Practice and All Is Coming

Just a couple months ago I stood approaching a crossroads in my life – several paths lay ahead of me, leading in vastly different directions or (quite possibly) nowhere new at all.  In updating friends and family I kept saying I had many irons in the fire, many possibilities which I was simply waiting to turn into full-fledged opportunities.  If one fell through, I’d have the others to pursue.

Having been two years since holding a full-time “career” job (aka with benefits and more financial security), I felt like I had to prove I was moving, doing, going.  That I wasn’t wasting time playing around.  Yes, I was working enough to pay my bills; I had gotten two certifications to bolster my pursuit of a career in health and fitness, as well as making strides in my current role as a yoga and group fitness instructor; I was happier and healthier than when working in my past job.  Still I felt pressure from myself to do  more, be more.

I applied to teaching jobs I didn’t necessarily want, applied to editing and proofreading jobs I definitely did want (as well as a graduate publishing program that would have advanced my endeavors in that regard), finally applied to a nutrition coaching job that had been my goal since quitting teaching what already seems like a lifetime ago.  And it’s that last one that came through, sooner than I had expected it to.

Now, awaiting the on-boarding, the training, the beginning again in a new career as a relative newbie, all of a sudden the other paths have been cleared for me, almost as a tantalizing “what if” montage to tease me at this serendipitous moment of transition.  I was accepted into the publishing program, almost days from being invited to teach full-time at a school I actually like, and this within weeks of being hired as a nutrition coach (admittedly, the greatest – and by that I mean perhaps the scariest – goal I had set myself of the three).

And there’s the rub.  I’m going down the scariest path.  It’s the most different from what I’ve known, the furthest from the cozy world of academia I’ve been accustomed to up to this point.  And for that I’ve determined it will be the most exciting for me to explore.

I’m not going to lie, I stress out about this kind of stuff big time.  I get anxious, as I’m sure many people can relate to.  Any big change can be anxiety-inducing – but if yoga has taught me anything (and yes, I will continue to teach yoga and group fitness!), it’s that the only way is through.  I will move forward, breathing deeply, trusting that every challenge will change me into someone stronger and wiser, and that no matter what happens I will have my breath on the other side.

Another axiom of yoga:  practice and all is coming.  Much is suddenly coming, and I rely on my practice as I forge ahead in the adventure ride that is this crazy, beautiful, unexpected life.

Finding Your Mojo

Mojo (n):  a magic charm, talisman, or spell; magic power.

From last November heading into December I kept thinking to myself, the new year will galvanize me and give me motivation.  Just hold on until January 1st, and you’ll find your mojo then.

The thing is, January 1st came and went.  Two weeks into the 2017, and no magical inspiration hit, nothing and no one arrived to kick my butt into gear.  Where was my old goal-setting self from last January?  The one who had lovingly designed a vision board and spearheaded a 3-week cleanse and attacked 2016 like a Labrador puppy jumping into water for the first time?

Yeah, that metaphor made me smile too.  Puppies.

I was hoping the magic would just happen, that the same motivation I experienced last year would simply reoccur this year.  I waited.  And waited.  And… nothing.

I complained, I whined, I despaired.  Why were the things I was so excited about last year not inspiring me this year?  “Why was nothing happening?” I asked my (very patient) boyfriend.  And his answer was nothing less than the gentle slap in the face I needed.

“Maybe the universe is telling you to find your mojo somewhere else.”

Ah, simplicity.

Of course I’m not the same me as I was in January 2016; why would I experience the same motivation I had then?  I needed to kick my OWN butt into gear, and ACTIVELY seek out the inspiration I was craving.

The trouble is, inspiring yourself is not always as easy as it sounds.  But waiting around for it to strike by chance?  Way worse.  So I started to read – The Power of Less by Leo Babauta, Retox by Lauren Imparato, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius – anything to poke a stick into my lazy little brain and hopefully press some buttons into action.  I recommitted to another 21-day cleanse, even if I wasn’t as gung-ho as last year; I wrote down a short list of goals and commitments, and have been breaking down the tasks necessary to achieve them bit by bit.

