It's the time of year in the PNW where we fill the long days drinking in the sun and heat, smelling of tomato plants and squash, flocking to beaches, lakes and mountains. This summer Josh and I were lucky enough to be out backpacking every other weekend, culminating our summer trips with a 5-day section of the Pacific Crest Trail. My 68-year old trail-crushing mom came along and my sister and brother-in-law joined us for the first 3 days.
For a loooong time, I've been compelled to spend time in nature (Walden Pond, anyone?)... beyond the obvious benefits of getting away from society's tedium, I find that nature vacations are the most comprehensive getaway- boosting healthy thoughts and behaviors, resetting our brains, challenging ourselves physically and mentally, experiencing beauty, and immersing in the quiet. I even read that 'Forest Bathing' is being prescribed as a mindfulness and stress-reduction tool in some societies (duh!)
Here's what I love about spending time in the woods:
"A blade of grass is the journeywork of the stars" - Walt Whitman
1) It's simple. I'm not paying bills, responding to texts or emails, checking notifications or dealing with any of the stresses of daily life. I am simply waking up and walking from here to there. I set up my home in the evening and take it down the next morning. I heat water, I make food, I check a map, I carry everything I need with me on my back. No news, no politics, no notifications. I am untethered.
2) It's beautiful. Every trail has a beauty to it, whether it's the macro: wildflowers, old growth trees, mosses, fungi, deer... or the broad: mountains, alpine lakes, glaciers, meadows... I am in awe of the landscapes around me.
3) It's physical. It's obvious, but hiking is great exercise. I can feel my legs working, my heart pumping- I'm sweating and exhausted when I reach the end of the day. Walking is the most natural form of exercise, and doing it for hours at a time for days in a row feels like I'm working out all of the kinks. Although it's not easy, I come back feeling strong, refreshed and alive. I am amazed at my body's capacity to carry me so far.
It's so simple, so beautiful, so challenging and peaceful. I put one foot in front of the other, I hear my poles clicking against the rocks, I breathe in and out, I laugh with my companions, I lay flat on the ground, I dip in cold water, I see the stars at night. Soon I'll put my pack away until next season, wrap up in scarves and Seahawks gear, and reminisce about the long, hot summer.
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” - Henry David Thoreau
How many of you are annoyed at how much you use your phone? Are you bothered when a friend or partner uses his/her phone in front of you? How about when you see people walking down the street, sitting on the bus, eating, DRIVING with their head tilted down staring into the screen? The common thread here is annoyance. It's like a nagging stupid little bug that buzzes and buzzes and never goes away. I know I'm not the only one, and I don't see how this pattern will get better as we move into the future.
One glaring aspect of this phenomenon is that many of us check our devices to find a sense of connection through social media. I know I do! However, the reality that I've experienced is that I feel empty and less connected after checking my news feed. And very often it actually takes me away from present moment social interactions. The connection I feel through the device is false, temporary and illusory.
As a health coach, I specialize in behavior change. What a perfect situation we have here for an experiment! I've been annoyed for a long time, but in the past week I decided to take steps towards changing my behavior (remember, you can only change YOUR behavior... your partner has to make his or her own choices and you can choose how you react). One thing I've noticed is that the first step is mindfulness. If you don't even notice you're using you're phone, how can you change the pattern of addiction?
Here are a few tips for changing phone/device behavior:
1- Move your apps around to break your habit. My first step was to move my Facebook app off the toolbar on my home screen and into my entertainment folder. I noticed my checking pattern reduce dramatically when I had to take 3 extra steps (slide, tap, tap) to check the app.
2- Don't take your phone bed. I check my phone last thing before bed and first thing in the morning. And I use my phone as alarm. WHY is it so hard to get myself to meditate for 10 minutes per day when I scroll mindlessly through Facebook for 10 minutes every morning? WTF? I'm buying a wake-up light RIGHT NOW........... as soon as it arrives, the phone will stay charging in the kitchen at night.
3- Track your app usage. Why not fight fire with fire? The irony of using an app to diminish your app usage is not lost on me. There are numerous free apps that can track your usage and either gently remind you or kick you off when you've reached a self-imposed usage limit. Here's one article. Let me know if you find an app you love! I just downloaded Moment for my iPhone. My sister is using a program called "waste no time" on her work computer. Do you like it, Sarah @blueyedgenes?
