The Healing Power of Song

Michael Stillwaterby Michael Stillwater

Nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago, Plato wrote:

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.

This timeless passage reminds us how few remain immune to the power of music and song. Even the coolest demeanor can be undone by the impact of a well-crafted melody or soulfuly-delivered tune.

Neuro-Physical Effects

While the power of music to touch the soul is both existential and subjective, its effects on our physical and mental activity have been well-researched. According to The Power of Sound, (Healing Arts Press), music triggers at least three neuro- physical processes:

1. Music moves through the brain’s auditory cortex directly to the center of the limbic system. It can help create new neuropathways in the brain as well.

2. Music activates the flow of stored memory and imagined material across the corpus collosum (the bridge between the left and right hemispheres of the brain) helping the two work in harmony.

3. Music excites peptides in the brain and stimulate the production of endorphins, which are natural opiates secreted by the hypothalamus, which elevates mood and emotion.

Brain Function is Enhanced

Paul Hoffman, creator of ‘Success Songs’, writes “The brain itself vibrates at four different frequencies. That’s why musical vibrations can enhance your brain functions. It has be proved that music music can:”

  • Spark your creativity
  • Increase your productivity
  • Lift your emotional state
  • Relax and calm you
  • Inspire and activate that desire to succeed within you
  • Create the mindsets needed to follow your passion

When enriched with music, learning is exponentially easier – a proven phenomenon witnessed when working with children. How did we learn our alphabet if not by singing it?

The infectious nature of music is evidenced in numerous ways- have you ever struggled unsuccessfully to unhook an advertising jingle, TV theme or pop song chorus that became looped inside your head?

Finding My Song – An Artist’s Perspective

In sharing examples from my musical life, I hope to illuminate some of these qualities.

I wrote my first song while strumming two chords on my mother’s Silvertone-Sears own musical instrument brand. Being left-handed, I reversed the strings within minutes of trying to play the ‘right’ way. This also temporarily abolished my mother’s guitar playing- until I bought my own guitar and returned her string arrangement to ‘normal’.

My first sing-along was in a high school hallway, during school hours- a song I had written about reincarnation and the journey of the soul- much to the consternation of the vice-principle. When I reported to his office to explain myself, our world-views couldn’t have been more disparate – as Bill would say, we had significantly different maps of reality.

Moving from D.C. to California in 1970 for my senior high school year, I remember singing Neil Young’s ‘Down By the River (I Shot My Baby)’ for the umpteenth time in a Saratoga coffeehouse. In the midst of the performance it dawned on me that I didn’t shoot my baby- and had no intention to!

I made a conscious decision that night, simultaneously shaping my music and life path- to tell my story in song, and sing words aligning with what I wanted for myself and others. (I share this with full appreciation of Neil for his superb songwriting gift!)

Thirsty for spiritual and artistic development, I studied composition with W.A. Mathieu, arranger for Stan Kenton and director of the Sufi Choir, with further studies at the University of Oregon. I still wanted to impress people by playing speedy lead guitar, elaborate chords and clever rhymes. My momentum in this direction, however, was thankfully curtailed when my heart washed ashore upon the sweet coast of devotional chanting.

My first experience of chanting in English was with the devotional songs of Paramahamsa Yogananda, author of ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’. Prior to this encounter, I was only familiar with Sanskrit bhajans and Gregorian chant. To realize chants could be created and sung in English was a revelation I quickly adopted and began to share in small groups. The current widespread appreciation of chant was a rarity then- 1972 was an adventurous time of innovation in the world of contemporary devotional singing.

Singing and Spiritual Awareness

In bringing together singing and spiritual practice, it is essential that the lyrics reflect the clearest awareness that a songwriter is capable of. I ultimately realized that for me there were two recurring themes:

a) the perspective of the individual soul in relationship with the Divine, with others, with the world;
b) the perspective of the One, the undivided Self at peace with Itself.

Contained in the first theme are songs of duality, relationship and journey, the yearning for returning, leaving and coming home, struggles and resolving struggles, human conditions of sorrow and joy. 10,000 joys and 10,000 tears. Songs expressing the second theme are non-dualistic, ‘advaita’, mantric, the acceptance in which there is no coming home because we’re already home, devotional yet impersonal.

While spiritual practice is predominantly an inward affair, shared practice fulfills the innate impulse for connection. A core motivator for my music has been to connect with others in a deeper way, leading to ecstatic immersion in choral harmony. Singing lyrics of affirmation and inner reflection became a practice for cultivating the remembrance of this connection.

When practicing in an acoustically ‘live’ environment, a space designed for singing in which all voices are naturally amplified with a slight echo (high ceilings, wood and glass surfaces) – the experience of chant, of singing into and from the heart, bestows a benign intoxication innately known to all cultures throughout the ages- transforming the mind from mundane to mystery, from linear thinking to spherical awareness of joyful wonder.

