17 September 2014

Makeover for A Journey Into Health

Today I’ve officially launched the new look of my web site, “A Journey Into Health”. While it may not seem like much (and there are still some things to do over in social media land), it marks the convergence of three web sites (and a blog!) into one, which will make things a heck of a lot easier on me!

Note: I’ll no longer be posting here on Blogspot, but will be keeping the new blog and site up to date with wellness news and info. Please visit www.ajourneyintohealth.com for more.

I’ve migrated my popular travel stories, and there are also some new pages there including my story (so far), some things I regularly eat to stay healthy and vibrant, and new pricing & packaging for my various services. I hope you will be a regular visitor, and I look forward to continuing this journey with you.

18 August 2014

Unconventional Music for a Run

I have a love / hate relationship with running. In my 20s I did a few 5Ks for charities, always thinking I was going to die by the end. I struggled with bad knees and bum ankles. In my mid-30s I picked it up again, stronger, more flexible from engaging in other sports and of course, in a more dedicated yoga practice. I was training for a 10K in 2010 or so, when I finally over-trained and tore my Achilles one week prior to the race. I had been up to 6.5 miles at a good clip for a short gal like me. After that, I pushed the pause button on the running for awhile.

Well I'm back into the running thing again, trying to up my mileage each week rather than caring how fast I go. The more I do it, the less I hate it. And having my mind occupied while doing my run is of primary importance--I'm just not the kind of person who can find "meditation" in a quiet run. What's helping me run smoothly and calmly now may not be conventional, but I thought I would share in case you're someone who practices yoga and running, like me. Yes folks, I've been running to chants.

Here are three of my current favorites:
Weird huh? Maybe, maybe not. In his book The Three Season Diet, John Douillard talks a lot about how deep breathing in and out through the nose can reduce the stress that an intense exercise like running can put on the body, and help increase the effectiveness of one's workouts. I read this book years ago and it made a lasting impression on me, because yeah, who wants to be huffing and puffing out their mouth, feeling like they're going to die after running? Not me. I wanted calm, relaxed running. And when I was training for that 10K, I remember using his suggestions on breathing and running that 6.5: when I stopped, I just, well...stopped. I wasn't out of breath at all, and I felt completely relaxed.

What does that have to do with this music? Most runners I know are looking for upbeat music, and even using BPM (beats per minute) to try and pace themselves. That's great. And it's not for me. What this music does for me is get me into a state of extreme relaxation. I get lost in not just the sound of my steps and the belt on the treadmill, but also in the soothing instruments and voices. My breath remains deep and full, without as much mental exertion on my part. And because I'm focusing on the repetitive natures of both the physical movement and the chants, my whole body feels completely in sync, completely aligned. I've started going faster and further with this music, believe it or not.

If you like this sort of music, consider making it part of your runs. Let me know your thoughts!

13 August 2014

Yoga for Restoring Mind-body Balance

Hour-long gentle yoga practice intended to reconnect students with the wisdom of their bodies. Letting go of the mind, the control, learning to surrender to the body helps us heal physically and emotionally / mentally.



So many have influenced me and thus this video: Swami Kripalu, Jurian Hughes and Carolyn Sudha, Vandita Kate Marchesiello, Rudy Peirce, Dana Moore and Bessel Van der Kolk. Thank you, Jai!

08 August 2014

Post-run Smoothie Treat

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk -- I use "Blue Diamond Almond Breeze"
  • 1 scoop of Vega Protein Smoothie Mix -- I use "Choc-A-Lot" 
  • 1/2 banana
  • 2 Tbsp almond butter
  • 1/2 one real vanilla bean
  • 1 glassful of ice cubes

Instructions

  • Toss in the Vitamix, blend, and drink (slowly if possible)!

04 August 2014

Coconutty 'nana (with Pulp!)

OK, here's my new favorite afternoon smoothie recipe. I've adapted it from the "Coconutty 'Nana" recipe from the Big Book of Juices.

Tools


Cutting board, knife, juicer (I have the Breville BJE200XL Compact Juice Fountain 700-Watt Juice Extractor), Vitamix (or other awesome) blender.

Ingredients


  • 1/2 pineapple
  • 2 bananas
  • 8 Tbsp unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 Tbsp coconut milk
  • Ice (optional)

Process


  1. Get the pineapple and bananas into a juice-able state, then toss them in the juicer.
  2. Pour the fruit juice into the Vitamix, along with ALL the pulp left behind in the juicer (unless you see something obviously not appropriate, of course).
  3. Add the almond milk and coconut milk to the Vitamix, blend and enjoy!
Tip: You can pour this over ice, or add ice into the Vitamix for a cooler treat.

Servings


The original recipe makes about 2 servings, but I expect that with adding all that pulp, this is more like 6-8. :-)

01 August 2014

Why I Said "Goodbye" to my IUD

Making the deal


I wish with my whole heart that I could make a deal with some higher power that's controlling the Universe. I'd like to stand before him/her/it, along with any woman who desperately wants children and has been trying everything to conceive, kind of how one might stand before a judge. I want to voluntarily sign over any child-bearing ability I have to someone who really desires it. Then she can have a lovely child and be an awesome mother, and I would never have to worry about birth control again.

The mommy gene


A baby handed to me in 2010.
I don't have what I call the "mommy gene". I've never wanted kids. I've had countless people in my life tell me I'd change my mind (especially when I got married). But I'm practically 40 and it just hasn't happened. And I honestly don't feel I'm missing out on anything. With most babies or kids, I don't even know what to do, so I usually avoid them. I'm not good at cooing and cuddling and I can't talk to them. There have been a few "old soul" kids I seem to do OK with, but they're few and far between. I like my life. I like the freedom. I completely respect those who have chosen to be parents. Wow, that's hard. There's no way you can't screw up your kids somehow. Call me a coward, but I just don't want that responsibility. I'm still working through piles of my own shit!

Don't fix what's not broken


I'd been on birth control pills since I was 16. I never had any trouble remembering to take them, and they worked great. I think I gained a few pounds but nothing terrible. I had much lighter periods: about 4 days, maybe a little cramping at the beginning. Then in 2013 I got even more holistic, and when my acupuncturist suggested the idea that I get off the hormones, I thought about it more seriously.

In truth, I went to my OB-GYN wanting to get Essure. But I trusted her when she talked me into the Paraguard IUD, which was my second choice. It's copper, and has no hormones. Once I had it, I could look forward to menopause and never even have to have it taken out because it'd be good until my eggs weren't.

The "Installation"


Maybe it's too many years of working in hi-tech, but I always refer to a day in May 2013 as the day my IUD was "installed." I was a bit nervous and I won't say it wasn't uncomfortable, but I'm sure it's nothing compared to childbirth! Right after it was installed, what I primarily noticed was discomfort and cramping in my left lower abdomen. I heard a lot of gurgling, kind of like one might have before explosive diarrhea. When the doctor came back in I told her this; she said she'd not heard of that before, but didn't think it was a big deal. Off I went, never having to think about birth control again. Ha!

Rough adjustment periods


The first few weeks after having the IUD installed, I had terrible cramps. At one point, I was awake in the middle of the night lying on my bedroom floor in agony, wondering whether I should go to the emergency room. I didn't, and thankfully that subsided. My first couple periods were rough. At least 7-8 days, with one unbelievably heavy day following the seeming "ending" of the thing. I remember being at a new job, on the phone with the doctor, worrying about how much I was bleeding because they said if it was "excessive" there might be a problem. What was "excessive"? Changing tampons every hour or so. OK, so I was lucky. I only had to change every two, and boy did I get really bad cramps anytime it was close to being time for a change! Not to mention those same intense cramps every time I was hungry, or had to use the toilet.

A New "Normal"


Over one year later, things had stabilized. I still got my period regularly, for at least 8 days each time. And as soon as the period stopped, I knew I still had the heavy day to look forward to, but now at least I traveled prepared and didn't freak out about it. There were at least 2 days of terribly heavy cramps in there. I don't usually take any OTC meds, but a few times yeah, I took an Advil but it didn't do much. My last period with the IUD, July 2014, lasted from the 15th to the 19th (the heavy day), and then on July 24-25 I was having terrible cramps but no bleeding. That's about a week and a half a month being miserable.

The amount of tampons and panty liners I went through was incredible. Holy cow. I also had weird spotting in between, especially after urinating, that required me to wear panty liners all the time because I was never sure what might happen. So much money and waste on tampons, not to mention always having to be near a restroom!

