About shanathornton

Listener, reader, storyteller, author of Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel (March 2015) and Multiple Exposure (September 2012), owner of Thorncraft Publishing and creator of BreatheYourOMBalance® Visit thorncraftpublishing.com for more details.

On Textures, Trails, & Timing

The river trails lured me when I first looked out the window yesterday morning. Everything was covered in dew drops and shimmered as we moved toward the rays of the sun. The dewy blanket revealed the textures of each flower gone to seed, the velvety puffs and cushions of wildflowers, the spiky anchors of grasses, the spinning parachutes of weeds…

The sun rose over the hillside and illumined the spider webs that now looked vacant after a busy night under the full moon. The webs covered the grasses, flowers, weeds, and almost everything in the field, as if the spiders had cast nets to catch the frost.

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I’m a slow runner. I plod along for a half marathon; Monday’s average pace was 12:45 a mile. Of course, that included bathroom breaks, videos of deer, photos of deer a few times, tying my shoes, and trudging up some big hills over and over and over again (total elevation gain of just over 6,000ft). Still, I’m slow at running, and I know it. I take my time and enjoy the space. I notice a million tiny things that I want to stoop and admire, photograph from different angles, try to capture the textures and shifting light. I have to lure myself forward with the promise of even more tiny delights coming out of the earth. The fossils paint stories and each footfall finds another one, images to gobble into my imagination, so I trudge still onward, quite content with the pace and space…

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The trails on the hills offer different sights and sensations than the river trails. Beside the river, I am sometimes 3 min. a mile faster on my average running time. That’s quite a difference, and the terrain and climate create an alternative momentum. The fields meet the forest by the river in a low circular formation. Sounds reverberate off the limestone bluffs and muddy edges that create the river bank. Mossy trails offer soft cushions for my feet, and squishy mud through the small forest is equally inviting for quick progress.

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Landscapes and their textures remind me of human bodies. Or, vice versa. Form and texture create layers for both movement and the imprint of previous motion. Taking time to pause and express a form with my own body, my motion suspends for a moment—the running stalls, breath softens, body lengthens, bends, relaxes. My favorite mat has always been the earth, and my yoga mat is so dirty from practicing outside that taking it into a studio seems hilarious when placed next to the pristine and often expensive yoga mats of other practitioners. The leafy or mossy ground is a great cushion for arm balances. The drishti of tree branches, leaves, and flowers forever blooms into new gazes, new focus, and the change of nature is the meditation, staying there patterns the breath, loosens the love, even as I move again.
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Pausing to practice, to center in meditation again as I stretch, I catch glimpses of the red-shouldered hawks, a great blue heron, a cardinal, the wren making a fuss about my presence, the singing of crickets in a loud chorus that I hadn’t previously noticed, the splash of a big fish in the river, a turtle sliding into the water’s edge and the cloudy silt fluttering up to the surface for the moment and settling again.

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Nutrition: Plugging In Half Way for Longevity

Lately, I’ve been unplugging for part of the day, not long stretches of days, and I’ve decided to be even more investigative in my endeavors and interests. Confession: I had to do this due to circumstances in my life anyway. First of all, I got an injury. I pulled the pectoralis minor muscle on one side of my chest and that made breathing quite painful if I took a breath deeper than 70-80%. That muscle sits deep in the chest under the pectoralis major, and it lifts the rib cage every time you take a breath, and it stretches from about the breastbone to the armpit. I have a strong pranayama practice and trail running routine that was growing more each week, and I thought that I was following my natural rhythm and growth. However, I now see that my growth required an additional focus and mentality.

In my practice, all of these changes in nutrition and physical practice resulted in some effects in my body that I didn’t recognize. Over a year ago, I gave up meat, and though I am a pescatarian (contining to eat some fish, seafood, and dairy), I am landbound so the availability of wild seafood and fish is limited. I don’t get enough of it to maintain healthy levels of vitamin B12. This is not something I had considered. I should note that I don’t take supplements of any kind and eat little to no fortified foods. I prepare plenty of processed foods for my family and eat very little of it. Surprisingly, fatigue and depression set in, some strange incidences of fingers and toes tingling and feeling slightly numb, etc. I started to retain water in my legs even though I was running (often 10+) miles per day. My metabolic rate dropped drastically, though I was active, not drinking alcohol, and eating the best fruits, vegetables, and sometimes dairy and fish that I could get.

I plugged in enough to find out what this meant. I quickly learned that vegetarians (various types) and vegans often need B12 injections or fortified foods with B12 added to the products.

