F I N D I N G Y O U R N O R T H S T A R is just as much about losing it. and the path you must follow to reclaim it, where with every step - an intake of breath and its release - you will find that you are moving... moving the shadows to clear the pathways, your rhythm and your focus, to push away distractions and to make way for clarity and light to fill spaces long lost and forgotten and desperate for air... [read more...]Read More
Neat and tidy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
This thought has been orbiting around my brain for a while now…for years. Ever since a dear friend laughed at me for ironing dish towels, my husband’s boxers, and just about anything with a wrinkle in it, I’ve been thinking about the wrinkles. Life’s wrinkles.
Can I live with them or not? The short answer is: yes, yes, I can.Read More
I’ve been lying about my age for a long time now. When I was living in New York City and working in the fashion industry I added five years to my thirty so that the men I worked with might take me more seriously. As if. I was more than a little naive but that was twenty years ago and I don’t have to lie any more. At last, I am finally fifty.
I’m still not sure why there is so much fuss and fear attached to turning fifty. I accept that we’re closer to the end of our lives and maybe we’re just inching towards our last “fu**able day,” something Amy Schumer learns a bit about from Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette but why focus on that when there's plenty more life to live?
Granted, their's is a Hollywood picnic and a scripted send off for Julia’s vagin. The video does as much to perpetuate the fear of fifty as it does to dispel it. Hitting it head on and blasting it out of the park, these women are anything but “un-f**kable.” Sure, they won’t be playing the lead role of the young starlets but I don’t think they really expect to…I mean, seriously what fifty year old in her right mind would have an expectation to be the 20-something hottie? These ladies are all but dried up and could do anything they want - direct, produce, write, do nothing at all, date the pool boy - and more to the point, what fifty year old wants to be the “mutton dressed up as lamb”? Ugh, just think of all that stupid work and the energy involved making yourself look younger and denying yourself the truth, the beautiful truth that you have lived, and loved, and longed for fifty years on this planet?
Being fifty offers up a chance to just get over it [if you haven't already done so]…to ditch all those hang ups and negative judgments about yourself and others and to realize that being perfect is just not good enough. There’s plenty of books and songs about this very subject and ditching perfect is about as liberating as it gets – witness Dreyfus chug that pint of melted ice cream. Chug! Chug! Chug! We don’t have to take the chugging literally but we can certainly lighten up a bit and let go of the pressure always to be perfect, and just settle into …being ourselves, beautifully broken and perfectly cracked.
Being Fifty doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to feel good about yourself. It shouldn't involve putting your wrinkles and stretch marks and aching bones under the microscope. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s a turning point, a chance to turn yourself inside out and bring all that good stuff from deep down inside and put it out there…and put it to good use. Who cares if people don't like what they see? It has less to do with what other people think and everything to do with what you want to show to the world after fifty years living and breathing and being human.
Never has this been made clearer to me than on my fiftieth birthday when I received a few very special gifts, each one of them meaningful and profound…and each one offering me a glimpse at how I look at myself and how others I love perceive me.
The first gift came from my brother - a lithograph by Lillian Westcott Hale. She was one of America’s most successful impressionist painters. Born in 1881 in Hartford Connecticut, she studied under American impressionist painters Edmund Tarbell, William Merritt Chase and Philip Leslie Hale, whom she later married. The poignancy of receiving this gift one morning in a garden filled with dappled sunlight did not escape me. There I was standing at The Bee & Thistle Inn - neighbor to The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut and not far from Westcott-Hale’s birthplace - holding the yet unwrapped present and crying as my brother pulled away and headed south.
When I later unwrapped the present, I gasped at the gentle sketch, a tender depiction of a woman in front of a window, safe inside her home yet exposed to the outside world. There is a stillness to the image, a quiet balance that draws us in, begging the question who is she? William McGregor Paxton, an American painter and instructor who embraced the Boston School paradigm and was co-founder of The Guild of Boston Artists, said that Lilian Wescott Hale drew with butterfly's wings. And he’s right...
The woman’s dress is layered, but not heavy. She shares the space before an unadorned window with only a swan planter and a barely discernible orchid: the swan - forever a symbol of awakening the power of self, balance, grace, and inner beauty. The orchid - a powerful symbol of love, beauty and strength. Her hand hesitates, caught in a moment, whether to reach out or hold back and there she is, suspended in that natural light born of butterfly wings. There are no curtains or furnishings or broad strokes to distract from this quiet space that is all her own. She is exposed but contained, vulnerable but strong.
My brother knows me well. Very well.
That in itself makes this gift remarkable and special but uncanny, too, for Westcott Hale’s work is hanging in The Griswold Museum right next door to the inn where I now work and where I first held this image and accepted its beautiful message.
The second gift, another treasure, arrived from a new friend, Vicky Cooley - someone who, unlike my brother, has not known me all my life, some one whose magic mingles with mine in friendship and trust and wonder of this world. Vicky and I work together and despite our age difference, we seem to be asking the same questions about ourselves and the world around us.
