Coloured portrait

Coloured portrait

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Why Diet May Not Be The Answer To Your Health

Health food stores are popping up like mushrooms after rain online and offline, thriving on people’s single-minded obsession with food. 

What began as useful awareness that what you put in your body affects the state of your body (and mind!) has turned into an almost religious fervour pursued by those of us seeking to heal ourselves, our families, our pets and our planet. 

I, too, have joined the conscious eating masses years ago, resorting to diet as medicine for my ills. I had a difficult, distressful marriage, and was an immigrant into a radically different culture, environment and climate than what I had been used to. I was fatigued, anxious, and had muscular pain shooting down my arms and legs. I became increasingly sensitive to sugar, wheat, dairy, especially cold, sweet dairy, and fungus enriched cheese like blue cheese, Camembert and Brie. My favourite treats were eliminated and replaced by a collection of vitamins and supplements, and yet, I was still ill, and suffering.

Then I noticed something unusual: whenever I traveled to Israel and Romania to visit my family and friends, I got away with eating all that I fancied, including dessert made with white flour (not organic!), white sugar, and real whipped cream, and even wash all down with a glass of wine. I looked for answers in the food: the wheat has not been GMO-ed or sprayed with Roundup - but the sugar? How come I can eat white sugar and be well, when at home sugar makes me so sick?

An integral view on health has changed my mind: factors that lead to health or disease range from individual subjective factors, such as one’s beliefs about health, one’s self image, self-confidence, and emotional makeup, to objective factors such as diet, exercise, air quality, geographical positioning, home orientation, light, sound, electro-magnetic fields, and even architectural shapes; to intersubjective factors such as the quality of one’s relationships, shared meaning about health, the kind of affection, encouragement and support one gives and receives; to collective objective factors, such as the availability of medical care, the types of health care in society, and the material and financial resources available for healthcare.

Among these factors, some weigh more than others, and in my subjective assessment, for example, the quality of relationships weighs more than diet. If you haven’t spoken with your mother for thirty years, giving up sugar won’t make a difference. As I found out, living with daily conflict and emotional disconnect harmed me to the point that everything got to me, while when I spent time among people with whom I connect deeply, harmoniously and with great affection, I was well, and could stomach any food. 

A single-minded view on health misses all that: the single-focused obsession with food, or the single-focused view that reduces health to biological chemistry, or the claim that if you only do this one thing (exercise, or zap parasites, or meditate) you will be healthy and well. Health is not the result of one single factor, but many, and it is useful to sort these factors in two categories: importance, and changeability.

What really matters

My work with clients looks at body pain and symptoms as signposts to pay attention to when navigating through life. Leading a person through an embodied inquiry into the physical pain reveals something that she must change, that may have been deemed by the person’s reason as secondary in importance, but held highly in importance by the body’s own wisdom. What transpires in a session is often surprising for my client, and has to do with either something from the past that hasn’t been fully processed or resolved, or a current situation that must be looked at and digested or changed. In twenty years of working as a healing facilitator, the root cause of physical pain and discomfort in my clients has been rooted in a relational event. I have not worked with people traumatized by earthquakes and tsunamis; everyone that I worked with has been affected by some kind of neglect, cruel behaviour, or some intentional or unintentional harm caused to them or by them in a relationship. I have not encountered yet a body pain that embodied inquiry revealed as being rooted in eating sugar, cheese or non-organic wheat. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist - I have not seen it.

Most often addressing relationships has resulted in a change in symptoms.

We are social animals. Our human species has no claws, powerful fangs, protective body scales, or the ability to spew or spray venom (other than verbal, that is). Our survival and thriving entirely depends on cooperation. We are deeply wired to connect and belong, and when we fail, or are threatened to loose the connection or belonging, we are risking our lives, and become ill. Social isolation is worse for us than many other harmful factors. Social connection, caring touch, moving and singing together harmoniously in community has been a favourite medicine used by all cultures, and present in all perennial wisdom traditions. That’s why I dance with a Tribe: many times I went to the weekly Biodanza - a conscious and relational dance movement started by Rolando Torro in Chile - and began my evening with a low mood and body tension, and ended up the two-three hour evening glowing with joy and pain free. 

