My Health Journey

I believe there are millions of (primarily women) silently suffering with bladder issues, who are being prescribed excessive antibiotics for what they believe are UTIs, taking their bladder specifically and their health in general, in the wrong direction. My intention with this blog post is to share my journey so that other women can perhaps better understand what’s going on with their health and dive a little deeper into their own self-care. This post covers interstitial cystitis bladder flares (what appears as a UTI), low-back pain, adrenal fatigue, and food sensitivities which are often occurring simultaneously whether the person realizes it or not. I’ll begin with my health & lifestyle history. Please bear with me as it helps to paint the bigger picture of what’s going on now. 

I am not a medical doctor and this is not intended as medical advice at all. I am simply sharing an exploration of my own health journey.

Remember the 90s water bottle trend? I was In middle-school at the time and I tried carrying a bottle of water with me everywhere I went. The problem was that it already seemed like I had to pee a lot so the idea of drinking more water wasn’t very appealing. What I didn’t understand at the time (I was just a kid) was that becoming dehydrated leads to concentrated urine which ironically, makes us feel like we have to pee all the time. Often, the answer is actually to drink *more* water, not less. Concentrated urine isn’t always obvious once it mixes with the water in the toilet bowl. I was out of touch with my body and thirst signals, often mistaking them for hunger signals. I was chronically dehydrated for the first 35 years of my life and didn’t know it. 

In my late teens, I had sharp pains in my yoni (vagina) one day while staying at my boyfriend’s family’s house. Linda, his mother, rushed me to the ER and while there, I was diagnosed with Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). I was embarrassed when they shared with us that it could be sexually transmitted, but they weren’t really sure what caused it. I knew it wasn’t sexually transmitted but I think Linda was suspicious. Turned out PID was a catch-all diagnosis for we don’t really know what’s going on with your bladder. It goes by several other names as well including Painful Bladder Syndrome. 

Later on when I began experiencing occasional pain with sex, the OB/GYN would simply tell me “everything looks fine”. So, I just endured the pain during sex and put it to the back of my mind.

In my early twenties, I began exercising ~ big time. I was heavy and wanted so badly to look like Britney Spears. I trained for and ran a couple of full marathons (26.2 miles) and some half-marathons. I also got really into yoga and would sometimes do 3 hours of Bikram Yoga per day (2 back-to-back 90 minute classes of intense yoga in a 105 degree studio). I had constant pain in my lower back and muscle aches throughout my body, which I attributed to the training. I worked in a pharmacy at the time and saw that Ibuprofen 800mg three times a day was a common prescription. I started taking 3-4 ibuprofen at a time as it was very effective at numbing my pain. I jokingly called it “Vitamin I”.

Though I was doing all this exercising (and working full-time, studying at college, and socializing), I lacked the energy to fuel it. I discovered Hydroxycut, an over-the-counter diet pill, and would begin my day with it. I thought I had chronic fatigue syndrome since my body couldn’t keep up with my demands on it. Since I was still heavy despite all my exercising, I wanted to keep my calorie-count low and would sometimes consume as little as a thousand calories a day for weeks. Yes, I literally starved myself into losing weight, which would eventually come back, as my weight yo-yoed for all of my twenties. 

When I was eating, it was typically processed foods as I was single with very little time. I also appreciated that the number of calories was conveniently marked on the label because I was still living under the lie that calories in and calories out was all that mattered. Now I know that truth ~ calories don’t matter when you eat a healthy diet which actually consists of fruits and vegetables, appropriate protein, whole grains, very little sugar, and lots of water. Homemade food from whole foods; seasonal and organic if you can. Yes, I understand that it’s a commitment and a challenge in the current climate.

In my early thirties, I worked at a hot tech start-up in San Francisco as a Regional Operations Manager. I loved what I was doing and worked very hard. I also partied very hard. We took airplanes like taxis and drank ourselves into oblivion. It was fun and exciting, but also a complete wrecking ball on my health. 

