According to two studies, 25% or more of the population in the U.S. has a functional gastrointestinal disorder, or an FGID. That is one out of every four people! But what is an FGID, and if so many people have it, why don’t you know about it?
By Diana Quinn Inlak’ech, ND
In traditional cultures worldwide, the honoring of ancestors has existed in some form throughout human history. Traditional cultures wove cosmologies around relationship with their ancestors, the natural world, and cycles of life and death. In the span of human evolution it is only in the relatively recent period that ancestor worship has become less widespread. In the West, this shift is intertwined with cultural fear of and avoidance of death and poor cultural competency with processing grief. However, in recent years, the human need to connect with our ancestors has found a new outlet through modern developments in science and technology. These advancements offer new insights to interconnection with our ancestors for contemporary Westerners who are often skeptical of the non-material and unscientific.
Who are the ancestors? They are the people in our family trees who are remembered and whose names are known from the previous generations. The ancestors are also those to whom we have been joined through chosen family, adoption, and deep heartfelt connection. In addition, they are the unnamed distant relatives in those family lineages from beyond recorded history. Our deep ancestry connects us all from the beginnings of humankind through our shared origins on the African continent with "mitochondrial Eve." Ancestral awareness connects us to all of those who have gone before.
The call to deepen my own ancestral practice grew alongside my study of the clinical application of epigenetic science. The emergent field of epigenetics has settled the debate for once and for all: human development is shaped by both nature AND nurture. The term epigenetics means "above the genome", and is the study of how genes interact with the environment to determine their expression. Epigenetic research reveals that aspects of lived experience are heritable, influencing genetic expression by turning genes "on" or "off." This revelation has tremendous clinical value because we understand that genes are not one’s destiny, but rather, gene expression can be modified. It has become quite accessible to test one’s DNA via kits ordered on the internet and then use the raw data in analysis for epigenetic markers and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Single nucleotide polymorphisms are the most common type of genetic variation among humans. These epigenetic factors determine genetic expression and many can be influenced by modifiable lifestyle factors like diet and exercise. In my clinical practice I often assess epigenetic variables to formulate an individualized health plan with patients in order to optimize wellness and minimize disease risk.
Epigenetic factors are also shaped by stressful experiences, emotions, and even more subtle factors that influence our lives. As Tolstoy wrote, "All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Family shadows such as divorce, addiction, and abuse generate adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and are known to produce epigenetic changes that impact future health outcomes. The results of the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study revealed not only the correlation of adverse childhood experiences with poorer health later in life, but also the widespread prevalence of the continuation of adverse childhood experiences in the following generations. Of the 17,000 people who were interviewed for the original study, 64% reported that they had experienced at least one ACE. Traumatic ancestral experiences affect the health and happiness of future generations. In studies of descendants of Holocaust survivors and survivors of the Dutch famine, researchers discovered physiologic changes which occurred as the result of trauma experienced generations before. According to Dr. Rachel Yehuda, principle investigator of epigenetic research on intergenerational trauma, rather than interpreting the findings with resignation, the data can be empowering. The fluidity of genetic expression revealed through epigenetic research also highlights the potential of therapeutic modalities to shift health outcomes.
In the United States, there is a profound legacy of intergenerational trauma from colonialism, Native genocide, and slavery, which informs contemporary systems of oppression. In our current shifting political climate, the surfacing of these wounds—which have always existed, but were previously marginalized by the dominant culture—invites an opportunity for healing. We live in a world of disconnection and division by race, gender, class, religion, and national borders, all of which are human constructs. What are the ways that our ancestral lineages embodied these experiences? How were they harmed, or how did they uphold these constructs? Ancestral healing work is an invitation to take responsibility for our lineage. Through examination of our ancestral inheritance, we can interrogate, provide redress on behalf of, and ultimately forgive our ancestors for their shortcomings. We can see the ways in which they contributed to the present day "dream of life" that is out of balance, so that we can appropriately correct course. Ancestral work is social justice work, and we each have a role to play. Acknowledging and healing our collective cultural and historical trauma is a critical form of social justice activism. We do this work in our lifetime to transmute unresolved ancestral and cultural baggage so it is not carried forward, so we can dream a better dream for future generations.
