This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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In Copenhagen, confused and concerned

CPH-1Lovely ones, my new slow life has begun. In Copenhagen. For now. After two weeks in a lovely apartment in Østerbro I found myself in a furnished, bright little place in Nørrebro, with a view over the ring of lakes that divide the North half of town.

Instead of weekly travels to London and criss-cross the Nordics I now find myself on a monthly travel schedule to Belgium, plus a tour of a handful other European countries this spring (provided I can avoid coronavirus hotspots). Instead of crazy 8-9 hour workdays I find myself deeply entrenched in one project for 6-7 hours a day. Instead of dragging myself out for a run or onto the yoga mat at 5 pm I find myself running around the lakes mid-afternoon, before going back to work with more energy.

It all sounds wonderful, right? In truth this is a tough training in how to live with uncertainty: where will I live after May 1st? Where will I work next year? What if I can’t find a job if I really like? What if nobody will like me well enough to hire me? Is there a future for the relationship I’m in, now that I had to move out? What if I just can’t muster the energy to work all this out?

And the biggest question of all: I will turn 40 this year. How will I set myself up for success for the next 10 years, including healthy aging? CPH-2(Copenhagen, Denmark; January 2020)


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Silence

Devon-2Life is in a flux again, and how hard it was to just be present in silence for a long weekend in the Devon countryside. Instead I found myself thinking of the future, the past, or an alternative present. When work-hour sign-up was open I signed up for garden duty, to get outside. And when garden duty started I signed up to shovel compost, so I would be worn out by the time daily meditation sessions would begin.

The young man assigned to the same task quit after one day. So for an hour it was just me, a wheelbarrow, a spade, the compost, and a hungry robin fluttering around my wheelbarrow, taking good chances of being covered in muck before breakfast was done.

And then, then it was silence in sitting, and silence in walking. And some reflective words every night. And so much silent kindness, from fellow retreaters of all ages. It is what impresses on me most deeply each time I retreat into silence: an expression of kindness needs no words.(Devon, United Kingdom; December 2019)


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Sleep stories

There is something soothing about focusing one’s attention on a single voice which calmly and contentedly goes on about unimportant but poetic details. Like fuzzy, friendly bumblebees visiting a strawberry planting, or a base guitarist in a rock band who discovered that flowers were his true calling and opened a flower shop. I discovered the Headspace Sleepcasts when they were launched and have loved them since.

Like someone said, I, too, would love to listen to the Night Town sleepcast lady read a phone book. Who is she? Also the narrator of Rainday Antiques and Slow Train seems to have friends. He does sound a little like Sir David Attenborough. Wish it was less of a mystery!

(Copenhagen, Denmark; February 2020)


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My favorite yin yoga sequence

flowerLovely ones, something quite different for a change: my favorite yin yoga sequence. Why? Because yin yoga complements both daily stress as well as most types of workout, including ashtanga yoga. Yin poses first stretch the muscles open and then go to work on the connective tissue: the fascia, tendons, and ligaments. Not only are knotted muscles relieved, but blood flow into joints increases, as does overall flexibility.

The trick is to find a version of a pose that works for your body. One that is challenging but soft enough to allow you to stay in it for at least two minutes, preferably four or longer. Any stretches that make you grind your teeth and sweat within thirty seconds have no place in yin yoga.

I believe in a yin practice designed for each individual body and its issues, depending on how it is built and how it is exercised. Here is my routine, and why I love each pose. Links lead to photos, instructions, and summary of benefits.

