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April 19, 2017

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Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep

By: Pauli Richardson, Wellness Coordinator

It’s not unusual for students to come to Pacific Quest and have difficulty with sleep. It’s a combination of jet lag, anxiety, poor sleeping habits at home, inability to relax, among other factors. Most students are not familiar with “sleep hygiene” or what proper rest looks like. For this reason, sleep is my favorite Pillar of Wellness to teach the students. Sleep hygiene is your lifestyle routine that helps promote sleep. Without it our bodies would not be able to get the sleep it needs naturally. During sleep the body heals itself and balances hormones.

The first question I ask the students is what their sleep routine looks like at home. Then we compare that list to a list of healthy sleeping habits and see how it differs. After taking a closer look, many students realize, they do not have a consistent sleep routine.

Tips for Healthy Sleep Hygiene

CIRCADIAN RHYTHM

For good sleep, it’s important to strive to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. At Pacific Quest, the students wake up at 6:45 AM and they are in bed by 8:30 pm. We teach that this habit is important in helping reset the body’s circadian rhythm, the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.

For some of our students this is the first time they have gone to bed before midnight in a long time. The later you go to sleep the less likely you are to reach deep restful REM sleep.

PEACEFUL ENVIRONMENT

In addition, it’s essential to create an environment that promotes sleep. Our bedroom needs to be a place that helps us relax. There are many people that eat on their bed, look at phones while in bed, watch TV, play video games, etc. Your bed should be for rest only. When it is not, your brain won’t instantly know it’s time for sleep and the screens may interfere with the brain’s production of melatonin, an important sleep hormone.

At PQ, students get a break from electronics but we discuss what to do once they face those temptations outside of this environment.  I encourage them to journal or color right next to their bed if they need to, and then get snuggled under the covers once they feel sleepy. Students can also request a calming tea to help them relax or learn to make their own with herbs from our garden! Drinking lavender, lemon balm,or chamomile tea is soothing for the body.

HEALTHY HABITS

  • Avoid Caffeine after 12pm
  • Use essential oils before bedtime
  • Listen to relaxing instrumental music
  • Exercise during the day
  • Close your eyes and visualize a calming nature scene
  • Eat foods with Tryptophan (banana,yogurt,turkey)
  • Get a massage

Meditation is an important aspect of our program and it’s key for preparing students’ minds for sleep. It can look very different from day to day. For example, we have staff play guitar, teach deep breathing, read a poem, do soft yoga poses and sometimes students like to lead their peers in their own guided meditation.  I enjoy teaching the students Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). This is where students start at the top of their head and work all the way down to the feet squeezing and relaxing each muscle group.

It takes effort and dedication to develop good sleep hygiene habits. It is my hope that students will take what they have learned at Pacific Quest and continue to practice taking care of themselves. Quick fixes are not sustainable, and when students learn this they are on their way to living a healthier life. Sweet dreams!

April 17, 2017

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PQ Partners with All One Ocean Nonprofit

By: Katie Strong, Program Guide

“Aloha ʻĀina, Aloha Kai!” That’s Hawaiʻian for “love the land, love the ocean.” We take these phrases to heart at Pacific Quest. As a horticultural therapy program, we’re well known for caring for the land, but we’re also really into the ocean. PQ students learn about the importance of caring for our ocean during weekly water outings and beach cleanups and frequent swims in Reeds Bay. And we recently upped our marine stewardship game by installing two Beach Clean Up Stations, with two more on the way!

beach clean up station

We installed one of the Stations at our Reeds Bay campus and another at Richardson Beach. The other two Stations will soon be installed at Carlsmith Beach Park. These Stations will enable both Hilo beachgoers and PQ students to divert 80,000 pieces of trash a year from our ocean and waterways, improving the lives of sea and land creatures, including humans. Beach Clean Up Stations are permanently mounted wooden boxes containing repurposed, reusable bags for collecting beach trash. Each Station features children’s marine-themed art and signage showing how to use the Station, the impact of marine debris and how to reduce trash.

