Trusting Your Inner Compass

Remember the times before GPS?  Yeah, me neither.  I do remember typing my destination address into Mapquest’s magical navigator, and scribbling down the directions on a scrap of paper, dashing in my car, and whizzing on my way.

Many times, I still got lost.  But that was half the fun of it, wasn’t it?  It was part of the adventure and emblazoned anxiety.

Now, we set out on a journey and it’s no longer really a journey.  We’ve become so reliant on information systems outside ourselves, and lost touch with our own inner compass.

Do you see where I’m going with this?  We try to control the events of our lives, set reminders on our phones, tweet and post and scroll, clutching fervently to whatever seems to be working for us.  Distractions from ourselves.  Whatever it takes to get us to our pre-determined destination crafted by the thinking (vs. intuitive) mind, that’s what we’re going to do.  Steps A-Z.  In sequential order.

Well what happens when our plan runs off the tracks?  When T comes before B?  When someone throws a wrench in our perfectly prescribed timeline to “Z” destination?  I can tell you what happens for me.  I become disappointed, confused, angry, bitter, sad, and usually, defeated.  I forget the entire journey, throw away the destination, and move on to devise another plan.

Maybe I don’t need to do all that planning.  Hmm, there’s an idea.  Maybe it makes more sense to follow signs, landmarks, breadcrumbs, garden gnomes.  (Ok, probably not the last one).  At least I won’t be so attached to a rigid outcome.

I think by allowing myself to stray, to wander, to try different hats and shoes and scarves on, I can free myself from the anxiety of reaching that pre-set destination.  Maybe I’m already where I’m supposed to be, in every moment.  And the more I’m fully here and awake in each moment, the easier it will become to follow the flags, lights, and arrows pointing me to my next excursion.

This of course, requires trust in some force greater than myself, and also great trust in myself.  I used to ignore, shove aside, and snuff out my intuitive sense.  I’d shush that hushed voice that was actually guiding me.  I did things that didn’t align with what felt right to me, or true to my essential nature.

The more I denied my inner compass, the more lost I became.  But now, I feel like I’m starting to rest in the knowledge that I will listen to ME, and also take some hints and nudges from God/Universe/Spiritual Law/whatever IT is…because that resides in me.

The answers reveal themselves like dominoes clicking gently against each other, spiraling and weaving and knowing exactly where they are headed.

Steph xo

Mindfulness Challenge

 

In my garden, the rose opened. But I was in too much of a hurry, and passed it by. Love remembered me and said, I will make a rose bloom in your heart. -d. Chopra

It’s #mindfulnessmonday.  A reflection is in order.  How often do you not remember your drive home, because you’re consulting the to-do list in your head, or blasting the radio to drown out that same list?

There’s something very powerful and compelling about silence, and mindfulness.  I think some people find it intimidating, and need to fill the spaces with conversation, music, white noise.

There are times where I want to listen to a podcast, or jam out to some 311.  But in silence, I start to notice more of what’s all around me. Particularly in this season, when the trees are exchanging last hugs with their leaves until spring introduces new friends to embrace. The colors, well I can’t tell you about them. It will never be like experiencing them.  I am grateful for the mindfulness that allows me to bask in the beauty of the landscape all around me.

This is a practice.  Being mindful doesn’t always come naturally, especially to those of us who are chronic worriers, or have active, analytical minds.  I myself have a total monkey mind, as it’s referred to in yoga.  My mind swings from one thought-vine to the next, hardly pausing to notice, to take a breath.  So you can see why I meditate.

I have new experiments I’m beginning.  I’ve got 3 so far:

  1. Simplify my life.
  2. Get rid of stuff I don’t need.
  3. Blog daily.

That is all.  I’m practicing number one right now.  Less words.  Less thoughts.  More living.

Until tomorrow,

Steph xo

Feeling Fully

  

Let’s be real: we’ve all encountered someone who’s words or actions grate our nerves, irritate us, etc. Look for the opportunity in that experience to grow as an individual. What can you learn from them? You might become more mindful of your own words and actions. Maybe you make a commitment to be kinder, more lighthearted, tolerant, or non-judgmental. Next time you come into contact with that person, and feelings of anger or annoyance start to emerge, allow yourself to fully feel that, and delay your reaction for a moment. Consider that there are a whole host of reasons this person might be acting in the way that angers you. If you reframe the story in your mind, you can feel less anger, and more compassion. 

