Do You Integrate? Integration is…Everything

Do You Integrate? Integration is…Everything

Do You Integrate? Integration is...Everything by Annie B Kay -
There is much talk of integrative health these days. We’re all happy when we have an integrative physician. So just what is integrative health? What is integration?

Integrative Health

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) – part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – thinks a lot about this, and has helped with some definitions that feel like a good (conservative, to be sure) place to begin. They say integrative health care is bringing complementary (treatments not part of Western medicine) and conventional Western medicine together in a coordinated way. So, using both the Western allopathic medical system, but also things like yoga, nutrition (yep, still pretty much considered, for the most part, complementary), acupuncture, and meditation in a skillful and informed way. These complementary modalities are ones that might not have a deep collection of Western scientific studies that verify their clinical use, but each of these modalities has been shown to be helpful. If we consider practice-based observational evidence, many of these practices have thousands of years of evidence. I like that way of thinking about integrative health. The skillful use of a wide array of modalities to support an individual’s care.
That’s health – but what does integration mean in life? We live in such a spinning world, where we often don’t have time to reflect on nor absorb what happens to us or around us. Experiences come fast and furious. It is, without question, an excellent time to practice.
I honestly think that it’s impossible to avoid stress and that we need to think about how we manage stress differently today. The world is different than it was even twenty years ago. The planet is a lot less stable and it’s impacting everything. In order to be healthy today, we need to be adaptive. Adaptive to chaos. Relax while tumbling. Release into the flow.


Integration, in an experiential or spiritual context, happens after an experience, when you take time to be quiet, restful and take in what happened. Integration is the energetic digestion of an experience. It requires time, quiet, rest, reflection. Relaxation. Usually more than is convenient in your busy day. Thus the rub.
When we hop from event to event in our lives – and no judgment here, I do it myself when I lose hold of that pesky schedule and over-schedule myself  – we just don’t integrate. The pieces of us don’t come together in a new way (which is often the point, particularly if we seek positive or expansive ecstatic experience).

Try Less

So, we practice. We smuggle five minutes of reflective practice into our morning routine. We turn off the news during dinner. We eat breakfast in silence. One the wisest pieces of advice I got from an Astanga yoga teacher (the incomparable Bhavani Maki in Kauai) was “Try Less.” When I feel overwhelmed, I think about what in my schedule I can let go of. What is not really serving me? What perhaps used to work but no longer does? It’s not an easy practice.
We resist the temptation to reprimand ourselves for not being perfect. We breathe and relax instead.
We fall in love – on purpose – with our contemplative practice. We fall in love with our breath and the amazing places it can take us if we only just settled down to feel it. We fall in love with our meditation or our deep relaxation practices for the expansive velvet depth of our interior landscape they open to us. Maybe for 5 minutes. Maybe for a day.
So, if you are one to have experiences – expansive experiences – then please take a day or two afterward – if possible, to give yourself the gift of integration. Of reflection and relaxation and allowing the pieces of you to come together in a new way. Of silence – be it listening to the birds, meditation or walking in nature.
Here’s wishing you integrative health within a wonderful collection of loving and talented health providers, and deep integration of the expansive experiences in your life.
Do You Integrate? Integration is...Everything by Annie B Kay -


How Do We Integrate Nature's (and Life's) Shadow?

How Do We Integrate Nature's (and Life's) Shadow?

