Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sleep Well: 7 Tips for Better Sleep



“Sleep my little baby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you'll see the world
If I'm not mistaken..."
--Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

There has been much debate on how much sleep one should be getting. Most experts on the issue seem to settle on six to eight hours each night, but everyone is different. Sleep is one of my favorite things. It's right up there with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. 

When I was growing up, there was always work to do. Chores started early, usually before the first rays of the sun would peek over the mountain. I will never forget having to get up at six in the morning to mow the lawn or hang the laundry out to dry before it got too hot outside. I longed to sleep in on a Saturday morning.

During my college years, I was often deprived of sleep, as most students are. With the pressures of getting good grades, meeting deadlines, part-time jobs, and of course, social obligations, I was lucky to get four to six hours of sleep each night.

As I get older, I realize the importance of sleep in how I function each day. If I have not slept well, I often find myself cranky, irritable, and unproductive the next day. In addition to feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, sleep is essential to staying healthy. 

Many people sleepwalk through their days, mindlessly carrying out their routines, grabbing unhealthy food on the go, and fooling themselves into thinking that multi-tasking will help save them time. The truth is that if we start the day well-rested, we not only have more energy, but we can make better choices throughout the day. 

Here are my 7 tips for getting a better night's sleep:

1. When the body is tired, rest. Learning to listen to the body is a useful skill that can be cultivated through mindfulness practices. As we hurry through our days checking off items on our to-do lists, we tend to get so caught up in what we have to get done that we don't stop to listen to what our bodies are telling us. 

My nephew, Atticus
Feeling sleepy? Grab a cup of coffee. Headache? Take an aspirin. Moody? Try an antidepressant. Sluggish? Have an energy bar or a sugary snack. There are many ways to medicate ourselves in order to keep soldiering forth, but at what cost? Caffeine, sugar, medication, and other vices are meant to be used sparingly, but in our sleep-starved society, they have become staples that we depend on just to make it through the day. 
“Sleep is my lover now, my forgetting, my opiate, my oblivion.” --Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife
I've noticed that when I've slept well, I am less likely to reach for a quick pick-me-up. I can sense when I am physically or mentally tired, and that's when I know it's time to take a break. If it is not convenient to take a nap, I find a quiet spot and take a few deep breaths. This removes me from my daily schedule and reconnects me to my body. Then I can better assess my energy level and make better decisions regarding the rest of my day. Rather than self-medicating, I can re-prioritize my day and let go of any items that are not absolutely necessary. This helps me conserve my energy for things that are really important, like getting to bed on time.

2. Make sleep a priority. In order for me to be at my best, I make it a point to go to bed early and set my alarm for as late as possible. I strive for eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. While that isn't possible every night, I set myself up for success. Sleep becomes the last item on my daily to-do list. It may seem obvious, but I actually schedule it. Just looking at my schedule throughout the day and seeing sleep on the list makes me think of sleep as a priority. 
“I’m not a very good sleeper. But you know what? I’m willing to put in a few extra hours every day to get better. That’s just the kind of hard worker I am.” --Jarod Kintz, Whenever You're Gone, I'm Here For You
Like most people, I have many social obligations: work gatherings, meetings, birthday parties, barbecues, baby showers (just kidding, everyone knows I wouldn't go to a baby shower). While I appreciate a full social calendar, I am also aware of how I feel when I have not had enough sleep. I would rather feel well than attend every event to which I am invited. I turn down invitations when they interfere with my sleep schedule. If there is an event that is not to be missed, I will go, but I will leave in enough time to get home and in bed on time. Somehow my social connections remain in tact.  

My friend, Pat,
taking a rest on a slack line.
3. Naps are magnificent. When I have a full schedule, I look for blocks of time that are otherwise unclaimed, and then I schedule a nap. Power naps are great. Twenty - thirty minutes of sleep can work wonders when I've been burning the candle at both ends. 
What hath night to do with sleep?” --John Milton, Paradise Lost
I remember hating naps when I was a child. In Kindergarten, nap time was a daily occurrence. Everyone in my class would lay out their red or blue padded mats and settle down for a mid-day slumber. I hated it. I wanted to play and socialize. As an adult, I have come to savor my nap times. With a full day at work followed by errands and then a possible party to attend, I know that I would need to fit in a nap in order to be my usual pleasant self later in the day. 

4. Buy the best bed you can afford. I have a Sleep Number, and it is the best money I ever spent. Sometimes I require a firmer mattress and other times I like to feel like I'm floating in a cloud. The bed I have allows me to adjust the firmness at my whim. When I moved across the country with only what would fit in my car, I made sure that my mattress was one of those items. I simply deflated it, rolled it up like a burrito, and stuffed it in my back seat. It survived the 2,000 mile trip, and I have slept well every night since.

Indulge in the softest sheets and blankets. I didn't think thread count mattered until I bought my first set of 800 thread-count sheets. What a difference! Soft sheets and blankets turn my bed into a sanctuary. 

5. Keep the bedroom dark and cool. I recently invested in some black-out curtains for my bedroom. Living in the desert, there is no shortage of sunshine, so when I am able to sleep in or during a nap, the curtains block out a majority of the light, tricking my brain into thinking it's night-time and therefore making it easier for me to fall asleep. 

