Simple Pleasure-Having A Bad Day

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“What?” you might ask “how is having a bad day pleasurable?”

Just hear me out. This week I had a bad day. It wasn’t the kind of bad day where you spill coffee on yourself or get stuck in traffic. It was the kind of bad day where everything feels hopeless, you doubt whether or not you are on the right path in life, and whether you will ever obtain your goals. It’s the kind of bad day where all of your fears, doubts, and stressors for the past month culminate and simultaneously express their presence. It’s been depressingly foggy here for the past month, which probably hasn’t helped my mood and I had to go pay my tuition for the fall semester of graduate school, which is always stressful.

Matt and I went to the beach. Our favorite beach and I told him how I was feeling: everything that I was afraid of at the moment, and everything that had stressed me out over the past week or so. I almost cried but didn’t (this wasn’t quite that kind of bad day) but I still felt a release and Matt pointed out that I was so far into the future, worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. He said “you’re just like me Hun” and I said “I’m just like everyone” and in that moment I remembered that this doubt and this fear, if nothing else, is what connects every human to one another. Of course, some suffer more than others, and about different things, but everyone, at some point, and probably often, suffers and fears, and doubts. In the social work program people speak of “the worried well” as a snide way to dig at the wealthy who seek therapy or at the therapists who treat the wealthy. It’s a term that denotes the idea that those with monetary wealth don’t have “real” problems, or don’t suffer. I would argue the contrary. I believe that we all suffer and must suffer. If we don’t have money to worry about, our mind will find other insecurities to focus on.

In “The Geography of Bliss” Weiner has this poignant moment where he’s smoking marijuana at a café in the Netherlands and wondering if being high is the reason the people there are so happy. He poses a question to the reader asking something like “if you could have a procedure done to your brain that caused you to feel pleasure always, and there were no possibilites of complications, would you do it?”. Think about this question for a second. Would you have the procedure to feel pleasure every second of every day? If the answer is no, then Weiner explains that you believe happiness must be earned; that in order to truly feel happy, one must not only earn this happiness, but also, at times, experience unhappiness. Everything experienced is relative. Following this philosophy, without unhappiness, one cannot have happiness. Without bad days, one cannot have good days, or even great days.

Without a really shitty yoga class, one cannot understand the elation felt after truly being in the zone, going through the asanas with a clear mind and relaxed body. Without a good, hard cry now and again can we have a truly good hard laugh? Rumi said that even grief and sorrow was a cause for rapture, I believe, because these extreme forms of emotion are also extreme forms of expression; a sign that we are truly and vividly alive.

So, I had a shitty day. I felt hopeless. I felt doubt. I felt fear and despair and sadness. But it also pushed me to realize that I was too far into the future. It forced me to stop and refocus my energy on the present. It caused me to make a mental list in my head about all of the things I was grateful for, and I realized that according to my values I really did have a lot. I am rich with love and I feel like I know who I am. I know where I want to go in life but am also open to the possibility that life could take me in a different direction. So, in the end the bad day changed me for the better, if not in the long run, at least in that moment. It made way for me to have a good day, and reminded me that perspective has the power to define a moment. I was able to change mine, and so my simple pleasure for the week was that bad day.

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Finding The Balance Between Strength and Softness

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Image credit to Live. Laugh. Exercise.tumblr