I honestly did not realize that I was abusing my body with these behaviors. I actually thought I was getting healthy! I had no understanding of what a healthy lifestyle looks like and this was just how I operated as I tried to make my way through the world, young and deeply insecure. Living in a physically abusive home for several years of my childhood, I had largely dissociated from my body which set the stage for self-neglect and abuse.

When my mother died six years ago, I went through an indescribable amount of grief and trauma. My body was already so stressed from a terrible diet, pill-popping, and adrenal-busting activity levels that the emotional stress brought my health to a new low. I began bleeding outside of my normal menstrual cycle regularly, which eventually became very concerning to me. I ended up in a pattern of having a period, then two weeks later I would experience what felt like a UTI with bleeding, then two weeks later I’d have my period again, then the UTI… Every two weeks, bleeding, and this went on for months. It was scary and depressing.

While in the middle of a painful episode with a burning yoni, cloudy urine, frequent urination (getting up 5 times a night) with a weak stream and some occasional bloody tissue ~ I went to the CVS Minute Clinic for a UTI test. The urine test could not confirm a UTI (strange) which I was told was sometimes the case but offered antibiotics anyway. I was desperate for relief and I took them. They seemed to help in the immediate but I was back in the same loop within a couple weeks.

I finally saw an Integrative Doctor who ran a hormone panel to figure out what was going on. I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue after my cortisol production came back *extremely low*. My adrenals had worked so hard for so long that they were out of gas. In retrospect, I believe I’ve had varying levels of adrenal fatigue since my teens when I was always searching for information on “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”. Because of the instability and trauma of my childhood, my body was stuck in a stress response and couldn’t relax. We must be relaxed to properly digest food, absorb nutrition, and to heal our bodies.

In order to heal adrenal fatigue, you must avoid your food sensitivities as they create inflammation that then triggers a cortisol response. So, I had a food sensitivity test. I was shocked to find out that I had high reactivity to wheat, dairy, and eggs ~ 3 foods I ate every single day. I committed to avoiding these foods and was put on a regimen of detoxifying and tonifying supplements. I’ve had two different tests and recommend the Everlywell Food Sensitivity test. In my opinion, if the test is showing foods with very high reactivity, it is accurate. This information was essential for getting my health on track.

Food sensitivities come from a leaky gut. Leaky gut comes from frequent use of NSAIDS (Vitamin I, Ibuprofen), antibiotics, GMOs, exposure to pesticides on conventionally grown produce, and other toxins found in processed foods and in the environment (personal hygiene products, household cleaners, etc.). I had ignorantly consumed all of these, regularly. It’s important to understand and read labels! These chemicals alter our gut microbiome and damage the intestinal lining, allowing toxins to enter the bloodstream, causing inflammation, and damaging organs.

Our gut biome is a community of bacteria and other organisms that actually help us to digest our food, as well as complete many other vital functions. In fact, each organ has its own biome full of bacteria, viruses, and funghi, some of which are helpful and necessary for healthy functioning and others which wreak havoc on our bodies. Dysbiosis is a condition of a poorly balanced microbiome with too many pathogens and is at the heart of many chronic conditions.

But what about these UTIs?! I guess she was hoping that whatever reactions I was having would be solved with these dietary adjustments. Later I heard there is a saying with Functional and Integrative doctors, “If you don’t know where to start. Start with the gut.” So that’s what she was doing. Great practice as we are made of the foods we consume.

I had a good run of 4 months where I was eating clean, avoiding my food sensitivities, and resting as much as I could. My health improved dramatically ~ I lost 15 pounds, had lots more energy, and I was no longer having what I thought were UTI episodes. Then I got pregnant. 

My condition worsened while pregnant as my growing belly placed increasing pressure on my bladder and I gave into the roller coaster of horrible food cravings and aversions. I didn’t sleep for 9 months with as many as 10 or more trips to the bathroom each night. It was horrible. I had UTI symptoms of cloudy urine, frequent urination, burning sensation, along with some small blood clots. My midwife referred me to a urologist who shoved a rod up my urethra to look for a blockage, which was way off-base now that I know what I know about Interstitial Cystitis (more on that soon). I did not return to the urologist.

