No Regrets: A Guide to Managing the Chaos

I’ve experienced quite a shift in the past few weeks. And from what I’ve heard from family, and especially friends – going through the same grad school grind or 40-hour funk – the feeling is mutual. Perhaps the New Year holiday isn’t such a pointless occasion. Maybe, something actually does happen worth celebrating; a shift into greater consciousness. Or, as it’s more likely be familiar as, a new perspective. Suddenly, we’re all asking: Where am I going? What am I doing this for? Is this really where I want to be?

A new year will do that to you. Just when you think you have it all figured out, and you’re in full-out holiday 2014 turn up mode. Routine strikes again, and we find ourselves asking: Why? Why do I do the things I do? Is this really what I want?

Doubts inevitably start sweeping in. And then you have a choice – continue doing what you’re doing, or change it. Well, unfortunately I’ve (pretty much always) opted for the path of most resistance. Change it. Or change something. Because, if you’re noticing there’s an issue – how can you go forward with it any other way?

After spending a good part of my holiday ‘break’ formulating my plan for change, I realized that all of my commitments (work, school, research) are important to me, and worth going after. There’s nothing I want to, or can change, at this point in time. And, I’ve also learned bailing isn’t always the answer. There’s always something to be learned and gained, even from the most difficult situations. Then, I came to an interesting thought: You can’t muscle through it. You can only breath through it.

I’d been pushing and pushing, and putting my head down and hoping for ‘the end.’ (Whatever that means…) I was muscling through it, and hoping that would be enough. But of course, my strategy didn’t sustain and despite my efforts, I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel. But, even in the worst situations, there’s always a light; a way to make it better for yourself. I’d been trying to muscle through it when I really needed to just stop and breath.

Distinguishing these moments, when you’re running out of gas and it’s time to switch gears, is the secret. It’s everything. Because, if you can keep your self in tact, you can do anything you want to do without feeling mysteriously (and overwhelmingly) exhausted, or stressed, or angry. For me, allowing myself to have downtime; to take care of myself (who knew a home manicure could feel so amazing?) and in turn, devoting myself back to the hustle; to stay true to the commitments I’ve already made, and be present to all the things I’m looking forward to this year. It’s an ongoing balance and it takes work. But, most importantly, this means ‘checking in’ (or as somatic psychologists call it: a body scan) – every day, as often as you can. How am I feeling? Am I thirsty or hungry? Tired or getting sick? Am I agitated or stressed? Am I angry or irritable? What can I do to take care of myself right now?

We’re used to – and good at – putting things off. Especially, when it comes to self-care. The last priority on our “To Do lists,” often are the items that involve taking care of ourselves. But, what good are we really after we reach our breaking point? I know when I was working a corporate job, this came before lunchtime. Last semester, it came even sooner. So naturally, you start to wonder: Why am I doing this?

I found it helpful to consider why I’d started instead. School or work is tough sometimes, sure. But it must be that the reasons why we’re there in the first place are far more worthy of consideration – the long-term vision, rather than the day-to-day grind. Now that the honeymoon period has ended, what’s your motivation?

Only you can answer that, and it’s for no one else to judge. It’s your life, and you should make it yours. No matter what position you find yourself in, there can always be a reason to get you through (especially, the tougher times) – be it personal, professional; trials, tribulations; learning, growing, sharing. If you allow yourself to believe there is a purpose for this place in this time, then you allow a feeling of forward movement and fulfillment to supersede. And if you check in with yourself, and put yourself first (for the benefit of everything and everyone that comes after), there’s only joy.

Whether you decide to muscle through it, or breath through it – only an attitude, a perspective changes simply by changing your focus. And, you control it. (Imagine that, in this crazy, scary world of ours…You ultimately have control.)

Like many I know, I’m off to a very busy and daunting 2015; but I’m optimistic. I’m taking one day at a time, and trying my best to be present when and where I am, in each moment. If these events, and people, jobs and classes are important enough to be part of my life, then I owe it to myself to be present for them. (Also, you can be sure this way: you’ll have no regrets.) We can choose when and how, and if we want to change. But ultimately, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Wishing you all the very best things a new year can bring, and all the joy that can possibly come along with it.

No Regrets,

Amy

Personal Photo: Meditation Retreat @ Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, CA (January 17, 2015)

Happy Holidays! (Your Asana Cheatsheet)

Wishing all a very happy holidays this season!