Another factor that seems to me to weigh heavier than sugar and cheese is the narrative one generates as a dialogue or internal dialogue, or participates in. All narratives have a point, a bottom-line conclusion of the story, and the point is either a deficit “And thus, my dear friends (or dear Self), this is how I am wronged / others are wrong / something is wrong with me / you / them / the world)” or a resource: “And thus, my loves / my Self, I learned and grew / I am better off / this is how I shine / this is what’s good about me / you / them / the world”. I encourage you to try an exercise in embodied awareness: scroll through the social media posts in your newsfeed, and look for the bottom-line point in each narrative, while noticing any changes in your breathing, body temperature, pressure, weight, movement, spaciousness and luminosity. This will tell you how each narrative affects you. Then pay attention to your own stories. 

The Low-Hanging Fruit

I live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Ottawa is situated in a valley, has high humidity and precipitation all year-round, and long, harshly cold winters. This affects everyone’s health, and I met more people with depression and arthritis in Ottawa than anywhere else. Humid, cold atmosphere reduces mobility, and I feel my own body moving differently here than in a warm, dry climate. And for many Ottawans, relocating is not an option. And for all of us, changing the climate is impossible.

What is wise and useful to do is to look at all contributing factors to health - and I like the QiGong philosophy for a comprehensive mapping of influencers - and to change those factors that are most readily available to you. Start with the low hanging fruit - but not one piece of fruit only, like a single-minded obsession with food: change all that is available for you to change, beginning with what is easy and available, and then working your way up to what really matters that is available for change. 

Some of the things that I do to recover from trauma and grief, to heal and to thrive, and you can do too: 

  • A daily practice of prayer, meditation, Metta (loving-kindness) practice, Reiki, and QiGong
  • Gratitude and appreciation
  • Dance, move, touch, hug and kiss people
  • Elimination of toxic relationships and conversations
  • Watching only movies and video clips that uplift, inspire and enrich. Ingesting information that nourishes, staying away from information that poisons, especially news that I can do nothing about
  • Feng-shui remedies in my home, including de-cluttering, and cleaning the house physically and energetically
  • Personal hygiene practices, body and energy - shower daily, smudge myself with sacred plants daily
  • Diet: eating what nourishes physically and emotionally, without obsessing about it
  • Therapy, including bodywork, energy work, talk therapy and homeopathy
  • Playing and cuddling with fur friends - dogs and cats
  • Humour and playfulness
  • Service: contributing to the well-being and happiness of others is powerful medicine
  • Creative endeavours, such as writing, drawing, singing, dancing, cooking out of imagination

An integral view on health frees you from obsessions, puts things in perspective according to their importance, and opens you to a wider range of options for your well-being and thriving. 

Remember that what matters is not only what you eat, but who you eat with, where you eat it, what are you looking at while you eat, and what you and the others are talking about while you eat.

And show this article to your doctor and your nutritionist!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The World as Patterns, Your Actions as Symbolic Gestures

The model that looks at the world as patterns which repeat themselves to infinity has useful practical applications. If something that happens somewhere, happens everywhere, then you can change everything by changing anything.
I keep this model on my mind when doing even little things, turning my actions into intentional symbolic gestures. 
Removing the dead leaves on a house plant becomes symbolic for removing that which has died and not viable in my life - be it relationships, activities, views, objects. 
This morning I re-gifted a box filled with medicinal balls that I didn't use; a school teacher took them for his physical education classes, for the kids. My Mom used to say: "Dar din dar se face rai" - "Gift from a gift makes heaven". My clutter became someone else's treasure. I think of this gesture as a metaphor, prayer and intention to let go of that which I have no use for in ways that enrich others, and create space for what is useful.
If you connect the dots of life, all is related to all, money, body fat, house clutter. Perennial wisdom traditions make a wise point: problems are rooted in disharmony and imbalance: too much of the unnecessary, for example, body fat, too little of what's useful, for example, lean muscle. Too much stuff, too little money, or space. Too much disturbing information, too little visionary, nourishing, uplifting information. And on and on.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Diversity of Views

