Thailand Travels: Part II

With the intention to release control and let things unfold as they should, I found myself on International Women’s Day with a true sister, Vanessa Dunleavy, as my travel buddy. We hardly knew each other going into this intense 2.5 week study/work/leisure trip, but our first 17 hours in Chiang Mai together involved easy and deep conversation, open laughter, and an urgent desire to seek out 2 pounds of ground coffee to prepare for our 2 weeks of thai massage training in a remote hill tribe village of Northern Thailand. Before we embarked on our trek up the mountain, we got our legs moving around the bustling markets of Chiang Mai, where we scoped out several possible locations for our photoshoot, including the Clay Cafe, Verde Cafe, Nong Buak Park, Chiang Mai Holistic and the lovely RarinJinda Wellness Resort. 

1-IMG_6247.jpg

Our first full day in the Lahu Village, where we set up our new home in a primitive but well-built bamboo hut raised upon stilts that hovered over a pig and chicken pen. These beloved animals would eventually become our friends, despite rough beginnings with their sunrise symphonies around 4am of snorts, crows and sneezes (yes, a pig sneeze might be the most hilarious and adorable sound) directly beneath our tattered blanket beds on the floor. 

Waking up early became part of our routine, starting with steep climb, coffee in hand, in the twilight with headlamps and glowing eyes from our wild canine friends to light the way to the platform for a 5:45am vipassana meditation. After 45 minutes of silence, we were treated with the soft glow of majestic orange painted skies over distant mountains. Following, we were guided in a 90 minute Dharma Mittra-inspired yoga class led by our beloved tattooed Lucky Love of Nashville. 

IMG_0437.jpg

As a group of about 15, we charged down the hill with growling bellies and were met by the sounds of local Thai radio pop accompanied by Lahu children unabashedly singing along at the top of their lungs and a cacophony of birds on our way to the food platform. A sweet orange cat made his home in my lap while I ate sticky rice, passionfruit and papaya while drinking more coffee with coconut milk from the entrepreneurial locals who sold essentials to the foreign visitors. We discovered only in the last couple days in the village, that toilet paper had been for sale all along, well after we had run out of our own supply and decidedly embraced the rudimentary hose that sprayed water to cleanse after squatting low over the toilets for two weeks. I actually kind of miss that experience. You can be nowhere but completely present when you’re in a thai bathroom. 

I picked up a couple Lahu phrases while interacting with local Lahus and our delightful and attentive guide, co-teacher and friend, Santi, one of the adopted sons of our teacher. Half German and half Lahu, his smile is pure love and his eyes know wisdom beyond the depths of the ocean. Being one of his worldly homes, Santi made us feel at ease in the village and encouraged us to live the Lahu way. After a while, we began to wear their clothing, dance their ceremonial dances and speak a few words in their tongue. I realized later, when I tried speaking Lahu to a Thai shop owner in Chiang Mai, that tribal languages are not known outside of their villages. 

Here’s some fun, casual phrases spelled phonetically: 

A-ma-tee-nay? What’s up? 

Dee-chi-ma-tee Nothing much 

Da-day Beautiful 

May-day Delicious 

A-ma-cha-lo! Let’s eat!

Some of my favourite memories with the Lahus are centred around hanging out, after a big thai lunch of curry and rice loaded with vegetables, drinking locally grown coffee and drinking from coconuts hacked open by either Nana (the wife of the village Chief, Prasang) or Sombat (the village businessman who figured out how to make a lot of money by selling all-inclusive indulgent dinners of roasted pig, potatoes, broccoli and plenty of beer and even Thai whisky to us foreigners for a great bargain of 60THB per person). We would hang out in their shops, built above or beside their homes, with a view overlooking the northern Thai hills, swapping stories and vices (coffee, chocolate and tobacco) and attempting to speak each others’ languages being from all over the globe.

Lahus would find us in the evenings on our massage platform after dinner during Bhajan (devotional chanting with musical instruments) or open practice time. One of our village friends was so enthusiastic about the energy we created in our circle was smiling and clapping and wildly telling stories about snakes and salamanders and the only way to get him to quiet down and enjoy the music was to massage him with many hands.

A couple times, at sunset, there would be a Lahu ceremony in the dancing circle. This would happen often spontaneously when a family would decide they wanted to commune with the spirit world, or planned when there was a birth or death. We ate the red dust as we attempted to participate in the tribe-specific dance steps. The men stomped around the outer circle and I held hands with some of my Thai student friends and Lahu women, stumbling through the seemingly simple shuffle steps, forward and backward to the rhythmic melody of the flute-type instrument with keys that sounds like a muted bagpipe.

