Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Am. In the Present.

There has been a recurring theme in my life. It comes in different faces, different messages, different situations, but it simply says this: 

Every day, we are all searching for that peace. One way or another, our minds are lagging behind in our past and skipping ahead into the future. All those to-do lists hanging over our heads, our regrets weighing down our hearts. Will it ever end?

It can, and it will… If you make that choice.

It is as simple as that. You make one choice. That choice to be within yourself, in the now, present and existing in this glorious world full of hope, love, sadness, anger, loneliness, and absolute joy. 

How do you know if thoughts about the past or future are positive? Simple, what are you feeling? Depression or nostalgia? Anxiety or hope?

I remind my student to notice their bodies, to realize they're sitting on their mat going from asana to asana. I ask them to look for tension within themselves whether in their muscles or in their minds. I tell them:

Notice it as you inhale. Release it as you exhale.

Breathe in and fill yourself up with the air that is around you right now. This air exists only in the now. The past and future are illusions of our minds. We invented them. We choose to call up painful memories and relive the negativity. We dive into our daydreams and lose sense of reality, responsibility, and self. We miss the very things going on right in front of us. So stop.

Inhale. Notice.

Exhale. Release.

Release the tension, the stress, the negativity, the memories and daydreams, the to-do lists and regrets. Release it all. 

Do you even remember what color your mat is? Will you walk out of class and forget everyone who shared the same sacred space as you?

Take a moment and ask yourself, "What is going on with me right now?" And then just observe. Remember ahimsa, loving kindness, and leave your judgement and criticism behind. Observe, notice, and be.

There, you will find the peace. It's been inside you all along.

Now, think of an image or word to see in your mind. Associate it with this beautiful feeling of peace. Concentrate upon this, breathing deeply. Inhaling and noticing. Exhaling and releasing.

Make a physical representation of this word or picture. You can draw it, paint it, sculpt it, write it, scrawl it across your mirror in dry erase markers. Concentrate on this physical reminder and find that feeling of peace.

Whenever you go through your daily life, call up that positive word or image as you start to spiral down into depression or anxiety. Concentrate, or meditate, upon it for even just thirty seconds. Find that peace and let it infuse you.

Search for more inspirational quotes from Lao Tzu. Another heart-hitting book is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I read this for my Yoga Teacher Training and it was very hard for me to understand at first, but with persistent reading, it finally came together and opened my eyes.

Do you have any good quotes, books, or messages to share on this theme?

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Twenty-Something's Call To Arms

The twenties have become the new awkward age. We are all overgrown kids with adult responsibilities and parents willing to bail us out if we need. Gone are the times where 18 was the threshold over which children cut their apron strings, finish school, find someone to marry, and start a family. Now, we're clearly in the era of delayed development.

High school drama lurks around the corner, and the person asking for our rent is right outside our door. We ping pong between business casual and Forever 21 slowly morphing the office dress code into "dressy jeans" and ironic t-shirts. No one blinks at my nose ring, even as I apply for a job working with small children. Tattoos are a topic of conversation rather than grounds for dismissal. 

We move out of state to start a new life, finding our own places with a roommate or two or four, work three jobs in between classes if we even decide to have any because our BA degrees are about as useful as toilet paper. We buy our own cheap beer, smoke some green whenever we want, and have parties until two am then arrive bleary-eyed to work the next day. We pat ourselves on our back for making it to work or school despite the college antics we have yet to let go.

Then, when eviction looms because our work has cut our hours for yet a third time, we call home and come crying back into our childhood bedrooms. We don't understand relationships or how to be in one. We think we can talk our way out of anything if we try long enough, like cops are just like school teachers and it's just in-school suspension they're threatening, not jail. We never even learn how to cook.

I could tell us to grow up, grow a set, take charge and responsibility, find actual jobs, start giving a shit about the mundane crap like renewing tags on our cars and paying bills on time; but it's never going to happen. We are firmly on top of the world blissfully unaware of our pending rude awakening. I'm right up there too and I can kind of see the stormy clouds approaching, waiting to knock me down. But as an apocaloptimist, I'm certain that despite how we are all going to hell, we will all be okay. 

I see the pending apocalypse but I'm optimistic that things will take a turn for the better. 

I'm firmly within my mid-twenties. It's not what I expected it to be. Half my friends are married, another half have kids, and most of us are all struggling day-by-day and laughing about it as we blow money on organic food because it's "right" without really knowing why. Some of us are blissfully ignorant, others are obnoxious know-it-alls. I preach about vegetarianism in the most annoying way possible, and other vegetarians are glad to pretend they don't know marshmallows contain animal ingredients. Whoops, now you know.

