Mindfulness Matters. Here’s How To Get Started.

My relationship with meditation began in 2007, when I was traveling for work to various Native American reservations to assist in probating estates. Unbeknownst to many, the United States government holds most Indian land in a trust, and when a Native American dies, the government must hold a hearing to distribute the land to the rightful heirs.

 

At that time, I was a paralegal assisting with the hearings, and the judge (my boss) would interview the witnesses on record about the deceased person to ensure that the property was being passed down correctly. Our territory covered most of the Midwest, bringing us to some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the country.

It was on one of these trips to the reservations that the judge and I found ourselves in a tiny, Buddhist bookshop café in search of lunch. Our choices for food while traveling were usually scarce, but everyone in town had told us that this place had amazing, local organic food, and we were excited to try it.

While waiting for the food, I browsed through some of the books, and I came across one on meditation. Having traveled into these unbelievably spiritual locations, I had begun to feel a certain yearning to connect to the individuals and land we were serving, and to me this book was a sign.

That night, after a long day of probate hearings, I went back to my hotel room which overlooked a beautiful lake in the upper Michigan peninsula, sat crossed-legged on the floor and began what would become a lifelong practice.

Something I noticed right away when I began meditating was how harsh my daily, internal monologue was. I was embarrassed to see the influence my negative thoughts had over how I viewed myself and interacted with everyone around me. “You didn’t do that right,” my inner critic offered snidely. “Why can’t you…”

I had clearly been viewing the world and myself through a negative lens, and it had stunted my growth as a person. I didn’t want to continue this way, and in hopes of doing things a bit differently, I started a practice of meditation that focused on opening my heart. Until that initial session, I had never realized I was so closed off to the world.

The techniques weren’t glamorous, and it was blessedly simple to start. I began each practice by sitting comfortably on the floor, taking a few deep breaths, and closing my eyes. From there I would focus on imagining a flower opening up in my chest, and breathing in white, pure light, while blowing out dark negative air. I would do this initially for 5 to 10 minutes, and slowly I increased the time to 20 minutes as I got used to being still.

The imagery may sound strange, but it truly helped me shift to a kinder, gentler way of being. That shift to a more positive frequency affected everything, and my life was forever changed for the better. My relationship with myself transitioned from being a highly critical perfectionist, to being loving, accepting and empathetic.

I saw myself as a little girl whom I needed to care for and love instead of judge and deride. I was also able to step out of my thoughts and see them from above. This ability not only occurred during meditation, but carried over into my interactions with others. If a family member said something that would usually trigger a heated reflexive response, I was able to stop, label my initial reaction as thinking, and then move on unemotionally and at peace.

The same premise works in my marriage. So much time is wasted on completely useless fights when all that is needed is some higher perspective, an escape from the trap of believing that thoughts are real. As is so often the case, perception creates our reality, and that is where problems arise. Once I was able to see that my perception was creating an emotional response, not in-line with reality, I was able to bring peace immediately back into the present situation and quell whatever was brewing.

My husband is still thrown off when he’s preparing for battle and I simply laugh and label how ridiculous we are being. It’s saved us from so much unneeded stress and agitation in our seven years together, and has deepened our bond even more than those early, lustful days.

Meditation also helped immensely when I was pregnant with my boys. While I meditated, I focused on sending love and health to the babies I was safeguarding, and envisioned them receiving all the nutrients they needed. I think every mother speaks to their unborn baby, but through meditation, our chats reached a more focused level. I believe they truly felt my love and excitement for their arrival.

During labor and delivery, I used meditation to focus on my breath and not the pain—the result being completely natural and beautiful water births for both boys. I focused on my breathing, labeled thoughts as thoughts and nothing more, and had a strong sense of self-love to carry me through the pain and deliver the boys in a peaceful and harmonious environment. I trusted my body, not my fearful thoughts, and let the natural process of birth take over. It was like riding a wave, and I trusted that I would not drown.

