Stepping up

“At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

This quote literally stopped me dead in my tracks this morning. Not only has it been weeks since I posted a blog post, but I have been journaling less frequently and have given very little attention to eat.bend.breathe. I knew I had to get back in the game – to find someway to feel reconnected. The problem was that I was not sure how and why I became disconnected in the first place. Then I came across this quote. Leave it to Thich Nhat Hanh to call a spade a spade. “At any moment you have a choice…”. Ah, accountability. You see for me, I am realizing that disconnection from my writing and from my passion tends to occur when, for one reason or another, I am making choices to step away from my spirit.

I traveled for work last week and I find that nothing brings out bad choices in me like business travel. For some reason I leave home base and the wheels fall off. I skip workouts and eat processed food; I drink far too much coffee in the a.m and far too much wine in the p.m. I also feed into others’ energy. I buy into the low morale of others and I gossip at happy hour. I tend to leave my spiritual compass at home when I am on the road.

So how does one move closer to their spirit when they travel? Or when they are shuffling kids off to soccer practice? Or when tending to the hundred other commitments we all have in our lives? How does one stay connected to their passion or true to their work when life keeps getting in the way? I suppose Thich Nhat Hanh is on to something. We make choices. And there are times when choosing the caffeine, the alcohol and the gossip seems far easier than choosing the work of your soul. I like to think that awareness is 80 percent of the battle. That now that I am aware of my bad choices. I will pack a mediation pillow and a singing bowl on my next business trip. However, I suspect that choice will always be a challenge and in those times when I prevail, I will write more freely and honor my body and my soul. And the times when I don’t, I will lie awake in a hotel room wondering why I can’t pull together a decent blog post.

Bozos on the bus

Remember Michael Phelps and the bong hit heard around the world?  I remember it well.  Actually, I barely remember the photo but what I do recall was my lack of sympathy for Mr. Phelps.  I remember having the urge to drive down to Baltimore and take him by his ginormous shoulders and shake some sense into him.

“Don’t you get it? You are not allowed to be young anymore. You are not a kid, you are a BRAND”.

Three years later and I am beginning to understand the prison that the Michael Phelps brand had created. While there are no Facebook pictures of me with an illegal substance (have I mentioned how thankful I am that cell phone cameras didn’t exist while I was in college?) and while I have no corporate sponsors to worry about (yet), I am starting to see that when developing your own business, or even blogging, you are building a brand. And, if you are not careful, that brand can wreak havoc on your sense of authenticity.

Lets face it, while I profess the simplicity of the philosophy of eat.bend.breathe (eat whole food, bend to move your body daily, and breathe as a form of meditation), I still struggle with living this out on a daily basis. I have fears about a client coming to my door, only to find me in my pajamas, eating pistachio gelato out of the pint, while the Real Housewives of Wherever plays in the background.  And while part of me tells myself that it is all ok, that my occasional nutritional mishap or my lack of any sense of balance in my life only makes me more accessible to my clients, the truth is, it makes me feel like an utter fraud.

To be honest, I often feel like a fraud, like a little girl playing work at my job or dress up in my Pilates studio.  I wonder if other people feel this way. Do surgeons think as they enter the O.R, “Man, if this patient knew how unsure of myself I am, he would run from the building screaming”?  I am pretty sure that would be my exact thoughts if I ever donned scrubs.

My therapist likes to remind me of the Wavy Gravy quote, “We are all bozos on the bus.”

That, ultimately, we all fake it till we make it. I find that fact both comforting and utterly terrifying. Comforting to know those raw vegan yogi types who I have spent so much time comparing myself to may be no less of a fraud than I am.  Yet terrifying to think that if we are all bozos on the bus, should any of us really be driving?

Soul food

I recently enrolled in Liv Lane’s How to Build a Blog You Truly Love eCourse. From a time management perspective, I can’t say this was the most prudent decision. Between my studies at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), my day job and building eat.bend.breathe, I already felt like I was being stretched in too many directions. Yet, the timing still felt right. Four posts into my new blog and I am already struggling with its direction. Without giving too much of the course content away, I can say that lesson one has you jumping right into some pretty deep water. Day one and we were already discussing how our blog serves us. As Liv states, “Before your blog can feed others, it must feed you.” Gulp. What happened to orientation and easing your way into the content? This is heavy stuff for week one. Yet, despite my protest, Liv does have me thinking. Thinking not just about how my blog feeds me, but about nourishment in general.

