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
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.
A lot can happen in a split second. One moment Life is a straight line and then, BAMMO! It’s not.
What happens in the crash of a moment shapes us for who we are to become later in life. Oftentimes, it changes us so profoundly, that we learn to look at our losses and setbacks as blessings.
Such was the case for my dear friend Annette Dale Kramek, who at the age of thirty, was blind-sided by a brain tumor, something way beyond her control and certainly not a consequence of uninformed choices. A graduate of Public Health and Nutrition, Annette was living a balanced, mindful life. A poster girl for the quintessential West Coast LA Lifestyle, she was enjoying her fit body and all-around sun-shiny good health; running, biking, and watching her surfer boyfriend ride the waves; and LOVING her work as a ski-wear designer. Life was good…
Except for the fact that a brain tumor got in the way of her dreams. Annette took it head on and came to grips with her health: it was a beast she needed to learn about and tame, and tame fast. But getting an accurate diagnosis was anything but a fast process. When severe symptoms presented themselves, Annette visited over 40 health care professionals before her tumor was detected.
At an age when most young women are dreaming about careers, sex, weddings, and babies Annette courageously redirected her life and underwent life-changing brain surgery. It could have resulted in stroke, loss of speech and the need for a permanent gastrointestinal tube but ‘luckily’ for Annette, only her face, throat and digestive tract were temporarily paralyzed. She could not talk or eat for months but the real life change is what happened inside her to enlighten and ignite her spirit.
During her recovery period, she moved in with her mother who cared for her, unconditionally. It was on one day when her mother was driving her from one place to another that Annette discovered a Transcendental Meditation Center right down the road from her. Back in 1993, the center was one of a very small number nation-wide. Annette saw that as a very good sign and did not hesitate to begin her sessions. After only one session, movement returned to her face. In four years Annette only missed one session.
For those of you who don’t already know, Transcendental Meditation is not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle. It is a simple, natural practice that takes 20 minutes twice daily. Annette complemented her daily TM with four yoga classes a week.
Annette learned early on in life that finding her way to a clear understanding of her condition was - and always will be - the first step towards wellness. Over time and with increasing awareness, the “right way” to treat her body was a natural practice for her. Through regular yoga and Transcendental Meditation, Annette acquired a hard-earned road map to living a balanced life.
Twenty years later, Annette is designing her own line of yoga wear. Her studio is based in Pittsfield, MA where she designs and manufactures yoga practice and lifestyle clothes for leading yoga retreats and wellness spas. Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health,Jivamukti, Canyon Ranch, Cranwell Resort and Spa , Mii Amo Resort Spa, and Club Med [and a sweet local favorite - Dottie's Coffee Lounge] are among her clients. Profoundly influenced by the teachings she learned through the practice of yoga, she named her clothing line Ancient Language, calling upon Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Gods …and studious yoginis.
The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit 'Yujir Yogey' which means to join, to yoke, to put together and to restore - to restore what is lost. Most of us have lost our balance at some point along the way and Yoga primarily seeks to restore that balance. For Annette long after her brain surgery, yoga and meditation continue to be her road map and the signposts are written in Sanskrit.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE and the rest will follow… The practicalities of owning and running her yoga wear company physically challenge Annette every day. Like many small business owners, she readily accepts the challenges as a natural part of doing what she loves. While Ancient Language is growing exponentially, Annette’s dream is not to have a HUGE company that distances her from the design process she loves. Nor does she want to be alienated from her clients, instructors and customers who wear her clothes and provide inspiration.
To Annette, it’s still very personal and she wants to keep it that way. Ancient Language is a natural extension of her thoughts and feelings and beliefs which she is able to express and share through her designs and relationships. She truly enjoys being in touch with every part of her business and doesn't want to lose that in the wake of a growing company. Yet, she recognizes that striking a balance between her company’s growth and her personal involvement is not always a straight line.
