Nourish and Forge Wellness

taking wellness beyond the physical

Why I have to move

I remember the first time I was really aware of my body. I was in 6th grade and joined the track team. Having participated more in music lessons up to that point in my life, I remember being completely out of my comfort zone as the coach demanded more and more laps of us. I felt so uncoordinated and defeated, my legs burning and my breath wheezing.

After a few weeks, my body adapted, and I was able to begin learning how to work with breathing, pacing, turn over rates, and other tools that were helpful on the track. I began to feel empowered by the connection between my body and brain.

As I near 40, I’m struck by the evolution of movement in my life. How different types of movement came during different chapters. How each fed my growth in such perfect ways.

In middle school and high school, I learned the ropes of my body and social life through sports—swimming, soccer, track and field.

In my mid-twenties, I skied obsessively — counting the hours until I could get my boots in snow again.

After that, came 8 years of deep devotion to CrossFit.

Finally, yoga came stealthily into the picture.

Each chapter gave me exactly what I needed to evolve. I always fought the transition, believing I would never find something as fun as skiing. That I wouldn’t be able to do life without CrossFit. That my body wouldn’t be healthy if I didn’t practice yoga.

Each transition was due to a block that seemed outside of my control. An injury or shift in physical capacity. I saw it as an error. Something that shouldn’t be. Something that was wrong. Looking back now, I see how beautifully these transitions served me.

Skiing was my bliss. When I was surviving my first years of teaching and completing my masters degree, it was the part of my week when I could shed all the heaviness and responsibility — empty my mind and focus on speed, dodging trees and flying off jumps. I laughed and pushed my edges and drank beer. It was the ultimate release during a time of intensity and stress.

When I tore my MCL and was out for a season, I was devastated. What could I possibly find that would make life as worth living as skiing? The answer was CrossFit. By fate (or destiny), I met others who pulled me into the community just as it was forming. I found my people and my adult playground. I learned from incredible teachers how to push my body. How to build strength and control. How to endure discomfort in the moment because it’s the only way we learn what we are capable of.

I learned how to be a competitor. I revisited how to control my breath and work with it instead of letting it control me. I learned my system; I knew when to hold back and when to push the gas. I learned again and again and again how to be in discomfort.

Again, this was the place I went for release. For escape from the grind of teaching and the stress of heartbreak or crisis. I walked through the doors of the gym and felt all the heaviness slide off my shoulders. I could go to bed and sleep soundly, having sweat out my anxiety and stress onto the floor of the gym.

CrossFit helped me know my power. It’s where I proved to myself (again and again) that I could do the impossible. I learned the truth about what the journey of progress and achievement really looks like through my physical practice and mentorship from my coaches.

Then, my dad died. CrossFit was no longer something my grieving body allowed me to do. It was too intense. My body and being needed gentleness and presence to move me through the oceans of emotion. That’s when yoga became my main way of moving.

Yoga taught me how to “be with” what is. There was no where to go — just be on my mat. With my breath. And my thoughts. And my broken heart. And my tears. It taught me how to be strong in stillness and soft in movement.

I learned a new kind of power in my body — the power of being fully present to it and deeply accepting of it. I deepened my breath practice. I learned how to be an observer of myself. To be more neutral and loving. I discovered new ways to heal by not resisting, but instead leaning in.

Yoga taught me how to be still with myself. To leave all the noise and distraction behind on purpose. To learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable in a new way.

Yoga taught me how to fiercely have my own back. To love myself in each and every moment, even when especially when I’m a mess. To see the gift of the mess, when I can love myself to the other side of it.

Movement is essential for humans.
It’s how we increase mind-body connection.
It’s how we tune in to our intuition.
It’s how we create space for what’s coming next.

For me, movement is when my best ideas come…
It opens channels for creativity to flow — allowing insights to bubble up and universal intelligence to download.
So when I don’t feel like moving (cuz it always happens) this is what I tell myself…

Move, dear one…
This is what your body’s made for
It’s when your wisdom gets to be loud.
Honor your health, your mission, your soul
And move in the way that feels delightful today.