I was in yoga the other day, in the middle of a pose, and probably tensed up, pulling or pushing in some type of attempt at increasing my flexibility when my teacher explained that a real breakthrough happens when you are able to find the balance between strength and relaxation. If you are a seasoned yogi, you know that something magical happens in your practice when you are able to stay relaxed throughout your practice. This “relaxation” begins mentally/spiritually, and then translates to your body. It is possible to be exerting strength in the places of your body you use for the posture and relaxed everywhere else. Now, in Bikram yoga, I believe relaxation may be even harder because you have more to overcome. You have the heat (a 100+ degree F room), you have the poses (who knew holding your arms over your head could be so challenging!), you have the mirror (if you have body issues, get ready), and you have yourself (yoga is really a journey in and through yourself and we are all our own worst enemy). If you go to a Bikram studio where the teachers tend to be militant and dialogue-based, then you also have to overcome someone yelling at you at an auctioneer-like pace, clapping to queue the beginning and end of every posture, and ordering you to correct specific postures when you may believe you’re using every ounce of energy just to move your body into a resemblance of whatever posture you’re supposed to be in already. So much of this practice is mental and we can choose to fight the practice mentally or to accept it, relax, and stay connected with our breath and our body. Sometimes, I’m in the zone. I’m relaxed, connected to my body, flexible, and feel like I can do anything in that room. Other times I’m distracted, nauseated, and feeling like every part of my body is tensed, un-relaxed. Often, I notice that any type of emotional baggage I’m holding onto weighs on my practice. If I’ve had a particularly stressful day, I can feel it in my muscles and in my body occupying space.

So how do you relax in stressful conditions ? In my personal experience, the breath has been the key. Being conscious of the breath, connected to the breath, and breathing with the intention of releasing tension is the beginning. Also, letting go of your attachment to the result of the posture helps. Go into the room with the attitude that you will give your all and that your all is good enough. Yoga is a practice, it’s a process, not a result and therefore, you don’t do yoga to get to a specific place. You do yoga for the experience each day, to release tension, to connect with yourself, to clear your mind, and maybe to get a nice tush in the process : )

One thing I have noticed in retrospect is that when I was a runner, I thought of my body in a Cartesian sense. It was something that I conquered, used, and exploited. I felt superior to my body, like I was in control of it and used it to take me places I wanted to go. Now, my body and I are in a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship. I listen to it, care for it… I eat to make my body feel good, and yoga has become both a means of communication and a way for me to give back to my body. I’ve noticed that when I eat gluten, I’m much less flexible, so I don’t eat it anymore. I try to go into the room with the goal of releasing tension and creating space, rather than with the goal of dominating my body into the perfect form of each posture. Of course, the ego still pops up in certain classes and I have to remind myself of this goal. Letting go of the ego and staying connected to my body is part of the practice of yoga (notice I said practice as it is something I have to continue to do with intention behind it).

Finding the balance between strength and softness is something that we can learn on our mat and then use in life. When should we stand our ground or back off and let it go? I’ve heard it said that our bodies hold onto every pain we’ve experienced, every heartbreak, and injustice. The body holds the story of your life through tension, disease, anxiety, depression. Healing that relationship with your body is a good place to start in the process of learning this lesion, and the breath is a road that can lead you there.

Simple Pleasure-Loving Where You Live

Pacific Grove, Ca

Pacific Grove, Ca

Matt and I met in Santa Barbara, Ca when I was in college and he was in a band. After I graduated and Matt left his band, we moved to Santa Cruz, Ca (my hometown), however when we visited the Monterey Peninsula, we really fell in love with the area. We both felt connected, in some way, to the area and drove the 45 minutes almost every weekend to spend a day there. The more we discovered about the area, the more we loved it, and we felt like we had finally found a town/place that we loved in a similar way to the way we loved each other. It was unconditional, always growing, and felt natural. I’ve read a quote by Oprah where she described the way she felt when she first visited Chicago. She said she felt like she had gown roots and maybe that’s what happened to Matt and I when we visited Carmel and Pacific Grove. We finally moved to Pacific Grove, Ca in August almost one year ago and I feel like we continue to build our community here. It’s wonderful to walk half a block and have the view pictured above.

In “The Geography Of Bliss”, Eric Weiner explains that “The late British-born philosopher Alan Watts, in one of his wonderful lectures on eastern philosophy, used this analogy: “If I draw a circle, most people, when asked what I have drawn, will say I have drawn a circle or a disc, or a ball. Very few people will say I’ve drawn a hole in the wall, because most people think of the inside first, rather than thinking of the outside. But actually these two sides go together–you cannot have what is ‘in here’ unless you have what is out there.’ ”
In other words, where we are is vital to who we are.” 

