Three Herbs to Cool Your Fire

Memorial Day marked the unofficial start of the summer season. Summer ignites the fire element. The warmth of fire has the power to bring us out of the contraction of the cold dark winter into a state of expansion and joy. We have more energy to accomplish our tasks and more hours of light within which to accomplish them.

Fire is known for its dynamism, transformation and passion, but also gives us the capacity to feel joy, compassion, empathy as well as deep sadness, because only a strong heart can truly feel deep sadness. If we turn again to the natural world, we find nature’s herbal antidotes to the heat of summer.

As we discussed in our recent spring post, one of the first plants that shows up and blooms in our area is violet. Violet is an anti-inflammatory and is particularly helpful for inflammation of the respiratory system, like bronchitis, as well as skin conditions, such as eczema. Violet cools fire by acting as a demulcent which soothes and calms any surface areas that may be irritated or inflamed.

Stellaria Media, or Chickweed, another herb which showed up in the spring and is unfortunately on it’s way out, is also a cooling demulcent, anti-inflammatory and vulnerary (wound healer). Chickweed pacifies the fire in the joints as an anti rheumatic and reduces itching on the skin.

Another beauty that has just started to bloom in Virginia, Calendula officinalis, heralds the bright, vibrant, fiery energy of summer with it’s stunning saffron flowers. But even with this fiery exterior, calendula actually cools tissues which are inflamed both internally and externally. A vulnerary, that is specific for the skin, this useful plant is applied topically as a poultice or salve onto any tissue which is red, tender and oozing. It heals burns, bruises, and sprains, decreases swelling, clears infection, speeds tissue regeneration, and prevents scarring.

Internally, Calendula is specific to the digestive and lymphatic systems. Calendula raises immunity by stimulating lymphatic drainage. The lymph is an essential part of the immune system, filtering and eliminating waste products and bacteria as well as producing infection-fighting cells. Calendula is also a powerful anti-microbial and anti-viral.

Learn more herbal, lifestyle, nutrition and yogic cooling practices in our upcoming Retreat: Yoga to Cool the Spirits – A Restorative Yoga Retreat. 


Blessing for a Mother-To-Be

Yesterday, Union Yoga had the honor of leading a mother-to-be and a small group of her family and friends in a Yin Yoga Pre-natal class and Birth Blessing. The buzz of bees, bird songs, and April air drifted in through the open windows as we remembered our bodies as our original home. To close the practice, we read this poem by John O’Donahue. 

For a Mother-To-Be

    By John O’Donahue

Nothing could have prepared
Your heart to open like this.

From beyond the skies and the stars
This echo arrived inside of you
And started to pulse with life
Each beat a tiny act of growth,
Traversing all our ancient shapes,
On its way home to itself.

Once it began, you were no longer your own.
A new, more courageous you, offering itself
In a new way to a presence you can sense
But you have not seen or known.

It has made you feel alone
In a way you never knew before;
Everyone else sees only from the outside
What you feel and feed
With every fiber of your being.

Never have you traveled farther inward
Where words and thoughts become half-light
unable to reach the fund of brightness
Strengthening inside the night of your womb.

Like some primeval moon,
Your soul brightens
The tides of essence
That flow to your child.

You know your life has changed forever,
For in all the days and years to come,
Distance will never be able to cut you off
From the one you now carry
For nine months under your heart.

May you be blessed with quiet confidence
That destiny will guide you and mind you.

May the emerging spirit of your child
Imbibe encouragement and joy
From the continuous music of your heart,
So that it can grow with ease,
Expectant of wonder and welcome
When its form is fully filled

And it makes it journey out
To see you and settle at last
Relieved and glad in your arms.

– John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings


Cleansing During the Transition for a Healthy Energetic Spring

I love watching the transition from Winter into Spring. Out of the darkness of winter, the light finally returns. While the transition can sometimes seem slow, other times we go from cold & rainy to hot & sunny within a matter of hours. We are even expecting another snow tomorrow! We continue to travel through the Kapha season of Water and Earth. You see the perfect example of Water and Earth in the mud that defines this season characterized by wet, cold & dense.

As we learned in our last seasonal retreat, we have to counterbalance the cold, damp, heaviness of winter with movement, warmth and drying. My husband and I have had a great deal of success this winter, following a diet called, Whole30. This diet is defined primarily by removing the common allergens and congesting foods in our diet, namely, dairy, grains, sugar and legumes. This has had a profound effect on our bodies and our health.  I believe it is the main reason why we have escaped the influenza virus that has plagued almost everyone we know this Winter.