An enormous amount of research has been done to support what Buddhists have been saying for years—that meditation not only makes individuals calmer and happier, but that it actually changes the brain in positive ways. One Harvard study found that meditation helped grow areas of the brain related to learning, memory, compassion, and regulatory neurotransmitters, and simultaneously shrank areas of the brain related to fear, anxiety, and stress.

 

I quickly realized it is one of the fastest, easiest, cheapest activities I could do to bring immediate peace and awareness into my life. In as little as two minutes, which is sometimes all I can fit in a day with two wild boys under five, my blood pressure lowers and I am brought into a higher, more positive frequency. Essentially, it is my way of checking in and removing the roadblocks to my best self.

 

So after a raucous 2016, why not start a practice that involves little more than sitting still? That time can bring real harmony and self-awareness to your life. The effects of meditation will not only benefit you, but as I have attested here, all those you interact with thereafter. And isn’t living happily and healthily with each other what life is all about?

Here’s how to get started:

 

  1. Learn the brain science basics. You’ll find your reason to practice as you understand more about how meditation helps your brain grow and heal. There aremany great booksout there for beginners. My favorites are The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, Real Happiness, by Sharon Salzberg, and Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield.
  2. Trysitting meditation(takes about 10 minutes). It’s simple to teach, simple to learn, but not simple to practice—it may take some getting used to.
  3. Ritualize your practice by making this time a regular part of your day.
  4. Track your progress. How did you mentally feel the first week? The second week? Write down wins so you can remember them.
  5. Continue to practice each day.

 

 

 

A Review of the Tesla Model X

Background

The decision to purchase the Tesla Model X was not one we came to lightly. Aside from the initially staggering price tag, it requires a complete overhaul of the way you think about traditional modes of transportation. We were already familiar with electric vehicles, having owned a Nissan Leaf for a few years, but understandably that was like transitioning from a bike with training wheels  to a special edition Ducati.

We conducted copious amounts of research on the Model X before setting foot in the dealership to determine if the price was truly justified. We soon discovered that not only was it worth it, but that owning one would connect us to a community of forward thinkers who are changing the world for the better. This video produced by Tesla sealed the deal.

The Buying Process

Consistent with a complete deviation from the traditional vehicle, the buying process was just as unique and refreshing.  We started by visiting the Tesla store at Lenox Mall. Unlike every other dealership model, this felt like a non-predatory, educational experience. We were greeted by Apple Store-esque employees, who effused a genuine sense of enthusiasm and curiosity about the Tesla and our shared interest in it. We spoke at length with one such individual, Nick, who coordinated an appointment for an at-home test drive. A few days later, Nick came by (after-hours no less) and spent almost two hours explaining the Tesla’s features and letting us drive through the neighborhood–impressing all the dog-walking neighbors.

That night after debating the pros and cons, we decided to take the leap and order our custom Tesla. Again, here is an instance where this company has innovated the buying process, making it easy and bereft of any feeling of subjugation to a targeted sales agenda. We customized our Tesla, choosing six seats, the larger 22″ wheels, the premium upgrade package,  autopilot, and designated the interior and exterior to be all black. Cumulatively, there weren’t that many decisions to make, but ultimately there were enough to create a sense of ownership and artistic design. If you are purchasing a new Model X or S, use this link to receive $1,000 off.

The Waiting

It truly is the hardest part. From the moment we clicked “Order” and paid the $2,500 production deposit, it was approximately two months before we saw our vehicle in the driveway. Upon ordering, we were immediately assigned a designated point of contact, (“POC”) to guide us through the financing, production, and delivery process. We also received electronic updates on the vehicle’s stage of production, i.e. “Ordering”, “Confirmation”, “In-Production”, “Production Completed”, and “Delivery”. The production stage was by far the longest, and during this time we sated our thirst by daily visits the Tesla Motors Club Forum.

It was there that we commiserated with others in the same stages of production experiencing similar longings, and were simultaneously invigorated with stories and experiences from others who had already received their Teslas, and were more impressed than they had expected. Like any group of individuals, there were those with a more negative view of the  waiting requirement, whereas others understood the reasoning and value behind extended waiting due to the full auto-pilot upgrade and a more vigorous quality control approach.