Integrating Singing Into Your Practice

If you are on a path of inner growth (and if you’ve read this far, it is likely the answer is a ‘yes’), I encourage you to integrate singing into your practice. When people gather to sing, join in. Don’t let anything, whether fear of other’s judgment or your own self-criticism, keep you from cultivating your voice as an instrument for your own healing, joy and freedom.

Be inspired. Whatever can help you open to the song inside of you, do it. Hear my video message, The Song of Home
Let your spiritual awareness and your singing voice unite. Listen to ChantWave, O Great Spirit, and a hundred more of my recorded chants and healing songs at
Listen to songs of healing, empowerment, reconciliation and awakening at The Honoring. (these are all spontaneous, created in response to a request)

In summary, singing has been a major part of my life and spiritual path; I encourage you to consciously use your voice to open your heart. It is inspirational, healing, fun, and a great way of connecting to yourself and others.

With so many great singers in the world, why bother to add your voice? Why not just listen and keep quiet? Why risk being criticized for a voice that isn’t like those you hear on the radio, CD or stage?

Of course, it’s up to you. But remember one thing before you decide to withhold your voice from life.

Each person’s voice is unique, like a fingerprint. This is why a person’s voice can digitally identify them.

Each voice is special. Without your voice added to the mix, life is less colorful. Like a species endangered to extinction, if you choose to withhold your voice, the world has virtually lost the singular species of your unique sound.

Indigenous cultures believe a day without singing is unnatural as a day without breathing.

In a recent study conducted by brain researcher Prof. Manfred Spitzer of Ulm, Germany, new nerve cells were discovered to form by engaging actively in music. The study concluded that it doesn’t matter if you sing in the shower or play concert piano – music de-activates those places in the brain designed for fear and stress. The climate of making music is the ideal place for these nerve cells to develop.

What’s important here is that it’s not enough to simply listen to music – it’s by actively participating that the new growth occurs!

Have you ever heard kids playing with their voice, inventing songs by themselves or with each other? Or remember yourself doing it? Or perhaps you have made up songs for your own kids, when you thought no one else is listening. If you belong to this special band of voice rebels, those who didn’t pay attention when the announcement was passed to stop singing and keep quiet, you are already ahead of the game.

Many years ago I discovered the joy of spontaneous song creation. Over time, I developed SongCare, composing and recording new songs on guitar and voice in the presence of the recipient.

I discovered that in times of major transition, when we are most vulnerable, we are also often most open to hearing something new, something different- we are more open for change, and for knowing deeply who we are.

This method of spontaneous songwriting has led to a hospice ministry, singing songs of comfort, healing and reflection in preparation for a person’s homeward journey. The recording ‘Graceful Passages: A Companion for Living and Dying’ was produced together with Emmy-award winning composer Gary Malkin as a further expression of this intention- to reduce anxiety around dying, and support the meaningful conversations that want to occur.

I have also offered this spontaneous musical service for:

  • pregnant couples and the birthing process
  • people with chronic illness, creating medicine songs to help move through their condition with courage, faith and trust in the process.
  • couples entering the initiation of marriage, celebrating an anniversary, or traversing difficult relational waters. seeking
  • one’s soulmate
  • seeking one’s vocation.
  • Healthcare practitioners

In the last few years I began offering these song-portraits in groups, called SongCircles. If you would like to experience this unique artform, I will create and record a song on CD for you. Or if you are ready to release your voice, come to ChantWave, a universal practice for opening the heart. Whatever you do, keep singing!

Michael Stillwater is an award-winning musical artist, inspirational educator and co-creator of Graceful Passages: A Companion for Living and Dying and Care for the Journey: Music and Messages for Sustaining the Heart of Healthcare. He has been the featured musical artist at Centerpointe retreats since 1994. He lives in Zurich, Switerland with his wife, contemplative psychotherapist (also presenting at Centerpointe Retreats), Doris Laesser Stillwater. He tours the USA twice a year, Spring and Fall. On his website you can listen to his music, download MP3s, order CDs, register for an OnSite or TeleSong session, learn about his tour schedule or contact him – go to

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Old Corporate Backed Paradigm v Sustainable Future, NM Style

Faren Dancer - host of AgeNation's Green Talk RadioBy Faren Dancer, host of AgeNation and KTRC 1260, Santa Fe’s Green Talk Radio

I was tempted to entitle this month’s column…The Roundhouse Roundup, as the 60 day New Mexico Legislative session is reaching its crescendo. That catchy alliteration aside, this has been the most intense session in recent memory. Right out of the gate with Governor Martinez’ nomination for New Mexico Department of Energy and Minerals, Harrison Schmitt, this session has been brimming with controversy, divisiveness, a level of polarization rarely seen, plus the latest trendy exercise scripted by the Governor, the drawing of lines in the sand. Many of us breathed a major sigh of relief when Schmitt unexpectedly declined his background check. One could only assume what skeletons might have been lurking in his closet, and fortunately we were spared the process. Though we are now left crossing our fingers, while holding that same breath, as we await governor Susanna Martinez’ choice for his replacement.