beach clean up stationsPQ students will use the Richardson Beach and Carlsmith Beach Park Stations during their beach cleanup outings, and the Reeds Bay Station several times a week. Students will use these Stations to pick up 26,000 pieces of trash a year. We expect that the Richardson Beach and Carlsmith Beach Park Stations will educate 3,240 beachgoers a year about the harm human-generated trash causes to sea and land creatures and teach them how to reduce this waste. Each year, these Stations will enable 1,080 beachgoers to remove 54,000 pieces of trash – which is definitely “Aloha ʻĀina, Aloha Kai!”

— — —

Pacific Quest built and installed these Beach Clean Up Stations in partnership with All One Ocean and the County of Hawaii. All One Ocean, a local nonprofit, has installed 37 Beach Clean Up Stations and four School Clean Up Stations, in Hawaii, California, Iowa and Alabama.

April 8, 2017

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Community Service at Punalu’u Pond

By: Nikki Robinson, Adolescent Program Master Guide

A group of Pacific Quest adolescent students recently joined the community at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach to participate in removing invasive plant species.  The pond at Punalu’u is a unique and rare ecosystem – an anchialine pool, it is connected to the ocean by an underground fissure, consists of brackish water, and the water level changes with the tides. Of all the anchialine pools on the planet, more than half of them can be found on the island of Hawai’i!  These ponds are home to a plethora of endemic plants and animals. Water hyacinth, an introduced and invasive species, thrives in this pond, crowding out native plants and animals, blocks sunlight into the pond, acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and threatens the existence of many species that only exist in this rare ecosystem.  Our job, pulling water hyacinth out of the pond, ensures the survival of endemic species to the island.

Removing water hyacinth from pond

Upon our arrival to the beach park, most students were eager to jump into the murky pond and work together with members of the community to eradicate the water hyacinth from an area of the pond.  As the rest of the group eased into the pond, students broke into groups.  Some students pushed clumps of hyacinth in towards the shore, while others threw the plants onto and away from the shore. The students spent time pausing to investigate the life forms in the pond. They discovered crayfish, tadpoles ducks, and the endangered nene. As they cleared the pond, they shared stories with community members; some of whom have lived in the region all of their lives. After some time working, the students were satisfied with the large area of cleared pond and ready to eat lunch.

Before lunch, we all jumped into the ocean to clean off. The cool water felt great after all the hard work we had done. The group circled up, had a round of thanks, and ate lunch over fun conversation topics. We enjoyed lunch and a view of palm trees, black sand, sea turtles, and beautiful blue waves. The weather was perfect for a day at the beach. After digesting for a while, the group decided to go for a refreshing swim in the ocean. Some choose to swim while others chose to float and chat.

Punalu’u was once a major residence for ancient Hawaiians. Hawaiians used this land for fishing and as a major source of fresh water. Punalu’u means “diving spring”, and sits on top of thousands of tons of fresh water flowing underground. During periods of drought, ancient Hawaiians would dive to the bottom of the ocean and fill “ipu” (gourds) with fresh water. Punalu’u is also home to endangered hawksbill sea turtles known as Honu’ea. Tourists come from far away to admire the fascinating creatures, but are warned: “do not touch or ride the turtles”. Students watched as turtles basked in the sun. They were awed by the turtles’ size and gentle nature, but made sure to give the turtles plenty of space.

After taking a nice swim, the students took some time to relax on the beach. The group played an organized bonding game and shared stories over the experience afterwards while loading up the van. We then headed back to Pacific Quest with about an hour to relax before it was time to hop into the gardens and kitchen to prepare dinner.