As is the case for many of us, my heritage is a complex blend of intersections that can be confusing to grapple with: British colonial settlers, Spanish conquistadors, and Indigenous peoples of Mexico. Although the majority of my genetic makeup is European (from the United Kingdom and Spain), the 22% of my ancestry that is Native North American is the part that garners the inquiry, "Where are you from?" In this "melting pot"of a country in which we live, those of us with ambiguously non-Anglo appearance get this question often. It is a reminder that we are Other. My own curiosity about my indigenous ancestry led me to explore the roots of my Mexican heritage, as well as to better understand my white settler origins. These threads get pulled in the tapestry of family history, showing up for example in my maternal grandmother’s great pride in her Castilian Spanish ancestry which set her apart from the Indio background of my grandfather’s line. Ancestor work is complex and can give us opportunity to reckon with the echoes of how individual family patterns resonate with the current of wider historical conflicts. All of these and more are alive within each of us.
Ancestral work is an act of radical self-care and self-love. By putting our attention on our ancestral lineage we connect to the resilience, beauty, and brilliance of those who came before. We receive the help and support from our healthy and loving ancestors of the distant past. We integrate these gifts and provide care and healing for ourselves as we extend care and healing to our ancestors. When we engage in ancestral repair, time is non-linear. In living our fullest embodied lives, we are healing those who came before and those who will come after. We honor the cycle of life and death and acknowledge that we will become the ancestors of the future. When we as a culture restore our relationship with our nonliving relations, our capacity for kinship expands to the other-than-human, whom we can also consider our relations and ancestors. We weave ourselves back into the web of life and the natural world. To paraphrase botanist, and member of Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer, how do we engage with the lands on which we live as if they are the lands from which we will be the ancestors, lands that we want to remember us with gratitude?
To be a good ancestor in training, we can begin with establishing an ancestral practice. One route to this work is through prayer, meditation, and visualization. If there are ancestral reverence practices in the tradition of your bloodline, exploring and practicing those is a great place to begin. Raised Catholic, I grew up lighting candles for family members who had passed and honoring All Saint’s Day by visiting grave sites with flowers and cemetery candles that would be kept burning for the entire month of November. Later in life I reclaimed my ancestral tradition of celebrating Día de Muertos, or perhaps my Mexican ancestors reclaimed me. Over the years my celebration of this holiday has expanded to last several weeks with an elaborate ofrenda altar and preparation of special meals. The ofrenda is an altar space with photographs and relics of my ancestors, with offerings of their favorite foods and beverages, and flowers. Altar creation is a simple practice for ancestral reverence, designating a physical space in your home with a representation of your lineage and sitting with an open mind and heart. Ancestral connection is also available through formal ritual; spiritual traditions worldwide include the role of ceremonial ritual in ancestral practices. In his book Ritual: Power, Healing and Community, Malidoma Somé calls ritual the "anti-machine", restoring our psychic foundation and our need to live in relationship with other human beings and the natural world. Through ritual we create room for the sacred, which holds us in the work that we cannot do alone. Ritual has a reparative function, mending the fabric of our souls and restoring aspects of our psyche that have been fragmented, allowing reintegration. Whether done individually or in community, ritual is a powerful component of ancestral work for transformation and for mending ruptures in our lineage. Ancestral work is often grief work, and it is the work of attention and care. Dedication to these practices can bring about healing for oneself and one’s lineage in both directions, transforming the narrative of the past as well as what is left behind for future generations.
I believe that ancestral connection is a critical component of restoring balance in these times. This work has been central in my own healing journey and is a component of the healing work I do with others. So often the physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual malaise that people are living with have a root in inherited ancestral patterns. Regardless of one’s religion, spiritual tradition, or lack thereof, there are many accessible ways to reconnect with ancestry. For the practical and scientifically minded, exploring genealogy or doing DNA testing opens up connection with one’s lineage. Don’t be surprised if after opening the line of communication, synchronicities and family ties come out of the woodwork. Ancestor work provides individual and collective healing that is an essential part of planetary healing, and reconnects us to cycles of life and death and our part in the natural world. It is our gift, our birthright, and ultimately our sacred responsibility.