Waking up in the middle of the night is bad enough, but it's even worse when you're drenched in sweat. I like my bedroom to be a little on the cool side, anywhere between 65 - 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Some may like it even cooler, which is great if you have a special someone or a furry baby to cuddle with. 

Restorative Yoga
6. Do Yoga. Yoga is my sleep aid of choice. I'm not talking about Power Yoga, but gentle stretches coupled with Pranayama, or yogic breathing. By connecting with my body and breath at the end of the day, I can focus on slowing down. Deep slow breathing automatically calms the nervous system and invites relaxation. 

There are many styles of yoga that promote improved sleep. Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is a fantastic practice that incorporates deep breathing and the mindful practice of scanning the body to become aware of areas of tension. By bringing our attention to the body, we can give the mind a break and consciously relax our muscles. Restorative Yoga is another deeply relaxing practice. Using props, such as pillows and blankets, we can allow the body to rest deeply while focusing on the breath and calming the mind. 

Bubble baths soothe the soul.
7. Indulge in a ritual bath. Bathing is a sacred act. Most homes are outfitted with showers for the convenience of saving time. Baths require patience. There is a decadence to bathing. Try adding bubble bath or essential oils and epsom salts. Light a candle or two. This is not a time to multi-task. Let the ritual of the bath be enough. Relax and enjoy few moments of quiet before bed. 

How will you know if your sleep is improving? Keep a sleep journal for a week. Note what time you go to bed and what time you wake up. Rate your energy level on a scale of 1-10 when you wake up and jot down how you're feeling. Not into journaling? There are a lot of sleep monitoring apps available for download on the smartphone of your choice. 

There are less scientific ways to tell if you're getting better quality sleep. For me, I notice that I am happier, more vibrant, more productive, and slightly less bitchy. If you are having trouble noticing any changes, ask someone close to you. Often we only become aware of our behaviors when others point them out to us. Sleep well! 


Monday, February 2, 2015

Good Grief

Artwork by Eli Frantzen van Beuren

Dealing with death has not been one of my strengths, however, compassion has been a skill I have been actively cultivating over the past few years. Death is part of life, and as I become more aware of myself and my connections with others, that idea has become easier to accept. To be truly compassionate is to feel the suffering of another along with a desire to alleviate that suffering. It's easy to tell someone that their loved one is in a better place or is finally at peace or any of the common phrases we're supposed to say to make someone feel better after a loss. The thing about that is that it doesn't really make anyone feel better.

My great-grandmother was a strong-willed woman who looked after me on a few occasions when I was very young. Her house was cozy and warm, and she had many glass hens that she proudly displayed. I spent a great deal of time following her around wondering how it was possible that she left tissues behind every time she stood up from a chair. Every time.

I was 8 or 9 years old when my great-grandmother moved into a nursing home. My mother would take my sister and me to visit her almost every week. It seemed that each time we would go for a visit, my great-grandmother would look older and smaller. After a few months, she died. Hers was the first funeral I remember attending.

My mother woke me up early that morning, and I pulled on my white tights and best Sunday dress. I was particularly proud of my black patent leather shoes. We went to church, as we usually did, only this time there was a lot of talk about my great-grandmother. Several people tried to hand me tissues, and I thought that maybe I was supposed to leave them behind on the bench when I got up. I did not really understand what was going on at the time.

After the service, we arrived at the graveyard. It was sunny, but the grass was wet. I remember running through that bright green grass as my mother yelled at me, "Stop running! You're going to fall and ruin your tights!" It's funny the things you remember.

I watched the whole ceremony from afar. I remember the tent over the casket, flowers everywhere, and all the hunched over people dressed in black. When it was over, everyone went to my uncle's house for a great feast. People had brought their best dishes to present as tokens of respect for my great-grandmother. I didn't know why people were crying into their plates of fried chicken, potato salad, and baked beans.

A few years later, I was in elementary school. I was excelling in my studies and making lots of friends. I had made two new friends, a set of identical twin girls who had moved to Virginia from Florida. We were inseparable. We helped each other with homework, shared secrets, got into trouble, and laughed a lot.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, one of the twins became ill. She was in the hospital a lot. I had never heard of Juvenile Diabetes, but I guessed it was pretty serious. One day, there was an announcement made at school that my friend had died. My mother asked me if I wanted to go to Family Night at the funeral home to say goodbye. I did.

We arrived at the funeral home to find many people from the community already there: teachers from school, other children and their parents, and many people I did not know. It was crowded, but I waited patiently with my mother until it was our turn to greet my friend and her mother. Her mother hugged me so tightly and cried into my hair. She took me by the hand and led me over to the casket to see my friend.

I didn't know how to react, so I just stood there. She looked like she was sleeping. Her hair was combed wrong. I looked over at her twin sister, my friend, and she was crying. I gave her a big hug and cried with her.

A few weeks later, there was a ceremony at my school that involved planting a tree in memory of the friend I had lost. I remember staring at that tree every morning when I arrived at school and every afternoon when I boarded the bus to go home. I wondered if that tree was the only thing that people remembered her by.

When I was 17, my paternal grandmother died at the ripe old age of 93. She had been my best friend and greatest teacher. She had embodied grace and kindness, and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. I still do.