The progressives did a stellar job in holding their ground as a succession of oil and gas industry backed bills bombarded the Senate Judiciary Committee in the attempt to unravel the Environmental Improvement Board’s emissions controls and carbon reduction. The New Energy Economy, a major force behind the EIB and its outreach, showed up hugely with a well prepared legal team and a powerful host of supporters comprised of environmental organizations, small businesses and concerned citizens. In setting the tone for the onslaught of negatively packed bills designed to open the door to the corporate powers looking to recapture the ground they’ve lost in recent years, Governor Martinez continues to spread the propaganda that… things that are good for the environment are bad for business. It’s becoming a philosophical showdown between the old corporate backed paradigm in protection of the status quo, and a new, sustainable future that requires a revisit of our essential perceptions of how we live in relationship to the Earth and each other. It all certainly makes for some excellent contrast.

Power of New Mexico, aka PNM, wasted no time getting light headed in the new political atmosphere by proposing a 25% rate hike, (imagine those countless thousands living in barely insulated manufactured homes on fixed incomes) and a complete opt out of the previous mandate that their energy portfolio be 20% renewable in the not too distant future. Here’s a good one…PNM is phasing out its grid-tied solar incentive of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), which just a few months ago was paying a homeowner 13 cents a kilowatt hour for all solar electricity produced on site. In its place they are requesting that a homeowner pay them 8 cents a kilowatt hour for the privilege of putting their energy back into the grid. I’m detecting a bit of a pompous attitude here. News update… PNM has now withdrawn their request for this solar access fee as the pushback has been intense. This aligns with their typical pattern of unreasonable requests and then compromising for somewhat less.

NOTE: PNM is a publically traded Wall St. company whereby all profits exit New Mexico and they, amazingly, convinced our legislature a few years back to guaranty their profits for the next 30 years! San Juan County, the home of the Four Corners Coal burning power plant, one of the largest and dirtiest in the nation, has the sixth highest CO2 emissions of any county in the United States.

New Mexico State Representative Mimi Stewart has evolved the Homeowners Association Bill HB9 for the past six years. Her constituency, District 21, obviously had been expressing some displeasure with numerous inequities that left residents feeling disempowered and without a voice. Previously, there have been no HOA regulations in New Mexico. The protection of citizen’s solar rights were also expressed in the bill as HOAs across the state have continued to impose unreasonable restrictions on solar installations. The mandated planting turf Kentucky Bluegrass, that requires copious amounts of our precious water, spurs additional language that guarantees sensible water conservation. HB9 was approved unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee with all the solar and water stipulations intact and went on to the House floor where it passed on a 65-2 vote! The remaining hurdle is the New Mexico Senate, but with this surprising momentum the enactment of HB9 is within sight.

Finally, here’s where Governor Martinez has decided to drag her toe in a straight line through the sand. It’s starting to feel like a personal vendetta against former Governor Bill Richardson’s incentivized film industry programs. And let’s face it, those liberal filmmakers, hell, the whole damn industry must be just a bunch of over indulgent commie wackos, so let’s just get rid of the third largest industry in New Mexico and revert to pure dependence on the wholesome standards of oil and gas extraction, and while you’re at it, throw in an extra pinch of encouragement to the uranium mining industry. God bless America.

A little insider gossip to feed the imagination… The National GOP is potentially looking to Governor Martinez as their meal ticket to an expanded support base. Given she’s the only Hispanic, female governor in the country, is well spoken and not near as loopy as Sarah Palin, she may just be the natural. So, if all goes well, the pendulum could swing again in New Mexico as soon as two years from now.

Please tune into GREEN TALK RADIO each week an AgeNation Radio, and you can also contact Faren at

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Holistic Elements in Plastic Surgery

Daniel Ronel - An AgeNation Wellness Expert

A Wellness Post By Daniel N. Ronel, MD

The notion that we can influence health with our minds is an appealing concept. Western medicine often leaves little room for this idea — focusing mostly on drugs and sharp surgical instruments to treat illness. This is changing, however, as techniques such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and guided imagery become more closely studied and integrated into the conservative tradition. Controlled studies point to tangible benefits, including reductions in nausea, pain, and length of hospital stays.

I offer several complementary medical therapies to my surgical patients, including acupuncture, homeopathy, Thai massage, aromatherapy-guided imagery and reflexology. In addition to improving coping skills and anxiety, which by itself makes for an easier recovery, I think these therapies can decrease bruising, swelling, and recovery time after procedures such as a face lift, breast reduction, or abdominoplasty.