As we look forward to food, family, and fun over the next couple days, I wanted to offer a few quick and very easy asana postures for an energy boost and peace of mind in the midst of what can be a very busy and stressful time.

Here are a few of my favorite postures that I practice regularly and often incorporate into my classes. They can be practiced in sequence or on their own, whenever (and wherever) you have a couple minutes to spare. Accompany each with slow, deep breathing and – if you like – while repeating the mantra: “Love of the Present Moment” (or whatever phrase resonates most with you. Others might be: Let Go; Peace; Love; or Om Namah Shivaya translated as “I am Shiva,” meaning “I am the light” ^^ link to my favorite rendition by Steve Gold)

Whether practiced before bed, in the kitchen between cooking prep, or on the living room rug – I hope these postures will bring you peace and grounding (self-care) to help you cherish every moment spent with loved ones this holiday.

Happy Holidays from my corner to yours xx

Amy

Holiday Asana Cheatsheet
*Click posture name for in-depth instruction and benefits from;
*All are safe & easy to practice for all body types;
*Practice each for as little as 30 seconds, or combine and hold for up to a 30-45 min. personal practice

Warrior I with backbend/Virabhadrasana I
*Heart opener, gentle backbend, promotes energy & circulation; great for when you feel you need to ‘get moving’
(hold 30 sec. – 1 min. each side)

Crescent Lunge with Backbend

Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose/Viparita Karani
*Detoxifying, boosts your immune system, stimulates your circulatory system, strengthens your diaphragm/respiratory system (An inversion a day keeps the doctor away!
Hold anywhere from 30 sec. to 5 or 10 minutes)

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Reclining Bound Angle Pose/Supta Baddha Konasana
*Hip opener, releases tension, stimulates respiratory system through thoracic breathing – expand rib cage with inhale, spine neutralizer (hold 2 min. or up to 5-10 min.)

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Easy Pose/Sukhasana
*Meditative posture, straight spine and shoulders back, abdomen engaged to support your torso, neutral position. (If you like: Engage in slow, deep breathing with an elongated exhalation (2x inhale) and introduce your mantra here. Hold 5 to 10 min. or as long as you’d like. This is an easy introduction to a regular meditation practice.)

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**BONUS: (My favorite, if you’re up for a challenge!)**

Lord of the Dance Pose/Natarajasana
*Balancing posture, hip opener, core/strength building (Hold for 30 sec. to 1 min. on each side. Be sure to find a drishti, or stationary visual point about 4 feet in front of you to lock your gaze and help maintain balance.)

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Xx Cheers! xX

Give in to Comfort (+ Recipe)

O’ tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy… I’ve never stopped to consider these lyrics before, but giving a nod to a holiday classic, I’d have to say that word choice here is key. Tidings of comfort can allude to many things, such as that of family, of warmth – both physical (hanging fireside with hot cocoa) and emotional (open hearts and widespread generosity), of abundant food and ideally of relaxation. To feed yourself [and others], to love yourself [and others], to celebrate love, life and gratitude for all that you have. For an old church hymn, they’ve covered a lot of ground. (Good work, ye merry gentlemen!)

Of course, like any good celebration, the holidays come with their fair share of temptations and frustrations (and did I mention, expectations?). So, if you’re like me, the pre-Thanksgiving time is marked by a bit of anxiety. Excitement for a season of family and friends [with their respective social outings and get togethers], and a looming hope that you don’t get too carried away – with your holiday shopping, long-nights out and working overtime, heated dinner-table discussions with relatives, or double chocolate fudge [martini] indulgence. How do we walk the fine line between indulging in the comfort of the season and not over-indulging? It’s a difficult balance made much simpler by approaching the season with mindfulness – remembering that indulgence foremost means caring for yourself.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look forward to the comfort and joy of the holiday season! (And to relieve any lingering anxiety over all the goodness yet to come…)

Bubble baths. To me, bubble baths are the ultimate form of indulgence. For you, it may be something else – perhaps reading a book or having a glass of wine by the fireplace (actually, I change my answer…) Take time during your time off this holiday season to indulge the way you want to. Too often in the past, I’ve felt the holidays have come and gone without allowing myself any time to relax. But I’m giving you permission – you can even put it in your calendar! – to make time for yourself, as often as you can, to indulge this holiday. (I’m talking bubble baths, candles, home facials and red wine…) You’ll be just as grateful come January, when you return to your routine feeling rested and rejuvenated 😉

