Brain Food

20161213_183954Last night I drank caffeinated green tea after dinner and it kept me awake half the night. When I finally gave up on sleeping, I went downstairs and watched the YouTube videos of Dr. Daniel Amen. The guy knows the brain inside out and is passionate about the care of this amazing organ. Ironically, sleep is one of the brain’s critical needs.

And I’ve known this. I’ve stressed the importance of sleep to my kids over the years, to the point of sounding like a broken record. When we haven’t had enough sleep, we don’t function as well, we are more prone to poor eating habits, skipping exercise, irritability and accidents. I knew it would not bode well for me to be wide awake at 3 a.m., and yet I was not sorry to be taking in Dr. Amen’s knowledge.

20160602_170831-2Diet and exercise are also critical to healthy brain functioning. We know this already, right? But I usually think of these things as important for my body and my heart. Rarely do I focus on the fact that I am caring for this incredible, elastic bundle of nerve cells. And what really makes me want to jump up and down is how the brain’s upkeep affects our overall happiness in a BIG way. Our mood, judgement, creativity and attention are all  results of the brain. I would say all those things together affect the spirit. As Dr. Amen says, when your brain works, your life works. 

What are you feeding your brain? 

That is the question I am going to ask myself from now on.
20160503_111231I am feeding it eight hours of sleep most nights, plus exercise and meditation. And I am feeding it some pretty yummy things too, like spaghetti squash and shredded zucchini and quinoa stuffed peppers and salmon over spinach. 20160801_171519-1

 

Our brains needs a lot of water, and of course, intellectual stimulation and empowering thoughts. We can nurture and stretch our brains, or let them atrophy. We can feed them well or neglect them.

We can literally grow and heal our brains by making healthy choices. 

I’m drinking the decaf tea tonight.

My brain has some sleep to catch up on.

 

 

 

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The Art of of Self -Care

stock-photo-48674142-artist-brush-painting-picture-of-beautiful-landscapeIt has in fact occurred to me that not everyone is as passionate about simplifying as I am. Not everyone thinks that organizing a closet or an office is fun. Therefore, someone can like the idea of simplifying, but not actually ever do it. Which is perfectly fine if the idea of it is only mildly appealing anyhow.

Like so many things- exercising, losing weight, getting healthy, changing careers, creating a beloved project, giving up sugar- it is easy to like the idea of it, and quite a bit harder to do it. I suspect that to make any lasting change, we first need to fall in love with the idea of it.

We all know that doing something new, even if it’s for the best, requires bypassing that well-worn groove our old habits have created in our brain, in order to start on a new path. The new path can be steep and muddy, thick with brush, a tangle of overgrowth. We haven’t been here before, so the first hundred steps are difficult, prickly and tiring. It requires so much energy, so much of our will.

If the reason for starting down this path is not compelling enough, then who in their right mind would bother? It’s too much damn effort and life can be challenging enough without forcing ourselves to do unpleasant things on a regular basis.

If the reason for starting is not compelling enough…

The goal has to be compelling. We have to be able to envision what we want and to feel excited about the possibility. What would it look like? What would it feel like? Whatever our desire or goal is, big or small, I think that we  have to believe it will feel fantastic to reach it.

We are creatures of habit, and if we cannot imagine the rewards of something different, then that well-trodden path, the one of least resistance, will pull us back every time. Why wouldn’t it? It’s familiar, easy, and takes very little effort to travel that way. These samskaras as they are called in yoga, are deeply embedded patterns and they usually don’t change easily.

I like to think of self-care as an art. This implies that we are the artists of our own lives and have the liberty to choose our medium. Maybe simplifying does not appeal to you, but maybe something else does. (I would argue that simplifying will help you reach any goal, whatever that is, but I don’t want to be too pushy here).

I use the term self-care because I think that anything we really want that doesn’t do harm to ourselves or others is by its very nature, self-care. Greater fulfillment, a better relationship, more energy, resources, a sense of peace, a fit body, an aesthetically pleasing environment, writing a book or painting a masterpiece; getting more sleep or earning more money or having more time…..you fill in the blank… It is all self-care.

So here comes my pep talk for making your desired result more compelling:

Self-care–meeting all of your needs- does feel amazing.

It is worth it. The rewards are great.

What are they? Feeling lighter, freer, healthier and clearer, more in control of your life. Intuition is heightened, energy is increased, the right opportunities and people and ideas show up in your life.