Lahu ceremony in the Dancing Circle, picturing the traditional flute-like instrument to which the dances were set. Also featuring traditional Lahu clothing, which many of us foreigners started wearing by the end of our stay.

Lahu ceremony in the Dancing Circle, picturing the traditional flute-like instrument to which the dances were set. Also featuring traditional Lahu clothing, which many of us foreigners started wearing by the end of our stay.

One of the Lahus, well versed in English thanks to the frequent German travelers who taught him over a few months in exchange for knowledge of plant medicine, thanked me with such heart after the ceremony was over and invited me to join him in the hut of the Village’s medicine man. This 80-something-year-old man, sitting cross-legged by a fire sipping tea (which healed my canker sores upon waking the next day), was his teacher. Here I learned that La-Hu means Tiger Hunter in their tongue and the medicine man had killed many in the jungle with bow and arrow in his time.

There are about four tribes in the northern region of Thailand, all speaking different languages and specializing in different trades - the Lahu’s being sewing and textiles - and they grow everything they consume except for salt and oil and the occasional ice cream bar imported from the cities for the children. It’s quite odd to see some children with mobile phones and satellites on their bamboo huts as a strange juxtaposition between their simple lifestyle and the slow infusion of Western comforts into their lifestyle. I asked my new friend what the most important thing was in the Lahu culture and his answer was “sharing”. And that’s what they did for us foreigners: shared their hearts, meals, homes, songs, traditions and more, including their secret waterfall picnic spots where we had a full on gypsy fest complete with music, bamboo brewed coffee, waterfall jumping and lazy musical serenades.

And I wonder how I could have ever returned home?

My Experience with Intermittent Fasting

Hey, tribe,

I’d love to share explanation of what happens to the body while fasting. This not-so-new lifestyle “hack” has been a part of many culture’s lives for various reasons including to detox the body and to achieve mental clarity for meditation and spiritual practices.

While fasting, similar to when you're weight lifting or stretching, there's an element of breaking down the muscles on a cellular or tissue level in order for them to build themselves up stronger.

The dead cellular matter is then scooped out and new proteins can be created for health promoting benefits like decreased inflammation, better digestion and higher brain function, in addition to the weight loss benefits for which fasting is most popular, and in particular intermittent fasting.

We know there are different methods of fasting, but the two most effective ways as listed in this article by Human OS (my new online obsession): it can either be a single day fast (eating only 20% of your average daily calorie intake) or a daily fast (eating for only 8 hours of the day rather than 15).

I chose the daily version, eating only between the hours of 10:00am and 6:00pm. It’s not as hard as you’d think! My experience has been a noticeable difference in elimination - much more frequent and reliable! And that’s all I’m going to say about that. As someone who has suffered from digestive issues since I was a teen, I’ve learned to appreciate these subtle changes in my body.

Benefits I’ve seen so far…

Energy! There has definitely been a clarity of mind and lack of grogginess that comes with fasting, probably due to the fact that my body uses less energy at night and during the day to digest food. I do sleep better at night when my stomach isn’t filled to the brim and bloated. I can actually get through a 14 hour workday without any caffeine!

I enjoy my morning (decaf) coffee (in my adorable new pint-sized Chemex) or any other liquids I enjoy consuming during fasting hours - like Mama J’s loving green juice - that much more slowly because I’m freed up from having to make breakfast as one of my daily morning activities. I have a pretty full morning routine already and I love that I now get take my time with my spine dance and meditation and I get to sip sweetly and pour again while writing my morning pages and filling in my activity matrix, staying mindful and connected to my energy levels before heading out on my commute to the city. And not having a full belly in the morning makes me travel lighter!

Weight loss? Maybe a little… being a tall girl and very active I’ve hovered around the same weight for years. However, I believe that I am eating less by letting go of snacking and the elimination of the unnecessary 2nd breakfast (hello, croissant lovers!). As long as you’re organized and always have a fridge full of prepared and semi-prepared food, you can get all the calories you need (1600-3000 per day for an average adult) in a day without seeing dramatic changes in weight. Though if that’s the goal, I know that some people who fast will eliminate breakfast altogether and eat only 2 meals a day instead of 3.

