5 Easy Habits to Get Healthier Now

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Tongue scraping

This is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that Western medicine is beginning to acknowledge as productive to oral health. Did you know that a coating of residue (including toxins and yucky bacteria) on the tongue is what leads to bad breath? You may have learned to brush your tongue, but I have bad news for you. All that does is push the bacteria around. Tongue scraping eliminates it. Getting rid of the coating on the tongue also leads to greater sensitivity of the taste buds; meaning, your food will be tastier. Wouldn’t it be nice to be satisfied with less food? Less food = less unnecessary weight on the body. We all know this. The process of tongue scraping is so quick and simple, there’s really no excuse to not do it. You simply take each end of the tongue scraper in your hands, start at the back of the tongue, and add gentle pressure, scraping from back to front, rinsing in between. Repeat about 5 times. I’m telling you, your mouth will feel cleaner. You can buy a tongue scraper here.

 

 

Switch to Whole Foods

 

No, I don’t necessarily mean the grocery store. You don’t have to drive to another town to find a Whole Foods market. A whole food means a food that is in its complete form, with no additions. Ingredients: 1. An apple is a whole food. A carrot is a whole food. An almond is a whole food. I like what author Michael Pollan says: “eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” What he’s saying is, avoid stuff with a million ingredients. Actually, more than 5 ingredients and you’re going down a road leading to nothing good. If this is too difficult for you, at least start reading the Ingredients on your box o’ food, and avoid anything with the words “hydrogenated”, “palm oil”, “carrageenan”, “maltodextrin”, and “aspartame”. That’s a solid place to start.

 

 

Drink Organic, Fair Trade Coffee (ditch the K-cups)

 

If you’re like most Americans, you drink coffee. If you’re like me, you have a slight obsession that borders on unhealthy. Nevertheless, we’re not here to judge. Coffee is delicious. However, I encourage you to do the environment a favor and stop using the disposable K-cups in your Keurig. I’m not saying to throw out your Keurig…that would be wasteful. Instead, buy a couple reusable, refillable little cups. Buy a bag of high quality, organic coffee. You’ll find that the coffee will last a lot longer, you’ll save money, and you’ll feel good about helping the planet. You can buy some on Amazon here.

Better yet, get yourself a French press.  You’ll feel like a badass, and the coffee honestly does taste better.  I got this adorable one that I take to work with me – it’s enough for one cup (there are larger ones as well).  Check it out here.

 

Begin a Daily Gratitude Practice

 

Get a cute little journal. Find 5 minutes to yourself either in the early morning or before bed. Grab a cozy spot, a cup of tea, and light a candle. Create a sacred space, and get to writing. Write what you’re grateful for. If you’re having a difficult time and grasping at straws, start with something very basic and primal. “I’m grateful for shelter and warmth”, might be a nice a place to begin, particularly if you live in New England like me, where the winters are bitter cold. “I’m grateful that my body carries me through the day and moves me from place to place.” It might seem silly, but it has been shown that gratitude and joy are directly correlated. This is no coincidence. The more we acknowledge all that we have, the more satisfied and fulfilled we can feel.

 

Incorporate Yoga into your Life

 

If you’re a seasoned yoga, or know the basics, try to fit 30 minutes in a day. No need to go to a yoga class, or pop in a DVD. Just roll out your mat and flow through 10 sun salutations, surya namaskar A (see photo below for instructions). If you have no clue what I’m talking about, click the menu at the top of this website and go to “private yoga instruction”, and schedule a session with me (if you live in CT). Even if you don’t live nearby, feel free to email me and I’ll give you some personal recommendations. So, 10 sun salutations, followed by 10 dirgha breaths, followed by 10 minutes of nadi shodhana, and finally, 5 minutes of meditating on the breath.

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Sat Nam,

Steph xo

Project Happy

“Happiness is a thing to be practiced, like the violin.” John Lubbock, whoever you are, you’re a smart man.

I was drawn to this quote in particular, because in fact I used to play the violin, for about 10 years throughout elementary, middle, and high school. And as a musician, practice you must! Although I’m sure there were times in which my parents regretted encouraging me to play an instrument.

My violin is now collecting cobwebs somewhere in the depths of my closet. I always say I’ll take it out to play again one day…

But whether you play an instrument or not, happiness my friends, is something worth practicing.