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Why I’ve been 99% Alcohol Free for the last 11 months

I vividly remember tears dropping down my cheeks as I had a conversation with my coach in the summer of 2018. I was feeling something so profoundly painful, and it had taken months to put words to it. Finally, the clarity had come.

“I feel so disconnected,” I said. “I feel like I’m living in this thick fog. I have a hard time connecting to myself. I have a hard time connecting to my intuition or highest self. I know the things that create the fog is also what disconnect me from my loved ones, from nature, and from (for lack of a better word) God.”

“What things create the fog?” she softly prompted. “Do you know?”

I knew.

In fact, on some level, I’d known for years. There were a few things on the list, but the big one was alcohol.

In my late twenties in Denver, I was doing improv acting during my free time. After the shows, I’d hit up a bar with the other actors. One of my friends, an older gentleman who literally lit up any room he was in, would always order a Diet Coke while the rest of us imbibed. One night, he told me that he had hit a certain year in his life (I believe it was in his early 40s, where he just knew that his life would be better without alcohol. It was no longer something that brought more good than bad into his life. So, he stopped. He had spent decades sober.

At the time, I marveled at his will power. I wondered how he could be around it all the time and not be tempted. I probably even felt a little sad that he wasn’t part of the “party”. But, more than anything, I looked up to him. He knew his truth, and he was living it. In an environment that was oozing booze, he abstained…and he radiated. He was deeply comfortable with himself, and so genuinely interested in each person he came into contact with. He was a person I wanted to become.

That night, a seed was planted. That seed whispered to me for the next decade. There will come a time when your best life will be a sober one.

I knew that time was coming, but that didn’t stop me from including beer or wine or tequila multiple times a week for years to come.

By the summer I was in tears with my coach, despairing the fog that enveloped me, my relationship with alcohol had gotten more complicated. It held such a strong allure. It was seamlessly interwoven with all celebratory events. And all bad/sad/mad events. And all tedious events. It always signaled “time to connect and enjoy” at social events and “time to unwind” at the end of many days. Reaching for a drink had gone into autopilot.

That summer, I named the primary culprit for my pain. And, yet, I didn’t do anything about it. I wasn’t sure how to go about giving up this part of my life. How to suddenly let go of a substance that had been at almost every hard and beautiful moment of my adult life.

So, I sat with the knowledge. I observed myself and my behaviors. I tried to be kind to myself. And I trusted that even if I didn’t see change externally, I was in process.

In early November, 2018, I was in Austin, Texas for a coaching conference. I was sharing a room with Savanna, a woman I’d come to know and love through our many video chats and phone calls. She was radiant. Brilliant. Deeply empathic. Incredibly health conscious. I was intimidated. And completely affirmed in why I had grown to care so much for her.

She was my right person/right time.

You see, I’d been journaling, contemplating, observing, and meditating/inquiring around my alcohol conundrum. I was still in the pain of disconnection. I had been asking for help. For direction. For a path forward.

Savanna told me her story, explaining why she chose to be alcohol-free (AF). She was so passionate that I couldn’t not listen. Then, she gave me a book that changed my life. [This Naked Mind by Annie Grace] I read it all the way back to Colorado.

And the switch flipped. Effortlessly. I went from desiring a drink almost every day, to truly wanting no drink at all. It was the right resource from the right person at the right time.

Since then, I’ve researched, read, and listened to everything I can get my hands on about alcohol, especially content that addresses the relationship and journey in the “grey zone”, meaning not black or white (alcoholic or not). There’s more content than ever for people who don’t identify as alcoholics, who’ve never hit a rock bottom, but are questioning their relationship with alcohol on some level. This is the content that interests me — ways for me to continue engaging with and learning about the complexities of humans and alcohol.

In the last year, I can count the number of times I’ve had an urge to drink on two hands. I’ve had 3 separate drinks on 3 separate days, very consciously. Each time, I’ve had an inquiry in mind, and investigated if it was “worth it” to me—measuring the temporary high against the next day’s lowered mood/energy/etc. Once it was. It was a strong IPA with a dear friend, on a rooftop patio in the mountains, on her birthday, after a half-day snow shoe. It was sublime. (However, I’m not convinced the experience wouldn’t have been equally sublime without the beer.)

