by Sally Kingsford-Smith
This article is in addition to Sally’s presentation at the 2019 Wise Women Gathering, regarding calm and resilience the Wise Woman Way.
Calm is the inner peace you feel when you know you can manage. It doesn’t mean never losing your temper, it means having time within yourself to pause and take a breath, to feel and respond, instead of react. And it goes hand in hand with resilience.
If you can build up your reserves of calm, like putting money away for a rainy day, then you build up your resilience too.
Resilience can mean different things to different people, for example:
- “Ability to bounce back”
- “Getting through the day without props!”
- “Ability to find joy in each day. To be able to adjust in times of stress. To let go of the *busy* mindset. To eat well and heal well.”
“Resilience is the ability to cope with unexpected changes and challenges in your life. It’s not always possible to prevent stressful or adverse situations, but you can strengthen your capacity to deal with these challenges.”Healthdirect.gov.au
There are plenty of resources that have ideas on building resilience. Some are easy to put into place, others take time, patience and personal development. I want to offer you a metaphorical Calm and Resilience Grab Bag of things you can go to and use in your daily life for yourself and your families; things that in my 66 years have stood me in good stead in my personal life, in bringing up my daughters and in my herbal practice.
My Calm and Resilience Grab Bag has four main components: herbs; tissue salts; flower essences and some simple practices.
Any herbs that support your nervous system (nervines) and the adrenal glands will help. Adaptogens are a specific class of herbs that help your body adapt to stress and they can be particularly helpful when prolonged stress has worn you out. I’ve chosen a few key nervine and adaptogen herbs that I love, especially regarding calm and resilience, that are easy to access and to use. They are withania, yarrow, oats and tulsi. By strengthening and supporting our nerves, by restoring balance to our adrenal glands and nourishing our immune system, these herbs build your reserves of calm and fosterphysical, mental, and emotional strength and resilience.
WITHANIA Withania somnifera
Withania, aka Ashwaganda, is amongst other things, an adaptogen and a nervine. It’s a tonic that promotes inner calm, is restorative and strengthening. It’s also especially good for anxiety with difficulty sleeping. The key with withania is to think of it as a good friend.
Imagine the sort of daily situation that wears you away like slow erosion – work was tough, you’ve left work late, you get stuck in traffic going to pick up the kids, you get there and they’re upset because you’re late. You still have to go to the supermarket for dinner, the kitchen is in a mess, everyone wants something from you. One child needs help with their homework, one announces that tomorrow is their news day and they don’t have anything to bring and your partner is away for work. Yes … a gin and tonic is very tempting and will no doubt soothe a lot, but withania puts her arms around your shoulders and says “it’s ok, we can do this. Everything is going to be ok”.
Partner her with yarrow and what a combination! She builds up your strength at the same time as calming you down. She helps when you’re so tired that you can’t sleep, she helps with that overactive mind that so many women seem to experience.
Withania can be bought as a powder and added to hot drinks or foods like protein balls or smoothies, or it can be mixed with nut butters. There are plenty of recipes online and there are also various supplements that contain it.
YARROW Achillea millefolium
“It seems to me to typify the silent strength possesed by herbs in the healing of many ills, pulling the warmth of the sun and the welcome rain down into the soil to change by Nature’s alchemy into natural minerals, vitamins and oils in the service of man.”Hall Dorothy, (1972). The Book of Herbs, Australia: Angus & Robertson.
Yarrow is one of my favourite herbs and I use lots of it in my clinic. From Dorothy Hall I learnt that yarrow has a strong spiritual aspect. It acts as a supportive and strengthening staff. It helps you ‘soldier on’.
Dorothy always grew it near her front door, so it was to handy for days when she needed to soldier on. She’d pick some and chew on it before taking on the world again.
Physically, yarrow is a powerful astringent that stops bleeding, internally and externally. Its name comes from Achilles, the great warrior. Homer tells of the arrow that pierced Achilles heel; the arrow shaft was cut away, the wound washed out with warm water and yarrow root sifted into the wound.
Just as it stops physical bleeding, yarrow also stops the soul, or our very essence, from bleeding. Emotionally wounding things that have been said or done to us can physically damage vulnerable, constitutionally weak areas in our body and we all have those areas. Yarrow will help that area heal more than you can imagine.
I use it when I see people who come into my clinic looking as if they’re wearing a heavy cloak. Life is weighing them down, they lack vitality and they have an air of weariness. There will be other herbs in their mixture too but yarrow is the key. Over the course of their treatments I see a visible straightening of their spine and a renewal of their vitality and strength that wasn’t there before. Their resilience has been revived. It’s a magical process to behold.
OATS Avena sativa
“ As the tall oat plant which sways and dances gracefully with the changing winds yet remains firmly rooted and grounded in the Earth, so too will those who take oat’s medicine.Berger, Judith. (1998). Herbal Rituals. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.
I had to include oats as they’re such a simple, well-known and much used herb. They’re not endangered in the wild, they’re easy to come by, inexpensive, and safe. Wherever we can we should be using common herbs and weeds, especially when we’re using the leaves and flowers and not the roots, because harvesting the root means destroying the whole plant.
Oats are a food and nutritive tonic, good for the nervous system and helpful when there’s exhaustion. They’re rich in minerals, notably silica plus calcium, iron and potassium, plus B vitamins.
Various parts of the oat plant are used. The dried leaf and stem are called oats, green oats or oat straw and are readily available as a tea and can be tinctured. The seeds are called oats, oatmeal, or milky oats. Milky oats are the oat tops harvested at the stage when a white, milky sap is released from them. This stage lasts about a week and happens after flowering and before the seed hardens. Milky oats make a beautiful tincture that will feed the nerves and adrenals. Once the seed is hard, it becomes the grain we eat as oatmeal.