The midwives and doctors at the birth center prescribed a round of antibiotics and tried to get me to stay on a low-dose throughout the course of my pregnancy, which I refused. One midwife mentioned D-Mannose, a natural supplement made from fruit sugars, which I used to manage my symptoms as it helps to reduce inflammation in the bladder. She also mentioned that she thought I might have Interstitial Cystitis (IC). I’ve been researching that condition ever since ~ its telltale sign is chronic UTIs that cannot be confirmed with a urine test because it is not caused by bacteria. There is also usually a history of things like PID and painful sex, like with me. A better term for these UTI-like episodes is actually “IC flares”.

The condition of Interstitial Cystitis is marked by inflammatory flares where the bladder lining becomes compromised by the actual contents of the bladder (concentrated urine full of endotoxins created by the bad bacteria living in our guts). Leaky Gut, Food Sensitivities, Adrenal Fatigue, and Interstitial Cystitis are all related. I now believe that even my chronic low-back pain comes from the inflammation I’ve been experiencing in my bladder for nearly my entire life. After reading that UTIs account for more than half of all doctors visits, I believe there are millions of women with this condition which is being misdiagnosed as UTIs.

Even the urologist missed the IC diagnosis which seems very obvious to me (UTIs with no apparent cause + my health history). I am making this post so others may more deeply question what’s going on with their bodies, rather than relying on doctors and specialists, taking course after course of antibiotics and other medications that do not resolve underlying conditions of an unhealthy and inflammatory diet resulting in dysbiosis, affecting multiple organs eventually leading to this and other chronic health issues.

At this point in my journey, I am no longer flaring from anything food related despite occasionally eating foods I already know I’m sensitive to. I mostly try to keep a diverse diet to avoid too much sensitization to any one food. In nature, grains, fruits, and vegetables are available seasonally and so we can’t overdo it on any one food for long periods of time and our diet remains diverse. Now with grocery stores, processed foods, and easy long-distance shipping, we are out of sync with nature and we do usually overdo it.

Processed foods are addictive without providing nourishment. It would take another post to get into all the reasons why, but suffice it to say that living on ramen, milk & cereal, low cal Subway sandwiches, frozen meals, Slim Fast shakes, pizzas, and all the other crap I used to eat ~ all of that sets the stage for dysbiosis which results in inflammation and chronic health conditions like Interstitial Cystitis.

There is apparently no cure for IC but I believe that I can repair the lining of my bladder through proper hydration + a clean diet that honors food sensitivities  + probiotic supplementation (including fermented foods) + collagen-rich bone broth + medicinal plants + time.

I drink slippery elm tea daily which coats the weakened bladder lining and helps to protect it from the urine, which it also alkalizes to minimize the burning. I also take Garden of Life Raw Probiotics Vaginal Care, which have helped to eliminate food-triggered flares. I do still have hormone-related flares but they are much milder and shorter in duration. My quality of life has improved tremendously. 

Obviously there is a lot of personal information in here. I have found other testimonials to be illuminating in my own search for answers on this health journey. I pray that this post make its way to whomever needs to read it and that it serve the highest good. 

Thanks for reading. I hope it all makes sense! Apologies for typos ~ It’s hard to get long pieces like this out with a 17 month-old daughter. Feel free to message or comment with questions about anything here. 

Xo

Women’s Work & The Rise of the Divine Feminine

15 years ago, a friend asked what my life purpose was. 

At the time I was in college full time while running a small eco-friendly cleaning company in Seattle. I served in the Air National Guard at least one weekend each month and spent my free time working out and volunteering as a coach with Girls On The Run, a non-profit organization whose mission it is to “inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.” I had also just returned from northeast Thailand where I had volunteered at a girls’ orphanage playing and speaking English with girls ranging in age from six or seven to late teens. My life was full of impassioned pursuits and adrenal-busting activity levels. I was doing all I could to sort out leftover pain and tortured emotions stemming from an abusive childhood, while seeking security and validation from the outside world.

