Holistic Mental Health Therapy Comes to Berryville

By Geo Derick Giordano

The Sanctuary Wellness Center welcomed a new therapist to our community of holistic health practitioners. Terri George, M.ED, LPC joins us after working for three decades in community mental health and psychiatric hospital settings. Ms. George states, “I’ve seen how counseling can help people who are in crisis or are working through personal problems such as past trauma, mental illness, grief, or relationship issues. Blending an integrative approach to wellness in my therapy practice here at the Sanctuary WC in Berryville allows me the opportunity to enhance the benefits of talk therapy and traditional psychiatric medication with holistic strategies that address the body as a whole. It can increase one’s self efficacy, and help us to discover the healing capacity that we all innately possess. A therapist’s role is to ask the right questions, to help you consider and progressively make the changes necessary to enjoy a healthier state of mind, body, spirit and a better quality of life.”As a licensed professional counselor, Terri believes that a variety of approaches are needed for the uniqueness of the individuals she serves. Her particular skill sets include general adult mental health issues and disorders, co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders with a focus on 12-step facilitation, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, meditation, tapping and trauma informed recovery. She is looking forward to being certified in equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) later this year. She explains, “The integrative resources available for me to do my work at the Sanctuary are invaluable and I value the experience, wisdom and insight of a truly diverse group of holistic counselors. Included are Registered Medical Herbalists, and specialists certified in Nutrition, Homeopathy, Energy medicine, Meditation, Yoga, Reiki, Shiatsu, Cranial-sacral, Massage & Music therapies, and Ayurvedic health counseling. These holistic options & classes offered here in Berryville are some of the many strategies that can make a positive difference in our lives.” Ms. George explains, “My hope is to understand and appreciate what’s most important to my clients, to help them establish positive and measurable goals, to prescribe interventions that service those goals and that address the physical aspects, spiritual components and the psychological and mental issues that they identify.” 

To learn more about her, you may go to the website: sanctuaryberryville.com/services/music-therapy counseling/#terri-george. To find out about rates, or to schedule a session with Terri, email her at tmgeorge126@gmail.com.

A D.I.Y. Yoga Invitation for the New Year

Take Five

If I had a dollar for every time I bounded into a new year with a freshly updated list of health and wellness goals, well . . . I would have a lot of dollars. The health-related New Year’s Resolution: it’s a common practice among us, and apparently many people do begin the new year with a bang in fitness or wellness activity, only to begin flagging in attendance and efforts by February, or sooner. Lofty goals; noble efforts . . . none of it a fool’s pursuit. However.

I have shifted my focus over the years to the matter of compliance. Through observation of my own efforts, those of friends, clients, and hundreds of office workers, my unscientific thesis goes something like this: Small actions every day top the big effort once, or even twice, a week. Like attracts like. When we start small, we have something to build on. When we go all out, down might prove our most likely direction. 

With that, I offer a DIY approach to movement, based in the foundations of yoga. If we invite our spines to bend and twist just enough each day, we might find greater ease within our bodies and minds. The “Five-Minute Yoga” guide I’ve created aims for a shorter time commitment to inspire daily compliance. Take five minutes before your commute; carve out a five-minute break during your work day; interrupt a repetitive movement, or a prolonged sedentary period. As you consider the multitude of other things you might do with five minutes each day, it becomes easier to imagine fitting a moment of stretching and breathing into the mix.The downloadable PDF guide (clarkeva.com/2019/12/09/take-five) offers a path to moving the spine in all directions each day, which can be a helpful adjunct to any activity, or an antidote to an otherwise sedentary day (marathon meetings, lots of road time, etc.). Also included in the guide are resources for exploring yoga at home. 

Sometimes what we need is so close by we don’t even notice it. A deep breath; a long stretch for a tired back; a moment of quietude. When can you take five?

The Quiet Epidemic

Loosening the grip of anxiety
by JiJi Russell
Probably more than mere coincidence, the jacked-up pace of our technology-driven lives seems to be traveling alongside a rise in anxiety disorders. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1 percent of the population every year.” You probably don’t have to look too far to find a friend or relative who has suffered or currently suffers from some form of anxiety. In fact, therapists like Colleen Kradel, LICSW, focus the majority of their working hours helping those afflicted with anxiety. Kradel owns and operates a private counseling practice located in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Far From Home
A couple of years ago, I found that my own usual worry about the kids, family, work, and so forth had slowly but significantly expanded to the point that I felt exhausted and overwhelmed. A “perfect storm” of events and physical changes had spun me up into a pattern of worry and exhaustion, common symptoms of anxiety. It took some digging and support for me to work my way out, but the payoff was worth the effort. On the other side, I found myself much lighter and more energetic, a return to my usual self. After this experience, and indeed after continuing to hear stories from so many people in my orbit about their own struggles, I have applied some attention to the sometimes silent issue of anxiety, which often leads to depression and other more severe conditions. Every person’s path home is unique to his or her own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual attributes, of course, but some recognition of common symptoms and remedies can prove helpful to many.
As part of a corporate wellness series addressing mental and emotional well-being, therapist Colleen Kradel presented a primer on anxiety to my colleagues at American Public University System (see webinar link in sidebar). I’ll share the major takeaways with you, in the hopes of shining a light on a worthy cause.
Start Here
The first step to unraveling the hold of anxiety lies in understanding what it is, Kradel said. Our bodies have natural, and healthy, responses to stress. These mechanisms keep us safe and help to motivate us. The stress responses we are wired with have helped us historically “to deal with intense survival situations,” Kradel said. But nowadays, our bodies haven’t quite adjusted, and we’re often left with a cycle of intense reactions to simple everyday hardships. “We are not being chased by lions…but we do have the 24-hour news cycle, and we do have so many expectations placed on us,” Kradel said, adding that anxiety is both genetic and can come from one’s experience.
Kradel offers an anxiety self-test. If you can check most or all of these conditions, you might have something going on.