Her hand-painted card with Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese carefully hand-scripted inside will be framed and forever treasured. The image she chose to paint was a simple water color of a paddle boarder, her broad hips and strong legs heading out and away. There is a balance and stillness to the image which so closely aligns with Westcott Hale’s image…a woman alone with her thoughts, balancing, in the moment. My new friend is perceptive.
....Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
- Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
The third gift came from my son and my heart sings with his observations. My son knows me like no one else on this planet.
Fifty Things About Mummy is comprised of lists he wrote and typed and pasted to a board that he framed with driftwood we collected on Pleasant Bay beaches; nuts and bolts and metal bits from his father’s work shop and from my father’s too; seashells and mermaid purses; and words, fabulous words he chose to describe me: Loving, Caring, Best Cook, Adventurous, Funny, Good Worker, Doesn’t Know Fractions, Good Photographer, Likes Talking, Best Bed Maker, Likes Meditation, Gets Cold, Sleeps A Lot, Creative, Smart, Dresses Nicely, Doesn’t Like Surprises, Good at Lacrosse, Takes me Everywhere, Good Swimmer, LOVES reading, excellent writer, Good Driver, Best Clothes Washer, Worst GPS user, likes sunbathing, eats healthy, not over-protective, does things thoroughly, good tick spotter, doesn’t shoot guns or bows, knows when Dad’s not dressed well, thinks I’m a dare devil, likes things to smell nice, has a good sense of style, loves most animals especially Labradors, BEST back rubber, likes kimchi, good walker, buys cool sneakers for me, good runner, knows French, enjoys paddle boarding, likes to order and arrange things, not always patient, has a good nickname [C-A], Loves her Audi, likes good music, is 50 years YOUNG.
And there you have it…these are the fifty things about me that break my heart open with joy and knowing that finally at fifty, I can just be me …and what’s so scary about that?
Sometimes, you just have be brave enough to love all that’s scary and beautiful about you. Go on, Good Girl, love every precious moment and every year of you!!!
It’s an early morning here in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts and after an unusually long winter, we’re finally emerging, shedding layers, de-frosting our minds and bodies and staying in sync with the bulbs that are, at long last, pushing up all around us. It just feels right that the long-absent sun and its warmth should be lifting up over the hills as I am typing a story about Dawn Lane, as though it’s the name of a street heading somewhere bright, shiny and warm. I smile and think to myself: true to her name, Dawn Lane knows how to bring people to a bright place.
Dawn Lane is a choreographer and the Program & Artistic Director for Community Access to the Arts [CATA]. Based in Great Barrington, MA, CATA nurtures and celebrates the creativity of people with disabilities through shared experiences in the visual and performing arts. For nearly twenty years, Dawn has worked for CATA, within which she founded a mixed ability dance company, aptly named The Moving Company.
Over the years, Dawn has received numerous honors for her abilities as a distinguished dance educator and is one of three nationally chosen dance educators to teach Jacob's Pillow Curriculum in Motion™. With support from the Jacob's Pillow Dance Award Initiative, she was recently awarded a Creative Development Residency at The Pillow where she will rehearse and create ALL RISE: Court Dance. Her new work will be produced by CATA and will premiere this fall. A segment of it, Red Tape, will be performed at CATA’s annual gala and performances on May 16th and 17th at the Tina Packer Playhouse at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA.
It’s no wonder Dawn has received so many awards. As a teacher, she draws out what is most beautiful and pure in the artists with whom she works. As a choreographer, she astutely joins dancers with their audience. This past winter I had the pleasure of watching Dawn at work on Red Tape. A work-in-progress, its significance and meaning gradually took shape as each week’s rehearsal revealed a new layer to the dance. Red Tape is perfectly timed to emerge on stage after months of winter rehearsals, poised and ready to flourish in spring light.
Red Tape will be performed by a mixed company comprised of artists with and without disabilities. Dawn is working with dancers who possess a wide range of ability. Each dancer comes with her own specific way of moving, learning, and expressing herself. Addressing the different levels of ability requires some essential ‘tools,’ the first of which entails a deep respect for artistry and with that, expectations, too.
“Across all the genres in which we work, CATA Faculty Artists set a high bar for our artists with disabilities. The expectation to perform well and to do our best serves us all. There is something very motivating about reaching just a little bit higher in whatever we do” says Margaret Keller, CATA’s Executive Director.
In order to achieve lasting outcomes, CATA Faculty Artists employ humor, compassion, mutual respect and discipline throughout their teaching. This approach is at work each week as Dawn adds layers and cues to the dance, all the while guiding the artists through actual red tape – Walking. Tape. Walking + Tape… Walking + Tape + “under”…Walking + Tape + “under” + “over”…Walking + Tape + “under” + “over” + “Initials.” It’s a friendly, easy-going process but everyone is focused and working hard. There’s no slacking, no chatting, just friendly banter that keeps everyone on their toes…and moving.
