Health

Just A Friendly Neighborhood Reminder To Do Something Your Body Should Do Automatically

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Let us stay on this whole mindfulness thing for a bit because I literally had to remind myself to take a breath earlier today. Like consciously speak to myself in my own head to chill for a hot second and deeply breathe in. Let us all take a second for a breather. In fact, let us take this whole week as a breather. Let us just chill. Holidays are over, resolutions are "adjusted", and it is somehow actually February. Remember a month ago when people were fighting each other for pasta on the shelves at Whole Foods? Let us all just chill for a second. We need it. 

Last week I was 1. in a different country and 2. amongst tall mountains. I prepared some work things to bring with me that did not require a lot of time or, more importantly, brain power and attention to start working on in case the trip got boring (really, Taylor??), such as content design and product development brainstorming. Did I look at it once last week? Nope. Sure didn't. Not for lack of trying, though. I definitely thought about the tasks a few times but when it came down to reaching into my bag and cracking open the notebook, my hands did not move. The week also 3. involved physical activity on those mountains, so my physical fatigue and the mental shift that I was so totally in a different culture somewhere else on the globe kept my hands to my side and my mind on the present. I am lucky to be able to change the channel in my brain and be wherever I am on most vacations in the past, but there are some in which I simply cannot do it. And it is painful. One trip last year I could tell on the plane ride out that I was not going to be able to tune out the world I was temporarily leaving and, unfortunately, I turned out to be correct. 

Life moves. Whether it is "too fast" or "way too fast" is subjective, but nothing ever stops. Molecules are always in chaos, air and weather are always in flux, waves and nature are eternally restless. Sharks have to keep moving in order to breathe. Translation: if they stop moving, they die. WHAT? Ironically, so many humans - particularly Americans - act like sharks. If they slow down, they will die. If they stop what they are doing, they will fail. UGH, it is exhausting. I am exhausted just thinking about it while I write about it. The sad part is that we all know that it is unhealthy. Sure, some people "thrive" off of a fast-paced lifestyle or are most productive under pressure, but that does not mean that their hearts and blood pressures enjoy it. I have always lived a very busy life with days and weeks jam-packed with everything I can fit in, mostly related to work. Go me! I am super hard-working, but none of that matters if I do not know how to slow down.

It took me until junior year of college to learn how energy should be prioritized and allocated in life in order to remain a healthier version of myself, and I have continued to practice that allocation ever since in the big, bad, real world. That is why I am entitled enough to help people with a) slowing down to breathe and b) figuring out how best to allocate their energy in their work, relationships, and everyday life. You are never done practicing how to slow down, but the practicing becomes easier. And you do not have to do it alone. 

Where I was last week was an isolated bubble. A remote microcosm that forces you with limited WiFi and perilous roads to stop moving and surrender. No one is watching, do not be scared. At night, stars glistened over the mountain peaks and I all but fell to my knees and cried in surrender. Instead of the dramatic display that that would have produced, I chose instead to take good, long, full breaths of the brisk mountain air. It was all I could do, and it is exactly what I needed. Fast forward to today when I had to consciously remind myself to take that same kind of revitalizing breath. Yeah, I am not in the mountains of another continent, but slowing down is possible here too. So no matter how "fast" you feel your life is right now, remember that that is okay as long as you know how to stop and take a deep breath. 

Do it right now (please). I dare you.

No matter what you are doing right now, you could use a deep breath. If you are self-conscious about it, this is me giving you permission. If you are scared, this is me offering support. If slowing down makes you cry, there is no shame in meditating in a bathroom stall. If you are embarrassed that you have to set a reminder in your phone or on your Apple watch to take a deep breath, just know that I am going to go tell myself to take another deep breath in just a couple minutes. 

Why Meditation Is So Darn Difficult But So Darn Helpful

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In a couple days, I am going on vacation. Somewhere NOT awesome, I promise you. Definitely not out of the country and definitely NOT unplugged from my computer. There is NO REASON WHATSOEVER for you to be jealous. 