March 24, 2017

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Learning Differences at PQ

By Brian Konik, Ph.D. and Kristen McFee, MA, LPCC

I am always inspired and impressed when I watch a student complete his or her legacy garden project: they are beaming with pride, smiling, wiping sweat off their soil-covered faces. And I know how many steps it took them to get here. Managing their schedule to find extra time with all of their other obligations. Days are full of academic work, therapy, yoga, groups, gardening, cooking, cleaning and yet they learn to develop a schedule and make time to create something special. The goal is to find inspiration and work hard to produce something that others who follow will benefit from. To give back to the land and the Ohana (family). I have seen beautifully constructed lava rock walls, medicinal herb gardens, and bamboo furniture pieces, all created by students. Such accomplishments would be great for any student but they are uniquely important for those who have struggled with a lifetime of frustration dealing with learning differences often coupled with executive functioning deficits.

Pacific Quest’s horticultural therapy focus provides a unique environment for students who struggle with a combination of cognitive and emotional/behavioral issues. Pacific Quest utilizes a strength-based, “multiple intelligence” approach to learning. This approach is rewarding for students who may not have achieved acknowledgement for their strengths and abilities in traditional settings. The garden setting especially promotes growth in students’ executive functioning skills like organization, planning, abstract reasoning, memory, and attention.

Gardening provides a soothing environment where the nervous system can become regulated, offering opportunities to “access” cognitive-behavioral interventions. By placing the student in the role of the project manager and creative problem solver in the garden, each is forced to simultaneously engage in visual-spatial organization skills and interpersonal communication. This combination of skills can be particularly challenging for students who struggle with executive functioning deficits.

Many students find that their executive functioning deficits not only impact academics, but just as importantly affect their social relationships. Effort is taken to encourage social relationships, learn and practice social pragmatics and for students to have an integral role in a supportive peer group. A series of therapeutic horticultural experiences are offered with the intention of accessing the biological processes of the garden in order to increase interaction with the non-linear aspect of nature, increasing mental flexibility.learning differences

Therapists help the family reach an understanding of how learning differences contribute to the the stress response of the student, help the family avoid negative attributions to the student, and create understanding and acceptance within the family system. The family works toward balancing emphasis on both struggles and strengths, as it can be easy to lose sight of the strengths in face of struggles.

It is a unique experience to be apart of how this integrative approach is helpful in understanding and treating those with learning differences and executive functioning deficits. It is rewarding to see students empowered through their success in the garden. I am grateful to be a part of the growth process of so many students who work hard to learn and grow every day, taking one more step to overcome their challenges.

March 16, 2017

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Horticultural Therapy Training at PQ

By:  Dara Downs, Alumni and Family Services Liaison

Pacific Quest recently offered a Horticultural Therapy training for all staff members at our Young Adult campus at Reeds Bay.  This training was a unique experience where field managers came alongside field guides, and logistics staff worked side by side with nurses. Therapists and administrative staff traded their computers and phones for a trowel and some compost. In order to participate everyone left their job titles in the parking lot and put on their close toed shoes, long pants, and work gloves. They all knew, it was time to work in the garden!

Back to Basics Gardening Stations

One of the main goals of this training was to assist all employees in developing a relationship with the garden, and increase individual’s confidence on the land.  In addition, the training was designed to help staff members understand the role of Horticultural Therapy (HT) and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT) at PQ. In doing so, our Academic Coordinator was able to weave in parts of the HT curriculum into the training events to help set guides up with applicable lessons to use directly in the field.

The day was filled with numerous hands on activities and as every farmer knows, the best way to learn something is to get your hands dirty!  The group started off with a scavenger hunt in the ethnobotanical gardens at Reeds Bay called “The Village”. These gardens focus on growing traditional Hawaiian plants which are referred to as canoe plants. Everyone used the clues in the scavenger hunt to find specific plants. Upon finding each plant, participants followed a lesson from the curriculum based off the acronym CARE (Commitment, Awareness, Relationship/Responsibility, Effort).  They were able to practice caring for these sacred plants while also racing the clock!

