Can We Chat?

* Trigger Warning- This post is about mental health with words such as depression, self-harm, suicide, substance abuse, etc. Please take care of yourself at all times. If this subject is too much for your mental state, please refrain from reading on. Your safety is my number one concern.

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A few weeks ago I attended a workshop titled Mental Health First Aid. It was offered through the school I am currently enrolled in. The topic intrigues me on many levels. For one, there are many people in my circle of trust that are effected by depression, addiction, self-harm and suicide. In 2016 I started talk therapy as a way to learn better communication skills to improve my relationships with my circle of trust. And while those relationships have improved, I continue talk therapy each week because it allows me an opportunity to work through my own emotions and feelings of every day life. Secondly, while I study gerontology, I am learning how prevalent mental health is in the aging population.

I thought this course would be a great chance to learn how to spot when someone might be in need of help and to provide tools and resources until they are in a safe environment.

With words such as mental health, self-harm, suicide, substance abuse, depression, and trauma becoming a little more mainstream, there is still a big stigma attached. In one exercise over the day, we were asked as a group to write the alphabet on a piece of paper. From there, going through the whole list from A-Z, shout out a word associated with mental health. Words like-

  • anxious

  • bad mood

  • crying

  • depressed

  • embarrassed

  • fear

  • grieving

  • hopelessness

  • isolated

  • judged

  • klingly

  • lonely

  • moody

  • negative

  • overwhelmed

  • pessimistic

  • questioning

  • reserved

  • sad

  • trauma

  • unmotivated

  • victimized

  • worried

  • eXtreme

  • young adult

  • zaney

It didn’t take more than 60 seconds to get through the whole alphabet. Because they roll so easily off of our tongue. Yet, we hold a lot of shame to these words, whether because we experience them ourselves or we don’t want guilt by association. The more we hold open conversations around mental health, the more people in our lives are likely to seek help.

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One thing that I have realized over the years is that health is health. There is no separation between physical health and mental health. When the body is feeling sluggish, stiff, lethargic and blah, there is a great chance the mind will have many of the same qualities. When the mind feels clear, calm, we tend to physically move with much more ease. As the great Nikki Myers, one of my teachers likes to say, “our issues live in our tissues.”

Another real eye opening experience for me during the training was that the instructor had about 15 different illnesses, ailments, and health issues on separate pieces of paper. Our goal was to put them in order of least invasive to most invasive. A few of them included: low back pain, non invasive breast cancer, sever dementia, PTSD, being legally blind, gingivitis, bipolar, Alzheimers, low grade depression, etc. As a whole, we did fairly well in putting them into the correct order. One participant made a great observation at the end. She stated that the least invasive often get the most attention and money when it comes to research. Back pain, breast cancer, the things that we can physically identify with. The mental ailments, don’t get the same attention.

And you might not agree with that. But here is something to think about. When was the last time you knew someone that was “physically ill?” Their family and friends surround their bedside, bring food to the home, help care for them. Now, when was the last time you stood at someone’s bedside because they were struggling with PTSD? Or brought a home cooked meal to someone with sever grade depression? As a society, we struggle with how we react to physical and mental health.

Moving toward the later part of the day, this is when some of the real work started for me. We had learned some cues through role playing of signs and symptoms to look for when we suspect self-harm, suicide or substance abuse are at the front of their mind. Through role playing, we had to ask the hard question, “Are you thinking of suicide?” This was a real struggle at first. My relationship to this word has really shifted in many directions since I was 18 years old.

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It was then that a dear friend from school took his own life. And that incident may have been the seed that was planted for me to get to where I am today. If I had taken this particular course back then, I may not have been emotionally ready to handle conversations with confidence, like I can today. Many of us think that if we ask such questions like “Are you thinking of self-harm or suicide?” that we increase their risk of following through. But in fact, it is just the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, that wouldn’t be the first blatant question I ask. There are many steps and observations that lead up to the question. Using an acronym of assessing the situation, listening without judgement, giving resources for help, encouraging seeking professional care and encouraging self care are all about the process. And the process may not be a linear line. Just as our health ebbs and flows, so do conversations around our health.

Sometimes the most important question to begin with is Can we chat?

be well-

Resources for Help-

National Suicide Prevention Line 1-800-273-8255

SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 1-800-662-4357


Making friends with Ourselves

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Just before the holidays, a friend from back home posted a question on social media wanting information on where one could buy a meditation cushion. She was looking to purchase for an eight year old girl who was part of “adopt a family” during the Christmas season. I jumped on the opportunity to help her out. For me, it is exciting to see that someone so young was invested in the idea of meditation.

There are many preconceived notions about what meditation is, what the results are supposed to be and “Am I doing this right?”

Once in a while I listen to the podcast 10% Happier with Dan Harris. With each guest, he starts the conversation with the same question- How did you get into meditation? When I think about the answer, my gut instinct is to say about ten years ago during yoga teacher training. But in reality, the more I contemplate that question, the first seeds of meditation were planted around third grade. My teacher then, would lead our class through a visualization practice that I still remember to this day. It started with closing our eyes and settling into our chair. From there she had us imagine a bucket of paint being poured from the crown of the head and filling the whole body. Once the whole body was covered in paint, then we would imagine all things that bring us joy. She encouraged us to use all of our senses.

When I first began the practice of meditation as an adult, I thought it was about clearing the mind, finding calmness and being “zen.” And I know that I am not alone in this thinking. Over the last few years I have taken a deeper dive into what meditation is for me, how I relate to the cushion and what comes up as I sit.