4- Take a technology fast. Here's one you can do with a friend or partner! Designate a day or part of a day where phones are off or silenced. The very act of putting your phone away from arm's length will automatically make you check it less. Maybe you'll find another activity you love... like interacting with a human! :) You could even use this as a chance to use an 'I' statement: 'When you read your phone while we're having a conversation, I feel like our connection is lost. I feel dismissed and diminished.'
5- Try something new. What are some ways you can think of to change your technology behaviors? With just 3 seconds of brainstorming I came up with 1- leave the phone at home when I go out for socializing, 2- take a 5 minute walk outside instead of catching up on notifications at work 3- silence or disable all notifications on the phone 4- post less and check less 5- take yourself off or interact less with unnecessary apps (Twitter or Instagram not fun anymore? WTF is Vine?) 6- put it on airplane mode when you're feeling 'checky' 7- designate a day for checking Facebook and stay off the rest of the week 8- use a language app to learn new skills instead of reading through a newsfeed (yes you're still looking at your phone, but it's fruitful!)
I'm so excited that I don't have to be stuck in a behavior I don't like. Will you join me in ending the epidemic of 'scrolliosis'? You don't have to quit cold-turkey to change a behavior. Little changes can make big impacts.
After my query into how to keep your life organized, I started reading a dear little book by Marie Kondo called "the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering an organizing". This book is simply adorable to read, and teaches a message about tidying and reorganizing your home, and in the process reshaping your life. She has a method for dealing with every category in your home, and recommends spending a good chunk of time doing a complete overhaul that will change your way of dealing with things forever... so you never have to do it again! "Make it a special event, not a daily chore. If you do a little each day, you'll never get it done." I'll give a brief overview of my favorite messages from this book.
Sort by category, not location. So, sort all your clothes at once and all your books at another time, etc, instead of doing it room-by-room.
Discard first. Start by visualizing your destination, and keep that in mind as you go. My absolute favorite rule in this book (the one that will really change your relationship to stuff) is to only keep those items that when you hold them and touch them BRING YOU JOY. If for any reason something doesn't spark joy for you, discard it. When you can’t throw something away, hold it and tap in to why you bought it. Has it served it’s purpose? Maybe it taught you what doesn’t suit you, or brought you a thrill for those few moments in the dressing room. Take old items which you have been unable to part from and "...free them from the prison to which you have relegated them. Help them leave that deserted isle to which you have exiled them. Let them go with gratitude."
Another favorite moment came when I read the chapter "Papers rule of thumb: discard everything" ... YES!... Now I feel free from my prison of papers. She presents great tips and rules about each category and why it's OK to discard almost all papers. YESSSSSS!
The chapter on clothes (a great place to start the tidying process) explains how you need to take all clothes out of drawers, closets, storage bins, and lay them out on the floor. Select which ones to discard first, those that don’t bring you joy when you hold them (even if you wore it yesterday). Then the ones you keep, she explains how to fold them in a way that makes them happy. I got a hoot out of the sock chapter: "the socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet. The time they spend in your drawer is the only chance to rest… what treatment could be worse than this?"
Kondo speaks of a 'click-point', or a perfect amount of 'stuff' to own that feels right for you. As you put things in order, you'll see what your 'true values' are, the things that you keep that bring you joy can often open up to you what your passions are in life. You can discard all the rest.
The deeper message of the book is that so much of the clutter you hang on to stems from either your clinging to the past or your anxiety about the future. Can you look at items in your home and see that truth?
I had the privilege of attending a restorative yoga teacher training with Jodi Boone last weekend. Restorative yoga is a very restful form of yoga where you 'hold' poses for longer than a normal yoga class while supported by blocks, blankets and bolsters. The beauty of this type of yoga is that it's the antidote to stress, and you may experience a profound feeling of peace and relaxation during and after the practice. I was drawn to this type of yoga after attending many 'power', flow, Bikram and vinyasa types of yoga classes. I would often feel like I got a good workout for my heart and muscles, but it didn't feel like yoga, and I wasn't receiving the benefits of feeling rested and peaceful. I knew that yoga was originally developed to prepare the body and mind for meditation, and these fast-paced classes were not doing that for me. Faster forms of yoga have benefits for sure, but to truly get the restful benefits of peace for body and mind, it's necessary to slow down and restore.