After this competitive challenge, everyone engaged in “Back to Basics Gardening Stations” around campus. These stations focused on educating and providing hands on experiences in the following topics:

  • Compost and Soil Health
  • Tree Health and Bed Maintenance
  • Nursery and Transplanting
  • Square Foot Gardening

Presenters at each of these stations role modeled the three “R’s” of NMT: Regulate, Relate, and Reason. Each station started off with a breathing exercise, or something tactile and rhythmic, before jumping into relating to the environment, reasoning and teaching a lesson.

Following this, the group enjoyed lunch, and afterwards set up to process what they gained from the morning activities.  PQ’s Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle, MA, led the group discussion on how to use these activities to engage students in meaningful conversations. He touched upon practicing these gardening techniques while developing

Travis Slagle leading group lesson

relationships with students who may be challenging or disengaged. He comments, “It is essential that we are able to successfully translate skills of intuition and observation from a gardening experience to our daily lives.”  Staff members began sharing their stories and openly discussing techniques and experiences of successes they’ve had on the land. Participants shared ideas and methods that worked and helped to reach a wide variety of students.

After this open forum discussion, everyone broke into their groups again for afternoon stations which were focused on specific activities for assisting our students in the NMT model (regulate, relate and reason). The groups included, cordage making, weeding/bilateral movement, planting play, and wellness. These groups introduced themes of music and play into the garden, while also demonstrating tools like cordage making where you can bring the garden to a student. The wellness department also led a group that focused on EFT (a breathing/meditation technique), the bucket theory, and connecting plant health with gut health.

To end the day, everyone was invited to a garden party where music was played and pineapple paradise was saved from weeds and invasive species like african tulip trees.  Amanda Moreno, PQ Therapist, mentioned that, “It was a gift to spend a day in the garden connecting with my peers and collaborating with my colleagues. I learned a lot about gardening and can’t wait to use it with the students.”  An Adolescent Program Field Supervisor also commented, “One of my key takeaways from this training was the value of regulate, relate, and reason. I learned so many ways to engage in each of these in the field.”

March 7, 2017

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Pacific Quest Video Series :: Dr. Robert Voloshin, Integrative Psychiatrist

“Happiness, fulfillment, and joy in everyday life should be the bar we set… instead of taking an extreme view, I strive to take a wise, balanced, and integrative approach.” -Dr. Voloshin

Pacific Quest has an incredible new member of our Clinical and Wellness teams, Dr. Robert Voloshin, Integrative Psychiatrist. Dr. Robert Voloshin is leading the Integrative Psychiatry team at Pacific Quest with the goal of cultivating mental health for our students. The Pacific Quest integrative psychiatric model is unique in its methods of treatment.  It combines psychiatric care with naturopathic medicine allowing treatment to be individualized to the needs of each student, achieving a dynamic and comprehensive treatment approach.

Dr. Robert Voloshin: Pacific Quest Integrative Psychiatrist

“Integrative psychiatry is a way of approaching adolescents and young adults from multiple different perspectives. We use the perspectives of modern psychiatry, naturopathic medicine, developmental psychology and family systems to understand the young people and families we work with …”

As a lifelong observer of the human condition, he was innately curious about “what makes us well and what makes us sick.” Through medical school, residency, fellowship and beyond, his training in psychology and psychiatry led him to the conclusion that the origins of our mental health or lack thereof stems from our early years and our family systems, which led to his pursuit of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Read More

February 22, 2017

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PQ Offers First Annual Free CE Workshop for Hilo Community

By: Kristen Sutton, Therapist, & Lauren Meyer, Field Coordinator

Over 80 people attended a recent continuing education (CE) event offered by Pacific Quest (PQ). Community service and the ability to “give back” are essential cornerstones of the program, therefore, PQ offered this CE event free of charge to Big Island mental health professionals.  Attendees included psychologists, play/sandplay therapists, school counselors, social workers and other mental health professionals who had the opportunity to earn three continuing education credits through APA and NASW- Hawai`i Chapter.

