Healthy Bodies Make Better Magick
Are you in pain? Do you wake up tired? Take a couple of minutes right now and examine your body, your heart and your spirit. Then answer this question: Are you in pain right now?
You may forget to pay attention to yourself, even if you know it’s important. Stretch, flex, roll your head around, rub your neck and shoulders – how are you doing? Look for tension in your jaw, around your eyes, in your neck and shoulders and in your lower back. Are your hands sometimes clenched when you are not conscious of being stressed?
Continue your assessment to determine which areas need attention. Try taking a few minutes and assess your body several times a day. If you want to make changes in your life, remember it’s impossible to get somewhere without knowing your starting place, and your body is your starting place.
We live at a time when we use our minds more and more, and our bodies less and less. Most of us think of our “selves” as being located in our heads somewhere. Yet if we stop for a moment to consider the reality of our lives, our bodies are our very best friends. They carry us around like faithful and patient mules; they bring us exquisite pleasure; they enable us to interact with other people and with the world of nature. They give us honest and reliable information about our actions and our thoughts. As practitioners of the Craft, we use our bodies to focus energy and do magick. They are our chief magickal tools. If you purge pain and ill health from your body, your magick has that much more chance of working.
Working with pain isn’t simple. We human beings tend to learn our deepest lessons via pain. If you train yourself to think of pain, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, as a valued teacher – one who grades pretty tough – then you can more easily accept any source of pain or unhappiness in your life as an opportunity to learn. Pain is one of the ways in which our bodies “speak” to us.
I am not suggesting that this is the “true” explanation for pain, or that this is the “best” way to approach it, but this is a way to view the puzzle of pain that empowers you to put it to use in your life.
The keys to the pain puzzle are your body, your feelings, your thoughts and your beliefs. Your body responds to physical reality and follows the orders of your thoughts and beliefs. As you learn to pay attention to the pain in your life, you will increase your ability to see your own belief structures, both positive and negative, to take good care of your body and to decrease the suffering in your life if you choose to. This article covers some ways to unlock the pain puzzle.
None are a replacement for seeing a doctor or other health care professional when you are sick or injured. If it seems warranted, discuss with your M.D., naturopath or other health care professional possible causes and treatments for your pain, tiredness or stress. If a professional does give you medication or make suggestions, at least try them for a period of time. What is the point of paying someone to advise you and then ignoring the advice? By all means, insist your health care providers explain the reasoning, and the mechanism, for any treatments they give you. But if you don’t trust their suggestions, find a health care practitioner you do trust enough to follow.
If you try some techniques following – actually doing them and not just thinking about them – and you still feel really sad much of the time, or if you cannot find the energy to even try them, you may have clinical depression and you should see an appropriate health care practitioner right away. Depression is a real physical illness that has emotional components. Trying to think your way out of most illnesses is risky business.
You are the one in charge of whatever you do for yourself, and you have to do the work to change anything in your life. Every act of life is a creation ritual. The suggestions in this article are just ideas to enable you to become more aware of your state of well-being and help you fine-tune your wonderful mind, body and spirit.
Begin with breathing
Breathing is the only body system that is both voluntary and involuntary, and so it is the easiest place to begin. Practice breathing all the way down into your belly. Fear and tension cause us to tighten our bellies and breathe in the upper lungs. You can relax very quickly by breathing deep into your belly and counting as you breathe to balance the in-breaths and out-breaths. For example, breathe in to a count of six, slow and easy. Hold your breath for a count of three, and then exhale to a count of six. Hold again for three, and inhale for six. Do this cycle several times, striving to breathe very evenly all the way in and all the way out, ending with your lungs completely full, and then completely empty.
Be gentle with yourself while doing this. It is not a contest to see how much or how little air your lungs can contain but a way to become conscious of what you do with your body and to nourish it. Many people “underbreathe” all the time as a result of stress and find they are tired because the body is oxygen-deprived.
Particularly if you are quitting smoking, or some other addictive, numbing behavior, practice breathing deeply and slowly every time you get the urge to return to your addictive practice. You may find this reduces the craving.