What's worse was that on numerous occasions I could feel the thing inside me. Kind of like I had a tampon in, but didn't. And it was always at that left side of my abdomen, where I felt it from day 1. Because I could feel it, I kept thinking the IUD was misplaced, or moving around in a way it shouldn't be. I went to to a med clinic the first time I had the spotting because that seemed odd, yet they assured me all was fine and it looked good. That led to not wanting to be intimate with anyone because, well, something could be wrong with my IUD and I could end up pregnant. Of course that defeats the entire purpose of the thing, which is to "set it and forget it."

And although my stress levels had decreased dramatically with a career change and a move over the past year, trying to physically relax enough at night to fall and stay asleep had been near impossible, especially around my period. For several months before I got the IUD removed, I was sleeping less than 3 hours a night for about 4 consecutive days. Exhaustion isn't fun folks!

The Decision


So, there was no "medical" reason why I decided to have my IUD removed. Every doctor who looked at it and heard my stories described my experiences as "normal". However, the sense that my body just didn't like the thing continued to grow over time. Sure, I might be healthier because I was off hormones, but my quality of life had gone down, I was damaging the environment with all my feminine product usage, and I had a copper "T", a totally foreign object, stuck inside me.

Freedom?


I write this post after terminating my relationship with my IUD. Although I'd read several blog posts about women just pulling them out on their own with no issue, I thought it would be better to have a professional around in case there was any issue. I was a bit nervous about the removal, but I used my mad meditation skills (and some loving support) to get through it, and it wasn't bad. What happened? Two severe cramps on that left side of my abdomen as it was taken out. I'm told I might have spotting, that I might not have a normal period for a few months after re-starting the pill on Sunday. But, I hope that in a few months time, those good old hormones will have me thinking about my period so much less than my IUD ever did!

Note: I feel there's really no good answer when it comes to birth control. But, I share this story to encourage women to weigh all the pros and cons, and above all, to listen to their bodies when it comes to these things! Even if nothing "appears" wrong, your body knows what's right for you. TRUST IT.

29 July 2014

How NOT to Just Say F**k It: 5 Strategies for Getting Back on Track

Let's be real.

Those of us who have goals around health and wellness aren't perfect. (That's OK, by the way!) From time to time, we'll make decisions that are contrary to the promises we make to ourselves. Some examples of goals we might have include:
  • Limiting sugar | caffeine | alcohol | chocolate intake
  • Exercising | moving more
  • Going to bed or getting up earlier
  • Reducing time spent watching TV | playing on Facebook
You get the idea.

So what happens to the day or the week when, for example, you have more than the amount of <whatever> you said you'd have; you fail to exercise, to get to bed / wake earlier, or to limit your technology usage? I'm sure some of you can relate to the feeling of, "oh f**k it, since I did / didn't do X I might as well (either do more X or do Y too)...". It's almost like there's a rebel that comes up inside us, pointing out that we haven't been perfect so "why not just toss the whole stupid idea out the window!" It can be very tempting, especially when that part says, "you can just start over tomorrow / next week".

That voice prevents us from starting over in the present moment. In other words, right NOW.

Here are 5 strategies to help you get back on track, in the moment. Have others? Let me know!
  1. Discover the teaching and use it to create a new strategy: Write down why you did / didn't do what you wanted, how it felt at the time and/or how it feels now. Coming from the perspective that you did exactly what you needed to do at the time, explore what you could learn from the experience. What might you do differently if that situation arises again? For example: "I ate the brownie because really I was dehydrated and needed more water. The next time I have a brownie craving, I'll have a glass of water first."

  2. Stop making specific promises altogether: Instead, bring more mindfulness to your daily activities, pay closer attention to how you feel, and honor the higher goal of "progress"--getting a little healthier each day. Let go of "measuring" every detail and allow yourself to be more intuitive about what is good for you and what isn't. In other words, focus on the big picture rather than the details.

  3. Put it in perspective: Someone passed along to me a great quote from Jillian Michaels, which was along the lines of "so you messed up and didn't stick to the plan -- so what? You didn't ruin anything. If you have one flat tire do you then slash the other three?" One or two or even five of anything doesn't mean the rest of your day or week is done for.

  4. Move to a different environment: Just eat an entire bag of chips after sitting at your desk for hours? Go for a walk outside. Sometimes change happens from the inside out. Other times, it can happen from the outside in. Maybe next time you think about having chips, you'll realize you just need a break, and take the walk instead!

  5. Create appointments with yourself (and set reminders): Schedule the time you'll spend online, the time you'll exercise, or even the time you'd like to go to bed. When your timer goes off, stop, and do what your reminder tells you! Have trouble stopping and taking a lunch break? Put it on your calendar with a note to yourself. Here's one of mine: "Lunch: GET UP & TAKE A BREAK!" Maybe at 9 pm, you set a reminder on your phone that says, "Charge me, shut me off and go read your book in bed!" If it's scheduled, honor your commitment as you would attending a doctor's appointment, or going to a beloved friend's wedding.

16 July 2014

A Corporate Getaway - How Yoga and Meditation Super Charge Your Team

Copyright: http://www.123rf.com/profile_nyul
Note: This is a guest post from Aliza Unterberg. Some of you know I worked in a corporate environment for over 15 years, and that I love to travel! Although I haven't personally visited this place (yet), please consider it (or something like it) if you are in a position to influence your corporation's sponsored health activities. Remember, your employees' health and happiness affects everything they do!

You know that feeling when you come home after a full day of work then instead of doing all of your errands you just want to crash? You are in a constant need of a massage and fatigue just takes over you? Is there too much stress in your life? How do you get rid of these issues?

The short answer is to relax your body, but what does that entail? Many people suggest exercise in the morning in order to get the juices flowing to energize you. But if you’re anything like me, you would rather hit the snooze button and sleep for that extra half an hour before starting your day. Starting to move your body seems scary because committing to a routine of exercises seems daunting. Luckily for you there is a way that you can improve yourself while not having an overbearing workout.

Chances are that you are not the only one at work who feels this way. There must be at least a few colleagues at your place of work who know EXACTLY what you are going through. What you and your colleagues need is a corporate yoga retreat. Not only will it jump start you on becoming healthier but it is a bonding experience that you can share with people like you. In addition, it is much easier to start working out when you have a support group. Whether it is one or 20 people joining you, the fact that others are challenged just like you will motivate you and in turn you will motivate them as well.

A yoga retreat will take you away from work for a few days so you will have the time to really let loose and learn to take care of those issues that link to stress both physically and mentally. At the retreat you will learn key elements in how to control your body and mind, at least as a starter set.

How can yoga help me? I’m glad you asked. By practicing yoga you are creating an environment for your body where you improve your circulation and balance, strengthen and stretch the spine and legs amongst other parts of our body, learning to breathe correctly, and more.

Good circulation is a key ingredient to feeling better. By sitting at a desk all day your blood isn’t getting proper circulation. Similar to sitting on a 12-hour plane ride without moving, your body will become sore and uncomfortable. Yoga offers positions that by doing them even as a beginner will improve circulation to problem areas. Good circulation and balance can ease those back and leg aches from sitting at your desk. Similarly, strengthening the spine and legs are for those hunched in front of their computer screens for hours at a time. Many people don’t realize that by the lack of posture you are seriously damaging your neck and back. Yoga will work on posture and by strengthening these areas you wont feel the need to get that massage after every day of work.

Now I know what you are probably thinking, “I know how to breathe, yoga can’t help me there.” Right?! You are right and you are wrong. True you are a living being and are only like that because of breathing. However, by controlling your breathing you can sufficiently lessen stress and tension as well as improving bodily movements.

When it comes to practicing yoga, similar to other exercises you can start small. Doing a few poses each morning will have an affect on you sooner than you think. From there you grow and strengthen yourself and you’ll find that the more you do physically the better you will feel mentally.

This seems like a lot to take in and it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Yoga is an extraordinary practice with endless benefits. That is why a retreat is a perfect place to start (or to you yogis out there to continue). This experience will immerse you into the beautiful culture of the Zen and give you the proper jumpstart you need to do it on your own at home.

One such place to do this is the Samahita Retreat on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand. There you can relax, meditate, and even explore the rest of the island. Koh Samui is a tropical paradise that you must see at least once in your lifetime, so why not for a reason such as your health? Whoever said not to mix business with pleasure, obviously never did yoga.

