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April 29, 2011

What is Optimal Health?

by Kristina Amelong

As the creator of two successful businesses in the healing arts (the Optimal Health Center and the Optimal Health Network), as a recovering person, as a healer, as someone who has worked with a chronic illness for 15 years, I wish to share more on what I have learned from my endeavors toward optimal health.

It is certain that there are as many ways to purposely engage in striving toward optimal mental, emotional, and physical health as there are people. Let’s start our exploration with the daily practice (more on this idea in future posts).

Some people meditate, some people exercise, some people drink coffee, some people watch TV, some people play music: the list of possibilities for a daily practice goes on and on. Most of these are not inherently unhealthy, as long as they are done in balance with our many other needs. A daily practice simply needs to meet our needs. For instance, a daily practice might bring us vitality, a sense of being grounded, hope, community, beauty, and balance, to name a few elements of a rich life.

One of my daily practices is contemplative writing. I begin with a prompt. I then write for 20 minutes without lifting the pencil, without editing. I write this way in a class format, one-on-one, and in solitude, writing every day.

Here is a sample of yesterday’s daily writing practice. The context was my last Contemplative Writing class in an 8-week series. Our prompt, in short, was endings, letting go, and what we were taking with us. This piece of writing was written without preparation, without lifting the pencil, and without editing:

Life’s Journey

Earlier today, Georgia O’Keeffe visited my house. She was carrying purple petunias, bones, red poppies, and a sky full of clouds. She told me that during the last years of her life’s journey, she sat in her home on a rocker, as her home sat in the desert in New Mexico. While she sat and it sat, she listened; she listened to Juan Hamilton, who would very soon scatter her ashes in the mountains, read The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura. She told me that nothing filled her last days with more joy than hearing those simple words of detail about the history of tea, the Japanese tea ceremony, flowering arranging, the tea pot, the tea cup. She reminded me that she was blind during those last years, that she could only see color, pattern, shape, line, contour, light, dark within her mind, as memory, and as experience.

I reminded her that her purple petunias, bones, red poppies, and skies full of clouds were keeping me from joining her on the mountain top, becoming soil, wind, tree, water – everything.

I thanked her and she went on her way, only pausing to kneel down and stroke my tortoise-shell kitten, with her oranges and blacks, between the ears, all the way down to the tip of the tail. There was a smile between the two of them as Georgia rose again and walked out the door.

In my gratitude for all of Georgia’s gifts, I am reminded of my fellow classmates – Marie and Nan and Zinnia and Toni and Meg – and their gifts. I am reminded of the way they have welcomed me into the intimate spaces of their minds, into the way their arms move from one side of the page to the other as those same minds spill onto the page, of the way they have each opened those same arms to not only my writing, but also to me. I thank them, as, for now, I would rather stay amongst the blue square sitting mats, the purple and red fleece blankets, and the sounds of cars passing-by outside than to join Georgia on the mountaintop. Yes, thank you.

Okay, now what? I am interested in continuing my writing, as the twenty minutes are not up. Is the pain I feel around family members simply like a sky full of Georgia clouds? Is the confusion I feel simply a garden full of red poppies?

Okay, twenty minutes! When will you end? I am ready to rest now.

Even though I didn’t realize this was a goal of mine, an absolute necessity to survive, I am now realizing that I need to let go of other people’s feelings and actions toward me, even the ones that could hurt me, and just love them. Sometimes, I feel it is unjust to not respond with painful emotion towards negativity in my direction, but Thich Nhat Hanh tells me to simply love. (Time’s up.)

If you wish to explore optimizing your health through a writing practice, read the work of Natalie Goldberg.

I invite you to share your writing with me, if you think it will benefit you or others in our combined endeavors for optimal health. If we both agree, your work can be posted here.

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April 14, 2011

Recognizing Caffeine Allergies

by Kristina Amelong 

It appears that my desire to drink caffeinated beverages has outlived my body’s ability to handle them. I hate this. As a recovering person, I am loath to still have an addiction that I am completely determined to keep, but am seemingly being required by my body to give up. 

Off and on for years I have experienced a troubling numbness and tingling in my arms and legs, hands and feet, sometimes accompanied by pain. Over the past few months, the sensations and the pain have become constant, always worse at night as soon as I lay down in bed. At first, I just worried – I had MS, I was about to die, I would be crippled for the rest of my life. Then I decided to use what I know and take action – I increased my intake of herbs and supplements, and stepped up exercise and physical therapies. All to no avail.

Finally, as the last stone I loathed to turn over, I decided to determine if my daily cup of coffee, which I was splitting into two half cups, twice daily, in a cup or two of plain rice milk, sometimes steaming hot and other times on as many ice cubes as I could fit into the cup (for years, I have guiltily been asking the baristas at coffee shops for "just a little bit more ice, please") was the culprit.

Since I was 20 years old, I have been slowly, successfully, painfully, regretfully, with great reward, peeling away from my day-to-day life my addictions to substances. Now, at 47, as if I have done none of the recovery work, the deeply hard and life-transforming work, I am called to the journey of recovery once again. Luckily, I have found Tulsi tea to carry me through a challenging ongoing experiment of greatly reducing my caffeine intake.

I have survived my journey of drinking coffee only once or twice a week, along with two to three cups of India Breakfast Tulsi tea per day, with the added treat of a chocolate mint oolong tea once in a while. A month has passed. What are the results thus far? The numbness, tingling, and pain departed, completely, for three weeks. However, now the symptoms are back.

It seems that some of us have caffeine allergies and/or sensitivities, which means that our bodies cannot correctly process caffeine molecules. There are many possible symptoms of caffeine allergies. Here are the top 20.

I will keep you posted on my continued journey.

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