As an IIN student, I am immersed in food and nutrition information. From raw foods to veganism to macrobiotics to detox diets and cleanses, food talk fills my bookshelf, dominates most of my conversations and consumes my Facebook news feed. Yet, I can’t tell you the last time I thought about what truly feeds me. It seems that I have gotten so caught up in finding nourishment from macronutrients (do I need a B12 supplement? am I getting enough Omega 3s?) that I have forgotten to take the time to look up from the organic, gluten-free, non-GMO granola box label long enough to ask the big question – I am properly feeding my soul?

I am beginning to see the profound connection between feeding the soul and feeding the body. Reflecting on my own past, it was those times when I lacked creative and spiritual nourishment that I developed an unhealthy relationship with food. It is amazing how a hungry soul can lead to the excessive over-eating or its evil step-sister – obsessive calorie counting. Author Geneen Roth hit the nail on the head in her book Women Food and God, “No matter what we weigh, those of us who are compulsive eaters have anorexia of the soul. We refuse to take in what sustains us. ” Double gulp. It seems that when your spiritual and creative gas tank is running on fumes, your relationship with food becomes dysfunctional.

So despite my early whining, I do thank you Liv Lane. Not just for forcing me to ask the tough questions when it comes to my blog, but for reminding me to ask the tough questions of those I counsel on health and wellness. It is a great reminder that “what feeds you?” is a far more powerful and insightful question than “what do you eat?”

What Color Isn’t Your Parachute?

I have often wondered at what point it is too late to become what you want to be when you grow up. Is there an age limit, a deadline, a quota? I am on iteration number five of my grown up self and I recently started seriously contemplating attending Natural Cooking School. Mind you, I am not a cook. Plus, this qualification will be on top of my bachelors degree, my multiple attempts at graduate school (got bored, hated the subject, moved onto better things), a Pilates certification, and my current endeavor at the Institute of Integrate Nutrition. The optimist in me likes to think that I am simply fostering an intellectual curiosity; an insatiable appetite for knowledge. The pessimist in me fears that I will be taking the MCAT at 80.

I used to wish that I was one of those people who had their vocation chosen by the age of nine. How simple life must be for those people. Graduate from college, attend graduate school, get married, have 2.5 children. What a wonderful, linear path. When I was nine I wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel. There was no clear path for that career aspiration. I have always been envious of the early career adopters. They have a title. They are obstetricians, architects, and actuaries. They have a one word answers to the “what do you do for a living” question at a cocktail party. It takes me twenty minutes to answer that question (leaving most sorry they asked).

Why is it some can choose a career and stick with it for forty years, while others of us seem to get wanderlust just as the stock options start to vest? It is fear, lack of presence, some malfunction in our internal hardwiring? For years, I have thought of this lack of career commitment as a flaw. I sought guidance from both therapist and career counselors and read What Color is Your Parachute (twice). Still that itch to try something new always persisted.

I am slowly learning to embrace my vocational schizophrenia. Each new endeavor has given me a chance to uncover a part of myself that I never knew existed (who knew email campaign analytics could be so interesting?) and has allowed me to redefine myself within each new group dynamic. I am thankful for what each success and failure has taught me (I now know for certain that I should never waitress. Ever). I suppose some of us come to a career choice by decisive action while for others it is process of elimination. At the age of 40 I am finally able to accept that process as my own path to self-development. Though I may never truly arrive at what I want to be when I grow up, I feel blessed at opportunity to continue down the path of discovery.