The amount of work required to run her company leads to exhaustion and debilitating pain, an on-going condition she is currently deciphering, not unlike the way she went about discovering her brain tumor. When the scales shift, Annette calls upon the teachings learned in her thirties. She admits that to achieve greater wellness, she still needs to carve out more time for yoga and meditation, and to dial back the hours at work.
Surrender. Annette needed to learn new ways to communicate her vision before she could completely “let go,” but this was a particular challenge to her because the brain surgery severed one of her vocal cords. The act of talking exhausts Annette and her remaining vocal cords are often over-worked and strained so that her words come out muted. Annette has adjusted to this injury and speaks articulately, but not without effort, so she rests when she needs to rest.
After a recent yoga class while the two of us were dripping in the steam bath, she laughs as she tells me, “You wouldn't believe how LOUD I used to be! You could hear my laugh a mile away.” And that made me smile and think of the vibrant young woman whose life changed overnight at the age of 30.
Annette is still vibrant to this day and her light shines through her work. I had the pleasure of spending time with her in her design studio. It was a quiet, snowy afternoon and we were selecting spring colors and prints. Apart from being fun and providing an imaginary trip to warmer climes, it showed me just how efficient Annette is with her time and how she maximizes it to make room for the creative process, which she clearly loves. Annette is joyful at work. There is no doubt her work brings her joy.
In order to protect and maintain that joy, Annette practices a constant system of checks and balances. If she works too much, she cuts back. It is this agility to live each day as it comes that allows Annette to be very present and aware of the joys as well as the strains placed on her health. By applying the life-long skills she learned through yoga and Transcendental Meditation, she is able to balance her life with her work, all the while practicing and sharing her deep love for yoga and its teachings.
Later when Annette and I are together at Kripalu, her face lights up when she sees the girls in the shop. She greets them as good friends – it’s clear that staying in touch, literally, with her clients is an important key to her happiness. Beaming, Annette told me “I love this part!”
And I know it’s true.
When Bridget Ford Hughes emerged in 2008 from four years of breast cancer treatment and a double mastectomy before she got the “All Clear,” the first thing she did was to get married and celebrate Life and Love and the tremendous support she received from her husband and close friends.
The second thing she did was to set forth on yet another journey...
With singular focus, Bridget began to manifest her cancer-fueled and inspired dream: to find a way to help other women through their journey with breast cancer.
When you first meet Bridget it’s really hard to tell she’s been through a battle. Standing at over six feet tall, all muscle and no fat on her, her strength and positive attitude are the first things you notice…after her smile. Since 2009, she’s applied all her strength, positive outlook, and that winning smile to setting up and maintaining a fund to improve the lives of women with cancer by enabling them to nurture their strength and wellness.
Practice what you preach, indeed… The fund’s mission is at the core of Bridget’s life and practices. She lives and breathes strength and wellness. Every morning starts with an Ayurvedic cleansing of her five senses; every day allows for reflection from daily prayer, meditation, and dog walks; and every week clocks in over twenty hours of physical exercise playing tennis, teaching group classes, and personal training - her own and private client sessions.
Bridget’s journey with cancer taught her a new way of looking at herself and looking after herself. She learned through hard work and struggle how to make good choices about her care and long-term well-being. Profoundly eased by the healing power of alternative care, Bridget made it her mission to make sure other women knew about the growing number of alternative healing methods out there. She also wanted to do her part to make them available to women with breast cancer.
Complementary medicine and alternative care are not, as a rule, covered by health insurance, yet we can no longer under-estimate the importance of that “gentle touch.” As individuals and as communities we need to embrace the process of learning new ways to approach health problems from multiple angles - and open up to the union of Mind, Body, Spirit. Alternative methods have been proven to contribute positively to wellness. As awareness grows and scientific data in support of alternative treatments mounts, the list of healing modalities increases, too.
Bridget made sure the fund was set up to support the ever-growing list of healing pathways such as: Acupuncture, Ayurveda, Chinese/Herbal Medicine, Chiropractic, Fitness Instruction, Homeopathy, Hypnosis, Kinesiology, Massage Therapy, Meditation, Movement Therapy, Naturopathy, Nutrition Counseling, Psychological Services, Physical Therapy, Reflexology, Reiki, Spiritual Counseling, Yoga.