So, where am I now? After 11 AF months, I can’t say my body composition has improved all that much or that it cured my other vices (gummy stuff, potato chips, and reality tv). I can say this is the most aligned, connected, confident, and content I’ve felt in years. I am so grateful for the internal and external forces that came together to make this decision an easy one for me. (I am certain it would’ve become a harder one down the line.)

I am intentionally and happily living a 99% AF life. I still have little sips of things from time to time — curious if it will taste like the magic I remember (it never does). I am not 100% sober at this point. I am conscious and intentional about when, where, with whom, and why I might have a drink. I don’t say I’ll never drink again. I do say that I drink as much and as often as I want.

And it’s absolutely true.

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The winter blues?

I thought I was depressed.

I’ve been feeling a bit blah recently. Not down. Not sad. Not upset. Just, a bit blah.

Wondering if I was on the edge of depressed, I’ve been cleaning up my diet (no alcohol, no caffeine, no sugar/processed), increasing exercise, and watching less TV. (All things I know will move the needle when the dark edges of melancholy creep in.)

Nothing changed, and it was odd. I’ve never felt this way before. Just, ya know, here. But, not unhappy.

My mentor looked at me today after not seeing me for several weeks and said, “Your energy is really different today, like you’re really exuding so much feminine/yin energy”. And that’s when I realized…I haven’t been living at my stress threshold for a while now. My nervous system feels much more calm than I remember it ever being. Ever. 

What if this is the feeling of being relaxed? Not stressing about things all the time? What if I don’t actually need sharp edges and taut nerves to feel alive? What if the roller coaster I’ve been on for much of my adult life is the anomaly and this placid lake top is the norm for my human self? Hmmm. 

This is worthy of exploring more. 

Whatever the case, I know that this (and all parts of each of our human cycles) is impermanent. Things won’t always feel this way. But I’d love to come to understand and embrace the gift of it. Not buying into what I think I should be experiencing, but instead noticing and getting curious about what I am.

Are you struggling with an experience? Want to navigate through difficult times with more ease and empowerment? Know that you are not alone. Know that being supported by like-minded, heart-centered community can shift the experience. Find those on a similar path and journey together. Get a mentor. Join a group. Connect and find ease in the knowledge that it’s ALL ok.

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Choosing to be fertile soil

Fall is upon us. We adorn ourselves with boots and sweaters and gaze at the colors of the leaves on the trees and the ground. We snuggle into warm spaces with loved ones. We prepare for the winter.

While taking a fall hike last week, I noticed the leaves scattered on the ground. I mused how certain leaves get to land on dirt, and over time, are taken apart and absorbed back into the soil, becoming a new part of the cycle, the nutrients that fuel the next season’s growth.

While other leaves fall on man-made concrete. There they lay, with what future? To be ignored until they are eventually blown or swept into a pile, then disposed of. Their contribution to the natural cycle lost.

Nature is so wise.

An insight came to me, as I crunched forward on the trail, that the leaves that fall from the trees, are like my life’s experiences—both delightful and challenging. That in some chapters of my life, these experiences have fallen on fertile soil. They’ve had the freedom to be processed and integrated at a natural pace. That these experiences have become the nutrients from which my next cycle of growth was fueled.

When my dad passed away, I shattered into pieces. I honored my broken place. Nurtured it, allowed it to be. I didn’t try to cover it up with a semblance of “ok-ness”. I was fertile soil. I allowed the natural decomposition and integration of this life experience. And it has birthed such incredible growth in me.

Other times, my experiences have fallen on Tiffany-made concrete. A lifeless barrier between the experiences and all the possible nutrients that wanted to fuel my next cycle of growth. But, at times, it’s been too much for me. I’ve created concrete by denying and distracting away from discomfort. I’ve not had the courage to allow the integration of heartbreak and disappointment, and thus, haven’t been able to benefit from the gifts that were waiting.