Becoming untethered

I haven’t written a blog post in almost month. Though it would be easy to blame the holiday rush, finals or work, the truth is I haven’t been able to write.  That’s right, three posts into my new blogging adventure and I develop writers block. Crap!  It is not like I didn’t try to write. Every few days I would sit down on my computer and crank out a few sentences, or a few paragraphs if I felt really ambitious.  But in the end, I would trash it or forget to save it or lose it among the other documents I had open.  It has actually been bringing me down.  I have spent the last week or so praying, mediating, and journaling; searching for some answer on why I can’t seem to get pen to paper.  Finally, I had an epiphany – it is not that what I was writing wasn’t right, it just wasn’t perfect. You see, for me, right and perfect have always been one in the same. Perfectionism is my demon. It is my tether. It holds me back. It ties me down.

It is ironic how difficult it can be to identify your own tether, while it is so easy to recognize some else’s.  As a fitness and wellness coach, I see people struggle with their own tethers – the issues that hold them back and keep them stuck in the same rut. The most obvious tether is excessive weight.  When people carry around extra weight, they are literally grounded.  It is hard to take flight with an extra forty pounds sitting on your cape. I have also seen the obsessive calorie counters, so bogged down in controlling the direction of their sail that they miss the opportunity to catch the wind and pilot a course.  Then there are the out-of-control spenders, so weighed down with debt and buried under a mountain of possessions that they can’t seem to burrow out into the light.  A good friend who is an addiction counselor once told me about an addict she was working with who was struggling with relapse. When she finally confronted him at why he was so afraid of being clean, he responded, “It is just that I am not sure who I will be if I am not an addict.” While his response may be baffling, deep down how many of us share his fear (who will I be if I am not perfect, if I am not the chubby guy, if I am not the skinniest girl in the room, or the one with the latest Manolo Blahnik pumps?)

One of my favorite quotes is by the spiritual author Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”  Many of us use our tethers as a way of avoiding our light; a way to stay safe, tucked away from the exposure of our full potential.   It takes courage to make mistakes, to post something that may suck, just like it takes courage to allow yourself to be free from the extra pounds or to let your intuition rather than a food scale tell you when you are full.

This year, rather than naming a few resolutions that I will probably break by February, I will focus on being aware of my own tether and will do best my best to work at its knot. And by the way, if you think this post sucks, good.  You have given me the opportunity to break free and become more buoyant.

The Truth about Holiday Eating

“… we elves try to stick to the four main food groups, candy, candy cane, candy corn, and syrup …” ~ Buddy the Elf

Ah, holiday season: a time decked halls, trimmed trees and an abundance of articles on how to keep your diet on track through this period of over-indulgence. As a Pilates instructor and Integrative Nutrition student, I am often asked how I personally manage to control my eating during the holidays.  Quite frankly, I don’t.  Don’t get me wrong, it has taken me years to let go of the obsessive calorie counting and junk food phobia to actually enjoy the holidays.  However, as much as I try to avoid refined sugars in my daily life, I have learned to let my guard down a bit during the holidays.  Here is a secret I will let the chronic calorie restricters in on:  It  doesn’t matter.  At the end of the day, the sugar cookie, the brownie and the few glasses of Baileys you may enjoy at a holiday party do not mean much.  Sure you might be a pound or two heavier in the new year and you may have to do the walk of shame to yoga class when you wake up the next morning, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.

What matters are our daily habits. What we reach for when we come home from work each night is far more important than what we reach for at the office holiday party.  Our relationship with food in our daily lives has a greater impact on our overall health than whether or not we choose to indulge in sweets during holiday season.

What matters is what is going in our heads.  Are you going to go off the deep end if you have that second cookie?  Are you going to be ridden with guilt, fear and shame? If so, then perhaps you have given that cookie far too much power.  Food has no intrinsic moral compass.  This may be hard to believe, but there really is no “good food” or “bad food”.  It is just food.  By allowing food to send us into an emotional tailspin, we have assigned it a value and a power that is greater than the value we have assigned to ourselves.

What matters is social nourishment. That’s right, nourishment.  I cannot begin to tell you how many social events and opportunities I missed during my obsessive calorie counting years. Why is it we as women know things like the RDA of Selenium yet completely miss the boat when it comes to finding nourishment from self-care? Spending time with loved ones and participating in holiday events are activities that sustain us and feed our souls.  To enjoy the company of friends and family is to live an authentic life.  To not be present in that experience because we are so consumed over the lack of healthy snacks is to starve our spirit.