Now that that is cleared up, yes, vacation. This silly eight letter word that we all have heard but rarely get to experience firsthand. It refers to some kind of "break" or "free time", but those are things that us millennials and millennial-esque individuals (you know who you are) have never even heard of. The only break and free time we know is when we break a bone playing a sport and have free time when we are not allowed to practice. And think about THAT negative association... Along the same lines, "rest" is like the snow leopard of physical wellbeing. It is rare, blends in with your surroundings, and when you finally see it, it disappears almost as quickly as it had appeared. But it is so damn beautiful. "Why hide?!?!?!" you want to ask it. "Why will you not stick around for me to enjoy you?"

Unfortunately the answer is that we do not know how best to take advantage of rest when the opportunity arrives. I will be the first to admit, it is really difficult. Even sitting for a whole afternoon binging Netflix sometimes is not the full rest that you want. Sometimes I feel just as unrested after lying on the couch in the very same position watching a whole season of House of Cards. Why, though? I did not move for so many hours! 

The other option for "full rest" is napping, but napping is like the tylenol of physical wellbeing. Everyone's dosage will be different. If I nap for 22 minutes, I feel good but come on, I never nap for 22 minutes. No, I end up napping for an hour and wake up feeling like my brain stayed on the pillow and my body became a baby giraffe taking its first steps. 

So how do we actually rest? 

A dear friend of mine has been meditating hard for almost thirty years and now gives lectures on how meditation affects and promotes a healthy mindset. In his talks, he discusses how meditation is actually an extremely active activity (redundant, yes, but YOLO) instead of the common assumption that everything stops, slows down, or shuts off when you meditate. Your physical movements slow down, yes, but you do not shut off your brain. On the contrary, you slow your body down in order to open your mind up and let it explode however it wants to. Then do nothing. Just watch the thoughts. Sounds simple but you know it is difficult if you have ever tried it. 

Meditation is interesting in this way because it has become such a trendy topic in mindfulness and yoga has become the be-all-end-all cure for everything. But meditation is super hard! Watching all of your crazy thoughts while trying to focus on the sound of your breathing or the 3 hour YouTube video of a mountain stream is a lot of work! It makes sense that so many people will not even try to meditate because it does not sound restful at all. 

I meditated quite a bit back in high school and some in college before I created my own Mobile Meditation that I would use on the go when I am in the car. I got into a good habit in high school and even got to that point where I actively saw the black glittery void that I was breathing into (it was pretty cool) and my Mobile Meditation became the appropriate dosage for my post-college lifestyle. I recently got back into it at home and, even though I am not yet seeing the void as I did in high school, I am able to feel the separation between my body / breath and my thoughts. It is a little trippy, yes, but you have to be open to it. I have learned that my brain is so in need of that unloading because of all the stimuli it filters every day that it busts the door down when I close my eyes and take the first breath. I have to be okay with that. I have to remember that it is the same thing as a muscle getting the toxins and stress massaged out of it at the spa. It is active and sometimes painful but will feel good afterward. 

I often feel like the meditation was all over the place or "did not work", but then I notice that my breathing is much smoother and my head feels lighter regardless of the onslaught of thoughts it just endured. 

Just like you, I am going to keep experimenting with what is most restful for me. When I am on the long plane flight that is DEFINITELY NOT GOING OVERSEAS, I am going to try to meditate, nap, and watch movies and we will see which one is most restful. I wonder what is most helpful for you. What do you like to do to "rest"? And does it actually help? Since you have already given up on your New Year's resolutions, what can you recommit to trying in order to help yourself rest and recuperate?