Listening to a variety of world views and narratives is beyond enriching: it transforms you. Statistically speaking it is unlikely that you are the smartest person in the world or the only person who is 100% right. When you listen to a diversity of group narratives, you may also consider that your group is not 100% right about everything all the time. 
You will find a common thread of universal truths. Diamonds are harder than soapstone everywhere in the world. Caring touch is healing everywhere in the world. Music is nourishing and noise is not, everywhere in the world. Find that which is universally true and own it. 
Question everything else.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Tana Saler’s Seven Principles for health recovery and well-being

1- First condition to recovery: have a life purpose and meaning that is compelling enough for you to want to be well. Have a “Why” before the “How”. Everything else depends on having this condition met.

2- You are in charge of your health decisions, and nobody else is (assuming that you’re over 18 and able to make life decisions for yourself). Everyone else is in your team of support. They can counsel you, inform you, offer you therapeutic intervention and make suggestions. But your body is your own to decide upon. So educate yourself, learn how to use embodied intuition, and do what is right for you.

3- Build health, don’t fight disease. Be aware of what is not working, and focus on what’s possible (resource-oriented rather than deficit -oriented).

4- Be curious about what’s possible. Nobody is a prophet, and gloomy prognoses are made by fallible people who can be as wrong in their assessment as your weatherman. 

5- Don’t settle for “Living better with (name of disease)”; look for what’s curative and aim to thrive. See principle #4. 
Coping with disease and living with it implies improvements. It is a socially acceptable option and a convenient one, as it requires little commitment.
Aiming to thrive implies transformation, and it’s the long, scenic road which requires long-term commitment, patience, curiosity, time and money. This option is not backed by everyone: those who do not inquire into what’s possible will discourage you from experimenting with unorthodox methods. Which leads to #6:

6 - The road to thriving is the scenic road. You will engage in therapy methods that are at times lengthy, at times costly, and with no guarantees. You will commit to a regular practice of healing exercises and activities. You will transform your entire lifestyle, from food to movement to sleep to sex to work to relationships to environment to your own language, in order to support your recovery and thriving. You’ll be on call for your well-being 24/7.
The scenic road to health has ups and downs, but in the big picture it always takes you to being better and better. See the image below (finger-drawn on the iPhone).

7 - Meditate. Actually, this principle should be numbered 1 and a half, it’s that important. Before any measuring instruments can diagnose you once a year or when you see your doctor, Clarity in embodied awareness will guide you every moment. Learn how to pay attention! 
You already know when you’re hungry, thirsty, horny or tired: you feel it! These are the gross basics. You can refine your sensitivity to feel more and more subtle messages of your body to steer your choices towards getting well, staying well and thriving. 

To health and life!

Relationships are Medicine

Relationships weigh heaviest as factor in health and well-being, much more than diet, arguably exercise, and drugs. I’ve felt at my worst when living or working in emotionally toxic environments, and at my best when being part of a supportive community.
Lack of care and support, given and received, is a poison. It causes body tension, rigidity and pain. The antidote is love and the best prescription for health is loving touch, lovemaking, making music and movement with a harmonious Tribe and, in general, belonging to a community which supports you, your strength and your growth.
Therapeutic relationships are useful for this reason: they foster trust and care, and a good therapist has your best interest, strength and growth at heart. The therapist is paid to care which makes the relationship less than reciprocal. But the trust, sincerity and receptivity practiced in therapy can be, and should be translated to real life relationships. 
Bottom line is, (note to myself too!) - put more time and action in giving and receiving love, and worry less about food supplements, super foods, coconut oil and filtered water!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Tana Saler's Enlightened Commerce Principles:

1- Choose transaction partners who love what they do, and are both happy and passionate about their work. This includes the cook who makes your food, your kids' school teachers, your dentist, your car mechanic and your airplane pilot. 
2 - Choose transaction partners with a sense of humour. Outsource if humour is scarce in your culture. I just crossed the town today for the car mechanics who meet both principle #1 and #2.
3 - Enter transactions that are mutually enriching. If both you and your transaction partner are better off for doing business together, this is a transaction worth conducting.
4 - Do business with kind people first. Their goods and services carry the essence of their kindness and will add to your well-being and possibly inspire you to be kinder.
5 - Think systemically. Create business transactions that are good for you, and your family and loved ones, and your community, and the world at large. As much as possible. 
6 - When you sell goods and services, make your business other-oriented: focus on how your goods and services will nourish, nurture and enrich your clients. This is the difference between being service-oriented and self-serving oriented. Take joy and pleasure in enriching your clients.
7 - Listen nine parts out of ten, talk one part. As the buyer, you'll end up with the best goods and services for you and yours. As the seller, make listening your first marketing skill and strategy, and this will help you match your goods and services with the right people, at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons. I can't stress enough how important it is to learn how to listen. Learn and practice inquiry and embodied listening skills, and your service will shine!
8 - For sellers: set your fees using your head (marketing rates, value offered), heart (be generous) and guts (set fees that sit well with you). I set my fees feeling the sensations around my chest and belly: too low feels depressing, too high closes the heart. I play with the numbers until it feels right. 
Any other principles should be on the list? What did I miss?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Origins of Reiki

The Origins of Reiki

Mikao Usui was a Japanese Buddhist monk in search for enlightenment. The ultimate scope of Buddhist practice, as is the ultimate scope of spiritual practices, is transcendence, meaning going beyond the sole identification with a separate self, and thus ending the suffering related to separation and a contracted identity. Happiness is the realization of being at one with something greater than the self, an expansion that when realized through direct experience, not only as an intellectual understanding, leads to greater wisdom, compassion, purpose and resources than the small “I” self can access. 

When Mikao Usui achieved an enlightened state, following a lengthy fasting retreat in a temple, he used his previously acquired knowledge and skills of QiGong in integration with his new insights to establish a system of healing which he called the Usui Reiki Ryoho - the Usui Reiki system of healing. At the time when he lived, there were other systems of healing named Reiki, translating as “Spiritually-guided life force energy”, where the name Reiki was used to name those systems of healing transmitted from a Sensei (Master) to a student through a ceremonial initiation. The Reiki healing systems are different than the healing methods taught solely through verbal instruction, where healers use their thoughts, breath, movement and touch to move and balance the Ki (Chi, or Life Force Energy). The later methods can be learned from reading a book or watching a video class. The Reiki methods are passed on through ceremonial transmission. Mikao Usui named his method after his name: the Usui method of Reiki healing, and passed it on to his students through initiations, known in the West as attunements, and within a framework of apprenticeship, where the student healers were to observe the Buddhist percepts and live according to the Dharma, the Buddhist right way of life. 

Mikao Usui established a professional association for his Reiki practice, the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, formed with his students - colleagues, and placed himself as chairman. To address the general skepticism about Reiki in his culture, Usui decided to conduct research; for research to be credible, it must be independent, so he asked a student of his, Dr. Chujiro Hayashi, to conduct the Reiki research in his home-based clinic. Hayashi was a member of the Gakkai - a medical doctor retired from the navy, whose clinic employed several Reiki healers, and whose patients were residents of his home clinic, receiving several short treatments a day from a number of healers at the same time, for as long as it was needed until they were well.

Later, when Mikao Usui died, and a new chairman of the association was named, a personality clash between the new chairman and Chujiro Hayashi led Hayashi to leave the Gakkai and continue teaching, training and treating people independently. To honour his lineage, as it is the custom within Japanese culture, both healing arts and martial arts, Hayashi’s graduation diplomas for his students always mentioned Usui Reiki Ryoho - the Usui Reiki system of healing. Hayashi modified some of the techniques in the method, removed some, and added some of his own.