Where we are is vital to who we are. We can not separate ourselves from where we live and we are constantly interconnected with our environment exchanging, simultaneously, information and energy. Matt and I found that we are slightly different people, living here, in a place that we love. We reach out to others, we are friendlier, happier. We feel motivated to build a social community around ourselves rather than isolate from the rest of the world. We feel comfortable, natural, like we belong, like we have grown roots. When you find the right person to spend your life with, you can be happy doing nothing with that person. That is the way we feel about the Monterey Peninsula. We are happy doing nothing here. I mean we are happy doing something as well but we don’t NEED to have something specific to do. It is a full day just to go for a walk with Matt along the beach or go out for coffee, or window shop in Carmel. Of course, just like specific people fit or don’t fit, specific places resonate with specific people. Not everyone would love this area like we do, but what is important is to find the right place for you. It is possible to have a soul-mate home. Eric Weiner says that the easiest way to determine where your true home is, is to ask yourself where you want to die. Matt has always said “I could die here” when we visit Carmel, and so I feel like that may be our true home, the place where we will raise children, and build a home, a life. But to end this point, my simple pleasure of the week is that I love where I live!

 

Happy Weekend!

ImageThis is a quote from the book “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner which is an amazing book (I’ve actually been thinking of reading it a 2nd time)! I believe that certain things are by-products of larger issues. When I was trained in motivational interviewing I learned that resistance from a client is a by-product of the relationship between you and that client, therefore you must change the relationship in some way (e.g. the way you relate to your client) if you want to diminish their resistance. I’ve heard that weight, and the way that we eat, is also a by-product. In Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God” I believe she stated something like ” the way you relate to food is the way that you relate to life”. She found that her “weight issue” wasn’t really about weight, but rather the way that she related to life. Her weight was simply a symptom to something greater.  I believe that happiness is also one of these by-products, something that we can’t focus on specifically, but that is simply a symptom of something greater. I believe that if we live our lives well, happiness will come naturally and that if we aren’t happy, we must look at what might be in our lives that is bringing us down instead of up. I also recognize that our culture places such an emphasis on happiness. We take pills, accumulate material goods, take vacations, go to therapy, all in the pursuit of happiness, and yet I do believe that Eric Weiner had it right when he said that happiness was a ghost, a shadow, that you can’t really chase it. You must live your life well, fill it with love, gratitude, passion, honesty, and meaning, and then, perhaps happiness will be a lovely side-effect of your life well-lived.

Top 5 Reasons to eat Kale

Kale

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1. Kale is very high in iron. Kale has more iron per calorie than beef. When you don’t have enough iron you can become lethargic. Also anemia can become a problem when you have an iron deficiency, which makes it harder for your body to fight off illness and disease.

2. Kale is high in fiber, low in calorie and has no fat!  A cup of kale has only 34 calories. The fiber content is great for helping with digestion and it’s also filled with many vitamins and nutrients.

3. Kale is high in vitamin K. Vitamin K is essential for optimal health. It can help stave off blood clotting, keep your bones healthy and helps prevent various forms of cancers.

4. Kale promotes healthier nails and skin. Kale is filled with healthy omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids that help your skin glow and nails grow strong. Who doesn’t want healthy glowing skin?

 5. Kale’s also an anti-inflammatory. If you have arthritis or stiff joints kale can help provide relief from the aches and pains. It is also know to be beneficial for autoimmune disorders as well.

Chipotle Bowls

IMG_0959Matt and I have been obsessed with the burrito bowls from Chipotle and my mom gave me the idea to make our own. Duh, why didn’t I think of that sooner? Basically this bowl is just created by layering ingredients together. We layered brown rice, black beans (canned), a corn salsa, regular salsa, guacamole and lettuce. We have been using our rice cooker like crazy because it’s so easy. You add the rice, water, and then walk away and let it cook to perfection. For our brown rice, we use 1 part rice to 4 parts of water. We then use canned black beans rinsed and drained and canned corn for the salsa.