I swing wildly between trying to save the world and saying "fuck it all" as I trash a plastic bottle instead of recycling it. I drop off all my worldly possessions at my parents' house because I can't stand to pay rent for three months while I'm away working at summer camps. Things become ten times more complicated for my bosses because they have to find temporary replacements for me while I leave for the season. I feel awful for adding stress but am thrilled for all the adventures ahead of me. I'm selfish and compassionate at the same time. 

We all are.

Social media is the "Me" generation and it also spurs the "You" generation. We exhibit our egos but create awareness for plights across the earth at the same time. We are a group of paradoxes, veering between children and adults. 

The teenage years were dubbed the awkward years. But society, revolution, technology, and more have created a longer awkward era. Parents wishing easy lives upon their offsprings urge it along. Knowledge has created an environment of confusion. Globalization has turned us all into citizens of the world. What is our purpose now? What is the correct behavior? What are our expectations?

There is a mantra that I've come to adopt through my experiences: We are exactly where we need to be right now and it will be okay. 

Thinking ahead with global change or thinking inwardly with self-satisfaction. Surviving or spending. Making right choices to succeed or creating mistakes to learn from. There is no right or wrong. One day, our parents will not pick up the phone. One day, we will figure out how to love our significant other in the right way. One day, we will create families whether by divine act or purpose, and we will proceed to screw up those children for the rest of their lives, and they their children, and so on and so forth. We will recycle four plastic bottles for each one we throw away. We will incite positive change and create negative effects. 

There is a balance, a wave moving to and fro. While the world may veer towards the negative with climate change and the destruction of nature, our balance lies within this generation blindly encouraging an eco-friendly revolution. While wars continue to exist, our spirituality will grow through breaking away from corrupt religion and thinking for ourselves. We are unrecognizable and equally recognizable to every generation. Revolution and conformity. 

Let's go on and live.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Homemade Coconut Oil Deodorant: Be a Hippie But Not Smell Like One

There's a rising trend for hippiedom these days, but instead of harking back to the days of Woodstock where people didn't shower and braided their armpit hair, we're forced to work jobs and look presentable to the non-hippiefied masses in order to enable our lifestyle. 

Enter natural deodorant.

I barely keep up with all the hoopla surrounding aluminum and other creepy chemicals in our seemingly harmless deodorant sticks. All I know is that it contains chemicals and if I can't eat it and still be healthy or alive, I don't want it on my body. Whether the breast cancer risk is real or not, I rather just not. So, I go for the lesser of the two evils with the natural stuff you can buy, like Tom's of Maine.

It's not the most innocent of odor-blocking sticks, but it's affordable and accessible to me compared with most other ones. Of course, I have to admit, I use it purely for psychological reasons because it simply Really. It just doesn't. I put it on and say to myself, "And ye shalt not smelt for the next twelve hours." when really it's about twelve minutes and I go around apologizing to my yoga students for my ripening odor.

At least it kind of fits my image…

But really though, I'm over the whole smelly armpits and having to wash my clothes more often than not because really, they can last a few more wearings if it weren't for that sneaky smell that slowly seeps out with every pass of upward facing dog. Besides, b.o. does not make me feel awesome or sexy or pretty or cool. Major self-esteem killer.

So I finally decided to give in and try homemade deodorant. Don't ask me why it took me this long. I've had all the ingredients for practically a year just sitting in my pantry and I just never put two and two together. But anyway, better late than never, right?

It only requires three ingredients for the most basic recipe: coconut oil, baking soda, and cornstarch or arrowroot starch. You can fancy it up by adding essential oils like tea tree oil, peppermint, lavender, or anything else. Tea tree and peppermint have antibacterial properties that will aid in killing odors so you get a little extra benefit. I just made the base recipe for now to try it out.

To make sure it really did work, I put it together just for our backpacking trip last weekend. Three whole days of woodland hiking plus two nights of camping. Not a shower in sight. What better way to truly discover the effectiveness of this deodorant? 

Result? It really did work! Granted, by the third morning, I was a tiny bit ripe, but dude, I didn't shower for three days, I'd be more freaked out if I did't smell at this point. Now, this isn't meant to be an antiperspirant but the baking soda does offer a bit of sweat protection as well, just a little bit. But I don't mind sweat, I just didn't want to scream "crunchy granola hippie" anymore. This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Here's a recipe for a tiny batch, about 1/4 cup so you can try it out for yourself without a giant pot of deodorant going to waste if it's not to your liking. Double if you need.