 

Anger and irritation are perfectly normal emotions. They may be uncomfortable, and we may feel aversion toward them and try to push them deep down inside ourselves. A teacher of mine from Kripalu, Aruni Nan Futuronsky, said: “The only way past the emotions, is through them.” In other words, we have to be willing to feel our emotions fully, in order to release them. Have you ever tried to push a beach ball under water? Doesn’t it shoot right back up? This is the same with our emotions. If we push them down, they will eventually pop up again. Alternately, we can feel the tension, and then say, “thank you anger, for providing me with this lesson, but I no longer need you.” Take this practice in stride. We don’t create sustainable change overnight. Give yourself the space to emerge from a place of compassion slowly. Give yourself permission to feel anger, so you can ultimately release it, and come back to a state of equanimity. Thich Nhat Hanh, in a recent interview with Oprah, said, “the lotus flower grows out of mud. Without the mud, we cannot have the lotus.” That is the nature of duality. Without anger, we could not feel harmony. Without sadness, we could not feel joy. 

Namaste,

Steph xoa

My Story

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Everyone has a story.  Your story is unique, and it is capable of reaching others in some capacity that will be received as a gift.  If you have an empowering story, I encourage you to share it.  Not only can this be healing and freeing for you, but it is healing and freeing for others.  It is your story that heals.

Most of my life, I was a private person.  I was overly cautious in friendships and relationships, and hesitant to let anyone into my world.  I flew under the radar, and preferred to be alone.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, with being an introvert who prefers books over social activities.  But by hiding, well into adulthood, and keeping my story locked away, I was missing out on a great opportunity.  The opportunity to build connections with people, especially those who have a similar story.  I realized I was withholding a major gift that can lead to my great work being done in the world.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life.  As far back as my memory will allow, and as soon as I became self-aware as a child, there was a strange sense of pervasive melancholy and isolation.  I lived two blocks away from my elementary school, and would walk to and from school each day.  I’ll never forget walking to school, backpack in tow, feeling this bizarre disconnection from my body.  It was as if I was viewing myself from the sky while sleepwalking.  Later in life, I was able to label this feeling with a legitimate psychological term, which is a phenomenon known as “dissociation”.

I’ve experienced dissociation many times in my life, and still do on occasion.  For those who fortunately have not felt this, the best way I can describe it is an extreme and frightening version of déjà vu.

Anxiety has been with me just as long as depression, at least 20 years now.  For those reading this who have chronic anxiety or have had panic attacks, or both, you know what kind of hell this can be.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  Most importantly, you are not alone.  You are not the story you tell yourself.  You are not what others think of you.  You are not the pithy and insensitive remarks that are directed toward you.  You are not taboo as a byproduct of your depression or anxiety or eating disorder.  You do not need to hide.  Please keep reading.  This story has a happy “ending” (I put this word in quotations because it’s really a lifelong journey).  I will tell you what coping mechanisms have worked for me, and how I’ve found relief from states of mental distress.

Anxiety and depression are often close cousins with eating disorders.  It’s often a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” scenario.  Either anxiety and depression somehow contribute to an eating disorder, an eating disorder worsens anxiety and depression, or some combination of all three exists (which was the case for me).  It’s like back in the day, when finger-painting, and I mixed all the colors together to create this sort of non-specific brown.  My thoughts were all blurred together into that brown.  I felt out of control when it came to the canvas of my life.

Enter eating disorder, or ED.  At age 14, the battle began.  Controlling my food and exercise gave me a false sense of control in my life.  I could not yet accept that there were things that were outside of my control.  I had to reign everything in and use my puppet strings to create idealized, unrealistic outcomes.   Everything became black or white.  I didn’t allow myself to consume ANY foods that contained fat.  I HAD to exercise excessively every day.  At the time, it felt like it wasn’t a choice.  ED had me in shackles.  It was a dire demand.  It was the difference between failing and succeeding.  It was an ABSOLUTE requirement that I kept my calorie intake below 500 a day, no exceptions.  This was meticulously recorded and poured over every night.  If something was out of balance, if I ate one too many apples or rice cakes, I panicked.  I would then need to sneak out of the house at night to go for a run.  I took ephedrine (which of course is now illegal because of its harmful effects on the body), wrapped food in napkins and threw them away or hid them underneath a sweatshirt until I could be excused from the table, made excuses for missing dinner because I had “homework”, told my parents I had a stomach ache, became vegetarian so I could cut out entire food groups, avoided like the plague social or family events where large amounts of food would be present, and the diversions go on and on.