I honor both paths. Both are part of my life’s journey and its ongoing cycles. But, with this most recent gift of wilderness wisdom, with this insight in my back pocket, I set the intention to be fertile soil.

To be pliant and receptive to all of life’s experiences.

To create space for the natural, Divine timing, the unraveling, the integration, and the new growth.

To trust that what is will always fuel perfectly what’s next.

To trust that pain is not forever, and neither is joy.

To rest easy in the cycles.

So this season, as I watch the leaves falling, a witness to the cycle, I listen to the Wilderness Wisdom. And I choose to be fertile soil.

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Coming Home

When my dad died in February, I lost all sense of home. I was half-orphaned — a gaping, black hole in my life and my being. 

Home has been tricky for a while. Long ago, it was my childhood house on a cul-de-sac; the place I did my homework and laundry, where I slept and ate and spent time with family and friends. Then, it was a city—Fort Collins for six years, Denver for seven.

At age 31, I moved overseas and became an expat. Home took on layers; it was not just locations, but people, emotions, experiences. Home was sensory—certain smells, tastes, and sounds. I lived a dual existence—intensely missing one home while working, and yearning for the other while vacationing—never quite feeling settled, but also knowing my life had expanded exponentially. Not always easy or pleasant, but f*%king beautiful.

My dad died seven months after I moved back to the U.S. It’s been nine months since then. I’ve moved three times in those 16 months; I’ve had a few jobs; I’ve hesitated to fully commit to a location, a job, a relationship. My life that had been generally stable and rooted become exploratory—home being something from my past, not my present.

Death is a thief. It stole most of what I believed to be true. It took away the illusion that everything would be ok. It snatched my lightness, joy, and energy. And then it left me crumpled on the floor, disoriented and disconnected. When the ground disappears from beneath you—what’s left? Home carried no meaning, no comfort for me for a while. Maybe until now, in my last few days of a couple nomadic months. I’m in Asia again, feeling at home for a moment or two in the embraces of expat family. Flickers of joy and lightness have shimmered in and out of my days, whispering promises for the future. In odd moments, walking to the subway or gazing up at all the tall buildings, I’m feeling something frantic inside me begin to slow and still.

This strange calm started in a beautiful valley in Thailand, where I came together with three teachers and fourteen other students on a five week journey that culminated in a yoga teacher certification. Sure, we did yoga, but beyond that, it was a fiery, spiritual experience filled with discomfort and empowerment, self-doubt and self-discovery. During our three day silent meditation retreat, a seed of knowing sprouted in me — what if home is not a place, not people, not experiences? What if it’s not a journey somewhere, but a journey within?

Home has been increasingly complicated for so many years. But, in this moment, it’s simple: I am my home. My heart is home; my soul is home; my path towards more love, more meaning, more growth is home. When I stop looking to home as a destination, but instead as a turning inward, it feels like truth. No matter where I go, I am home. So, it’s time to settle in, build my life here, cultivate deep self love and acceptance. Not easy or comfortable, but f*%king beautiful.

Before losing my dad, I wouldn’t have arrived here. I couldn’t have—I didn’t have the capacity yet. So cheers, Dad. I love you. Thank you for helping me come home.

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Numbing Works

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I first learned how to numb when my mom became ill and was hospitalized when I was 13.

She went to the hospital and we went into survival mode—part of which involved numbing things to the “not-going-to-consume-me-with-raging-fire-of-the-miserable-unfairness-of-it-all” level.

So, while my mom was in the hospital, my dad, two siblings, and I watched TV. Like a lot of it. Anything to forget and distract and feel better. At least for an hour or two. We ate comfort food. All the comfort food. Ice cream, pizza, tacos, candy. When I wasn’t comfort eating or watching TV with my two siblings and dad, I was escaping into every book I could put my hands on. And let me tell you. Numbing worked.

Fast forward 23 years. A lot of shit has gone down—as it does. I have weathered soul-sucking jobs, heart-crushing breakups, leaving my entire life behind and rebuilding it overseas, my mom’s continued health issues, my dad’s more recent terminal cancer, the list goes on.