Homemade Deodorant:

1 1/2 tbsp unrefined cold pressed coconut oil
1 tbsp baking soda
1 tbsp corn starch or arrowroot starch*
Essential oils if using

In a small bowl, mix together the baking soda and starch until combined. Add softened coconut oil and gently press it into the powder mix until well mixed. Add more oil or starch to get the a paste-like consistency if needed. Add a few drops of whatever oils you like to use and mix together. Store in a jar or ziploc bag.

To use: Massage a dime-sized amount into each underarm until absorbed. Repeat if necessary. 

*The corn starch is to help turn it into a paste. Some people have expressed concerns with gmo in corn starch, arrowroot is a good alternative. I've read that arrowroot is a tiny bit more effective than corn starch but it's up to you.

Have you made this before? What do you think?

What Backpacking Does for the Soul

Despite a few initial setbacks such as pouring rain and cold temperatures, we finally headed down to Zaleski in Wayne National Forest to trek across hilly, woody terrain and camp out for two nights. It was the most magnificent experience. For the first time in a long while, I was able to think about nothing at all. I had taken care of any urgent errands and plans before leaving, so for the entire trip, I was free to blissfully take in the scenery with "reality" figuratively a thousand miles away.

We napped in the middle of the day in a hammock, the breeze gently blowing and the sun shining warmly my face.

We enjoyed each other's company and the company of the trees around us and the moths fluttering through our legs.

We ate simply. Drank pure refreshing water. Walked through narrow trails and muddy pits. Gazed upon a lake that surprised us over the incline. Stood on the edge of a cliff. Marveled at the blooming leaves, flowers, and ferns. Slept huddled against the cold. Roasted marshmallows over the fire. Grew awestruck at the millions of stars twinkling above. 

Found ourselves again.

The trip sent us back to basics. What is it that we truly need to be content with life? It's an exercise in discovering our santosha, contentment and satisfaction with our situation, and of course that  willingness to take risks. A soft bed with insulation against the cold is nice, but sleep is the key. Television shows and Facebook updates can be entertaining, but we truly need little more than the pulse of our footsteps along a dirt-covered path. 

We spend most of our lives sheltering ourselves from the great nature outside, but that's where our real self dwells. Floating through the wind and resting on the leaves of the trees, shimmering on the surface of the brook, and tumbling around with butterflies.

Coming back home made me feel like the reality was the dream. We're mindlessly look at computer screens and buying pre-made bread. Today, I worked my fingers through the pillowy mounds of pizza dough, gazing out the window wishing I could tear down the walls and make my vegetable stock and bread outside, where I really belong. I drive to work, watching billboard ads and stressed out people go by, and I feel out of place. I make money. Money for what? To invest in a society that is consciously driving itself away from our true place? 

I might be of the few who feel this way; yearning to go back to the real life and escape this dream, while most others view the trek through the woods as the dreamy distraction from real life. Whatever it is, I cling to the memories of my experience to preserve my soul and santosha as I live here and now. Images credit: J.J. Bechhold

Live Light - Travel Light - Be the Light - Spread the Light

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tabata My Glutes Off

I felt like a veritable beast during my yoga teacher training. I was out there taking two or more yoga classes a day, running on the trail, and doing "core-ture" workouts. Get it, torture, core-ture. Not only that, I did other completely random things: hooping, acro-yoga, arial yoga, stand-up paddle boarding, and whatever else I could find that was free and not at some ungodly early morning hour. Having been transplanted to Austin just for training, I didn't have a job or family obligations to deal with. So I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. Plus, it was nice that the friends I had made were right there next to me on the mat, trail, or paddle board. My yoga practice benefitted greatly through my recreation. I became strong and active because I had a well-rounded practice. I didn't focus on just one form of exercise, I balanced it out through cardio, flexibility training, and strength building. 

Now, I've returned to real life where I do have jobs, obligations, and so do most of my friends. My activity level had waned, not to mention the freebies here in Columbus are significantly fewer in number. Time and money got in the way and well, to be honest, the polar vortexes of this winter has prevented me from wanting to go outside at all. My well-balanced exercise regime have declined. While I can do sun salutations without breaking a sweat, I didn't feel an overall strength anymore.

It's made me realize how beneficial cross-training is. One person can practice running forever until they win a marathon. But for me, I don't want to just win a marathon, I want to take a weekend off to go rock climbing, drop in on a yoga class, then try flipping myself through the air on a trapeze. But again, we come back to time and money. How can I continue my badassary if I don't have the means to do so yet?