My anorexia, from a clinical perspective, did not continue long, probably two years.  But for me it was a lifetime of living in my own prison.  And it was about to get worse.  My body couldn’t sustain itself, especially since I was involved with physical activities such as dance team in high school.  We’d have 3-hour practices after school in the cafeteria; following that, I walked 2 miles home.  For all that exercise, I’d have the smallest possible bite of a Power Bar.  You don’t have to be a dietician to understand that’s not enough food.  After a summer of extreme restricting and over-the-top workouts, entering into my freshman year of high school, I stepped on the scale and felt an electric current of fear rush through me.  I was 97 pounds.  Oh and by the way, I’m 5’9”.  I was emaciated, dangerously underweight.

That number on the scale, and the emotions associated with it, will stay with me for the rest of my life.  (Only now, 14 years later, can I be weighed at the doctor’s office without losing my shit).  I looked in the mirror and was unrecognizable, miserable, and desperate.  I often had heart palpitations, hadn’t had a menstrual cycle in months, and couldn’t sleep at night because my bones jutted out to the point where I couldn’t find a comfortable position, even on a soft mattress.  I suddenly understood the magnitude of the hole I was in.  That was the first day I ever binged.

I raced downstairs and all but unloaded the kitchen’s contents.  I gorged on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, cookies, ice cream, whatever I could get my hands on.  My parents were more than puzzled at the mysterious disappearance of vast amounts of food from the cabinets and fridge.  They had to start labeling Tupperware containers with a note that said “Do Not Eat”.  I was embarrassed, humiliated.  I only binged while I was alone, and barely ate in the presence of others.  For obvious reasons, I gained weight rapidly, and ED didn’t like that one bit.  So it took on a different form.  A seamless transition.  Bulimia.

In many aspects, this was without question the worst period of my life.  Everything I did was dictated by my eating disorder.  I would skip school to walk home, binge, and purge.  I made choices that would change the course of my life.  I’m still working on mending those mistakes.  I experimented with a number of harmful substances.  I’ll never forget my rock bottom; most people don’t.  They may block it out temporarily, but a traumatic experience is usually committed to long-term memory.  There are often triggers (a sound, a smell, an image, a word) that bring the experience back to the surface, the forefront of the mind.

Like any other ordinary day, I skipped class.  I walked to Dunkin Donuts, and bought myself a bag of donuts.  Yes, they were all for me.  Knowing what would come next, I had a new idea.  I had heard of people using ipecac.  For those who don’t know, Ipecac is an over-the-counter medicine intended to induce vomiting following ingestion of a poisonous substance.  With my bag of donuts, I walked to the grocery store.  Heart racing, mind reeling, I stole a bottle of ipecac.  I was too paranoid about being questioned at the counter to purchase it.  Back at home, I binged, gulped back a couple teaspoons of the disgusting liquid, and waited.  I’ll spare you the details of the events that followed.  I collapsed on the floor and blacked out.  I came back to consciousness an undeterminable time later, on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, my head throbbing.  I was overwrought with anxiety and despair.  In that moment, I wanted to die.  I wanted to be released from the grips of my eating disorder.   I had hit the very bottom of my well.  I would have more lows to come in my life, but I believe this was one of my all-time lows.  As I write this, my hands are shaking and my chest is tight.  This is a painful memory to share.

My parents soon caught on to my behaviors.  I was pulled out of school to receive outpatient treatment for my eating disorder at the Institute of Living in Hartford, CT.  It was there that I met some of the most authentically beautiful souls I’ll ever encounter.  These women and men ranged in age from 12 to 60.  Each was at a different stage in their recovery.  Even in the depths of my own need for healing, I recognized how sad it was that we were there.  How fundamentally fucked up it was to be caught in the crossfire of self-deprecation.  That society’s messages had, in any way, a role in causing this dis-ease.  It was there that the seed was planted.  It was there that a flame was sparked inside me to challenge and to combat the way we, as a society, reward or deny people based on their appearance.  It was there that I had my first brush with meditation and yoga.  I experienced firsthand the transformative, healing power of meditation, coupled with the intuitive wisdom of yoga.  I observed how my friends with eating disorders responded to guided meditation.  They were calmer, they were breathing deeper, the light returned to their eyes.  Those shifts alone were huge triumphs.  In a nutshell, meditation and yoga became my healer, my relief from anxiety and damaging thoughts about myself.