How A Snow Storm Shows You Who You Really Are, Part 2: BACK TO YOUR ROOTS

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It has been a week but there are still giant snowbanks on the side of the road that test how skinny I can make my SUV on a two lane road. Last week I wrote about how the imminent snow storm was like the zombie apocalypse for which everyone in Massachusetts had to prepare by buying groceries on groceries all day the day before and how tension was high enough to inspire some to fight over certain items on the shelves.

Ugh, fighting over certain items on the shelves. As though Whole Foods does not have other options for food somewhere else in the store that we could stomach for a single day of precipitation. Last week's post was about reflecting on the idea of Need. This week we reflect on where that comes from. 

I was born and raised in Vermont, which means that my childhood was sponsored by The North Face and I was acquainted with sub zero temperatures before I was a single year old. My siblings and I grew up ski racing and, following my retirement at age 13, my party favor was circulation issues in my feet and hands because of the blisteringly cold days on the mountain that froze my toes and fingers. I am not that bitter about it because I realized over time how much more tolerant of the winter I became from such early and frequent exposure. Fast forward to college when I walked around campus in January in a plain old sweatshirt and laughed at the freezing wind like a boss.

I bring this up because I will always be thankful for my frostbitten upbringing. Strangers, coworkers, friends, and family talked to me about the storm last week and all I could do about it was shrug. It was simply another snow storm in my lifetime of snow storms. It is a form of adversity that I tolerate much more confidently than, say, walking in the Sahara desert (I am lightheaded just thinking about it) while someone who lives in a desert climate would not be able to handle a snowflake. The pressure of a snow storm on our immediate environment produces a stress to which people react very differently. I agreed that food would be good to have in my fridge for the snow day, but I was not so emphatic that I needed to fight someone for it in the grocery store. 

I am also not holier than thou. I am just one individual with his own unique journey. The fact that I accept snow storms as they are does not make me special; instead it is how I learned to survive during the winter. Those who fought for food in Whole Foods may not be as accepting of the cold and wet so they project their angst into their food supply. That is fine. That is their journey. But think about last week's post: Where does the need come from? Better yet, where does the angst about a snow storm come from?

If you have lived in Boston for a long time but still get anxious about the snow, what taught you that it would be a stress-provoking situation? Do coworkers talk about snow storms so much that you absorb their anxiety? What were the environmental conditions of your childhood? Maybe you developed a scarcity mentality at some point (do not fret, a lot of people do) and register the first sign of stress as the potential loss of resources. As we count days further from 2017 and closer to when we give up on our New Years resolutions, I challenge you to consider this question:

HOW DOES YOUR PAST AFFECT YOUR CURRENT SENSE OF NEED?

The need that Whole Foods shoppers felt last week does not remain isolated to the grocery store. Our brains are large and powerful but still small and contained in the space of our skulls, so the same brain circuits and power are used in multiple situations to streamline the way we respond to perceived stress or need. Using the same systems enables us to see choices that will benefit our evolution. So think about what your needs are and where they come from. In fact, map it out or make a chart. Here is how:

  1. Use the basic headers of HEALTH, WORK, and RELATIONSHIPS as a starting point and write them however you want on a sheet of paper.
  2. Reflect on the needs you feel in each category (i.e. food to eat, money to have, interpersonal support) and write them down.
  3. Now go deeper - i.e. what kind of foods, why do you need money, what specific kind of interpersonal support?
  4. Write them down
  5. Reflect on where those needs come from - i.e. did someone tell you it was a necessity at some point? If not, how did you internalize the need for, say, a certain amount of money, or a certain type of connection with others in the past?
  6. And now you have a flowchart of your personal needs and nowhere to hide.
  7. Bedazzle it as you see fit.
  8. Frame it on the wall.
  9. Post it to Instagram. 

Like a while back when I wrote about how to "reverse-engineer your stress", this simple activity helps you rewind your stories and figure out why you react to stress the way you do in different situations. It is a fun exploration if you open yourself to the process and maybe, just maybe, it will help you breathe a little easier when someone takes that last veggie sampler at the store that you wanted for your snow day.