About Aliza

Aliza Unterberg is a design student at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. One
of her biggest passions and guilty pleasures is to travel the world and learn more about it.

08 July 2014

Defining Myself as a Teacher of Yoga

I mentioned in my previous blog post that life events seemed to be pulling me deeper into teaching yoga, despite my plans to develop other aspects of my health and wellness consultancy, such as Reiki and Eating Psychology Coaching. Since then, I've also noticed that I'm being asked to identify what I really value when I teach yoga to a group of students. Here's the example that's driving this reflection.

I currently teach a range of yoga classes. In a single week, I may teach (in order of advertised difficulty): restorative or chair yoga, gentle yoga, hatha yoga, vinyasa flow yoga, and hot power yoga. Currently the former classes occur mostly at a studio; the latter at various local gyms.

What I often hear from students at the gyms is that my teaching is "slow". Most quickly follow that description with smiles and gratitude, telling me how much they appreciate it. A few seemingly present it to me with some disdain, as if I'd somehow gotten in the way of their intense stretching workout. Yet even when I create and offer faster and more challenging sequences for the super fit gym yogis, I watch as they consistently:
  • Don't align themselves in the postures correctly, regardless of my cues
  • Can't keep up with the speed of the flow
  • Take respite in child's pose (which is awesome, by the way!)
  • Are dripping sweat
  • Can't focus their attention 
  • Can't coordinate their breath with their movements
  • Scrunch up their faces and hold their breath
  • And so on....
Now, I'm not saying this to rag on any of my students. What is puzzling to me as a teacher is this: when I see these things, I do not feel that it's in anyone's best interest for me to pick up the pace, or otherwise add intensity. At the most basic level, my top priority is to keep my students safe from injury, so they have the opportunity to practice again tomorrow. Regardless of my plans for any class, I always adjust to the feedback I'm getting as I look and walk around the room. So what are these yogi's who negatively comment about my slow teaching pace searching for?

A former dance instructor was able to relate to my confusion. He said, "you are trying to teach people to dance, and they just want patterns." Meaning, the point at which a dance move or a yoga posture can be executed correctly (physically) is not the END of the learning process; rather, it's just the beginning. Yet many people who have difficulty executing even the basic physical shape in yoga classes--e.g. those who would be aided greatly by the use of props but refuse to use them--keep wanting more, to "skip ahead" to...I don't know what. Maybe it's just cultural: everything in our lives is so quick these days; slowing down to really feel into our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our souls is the real challenge, and it's too much. We'd rather continuing to distract with speed. (Believe me, I can relate.) However, truly advanced yoga students understand that this is the real intensity of their practice: yoga as a "work-in" (as opposed to a "work-out")*.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that such paradox is making me think more clearly about what I value as a teacher of yoga (rather than a "yoga teacher"). My initial training in teahing yoga by two of the best yoginis at one of the most reputable yoga schools in the country started me on this journey, and I continue to develop and learn through my own experience what I feel is important to pass along to my students.

Regardless of where I teach, what my title or the official class title is, creating a safe space (through my languaging, my use of the environment, and my pacing) that allows students to explore themselves not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally is of utmost importance to me. That is how I define myself as a teacher of yoga, how I feel most authentic and true. It's how I maintain my integrity, and it's the kind of relationship I always want to cultivate with my students.

Teachers of yoga, have you experienced similar contradictions? Students, tell me your thoughts on "slow" classes.

An endless student of yoga,
Kali


*As stated by Judith Hanson Lasater


27 June 2014

Ring ring ring, the Universe is calling!


Last weekend, my boyfriend's Aunt mentioned she was doing yoga therapy and told me she heard that yoga was about more than just physical postures. I was horrified when I realized I could no longer rattle off all 8 limbs of yoga. This motivated me to go back to my yoga philosophy and study. (I was relieved to find that I just blanked on some and OF COURSE I still incorporate many into my teachings and my practice. Still, it's good to refresh!) As part of reviewing my Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training notes, I found a little blue index card on which I'd written: "SIGN FROM ABOVE see/hear 3x".

Universe: "Bring more of your study back to yoga."(1)

The next day I was asked to take over a yoga class at a new facility because their best instructor had to give it up. I took this instructor's class the following day and she was AMAZING, incorporating all things yoga in a fun and energetic way. I learned in talking with her that the class would be another large group of dedicated students who are all physically active and fit, which is not the audience I've typically served. While hot power yoga is and has been more my personal practice and style, the idea of taking over for this instructor was (and is) terrifying. 

Universe: "I'm challenging you to become a stronger, more confident yoga instructor." (2)

The day after that, I got a request to sub a yoga class at a nearby gym for every Wednesday night in July and a couple nights in August, which was originally in conflict with my "6 weeks to relaxation" offering. 

Universe: "Share more and more yoga."(3)

Now, all this local, in-person yoga teaching isn't directly in line with my "plan" of building a virtual client base for yoga, meditation, and eating psychology. However, I feel like these opportunities are banging down my door, and that perhaps the Universe is calling me to re-focus on yoga. I decided to continue my studies, and am enjoying going back through my Kripalu yoga training materials and reading a book about Swami Kripalu's life; I am going forward with the new teaching gig, although I'm still working through some of the fear. I decided I'd regret not trying more than I'd regret trying and failing. And, I moved the time of my relaxation program back 30 minutes so I can still offer that while subbing more classes. 

I've noticed more over the past few years that whether it's the beginning or ending of a relationship or a job, there are often 3 things I see or hear that can serve as guidance for me when I don't override my intuition with "clever" thoughts. I'm going to dance with the energy that's coming into my life this time. What's the worst that could happen?

Can you think of a time when the Universe was calling (or warning) you? Did you notice? Did you listen? I'd love to hear your story!

23 June 2014

13 June 2014

30 Days to a Happier & Healthier Me

A mocha latte
As some of you know, starting June 15th I'm facilitating a Facebook group called "30 Days to a Happier & Healthier You Practice". In it, each person decides one habit they'd like to practice encouraging, or one habit they'd like to practice softening. I'm specifically calling this a practice (rather than, for example, a "challenge") because although it may be challenging, it's not intended to be something we beat ourselves up over when we're not perfect at it. The idea is that we support each other, and just keep trying.

Of course as the facilitator of such a group, I have many ideas about what I could do for myself and post about. I have to set an example, right? So my first thought was that I could do anything EXCEPT giving up coffee (again). That would just be too challenging.

A little history of me and coffee: back in the day I was never really into it. I used to have one cup (read, 8 oz) in the morning with a powdered milk substitute. I preferred Dunkin over Starbucks. (Yes, really.) And then something happened--especially after I got a job in the city of Boston--I was surrounded with coffee shops. I got hooked on a morning Starbucks, joining in the morning ritual,  feeling all "Sex and the City". Soon I decided visiting the Boston Common Coffee Co was a better, more local alternative. I started drinking americanos and almond milk lattes. When I moved to Austin, the first thing I did was check out all of the coffee shops I could find. My favorite is Monkey Nest Coffee--where you'll often find me working.

When I'm doing a cleanse, I get off coffee pretty easily. I drink a lot of water, and don't have too many symptoms (e.g. headaches). But I miss it terribly. I miss the imagined comradery with other coffee drinkers. I miss greeting the people who make my drink, take my money, and stamp my frequent visitor card. I miss the ritual. Drinking coffee gives me pleasure; pleasure beyond what comes from the energy boost of the caffeine. (Anyone who's ever shared quarters with me knows I'm generally wide awake and perky somewhere between 5-6 am, even without it.)

So I could do anything but give up coffee as part of this practice. Right? Hmm....

Well truth be told, the group of people who have agreed to participate in this 30 day practice have inspired me. They've inspired me to set an example by being REALISTIC, to set myself up for something challenging enough to require practice but to still be ACHIEVABLE. So for the next 30 days, my practice will be to have one SMALL coffee drink no more than 3 times a week.

As part of this practice I will explore:
  • what it is about drinking coffee that gives me so much pleasure? 
  • how does it "fill me up" emotionally? 
  • what am I afraid will happen if I don't drink it? 
  • what tools can I use to get through times when I'm really craving it? 
  • what needs does drinking coffee fulfill for me? 
  • how can I enjoy working in a coffee shop environment without over-drinking coffee? 
  • what is it I really desire?
It's my belief that we have difficulty changing habits because we focus on the "giving up" part by trying to use willpower. However, the habit represents something that's important to us, so we need to explore the deeper meaning behind the habit first. What are its benefits (even if we do label it as "unhealthy" or "bad")? How does the habit make us feel better, how does it serve us?