Dr. Freedle presenting at CE Event in Hilo

Dr. Lorraine Freedle, PQ’s Clinical Director, presented “After the Towers Fell:  Healing Trauma with Sandplay Therapy, A Neuropsychological Perspective”. Dr. Freedle shared her expertise and passion for both Sandplay Therapy and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT). The presentation focused on the case study of Jimmy (pseudonym), who as a young boy lost his father in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.  At age 22, Jimmy was overwhelmed with OCD, alcohol abuse, guilt and shame and was unable to meet the demands of college.  As a result, he sought treatment at Pacific Quest where he engaged in sandplay therapy as part of a comprehensive, holistic treatment approach.

Workshop participants explored a neuropsychological perspective on how sandplay heals trauma and took a journey through Jimmy’s treatment process. They walked away with an understanding of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics and a better awareness of the Sustainable Growth model utilized at Pacific Quest. The attendees were also touched by Jimmy’s story and created artwork to express how his story connected with their own experiences.

Lauren Meyer, PQ Field Coordinator, who was in attendance, comments, “Dr. Freedle took her audience through a journey of images Jimmy created in the sand. There were tears throughout the room, as well as in my own eyes, when we saw an image of ‘that fateful day’ through the eyes of an eight year old child.”  An intimate look at how Jimmy, as a young adult, accessed healing resources through meditation, horticultural activities and sandplay therapy followed.

“Multiple attendees spoke about feeling moved and inspired by the presentation and Dr. Freedle’s work,” noted Kristen Sutton, PQ Therapist. “One therapist in private practice shared her gratitude for being able to gather together with other professionals to discuss her passion – Sandplay. I left feeling grateful and privileged to do the work that we do.”

February 20, 2017

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Eating Disorder Treatment: A Different Approach at PQ

By: Andrea Sussel, MSS, LCSW

It’s time to talk about it

Andrea Sussel

Andrea Sussel, MSS, LCSW

The National Eating Disorders Association has created National Eating Disorders Awareness (#NEDAwareness) Week to shine the spotlight on eating disorders and put life-saving resources into the hands of those in need. This year’s theme is It’s Time to Talk About It. Andrea Sussel, PQ Therapist, shares how we can make that happen without doing further harm.

Eating disorders, food and body image are not easy things to discuss. Conversations can be riddled with unintended triggers, for example, I have heard from many people who are in recovery say that when someone tells me I look “healthy” they instead hear “you look fat”. So how do we discuss these issues without contributing to the struggles of another?

  1. Focus on what our bodies can DO and how they FEEL, not on how they LOOK.
    Because our approach is one of whole-person wellness, students can begin to focus on what their bodies need and how their bodies feel versus how they look. While this is occurring, we are simultaneously providing a lot of education – including lots of research – about whole-body, whole-person wellness. From a programmatic perspective, shifting this focus includes de-emphasize mirror gazing (at PQ we have very few to begin with) and also having students wear clothes that are loose fitting and uniform.
  2. Remember that exercise and movement is for our physical and mental health, not for weight loss.
    Experiencing what are bodies can do, and moving them shamelessly is an essential part of healing from an eating disorder. At PQ, we educate our students about metabolism and how food as fuel translates into a greater capacity to live our lives with more vibrant energy. Movement takes the form of working in the garden, yoga, swimming, weekend hikes, and daily core workouts. It takes reinforcement to rewire the societal messages that tell us to exercise to control weight. At Pacific Quest, we move for a higher quality existence, one that helps us feel more connected to our bodies and our passions.
  3. Speak up when we hear “Fat Talk”, don’t let it go unaddressed.
    Pacific Quest is a Fat Talk free zone. Having appropriate boundaries about what we can and can’t talk about helps not only break the pattern of negative self talk, but gives space to encourage new and healthier patterns to emerge. PQ is also “lookism free”. Lookism is defined as a “construction of a standard for beauty and attractiveness, and judgments made about people on the basis of how well or poorly they meet the standard.” At Pacific Quest, you can be healthy at any size. We don’t subscribe to one “look” being beautiful – all looks, shapes, and sizes are!
  4. Remember, food is medicine.
    Sometimes what isn’t being said is just as important as what is. Getting involved in food preparation can be a healing activity, as individuals start to rebuild their relationship with food. And at Pacific Quest, growing your own food is akin to teaching someone how to fish; learning and beginning to appreciate that entire developmental process can lead to lifelong shifts in understanding and healing. Students have the opportunity to learn about their own relationship with/to food as well as the relationship with their body. The place where these two relationships overlap is in the garden, making Horticultural Therapy a powerful therapeutic modality. There is also a lot of healing that comes from preparing your own food in a community setting. Because Pacific Quest is not a primary eating disorder program, students with eating disorder patterns are able to observe and “rise to” the normative eating habits of the rest of the group.