How Do We Integrate Nature's (and Life's) Shadow- by Annie B Kay -
Last year I had an explosion of gorgeous chocolate sunflowers. Deep red petals in the sun, true beauty in their dark faces. So I saved them because I am the mistress of my garden and I believe in participating in the cycle of nature. I have a city of seed saving in my garage – white cosmos, zinnias, bachelor buttons and a collection of other things.
This morning I’m absorbed in the only somewhat painstaking task of flicking the seeds from the floppy dried heads of chocolate sunflowers, and there it is. A small worm, fat but only half the length of the nail on my pinkie. Then another. And another. They are crawling everywhere, and I notice that most of the seeds have one clean and tiny hole in them. Gross. Flower after flower, seed after seed after seed are crawling with baby worms.
And I think, here it is. As it ever was.
Humankind will not go down in a dramatic firey flame. It will be a little worm, or a small bug that gets in and eats away at that one essential element that we don’t know is the essential element until it’s gone. This is how it ever was.
We collect seeds for the next year, and the bugs and worms eat them. We pick them out, eagle-eye our beautiful seeds, and maybe if we are lucky we’ll have enough to plant. And maybe if we are lucky we’ll have a few come up. If we have nearly enough to eat then it will be worth it.
I’ve been thinking lately about the relationship of pain and bliss. One of my most beautiful friends recently died of an excruciating disease well before her time. She died with courage and compassion, awake. To what degree does the struggle in my life make my happiness sweeter, and to what degree does struggling just get me into the groove of suffering? Impossible to know, perhaps, without help or perspective.
My seeds aren’t my only garden struggle. My frangrant tulsi in organic cold pressed jojoba oil this year got moldy. I tended it daily but no mistaking that acrid smell of my lovely expensive oil gone rancid.
And yet, I will do it again.
I will practice – collecting seeds, making oils. Because in this crazy cyber-world, it ties me to the earth. It ties me to the history of those who went before, when the food went bad, when the seeds were eaten, when the earth determined in its impersonal yet I guess perfect way who lived and died and how that might unfold.
My heart breaks for people who are getting depressed because everyone’s Facebook page looks so much more interesting than theirs. Come on. We all know it’s not real. We all know that we are presenting a goofy, shiny, off kilter version of who we are.
Be authentic but look cute doing it, I call it. Life just isn’t like that.
So what do we do? We comfort each other. We save seeds. We make oils and share the best of ourselves as best we can and maybe, maybe not we actually touch one another. Look to nature. It’s messy and muddy and achingly beautiful.
You are nature, thus you are messy and muddy and achingly beautiful too.
(translation: “How it is”, in Navaho)
How Do We Integrate Nature's (and Life's) Shadow- by Annie B Kay -


Food Is Everything: What Is It to You?

Food Is Everything: What Is It to You?

Food Is Everything: What Is It to You- by Annie B Kay -
When I first chose to study nutrition at Cornell so many year ago, I could not have imagined the evolution in what we think about when we think about food.  Nor could I have imagined the changes in the food we eat in this country.
Food, here and now, is just so everything.
My friend, colleague and visionary Kathie Swift often quotes Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who was right and prescient when he said: “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
Food is…


It’s the center of most gatherings of family, friends and colleagues. What we feed others communicates how we feel about them and expresses to them who we are. We have intimate dinners, casual nights, celebratory feasts. To be a good friend, feed someone. To show love, feed someone.


Growing up, the quality of food available not so directly related to income as it is today. Now we have food deserts, over-consumptive malnutrition (the real epidemic of weight, where those without eat a higher-calorie yet lower nutrient-density diet), and food marketing is disguised as real nutrition information or education. If you are poor in America, you just don’t have access to high quality nutritious food. Thank the Lord for WIC and other food assistance, which can close the worst of the gap if used well.


What you choose to eat impacts the planet and you can’t get around that. Meat is rich in every sense of the word. It is nutrient dense, resource-rich, high-impact, and energetically hot stuff. No inherently evil, but easy to overdo, and human nature seems to make us overdo it in spades. Today we eat twice as much protein as we physiologically need, yet new diet after new diet tells us we need more more more. The truth is we don’t if we cultivate a balanced whole-food active life.


Every 5 years, a big bill works its way through congress. That bill, the Ag Bill, determines to a great extent what America eats. What America eats these days is subsidized GMO soy, factory-farmed meat, dairy, corn (to be made into the high-fructose corn syrup which researchers agree is undermining health on a grand scale). We can change it – the last round had a bit of funding for organic fruits and vegetables, and linking school lunch with farmers’ markets. You can vote on this by calling your congresspeople and insisting on the funding shifts you want.


I personally have an emotional relationship with food. Changing my diet takes a long conversation, and a bargain with myself. Do this and I’ll treat myself in this way (often a massage or oil dip at Kripalu healing arts, or a new get-up).

Tactile and Sensual

Food is beautiful. It’s smells, textures, and of course, flavor absolutely thrills most of us. Yum. I’m working on a book project on whole food, and how to make it as easy as possible to eat healthfully. There’s no getting around the need to come into close personal contact with food when it’s whole. You have to cut the bottoms off asparagus and put fresh spears in water. You have to trim herbs and place them in water. You have to crack the egg, (and hopefully, put all the scraps into your compost bucket – wowsaa another spring topic!). We can do things to make cooking efficient and as easeful as possible, but ultimately, you have to revel in the sensuality of whole food.
I could go on – it’s love! So, take a little time considering a two-way relationship with the whole food you cook and eat. As you slice a carrot or dice an onion, take a breath to wonder what the carrot would say to you if you’d listen? Who is that onion, anyway?!
This is why changing your diet is such a huge deal. Because when you change your diet, you change everything. You become someone else, bite by bite. So, be easy on yourself if you are finding it challenging. Notice what’s hard, and press on. Make the healthful choice anyway. If you fall off the wagon for a meal or a day, get right back on. Practice practice practice, not perfection.
Food Is Everything: What Is It to You- by Annie B Kay -