Only when we answer these questions will habits soften and perhaps fall away.

I'm ready to explore. I'm ready to practice. And I promise you, I will not be perfect. :-)

I hope you'll join me. See https://www.facebook.com/groups/1430137057252728/.

12 June 2014

2 More Tips for Deep Breathing

Third in a series of breathing videos. In this one, I offer two tips that can help you find more ease in the three-part, diaphragmatic breath. (2mins)



Transcript

So before we add sound to our long, deep, diaphragmatic breath, there's just a couple things I want to say.

The first is that if you find you have difficulty imagining the breath pouring in from the chest, and then moving down into the rib cage and down into the belly, you can try actually doing the opposite. The first way I learned was actually the opposite direction--so, sometimes it's easier to feel the belly rise and fall with the breath than it is to feel the chest--it might depend on how you breathe normally and naturally. So if you find that it's difficult to sort of imagine that top down, you can just reverse the direction and start feeling the breath from the belly then moving it up into the rib cage, up into the chest as you inhale, and then as you exhale you can imagine it flowing back down. So you can try both directions and see which one works for you. I'm all about experimenting so you can try them both and pick one that you think works better for you.

The second thing I want to say before we add sound to the breath is that you want to think about opening the chest and allowing room for the diaphragm to move. So one of the easier ways that you can play with posture is to just inhale and bring your arms up over your head, lift your chest, relax your shoulders down; imagine as though you're reaching up to the sky. You can look up if it's safe for your neck. And just open up as much as you can and really reach through your fingers. Make sure they're nice and active. And then round yourself forward, imagine as though you're hugging a beach ball. Just kind of rounding the shoulders down, drawing the belly in and up, and then inhale and lift and expand. And as you exhale, round. And do that a couple times and it will just help to open the chest and then you can try the deep breathing again and see if it improves.

Thank you so much!

10 June 2014

Learning to Breathe More Deeply - Part 2

This is the second in a video series I'm releasing this week. Learn the three-part yogic breath, or complete diaphragmatic breath--helps not just in yoga class, but in life! (3mins)


Transcript


Now that you can sit comfortably and observe the breath in your body, it’s time to invite it to change. In yoga, this is called the three-part  breath.

First, bring your attention to your chest. Feel the chest rise on your inhale, and fall on your exhale. You can envision a balloon in the chest that’s filling up with air as you breathe in, and that’s deflating slightly as you breathe out.

Practice focusing on the breath in you r chest. If it’s helpful, you can even place a hand there, just to remind you. Feel the chest pressing up into the hand, and moving away from the hand slightly. Try not to force.

Next, see if you can expand the idea of the balloon from the breath into the solar plexus, or rib cage area. So as you inhale the breath fills the chest, and it flows down to the rib cage. As you exhale, the breath moves up, from the rib cage to the chest—that balloon deflating. Again, if it’s helpful to place the hands on the chest and the rib cage  you can do so, feeling the breath move in, and move out.
Just practicing these two parts together. That balloon inflating as the breath comes in, and deflating slightly as the breath goes out. Just visualize the balloon, and be careful not to force the breath.

Finally, inflate that balloon from the chest, down into the rib cage, and then into the belly, allowing the belly to really inflate with that breath. As you exhale, draw the navel toward the spine, squeezing the breath out up to the rib cage and up to the rib cage, adding the third of the three parts to the three part breath. Just imagine that balloon rising and falling, inflating and deflating.

If you feel comfortable you can start to imagine the balloon not just at the front of the body, but also at the sides of the waist, the ribs and the chest, and into the back body as well -- all 360 degrees.
Practice this for just a few moments every day, and you’ll find that you can breathe more deeply and fully any time you like.

09 June 2014

Learn to Breathe More Deeply - Part I

This is the first in a video series I'll be releasing this week. (3mins)



Transcript


Hello, I’m Kali Patrick from A Journey into Health.

This video series is for anyone who wants to learn to breathe more deeply and fully.

Complete, diaphragmatic breathing has many health benefits;  in my opinion, reducing stress and tension is one of the most important. In this video, we’ll first learn how to arrange the body for optimal breathing, and then work on developing “witness consciousness”, which is just a fancy way of saying “paying attention”.

So let’s get started.

Find a comfortable seat, either cross legged on the floor with a little something like a folded blanket under your hips, or in a chair. If you’re in a chair, your feet are flat on the floor, and your back is nice and straight. Consider not using the back of the chair, or placing a pillow behind you.

Soften your face and your shoulders, allowing your arms to hang loose, with your hands resting in your lap. Either close your eyes, or bring your gaze down to the floor in front of you. 

Now just notice that you’re breathing. Without trying to change your breath in any way, simply pay attention. Connect with that part of you that is able to witness what’s happening in your body as you breathe. Be curious.

How is your breath showing up in this moment? How might you describe it to someone? Is it short, long, choppy, smooth, irregular, flowing  or halting? Imagine as though you had to describe what breathing in and out were like to someone who didn’t know.

Notice if you’re eager to “do something” about your breathing. See if you can surrender that desire and simply breathe. Observe.

The only thing for you to do right now is inhale, exhale, and cultivate this sense of awareness.

04 June 2014

Juiceland Juice Cleanse: Day 3 Finally Brings Dedication?

Update: I'm doing another 3 day starting 6/26. I'm actually very excited about it. Since this cleanse I've gotten very into juices, and I've found that I missed them! I even ended up purchasing several in between. :-) So we'll see how round 2 goes!

drink fresh juice @juicelandaustin


OK, so on day 3 I'm acutely aware of the fact that I've "cheated" for 2 out of 3 of my juice cleanse days. But the honest the truth is, I'm OK with that. To remind us all, "cheating" entailed a handful of pistachios, some crystallized ginger, and a bag of frozen peas (defrosted and cooked, with a little salt, of course)!

Still, day 3 brought new dedication to stay just on juice and tea and water. How did it go? Well, I DEFINITELY felt the need to eat food, especially around lunchtime, which was always the time I ended up snacking on real food. I made it past that milestone, yay!

I also managed to do some Ashtanga yoga, though not the entire thing. I made it to asana #5 in the seated sequence, which isn't bad given my limited caloric intake. In fact, it felt really good. I felt like I was able to engage my lower bandhas in a way I hadn't before.

Other things I noticed today (also yesterday, though I'm not sure I mentioned them):
  • My nose is occasionally runny, and I've been sneezing a bit. 
  • I'm SO COLD! It's about 90 degrees here in Austin, and it feels hotter if you're in the sun or a car. Yet whenever I'm in the apartment, a store, or any place where there's any breeze or AC, I'm cold. (Great idea do to a hockey game last night, wasn't it? LOL.)
  • The taking of an herbal laxative on day one has kept me loose for days 2 and 3, no more required!
  • More water between juices helps with hunger (duh).
  • My primary craving (every day!) was for a banana.
When I picked up my juices this morning, I wanted a pick-me-up, as I was missing my coffee and feeling sluggish. The girl at the counter was friendly, helping me decide how to make yerba matte less yucky. She was on her way to make me a lovely sounding version with pineapple and cayenne, when I changed my request to the yerba matte latte that grossed me out last week. My thought was I'd try it without the agave--no luck though, I drank 1/2 of it and was nauseous. I don't think yerba matte is for me, else the hemp milk is just too much. (I've never been a "drink milk in a significant quantity" type of person--of any milk, even the alternatives--although I use them often for smoothies and baking.)

Anyway, I ended up going to Whole Foods to have food on hand for tomorrow. It wasn't so bad, and I even found myself looking at what juices they have. I plan to do a smoothie in the morning, unless of course I'm craving the organic omega-3 eggs, the smoked salmon, the organic cauliflower, avocados, or bananas, blackberries, blueberries, apple, and pear that I bought! :-) I plan to have a salad with those ingredients for lunch, and a light halibut with bok choy for dinner.

Around 5 pm I felt really wiped, but I'd also gone to the chiropractor who put my body back in alignment after I'd done a great job knocking it out, sitting in front of my laptop with bad posture for too long, putting together my upcoming workshop content (see http://ajourneyintohealth.blogspot.com/2014/05/upcoming-workshop-announcement.html). I was so sluggish that at 6:30pm, before teaching a Hatha class, I caved and had a banana! Oh well.