Productivity has improved… When I get to break-fast, I thoroughly enjoy taking a mid-morning break with a light and healthy snack after I’ve logged about an hour or so worth of email catch-ups and scheduling for the week ahead, often before anyone else has a chance to get to their computer or workplace for the day. This is much easier to do when you have the option to work from home or in a flexible work environment, which is important to me in feeling successful. It makes me feel like I’m staying ahead of the day, rather than chasing time. Post-breakfast, I might have an herbal tea to pace myself for another couple hours of work on a particular project or set of tasks before lunch. I’m loving the herbal berry essence by Davidson’s found at my co-working space.

While my meal times are spaced closer together, it feels like I get full faster and won’t need as much food to sustain me in my most active times of the day. Therefore, decision-making during meal times are not spent on an empty stomach, which can sometimes lead to poor food choices that have an immediate gratification. Post-dinner at 6pm, I’ll have a full evening ahead to connect, digest, move, read, relax, take a bath, or whatever my heart desires. This only works if you go to bed early, otherwise you’ll go to bed and wake up starving. It’s all about playing with your daily rhythms and finding out what works best for you.

I’d love to hear your experience with fasting or feel free to email questions! I know folks who have been fasting for years! And if you want to learn more about intermittent fasting and other health hacks, I recommend subscribing to the podcast created by my family, Dead Set on Living. <— featuring voiceover by my talented hubs, Kyle Guglielmo!

Questions, Comments? Write below or email hello@lillimarkle.com.

Enjoy today & travel gently,
Lilli

greenjuice

Truth is in the Name

Following along the themes of the Yamas as the first limb in the 8 limb principles of yoga, the second of the Yamas is a simple one but not always easy. Some of my favourite asana postures are like this too. They challenge the mind and the body to work together.

We’ll be exploring the idea of Satya, or truth, as it pertains to the way we express ourselves both outwardly and inwardly.

Kali Mudra

Kali Mudra

Pose: Crescent Lunge
Mudra: Kali Mudra
Mantra: Sat nam (“My name is truth”)

  • From standing, step the right foot toward back of mat. Allow the left knee to bend toward the big toe. Ensure the pelvis is stable.

  • Come into Kali mudra, named after the fierce goddess Durga, bringing hands together with all fingers save index fingers interlaced - index fingers represent the sword of Durga, who slays illusions.

    • Both Kali and Durga are manifestations of the goddess Mahadevi

    • Durga represents the empowerment that enables us to stand in our truth

  • Inhale to lift the hands overhead

  • Exhale to lower them to heart level while visualizing the sword cutting through whatever causes you to be inauthentic (words, clothing, actions, habits)

  • Chant mantra Sat nam (“My name is truth”)

This time of year (if you’re living in the North-western hemisphere) we notice the days getting colder and darker and we learn into our comforts. It is a time of year where we can allow unhealthy habits to develop that deplete us or we can stoke the fire from within using fierce discipline and face our truths, no matter how uncomfortable or ugly they may be.

Whether we relate to the idea of mythology or not, the energy of Durga (often depicted in a menacing image holding many weapons while riding a tiger) represents our inner battles with duties/responsibilities, seeking happiness, values, forgiveness over mistakes - both personal and those of others, as well as other circumstantial challenges we face in life. Each weapon she yields represents each category of the struggle.

Image from India Currents

Image from India Currents

Focus of the Month: Ahimsa, from the 8 Limbs of Yoga

If you’ve been in a yoga class or teacher training and hear about the guiding philosophies that go beyond just the physical practice (Asana), then it’s probably in reference to the Yamas or the Niyamas. These principles were written thousands of years ago and once considered mandatory vows for any yoga practitioner.

They can be difficult for the modern practitioner to embrace in a secular, contemporary society. In the same vein, yoga was developed for adolescent boys to teach them to sit still with discipline and to strengthen their bodies for the arduous work ahead of them. Now, more than half your average yoga class is practiced by women and even more classes are created for women, like pre- and post-natal yoga.

My suggestion, as I review just a couple of the meanings from the 1st Limb of Ashtanga Yoga - The Yamas - would be to consider these “rules” less as directives and more as reflective tools that allow us to deepen our self-awareness in yoga class and beyond. These practices can have deep and long lasting effects, whereas the physical practice only takes you so far on the path.