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My main practice is shamatha meditation. You can learn more about that practice by clicking in this link. What I appreciate about this particular practice is the opportunity to see the mind as it is. As a teacher once said, “It offers us the opportunity to become friends with ourselves.” When we become friends with ourselves, then we are more present for those around us. Being present for those around us is one of the greatest gifts we can offer anyone.

Some of the preconceived notions I once had about meditation are now byproducts of a regular practice. There are glimpses in my day when my mind feels clear, calm or zen. For me, having a daily-ish practice is important. I say dayily-ish because it allows me to be softer or more lenient on myself if I can’t get the practice in on a particular day; circling back to the idea of making friends with myself.

I have many more thoughts on this subject that I will share at a later time. But for now, if you are looking for more resources, below are a few recommendations.

be well

Books-

  • Wherever You Go, There You Are- Jon Kabat-Zinn

  • 10% Happier- Dan Harris

  • Start Here Now- Susan Piver

  • The Road Home- Ethan Nichtern

  • Turning the Mind Into an Ally- Sakyong Mipham

  • You Are Here- Thich Nhat Hahn

Websites-

Articles-

Taking time to Reflect

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Nearly one year ago, I wrote my last blog piece. It was about filling the piggy bank of life; broken down into three different categories, vitality, connections and contributions. I spent a great deal of time in 2018 focusing on each of these aspects.

Vitality

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This bucket of life was filled with activities that would nourish the mind, body and soul. I went on (silent) retreat in March. And during that time, I took refuge. This has helped me find more of who I am, what I stand for and how I approach my every day life. I also spent more time being conscious with my nutritional habits and exercise. Boxing and BJJ are two of my new favorite forms of exercise when I can’t be out in the woods hiking or making my way down the mountain on a snowboard. Continuing the self-care practice of meeting with my therapist is something I hope to continue for years to come. I have come to learn that having this regular meeting allows me to talk through emotions and feelings on all sorts of subjects from things going on in my personal life to how I approach situations in our global community.

Connections

2018 provided me a couple of wonderful opportunities to connect with friends that live far away. In April, a dear childhood friend came to visit. I feel fortunate that we were able to spend a few days of quality time with one another. Good food, good wine and even better conversation was had. Sitting on the couch, going through our past from so many years ago was a treat. But what was even better was seeing how much we have both grown. The way we think and act, knowing how much that plays a role in today’s society. And while we know that we will disagree from time to time, it does not mean that we dismiss the other for their thought process.

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In August, I was lucky to spend time with my parents in Camden for a very low key vacation. Eating lobster every day was the only agenda item we had. A few other adventures included a trip to the flagship store of LL Bean, kayaking and hiking and driving through coastal Maine.

September brought me together with some college friends. At one point I was both teammate and roommate to each of these lovely ladies. Over the last several years, we have been living from coast to coast. So I used my 40th birthday as an excuse to gather us all in Chicago. I feel very blessed to have these strong, confident and independent women in my life.

People were not the only way to create connections this year. I found myself reading more books, both fiction and nonfiction. The MFA was a haven, especially when I felt a craving for creativity. And I discovered so many great podcasts. These were a wonderful alternative to listening/watching the every day news cycle.

Contributions

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This piggy bank of life is filled so many different ways. One of the reasons I left DC and moved to Boston fourteen years ago was because I was getting tired of the politics. This past year, I have spent more time standing up for what I believe is right when it comes to gun control, women’s rights, immigration, transgender rights, attacks against religious or spiritual homes. Attending the rallies, showing up, using my voice-that is democracy at its best.

Contributions also mean using my time, energy and other resources to causes that are important to me. I continue to donate platelets on a regular basis, signed up for Be the Match, support organizations important to me that need funding to keep up the great work they are doing.

I had hoped to spend more time in 2018 creating more content, both written and video. And while that will once again be a goal for 2019, I will not look harshly at myself for not doing more in 2018. Because this past year has been filled with so many great adventures in the woods, experiences with people from my past, coffee dates and dinners with friends.

May 2019 bring you and your loved ones health and joy.

be well-

Filling the Piggy Bank of Life

With a new calendar year upon us, that means resolutions galore.  I too was someone who would create resolutions, rarely following them all the way through.  Some of have stuck, but far more have fallen off.  After listening to the episode "How to Close the Books on 2017" on the Good Life Project podcast, I am approaching 2018 with a newer and fresher outlook.

There were two things I took away from that particular episode. 1) It is important to close the books on 2017 in order to create space for 2018.  By doing something physical such as taking a deep breath and exhaling it all out, going for a midnight run, a polar plunge or writing in your journal and closing that book for good, all of these acts a great ways to put an end to the year.  2) There are three buckets to life, how we fill them is up to us.

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I am adapting from the podcast, giving each bucket its own name and collectively calling them the "Piggy Bank of Life."

Each bucket is filled with things that bring joy, happiness, love, compassion, kindness and empathy to myself, friends, family and community (local and global).  Sometimes what is filled in one may spill into another.  That is what I love about this concept.  Individual or collective, it all goes into the same piggy bank.

