Sacred Scents

 
 photo by Francesca Dunham

photo by Francesca Dunham

The use of sacred, vibration-shifting scents has long been a cornerstone of spiritual practice + ritual in indigenous cultures, and a beloved part of my own life. Burning medicinal botanicals and wafting their scent and smoke throughout your physical space not only lends a lovely, grounding scent but also works to clear, attract, and transform the energy of your environment. (More so, science has even found these sacred, medicinal scents to eliminate airborne pathogens.) 

This practice, known as smudging, is one that has the opportunity to be super intuitive, ritualistic, and powerful. Especially when performed with intention and a desire to connect back to one's inner self. Because each scent carries it's own vibration, the properties and purposes of each vary. For that reason, I always keep these three medicinal botanicals on hand, so as to allow my intuition to guide me towards which one my space and spirit are most in need of.

Smugding is an incredibly simple way to make a powerful, positive impact on your space and spirit, and I encourage you to experiment with scared scents in your own life and spiritual practice. 


SAGE | A plant with incredibly purifying and cleansing properties. It's most apt use is to clear out unwanted or stagnant energy. I love lighting sage in the evening as a way to let go of and clear out the energy of the day. Whenever I move to a new home, spend the night in a hotel or new space, and enter into/depart from a situation that feels negative, I smudge sage. I sage my entire home weekly. It's always important to crack open windows and doors when saging a space, so as to allow the old energy to be carried away with the smoke. Simply light your sage bundle, creating a sizable flame, and blow out gently until it begins smoking. Sage your physical space (getting into all the weird little spaces - closets, under the bed, etc.) and the outline of your body, relighting as needed. 

SWEETGRASSTrue to it's name, sweetgrass has a sweet, pleasant aroma when burned, serving as a reminder of Mother Nature's sweet, gentle, and kind spirit. It lends a calming energy and helps to purify the spirit while calling in a sacred presence. I love lighting sweetgrass in the morning, wafting it's sweet scent as I prepare for the day, and before meditation or yoga practice. 

PALO SANTO | Sustainably salvaged from only the fallen branches of the mystical, spiritually-revered Palo Santo tree, this  "holy wood" creates a beautifully grounding scent when smudged. The energy of palo santo is one of attraction and drawing in of positivity. It facilitates a deeper connection with Source, elevates creativity, and uplifts the energy of a space or individual. Another scent I use in the morning and before meditation, and that I especially love when I need an emotional lift. 


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Digestive Bitters • Urban Moonshine (and a giveaway!)

 
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Years ago, at the recommendation of my TCM (Traditional Chinese medicine) practitioner, I began using digestive bitters as a means to ease the digestive discomfort experienced during periods of prolonged travel. Bitters were especially paramount to my well-being during a summer-long trip to Southest Asia, and another spent backpacking through Costa Rica. Still to this day, I won't even leave the house without them. And recently, after a nudge from my very knowledgable herbalist friends at Urban Moonshine, I've now begun implementing bitters into my day-to-day regime. With wild success. My skin is clearer, my energy elevated, and I very, very rarely experience any stomach discomfort.

WHAT ARE BITTERS?

Bitters are the plant extracts of aromatic herbs, barks, roots, and fruit that, upon ingestion, stimulate the digestive system and the release of critical digestive enzymes and stomach acids. They are, as the name implies, bitter to the taste. 

WHY TAKE BITTERS?

For much of human history, our diets were heavy in bitter foods - bitter greens, herbs, roots, and barks. Yet today, we've almost entirely stripped our diets of bitter-tasting foods in exchange for more pleasantly-flavored fare: the sweet, salty, and processed. This makes supplementing with digestive bitters all the more important, as this shift away from bitter foods has created a massive rise in digestive issues. 

Bitters excite, engage, and awaken the digestive system, preparing it for the hard work of breaking down a meal. The vast majority of us suffer from sluggish, imbalanced digestion and experience bloating, gas, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, constipation, fatigue, etc. after a meal more often that we probably even realize. It's become such a commonplace symptom in our culture. Digestive bitters, taken before and after a meal, stimulate the digestive system so as to minimize (and in my experience, completely eliminate) any discomfort. Food is more easily broken down, and nutrients are better assimilated.

