine recognize metal as an element of structure and organization. When molded to do so, it can act as strong foundation for connecting pathways as well as a collector of liquid (water). It symbolizes themes of purity and making space for rest before the cultivation time arrives again. This process is best represented in our bodies in the lungs and large intestines.
The lungs are considered the yin of two metal-related organs as it is receptive in nature. The crisp dry air of the season is easier for taking in. It’s important that we use this time to truly catch our breath as we recover from the high activity of the summer months. And, just as the falling leaves nourish the soil for future growth, so does the lungs work to oxygenate and nourish our cells. Beyond the organs themselves, the energy of the lungs travels from the large intestine, diaphragm and lungs, into the armpit, down the inner arm into the radial part of the hand, to the tip of the thumb and through the index finger. Dysfunctions and blockages of this channel may manifest as arm, elbow or thumb pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and other symptoms. Emotions associated with the lungs include grief and sadness which is why taking a deep breath is more challenging when we experience feelings of loss. On the other hand, healthy lung energy allows for clarity in thought and open communication.
The large intestine are considered the yang of the metal-related organs as it operates to eliminate. Just as harvesting clears space for future growth, so must our bowels clear space for the nourishment that is to come. The energy meridian for the colon travels from the tip of the index finger, through the inside of the thumb, up the outer arm to the highest point of the front of the shoulder. It then branches off in the lower gums to opposite side the nose as well as two the lungs and diaphragm. Dysfunctions of this channel include constipation, abdominal pain and cramping, toothaches and even nosebleeds. Sadness is, also, associated with the large intestine as well as worry and trouble letting go of the past. However, an ability to digest experiences well and letting shit go (both, figuratively and literally) when it is no longer serves are signs of a healthy LI.
If you suspect that your metal element may need some balancing or you’d just like to sustain your metal health throughout the fall season, here are some practices that have worked for me:
Spend time in nature and breath deeply often – this is especially important in our current heavy mask-wearing society.
Stay hydrated in response to the dryer climate.
Drink warmer beverages and eat foods with ingredients like apples, cinnamon, cardamom, sweet potatoes, garlic and almonds.
Practice yoga poses that include twists and open the chest like child’s pose, camel pose, reclining twist and wall plank.
Create your own rituals for letting go of things you may be holding to.
Manage your time in a way that allows you to slow down and enjoy a healthy balance of work, play and relaxation.
May your Autumn season be full of peace, balance and abundance.
Quite a few aspiring yogis ask me about how to start a practice usually assuming that yoga is about building physical strength and flexibility in order to achieve dope handstands and pretzel folds – no thanks to social media. Sure, those are pretty decent perks that may come with a consistent practice but not really the point of yogic philosophy. I was first introduced to yoga online through the style of Ashtanga. Like some others, this is a very physically demanding style of yoga; one still close to my heart, that has been very helpful to me in some ways. Yet, for the longest I could not figure out why I kept hitting a peak in my practice. It wasn’t until attending teacher training that I realized, for me, this style of yoga was only addressing part of what I came to understand as hatha yoga.
Basically, our energies are comprised of a combination of both yin and yang qualities. Yang describing the masculine and penetrative forces within us that encourage assertive action. Yin describing the feminine and receptive forces that lean toward more nurturing or restorative action. It is a simple yet complex interconnectedness that lives within and all around us in nature in a delicate balance. When there is too much or not enough of either quality, imbalance occurs which shows up as disorder and dis-ease. Hatha describes a practice that acknowledges both types of energy – in the physical, mental, and spiritual realms – in order to keep or restore balance.
Now, imagine only engaging in a routine that is primarily yang promoting – pulling, lifting, pushing, squeezing, forcing. Testing strength and perspective with inversions. Bending and extending with fluid motion. Connecting and building movement on top of movement. Sounds pretty cool, right? However, when I think about the B.K.S. Iyengar quote, “The pose starts when you want to leave it,” it hit differently when I considered how challenging it is for some us to just be still with ourselves for extended periods of time. Society in Western culture has a history of conditioning it’s citizens to embrace “grind culture” as a means to an easier life somewhere down the road, training us to drive ourselves beyond our pains and emotional woes with attempts to bury them with external gratification. Yet, by the time many of us “arrive” – if we ever do – we’re often too burnt out to even remember how to relax and enjoy life. Being in the body becomes a struggle, one equipped with a variety of psychosomatic and spiritual baggage.