Fast forward to today.  Since my last treatment at IOL ended, I’ve healed and transformed in a big way.  I’ve continued therapy on and off with different people.  I’ve learned to listen to my body.  I feed myself with what truly fuels me, from a literal perspective of nutrition, to a visceral level of intuitive life choices.  I’ve continued to meditate often.  I became a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher.  I went back to school.  I landed a job I thought I was unqualified for.  I got married, bought a house, and am starting my own business.  I’ve been called “a leader”.  Never would I have imagined myself emerging as a leader.  That is truly astounding to me.  I am slowly learning how to stand in that truth with confidence, and firmly, unapologetically, take my seat as a teacher and leader.  That is the happy ending, or better, happy beginning.  Each day, I begin again.  I show up differently each day, but I show up.  And that’s what matters.  From my life cred even more than my formal training, I am qualified to lead and to teach.  I now seek progress instead of perfection, and try to my best ability to delight in simple joys.  I want to help others heal, grow, and bloom fully.

If your story has yet to be told, tell it.  Talk about it, share about it, stand in your truth.  Reach out to others.  Reinforce to yourself that you and everyone else deserves to be happy, to be healthy, to be free from danger.  Be in support of yourself first and foremost.  Become your own best friend.  Tell yourself a new story, and discard the old one that says “you can’t”.  Because you can.  And you will. 

I hope that sharing my story will serve someone in some capacity.  If you have questions, comments, or want to share your story with me, please do.  I’ll do my best to respond and support you in any way that I can.

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

Leaning into Acceptance 

   
Before I discovered Kripalu yoga, I had a deeply rooted discomfort with my body. I constantly tried to force myself to go on diets, limit my calories, write down every single morsel of food that passed my lips, run until my knees hurt and my head throbbed, and on and on. None of these practices made me more satisfied. If anything, my anxiety about my body grew worse. I couldn’t relate to my physical self in any way other than with mean thoughts and criticism. I was always looking for the ultimate rule book, something to keep me contained, as if, left to my own devices, my body and my life would go horribly awry. I thought if I had control over my body and my weight, somehow I’d have control over what was going wrong in my life (even if it had nothing to do with me). When my mom told me she had breast cancer, I felt helpless. I almost instantly reverted back to my old ways. Somehow, controlling my food intake and exercise in a drastic way (aka disordered eating) deluded me into believing I had things “handled”, and life would go exactly the way I wanted it to. Gripping onto idealized outcomes in this way only adds to suffering. If such is true, then the only other path to take would be that of acceptance.

 

Accepting painful circumstances is challenging. Allowing ourselves to feel emotions fully is something we tend to writhe away from, especially when these emotions make us feel vulnerable, or angry, or sad. But when we ride these waves of emotion and senses that arise, especially in the safe space of yoga practice, we can eventually release them. We can learn to trust our inner compass, the brilliance of our physical body, that is constantly trying to keep us in a place of homeostasis, or balance. 

 

When did I learn such mistrust for myself? I stopped listening to the innate wisdom of my body, which tells me when I am hungry, when I am full, when I need a nap, when I need to go for a walk, when I need to retreat to nature. I’ve gripped on to perfectionism for so long. I’ve thought on some subconscious level that the more I achieve, the more I push for results that seem to indicate success, the happier will be, or the more I will like myself. That, also, is not true. We all deserve happiness regardless of achievement. 

 

I encourage you to remind yourself of the below affirmations. You may choose one to focus on, or attempt to incorporate all of them in your day:

 

“Today, I am redirecting my energy away from perfectionism. I will commit myself to quieting the inner critic, who tells me I am not “enough”. I will reframe those thoughts into ones of worthiness. I will extend warmth and sweetness toward myself and others.”