Red Tape begins with dancers crossing the studio, as though pedestrians crossing the street, trying to get from one place to another…just a typical day. The next layer adds the simple, but profound element of tape – brightly colored, blinding tape that runs across the dance floor making the crossings more crowded and difficult. As the next layer is added, the bright threads intersect and form “blocks” in the road. Dawn’s instructions “back away if you can’t get through. Find a new route. Over. Under. Ask for help from others…” guide the dancers as they adjust and modify their movement, always attentive to her cues.
Throughout a seemingly tangled web of passers-by, helpers and obstacles, each dancer stops to perform her initials – a set of separate movements for each of the three letters of her name – as if to say, “I am” … “I am ready, willing and capable of moving through the challenges in my day - on my own and with the help of others.” When the dance closes, the connection has been made and I am humbled: I know each dancer’s name.
This is the beauty of Dawn’s teaching. In five minutes of dance she illustrates the power of individual ability as well as the power of community support and connection. Each component is essential to nourishing and nurturing artistic ability. I leave the studio thinking about these women and what their days might be like. How many life frustrations do they face alone? How many do they work through with the support of family, friends and teachers?
No matter the number of obstacles, the dance reminds me of their strength, ingenuity, resilience and tremendous ability to improvise and move through life’s tangles and knots. It is easy to renew my profound gratitude for CATA and its commitment to helping those with disabilities, filling their days with Possibility and guiding them away from Isolation.
CATA and its faculty, coupled with a loving and supportive community, pave the way for Possibility to thrive in the lives of those living with disabilities. It strikes me that the threads that join the many helpful parts of a community could just as easily replace the bright and tangled red tape on stage. Instead of being seen as obstacles they could illustrate the equally profound message that “I alone become myself. I cannot become myself alone.”
We are all here on earth to help one another. No one should be left out. It is with this spirit that CATA programming is carried out in healthcare, therapeutic, eldercare, educational, community, and cultural settings; serves over 600 individuals with developmental, physical, emotional, and mental disabilities; partners with 38 different human service and educational organizations, as well as individuals living at home; and leads 1000 arts workshops each year across Berkshire County providing a wide array of genres – painting, sculpture, dance, theatre, improv, drumming, singing, juggling, yoga, and creative writing.
CATA creates safe places for artists who, together with their mentors and peers, fill those spaces with creative accomplishments that are fueled on trust, compassion, and comradery. In the end, these programs do more than encourage growth and well-being. They break down the walls of Isolation and shatter any lack of awareness. Performing in public gives CATA artists a chance to dispel misconceptions about their lack of ability and to ease any discomfort that might occur when encountering those who are physically and mentally challenged.
On stage, these brave artists are inviting the public in: “Know Me.” “I am.” As they initiate a dialogue and build awareness of our collective ability to engage in this moving dialogue, it is not, as some cynics argue, “Objectifying Disability.” It is a moment when CATA artists are ready, willing, and able to show us the tremendous Possibility that exists in their lives and within their spirit.
On their own and as part of a supportive community, CATA artists thrive through their engagement with the Arts as part of a community that cares for and encourages them. Mark and Lee Ann Pettus are parents to Alex, their 22 year old son with Down syndrome whose needs growing up were fully embraced by the Dalton school system. Mark lights up when talking about his son and comments that Alex was rarely in isolation. He has always loved drumming, karaoke and dancing, and participates in Dawn’s Friday class. All of these activities bring out new sides of Alex and his joy invites people in. It’s wonderfully contagious and Mark adds, “The Performing Arts open people up… and they just…flourish.”
When an artist flourishes, it’s a beautiful, authentic moment. When their joy spreads and touches us, it brings light into dark places and softens sharp edges. This always happens at the CATA annual performances. When the artists perform, we do not see their disability. We are too caught up in Possibility and the wonder of a gift borne of boundless generosity, a gift that reminds us that we are all joined by brightly colored threads and that no one is ever alone when Possibility leads the way.
Community Access to the Arts 2015 Gala & Performance will take place on Saturday, May 16th with a matinee performance on Sunday, May 17th. Follow this link for more information about CATA’s annual gala and performances of READY WILLING & ABLE. Or phone CATA directly: (413) 528-5485. To learn more about Dawn Lane, please visit her site Dawn-Lane.com.
The thought of a 5:30am workout doesn’t make everyone jump for joy, but really, it should. Deep within us all is a call to wake with the sun and go to sleep with it, too, but that primal rhythm has been buried under layers of modern patterns and choices that rob us of our “get up and go, go, go!”
After a month of sub-zero, pre-dawn, sixty minute cardio-excursions with Tricia McCormack, I’m thinking that her TK-Fit program is THE BEST wake-up call I've had in a long, long time. Whatever we might think about layering up like the Michelin Man and starting our cars in negative degrees below zero before the sun has even winked at us, there is something beautifully counter-intuitive about a pre-dawn workout.
It’s difficult to lift ourselves out of bed when it’s dark and cold and the dream-world is warm, but Tricia has shown me that there’s something truly uplifting when our hearts are revving up at the same time the sun rises. On these mornings, waking up is less a part of an Alarm clock and more a part of an Align clock, as our bodies wake with the sun and our hearts pound to the rhythm of “I am sooo ready to be part of this day.”