Defining Terms

To understand the use of whole-body approaches in practice, we must first distinguish between alternative and complementary therapies. Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional therapy, whereas complementary or adjunctive therapies are used in addition to conventional therapy.

Recently published, high quality systematic reviews of complementary medicine have provided a reliable basis for incorporating these practices. For example, The National Institutes of Health has issued consensus statements supporting the use of hypnosis for pain related to cancer and the use of acupuncture for pain and nausea. In addition, acupuncture, hypnosis, and relaxation techniques are included in guidelines on the management of pain associated with cancer that have been published by the US National Comprehensive Cancer Network.


Of all the nontraditional approaches, acupuncture enjoys the most credibility with a large body of laboratory physiologic data. Acupuncture is the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body’s surface to manipulate the flow of energy (Qi, in the Eastern tradition) within the body. Pain and illness represent an obstruction in the normal flow of Qi; acupuncture restores free flow. My patients receive one to three treatments before their surgery, and often continue afterwards.

Many excellent clinical studies show a decrease in pain and nausea after surgery as compared to those patients who did not receive acupuncture. From a Western, scientific perspective, evidence suggests acupuncture inhibits several key steps in the inflammatory response to a degree equivalent to aspirin and indomethacin. Imaging studies have demonstrated remarkable findings. For example, an MRI study found that a specific “vision” acupuncture point in the foot activated the same region in the brain that was activated by direct light. Other studies show that specific acupuncture points activate pathways that diminish pain signals and also deactivate multiple areas within the brain that participate in pain processing. From an Eastern perspective, acupuncture increases the flow of “energy” into the areas that will be operated upon, and I assume this leads to better wound healing.

Homeopathic Medicine

Most physicians (including myself at first) have a difficult time accepting homeopathic medicine as a legitimate practice because it is totally contrary to conventional pharmacological principles. One of homeopathy’s main principles asserts that if a natural substance can cause symptoms in a healthy person, then this substance, in a diluted form, can stimulate self-healing of similar symptoms in a sick person. For example, if a person has seasonal allergies to Juniper, then a diluted extract of the plant can decrease the allergic symptoms.

Homeopathic remedies are made from plant, mineral and animal extracts and diluted to varying degrees. The process of producing remedies is precise, with every major homeopathic company or pharmacy around the world following the same protocol. The solutions can be diluted to the extent that almost no molecules of the original substance remain; yet according to homeopathic philosophy the more diluted is a remedy, the greater its potency.

Different homeopathic remedies are tailored to the various phases of the surgery, starting from before the surgery and ending several weeks to months afterwards. In the language of the discipline, the remedies used early in the treatment course help to decrease the “trauma” of the surgery and remedies used after the surgery help to minimize and “detoxify” the after effects of anesthesia.

Scientific studies are lacking to prove the efficacy of this approach, and I do not believe they are medically necessary. However, I have found anecdotally that patients are comforted by the regimens, and they are not harmful. It is important to use a licensed Doctor of Oriental Medicine (DOM) to oversee these treatment regimens and to modify them on an individual basis.

Aromatherapy-guided Imagery

It is well-established that a positive mental attitude before surgery leads to better outcomes, and the American Cancer Society endorses the use of Aromatherapy in conjunction with conventional therapy. The licensed aromatherapist creates a comfortable and relaxing mental state using the aroma of essential oils. These oils can be administered through massage, inhalation, compresses and baths. While commonly associated with pleasant applications for beauty and general relaxation, essential oils have complex chemical components—just as herbs have medicinal properties that affect the body in a variety of ways. Understanding these uses requires training in the appropriate selection, preparation and application of these oils as well as knowledge of their toxicities, side effects and interactions with pharmaceutical drugs. Some oils can actually interfere with wound healing.

The Power of Touch

We also incorporate reflexology and massage into the practice. Patients can receive a treatment before surgery to relieve stress and, from an Eastern perspective, to decrease congestion in muscles, joints, the lymphatic system and connective tissue by opening lines of energy into the affected areas.

Reflexology is the physical act of applying pressure to the feet and hands with specific techniques. It is based on a system that reflects an image of the entire body onto the feet and hands; foot massage effects a physical change in the corresponding body part. This technique has been applied with success in studies of patients undergoing cardiac and colorectal surgery. My patients undergo a reflexology treatment several days after surgery, when they are still in the uncomfortable early post-operative phase. In addition to increasing the flow of energy into the affected area, the practice provides relief from tension, stress and anxiety.

Another type of therapy, Thai massage (known as the “lazy man’s yoga”), combines massage, acupressure, energy work, yoga and relaxation. We also refer patients to a practitioner who has developed a specific massage to stimulate the flow of lymph and energy in the breast before and after surgery there.