Easing your pain
Try lying on your back with your knees bent and slowly twist your legs first to the right, then the left, as far as is comfortable. This exercise will make you aware of and help release any tension in your lower back. Next, sit cross-legged and roll your head around on your neck, slowly and carefully, then shrug your shoulders, roll them in big circles, and flex your spine forward and back. Are you finding any areas of tightness, any pain?
If so, first examine your environment to see if it holds the source. Is there pain in your neck and shoulders? Are you on the phone a lot? If you are, do you have a headset or at least a shoulder brace? Are you in the habit of holding the phone by scrunching up your neck and shoulder while you write stuff down? If you do that, and your neck hurts, stop doing that and invest in a shoulder brace (around $5) or a headset phone ($30 to $100, and you get what you pay for). Don’t wait until your boss offers to pay for it; his or her neck doesn’t hurt.
Do you carry a purse or a backpack on one shoulder? If you have pain right at the top of your back and at the base of your neck, stop hanging that heavy sack on one shoulder. If necessary, get one that cannot be carried that way. A fanny pack around your hips can carry as much and won’t create the pain in your neck and shoulders. A regular two-strap backpack is better for your spine than a one-strap bag, if you will use both straps.
Examine your posture, the chair you sit in at work, your mattress and pillow, your easy chair. Are any of those the possible source of your pain? If so, determine what changes will assist your body and make those changes. Sleeping on a fairly firm mattress, and if you have neck pain getting a cervical support pillow, can reduce or eliminate back and neck pain. The pillows are sold on television or at places like Zenith Supplies, a fabulous store near 65th and Roosevelt in Seattle, for $20 to $30. Pillows and mattresses wear out and should be replaced every few years.
Walking, swimming, biking and all other forms of regular exercise will do more for your well-being and long-term health than any other single thing, except for stopping smoking. Smoking is the No. 1 killer in the United States; 1000 people a day are dying from the long-term effects of smoking just in this country alone. Regular exercise is also the best way to improve your mood and energy.
Yoga is the very best exercise for reducing pain, even that from arthritis and other chronic problems. If you are in the habit of regularly taking pain medication, either prescription or over-the-counter, discuss your chronic pain with your doctor, exercise teacher or coach and see if there are not specific exercises that will help you. Many yoga teachers and other exercise experts are extremely skilled in working with chronic problems or people with specific needs. Movement therapy, dance classes or hiking in the park could change your entire experience of living.
Don’t be afraid to try acupuncture for chronic pain. The needles are much less painful than most people imagine they will be, and acupuncture can be very helpful for a wide variety of chronic illnesses, injuries and stress-related pains.
Another way to improve your well-being is to drink more water. You may not be drinking enough water to allow your body to balance itself. Drink at least a quart a day, plus other liquids. When you are under stress, adrenal steroids and other stress chemicals build up in your body. When you exercise, drink water and breathe deeply, you assist your body in getting rid of the stress chemicals. Just exercising to the point where you are breathing more rapidly and beginning to perspire changes your body chemistry dramatically, and therefore changes your mood.
Get enough sleep. Modern humans are only sleeping six to seven hours per night. It has been estimated that humans slept eight to nine hours per night before the invention of electric lights. Our bodies have not been able to adequately adapt to the sleep reduction in the short amount of time lights have been available, so most of us are tired most of the time and don’t really realize it.
If you have trouble sleeping, or wake up tired, try the following practices:
- Reduce the amount of caffeine you use. Do not drink any coffee, tea, or soft drink containing caffeine within six hours of when you want to go to sleep. If this change doesn’t solve your problems, switch to decaf, herb teas, fruit juice or water.
- During the day, turn up those lights, and be sure to spend some time outside every day in the fresh air, walking around and appreciating the wonderful planet we live on.
- Go to bed at the same time each night. Use earplugs if your bedroom is near a noisy street and eye shades if you cannot make the room dark enough. Make your bed clean, comfortable and adequately supportive.
- Don’t read or watch television in bed. Train yourself that when you go to bed and turn out the light, you will simply go to sleep. Tell yourself, “I can go to sleep easily and sleep all night.”