What a great feeling! and Tricia has everything to do with it. She is an amazing teacher, capable of conjuring the very best from us as we shift from REM’s to BPM’s, but there’s more to it. TK-Fit isn’t just about getting up and out the door for a workout. It isn’t “all about you.” Of course, it's about you, but it’s also about being part of a supportive, healthy community. The sessions pair you up so that for every class you take, you are almost always working alongside someone new, learning her name and cheering her on as she pushes through another cycle. Each new pairing brings about a subtle shift as it slips into our focus, turning our thoughts towards another, and shifting our mindset from “I am here, working out for me” to “We are here working out together.” It builds an awareness beyond our own bodies that complements our growing self-awareness. I'm convinced that this is the glue, the 'essence,' that keeps Tricia's classes pre-dawn and strong.
Tricia is nothing short of a masterful teacher in her ability to capture this ethos and incorporate it into every 60-minute, super-sweaty, cardio-boosting session she teaches. It’s no surprise then to learn that she comes from a family of teachers; was awarded the Coach’s Award for her spirit in high school; and has years of experience in human resources as a motivational trainer for Monster.com.
Tricia’s classes are attended mostly by women, of all ages and abilities, who are motivated to improve their core strength as well as their ability to look after themselves and others. Many of her students have been part of TK-Fit for over 6 years. While they've been getting great results and enjoying the training, Tricia is always shifting things up to make it more healthful and rewarding. Boredom never enters the equation.
Each year Tricia introduces new programs to complement her TK-Fit classes and to create a broader awareness of good health. Just take a look at the TK-Fit Facebook page and you will see a smiling face for every dreaded burpee. The setting in the photos always changes from studio, to mountain, to snow covered hills, to the school playgrounds and our village sidewalks as Tricia incorporates playful ways to make workouts both challenging and fun. It's a totally creative way to approach burning workouts, not unlike the way a teacher might approach a grueling lesson and dwindling attention spans. An hour with Tricia passes quickly, but the feel-good-buzz of fulfillment carries on through the day, and isn't that what every great teacher wishes to achieve?
For the first time last year Tricia was a sponsor for the local Steel Rail Half Marathon and helped her students train for it. It was a great way to put their TK-Fit training to work and for all of them to be part of a larger community of like-minded people interested in health and wellness. It was mind-blowing and heart-warming for so many runners to discover that they possessed the otherwise unknown strength to accomplish their goals. They did all the work, and Tricia showed them how.
Before this last year ended, Tricia created a Holiday Challenge for her TK-Fitters. The program required accountability as participants reported their progress. It did not require a sledge hammer to maintain. The focus of the challenge was to encourage an awareness of daily choices – both good and bad – and to monitor them with a point system, adding points for good choices, and taking away points for those not-so good holiday choices. A daily food and exercise journal tracked sleep, water intake, healthy food and exercise. It was an effective way to build awareness and prevent a total “Health Deficit” by the time a new year arrived…
…and when 2015 arrived, Tricia and her TK-Fitters were more than ready to start the year with a healthy bang that combined Nutrition and Fitness. Teaming up with The Ultra Wellness Center, Tricia joined her students on a 10 day detox as outlined by Dr. Mark Hyman in The Blood Sugar Solution: 10 Day Detox Diet. Wow. Tricia really knows how to pull a team together and she sure knows a win:win when she sees one! But wait. It doesn't end there...Tricia is also a professional photographer and arranged a photo shoot to go along with the TK Fit 2015 new year detox. While she provided the Ultra Wellness Center with images to promote their upcoming nutrition lectures, a fabulous team of TK-Fitters acted as the models while receiving a thorough debriefing from the [incredibly] knowledgeable folks at The Ultra Wellness Center. Kinda' makes you wish you had done that detox with those fabulous TK-Fitters, doesn't it?
I mean, seriously, how lucky are we? Dr. Hyman’s Ultra Wellness Center is located right here in Lenox and it’s one of the many things that makes “us locals” grateful to live in a community that is thriving with health experts who share their knowledge, enhance our understanding of healthy choices and instill a greater awareness of health and wellness throughout our community. We're just oozing Wellness up here in the Berkshires!
Living in New England, we’re all very aware of how the seasons change around here: it’s not fall without a rake. It’s not winter without a snow shovel. It’s not spring without mud, lots of mud, and it’s not summer without Tanglewood and it sure wouldn't be winter or summer without TK-Fit Boot Camp! Tricia has created a motivating 6-week program to get fit OUTSIDE!!! This year, will mark the 9th outdoor training program that she offers twice a year. Pictured here, Tricia's ready for work, winter; and Tricia's ready for work, summer...
Anyone can experience the great outdoors every Sunday with Tricia as she gets your heart pumping. Each week features a different activity on two levels - advanced and beginner/intermediate – for snow-shoeing, sledding, lumber-jacking, spring training, and scavenger hunting. At the end of the program, everyone comes together to run a 5K-TK-Finale. Success is a big part of the celebration: just look at the expressions of confidence, pride, accomplishment, and joy in these photos. For more details on Winter Boot Camp, click here, and Go on, Good Girl, get your Lumberjack on!