The Whole Being Plan™

As a plastic surgeon who embraces nontraditional approaches, I have three goals. I want to improve patient comfort, both preoperatively and postoperatively. I also want to decrease postoperative swelling and bruising. Most importantly, my approach aims to teach patients how to take care of themselves and their health. Our practice also incorporates nutritional counseling and psychotherapy for those who need it. For example, a proper diet around the time of surgery can provide the body with the building blocks needed to heal surgical wounds. Psychotherapy is often recommended to help spouses cope with the transformational changes that can occur around plastic surgery.

Although the scientific evidence for these therapies is still growing, their long term use in many parts of the world demonstrates their inherent safety. The lack of evidence from randomized clinical trials does not necessarily imply lack of patient benefit. Evidence-based medical research has demonstrated that scientific evidence is important in clinical judgment, but clinical experience and expertise also play a vital role in patient care.

We call this Integrative Medicine program the Whole Being Plan™. It is not for everyone, and not everyone benefits from it. I caution my patients that the degree to which they can influence the course of their recovery through mental or emotional work is highly variable, and that their efforts may not make a difference. I do not want them to feel guilty or inadequate if their recovery is difficult despite their best efforts. Many patients ask that I operate on them without any holistic therapies. However, most of my patients are enthusiastic about the program.

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Tattooing Tips For Those With a Burning Desire

Marilynn PrestonBy Marilynn Preston

I’ve been writing my syndicated fitness column more than 30 years running and this is the first time I’ve covered tattoos. What do tattoos have to do with living a healthy lifestyle? I have no idea, but so many strong and well-balanced people in my yoga class have them, they must mean something.

Butterflies on the butt. OM on the hip. Armloads of serpents, peace signs, lotus flowers. There is no end to the creativity, or the colors, and don’t even ask about placement.

The most in-your-face tattoo I ever saw presented itself many years ago when I was a young reporter, covering the 1st International Convention for Tattoo Artists and Fans, in Dallas, Texas. I was wondering the aisles and spotted a young woman getting a pink rose burned into her biceps. In gothic script, across her forehead, there was another tattoo: “Death Before Dishwashing.” It must have been the 70’s.

It turns out that 14% of the U.S. population now have a tattoo. This is nearly the number of people who know Hawaii is a state. Why so many? There are all kinds of theories about why people get tattoos –too many beers at a ball game, mother hang-ups, the myth of eternal love–but we can all agree that tattoos are an ancient and traditional form of body art, decorations of the self that demonstrate a person’s style, independence, philosophy, feelings.

But what happens when those feelings change? Or you switch gangs? Ahh, there’s the rub. People on the path to a healthier, happier lifestyle know everything changes. So that’s why I want to share these important tips about tattoos from a doctor who is an expert in removing them, Dr. Roy Geronemus, master of the laser and member of the American Society for Dermatological Surgery (ASDS):

1. “Keep colors simple.” Tattoos that are done in neon or unusually bright colors can require Black & Decker Power Tools for removal, so Dr. Geronemus suggests you stick to just one or two basic colors.

2. “Think small.“You may be filled with love for your girlfriend, or your mother, or your country, but you don’t have to express it all the way up your arm or across your back. Think small. Tattoos today may spell regrets tomorrow and the smaller and simpler the tattoo, the less painful it is to remove or disguise.

3. “When possible, show your love another way.” Most of Dr. G’s tattoo removals involve the name of a girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, or partner. Everything changes and when it does, you’re left with a permanent reminder of someone you may want to forget. Or, later, explain. What to do? Show your love another way. Plant a tree, name your boat, donate money to support a worthy cause. If you succumb, at least get your tattoo in a spot that will be easy to hide.

4. “Remember that you won’t always be so buff.” Dr. G. knows the truth about bodies. As they age, they soften and sag so whatever you are imprinting on your tight little bum or bulging bicep will have a much different look as you expand.

[Back to that International Tattoo Convention. At the opening cocktail party there was a big buzz about a certain woman who everyone was waiting to see. “Is Sally here?” “Have you seen Sally yet?” “Is Sally on her way?” Finally Sally arrived, and I came to see what all the excitement was about. When Sally was a young woman, her husband gifted her with a tiny spider-web tattoo etched around her belly-button. Now Sally was in her late-70’s. Well into the cocktail hour, Sally lifted her dress, pulled down her panty hose, and showed off her 50 -year-old tattoo. The web had expanded to the size of a large dinner plate. Time had filled in the spaces between the lines. It was like looking into the Grand Canyon, where every few feet stands for another thousand years. I did forget Sally’s real name, but I never forgot that tattoo.]