I have long been in the habit of taking bitters while traveling, when out to eat, or if experiencing any digestive upset. (I swear by them for anything stomach related - hangovers, food poisoning, the flu, whatever.) But as of late, I've been adding a splash of bitters to my usual warmed water with lemon each morning, and then taking a dose before each meal. In this way, I'm continuing to strengthen my digestive system, increase my natural digestive enzyme production, and elevate my overall health.

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BENEFITS

Aside from the obvious digestive benefits, bitters are incredibly nourishing for the body as a whole.

  • Support liver function and detoxification
  • Enhance the clarity, glow, and health of skin
  • Balance blood sugar levels
  • Ease morning sickness
  • Curb cravings and balance appetite
  • Support balanced cholesterol levels
  • Elevate immunity 

HOW TO USE

Bitters are best taken before meals, and can be used up to six times per day. About ¼ teaspoon is all you need. I usually add this to a bit of water to dilute because, you know, they taste kind of bitter, but feel free to simple drop them on your tongue.

MY FAVORITES

Though the most bitter tasting, Urban Moonshine's Original Bitters are my favorite for every day use, as they are the most potent. I turn to the Chamomile Bitters when I feel nauseous, as these are specifically designed for those moments, along with morning sickness. The Liver Bitters are best when I feel I need a little extra detoxification support, especially in way of my skin. The travel spray doesn't leave my purse. And for those just easing into bitters, I love the Citrus Bitters and Maple Bitters for their sweeter, more mild taste (also more child appropriate!).


GIVEAWAY (!)

Needless to say, I am so thrilled to be able to gift one of you a medley of my favorite Urban Moonshine bitters! To enter the giveaway, simply head to my Instagram and, after you make sure you're following me, 'like' my post, and tag a wellness-loving friend or three . The winner will be announced this Friday, 9/22. 

Also! Would love to hear from you - do any of you use digestive bitters as well? Let me know by leaving a comment below. xx

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Connect with Urban Moonshine on their Instagram, and shop their collection of herbals goods here.

 

Anxiety Tool Box: A Holistic Guide

 
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If you've been reading this journal for a bit, you know I struggle with anxiety. As do most of the people I know and meet. You probably do as well. It's a pervasive - dare I say, unavoidable? - condition in our fast-paced, stimulus-overload society. Especially for us highly sensitive empaths. After a debilitating series of panic attacks a few years ago, I began exploring the holistic measures, adjustments, and products that I could incorporate into my life for greater emotional support and resiliency. There's a fair bit of trial and error involved, as with anything, to discover what works for your individual needs, but it's with so much joy that I share these explorations and tools that have helped me restore balance to my mind + body, and live a really full, happy life.

In a very large way, this ongoing exploration is how Solful Health came to be. I feel very strongly about illuminating and normalizing the conversation around mental health, and even the work I do with nutrition and yoga clients is geared towards elevating + supporting this realm of wellbeing. As you peruse this handful of my favorite, tried-and-true holistic tools for overcoming anxiety and bolstering mental health, it's my hope that some of these discoveries resonate with you as well. None of them are quick-fixes, and each requires a bit of work and commitment on your part, but I have found every last one to be incredibly effective, fast-acting, and with long-lasting effects. Even if you aren't navigating anxiety, these tips and tools will benefit your health and moods immensely. 


EARTHING | 'Earthing' or 'grounding' involves placing the soles of one's bare feet on the earth as a way to offset stress, reduce free-radical accumulation, and cancel-out a surplus of inflammation- and anxiety-causing positive ions within the body. The simple act of physically connecting with nature is on it's own incredibly grounding, on an emotional and energetic level, helping to soften and dissolve the frenetic, neurotic energy we feel during bouts of stress and anxiety. But beyond that, when our feet (the most absorbent parts of the body) make prolonged contact with the Earth, the strong negative charge of the Earth quite literally grounds the positive ions of the body. Research research has found 'earthing' to regulate the endocrine and nervous systems, reduce mood and emotional imbalance, reduce body-wide inflammation, relieve chronic pain, promote more restful sleep, protect against the effects of stress, normalize cortisol levels, improve memory, and promote cardiovascular health. I do my best to ground my feet in the grass or sand for 20 minutes daily, and always feel the difference when I do. 