I usually use green oats extract for people who are depleted, exhausted and who are ‘straight up’ type people, the ‘what you see is what you get’ type. They’re normally quite strong, with good musculature but have exhausted themselves by overdoing things.
*As a side note, there’s widespread debate about oats and coeliac disease. Some people seem to tolerate them as long as they use uncontaminated oats, but the Australian Coeliac Society advises against their ingestion.
TULSI Ocimum sanctum. O. tenuiflorum
Tulsi or Holy Basil is another herb from the Ayurvedic medicine chest, and what a wonderful herb she is. I could say she is an adaptogen but tulsi is far more than that. In India, tulsi is revered as a holy plant, the queen of herbs, and has been described as yoga (or meditation) in a teacup.
Just as oats are readily available in the west, so is tulsi. She’s probably one of the easiest adaptogens to grow, by seed or cutting and if you can grow basil, you can grow tulsi, either in the garden or a pot. There are a number of different varieties so hopefully you’ll find one that grows in your area.
Commercially, tulsi is available as a tea or as an essential oil. If you grow your own, make tea from the leaves (delicious with a sprig of rosemary added) or pop a fresh leaf into your drinking water daily. Tulsi doesn’t even have to be ingested for you to benefit, her scent is beautifully uplifting and it’s said the essential oils open the lungs, removing grief and relaxing tension.
Tulsi has the ability to both calm and energise, to lift the spirits and ease depression. As with all adaptogens she balances cortisol levels, is rejuvenating, and boosts immunity and helps sleep (all part of resilience).
In Ayurveda it’s said that tulsi protects us on an emotional level, helping us feel less helpless and more in tune with the world around us. It’s also said that spiritually, tulsi opens the heart and mind, cleanses the aura and gives divine protection.
Sitting in the garden with my tulsi is one of the most delightful things I do. Just five minutes with her and I feel transported to a place of calm, peace and renewal.
Tissue salts (aka Cells Salts, Schuessler Tissue Salts, Biochemic Cell Salts) are my second love after herbs and an essential ingredient for your Grab Bag. Forty plus years ago they were my introduction to the world of natural healing and they turned my life around. Simple to use, safe for all the family, they’re worth learning about and well worth having in your home first aid kit.
There are twelve different tissue salts in all, but for your Calm and Resilience Grab Bag I recommend two in particular: Mag Phos (Magnesium Phosphate) and Kali Phos (Potassium Phosphate)
Mag phos is a muscle relaxant. It’s indicated for anywhere there’s muscle and nerve tension such as muscle cramps or spasms; inability to relax; tension headaches; insomnia; irritability and jumpiness; period pain; hiccups; tics and twitches.
Kali phos is a tissue salt for the brain and nerves. It’s indicated for mentally related symptoms such as nervous dread, anxiety and over worry. It’s also for brain fog and mental exhaustion and for when you’re feeling weak and exhausted but also nervy and on edge and can’t unwind.
Mag Phos and Kali Phos partner perfectly and can be taken indefinitely to help build your reserves of calm and resilience.
There are many different flower essences to call on to help build your reserves of calm and to foster resilience.
Blends that are readily available from Australian Bush Flower Essences are:
- Calm and Clear blend: I particularly like the mist,
- Space Clearing mist,
- Emergency Essence,
The only individual essence I’ll mention is Alpine Mint Bush for preventing burn out in carers. And of course the well-known and loved Bach Flower blend: Rescue Remedy.
There are heaps of practices you can adopt; these are my favourites:
- Remind yourself that worrying never changed the course of anything in history; action changes things, worry does not.
- Ask yourself: will this matter in six months time? In a year? In two years?
- Do some slow diaphragmatic breathing when you feel anxious or uptight. Breathe right down deep into your belly. With each slow inhalation you should be able to keep your shoulders still and feel your belly go out. Keep practising if you find it hard initially and do it in front of a mirror if you need help getting it right.
- Gratitude: a daily practice of giving thanks for the blessings in your life makes a huge difference to your outlook.
When someone gives you a hard time or tells you distressing news there are a few different techniques you can use to help:
- A technique I learnt from a beautiful wise woman, Dr Gladys Taylor McGarey: listen to the person and as you’re listening visualise, accepting with an open hand what they’re saying and just letting it go.
- Don’t personalise issues. The universe isn’t out to get you or to victimise you in some way. People who challenge you, upset you, or drain you are often suffering themselves in some way and you’re just the mug who’s in their path. We never know their whole story, so remember that and don’t personalise their actions or words.
- Remember it’s their issue, their emotion, not yours. Visualise giving it back to them with love.
I hope you’ve found some jewels here to put in your Calm and Resilience Grab Bag and that you have lovely rich reserves of calm to call on should you ever need them. Above all, remember to always come back to self-care and the very notions that are the essence of being a Wise Woman: nourish yourself body, mind and soul with enough sleep, wholesome food, time in nature, fun, community and letting your light shine.
Sally has been involved with WWG since its first year when she was honoured to be a keynote speaker, which stretched, pulled, grew her as she stepped into a ‘wise woman’ role as an elder and teacher. As a wee tot, she’d spend hours making “fairy gardens” and plant medicines for her dolls. Personal experiences with the power of a natural, holistic approach to health lead her to study herbal medicine in the 1980’s. And later, after the birth of her second child (when she was age 40) studying with Dorothy Hall. Over 16 years ago she opened her own herbal medicine clinic and began helping people enjoy their lives more fully with gentle, low dose herbs; tissue salts and flower essences. In 2018 she began another chapter with online herbal teaching, via a Masterclass series about her beloved herbs. Sally is very grateful to have found these roles in life that she loves so deeply.