Persistent & Disproportionate Feelings of Worry

Restlessness / Difficulty Relaxing

Overthinking / Overanalyzing Plans, Solutions, or

Predicting Worse-Case

Difficulty Concentrating

Indecisiveness / Fear of Making the Wrong Decision

Beyond the mental and emotional indicators, the physical symptoms one might experience with anxiety run a pretty long gamut, including fatigue; trouble sleeping; muscle tension or aches; trembling; nervousness; nausea; diarrhea; irritable bowel syndrome; and irritability, to name a few. Kradel emphasizes that understanding your body’s physical responses to anxiety can provide you with a powerful tool of awareness that can drive change.
Anxiety can take on many forms, Kradel said, and understanding its manifestations can help both those who might be afflicted, as well as loved ones who want to better understand the condition. Kradel highlighted five major types of anxiety, from general anxiety disorder (GAD) to obsessive-compulsive disorder, to post-traumatic stress disorder, including symptoms of each one. (see webinar for full definitions)
Take Control
The good news, according to the ADAA, is that anxiety is a highly treatable condition. Indeed, Kradel believes that acceptance and the incorporation of healthy lifestyle practices can go a long way toward managing anxiety. She recommends a breathing technique, specifically for generalized anxiety and panic attacks. The technique goes like this: Inhale and expand your belly while you count to 4. Hold your breath in while you count to 2. Exhale for a count of 6. This technique is effective, she says, because it keeps you in the present moment and calms your sympathetic nervous system, which is what triggers your “fight or flight” responses. Try this out in your car, before meetings, appointments, any difficult situation you might encounter.
Kradel also advocates for yoga as a salve for anxiety, primarily because it increases body awareness. “Anxiety is very physical; it actually lives in your body,” Kradel said. “If you can figure out how to bring some bodily awareness to yourself — connect your mind and body – you will be able to intervene when you’re feeling that anxiety.” Exercise like running, or anything that gets you moving and feels good, can help move one through anxiety, Kradel said.
Relaxation techniques like progressive relaxation and meditation also can provide a shift from one’s conditioned responses to stress. Like yoga, mindfulness and meditation keep one in the present moment. “Any time you can spend in the moment, the better for anxiety, because anxiety is all about what happened in the past or what will happen in the future,” Kradel said. She notes that because meditation is often perceived as “scary or woo-woo,” she tells her clients that the aim of meditation is simply to pay attention to what’s happening right now. “I often will tell people to pay attention to their five senses: What do you hear? What do you see? What do you smell? That can slow you down and put you in the here and now,” Kradel said.
More Tools for Healing 
Among Kradel’s other recommendations for managing anxiety are prioritizing social connections and applying some intention behind your nutrition. She recommends foods rich in magnesium, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids, and B vitamins. Conversely, foods and drinks that hinder your progress could easily include caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, as all of those have a stimulant and/or
depressant quality.
While Kradel admits to being “a little biased” on the positive impact that therapy can provide, she says she believes it can help people in their healing process. “I give permission for people to be themselves; to be authentic; to really get to the root of some of these anxious patterns and themes, and to re-frame new coping skills and thought patterns that will help to lessen anxiety,” she said.
In addition to the more holistic lifestyle-based practices, Kradel believes that in some cases, medication can be helpful, especially for extreme anxiety. In her webinar, she provides a resource for researching medication but strongly recommends that one connect with his or her general practitioner in order to discuss and determine options.