BODY CONNECTION | I say this often to my yoga students: the emotional and psychological suffering we regularly experience is usually nothing more than the result of a disconnection from the body. We live almost entirely in our heads, lacking a mindfulness of what's going on within our physical and energetic bodies, and as a result have little connection to or awareness of our body and it's messages and signals. Take my situation for example: my body must have been signaling to me for years that things were imbalanced, but it wasn't until I had my first full-on panic attack that I finally listened. Yet, had I cultivated a bit of awareness beforehand, I would have realized that something was very wrong, and avoided a very miserable, debilitating few months. I now make space several times each day to stop what I'm doing and consciously move my awareness from the mind back into the body. I just get quiet, and listen. Our bodies possess a wisdom far beyond that of the conscious mind, but it's communication system is far more subtle. Meditation and simple, grounding breathwork are always a sure way to tap into this state. Usually with one hand on my heart, the other on my belly. Yoga and more rigorous exercise, if practiced mindfully, are also powerful tools here as well. The process as a whole is incredibly simple, free, and easy to implement, but is without a doubt one of the most profound practices for creating both short- and long-term emotional shifts.

REDUCE ANXIETY-PRODUCING FOODS | Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods are powerful anxiety-producers. When I feel myself slipping into anxiety, I cut these foods out entirely. In way of caffeine, I substitute my usual green or black tea with a blend of energizing adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms (cordyceps, maca, rhodiola, schisandra) and brain-boosting fats (coconut butter, coconut MCT oil, homemade nut/seed milk) for an elevating but mood-supporting tonic. And in regard to the rest of my diet, I get back to basics: lots of greens, high-fiber fruits and veg, pastured animal protein, and high-quality fat sources. Blood sugar stabilization plays an incredibly large role in how we feel on an emotional level, so ensuring you eat regularly, limit your sugar intake, and increase your consumption of fiber, fat, and protein is a must for balance in this realm. 

BREATH | This past year, I've shared a bit about my exploration of breathwork and how transformative I've found it to be. I have a fabulous breathwork guide based in LA, who regularly hosts online workshops (which come highly recommended) and virtual sessions, and I'm constantly referring friends and clients to her work. My experience has been so profound that I have actually begun weaving large amounts of breathwork into the yoga classes, workshops, and sessions that I offer. In way of using this tool to reduce anxiety, it goes back to creating that grounded connection with your body. Breathwork immediately gets you out of your head and back into your body, while working on a physiological level to activate the calm-inducing parasympathetic nervous system. My go-to breathwork techniques for emotional support (that are each impossibly easy, quick, and effective) include: alternate nostril breathing, humming bee breath, and one minute breath. I simply set a timer on my phone (anywhere from two to ten minutes) and get at it.

HERBAL INTAKE | I rely heavily on herbs for optimal mental and physical health. In regards to emotional support and anxiety-reduction, there are a number of standouts that work incredibly effectively by nourishing the nervous and endocrine systems, thereby regulating our physiological reaction to life stressors and stimuli. An overstimulated, undernourished nervous system results in greater emotional sensitivity and reactivity, so by strengthening this system we increase our threshold for stress- and anxiety-provoking stimuli. The endocrine system controls the release of our hormones, which of course play a dramatic role in how we feel on virtually every level. A few of my favorite adaptogenic herbs and supplements, specific to anxiety, include: ashwagandha, wild milky oats, reishi mushroom, he shou wu, mucuna pruriensCBD oil (which I elaborate upon here), and this divine anxiety-reducing concoction. I also drink infusions of nettle leaf, tulsi, and red raspberry leaf throughout the day. 

FLOWER REMEDIES | I recently began implementing flower remedies into my daily routine after being introduced to Alexis Smart and her line of Dr. Bach-inspired flower remedies via my breathwork guide Lauren. Flower remedies, or flower essences, are herbal infusions made from the flowering part of wild plants, and are used to address the emotional and mental realms of one's health. With a number of remedies designed to target anxiety and panic, these botanical medicines, taken under the instruction of Alexis, have become a beloved part of my emotional support regime. More on this to come soon, but I've been enjoying these too much not to include here. 