Tricia’s classes are always packed and that’s because her training programs are diverse, challenging, effective and fun. She wouldn't have so many students returning year after year if it wasn't fun, but it’s about more than just having fun. Tricia wants to help people feel better. She wants to show them healthy ways to enjoy their journey to strength and wellness.
Just like a partner in one of her classes cheering you on, Tricia makes sure to get to know you and “your story.” She sticks with you on your journey and makes sure to celebrate the TK-Fit Rock Stars, those TK-Fitters who push themselves far beyond their comfort zone and well into the TK-Fit zone, a place where fun and fitness and friendship thrive alongside good health. Tricia goes the extra mile and shares the Rock Star stories on her website. Check them out! These TK-Fit Rock Stars are all beautiful women who have worked through challenges and are generous enough to share their stories so that others might find inspiration on their own journey to wellness. Like her TK-Fit Rock Stars, Tricia is an inspiration to many. Who cares if she makes our muscles ache for days!? Tricia is a Rock Star, and a mighty, mighty Good Girl, fer sure.
I am grateful for people like Tricia McCormack who shake me right out of my comfort zone and bring me to a place that is fun and fulfilling and totally rocking with good health! Thank you, Tricia McCormack.
Sometimes, you just gotta' stir it up to make things settle down. Go on, Good Girl, Rise with the sun and stir it up!
Tricia has been applying her love of fitness and moving and motivating clients to feel their best for over 11 years. She is a certified personal trainer & fitness instructor who teaches in Lenox, Massachusetts and regularly participates as a guest teacher at conferences throughout New England and the US. To learn more about Tricia and her classes please visit TK-Fit.com.
This is Part 1 of a two-part story. Before I can write about my next inspiring Good Girl – fitness instructor and health coach, Laura Collins Downing - I first need to explain why it took years to find my way to her. I’ve written about my fibromyalgia in previous blog entries but I haven’t really explained what I needed to work through and how I worked through it. Eventually, after three years, the pain is under control but there was A LOT of trial and error before I learned what works best for me.
What is fibromyalgia? The definition below pretty much sums it up, though in my mind, it neglects to include the drama, misery, sorrow and despair that go hand in hand with fibromyalgia. Plus, it doesn't say anything about its relationship to chronic inflammation. Prolonged inflammation can lead to all sorts of health problems including cancer so it’s important to get things under control before they spin too far out of control.
Fibromyalgia: a common syndrome in which a person has long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. Fibromyalgia has also been linked to fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, depression, and anxiety * [* add: “all at once”].
‘Tenderness’ – that’s putting it mildly. My pain was so debilitating I could not go a day without a nap. I would wake every morning with one thought and one thought only: when can I get back into bed? How sad is that not to want to embrace each and every day of your life? I could no longer enjoy life’s pleasures – something as straight forward as preparing a nice meal for my family was overwhelming. I could barely unload the dishwasher let alone stand at the chopping board or stove for very long. Reaching up or bending down in the kitchen was torture. In short, I was miserable. Pain prevented me from doing everything I loved to do. My only joy – and I clung to it like a piece of wood in the ocean – was walking my dogs.
The good news is that fibromyalgia doesn't have to be a crippling disease. In this brief video Dr. Jeffrey M. Thompson of Mayo Clinic explains how you can take charge and reduce your pain and live a happier, more fulfilling life. His advice is spot on:
1) Reduce Stress - relax, breath, meditate, have fun
2) Get enough sleep
3) Don’t drink - alcohol interrupts your sleep
4) Cut out caffeine and nicotine
5) Exercise - find the right routine for you
6) Pace yourself - “Don’t over-do. Don’t under-do”
7) Eat Healthy Foods
But that’s just a short list – it’s far more complicated. Everyone is different, so it’s important that you follow your gut to figure out what works best for you. Here are some tips of my own that might be useful to you:
Be patient with yourself. This is not a quick fix. Ask loved ones and colleagues to be patient with you, too. You are not making this up. Your pain is real and it will take time for your mind.body.spirit to heal. When the healing eventually hits, you will be happier than ever before [I promise].
Take on one challenge at a time. Work through one item on the above list before you move to the next. Surrender and Accept that these are challenges – they are not easy and they are not fun, but it will become more fun as each success makes you happier, more positive, stronger and more confident. Eventually, you will want "the total package" for yourself.
Read up and visualize what each action means to you. Prepare yourself with ways to change your behavior and always remember that change is good and will translate to less pain and a better life.
Don’t set yourself up for failure, disappointment and self-judgment. You already feel rotten enough, so make sure every challenge you choose to tackle is one that you are ready to embrace. That way, you are sure to succeed.
Be realistic. Changing your life is the hardest work you will ever do, but it is also the most rewarding. We are hard-wired to resist change so it really helps to have a meaningful mantra to call upon when the going gets tough.