It’s not the huge burst of energy I’ve experienced in the past.  But I’ve definitely gained some traction, and I know that an object in motion tends to stay in motion.  And I’m finally moving.  Step by step, one purposeful action at a time.  It’s a different sort of mojo, but a mojo all of my own making.  I’ma take it and run with it.

Having trouble finding your mojo?  Stop looking for it.  Start creating it.

Willing Wanderer

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

Perhaps trite at this point, branded across mugs and greeting cards and inspirational posters and the like, and yet, this message never fails to resonate.  And every now and again I find it important to remind myself why.

I have never found comfort in the seemingly similar cliches that “you are exactly where you are supposed to be,” or that “everything happens for a reason.”  Far too cynical, am I, to simply accept that all is out of my hands, that some greater force or being is controlling it all for me (or, perhaps, too independent).  It would be so nice to believe it, that whatever I have done or have yet to do is all part of an elaborate plan that is already set, meant to be.  Which is why I take such comfort in Tolkien’s alternative, in that it allows me to retain my self-determination in the midst of being (for lack of a better descriptor) effing clueless.

I do not have the answers (hell, maybe my life is predetermined despite my firm belief it isn’t!).  I do not know where I am going.  I am not even sure where I want to go (hence, the non-definition of where I am going).  I feel overwhelmed by the non-answers, the what-ifs, the maybes, the endless possibilities both desirable and not stretching as far as I can see on the daunting horizon of my future.  I enjoy where I have been both in the world and within myself, and appreciate where I am now in terms of personal growth, but I know I am not done.

I am wandering.  There is no clear-cut path before me, no matter how much I desire one to appear.  But there’s the freedom!  There’s the adventure!  I am not lost.  I have priceless clues and treasures I have picked up and taken with me since my journey’s begun; I have, little by little, learned to navigate by certain stars and landmarks painstakingly explored in the time I’ve spent traveling this life thus far; with every shift in landscape, in the company I keep and run into, in the direction I choose to take, I grow stronger and more confident in my role as a seeker, a searcher.  As a wanderer.

Sometimes I may feel lost.  But that is part and parcel of this wandering business, and why I need to remind myself:  I am not lost.  I am discovering my own path, one step at a time.  And that, more than any assurances of destiny or fate, is a comfort to me.

Month of Meditation

So if you’ve been following me on Instagram, you might have caught the fact that I’m dedicating the month of June to cultivating my daily meditation practice.  Making meditation a more consistent part of my life and daily routine has long been on my to-do list (both short- and long-term), but it just hasn’t been happening this year!  Until now.

Ah, the beauty of dreaming up a goal, committing to it (usually, for me, by putting it to paper), and then taking the steps to fulfill it!  The hardest part, of course, is always that first step – to begin, and then begin again if (who’re we kidding, when) you need to.

That’s the beautiful part about meditation.  Meditation in itself is a process that is always beginning again.  Though in essence a simple practice (one of the most common forms of meditation, vipasana, really just requires you to sit still and focus on your breath – I’ve taken the liberty of googling the term for you here if you’re interested: vipasana resources), in reality our minds love to wander, to daydream, to plan, to analyze, to think and think some more (you get the idea).  So why go against the grain of what our minds were seemingly made for – that is, to think?

Have you ever felt too “in your head”?  Overwhelmed by the thought of bills to pay, choices to make about your career, or your relationship, or your living situation (or all three)?  Have you ever lain in bed, unable to sleep for the myriad of thoughts whirling in your head?  Or even gone through your daily commute, so lost in thought that you arrive at your destination without realizing the route you took to get there?

None of these thinking patterns on their own necessarily constitute a huge problem – they’re only natural, right?  However, together they reinforce a dangerous precedent for the way you choose to experience your life.  Your precious, short, one-of-a-kind-only-happening-right-now-this-very-moment life.  In short, you’re not living it.  You’re too “in your head.”