- If your dentist tells you that you grind your teeth in your sleep, get a bite guard. They are a bit expensive (in the $200-300 range) but can go a long way toward soothing neck, shoulder and facial pain, plus enabling you to get more restful sleep.
- Try melatonin supplements. If you are older, you may not be producing enough melatonin from your pineal gland. Production begins to fall around age 30, and by age 40 a fair percentage of people are not producing enough to stay asleep all night. Do some reading before you begin any self-experiments, however. Melatonin will only work one time each 24 hours as it “resets” your biological clock. Only take it once each night at most, about an hour before you want to go to sleep. It does not help everyone but appears to have a very low incidence of side effects. Discuss taking it with your health practitioner.
- If you become aware of pain in your body you ignored during the day, do some light stretches and flexes, tighten and release different muscle groups and turn your head from side to side while lying flat on your back with your knees flexed. Listen to slow, dreamy, relaxing music while you stretch.
- Examine the label of any herbal preparation you are using. Ma huang, or ephedra, should only be taken in the morning as it will interfere with your ability to fall and stay asleep. Ma huang is a pretty intense herb and should be used with caution anyhow, as it may raise your blood pressure, make you dizzy or wind you up just too tight. It is often the main ingredient in the so-called “thermogenic” formulas sold for weight loss.
- Before going to your doctor for prescription sleep medication, consider trying the herbal teas such as Sleep Easy, or preparations with folk remedies like hops, skullcap, valerian, passionflower and others. Look remedies up in herb books and, if you like, experiment gently with yourself, beginning with small amounts and increasing them gradually.
Herbs are not harmless, so learn what you are doing before you use them, or go to a herbalist or other health care professional. Be cautious and stop using anything the moment you have an adverse reaction, including prescription medication, which often interferes with rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. Herbal sleeping formulas may leave you feeling groggy when you first wake up, but they do not seem to interfere with REM sleep the way prescription sleeping medications do.
Additionally, if you suspect that you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder or mild depression, try using herbs and other folk medicine if it is not too serious. St. John’s wort is used widely in Germany to help mild depression.
The food you consume
If sleep is not a problem for you, but you still suffer from tiredness, nervousness, muscle tension and pain, consider trying the following.
Go to your health care professional for a complete physical. You may have some condition that requires treatment. For example, you may be anemic and need to take iron. Without adequate iron, your red blood cells cannot carry enough oxygen to meet bodily needs.
A quick home check for anemia can be done by very gently pulling your lower eyelid away from the eyeball while you look at it carefully in the mirror. The blood vessels are very close to the surface there, and the area should be a nice rosy pink. If your lower lids are noticeably paler than other people’s, ask your doctor to check you for iron deficiency.
Avoid taking iron unnecessarily, however, as it can build up in the blood, particularly in males, and can become toxic. Females who menstruate are less likely to have too much iron, and more likely to have too little, as they lose some each month during their periods. After their periods cease, women need to be more cautious about taking too much iron.
Eating a healthy diet with little or no caffeine, small amounts of sugar and fat, adequate protein and lots and lots of grains, fruit and vegetables will go a long way toward improving your health and your well-being. You should eat at least some complex carbohydrates as soon as you get up in the morning, to begin bringing your blood sugar up to operating level. Just having some coffee in the morning and eating no food until lunch is a poor health practice, as is skipping lunch. Several small balanced meals per day are much better for your health than one giant one at night.
Following is a recipe for “Go Juice,” adapted from Adele Davis’s and very good for building your tolerance for stress and reducing those winter blues. All items mentioned are available in health-food stores or in the nutritional departments at co-op groceries, Fred Meyer’s, Larry’s Market and other stores. Prices are approximate.
To a 12-ounce can or equivalent frozen juice (your choice, grapefruit, raspberry, peach, lime) add the following in a blender:
- 1/2 to 1 cup nutritional yeast. Using a full cup makes the mix thicker than you may like; you can always drink more if you like the effects. A 1-pound can of nutritional yeast costs around $7; yeast is even cheaper in bulk from the bins.
- 12 to 24 calcium-magnesium-zinc tablets. Generally, 250 tablets are $10 to $12. Try Costco for cheaper.