SLEEP | I truly believe there is nothing that a few solid nights of sleep can't fix. This is our body and brain's time to process through the day's happenings, heal and support areas of concern, and bring balance back to our systems. It's imperative that we make a serious commitment to rest. I personally aim to get nine hours of sleep each night, because that's what helps me to feel my best. For those of you who struggle with achieving restful sleep, this is my very favorite all-natural sleep aid, taken alongside a spoonful of coconut butter

 

The Solful Guide to Fast Food

 

It feels like everyone is squeezing in the last of their summer travel these next few weeks, and I've been receiving an influx of travel and food related questions. So! Channeling this little nudge from the Universe as an opportunity to share some of my personal tips + recipes for creating a wholesome 'fast food' experience while traveling, or simply running around town all day. 

PREPARE

All good things require a little prep work. Set aside a bit of time before you depart to gather and prepare a medley of snacks and meals. It truly is the easiest, healthiest option. And though it sounds obvious, so many of us fail to prepare in this way for travel, and then end up feeling frustrated and hungry. Nothing you find at the airport or on-the-road (even 'healthy' options) will measure up to what you can create in your own kitchen. I find that the moment I start traveling (whether by plane or car), my mind diverts to food, and the only real way to ensure I don't mindlessly indulge in shitty food is to stay full and satisfied with the good stuff. Go-to favorites of mine include chia pudding, avocado chocolate mousse, energy bites, sprouted nuts and seeds, washed and prepped fruits and vegetables, and hummus. All can be made and prepped the day before, carried on a plane, and stay fresh throughout the day.

GATHER

When I'm unable to prepare larger meals and snacks beforehand, and find myself at an airport or gas station in need of something substantial, I gather the most basic foods I can spot. Raw nuts and seeds are typically a pretty easy find, followed by a piece of fresh fruit. Referring back to travel tip number one, these options more often than not prove less nutritious than the proteins and fruits I keep at home (sprouted, organic, non-gmo, etc.), but make good stand-ins in a pinch. In way of beverages, opt only for spring water, unsweetened teas, unsweetened coconut water, and low-sugar kombucha. If you spot them, there are a few okay-once-in-a-while energy bars I recommend: Shanti Bars (the only ones I personally eat), Rx Bars, and Squarebars - though sometimes it makes more sense to buy these ahead of time and bring along.

PREVENT

Know that with traveling comes some degree of loss of control over what we're eating, so plan accordingly with ultra-nourishing supplements and dietary add-ins. I never leave home without an alkalizing green powder of some sort (because getting enough daily greens can be a struggle), an arsenal of adaptogenic herbs and tinctures for nervous system (i.e. energy, mood, and sleep) support, digestive bitters for any bouts of upset within that realm, thieves + citrus essential oils for immune support, and a medley of herbal teas for in-flight steeping. A few of my many favorites include this green powder for alkalinity, this herbal tincture for immune support, this tonic herb blend and ashwagandha for a nourished nervous system, and these digestive bitters for tummy support (for which you can use code UMBA17_MCCABE for 30% off and free shipping). Most of these can be added to bottles of water, coffee/tea, or straight into your mouth of easy, on-the-go consumption. You'll want to be sure you drink obscene amounts of water, to support the detoxification system and flush out anything less-than-ideal that you've consumed. All in all, I find these little boosters to keep my health afloat, even when my sleep schedule and diet have turned upside down. 

BLESS

By far the most esoteric tip of them all, but one I quite love. I'm not sure where I first learned this ritual, but it has become a daily habit that I rely on. Especially during times of travel or indulgence. Before consuming anything, I say a quick prayer/blessing over it. Basically asking the Universe to allow this food or drink to nourish my body and mind and to elevate my health in some way. I believe that even junky foods, once blessed, and if consumed with intention, will nourish + fuel our systems. On that same note, our digestive system is intimately connected to our emotions, so what is eaten during moments of stress, guilt, shame, and upset will almost always be improperly digested.