Her death, while not unexpected, was particularly difficult for me. I had spent countless hours sitting with her on the front porch of her house reading and telling stories and counting cars. We would have picnics under the big oak tree in the back yard. I remember watching her brush her long white hair every morning. Sometimes she would let me brush it. She carefully braided the bottom half of her hair and pinned it into a bun on the back of her head. Then she braided the top half and pinned it into a bun on the top of her head. She wore dresses every day.

It was after my grandmother's death that I realized what it meant to feel empty inside. She had been so influential on my upbringing, and I missed her. I miss her still.

A few years later, I was away at college when I received a phone call telling me that my dad's sister had passed away. It was the first time I ever remember being unable to speak. I could only nod and quietly hang up the phone. The woman who practically raised me was dead. She taught me how to cook, how to tend the garden, how to snap beans and can tomatoes. She taught me how to roll out biscuit dough and pie crusts so perfectly. She held my hand when I was plagued with nosebleeds nearly every night. She would chase bats out of the house when they came down the chimney. She cut my sandwiches into triangles.

Hearing the news of my aunt's death when I had just turned 20 made me yearn for my childhood. It was a childhood that was spent mostly outdoors playing in the mud. I wondered if I would remember her secret recipe for cherry turnovers or if I would ever get the ratio of sugar and honey right in my future jars of homemade sun tea.

On the way to my aunt's funeral, I stopped on the side of the road and picked a handful of daffodils. She always liked it when I brought flowers in from my days of playing outside. I remember standing at her coffin with my dad and sister. When I put the flowers inside next to her hands, I noticed that someone had placed a picture on her chest, near her heart. The picture was of me and my sister sitting on my aunt's lap. I smiled.

After I graduated college, I was in my office working when I received a call that my father had died. He had been ill for quite some time. I had assisted in his care somewhat for the past year, and I had witnessed his agony and suffering. When I received that phone call, I felt relief. Sure, I was sad that he died, but after seeing what he had gone through, my sadness was overrun with feelings of gratitude and peace.

I did not attend my father's funeral.

My decision to remain absent from this ceremony was based completely on the fact that I simply did not want to see him dead. I wanted to hang on to my memories of him smiling, laughing, telling bad jokes, building things out of nothing, and painting landscapes on rocks. I didn't need people I barely knew to come up to me saying that he was in a better place. I already knew that. To me, he's not in the ground somewhere in Virginia. He's around me all the time.

Nearly a decade later, my ex's father died suddenly of a heart attack. He was there one minute and gone the next. The whole family was in shock. I attended his funeral and stood by my ex's side during the entire service. When we arrived at the graveyard, I watched my ex's mother stumble toward the grave site. She looked so frail. When it was apparent that she was about to crumble to her knees, I ran over to her and grabbed her by the arm.

I let her lean on me while I escorted her to her seat. At the time, things were not so good between me and my ex, but in that moment, I felt such overwhelming compassion for him and his entire family. I understood their great loss, and I was happy that I was there to witness the outpouring of love and support from the community.

The last funeral I attended was nearly two years ago. My best friend's father passed away after a year-long battle with a brain tumor. I was honored to be considered part of their family, and I am grateful to have been there for them during that time. It was during that particular experience that I learned that sometimes saying nothing says everything.

There were no words. There's nothing I could have said to make their pain go away. So, I sat, sometimes for hours with them in magical silence. They didn't need me to say anything to express my compassion. They could feel it.

And so, life goes on. As does death. Recently, a friend from Virginia lost her young daughter in a horrific car accident just a few days before Christmas. It made me want to hug all my loved ones close.  Being 2,000 miles away from my family and most of my friends makes that a little difficult, but I was reminded to cherish all the times we have had together, good and bad.

Another dear friend lost her brother a few weeks into the New Year. He had been battling anxiety and depression for years. He had endured it long enough. I spoke to my friend on the phone as she was hurriedly preparing to be with her family and said, "I don't have words to say to you. Just know that I'm here." I hope she understood what I meant.

Sometimes death can kill the living. If we give in to the pain and despair of the loss, we may be unable to see the lessons we are meant to receive. We may never come to appreciate the precious moments we have spent in the company of those we love.

We never know when our time on this earth will end. Cherish each moment like it will be the last. That's what living in the moment means. Be here, Now. It is the only time we will ever know.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Embracing My Non Traditional Christmas Traditions


My nephew, Atticus, accurately displaying
my feelings about the Holiday season.

 "I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel. I just don't understand Christmas, I guess." -- Charlie Brown


The holiday season is here, and I have to be honest, I'm not feeling the Christmas spirit. For starters, the temperature in Tucson is averaging around 75 degrees Fahrenheit with bright sunny skies. Sure, it gets chilly at night, but I haven't had to pull out my parka...wait...I don't even own a parka anymore. My collection of fun gloves and scarves that I wore during the cold Virginia winters have long been donated to Goodwill. 

The stockings were hung.
A glimpse of Christmas past.  2011.
I haven't celebrated Christmas in the traditional sense for the past three years. In my old life, I took great pleasure in all the traditions that were handed down to me from my family. I loved spending hours hunting for the perfect tree with my ex and his family, then decorating it while sipping hot cider as Bing Crosby belted out "White Christmas" in the background. I planned the great feast for weeks, and even did my part in supporting the economy by shopping for the perfect gifts for everyone.

Christmas went the same way every year for nearly 16 years. Christmas Eve was spent with my family: Mom, Sister, Granny, aunts, and cousins. We usually had a big dinner and then exchanged gifts. In later years, we all met for a holiday themed movie and White Elephant gift exchange. That night, my ex and I would exchange gifts by the fire and make plans for the coming year. 