Pain made me incredibly grumpy because, well, it hurt... but also because I could not enjoy anything in life. I could not join in bike rides with my son and husband; take fitness classes with my friends; prepare gorgeous meals; garden; host dinner parties; paint landscapes and absorb the beauty that is to be found in the normal, benign every day. Pain was cutting off all my life lines and this is the mantra I created for my journey to wellness, happiness, and love:
because I love, and love deeply,
I will love myself enough to change and to heal
so that I can love more completely.
With my mantra in hand, I attacked my condition from every angle – for a complete mind, body, spirit overhaul. Here’s a summary of the past 3+ years of my life, and how I approached each challenge on the Doctor's list. I took BABY STEPS and I did not - could not - rush through this...
Reduce Stress: relax, breath, meditate, have fun
When I first embarked on my journey to wellness, I could not meditate. Not knowing an OM from an onion, I chose the closest thing to navel gazing calm and stillness that I knew – reading. Instead of taking a nap, I would read. I was resting but I was not sleeping and I was not in bed but in our sunny living room. That was my first baby step. I was doing something that I love and it was relaxing and while I was at it, I was learning how to change my life around. Doesn't sound so bad, right?
It was during this phase that I devoured the profoundly inspiring Raising Lazarus, the Science of Healing the Soul by Blair Justice and J. Pitman McGehee. [I will definitely write about this book soon]. In short, the book uses Science and Spirituality to prove that we all have the power to rejig our brains. No pill popping required. Just dedication and focus.
Get enough sleep
Well, this one had my name all over it, so I made sure to do it well. I set up some “rules” to safeguard my sleep… I do not watch t.v. dramas ever – the commercials, noise, violence and freaky plastic surgery jobs on actors are all deeply unsettling and would leave me twitching the whole night through. I do enjoy BBC period dramas but even Downton Abbey got me all worked up and weepy and pining for England that I was pretty much limited to BBC World News. I've gobbled down every book in The Game of Thrones series and couldn't wait to watch it. No matter how much I love the books and adore Peter Dinklage, who I first saw on the Nikos Stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival, it was not the right choice for a good night’s sleep. I had to remain content with my own movie, the one I had made in my head as I read each book back-to-back.
Don’t drink: alcohol interrupts your sleep
OK, OK I confess this one was NOT at the top of my list. It was at the bottom, just above giving up caffeine. But here’s what I did to cut back on alcohol. I first lobbed off BEER as part of going Gluten Free. Oh, how I miss a proper pint and a packet of crisps, but I don’t miss the pain and cramping those wheat-y bubbles bring.
White wine, champagne and rose´ were already off the list as part of natural selection – after living in the south of France for years, too much of a good thing is…well, not a good thing.
That left me with red wine, but it had to be a New World vintage with an aroma I found to be less “mildew-y” than Old World and the sulfates somehow less sickening [please don’t ask me about the science behind that, but I will investigate it and write about it one day]. Red Wine eventually got the chop as part of total sugar detox and was later kept to a bare minimum as part of a low-glycemic diet. Wine leads to a sugar spike at some inconvenient point in the wee hours and disrupts sleep. Honestly, I would do anything for a good night’s sleep.
Now, it’s just down to sugar-free-gluten-free-carb-free QUALITY TEQUILLA - on the rocks, or sometimes with fresh squeezed lemon and club soda. If it's party-mode I need to bring my own to a party because it's not usually served.
One key lesson I needed to learn and incorporate into my life is that barring total abstinence, MODERATION is the key to alcohol consumption. I now drink 0-2 portions a week and it feels just right. If there is a special occasion or a super fun dinner party or a dance floor to trance on, then I allow myself a glorious release, but I follow every big night with a detox for at least a full 7 days afterward. It’s an equation that works for me now, but I am feeling so good that I am thinking about giving up alcohol for good. [post script: lesson learned since writing this. After de-toxing for one month at the start of the year, I continued to maintain a very low to zero alcohol intake for another two months so it was a VERY bad, and dangerous, idea when after three months detoxing I thought I could have a 'glorious release' big party night out. Guess what, my system can no longer tolerate what it used to. I know, big duhhh, but more on that in a future post that I will link here].
Cut out caffeine and nicotine
My husband and I quit smoking together, years ago, leaving the much dreaded caffeine detox last on my list. I have written about the misery of it in Good Girl GoGoGo Facebook posts and in my Daily Smalls section and in a blog post. It wasn’t easy, but I am very glad I did it. Eliminating caffeine leads to a good night’s rest, effective pain management over the long term, and a more balanced Acid:Alkaline ratio.
Exercise: find the right routine for you and don’t rush it
It’s really hard to exercise when it causes so much pain. For me, one work out could set me back for weeks. The posture of Grief had really taken its toll on me and I was not aligned and injured easily. It was critical that I start off ‘nice and easy.’ I had a wonderful and caring pilates teacher [Karen Lee] who brought my body back to life from the inside out. After two years on her machines and in her care for two private sessions every week, I finally had a core to engage and the confidence to move into more challenging work outs with Bridget Ford-Hughes. After three years, I did my first Boot Camp with Laura Collins Downing [my next story covers the joys of Boot Camp – yes, JOYS, something I never expected].