Diana Quinn Inlak’ech, ND is a shamanic practitioner, ceremonialist and naturopathic doctor specializing in integrative mental health and mind/body medicine. She has been studying shamanism and natural medicine for over 25 years. Her office is located at 560 South Main Street, Ann Arbor, or give her office a call at: 734-945-6210. For information about her upcoming ancestral healing workshops and services, visit www.drdianaquinn.com
While brief bursts of inspiration can reignite our commitment to our spiritual journeys, many of us are challenged to sustain the same level of enthusiasm over time. Why is this? I recently asked about 40 people in a journaling workshop I facilitated what barriers they have encountered in using writing as a spiritual practice. Their answers, while focused on writing, were identical to the types of challenges I commonly hear people in my interspiritual coaching practice express as challenges on their spiritual journeys: 1) self-judgments, 2) not having enough time for practice, and 3) lack of clear intention.
Sat Nam Rasayan is the name of a sacred healing technique that has recently become available in Ann Arbor, through Billie Wahlen (also known as Mohinder Singh). Wahlen is a gifted healer and massage therapist, and is well-established and known in Ann Arbor’s healing and bodywork subcultures.
The Crazy Wisdom Interview with Dr. Molly McMullen-Laird and Dr. Quentin McMullen, Founders of the Rudolf Steiner Health Center, on Anthroposophic Medicine
Quentin McMullen and Molly McMullen-Laird are a husband-and-wife doctor team and the founders of Rudolf Steiner Health Center, which is one of Ann Arbor’s leading alternative medical practices. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, Steiner Health is unique as a “community-supported medical practice,” and it focuses on anthroposophic medicine, which combines conventional and integrative approaches to medicine and is based on the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
Do you ever think about the nutrients that are in the foods we eat? Are you getting adequate amounts? Are they benefiting you in a positive way? These are important questions when it comes to nutrition. To ensure that you are on the right path to living a long healthy life, I invite you to pay close attention to the next bite you take. Proper nourishment is essential for the healthy development and growth of children, as well. Let’s set a good example and teach our children what healthy really tastes like.
The Healing Touch Center in Farmington Hills has been offering healing sessions to the general public for two decades, providing those who enter its serene healing environment the opportunity to balance their body, mind, and spirit. Represented around the world, and endorsed by the American Holistic Nurses Association, Healing Touch uses a gentle, light, or off body touch to balance chakra energies, reduce pain, and relieve mental and physical stress. It is a holistic model of care, working in tandem with modern medical practices, which encourages the client to participate in their own healing process. The practitioner is ‘the straw’, channeling high vibratory energy to the client for their highest and greatest good.
Plant-based remedies have been used for centuries. Chemical constituents found in plants are now synthetically created in sterile, replicable laboratory environments. Those medical advances have done wonders to further research and understanding of the intricacies of the human body. So, why has a sudden resurgence in using essential oils saturated newsfeeds, yoga studios, moms’ clubs, and more?
When I turned nineteen, a whole new world of food was opened up to me through the People’s Food Co-Op. Although my aunt and father had been members since the 1970s, and I was somewhat knowledgeable about natural food diets, I certainly did not know what the heck to do with a salty paste made of fermented soy beans, rice, or barley. I had enjoyed miso soup in Japanese restaurants, but that was not the best introduction, as it was thin and lacked vegetables and other ingredients we now use more abundantly, such as shiitake mushrooms, soba noodles, seaweed, lotus root, dried fish, and fermented vegetables. As western society’s knowledge of the world of natural foods has matured, thanks in part to the growing “foodie culture,” we have widened our awareness of whole food cooking and ingredients.