Bucket 1- VITALITY

Vitality is filled with things that will bring personal growth and nourishment to the body, mind and spirit.  Examples include, but not limited to:

  • proper nutrition and exercise
  • more regeneration- meditation, constructive rest, vacation, retreats
  • structured and unstructured alone time to sit with my thoughts
  • continued weekly therapy
  • playing guitar, snowboarding, hiking and wandering aimlessly

Bucket 2- CONNECTIONS

Connections is the power to be fully present for myself or someone else.  Spending less time in front of a screen and more time face to face (when applicable).  What this means to me:

  • inviting friends/family from out of state to Boston for a visit
  • more phone calls and hand written notes
  • setting up social gatherings with friends who are near by
  • road tripping
  • walking in nature, swimming in the ocean, feeling the sand between my toes
  • sitting on my cushion

Bucket 3- CONTRIBUTIONS

Contributions are what I can give back to the community.  This means more than just a monetary donation to organizations that are important to me.  It also includes:

  • sitting next to a friend in need
  • having conversations around difficult topics such as politics, workplace harassment, race, gender and identity
  • standing up for causes such as immigration, health care and equality
  • volunteering my time and strengths
  • donating whole blood and platelets
  • creating more content in the form of written word and video
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While writing this piece, several ideas began to pop in my head about which bucket to begin with first.  There are many things I want to do and people to visit and ways to contribute.  No matter where I begin, I think it's a win-win.

2018 is going to be a great year!  I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

be well-

Annie, Annie- Wake Up!

* Disclaimer- This post is published based off the events of how I remembered them occurring.

July of 1986 started off great for me.  I was a 7 year old dressed in a blue dress as I walked down the aisle of my god mother's wedding.  A few days later I was swimming and splashing around the lake our family would visit each summer.  And then we would finish our summer adventure with a visit to both sets of grandparents at their respective family farms in southwest Iowa.  It was a great beginning to summer because we were spending some quality time with family that we rarely saw since moving to Wisconsin.

About a ten minute ride outside of town, the gravel road led to my maternal grandparent's house.  That's where I was napping on the couch when I recall grandma asking if I would like a hot dog for lunch.  When I said "no," that should have been an indicator something was wrong.

"Annie, Annie.  Wake up!"

One year later back on the farm!

One year later back on the farm!

To me the voice was faint, but loud enough to catch my attention, for an extremely brief moment.  It was my grandfather trying to wake me up.  We were in the ambulance headed to a hospital 30 miles away.  Apparently shortly after I said no to the hot dog, I began having a seizure.  When they called 911, it was suggested that to save time, my uncle drive me from the farm to town where the ambulance would be waiting for us.

Upon arrival, a spinal puncture was administered.  Bacterial spinal meningitis was the diagnosis.  For the first eight out of the total 14 days I was in the hospital, I lived in an oxygen tent.  I was floating in and out of consciousness due to a high fever.  Nurses fed me tylenol, which helped for short periods of time.  But then the fever would spike again to over 100 degrees.  Eventually it subsided and I was no longer in isolation with the big bubbled tent.  The entire staff took great care in making sure I was as comfortable as a seven year old could be under these circumstances.  

Patient care at every level.

I have been fortunate to be surrounded by nurses my entire life.  Through them, I earned by Girl Scouts First Aide badge.  I learned what it means to hold someone's hand with care when it is literally a life or death situation.  I learned what it means to show up even when it means your family might sacrifice to help others.

Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system.  It is important that organizations do everything possible to make sure they have all the resources they need to do their job.  That includes, pay, retirement, sick and vacation time and quality control within their place of work.

What I do have a problem with is when nurses say patient care is their number one concern but all of the following happen-

  • leaving their post an hour before a strike is about to happen
  • use of blow horns at all hours of the night so an eight year old cancer patient can't sleep through the night
  • calling in sick on the day they know they are supposed to be part of an operating room surgery procedure because they are currently working with out a contract just to make the hospital scramble and become backlogged

Patient Care.  That should be everyone's number one priority.  If I hadn't been a priority in 1986, who knows if I would even be here today.

#Inspiration

Sitting on a bench near the WWII Memorial in Washington DC with my grandfather, tourists would come up to him, shake his hand and say "You are a real hero. Thank you for your service."  Always the humble man, he would oblige and then respond with, "I'm no hero, the heroes are at the bottom of the sea."  This was a special moment I got to share with him, just the two of us spending some quality time together.

I grew up hearing about all the things he loved about being a sailor in the US Navy.  Later on in life, he, my grandmother and various other relatives would attend submarine conventions to reunite and reminisce about their time in the Navy.  On the rare occasion, he did speak about one thing that bothered him.  In 1937 he was serving as the helmsman on the USS Lexington that searched for Amelia Earhart.   I recall one conversation where he said one of his biggest regrets was never being able to find her.

As a young 20 year old tasked with trying to locate her, he considered Amelia a true inspiration and American hero.  

Merriam-Webster has a few different definitions for the word inspiration.  My favorite is the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions.  We often hear actors talk about life experiences which inspire them to play a role in a movie.  Or how an artist will draw upon objects or situations to get creative juices flowing.

I am inspired by 500,000 people marching for a cause they believe in.  I am inspired by a girl named Malala.  I am inspired by the addict who is trying to make it to midnight, saying to themselves "One day at a time."  I am inspired by the young boy on the train who gives up his seat for an elderly woman.  I am inspired by friends who raise money and participate in athletic events to raise awareness for rare genetic mutations.  I am inspired by people name Nick Bruck and Amelia Earhart.

"One person can make a difference, and everyone should try."- John F. Kennedy

When I look at the people who inspire it me, it lends itself to further inquiry.  

  • What did that person do to inspire me?
  • What emotions was I moved by?
  • How did I respond or react to those emotions?
  • Is what they did or do a path I want to follow or just observe from a distance?