Christmas Day was usually spent at my ex's parents' home. We would get up early and the gift exchange would take place as soon as we arrived, typically around 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning. After cleaning up the mountains of shredded wrapping paper and ribbons, we would spend the whole day helping prepare the dinner that we all shared around the festively decorated table.

That's the way it was. Every year. Until 2012. 

In some ways, I think the Mayan prediction of the end of the world in 2012 actually happened. For me, anyway. By December of that year, my whole life was different. I was different. I had ended my 15 year relationship with my ex and moved out on my own for the first time in over a decade. I was exploring my newfound freedom and forging my own traditions. 

Me and Mama Price
spending Christmas in the Bahamas.
It was during this time that my closest friend, Marsha, invited me to spend Christmas in the Bahamas with her family. We were all grieving the loss of her father, who had passed away the month before. None of us felt jolly or cheerful, and getting away to somewhere warm and sunny seemed like just what we needed.

It was bittersweet. While I was extremely grateful for the generous gift of this trip, we were all in mourning. Inevitably, the warm sunny days on the white sandy beach would give way to the dark cool nights and remind us that we were missing someone very dear to us. 

I began to cherish every moment I spent with my friends and family. We are on this planet for such a short time. We will all be gone while the trinkets we have exchanged over the years will remain. I would rather hang onto my memories of time spent together than a keepsake dust collector. 

That was the last time I ever exchanged gifts. When I returned home, I gathered my friends, and we hit the bricks delivering free hugs to holiday shoppers on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was so much fun to see people actually get a running start and jump into our arms to receive a hug. I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon. 
My friend, Jason, was part
of the Free Hug Brigade.
Surprisingly, most of the people
we encountered wanted hugs
from him. 

Christmas 2013 was a little different. I had just moved across the country two months before. I was still getting settled in, but I wasn't finished traveling yet. I made my way to a beach in Honolulu, HI in early December to earn my Brown Belt in the Nia Technique. Once again, I found myself in a tropical location during the start of the Christmas season. 

The shops were decorated in red and green. Christmas carols could be heard on the street corners as performers strummed their ukeleles. Every encounter with another person ended in "Aloha and Merry Christmas!", but it did not feel like Christmas to me.

One evening, I sat on a beach with my friend, Kristin, who had moved to Oahu just a few months before. As we watched the waves crash into the shore, we talked about how differently each of our lives had turned out thus far. Our conversation made me nostalgic for a Christmas with my family and friends, so I changed my travel plans to include a trip back to Virginia in time for Christmas.

As it turns out, this was not the best decision I could have made. In hindsight, I realized that I probably should have stayed in Honolulu. 

I traveled for exactly 24 hours to get to Charlottesville from Honolulu. I was exhausted and freezing. The cold winter air smacked me in the face as soon as I landed on Virginia soil, as if to say, "You idiot. You could be on a beach right now."

I was met with a not so warm welcome from a certain special someone. I didn't have transportation, and getting around the sprawling city in the cold proved quite difficult on foot. The best gift I received during that visit was that of silence. For two days, I was left in a big drafty house, alone with my thoughts. That is exactly what I needed. 

I reconnected with my mindfulness practices. I was able to forgive and move past my ideas of what I thought my impromptu trip home should have been like. I went to one of the best yoga classes of my life on Christmas Eve led by my friend, Jen Waine. It was a candlelit class, and as soon as I walked into the warm, dimly lit studio, I finally felt that familiar feeling I had been missing. It felt like home. It was during that class that I was able to move everything I wanted to say, feel, or scream through the gentle practice of leaving it all on the mat. What a gift.

The next day, my mother and sister picked me up and took me to the airport to fly back to Tucson. I spent Christmas Day in the sky. It was fantastic. I had finally let go of my attachment to Virginia as "home". I felt free. I arrived back in Tucson at midnight to find my friends waiting to welcome me home with open arms. It was a Christmas I will never forget, and I am grateful.

My memories of all those Christmases before 2012 are all blurred together. Nothing really stands out as truly memorable. They were ordinary by nature of the definition of the word "tradition". 

So this year, while hoards of people rush to the mall to fill their bags with shiny dust collectors, I opt to head to the park and sit on a blanket with a borrowed dog or my yoga mat. 


The only plans I've made is to spend Christmas this year with my new family in Tucson. We will make memories together and share precious moments. The non traditional Christmas is becoming my Christmas tradition, and it suits me just fine.





Monday, September 1, 2014

Revival of the Sisterhood



Chillin' with my girl, Hansel.
The sisterhoods. The lifelong friends and bonds that will never lessen. Years can go by, and I will pick up with each of those sisters as if a single day hasn’t passed. Only we can truly understand one another.” - Angela Ricketts

Recently I did something I haven't done in a long time. I talked on the phone with a girlfriend. For an hour.

Most people who know me know that I hate talking on the phone more than going to the dentist. In this day and age, it's faster and easier to chat, text, or email when I need to communicate with others, but during that conversation with my girlfriend, I realized that I had been missing an important piece of the social interaction pie.

When it comes to my friends, I have always found it easier to get along with men than women. I'm very choosy when it comes to adding women to my circle. I have very low tolerance for bullshit, game-playing, and insecurity. I prefer to be around women who are smart, independent, fun, and at times a little outrageous. Everyone brings something different to the table. 