I’ve never been the cheerleader type. You know, perky and smiley and all those other exaggerated cheerful qualities. Quite the opposite in fact. I was always an inquisitive, thoughtful, serious sort of child. Perhaps even a dark little thing at times. In second grade, when we were asked to write about a particular topic in our daily journals, such as: “What do you like about yourself?” I would write something like, “I don’t like anything about myself, I’m not good at anything.” Holy perfectionism!

No, a cheerful disposition never came naturally for me. Upon seeing a company of men getting all their equipment ready to cut down some trees at my next-door neighbor’s house, eight-year-old little me marched right over there with an 8″x 11″ hand-drawn sign that read: “STOP KILLING THE TREES!!!” The utter horror and injustice of such a crime was real and important to me. I was jaded by the age of 10.

But as I approach 30, I’m becoming that cheerful, happy person.  I’ve still got my edge and introversion, which are parts of my personality that will never go away, and I’m fine with that.  I’ve simply learned that what I focus on has changed.  Now (not all the time, but enough of the time), I focus on my vision.  That place where I see myself in a couple of years time.  Living on my metaphorical mountaintop, yet more connected than ever.

It’s a rad thought.

Ditching the Script

In a bigthink.com interview, author Porochista Khakpour offers advice to young writers.  The best part about her advice is to not take the advice of other writers, and “throw away the script”.  In other words, everything we think we “should do” is not always the best way to go.  Follow intuitive sense and common sense.  “The world is just run by other humans, who make lots of mistakes, and who are trying their best, and sometimes doing their worst”, she says.  It may seem like the thing to do to look to a mentor, an author you most admire, and try to glean exactly what their secret might be.

But that isn’t the way the creative process works.  Sometimes, there’s nothing to say and there’s no need to force anything.  I think another really interesting approach is the idea that you may not always want to try to articulate your thoughts onto paper.  Instead, use the writing as insight into what you’re thinking.  I sometimes do this with meditation, but I suppose writing (also certain sports, other forms of art, teaching) can be a form of meditation.  I never thought to view it that way.  Don’t always sit and ruminate and analyze your thoughts.  Let the thoughts spill out in a medium of your choice (in my case, writing) and then you’ll be able to observe what it was you were thinking all along.

There is so much noise in this world.  So many opinions and ideas.  Not all methods work the same for everyone.  Like I mentioned in “My Story”, everyone’s path in life is unique, so that means their thoughts are unique, so that means their abilities are also unique.  Next time you want to ask another person for advice, experiment with not asking for advice.  Use your own special form of meditation.  It might be woodworking.  It might be gardening.  It might be graphic design.  It might be cooking without a recipe.  Whatever it is, before you begin, ask that same question you were going to ask while seeking another’s advice.  Just put it out into the universe.  Say it aloud, or in your head, or just sense the presence of the question.  In being present, eventually the answer will come.

Okay, Universe. I Get It.

courage

I see this magnet every morning when I make my coffee.

Don’t be too timid or squeamish about your actions.  All life is an experiment.  The more experiments you make the better.

But sometimes, I actually pay attention.  I read this brilliance of Ralph Waldo Emerson and think to myself, “when am I going to take a courageous step, and stop being so timid and scared?”

Have you had a dream that you’ve pushed so far away in the back of your mind, that you hardly remember it’s there?  Maybe as a kid, you had a particularly keen eye for beauty and expression of life, and you took pictures with your polaroid camera, wanting to spend all of your days capturing special moments.  Maybe you’ve always wanted to be that photographer, and throw all of your energy, inspiration, and time into honing your craft.  But this subtle voice of doubt always said: “That isn’t practical.  You’ll have to claw your way through the competition.  How will you find clients?  Better stick to your “safe” job, and “steady” paycheck.  You have to eat, remember?”  Well I think that voice of doubt is full of crap.  And even though I think it’s rubbish, know it’s not really true, and know there are ways to succeed and make your passion work for you in a financially sustainable way, doubt continues to checkmate me.  I get so close to winning the game, and then doubt taunts me, making the final move that I wasn’t confident enough to see.  Freezing me into inaction and disappointment.

 

I think that’s part of the problem.  Not seeing past the doubt to the truth.  Not taking small, courageous steps toward your dreams each day.  Allowing society’s measure of “success” to dictate what you do with your life.  If you know what you’re capable of, and know that you have to take a stab at achieving you dreams, because anything else just feels like a distraction, the first thing to do is to determine your own definition of success.