A few months back I was having a conversation with my therapist about this type of inquiry and she called it meta.  Most people think of metta when they hear it used in a sentence, meaning loving kindness.  But meta is like building a spiderweb of inquiry, becoming aware of one's awareness.  It allows us to examine one object, or in my case at the time, I used the question- What is yoga?  From there I questioned what my definition of yoga is.  Who were/are my teachers.  What does the asana practice provide for me.  What does clarity mean.  Who taught the meaning of qi.  What sensations do I experience at the physical level, with the breath or with emotions.

This self reflection led me to create spiderwebs for other areas in my life too.  Such as my career in the wellness industry, education, sports.  It was a great learning tool for me because it allowed me the opportunity to think about all the difference experiences I have had, the people who have been in my life one way or another.  

I imagine if I were to do this particular practice again one year from now, a few answers may be similar with some being slightly different.  But to me that means I am growing.  As the great Muhammad Ali once said, “If a man looks at the world when he is 50 the same way he looked at it when he was 20 and it hasn’t changed, then be has wasted 30 years of his life.”

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

I imagine that we all have an idea in our own mind of what athletes are supposed to look like.  Perhaps ideas such as looking long and lean, sculpted arms, six pack abs, calves that pop out.  ESPN does a great job of reinforcing these perceived notions.  In the last few days they have announced the 2017 list of athletes for their Body Image issue.  Until it's posted, and you're interested in last year's issue, click here.  And I admit I get sucked into their vortex of "needing" to look at these fine specimen of world class athletes.  Part of me is interested in seeing how different sports create different body shapes.  Another part of me admires how dedicated they are to their particular sport and the importance it takes to stay in such great shape to play at such a high level.  And then part of me wonders how do they perceive themselves, their peers or the everyday weekend warrior athlete.

In college I had to read a book called Little Girls in Pretty Boxes by Joan Ryan for my sport psychology class.  The book was about the making and breaking of elite gymnasts and figure skaters.  What (primarily) female athletes endure from coaches to judges to the general public on everything from weight to hair/makeup to smiles, to their outfits.  I was appalled at some of the statistics.  What I recall a few of them being (since I read this in 1996, they may be off a bit, but you'll get the gist)-

  • When Mary Lou Retton won gold in 1984, the average USA gymnast was 5'3" and 115 lbs.
  • In 1996 when the USA team won gold, the average USA gymnast was 4'9" and 96 lbs.
  • Coaches made athletes run an extra 5 miles if they were caught eating a peach because they were hungry.
  • X-Rays of young kids are taken to see if they have "proper bone structure" to be a ballerina.  

I have met very few people that have never experienced some aspect of negative body image self talk or shaming at some point in their life.

"Have you gained weight?" "Are you sure you want to wear that?"  "You don't look like a yogi."  "Imagine how much faster you'd be if you lost just a few pounds." "He's only got one arm, how can he be a pitcher?" "Look, bionic man just crossed the finish line."

These simple one-liners can do terrible things to a person's psyche, both short and long term.

But thanks to social media, two particular articles popped up in my feed today that brought joy to me.

As someone that participates in many athletic or movement based events such as road races, yoga classes, indoor rock climbing, triathlons, I am encouraged when I see all sorts of shapes and sizes participating.  It makes me believe that we are on the right path and that one size does not fit all.  The next time I look in the mirror, it will be with clarity and confidence that I say, "You are enough."  I hope you can say the same.

Have questions about shifting your mindset around body image?

Drawing a Line in the Sand

I needed a break.  Life has been busy in general and I needed to let some things go.  Writing was one of those things.  But I have been keeping track of ideas swirling in my mind, and needed to be sure I was in the right frame of mind to put these on paper.  But after taking some time to reflect inwardly on myself, reflect on the world around us and have some meaningful conversations with friends, family and my therapist, I am back on track.

In the last few months I have spent much less time watching and reading all the negativity going on around the world.  I still stay informed, but to a lesser degree of over stimulation that often leads to sleepless nights, days filled with agitation and the same conversations over and over again.  Instead, I spend more of my time listening to music and podcasts, reading on a regular basis, sitting on the cushion and spending time with those who are most important.

This is one way I can draw a line in the sand, and set boundaries.  

I've spoken to many people about boundaries; what they mean, how far to push them and what happens when they get crossed.  One phrase I've heard over and over again is, "It's important to say no to the little things so you can say yes to the big things."  After reading a business journal article that someone gave me, this message really hit home.  The article spoke about how our society is so over scheduled, that even the weekend doesn't feel like we are replenished.   Many of us work Saturday or Sunday or both, many have social obligations to attend, laundry to be washed, groceries to be purchased.  Come Sunday nights, anxiety begins to set in for the rat race to begin all over again in just a few short hours.

For the last 17 years or so, I have fallen into this trap.  I have worked 6-7 days a week for nearly my entire career in the wellness industry.  And for the most part I have sincerely enjoyed doing that, but times are changing.  I realize how important it is to disconnect from work to make time for me, those who are important to me and those activities I enjoy most.

Along with making more time is knowing my value.  As someone that has spent a great deal time and energy educating myself through college, yoga teacher training, meeting with a mentor on a regular basis, attending workshops based on neuroscience and how it relates to training, all of this puts a value to what I say and do.  And what I mean by value in part has to do with what I get paid monetarily.  But it also effects my sick and vacation time, 401k and health insurance.  

I need to put myself in the best situation possible to ensure these needs are met.