It’s both devastating and completely normal. We all weather horrible ordeals that eff up our lives; we all experience wonderful moments that make life worth living. The degree of these experiences varies from person to person, but the existence of them in each life does not.

I haven’t always navigated the hard times in healthy ways. It could be said I’ve become a master of numbing life’s pain. (I probably should make myself a certificate. Haha.) Throughout my teens, twenties, and now my thirties, numbing has been a constant companion in many hard ordeals. TV and food are still old anesthetizing friends, but I’ve added to my speed dial—alcohol, Internet, social media, and when I’m being a bit healthier, 1000 piece puzzles and podcasts (this offers literally hours of zoning out and forgeting about any crappy crap I’m trying to get through). They have always been there to distract me and take away the discomfort—at least for a little while. Numbing works.

Until…it doesn’t. Because at some point all that discomfort and yuck you’ve been avoiding is going to explode all over everywhere. It will demand your attention. It will leave voicemails and comment on your fb wall and show up at work. Because numbing works, but only in small doses and in the short term. 

When numbing is your one and only strategy to getting through discomfort and difficulty and devastation, you end up half-living. Numbing the bad feelings also numbs the good ones. It limits your ability to grow, learn, and connect with others. It leaves you feeling empty and alone.

I know this; I’ve lived it.

I’ve also come to learn that strictly cutting out my anesthetizing helpers isn’t realistic for me; there are times I need to check out for a little while. But I now know I must couple a great deal of awareness and mindfulness with any sort of numbing behaviors I take into my life. I have to do this during times of difficulty to be sure I’m not getting sucked into the “I’m-checking-out-for-a week/month/year-cuz-this-feels-awful” black hole. So, I force myself to notice when my moods and energy and healthy behaviors are decreasing and reevaluate my choices.

This has come into play during my repatriation to the US. I have had a great deal of time and a great deal of stress on my hands. Recently, I’ve noticed that my TV watching has increased as has my alcohol and shitty fake-food consumption. Not anything drastic, but enough for me to feel thoroughly like C-R-A-P. I know from experience that it’s a slippery slope, so in recent years, I’ve done my best to recognize and face those realities early on.

Here’s what I did: I decided to eliminate one thing. I stopped watching television; I know from experience that it is one of the most needy behaviors—always wanting to be paired up with a boozy bev or a crappy snack. After I stopped, I immediately found a decrease in my other unhealthy cravings. It’s also given me inertia to do other positive things for myself. I’ve spent more time outside, even when I don’t feel like it. I’ve found a gym that I love and go regularly. I’ve meditated. It all started with that one change.

 

Let me break down what I’ve learned during my serious work in this area for the last seven years or so—first, decide that you want to be more present and be willing to sit in the discomfort, face it, and decide what to do with it. Then—know your triggers, bring awareness and honesty to your behaviors, pick ONE thing you want to eliminate, substitute or shift. Do it and then notice what happens. Reevaluate and revise as needed.

It takes bravery and vulnerability and perseverance to sit in discomfort instead of distract, to face hardships instead of avoid, to have moments all over life’s spectrum, fully feeling both joy and sorrow, instead of staying only in the middle and chopping off the ends with numbing agents. It’s hard work, but worthy work. Let numbing be a tool used sparingly and notice what happens.

Does this resonate with you? Do you have times you’d like to navigate stress or pain better? Are you not fully feeling the joy and the sorrow in your life?  If you said yes to any of these, give this idea a shot and let me know how it goes!

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The Gym Is NOT the Answer – Part 1

Even typing this title seems like a betrayal.

My family and friends know how happy the gym makes me. How I talked about CrossFit and my gym for the first two years straight, regardless of if the listening party was interested. How my gym was my self-professed “church”, my rock through some of the stormiest times of my life.

The gym used to be my answer. To everything. Stressed? Gym. Sad? Gym. Feel pudgy and unworthy and unsexy? Gym.

In the midst of expatness (four years in South Korea), I didn’t always have my gym and community that I thrived in. Now, in the midst of repatting (moving back to the U.S. after four years in South Korea), I haven’t yet found a gym and community that I call home. I’ve been forced to reconsider.

