simple pleasure of the week: to celebrate the season

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I love it when the seasons begin to change.  I've been noticing different scents in the air, leaves turning golden and red, fall vegetables and fruits coming into the markets, and weather shifting in subtle ways.  This is a time I enjoy creating my own transitions to celebrate the seasonal shift. I do this with food and decor among other traditions.  I switch  to cooking hot soups, and heartier casseroles.  Sweater weather also brings a color change to my wardrobe. Autumnal colors replace the light neutrals in my home and on my body.  I'm drawn to the scents that mimic what attracts me outside, pumpkin candles and spiced tea suddenly are just the thing to create a mood.  Noticing and celebrating each season is a simple pleasure.

what are you using to numb out?

I'm coming off of a month where I had been working a lot, picking up extra shifts. It was too much. Even though I love my job, I didn't have balance. During this time, I felt this sense of dis ease, something wasn't right. I felt unsatisfied. I felt like I was working towards nothing, as though I had been working harder, but it wan't getting me anywhere. I bought more things, justifying my extra work days as time that had gotten me that extra treat, but I was still feeling unsatisfied, and down. Finally, I realized that I had been working for "things" and those things, didn't satisfy my heart or soul. I was using the extra shopping to numb out to the fact that I had lost balance. I felt like I was working for nothing because I was, in a sense. I was working for "things" which had no value as far as the heart is concerned, and using things as a means of feeding the sense of dissatisfaction that arises when one's soul isn't satisfied. It got me thinking....what do I need to feed my soul.  I didn't need more beautiful things in my home to feel happier, or to feel satisfied by life. I needed to get back to living in a way that feels satisfying rather than seeking without for that satisfaction. 

We all numb out with something, thinking that if we could just have (fill in the blank), we would feel happier. We all use something to decrease feelings we don't want to feel. Drugs and alcohol are an obvious, but buying stuff, dieting, staying busy, constant traveling, television, social media and internet, overexercising, eating disorders, self-harm, sex, flirting, can all be ways we humans numb out to the fact that something isn't working in our lives. Most of the aforementioned can also be part of a healthy life as well (with exception of self-harm, eating disorders, and overexercising), it's how we use them that make them either healthy or unhealthy. I can tell you from experience, that if you use them to numb out, these things will only leave you feeling more unsatisfied. They will feed and fuel your dissatisfaction, forcing you to either realize what's going on and grow, or propel you into using these things even more to numb out of the now greater dissatisfaction. Only you can stop and reflect on your behaviors and determine which of them are used to numb out. Only you can determine whether you have balance in your life, whether your life revitalizes your energy or drains you of it. What do you need to feel satisfied with the life you are living? Everyone's balance looks different, but you'll never find it if you don't take the time to inquire.

simple pleasure of the week: being your own mode of transportation

I know, I know, majority of America just isn't set up for walking and biking, leaving us dependent upon oil via cars, and/or buses. It's so nice when you can be your own mode of transportation though, to work, brunch, shops, or meet ups with friends. The wonderful thing about being your own mode of transportation is you are able to enjoy the journey. Focus subtly shifts from destination to also encompass the journey to your destination as well. Walking or biking slows down travel and you are able to notice the environment on a deeper level. I've found that walking to restaurants or shops, also gives me a deeper sense of connection to my community. If you're walking/biking to a restaurant, the journey home is a nice way to burn off calories and help digest your food. My husband and I often walk to the local supermarket to pick up groceries for dinner, and then walk home. It turns out to be about a 20 min walk each way, but it gives us a sense of satisfaction to know that we got some exercise and had a chance to truly connect without distracting electronics along the way. If you live in a big city, you already get to enjoy this simple pleasure, but if you're part of a suburban community, it may be a bit more difficult. Sometimes, we drive to town, park and then spend the day wandering around, walking to a coffee shop, looking in shops, and then walking to lunch or dinner. 

You could even make a day out of it, biking to and from town, locking your bikes and then walking around in between. Give this simple pleasure a try while the weather is still beautiful out.