The few female sister-friends I have are my true soul sisters. They are the kind of friends who would not ask questions if I needed a hole dug in the desert in the middle of the night. They would simply organize the event and assign who would bring the shovels, music, and beer. 

Shaena & Me. Friends from VA to AZ
Shaena and I met in 2008 when we were both working at the Cancer Center at the University of Virginia. She had an awesome job while I was stuck in the first job I ever hated. 

Shaena was the reason I showed up to work each day during that time. She and I shared a similar sense of humor, a love of spontaneously dancing in the hallways or elevators, and a passion for cake. When she moved away, technology made it easy for us to stay in touch. I even visited her in Arizona for the birth of her second child. 

Several years later, when I quit my job to begin my quest for happiness, Shaena sensed it. I remember confiding in her about my uncertain future and how terrified I was of not knowing what I was going to do at the time.  She listened patiently and then said, "I know what you're going to do. You're going to move to Tucson." A few months later, that's exactly what I did.
We're connected, as women. It's like a spiderweb. If one part of that web vibrates, if there's trouble, we all know it.” - Sarah Addison Allen 
Upon arrival to my new city, I relied on my mindfulness practices to keep me calm and even provide income. I began teaching yoga and Nia right away. Those practices helped me stay afloat while putting the finishing touches on the book

One day, I was teaching Nia to a group of women in the park. As an ice-breaker, the group's facilitator handed out pennies to everyone. We were asked to look at the year on the penny and then tell the group something significant from our life that happened during that year. Shaena's penny was dated 2013. When it was her turn, she told the group, "This year has been pretty shitty, but the best thing that happened was when I asked my friend, Kristy, to move to Arizona, and she actually came." Yeah, Girl. I sure did.

Private Yoga at Inspiration Rock
Mt. Lemmon, AZ
Moving to a new city meant I would need to rebuild my social circles. After landing a job at a world-renowned wellness resort, I was thrown into a mix of men and women. Suddenly, there were about a dozen new women in my life. I was surprised at how quickly I developed bonds between my female co-workers. In just a few months, I've enjoyed conversations and shared meals and experiences outside of work that have brought me tremendous joy.

One of my friends was recently going through a tough time. She really needed some peace in her life, so I drove us up to Mt. Lemmon one sunny afternoon. We made our way to the top of Inspiration Rock where we did yoga and deep breathing. It felt like we were the only two people in the world up there in all that silence.

Another new friend invited me to brunch at her home a few weeks ago. The kitchen was full of friendly faces and busy hands. Everyone was pitching in to help prepare the meal. There was so much laughter and warmth radiating from that space, it felt like home.
Ladies Who Brunch

While I have made many new friends in Arizona, I am grateful to also remain in touch with the other members of my sisterhood. Even though we may be on opposite ends of the country, or even the globe at times, I never feel as though our friendship has faded. A simple text, call, or message on Facebook is enough to keep our bonds strong.  

I've been in Arizona for almost a year now. Being over 2,000 miles away from my own family, it's been important for to form close bonds with other women. I have been fortunate to find women who have not only embraced me as a friend, but have adopted me as a sister. 


Monday, August 4, 2014

Rave Reviews

We control the media more than we know.

Welcome to the age of social media. We can now post, share, like, comment, follow, pin, check-in, hashtag, tweet, and perform a whole list of other nouns that have become verbs in the blink of an eye. We can be instantly connected to hundreds, or even thousands of friends around the world. We have unlimited information at our fingertips at all times.

Today, it's more likely that we've spent more time chatting or messaging with someone we've never met than actually having a face-to-face conversation with the actual people in our lives. Many of our off-line relationships are but hollow representations of the seemingly deep connections we might perceive with our online audience. Have we succumbed to the Matrix after all?

We all know that social media is a great way to get the word out about an upcoming birthday party or a new product or class to try. It's a useful tool to raise awareness of social issues and to spark in-depth discussions on everything from hotbed political issues to what hairstyle Miley Cyrus is currently sporting.

I've used several different social media sites effectively to share this blog in order to reach over 5,500 readers in 63 countries to date. To my surprise, my last blog post was viewed by 2,000 people in 17 countries within 24 hours of posting it. Scientists are now studying the possibility of whether information can travel faster than the speed of light. Right now, it can't. However, the possibility of superluminal data transfer may be on the horizon. I googled it. And I love puns.

Many companies are now creating jobs for employees who do nothing more than post to social media pages. With just a few clicks on popular review sites, we can make informed decisions based on consumer reviews on just about everything, including where to eat, shop, sleep, play, or seek medical attention. We can even find a date for Saturday night without ever leaving the couch.

With the ability to share information so easily and quickly, we may be in danger of losing the love of exploration. Why try new things when we can just read the reviews?

By now, you may be wondering what this post has to do with mindfulness. As Peter Parker learned, "with great power there must also come great responsibility". We, the People, have the power to influence the opinions and decisions of others with the words we use. Sometimes we use that power to positively describe a product or experience. Many times, we do not. More often than not, we spin a web of negativity around an experience we had.

My general rule of thumb when leaving a review is to remember the advice my mother gave me: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Easier said than done. Every review I've ever left has been a positive one. Until today.