One word: tabata. For those in the know who I've talked to, it basically strikes fear into their hearts. Really, I should be terrified of it as well but we're still going through that delicious honeymoon period where I'm all, "This only takes 20 minute and I've burned off that slice of cake I just shoved in my mouth!" and tabata's all like, "Aww, this girl's really into me even though everyone else is scared of me. We must have something real!" Give me a few more weeks, then we can talk.

Basically, tabata is like a high intensity interval training exercise. You do various exercises and plyometrics at high speed for 20 seconds with 10 second breaks in between for 4 minutes for a total of 4 rounds breaking for 1 minute in between. With me so far? To be fair, I'm still very new to this and don't know very much about it. However, I do know that it has been an awesome addition to my practice and it only takes about 30 minutes altogether with warm ups and cool downs. 

Here's the first tabata work out that I've ever tried and that got me hooked on this whole idea. I begin with a set of pretty vigorous sun salutations to stretch out my muscles and get my heart going. Any cardio exercise is fine, whether it's running, biking, or getting a heart attack. Just kidding. Then, I did two sets of each round, totaling in four sets with one minute breaks in between. 

A timer is necessary to help keep track. I use my regular iPhone stopwatch but there are special tabata apps that can help you. Set it for 4 minutes for the first set and do each exercise for 20 seconds, taking 10 second breaks in between. At the end of the first set, take a 1 minute break, then repeat the first set. Do again with the second round for two sets. 

Then cool off. I walk around a little bit to get my heart rate and my shaking legs, oh my shaking legs, back under control. Then, I finish off with some yoga poses that stretch out my hamstrings, quads, glutes, and side body. Pyramid pose, side triangle, half split (or full,) lizard, and low lunges are pretty good. 

Many tabatas vary slightly in timing and exercise. This is what works best for me and I've modified it with different exercises, adding weights, alternating abs moves to keep it well-rounded. Just a quick Google or a search on Pinterest will yield so many options. Plus, the weather is finally beginning to warm up, so that just means I get to take this outside and try some of the sprinting moves!

How do you keep yourself in shape and balanced? Do you cross-train or prefer to stick with one type of exercise?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Our Reaction to Stress is Our Karma

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” 
― Wayne W. Dyer

Stress. This single, seemingly harmless word invokes a myriad of emotions and words: fear, failure, pressure, anxiety. All negative reactions. We have been conditioned to view stress as detrimental to our life and health whether it's mental, emotional, or physical. We have been taught to fear stress and to remove it as quickly as we can. If it doesn't go away, we must go at it like battering rams, fighting the stress itself while causing guilt to ourselves for failing to remove it.

Stress takes on a life of its own. It's really amazing what a malleable, changing creature it is. It is incredibly sensitive to our thoughts and behaviors and slowly covers us with a finely woven net of frustration and despair. We end up battling stress itself rather than focusing on the root cause of it. It is a distraction leading us away from solving our life's problems. 

I got hit with two stressful events- problems at work and problems with my car. Then, suddenly, the stress escalated. I became stressed with the fact I wasn't exercising enough and began letting myself make bad food choices. I became stressed with wanting to just sit and read a book but feeling like I needed to clean the house and cook dinner. I became stressed with how it felt like I was the only one closing the window blinds at night at home. Yes, that's right, I was stressed about window blinds

That's how stress works. It begins with one thing, and when we don't get right down to the cause of it and take care of it, it begins to sneak its way into other things. Eventually, the small things that we would never think twice about become the reason why we suddenly burst into tears or begin snapping at people we love. 

The problem with stress lies in our conditioning, in the "agreement" we made that stress is a negative thing and must be demolished instantly or else, we are to blame for its existence. We "shouldn't let stress get to us." 

Actually, it's all based on our reaction. There is such a thing as positive stress, also known as eustress, as opposed to distress- negative stress. But before we start happily categorizing everything into eustress and distress, we have to analyze our own karma. How we react is our karma, and when we react negatively towards something, it will rebound to us in a negative way. 

Stress has been shown to give us a burst of energy, that little bit of motivation we've been waiting for to finally tackle an issue head on. Who of us works best under pressure? There's quite a few out there who excels in beating the deadline. And speaking of deadlines, all it denotes is stress, but we finally get that kick in our butt to get things done that would otherwise get put off. Butterflies in our stomach before we go on stage? We end up giving the best performance ever. That stress biologically puts our bodies and minds into high drive, pushing us to give our best, igniting our fight or flight instinct in every situation.