Pace Yourself: “Don’t over-do. Don’t under-do”
This is really important. Be kind to yourself. Keep striving and don’t give up, but don’t expect too much. I ran into trouble on my “good days” – there was no pain to stop me from doing anything and everything, so I tended to over-do it. I have since learned that “good days” are just that - “good days” and not “days to cram everything in.”
Eat Healthy Foods
This is more complicated than it appears and requires some dedication to figure out what dietary choices are right for you. For me, it first translated to Gluten Free but I soon discovered that so many Gluten Free products are loaded with Sugar so I knocked them out completely. My diet then morphed into a Complete Sugar Detox [no fruit, sugar, carbs, booze or lentils for 8 weeks. I will write about this in my next blog]. I now happily maintain a low-glycemic-low-carb-gluten-free diet, with only occasional fruit, grains, and lentils. Basically, I eat protein and greens – TONS of GREENS - but let me reassure you, I eat well, very well. Everything is delicious and I am never-ever hungry or craving.
Keep your eye on the prize! Life for me is so different now. I don’t feel as though I am missing out on one single thing and that’s because Pain is no longer cutting me off from living my life. All of these changes, difficult though they were to make, have made me happy again, and that’s a fact.
I hope this article helps you or someone you love confront and tackle the pain of fibromyalgia or other chronic pain condition. Perhaps it will inspire you to find ways to relieve your own pain or to help another who is in pain. Don't ever give up trying - it really is possible for Brightness and Gratitude to take Pain’s place.
It’s so easy to look at a beautiful young woman, particularly a fashion model in her twenties and think – “wow, she’s really got it all going on” -- but for former fashion model, Amy Huebner, her strength and beauty just weren't enough to make a beautiful woman a healthy one, too.
Like many women in their twenties, Amy’s diet was the “Protest-Poverty-and-Pasta Diet” prevalent among college students and young professionals, who in protest choose not to eat meat but out of poverty are not able to find affordable, healthy substitutes and end up boiling pasta or suffering innumerable blind dates…a girl’s gotta’ eat, right? Wrong. It’s no way to live... and for Amy it was a sure way to die.
Amy’s diet was alarmingly unbalanced that despite eating whatever she could afford, she was still malnourished and starving…but how did things go so wrong for her? And how did she make herself well again?
Answers to those questions paint a picture of how Amy was able to change her life around by learning how to make healthy choices and literally, saving her own life.
First, she needed to work through to the diagnosis that she was suffering from an extreme candida overgrowth, the result of a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars, birth control pills and stress, lots of stress. From there, Amy needed to learn effective self-care and how to rid her system of toxic candida while simultaneously nourishing her mind, body, and spirit. Hers is an inspiring story of strength and courage even in her weakest moments, a story that holds something for all of us, but particularly so for parents and their 20-something daughters.
What is candida? Candida is a naturally occurring fungus, yeast that lives in our mouth and intestines. When balanced, it aids in digestion and nutrient absorption but when overproduced, it breaks down the wall of the intestine and penetrates the bloodstream, releasing toxic byproducts and causing leaky gut.
The symptoms of candida overgrowth include skin and nail fungal infections; chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia; bloating, constipation, diarrhea; autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ulcerative Colitis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Scleroderma, Multiple Sclerosis; difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, ADD, ADHD and brain fog; irritability, mood swings, depression and anxiety; vaginal and urinary tract infections; severe seasonal allergies; and strong cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Conquering candida takes nothing less than Herculean effort and requires constant discipline sticking to a strict no-carbohydrate and no-sugar diet. Sugar is what feeds the yeast so it is critical to eliminate it and not to slip even while undergoing the dreadful die-off stage as the body detoxes from the endotoxins released from dying yeast.
As soon as she was diagnosed, Amy immediately jumped into the new diet but soon discovered that rushing it wasn't the best way to go about it. She suffered prolonged die-off for months but could have avoided it had she eased into her new yeast-busting diet. Otherwise, she worked closely with her doctor who recommended she cut out all carbs and sugars and begin taking an immune support supplement.
She then added anti-fungal supplements and foods. Amy’s deep commitment to her own healing required discipline and patience. There were no short-cuts or quick-fixes. It was nearly 2 years before she first began to feel well again and 7 years until she was "feeling pretty awesome." Her healing also had a price: ALL of her money went into buying the right food and supplements, but in Amy’s mind, the cost of regaining her health was priceless.
For those of us never destined to hit the runway or grace the pages of a magazine, it’s odd to think of a gorgeous fashion model not being anything but healthy. For Amy “taking a good hard look at herself” was her first step towards wellness. She knew that her time as a model and nanny in NYC – long days, low pay, high rent, late nights, poor diet – needed to end in order for a healthier chapter in her life to begin.