And the momentum! One step down that new path, then another and another and it starts getting easier and then other good things get easier. For example, have you ever noticed when you work out you want to eat healthy afterwards? Or if you get rid of clutter in one room you want to go on to the next? When you get enough sleep you are clear headed and efficient, and everything goes more smoothly. One positive choice leads to the next, moving you forward. You gain traction, you notice little miracles, you put your life in order.

Momentum is awesome.

And then instead of trying to figure out how to get rid of the patterns you don’t want in your life, they are simply being replaced, or squeezed out, by the new things that you do want.

Full disclosure: Left to my own devices, or my natural temperament, I am the worst at breaking old habits and creating new ones. I have an Inner Brat who wants what she wants when she wants it (ice cream for lunch, while I sit around getting nothing done and make my blood sugar level rise? Yes please!)

I often want absolute convincing that a new pathway will be greatly rewarding before I will begin something new and good. I need research and experience and even signs from a divine source that this new way will be amazing. But the problem with this is that rewards often don’t become apparent until we’ve begun. We can’t experience it until we experience it.

I needed to know that writing and exercising nearly every day, even when I don’t feel like it, as well as mindfully choosing what I eat, and including meditation or yoga because that is what keeps my on the path-will be worth the effort.

But I couldn’t know it for sure until I did it.

And when I don’t do it, my day feels lacking, I am out-of-sorts, dissatisfied.

So if you have some desire for something new and better, whatever that is (you get to pick! ) I want to save you weeks or even years of resistance. I want to tell you that whatever it is you want, if it comes from your Better Self, your Higher Self, your Real Self, it will be so freakin’ worth it!  It can’t not be. I want to tell you that the burdensome path you may be avoiding is covered in gold, but you won’t see it until you are on it.

Self-care in every form will never let you down. Positive change is exciting and rewarding every single time, even when it starts out scary or daunting or difficult- perhaps especially when it starts out that way.

The act- the actual physical act– of beginning down that difficult new path, whatever that is, is pretty quickly rewarded. You won’t have to wait long to notice the fabulous results, and as you continue, step by step, the whole landscape comes into view, your own sweet masterpiece.

A little joy goes a long way

I don’t know why it took me so long to add music to my cell phone, but now it has made the difference between going for a jog or not. Though I love yoga, I need something else too, some consistent cardio in my routine. I love the simplicity of a jog- put on sneakers, walk out the door, back in forty-five minutes. I only jog about half of my route, and walk the other half, but it’s enough. I like how I feel after the jog. But I just didn’t like doing it.

Problem was, my inner rebel (or is it my inner sloth?) would put her foot down at the mere thought of jogging.

It’s too hard.

It’s too hot out, cold out, wet out. (She has a point)

It’s boring.

I don’t even like running.

Turns out, I just had to add a little joy. A little joy goes a long way.

When my kids were little, they made a game out trying on the next season’s clothing to see what still fit (named the fashion game). Cleaning up or helping to prepare meals could be fun. Learning, when it’s organic and unforced, is full of joy. Brushing and flossing teeth before bed was often a sisterly ritual, one that sometimes had to be hurried along as their chitchat continued past bedtime. And to this day, my youngest daughter plays her favorite music when she has a lot of laundry to put away, to make it a pleasant task.

It’s easy to figure out kids are more cooperative when there is joy involved. But guess what? Adults aren’t much different. We need joy too, and lots of it.

Tasks that are often tedious really can be fun.   Joy can make all the difference.

It turns out music was the joyful, magic ingredient to my morning jogs.

Oh Spotify, how I love thee. I named my first playlist Jogging. How much more enjoyable it has become to put one foot in front of the other while the Dixie Chicks, Darius Rucker, Toby Keith and Tom Petty are belting out their tunes. Oh Joy! Now my brain associates lacing up my sneakers with hearing some of my favorite music. And as a bonus, I often return from these jog-walks with an idea for an article drafted in my head.

I like dessert. I really like dessert. Which brings me to more joy.

I’ve cut those addictive sweets out of my life, as told in this post: https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/farewell-my-sweets/

Say what?! Nooooo.

Enter the joy of Dessert Substitutes. I am having fun finding dessert recipes that are sugar free and gluten free (the two ingredients that make me tired, unhealthy, creatively blocked and yet make me want more, more, more).

I have made delicious, flour-free cookies sweetened with stevia, and smoothies made with greek yogurt, frozen fruit and veggies. But there are so many more recipes for healthy desserts to try, I will never grow bored.