 

Namaste,

 

Xo Steph

Joy is here

  

I felt it. I tapped into the unfathomable, untainted joy that I don’t think I’ve felt since a child. Yesterday was the first instance, as I drove my beloved Subaru up to the Berkshires. Destination: Kripalu. Everything was a green so vivid and rich, I could’ve been inside a watercolor painting, or maybe a high-definition photograph would be a better analogy. As I drove further away from denser populations, I felt my body melt. Shoulders, neck, fists. Everything unclenched and relaxed. I remembered my breath, it’s location and path. I noticed the quality of the air on my face, I recognized that the wrinkles between my brows disappeared. Everything soft and warm. Along some parts of my journey, nothing but the winding paved roads seemed touched. Places unimaginably unscathed by humans. My delight in this was obvious. I felt alone with nature, and that freed my spirit. It was back. My happiness, my lightness, my appreciation for details, for subtle movements, for life in it’s basic form. My proverbial well kept filling, rising higher and higher.  
I reached Kripalu and felt the click of a lock open. It was me. I was open again. I was back. My heart, my softness, my joy, my self. This wasn’t a question of ego. It was simply a reunion with self-determination, passion, and peace. I checked in and felt on top of the world. The staff member informed me there was an envelope that was to be presented to me with my room key and welcome papers. I opened the envelope to find a gift certificate to be used for Healing arts. Love, Summer, Shannon, and Zile. My roommates from YTT. Again, my well filled higher. The gesture overwhelmed me with love. 
Later, after getting my ass handed to me in a vigorous yoga class led by the anatomy genius Chris Holmes, my sweet Summer came to visit. We talked about life, love, work, travel, dreams, and everything in between. We chanted om gum ganapataye namaha and om namo bhagavate vasudevaya in the whirlpool. We grabbed some famous Kripalu cookies and headed to the 4th floor meditation room, where she led me in an 11-minute Kundalini meditation, which I hope to continue practicing for 40 days. Ong namo gurudev namo. Mudras were left hand on the heart with thumb pointing up and fingers pointing right, and right hand lifted with first finger and thumb touching.  

She is an incredible human being, and brings laughter and love to everyone who crosses her path, I’m sure of it. 
Fast forward to breakfast this morning. I sat in the silent dining room facing makeenac lake, gazing out over the pristine water and rolling mountains. The longer I sat, the longer I looked, warmth overcame me, body and soul. Electric light traveled through each artery, vein, organ, muscle fiber. Tears welled up in my eyes, stemming from nothing but pure joy. Words fall extremely short of what I experienced in that moment. But I knew without a single seed of doubt that this is where I want to be. Maybe not Kripalu specifically, but here. In this place of happiness. With nature. Away from the noise. In this space where I feel real, and whole, and full. This is me. This is mine. This is I. I am this. 

For Today, I choose me. 

In painful times, I turn into a machine.  I surge on, and distract myself with activities. It’s easier to distract and avoid than to face the pain dead-on. It’s what I did when I learned my mother had cancer, and it’s what I’m doing now when certain aspects of my life seem to be disintegrating,  slipping through my fingertips. 

Realizing this tendency to distract and avoid, I’m making a conscious effort to find a little patience and compassion for these necessary emotions. 

It’s been awhile since I’ve practiced yoga. And to be honest, I think I was subconsciously avoiding yoga because for me, it brings a lot of emotions to the surface. It’s a looking glass into the depths of my heart and mind. For me, it was infinitely easier to go to the gym, hop on a treadmill, blast Pandora, and let myself go blank.  As I write this, I realize the irony in that.  It’s a parallel to the treadmill I’ve been on in my life. The avoidance of the moment. 

Sitting at my desk and contemplating how I’d spend my evening, my immediate thought was to run.  But as I recognized my emotional exhaustion, I realized running isn’t the answer. I’m trying to run away, when I need to get on the mat and face my emotions. Feel them fully. It’s the only way I can release them.  I may cry, I may feel anger and discomfort, but this is the work of my life. 

Isn’t it a Lumineers song that says:

It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all..

I have to say, i think i agree.

How I Stay Fit

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A friend I grew up with, a gorgeous young mother, asked me today if I have any other workout regimen other than yoga, and how do I stay fit. This opened up a can of worms, at least in my own mind 😉 To answer that question: I mostly practice yoga and walk our 2 doggies for exercise. A jog once in awhile is a nice supplement, but that’s pretty much my cocktail of exercise right there – yoga and walking.

So, I decided it might be helpful to provide a list of tips that I use for maintaining balance and a healthy lifestyle, without restricting myself. Disclaimer: this is by no means a comprehensive list! But I’ll throw out some ideas that help me find balance, and add more in future posts as they become available to my memory (haha).