I've been dealing with some issues with my landlord lately about some conditions that have been handled in a way that is unsatisfactory to me. I have been patient for the past week, following all the proper channels to set things right. My efforts have been met with apologies and sympathy, but no attempts to actually fix the problems.

Today, my Tolerance Meter dropped below zero. During the interaction with my landlord, I informed her that I would be leaving a detailed and somewhat unfavorable review on one of the top review sites on the interwebs. As soon as the words left my mouth, something interesting happened.

I witnessed a physical and energetic transformation in the person with whom I was speaking. Her face changed. Her body language shifted. She was no longer meeting me with a stone wall stubbornness. Her eyes got bigger. Her jaw dropped a little. Her shoulders collapsed inward. She was exhibiting physical signs of....fear.

Whoa. I had not raised my voice. I had not used abusive language. I had not threatened bodily harm. I had not cleared the desk with my arm, which is what I really had an urge to do. (Thank you, yoga.) I simply stated that I was unsatisfied and that if the situation was not remedied immediately, I would be posting a negative review on a social media site...or two...or seven.

That's all I had to say. It was in that moment that I realized just how powerful social media really is.

The first thought that entered my mind after watching this woman melt in front of me was: "Don't be a dick." In yoga language, the term is "ahimsa" or non-harm. In other words, my mindfulness skills kicked in, and I reminded myself to display compassion, for myself, the other person, and the situation.
A good reminder.
"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." - Dalai Lama
I took a deep breath and walked away. I'm making a conscious decision to not post a negative review. In fact, this situation has opened my eyes to the need for more compassion in the world. Posting a negative review will surely impact this business. That will then trickle down and impact the employees and their families. It will, in the end, only make things worse for more people than I can be aware of at this moment.

It is not my intent to cause more suffering in the world. Sure, I'm still a little pissed off, but as long as my issue is fixed in a timely manner, then all my problems go away. How fortunate am I to have only a small problem in this day and age. I am grateful to have a roof over my head and a soft bed to sleep in. So many people do not.

Today, I choose to be more mindful of my social media interactions. I will still post reviews, but only when I have something nice to say. My mindfulness journey is far from over, but my backpack is getting full of the gear I need to make it across the rocky terrain. As I write these words, my issue is being fixed. I feel better already.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Eat the Damn Cake and Other Ways to Look 10 Years Younger



“Cake is happiness! If you know the way of the cake, you know the way of happiness! If you have a cake in front of you, you should not look any further for joy!”   C. JoyBell C.


I recently celebrated my birthday. One of my favorite games to play with people is to have them guess how old I am. It never fails...they always guess between 27 and 31. They are always wrong. When I reveal that I'm actually 37 years old a look of shock and confusion typically washes over their face. Then I'm bombarded with questions of: 

"What?!" 
"How is that possible?!"
"What is your secret?!"

I don't spend hundreds of dollars on miracle face creams. I don't make myself choke down wheatgrass shots. I've never worried about being beautiful or staying young. I don't wear makeup. I don't try to enhance my eyes or my lips. I don't apply bronzer to get that "healthy glow". In fact, I don't follow any beauty regimen of any kind, and yet, I'm constantly complimented on my "beautiful skin" and my glowing complexion.

The truth is, I have no beauty secrets. I never considered myself beautiful until recent years. Growing up, I was the awkward kid with big teeth and eyes set too far apart. My hair was, and most of the time still is, out of control. I was too skinny and my feet were too big. 

I spent a lot of time trying to fit in, so I frequently sported the latest fashions and hair crazes. I remember a time when "The Bangs" were like a living, breathing creature atop my forehead. I wore blue eyeliner and red lipstick and oh-so-much mascara. It was as if every day was Halloween.

When I became an adult, I let go of trying to be like everyone else. I began to follow my inner voice that was telling me to stop putting all that crap on my face. I grew out the bangs and found hairstyles that complimented the shape of my face. 

In the past few years, I have turned my focus on beautifying myself from the inside out. I've been more concerned with becoming a more compassionate person than looking cute. Through the cultivation of mindfulness skills and consistent practice of yoga, Nia, and meditation, I've become a happier, more vibrant person. That inner beauty is what I think is being reflected to others when they compliment me on my skin or my good hair day.

Here are my top 10 tips on looking up to 10 years younger (or otherwise living a healthy, happy life):

1. Sleep. When the body is tired, rest. Make sleep a priority. Naps are magnificent. Do not settle for less than seven hours of uninterrupted sleep. Buy the best bed you can afford. I have a Sleep Number, and it was the best money I ever spent. Indulge in the softest sheets and blankets. Rest your head on firm pillows. Keep your bedroom dark and cool. Someone special or a furry baby to cuddle is also nice.

Eat the damn cake!
2. Eat Well. My relationship with food has changed in the past few years. Food used to be my drug of choice. I would dull the pain of a neglectful relationship with pasta. I would ease the sting of hurtful words with mashed potatoes. I would silently tell someone to go to hell (in my head) over ice cream. Once I learned mindfulness skills that help me become aware of my self-destructive eating patterns, I made better choices. Instead of eating my feelings, I started to address them. What do you know, actually telling someone to go to hell feels even better than eating ice cream. 