When Hawayo Takata, an American woman of Japanese origin, travelled to Japan for medical reasons, to receive treatment for an illness, she was directed to Chujiro Hayashi’s clinic, where she resided, got cured, and received Reiki initiation and training, thus becoming the first Westerner trained in this healing art, and able to perform treatments. After a few years Hayashi travelled to the US and trained and initiated Takata to become a Reiki Teaching Master. Takata went to teach several students, of which twenty-two were trained to teach, and became Reiki Masters. Thus Reiki began spreading throughout the Western world, and everywhere else outside Japan. Like her teacher, Takata removed, modified and added techniques to the method; and since she and since she taught orally, without a handout, the various versions of teachings streaming out of her lineage led to a type of Reiki today which looks different than how Mikao Usui used to teach. In the West, the recommended positions of the hands roughly follow the chakras (energy centres along the spine), and most teachers teach their students to touch. A German Reiki healer, Frank Arjava Peter, and his Japanese wife, found and translated Usui’s teaching manual as well as Hayashi’s, and translated both in English, illustrating each hand position with photography. Usui taught a number of hand positions to remember by heart, prescribing a specific sequence of positions according to the disease addressed and treated. Contemporary Japanese Reiki is practiced hands-off, palms lifted above the body, to escape regulation, since all therapeutic touch is government-regulated in Japan. In most Western countries indigenous healing practices are not regulated and healers can perform healing sessions using touch. 

The Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai still exists and is active in Japan. Reflecting a philosophy of keeping Reiki in its purely traditional form, and maybe some of the traditional Japanese reluctance to mingle with non-Japanese cultures, the Gakkai does not exchange information with any Reiki healers from outside the association, let alone outside Japan. However, individual Reiki teachers in Japan are now teaching versions of Japanese Reiki in the West, and individual Reiki teachers from the West are now teaching their version of  Reiki in Japan, as is the case of Frank Peter. 

A thorough researched history of Reiki is found in the book “The Spirit of Reiki”, co-authored by William Lee Rand, Frank Arjava Peter, and Walter L├╝beck. More information can be found in articles published in the Reiki News Magazine, published by the International Centre for Reiki Training. Some of the information in this paragraph is sourced in a Reiki News Magazine interview with Hiroshi Doi, a Japanese Reiki Master who used to belong to the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai and left, and who has been teaching Reiki in North America. His interview can be found on

Traditional Reiki or Western Reiki?

There are two major approaches to teaching, in general, and to teaching Reiki, specifically, to reflect to major human personalities. Conservative personality teachers tend to lead their classes true to the teachings of their own teachers, preserving the content and often the style. Creative - innovative personality teachers tend to integrate a variety of methods and approaches within their classes, which may include aromatherapy, yoga, QiGong exercises, colour therapy and meditation. Defenders of tradition see innovation as a way to wash down an otherwise pure method; defenders of innovation look at traditional teaching as dated. The middle path looks at what is valuable and worth preserving, and what is enriching and not detracting from the effectiveness of the Reiki practice. The history of Reiki teaches that the Usui lineage contains both preservation and innovation - Usui borrowed techniques from QiGong, possibly from massage therapy or Shiatsu; Hayashi modified the techniques as well, and so did Hawayo Takata. Takata embelished the story of Usui and his Reiki healing method, at least in part to make it palatable to the American public at a time of political tension between the U.S. and Japan. Later on, thorough research proved much of Takata’s related history of Reiki to be a creative straying from facts, like her claim that Usui was a Christian professor of theology at the Chicago University. 

When learning of the changes in the Reiki practices in Japan due to the pressures of governmental regulations, we learn that traditional Usui Reiki doesn’t exist anymore in practice. The most traditional that Reiki practice gets is what a Reiki Teaching Master can name his or her own teaching which preserves the teaching of his or her own teacher up on the lineage. If you learn Reiki with Master Tana Saler, you may as well call it “The Western Reiki” or “Tana’s Reiki”, and when you teach your own classes you can name it as you wish to reflect the unique flavour of your own teachings.