For example, violence isn’t just firing a weapon; it may also arise in the harsh ways we treat ourselves (like pushing too hard in class to keep up with or compete with classmates). Or, non-possessiveness could be interpreted as letting go of old grudges.

by_yamas.jpg

The first of The Yamas is Ahimsa, which means Non-Harming.

Rather than trying to explain, my teaching style is to bring it into the senses immediately - to feel - starting with the physical body in the Asana practice.

Pose: Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I)
Mudra: Padma (Lotus) Mudra
Mantra: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu (“May beings in all reals experience the feeling state of ease”)

  • From standing, step the right leg back towards the right edge of the mat, spiraling the right heel down so the foot is grounded

  • Bend the left knee and guide the right hip toward the left big toe

  • Bring hands together at the heart with fingers apart, in the gesture of Padma (lotus) Mudra

    • Drawing inspiration from the purity and perseverance of the lotus flower floating above the muddy waters of desire, fear and attachment - the feelings that cause us to lash out at others or ourselves

    • Meditate on the namesake of the pose: Vira means “hero” or “warrior” and bhadra means “with great virtue”

    • Apply concept of non-harming with fortitude and grace of a warrior

    • Attune warrior energy toward the virtues and peace and non-harming of yourself, others and the environment

    • Chant: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu (“May beings in all reals experience the feeling state of ease”)

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I). Photo by Annaliese Godderz.

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I). Photo by Annaliese Godderz.

Padma (Lotus) Mudra. Photo by Joelle Ng.

Padma (Lotus) Mudra. Photo by Joelle Ng.






Why moving to Canada was the best decision for my health

toronto love.jpg

Back to School days have got many of us thinking about our goals and how to get in the flow now that our free-spirited summer is winding down. While we can stay adventurous year-round, the cooler and shorter days allow many of us, especially those of us on the East coast, to turn inward and take stock of the resources we have and prepare to harvest for the Fall. 

While I speak with some of my colleagues, most sound pretty tired and melancholy. I couldn't help but feel guilty for the gifts of rest and nourishing food I've given myself over the past couple weeks, regardless of how busy work becomes, because I actually felt energized and excited to dive into the work and start creating projects and managing time. Why should anyone feel bad about being productive? But sometimes the "busy" syndrome kicks in and we feel like we're not giving enough of ourselves, to work, to study, to family or friends. It gets to the point in our Western society where it becomes sexy when we're too booked to be social and too exhausted to care. 

The other day I was grateful to have spent some time connecting with a dear friend (which we both had to schedule INTO our busy lives) who reminded me of the difference between nervous system fatigue and pure exertion fatigue. One leads to burnout and anxiety while the other leads to a good night's sleep and satisfaction.

The City that Never Sleeps (aka The Big Apple) comes to mind when I think about nervous system fatigue because it forces your system to function at such a highly sympathetic (fight or flight) level that certain hormones start overproducing which can lead to chronic dysfunction of vital systems like digestion, reproduction and the ability to process our own emotions. With so many new experiences in our lives these days, the nervous system must keep up with each new experience, monitor it, and control the rest of the body's reaction to it. And that's a full time job! We need prolonged periods of rest between these bursts of activity and adrenaline to achieve homeostasis - the state where the body is in balance and can optimally function - which can only be done when the parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system is engaged. Oh hi, Yoga! 

peace.jpg

Anatomy & Physiology aside, moving to Canada has been one of the best decisions I've made for my health. I drink less coffee (more beer, but that's a story for another time) because my breaks between work involve stretching in my backyard or in our spacious living room that actually fits area rugs and wall hangings(!!), nature walks on the Bruce Trail near my home, freshly prepared meals with my partner and, most interestingly, conversations in our new community here in the City of Hamilton with a diverse group of friendly and open individuals from various ages, classes, backgrounds and interests. 

 

In a rapidly evolving city (for better or worse, depending on whether you take an economic or humanitarian standpoint), that has become a hotbed of renovations, artistic and culinary collaboration, as well as a leader in innovation and sustainability; conversations with my new neighbours have challenged me to stay open-minded and present, considering others' perspectives and paths - something I was not invited to explore as much as I thought while in NY due to the path I chose to pursue and its corresponding network of similarly-minded, mostly millennial group of ambitious theatrical and spiritual dear ones. 

It is this group of harlequin hippies to whom I am grateful for continually inspiring me to keep going when the burnout was real and to keep considering the dreams, philosophies and life's simple joys.

