Finding the fun in healthy

It seems to me that aligning body, mind and soul is the ultimate goal of everyone, consciously or not. When out of alignment, our bodies tell us so. We feel lethargic, over-stressed or uninspired.

When in alignment, we feel vibrancy, energy, peace and creativity.

How do we align?

Perhaps we each have our own way. There are so many ways. We can start with our thoughts, or our environment.

Or we can start with the body.

Moving the body.

Feeding the body well.

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Tangy Lentil Salad

 

I promised myself that turning fifty would be the catalyst for becoming the healthiest I’ve ever been.  And I’ve got to say, the journey is a blast. I’m seriously having the most fun on the path to good health than I’ve ever had.

Fun is the answer!

facebook_1472724379117For me, that means trying new and healthy recipes, sometimes mimicking those I’ve enjoyed in restaurants. Fun is visiting a new juice bar with my daughters, researching the best blender to purchase, reading some of Jason Vale’s books just for fun and then getting inspired by his near perfect health. https://www.amazon.com/Jason-Vale/e/B0034IZDB6/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1472730018&sr=8-2-ent

Fun is a long walk with my husband or a new playlist for my solo jog.

It’s my favorite yoga class or paddling a kayak under a beautiful blue sky.

It’s a pile of books to read that feeds my mind and distracts me from the sugar I am not ingesting.

It’s having all the energy I need to be as productive as I want to be. I love love love this.

Being productive feels fun. 

Fun is writing  when the words  are  flowing, finally, after a bout of writer’s block. What is writer’s block anyhow? I think it’s just like any other energy block; remove the sludge in all its forms and open the channels.

Flow.

Momentum.

Health.

Inspiration. 

It’s basically free and fun and feels fantastic. 

 

Opening the creative conduit, aligning with the purest energy that is ours for the taking, is a far better buzz than I will ever get from the best margarita ever made. And I do like margaritas.

It’s lighter than stuff.

Sweeter than chocolate.

Good for the body= clarity for the mind=joy for the soul.

Oh joy!

 

 

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.

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.

Agenda is the new bible

  Let all things be done decently and in order  (1 Corinthians 14:40)

For many years, I  looked at the family calendar hanging on our kitchen wall each morning to stay aware of who had what, when and where.  My kids were good about keeping track of their own schedules, but it helped to know when I’d be the driver for an appointment, or when my husband’s work days shifted, and also to see what my upcoming commitments outside our family were.

Time moves on and kids grow up and now I’ve “graduated” from the family calendar to my own agenda. My daughters have all sung the praises for these books-of-the-organized which have helped them keep track of high school and college assignments, tests, performances, and any other important dates.  I could not live without my agenda are words that I heard uttered more than once in our home, and with utter conviction.

20141101_081457National Novel Writing Month has inspired me to fill my own agenda with the things that would help ensure a successful month of creativity.  Since writing and living well are intertwined for me, what serves one serves the other.  I took my time choosing an agenda, because it had to be the right agenda. It would symbolize order and commitment not only for November, but for the months ahead.  I wanted one with the days written left to write, like a book. I also wanted to be able see a whole month at a glance. When I found the perfect one, I penned in my schedule for the entire month.  At least for me, there is power in writing things down.

Writing group meetings, solo writing time, yoga classes (roughly the same time every couple days to keep it routine) fill my month.   I can glance at my agenda and see clearly when exercise takes place, and when writing takes place . Thanksgiving preparations, attending my daughter’s performance,  and my wedding anniversary celebration all have their precise times.   When it’s in writing, I don’t take it lightly or waste energy deciding what to do or in what order; there it is in black and white.  My agenda is like insurance for the habits and routine I want to live by all month, keeping me focused on my top priorities. 20141101_081348

Here is the most valuable thing I’ve learned:  we can allow life to flow through us, in all its perfect energy, or we can stay blocked.  Each day we are choosing one or the other.  It’s in the big choices but also in the seemingly small ones.  There is a magnificent order in the universe, but to tap into it, it helps to put our own lives in order.  When we do, we feel it and everything works better.  Choosing a plan and sticking to it is no easy gig for some, but figuring out what works best is part of the fun.  So here’s to agendas and the order that they symbolize. Here’s to choices set in ink. November may appear dreary and cold, but it is really full of potential and miracles if we can just make our way into that current.

Freedom from distraction

There’s an article in today’s Boston Globe about the lengths people will go to avoid being alone with their thoughts. During a part of the study, two-thirds of men and a quarter of the women actually chose a painful shock over having no outside stimulation. The researchers concluded, after several experiments, that most people loathe having even ten minutes of quiet time without distractions.

Timothy Wilson, the psychologist who led the study, wonders if studying people who regularly meditate would show different results. I hope he continues the study, as I think it is an important one in regards to human nature and happiness. My thought is that yes, people who meditate will indeed rate the experience of solitude as positive, rather than negative. I think the reason is twofold.

Everyone is subject to some uncomfortable thoughts now and then, but those who meditate have stopped trying to suppress these disturbances. Long term meditators, anyway, have let them surface, faced them, healed them, and let them go. Avoiding our thoughts, on the other hand, we can distract ourselves into feeling okay. I once read a quote (I don’t recall the author), that I thought was a simple yet brilliant summary of this: By trying to avoid feeling bad, we end up feeling mediocre. Once you’ve committed to meditation, you’ve stopped running from yourself. Grief, regret, anguish, stagnation, if followed to their source, will eventually dissipate, and there is a lot of peace and joy to be had afterwards. It also makes room to guides one’s own thoughts in a chosen direction, and there is power in that.