5. “Think about your future.” Plastering your body with pretty pictures may seem like the thing to do when you’re young , but what about when you’re looking for a job, or meeting your boyfriend’s parents? How can I put this? If you want a career, do it on the rear.

“The perfect tattoo. . .the one I believe we are struggling toward. . .is the one that turned a jackass into a zebra.”
~ Cliff Raven, world-famous tattoo artist

Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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Cyphers – Episode 9 – Where Old Stones Lie Sunning

Cyphers - Web DramaCyphers is a character drama about a group of individuals who discover unexplained phenomena, and how this unearthing affects their personal and professional lives. While searching for the catalyst to these appearances, they uncover treacherous organizations obsessed with controlling food and water supplies. Each character is drawn, willingly or unwillingly, deeper into each organization’s conspiracy.



Where Old Stones Lie Sunning from David Forlano on Vimeo.

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Solar Rights 2010: Building Codes, HOAs & You

Faren DancerBy Faren Dancer

As we venture forth into the hazy landscape of a renewable economy and examine what realities need addressing to enable actual progress, education is the key word that is discussed from the most progressive policy makers to the humble folks working on building codes, energy conservation, renewable technologies and all other aspects leading to a sustainable future.

Certainly education is key when it comes to gaining buy in from a largely entrenched building industry and a public longing to overcome habitual behaviors more in line with the days of cheap fossil fuel then the sobering realities of the 21st Century. And, as people everywhere continue to awaken to the realities of their own consumptive practices and begin focusing on needed carbon reduction, a puzzling deterrent looms as a roadblock to substantial progress.

Home Owner Associations, armed with their mandate to protect property values, are predominately mired in a perspective that appears completely out of touch with the times. When the screening of solar collectors and photovoltaic modules ranks as important as the screening of forty foot motor homes, then the aesthetic police, enforcers of the status quo, should be encouraged to sign up for a real world reality check. Unfortunately, this outdated mentality remains prominent on HOA Boards and architectural committees throughout the nation.

Here in New Mexico we have made notable strides in incentivizing solar and green building through the solar tax credits (10% to go along with the 30% Federal incentive) and the NM Sustainable Building Tax Credits that offers a dollar amount per square foot, depending on the level of certification. Recently passed in our State Legislature were two impressive solar incentives, authored by State Senator Peter Wirth and Assemblyman Brian Egolf. These bills address solar financing through a property tax assessment allowing for no money down and the financial obligation remaining with the property. Santa Fe County will be the first political jurisdiction to implement this approach, potentially making solar a very viable option for most every homeowner. Unfortunately, until the restrictions on hiding solar are removed, this innovative approach may well hit the ground and have to travel straight uphill.

Many of us were led to believe that the revisit of the 1978 Solar Rights Act, NM Legislative Bill HB611 (passed in 2007) was to have eliminated obstructions by stating that if it cost more money or compromised the efficiency of the solar system, HOAs and architectural committees could no longer mandate screening. Sadly, given the ambiguous wording, their hired lawyers have found ways to poke holes in this law to satisfy their old paradigm agenda. This became quite apparent when proactive homeowners, Joe and Janet Eigner, recently applied for a photovoltaic solar tracker in Eldorado. The Eldorado Architectural Committee would agree to this installation only with adherence to a lengthy list of conditions including, screening with six mature trees, painting “green” the entire backside of the solar array and trenching an additional 100 plus feet to locate the system in the most obscure location possible. Of course this presented numerous obstacles starting with a notable increase in cost, lessened efficiency, potential warranty issues and a major increase in water usage to address six freshly planted trees. Joe did a yeoman’s job in researching the covenants, where he discovered that the original covenants made no mention of screening solar, which was in keeping with Eldorado’s original intent as a leading edge solar community in the late 1970s. Sometime around the mid-90s these screening conditions were inserted as “guidelines” adding restrictions aligned with the then popular thrust toward visual conformity and the rather twisted perception that visible solar would decrease property values.

On Thursday, March 18th, the Eldorado Community Improvement Association (ECIA) Board of Directors met to make a determination on the Architectural Committee’s inputs and to view the Eigner’s request for a variance regarding
their solar tracker. The community turnout was impressive as residents who had lived in Eldorado for decades stated their original motive for settling in this progressive community that addressed their concern for sustainability. Interestingly, no one was in attendance that had any issue with the Eigner’s request, and their closest neighbor spoke in support of the installation…without conditions. Santa Fe County Commissioner, Kathy Holian spoke about the County’s upcoming land use codes that would eliminate the screening issue and, ultimately, supersede any community covenants. After 90 minutes of impassioned testimony, where residents pleaded for the planet, their lifestyle choices and, not least, common sense, the Board voted 2-1 in favor of the Eigner’s variance with one abstention. Unfortunately, though it was a people’s victory in round one, Joe Eigner’s plea for overturning the “guidelines” was ignored and the next homeowners will, no doubt, have to go through a similar, arduous process.