Keep an abundance of healthy foods in the house.
This may seem self-explanatory. But if you allow yourself to become ravished, chances are you’re going to go for the quick and convenient, which often means fatty, sugary, salty snacks. I always have oatmeal, eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, peanut butter, carrots, apples, and more on hand in my house so that I have the opportunity to fill up on healthy stuff. Alternately, and this is important, do not keep crummy foods in the house! By crummy foods I mean processed gunk. Packaged cookies, cakes, and snacks are typically a no-no in my house. Just check the ingredients. If there are many ingredients you can’t pronounce, or high-fructose corn syrup, or trans fats, chuck ’em. Or don’t buy them in the first place. If you have a sweet tooth, try making oatmeal with bananas, cinnamon, and some pure maple syrup. Another favorite of mine are smoothies! Or make your own dessert from scratch. Pinterest has tons of amazing recipes for healthy desserts made with pumpkin, applesauce, greek yogurt, black beans, etc. Give them a whirl!

Use Cinnamon.
I don’t know how I missed the boat on this for so long, but cinnamon is truly a miracle spice. Cinnamon is my new bestie. I put it on EVERYTHING. Well okay, maybe not everything. But truthfully, I use it in my coffee, chai or spiced tea, on cereal, oatmeal, rice cakes topped with peanut butter & banana, apple slices, you name it. It is so warming and comforting. It tastes delicious. And I haven’t even told you about the benefits yet. It has been known to stabilize blood sugar and reduce sugar cravings, and may be effective in treating Type 2 Diabetes by lowering blood sugar. It can be a remedy for headaches and migraines. In Ayurveda, it is believed to aid in proper digestion. It fights E.coli and inhibits bacterial growth, which means it’s a preservative. Honey and cinnamon together are said to alleviate arthritis pain. Simply the scent of cinnamon can boost memory and cognitive function. Isn’t that unbelieveable?! I know, I really nerd out when it comes to nutrition. But seriously. Start using cinnamon.

Eat Mindfully.
This is one of my favorite practices, and quite frankly it’s probably the most potent for stabilizing weight and staying fit. Most of us have busy lifestyles, I totally get that. But eating without paying attention to our food is wreaking havoc. I invite you to at least try mindful eating once. Maybe start on a weekend morning when you can actually sit and enjoy breakfast. Begin by sitting with a long, tall spine. Posture is important. Next, observe the food in front of you. Really look at it – colors, textures, elements. Where did the food come from? Did you prepare it yourself? Think about where the fruit/vegetables/eggs came from. Are they local? Think about all the effort it took to get this food to your plate, from cultivation to transportation, to you buying it, chopping it, etc. Now smell your food. Really take in the scents wafting into your nostrils. What feelings do these scents evoke? And now taste your food. Chew it slowly. Take sips of water or juice in between bites. Be with your food and the experience of eating it. Give thanks. This is a simple practice of mindful eating. It makes such a difference to eat this way, than to gobble our food down…sometimes not even remembering what we consumed. A consistent practice of mindful eating will naturally allow you to eat less, and actually be more satisfied.

Nix Liquid Calories.
The primary beverage we drink should be water. And a lot of it. Like, more than you thought possible. Our bodies need and want it desperately. If you hate water, try flavored seltzer. There are some pretty delicious flavors out there…black cherry is my personal favorite. If you need to have beverages with calories, let that be a special treat. Like a cup of hot cider or chai in the fall, hot cocoa in the winter, an occasional glass of wine, a freshly-made margarita with only tequila, lime, and triple sec (sour mix is the sugar devil!), or whatever your poison is. Just let it be in moderation. (Hmmm, where have I heard that before?) Seriously though. I like beer, trust me. It takes awhile to wean off. But now I can have one beer and be truly satisfied.

Well my friends, that’s all for now (this post is getting quite lengthy). I do have many more ideas and practical ways to stay healthy and balanced, I’ll post more soon!

Namaste, Jai Bhagwan, Om Shanti –

Steph
xo  (P.S. for more fit tips and to follow my journey/be in the journey together, enter your email address below – thank you!)

So it Begins

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I did it. I followed my dreams, and now I’m a certified yoga teacher. I learned invaluable tools that stretch beyond teaching yoga…they’re gifts to help me navigate life in a way that helps me squeeze all the delicious juice from it.