I do like the idea of doing this once a month. My hypothesis is that it should be easier to break poor habits by cleansing more regularly. At least 3 days out of the month, my body would get a break from the toxins I love: coffee, chocolate, and alcohol! Speaking of which, I'm not sure when those will get re-introduced, but my guess is that a nice dark chocolate will be the first on the list--it was last time!

03 June 2014

JuiceLand Juice Cleanse Day 2: Body Hate & Bad Hockey

Update: I'm doing another 3 day starting 6/26. I'm actually very excited about it. Since this cleanse I've gotten very into juices, and I've found that I missed them! I even ended up purchasing several in between. :-) So we'll see how round 2 goes!

drink fresh juice @juicelandaustin


Well with no celery and more variety of juices, there isn't much to say about Day 2.  The juices were fine; it was me who wasn't.

I cheated again with the crystallized ginger and handful of pistachios, and then had a bag of frozen peas (cooked of course). Sigh. Around lunch time I just really wanted to eat FOOD! I then ended up in a funk about how much weight I'd gained over the past few years, but decided that I was going to don a bathing suit and go to the pool to get some sun ANYWAY. That was all fine until a gang of kids came and started making comments about "the lady's bootie". Fortunately I was enthralled with Bruce H. Lipton's Biology of Belief and was able to ignore most of it before I left at my usual time.

I tried to do some exercise too--I decided to pull out my difficult Bar Method DVD because I didn't make it to a class, but then I found I really couldn't do much. I desperately need another chiropractic adjustment, so everything just feels off , and that has nothing to do with juice.

Overall I felt disappointed in myself, which led to old familiar feelings of hating my body. But as I rode to the Cedar Park Center to watch the Texas Stars get their butts whipped in game 6 of the AHL Western Conference Finals, I decided that I could spend those three hours beating myself up with automatic negative thoughts, or I could go and have fun. I decided on the latter.

It was somewhat more difficult than usual to smell things and not want all the nasty food stuffs there. One smell that stood out in particular for me was ketchup (which I never eat, weird!)

I slept mostly OK, but woke up to a nightmare about discovering that my juice was ground up body parts--likely due to a comment made yesterday by a yoga student's husband, who said that in the 60s or 70s there was a movie like that, though I can't find any reference to it.

More than yesterday, I am thinking this would be a good once-a-month "clean house" kind of thing. Although I will admit to getting excited about eating food. Honestly, what I really have been craving is a banana.

02 June 2014

JuiceLand Juice Cleanse: The Celery Madness of Day 1

Update: I'm doing another 3 day starting 6/26. I'm actually very excited about it. Since this cleanse I've gotten very into juices, and I've found that I missed them! I even ended up purchasing several in between. :-) So we'll see how round 2 goes!

drink fresh juice @juicelandaustin


A few weeks ago I got a wild hair to try another juice cleanse. (In fact, I thought it might be a good idea to do a little mini-cleanse at the start of each month.) I played around on JuiceLand's web site and decided to go hard core, for the "Purify" package. Here's what happened on Day 1.

Because I was teaching Sunday morning it was best to pick up my juice Saturday night. That was totally convenient; I was excited, until I got home and realized how many of my juices were green. This turned out to be the correct instinct: I HATE celery. I don't tend to eat celery, and I should have known because I can always overtaste it in veggie stock. Of course celery was in EVERY green juice, as well as the one other juice that wasn't green (that was better). I was totally relieved it wasn't in my Green Hemp Milk, which I added on for more calories.

The other thing I learned is that I need variety. Having 2 of the same juices (2 Cold Pressed Green) two times (also 2 Cocolillys) just wasn't working for me. Fortunately, I sent email to every address they had for cleanses, and they agreed that they'd allow me to customize my order for an extra $8 (worth it!) and leave the celery out of the next day's batch. When I got to the store however, there was a mix up with the customization, and so we ended up taking some bottles out of the cooler to get the order right. (Apparently the cleanse juices aren't made at that particular site.) Whew!

I had a pounding headache pretty much all day long, but I hadn't slept well the prior two nights due to nightmares and general restlessness, so I attributed it to that. When I still had the headache after a nap though, I started wondering whether it was that + my love of coffee. (I had been better though--only drinking it before noon!)

I did cheat a little bit: I felt nauseous after drinking yet.another.green...I noticed this when flipping over onto my belly outside by the pool. I came inside and had a few pieces of crystallized ginger and a handful of pistachios because I was feeling desperate.

Another thing that I'm re-learning: I like to chew my food! It's just not as satisfying to me to be drinking everything. It must be that cephalic phase digestive response, and I'm wondering whether not deriving as much pleasure from my food offsets any nutrient absorption I'm getting from the fact that it's somewhat pre-digested for me. I ended up skimming through the online screening of "Super Juice Me"(it seemed relevant), and all I could think was "BUT I LIKE BROCCOLI!!!" (the narrator mentions that juicing has been beneficial for him because he hates vegetables like broccoli). I enjoy eating healthy fruits and vegetables--I could do it all day long!

I also found myself pretty hungry later in the evening, and wishing I hadn't used up my last lemon in my water, because I WANTED to make a Master Cleanse lemonade drink. (I had tried this cleanse--for experimental purposes of course--back in May, and lasted 8 out of the 10 days with little hunger.) I'm not sure why I could drink the same thing all day long, and not feel hungry, while on the Master Cleanse yet not feel this way drinking different flavors of vegetable and fruit juice. Hmmm....

And one really rare occurrence, before I pack this up for Day 2: I ended up sleeping through my 5am alarm this morning. I have a Zen alarm clock, one that chimes more frequently and intensely the longer you ignore it. It took me a LONG WHILE to figure out it was going off. I decided not to go to Barre class this morning, and to sleep in until 7:30. So yay, I slept well! On to Day 2.

01 June 2014

Celebrating Life: National Cancer Survivors Day

When Heather Von  St. James asked me to write something to help her spread the word about mesothelioma and it's causes for National Cancer Survivors day, of course I agreed. But what would I say? My only personal experience with mesothelioma was back in 1999, when my boyfriend at the time was told he had cancer. The doctor originally thought it was mesothelioma, so of course I did a few internet searches to see what I could learn.

The most common risk factor for malignant mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, a material used by builders and construction workers as insulation before people learned it was carcinogenic (in the late 1970s). What I didn't fully realize before Heather reached out to me and I watched her touching story is that mesothelioma isn't a "disease of the past" because we now know better. And, it has the potential to affect many more than those who had the misfortune of installing or working directly with it.

Here are just a few interesting facts* about how asbestos and mesothelioma continue to impact our lives, even in 2014:
  • "Some 30 million pounds of asbestos are still used each year in the United States."
  • "The number one cause of occupational cancer in the United States is asbestos...."
  • "Asbestos is still mined in several countries throughout the world, including Canada, and is exported to many industrialized and developing countries."
  • "Asbestos can still be found in myriad homes, schools, and commercial or industrial buildings."
  • "Asbestos was once used in more than 3,000 consumer products, including common household items such as toasters and hair dryers, some of which may still be in use."
*Selected from http://www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-cancer/asbestos-facts-statistics.htm.

I've never had a cancer diagnosis, so I write this blog with all due respect to my survivor friends and former colleagues. I can't pretend to understand what it's like, how scary it can be. But what I know from my own experience and training about healing the body-mind is that one must cultivate three things:
  1. An understanding. Absorbing as much learning as one can about dis-ease, adding an interpretation to it. In other words, gathering not just knowledge, but wisdom.
  2. A recognition that one is unique, yet not alone. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, different life experiences that created our bodies and minds. What applies to one person doesn't necessarily apply to all. Yet our individualities fit together to create our whole world--we each have parts to play.
  3. A healthy attitude. Here I don't just mean blind optimism or positivity. I mean having an authentic and real love for life, cultivating compassion toward self during trying times, and desiring to be open and to feel in this world, despite the inevitable ups and downs.
When I watched Heather's video (http://www.mesothelioma.com/heather/#.U4c7ZyjLNYo), I realized she exhibited all these qualities. Additionally, she felt inspired to help others understand more about this preventable disease, in the hopes that just one more life might be saved. That is one of her parts to play.

This National Cancer's Survivors Day,  I encourage you to take a few moments to gain some understanding about mesothelioma and the dangers of asbestos. (Good sources include http://www.mesothelioma.com/mesothelioma/, http://www.mesothelioma.com/asbestos-exposure/, and Heather's blog.) Recognize that this dis-ease still can affect each and every one of us, because we are a collective here on planet earth. And last but not least, open your heart, do not live in fear, and live your life to its fullest, each and every day!

