How to reset your body clock, and get better sleep, with hiking boots and a tent – The Washington Post


I’ve written before about disruption to circadian rhythm and the “body clock” by electronic devices and their impact on sleep. This article brings up another solution, camping and time outdoors, as a means of restoring healthy circadian rhythm. It also provides a western scientific explanation for the benefits of aligning with the yearly cycle of the seasons. This is well aligned with practices in Chinese Medicine, as well as the recommendations of many herbalists, to allow oneself to rest and sleep more in the winter and to allow one’s rhythm to be determined, as much as possible, by sunset and sunrise. As a wilderness therapist and avid camper (I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1999) I’m personally very aware of the benefits of sleeping in a tent when it comes to my own quality and quantity of sleep. If you are having sleep issues I would highly recommend giving this a try.

“Studies find that being in the great outdoors, without a lot of light at night, resets our clock.

Source: How to reset your body clock, and get better sleep, with hiking boots and a tent – The Washington Post

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Herbs and Meditation – using herbal medicine to support your spiritual practice.

Herbs and Meditation

In addition to supporting general health and vitality there are a number of ways in which herbs can support your meditation. Their effect can be initiated in various ways – they can interact with your brain via your olfactory system in the form of incense or essential oils, applied topically in the form of herbal oils or salves, or be taken internally as teas or powders. Below is a brief list of possibilities:

1) Modulating stress response – regulating the HPA axis – Adaptogens such as Ashwagandha, Schisandra, Ginseng which help alleviate the impact of stress and support a healthy and functional response to stress with long-term usage.

2) Releasing Muscular and Mental/Emotional Tension and Anxiety – relaxing and calming the contracted body and spirit and appeasing the monkey mind. Nervines such as Skullcap, Passionflower, Chamomile. Skeletal Muscle Relaxants such as Skullcap, Black Cohosh, and Cramp Bark, massage oils. Essential oils can also shift mental and emotional states in particular ways and release tension from body and mind.

3) Shifting States of Consciousness – shifting from sympathetic to parasympathetic states. From predominantly beta brain wave patterns to alpha, theta and delta. Herbs such as: Holy Basil, psychoactive herbs, Nervines, essential oils (lavender – known to promote alpha brain-wave states), and supplements such as L-Theanine.

4) Deepening and improving breathing – Essential oils or teas of Mint or Thyme,  herbs such as Lobelia or green tea. Deep and relaxed breathing is an important part of most meditation techniques as well as practices such as Yoga and Tai Chi. Expanding and relaxing the bronchial and opening the respiratory system (or unclogging a stuffy nose) can really make a difference in the quality and ease of our meditation or practice.

5) Improving concentration – for short-term effects herbs such as Green tea, Mate, or Calamus may enhance meditative focus and alertness with less of the jittery effect associated with caffeine. Many essential oils can also provide a awakening and focusing effect as well.

6) Stimulating or Calming sexual energy. In some schools such as Kundalini Yoga and Tantric practices one deliberately uses specific techniques and sometimes herbs such as black pepper to stimulate“Kundalini” energy and the 1st and 2nd chakras. Conversely, in many monastic traditions, including Yogic and most Buddhist, hot spices such as garlic, cayenne, pepper and ginger are often avoided as over-stimulating – instead one is intent upon cooling or calming these energies. This is reminiscent of Gerard accusing Rosemary of stimulating the baser passions in his treatise on herbal medicine, as well as the history of hops and the creation of the Germany Purity Laws prohibiting the use of more stimulating herbs in beer in favor of the very sedative hops.

7) Optimizing cognitive capacity and memory – Herbs such as Bacopa, Gotu Kola and Gingko, as well as nutrients and supplements such as fish oil which may enhance mental function with regular usage. Bacopa and Gotu Kola have been traditional used to support meditation Such herbs may also assist in development of your cognitive line by enhancing your ability to study and learn (see Herbs and Scaffolding).

8) Constitutional Balancing – often our physical health, behavioral emotional, mental and spiritual patterns will fit into a constitutional profile. Imbalance in our lifestyle and diet can result in symptoms of varying subtlety from an overt pathology to a maladaptive behavioral or emotional pattern. Herbal and nutritional recommendations, as well as lifestyle practices (exercise, mindfulness, pranyama, etc), can return the individual to a healthy balance thereby creating an optimal state for meditation and spiritual practice.