Now, my general rule when it comes to food is to eat well. I do not diet. I do not deprive myself of anything. It saddens me to hear people say "I'm on this or that diet" or "I'm off this or that food" or my favorite, "I couldn't possibly have another piece of cake". I just want to grab them by the shoulders and shout, "Eat the damn cake!" Who doesn't love cake?

If I want to eat something, I just check in with my body first. Am I wanting to eat it because it is going to be delicious and pleasureful or am I wanting to eat it to hide what I'm feeling? If the answer is anything other than "I want to eat it because it is going to be amazing and bring me pleasure", I don't eat it. In the past two years, I've lost 65 pounds and kept them off, without dieting. That is a whole other blog post.

3. Stay Hydrated. I've been living in the desert for almost a year, and I realize the importance of drinking a lot of water. The human body is 75% water, so go ahead, drink up! Water is important for keeping all of our bodily functions operating correctly. Brace yourself for my eye-roll when I hear things like "But I don't like water". That's like saying you don't like air, so you should just go ahead and hold your breath right now. The body needs it, so shut up and drink it. Add lemons, cucumbers, oranges, or whatever strikes your fancy. Just drink your 8 glasses a day. Period.

Nia on the beach in Hawaii
4. Play. This is what some people might call "exercise". I hate to work out, but I love to play! My cardio of choice is Nia, a blend of dance, martial arts, and yoga. It is the only form of movement that I have been consistently participating in for the past 8 years. I wish I could say that about all my unused gym memberships. 

I also like to run, and when I say "run", I mean move my legs in a forward motion at a pace slightly faster than walking. I am quite possibly the slowest runner on the planet, but I enjoy how my body feels when I'm doing it. Find some activity that you enjoy doing for at least 30 minutes at a time at least three times each week. That's the key to fitting in regular exercise. I'm not talking about exercising to lose weight. I'm talking about strengthening the heart to pump blood through your body and deliver vital nutrients to all your organs and cells. Again, the body needs it, so you might as well find something you enjoy doing. Move it, move it! 

Me and my yoga students
5. Get Bent. Do yoga. Seriously, do it. I have heard every excuse in the world why people do not do yoga. I have even used several of them myself. Yet here I am, a yoga teacher. Who would have thought that someone who hated yoga as much as I did would become a yoga teacher? 

Lately, it's the only thing that keeps me sane. I do yoga to stretch my body, but also to quiet my mind. There's no need to fold myself into a pretzel to accomplish this. I choose to move my body gently. I listen when she says to back off. I connect with my breath. 

Yoga enhances my Nia and meditation practices. It gives me the focus and mental clarity I need to make better decisions. It keeps me from punching people in the face. For that reason alone, I think everyone should do yoga. Find the style and teacher that are right for you. If you can't find joy and peace in a yoga class, take a yoga teacher training to figure out why. That's what I did. Click here to do yoga with me. Namaste.

6. Exercise Your Brain. Engage in activities that keep the brain active. When focused on completing a task, the brain does not have time to worry about the future or linger in the past. Learn something new. Play games that are mentally challenging. Read. Write. Learn a new language. Take a class. Do something every day that increases the grey matter under your skull.

7. Spend Time in Nature. Whenever I have a problem that I cannot figure out, I know it's time to go into nature. The answers to all our problems are within us, and sometimes the only way to unlock them is to go into nature, away from electronics and distractions. There's nothing like sitting on a rock that has existed for thousands of years to gain a little perspective. Try staring up at a tall tree and thinking about paperwork. Try looking at birds and butterflies and thinking about your to-do list. Try digging your feet into the damp earth and thinking about paying bills. Go ahead...try it.

My dancing Nia sisters in AZ
8. Find Your Tribe. Social interactions are important for our emotional health. Humans are social animals and we constantly seek out connection with others. I tend to surround myself with positive people who aren't afraid to be themselves. I gave up on pleasing others a long time ago. I like to spend my time with people who are genuine. 

We don't waste our time with smalltalk. We speak from the heart and share our feelings. We support and guide each other. We tear it up on the dance floor together. We have tequila shots and share meals together. Most importantly, we are happy to see each other and spend precious moments together. You know when you've found your peeps when they find you.

Yeah, I'm still afraid of heights.
9. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.  Take risks. Explore. Travel to distant lands. Learn about other cultures. Try something new. My advice to the non-adventurous spirit is to start small. Add a jalapeƱo pepper to the scrambled eggs tomorrow morning. Find a new route to the office or the grocery store. If you're lucky, you'll get lost. Ask the bartender to make you a surprise drink, and actually drink it. Wear patterns with stripes. Write down all your fears and pick one or two to confront. 

I've written a lot about my "advenchas" in previous posts. Check out the one on the Fire Walk. That was way out of my comfort zone. I was scared to death, but it was also the most badass thing I've ever done. When we step into the unknown, it can be scary, but when we do so consciously and willingly, it can be incredibly liberating. 

10. Enjoy the View. Life is short. Live it with your eyes open. Take in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of all your experiences. If a situation is not going as planned, take a deep breath and look around. You might find that even a chaotic situation has beauty. See the world as though you've never seen it before. Be curious. Be playful. Be joyful. 
Me on my 37th birthday.
“You've got this life and while you've got it, you'd better kiss like you only have one moment, try to hold someone's hand like you will never get another chance to, look into people's eyes like they're the last you'll ever see, watch someone sleeping like there's no time left, jump if you feel like jumping, run if you feel like running, play music in your head when there is none, and eat cake like it's the only one left in the world!”  ― C. JoyBell C.
Bonus Tip: Above All Else...Have Love In Your Heart. The only time we have is now. Love yourself. Love each other. Follow these 10 steps and you too can look 10 years younger.