28 May 2014

Upcoming Workshop Announcement!

Mind-Body Nutrition for Busy People:
Explore 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Relationship with Food & Your Body


When: Sunday, June 8, 2014 1-4 pm

Where: Broadstone Crossing Apartments (Common Room)
12430 Metric Blvd, Austin TX 78758

  • Spend too much time & energy on what's wrong with your body?
  • Tried everything when it comes to losing weight & keeping it off?
  • Know what you should eat, but just can't find the time?
  • Challenged by unwanted, emotionally-based eating habits?
. . .Or, just curious about what mind-body nutrition can do for you?


Join Kali Patrick as she leads you through an informative journey into 5 new, practical, & time-saving approaches to help you improve your eating habits, reduce your stress, make peace with your body, and become more of the person you were truly meant to be!

In this interactive workshop, you'll learn:
  • The physiological effects of stress on metabolism & calorie burning
  • How to naturally modulate your appetite through eating rhythm
  • The profound impact of the cephalic phase digestive response
  • Ways to overcome toxic beliefs about food & body that limit weight loss potential
  • Mind-body techniques for overcoming body image challenges
You'll also receive informative handouts & recommendations for further reading.


Cost: $30 pre-registration*, $40 at the door

Call 617.699.2389 or email info (at) ajourneyintohealth (dot) com to reserve your space.
*Due to the interactive nature of the workshop, space is limited to 12 & pre-registration is recommended.


About Kali Patrick, Mind-body Wellness Consultant at A Journey Into Health:

Kali integrates eating psychology, nutrition, yoga, meditation, Ayurveda & Reiki to help busy people improve their overall health & wellness. Her prior experience working in high-tech corporations taught her not only how to facilitate informative & fun group discussions, but also helped her understand how our fast-paced, stress-based culture makes it easy to develop unwanted eating habits & difficult to make time to care for ourselves, even when we want to.

For more information about Kali, visit www.ajourneyintohealth.com.

27 May 2014

Does the number on your bathroom scale wreak havoc on your mood?

Mine used to.

Isabelle Tierney's recent post, titled "God in Facebook Form" got me thinking about another way many of us end up seeking validation: seeing a particular number on the bathroom scale.

During a particularly difficult time in my life (when I was under a lot of stress and feeling pretty trapped), I developed a pretty serious obsession with my weight. My rationale was that in 8th grade I was 5 feet tall and 100 lbs. Going on birth control at 16 gained me 3 pounds, but I was OK with that. Fast forward 20+ years later, and you'd find me incredibly focused on getting back down to that specific number of 103 (since obviously I wasn't getting any taller). I think I was around 110 lbs when all that started. When I hit rock bottom, I'd gotten myself up to 120 lbs--all by trying ridiculously hard to get the long and lean body I envied, weighing myself every day (sometimes more than once). That extra weight wasn't muscle either: it was from the binging and overeating caused by how the number on the scale contributed to my already fragile mood.

When I started studying to become an Eating Psychology Coach, one of the first things that Marc David, the founder and primary teacher in the training said, was that we should get rid of the scale. In addition to the fact that there are normal fluctuations in body weight, he alluded to the psychological impact that seeing a particular number can have on us. In my case, if I weighed less than I had previously, or I was closer to my goal weight, stepping on the scale would have a positive effect on my mood. I'd find myself smiling, and being happy and confident in my body until my next weigh in. If I weighed more or hadn't made any progress, I'd feel terrible. I'd go through my day thinking I was "fat and disgusting" (and I can't count how many times I said that phrase aloud, further putting it "out there" into the Universe and making it seem more real)!

At first I found myself very reluctant to give up this mood-altering ritual. But eventually, the scale went into the closet. I pulled it out once a week instead of stepping on it every day, but I found that even the decreased frequency seemed to have the same effect on my mood. Weight down, mood up. Weight up, mood down. So back in the closet it went, and as I started to really internalize that I could love my body as it is (yet still exercise and eat well to be strong, flexible, and healthy),

I'm happy to report that it's been over a month since the difference between a number in my brain and the one on a little square device has had any power over my mood, my confidence, or my life. Do I still think about weighing myself sometimes? Of course. Do I do it? Nope. Instead I remind myself that I can give my gifts to the world because of what is inside of me; and if that doesn't work, I do something I know will make me feel good, like yoga. (And oftentimes, those self-care activities are exactly what I need to be as healthy as I can be! Funny how that works.)

Do you smile when you're practicing yoga?

As a yoga instructor at both a studio and a gym, I teach many students who are brand new to yoga. It's not uncommon for me to have one or more people in my class who have never done yoga before, and are feeling a little uncertain about their decision to try it.

One of the things I emphasize in my classes, beyond encouraging students to tune into the wisdom of their bodies, in addition to asking them to really pay attention to their breathing, and above asking them to (try to) stay out of their ego by only going as far as their body and their breath guide them, is to SMILE!

Most students love this, I believe because there are many things in life--family, work, school, etc.--that we all take so seriously. So when students come to my class and I encourage them to relax, strengthen, and stretch their bodies by being PLAYFUL and having some fun, the relief is almost palpable. (Balancing poses in particular are great opportunities for smiles and laughs!)

On the first yoga DVD I ever had, Baron Baptitse said (at a particularly challenging point in the class): "lift the inner corners of the lips". I often find myself using that sly phrase--among other techniques--to get people to smile during my classes. For example, when we begin to extend our legs for wide-angle forward fold, I'll joke "OK, now don't everyone get into that full split just yet!" My YTT peers might sneer when I admit to have saying, "blossom your buttocks to the sky" (which I do if I think my students will smile at the imagery). Sometimes I feel a bit like a stand-up comedian, and it's really an amazing class when the students get into it. 

When students aren't into it, I'm OK with that. I either keep trying, or if the class is entirely serious, I might tone it down a bit. What I notice though, is that it's often the students who may have been practicing yoga for awhile who don't smile, or seem to really let go.  And, I'm writing this blog because I think they may be missing out. It's been my belief that making that small change in the face--moving the muscles of the mouth into a smile--helps relax the body and release tension. Sure enough, I've discovered that there's some science to back up my hunch. :-)

The Smithsonian and Medical News Today both reported on an interesting study done for Psychological Science back in 2012, where researchers "looked at how different types of smiling, and people being aware of smiling, affected their ability to recover from stressful episodes." What they found was that smiling (even when the smiling was "faked"), reduced participants' heart rates as they attempted to perform a stressful task. The Smithsonian article states: "Since heart rate is an indicator of the body’s stress response, it seems as though the act of smiling actually reduced the participants’ overall stress level." Although there are no available sources, they also suggested there were others who indicate "that smiling could reduce levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone."

When we are in yoga class, we are taking various shapes with the body, some of which may feel different, unnatural, or challenging (depending on our typical posture throughout the day). When we're feeling sensation in various muscles in the poses, we are in fact "stressing" the body, although in a good way. We use the breath, specifically the out-breath, to try and send relaxation, love, and compassion to those areas in the body. And, I believe more than ever before that smiling is yet another, simple and easy way to help ease the body into greater strength and flexibility during yoga.

So the next time you're in a yoga class (mine or someone else's), and you feel yourself tensing your body, losing your long deep breath, or pursing your lips in great seriousness, try putting on a smile. Like anything else you do in yoga class, let the smile be an exploration: what do you notice in your body, breath, mind, and spirit as you do this? Observe, pay attention, and then decide for yourself whether to do it again and again and again!

P.S.: For those of you who are serious (pun intended!) about taking your yoga practice off the mat, here's a short article listing some of the other benefits of smiling: http://goodrelaxation.com/2012/01/health-benefits-of-smiling/.

23 May 2014

Is fear driving your behavior? (and what you can do about it!)

I see more and more people these days--and I count myself among these folks--whose behaviors are being driven from deep-seated, underlying fears.