- 1/2 to 1 cup lecithin granules or powder. A one-pound can runs about $7.
- 4 to 8 tablespoons blended oils. If you make Go Juice often, try mixing one pint Hain All-Blend oil mixture (safflower, walnut, soy, peanut) with one pint of olive oil. Keep the blended oils in the fridge to keep them fresh. You can also use this blend for cooking and in salad dressing. Cost is $4 up, depending on the oils you use.
Mix the juice and put some of it in a blender. Turn on the blender and first grind up the mineral tablets, then slowly add the yeast, lecithin and oil. Allow them to blend thoroughly, then add the remainder of the juice to make a couple of quarts, and store your Go Juice in the fridge. Shake it well each time before you pour some in a glass to drink, as the minerals settle out and you need to take all the ingredients together.
If you find the mixture causes intestinal gas, try taking three to six Super-Enzymall tablets (Schiff, 90 tablets for $13), or another enzyme formula, and three to six Betaine Hydrochloride with Pepsin tablets (Thompson, 180 tablets for $9) with each 6- to 8-ounce glass of Go Juice you drink. Experiment to discover what works for you.
Some people hate the taste of Go Juice, and others love it. You should notice an improvement in energy and mood within a week if you drink a glass each morning and each evening.
Many people take vitamins and other supplements as insurance. Unless you really pay attention, and eat food that is grown organically, you do not have any way to know whether you are getting all the nutrients you need. A good (usually fairly expensive) multiple vitamin, additional Vitamin E and C and, for women particularly, additional calcium can improve your well-being. If you have pain in your legs at night, commonly called “growing pains” in children, or menstrual cramps, you may be low in calcium or may not be absorbing what you take in. A naturopath can help you evaluate your diet if you cannot do so by yourself.
More tune-up tips
Learn some massage so you can have massage breaks with your co-workers and friends. When you get together to watch a movie at home, give each other back and shoulder rubs. Get some massage tools and carry them with you so you can use them on the bus or if you get stuck in rush-hour traffic. Use them for little breaks at work. If you have a desk job, remember to stop, stretch, bend, breathe, get up and walk around and change your position every hour or so.
Light-sound machines or “brain-tuning” tapes are useful for learning how to relax and to help you fall asleep. Brain-tuning tapes play a slightly different pulsed rhythm in each ear. The pulses are masked with music and ambient sounds such as rainfall, cricket chirps and owl and whale calls, so the pulsing is not very noticeable. The brain balances out the difference between the two rhythms and lowers your brain waves to match. The Brainwave Suite tape set is excellent, as are many others. The light-sound machines can put you into a meditative state, or to sleep, in a few minutes and are a lot of fun.
These tapes and machines are amazing to use and really work for many people. Do not confuse them with the “subliminal learning” tapes that are widely offered for sale. I have not been able to find any studies showing that “subliminal” tapes are any better than just listening to the relaxing music used to mask their spoken words. You could probably do just as well buying relaxing music you like.
Light-sound machines can be dangerous for those who have seizure disorders, so do not use these if you do, and never use them while operating machinery or during any other dangerous activity.
Grounding and earth energy
Learning to ground and doing so daily, even if just for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, can really help you relax and learn about yourself. There are many ways to ground, and in the absence of a class or teacher, all the possibilities can be confusing. Following is one description. You can use your imagination to focus your own energy, and you can then practice moving energy from the earth and sky into and out of different areas of your body.
Stand or sit in a relaxed posture with your spine straight and, if standing, your knees slightly bent. Take a deep breath and relax your belly. Imagine that there is a long cord attached to the base of your spinal column that extends down into the ground, going down deep, even to the center of the earth. Visualize this cord and imagine it getting bigger and stronger, see it pulsing, and then visualize or feel sending energy down it. Imagine the energy as light, sound, vibration or however you wish to picture and feel it.
Then visualize and feel any tension, or excess energy in your body, draining down the cord into the earth. You will be able to feel the change right away, although you will have your own experience of it and may describe it very differently from anyone else. It may be helpful to ask a friend who is more familiar with the skill to ground with you the first few times, to help increase the sensation and the experience.