20150701_173611My latest joyful discovery is the very simple banana “ice cream”. I think I may be the last person to find this on the internet, but just in case you haven’t tried it yet and want to: Just slice and freeze bananas for a couple hours, put them through a blender (add peanut butter or cocoa if you desire, or both for a chocolate-peanut butter-banana flavor). Once you have a smooth texture, put into small bowls and freeze for several more hours or overnight. The high pectin content in bananas cause them to freeze into a creamy, rich dessert.20150701_174741

The joy of this discovery has eased the craving of the more traditional desserts that I miss.

So my point is, when faced with something we want to desire to do, but really don’t feel like doing, asking “What would add joy?” is sometimes hugely helpful. A dose of joy just might be the difference between the change we are looking for, or staying stuck.

But still, sometimes tasks are just going to be tedious, for children and adults alike, and we just have to do them anyway.   I doubt many people have found  joy in emptying the trash or taking the SATs.  The joy is simply in getting it done. But when we have the option of adding joy, why not?

Go Joy.

Holistic High

A holistic lifestyle will make you high. And it’s legal. And it doesn’t have to be costly. A holistic lifestyle can make you feel healthy and clear headed and great in the present. As a bonus, it can move you forward. How do you let it move you forward or heal you? You embrace it, you live it, make it part of your identity. What we’re all after is to feel good. It sounds so simplistic, but when you think about it, every single choice we make is an attempt to feel good or to avoid feeling bad. When we do something for someone else, it’s because we feel good about doing it. When we follow our passion, live with purpose, do our job, try to learn something new, take a shower or cook a meal, it’s always because it feels good to do so or bad not to do so.

Those afflicted with an addiction are just trying to feel good, at least momentarily, and also trying to avoid feeling bad- or feeling at all. Their addiction is centered on wanting to feel good and not wanting to feel bad. And then it turns very bad. Though he credits AA for giving numerous addicts a fighting chance of recovery, columnist and recovering addict John Cheese points out in his writing that this organization focuses somewhat on the spirit while neglecting the rest of the person. Come to think of it, I do have an image of the recovering alcoholic, smoking and inhaling platefuls of cookies at meetings, while they hand their will over to God. What if one of the steps was to exercise or change their diet or meditate? To clean out their bodies and their surroundings?   What if they were encouraged to become addicted to a healthy lifestyle? Some of them do and doesn’t it make their recovery less fragile?

I think people need a holistic lifestyle and not just those people facing addiction or stress (who doesn’t have stress?) or those living with health issues. I think people facing life need a holistic life style. Who wouldn’t be better off nurturing body, mind, and spirit?

So what is a holistic lifestyle? I mean, that’s a broad term and can’t possibly come in a one-size-fits-all package. I guess each person creates their own version –like a smorgasbord of mindfulness- but it will likely include at least some of the following:

Yoga or other forms of exercise https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/simply-yoga/

Whole foods and water https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/our-nutritional-guru-the-body/

Simplify https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2014/08/10/simplify-your-way-to-a-healthy-weight/

https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/extreme-decluttering/

Meditation https://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/the-gift-of-silence/

There’s also an array of alternative healing techniques such as acupuncture, reiki, and other varieties of energy healing. Like de-cluttering, these treatments clear the blocks in your body so that the healing and effective energy can flow through naturally, like it’s supposed to. These methods work and are increasingly becoming accepted as valuable compliments to western medicine.

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Here’s the bad news, which is really good news in disguise. It takes a little while to make good habits become actual habits and not just temporary experiments. Also, feelings tend to flow more easily through a clear mind and body, so any unwanted angst that was kept at bay may begin to surface. Those who allow it to happen and stay present with whatever comes up have struck gold! I love the line that was in the movie Wild: Your power comes from the same place as your pain.

So just like we have the option of jumping in to clear clutter, we also have the option of jumping in to a holistic lifestyle. One change makes the next easier and soon we are gaining momentum. The experiment becomes a lifestyle. We can ride the wave of this natural high and when the inevitable challenges of life appear, we’re as ready as we can be to meet them.

Habits, routines and apps, oh my!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how daily habits can really make or break you, so to speak. I have found that if I put off my top priorities for ‘later in the day’, they don’t always happen.   What I do first thing in the morning has everything to do with what kind of day follows. So I gave my routine a mini overhaul. Now I walk-jog before breakfast, and start in on my writing shortly afterwards.  No matter what takes place the rest of the day, if I’ve exercised and written, I am invincible.