Another aspect of a restorative yoga practice is that studies have shown it to be correlated with healthy weight and weight loss. Why? Because so many of us have stressful lives, and high levels stress hormones like cortisol encourage bodies to hang on to fat cells, and are linked to belly fat and weight gain. Restorative yoga moves your body's nervous system from the sympathetic 'fight or flight' mode to the parasympathetic 'rest and digest' mode. Do you think our bodies might process food better if we slow down and let them? In the parasympathetic mode, blood flows from your extremities back to your core so your heart, liver and organs can get the blood and nourishment they need for optimal functioning. Restorative yoga is like an adult nap, and when you rest with awareness, there are profound benefits for your body and mind.
Check Jodi's and Heather's websites for some restorative classes around Seattle.
I want to know what you do to stay organized! I'd like to do an 'independent study' on ways to stay on top of the many 'to-do' lists, plans, chores, errands, etc that we have. Do you ever feel like you're swimming upstream in it?
Do you have an app you love? Do you have an organizational scheme for your stack of papers? Do you keep notes in your head? Do you journal on paper or on your phone? Do you use a calendar with reminders? Is your email inbox your 'to-do' list? Is there a book that really helped you? Did you simplify something? What do you do to manage the many hats you wear?
I bet that even if you don't feel organized, there is one part of your life that you have pretty well set up. What is that part of your life? What do you do there to stay on top of things. For example, I use a billing software for my business that acts as bookkeeping tool, and I use the same app for both scheduling and invoicing which keeps all my clients' info in one place. I put today's client folders in one stack in my office, move them to another stack when they need to be billed, then after I bill and invoice, I file them away. Hence, feels like there is a streamlined flow between paper and online records (this was not always the case and it used to drain me!)
Where do you thrive in organizing your life?
Please leave comments!
Have you heard everyone going crazy about antioxidants? Do you even know what they are? Here's the scoop on the basics... followed by a recipe!
Antioxidants are naturally occurring compounds found in some foods and beverages (coffee and tea). Antioxidants are comprised of vitamins, minerals and flavanoids. 'Popular' naturally-occurring antioxidants include Vitamins C and E, polyphenols (resveratrol in wine, grape skins and anthocyanins in berries) and carotenoids (lycopene in tomatoes, carotenes in orange and yellow veggies), and many more. And yes, there are flavanols in chocolate and carob!
What makes them so special? Well, antioxidants protect cells in your body from 'free radical' damage. Free radicals are nasty unpaired molecules that oxidize whatever they touch (like turning metal into rust). Oxidation occurs naturally in your body, and you are exposed to it in your daily life by pollutants in the environment. So you have unpaired molecules floating around turning your juicy healthy cells into nasty rusty cells, and your superman antioxidant comes along, steals up that extra oxidizing electron and stops the chain of decay. See? They are ANTI-oxidants.
Antioxidants keep your cells healthy, and have been shown to fight off diseases such as some cancers, heart disease and Alzheimers. Your best bet is to get them from food sources and 'eat from the rainbow'... a wide variety of different colored foods will likely cover your bases (think rich dark blues and reds, yellow, orange and greens). And a little snack of berries, dark chocolate, green tea or red wine will fight off those free radicals.
Now the obvious choice would be to share a Superfood rainbow salad or something, but instead I'm sharing a dessert recipe from my childhood. You can get antioxidants from all sorts of places. This recipe contains carob, raisins, honey (polyphenols) and almond butter (Vitamin E), so it's an antioxidant-packed cleanse-friendly dessert!
Carob Coconut Balls
1/2 cup carob powder
1/2 cup almond butter
1/4 cup honey
1-2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins
Stays good up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator!
Well, it's spring cleanse time for me! I'll share a few more nutrient-packed recipes that I enjoy. First off, here's how to sprout some beans! These pack a punch of nutrients and add an interesting nutty crunch to salads, stews or stir-fry (oh my!).
Step 1: Start with a handful of dry beans (I used mung beans-- they're weird and green and cool and I feel super healthy using them :)
You can use just about any bean like lentils, chickpeas, adzuki, white, black. What cool bean have you tried?