Another topic of boundaries I've had many conversations around is the power of touch, most specifically in the yoga studio.  From day one of my teaching, I have always respected my students and made a conscious decision to ask them to raise a hand if they wish NOT to be adjusted in class.  Of course, I ask them while in a shape that no others will know if a hand has been raised.  I strongly follow this philosophy because I understand not everyone wants to be touched or adjusted.  While some teachers or methods of yoga encourage adjusting students, we all have a back story.  There are times where touch has been very comforting.  And other times where our antennas have shot straight up.  My hope is that with the correct cuing, possibly saying the same thing 2-3 different ways, I can get a student into the shape I'm looking for rather than having to put my hands on them.  And while that may not always work, then I may need to adjust in some fashion.  

Boundaries are important and needed when it comes to social media too.  I have only recently come back to Facebook after about a year hiatus.  At the time I put my page on hold, it really was not serving me or bringing a great deal of happiness.  Quite frankly, I was distraught by many of the things I was seeing.  So, I stepped away.  And a year later, I came back.  But with a new outlook.  I no longer scroll through postings all day long.  When I do post, it is with a purpose.

It is one thing to tag a friend in a picture or post that is a shared community experience.  I strongly believe there is a hierarchy in how information should be shared when it comes to very personal stories, such death in the family, the announcement of a wedding engagement or any other important life scenario.  Not long after returning, an article showed up on my feed.  It's a story about the importance of giving people space to share their story.  I encourage you to take time to read this article.

We all have our own perception of what boundaries are.  Sometimes they are firm.  Other times they are blurred.  At the end of the day, they are created to keep us safe and protected.

I welcome any and all feedback when it comes to this topic.  Because it is conversation that will move us forward.

Ask. Listen. List.

Nine years ago I completed my first 200 hour yoga teacher training program.  It was a seven month program, that met once a month for a three day weekend of training.  There were 23 or so of us in the program.  We came from varying backgrounds in practice and education.  Each weekend was themed, such as anatomy, sequencing, philosophy, or business ethics.  For me, this built a great foundation for both my own yoga practice and learning how to become a teacher.  

Once I began teaching, I started taking supplemental workshops and trainings.  Workshops like Yoga of 12 Step Recovery, pre/post-natal, art of touch, yin yoga and various meditations.

Somehow with these additional trainings, it still felt like I had only scratched the surface of this 5,000 year old practice.

This past weekend I completed another 200 hour teacher training program.  Unlike the first, this program was strictly one to one with a teacher I have tremendous respect for.  We met for 90 minutes each week for one year (minus a few weeks for vacation or retreat).  I had an idea of things I wanted to learn and he had an outline of what he wanted to teach.  I think the two melded well with each other.  From the start, it felt like a natural two-way conversation between the two of us.

Ask. Listen. List.  Conversations often, if not always, have these three things.

WHAT IS YOGA?  This question is on nearly teacher training exam.  The traditional answer may be something like "union or yolk of breath, body, and mind."  What I find difficult about this question and answer is that there are so many ways to answer, because we all have our own interpretation.  And how we answer one question, can lead to many other questions.  If you look at this picture, I asked one of my students what yoga meant to her.  In short, she said that the flexibility of yoga leads to a feeling of qi.  And that yoga holds a space of safeness.  From there, other questions can then be asked.

One of the greatest takeaways I learned from this one-one training is the importance of thinking.  Thinking skillfully may include What do I want? What do I value? Who/what do I love? Who/what do I trust?  When looking at poses/shapes, thinking about influences such as who, what, how, and why.  Looking at ways to support a public class could include external physical support such as props, environmental such as sound, lighting, temperature, interpersonal such as listening, speaking or holding space.  Intention of base of support, breath shape, exploring physical layers of the body and concept of sequencing a class were discussed.  Conversations which encouraged thinking about Buddha dharma, doshas, root/stem/flower, dualism/non-dualism and meditation occurred.

Through this process of working one on one, I have come to realize so much about myself, my yoga and meditation practice, and the importance of continued study.   My hope is that yoga and the study of will always be in my life.

Marathon Monday

The running of the 121st Boston Marathon kicks off in a few hours.  This race is one of the world's greatest feats.  The 26.2 mile jaunt begins in Hopkinton, passes through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline and ends in Boston with a "right on Hereford and left on Boylston."

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Long distance running never has been, nor do I think it will ever be, one of my best athletic sports to take part in.  However, through the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, I did complete the 2014 Boston Marathon.  It was one of the greatest days of my life.  The spirit of the crowd, the perseverance of injured spectators from the year before now turned marathoners, the famous Heartbreak Hill, passing the Citgo sign, seeing friends popping into the middle of the street to give you a hug, creative signs such as The Only Marathons I Do Are On Netflix, these are all things that helped me get to the finish line.

Among the 30,000+ runners in this year's race, two names stand out for me.  First, Kathrine Switzer is running 50 years after she first entered the marathon in 1967 under the name K.V. Switzer on the application.  She knew it was the only way it would guarantee her a bib (261-which is now retired).  Most of us have seen the video footage of the then race director trying to pull her off the course.  Kathrine Switzer became a true symbol for women in sports.  

Second, the man known in the running world as Meb.  He is running the Boston Marathon one last time as an elite athlete.  He has a full resume to his name, especially since he is the only male marathoner to win Boston, New York and an Olympic medal.  Before the 2014 race began, Meb took a sharpie to his bib and wrote the names of Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and fallen MIT police officer Sean Collier.  “I just thought about it — an inspiration I’ve learned from fellow runners is that they want me to autograph their bib numbers so they can get inspiration, or when they look down they can think ‘Meb – Run to Win’ and get the best out of their self. They share those moments with me when I meet them. I just said this is Boston Strong, I want to write their names big so I can get their strength. To have that inner motivation was huge.”