View Colleen Kradel’s Webinar on Anxiety (30 min):

Foods and natural remedies for anxiety:


Turiya Yoga +  Wellness: turiyayogawellness.com

Barns of Rose Hill: barnsofrosehill.org/classes-workshops

Clarke County Parks and Rec:

The Sanctuary: sanctuaryberryville.com

Guided Meditations: free recordings,
including background instruction, are available at the following web sites:

Insight Timer: insighttimer.com

Spotify: search for “Guided Meditation”

Yoga Journal: www.yogajournal.com/meditation


Finding Balance Through Age-old Tradition

The ancient practice of Ayurvedic medicine comes to Berryville
By Geo Giordano, MSc, registered medical herbalist

Ayurveda is the traditional medical practice of India, estimated to be more than 5,000 years old. It teaches that the universe and everything in it is made up of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth.
According to Ayurveda tradition, as humans, we are governed by the laws of nature. When we harmonize with the natural daily and seasonal rhythms, then we maintain balance and health. All illness is seen as living our life “out of balance” with the laws
of nature.
Often called “the sister-science of Yoga,” Ayurveda seeks to bring about and maintain wellness using three pillars of health: diet, lifestyle, and energy management.  Using relevant physical and energetic traits known as the Doshas in the Ayurvedic paradigm, we can offer a balancing regimen to promote our vitality and good health in mind, body and spirit.  Now this ancient wisdom practice is being offered right here in Berryville.
Kimber Hyatt began her interest in Ayurveda in 2012 while completing her yoga teacher training in Austin, Texas. This approach to personalized health fascinated and spoke to her like nothing else had, so, in 2015 she enrolled in the Foundations of Ayurveda program at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts. In 2017 she completed Kripalu’s Ayurvedic Health Counseling program. By June of that year that year she began sharing this wisdom practice in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Practicing an Ayurvedic lifestyle changed her life in amazing ways. It gave her an understanding of who she is, what makes her this way, and how to live in a way that puts her health in her own hands. One factor of Ayurveda, the one she discusses here, is a daily ritual
of self-care.

Self-care, Self-love

“In our culture, productivity is often valued above all else. How much can we get done in a day, and how efficiently can it be done?” asks Kimber. “The term ‘multi-tasking’ has become the norm, as we see people eating meals while working or texting and putting on makeup while driving a car. Whether we are professionals or caregivers, there is no shortage of things we need to do in a day. In the name of productivity, practices of self-care and activities that bring pleasure often get skipped. But is that really making us more productive? When you skip the tasks that make you feel like your best self, can you put your best foot forward efficiently and effectively as you go about your day?”
A question she asks each of her clients is, “What do you do in your day to take care of yourself?” A seemingly harmless question that often inspires silence, followed by tears. It’s nobody’s fault, really. The repercussions can be barely noticeable at first. Then as the days become weeks, months, and years, we might find ourselves with more health problems than we can handle anymore, wondering from where it all started.
While there are many practices that  bring us back to health, Ayurveda truly shines in preventative medicine. This medicine comes in the form of what you are eating, when you are resting, and the care you give to yourself in order be and to stay healthy. This medicine isn’t taken as a pill. This medicine is about understanding your body’s unique needs, how you feel at your most balanced, and recognizing when something is off center.
“Upon waking, give yourself some time in the early hours. Use that time to nourish your sense organs. Give your eyes something pleasant to look at, before reaching for the screens of our computers, TVs, and phones. Give your ears some quiet time, or listen to the peaceful morning sounds. Sip warm lemon water or herbal tea. Take yourself for a light walk to prepare your body and mind for the day ahead.  Find a routine that works for you and make it your personal ritual. Commit to your ritual every day and watch it transform your life.  Patterns beget patterns, and repetition offers lasting changes,” explains Hyatt.
Join her on March 25, 2018, the first Sunday of spring, from 2–4pm pm to talk more about self-care strategies.  You will learn some traditional Ayurvedic techniques meant to keep your sense organs in healthy working order.  Each guest will receive a sample of a Banyan Botanicals massage oil matched to your Dosha, as you learn Abhyanga, a self-massage with warming oils. The massage will be done on your feet, so wear loose pants and bring warm socks to wear home. Bring a bath towel that you don’t mind getting a little oily.
An Introduction to Ayurveda and AyurYoga workshop takes place Sunday, February 25, 10am until noon.
Both classes will be offered at The Sanctuary Wellness Center, 208 N. Buckmarsh St,
Berryville, VA 22611.
Registration to both or a request for a personalized wellness consultation can be made online at www.Sanctuaryberryville.com  or by calling540-227-0564 or by contacting Kimber Hyatt directly at kimber.barefoothealth@gmail.com.

The Screen Life

Digital Overexposure and Cultivating Stability

by JiJi Russell

As screen technologies rapidly expand, and indeed dominate, so many aspects of our society today, I invite you to consider the following perspective offered by wellness professional Dr. Brian Luke Seaward:  “In a culture defined by short attention spans, training your mind to focus on one thing without ricocheting all around is a form of mental stability.”

Not long ago, the idea of “training” one’s mind resided off in the margins, in various camps of meditation, perhaps, or maybe within the realm of competitive sports, which demand the ability to concentrate as a means to higher performance. As a corporate wellness professional, I’m encouraged to report that training for concentration and focus has now entered, and in some places truly taken root, within the workplace as well. Such training gives us a tool to help cultivate stability in the truly unstable realms of digital media.

The time has come for American households to follow suit, to become more aware of the psychological toll that digital overexposure can place on us and our children.