Stay well, my friends! xo

sunset hamilton bay.jpg

Mindfulness for Creativity & Critical Thinking

Teaching the practice of mindfulness is rewarding not only when you get to witness the calm, grounded transformation of your corporate students, but also the practices are immediately taken into the context of the work in the very setting where it's meant to be done. 

forbes office

Forbes' HQ in Jersey City is a bright and clean, spacious office overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. You can even see the Statue of Liberty through one of the floor-to-ceiling windows in the reception. Just what you'd expect to see from a creative digital media powerhouse: sophisticated leather couches with colorful pillows and high-top hover tables for spontaneous discussion, gaming break rooms and open floor plan desk configurations. Forbes employees get to experience a bit of startup culture daily. And thanks to their Head of Product & Tech, they look forward to a mindfulness lunch led by yours truly every month. 

mindful

Most of the practitioners attending are beginners of mindfulness, with a little experience of guided meditation at the end of a yoga class, at most. And the employees are often coming from different departments, mixing creative with engineering and even department heads drop in on a session from time to time. Most say it's a welcome break in the stacked workday and they look forward to feeling more energized and focused after practicing mindfulness. 

The unexpected benefits, including increased ability for problem solving, experienced after a mindfulness session are the most rewarding for a teacher. Once, while eating gourmet pizza personally delivered by the Head of Product & Tech himself after concluding the meditation, one of his employees came to a realization during the session or, as I like to call it a "moment of clarity", that led to the group launching into a discussion about the organization of meeting structures and shifting of office layout. 

creative office space

The relaxed state of stillness between thoughts is a breeding ground for creative and critical thinking. And the quiet and inquisitive space held by the facilitator was as effective a tool for workplace productivity and camaraderie as installing pool tables and kombucha on tap, if not more. 

Of course Forbes has some of the best content on mindfulness in the workplace. Check out more benefits here

Grounded yet slightly Euphoric Cacao

Most startup companies offer happy hours with libations and an opportunity to get to know your coworkers on a deeper level - seriously, how awesome would it be to remember the dance battle you and your CEO had the next time you feel anxious about a project or deadline? - but how many can say their employer approved a mind/body altering substance in the middle of a workday? 

Enter cacao, the purest form of what we know as chocolate. It's been used in Central and South America in ceremony and ritual to connect to the divine and to bring communities together for the past 5000 years. 

Some ingredients that go into a ceremonial cacao drink.

Some ingredients that go into a ceremonial cacao drink.

I first learned about the magic of cacao, its history and benefits while on a cacao/coffee tour on a working farm situated next to the papaya farm on which my husband and I stayed for part of our honeymoon earlier this year. The farm and tour company is called Don Juan Tours and it's one of the best deals in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, next to the Los Cañones zipline hot springs adventure. Pura Vida. 

Back to cacao - the raw plant is actually a seed found inside a large, textured fruit ranging in color from violet to pastel yellow. The seeds are hand-harvested, fermented, dried and roasted to produce cacao nibs. This dark, solid substance can be ground into a paste to make a ceremonial drink blended with a variety of herbs, spices and essences like sweet orange oil, vanilla, salt, lavender and chili powder. You can also make a chocolate bar from this paste, like we did at the farm. 

Raw cacao fruit growing on a tree at the Don Juan farm in Arenal, Costa Rica.&nbsp;

Raw cacao fruit growing on a tree at the Don Juan farm in Arenal, Costa Rica. 

The raw fruit, cracked open before the seeds are harvested prior to fermentation.

The raw fruit, cracked open before the seeds are harvested prior to fermentation.

Cacao seed, fermented and dried before it's ready to be roasted and turned into cacao nibs.

Cacao seed, fermented and dried before it's ready to be roasted and turned into cacao nibs.

Me taking a crack at grinding the roasted cacao nibs into a paste to make all the chocolate-y goodness! Notice the tube of cacao butter next to the fruit - I definitely rubbed it all over my sun burned face.&nbsp;

Me taking a crack at grinding the roasted cacao nibs into a paste to make all the chocolate-y goodness! Notice the tube of cacao butter next to the fruit - I definitely rubbed it all over my sun burned face. 

The chocolate bars we often get in North America are made using machinery invented in Switzerland that separates the cacao butter from the powder to control the percentage of cacao found in each bar (think milk vs. dark chocolate). Keep in mind the health benefits of cacao will only be realized if you have at least equal parts (50%) fat to powder so the nutrients can be absorbed into the body. 