Corn Salsa Ingredients:

One can of sweet corn drained and rinsed

One bell pepper

One red onion

One bunch Cilantro

2 Limes

Olive Oil

Salt/Pepper

Tapatio or Tabasco

Cayenne Pepper

Cumin

Directions:

Chop the bell pepper and red onion and cilantro and then add to the corn. In a separate bowl mix together olive oil, juice and zest from two limes, a pinch of cumin and cayenne pepper, tapatio/tabasco, salt and pepper and then add to the veggies. Mix. The amount of spices is really to taste because some like it more spicy than others.

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To make the guacamole, mash the pitted and skinned avocado together with salt and pepper. You can add red onion or lemon/lime juice if you wish (I’ve had homemade guac with mango added and it was deeeelish).

Simply layer in a bowl first the brown rice, then black beans, corn salsa, regular salsa (we bought ours from a local taqueria), guacamole and then lettuce and enjoy. If you’re a carnivore you can add sliced steak, chicken or even fish on top of the black beans. We like ours vegetarian though : ). This is also gluten free and vegan.

Creating Space

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I was recently watching Kris Carr (author of “Crazy Sexy Diet” and “Crazy Sexy Kitchen”) talk about vacations. On her website she posts information about health and wellness from a variety of professionals. Kris met with a well-known holistic oncologist for a personal check-up, and also to discuss his potential contributions to her website. During her visit, this doctor prescribed her more vacations, and emphasized the importance of taking vacations regularly. He recommended at least one day/week and 1 week of vacation every 6 weeks. These “vacations times” are times when everything is turned off (e.g. email, television, cell phones) and I would bet that almost none of us get this recommended dose of vacations/year. Kris Carr emphasized the importance of “creating space” and it got me thinking.

In yoga, we try to create space in asanas, moving our shoulders away from our ears to create and open space in our shoulders, performing back-bends and chest openers to create space in the front of our bodies. When we are tired, or depressed our tendency, physically, is to scrunch and shrink…to diminish space in a sense. When we are feeling powerful we often stand up straight, open our shoulders and assume a stance that occupies more space. So, what is the importance of space, and what is the link between creating space and the way that we feel?

In today’s American culture, a sense of busy-ness and constant cognitive stimulation is common. You can browse the internet while you watch the morning news, simultaneously eating your AM oatmeal and checking your emails on your smartphone. It’s also not uncommon to have your entire week planned out, weekend activities included. Current technologies provide us with entertainment at our fingertips, but also make it harder to create space and downtime from being “tuned-in”. The trend of busy-ness has almost (if not already) become an expectation. Email and cellphones allow employers to feel entitled to contact employees anytime. One didn’t have to worry about getting called into work while grocery shopping, or receiving a work related email on a Saturday morning and the boundaries between personal time and “official business” were much more clear cut before these technologies were created.

Certain things, special things can only happen during open space. Inspiration, creativity, emotional connection, clarity, and introspection can only happen in an environment free of distractions and pressures. I remember reading a book called The Psychology of Romantic Love written by Nathaniel Brandon a psychologist specializing in couples counseling. He explained that one thing he prescribes his couples is an entire day spent in the same room with one another completely unplugged. He described that when couples spend an entire day in the same room together, absent of distractions, they begin talking about things they never talked about with one another before. They open up. They connect. The thing is, you can’t plan for these things to occur. You can’t pencil in “inspiration” to your daily planner and yet current cultural values don’t necessarily support the notion of making oneself “unavailable”. So what would happen if you rebelled against this notion and asserted, your right to free space, open space. What if you set aside weekends for you and the people you loved just once every 6-weeks….set an automatic email that let people know you were unavailable until Monday, updated your Facebook, Instagram, twitter of your temporary absence and then unplugged? What could be created in this space? You’ll never know unless you try.