Risky behavior

The question looms: Do adults truly realize the perilous instability that might be knocking on their own mental and/or emotional doors, as a result of incessant digital connection? Not to mention the threat to the psychological stability of their children?

As Seaward stated in an interview with the Wellness Coalition of America (Welcoa): “It is the ego that keeps the brain active all night with anxiety about past and future events. It is the ego’s curiosity or voyeurism that is drawn to many of today’s digital distractions, and it is the goal of meditation to domesticate the ego for mental, emotional and even spiritual wellbeing.”

How well do you know your ego? The better understanding you have of your ego and your mental and emotional tendencies, the more powerful source of strength you can provide for yourself and your children or grandchildren living in a world of laissez-faire exposure to violence, sexual content, virtual “friends,” “likes,” and so many other psychological and spiritual challenges that confront us through the media.

Your brain on screens

One grave problem with screen time overload, reports show, is disrupted sleep. In a nation where at least half all adults suffer from poor sleep (either in terms of quantity and/or quality), looking at one variable that remains in our immediate control (screen usage) seems a reasonable practice. Researchers now believe that screens can disrupt the function of the pineal gland, which controls melatonin production (the “sleep hormone”). The blue spectrum light from screens can suppress the production of melatonin, in effect limiting the feeling of normal tiredness at night.

If all of that’s not enough to compel your attention, consider the observed damage that digital addiction has been shown to cause on the brain itself, according to multiple studies synthesized in Psychology Today.

“Taken together, [studies show] internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.”  These results were laid out within neuro-imaging research entitled “Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study.” (Lin & Zhou et al, 2012).

How much is too much?

Ask yourself to honestly assess how often you feel irritable, distracted, “foggy,” or angry when no concrete cause exists. Furthermore, how often do you take your life’s challenges or problems to social media rather than bringing them up face to face with a friend, a family member, or a professional counselor? Consider assessing your screen usage, and absolutely look at your sleep. Do you get seven to eight hours a night? You should.

You can self-assess your screen use by taking the “Digital Distraction Test” – http://virtual-addiction.com/digital-distraction-test/ or the Smart Phone Addiction Test: http://huff.to/1Amvohi.

For children, the American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends avoidance of all screens for children under two, and a maximum of two hours per day of high-quality material for older children. The AAP plans to update its guidelines on media use later this year due to the rapidly expanding landscape of media usage among children and teens. The latest findings and guidance from the AAP can be found at www.aappublications.org/content/36/10/54.

To gain insight into teen and pre-teen screen media usage, check out Common Sense Media’s illustrative graphics and data at http://bit.ly/1RO21Ze.

I don’t have studies to back this one up, but the prevailing wisdom I’ve read and heard from psychologists, wellness professionals, and wise elders goes like this: Anyone, young or old, with a nagging concern, will mostly likely find greater comfort and resolution in sharing it with a real person, face to face with human emotion, than otherwise putting it in the hands of social media, or suppressing it through a multitude of other screen technologies. Life is hard; humans need human connections to make sense of it all.