Amy needed to find a place of comfort and meaning and grounding. The next step on her path to wellness was a phone call to a former high school boyfriend, Dana who was a social worker and advocate for the homeless in Arizona. Before she knew it, she was on a plane to Phoenix and Dana was waiting there for her. They’ve been together ever since. Being in an affirming, loving relationship has been a key piece to Amy’s recovery but there is so much more to her story…
While Amy’s heart could find comfort with Dana, she still needed to regain her physical and emotional strength and to do that, she needed to go back to her roots…back to a healthy childhood; back to loving parents and family; and back to her hometown to reconnect with her former self - a strong young woman who was grounded and blessed with beauty, innate physical strength and grace.
It was only through Discipline [with a capital D] that Amy could reconnect with her former self. For Amy, Discipline is just a part of her DNA - she is naturally a hard worker and not afraid of pushing herself to excel.
As a child, she faithfully and joyfully practiced gymnastics every.single.day after school in her basement. As a teenager, she watched White Squall only once and knew - without doubt - that she needed to do a semester at sea. As a college student, she worked to help her parents pay for her education while cleverly enrolling part-time at NYU and Hunter College yet attending full-time continuously for 3 years [folks, that means no summer vacations]. It was a grueling work load but with the support and encouragement of her parents, Amy made it through and was not later burdened with crippling school loans. Smart girl, our Amy. Hard worker, too.
But that blessing – her discipline and ability to achieve – was also a curse. During her years biting The Big Apple, Amy had pushed herself too hard. It was time she learned something new…
Amy enrolled in The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the world’s largest school of nutrition whose mission is to play a crucial role in improving health and happiness, and through that process, create a ripple effect that transforms the world. She was deeply inspired by the school’s founder, Josh Rosenthal [also a Berkshire native] who taught her that each and every one of us is a catalyst for change.
The course was the perfect complement to Amy’s journey to wellness. Having already changed her diet and her life, and attended to her spirit and heart, she had to nourish her mind, too.
The Institute for Integrative Nutrition was an eye-opener for Amy, who upon completing the course [and attending the historical last live session] knew that all she wanted to do in life was to take Josh Rosenthal’s advice and do her best to make the world a better place. Just like the time she watched White Squall and knew she needed a semester at sea, Amy knew exactly what she needed to do with her life... she needed to create something that was healthy and good and to build awareness about healthy choices while she was at it. Luckily for Amy, Dana wanted exactly the same thing, too.
This is another point in Amy’s life when being in a strong and loving relationship with Dana is so deeply intertwined with her own healing. Together in 2010, they created Shire City Herbal’s Fire Cider. It was a concoction that developed over many years beginning with a jar of honey, chopped onion and garlic soaking on Dana’s German grandmother’s window sill.
Fire Cider evolved over many years and pays homage to Dana’s German Uncle Otto, who took spoonfuls of freshly grated horseradish during allergy season while haying down on the horse farm. The recipe also tips its hat to a wise family doctor from Becket, MA, who suggested that Dana eat raw LOCAL honey mixed with apple cider to help with his allergies…forever adorable, Dana admits he’s a “more is more” kind a guy so he added some treats of his own and soon Grandma, Uncle Otto, the good family doctor and Dana’s life lessons were all mixed together in one bottle of pure and awesome good.
Nothing short of a Super Hero, Fire Cider is based on a traditional New England cure-all but it’s spiced up with all sorts of kick-ass healthy, organic ingredients – apple cider vinegar, [local] honey, oranges, lemons, onions, horseradish root, ginger root, habanero pepper, garlic, and turmeric. All things combine to bring about a synergistic blend of immune-boosting, health enhancing, pathogen-fighting roots and fruits…Super Hero indeed: Fire Cider powers are mighty.
What's so good about it? Fire Cider can act as a daily preventative to colds and flus or can be taken at the onset. It can be taken as an expectorant to break up congestion and to ward off respiratory ailments. It’s also a digestive aid for heartburn, gas and bloating as well as for sluggish digestion and candida overgrowth. Several of its ingredients support cardiovascular circulation, warm the body and have anti-inflammatory properties – I don’t go a day without it in winter as it helps to keep my fibromyalgia in check.
As with all good things, Fire Cider makes no promises that it is the cure-all to end all. It is merely a healthy choice to be used as part of a healthy diet. Go on, try a shot and feel the tingly goodness on your taste buds, in your salivary glands and right down your throat to your tummy where it really gets to work.
You are what you eat. Not what you wear. Amy is still a beautiful woman, but she is now a healthy one, too. She’s a practicing Health Coach and has her own blog - The Candida Diaries. Together with her husband and brother, she runs Shire City Herbals and makes a wholesome and organic product called Fire Cider. The company’s mission is to make a quality organic product for the good of all, and they are committed to the effort needed to educate and build awareness of healthy choices for healthier communities and for a healthier world.
Josh Rosenthal was right – the ripple effect can change the world – and I am grateful for people like Amy Huebner who seek out and listen to wise teachers and have the strength and courage to commit to the challenges of running a business that helps our Berkshire community and others like it become healthier and happier places for all. Ripple indeed.