Date Night In

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Steamed salmon with roasted red potatoes, broccoli and roasted garlic!

Last week Matt and I had a date night at the house instead of going out. What was on the menu? Steamed salmon with roasted garlic, roasted red potatoes and roasted broccoli. I decided to roast the broccoli instead of steaming it because it’s so much easier to roast veggies when you are already roasting other things. So this is how I made the meal.

Starting with the garlic and potatoes. Preheat the oven to 425F. Then chop the potatoes, add them to a glass baking dish, and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon pepper and italian seasoning. If you have garlic powder this is good to add too! I also threw in a sprig of rosemary because we have a rosemary bush in our yard but don’t go out and buy it if you don’t have it readily available.

For the garlic clove, simply chop the top off, set in the dish with the potatoes and drizzle olive oil over the top finishing with a sprinkle of coarse salt. This is what it looks like pre roasting…

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Cover the dish with foil ( I use a piece large enough for the salmon so I don’t have to then cut another piece of foil for that. Bake for 20 min before removing the foil and then bake uncovered for another 20-30 minutes (depending on how brown and crispy you like your potatoes).

For the salmon and the broccoli. After the first 20 minutes are up for the potatoes, remove the foil and retain it for baking the salmon. Place your piece of salmon in the middle of the foil and then pull the foil up around the salmon so that you can pour the liquid in without it spilling everywhere. Pour in a little lemon juice and wine (whatever you are drinking. I usually use white but this night I used rose because that was what I bought to drink). Then, sprinkle the salmon with dried dill, salt and some peper. Thrown in a couple cloves of crushed garlic for added flavor and another sprig of rosemary and then tent the foil over the salmon. You want it to create a little bubble of foil over the salmon that is sealed so that the liquid inside can steam but not evaporate.

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For the broccoli simply cut to desired size, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet beside the salmon. Place in the oven with the potatoes for approx 15 min. No longer or the salmon could over cook.

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When you open the salmon tent, be careful because while the foil won’t burn you, the steam could. This dinner is one of my favorites.  The buttery salmon with the crispy, brown potatoes and roasted garlic is such a good combo. Roasted garlic seems like such a treat, but it’s really super easy to make. I also LOVE roasted broccoli because the bushy tips get a little crispy and it’s such a wonderful texture combo.

If I’m not also roasting, I like to bake the salmon at 375F for a little longer. You can get away with the high heat, however because I think the liquid inside the salmon pocket helps to keep it moist.

Cheers, and enjoy!

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Happy Weekend!

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So many of us play it safe our whole lives and risk taking is often looked down upon. I’m not talking about taking risks at your local casino (gambling is a fabricated risk, created for monetary profit). Everyday, we are afforded with the opportunity for taking a risk like making yourself vulnerable, apologizing when you are in the wrong, placing yourself in a situation where you could  be rejected, being honest even though you know the other person may not agree with your belief/point of view. We are also afforded the opportunity within our lives to take even greater risks like quitting that job you hate and going for your dreams or traveling for a year. The point is that if we don’t take risks, we can’t grow, or fail, or learn. In exchange for safety, we often agree to a life of monotony and mediocrity but this is not the type of life we were meant for. Be bold. A boat is safe in the harbor, but this is not the purpose of a boat.  Happy weekend!

14-Day Bikram Yoga Challenge Complete!

I never thought I would do a Bikram challenge and I still haven’t participated in a real 30 or 60-day challenge, but 14 classes in 14 days is still more extreme than I thought I’d get when it comes to yoga.