Learning Life Skills Through Horses

Pony Club teaches youth horsemanship, responsibility, teamwork

By Jess Clawson
Youth in Clarke County and the surrounding areas are working together to learn about good horsemanship and support Clarke County land conservation through the Blue Ridge Hunt Pony Club.
BRHPC is a branch of the United States Pony Club (USPC), a national organization for youth that teaches horseback riding, mounted sports, and the care of horses and ponies. Participants — from age six to 25 — learn horsemanship as well as responsibility, moral judgment, and self-confidence. Members participate in mounted and unmounted instruction, represent the club in regional and national competitions known as rallies, and learn to become well-rounded horse people. They achieve certifications along the way: those who attain A level are considered ready to become a professional horse trainer.
The local club is based in Clarke County, with members residing in surrounding counties, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. BRHPC is historically important to the area and to the national organization: it was the first Pony Club chapter formed in the United States.
In 1953, a temporary advisory committee including local resident Alexander Mackay-Smith called a meeting of 22 interested people to propose establishing what became USPC. By the end of 1954, there were 22 member clubs in seven regions across the country. Currently, there are nearly 600 Pony Club and Pony Club Riding Centers serving over 10,000 members nationwide. Pony Clubs exist worldwide, with clubs in 30 countries.
USPC was modeled after the British Pony Clubs. “Many of the first Pony Clubs in America, such as BRHPC, were grown out of a [foxhunt club],” says BRPHC district commissioner Anne Williams. “Foxhunting, therefore, remains one of the disciplines of the USPC, and members are still educated about the sport.”
The focus of BRHPC, according to co-district commissioner Mary Schwentker, is horsemanship. “We provide opportunities to learn life skills through horses,” she says. “The certifications provide an opportunity for our members to set goals and work hard toward those goals. Our members learn to be independent and responsible to their horses and team members at rallies.”
Youth who are genuinely interested in horses can join Pony Club to build a solid foundation for horsemanship. Williams says, “I have worked in barns where children arrive, get on a pony, have their lesson, dismount, and go home without ever learning how to care for the pony. Pony Club is the whole package. It enhances the mounted instruction children already receive and introduces them to the complexities and importance of horse care. We are fortunate that local trainers and instructors recognize that aspect of Pony Club in our area and encourage their students to join so they will be well-rounded.”
Members seek out Pony Club because it’s fun, too. “BRHPC is like a family,” Schwentker says. “We have many activities throughout the year, both mounted and unmounted. Our members work hard but always have fun.”
Many BRHPC members ride competitively as well as participate in pony club. “The pony club program places a strong emphasis on horsemanship, knowledge of horse care, and management,” says Schwentker. “We are producing individuals who can be successful in the show ring and also have depth of knowledge in regard to horsemanship. They are self-reliant, they know the importance of volunteering and giving back to the sport, they know what it is to win and not win with grace. People coming from Pony Club are some of the most well-rounded horsemen in the sport.”
Local top riders with Pony Club roots include Schwentker herself — a USPC national examiner and eventing professional, as well as United States Dressage Federation silver medalist; David and Karen O’Connor, Cathy Frederickson (also a national examiner) Stephen Bradley, Sara Kozumplik, Phyllis Dawson, and top amateur Dr. Dorothy Eisenberg.
While Pony Club has traditionally built the curriculum around the sport of eventing, members can now choose to specialize in eventing, dressage, and show jumping. Further, there are also rallies in dressage, eventing, foxhunting, mounted games, polo, and others.
“Today, you could go through all of the [national level] certifications on a horse management track and never ride at all,” says Williams. “Or you could be on a dressage track and never jump, or a show jumping track and never ride cross country, and still reach your A certification.” It’s very different from when she and Schwentker were in Pony Club, she adds, but it furthers the goals of Pony Club to be accessible to everyone, no matter what their interest is.”
Rallies are a good experience for young riders. They compete on teams of three or four riders and a stable manager. “The opportunity to compete on a team in equestrian sports is often not seen until international competition,” Schwentker says. “No parents are allowed in the barns or the warm up. Members are judged on their stable management, turnout of the horses, and tack before and after their rides — in addition to their performances in the ring. They are responsible to get to the inspections and rings on time. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn responsibility and teamwork.”
At each of the regional rallies, up to four individuals will form a regional team and compete at the USPC National Championships. Pony Club members also have the opportunity for international exchange teams in games, polocross, eventing, and foxhunting.
The local chapter benefits the Clarke County area beyond producing well-rounded and knowledgeable horsemen. “Clarke County is a haven for horse people, especially fox hunters,” says Williams. “We are so very fortunate to live in an area where so much land is in conservation easements and protected from development. Our young people are hopefully going to be the next stewards of this amazing county, and that’s why Pony Club is important for them to be a part of.”
Every summer they have a weeklong camp at Long Branch to help prepare for rallies and certifications, where they focus in part on land conservation. “We are very fortunate to hold our camp at Long Branch. Last year we took advantage of learning about the recent improvements the organization has made to the actual Long Branch stream that runs through the property,” says Williams. Local member Lindy Davenport organized a lecture and tour of the waterway protection effort taking place at Long Branch. Members had the opportunity to learn about the fencing that had been installed to protect banks and how keeping a herd of horses out of the stream would benefit the water. “It made the kids look at how everything they do, even something as simple as turning a horse out, affects something else in the environment.”
Longtime supporter Iona Pillion often takes members on long trail rides so that members, especially those who do not participate in fox hunting, “can see how lucky they are to have landowners who support the sport and the land itself to enjoy,” says Williams. “She is always quick to remind the kids of these points.”
The national organization also emphasizes land conservation. “The USPC includes a land conservation requirement in each of the horse management certifications,” says Schwentker. At the lowest level, “Members are required to know three locations where the activities take place. As the members progress through the A horsemanship test, they need to be able to discuss the area’s land conservation concerns and initiatives.”
Pony Club prepared Schwentker for her career as a professional. “My experience in Pony Club has given me a strong foundation in horsemanship,” she says. “From here it has been easy to gain the knowledge needed to compete successfully at the upper levels of eventing. Even if I had chosen a career outside of horses, I am certain that the life lessons learned in Pony Club would help me to succeed in any field.”
Pony Club also encourages volunteerism. “Pony Club encourages members to give their time generously, whether that manifests itself by requiring older members to teach younger members, or seeing alumni who want to return to be club leaders, judges at rallies, and becoming involved with the Pony Club at the national level,” says Williams.
Anyone wishing for more information on joining the club or upcoming activities can contact Anne Williams at 540-303-3931 or annewilliams81@gmail.com.