At the workshop hosted by my company, hOM, we were gifted with the joyful spirit and grounding, knowledgeable force of Florencia, the founder of Cacao Lab , who guided us in a meditation that honored the natural elements of earth, fire, water and air, while we drank from handcrafted clay cups the carefully prepared cocktail made lovingly by our guide. Florencia included rose and lavender and chipotle chili in our ceremonial cacao drink. 

The giffy joy was felt amongst the group almost immediately. I looked across the circle where my coworkers and I were seated and witnessed their unforgiving grins from ear to ear. We sat in silence to connect to our bodies and breath, allowing any words of intention be heard among the group: 

Love
Endurance
Play
Rest
Cleanse
Celebrate

We laughed and poured more of this liquid happiness into our clay cups while we listened to the history of the Mayan calendar and the Nawales (or Nahuales) - the 20 different energies or spirits found in the human body, represented by animals and colors, like a red armadillo symbolizing abundance of knowledge and connection to children and family - in addition to the biophysical science behind the benefits of cacao. No wonder I was feeling light headed and hungry and aroused all at the same time! 

Health Benefits of Cacao, in short: 

  • theobromine - stimulates blood flow 
  • antioxidants - diminish the presence of free radicals in the body 
  • magnesium - an element 80% of Americans are deficient in 
  • neurotransmitters - tryptophan, serotonin, etc. (the feel good hormones) 

After the talk, we were led through a fiery yoga flow with moments of stillness that felt like an uplifting drink of cool water to soothe the intensity of the experience. At one point during a forward fold, I turned to look at my colleague practicing next to me and he was wide-eyed and mouth open in awe while at the same time exploring the subtle fluid twitches led by his own body's intuitive impulses, like he was a child discovering movement for the first time! I imagined this is what ecstasy felt like. 

I was deeply connected to my breathing, where the inhalation was so buoyant I felt like I weighed nothing so I could float away at any moment. I fearlessly floated through the flow, attempting inversions and arm balances which are not usually in my daily practice, without effort and sometimes with my eyes closed, trusting that my feet and hands knew where to take me. I understood why they called it the "drink of the gods". It was simultaneously liberating and grounding. 

Needless to say, the cacao ceremony was out of this world, however, I'm confident that you would experience similar physiological effects drinking coffee or eating fruit if done in a ritualistic, ceremonial or intentional way in a space that's comfortable and supportive of exploration. The love that goes into the preparation of what is about to nourish you, and the mindful way of consuming it, could replicate the grounded yet slightly euphoric state of being, especially when these moments are shared with others in community. 

The gift shop at the farm is shaped like a cacao fruit! Pictured also is the Ox Cart that we got to ride around in pulled by two super chill oxen.&nbsp;

The gift shop at the farm is shaped like a cacao fruit! Pictured also is the Ox Cart that we got to ride around in pulled by two super chill oxen. 

Here are the oxen living their best life. Their names are Gallo &amp; Pinto, which also happens to be our new favorite breakfast dish (rice &amp; beans), paired with some warm cacao drink or coffee.

Here are the oxen living their best life. Their names are Gallo & Pinto, which also happens to be our new favorite breakfast dish (rice & beans), paired with some warm cacao drink or coffee.

From Blackberry to the Opera to Startups and Everything in Between...

Many people have recently asked what brought me into the career path I'm currently pursuing? In an effort to be transparent and maybe even inspire others who seem to have changed their careers multiple times, I'd like to share a little more about my trajectory thus far.

I graduated from the University of Waterloo in Ontario Canada with a Bachelor of Arts & Business, concentrating on Cultural Management with Minors in French and Drama. My first job while at University was building a marketing strategy for an independent entrepreneur who figured out how to produce environmentally friendly coffee and tea filters and ship them all over the world. I figured out how to sell them as a hospitality bundle to restaurants in the Greater Toronto Area. The owner, Ted, was my first mentor and taught me how to golf and let me practice ballet in the warehouse while I was competing for Team Canada. 

An open mind when it comes to company culture was cultivated early on. I soon after made the jump into a much larger corporation called Research in Motion - you may know it by its Blackberry products. Product launches were organized, mascot costumes were worn at the National Pond Hockey Tournament honoring Walter Gretzky, and I learned the value of working with a team. 