Yin yoga, however, is about sitting with the Self. It requires the practitioner to learn which positions are challenging for the mind-body to relax into. Then, learn to approach that Self with the compassion necessary to keep sitting until it grants permission to release those holding patterns in the muscles and fascia tissues. It is primarily designed to build and balance the “chi” or electric energy that flows through the organs and associated channels mapped throughout our bodies, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. This is not to take anything away from other styles of yoga as they all have an important place in the yoga world. Yoga is about balance after all. Some are similar and others quite different from one another with what they address and how. However, let’s get in to a few poses one could begin a yin practice with:
(Variation 1 & 2)
The pose stretches the toes and stimulates six of the energy meridians that start or end in the feet. These are the kidney, urinary bladder, liver, spleen, stomach and gallbladder meridians. Do not sit all the way back on the heels if it strains the knees (variation 2). If there the stretch feels very intense due to tightness in the toes or ankles, do not stay in the pose long. After adding this pose to my regular practice, I’ve noticed my feet feel stronger and I am generally more in control of my body while walking or moving around on my feet. And, naturally, the more often I do it, the longer I am able to stay in the pose.
(With and without props)
This pose can help improve hip rotation! It can, also, bring relief for pregnant mothers (until the 3rd trimester) and folks who live with high blood pressure and asthma. Be careful not to strain the knees in this position. Option to bring the foot of the front leg closer to the groin or use props to bolster the knee for support. Whether my day-to-day has me sitting or standing on my feet for long periods, this pose has acted as a great release or activation for the parts of my legs that I sometimes forget.
(Variations 1, 2, & 3)
This is pose is great for opening up the chest, top of the thighs and even the ankles somewhat. The perfect counter-position for a commonly hunched back. Whether the hands are supporting the low back, resting on the back of the ankles or planted on the foundation behind you, the ideal is to send the hips forward and the chest upward. If taking the option that allows the head to fall back, it can stretch the platysma muscle in the front of the neck as well. However, if you experience any neck issues, you may want to keep the chin towards the chest. It, also, serves to be careful if you have any back injuries or mobility limitations. Practicing this pose regularly has drawn my attention to how much I slouch in my posture and has activated me to seek release through backbend postures more often.
(Variations 1 & 2 with props)
Just as it sounds, the yogi is to curve herself in the shape of a banana. This pose opens up the entire side body, including the obliques around the stomach and the intercostals between the ribs. Option to go as deep into the stretch as the yogi desires. Arms can be raised overhead for a high stretch up the side of the body. Additional support may be needed for that variation such as a bolster or blanket under the arms. The legs may be crossed as well for an added lower stretch down the hip. Be mindful of any joint pain or tingling in the body.
(Without props, with blanket, with bolster)
This is one of my favorite poses! Its benefits range from a gentle spine stretch and massaging of the digestive organs to being psychologically therapeutic for those, like myself, who live with anxiety or deal with heavy stress. It’s a simple pose that can be done with or without the extra support of props such as a blanket under the knees or a bolster to straddle. I include this pose in almost every practice as a break within a flow or as a staple restorative posture. I’d, also, like to note that some bodies are built so that the hips may not come down as low as usually seen. So long as the knees are drawn into the chest and the hips are sitting back towards the heels, you are properly in the pose!
Yoga is truly for everybody. Anyone can start a practice as soon as right now. Simply make the time and create the space. Do not worry about the props you may not have. Just work with what you’ve got and all you really need is you! Have fun exploring these postures and which variations feel good or needed for your body. Feel free to comment on any of my platforms your experiences with these poses. For videos on a guided practice, please tune in and subscribe to the Brittney Shawnee’ YouTube channel.
For years I’ve been consciously working to heal myself from a primarily natural and holistic approach. I’d like to think progress was made as I’ve certainly done my best to live in spiritual flow and embrace life as it comes. Still, I couldn’t help but notice significant periods in which I felt I couldn’t maintain it for long. I would backslide into major anxiety and/or depression, put tons of effort into regaining some healing and peace before life would undercut me once more. Intellectually, I understood there were tough experiences to be had in order to learn some important lessons. Energetically, however, I was stuck. Stuck in fear, confusion and resentment that seemed to grow back stronger with each attempt to bring them to their end. I knew I was in need of something immersive and almost drastic but safe. To my heart’s joy, I found exactly what I was looking for in my first psilocybin trip.