Meditation helps you get out of your head, in a sense.  By focusing very clearly and intentionally on one simple, present thing (say, your breath), you are choosing to engage with the true moment at hand.  YOUR true moment.  You begin to realize the thoughts whirling in your brain are just those – thoughts.  Judgments, perceptions, reactions – not, in fact, the real world around you.  The more you practice, the more you manage to grasp those moments of clarity, of simply being and experiencing, instead of dicing it all up with the analyzing, classifying, reacting processes of the monkey mind that usually likes to run your brain.  And the more you practice being, the less time you spend reacting, which ultimately leads to a less stressful, more equanimous you.

I am not the paragon of equanimity, by any means.  Which is why I’m starting small (only 5 minutes a day), and building from there week by week (ultimately I’d like to make a 20-minute meditation my daily habit).  I know already that might be tough – some days get squeezed tight, right?  There are days when 5 minutes might be hard.  But the benefits of meditation make it worth prioritizing, for my own peace of mind, as well as for how that peace of mind affects those around me.

Wish me luck, and happy meditating!

 

Nurture Your Heart

My heart lifted as the plane began to glide down the tarmac; my mouth couldn’t help but form a smile.  Home!  I’m headed home.

Whenever I find myself on a plan about to take off, I can’t help but think of my dad: “Take-off’s the best, the whoosh and wheeeeeeeeeee.”  Hence my involuntary smile, the lifting of my heart as the thought of Dad coincided with the prospect of seeing him in just a few short hours.  And not just Dad, but my mother and sister and nieces and grandparents and old friends.  My heart needed this.

And doesn’t it?  As a yoga instructor/ aspiring health and wellness coach, I spend a lot of time thinking about the health of my body and mind.  I aim to exercise 5-6 times a week, eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, and am currently studying the basics of sports nutrition.  I know how much the health of my body impacts my overall happiness, as much as the stimulation of my mind impacts my overall mental wellbeing.  Heart health in a physical sense is definitely important.  But arguably just as important?  The health of the emotional heart.

I am fortunate to have a bounty of love in my life.  My family is close-knit and supportive, and I have several friends from throughout various stages of my life with whom I have managed to build sustainable, meaningful relationships.  I don’t get to see these individuals as often as I’d like.  Everyone has their separate paths to follow, trekking their way through different jobs, different living situations, different states or even countries.  The older I get the easier it seems to get used to these changes, to adjust to the fact that we cannot always be close to the ones we are close to.  It’s as much a part of life as “leaving the nest” has always been, for creatures the earth over.

Still, this separation is what makes eventual reunion so sweet.  As much as I try to keep in touch from afar, a Facebook conversation brooks no comparison to sitting face-to-face across a cup of coffee in your “usual” cafe meet-up.  Or sitting down to dinner in the same kitchen of your childhood.

I could feel the plane begin to descend; if I craned my head to see out the right window, I was sure I’d be able to spot Lake Michigan.  More importantly, every inch lower to the earth brought me one inch closer to home, family, love.  It was time to serve my heart as well as I’d been serving my body and mind.  Time to fill my cup.

Nurture Your Body

Body.  Mind.  Spirit.  Nurture all three, and you discover your optimal health.

Topic of today’s post:  How do you best serve your body?

There are obvious, hygienic methods – brush your teeth, clean your skin, trim your nails, etc.  Beyond this base care, one can and should serve their body in two primary ways:  exercise and nutrition.

Sometimes the very word “exercise” pings a (not necessarily positive) reaction in the mind – it triggers thoughts of a gym crowded with other, sexier people, of heavy weights and smelly equipment, of endless, seemingly fruitless repetition and bodily fatigue.  Exercise is not everyone’s favorite word.

