A few moments ago I had a terrible headache, and was feeling restless and a little anxious. For many of us, this is a state in which we find ourselves frequently — the symptoms of a a daily dose of stress from work, politics, or interpersonal relationships taking their toll. And often, we might find ourselves pushing through it, just trying to get it all done and get through the day. We pop Ibuprofen. We take our Ativan. We cope. But today, instead of doing that, I took a break. I walked away from my computer, made a cup of Dandy Blend, grabbed an Herbal Preroll, and headed outside in the sunshine to sit by my chicken coop. I sipped and smoked, and watched them strut around. I breathed deeply, felt the sun on my arms, and studied the swaying of the trees. My headache disappeared in less than a minute, I was relaxed, and dare I say I little euphoric, counting the blessings of my life instead of focusing on my pain or my anxiety.
These moments are when we have the opportunity to shift our consciousness into an altered state, and also the opportunity to do that in a healthy way. Human beings have sought out altered states for as long as we’ve been around, and it is the motivation behind all drug-seeking behavior, all acid trips, every joint rolled, every cup of coffee drank or cigarette smoked. We want to feel different. We want to feel better. But an altered state or shift in consciousness does not have to mind-blowing like an acid trip or harmful to our bodies like a cigarette break. We can achieve them every day by being present, focusing on our breath, taking herbs and eating nourishing food, and looking away from the screen for as long as we can. I’ve been inspired to think about this post by my friend Taraleigh Weathers, owner of This Wonderful Place in Morrisville, VT as well as the author of How to Rock Your Life: Maintain the Magic of Live Music in Your Everyday Experience. She talks a lot about the idea of “conscious partying,” or the practice of getting high on life and being able to enter altered states of consciousness without sacrificing your health and well being. I’ve also been inspired recently by my other friend Lisa Mase of Harmonized Cookery, who’s supporting me on a journey of shifting my diet to something a little more vibrant. nourishing, and seasonally appropriate. I’ve only been eating one of her customized meal plans for a half a week or so, but I already feel a huge shift. So without further ado, here are some thoughts on how you can create a healthy shift in consciousness whenever you feel stuck somewhere less than ideal.
1. Drink Water:
It’s so, so basic, and so, so easy to forget. Making an effort to drink at least two full 32-ounce bottles of clean water every day. I believe that many people who believe they have adrenal fatigue are just chronically dehydrated. Water gives us energy, improves our metabolism, and stimulates circulation. I have personally felt the difference between a state of chronic dehydration and even a day or two of actually drinking enough water, and it feels like finally waking up into a state of alertness, focus, and motivation. That’s why this is Step One — often this is all we need to do and we don’t actually need all the stimulating herbs or adaptogens.
2. Breathe. Deeply:
Stop for a minute. Breathe in for the count of 4, hold it in for 2, then breathe out for 4 and hold for 2. Repeat. Feel the difference. So often, especially for those of us living with anxiety, our breathing is constricted and tight. Some of us might forget to exhale (what else do you need to let go of?), or forget to inhale (are you literally un-inspired?). Other kinds of focused breathing (like “holotropic breathwork”) have been used by many to actually achieve semi-psychedelic states of consciousness. Even if that’s not what you’re going for, simply focusing on your breath and making sure its not getting caught up anywhere can make a huge difference in your state of mind.
3. CBD or Cannabidiol:
The oft-repeated phrase regarding CBD these days is that its “non-psychoactive.” Hell, I’ve even said this on more than one occasion. The only problem is it’s not true. While it may not be “psychotropic” in the same way that THC is, it most certainly acts on our central nervous system and affects our brains and our consciousness. In low doses, it can be very stimulating. I’m currently experimenting with reducing caffeine in the morning and supplementing CBD, with the hopes that I can eventually wean myself of the coffee. In higher doses its sedating, and in all doses it can create a sense of calm, relaxation, and well-being. Smoking, especially alongside other relaxing herbs in an herbal preroll, is awesome when you need to get rid of that tension headache fast (like I did today), and oral use such as a tincture is great for longer lasting effects.
The heavier hitting plants like high-THC cannabis or psilocybin are sometimes used quite effectively in “micro-doses,” as recently popularized by Michael Pollan in his new book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. New research is revealing that taking small amounts of psilocybin can work to create new connections in our brains and lift us out of even long-standing states of depression. And THC is enjoyed by many in super small amounts — something like 1-2 mgs (to give perspective, most edibles are dosed between 10-20mg, and sometimes up to 100mg). If you’re someone who’s sworn off the THC because it makes your heart race or makes your paranoid and anxious, you might just be taking way too much. You might find that dialing it back opens up a whole new state of mind and will get you saying “ohhhhh, now I get why people like this so much.”
5. Eating nourishing food and taking good herbs:
We co-evolved with plants and whole foods, so it makes sense that we need them to be the most awesome version of ourselves. And the Standard American Diet (acronym SAD for a reason) that many of us consume is not a plant-based, whole foods diet, not by a long shot. Eating fresh, living foods. Eating seasonally and being present with our meals. Cutting back on processed foods and choosing simple ingredients with ample seasoning (spices are herbs, my friends!) can make a world of difference in how we see the world. And while tinctures and capsules are fantastic and convenient, try bringing your herbs to the dinner table with you. Add tulsi to your dish instead of regular basil. Drink a cup of nettles tea with your lunch. Put burdock in your stir fry. And mix your powdered herbs like ashwagandha or licorice into your smoothies and sweet treats. Taking in nourishing foods and herbs every day can help you realize how crappy you felt while you were living off of Dominos and maybe didn’t even realize at the time. And again, feeling our bodies well means we are also feeding our mind and spirit, shifting our being into healthier state of being that is likely quite altered from our normal modus operandi.
6. Move your body:
One interesting thing we’ve learned recently about our endocannabinoid system is that it’s enhanced through exercise. It’s no mistake they call it a “runner’s high” — just 30 minutes of running actually doubles our body’s anandamide production (that’s our body’s own THC). Moving our body not only creates this state of euphoria, but it also increases our energy levels, and brings circulation to the brain which can help improve focus and creativity.
These everyday habits might not be as revelatory and explosive as a journey with ayahuasca, but then again they might be. They can certainly be life-changing.