While the jury is still out as to whether or not I'll ever run another marathon, it was a wonderful life lesson in who I am and what I am able to accomplish.

Want to learn more about the Boston Marathon or running in general?  

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More than Spring Cleaning

Despite the groundhog seeing his shadow last month, the sun is shining and the temperature feels quite pleasant outside on this first day of spring.  As the changing of the seasons is upon us, people start to transition themselves.  Spring cleaning ensues, making room for more clarity.

Over the last several months I have been exploring ways to find more value in the things I own.  This means everything from clothing to books to art to souvenirs to sporting equipment to trinkets.  I was first introduced to the word minimalism a few years ago by a friend of mine.  And more recently, I have tried to make this a larger part of my life.

Minimalism is not about having less.  It's about making room for more of what happens.

It started out with a bathroom cabinet.  Cleaning out bottles, wrappers, supplies that are no longer needed.  I then found a sturdy box and started collecting items from the kitchen cabinets, ridding of tupperware and appliances that were getting little or no use at all.  Next I raided the vases and candle holders.  Within two hours of placing this box labeled FREE on the stoop, everything was gone.

The next week I worked on one closet, nearly eliminating half of what was hanging up.  The t-shirt drawer was next.  Between the closet and t-shirt collection, three garbage bags worth of clothes were collected.  These clothes will be donated to the Big Sister program.  Last night I tackled my two bookcases.  After carefully selecting which I books I wanted to keep, 64 books will be donated to local libraries and organizations.  

There are more closets to sift through, paperwork to shred, cd's and dvd's to donate. 

And while physical items create clutter, there are other things that do too.  Such as cable television, social media, technology.  I have chosen to disconnect the cable to allow more time for reading, writing, activities I enjoy.  Spending time on social media is being carefully monitored. And I am considering a return to the flip phone.  

All of this has led me to be more mindful and less mind full.

“If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness. Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.”- His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Demonstrate Yoga

The phrase health and wellness industry is a very broad term.  And because of that, I wear many hats.  At any given point I might be a wellness coach, a personal trainer, a yoga instructor or a kids fitness coach for ReImagine Play.  Each of these hats includes instruction to lead clients or students from point A to point B.  Instruction often comes in one of three different cues- speaking about the exercise, demonstrating the exercise and then having the client try to own the exercise by having them perform said exercise.  

Most of us gravitate toward one of the following learning styles: auditory, visual or kinesthetic.  

Speaking from personal experience, I learn best through visual observation and then trying it myself.  This takes place throughout various areas of my life including the weight room or yoga studio, playing the guitar or learning a new sport.  So it made sense to me that while during yoga teacher training, our program suggested to demonstrate poses or shapes to the class, especially in a beginner style class.  This way, students would get the audio cues, see a suggested shape and then explore it within themselves.

And then there's another form of demonstration that is not taught in many programs (that I know of) but may become more mainstream.  What I mean by this is yoga teachers using their platform to discuss activism and politics.  There is much debate surrounding the subject of a yoga teacher's role when it comes to these subjects.  Yoga is about how we move, breathe, feel, act, speak, sit and/or rise.  I believe it is also an opportunity for us to provide inquiry about ourselves and the world around us.

Two weeks before the 2004 Bush/Kerry presidential election, I was sitting at a community table along with a mother and her 10 year old daughter at a local coffee shop in Alexandria, Virginia.  Sitting in chairs within four feet of us were two gentleman, one on his phone and the other reading a newspaper.  The one on his phone was having a heated political conversation with someone on the other end.  The guy reading the newspaper was disgruntled by what he was over-hearing.  Soon, they were in a full on argument, bashing each other and their respective political views.  It got to the point where the mother and child started looking concerned, and good for reason.  Management had to step and and ask them to leave.

I had been living in the Washington DC area for three years at that point (having moved there just three months prior to 9/11).  Politics were often the first subject when at a dinner party.  It was as if that was your only source of identity.  I no longer wanted to be in this scene and within eight weeks I packed my car, drove north to Boston and have been here ever since.

Not long after I arrived in Boston, a lot of changes began to take place in the Commonwealth.  A new governor is elected, same sex marriage is passed and RomneyCare (the model for the Affordable Care Act) is implemented.  

 A few years go by and now we are on the verge of electing our nation's first black president or our nation's first female president.  I was in a public class where the instructor was wearing an Obama tank-top.  One of the other students walked in and said aloud, "Man, I thought a yoga class would be the one space I could get away from all of this for even just an hour."  I was on the verge of completing my yoga teacher training at that point, so this was a lesson from afar.  Maybe this would have been a great opportunity for the instructor to provide inquiry.  But I don't remember that happening.

Fast forward to present day.  I am much more confident in who I am and what I stand for.  And to me, that means having deep conversations with friends or family where we come from different views but try to stand in their shoes (thanks Dr.Brunner).  And it means attending public demonstrations for causes that I strongly believe in.  Taking action for organizations that need help one way or another.  Our society is beginning to learn that actions speak loudly.  And while that may be off putting to some, holding true to who you are and what you stand for is demonstrating yoga in action.  

be well-

Triple Threat

Sitting down on the couch, I turn on the television for the first time today and it happens to be women's basketball; UConn vs Tulane.  What an impressive streak the Huskies have going.  I don't think there is any other program in any college program that has done what they have.  Watching these two teams battle it out brings back many of the memories from my childhood days and what it was like to learn the sport of basketball.  One of the things that was most ingrained by coaches was triple threat.  