The Delivery

The waiting period only made the day of delivery that much more exciting. We were contacted by our designated POC to schedule an appointment to pick-up our Tesla, sign paperwork, and take the 2-hour training. The forum had prepared us for what training would entail,  covering everything from opening and closing the frunk (front trunk as there is no need for an engine) to the major duties of the 14″ control panel that quite literally controls all aspects of the vehicle. It was somewhat daunting at first, but we were comforted by the fact that the manual is also located on the control panel, and anything we forget is easily searchable.

Key Features

There are too many to list in detail here, but my favorites include the Falcon wing doors, the navigation (which indicates the location of all Tesla and non-affiliated chargers), the adjustable suspension, full autopilot capabilities, Slacker streaming radio, and the ability to schedule charging (electricity is cheaper between 11pm and 12am). Additionally, your phone’s calendar can link to the Tesla and it will remind you of an event and ask if you’d like it to navigate you there.  Lastly, when Tesla releases software updates improving the vehicle’s energy consumption or simply a new phone icon on the control panel, installing is as easy and intuitive as an iPhone update.

Conclusion

We recently tested our new vehicle on a 5-hour road trip from Atlanta, Georgia to Beaufort, South Carolina, and the results surprised us. I thought having to stop in Macon and Savannah to recharge would be irritating and time-consuming, but the reality is that it gave us time to stretch our legs, witness a little history, eat at an amazing local spot frequented by Harrison Ford, The Rookery, and bond with other Tesla enthusiasts. The result was a return the classical experience of a true road trip. Our family enjoyed every minute, and consequently it was one of the best trips we have ever had together.

No Time To Workout? Try a Micro-Workout.

How many times have you said the words, “I just don’t have enough time to workout today” or “I’m just too tired to drive to the gym after working all day”? If you’re anything like me, chances are relatively high that you’ve talked yourself out of exercising due to time constraints or dwindling energy levels. Fortunately, you do not have to workout for an hour to maintain or even increase your fitness level. Micro-workouts are a great way to incorporate movement and strength training into your day without any real commitment.

Micro-workouts are ten minutes or less, and can be done with little or no equipment. If you’re not worried about scaring your co-workers, micro-workouts can be done deskside or in the stairwell. I choose to do my micro-workout first thing in the morning, as a way to loosen up, raise my metabolism for the day, and to encourage myself to drink at least a glass of water before I jump in the shower. I typically do a variation of push-ups, jump squats, core work, or quick spurt lateral movements. My favorite resource for these types of workouts is healthination.com. It has countless videos, most of which are in the ten minute range. I literally wake up, go downstairs, and go hard for ten minutes. I don’t even put shoes on–it’s really that easy.

Mirco-workouts are a great way to get your blood flowing and build strength. Researcher Eric Freese, Ph.D states, “It’s possible for an athlete to maintain or even increase fitness using shorts bursts of energy.” Freese ran subjects through four 30-second bursts of all-out cycling sprints three days a week over a six-week period, starting at four sets and gradually increasing to eight sets. “We saw improvements across the board,” Freese said. “Lowered triglyceride levels, increased mental energy, and improved overall mood as well.” You shouldn’t rely entirely on micro-workouts to stay in shape, but if you have a sedentary job, busy kids, or a long commute, these will help keep you happier, healthier, and more fit every single day.

These days being busy has become a badge of honor, but you owe it to yourself to make your health the number one priority in your life. Without it, you can’t perform at work, take care of your kids, or be an effective partner. Mirco-workouts provide a doorway into a life of better health that you can absolutely start right now. No excuses!

Want To Make Your Workouts More Efficient?

 

 

If your goal is efficiency, then adding weights to your routine is paramount. Using body resistance is fine, but the results you want will take longer to appear. I work fulltime so my lunchtime workouts have to be fast, but I don’t want to waste my time either.

