November, a time of frost and a time for unpacking the winter woollens. A time to set the clocks and go to bed a little earlier. When growing up, my family generally had the fire wood stacked and the last of the moose meat canned. Moose jerky was always a favourite of my brothers but I didn’t like it. Mom usually made meat pies that I did like and I also enjoyed helping her make the fruitcakes, which were carefully wrapped in brandy-soaked cheesecloth and kept in a crock till Christmas.
The cover photo this month is of Tess, my Mother, when she was twenty-two years old and living in Fairbanks, Alaska. She is about to take home her first puppy, a white husky that she named Chinook. Being raised in a Catholic school where animals were not allowed, after growing up on a farm where everyone had them, Mom wasted no time finding the right puppy to love just as soon as she got her first job, cooking for the Alaskan Railway work crews. There she met Clarence, someone to hike and hunt with. Shortly afterwards they built a cage that fit in the trunk of their car and Chinook travelled with them to Michigan for their wedding.
Great-grandma owned the only hotel and trading post in Aklavik, NWT where Mom spent many a summer holiday and fell in love with the Arctic people and places. Clarence promised my Mom an Alaskan hunting and fishing lodge at the base of Mt. McKinley, for they both loved the great outdoors. Once Clarence returned to Michigan and got married he found it difficult to leave his family and go back to Alaska. Tess longed for the quietness of the wilderness, but soon became pregnant and had to get busy canning food, so she made best of the situation she found herself in.
She never let her dream die of returning to the wilderness. She borrowed and then invested some money in land, and with the profits she bought her first school bus so that she could move her family of seven children to the end of the road… Rosswood, BC. Chinook died just before we left Michigan, in 1959, so we acquired several beagles for hunting and a terrier for us kids plus several Siamese cats to catch mice.
My mother has just finished painting her latest bus … now called a motor home … and had it painted in purple, fuschsia and turquoise. Her second book, entitled Moksgm’ol … White Spirit Bear, is at the printer’s, and once it is ready, she’ll be back on the road educating children about the need to protect the bears’ sanctuary, by travelling around BC and speaking at various schools.
Our family celebrates two birthdays in November, my brother Phillip’s and Mom’s. My birthday gift to my Mom will be something she has always asked of me and something I have never been able to give her … a daughter who stands up straight. Whenever we posed for family photographs she always made me aware of my posture, so I would pull my shoulders back and stand straight, but it always seemed like work. I still have to remind myself to check in with my body to see if it is standing or sitting tall, and now sometimes it is. Once in a while my heart opens spontaneously and I can feel the lightness in my chest for a few seconds as the heart expands. These rare moments inspire me to spend time healing myself and receive sessions from Joel, Gary and the variety of practitioners who work at our Centre.
I recently spent three days in an Iyengar Yoga workshop with Father Joe Pereira from Poona, India. The workshop helped me to understand the basics of good posture for we spent a lot of time each lesson doing Tadasana or mountain pose, a seemingly easy one where we simply stand upright. Maintaining the pose is easier said than done, for in the Iyengar tradition, yoga poses start with proper alignment and that starts with the feet and arches. If one does not have strong, flexible arches the feet can’t act like shock absorbers for the spine and eventually the back will start to ache in its weakest place. With time deterioration sets in, as the energy stops flowing.
Good health depends on strengthening and stretching the arch of the foot by pushing the metatarsals into the floor, stretching the skin of the arch and spreading the toes for balance. Then we push our heels hard into the floor as we tighten our knee caps and roll our thighs inward as if we had a block between them. It is important to be sure the pelvic rim stays tucked forward as we stretch our ribs to elongate our chest and move it skyward, all the while breathing deep, allowing the collar bones to move forward and the shoulders to drop away from the ears. The crown of the head floats and is supported by a thin string being pulled from the heavens. When I do this exercise, it allows my wing bones to flatten and my chin to drop and I grow taller. Standing tall is work for me and I still need to remind myself to breathe into my upper chest and ribs, but it sure is helping to improve my energy level.
During the first two evenings of the Iyengar workshop, we also spent a lot of time doing shoulder work, spreading our fingers and pushing hard into the floor to give ourselves the strength to hold up our own weight. After the second evening my shoulders ached and my wrist hurt, so I took time off at work the next day to go for a walk. Once outside, I could feel the emotions rise in my chest. I cried as I got in touch with some sadness and anger. My body felt like it wanted to punch and claw so I checked in with the closest tree to see if it was okay to have a sparring match. The evergreen smelled wonderful as I cursed, swore and ripped at its needles, pretending it was a long time ago when I was a youngster fighting with my brothers. I kicked and screamed and said everything I ever wanted to say to them, for they used to win most of the battles. I then gave myself a good shake, looked around to see if anyone was watching, and returned to the office. Immediately my shoulders felt lighter and that evening, I did my best shoulder stand ever.
Being (Becoming) aware means constantly checking into my body to see how it is doing. If it is collapsing I may choose to put some energy back into it by breathing into the tiredness and expanding it outward. At other times I choose not to and leave it till tomorrow when I have more energy, for healing seems to be an ongoing process.
I have now had thirty rolf sessions and the last one was the most painful yet. It was time to have my ankles worked on, for they had been speaking to me lately. I have always had cold feet and have had lots of reflexology done to increase circulation. Lately I have noticed little crystals and hard little balls in the front of my shins. Whenever I rub them, they get very tender and I have bruise marks the next day. I know that bruising is an indication of poor circulation, so I smeared on some castor oil and wrapped my shins in cotton before going to bed. I even had a clay bath to get things moving … and they are … slowly. The deposits of toxins from my years of ignorance working in a chemical environment are slowly starting to surface. Now that my lymph glands, kidneys and liver have flushed themselves clean from my spring and summer fastings I guess they are ready to start the next phase of flushing my ankles clean. That will help me grow stronger and have more heat and energy for that is what the kidneys govern.
Learning to stand up straight is more complex than I ever imagined. I spend hours each day rubbing out the sore spots and exercising to increase the chi. I also juice, sprout and cook with whole grains and organic greens to get the nutrients back into my body so that I can rebuild my bones and blood. As my hips and legs release the tension that I have held for so many years, it is becoming easier for my shoulders to roll back, and my neck muscles realign themselves, allowing my head to move into alignment. I am grateful to my Mom for being so persistent about me standing up straight for I never really thought of it as a problem to be fixed. I am just starting to realize how much my posture has affected or reflected my body’s health. I am grateful to Joel Whitehead for helping me to understand the interconnectedness of my organs and how they drain or gain energy from each other. Understanding that mental activity can also put a strain on the physical body is giving me reason to slow down and plan one activity at a time. As I heal and share my story, I hope it will encourage you to do the same. Jan, Marcel and I love reading or hearing about changes that people are experiencing as they start to take responsibility for themselves and their families, so if you have a story to share please let us know.