Here are some of the ways I think fear manifests itself in our behaviors:
  • The "I know I shoulds": Do you ever know what you should or shouldn't do, but you still don't act in accordance with that logical thought? (Some examples: "I know I should exercise because it's good for me", "I know that if I want to eat healthy, I shouldn't eat processed foods.")
  • Overreacting: Do you ever respond emotionally to something, in a somewhat dramatic way, and you can't rationally understand why? (For example, even though I'd done something like this before and was fine, I ended up in tears the other night at "Painting with a Twist" because my painting was terrible. I knew it didn't matter, that the point was to have fun, but I left sobbing anyhow.)
  • Endless procrastinating: Are you unsure of which direction to head in your relationship, your business, or your life? Because you don't know with 100% certainty what the right path is, do you stay stuck where you are? Do you find yourself complaining to friends and family about the same-old-things, while doing nothing or starting things you don't ever finish?
  • Pushing through: Do you keep pushing yourself to work harder, faster, more efficiently at all costs? Do you find your sleep, weight, or overall health suffering, but feel like you just absolutely cannot take time for yourself because everything will fall apart? (Often stated as: "I know I should slow down and take more time for myself." :-) )
  • Refusing to set boundaries: Are you often silent around parents, siblings, children, or bosses, coworkers, friends and significant others when you're feeling resentful (e.g. about obligations), angry, intruded upon, taken advantage of, unappreciated, overworked, or just plain "done" with a relationship? Do you think that standing up for yourself will just create conflict or rock the boat, so you hold your feelings inside?
  • Not taking time to experience pleasure: All work and no play? Not eating that piece of chocolate or having that glass of wine because it will "make me fat and undesirable?" Multi-tasking during your pedicure? (see also Pushing through.)
Recognize yourself or someone you know in any of these? ;-)

OK, so what can we do about it? Here are my ideas:
  • Acknowledge that fear is driving your behavior. You may be inclined to skip this, but as they say, recognizing you have a problem is the first step to moving through it. It can feel vulnerable to admit you are afraid, even to yourself, so it's not always easy! (If you happen to be a man or a professional woman, culture makes it worse, telling you this isn't desirable.)
  • Accept that fear may not be rational. A dear friend and I used to call some reactions / behaviors we'd have "IFs" (for "irrational fears"). You can logically and rationally think through something, but fear isn't likely to respond to those tactics, so accepting that can be freeing. (I can't tell you how many times I listed all the practical reasons why I shouldn't binge, as I was raiding the pantry and downing a box of cookies.)
  • Dive deep into fear. Yeah, I mean it. What are you really afraid of? That you'll end up homeless? Alone? Die? That no one will love you? That you'll lose your mind? That you're unlovable? Defective? That you'll cry forever and ever and never stop? Identify the real fears, and then either:
    • Imagine that your worst fear is really true. Totally counterintuitive, but see if you can FEEL into the fear on an emotional level, rather than trying to push it away with logic (that we know doesn't work). Be scared! Cry. Break a plate somewhere safe. Allow the fears to feel heard, listened to, seen. Breathe, and try your best to relax and surrender into it. Give it your full attention. When you emerge (which you will!) you may find that it's not as scary as all that, realize you'd ultimately be OK even if things went that way, discover that some things are truly beyond your control so you can release them, or that there are other choices you do have. Be open to the possibilities that letting go can show you!
    • Use "the work" to challenge the fear. Ever since I read "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie, I'm loving her four questions: 1) "Is it true? 2) Can you absolutely know that it's true? 3) How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought? 4) Who would you be without the thought?" Katie goes on to show us how to "turn the thought around", so if you're interested, check out her site. I found that when I started doing this with my (vast amount of) automatic negative thoughts (many of which were IFs), I couldn't end up getting past questions 1 or 2 (because the answer is either absolutely, unequivocally "yes" or "no", and it was never realistically 100% "yes".
  • Do it anyway. Do what? Whatever it is you're afraid of. Let yourself cry and throw a tantrum, even if you fear never stopping. Finish that report or presentation, even if it's scary to think you might actually be successful. Slow down and take time for you, even if it means someone else may temporarily get upset with you for being "selfish". Tell your significant other that you need him to step up and help with the housework, or with the kids, even if it means having a discussion. Savor that glass of wine, rolling it around in your mouth as if your job was as a taster or critic. Fake it until you make it. Smile. Live today as if you had no fear.
Other ideas? Please share your comments!

Copyright: zigf / 123RF Stock Photo

My Solemn Vow to Self-Care

This afternoon, I am having a much-needed pedicure. Over the past month my poor feet and toes have been through numerous walks, hikes, yoga, and dance classes. They need some pampering, and a fresh new color! If you're anything like me, just "making an appointment" for such an indulgence can take a few weeks, as other, more important things (likely not at all related to self-care!) take priority.

And, if you're anything like me, actually ENJOYING these precious moments of self-care is equally difficult. The last time I had a pedicure, I preemptively apologized to the nice lady working with my feet because I had my iPod on and headphones in--likely listening to a module in my training toward becoming a certified Eating Psychology Coach. Yet of course the entire time, I found my eyes glued to the subtitles of the "chick flick" (possibly Legally Blonde 2) that played on the wide-screen TV in the boutique-like nail salon. Now what was it he said again? Repeat that please! ;-)

So today, as I embark on this hour of self-care, I solemnly vow not to take an iPod/headphones, a phone, a book, or anything else that might distract me from completely spacing out and getting completely lost and engrossed in some absolutely ridiculous movie. Can I do it?

Feel free to check in with me about that and ask how it went! :-)

AND, can YOU set aside some time for REAL, non-multitasking, complete surrendering and letting go of obligations, worries, work, etc. self-care today? JOIN ME!

Copyright: domenicogelermo / 123RF Stock Photo

20 May 2014

Rice Paper Wraps Can Make Quick, Easy, & Healthy Lunches or Snacks

I've been making variations on these wraps for awhile now, and they've turned out to be very convenient for lunches and/or snacks, especially if you have to eat on the run. Here's the version I made today:
A "Wrap-Making Workstation"

Ingredients (per wrap)
  • 1 Vietnamese brown rice spring roll wrapper
  • 1/3 piece of Emerald Cove Organic Pacific Nori
  • 1/2 piece of a whole heart of palm (from a can, sliced lengthwise into 2 narrow strips)
  • 1 slice organic avocado
  • 1/4 organic tomato (chopped)
  • 1/4 c or less snow pea shoots (ends trimmed off)
  • 1/4 c or less upland cress leaves
  • 1 slice Applegate Naturals roasted turkey breast (if non-veg)
I like to cut everything up and prepare a little "workstation" so I can then just focus on making a bunch of wraps at once.

Directions
Ingredients Across Nori
  • Rinse the spring roll wrapper under warm water until it's wet, and press it down on a hard surface (for the photo I used a blue cutting surface, but honestly I find it best to do on a clean piece of granite counter top!)
  • Place the nori in the center so there's a strip to work with. 
  • At the center of the nori, place the heart of palm strips, the avocado strips.
  • In the gaps, place the chopped tomato.
  • Put the snow pea shoots and upland cress leaves on top.
  • If going non-veg, place the turkey breast slice on top of everything (it works nicely to hold in the other ingredients).
  • Fold in the right and left sides of the wrap, squishing other ingredients slightly more into the center.
  • While holding the sides as best you can, flip the end of the wrap that's closest to you up and around the other ingredients so they're secure. Then, holding in the sides and the top, roll tightly. 
Wraps on a Platter
Tip: This takes some practice. if you're having trouble, try fewer ingredients--it's easy to want to put in too much!

I generally make a bunch at once, put them on a platter, cover them with plastic wrap and stick them in the fridge. Sometimes there's a bit of condensation that shows up, but that helps keep them sticky; they dry out quickly again when you take them out. I'd recommend eating them within a few days, especially if you use avocado.

Other ingredients I've put into wraps include:
  • Thinly sliced carrot or cucumber
  • Different Applegate lunchmeats (like the turkey bologna) 
  • Cooked shrimp (sliced-in-half lengthwise)
  • Other sprouts (e.g. alfalfa) or greens (spinach, arugula, etc.)
And, if you have to eat on the go, you can generally fit 2 into a ziplock baggie. :-)

10 May 2014

How Our Ways of Speaking & Listening Can Mess Up Our Relationships

This morning I was reading David Deida's "Blue Truth: A Spiritual Guide to Life & Death and Love & Sex", and a particular passage ruffled my feathers a bit.

Deida was explaining that people with masculine energies are more directive, while those with feminine energies offer "invitations to action". He says:
For instance, you are supposed to direct someone, even your lover, by telling him or her what to do rather than by inviting their action through expressing life's feeling. Your masculine statement, "Please turn on the heat," is considered more honest than your feminine invitation-through-feeling-expression, "I'm feeling really cold." People who are particularly proud of their masculine capacity consider this feminine style of invitation to be manipulative and covert. (p.118).
Arrgh!! Sigh!! Grrrr!!! And unfortunately, YES.