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Book Review – The Wisdom of Not-Knowing

Hello Friends,

This is a book review written by Dr Laura Colucci-Gray, one of my advisors at the University of Aberdeen, on the collection in which I published an essay last January. She takes a look at the subject of “Not-Knowing” from the angle of education.






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What is a Herbalist?

A herbalist is a health practitioner whose primary tool for supporting an individuals health are botanical medicines and foods. There are many lineages of herbal medicine, and Western Herbalists are essentially eclectic in their influences, often bringing together a strong foundation in physiology and Western medicine (both herbal and conventional) with Eastern approaches such as Acupuncture (from China) or Ayurveda (from India). Underlying their diversity herbalists generally have several elements in common: they focus on the individual in the context of their environment (ecological, socio-economic, cultural and interpersonal), they take into account mind, body and spirit, they spend significant time with their clients (my initial consultation lasts two hours), and they use a combination of plants, supplements, and nutritional and lifestyle recommendations to support their clients. Herbalists believe in the healing power of nature and the human capacity for adaptation and the mind-body’s inherent drive towards healing and self-renewal.

Working with a herbalist is a collaborative process and requires self-responsibility, motivation, a willingness to learn and to examine (and change) one’s habitual patterns (behavioral, emotional, mental and interpersonal). Herbal medicine often exemplifies the “person-centered,” and “evidence-based” (in its original and not its restricted sense) approaches to medicine and combines elements of counselling, psychosomatic, psychosocial, lifestyle, functional and evolutionary medicine. These influences may originate from their studies of Western medicine and science or from the very integral medical paradigms of the East. When it comes to diagnosis and assessment herbalists often combine lab data, information about medical diagnoses from conventional practitioners, and in-depth case histories. This is frequently tied together in a more coherent framework using Eastern techniques such as pulse and tongue diagnosis to assess the individuals constitution (a typology seamlessly integrating mind and body). The consultation results in a gestalt of these varied strands of information forming a comprehensive picture of the client and their dilemma. This informs the herbalist in their recommendations and in particular their choice of specific botanical medicines, often in the form of a complex and synergistic formula.Though occasionally using single plants, most herbalists use formulas of 3 to as many as 30 (in formulas from Chinese medicine) plants. These will be taken or applied in the form of tinctures (usually hydroalcoholic extracts), teas, powders, capsules, essential oils, creams and salves.

In addition to this panoply of plants the practitioner-patient will collaborate in developing a strategy for improving nutrition and making key lifestyle changes for addressing poor sleep, energy levels, stress and emotional issues, relational or work concerns and increasing health positive activities (exercise, time in nature, meditation, etc.). An important part of the partnership lies in exploring the inter-dynamics of the clients life, helping them increase self-awareness of patterns of behavior, diet, exercise, sleep, emotions, physical symptoms, and so forth and elucidating problematic components and supporting health positive ones.

In their journey with the client the herbalist often plays many roles and must be adept in changing hats, often spontaneously, throughout the consultation as appropriate. The herbalist’s clients are often motivated by one of two, possibly overlapping, reasons. Some want to take a natural approach to supporting their health before resorting to conventional medicine, and so when a health issue arises they go to a herbalist first. Others are at their wits end, having been shunted like a hot-potato between medical practitioners, both GP’s and specialists. They have tried everything, sometimes suffering for years, often with little to no results. Some have been “given up on” by the establishment, and the herbalist amounts to their last hope. Why and when one approach fails and the other succeeds and their relative strengths and weaknesses is a significant part of this work and where Integral Theory can provide an invaluable contribution.

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Leading doctors list dozens of procedures that ‘give no benefit’ | Society | The Guardian

This article speaks for itself. It is a good example of the self-correcting process of science, and how it trickles down (eventually, and sometimes with resistance) into the practice of individual doctors and health-care institutions and medical schools. I find it very encouraging when the practice of medicine is “updated” to reflect the ever-growing body of research. It is a sign of openness, willingness to re-examine old assumptions and to change habitual practices. This is the step-by-step process by which health-care slowly improves.

yours truly




Doctors should think carefully about whether some procedures, including x-rays and casts, are needed, says Academy of Medical Royal colleges

Source: Leading doctors list dozens of procedures that ‘give no benefit’ | Society | The Guardian

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Health in the Digital Age: New screen time rules for kids, by doctors –

A few years ago the American Association of Pediatrics made their first announcement about the use of TV, computers, phones, tablets and other electronic devices with children. They have recently come out with some more recommendations. I think these are very important guidelines to follow (at the minimum) by a very mainstream conventional Western Medical organisation.