Taste everything. As I’ve said before: Food is love! And you deserve only the best. But, of course, the best includes Gramma’s seasonal batch of double chocolate fudge and late-night pizza with high school friends. Don’t deny yourself a single thing this holiday, but do allow yourself [in most cases] just a taste. (Don’t panic – for me, this translates as one piece of fudge or 1-2 slices of pizza. Make it as realistic as it is delicious.) Ultimately, you have control over how much of what ends up on your plate. Start off with a taste of everything you want – one or two spoonfuls (use your judgment) – and then pick the thing (or two) you liked the most and go back for more! For dessert, go for that big ol’ slice of pie – but be kind to your body, pick just one (big) or two (small) things. And if you’re feeling bummed about missing out on a second piece of pie or that other tasty treat in the back, take one home for tomorrow or split with a friend. (I sometimes have to remind myself, there will be many more chocolate chip cookies in my future. No need to eat them all now!) Allow yourself to indulge in all the comfort of the season, while remembering to care for yourself foremost. This is key to avoiding next-day belly aches and painful hangovers at the holidays – and throughout the year, tried and true!

Stay Well. A lot goes on during the holiday season, you could even say it’s gained a reputation for stirring the pot. High emotions – of grief and loss, of being over-worked and exhausted, of frustration and anger, of fears and expectations for the coming year – often associated with the season are compounded by high stress, a natural derivative of the holidays. Acknowledge this, and even excuse yourself in advance. If and when things do come up, let them and then let them go. Take care of yourself and care for others. Greet stress  with as much compassion as you can muster. Remember that over-indulging in one thing, won’t relieve the burden of another. Give yourself the courtesy of acknowledging what you’re feeling as it comes up, and then take a step back and check out the big picture (“I’m really exhausted from being so busy.” Or, “I just miss my family, a lot.”) Then, from that place, decide how you’ll react. Take a nap, cook dinner for a friend, call a loved one, or hit a yoga class; indulge in a way that’s constructive and that won’t further aggravate yourself or others. Give yourself some love, and stay well.

Coincidently, these three are also a recipe for joy. I didn’t fully understand the meaning of joy, nor did I take much interest, until I challenged myself to follow these steps to the best of my ability, everyday (about a year ago this holiday). Since then, my constant belly aches have gone away, stress has become more manageable, I get sick less, I feel better, and I eat everything I want (but usually, just a taste). Caring for yourself is foremost. Once you can sustain a healthy balance of giving unto others (i.e. work, friends & family) and giving in to comfort – there is only joy. (Although, I’ll be the first to say this is an ongoing process, it’s certainly a commitment worth making to yourself, and for others.)

Live well and be well! ‘Tis the season of comfort & joy! I’m looking forward to spending quality time with friends and family in the coming weeks and wish you all of the comfort and joy that this season brings!

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As the weather gets cooler – and the urge to curl up on the couch gets stronger – I thought I’d share a recipe to put aside for your next night at home. Just keep a box of Annie’s handy and add other goodies as you see fit! Bon appetit…

This is a favorite variation to spruce up my favorite comfort food. I encourage you to add, subtract and modify to make it as delectable for you.

Veggie Bomb [Buffalo] Mac n’ Cheese
(Makes enough for two, or one with leftovers!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Box Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese (I love the “white shells,” but you can use any brand or variety you like. I’d recommend sticking with organic or whole wheat, if possible.)
  • Buffalo Sauce (Franks or any variety. Hot sauce works, too!)
  • Almond milk (or soy or organic dairy. I wouldn’t recommend using coconut milk here, as it’s consistency isn’t ideal for the “n’ cheese” to follow)
  • Kale and/or Spinach (or any dark leafy green in your fridge)
  • Celery, 4 stalks chopped
  • Consider adding: chopped tomato, red, green or hot peppers, onion or broccoli, as desired

Protein, optional:

  • Tofu (firm, cut into cubes), boneless chicken (thin tenders are easiest) or chicken sausage

Directions:

  • Cook pasta according to box. Chop celery and put aside.
  • In a frying pan, layer the bottom with buffalo sauce (no oil necessary, but optional) and allow protein to cook in sauce. Tofu can be heated 5-10 minutes; chicken may take longer or can be pre-cooked. Add celery to frying pan and let simmer.
  • Once pasta is cooked to taste and before draining water, turn off stove and stir in leafy greens as desired. (The hot water in the pot will cook up the greens without overcooking the pasta. If you forget and drain accidentally, that’s all right – just add greens to frying pan with celery.)
  • Drain water, add milk n’ cheese, stir and let sit a minute or two for sauce to thicken.
  • Combine all ingredients and enjoy!