I told my friend that I was here to “help young girls find their way”. I had made a lot of progress in my own life and naturally inspired friends and acquaintances along the way when I shared myself authentically. I was in my mid-twenties at the time and only felt qualified to help those on the path behind me find their way to a greater sense of wholeness and well-being. At the time these were “young girls” to me, like high school and younger. 

When my friend and client asked what I thought my purpose was, I was caught in the mire of a patriarchal paradigm that required full activation of my masculine side while suppressing my feminine. I lived in a competitive world where my business sense was valued while my intuitive sense was dismissed as “woowoo” or imaginative, while “facts and figures” equated with truth. I lived in a world that required a constant, high-energy output on a regular work-schedule regardless of the season, my health, or where I was in my cycle. I lived in a world where I was pitted against my peers and my drive was valued. I made spreadsheets instead of art. I thought training for marathons was an act of selfcare, instead of the start of an adrenal crash, as I see it now. I counted money instead of blessings. I was hustling hard to establish a sense of physical security without an opportunity to rest and restore. Because of this, my psyche was disintegrated and I was out-of-touch with my own gifts and passions. I have spent the last 15 years dismantling that world and moving into alignment with who I am at my core. And, who is that?

Yes, of course I believe that I am infinite source consciousness, one with all and nothing, one with the ineffable G-O-D. BUT, on this plane and in this reality, I am pretty identified with Stephanie who loves yoga, art, poetry, healthy meals, reading, writing, sharing, dancing, praying, animals, watching the moon and all of nature, nourishing and working with women at my retreats. And that is the life that I have worked to create for myself, a life built from the inside-out, in alignment with who I am. 

This didn’t happen by accident; I have been cultivating it for as long as I have been “doing the work” to search my soul and release old programming ~ misguided beliefs that kept me locked into a competitive mindset, led me to join the military, get a business degree, pursue a money and ego motivated career, date the wrong men, etc, etc. It took a lot of clearing to make space for more of my authentic spirit to emerge and I’m still clearing that space. Alignment is not a destination but a practice for living.

When I answered my friend about purpose, I didn’t have the words at the time but was searching for something along the lines of “women’s work”. Now that some time has passed and more of my life has unfolded, I’m beginning to see that my path has been typical within the rise of the divine feminine. 

Recently I have come across people, books, retreats, and workshops that keep pointing me to this energy rising within the collective conscious field that has been activating the minds and hearts of women everywhere, calling us to rebalance the masculine and feminine energies as they are manifesting in our own lives and among the larger collective of society. The rise of the divine feminine is also calling conscious men to look within and allow this softer way of moving through the world to rise up, as they honor and hold the space for this rebalancing. This looks like a shift from control, domination, and greed to freedom of expression, cooperation, and nurturance. This looks like wars ending and a less violent culture. This looks like healthy families thriving with plenty of quality time together. This looks like celebration of and respect for nature, the seasons, and all natural cycles. This looks like healthy emotional relating and communities where we are supported and celebrated for our natural gifts and talents, whatever those are.

Asheville is like nowhere else I’ve ever been. Knowledge of the chakras, archetypes, ancient medicines, and other dimensions seems almost commonplace here. My new circles are aware of and tapped into the same subtle energies and ideas that I am. These parts of my awareness and personality have never found comfort or acceptance as they were always considered “out there” by past friends and family members. 

When I answered the mysterious call to relocate to this area, I wasn’t sure what I was doing or why I was here but I’m beginning to see a bigger plan at play. I suspect that I was led here to learn, share, and develop ideas that will evolve my retreats to specifically serve women, bringing a nuance and depth that will spread these ideas and shift perspectives. They will ripple out to affect and help rebalance the energies all around them, serving the collective as well as those who join me on retreat.