So broaden your definition.  Exercise:  taking the dog for a 25-30 minute walk.  Exercise:  using the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator.  Exercise:  throwing some dance moves into your vacuuming routine. 

Exercise does not require a gym.  That daily walk with the dog might eventually turn into a daily jog, and then into an occasional run.  Lazy afternoons spent watching Netflix can transform into sitcom-length bouts of activity, as you complete your core or leg work on a simple mat in your very own living room.  If you can get to a gym for a favorite group fitness or yoga class, do it!  If not, there are countless Youtube videos, podcasts, and other media resources to guide you in do-it-yourself, at-home exercise routines. 

You don’t need to be an expert to be active – just do it!

Aside from serving your body by keeping it active, arguably more important is serving your body by feeding it well. 

You don’t need to give up great tasting food to “eat healthy.”  You don’t need to take any fancy cooking classes or attend some in-depth physiology seminar to gain a basic understanding of good nutrition, because here it is:  

Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole foods, eat less sugar and processed foods.

Just following these two simple rules can lead to noticeable results – in how you feel, how your body functions, and how it performs. But habits die hard (especially when it comes to eating), and creating new dietary habits can seem daunting at first.

Here’s one simple step to start:  drink water, and only water.  Cut back on (or cut out entirely!) the fruit juices, the sodas, the coffee, and the alcohol.  It can be a gradual process at first, but nothing happens in a day.  If you drink a lot of coffee, for example, your progression to drinking more water might look like this:

Week 1:  Cut back from drinking 2-3 cups of coffee per day, to 1 cup per day

Week 2:  Switch to drinking 1 cup decaf per day (or half-caf, gradually to all decaf)

Week 3:  Switch to drinking 1 cup black, grey, or green tea per day

Week 4:  Switch to drinking hot water with lemon

You can reduce this schedule to a matter of reducing your caffeine intake every couple days, or follow a similar routine for phasing soda or other soft drinks out of your normal diet.  The important thing is to take it step by step at a pace that works for you, with a definitive goal in mind (maybe you just want to drink LESS coffee instead of NO coffee, or save soda for a once-in-a-while treat vs. a daily need).  Whatever you decide to set as your individual goal, aiming for more water overall is a clear-cut path to a diet based less on sugar and processed products, and more on what’s actually good for your body.

Drinking more water is only one step toward better nutrition – there are countless others (which I plan on detailing in future posts), but don’t make any excuses to start better serving your body RIGHT NOW!  No guide or guru will ever have all the answers, and you will never find the perfect plan or experience the perfect time to start a new routine.  The time is now, the plan is to try and keep trying no matter what, the guide is yourself and your body. 

What do you struggle with – exercise, nutrition, or both?  What area of bodily health do you find most daunting, most frustrating, or even most rewarding to work on?  Feel free to post in the comments below!  As always, be kind to yourselves, and namaste ❤

Tracking a 30- (scratch that, 25)- Day Cleanse: Final Week + Final Thoughts

Day 21 (Feb 28)

  • Cheated ALL OVER THE PLACE today.  Well, it truly started last night, date night with Dave.  We went to a Greek restaurant, where they brought us pita bread and hummus without us ordering it – when in Rome, you MUST try the pita and hummus!  Aside from this small transgression, however, I did no more to break the cleanse and we had a wonderful rest of the night walking the streets of Golden (ok ok I had a SIP of his beer at a brewery, where I also bought a glass with the logo “Why Not?” – which I took home and used to drink my Perrier with delight!) ❤
  • Today, however, I started the late Sunday morning with a cup of pumpkin spice tea, thinking the “herbal” label made it safe – but only a few sips and I could feel a slight headachey sensation, alas!  I ended up not finishing the cup.  Later we went to Whole Foods for lunch, and on a quick lap around the store I indulged in all the free samples (a few bits of cheese, chocolate Teddy grahams) – FREE samples people!  No noticeable effects of such small dosages of probably all parts of the cleanse…
  • Still, I ended the day strong.  Had leftover falafel, rice, and quinoa salad, and relaxed the night away with my grapefruit Perrier and later a blended banana treat 😛
  • Also keeping up with new exercise regimen:  swam nearly 45 minutes this morning, 20 laps in the longer-laned pool (it’s hard!).  Hopefully the novelty of biking and swimming doesn’t wear off into monotony before my knee is fully healed!