Bit by bit, I’d love to share with you readers, some of the most helpful ideas and strategies I took away from my training at the Kripalu School of Yoga. Some of these things will help you, and some won’t. The best I can do is offer thoughts/ideas and invite you to use them in your own life.

One of my favorite lectures was with the brilliant yogi and author Aruni Nan Futuronsky. She said, “reality is relentless, and it always wins.” In other words, there’s only so much that we have control over. Life is going to unfold before us, with or without our permission. Yoga isn’t necessarily about downward dogs and postures, but more so about becoming skillful and mindful in being with what is, so we can struggle less and savor more.

Aruni had a beautiful and eloquent way of explaining how yoga practice helps us heal and get the most out of life. From a young age, cultural norms and ideas about emotions and what is acceptable begins to permeate our awareness. We learn it’s not okay to cry, or be angry, and so it’s common to push these feelings down deep inside ourselves. So what happens? We can be left with a dull ache of suppressed emotions. Aruni said, “the way out of the feelings is through the feelings. Defenses separate us from full living.” Being with feelings, riding the waves of emotions, and witnessing them without judgement, is the way to healing and really being alive.

Allowing ourselves full permission to be where we are is a huge component of Living yoga. It’s not the feelings themselves that hinder us, it’s what we do to try to control the feelings. If we treat ourselves with compassion and kindness, and give gentle reminders that it’s safe to feel, we can befriend the moment and be there for the beauty and the grace of life in each moment.

One of the single most important things I learned from my experience at Kripalu is how to show myself kindness, and be present for every moment, knowing that all will be well and I don’t have to try so hard to control every aspect of my life.

More to come.

Jai Bhagwan
Namaste

Steph xoxo

Being vs. Doing

I’ve been told that I’m a ghost lately on my blog and Instagram. Which is entirely true. Sometimes, or oftentimes in my opinion, a post that is born out of a spontaneous, organic thought is more sincere than a contrived one. I’d rather have my writing be authentic than forced. So if I don’t feel an urge to write, I don’t. Hence the gaps in posts. But, I did write something the other night (on paper in a notebook…old school; the way I used to exclusively write) that I think is worth sharing:

It’s become imperative that I figure out how to cultivate a kindness toward myself. For the health of myself and my relationships with others. When I become irritated with my boyfriend John, I believe this to be a direct reflection of the way I’m feeling about myself, or treating/responding to myself..which is often with irritation and impatience.

Impatience with my body especially. When or where this inclination toward perfectionism reared it’s ugly head and became so ingrained in my mind, I may never know. But I’m establishing the work of “undoing” the need to be perfect. It’s begun unraveling, in the best possible sense. We as a culture are under constant pressure to produce, produce, produce, to the point where 24 hours in a day just isn’t enough, and we’re left cutting into our time to rest and sleep, which I truly believe are essential to health and well-being. A lot of people say, “you can sleep when you’re dead.” I don’t necessarily agree with that philosophy. It may work for some people, but personally, my body needs sleep in order to function properly and to be able to enjoy life fully and with ease.

I recently watched an interview with Rodney Yee and his wife, Colleen Saidman Yee. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, Rodney Yee is sometimes referred to as “the godfather of yoga.” He said:

There’s a certain anxiety that comes with the impermanence of our existence. So naturally, it becomes an impulse we have to do as much as we can…cramming activities in what little time we have that seems to pass so quickly.

Produce. Perform. Achieve. What about just being? Is this something we’ve completely forgotten to do? In yoga, we sit with ourselves, and see what’s there. It’s amazing what emotions and sensations bubble up when we turn our awareness inward.

Personally, it’s become rather harshly evident that somehow, to my core, I have not learned to accept myself completely. I notice it especially when I’m practicing yoga. I push my body, silently scolding it for not deepening into a posture the way I think it should. I become frustrated with injuries that hinder my progress, and actually end up blaming my body, rather than being patient with it. I insult it when I focus in on flaws – for example, my muscular arms that I secretly wish were long and sinewy like a ballerina’s. If beating myself up were a major in college, I would have a PhD by now. Then of course, I become mad at myself for not being confident. So you see how easily the critic can swoop in and just take over.