So over the next few weeks when you are inundated with an abundance of sweets, I say belly up to the dessert bar.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Every sweet has its sour

“Yang is will and yin is wisdom, and one without the other is neither, and together they are joy.”
~ Patricia Joudry

I was first introduced to the idea of oppositional energy as a Pilates trainee.
My instructor would often refer to the oppositional forces at play in each exercise. For example, in Elephant the heels reach down as the belly pulls up and away. I remember coming home after those long training weekends trying to grasp the oppositional energy of certain exercises (I struggled with the initial lift in Control Arabesque on the reformer for the longest time – which is my excuse for why I still have difficulty performing that one years after training). Though oppositional energy made perfect sense within the context of an exercise, I let that concept stay where I assumed it belonged – within the walls of the studio.

As a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I have recently been drawn to the study of macrobiotics.  Though it is often thought of as a restrictive diet, macrobiotics is more of a philosophy and worldview. Through macrobiotics, I am learning more about the complementary and antagonistic tendencies of yin and yang, particularly as it applies to food. According to the principals of macrobiotics,  these oppositional energies are why we like salty chips (yang) with creamy dip (yin) and follow up a heavy cooked meal (yang) with sugary dessert (yin). By eating more natural food and avoiding extreme “yinness” and “yangness”, we are not only eating in a more balanced manner, but more importantly we are able to better tune our inner compass to the workings of yin and yang forces in our daily life (disclaimer: to all the Japanese Monks or Macrobiotic gurus who happen to reading this blog, I apologize if I am butchering this philosophy. I am approaching this from a beginner’s mind and this is what I have gotten so far.  If you want a more purist and “by the book” explanation, please read someone else’s blog).

Through my studies, I am beginning to observe the oppositional energy at play in my own life.  I am seeing that within every contraction (yin) there is an expansion (yang). It was with painful loss that I found profound hope. It was deep betrayal that taught me true forgiveness. It is Plato who said, “Serious things cannot be understood without laughable things, nor opposites at all without opposites.” Yet, much like with Control Arabesque, I still struggle to understand certain oppositional energies.  This week, I witnessed contraction in the form of yet another round of corporate layoffs at my workplace.  Intuitively, I know that even within this ying there must be a complementary yang, though at the time I fail to see it.  My prayer for all those affected is that they center themselves and tune their inner compass to find the expansive opportunity that awaits them.

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”

When I first came up with the concept for eat.bend.breathe, the philosophy seemed incredibly simple.  Eat real food, bend (or move) your body daily, and breathe as a means of staying present.  To me this was (and in many ways still is) the holy trinity of health. Bending in particular has been instrumental in my own path to wellness. Pilates was a gateway to my passion for movement, the mind/body connection and sparked my interest in nutrition and mindfulness.

Lately I have taken on a new appreciation for bending. In years past, bending was about staying lean and creating strength.  It was about skinny jeans and preparing for bikini season.  Yet, as I usher in middle-age, bending is much more about flexibility. I am not just talking about lengthening hamstrings or opening shoulders (though, God knows I need more of that with each passing day).  Rather, I am referring to bending as a means of adaptability.  As many of us age, we find that life’s curve balls become a bit more complex.  We experience divorce, death of parents, infertility, bankruptcy, and a whole host of “adult” problems that were foreign to many of us in early adulthood. There was a time when I would greet these curve balls with a rigid mind and spirit. When confronted with unexpected change, I held onto old ways and habits with a death grip and each time I inevitably cracked like a branch of an uprooted tree.

I am now beginning to see the importance of bending with the inevitable forces of change. Author and Omega Institute founder Elizabeth Lesser put it this way, “If you go with the river of change, your heart will be full of courage and enthusiasm. If you resist the river, you will feel stressed out, aggravated, and stuck in the same place.”   Bending with the river allows us to flow with it, to tap into its energy, and ride the current to wherever the universe chooses to take us.  Fighting the river only leads to floundering and exhaustion.

As I walked through the crisp fallen leaves earlier this morning, I could almost feel the winds of change beginning to stir. This time, rather than bracing for the fight, I will stay flexible and calm and simply eat.bend.breathe.