The Pacific Quest model imparts skills to make progress and healing sustainable for eating disorder recovery for a lifetime: You learn how to truly feed all your hungers at Pacific Quest.

February 19, 2017

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Entering Nalu: Writing My Life Story

By: Janna Pate

To me, one of the best features of the Young Adult Program at Pacific Quest is the three-day period known as Nalu. In Hawaiian culture, nalu refers to ocean waves–specifically the calm spot on the backside of the wave from which you can see everything without getting swept up in it. But nalu can also mean “reflection” or “contemplation.” In this sense, nalu is not just a thing or an activity but a mindset, a mindful way of being in the world.

In the Young Adult Program at Pacific Quest, Nalu refers to the phase of the program where students write their life stories. While facts and events may be the basic “building blocks” of a life story, students are encouraged to focus their reflections on the feelings or “emotional glue” that hold a life story together. Nalu is a time and a space set aside for students to to contemplate their interior landscape and history.

When I became a guide, I decided that I would like to write my life story as well. After months trying and failing to cobble it together one piece at a time, I decided that the only way to finish was to do it the Pacific Quest way: to enter nalu.

In the Young Adult Program at Pacific Quest, Nalu is a time of solitude. Meals are served to students in their hales (Hawaiian for “homes”). Their schedules are their own, and they are exempted from chores. Writing their life story is the only major priority. While students can break up the day by exercising or working on the land, there are otherwise no distractions from the task at hand.

When I set out to write my life story, I didn’t exactly have my own hale at Pacific Quest to retreat to, but I did turn off my phone, pack my camping gear, and walk out into nature with a journal and a pen. Young adults at Pacific Quest spend a bit more time than this preparing for Nalu. They meditate. They create an outline for their life story, share it with guides, and receive suggestions and feedback. And when they are ready, they hold a group where they request and receive advice from their community of peers.

Some of the advice young adults receive before entering Nalu is personalized to the needs of the individual student, and some is more generic. Over time as a guide, I developed quite a laundry list of general recommendations.

First and foremost, I advise students to write their stories from an emotional core. The point of writing your life story is not to recount facts but to unpack the emotional baggage we all inevitably carry. I give students a detailed list of emotional vocabulary words and suggest that they use it to brainstorm, to sift through the waters of memory by using emotion words as a sieve. Pan for “elated” memories and see what comes up. Pan for “bleak” memories. Pan for “contentment.”

My second favorite piece of advice to students is to turn off their internal editor, the voice that criticizes everything they write, the voice of the perfectionist and the voice of the procrastinator. “Is this good?” is no longer a relevant question.

When you are writing your life story, the relevant question is: “Is this true?” So my third piece of advice to students is that they tell the truth–and not just the truth as they already remember it, but the re-examined truth. In Nalu, you must re-interpret your history. You must be willing to see and understand yourself and your world in ways you haven’t before. You must discover your truth.