Happy Weekend! 

self-help books that live up to the hype

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I'm not one to get excited about self-help books. I'd prefer to experience something myself and then decide the right path or action to take from there. To me it is similar to walking into a clothing store and the salesperson running up to me asking if they can help me find something. My response is always no. I know myself and my style better than anyone else and enjoy the experience of wandering around a shop until I come across that perfect item all on my own. With that being said, my perception of self-help books has shifted a bit in recent years after stumbling upon some great reads. There is something wonderful about books that cover a very specialized topic that has caught my interest.  I have been really enjoying ones that teach me something that not only improves my health and well-being, but examines a topic I may never know about otherwise. That is the case for these four books below. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of them. They've given me greater insight and are all "page turners". That is a lot coming from me. I don't finish many books because I'm a very slow reader and so when I do it has to be something that really grabs my attention and keeps me focused. 

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. With a category-by-category decluttering process and the concept of only having things in your home that "spark joy", this book touched a nerve. It may have to do with my slight OCD, but reading this really did make me excited to clean and organize. I have been moving more towards a minimalist approach in my home and this book is helping me get there. Having only items that bring joy  allows me to feel an increased sense of calm and contentment. 
  • French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guilano. This book is not about dieting, but about living a healthier lifestyle in order to keep the body at an equilibrium and avoid putting on those extra pounds. I have spoken a little bit about it already when discussing my "no-diet" diet. The book also transports you into the French lifestyle, examining the difference between French and American eating habits. Some great tricks and tips were picked up or reintroduced from this read.
  • The Microbiome Diet by Raphael Kellman. I kept hearing about the microbiome and healing your gut. I also kept hearing claims about pre and probiotics. I really wanted to learn more and picked up this book on a recommendation from Ashley. It explores these concepts from the perspective of an internist who specializes in holistic medicine. 
  • Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. As I enter my 30s I have started to think more about motherhood and planning for a family of my own. I find myself bringing this book up in conversation with friends and family. It opened my eyes to a parenting style that differs from that here in America, without one way being "better" than the other. This is an entertaining and easy read, my favorite in this list I think.

simple pleasure of the week: napping

A lazy Sunday with a 20 minute nap thrown in is what I call a day well spent. There is something about a perfectly timed nap that leaves me feeling well rested and energized. Plus, waking up with the sun still shining feels so good. Pair it with a hammock to lay in and I'm as happy as can be. There are times however where I feel almost guilty taking a nap, thinking I should be more productive or enjoying my day fully awake. What I came to find recently is that research shows napping really can be beneficial for your health. It can boost creativity, help with memory and relaxation, and can lower blood pressure. No more guilt for me! Check out the infographic below to find out how to take the perfect nap.

10 ways to love yourself

I'm pretty sure we don't love ourselves enough. If you're someone who struggles with self-esteem and/or with self-love, then increasing your self-love behaviors is very important. I think most of us know that our beliefs and thoughts influence our behaviors, but fewer people know that our behaviors can also influence our thoughts and beliefs. So there really is some truth to that phrase "fake it 'til you make it". The mind doesn't like to have unexplained experiences and therefore works to justify our behaviors. Thus, if you perform behaviors daily, over time that represent self-love, you are more likely to begin cultivating self-love. Even if you have great self-esteem, it's still nice to show yo'self some sweet sweet love regularly to keep your mind, body, and soul healthy. Below are 10 ways to love yourself:

  1. Dress yourself in an outfit you love. Some days are just bad and I wake up not excited about the day ahead of me. On those days I make sure to wear an outfit I'm excited about, because it makes the day a little bit better. Dress in clothes that make you feel good about your body, flattering clothes, with fabrics that feel good. Wear accessories you love. Do this every day. You deserve to enjoy the things you cover your body with. 
  2. Play your favorite song on your way to work, and sing along shamelessly. There is power in music. Music goes straight to our emotions, so play your favorite song and sing along or not, whatever feels best for you.
  3. Take an extra day off work. Call in sick, or schedule a vacation day in which you focus only on you (e.g. home spa day with DIY pedicure, body scrub, a good book, or a long cafe visit).
  4. Take a bubble bath. Candles, music, wine, sparkling water are all optional but encouraged. 
  5. Meditate or take a restorative yoga class. I'm placing emphasis on restorative, gentle activities rather than strenuous. If you are someone who needs to increase the self-love, an intense yoga or exercise session could have the potential to turn into another way to push yourself beyond your limits. Restorative yoga and meditation, are all about relaxation, and giving back to yourself, so stick to something gentle.
  6. Look into the mirror with the sole purpose of finding things you love about your appearance. We all have something we like about ourselves. It could be your hands, or your eyes, your smile or your hair. We often place emphasis on the things we don't like about our appearance, things we want to change and don't put enough emphasis on the things we do like. Taking a minute to do just that can help to shift your self-view.
  7. Get a massage, pedicure, manicure, or facial. Pampering yourself is an awesome way to show yourself love. Not only are you taking the time to seek out ways to give back to yourself through these activities, but you're also spending money on yourself, further reinforcing the belief that you deserve to be loved and cared for. Of course, this is not license to rack up debt on these types of activities but it is a nice treat every once in a while. If you're short on cash, or trying to save, you can always do an at-home spa treatment (e.g. face mask, pedicure). The key to this one is to choose the activity with the intention of pampering yourself not to make yourself "better" (e.g. don't get a pedicure because you think your feet are gross and you need to make them look better, get one because you want to show yourself some love). 
  8. Take a walk near something beautiful. You deserve to see beauty. You deserve to have time set aside simply for walking near something beautiful or inspiring. If you live near nature, this should be an easy one but even big cities, have beautiful views and beautiful streets. Go there. Walk. Breathe deeply, and enjoy this time.
  9. Set aside time for lazy reading. This could be a book, magazine or blog. It doesn't matter what you read, but make it something you love. Setting aside time just for lazy reading is an awesome way to say "I love me, I'm setting aside time just to enjoy reading (fill in the blank)"
  10. When choosing your meals, think of foods to nourish yourself. So often, we choose foods for weight loss (e.g. low fat, low carb). This can easily turn into the opposite of self-love (e.g. choosing foods to lose weight because you don't think you're good enough the way you are). It's ok to want to drop some lbs and get healthy, but shifting your goal to caring for your body through food choices can get you there even quicker because it's coming from a place of love rather than hate. 

Lastly, do these actions with the intention of loving yourself. Intention is the key here! Any of these activities, if done without intention, will have no effect. Intention is really what gives these actions their power. Lastly, remember, that we all deserve love, first and foremost from ourselves! Our relationship with ourselves is the foundation for the rest of our relationships to rest on so make it a strong, positive foundation. 

whatever opens us

Mark Nepo is on my short list of deeply inspiring writers. I love this quote, because it reminds me that we consistently become opened, awakened. We shed layers like insects and reptiles and constantly evolve. Certain experiences, people, and places awaken parts within us. We can suddenly become aware of something we had been blind to in the past, a new perspective, a new us is born. What opens us may not always be pleasant, and in fact, it's often the hardships and tragedies that force us to grow. Sometimes, wonderful things open our hearts, falling in love, for example, or becoming a new parent helps to awaken something that may have been living dormant within us all along. I believe Nepo describes it as being "broken open", a term which sounds painful and almost violent, but if you picture an agate stone, rough and brown on the outside, with beautiful crystals on the inside, it's easy to see how being broken open can help us to evolve into someone greater, emotionally strong, and emotionally beautiful. Rejoice in the being broken open, awakening to something greater, and try not to attach to the you you've left behind. It feels pretty good to realize you've grown, even if from a tough situation. Have a great weekend everyone.

one yogis journey on the Camino de Santiago

We are always students on this journey through life. As such, we are not experts on every topic, and are always looking to learn more, experience more, and do more. Because of this, Ash and I decided to start a Q&A segment on the blog. A way to find out more about the extraordinary things this world has to offer from those who have experienced something we have yet to see or do. Hopefully this Q&A post is the first of many to come. I know I got a lot out of reading these answers, and hopefully some of you will too. 

My yoga teacher, Judy Refuerzo, recently completed El Camino de Santiago (also known as The Way of St. James) in Spain. I wanted to find out more about her journey and thought this would be a good opportunity to share what I learn. The 4-8 week trek has been on my bucket list for years and I plan to complete it sometime in the near future. For those of you who do not know of the pilgrimage or haven't seen the movie, The Way, it is a spiritual journey for all faiths that has been traversed for thousands of years by people of all ages and backgrounds. Most walk, while others bike or ride horseback. I could write a whole post just explaining the pilgrimage in detail. To learn more, this is a great site here. For me, just the concept of being out in a beautiful place for over a month, disconnected, with nothing to do but walk to your next destination is enticing to say the least. The things you can discover about yourself and the world around you when in a setting like that while pushing yourself to the limits sounds incredible. Here is what I learned from Judy:

  • What made you decide to walk the Camino?  I wanted to do something memorable for my 60th birthday.  Usually for a big birthday I get a nice piece of jewelry but I’m tired of things and would rather have memories and experiences.  I wanted to prove to myself that I can do anything.  
  • Any tips to prepare for the walk? I don’t think you can prepare.  Of course you can get in your best physical shape but I saw people younger and supposedly fitter people than myself not make it, quit, or bus many of the sections. It’s all in your mind: either you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you’re right.  
  • Items that you have to have? I needed my poles (not good on the down hills).  But really I didn’t meet a single person who didn’t over pack.  Everyone brought too much.  Some people shipped their stuff to the end, some threw or gave it away and some wouldn’t let go and burdened themselves.  Pack light, you’re going to be carrying this stuff for long hours and many days.  If you forgot something or didn’t bring it, you will be able to find it when you need it (even poles).  Honestly the Universe will provide, you will be fine.
  • What motivated you to keep going? I’m not a quitter, I’m stubborn.  Some days it was hard, but you just get up and do it.  And once you get going, the day will surprise you.  You will see beauty, meet interesting people, or have a shitty day, but at the end of each day you will feel a sense of accomplishment and gratitude.
  • Did you learn anything about yourself? That I’m not very good at self care.  I pushed myself at times when I shouldn’t have.  I was afraid of disappointing people and chose them over me.  I need to stop and take care of me.
  • What was a memorable moment?  Cruz de Ferro - the iron cross.  You’re suppose to bring a rock with you on the trip that represents all that you would like to leave behind, as you have a rebirth on the last half of the Camino.  It was a very emotional day for me, leaving my rock and letting go. 
  • Did anything happen that you weren’t prepared for? It was all very emotional for me, even though I didn’t let it show most of the time and held back a lot of tears (that I shouldn’t have). I wanted to cry at the simplest things, like for the slugs or snails getting crushed on the paths.  I had a real feeling of oneness with everything, a deep connection.
  • Did you meet anyone interesting? So many interesting people.  A 75 year old woman whose job (after she retired ) was to be Minnie Mouse for corporate Disney, so they flew her all over to big Disney events.  I think she may have cancer (she was bald and always wore a cap) but didn’t talk about it.  I also met a woman who was in a terrible accident and all through rehab and learning to walk again she knew she would do the Camino.  Young and old, people from all different countries, everyone had an interesting story.
  • What were you looking forward to once you got home? Well, my husband joined me in Spain at the end of the trip, I couldn’t wait to see him.  But I wanted to come home to my dogs, my bed and a veggie burrito with hot sauce and chips.
  • Would you have done anything differently? I would have taken more time, I think 2 months would be perfect.  It would have been nice to slow down, enjoy more, spend a couple nights in one place some times, do some touristy stuff.
  • Would you do it again? YES!!  Maybe a different route and definitely want to walk to the end of the world next time - Finisterre.

 

 

simple pleasure of the week: setting a mood

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I have had a busy few weeks to say the least. With students returning to CSUMB, my husband getting a new job, and putting our house on the market (Yes, we are moving! Up to the Bay Area I think. More to come as this develops!); I can feel stress building up in my body.  I try to create a moment in time to relax and focus my attention inward. It feels like a ritual to me, I use all five senses to alleviate stress in both my mind and body. For smell I light a candle or use my diffuser. For sight I look out my window or get a fire going in the fireplace. For sound I play my favorite calming music. For taste I make myself some tea. And for touch I will put on my comfy bathrobe and socks. We have spoken a bit about how to use your senses to de-stress in the past, but you can use these different senses to change your mood to whatever is needed. If you want to feel energized pick a citrus scent for your candle or diffuser, choose more uplifting music, put on an outfit that makes you feel good, and/or drink some cold water with lemon. To create a mood for focus try a scent with cinnamon or mint, which are known to increase attentiveness. As for sound, songs without lyrics are said to be helpful for concentration. Without words there won't be distraction from the task at hand or from your thoughts. Drink water. Apparently, dehydration leads to a lack of focus and short term memory issues. No matter what mood you want to set, it is best to achieve that without distraction from the internet or social media. Setting a mood is about clearing pathways in the brain and setting aside unnecessary distraction. Try turning off technology, or at least the unecessary open tabs if you need to be productive, and focus on this moment you have created. This whole simple ritual takes less than 15 minutes and is a wonderful way to put me in the right state of mind. 

the importance of savasana on and off the mat

Greetings everyone! Below is a submission rejected by elephant journal. While it wasn't right for their site, we still feel passionately about what has been written and wanted to share it with all of you. Hope it's helpful!