  1. Spinal twist, first gently with both legs bent and perhaps one hand pushing the top knee down. For me this works more on the IT tendon and fascia on the outside of the thigh than it does on the spine.
  2. Spinal twist, the deep version with one leg straight along the spine line and the other bent, knee nearing the floor. Both twists are essential for the health of my back and I sometimes do these in bed, first thing in the morning.
  3. Broken (or open) wing pose. It was not easy to find a visual description of my version. To stretch my chest and shoulders I roll over the outstretched arm with a straight leg, placing the other leg on the outside of the straight one and supporting myself with my free hand. Great pose if you spend hours in front of the computer on a daily basis.
  4. Butterfly pose. This is not for hips or hamstrings, but for stretching the lower back. I place my forearms and elbows on the floor in front of my shins, hands facing forward. I stay for at least five minutes, beyond relaxing my lower back muscles, until I feel the ligaments loosen.
  5. Fire log pose. Stretches first the glutes and then the deep hip and piriformis. Hip opener for lotus pose. I usually lean over to one side, supporting my weight on my forearms and placing my forehead on the top foot.
  6. Half frog pose. Leads into frog pose but stretches different adductors for me, the ones that go tight from running.
  7. Frog pose. The idea is to ultimately have your shins, knees, and thighs on the floor, but I have never seen anyone able to do this. This pose is nearly unbearable for me at times of high stress or anxiety, because it stretches deep groin and hip muscles, where so much emotion resides. I also find this nearly unbearable during my period and tend to skip it at those times.
  8. Savasana, preferably as a heart-opener with a bolster or block under my spine to stretch my chest and shoulders.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; January 2020)


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Sauna squeeze

Mon-6One late September night seven women squeezed into the oddest little sauna I have ever seen. There was sweat, steam, the fresh scent of birch twigs, and laughter. And there was nearly no light as candles would melt in the heat of the stove. Also, oddly, there was no water except for what was carried in in a bucket. Anyone wishing to wash themselves needed to do so outside, under the garden shower, in the moonlight (or in the main house bathroom).

I have understood these “sauna barrels” are all the rage in Denmark. And quite far removed from the Finnish purpose of sauna: a warm place to wash and scrub oneself as clean as possible. Furthermore, the Danes are currently much into “saunagus”: a scheduled program run by a sauna master in a public sauna or during a private event. This usually entails aromatherapy oils, steam, ice buckets, and potentially a relaxation or meditation exercise while people sit or lie down on the benches in the heat. Oddly for a Finn, the sauna master can also turn out to be a magician dressed in black-tie (how sweaty!) or a stand-up comedian. And if nothing else, he or she is expected to at least be able to spin towels in the air in a fancy way. All this is also quite far removed from the Finnish spartan sauna tradition, where not many words are spoken and certainly no tricks are performed as the sauna is a serious place for quiet and contemplation.

That late September night, seven women crammed into the sauna barrel. It was so dark we could not read the labels of the aromatherapy oils, so each scoopful of scented water turning into steam on the hot rocks was a surprise: mint, ylang-ylang, lemongrass, or something else? And there was much chatter and laughter, more than I am used to. Such joy took much space during that weekend, among new-found friends.Mon-5(Island of Møn, Denmark; September 2019)


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The last weekend of the summer

Mon-2The sunlight still brightened the beach sand to a brilliant white, even if it was the last weekend of September. For many hours during those three days, I sat on the cool sand watching the little swirls of water rolling in, perhaps all the way from German shores. Mon-4We were just seven women on this private weekend retreat, of many ages and cultures. The old white-washed farmhouse on the countryside of Møn island filled with moments of laughter, moments of silence, and the scent of delicious vegetarian food. Mornings were for yoga and reflection, afternoons for silent meditation and skinny dipping, and evenings for dining, sauna, and sharing.

It was as if the unusually long Danish summer ended that Sunday, when we locked the doors and began the drive back up South.Mon-1(Island of Møn, Denmark; September 2019)


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Warmth of the sun in a cup

curcuminWhisked into hot almond milk, curcumin latte is the warmth of the sun in a cup. This one comes with ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper for extra heat. Heat is good, not only in the winter, but also as a digestive for people whose bellies burn with a slow flame, like me.

Curcumin comes from turmeric, the ginger-resembling root that makes one’s fingers yellow when handling it. And as turmeric only contains a few percent of curcumin, quite a few roots have gone into one curcumin latte – for my good health. Yum.

(Brande, Denmark; June 2019)