I find purpose to be a loaded word and feel that my “purpose” can not be defined. It is simply the result of a life lived in alignment with spirit, a life where whatever work is accomplished comes from a place of inspiration, joy, passion, and synchronicity. But now that I’m really beginning to understand what women’s work is, I’m feeling called to spread the news… it’s time for a new program! It’s time to let the old patriarchal world fall away. It’s time to prioritize our own health, self-care, and expression! 

As we individually heal this imbalance within us and move into alignment with our true spirit, so does the world. I am here to hold space for this. I’m here to inspire and ignite. I’m activated and excited and I know there is more here to come.

Flower Essences

Flower Essences.
I hemorrhaged after giving birth. I was panicked & in fear as the midwife stopped the bleeding. She released 4 drops of a tincture on my tongue. In seconds, I was calm, centered & back in my body. It was a magic potion… She said it was Rescue Remedy.
I discovered later that it is a flower essence widely available at natural food stores because it works, yet it’s easy to dismiss as a real remedy.
Essences are made by placing a flower into spring water soaking in the sun for several hours to record the energetic trace of the bloom. The water is then preserved in brandy. Each flower has different qualities and works on the subtle level of your emotional body.
I was gifted a blend after my mother died but didn’t understand what I was receiving then. I wasn’t experienced in recognizing or working with subtle energies & did not take it. Years later, I awakened to my energy body while deep in my yoga and meditation practice in Ecuador, continuing in Rishikesh. Now my energy body is as real to me as my physical body.
To have them work so immediately and palpably in the middle of a hemorrhage was all I needed to believe in their power to affect my emotional state.
A few months ago, I saw a healer for neck trouble I was having. She used muscle testing, flower essences, chiropractic adjustments, and intuition. I was healed on many levels, including the removal of energetic blocks I’ve carried since I was child.
Recently, I received Bach’s Mother Essences and have been fascinated at what I’ve experienced & witnessed. Now I’m trying to make my own from flowers and spring water collected here on the land. Here is what I’ve gathered and the qualities they are said to invoke.
*Rhododendron – Grounding, unconditional love, inner balance, nurturance, comfort, compassion
*Hydrangea – Alleviates a scattered mind, opens throat chakra, strengthens concentration
*Bee Balm – Energy generator, passion to carry out projects, joy & inspiration
*Echinacea – Calming nerve tonic, increases awareness, deprograms old patterns, higher-self alignment, restores wholeness
*Red Clover – Internally generated behavior instead of group thought, calm and steady presence

Overcoming Addiction

If we’re close, you probably know that I’ve struggled with addiction for a long time but it’s not exactly something I’ve shared with the outside world. I’m not sure why I need to share this today but as I sit here with intense cravings, writing becomes my medicine.

I had my first hit of weed when I was 13 years old. I was going through a tough time. My parents were divorced and I had been terribly abused at home. During that summer visit with my father,  I told my mother that I was planning to stay there, moving over 2000 miles away to Fairbanks, Alaska. I was confused as she tried to beg me back in emotional fits that included attempted bribes or verbal harassment for “betraying” her, but I couldn’t stand the thought of returning to her torment.

New to town, I didn’t have many friends and when an older boy offered to smoke me out at the roller rink, I was all over it. Suddenly my depression lifted as I raced around the rink while headbanging and laughing. Soon after, I bought my own bag and kept buying bags whenever I had any money. I’ve smoked heavily, on and off, ever since. I’m now 38 years old – twenty-five years. When I was a kid, they used to say weed isn’t addictive, but I beg to differ. More recent studies state that for about 10% of us, it is.

Sure, I’d quit for periods of time. I think my longest was about two years after I first enlisted in the military. After that, I hooked up with a pothead boyfriend and began smoking heavily again while dodging drug tests with copious amounts of Goldenseal and water.

In my early twenties, I discovered diet pills. The first pills were prescribed to me after I had seen a commercial on TV. I was about 30 pounds overweight, technically obese. I was on the Air Force Weight Management Program and convinced the doctor that I needed Meridia or I’d be kicked out. I lost the weight and gained another addiction. My prescription dried up and desperate for that increased energy, I started buying Hydroxycut over the counter.