I think that the expectation to produce and push often sets us up for our own critical review – which can end up being a roast on ourselves, spelling disaster for our self-esteem and emotional well-being. Sometimes we need to opt to push the pause button on production. Stop the assembly line. Be deliberately gentle with ourselves. For example – tonight I had a to-do list. I put this internal pressure on myself to accomplish these tasks in a certain period of time. After creating this list, and returning to it for my next task, I felt a sense of anxiety swarm and settle in my chest. Because if I don’t complete this list, suddenly I’ve fallen short.

So what did I do? I deliberately dismissed the list. I gave myself a break. I watched an inspirational documentary on Netflix (First Position; about a select group of young ballet dancers pursuing their dreams. Brought me to tears. I highly recommend it).

Why should we always measure our worth in achievements and accomplished goals? How about measuring in moments, in seasons, in our capacity to love, in our simply being human? How easy it is to forget that who we are, right now, in this very moment, is enough. More than enough. And on that note, I’m going to go have some popcorn. 🙂

Om Shanti,

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Mission: YOGA

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Soon I’ll be going off on an adventure. What type of adventure, you may wonder? Well, I’m chasing my dreams. They’ve been beckoning me for some time now. In a mere month, I’ll be living and learning at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. I’ll leave my hometown behind for awhile, as well as my corporate job (hopefully forever), to pursue what my spirit wants and what the world needs. This 200-hr program for my yoga teaching certification will be intense. From 6:30 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days a week, I will be quite literally living and breathing yoga.

Embarking on something like this ignites passion in my heart, and inspires me to draw on all my faculties to soak in all the knowledge and wisdom I can. As I draw more and more inward to prepare for this experience, I continue to consider my personal values and mission.

Completing the application for entrance into Kripalu’s Yoga Teacher Training program required much self-reflection and deep thought into why I want to pursue this path. I wanted to share some of my answers to the questions on the application. These will help me in the future, as I compose my vision and mission statements for a studio one day.

Why do you want to be certified as a yoga teacher at this time in your life?

There is a great deal of suffering in the world, and in our communities. I’ve witnessed the transformative power of yoga, and its ability to create a sense of peace, understanding, compassion, and love in people of all walks of life. If I could offer a small piece of solace through yoga practice, and a safe space for people to gather and feel welcomed and accepted, that would be an invaluable life skill to me. I would be living a life of true purpose and meaning, and helping people on a level where they could empower themselves, and find comfort in the deepest part of themselves that perhaps they didn’t even know existed.

I’d like to help others let go of perfectionism, quiet their inner critic, and feel able to live as they were intended – free of anxiety and discomfort. And when they are feeling anxiety, discomfort, depression, and anger, they should be able to use yoga to validate these feelings and perhaps be able to let them go.

When I walk through the hallway of the insurance office I work for, I’ve observed that many people hang their heads low, struggling to make eye contact, or smile, or say “hello.” These people can benefit from yoga. Almost anyone can. If I can offer the gift of potentially guiding someone to find peace in themselves, easing their tension and anxiety, that is awareness I’d like to create for people. Manifesting the peace that is within us, bringing it to the surface, and sharing it with others contributes to an outpouring of kindness in our communities that I hope to see more of.

How do you plan to apply your yoga skills to your life and work?

I’ve always had the innate desire to reach people in a healing sense. Ever since I was a little girl, I struggled with an anxiety that I didn’t understand. As a result, I was shy, awkward, and just felt different, or somehow separate. I want to help people understand that what makes us different is what makes us beautiful.

I suffered from an eating disorder as a teenager and received outpatient treatment; in the rehabilitation center I attended, I met many wonderful, talented, lovely, spirited young women who unfortunately buckled under the pressure of society’s skewed standards of beauty. It was heart-wrenching to be surrounded by these young ladies (and gentlemen) who to me, were gorgeous inside and out, but weren’t able to see it through their own eyes or hearts. I’m grateful for that experience, because a deeper sense of compassion was born out of it. It became my mission to help people find their beauty and truly accept themselves and be kind to their bodies.

Yoga fosters self-love. Yoga helps us cultivate understanding, patience, poise, and presence (among innumerable other benefits). It is a powerful tool that largely contributes to self-actualization, and gently leads us to becoming the best version of ourselves. Applying yoga skills to life and work comes naturally when we nurture a lifestyle of devotion and dedication to practice. The application of yoga comes through our countenance and in the way we carry ourselves, the way we communicate with family members, coworkers, strangers; it changes our perspective on daily life, allowing us to let go of trivial issues and focus on the bigger picture.

Om Shanti

Namaste.

xo Steph