My personal goal in the coming months is to revisit the wording and remove the loopholes from HB611, with the support of Senator Wirth and, hopefully, the bill’s author, Mimi Stewart. Equally as important, if not more so, is the continuing educational piece which places emphasis on the building envelope and energy conservation prior to a major investment in renewable energy. And for those homeowners paying a substantial annual membership fee, a requirement to live in a pleasingly conforming development, it is a bit ironic that in wanting to install solar a resident might have to hire a lawyer to do battle with a lawyer who’d been previously retained with their own hard earned dollars. This stands out as another interesting dilemma in this time of profound, and necessary, evolution within our culture.

Faren Dancer is a Designer, Builder, Educator & Consultant. He is Chair of Santa Fe Green Building Council, Past President of Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association

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Congress Defend Net Neutrality? You’ve Gotta Be Kidding!

AgeNation's You've Gotta Be Kidding!Greed Collides With Free Speech

Members of the key House Technology Subcommittee recently voted to give phone and cable companies absolute, unrestricted power over the Internet.

They passed a “resolution of disapproval” that would strip the FCC of its ability to protect Internet users — letting companies block our right to speak freely and share information on the Internet.

This resolution opens the door even wider to corporate abuse. The House seems determined to pass this bill.

Already, cable giants like Comcast may be effectively restricting access to competitive video services, and wireless carrier MetroPCS has unveiled a plan to block users’ access to most video and audio sites.

Congress defend net neutrality? You’ve Gotta Be Kidding!

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Cyphers – Episode 8 – When Fishes Flew & Forests Walked

Cyphers - web dramaCyphers is a character drama about a group of individuals who discover unexplained phenomena, and how this unearthing affects their personal and professional lives. While searching for the catalyst to these appearances, they uncover treacherous organizations obsessed with controlling food and water supplies. Each character is drawn, willingly or unwillingly, deeper into each organization’s conspiracy.



When Fishes Flew and Forests Walk from David Forlano on Vimeo.

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Renewable Energy – Linchpin of Recovery: The New Mexico Experience

Faren DancerBy Faren Dancer

Here in New Mexico we are banding together while bracing ourselves for the demanding pull of the political pendulum. In the few short weeks of her oil and gas backed regime, Governor Susanna Martinez has caused many persons of basic sensibility to lapse into bewilderment. Is she fully desensitized to our basic needs of clean air and uncontaminated ground water or merely the mouthpiece of corporate interests? Or is she a true believer that our oil driven consumer society is as American as Chevrolet and must be preserved at all costs? All of the above? Of course we know that General Motors is not your most sustainable corporate model and the oil and gas industry, despite its current prominence and power, has a limited shelf life.

Beyond the Governor’s snappy little narrative about green related programs and environmental protections being bad for business, she goes about proposing major reductions to the film industry incentives that could very well bring down New Mexico’s third largest industry, one that provides jobs and stimulates local businesses throughout the state. Her immediate dismantling of the Environmental Improvement Board, who had based their decision to propose a carbon cap for New Mexico on hundreds of hours of public testimony, showed an utter disdain for the great environmental work that had been carried on here for many years. Representative Brian Egolf’s Pit Rule legislation, passed in last year’s session, requiring oil and gas drilling companies to line the pits where their chemical laden drilling remnants have shown to contaminate ground water, is now being threatened by Martinez. Is it such a high price to pay for these corporate conglomerates to pony up an additional 2% in operating costs to prevent poisoning our aquifers? We can only scratch our heads as the answer is… Apparently so.

As we move into the 2011 New Mexico Legislative session, priority number one for many politically active environmental organizations is to help convince the State Senate to reject Governor Martinez’ nomination of Harrison Schmitt as Director of the New Mexico Department of Energy and Minerals. With a long career of public service, this former astronaut is, in a sense, still walking on the moon. From his perspective it is unconstitutional to incentivize renewable energy, and simultaneously, if we attempt to unravel the government’s mega supplementation of the oil and gas industries, the good old pals of governments far and wide, that too would be unconstitutional. And, he believes that climate change has nothing to do with human behavior. So let’s visualize his defeat in the Senate. If, by chance it doesn’t happen, I plan to invite Harrison Schmitt along with NM Representative Brian Egolf, Chair of the House Energy Committee, to air their contrasting perspective on GREEN TALK RADIO. Some people have encouraged me to find ways to spice up the show.