Living with Back Pain

Try Low-Tech to Move Through It

by JiJi Russell
Chances are that either you or someone you know well has suffered, or is suffering now, from back pain. Millions of Americans reportedly do each year. While no simple recommendation could address nuances of each individual’s circumstances and needs, the holistic recommendations provided below might constitute a starting point, or a new and healthy challenge to include in your daily routine. Sometimes small changes can bring about more comfort when you need it most. The key lies in consistency. Small practices every day are better than one big effort once a week.

Gentle Movement
While hitting the gym hard might sound like a good idea, statistics show that most people burn out quickly or become injured. If you can establish a habit of consistent, yet gentle daily movement, you might be more likely to stay the course over the long term and avoid injury as well. Consider walking, tai chi or qigong, swimming, or very select yoga.
The “select” yoga recommendation comes from a conclusion I’ve drawn during 12 years of teaching yoga: Very few yoga studio classes are appropriate for the average person over 25 years old who walks in from the street. If you’re 25 or below and injury free, the world of movement or exercise is your oyster. For the rest of us, with decades of movement patterning, historical injuries, or health issues spanning from muscular-skeletal to digestive, the popular American “flow” style of yoga simply is not appropriate.
Yoga classes that would best address a person with back pain would be very slowly-moving classes, which allow time for safely getting into and out of poses. Such classes also enable the teacher to better address each student’s needs within a class setting. Key words for an appropriately slow and mindful style of yoga include “restorative,” “yin,” “rehabilitative,” or “chair.” It also can be helpful to find a teacher who has more than five years of teaching experience, and perhaps one who has personally experienced and addressed back pain.

Yoga Poses for Your Back
As with any form of exercise, tread lightly and slowly if you have pain or a current injury. The poses below are intended to be followed in the sequence presented, as each one supports the next.
Bridge pose
This backbend helps you to “fire up” the supporting muscles of your back and legs, while offering a less intense curvature of the spine than other backbends. Doing this pose first enables a warming of the back muscles, which prepares them for a safer stretch later.
1) Come to a position lying on your back, with your feet on the floor close to your buttocks, your thighs parallel to each other, and your knees pointing straight up to the ceiling.
2) Place your arms down at your sides.
3) Allow your shoulders to slide down and away from your ears while you elongate your neck, but keep your neck in its natural curve so that it does not touch the floor. (It arches slightly away from the floor.)
4) Stand into your feet as you lift your pelvis straight up toward the sky, pausing before you reach your maximum height.
5) As you pause, engage the muscles in the backs of your thighs as well as your buttocks muscles, to provide strength along with the stretch. Also, think of reaching the base of your spine away from the upper back so that you elongate or “traction” the spine a little more fully.
6) With the muscle engagement and tractioning in step five happening, now lift your pelvis up to a higher point where you can hold and take three full breaths.
7) Release back down to the floor on an exhalation.
Cobra pose
One of the most therapeutic yoga poses I regularly turn to, the cobra pose can help to strengthen the posterior support muscles, include those alongside the spine. Cobra also can help to better align the bones of the spine and pelvis.
1) Come to a position lying on your belly, with your face downward toward the floor and the tops of your feet on the floor.
2) “Reach” the top of your skull away from the toes, and the toes away from the skull. In effect, lengthening your entire body to prepare for the backbend.
3) Place your hands beneath your shoulders, with your elbows pointing upwards.
4) Start to lift your chest off the floor while keeping your feet down.
5) Engage the muscles of the buttocks and lower back to help you lift as much as you can without strain, and without recruiting much support from your hands/arms.
6) Hold the position for two or three breaths, and then release slowly back down as you exhale your breath out. Repeat the pose one or two more times.
Child’s pose
Transition very slowly from cobra pose to child’s pose, a forward bend with a healthy dose of calming energy for both the body and mind.
1) From a hands and knees position on the floor, begin to drop your hips and buttocks back to your heels.
2) Rest your hips down as comfortably into the egg-shaped position as possible.
3) If you have too much compression in the ankles, roll up a towel and place it on the floor directly underneath your ankles so that your heels remain more lifted.
4) If you experience too much compression in the knees, take a blanket and lay it across the calves (backs of your legs), so that it provides a cushion to “sit” back upon.
5) Your arms can fold up and stack on top of each other to create a shelf for your head to rest on; or, you can keep your arms either outstretched on the floor or wrapped around your sides.
6) Breathe deeply so that you can feel your back softly expand and contract with each breath in and out. Comfort is paramount in this position in order to reap the relaxation benefits. Hold the position for at least four deep breaths. Stay longer, up to two minutes, if it feels right for you.
Restrictive Diet

Those who experience muscular pain, joint pain, and other aches might find some relief by eliminating foods that are known to cause inflammation. If total elimination looms too large to tackle, think of a gradual approach by choosing a food, or food category, from the list below to eliminate for just one week. See how you feel; then try cutting out another one the following week.