 

I’ve thought about what success means to me quite a bit lately.  There have been times in my life where I subscribed to the traditional, Americanized version of success: becoming a doctor, lawyer, or fabulously wealthy entrepreneur; owning a house so large that the smallest sounds echo; driving fancy, gas-guzzling “look at me – I have money!” SUVs.  There have been times where I felt unfulfilled, and I tried to fill that void by shopping, buying clothes and shoes and purses I didn’t need.  None of those material things made me fulfilled or happy.  In fact, they made me feel bloated with the hangover of excess.  Somehow, this didn’t seem like right living.  Not when there are children in parts of the world that don’t own a single pair of shoes, and eat dirt cookies dried in the sun to fill their bellies.

 

Success to me, is about real, heartfelt connections.  It’s about giving the best parts of me to the world.  A sense of community and unity.  It’s about people helping people.  It’s about doing my very small part to heal and create change.  Success to me, is having the freedom to curl up under the cozy covers with a book, with my dogs snoring softly on the floor nearby.  Success to me, is staying continually in awe of nature.  Success to me, is having a beginner’s mind.

 

It is only a matter of time before the urge to become who I’m meant to be becomes so strong, that I will have to forego what I’ve been doing and change my life completely.  In the meantime, I’ve begun to change right where I am.  I’ve done this by making a conscious effort  to connect with people at work, even if it’s just with eye contact and a genuine smile, or asking about their children and really taking the time to listen.  Offering someone undivided attention and presence is powerful.  With our electronically-dominated world, this is becoming a rare and needed gift.  More often, I step outside of my bubble and make small talk with the person bagging my groceries.  Giving and connecting, and being radically grateful for all I have, has made all the difference.  I’ve ditched my victim mentality, I’ve stopped belly-aching about the trivial, and I’ve started getting REAL.

 

And guess what?  I will silence that voice of doubt.  I will go for it, fully, and with abandon.  The only question that remains, is…when?  And when will you go for your dream?  Let me know, I’d love to hear your story, your dream.

Steph xo

Dreams and Dharma

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Is there a difference between dreams and dharma?  For those of you who have read the Bhagavad Gita, you may recall that dharma refers to an individual’s life purpose.  Without getting too heady, dharma is about your duty to your true gift.  You may ask: well, how do I know what my purpose, or true gift is?

Some people are already living their dharma.  You’ll recognize these people by the shining light in their eyes.  By the energy and passion they bring to their work.  These are the people who become so engrossed in a project, they forget to eat, or go to the bathroom.

Dreams and dharma are often not synonymous.  Dreams are idealized future outcomes that we write a story in our minds about.  I’ve always been a dreamer, though I confess that it sometimes prevents me from living my life right now.  I can identify with the need to escape an uncomfortable present-moment by retreating to the comfort of imagination’s constructs.

I’ve always had this nagging sense that I am meant for something different than what I am doing with the majority of my time now, which is working for an insurance company.  But this is a split mentality, because other times, I experience enormous guilt for not being grateful for my situation.  My job affords me a comfortable lifestyle with the ability to purchase things.  There is one huge flaw to this.  “Things” have never led to sustained happiness for me.  They are temporary distractions, justification of staying in a present-moment situation that is not aligning with my gift, my purpose, my dharma.

Misalignment vs. guilt.  Neither reality is attractive.  So, what’s left?  Either I accept my current job, and keep dreaming, or I pull the bow back and let go, hoping that my arrow lands smack in the center of my dharma target.

Do I know what my dharma is?  Not with totality.  I feel a pull toward the transformative qualities of yoga and meditation practice.  I come home to my true self when immersed in the wonders of nature, no matter how simple.  I am enthralled by great writing, and feel safety and confidence when I write.  I have wildly creative dreams each night, ones that catapult me into a different realm altogether.  While I haven’t got all the chips to fall in a way that makes complete sense to me, I am getting there.

Meditation is so important to uncovering dharma.  Meditation has allowed me to access memories that I’ve wedged into the corners of my mind.  I can remember being whisked away into the mysterious prose woven by Shel Silverstein (The Giving Tree still leaves me in tears), C.S. Lewis, and later, Tom Robbins, and Jane Austen.  Hopping up on a picnic table in my backyard to pretend I was a character in a novel is a memory which foreshadows my budding creativity and imagination.  Building forts in the woods behind my house, and inventing ceremonial practices in the company of my own wistful spirit was another common occurrence.  I’ve always been reflective, contemplative, naturally drawn inward.  Somewhat of a recluse, like Thoreau I suppose.  I think it’s so important to encourage these childhood memories back to the forefront of our mind, so we may be reminded of what brought us the special brand of pure, untainted joy that can’t be broken.