For those unfamiliar with the phrase, it means that when a player receives the ball, they have three options- shoot, pass or dribble. There are some players whose tendency is to favor one over the others.  When in reality, looking at the whole situation to know which is best is what we try to learn.  I thought this could be a nice analogy when it comes to fitness.  

The triple threat- strength training, cardiovascular endurance and mobility/flexibility.  When most of us hit the gym, there is one area of focus we tend to favor over the others.

But when we tend to focus on just one aspect of fitness, it can lead to disruption of the nervous system, breathing patterns and injury due to repetitive motions.  Finding a balance between the three has been one of the greatest reasons I have remained virtually (chronic) free.

By incorporating all three aspects, you will feel better balanced and stronger overall.

Benefits to Strength Training-

  • protects bone health and muscle mass
  • develops better body mechanics
  • disease prevention
  • increased in calories burned
  • boosts brain power

Benefits to Cardiovascular Endurance

  • decreases stress
  • better sleep
  • increased energy
  • stronger heart and lungs
  • improved circulation

Benefits to Mobility/Flexibility

  • increased range of motion in joints
  • less restriction in muscles
  • improved balance
  • assists in posture
  • reduces risk of injury

Need help in getting started?

 

 

 

 

Be Safe

Over the past several days I have debated to write a post like this.  But I think it is important.

I can feel the energy of people around me and around the world shifting.  I sense this from passing strangers on the street,  having conversations with friends and family members, social media posts, and seeing who shows up in my yoga and meditation classes.

A lot of people are concerned with the direction our country will be moving forward.  I understand their concerns, because I have them too.  Healthcare, education, civil rights, equal pay are just a few of the many topics which come to mind.  

There are many platforms in which one can use their voice.  My hope is that wherever you are, whomever you are with in the next few days, that we are all safe.

If you happen to be taking part in marches this weekend, please keep in mind:

  • Keep your cool.
  • Do not offer personal information to unsolicited requests.
  • Have a meet up plan in the event you are separated from your party.
  • Don't carry anything you can't afford to lose.
  • Listen to the energy and calmly leave if you have any doubts.
  • These are intended to be peaceful gatherings.

Be safe-

 

 

Broad Shoulders, Big Ears

A few weeks ago I had dinner with a dear friend of mine and over the course of the night, I reminded her that I have broad shoulders and big ears.  While this may be true, what I meant was that I am always open for conversation.

Blue Monday, a pseudoscience term for the third Monday of January, was conceived about ten years ago.  To no surprise, the month of January can be one of the least enjoyable months of the year.  Holiday bills start arriving in the mail, the weather can be cold and dreary, vacations looming in the far distance, the coming of a new year may brings memories of what we've lost in the past.

The stigma of depression and mental health runs deep.  

There is great news on the horizon, with campaigns such as Deconstructing Stigma: A Change in Thought Can Change a Life.

This specific campaign is up front and center.  The initial instillation is at Boston Logan International Airport, who partnered with McLean Hospital for this campaign, is expected to reach over one million people in 2017.

The following information is taken from the campaign's website-

Stigma often brings experiences and feelings of shame, blame, hopelessness, distress, misrepresentation in the media, and reluctance to seek and/or accept necessary help. Approximately 75% of people with a mental illness report that they have experienced stigma.

In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior,

  • 38% of people do not want to move next door to someone who lives with mental illness.

  • 56% do not want to spend an evening socializing with someone with mental illness.

  • 33% do not want to make friends with someone who lives with mental illness.

  • 58% do not want to work closely with someone with mental illness.

  • 68% do not want someone with mental illness to marry into their family.

 

Having seen and experienced bouts of depression and other mental health related concerns among friends, family, co-workers, clients and myself, here is my offer to you-

My home is your home.  My phone is always on.  We can sit and chat or sit in silence if that's best.  Need a home cooked meal or want take out, my treat.  Tea, coffee, wine or chocolate-got you covered.
Just remember, I have broad shoulders and big ears.  Always ready for you.
 

be well-

 

 

100 Days

Over the holiday season I was perusing through a gift store and came across a book titled The Happiness Planner.  Intrigued by the title, I started to sift through the pages.  As I thumbed through, each page kept drawing me in more and more. 

  • What Makes You Happy?
  • What Makes You Frustrated?
  • What Are Your Strengths?
  • What are Your Weaknesses?
  • What Qualities or Habits Would You Like to Improve?
  • Who Would You Like to See More Often?

After the first initial pages, it creates a weekly and daily action plan for 100 Days on meals, exercise, things I'm excited about, what I hope for tomorrow.

The habits that took years to build, do not take a day to change.- Susan Powter-

I ended up buying two copies to give as gifts to a few people who I thought would benefit from this.  After hearing back from them about their early experience with filling out the book, I went back and purchased a copy for myself.  That was three days ago and I am still doing some deep self-reflection.  

There is a section on strengths and and weaknesses.  In the list of strengths, it was easy for me to choose what I thought were my strengths.  But when it came to the weaknesses, I struggled.  We all have ours, but within the list that was provided, I had difficulty.  Instead of circling their options, I  was able to come up with some of my own.  As I sat there with pen in hand, tapping against my forehead as if in deep thought, "What if this is my greatest weakness, not being able to recognize my weaknesses," is what I said out-loud to myself.  