Common inflammatory foods

Highly processed foods: “junk food,” packaged snacks, canned and/or prepared foods like soups, frozen meals
Lunch Meats: high in preservatives like nitrites and nitrates
Sugar: one of the most prevalent inflammatory ingredients of all, which is found in abundance in processed foods like yogurt, sports drinks, sodas, canned soups and sauces, and on and on
Sodium: another common additive found in overabundance in nearly all prepared foods
Wheat and refined grains: breads, pastas, boxed cereals, and nearly any grain that’s not in its whole state can produce an inflammatory effect within the body. Old-fashioned rolled oats are a “whole grain;” Cheerios are not. Brown rice is a whole grain; white rice — stripped of the husk, bran, and germ — is not a whole grain.
Dairy products: Some people experience greater allergies, mucous buildup, and other autoimmune or inflammatory issues with the consumption of dairy products.
Poor-quality oils: the common “vegetable oils” used in virtually all fast-food items contain high polyunsaturated omega 6 fats, which most Americans consume in excess. Corn oil, soybean oil, safflower, and sunflower oil are among the ones to reduce or eliminate. Good oils include olive oil, avocado, sesame, grape seed, and coconut oils — the latter for high heat.
Of course each person, based on his or her physical constitution and health status, has a unique response to any given food or food group. However, it’s my best practice to start with the low-tech, natural approach to health and wellness first and see if any positive results yield.
Food choice is about as low-tech and down to basics as you can get. If you create a diet that centers around real, fresh produce; beans and legumes; quality meats in moderation; and whole grains, you probably will feel better sooner.
Proportion recommendations of each of the above vary, but so far I’ve not heard of anyone dying or becoming ill from eating too many fruits and vegetables. Let those items fill up most of your plate, with an emphasis on the veggies.

More Natural Healing Techniques

Foundation Training:
a strengthening regimen designed for those with back pain, originated by
chiropractor Eric Goodman
Chiropractic Care: getting your spinal structure aligned can help with pain, and healing
for releasing
energy blockages
for greater circulation and overall comfort
Meditation: for gaining better insight into your pain and how to manage it

Spirit of the Season

By JiJi Russell

Have you ever experienced a magical moment around the holidays? A special visitation? Exposure to live music or dance that moved you? Maybe there was a time when you brought the gift of company, food, fellowship, or song to someone else during this time of year. This is the stuff that forms the collective spirit of the season. Take notice; and perhaps offer something special to others when you can.

During the late-summer and fall, my family welcomed old friends to “neighbor” with us in their 35-foot “fifth-wheel” RV. With two children about the same ages as my own, we gladly took advantage of the built-in playdates and discoveries that four kids can make during schedule-less afternoons in the woods. The weeks we spent together provided a prelude of memorable moments ahead of the holiday season.

During the time of our visitors’ stay, my dear old friend Natasha and I shared a running inside joke centered around noticing magical moments (and quietly pointing them out to each other). A parenting blogger she read had commented, “I don’t have to make life magical for my kids; Life already IS magical!”

Noticing the awe of a child who witnesses the metamorphosis of a monarch; seeing the pure glee brimming from my kids when they’d get off the bus and their neighboring friends were ready and waiting to play all afternoon … these moments of magic sprang up spontaneously, without having been planned or contrived by anyone. I like to think of them as naturally-occurring magic, and there’s a lot of that going around this time of year.


Memories Alive 

I have a holiday remembrance that brings me renewed joy each year when we decorate our Christmas tree: When my son was about four years old, we were unpacking our Christmas ornaments, and he discovered a hand-blown glass ball, deep blue in color. Shimmery waves of iridescent yellow-green sparkled across the surface of the sphere. “Look, Mommy,” he said. “This ornament reflects the Northern Lights.” We had recently been looking at photos and talking about the Aurora Borealis. To experience a child’s connection between the wonders of nature and a beautiful family ornament brought a happy tear to my eye, and still does.

Below, a few Clarke County residents share their own moments of holiday magic.

“To this day, I know that I heard reindeer on the roof, and nobody can convince me otherwise,” said Laurine Kennedy, 54. “I can remember it clearly when I was five or six, thinking, Wow! He really is up there.”

“When I was around 10 and had just moved to Clarke County, I had never really experienced snow quite like the one we had here that year,” said Logan Williams, 17. “I had so many ideas of what I could do in my free time since we were out of school, but the main thing I had in mind wasn’t quite an easy task. It was to make an igloo. My dad and I worked hard, packing tight snow into a sand castle block we used as a mold. Several hours later, we had completed a top-notch igloo with seats and a door. I sat in there with my Chihuahua and was very proud of what we accomplished. Ever since, we’ve been making igloos during harsh winters, and it always brings me back to my first beautiful snow in Clarke County.”

“Cookies are in my family’s blood, but the one that is specific to Christmas memories are springerles,” said Kelly Kunkel, 53. “My family has been making springerles at Christmas for generations. The dough is rolled and then stamped with the patterned molds; then the cookies sit out all night so the pattern on top can harden. If it does not get stale on top, the pattern will bake out of the cookie. My mom had her ‘springerle board’ which was a big piece of plywood; she placed all the cut cookies on the board and set it in the cold garage overnight. She would bake them the next day.