 

Day 22 (Feb 29)

  • So today begins the “easing” of the cleanse.  Introducing caffeine and some sweeteners (mainly honey and maple syrup) back into my life and body – woot!
  • Mixed a half-caf coffee with soy milk this morning, but wasn’t enjoying it (that slight headachey feeling arrived very soon, plus I just didn’t really want it – may enjoy it later in the afternoon if my energy dips then).  I also made granola yesterday with xylitol and honey – it’s too sweet!  Ugh, I’ll leave out the xylitol next time. 
  • Knee much achier this morning, may do easier biking and abs today – was going to try a cycle class at the gym, but maybe not yet… soon!
  • Oh red wine and dark chocolate… how I’ve missed thee.

 

Day 23 (Mar 1)

  • Feeling good, FINALLY made me some tofu.  It turned out all right (mainly because I mixed it up with some delicious sweet potatoes, spinach, beans, and coconut-buttered-up-white-rice.  Still, win for a vegan, gluten-free, nutrient-packed dinner!
  • Skipped out on the coffee this morning, opted for black tea with steamed coconut milk instead.  No headache and I enjoyed it more, but still finished probably only a third of it.  Will most likely start saving those yummy hot drinks for late mornings when I can actually enjoy them 🙂
  • Did my 5-mile on the stationary bike today, followed by ab work.  Maybe next week some yoga?  Here’s crossing my fingers.

 

Day 24 (Mar 2)

  • Today was strange.  Had a lack of appetite that lasted pretty much all day – ate the leftover tofu concoction from yesterday for dinner, but only because I felt like I had to eat something with substance.  Had been planning on wine and chocolate for dessert after doing some yoga, but didn’t feel like it, so had a cashew-ice-cream with frozen banana instead. 
  • Was it the cashew ice cream that made me feel so weird at the end of the night?  It’s the first processed sugary thing I’ve had in a long time.  However, I’ve been chronically lower-energy from the start of cutting out gluten and animal products, this might just be what it’s all lead up to.  For example, I meditated this morning and could feel the weary, depressed sensation in my body, of missing some sort of vital nourishment.  Adding some animal products back in tomorrow, enough is enough.
  • On an upside, did yoga today!  Already feel weaker in my wrists and in the power of my breathing, but made it through Sun A and Sun B, and played around with a Sun C for classes.  Still won’t be able to flow like I had been doing for a while yet, but felt good to at least do something 😀

 

Day 25 (Mar 3)

  • Adding back some animal products today – mainly my plain Greek yogurt and maybe some eggs later tonight!  Last night was feeling really down (from doing yoga again?  Sugar again?  Not enough protein or other nutrients from the cleanse?).  Either way, also drinking some Emergen-C water with lemon today, and still not feeling that great. 
  • Ate EGGS and TOAST for an early dinner before teaching my Astanga class.  Took a while to catch up to me, but by the end of the class I felt SO MUCH BETTER.  Cleanse OVER.

 

Ok, so I made it 25 days instead of 30 (still an accomplishment, I’d say!).  I have no regrets ending five days early, because in the end I had to do what was best for my body and overall well-being.  I knew that I wasn’t getting the necessary nutrients into my body, the second week in when I went skiing and felt weak (might have been able to avoid a knee injury!), and subsequent to that when it was hard to get through the days even with a lightened exercise routine.  Meditation this last week especially helped me tune into the deep fatigue I’d been feeling, and realize that something had to change.