One thing that has helped me move closer to my dharma, is being hyper aware of the potential signs all around.  These messages can show up in unexpected conversations, an animal you keep crossing paths with (for me, it’s a hawk), a fantastically painted sunrise, or a gut feeling.  Stay in tune with where the universe is trying to navigate you, and simply allow.  Observe with curiosity.  Take steps toward your gift, nurture the gift, and soon you’ll be living your dharma.

Namaste,

Steph xo

3 Simple Ways to Maintain a Healthy Relationship

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I always thought I wasn’t “good at relationships”.  Turns out, I just hadn’t met the right person.  It took a lot of trial and error, being single for a long time, and introspection/solidifying my values, but I finally met that person.  He’s the most loving, supportive, patient person I’ve ever known.  It was well worth the wait, and I’m so glad I trusted my intuition and never settled for something less than I truly deserved and wanted.

That said, I often need to remind myself that a relationship requires thoughtfulness.  It requires us to swallow our pride.  It requires us to be selfless (or sometimes, selfish! See # 3).  Below are some of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received about relationships, and I wanted to share them with you.  These things may come natural for a lot of you; I, on the other hand, sometimes need a little reality check!

1.  Express appreciation.

Try not to assume your partner knows that you are grateful for the things they do.  Tell them every chance you get.  The person who loves you usually just wants to please you.  Hearing that their actions makes you happy encourages them to keep it up!  Positive reinforcement works…everybody wins.

2.  Be present.

Enjoy downtime with your partner, and be in the moment.  Men have a knack for compartmentalizing, meaning they can generally leave work at work, and be able to focus in on relaxing/shifting gears.  This is more difficult for women.  We dwell on the past, or worry about what’s coming next.  The present moment is the place of enjoyment, and peace.  It allows us to listen better, stress less, and be the best partner we can be.

3.  Do you.

This is a big one for me.  If I neglect myself, I eventually start to feel a little bit resentful.  Ultimately, we as individuals are responsible for our own happiness.  It’s not fair for us to place that expectation on our partners.   Take care of yourself when you’re feeling down or anxious.  Do things that will empower you, cheer you up, make you smile, and lift your spirit while honoring your soul.  For me, this might be going for a run with my dog, practicing yoga, listening to inspirational music, or going shopping for some new makeup.  Take care of you first, and your relationships will thrive. 

 

I hope you enjoyed this mini list.  What simple things do you practice in your relationship to keep it healthy and happy?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

xo Steph

Why Go Veg?

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What do the above celebrities have in common? Other than being insanely rich, of course.  If you guessed, “they are all vegetarians”, you’re right!  Others include Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Brandon Boyd of Incubus, Brad Pitt, Bill Clinton, Natalie Portman, Alanis Morisette, and Fiona Apple, to name a few.  How cool is that?  I mean, Andre 3000?  He may be the coolest example of a vegetarian.

I was a vegetarian for many years, including my high school years.  I have to be honest with you, the reason I became a vegetarian wasn’t because of animal rights, or environmental issues.  Frankly, it was because I had an eating disorder, and becoming a vegetarian allowed me a valid, respectable excuse to cut out many foods. 

Now that I’m older, and have recovered from my eating disorder, I can focus on what I believe in.  In an earlier post, I wrote about how important it is for us as human beings to stand for something.  BE what you believe in, rather than just talking about it.  So because of that, I’m going vegetarian again.  I’m not going to get into the cruelty of animals, because many of us already know so much about that.  But, if you’re interested, I highly, highly recommend watching the 2008 documentary Food, Inc.  Be prepared for some extremely disturbing images.  It’s real life, and it changed mine.  If you’re thinking about becoming a vegetarian or changing your eating habits, I also highly recommend Michael Pollan’s books In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

I texted my boyfriend about going vegetarian, as I would for anything I’m really jazzed up about.  His reaction, which typically would be incredibly supportive and proud, was actually one of disappointment.  Now, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, because I know he loves his chicken wings, and bacon, and steaks, as most men do. 

My question for you readers, especially the vegetarian ones, is how do I stay strong in my convictions without seeming all high and mighty?  I’m not pushing my beliefs on anyone else, but I want to be able to have an eloquent but firm answer for when people find out I don’t eat meat, or that I’ve transitioned to a vegetarian lifestyle.  Please comment, I’d appreciate your thoughts and personal experiences!

xo Steph

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