The second reason I think that people who meditate are happy to sit in seclusion, is that they have practice being alone without actually thinking. When we are free from thinking, we are truly present in the moment. There is room for inspiration, clarity and insight to slip in. When you observe your thoughts, you can then let them come and go without getting too carried away by them. When you let your thoughts go completely for a period of time, you are in the blissful state of meditation. Why would anyone want to avoid this? Experienced meditators seek this out.

In our modern day society, there is absolutely no reason why we have to be still and alone with ourselves for any length of time. It seems that no matter where we are, we have distraction at our fingertips. Entertainment, information, technology- we can take it all in at every second of every day if we so desire. So if most people are more comfortable not being left alone, why should they ever fly solo, unencumbered by anything to do? My unofficial study says they should try it anyway, because facing oneself is the essence of freedom.

Simplify: a discipline alternative

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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle

Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most. anonymous

I recently had a revelation. I simplify because I lack discipline. It’s one of those facts that you’ve known all along but comes into focus one day. For me, simplifying takes the place of discipline, and then leads to happiness.

Looking back, I’ve never really been disciplined.  I can blame that on my temperament, my upbringing, or anything else I can come up with, but it just never came naturally to me.   I remember starting on a strict diet when I was a teen, and how my parents did not have to worry that it would get out of control.  My diet lasted three days. I got consistent exercise only in the fall, because that is when I played a sport. If I didn’t show up, there would be consequences, people mad at me. I required structure, demands, few choices.

Fortunately for our daughters, they seem to take after their father.  I’ve never had to remind them to do their homework, eat their veggies or get some exercise.  They dedicated themselves to rigorous ballet classes and AP courses. And they studied their way through freshman year of college.  I remember sitting through a preprofessional ballet class with one of my daughters when she was contemplating switching to a more serious and structured dance school. I thought the class seemed dreadful, confining, boring. When the long ninety minutes was over, we left and I thought well, that takes care of that. I thought of the time and money we would save by not ever coming back. Her response was just the opposite. “I have to have this”, she said, longing in her eyes.

I don’t like stagnation and I know that to move forward, to fulfill my goals, to be happy, demands commitment.  So I do some things that seem to require discipline and focus, like practicing yoga, for instance.  And simplifying in ways that make sense to me.  But I don’t do these things because I am disciplined.   I find discipline only because I do them.

Without simplifying, I don’t stand a chance. I know that if I have too many things in my own way- on my agenda, in my head, on my plate, I will never make it to that yoga class. I won’t sit down and write if I am distracted by all the things I have to do afterwards or did before that. If I am tripping over things on the way to my desk, I may never make it into the chair. Eliminating all that I can, except what matters the most to me, is how I actually stay consistent with those things that matter.  Like most people, when I’m overwhelmed or tired, I am at my weakest. So my method of finding- or rather replacing- discipline is to remove the things that I can which keep me from what I want most.  If I am clogged and cluttered with the extraneous, I can’t see the path I know I want to be on, let alone move forward on it.

I simplify my diet by organizing my pantry and fridge. I streamline my wardrobe by only keeping what I like. I unriddle my exercise routine by committing ahead of time to a workout or scheduled yoga class.  I focus on what I want by eliminating from my agenda that which I don’t, as far as it is in my control. And only then, when I have pared down as much as I am able to, will I make the choices that give my life a forward momentum. One good choice leads to the next, and good things happen. Dreams come true.

The Gift of Silence

Of all the things to come to the mainstream, meditation has to be one of the most exciting. Complete with scientific proof of its power, it is free, accessible to anyone, and is life changing. It’s even brain changing. That our brain is pliable and we have the power to alter it for the better through meditation  is so intriguing to me.

Some people suffering from anxiety, depression, stress or confusion have found relief from meditation that they didn’t get from years of therapy. Troubled kids who are growing up in violent homes and communities, and were emotionally unavailable to learn, received mindfulness training at a school in Richmond California, and their classroom success increased drastically.  For those without any serious issues, meditation simply improves day to day life, often dramatically.

I could go on and on about the benefits of meditation, but I think the experts have already said it best. Rebecca Gladding, M.D., in her article in Psychology Today says: I’m sure you’ve heard people extol the virtues of meditation. You may be skeptical of the claims that it helps with all aspects of life. But, the truth is, it does. Sitting every day, for at least 15-30 minutes, makes a huge difference in how you approach life, how personally you take things and how you interact with others. It enhances compassion, allows you to see things more clearly (including yourself) and creates a sense of calm and centeredness that is indescribable. There really is no substitute.

Jon Kabat-Zinn has brought meditation to the masses, integrating his yoga and meditation studies with western medicine. He has spoken at colleges, and even led a session on mindfulness at Google: http://yogasanas.net/index.php/component/relatedvideos/?vid=3nwwKbM_vJc

For some, the idea of meditation is too vague. Do I really just sit down and shut up? Do I close my eyes, focus on my breath? How do I stop thinking? Fortunately, technology has made it quite simple.  The easiest way to begin may be to download a free guided meditation,  put in headphones, and in just fifteen minutes, begin to change your brain and your life.  I’ve included a link to one such meditation below, but there are many others to choose from. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2pCDbisNv4

Because of the brain’s neuroplasticity, we have to keep meditating consistently to ensure that the new neural pathways that are forming stay strong. Fortunately, meditation is its own motivation. Results are typically obvious and immediate. And once it becomes habit, each meditation session is like coming home.