On a Saturday evening, I created a safe and pleasant space for myself with the help of my husband. From comfortable clothing and good snacks to a ready playlist and movie choice, I did my best to cover all the basis. The toughest part was preparing my mind. I did all the research I could do to know what to expect. The psychedelic known as psilocybin breaks down in the body into a chemical named psilocin which attaches itself to our serotonin receptors, preventing reuptake. This usually leads to sense-altering effects such visual hallucinations, intensified sensation and spiritual epiphanies. This is exactly what happened for me.
I humbly admit I was a pile of nerves going in. Even after taking the plunge of actually ingesting the ‘shrooms, I couldn’t seem to shake my anxiety. I tried to relax at the beginning, hiding the frustration with my G.A.D.. As the effects gradually took hold, the anxiety grew, or it became harder to ignore rather. My nerves were slightly shaking as I realized my perception was changing but I remained as calm as possible. Recalling what I had read about people having bad trips and panic attacks filled with terrifying paranoia, I decided that wasn’t the experience I wanted. So, I reminded myself of the mantra meditation I did prior that evening; repeating in my mind, “I am joy. I am love. Surrender to the moment and I’ll be fine.” Before I knew it, that’s where I found myself. In glorious surrender.
I felt a sense of gratitude come over me as the high sunk in but the nervousness continued to weigh heavy on my chest and solar plexus. I started to talk about it out loud with my husband. He let me ramble about my thoughts and feelings for a while and before I knew it a wave of truth was pouring out of me along with a pool of tears interluded with bouts of laughter. I felt like a ketchup packet being emptied of its contents with a relieving squeeze. The anxiety was dissolving. My shame was diminishing. Suddenly, I felt an unbelievable love and acceptance in myself like I had never done before. In that moment, I began to feel the joy I had been praying, meditating and working so hard for. I felt liberation.
Inanimate objects seemed to shift. The walls and ceiling seemed to breathe. I saw colorful faces of African art staring at me from the spinning ceiling fan. Movement had an echo and beauty took on new meaning. I wasn’t anxious, afraid or confused anymore. I was whole. I shared a night with my husband that felt like old college days. Dr. Strange made it’s way to my top Marvel movie list. I was patient, considerate, and forthcoming without effort. I knew what I wanted and didn’t want clearly and how to express it. I felt no tension or pain in my body. I didn’t care of anyone’s opinion, including my own. Trivial things no longer mattered. I was in a space of true love.
I happily conclude that it’s an experience I’d be more than willing to have again with hopes of realizing even more of who I am and the truth of all there is. While I’d like to think it could be an experience for everyone at some point in their life, it very well may not be and it is certain that everyone will not be ready right away. Post-trip, I came to figure that those who’ve had a bad experiences with mushrooms went in unprepared, with deep-seated inner turmoil or at least with too much negativity in the forefront of their heart-mind. Although still somewhat controversial, under proper guidance and supervision, I think those cases can mostly be averted and instead be positively enlightening. Ultimately, though, everyone is different and the choice is up to each individual. For those who decide to try it, may your trips pleasantly expand your consciousness as it did mine.
You may be thinking, “Why a hot tea recipe at the start of the spring season?”. Well, if you live in the Midwest like I do, you know that weather can be somewhat unpredictable. Temperatures fall and rise so sporadically, even meteorologists have a hard time keeping up. However, it can be rather pricey to constantly adjust one’s HVAC settings between heat and air conditioning from day-to-day. These frequent changes can be a challenge for our immunity and general health. This is where I insert a nice and versatile beverage to help keep me healthy, save my pockets and warm my spirit.
More on spirit, any concoction can be enhanced with the magic touch of intention. Just stir the tea in a clockwise motion while pondering on the holistic benefits of your ingredients as if they have already began working on you. A significant aspect of nutritional effectiveness is mental receptivity. Considering the nature of our mind-body connection, choosing a more positive outlook on potential outcomes may have beneficial results on overall health and, therefore, can only serve to assist any ingested nutrients.
Apple Tea has recently joined my repertoire for cold weather enjoyment. Here is my recipe along with a few reasons why:
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan
It’s easy to overlook water as being a just the base of a concoction but it’s so much more than that. Water is a transporter, the stage that gives the other ingredients space to play their part. Especially when heated, it’s the activator that moves the flavors out to be drinkable. It’s what hydrates us.