My work placements in Nonprofit Management took me backstage, on TV, planning festivals, and giving educational tours at City-owned Museums in Kingston, Ontario, and even onstage at the Sarasota Opera in Florida where I met my husband, Kyle

Since living in NYC, I've had the privilege of working with some of the country's premier Performing Arts Organizations, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and TheaterworksUSA. It's a difficult career path, working for a nonprofit - long hours and little pay until you reach retirement and you haven't got the energy to attend all the events anymore - but a rewarding one. I am always seeking worthy causes to assist in grantwriting, prospect research, campaign development and management, event management, volunteer management, and fundraising strategies. 

The work I'm currently pursuing is that of strategy, partnerships, business development, and growth of startups and small-to-medium sized companies. I love alternative ideas to company culture and aim to foster a sense of wellbeing in any workplace. Networking and relationship building have become a concrete part of my professional life. I love solving problems and working with teams to decipher clients' needs and communicate an intentional and adaptable plan of attack to hit and exceed goals.

New Year: Full Moon

Happy New Year! I hope you got to spend some time cozying up and sharing the warmth with loved ones near and far. The moon will be at her peak fullness the evening of January 1st and during the day on January 2nd, 2018. What a perfect way to begin our solar New Year!

Photo by Lynne Pitts courtesy of EarthSky.org

Photo by Lynne Pitts courtesy of EarthSky.org

The full moon will be in the zodiac sign of Cancer, which is related to the water element, and brings to light characteristic qualities such as imagination, emotional sensitivity, loyalty, and moodiness.

While the water-y emotional ups and downs may hit hard at the beginning of the New Year, the fact that we can prepare ourselves for this experience is totally empowering. We don’t have to give in to the fact that we’re all going to be on the verge of tears as we launch ourselves into a fresh start. In fact, the Cancer sign is a Cardinal sign - one of the three zodiac qualities that determines its effect on all other signs and how we relate to the positioning of the planets in our solar system. A Cardinal sign signifies action, initiative, leadership, and outgoing activity. With this is mind, we may feel an urge to turn our emotions into positive action, intention, or conversation.

Image courtesy of My Astral Life

Image courtesy of My Astral Life

You may ask yourself, but I’m not a Cancer, so how does this apply to me? The fact that the full moon at this time falls into the House of Cancer, does play a role in how we inform our relationship to the changing environment. In general, our Sun Sign is the zodiac sign we all relate to based on when we were born. It governs the qualities that are most apparent on the surface. It is what others see when they look at us - our individuality. The sun sign will inform how you are in the present and how you’re projecting yourself into the future. Think of the outwardly shining rays of the sun. Equally important, if not more so, is our Moon Sign, which is also determined by our birth chart, has a more receptive quality. Take a peek at some resources for finding out your signs below. The Moon Sign is that part of you that you see. It is your unconscious personality. The instinctual side of you that reacts before you have time to think. Often the moon sign stands for your childhood, dreams, memory, or the past.

Without even knowing what your Moon or even Sun sign is, we can all reflect based on the idea of a New Year’s rebirth - the significance of a new beginning. This full moon will bring new forces to your signs, with different motivations. Generally, with the moon in Cancer, we will see at our best, devotion, patience, and sensitivity; we will see at our worst, possessiveness, moodiness, criticism, and self-pitying.

A few tips to remember during this moon cycle until the next new moon:

  • You will work best at your own pace and not up against a clock

  • Meditate to manage your mood swings

  • It is a good time to do creative work

  • Taking a walk after a meal will aid in digestion and serenity of mind (Cancer signs are notorious for digestive issues and over-indulging in food and drink)

  • Look for calcium in your diet (a key mineral necessary to support Cancer signs) in the form of whole grain rye, yogurt, egg yolks, beets, watercress, fish, oysters, kale, lettuce, okra, tomatoes)

  • Try not to turn to sweets and numbing substances to feel good - find security in loyal friendships, romance, and creative nourishment

The Greatest Compliment You Can Receive

The greatest compliment I've received recently was from my fiance, Kyle, and it was that I am a storyteller. It's such a simple act, and more often than not I feel self-conscious while telling stories... 

The tiny ego voice of fear in my head: Will I choose the right words? Will I do the heart of the story justice? Will it land with the listener the way I want it to? 

For someone who loves me and knows me to tell me I'm actually good at this abstract "skill" is a huge exhale of relief and a simultaneous lifting up in confidence toward the direction of my purpose. 