Friday, May 23, 2014

You Can't Take It With You

This view did not cost a penny.


What does it really mean to be free?

According to dictionary.com, liberty is defined as "freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction or hampering conditions". It's the "power or right of doing, thinking, and speaking according to choice". Yeah, that sounds about right.

I define freedom as the ability to do what I want whenever I want without having to consult with another.  I find comfort in the space of having freedom to succeed, but also the freedom to make mistakes. My mistakes are my greatest teachers. When I screw up, I let go of the anxiety and rest into the newly acquired lessons that I (hopefully) take away from the situation.

I've experienced independence from my family, my significant other, my friends, and my employers. I've made choices that were right for me, even though they might have seemed crazy to everyone else.

Lately, I've discovered a new kind of freedom. As I was preparing to move 2,000 miles from my home last October, I was faced with the reality that "you can't take it with you". I could only take with me what would fit in my car, so that meant I needed to shed over half of my possessions. My clothing, household items, books, etc., all had to be pared down to the bare necessities. At first, this was a daunting task. How could I part with all of my things?

My friend, Marga, sent me an article about a man who owns just fifteen items. That seemed a bit ambitious for my taste, though I admire him for it. He is truly free.

The hardest items for me to part with are my books. My worldly possessions are now dominated by my book collection.  More than 50% of the items I currently own are books.  I just can't seem to part with them as easily as the other things.  That old shirt, sure, it can go.  That hard back copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, you must be joking.

Going through my items was difficult. Memories of good times and not so great times flooded my brain along with thoughts of "but I might need that one day". During the last few weeks that I lived in Virginia, I sorted through every item that I owned. As the time to leave grew closer, I became tired of going through all that stuff, and I found it a little easier to let go with each passing day. I began to ask myself, "do I really need this?" More often than not, the answer was no.

I sold, gifted, and donated nearly everything I owned. I managed to whittle my wardrobe down to just what would fit in one suitcase. That's winter and summer clothing. Everything. And I didn't even have to sit on it to zip it shut.

In this age that is driven by consumerism, I find it interesting that I really don't need very much.  It felt good to lighten the load.  It's been liberating to rid myself of all that stuff.  I find that I have more free time because I don't have to concern myself with mountains of laundry, loads of dishes, or tidying up things that might be scattered about.  Those things just don't exist.

When I arrived in Tucson, I relied on Goodwill and Craigslist to furnish my apartment. I'm using the term "furnish" loosely. I have a couch and a chair. My friend, Shaena, loaned me two tables and a coffee pot. The only thing in my bedroom is my bed, which I brought with me.

Life is full of simple pleasures.
Last December, I traveled for 24 days with only what would fit in my carry-on tote bag and my backpack. I went from Tucson to Honolulu to Charlottesville and back to Tucson with only three outfits, two pairs of shoes, my computer, my phone, four books, and some toothpaste. Oh, and granola bars. I did have a bunch of those in the bag.

I felt completely free. I wasn't tied down by possessions. I was able to explore wherever I happened to be at the time. I trusted that everything else I might need would be provided. And it was.

In Hawaii, I stayed in a hostel during my Nia Brown Belt training. My friend, Kristin, lived close to Honolulu, so I asked her to loan me a towel, a blanket, and a tea cup. She brought me the softest blanket and the most beautiful tea cup I've ever seen. More importantly, I got to spend time with my friend in the magical land of Hawaii.

After my time in Hawaii was up, I flew all the way back to Virginia. I did not have enough warm clothes to survive the winter there when I arrived, so I headed to the local thrift shop to acquire some winter gear. When I walked into ReThreads, the owner and my dear friend, Melissa, informed me that I had quite a bit of credit due to the sale of some of my clothing I had consigned when I left for Tucson. I ended up with four winter outfits for free. The best part was that when I left Virginia for Tucson later in December, I just returned the clothes to the thrift shop.

Last week, my friend, Hansel, invited me to a clothing swap. This invitation came at just the right time, because I had a few clothing items I wanted to retire, but I had not had a chance to get to Goodwill yet. I was surprised at how much fun it was.

For someone new in town, this was the perfect opportunity to meet new people. There were about thirty folks there sifting through the mounds of clothing. It was a potluck, so after stuffing my bag with new-to-me clothing items, I was able to enjoy some delicious food and mingle with the local Tucsonians. With events like this, I may never "shop" for clothes again!
Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.” ― Elise Boulding
I've become more aware of shopping mindfully. This means when I do shop, I shop locally, and I buy only what I need. In my opinion, there's way too much stuff in the world already. If there's anything I need, I can almost always find a friend who is more than willing to loan it to me. If not, I'll check Craigslist or the thrift shop. Usually, if I can't find it at that point, chances are I probably don't need it anyway. It also helps that I don't watch TV. I don't have ads bombarding me with the new and exciting things I'm missing in my life. My life is full enough, thankyouverymuch.

This new mindset has made me realize that I can be at home anywhere. Home is not about things. It's about people and experiences. I've been in Tucson for about six months now, and I still don't have much more than I brought with me.  And I love it that way.