That has led me to further investigate the source of fortified B12 in vegan and vegetarian pre-packaged foods. I care about this for many reasons. Those mentioned above but also because I have a meat allergy from a Texas Lonestar tick bite. My conversion to eating vegetables was at first by force of nature. I went into an anaphylaxis reaction to both beef and pork about six years ago after the tick bite. I will not eat either of them due to that condition. I don’t want to take that chance with my health. I stopped eating poultry over a year ago simply because I didn’t want to consume it anymore. It’s also much cheaper to eat raw foods (vegetables and fruits) when they are available than to eat meat, so after a modicum of moaning about it, I shrugged and allowed all of the meats to pass me by without any sadness on my part. Usually, frozen fruits and vegetable options are available most places, so it’s still relatively cheap to eat fruits and vegetables, even if they aren’t fresh. As I mentioned earlier, I do eat dairy and didn’t react to the dairy products from cows. I only reacted with anaphylaxis to consuming the meat from animals. So, dairy from cows and goats is an option. Eggs are a cheap option for protein, and where I live, almost everyone has a chicken coup and thus, we have an abundance of eggs. Still, dairy and eggs don’t provide a high amount of vitamin B12, so I can’t consume enough of those products to make up for the B12 I’ve been missing.

B12 is vital to energy levels, metabolism, brain functions, athletic performance, etc. As my running distances increased while training for the ultra, and my yoga teaching and practice intensified over the summer, and I unplugged to get into all of that, I made the decision to stop eating fish and seafood (switch completely to vegetarian), so I quit the fish altogether and began weaning myself off the little bit of seafood I was consuming sometimes. My body slowly reacted with the above conditions, and I didn’t notice the collective information that my body was telling me.

A pulled muscle stopped me, and reluctantly, I eased up on everything (so I said, but really, I just kept going). Then, more bumps, a fall down the deck stairs, and it was time to do some research. The answers all came quickly and easily.

I believe that every body is unique and must answer to the chemistry within the body’s system. I honor that connection to my body, that knowledge ensures that my body and mind stay connected, and my productivity and quality of enjoyment are in sync. For my body to be in optimal health, I discovered what I need to eat specific to my body’s reaction. Plugging in helped me to find the answers that work for me. I read the statistics and experiences of other pescatarians, various vegetarians and/or vegans to find out what might help me, and those sites and writings did help me discover the nourishment that works best for me. My body has healed and is back at optimal health, and none of the issues mentioned above exist anymore (with the exception of the allergies to meat).

We’re all playing with the scales (I’m referring to food scales here, not your body weight scales, though that could work in this context, too) in our lives, trying to find the balance again and again as life shifts and changes. Perhaps we are sometimes too blind to the effects of what we consume, not seeing the chemical reactions that occur in mind and body. Perhaps sometimes we think that we are making the best decision based on a spiritual practice or the guidance of a diet specific to someone else’s needs. The scales are ours alone, and what we place on them changes based on our unique body’s reactions to our nutrition. Answering the body’s needs during changes in our lives is vital to longevity.

Savoring the Words: Unplugging Part 3

While I was unplugged, I read Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, mostly aloud to my dog, Mojo. He enjoyed the readings and would get very cozy and doze off to sleep after about twenty minutes of reading. I have an edition from the early 1900s and the pages flake sometimes, but I toted the little hardback around the house and allowed it to rest in my jacket pocket, where it fit so neatly and carried the appropriate heft for such a literary work. I could feel it there, the strength of those ideas and words. I love the way that Tennyson lingers on a description, crafting it out the long way. I found myself longing for the space, the way of wading into words and stories of old without the rush of time, the interruptions of technological life, and the self-consciousness of minimalism dragging the story down and making it less than it is…less reading enjoyment, less wandering in the world of a tale, less words.

I’ve also dwelt more on the words I write–in correspondence to others, in blog posts, and in my novel writing. I’ve allowed myself the words I want to use without making it less for the sake of other people.

The idea that I should shorten my statements and lessen my self-expressions is something I began when I first got a phone that would send text messages, and I was a late adopter so that was about 2011. Prior to that, I was quite old-fashioned (and still am) in my style of lengthy correspondence (and I prefer handwritten letters). After getting a smart phone, I very quickly learned that the majority of people I knew expected a text that involved as few words as possible. In fact, I wasn’t treated very well when I sent a text message that contained sentences. Some of my friends were downright rude, and justified their rude behavior based on popular culture. It was more okay to be rude via minimal text message than to communicate in complete sentences, even if they were short sentences. Being rude was cool; thoughtful communication was not cool. Finally, I experience changes to the above scenario, and many of my friends now communicate more akin to my own style of communication (and, I’m grateful for that).

All of this has reaffirmed my commitment to print books and handwritten letters. I’ve returned to my in-progress novels with renewed determination to finish them and to give them the full breadth that they deserve as stories, to use my breath as words penned down to the page, a motion of creation that has moved through my body and been born onto the page. As I breathe and read the words, write the words, speak the stories, they have lived inside of me. Yes, our stories do live any way, but there is no surer way of saving them for someone almost one hundred years later, and another hundred years later, and another hundred years later, than to tell the whole story out onto the page while loving the words and the process of creating with them.

Unplugging more has also reaffirmed my love of the spoken word and reading aloud. When I read stories and listen to the sound of the story, a new depth is present. There’s so much to discover in listening.