And here’s the thing: the gym is not the answer.

Let’s zoom out. Why do people go to the gym? Health. Stress relief.  To get smaller (women), to get bigger (men), to get sexier (everyone).

Again, here’s the thing: the gym is not the answer.

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Before we talk about what is the answer, let’s examine the question. What are we seeking in the gym? Truly? What is lying under our desire for that killer workout?

My list looks like this:

  • mental/emotional stress relief through exercise
  • community
  • challenge and growth (learning new movements, mastering new skills)
  • physical health and longevity
  • lose body fat (something I think about far more than I’d like to admit)
  • balance out poor food/drink choices
  • be as attractive as possible to attract a romantic partner and be accepted and successful in society

The second half of my list has more to do with self-acceptance and mindfulness work than with the gym and exercise (a whole different blog post). The first half of the list are in fact things I can accomplish at the gym (bolded). And the bottom line is, I feel better about myself and my body AND I function better as a human when I’m going to the gym often.

However, my recent transition has forced upon me an important realization: the gym is not the answer; movement is.

This means that just because I don’t have a gym right now, I don’t have to fall apart. I don’t have to flounder. I simply need to move. Every day.

This also means more freedom—I might go for a long walk one day, and ride horses the next. I might go on a hike with a Meetup group or play around with handstands and backbends in the park. The possibilities are endless.

I’ve also noticed some shifts that have resonated with me when movement (not the gym) is the answer.

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For me, the gym is still one of my happy places. When I find that home gym, it will be one of the places I get to challenge myself, be surrounded by like-minded people, relieve stress, and maintain or improve physical health. However, it is not the only place or way these needs can be fulfilled.

Whether I am traveling, settling in to a new country or my home country, insanely busy or with lots of free time, I can honor my body by moving every day. And you can too!

Join me on Instagram and post in what ways you #moveeveryday. The gym is not the answer, but delicious movement is.

 

 

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Do less. Be more.

Last Friday, I made a decision to do something new. Something risky. Something audacious.

I’ve always loved being outdoors and have backpacked many times in my life. But on that weekend, I decided to go solo for the very first time. After a quick search on the internet and a visit to my local REI, I was ready to go. (Side note: I’d always wanted to do this, but have never quite had the gumption or the courage to go for it.)

In the course of those three days in the wilderness, I felt expansive—stretched beyond my comfort zone and learning how to deal with conflict alone as it arose. I also felt peaceful—my tornado-brain calmed in a way that only nature and solitude will. But that’s not what I want to write about. Here’s a big in-your-face realization that came to me on day three as I was crunch-crunch-crunching my way down a gravelly trail in the Rawah Wilderness.

I need to do less on a regular basis. And you do too.

In the space I gifted myself, here’s what I did NOT do for three whole days.

  • Go on the Internet or social media
  • Work
  • Check off to-do lists
  • Make to-do lists
  • Feel guilty about ignoring my to-do lists
  • Check my phone
  • Talk to anyone (exception: myself, baby deer, massive moose that scared the crap outta me, tiny chipmunk corpse on the trail)
  • Analyze past interactions
  • Plan future interactions
  • Think about my future, my finances, or health insurance
  • Watch tv
  • Worry about anything except what was in the present moment (Is a bear going to attack me? Will my tent blow over? eff-bomb, I’m a little lost…where am I?)
  • Read for self-improvement or learning
  • Listen to podcasts (this was a temptation…but I stayed in the present, listening instead to the creatures and life around me)
  • Listen to music

You know what? This created a whole lot of space that I didn’t even realize I needed. The surprising part was what happened in that space. I began to notice these inner nudgings that I wouldn’t have ever noticed had I filled up that space with noise or distraction or even productive work.

Nudgings is the best way I can describe the stirrings or whispers inside of me that I began to pay attention to. What I found on that last day was that I was so much more in tune with what I wanted to do in every given moment.

That may sound strange. We all know what we want, right?