Also – if you’re in need of any ideas for your Thanksgiving potluck, I’ll be cooking up some California Oatmeal Cookies with cranberries and dark chocolate chips 😉

Stay Well ❤

Amy

Personal Photo: Santa Monica Pier summer concert series, circa 2013

Work Hard, Play Hard.

In my previous posts, I’ve talked about the importance and “beauty” of finding yoga on your mat – particularly in those moments when you find your “yoga high” and perhaps even experience a state of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses, as awareness draws inward). We treasure these moments, because they are so few, and reconcile with ourselves that they can only be fleeting. But – ah ha! – what if it were possible to live in yoga, even when you’re off the mat?

If you haven’t heard the phrase “living in yoga” before, please allow me to introduce you. Living in yoga does not mean living in a perpetual state of pratyahara, perpetually withdrawn from the outside world – though some, very traditional yogis choose this path of renunciation. Rather, it means applying basic yogic principles (revisiting the eight limbs = yoga’s “code of ethics”) and practicing yoga as “the science of the mind” on a daily basis, by carefully observing your own thoughts and choosing your words (and thoughts) with care and intention. How nice of a notion. Of course, we know that though yoga is sweet, life is not that simple. So, often times, the “living” part gets in the way.

This week, I can certainly relate to the feeling of having to surrender to life – in this case: my schedule. I love school. I love yoga. Grad school for yoga? Sign me up! But somehow in the midst of two weeks of non-stop events/classes/studying (all of my waking hours) my enthusiasm waned, and life took over. And suddenly, it wasn’t so fun anymore.

In talking to fellow classmates and checking in with friends who are building their own professional careers (from event planning, to accounting, sales and yoga!), I began to notice a theme: Surrender to our schedules – to life – in a non-stop whirlwind of meetings, parties, and events all designed to achieve balance (to some degree) and overall success. These are great goals to aspire to, even admirable. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could get there without feeling like we’ve lost control along the way, and that our lives are driving us? When do we get to stop running and just enjoy? (And don’t say: retirement. Although that should be enjoyable too!)

Living in yoga, your schedule remains the same and your obligations and deadlines are just as urgent. But, instead you commit to living more fully in everything you do and allow yourself to stop and smell the roses – today (no waiting)! This is as lovely as it is challenging, because living in yoga also means devoting greater consciousness to your daily life. By being aware and observing your own thoughts and actions throughout the day, you aspire to live in the present moment with compassion and authenticity. This means, allowing yourself to take one thing at a time. And not only do it, but enjoy it.

This also means making a concerted effort to make time for you, to do what you love – even, and especially, in the midst of chaos. (The picture above was taken this past weekend when I showed my close friend, Laura, my all-time favorite spot* during her first-ever trip to California!) There is nothing more cherished – or important – than memory-making…

As my boyfriend ran out of the house to work this morning, we reviewed our schedules for the day, both with a looming fatigue already at 8:00am. (Whenever you think you have the craziest day ahead, there is someone with one even crazier…) But together, we reached the conclusion: “Well, you can only be one place at a time.” All you can do is the best you can, where you are – and do your best to enjoy it!

In my morning meditation today, I set the intention to bring awareness to the present moment as I go forward into the weekend and coming week, so that I can relax and enjoy all that’s in front of me instead of feeling bound and overburdened. This, like anything, takes practice. But is there anything more worthy of working towards? Being present means listening actively, expressing gratitude, sharing your ideas confidently, and enjoying life – as it is, how it is, right in this very moment. This is, at its simplest, living in yoga.

There are only so many hours in the day. You can only do one thing at a time. So, just do what you can. And enjoy it!

Gives new (& better) meaning to: “Work Hard, Play Hard.” Go forth, and play!

Namaste,

Amy

*photo taken at my favorite peak on Foothill Trail in Ojai, CA