The word “hospice” is one of those terms to which each individual has a unique and palpable reaction. For some it brings a sense of fear or uneasiness. In others it arouses tender memories of a past experience as it relates to a family member. For a lucky handful, their faces light up when engaged in a conversation regarding end of life care in the capable and compassionate hands of hospice staff. These blessed few seem filled with peace and joy in the face of this word. As with all of life, we perceive it through our own lenses, which shape how we feel about any given situation. My personal experience and perception of hospice is filtered through many different experiences with friends, family, and from volunteering for a children’s grief program I helped create with Hospice of Asheville, North Carolina, in the early eighties. I’ve had several close friends cared for by their loving hands during end stages of life, and three of my grandparents and my mother-in-law were in hospice care before they passed out of this earthly plane with loved ones by their side. I know what it takes to be a volunteer and how impactful it was to receive comfort and care, both in facilities and in-home
by Laura Cowan
I’m guessing you’ve never had a ram approach you like a puppy, because even if you are lucky enough to know one, that isn’t the sort of thing rams do — unless they have a reiki therapist like Dona Duke as a friend. Dona is an Usui Reiki Ryoho Reiki master, and the resident animal reiki therapist at the Humane Society animal shelter. She accepted my invitation as a locally based holistic living editor to interview her and see animals receiving reiki in a farm environment. Dona wanted me to bring you the experience of something beyond cat shelter or hospital reiki that is so often written about these days. I’m so glad reiki is written about enough to require the variety, and she was so right. Reiki on a farm is a world unto itself. Let me tell you about this ram at Fluffy Bottom Farms. Call him Ishmael.
Ishmael and his herd of sheep and cows at the Fluffy Bottom Farms farm and creamery in Chelsea, receive reiki from Dona on a weekly basis. I wish I had the data to prove to you that reiki improves the cheese they make, but suffice it to say it’s phenomenally delicious stuff, now sold at grocery stores and retailers all over Michigan. I tried the aged raw manchego, which went perfectly in a cherry spinach salad. Owners Kelli Conlin and Angie Martell were out of the house the day I visited. Dona brought treats for the turkeys and hens on the day she introduced me to the animals. The three tom turkeys were not so welcoming, but it was mating season and they were strutting their stuff, so I won’t hold it against them that they followed me around with fanned feathers and a serious attitude.
I was nervous. Why was I nervous? I have turkeys in my rural wooded yard daily so it wasn’t about being stalked by birds half my size. I used to belong to a dairy farm share myself, so I’m comfortable around herds of cows and sheep, and free-range birds. I am also trained as an animal reiki master. Was I nervous because I know I shouldn’t walk up to farm animals and assume they’re friendly when I enter their pen? Maybe, but this growing awareness of my own nerves led to a profound reiki-led epiphany in short order. Ishmael was climbing the gate of his pen to nuzzle Ms. Duke, and the other ram, Gabriel, accepted me into his pen to rub up against me for reiki and a pet. I was experiencing the effects of animal reiki before I even realized it. I’m used to giving reiki, you see, but I’m not used to receiving it from animals.
We entered the sheep pen in the barn, where a tall brown llama named Dali watched me attentively. He was gentle and protective, that much was obvious, but I didn’t expect what came next. Dali noticed I was nervous, Dona said, and as the protector of the herd against local coyotes, he was investigating why. Ah, that was the reason for the nerves. I had been considering a number of ways of applying reiki in my own life and career with animals, and I had expected to be more at ease. It hardly does to have an animal reiki master acting jittery around a flock of sheep. But by now, I should have known something else was afoot. This was animal reiki in action. It wasn’t magic. It was reciprocity.
Suddenly, it was just me and Dali, experiencing that connection of minds that comes from the unity consciousness of universal life energy flow. The llama was teaching me, not only to experience sacred space on the receiving end from an animal, but he was giving me a nudge. Suddenly I knew. I wasn’t meant to focus on animal reiki. With one glance, I understood. I should have figured, given what I know about reiki, that it would be the animals to give me that course correct on how to apply healing energies in my life and career. I wish I could tell you how this felt, but maybe if you have experienced reiki, you already know. Even getting a nudge of “no, not quite this path” is a profoundly healing experience. It was just that in this case, it was the llama receiving reiki that helped me as much as I helped him, if not more.