This is still the best advice I can think of with regard to life story writing–and it goes against pretty much everything I was taught as a graduate student in creative writing. A life story is not the kind of text you manipulate for marketing purposes in the hopes of landing a book deal. It is the kind of text most publishing houses would dismiss as “sentimental.” It is a story told from the heart.

On a theoretical level, I knew very well how to write my life story. Plus, my childhood was relatively untroubled, and my adulthood so far has been largely successful. And I think I know myself well. So figured that writing my life story would be pretty simple.

It was definitely pretty simple to watch. As a Nalu guide, I had the privilege of being a witness, the first person to hear the full version of students’ life stories—hopefully, if possible, while sitting around a campfire on a clear night. The next day, students would read their stories aloud to their whole Ohana, or family, the group of peers and guides who would form their community in the next phase of the program. And there would be a ceremony.

For the reading of my own life story, I wanted a ceremony too. So I planned ahead and scheduled the end of my nalu time to coincide with 30th birthday and invited a group of friends and co-workers to come to the beach to celebrate with me and to listen.

But the day before my birthday, as I continued to sit and stare at my journal, struggling to encapsulate 30 years of life experience in a roughly 8-page document that I would soon read aloud to a group of people whose respect I valued, I began to fully empathize with the struggles of a Pacific Quest student and to wish I had a guide of my own to assist with the process. What I forced myself to do instead was even better: I trusted myself, and I finished.

My ceremony was a powerful moment for me. There were flowers and candles and nalu, the ocean waves rolling in, mixed with the sound of my voice and the attention of my friends. I could not have asked for a better 30th birthday.

Even more powerful, though, have been the moments when I have been able to share this story with others, especially students at Pacific Quest, but also anyone else who wants to ride the wave. Reflect on your life. Reflect on your feelings. Trust your heart and speak your truth. You are all invited to enter nalu.

February 13, 2017

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Oh Coconuts!

By Kate Goodwin, Young Adult Wellness Medical Supervisor

Coconut has many uses and health benefits

The tropical coconut is an incredible superfood with endless uses, especially in Polynesian cultures.  The Hawaiians used “Niu” or coconut for drink, food, thatching, hats, baskets, furniture, mats, cordage, clothing, charcoal, brooms, fans, ornaments, musical instruments, shampoo, containers, oil for fuel, light, ointments, soap and more.

Traditionally, a coconut palm was planted at a Hawaiian’s birth with a he’e (octopus) under it for fertilizer.  After the tree fruits at age seven, it will continue to fruit for 70-100 years to provide food for the individual or community.  Just one tree can produce 50 coconuts a year!

Coconut meat contains high quantities of lauric acid, a rare medium-chain saturated fatty acid.  Lauric acid is the reason coconut oil is so good for your skin, it can reduce bacterial and fungal infections while moisturizing.  Consuming the coconut meat provides B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.  Coconut water is an alkali producer in the digestive system and can help balance the body’s pH.  The water inside a coconut is sterile, yet packed with nutrients and electrolytes, it could even be used in a pinch for IV rehydration.

During a recent wellness training with Annie, the students learned how to pick a perfect coconut and “tap” into it to drink the water.  The coconuts were then cracked open to enjoy the delicious meat inside.  They also learned how to fashion a makeshift deodorant out of coconut oil as well as learning how the niu is culturally relevant to the Hawaiians.

How to select the perfect drinking coconut:

Coconut ready for drinking!

The perfect drinking coconut is full-sized, yet immature. Green and picked from the tree is ideal (yellow color and found on the ground is okay and still delicious).

Up to one quart of water is inside, but you should not hear “sloshing” when you shake it.  If the nut sloshes, it is no longer sterile and could cause some digestive irritation.

The yellow or browning coconut is mature when it drops to the ground. There is still some water in the cavity, which can be combined to make coconut milk. Coconut milk is a blend of coconut water and the scrapings of the coconut meat. This milk is a good source of iron and contains calcium, phosphorus, protein and vitamins.

Wahi ka niu, break open the coconut!