Soak them overnight (or 8 hours) in water. Mason jars look hipster, so that's why I like them. Any container that you can drain water in and out of will do. They will triple in size so start small.
Step 2: For the next 3-5 days, rinse the beans with water a few times each day and drain the water out. Basically you want to keep them looking just barely wet, without being soggy.
Some awesome people have cheese cloth lying around (do you?), and those rockstars could use that to cover the jar for easy rinsing. Pantyhose would also work. I'm too lazy (and am also afraid that I probably DO have a pair of pantyhose from the 90's buried somewhere) that I just use my hand to keep the beans from falling out when I drain the water. Don't avoid making sprouts just because you don't have cheese cloth :)
Step 3: Chow down! 3-5 days of sprouting and they're ready to eat! Throw them onto something delicious and chomp away. After they look nice and sprouty, you can move them in the fridge to retard their growth. They should stay good for a week or so, but you can rinse after a couple of days to keep them fresh. They will start growing little green leaves like tiny trees. How miraculous is that??
Here I've made a veggie-rich lentil stew, dished it into a roasted acorn squash, and topped with sprouts and avocado. Yum!
Here is the completed video for my deep relaxation practice. Hopefully you'll have your eyes closed, but just in case you peek, there are some nice flowers and landscapes to look at :) Happy relaxing!
I've recorded a 15-minute progressive relaxation guide.
The irony is that in trying to figure out just how to do a recording like this, I came across a few technological hurdles... I won't go into the details, you'll get bored. Needless to say, instead of having a beautiful Youtube video with pictures of sunsets, I have a simple mp3 audio file for your enjoyment. Do you ever want to punch a computer? I do! I'm going to listen to my relaxing recording right now to calm down :)
Here's a picture of a sunset and a flower. Recording is below...
Music by Laraaji
Last week we went to Austin, Texas for a mid-winter vacation and a reprieve from the dark gloom of the Northwest (see SAD). I decided to apply elements of wellness coaching to the trip, and Josh (so graciously) was totally game. During our planning, we brainstormed ideas and expectations we had about the trip, and I wrote up a Vision Document. This includes a 'vision statement' (the big picture) and 'intended outcomes' (how we'll achieve it). When we got back, we read it over and rated our success on a 10-point scale.
It was an energizing, unique, fresh and inspiring trip. We explored a new city, checked out the live music, ate great Mexican food, learned to dance the Texas 2-step, visited Canyon Lake (pictured) and bathed in some sunshine! I also decided that margaritas count as my fruit servings for the day :) We agreed that the vision document was a nice way to organize thought and intention, and was the backbone of our trip planning process.
For my self-care, I received a massage and dropped in on a yoga class. For exercise, we walked 8 miles through the South Congress neighborhood on Tuesday, 12 miles through downtown on Saturday, and had two nights of Texas 2-stepping. At Canyon Lake we rested, watched the deer, and did some wine tasting and pizza delivery. Back in Austin, we saw 7 live bands, including Dale Watson (an Austin icon). Josh met one of his philosopher idols, Matt Dillahunty, and got to geek out at the taping of one of his favorite podcasts. He also came in $52 under budget. We were able to strike a nice balance between rest and activity. Sure we had our tired moments, and some places we wanted to visit were closed, but flexibility and unpredictability were both part of the plan.
Our vision document is posted below. Words we'd like to add after the fact are 'music, dance, exploring, tacos' :)
What would your ideal vacation vision be?
Vision Statement & Intended Outcomes for Josh and Laura in Austin
We are energized by a fresh, unique and inspiring vacation.
We have a plan to reference, but allows for improvisation. Priorities to visit: Barton Springs, Canyon Lake, Continental club, Laura’s massage, and the taping of the Aetheist Experience podcast.
We keep expectations in check, being willing to have a good attitude if things aren’t optimal. Sub-optimal circumstances are part of the plan.
We remain open-minded and flexible. We can laugh at obstacles and enjoy the journey.
We treat ourselves (and each other) with gentleness while being in a new place and learning how to get around.
We walk daily.
We feel free to drink but not overindulge daily.
We are free and open with money, trusting our instincts to not overspend. Know that we can have a fancy night out if we want! Josh has a cash budget of $100/day.