Awareness of the health and wellness impact, both positive and negative, of the digital age is just starting to unfold.

Blue Light Exposure

We’ve seen an increased depth of data regarding the impact of blue light exposure from screens on sleep patterns and suppression of melatonin level. In addition to insomnia, lowered melatonin is correlated with a number of diseases including cancer (though remember correlation does not apply causation…ie there is currently no direct link to my knowledge between screen exposure and cancer). (See my previous blog on the subject for more).


We’ve also seen rising concern over the low-grade stress-response, which includes a slight feeling of anxiety/nervousness, shallow breathing, stooped, posture, and suppression of bodily functions (including thirst, hunger, fatigue, and needing to use the bathroom) associated with computer, in particular the internet. We all know the scenario, crouched over our computer, intently focused, as we chase after one elusive tidbit of information after another, like a weasel in a labyrinthine rabbit warren. Ignoring our urgent need to urinate, our red and itching eyes, our grumpy back…There is a highly addictive element to the internet that is very insidious!


Childhood Development

With childhood development in particular the data is clear enough for the AAP to make their strongly worded statement. Messing with childhood mental and emotional development is nothing to take lightly.    As you shall see in the article. In addition to their concern I’ve also encountered concerns about communication skills and social interactions altering as well as a growing difficulty to have moments without informational input (boredom!).

Source: New screen time rules for kids, by doctors –

What to do?

In addition to the general recommendations made in the article one of my solutions is to maximise outdoor time (for myself and my kids). There are many great books and websites with ideas for indoor and outdoor activities. The key is discovering interactive means of entertainment which are embodied and sensory (not just visual). By interactive I mean with the world at hand: with games, puzzles, sculpting, building, colouring, reading, and free play (especially outdoors with found objects). Our kids are really starting to enjoy helping with chores, especially thing such as sweeping and cooking (you can get kid safe knives for chopping fruit and veg). Playing music together or family dance time (my son loves Santana dance parties) is also great. There are some very good developmentally informed music methods appropriate for children of all ages that support child-parent bonding such as Colourstrings. In our family we generally make “movie night” a special occasion with snuggling on the couch and usually use story tapes when we need a few minutes of interruption free time and the kids are not managing to distract themselves without constant parental input (MOMMY!!!!!!!!). When I’m stuck at the computer (like I am this morning) I soon feel overwhelmed with the business of the work and feel very much undernourished in my soul. It tends to be superficial and endless. However, I can alleviate some of the discomforts by setting an hourly alarm to stretch, do a few minutes of deep breathing (HeartMath), and change my focus to a broader horizon (such as the view from our house of the Loch and the mountains beyond . Weather permitting I work much better outside.

With that said, it’s a challenging situation, and I often have difficulty following my own good advice!

take care





Better than a computer screen! View from our Badrallach Campsite and future Integral Health Retreat Centre.


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EarthMind Fellowship’s Winter Retreat at Badrallach

It’s January.  New Year’s Eve has come and gone. Old habits will shortly strong-arm your resolutions into submission and oblivion.  Maybe a critical inner voice will guilt you into grudging obedience.  Need some help?  Come rest and do inner work with renowned herbalist and wilderness therapist, Owen Okie.  Renew yourself in the beautiful and remote Scottish Highlands.  You choose what you want to work on, exploring nature, both inner and outer, of our winter landscape or within the shelter of our lovely, warm Bothy.  Come to grips with parts of yourself that prevent growth and well-being.  Make steps toward your highest potential through a variety of nature-based practices.  Gaze into the flames of our warm woodstove and reflect.  Venture out when you are ready, with new tools for transforming stress into resilience.   Spots are filling up quickly!  Email to reserve your place.  More information can be found at

Where: We will be staying at Badrallach Campsite, Bothy and Cottage. There are three options for lodging; camping, bunkhouse accommodations in the bothy, or for a little extra in the cottage (subject to availability).

When: You’ll arrive on the evening of January 4th and will settle in.  Our Winter EarthMind Retreat will begin the next morning and will run till the morning of the 9th.

How Much: In order to make our retreat accessible to all we offer a sliding scale from £200 to £400. This includes, lodging, meals, and activities. Payment plans or a work-stay may be available upon request.

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