Nature has it’s own cleansing process each year. After the heavy dark winter, spring offers us a way to naturally cleanse with the ubiquitous green shoots of spring’s vibrant edible greens. Herbs like chickweed, dandelion and violets provide us with nutrients, fiber and support for our livers and gallbladders, the organs of this time of year, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Chickweed helps us to absorb nutrients, like minerals and also helps dissolve and break down things like cysts, mucus and excess fat cells. Chickweed, itself, is rich in nutrients like calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, and potassium, and vitamins A & C, and B factors such as folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine.

Dandelion and other bitter greens assist digestion. Ingesting the leaves increases hydrochloric acid in the stomach, sends messages to the liver to prepare for digestion, increases the appetite and prepares the liver to break down fats. Dandelion is also high in vitamin C, potassium, calcium, Iron, B vitamins, and protein. Dandelion increases circulation and fluid waste elimination in the body, without depleting the body of important nutrients. 

Violets are alterative, which means they help the body restore optimal functioning by aiding metabolic processes, especially the elimination of waste products. Violet stimulates the lymphatic glands, helping the body get rid of bacteria and other toxins. It is especially useful for swollen glands. Taking Violet after a long winter is a wonderful way to get our bodies ready for a healthy and energetic spring. 

Celebrate the new season and add some of these fresh greens to a spring salad. Simply add a bit of olive oil and apple cider vinegar or lemon juice as a dressing. Keep it simple as you savor the bitter, pungent, and salty flavor inherent in spring’s bounty.

For more information on how the change in seasons effects us and some recommendations for how to respond, as well as a luxurious restorative yoga class to support you during this time of year, consider attending one of our next seasonal retreats.

Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart

Recently, I heard a wonderful interview with Brene Brown, where she used the phrase “Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart.” This immediately made me think of one of the central offerings baby-lifting-weight-2of a Yoga practice: a balance between Sthira (Steadiness) and Sukha (Ease). In Yoga, the belief that our bodies are inextricably connected to our hearts and minds means that the pursuit of physical health has reverberations for our mental and emotional well being.

This balance between suppleness and strength has farther reaching implications into the realm of relationships, our role in our community, and sustainable social outreach. In the words of the great leader, Martin Luther King:

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

Currently in my life, I am grieving the end of a romantic relationship. As I walk through my own natural, human layers of sadness, I am noticing how the practice of Yoga is helping me stay stable, strong and alert, in order to, paradoxically, hold my own vulnerability. In the same way that aligned posture helps reduce physical pain, allowing our own raw places of tenderness to express themselves, requires patience, discipline, and strength; as if holding ourselves from the inside. This is a paradox, but one that Yoga philosophy understands and invites.

Where, in your practice today, is increased strength allowing for greater ease? How is love supporting your power and power supporting your love? How do you sense a connection between a strong back, a soft front, and a wild heart?


Do You Know Your Life’s Purpose?

As we prepare for our upcoming seasonal retreat, we are contemplating the Water element. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys are the yin organs associated with Water and with our Essence, Our True Nature. One of the many ways an imbalance in Water shows up in an individual is with a lack of purpose, a sense of malaise, a lack of motivation. One wonders, especially during winter and early spring, what is my purpose in life?

Thankfully, there are several practices we can draw on to support and build our kidney energy and therefore restore balance to our Water element. One way is to incorporate nourishing herbal infusions as a daily tonic. A favorite Kidney tonic is Nettles (Urtica dioica) also known as Stinging Nettles. Nettles are ubiquitous in gardens and waysides from Maine to Florida and New York to California. Maybe an indicator of how many people benefit from this tonic herb?

Another Kidney tonic, an adaptogen, which enhances the body’s natural response to stress, is Tulsi (Oscimum sanctum) or Holy Basil which is a sacred plant in India and is planted near temples on the Indian subcontinent. Tulsi is a powerful antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory herb. And the smell of the plant and it’s essential oils is divine. Try making a delicious herbal infusion with Holy Basil.

Whole Foods, like whole herbs, are recommended to help balance the Kidneys. Specifically, black-colored foods and foods with the salty taste are beneficial to the Kidneys. These foods include seaweeds and other sea foods that have been marinated in the bounty of natural sea salts for millennia. Legumes, like Kidney beans, and other black foods, such as black sesame seeds, black beans and black walnuts are tonifying to the Kidneys.

Restorative Practices, like Yoga, Meditation, Tai Chi, and Deep Rest, especially during the hours of 3-7am and 3-7pm are recommended to restore our Kidney energy. Learn to practice restorative yoga, specifically tailored for this time of year and more practices to balance your energy during winter and early spring by attending our upcoming retreat.

In the meantime, try incorporating some of these practices now. And ask yourself, “What is your life’s purpose?” Can you articulate it? Or write it down? Continue to practice these three recommendations for the next week. Ask yourself again “What is Your life’s purpose?” Try again in one month. One Year. “What is your life’s purpose?” Has your answer has changed? Has your answer become more clear? “What IS Your Life’s Purpose?”