Bridget is warm and welcoming, just like the huge St. Bridget’s door mat on the steps leading to her studio. She is completely open about her journey with cancer and this transparency helps others to open up, too. It is then that Bridget is able to flex one of her strongest muscles, and it’s a strong one – her ability to listen to another person’s story.
Bridget understands that cancer is a personal journey. A treatment that works for one woman might not work for another, but through constructive dialogue Bridget is able to help, and to reassure and to offer suggestions that support healing, strengthening and overall wellness.
In talking with my friend, I can’t help but be reminded that when we think of the archetype mythological hero and his journey, we intuit a man, his journey and his struggles, and his ability to impart wisdom to others upon his return home. The key to this myth is that throughout his travails the hero [actually] stops along the way to ask for directions from wise guides who make his journey more…meaningful.
It is this ability – to ask for guidance as well as to share knowledge - that turns a mere mortal into a Hero because he is both able to listen and learn as well as to teach and help others.
But what if we fast-forward to modern day and that archetypal hero is a breast cancer survivor, a woman who acknowledges that through her own journey with cancer she has learned many lessons and is capable of sharing her knowledge for the greater good?
This is the beautiful under belly of breast cancer, the silver lining, the soft part that despite its innate frailty and vulnerability grants a woman with cancer the courage to open up and ask for help and when, in the end, she is possessed of strength and gratitude can help others become Heroines, too.
Like folklore passed down through the ages, the stories and wisdom these women share make them all modern day Heroines, key witnesses and chroniclers of a battle just waiting outside one out of every eight doors to a woman’s home. But every so often, a breast cancer survivor takes the dialogue a step beyond the sacred journey and sets up a fund to help others, to ease their journey and to bring those touched by cancer closer to wellness.
Strength and wellness are gifts we cannot fully comprehend until we find ourselves struggling to regain them. There are many paths to wellness, but no path can lead back to wellness without the gentle touch of Love and Encouragement and Reassurance. Mountains of Gratitude have been built upon the power of a gentle touch and its ability to calm and sooth and ultimately - to heal.
Like a true Heroine returned home, Bridget's own words describe how her experience taught her how very much “we need the support of well-informed, dedicated people to assist us at every level of healing — physical, emotional, and spiritual — so we can focus on hope and recovery…”
When you remember the many blessings in your life this Christmas and holiday season, please also think about the many women with breast cancer who are clinging to theirs. A gentle touch can bring a woman with cancer one step closer to becoming a Heroine, and this belief is what lies at the heart of the network of support that Bridget Ford Hughes has lovingly established at the Women’s Cancer Wellness Fund.
My close friends know that I had been sick for many years and struggled to find the reason for my constant sorrow and never-ending physical pain. Unraveling my symptoms was complicated: it could have been a million things, and I didn't know where to start...so I just had to start some where. It was a slow and agonizing process as I began to pick things apart. There were no start and finish lines and the check list was long, with each tick-box scarier than the last – Depression? Allergies? Adrenal? Thyroid? Neurological? Pre-Menopausal? Auto-immune - Lyme or Lupus? Cancer? You get the idea.
Self-Care isn't a fad or a trend. It's foreverrrr. It takes a long time to work through it all.
It wasn’t until 2016 that I emerged from disease to wellness, from darkness to light. I had been suffering from constant, un-diagnosed pain that was eventually "lumped" under the label of Fibromyalgia, and it was anyone's guess where to begin in terms of "the right" protocol to follow. I had to figure out what worked best for me.
My condition was possibly triggered by a mysterious virus and extreme fever for which I was hospitalized in 2009, just prior to the Swine Flu pandemic reported in April 2009. It is possible that the mysterious virus combined with my genetic profile and pre-existing viral exposure to bring me to my knees.
Two years later in 2011 I received the diagnosis that I had an under-active thyroid and began treatment with Armour Thyroid.