I was practicing yoga the other night, tired, struggling to make my muscles do what I wanted, and wishing our savasanas were longer in between each posture. Savasana is a restorative posture, done lying on your back, arms next to the body, palms up, feet gently pointed away from one another, totally relaxed. I began reflecting on the value of savasana, the balance between rest and exertion, and the importance of placing equal emphasis on both the passive and active forms of asana. I realized rest is equally as important as action, just as notes in a song are equally as important as the spaces between to create a melody. Such is life. The importance we place on rest, on creating open space, should be equal to that placed on producing, achieving, doing. Each feeds the other, in yoga, and in life. The amount of rest we provide ourselves in yoga feeds the energy we have for each posture. In turn, without movement or exertion, we cannot fully enjoy the savasana. Just as food tastes better when you are truly hungry, so does rest after intense effort. Each feeds the other in a mutualistic symbiotic relationship, neither more important than the other. The asana is our request to our bodies to give, and savasana is our opportunity to give back to our bodies. Yoga is the union between mind and body, physical and spiritual. Many postures involve countering of opposing forces, stretching and contracting, pushing and pulling, in an effort to create balance, and defy gravity. Yoga is a time for opposing forces to come together and create balance.

The importance of savasana and/or rest is also equally important in our lives. This concept of relationship between opposing forces to create balance can be taken off the mat to enhance our wellbeing. In my experience, western culture does a poor job at balance. In my previous job, I ate at my desk, spent late hours at the office, thought about work on the weekends, and neglected my need for balance. Even if I scheduled in free-time, often I failed to take advantage of this off the mat "savasana". I failed to be fully present in the practice of giving back to myself.  Just as in yoga, the rest is equally important as the work. We ask our minds and our bodies to perform for us, to give so we can be productive, create, get things done, but often fail to recognize we must equally give back to our minds and bodies. Rest feeds the energy we are able to put into our work. Work allows our rest to feel truly deserved. 

Taking full advantage of, and prioritizing savasana on and off the mat is easier said than done especially in this modern society in which multitasking is a norm, and busyness appears to be ever increasing. In my own journey, this process included two major precepts. The first was a shift in perspective towards equality of importance given to my savasanas as my active asanas in yoga on the mat, and work/productivity off the mat. The second was to focus solely on my savasana while I was engaged in it.

On the mat, this looks like focusing solely on savasana when you are in savasana and avoiding the urge to wipe away sweat, fidget, or think about life stressors. On the mat, focusing on savasana with the same intensity you would focus on an active asana by tuning into your body, striving to allow every muscle to relax as you breathe deeply. It may also look like taking an extra savasana when needed, when you notice your body just doesn't have the energy to perform the active asanas. You can use savasana as a tool to give back to your body in your yoga practice. 

Off the mat, this looks like focusing solely on your meals during lunch breaks, scheduling in time every day to give back to yourself (e.g. through reading an inspiring book, dinner with friends, a walk after work, preparing a healthy meal for yourself, taking a vacation), and trying to focus solely on that activity while engaging in it. Savasana in life should be a verb, one that signifies caring for your mind, body, and/or soul in some way. A daily ritual in which you identify how to give back to yourself at the end of work, or first thing in the morning, can support the shift towards savasana off the mat. 

In yoga, the point of the practice is to recharge us, not to drain us. If we aren't balanced in yoga class, aren't breathing, utilizing our savasana, if we are giving maximum exertion all the time, the yoga becomes draining rather than restorative. The same is true for life if we aren't resting, if we aren't recharging at a balance rate to the amount worked. If we aren't taking time to be fulfilled by our relationship, seeking out inspiration, caring for our mind and body, the life will drain us, burn us out, tax our bodies, minds, and ultimately our health. Balance is a practice, made up of the choices we make every day, and a constant renegotiation of priorities, as our lives change. Balance is also, often achieved by becoming unbalanced, and finding our way back by discovering what wasn't working. Rarely do I have perfect balance, but by placing intention on taking my savasanas on and off the yoga mat, I have a higher likelihood of creating a sustainable, fulfilling life.