So today marks the final day of my 14-day Bikram yoga challenge. For those of you familiar with the Bikram culture, 30-day and 60-day challenges are super common. A day challenge simply means that the participant commits to taking one class for every day of the challenge, so for me the 14-day challenge was really just taking 14 classes in 14 days. I made it, and it was actually easier than I thought! I did hit a couple of walls along the journey and had some aha moments. I’ve always been someone who shies away from extremes and therefore I’ve avoided participating in the challenges since now so why did I choose to do a 14-day challenge (BTW my yoga studio wasn’t hosting this challenge I just decided to set this goal for myself and stick to it)?

As many of you know I’m on summer break now and if there was ever a time to focus on yoga, now is it. All of the time I spent on taking classes, writing and researching papers, and working at my internship is open to fill it with yoga, or creative endeavors. I got to a place where I just wanted more. I’ve been practicing Bikram consistently 4days/week for over a year and a half and I just came to a place where I wanted my relationship to this practice to change. I wanted it to have more of a presence and less of a presence if that makes sense. I wanted Bikram to become more of a daily practice, more of a priority, but less of a big deal. When you do something everyday, it doesn’t seem as daunting, and simply becomes part of your everyday reality. When you do something repeatedly, you become desensitized to it in a sense. That is why when you fear something (like public speaking) it is suggested that you expose yourself to this fear consistently to decrease the stress response to it. Bikram teachers must undergo 9 weeks of double classes daily in rooms heated above your normal Bikram studio heat. I think that this process, in part, is to change individuals’ relationship to the class, to the heat, and to change their ideas of this practice.

What I’ve noticed along this journey is that my relationship to the practice has changed. For one, I had to put yoga first because there was no room to miss a day of yoga. There were no good excuses I could tell myself to skip a class and everyday I had to think and plan around when I would take the class. Yoga became a priority and therefore other behaviors changed in accordance. I began eating to fuel myself for my yoga workout and drank A LOT more water to avoid becoming dehydrated. This daily practice became a means of feedback for how I was living my life. If I was stressed, or didn’t eat right, I felt it in class. It is interesting because I’ve been learning a lot about inflammation in the body and its relationship to disease as well as which foods cause inflammation (e.g. meat, gluten, diary, alcohol, sugar, processed foods) and I started the challenge directly after having a “cheat” weekend for food. I felt the inflammation in my body through the amount of flexibility (or lack of) I experienced in class. I could also feel stress (especially emotional stress) during my yoga practice, and yoga class became an opportunity for a daily check in with my body.

I also had to chill out. I couldn’t kill myself in class everyday for 14 days. I had to learn how to back off (especially because I have been nursing a pulled muscle). I had to learn not to compare myself to others in class and how to sit out when I needed. I had to detach myself from the results of each posture and just accept that I may not be as flexible today as I was yesterday or that I may not be able to get myself fully into standing head to knee today. I could let go easier because I knew I would be back tomorrow, and the next day, and that these days brought new opportunities for breakthroughs, or growth. I was also able to let go of trying to decide whether I should go to yoga today or not, there really was no choice. I just accepted that today I would go to yoga, that it was part of my everyday reality, and that I would just breathe and relax in class, and rest if I needed to. There’s never enough time to do everything we want and what we do choose to do is a direct reflection of our priorities (much like what we choose to spend our money on). I had to make yoga a top priority.

I learned that I am stronger than I think, that often it is my mind that makes the excuses, that my body and mind are connected, and if I’ve experienced any kind of emotional stress, my body has internalized and experienced this stress along with my mind. I’m typically not someone who climbs a mountain to conquer it. The motivating factor is whether I will enjoy it and whether there will be a nice view at the top. However, this Bikram challenge was to conquer and to enjoy the view. I’ve become stronger mentally and physically, I’ve conquered some of the mental roadblocks I created against taking my practice to the next level and realized that the breathe is the door to relaxation during a Bikram class. Breathe correctly and you can relax in almost any situation.

Matt has also been super supportive! He even practiced 6 days this week with me (he’s normally a 3-4 day/week guy). It’s really wonderful to be able to practice yoga with your favorite person in the world; to be able to give one another a knowing look when it’s especially hot, or to motivate each other just to go in the first place.