“To me this is the most special Christmas cookie and memory from my Mom, Grandma Elsie, Great-Grandma Ida, Great Aunt Lena, Great Aunt Hen, and Cousin Patty, who all made or make springerles. Our recipe and baking style has changed over the years, but it’s still the basic springerle,” Kunkel said.

Maybe you will happen upon—or create—a special moment this season. I recommend preserving your memories by writing them down or passing them down orally. Here’s to discovering magic where you least expect it.

JiJi Russell, a yoga instructor and Integrative Nutrition health coach, manages the corporate wellness program for American Public University System in Charles Town, W.Va. Reach her at jijiyoga@yahoo.com.

Shine a Light

by JiJi Russell

Peeking inside the eclectic outbuildings that surround the home of artist-instructors Malcom Harlow and Gale Bowman-Harlow of Opus Oaks transports one to a timeless place of open-ended creative discovery. The barns and sheds, with their various metal, sculptural, and other works in progress, exert a magnetism that invites you to stay a while…and perhaps try something new.

On the final hot summer afternoon of my son’s week-long art camp, Gale, who has been coordinating Opus Oaks art camps and classes for 15 years, welcomed parents to meet the camp instructor and view the remarkable works that resulted from a week-long intensive for eight- to fourteen-year-olds. Instructor (and high school art teacher) Angela Bean, with infectious enthusiasm and creativity, led her students through daily nature study; metal working; drawing; and other multi-media techniques.

On this closing day, Gale shared briefly, yet no less passionately, her belief that the arts deserve a much stronger foothold in education.

“Art incorporates all of the sciences and mathematics, as well as tapping into parts of the brain that are not accessed by [academic subjects],” Bowman-Harlow told me later. “All the statistics show that when art education is included in a child’s life, they do much better in school and in general.”


Learning by Doing

Bowman-Harlow points to copper forging, one of the mediums offered by Opus Oaks: “Here you’re introducing children to mediums where they’re using tools and learning chemistry and procedures. It’s really thrilling to me,” she said. “The children learn how to swing a hammer and use a drill, with control and within a procedure, so that by the end of the course children really understand how things work.”

Once art camp was over, I set about giving the topic of arts education more attention, which has turned out a raft of insights, anecdotes, and research that says YES, arts education carries a deep and meaningful set of benefits for students of all ages and backgrounds.

Jeff M. Poulin of Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts states that arts education “does actually change the brain.” When students engage in arts education, their brain activity, or synapses, connect more robustly, Poulin said. This, in turn can lead not only to greater academic achievement but “can stimulate empathy and altruism among students.”

Moreover, “There’s a huge benefit to a school’s climate, and the students feel more welcome, when the arts are integrated throughout,” said Poulin, who serves within the arts education area of Americans for the Arts.


A Student of Life

Poulin also notes that a “student” can be not only a child, but perhaps an elder citizen, or a returning combat veteran. For these populations, and indeed other non-traditional ones, studies have shown that the arts can have a positive influence on physical balance and agility, memory, happiness, and so much more.

Americans for the Arts President and CEO, Robert L. Lynch stated recently in a Huffington Post article that “Creativity can be nurtured throughout life, and the older brain, rich in life experiences, can be stimulated to create and contribute in extraordinary ways. The field of creative aging acknowledges the vital link between creativity and quality of life for older adults, regardless of economic status, age or level of physical, emotional or cognitive functioning.” (see link to full article in side bar)

Lynch also points to the many community outreach efforts across the nation, serving people who would not necessarily have access to the arts: the homeless; those in prison; underprivileged children. He highlighted one such effort happening at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The Center has incorporated a Healing Arts Program, which uses art, creative writing and music as a means of therapy and expression for service members with traumatic brain injuries and psychological health conditions, according to a recent article Lynch wrote on “Arts Action Heros.” (article link in sidebar)


The Gift Keeps Giving

My personal experience as a lifelong dabbler in the arts has instilled an intrinsic belief in their importance. Moreover, the world of wellness and health promotion is taking note that understanding what is important and meaningful to an individual can help to promote health and well-being to that individual and within groups as well.

My hunch that art might bridge well-being appears firmly backed up by research programs and projects all over the United States, including community-based Creative Youth Development, and the Harmony Project in Los Angeles. These efforts, and so many more, have uncovered real evidence of the important social, cultural, and holistic learning that instruction in (and sometimes even just exposure to) music, theatre, visual, and creative arts can bestow.

Boyce Elementary School music teacher Jessica Tavenner sees the effects of arts education every day, and also fully believes in the magic.

“Arts education is so important for young people because it teaches creativity, self-confidence, and the joy of making something wonderful by yourself and with other people. A well-rounded learning experience and perspective on life are added bonuses,” Tavenner said.

“I see on a daily basis the profound impact that joyous music-making has on children and adults alike. It’s truly magical to show students how to make their own music then hear the incredible and unique music they come up with while we are working together in class. Music and the arts are a special gift that no child should go without.”