I appreciate the words of fiction writer Anna Quindlen when she describes the importance of her own routine.  During her interview with Gretchen Rubin (author of the Happiness Project), Quindlen says: I have a picket fence of habits to keep me on track.  I neither like nor dislike them; I just need them to do my work. I really like how she compares her habits to a picket fence- keeping productivity in and wasted time and energy out.  Her habits include eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day so as not to spend brain power on such decisions. This sounded rigid to me, until I recalled the many times I floundered for breakfast. Oatmeal? An egg? No, yogurt with fruit. Hmm, but we have this new cereal…

I think the key to forming lasting habits is to know yourself and what will actually work for you. Then do it. The beauty of a well formed habit is that we no longer have to think about it. We can use our precious energy for other things- things that really matter to us. Although I am not one of them, I understand that many people thrive on finding and using more and better technology for their everyday needs. Therefore, I did a simple search on some top habit forming apps available on iTunes.  Here are a few:

Carrot– This one is definitely the most amusing. It’s introduction is “Don’t Suck at Life”.  This app is your tough love coach- oh and it has a gender- it’s a girl. She will reward you and punish you, depending on how you are doing. You can earn points or carrots, or whatever she calls them. Those familiar with video games will speak her language.  If you like competition, and do well with negative reinforcement, this one is for you. Also, I read that it does not overload you with options when you start, so you probably won’t spend more time figuring out the features than you will engaging in the desired habit.

The Way of Life- The Ultimate Habit Maker-This one sounds very basic, and is data driven. The free version limits you to three habits, and you simply type them in and check off boxes each time that you meet your goal. You will get a visual of how you are doing as you go along.

Lift– If you are looking for short term support, this one lasts for just seven days, and it somehow involves community support.

Whatever your habit-forming style is, there is a way to succeed.  The distance between feeling like you suck at life, and feeling on top of the world, may just be a few simple habits away!

 

 

Simply Yoga

Yoga is my answer to everything.  Can’t sleep?  Achy joints, back, knees?  Practice yoga.  Anxious, depressed, fearful, angry, sad, hyper?  Yoga.   Overweight, overwhelmed, over worked? Yoga, yoga, yoga.  After practicing yoga for several years, I became certified to teach.  To stop myself from sounding like an evangelical, preaching yoga from the rooftops, I figured I’d lead some classes, and therefore help make it available to those who came to it of their own free will. I am mostly a student though, coming to my mat over and over because it brings me peace and presence in a distracting world.  It offers me creative inspiration and some physical fitness too.

Speaking of evangelicals though, one appeared at my front door one day and asked me what I thought should be done about the ‘sad state of the world’.

“Everyone should practice yoga”, was my response.  Really.  It’s pure magic. Or rather, it invites the magic that is already ours. My visitor promptly left, speechless.  I hadn’t meant to surprise or offend. It really is my answer.  It’s at least a mindful place from which to view the world.

What else besides yoga can so effectively improve physical and mental health, making thoughtful decisions, a good mood, and deep peace so available? And it’s legal!  (Well, mediation can do all these things too, minus the physical part, but it seems more people are likely to try yoga because it’s exercise).  Yoga is really a meditation in motion.  It’s an exercise practice that gets you out of your head and into your body.  It allows and invites your own life force energy to flow through you, healing and rejuvenating, strengthening and calming.

I’ve seen people fall asleep in class and I’ve seen someone break down and cry. That’s because they needed to sleep and cry. Yoga brings about whatever needs to be.  My favorite class I ever taught was for overweight students. They were all so serene by the end of class, their natural beauty shining through.  I could almost feel the increment of change a single class could bring about.   They instinctively knew that if they had the courage and commitment to keep practicing, the balance that yoga brings about would give them a real chance at a healthier weight.

Since physical yoga has boomed in the west, some would say we’ve lost the depth of its origins. We’ve added music, and advertisements of how it will tone and strengthen and shape. We offer yoga in our gyms, machines clanking outside the door of a class. We have expensive classes and expensive clothes .  We have Lululemon!  Luluemon is magical too, though.  If you want to look like you exercise without actually doing it, just try on a pair of  Lululemon’s  $90 yoga pants. They are amazing.  You will look like you do power yoga even if you never get off the couch.

The physical part of yoga will produce benefits that only physical exercise can give. But that is only one aspect of yoga.  Patanjali’s eight-fold path describes the whole of yoga, the guidelines for a meaningful and purposeful life. Pantanjali was a very cool guy from the eastern world who recognized our cerebral limitations.   But the beauty of yoga is, you don’t have to know about these guidelines to benefit. You don’t need to read about, talk about, or even think about the origins or purpose of yoga to reap the rewards.  Higher consciousness or a spiritual path needn’t be your goal. You can come to yoga because you want stronger biceps or to be more flexible. You can come to yoga because you didn’t have anything better to do on a Thursday evening.   Even then, you won’t escape its magic. You merely have to show up and breathe.  It’s that simple.