You may wish to use your hands to increase the sensation of the experience. Place one hand on the center of your chest, and the other on the center of your back opposite it, as near the top of your spine as you can comfortably reach both front and back. Slowly move your hands down the center line of your body to the base of your spine, using your imagination to feel the energy moving down your spine with your hands and continuing on down your grounding cord into the earth.
Play around with this for a few minutes, and then imagine you are growing roots from the bottoms of your feet, down into the earth. Feel your roots sliding down, deep into the darkness and inner warmth of the earth. Use these roots to draw earth energy up into your body to balance and heal it. This energy may have a color, a temperature, a vibration or some other sensory or visual aspect. Imagine and feel the earth energy filling and nourishing your whole body and spirit.
You can also draw energy from the sky. Once again using your imagination to create a picture of this in your mind’s eye, see an opening beginning as a point and growing to about the size of a quarter in the very top of your head. With your imagination, draw in energy from the sky. Imagine this sky energy filling and energizing your body, flushing out tension and tiredness. Sky energy will probably appear and feel very different from earth energy to you. Imagine sky energy and earth energy swirling and mixing together in your belly and pelvic area, and then spreading out to heal and nourish your entire body, mind and spirit.
Move this energy from point to point in your body. For example, rub your palms together and feel the sky-earth energy mixture flowing into and building up in your hands. Feel it moving into your hands more and more as you rub them together. Then, when you have built up a charge, separate your palms an inch or two apart, and play with the ball of energy that you can feel between them. Build this energy ball even more, moving your hands closer and further apart, feeling it get larger and stronger. Then take this energy ball and press it into any area of your body that is tired or tense, and visualize the energy ball flowing from your hands into the area. Feel that area soaking up the energy and being nourished by it.
These exercises can be done anywhere, at any time, to assist in balancing your energy and improving your mood. Your ability to use them will increase with practice, just as your muscle tone increases with physical exercise. In time, you will do them automatically whenever you are under stress. If you’re interested in learning more about them, look through the many books available, or take a class.
Remember that thinking about doing a technique is not the same as actually doing it with your body. It is very easy to kid yourself that you know a technique just from reading an explanation. To actually learn it, you must actually do it.
Listening to your inner voice
Can you usually hear what your “inner voice” is saying? Do negative or scary thoughts flit through your mind fairly often? You can greatly reduce the stress in your life by paying attention to the content of the automatic thoughts that go through your mind. You may have to make an effort to become conscious of the exact words, but if you do, you will probably find the source of much of your unhappiness in life. To learn to hear your own automatic thinking, also called “self-talk,” take a few minutes every once in a while and write down every thought that pops into your mind. You may be surprised at how negative your self-talk really is.
If you do find it’s mostly negative, don’t worry about it. The little thought-voice in the mind is negative for most people. It’s like a scared little watchdog who always tries to keep track of the “worst possible scenario” to keep you safe, so it usually looks on the dark side of things.
It’s useful because it’s on the lookout for danger, but it can become a major source of stress and tension because it is only semi-conscious. You can begin to greatly reduce the tension in your life by becoming aware of your self-talk, assessing the accuracy of the statements and changing the inaccurate negative or scary ones to positive and relaxing affirmations. Once you do a little work to become aware of your self-talk, you can use it to change your point of view in life and have a lot more fun. As you learn to hear what a paranoid pip-squeak lives inside your head, you will laugh at how silly it sounds out loud.
Get a kitty or some easy-care plants to make your home a restful refuge. Cultivate a positive frame of mind, and take a self-mastery class. Encourage your friends to support you in being positive, and put cards around your house with affirmations like “Today I will be happy and calm, and I will accomplish everything I need to do” or “Goddess grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” Get involved and make a useful contribution to the well-being of the world through volunteer work or other social action. Develop a regular spiritual practice. Mourn your losses, and give yourself credit for all you accomplish.
These are difficult times we are living through; the future looks uncertain, and everything is changing faster than before. Try thinking of what you are doing as surfing, or dancing, with the energy of life.
This is indeed a time of great opportunity.