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Breathing with Trees

Breathing with trees in the AdirondacksI ventured out, alone, in my snowshoes, on a quiet trail through the woods. We had had the first substantial snowfall of winter a few days before, and I came to a part of the trail that had not been broken since the storm. I’m not experienced on snowshoes and it was only my second time out this season, but it was quiet and beautiful so I decided to push on.

Once my body started complaining, I stopped and turned back. It had begun to snow again, which was lovely to look at but made the trail more challenging. I caught myself getting short of breath as my heart rate came up and I took a break.

There was a time when I would have been frightened out in the woods, all alone, with no cell signal, my heart pounding in my chest, but now I have a relationship with the trees. Through my shamanic work I have become aware of the life energy that flows through the trees. I have seen them “lit up” with that energy. It is the same energy that flows through you and me.

Rather than panicking out in the woods, I sat in the snow with my back to a tree. I tuned into that energy. And I began to breathe with the tree. Plants and animals are the two halves of the beautiful life-sustaining oxygen cycle. Trees breathe out oxygen, we breathe it in. We breath out carbon dioxide, the trees breathe it in.

Sitting against the tree, I became conscious of breathing in what the tree was releasing. It was as if I could draw the breath right out of the tree into my back. Then I breathed out and felt the tree draw in my out-breath. Back and forth, the tree and I breathed together, until my heart rate slowed and I felt safe and held. I walked calmly out of the woods.

This simple but powerful practice draws my awareness to the interconnected web of life. While the woods are a wonderful place to experience it, I find the same sense of connection and peace when I breathe with the trees in my backyard or even my houseplants. I leave a small offering in gratitude for the breath when I can, and I always speak my thanks. I know I am heard.

Essential Oils that Bug the Bugs

2015-06 Mosquito EONothing announces the imminent arrival of summer in the Adirondacks like itchy mosquito bites. I love to walk outside, but can’t bear to coat my skin with harsh chemicals to keep the bugs at bay. I also don’t want to spend all summer scratching.

Of course, the earth provides natural bug repellents. You can make your own bug spray with essential oils, water and witch hazel. Which essential oils bug the bugs? Choose one or a combination from this list:

  • Blue Cyprus
  • Citronella
  • Clove
  • Lemongrass
  • Rosemary
  • Tea tree
  • Basil
  • Rose Geranium
  • Cinnamon
  • Lemon
  • Eucalyptus
  • Cedarwood
  • Lavender (this is the only one recommended for use on young children)
  • Peppermint
  • Juniper
  • Thyme

Here’s how I make my bug spray:

Essential Oil Bug Repellent


You’ll need:

  • A spray bottle (8 oz works well)
  • Boiled water (unless you have untreated well water)
  • Witch hazel
  • 30-50 drops of bug bugging essential oils (here’s my combo: 6 drops of clove, 6 lemongrass, 3 basil, 3 cinnamon, 3 lemon, 3 eucalyptus, 5 cedarwood, 6 lavender, 6 peppermint and 5 thyme)

Fill half of the spray bottle with the boiled water and fill the rest with witch hazel. (Leave some room at the top so you can shake it.) Add your essential oils. Cap the bottle and shake it. Spray on your skin, clothing and hair, being careful not to get any in your eyes. Reapply as the scent fades.

Keep these 3 things in mind when you try yoga with weights

Arm rotations in tree pose require extra focus.

Arm rotations in tree pose require extra focus.

When I decided to combine my yoga teacher training and personal trainer certification and teach a yoga with weights class, I looked around at the programs out there and couldn’t find one that satisfied me. Instead of taking a training that did not offer everything I was looking for, I created my own. My Earth & Fire: Vinyasa Flow Yoga with Weights classes are structured to be safe and designed to stabilize the core in every pose or movement. I borrowed from yoga, pilates and weight training and built all the moves into a flow.

Unless you live in the eastern Adirondacks in New York, you will need to find a yoga with weights class near you if you want to try it. (Or ask me about doing a session on Skype.) When you take that class, keep these things in mind:

  1. Keep it light. Yes, you should keep your attitude light, but what you really need to do is choose light hand weights. If you’ve never worked with weights before, 1 or 2 pound weights are enough. If you have, pick a weight that is less than you usually lift. When you are holding your arms out with a weight in each hand in Warrior II, you don’t want to be slowly tearing your rotator cuff. Since you’ll have to focus on holding a pose as well as what is going on in your arms, it’s safer to downsize your weights. The weights I offer my classes max out at 5 pounds.
  2. Engage your whole body. As you are pressing weights overhead in Warrior I, is your alignment degrading? The weights are just one part of what’s going on. Ground through your legs and feet and always, always, always use your core muscles. Maintain a neutral pelvis and support the low back by drawing the lower abdominals in and up and tucking your tailbone. Keep the shoulder blades down unless you are targeting their movement. Bring your chin down until your ears are directly above your shoulders and keep the neck as soft as possible. The true challenge of practicing yoga with weights is not the number of reps, but doing those reps without sacrificing your alignment.
  3. Breathe. I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but I have learned from my own practice and observing my students that whenever something new is introduced or the going gets rough, we forget to breathe. When I teach Earth & Fire, all the movements are timed to the breath. That might mean those movements are slow, and that’s okay. First and foremost, keep breathing throughout the practice, and fire up your Ujjayi breath.

I love my yoga with weights practice. The strength training has supported my regular practice by building the muscles that allow me to have fun in inversions and all sorts of balance poses. It’s also great cross-training for the running and hiking I do, and the yoga and weights give me a double-dose of bone density maintenance. Keeping those three things in mind, give a yoga with weights class a try.

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Awake in the Outdoors

Chalis Pond, North Hudson, NY

Chalis Pond, North Hudson, NY

We are finally seeing spring in the Adirondacks. When my son and I went for a hike today the temperature was sneaking past 70 degrees and the sky was bright blue. We followed a short trail into a pond, then sat at the edge and watched tadpoles and baby fish play in the water.

My son is starting to experiment with creative writing, and is often trying to imagine settings for his made-up stories. While we sat by the water, I suggested he try noticing as much as he could about the place where we were, to get an idea of the details that make a setting imaginable for others. So we sat, and we looked, and we listened. We even smelled and felt.

How often do we get lost in our thoughts and overlook all the small details of where we are? How much do we miss? What would life be like if we took the time to stop and notice? What if we were truly awake to every moment?

Sitting by the edge of the pond, we woke up. We watched the water ripple in the breeze. We saw the bigger ripples left by surfacing fish and the V’s left by water bugs skating by. We watched the light dance in the leaves of the trees. We saw birds and clouds above and below, reflections in the water. We took in the frayed edges of tiny leaves just uncurling from their buds.

We heard the songs of birds, some melodious, some chattering. We heard the muffled voices of two fishermen floating in canoes across the pond. We heard the splash when a fish jumped.

We felt the warmth of the sun and the cool of the breeze. I smelled pine and decaying leaves. My son smelled my deodorant. (I suppose that could have been worse.)

I struggle to meditate with my eyes closed, focusing on my breath. My mind wanders. But out there by the pond, open-eyed, I found the calm awareness that I look for on my meditation cushion. My meditation is to become fully awake, in the outdoors.

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