Anger and depression from unresolved childhood issues kept me seeking inner-peace and I eventually found freedom on the dance floor. I loved to party and began trying out drugs like MDMA, Acid, Ketamine, Adderall, and Cocaine. For the two years that I had a steady supply, I kept a “candy jar” of Ecstasy on my nightstand. But nothing ever hooked me like Marijuana. I had tried to quit using so many times. I’d give my weed away or dump it down the garbage chute. Or, I’d finish a bag and not buy again for a few days, but ultimately, I’d go back to it.

My mom died in 2015. While I didn’t realize it, I think I had my first adrenal crash at that time. I cried uncontrollably for months as I continued to “medicate” with weed, and counteract my fatigue with Hydroxycut and coffee. But I was unmotivated and a drain at work. It was clear that my heart wasn’t in it and I was laid off with a severance. I was told that an investor had pulled out of our start-up and sacrifices needed to be made, but looking back I’m pretty sure the CEO was graciously protecting my ego – I was the only one they let go.

I moved to Ecuador in an attempt to escape my misery. Cocaine was cheap and easy to come by. I loved it – It felt like what I thought perfect health must be like and I quickly ditched the chronic weed habit for a chronic coke habit. I dropped about thirty pounds and couldn’t live without it. I was doing a line first thing in the morning after just a couple hours sleep. I don’t think I hit REM sleep for over a year.

Friends were worried and I realized things were out of control. I needed to leave so I went to India for a yoga teacher training. While I was there, I’m pretty sure I experienced a second major adrenal crash. I saw an Ayurvedic doctor who prescribed herbs for emaciation and with deep concern on his face, told me that I needed to lay in bed for a week and do nothing. I laid in bed for a month while detoxing from my coke addiction. I cried, begged God for mercy, and began to see a way out as I received messages through dreams and visions. I’m still not sure if they were hallucinations or if God was speaking directly to me, but they got me to come back to the United States where I laid in bed for a couple more months as I dealt with sobriety for the first time in almost twenty years.

Shortly after my return, I connected with some Ayahuasca ceremonies. During these medicine journeys, I was able to see the abuse and trauma I had been bringing on myself. Though my childhood wounding was very real, it had long ended and I had become my own perpetrator. I hadn’t ever been able to see all the ways I was disrespecting myself before. I dropped the Hydroxycut and eventually the coffee.

It’s been about a year and a half since then. At first, I did buy some weed when the opportunity arose – so difficult to break these addictions – but that was short lived. The hook was deep though and I’d smoke at any opportunity. Since it’s so prevalent, the opportunities have been many, but over time it has become less and less appealing.

About five months ago, I had a hormone panel done to find out why my period was going haywire. The results turned up low cortisol and dopamine production. These hormones are responsible for energy throughout the day and feelings of joy. At the bottom of my test results, it cited “chronic marijuana use” among possible causes. I’m sure the cocaine was a contributor too.

It’s been hard to quit these accumulated habits. I’ve been exhausted – the result of all that borrowed energy. I’ve been moody and I have cravings all the time. I’ve also felt rather uninspired. I used to smoke a bowl and paint, write poetry, or go on a walk while photographing nature’s beauty. That’s mostly dried up now, but I know my own nature as a creator and I have faith that inspiration will return.

Ayahuasca has been a large part of my recovery. The shifted perspective and eye-opening awareness that I’ve experienced has become a part of me – imprinted at a cellular level. I was able to see who I had become and who I have to the potential to be. Ayahuasca also allowed me to experience how valuable I am to God, inspiring more self-acceptance and love and increasing my sense of self-worth. My memories from ceremony have given me the reinforcement that I desperately needed to quit.

Because of this, I’ve made the changes necessary for recovery. I’ve cleaned up my diet and simplified my life to allow for more rest. I’ve also left the city and am surrounded by nature. I’ve been working to replace old habits with healthier habits like getting outside for fresh air and grounding daily. I’m also surrounded by people who take their health as seriously as I do now. I’m so grateful for all of it… 2018 was my most sober year in the last twenty.