New Mexico State Representative Mimi Stewart, District 21, has served in the State Legislature for 22 years. Her dedication and commitment to the environment and the citizens of New Mexico is heartfelt and profound. I was amazed to learn not long ago that New Mexico is the last remaining citizen legislature in the nation, meaning that it is entirely a volunteer endeavor. While appearing on GREEN TALK RADIO show recently, Mimi described two current Legislative bills she’s been developing, her Homeowner Association Act has been in the works for the past six years. The bill is designed to regulate Homeowners Associations in New Mexico for the first time. After sitting through several public hearings in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, I personally concluded that most associations operate in a fair and ethical fashion, but the inequities are numerous and widespread. For example, some association boards find ways to reappoint themselves into perpetuity and leave homeowners out of the voting process all together. Another aspect of the bill is designed to address solar and water rights issues, ultimately prohibiting HOAs from unreasonable restrictions.

Mimi is also spearheading the High Performance School Buildings Act which has evolved through a 50 state outreach program of the United States Green Building Council. The potential impact of retrofitting 720 schools in New Mexico would create thousands of green collar jobs, save the state millions in utility costs, avert millions of tons of carbon emissions and produce far healthier environments for our children, teachers and state employees.

Unicopia, Inc., a public benefit non-profit organization is dedicated to the evolution of sustainability within our culture. Along with the educational and informational outreach on important environmental issues, policies and science, green net-zero energy building models and corresponding online building science courses, Unicopia promotes the most important awareness of all…sustainable thought. The understanding of the power of our thoughts and the practiced ability to stay out of fear, while constantly imagining and envisioning the future we wish to live, is the key to our ultimate sustainability.

Please tune into GREEN TALK RADIO each week an AgeNation Radio, and you can also contact Faren at

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Exercise: Fear of Trying – How To Overcome It and Get Fit

Marilynn PrestonBy Marilynn Preston

Why don’t more people exercise? They know they should — they would feel better, look zippier and have more energy — but something mysterious holds them back.

The major something is time, as in not having enough of it. Mystery solved. No time. Too busy. Too few hours in the day to do everything so you cancel your workout for today because you’re pretty sure you’ll find time to do it tomorrow. But tomorrow never comes because you’re still … too busy.

As your most personal trainer I must ask you to please wise up. Not having enough time to work some physical activity into your day — walk the stairs, bike to the store, a few yoga poses before lunch or after work — is the lamest of excuses. When you make physical fun a priority in your life, you’ll find the time. When you realize how regular exercise reduces stress, adds joy to your life and life to your years, you’ll make the time.

So what else might be holding you back from getting fit?
Maybe it’s fear.
According to sport psychologists and other researchers who look into the question of why upwards of 50 percent of people drop out of fitness programs within the first six months, one big reason is fear. They fear that they can’t do the exercises correctly. They fear that they look stupid doing them. They fear that people are standing around judging them.

This fear factor is one reason the Curves franchise is such a big hit around the country. Many people — especially women — say they feel less intimidated working out where there are no mirrors, no perfect bodies with sculpted biceps and rock hard buns.

So let’s go back and look at those fears head on and explore ways to deal with them:

Fear of Not Doing the Sport/Class/Exercise Correctly
This is a reasonable fear to have because it’s painfully true that if you don’t learn the basics, you can mess up your back or hurt your knees and shoulders on the way to health and wellness. So learn them! Read a book, go online, or hire a trainer for a session or two. Learning to lift weights safely, with awareness, isn’t like learning Japanese. You can master it in a short time if you pay attention and take notes. Ditto for whatever sport or activity you want to pursue. Open up your brain, and learn what you need to do. Then fears about doing it wrong (or unsafely) will fade away with your flab.

Fear of Looking Like a Sumo Ballerina
Chances are this fear began when you were a kid and grew up thinking you were clutzy and uncoordinated. Too bad someone smart and loving didn’t get to you and help you discover that there are no stupid moves when it comes to being active. Every move is bringing you further down the road to better health and greater energy. You may not be the slimmest, fastest or the most graceful person in your class or on your team, but so what? As we say in yoga, keep your eyes on your own mat. Enjoy the athlete you are, doing the best you can, and keep moving. When you stop judging yourself as too fat, too this, too that, fears about looking stupid in front of other people will disappear.

Fear That People Are Judging You
This is an ego thing. Let it go. People you work out with are not thinking what you think they’re thinking. (Unless of course they’re thinking the same thing) Still, if your mind wanders in that anxiety-producing direction when you work out, do the following:

Come back to the sound of your own breathing. Focus on your practice, your performance, your own body. Fitness isn’t ice hockey — it’s not a competitive sport. It’s a personal journey. Turn your attention inward, find joy in the moment, and allow your fear of being judged to melt away, like that extra flesh you don’t need that keeps your jeans from feeling really comfy.

If you feel that personal anxiety is getting in the way of your own fitness routine, get some help. Talk to a qualified listener, look for a support group, start to journal. The key to change is to let go of fear. What are you waiting for?

“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” — Bertrand Russell

Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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