Mobile Risks: Unplugging Part Two

How often are you too plugged in to notice the life we are accepting around us and the dangers of that acquiescence? Counting twenty people who were looking at their phones and/or texting and/or scrolling while driving in a two mile stretch. They were not stopped. Their cars were moving, in motion, in front of a school on a busy five-lane highway, past businesses, parking lots, bus stops, etc. Those were only the people who were holding up their phones so that I could see them. I even saw someone looking at a laptop computer. I don’t know if I am more astounded by the people doing it, or that they have so little space in their lives that they feel a need to drive and actually look at a screen/use the screen. The people drove all types of vehicles. I have no idea how many vehicles I passed going both directions and moving in, out, and through the various parking lots along the route. There were hundreds of vehicles in that stretch.

Yet, there weren’t any bicycles. I’ve been thinking about transportation more lately. I used to consider it frequently when I was in my twenties. Visiting Europe and later, very briefly living there, I discovered public transportation and felt a freedom to explore that I had never experienced in middle Tennessee in that way. My ability to get around in TN has mostly consisted of cars, though once out-and-about, the wide-open spaces in nature offer an exploration I have always loved. When I was growing up, we visited relatives with plenty of land, forests and fields, creeks and rivers, to roam. Traveling in an urban environment felt confining by comparison, since there are dilemmas with traffic and parking.

Voilà! European cities–trains, subways, trams, buses, and bicycles. I suddenly had many choices for getting to and from the cities and enjoying them. Traveling by public transport offered an amenity that anyone values who has experienced public transportation regularly–hands-free time when someone else could do the driving and I could relax, read a book, peruse any shopping I had done, chat with friends, and more. Riding a bike brought me down to the sidewalks and streets, the bike lanes, and corners, through neighborhoods and enchanting spaces. Many European cities make travel easy in this way, but the Dutch have the best system I’ve ever experienced with all of these alternatives.

By comparison, here in my home city of Clarksville (similar to many U.S. cities), the last train for commuting left decades ago and all the commuter rail possibilities went with it. I am constantly frustrated and riddled with anxiety as I watch pedestrians strive to cross a five-lane highway without a crosswalk or a stoplight from the shopping center to the bus stop. It is along the two-mile stretch I mentioned earlier. In fact, there are a few of these places where bus stops are across the five-lane highway from the businesses where people work. Pedestrians cross without a walkway or traffic light. AND, the bus stop is nothing, NOTHING, more than a sign that says BUS STOP beside the road. There are no sidewalks, no benches, no covered awnings, nothing–not even a bus schedule. All day, people risk their lives to run across the highway from their jobs to the bus stop, and there are dump trucks, semis, delivery trucks, big trucks with heavy machinery in trailers, and all manner of vehicles speeding down the highway. Some of the people I watch are disabled and/or elderly trying to get across the street. They seem scared, but they don’t have options since we have no other methods of public transportation–no trains, subways, trams, etc. I have definitely witnessed some close calls.

The majority of bike lanes in our city consist of the image of a rudimentary bike with a couple of arrows painted onto the far right side of the street/highway without any extra space. This bike lane painting within the regular traffic lane is on a major industrial highway. I see maybe two people a month risk their lives to ride a bike to and from work in this city. The people who ride those leisurely tourist bikes downtown don’t go very far and so don’t experience these problems–they stick with the sidewalks in a tiny quarter-mile radius of Public Hall and the Downtown Commons. As soon as you move out into New Providence or St. Bethlehem, even down Madison Street proper, you cannot find adequate sidewalks, crosswalks, bus stops, or bike lanes. Pedestrians are in danger in most of this city.

I was a pedestrian when my husband and I first moved back here about fifteen years ago. We chose to live close to the university so that I didn’t have far to walk to class. He worked in Nashville, and we only owned one car after coming back from Europe. Often, here in Clarksville, I was afraid as a pedestrian that I would be struck by a vehicle. The sidewalks didn’t exist in certain sections; they just ended at a ditch. Tennessee is full of hills, rolling along, so oftentimes, it’s difficult to have a clear line of sight for very far. In fifteen years, plenty of businesses and shopping centers have opened, but not much has changed regarding pedestrian-friendly incentives and modes of public transport. Shouldn’t these businesses contribute to the overall lifestyle of this city? Shouldn’t they link up to a sidewalk, bike lane, crosswalk system, and maintain their own sidewalks/bike lanes/etc?

Daily, I watch those pedestrians playing “Frogger” with their lives, and my heart beats faster, I shiver, and sometimes, I hold my breath…a few times, I’ve had the opportunity to hold the line for them, braking in my car and holding back the traffic to allow them to cross one side of the road in peace while the other vehicles wait behind me. Most of the time, the other drivers don’t care anyway–they use it as an opportunity to check their phones and send texts. Then, they get annoyed and beep at me if I let too many pedestrians get out of the middle of the road at once. Usually, the on-coming traffic won’t stop at all.
This question!: How often are you too plugged in to notice the life we are accepting around us and the dangers of that acquiescence?