Despite ending early, if you’ve been following my journey through the cleanse thus far, you’ll know that I’ve also experienced a great number of benefits.  I don’t need caffeine in the morning (heck, I don’t even want/like it nowadays!), and I think those lazy weekend mornings with a cup of GOOD coffee will taste all the richer for cutting back on the rest.  The same goes for alcohol – instead of feeling a need or deep desire to drink a glass of wine as soon as I start making dinner or settle in for the evening, I’ve found this past week a general non-interest in having to drink at all, opting instead for a blended frozen banana treat or a sparkling water (served in a fancy glass of course!).  I find myself looking forward to the weekend where a glass of wine is both a) more than enough to satisfy, and b) all the more enjoyable for being an occasional treat.

As for sugar, ah.  The least necessary, I think, of the food groups cut out during the cleanse.  I thought I understood how sugar sneaks into a lot of things, but didn’t really grasp before HOW MUCH it sneaks in to nearly EVERYTHING (go find a -yummy- cereal without added sugar – and when you do, please post it here so I can share in your joy).  I also missed my daily treats throughout the entire cleanse (as evidenced by my clinging to frozen bananas, peanut butter, and other foods naturally high in sugar content), so that I feel a lingering challenge to address that sweet-seeking habit, as opposed to the relative ease with which I adapted my relationship to alcohol or caffeine. 

I don’t feel like I benefited much from cutting back on animal products – for one, I had already been following a mostly vegetarian diet before the cleanse, and had been consuming very little dairy except for cheese, Greek yogurt, and eggs.  I can’t believe how much I (and by “I” I mean my physical more so than my mental self) missed the eggs and yogurt (cheese I don’t think I’d have missed as much, except in a more sentimental way because CHEESE IS DELICIOUS).  But seriously, yesterday I had yogurt for lunch and eggs for dinner and by the end of the day felt a million bajillion times better and more energetic than I’d felt the previous week.  Maybe the whole grain toast also added some pep back in to my step – because I’m not sure giving up gluten did too much for me either, except make me tired and sad because BREAD IS ALSO FREAKIN DELICIOUS.

I have another beef with the whole vegan, gluten-free diet as well (get it, beef?), other than the fact that maybe I was too unprepared/lazy/daunted to find and consume alternative sources of protein and nutrients.  A lot of these “alternatives” don’t seem like good ones.  As in, products like gluten-free bread and nondairy yogurt are not only less satisfying/enjoyable to eat (not to mention higher priced), but they are also filled with arguably UNhealthy ingredients like sugar and fructose, and other things I’d list except that they are difficult to spell and incomprehensible to me without Google searching (never a good sign when, generally, the shorter and more understandable the list of ingredients, the BETTER for your body).  Could I have put more time and energy (and most likely money) into finding gluten-free and vegan options with REAL ingredients and sufficient nutrients for my lifestyle?  I’m sure I could have.  At this moment, however, I remain unconvinced by the supposed benefits I might gain at such a cost.

I may try to cut out gluten again in the future, just to gauge those effects separately from the other experiences of this cleanse (my legs get itchy and I want to know why gosh-darn-it!).  Even then (say, for instance, I were to find that gluten DOES make my legs itch), I wouldn’t want to give up the wondrous pleasures of all the different breads, baked goods, pastas, etc. out there for such a small reaction (when I know there are truly gluten-sensitive people that cannot partake in such delicious delights, and would if they could).  I just want to know.

I do sit on a moral fence when it comes to the treatment of animals raised for consumption.  If labels could be trusted, if mass production of meat didn’t only compound the precarious state of our warming world, if I could afford to buy only local, home-grown produce, if if if…  I feel like I might fall forever down the rabbit hole if I delve too deep into these issues.  Still, I cannot ignore them (and feel strongly that none of us should!). 

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I feel better knowing that I’ve taken steps to know and own what works for me in terms of the food I choose to buy, prepare, and finally put into my body.  It starts with me, but it’s also bigger than me – as all great challenges should be.  Now, where’s the next one?