I discovered later that this diagnosis was only scratching the surface, but still, it was a starting point so I embraced it as one stepping stone of many. The diagnosis allowed me to progress to the next step, to move beyond the prior diagnosis that my condition was a “mental” thing, most likely post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] that was causing my depression, physical pain and brain fog. It was a huge relief to receive a diagnosis that allowed the dialogue of healing to open up beyond the limited view that all I needed was an anti-depressant pill.
There was no way I was going to pop pills and wish my symptoms away. No matter what Science had to say about the benefits, I wanted to work through each and every one of my symptoms in order to understand my overall condition, how it all "fit" together, and how to work through to The Cause.
I wasn't looking for a Quick-Fix and I sure didn't get one. I cleared the decks to allow time [nearly 2 years before I started to see real results] for new life practices and the process of trial and elimination that would allow me to arrive at the source of my anxiety, sleepless nights, depression, inflammation, weight gain and debilitating pain. As I write this, I am still tracking my symptoms, behavior and stress levels as well as shifts in weather and will continue to do so for the rest of my life as part of effective self-care.
In a way, I am a bit like a farmer tending his crops - you can watch and learn and figure out the best practice of prevention but no matter what, no year is ever the same: there are many unknowns and variables. Part of healing is being able to surrender and trust the process of healing, to embrace the good days and to allow for the bad ones.
I readily acknowledged that there was a vicious cycle going on inside me, but I never believed that the “most likely” sequence was the correct sequential order of things. I accepted that trauma was part of the problem, in so much as it could have weakened me and my immune system, but it didn’t sit right that trauma was “The Cause” because I had processed the grief over losing my first child at birth; I had worked through it all – the rage and despair; I had surrendered and was blessed to find serenity; and I had accepted the great sadness as though it were a gift, a key to a deeper level of compassion that I had not previously known.
...and so my journey towards a diagnosis began with the question: If I've truly processed my grief and accepted my loss, why then am I still so sad and why does everything in my body hurt so much? The short answer: the sequence had, in fact, been wrong… the 2011 diagnosis of previously undetected hypothyroidism was earth-shattering for me, in a good way - it gave me "the cause" [or one possible cause] as well as the momentum to move forward with the relief that my baby was not to blame, nor I.
Knowing that hypothyroidism was causing my troubles, there was no one to blame. I finally had a starting line. and I could live with that. And I could begin to heal and with that, change my life for the better and revive my spirit….and so I did.
Change is GOOD. Taking Armour Thyroid daily was a huge help in boosting my energy and abilities, but simply popping a pill and hoping things would "just go away" wasn't enough. I needed to change.
I needed to reinterpret my life and the way I approached my health. For every symptom I suffered, I had to find another way to make it better and for that, I had to change everything: my diet, my exercise routine and my stress levels. I stopped working and cleared the decks so I could focus on regaining my health. I slowed down to enjoy my life and subsequently stumbled upon a greater sense of purpose and confidence, gratitude and ease.
I stopped drinking except on special occasions. I embraced a new fully organic, low-glycemic, anti-inflammatory, gluten-free diet. Now food not only tastes good, it IS Good. Soon I slept through the night and gradually my symptoms disappeared as a result of the changes I had made. My health was so much improved that despite occasional flare ups of fibromyalgia, I am able to enjoy regular pilates, gentle yoga, dog walking and snowshoeing without suffering for it.
An additional and essential key to my recovery is that I could never have made all these changes to my life were it not for the many enlightened women and men who guided me...
Over the years following the traumatic loss of my child at birth, I've encountered many wise women and men whose love and wisdom and ability to share their stories helped me find my own. My healing is wrapped up in the love and guidance I received from them – This blog is dedicated to those fine spirits whose signposts have marked my journey from the beginning until now, where I am full of gratitude for the life that has been restored to me.
Sometimes, you just have to slow down and read the signposts to move forward on the right track…and then it’s all there right before your very eyes: Go on, Good Girl, Go!