Stress also forces us to really think. Have an issue without an obvious solution? Or time-tested answers just don't work? Now, we have to think creatively. We have to really reach into the back of our minds to come up with something. We have to go find people to talk to, to help us, to give us new perspectives. It forces us to spin the world as we know it on its head and start looking at things from a new eye. It's how we continue to survive, creating evolutionary changes in our society and species. If we continue to do the same old things over and over, we'll never progress further than where we are now. 

Instead of dwelling on the negative, which is generally a subconscious action and escalates stress, we have to begin looking for the positive outcomes. It's the silver lining in things. Lose a job? Now's the chance to find something that fits what we want and need better. It's not making light of a devastating event if we choose to "look on the bright side." It's essential to our survival. 

Sometimes, people tend to shut down completely. We become so overwhelmed we turn into zombies going through our routine on auto-pilot. This happens in extreme times of distress, such as death or divorce. Our reaction still counts here. Death of a loved one is an extremely stressful event, but we have to remain aware of our process of grief. Instead of allowing subconscious actions to come in, causing us to fall into a doldrum-like state of depression, we need to constantly be conscious of our karma, to continue living, functioning, and protecting ourselves. 

Let's cultivate karuna- compassion, ahimsa- kindness, and patience. Allow ourselves to experience our emotions, our grief, our pain and sadness due to a stressful event. Give up a day or two to work through it in whatever way we feel we need through sleep, food, friends and family, escape. Then, practice aparigraha- non attachment. We let go of that stress and transform it into a tool for us to progress and develop. We have complete control over our karma and it is all based on how we choose to react. 

Change our reaction, and we will turn stress from a negative, harmful experience to a positive, progressive growth.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Happy Half Birthday!

Half birthdays. Some people celebrate them, some people don't even realize it's come and gone. I usually acknowledge them and if conditions are ripe, I'll do a tiny little celebration.

After all, why not? Each day is special. You ever ask a little kid how old he or she is? If she's past the halfway mark, you're sure to know it. Six and a half, she'll count out on her fingers.

For me, my half birthday today marks the exact halfway point not just through my 25th year, but my entire 20's. It's a slightly sobering thought. No longer am I a young, early-twenty-something. Times of care-free behavior read: bullshitting suddenly become inexcusable. By now, I should be finished with school, well on my way to getting married, and thinking about starting a family at some point in the near future.

After all, my peers are getting engaged and popping babies out left and right. I can barely check my Facebook newsfeed without getting yet another announcement in the form of a bedazzled left ring finger or some girl baring her bulging belly to the world. 

As women, we are in our prime. Strong, healthy, and mentally able to handle a tiny individual helplessly depending on us for the next 18 years rest of their life. I guess that's why this half birthday has a bit of a cloud over it. 

I am not one of these girls with a ring on my finger or a baby in my belly. I don't have a degree on my wall yet and I plan to go back and finish up this fall. A recent conversation made me realize by the time I do have a degree, I'll be nearly 30. I can only picture the next few years as a barren expanse of homework, exams, and grades with no fun, no travel, no excitement.

I know that's not true. There'll be fun and travel and excitement. But even just thinking about all the work it'll take it fit that stuff in a heavily committed schedule between school, my teaching schedule, and work hours makes me want to break out in hives. I sooner sacrifice one of those than the opportunity to explore the world. 

I don't feel old. That's not the case at all. But I do an urgent sense of time rushing by too quickly. I'm terrified of waking up and realizing that I've wasted even more time. But the idea of having a family right now leaves me in a cold sweat.

My life is just beginning. It barely got out of the gate, I feel. How the heck am I supposed to handle another life to care for? That's the most frustrating part. As a woman, I do have a finite amount of time before I miss the gate for childbearing. If I'm not ready at that societal-labeled "prime time" for having kids, by the time I am ready, I risk facing a multitude of health issues for myself and my baby. It's not a great feeling to carry around. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't spend every day or every minute thinking, "Oh god, there goes another egg!" But sometimes, a moment will hit and I start thinking about all this stuff, wondering what I should be doing. I'm happy with the way things are, I'm happy with continuing to learn about myself and build my life. If I had my way, I'd be 40 when I have my first kid and I'll be youthful and spry all the way up to when my kids have their own kids… at age 40 as well.

Alas, we can't always have what we want. But we can accept the way things are now. My life is turning out pretty good. I'm in great health. I'm in love. I have a roof over my head and food and chocolate in my belly. So happy half birthday to me!