This has got me thinking more about the act of storytelling and how its vulnerability can be a healing process. You know how an idea or theme just seems to nag you and show up in every corner of your life until you talk about it and share your relationship to it? 

I opened up my Apple podcasts app this morning to settle in for a commute into Manhattan for a private thai massage client and it was the Beautiful Writer's Podcast that presented itself to me. The topic of conversation between one of the most celebrated literary agents, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, and one of her beloved authors, Dani Shapiro of Hourglass, landed on the fact that ideas don't change the world. Stories do. 

tell me a good story where you or somebody else thought their life was going to go one way and turned out completely different. I’ll never forget it.

This small vote of confidence from my partner that I have the privilege and the gift to tell other people's stories and my own in order to light up the world - to create a global campfire - is a miraculous thing.

Do this one thing for me and for yourself: tell someone what they're good at and they might just find their purpose. 

What is this reference to purpose in relation to sharing stories and gifts, you might wonder. Dolly Parton once said,

Find out who you are and do it on purpose.

That's the simple version of it. Who you are is made up partly of what you're good at. And sometimes you are so good at certain things and find such ease in doing them that you don't even see them as skills until someone points it out to you directly. If you don't know what you're good at, ask someone you trust! 

All that deep, esoteric stuff aside, I want to drive home the reasons why I believe this storytelling compliment to be the greatest I've received.

  1. Storytelling helps us become better listeners. By sharing stories for a listening audience, people are able to go to a deeper place of sharing and opening if nobody is interrupting or weakening the conversation or diverting it to where they want it to go. Next time you're listening to someone's story, try NOT to react or even respond. There will be an urge. But just hold space without thinking about the next thing you want to say. Take a deep breath after the story lands. And try asking a question instead of responding. 
  2. We get to shed a layer each time we tell a story. This is the healing part of storytelling that I love! And we get to tell it any way we want. The more we speak our story out loud, the less attachment we have to it. There's release and surrender in sharing, rather than the anxietytension-building holding we do out of fear that we won't be understood.
  3. Sharing stories increases the "Me Too" factor. The chance that someone else is going through or has gone through something similar to you or someone close to you is reassuring that we're all humans experiencing a vast range of emotions daily. 
  4. As a teacher, says Rachel Brathen (Yoga Girl), "you can only guide people to a place of vulnerability to the point that you're able to open yourself". 

Believe

It’s not just a pretty word lit up on the exterior of Macy’s in NYC’s Herald Square. It’s a weighted word that carries a great deal of value and wisdom and, depending on whom you ask, can even help define your idea of faith.

Take care in setting the table and your guests will take care to be present with you.&nbsp;

Take care in setting the table and your guests will take care to be present with you. 

This word came up again and again during a lively Christmas dinner conversation with family and some new friends. A group of educated, creative, and open-minded people of all religions, generations, and cultural backgrounds - what a treat to be surrounded with such diversity! 

Of course, the conversation was philosophical, historical, scientific, and political. The idea of belief came up in the context of belief that there is enough common sense and goodness in the human race that despite what we think about the current political climate, situations may worsen, but we resilient humans will ultimately be okay. We’ve faced a number of severe challenges in the history of life as we know it. 

On the other hand… what about doubt? While listening to a recent podcast featuring Leslie Hazleton, author of The First Muslim, I came to the conclusion that the best of us are doubters. This is what makes us human. There needs to be a sense of urgency in order to inspire right action. Otherwise, if we always felt that everything is going to be alright all the time then what purpose would we have in speaking our minds? In sharing opinions and standing up for what we believe? 

And what does it mean to believe? It’s something that we have confidence in. For those of us who do not identify with a particular religion and put their faith in inquiry and a sense of mystery, perhaps belief is a practice of faith. To determine what you have confidence in is a starting point for mapping out your values and system of beliefs. For example, I have confidence in the scientific method, and in the natural evolution of humans and animals, and in the need for us as a human race to regularly connect with each other and feel love. 

Expand your worldview by retreating to nature.&nbsp;

Expand your worldview by retreating to nature. 

Are we fortunate or at a disadvantage to be able to record and remember every detail of our angst and elation and repeat the experience as many times as we can press play? In this hyper-documented world it can be overwhelming. All the more reason, I believe, to retreat from the media once in a while (the woods or mountains are a great place for that because you don’t get service!) and dive inward. Take stock each year of what you’re confident in and see how these beliefs may change or develop. 

The end of the year is the perfect time for that. Be bold. Be brave. Believe.