It will take me a few more days to complete the first section of the book, and then I will plunge in to 100 days of happiness, positivity, mindfulness, gratitude and self-development.  While I feel like I have a strong sense of who I am and what I stand for, my hope is that I will learn more about who I am and what I stand for.  This book will hold me accountable, offer motivation, provide reflection and so much more.

I will check back in at the end of the project and share my thoughts, ideas and reflections.

be well-

 

 

Trend Setting

In less than 48 hours many people will begin to flock to gyms, boutique studios, seek out personal trainers and health coaches as resolutions are set.  Below are three of the many trends I see being popular in 2017.

Wearable Technology It seems that technology is taking over our lives and this includes the fitness industry.  Wearing devices such as watches and heart rate monitors help us track important information.  It was once thought to be just for competitive athletes.  The regular gym goer can track their information too.  These devices track everything from heart rate, steps, calories, laps, splits, distance, time, altitude (just to name a few).  As these devices vary in price and function, do your research to compare which is best for you based on your goals.

Boutique Studios While big box gyms will always be in existense, the opening of boutique studios is on the rise.  These are studios that specialize one specific workouts or concepts.  For example: barre, bootcamp, TRX, spin, treadmill/running, boxing, indoor rock climbing, American Ninja Warrior inspired.  These are great opportunities to try out classes or workouts you may shy away from in general.  I encourage that if you do explore these specialty workouts, be sure to let the instructor know you are new and disclose any injury that you may be working with.

The role of Personal Trainers I have seen and experienced the role of personal trainer shift several times since I entered the industry in 2000.  While many of us are there to help provide great workouts, we are more than that.  I see us becoming more of a coach.  We hold you accountable, we provide specific programs based on your needs and wants, we provide motivation.  Topics of conversation include nutrition, sleep, time management, regeneration.  This helps to provide the best service for you.  

Are you ready to get started TODAY for 2017?

 

 

 

 

write YOUR OWN story

2016 has been a great year.  As I reflect on my life many stories can be told.  Reconnecting with friends from my past, a long overdue vacation "downeast," continuing education that was extremely fruitful, finding my voice with the help of therapy, building a brand.

"If you don't like something, change it.  If you can't change it, change your attitude." - Maya Angelou

I have tried to adopt this quote into my daily life.  Through self-reflection and exploration, I try to find what is important to me, and act on that.  This might be toward relationships, health, work, financials, activism and so much more.

There are many people I look to to find inspiration.  Examples are watching the behind the scenes work ethic of my cousins who are performing at the top of their respective sports, observing coworkers as they explain the importance of breathwork, clients who are volunteering at soup kitchens, friends starting their own business.  

As I think about the incoming year, goals and visions galore.  I look to my past in order to move forward.  Learning from prior experiences will help me write my own story.

I imagine my 2017 story will include more continued self-care, writing and continued education, building of my brand, deepening relationships with friends and family, playing a more active role in society, and expanding on the basic goodness of this world.

My story also includes helping you with yours.  I want to help you build a better version of you.  There are many ways we can connect.

Until next time, be well-

 

 

 

We are our Choices

Yesterday I had a great phone conversation with a dear friend of mine from childhood.  Much of what we spoke about was the importance of choice.  For example, we shared what type of clothing we wear while running when it's cold outside.  We spoke about our roles in society and the importance of using our voice.  The topic of conversation included the choice of me living in the city and she living in a small rural mid-western town.  I shared about my journey of meditation and growing interest in Buddhism while stepping away from the religion I was raised in.  She shared the family's decision on who works and who is home full time with the kids.  

At the end of the one+ hour talk, it was clear that we are all free to make our own choices but we are not free from the consequences of our choices.

This is an interesting time of year.  Many of us are surrounded by extra temptations.  It might be around food and beverage at holiday parties, do I sleep in or to the gym, or when do I go out and shovel the sidewalk.  Sometimes in life, we have much more difficult choices to make around health care or a financial situation.  High school students are applying to colleges, a big life choice for them.  

As we begin to tackle these choices, I am reminded of a phrase I heard at the first retreat I was on, mind the gap.  To me this means taking a moment to pause, assess and create a response instead of a reaction.  I am guilty of the latter on many occasions.  But I am putting in a lot of effort into minding the gap when facing choices however small or big they may seem.

In a few weeks, I am starting the BE WELL PROJECT-2017.  If you join, you will receive daily notes of inspiration and motivation to help you move forward to a better version of you.  Much of what will be shared is about choice.  I invite you to join today and make the commitment to living a healthier you.

Want more information about the BE WELL PROJECT or anything in general, drop me a line.

Until next time, be well-

 

the BE WELL PROJECT-2017

A few years back I started a project that I am bringing back to life.  This time I am calling it the BE WELL PROJECT-2107.  Join us as we begin to create better versions of ourselves through health and wellness.  The concept is simple; each month we will focus on one daily habit to incorporate into our daily lives.  

Studies show that it takes around 28 days for a new habit to form and stick.  So...a month sounds perfect for each new focus.  Ideas floating around include nutrition, sleep, meditation, strength training, general movement patterns.

At the beginning of each month, I will share what our focus will be and then post daily motivational/inspirational videos, quotes and other musings.

This project was originally going to be done Facebook as a group.  And that part still exists.  But I am also adding an alternative way to participate, a email group.  I understand that not everyone is on social media or tries to limit their usage.  The email group will receive the daily messages that are posted to the Facebook group page.

Join now so you are ready to begin January 1, 2017-

Please feel free to invite friends and family.  The more support we have as a whole, the stronger our community will be.

Until next time, 

Be Well-