I used 2 small fiji apples, each cut into 4 equally-sized pieces. Add or reduce amount depending on how sweet (or apple-y) you’d like your tea to be. Apples are not only good for the immune system, they also contribute to heart health and may prevent other kinds of diseases. Spiritually, apples are considered a feminine herb ruled by the planet Venus and, therefore, can be used for intentions regarding love and healing. Apples also go by the folk name “Fruit of the Underworld” and are used as an offering for the dead, usually during the fall.
1 Tsp of Clove
A teaspoon is a rough guesstimate as I tend to go by feel of what I might like to taste at the moment I’m making. Clove is an Indonesian spice known to be high in antioxidants and even serve to help diabetics against insulin resistance. Spiritually, clove is considered a masculine herb ruled by the planet of luck, Jupiter. For this reason, it is often employed for matters of protection, love and money.
2-3 Cinnamon Sticks
This amount is also an approximation. Add as much as you think you might like to taste. Cinnamon is also a spice packed with antioxidants and can help lower blood sugar levels. Energetically, it is a masculine herb ruled by the sun with versatile use. It is considered to assist with tuning in to one’s Higher Self as well as matters of healing, protection, success and lust.
1 Anise Star
Anise has a distinct licorice flavor so not much is needed but, again, it’s entirely up to you. If you are not a fan of licorice, feel free to treat this ingredient as optional. However, studies on the effects of anise, when consumed regularly, may prove it to be uplifting to individuals living with depression.Another masculine herb ruled by Jupiter, anise is also known for protection and purification.
Place all items in the saucepan and bring back to a boil
Set your intentions here.Stand over it, look into it, or just carry out each action of making it with joy and mindfulness. This is the magical ingredient!
Turn off the heat and allow to steep
When the color of the water begins to change to a reddish-brown, you know you’ve got a decent brew going. This may take at least 10 minutes but can be left in longer for a fuller taste. Be mindful of how you’ve packed in each ingredient as this should be considered for steep length.This is also time to further set your intentions for your tea.
Reheat, sweeten and serve
By the time you’ve decided your tea has steeped long enough, it may have cooled down quit a bit. If it’s warm where you are (or, like my husband, you’d rather have cold tea in any case) and you’d prefer a cool drink, add honey or another sweetener of choice while hot and pour it over a glass of ice after it cools down. If you want it hot, you may need to reheat the tea in the pot before pouring it into your favorite mug. No matter what you choose, I recommend a small strainer or funnel to transfer the tea as smoothly as possible and adding an apple slice from your original brew for added flavor over drinking time.
Thousands of years ago, Chinese medicine practitioners had enough insight to develop the understanding we could not simply be composed of flesh and bone alone. Instead, they regarded the human body as a microcosm of Universe and, therefore, the state of our overall health and well-being is subjected to same Universal laws with harmony and balance being the ultimate goal.
Like the macrocosm of existence, the body is capable of sustaining itself through the carrying out of various cycles and activities that operate in an interconnected flow, vitalized by what is referred to as “qi” or “chi”. This is the energy that flows through and connects all forms of life as the animating force that ignites us beyond pure mechanical functioning and bodily existence.
Over time, it came to be understood that this life force energy flows in specific patterns called channels of meridians, each making their way through certain body parts and organ systems. When these pathways are obstructed due to injury, illness or stress, we face associated physiological and psychological ailments. When blocked for long periods, these issues are considered chronic. It is believed that working through these blockages via “alternative” therapies and practices, such as acupuncture, herbalism, massage and yoga, can help the flow of our energy to run smoothly and bring us back into balance.
The concept of balance in Traditional Chinese Medicine stems from Taoism. This ancient philosophy is founded on the principle that the Universe operates in an inherent flow and in order for one to live a whole and effortless life, they must live in the Tao, or The Way. The Tao, however, is just as indescribable as the complexity of Universe itself and, therefore, is physical as well as non-physical – much like the mind-body. In each case exists dual complimentary forces visible throughout nature. These forces are called yin and yang. Yin describes more feminine qualities (cold, receptive, dark) whereas yang describes more masculine qualities (heat, forceful, light).
TCM also acknowledges that there are five fundamental elements of nature that interact with each other within the principle of yin and yang and categorize our organs, systems and structures. The elements are fire, wood, earth, water and metal. Fire represents our physical warmth , creativity and feelings such as passion and happiness; associated with the small intestines and heart organ. Wood represents our ability to regenerate and restore as well as feelings of anger or contentment; associated with the liver and gallbladder organs. Earth is regarded as the measure of our connected-ness and ability to receive and digest; associated with the stomach and spleen organ and feelings of compassion . Water represents stillness and the physical moisture necessary to lubricate our systems for proper functioning; associated with the kidneys and bladder organs and feelings of fear. Metal represents the minerals we produce and need for structure; associated with the lungs and large intestine (air element in Western culture).