I don’t think so. The demands and details that fill our daily lives leave very little room for the nudgings that lead us to the simple and ordinary pleasures of our existence. 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about pleasure and how we deny, deprive, indulge, and overindulge ourselves in the various pleasurable human experiences. Much of this thought is inspired by the incredible Maddie Berky, who writes about pleasure in an engaging and thought-provoking way. (Seriously like brain-crack. Check her out here.)

As I was trekking down the mountain, I realized I had invited awareness around these simple pleasures by simply creating space for them. How? I did less. For just a couple days.

Let me tell you about a few of these moments.

I noticed when I saw a spot on the mountain that begged me to sit and rest—a pair of rocks working together to create nature’s recliner—and watch a blue jay fly back and forth, pecking at pinecones at the tops of nearby trees. As I sat, I felt my shirts clinging to me and decided I wanted to be free of them for a while, to feel the sun warming my skin and the breeze cooling me. I took my shirts off and hung then on tree branches. My feet felt hot, so I took of my shoes and socks and stretched in bare feet, feeling rough rock and sharp twigs under my toes.

I noticed these nudgings towards small pleasures and I followed them. I was rewarded. With each choice, no matter how seemingly insignificant, I felt deep satisfaction. I smiled at the birds. I closed my eyes, becoming fully aware of the sensations on my skin. I relished the spaciousness of that moment.

Do less. Be more present. 

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I rested until I felt the urge to begin walking again. I slowly regarbed and donned my pack, resuming my trek downward. I walked until I found another divine place that was pulling me. This time it was curiosity that led me—a cairn lay by the trail and I wanted to know what it was marking. I was rewarded by a valley exploding with yellow aspens and green pines.

Do less. Be more curious.

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On my last bit of trail before the parking lot, I walked along a mountain stream. It called to me, I could hear it—come, cool off, play! I almost ignored it, my mind rushing ahead to the things I needed to do before the day was done (drive home, laundry, cook dinner for the fam, get some work done). But somehow, the previous two days of slowing down and doing less, prevailed.

I stopped, dropped my pack, unsnapped and stripped out of my long sleeve shirt, rolled up my black pants, and took off my hot, gritty trail shoes and green, wool socks. I stepped down into the river, gasping with utter delight as the icy water touched my skin and the rocks and pebbles at the river’s bottom massaged my aching feet.

I laughed out loud. Reaching down with cupped hands, I splashed the deliciously cold water repeatedly on my face, my neck, my hair. I scrubbed three days of dirt off my calves and feet and arms. I raised my face to the sun and threw my arms wide, taking this moment in. It was full of joy and pleasure.

Climbing out, I did not want to put those hot, dirty shoes back on…I felt a playful inner nudging that whispered, walk the rest of the way barefoot. And so I did. And it was beautiful.

Do less. Be more joyful.

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I don’t expect to always have the freedom to escape the daily grind for three days alone in the stunning Colorado wilderness.

But, I do expect to carry this lesson forward into my life: do less, be more.

Even if it’s for an hour a week, let’s do less. Let’s turn off our devices, ignore our distractions, and postpone our duties. Let’s create the space to be more.

More present.

More curious.

More joyful.

You might be surprised at how alive you feel.

 

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What I Learned at the Gym about Feedback

I haven’t worked out in 6 weeks.

I’ve been traveling in northern Thailand, repatriating from South Korea to Colorado, working on home improvement projects for my parents, and spending tons of time with family, friends, and my beautiful Colorado mountains.

So, when I walked in to my first CrossFit class four days ago, I was ready to get a good sweat on. The coach and people and facility were all nice. I received feedback and cues from the coach (in detailed English) which was something I had been missing desperately in South Korea. It was a good experience; however, I left feeling a little blue.

Here’s what I was able to pull out from the experience—the coach never told me anything I was doing well; he simply pointed out what I could improve.

Constructive feedback was actually what I’d been craving, but I realized that without the companion of positive feedback, I was a little less open to hearing what he had to say and a little less pumped when I left the gym.

What is interesting to me is that I am a seasoned CrossFitter—I know my knowledge and skill sets are solid. Even with this self-confidence, I still wanted needed a balance of positive and constructive feedback from my new coach.