“You must approach them as equals,” Dona said. So true. Because they are. That’s where the reciprocity comes from, however you experience it. “It’s easy for me to work with animals, because I approach them as friends,” Dona tells me. Indeed. These animals dearly loved this woman, crowding her for treats — the largest behaving the most gently of all. The new lambs watched her with cocked faces from behind their mothers. The llama was at complete peace around her. The sheep readily decided to try to eat the buttons off my coat rather than ask too many questions about whether I belonged, since I came with recommendations from Dona. She was at home. This was her herd.
Dona used to have horses and rode dressage. “What you learn training horses is that if anything goes wrong, it’s not the horse’s fault,” she tells me, adding:
What is key in training horses is being present, being consistent, and in an emotionally good place, because you are literally sitting on a large animal’s nervous system. It’s the same thing with reiki. You need to communicate with their whole system. You have to learn to be quiet and be still, and work together.
This is true of human reiki, as well, and is particularly true of animals who live outdoors, as they are highly tuned in to their environment.
Dali the llama blinked with his long soft lashes. I felt the healing space around us. We were connected with everyone and everything, but we were also just the two of us. How odd. Sometimes a feeling of discomfort and nerves as you receive reiki is the message. There was nothing wrong with me. Healing in general often comes to us like this — wrapped up in the messages of anxiety and health problems and feelings that warn us of the importance of a change. There is nothing wrong with the message, and there is nothing wrong with our ability to receive the message. When we learn to listen and flow with the energy, the healing and growth naturally comes. Because that’s what reiki is. It’s just life, and life is growth, and healing, and creativity. Reiki is delightful, but sometimes upending. It is the never-ceasing river of powerful change that will help you align with your highest good if you simply allow it and flow with the process. Reiki had not too long ago swept me out of one life and into another set of new possibilities, and here I was. Llama-facilitated therapy. So much for humans being on top of the chain of consciousness! It simply isn’t so. The animals can teach you this, particularly through animal reiki.
We walked outside to the field, where Dona told me the herd often comes running to meet her. Sure enough, the remainder of the herd came at a full trot all the way from the next pasture. I have never seen more animals happy to see one person. Granted, she brings carrots, but even so. She allowed the animals to approach her for reiki. They stood next to her, quietly alert, until they were finished — usually about five to ten minutes per animal that approached her. They often seemed to wait their turn.
Ishmael ran to the back of his pen at the barn and climbed it like a goat.
“Get down,” Dona told him. “That isn’t safe for you.”
He pushed his hip up against the fence. “They show you where they want reiki,” Dona told me.
Sure enough, this was exactly what the other ram Gabriel had done with me. He had allowed me into his pen, sniffed my hand, and then pressed his side up to me and turned around. Like I said, not rammish at all. Reiki-ish. Not that there is anything wrong with a ram acting like a ram on an ordinary Tuesday, but these animals were co-creators in their healing. Phenomenal stuff. The air was thick with healing, like walking on air. I noticed this with my cat as well when I started practicing reiki on family members. She started sitting on my hands while I was working. Animals love reiki, because animals are very aligned with their natural selves and the balanced energies around them.
Inside the farmhouse, the dogs were waiting for treats and to be let out in the yard. A feral cat scrambled under the porch, while a black domestic pawed to be let in for food. A tiny lamb named Athena, who was born with a leg injury and rejected by her mother, was waiting for us in a pen wearing a diaper. She was only an armful of animal. Dona picked her up and bottle-fed her. Of all things I expected that day, it wasn’t to change a lamb’s diaper and have her cry after one of her surrogate moms. She rooted and arched her neck for Dona just like a human newborn
for its mother. She didn’t want me, and you have to understand animals often do. But there was nothing wrong. This was the message. This was the healing.
Dona told me more of the story of how she got into reiki, and just like my story, it was full of synchronicities and healing experiences, and meetings with amazing animals. I was deeply grateful she had opened up her life to me at all, as she is clearly at home with animals even more so than with humans. She was gracious and empathic while I trailed her around the farm, and like many reiki masters I know, she was also highly intuitive and could see straight through to people’s energy and feelings, just like she does with animals. She quickly spotted my connection with Dali, and how the other animals pushed me away almost in unison. This is more than impressive: it is an important skill for both animal and human reiki masters to be able to spot areas of tension and potential problems and possibilities when dealing with clients or rooms full of animals or people, even though the reiki will always go wherever it is needed anyway. Maybe that is what I love about reiki above all other healing properties. It isn’t just a healing energy flow. It is sacred space and witnessing the miracle of life. People who practice reiki, at least in my experience, are profoundly tuned in to universal healing energy flow and the feelings of those around them.