In a generative (yin) cycle, Wood feeds Fire, Fire creates Earth, Earth bears Metal, Metal collects Water, and Water nourishes Wood. In a degenerative (yang) relationship, one element is being destroyed by another: Wood penetrates Earth, Earth absorbs Water, Water puts out Fire, Fire melts Metal, and Metal chops Wood.
It’s important not to perceive one process as good or bad as both construction and destruction serve the overall purpose of harmony in health and in nature. For instance, destruction is necessary in order for the food to be broken down for digestion and nourishment. Rather, it is best to avoid overwhelming extremes for excessive periods of time. Imbalance can be caused in the case of overproduction as well. For example, the overproduction of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is responsible for the condition known as Gigantism, a disorder of excessive growth during childhood that lead to a variety of other health issues.
In conclusion, TCM focuses on the maintenance of the flow of vital life force energy in the body, mind and in connection with all living beings. Surrender and accordance with natural cycles will allow for an effortless balance resulting in overall harmony and satisfaction. The approach is prevention of disease and disorder opposed to only treatment of symptoms. A complete path to wholeness.
I am a member of a Facebook group dedicated to black women who practice yoga. A community space in which we get to share our collectively unique thoughts, opinions and experiences of our demographic living in a society that primarily markets this South Asian practice to thin white women. And while our cultural experiences are similar, it’s is a mixed bag of personalities.
Obvious from the posts and comments, we do not agree on everything and, naturally, are on different spiritual paths and/or parts of our paths. A woman shared a photo from Yoga Journal that depicted Pasasana which is translated as Noose Pose. Anyone familiar with Black American history knows that the sheer sight of a noose or sound of the term can be quite triggering for Blacks. Heavily affiliated with the terrorist practice of lynching, nooses tend to be perceived as quite negative by the Black community, even in a neutral context. I am no different.
When I initially came across the pose, I felt triggered. I immediately asked myself, “What the hell is this?!” My feels jumped suddenly into anxiety mode as the images in my brain teleported me to the days of my grand- and great-grandparents (because Jim Crow and lynching picnics were not that far back in time). However, using my yogi skills, I stilled myself long enough to breath and gander at the posed question: “Did ya’ll know there is a yoga pose called noose pose? What is your immediate reaction when hearing that? How would you feel if a teacher used that word to describe this pose in a class? I’ve attached a photo of the pose for reference.” And just like the group itself, the answers were mixed.
A few responses were, “Should definitely update the name. It is insensitive.”, “Folks just make up poses and put asana at the end …pass.”, and “I completely agree that using the name is not mindful of trauma informed teaching.”. Others were more like, “…No, it’s never triggered me as I’ve always been taught the Sanskrit names …”, and “I personally wouldn’t care. To me thats like being offended at the word cotton.” This was my response:
“As yoga is a practice that reveals ourselves to us, I think triggers like this (while not [likely] the original intent for the pose) are meant to guide us into diving into those traumas so we can heal and learn to experience things as they actually are in the context they come.
I’d be mindful of the audience and my approach but I wouln’t let my trauma of black history stop me from teaching it ever. I see a way it can be done significantly and purposefully. So long as I could tell the instructor was on a similar page, I could respect it being taught in a class I was taking.”
To elaborate, I would likely implement my personally understanding of these negative feelings into a very specific type of class geared towards this trauma in the Black community. Even in my own practice, I can imagine the nooses that hung our ancestors from trees like strange fruit; swinging and burning in the wind. Then I imagine myself as that noose but hugging them lovingly and holding up their spiritual bodies. Not burning, but the memory of them being carried in my being in strength and courage. Understanding that they are forever with me in my work as a yogi – internally and externally.
I truly believe in the stance that I posed wholeheartedly. I’m sure that my view will not be accepted by everyone but it is my truth and I’d like to hope that anyone attracted to a class of mine will be receptive or at least neutral. It is, also, my hope that all yoga teachers – while practicing mindfulness and sensitivity – will not shy away from challenging their students and themselves to address their pains as much as they support their peace. In fact, I see these focuses as going hand-in-hand.