Thinking through my most recent romantic relationships, I can completely relate to this. In talking with men, I have become very specific about what I want them to do, and sometimes even when and how I want them to do it. I have even coached female clients to do this to help them improve their relationships.

What Deida goes on to say, however, is that when females fully embrace this masculine way of being and talking, it leaves little room for the men in relationship with us to step up and take charge with a solution. In other words, we don't "open a space in the moment for your lover to fill with masculine direction." (p. 120). And since the masculine desires freedom from obligation above all else, this tell-him-what-to-do approach will (at minimum) suck the fire out of your relationship (as there is little feminine energy to play with the masculine), and (at worst), result in his wanting out.

Deida's not the only one I've heard saying that passion is sparked from clear masculine and feminine energies playing off each other (called having "polarity"), just the most recent. And after reading his "Way of the Superior Man," in which he very clearly articulated everything I've always wanted from a romantic relationship with a member of the opposite sex, I respect his advice. Here's my trouble and frustration: my experience has been that when I say something like "I'm feeling really cold" (which apparently is my natural, feminine tendency), men either:
  • don't hear me speak (i.e. they're not listening at all)
  • can't translate the invitation into the direct request "Please turn on the heat"
  • don't act on that request
Deida goes on to encourage women to revisit this "invitation-through-feeling-expression" way of speaking, and what I like about this book is that he also caveats that with:
...if your masculine direction is more evolved than your lover's is, then you shouldn't surrender to your lover's masculine." (p. 133).
The "Way of the Superior Man" was all about how men need to create a deep sense of trust in their relationships, with Deida illustrating through thought-provoking prose how men do and do not "show up", thereby creating an inconsistency that does not lend itself to deep trust and opening by the feminine. In "Blue Truth", he speaks to men about how to re-engage with their masculine energy by "deepening their attention", which I agree is necessary for re-creating some masculine/feminine polarity, as well as trust and ways of speaking and listening that restore some of the passion in relationships!

Note: Before anyone gets riled up, please know that I'm not saying ALL men or ALL women have this issue, and know that I am very masculine in many ways (though as of late I'm exploring and trying to embrace more of my femininity). It's just something I've noticed in my personal experience.

What's been your experience? Are you a woman who has become more masculine in your way of speaking? Are you a man who frequently tunes out your partner because she's always "hinting" rather than saying what she really wants? How can we, as women, get a little more comfortable with our feminine voice? How can we, as men, get more attentive so our women trust us more?

07 May 2014

4 Ways to Not Lose Your S**t While in Traffic

When I moved to Austin a few months ago, a local friend warned me about the traffic here. Being from Boston--where over the course of the past 13 years I honed my wicked Massholian driving skills--I casually brushed off his warnings much like I'd flick away a buzzing insect. Now, 5 months into adjusting to life in Texas, I will say that I'm still quite puzzled by how people drive here. I honestly don't get it, and I'm pretty confident that it's a large contributor to the traffic issue. But, I digress.

There have been times when I have felt stressed while in traffic; several local clients of mine have also expressed that driving is a source of lots of stress and tension for them (especially if they're Yankees like me). So, here is some advice about how not to lose your s**t while in traffic, regardless of where you're commuting to or from!
  1. Find ways to experience pleasure / fun: this is actually my favorite strategy, which is why I list it first. An example of a safe way to do this while driving (or rather sitting in a parking lot that should be a highway) is to put on some awesome music. I prefer the up-beat, old-school, belt-it-out variety, but you may prefer more relaxing, new-age, meditative tunes, or listening to that book you'd never have time to sit down and really read.
     
  2. Generate compassion for other drivers: this may be the most difficult, and also the most rewarding technique. Instead of thinking of what "that guy/gal" isn't doing right, try to imagine all the ways they are just like you. Maybe they're tired, hungry, or just had a fight with their partner. Maybe their minds are on their jobs, or thinking about doing something more fun. Another way of doing this is recognizing that it's not THEY who are traffic; to them, YOU are traffic!
     
  3. Practice breathing: so many of us breathe shallowly throughout the day, and we are more prone to it when feeling stressed out. Breathing deeply engages the parasympathetic nervous system, increasing our oxygen intake and helping us feel calm and centered. Yet, we don't often have time to sit down and focus on our breath in meditation. As part of your daily self-care, use the fact that you're sitting (especially when you're not moving) to try a simple breathing exercise like counting your breath: e.g. "one" on your inhale, "two" on your exhale, "three" on your inhale, and so on. Don't force your breath, just notice how it is naturally. And when you lose count, notice that, and begin at one again. (Check out Andrew Weil's site for some other useful breathing exercises--though be careful of which ones you choose to engage in while driving! You never want to feel lightheaded or overly distracted.)
     
  4. Create a mental gratitude list: we often read that listing things we're grateful for can help improve our mood and improve our relationships, among other benefits. But taking time to do this in a journal (at least for me) rarely happens. So, why not use the time in traffic to start listing off all the things you're grateful for? You can start with your current day, or look to your past, or even run through your intended future plans. Or you can think about people, places, or things. For more ideas, check out 60 Things to Be Grateful For in Life.
We tend to think of being "stuck" in traffic as negative, but each of the above strategies ask for a shift in our perspective. More specifically, traffic gives us time to enjoy and engage in practices for stress reduction. Since most of us find it difficult to include time for self-care as part of our typical day, traffic offers this to us. (Think of it this way: it's like when you're run down because you're doing too much, and then you get sick. Your body actually forces you to rest and slow down.) So, if we re-frame the time we spend behind the wheel, traffic is actually a gift!

How can YOU make your experience of being in traffic a gift today? If you have another idea to share, please let me know. We can use all the help we can get. :-)

13 March 2014

Meditating Your Way to Healthy Digestion

In my previous post, I described 4 ways that yoga can support your nutrition and weight loss goals. Here, I'll offer some advice about how a mindful meal meditation might move you along in these endeavors as well.

About Meditation & Mindfulness

Meditation is essentially a practice in training one's mind, so it can be done anywhere, using anything as a point of focus. Applying meditative techniques when moving throughout one's day can be thought of as mindfulness. Since we eat at least 2-3 times a day, meal times are a natural opportunity for meditation, using food as our focus.

A Mindful Mealtime Meditation to Try

Light some candles, dim the lights, maybe put on some relaxing background music. Ensure there are no potential distractions, nothing within reach to multitask with. Then, sit down at a table in front of your plate, and take a moment to connect with your meal. Look down at your food, noticing the different colors and textures, as well as the arrangement of the food. You might like to use a simple statement, like, "I eat this food to be healthy and happy, to care for and nourish my body." This prepares your body for a relaxed eating experience.

Take only enough food as will comfortably fit on your utensil. Notice the first contact of the food with your tongue. See if you can identify the flavors: sour, salty, sweet, bitter, and so on. Notice how the food changes form as you chew it slowly. To help you focus on this, it may be helpful for you to place your utensils (or food, if it's hand-held) back down on your plate between bites. If you get distracted or find yourself hurrying, simply notice, take a deep breath and start again.

When your plate is empty, observe that. Bring your attention to your belly, and notice that you are nourished and satisfied.

Note: A nice book for bringing meditation into your daily life is Making Space by Thich Nhat Hanh, from which some of these concepts were adapted.

Why This Matters

In Inside Tract, Mullen et al. state that “mindful eating is one of the most important techniques you can use [to improve your frame of mind and prepare yourself for excellent digestion].” In Digestive Wellness, Lipski posits that "focus[ing]...awareness of the favors in each bite...can dramatically enhance [people's] total digestive function more completely than can enzymes, bitters, or other digestive supplements."

Why? Because eating mindfully and with presence not only activates the relaxation response, but also initiates the first phase in the digestive process, called the cephalic phase. Cephalic means "of the head", and it's how the brain registers that the body is about to receive a meal. It's how the brain knows to "turn on" digestion by doing things like releasing enzymes and activating stomach acids, as two examples. When we don't pay attention to our food as we eat it, we bypass this phase, meaning:
  • our digestive capacity (i.e. ability to break down, process, and assimilate nutrients from the food) is hampered by 40-60%
  • we are more likely to overeat because we are not aware that we are full
  • our digestive system has to work harder overall, which can result in issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and over time, more serious ones like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Note: Why Being Mindful Matters is a nice, readable article on this topic.