I am not perfect. I have definitely slipped, hoping a puff of weed at a party would give me those bursts of inspiration back but it hasn’t. And whenever I do fall off, with increased self-acceptance, I forgive myself and I renew my intention to quit. The path to healing is not linear. It is filled with ups and downs, good days and bad, but I’ve learned to roll with it and take it one day at a time.

The Benefits of Yoga: Mind, Body, and Spirit

On August 22nd, I wrote an article about Yoga for The Madison County News-Record and Sentinel . Below is the text from the article published below. I had a 400 word limit (impossible) which I came very close to with a lot of cuts. It doesn’t flow exactly how I’d like since style had to be sacrificed for the space to put in that wonderful picture taken during one of my retreats. It was published with minor changes and a title chosen by the editorial staff. Overall, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to write about something so dear to my heart, as a member of the local community. This is in Marshall, a small town, about 20 minutes north of Asheville, North Carolina.

Yoga for Body, Mind, and Spirit

While yoga is great for the body, a regular practice also nourishes subtler parts of the self. We become physically stronger, grounded, and centered, and so do our minds and spirits as we grow into our best selves.

Body

Yoga improves muscle tone, flexibility, and hormone regulation. Repeated postures on each side of the body slows brain activity, syncing the hemispheres and moving us into a calmer state. Cortisol reduces and natural chemicals release to relieve chronic inflammation and restore physiological systems. Deep stretches reduce tension and strain. As body awareness increases, we shift from thinking and doing to feeling and being.

Mind

Our minds can be considered in parts: basic survival instincts and drives such as securing shelter, nourishment, and human connection (stress responses like fight or flight also live here), while the discerning mind makes informed decisions. For instance, when hungry (basic drive), the discerning mind chooses salad instead of nachos.

The mind also holds defenses. Any trauma (we all have some) leaves us with a broken sense of trust (and other symptoms). They are useful defenses but can also work against us as distrust distances us from those who love us. Human connection is vital to our health.

When the mind holds tension so does the body, often below our conscious awareness. It settles in like a subtle fog that we don’t realize is there but that disrupts our sleep, concentration, and affects our relationships with a subtle anxiety.

Balancing postures sharpen concentration while long holds tone the nervous system, inducing a clearer and calmer state, on and off the mat. Over time we react less to life’s challenges and trust ourselves more.

Spirit

While physical injury and psychological trauma are obvious blocks to vitality, society goes against our basic instincts with food we can’t trust, a culture of fear, alarm clocks, too much work, and more. Our lifestyles demand constant output, but we are not static beings. Our bodies fatigue as we push through all seasons as though they are the same, losing alignment with the natural rhythms of our body and the planet, dampening our spiritual connection.

Yoga means union and is a spiritual practice at its core. This union is between you and whatever you connect with. For me, it is my intuitive self. You do not need to believe in traditional concepts of God to practice yoga.

While it’s unlikely that we can eat clean all of the time or take winters off, we can return to a healthier and more natural state as we address environmental stressors and psychological tensions through yoga. Beyond a workout, yoga instills a sense of peace, calm, strength, and confidence as we become more aligned at all layers of self. Our bodies improve and so do our minds, relationships, and the bigger picture of our lives.

Stephanie Toler hosts yoga retreats regularly in Marshall, NC. Check out her retreat packages at www.yoginistephanie.com. She also keeps a blog where she shares poetry and essays about yoga philosophy, spirituality, and life lessons at www.stephaniesfaith.com.

*Note* At the time I wrote this, I was in a very internally focused state and wrote this from the perspective of yoga as an internal practice. However, if I could give this article another go and had a higher word limit, I would include a section on heart. Yoga nourishes us: body, mind, HEART, and spirit. Not only is the practice itself heart-opening, but the connections I’ve made through yoga make up the bulk of my friendships and I am forever grateful for my yogi tribe.