We went to say goodbye to the herd before we left. Dali approached me. I reached for his face.
“No,” Dona said. “He doesn’t need you to pet him. He is telling you you’re okay. He’s checked you out. You’re part of the herd.”
Already? And I was still trying to make friends. I put my hand down. Dali brought his soft wooly face right up next to mine and stood, touching cheek to cheek, for a good minute.
I closed my eyes. So did Dali. We stayed cheek to cheek, touching our chins.
“Isn’t that amazing?” Dona said. “They help us as much as we help them.”
Yes, they do, very much. Thank you, Dona and Ishmael. Thank you, Dali. Namaste. Thank you, reiki. And the path flows on.
Laura K. Cowan is the Kids in the Community Columnist and an editor for The Crazy Wisdom Journal. She is a green tech editor and magical realist author from Ann Arbor (Winding Road Magazine, Inhabitat). Ms. Cowan once ran her own green parenting blog 29Diapers, which gave her the dubious distinction of being the only mommy blogger in existence who could explain variable valve timing. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello, Spring! Hello sunny days, birds singing, flowers blooming, and green, green, green! Hello to light layers, wind on our skin, warmth in the air, and soft soil underfoot. Our planet is full of awakening and liveliness.
I reflect on my experience with learning mindfulness cooking and eating practice during silent retreats at a Zen Buddhist Sangha in North Carolina. I examined the concept of gratitude when planting, harvesting, preparing and consuming food. Although these times were for deep contemplative study and complete silence, there was a common language spoken around the kitchen counter and table that I call reverence.
Vic Strecher, a behavioral scientist, is an energetic, trim, and youthful sixty-two year old. He teaches at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and is Visiting Professor at the Peking University’s School of Public Health. He has given hundreds of talks the world over. (He jokes that his frequent flyer miles are sky-high.) His TED Talks and recorded lectures, replete with PowerPoint presentations featuring trademark symbols from his graphic novel, On Purpose, have given him a YouTube presence and a popular culture crossover audience.
Dear Katie — I sit at a desk all day and have found that my shoulders are starting to swoop forward slightly. I’m having a harder time maintaining good posture and want to prevent it from getting worse. Is there a yoga pose or two that could help with this? Maybe something that I could do at my desk as well as something for at home?
Until recently, my daughter was an adorable, well-behaved bum warmer at Bikram Yoga Ann Arbor, where I attend classes weekly. Wi-fied to the max on her iPad, Elizabeth sat cool as a cucumber on a chic, modern bench while I dripped and strained in some pretzel-like position behind thick glass doors. Between Minecraft tutorials and Snapchat with her pals, Elizabeth observed 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises done by men and women from every background and every age.
It was the fall of 1994. I was living and working in Maryland, just over the DC border. Faced with the possibility of a hysterectomy, I sought spiritual solutions along with mainstream medical advice.
Ann Arbor can claim a new offering to add to its list of family-friendly activities — family yoga. Peachy Fitness, advertised as an “Ann Arbor Yoga & Dance Studio for children, adults & families,” offers classes for adults, but it is the sessions for children and families that clearly set it apart from the numerous other yoga studios in town.
Call me a science geek: I enjoy delving into the scientific literature about topics I'm interested in. This often includes looking at studies from the previous year that relate to plant-based nutrition. I search my favorite database for articles about vegetarian and vegan diets and then settle in for a good read.
Remember a time when you felt caught in a “funk” — whether you felt gloomy, anxious, irritated, or otherwise trapped in a mood that wasn’t quite “you”? Imagine some words to describe how that feeling-state felt in your body — perhaps you felt a heavy heart, a frozen throat, butterflies in your stomach, or a tight pressure in your head.