I can’t imagine how defeated I would’ve felt if it was my first class. 

Let me be clear, this coach was a nice guy and had great suggestions. He was a good coach. However, as coaches and teachers, we tend to fall into a place where we focus only on what needs to be fixed.

kb

Herein lay that big ol’ slap-in-the-face reminder for me—speak positivity into people’s lives. All the time, ideally, but especially when you’re trying to help someone improve.

This is relevant in communication with loved ones. This is essential when in a teaching or coaching position. This is the core ingredient for people feeling connected and safe with you when they are in a place of discomfort or when they are stretching their limits.

Here are some practical ideas of how to get a great balance of positive and constructive feedback when interacting with others.

  • Prelude each constructive criticism with a specific validation of something done well. (If you forget, you can always add a positive at the end.)
  • Try using the word “and” instead of “but” to connect your affirmation and your constructive feedback. Example: “You have done such a great job practicing your sight words this week, but and if you want to get to the next level, we can work on your spelling words now.”
  • Visualize the person in front of you achieving their goals; verbalize that bright future to them whenever appropriate.
  • Don’t blow smoke up anyone’s behind. The positive affirmation can absolutely be something small and specific, but above all, must be true.
  • Finish each coaching/teaching session with a positive wrap-up statement that validates time, effort, and achievement in an authentic way.

In a world full of “not ____ enough”, we teachers/coaches/humans have the potential to spread light and possibility. As easy as it is to forget amidst the demands and details of “adulting”, it is essential that we shine light and kindness and affirmation into our fellow human’s lives.

Let this be your focus for a day, and notice the difference.

 

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Lessons from My Expat Life: Say No

It’s ok to be a party-pooper.

For reals. After several months of saying yes to, legit, everything in my first expat experience in Seoul, I had to learn the next big lesson: saying no. (A lesson I continue to work on refining in my life four years later.)

Upon arriving in a new country and home, it’s of the utmost importance to start making connections, exploring, trying new foods, places, and experiences. And the way you do that is by saying yes. Yes, yes, YES! It’s a totally normal and super-fun part of the process. The downside is that at some point, saying yes to every opportunity (going out, traveling, socializing, joining a committee/book club/sports team, etc.), becomes utterly exhausting.

Our social (not to mention financial) gas tanks are finite; eventually, they require more discernment. 

The surprising part for me was how difficult it was to start saying no.

The biggest reason? FOMO. The struggle is real. Secondly, my behaviors up to that point had built expectations—expectations that would be consistently challenged as I began to be more picky with my yesses.

fomoLet’s have a real moment here.

I didn’t choose this lesson; it was forced upon me. I loved saying yes to everything, but at a certain point I found myself so depleted that I had to change what I was doing. That’s when I had to start thinking about which relationships were important to me to build, which activities fed me in some way—I had to select my yesses and learn to say no to everything else.

Let me tell you, that sh*% is tough. People hate hearing no. And eventually, when you say no enough times, you stop getting the invites, and your insides squeeze a little each time you hear about things you used to be a part of. Ugh.

But, here’s the thing: the relationships you put more time and energy into deepen; the activities you focus on become more meaningful; your bank account, social gas tank, and zen quotient grow.

Four years in, I go out infrequently (and still experience FOMO often). I usually go to bed early and get up with the sun (grandma status and proud). I spend time reading and writing and walking outside. I have dinners with dear friends. I drink when it’s special. I workout a LOT. I rarely get stressed about teaching because I have time and energy to stay caught up and balanced. I sometimes teach fitness classes. I build a lot of puzzles. I take weekend trips, but not too many. I am more aware of myself and my limits than I’ve ever been.

I say yes as often as I can (because I love my community here).

But, I still must frequently say no because I am keenly aware of my energy gas tank, and I know that driving that thing past ‘E’ takes about three times as long for me to recover from. I try to be clear and honest and gracious when I say no.

Saying no is definitely not as sparkly and joyful as saying yes. But it’s just as important.

As an expat, I’ve become practiced at and grateful for this lesson. Saying no ain’t for sissies.

And it’s ok to be a party-pooper.

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