In order to get the most out of my short break I forgo the treadmill and hit the weights. I train opposing muscle groups, also known as agonist-antagonist  training, which means if I work on hamstrings, I also do quads. Balance is key in all things, and that certainly applies to weight training.

I train opposing muscle groups every other day, but I focus on my core every single day. Your core is crucial for assisting in all other exercises, not to mention everyday activities. Using a 15-20 lbs dumbbell or kettlebell will skyrocket your core strength, and you will immediately notice how much better you feel sitting at your desk, bending over to pick something up, or even walking down the street. So make sure you’re adding weights into your workouts–even 5 lbs will make a difference, and enjoy the changes to come.

 

The Case for Working Out While Sick

Ever since I became a parent, I have been more frequently sick than I ever was before. And with the addition of children, any real downtime to recover, even with a helpful partner, is significantly diminished.

Far from anguishing in this new reality of my life, it actually has shown me that I am stronger than I realized and can push past momentary feelings of weakness and accomplish everything I need to do–to include exercising. Obviously if you are seriously ill this does not apply, but if you have a head cold, as I did this past week/weekend, read on.

Using the above-the-neck rule (i.e. stuffy nose, headache, sore throat) you can absolutely incorporate some moderate exercise while sick. If you are coughing heavily, or have ebola, you should probably rest and/or seek immediate medical attention. Deathly illnesses aside, moderate workouts while sick will immediately benefit you in three ways:

  1. Boost your mood: You feel terrible but you just worked out! You’re a bad ass, and now you have a rush of endorphins to carry you through the rest of the day.
  2. Detoxify: Sweating and drinking water while working out aids in more quickly expelling whatever is taking unwelcome residence in your system.
  3. Increase immunity: Moderate exercise while sick has been shown to stimulate the immune system and speed recovery. Plus, chronic resistance training has been shown to strengthen the innate immune system (nonspecific defense mechanisms that come into play immediately or within hours of an antigen’s appearance in the body. These mechanisms include physical barriers such as skin, chemicals in the blood, and immune system cells that attack foreign cells in the body.)

I personally feel better when I can move my body in some way when I’m sick, even at a reduced level. Furthermore, the training I did over the past weekend ensures that I don’t lose any momentum for the week ahead. Ultimately, you need to listen to your body, but take into consideration how beneficial a little activity can be the next time you’re feeling under the weather.

 

Fudge Brownie Protein Bars

Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet. It’s responsible for building and repairing tissue, and making enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicalsProtein aids in building bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. And children need an even greater percentage of protein compared to adults as they are constantly growing. 

Protein also serves as an important part of weight management. One study showed that eating approximately one daily serving of beans, chickpeas, lentils or peas can increase fullness, which may lead to better weight management and weight loss. (Li SS, Kendall CW, de Souza RJ, Jayalath VH, Cozma AI, Ha V, Mirrahimi A, Chiavaroli L, Augustin LS, Blanco Mejia S, Leiter LA, Beyene J, Jenkins DJ, Sievenpiper JL. Dietary pulses, satiety and food intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis of acute feeding trials. Obesity, 2014. Aug;22(8):1773-80.)

As a busy mom, I’m always on the lookout for healthy snack options for my family. I have tried to be like the French and not feed my kids (or myself) snacks inbetween meals, but that lasted all of thirty minutes before a revolution of another sort happened en route to Costco. In light of these harsh realities, I place a priority on finding snacks that won’t make my children resemble deranged chimpanzees five minutes after consuming them. Enter, the Fudge Brownie Protein Bar. 

Ingredients:

Bars

1 can of black beans

3 Tbsp cocoa powder

7 Tbsp chocolate protein powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup honey

3 1/2 Tbsp coconut oil

1 Tbsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup chocolate chips

Topping

Sprinkle sliced almonds and PBFit powder

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350

Puree the beans and mix in all the ingredients until smooth

Grease a glass pan and spread mix evenly

Sprinkle the almonds and PBFit on top

Bake for 20-25 mins

Once cooled, store in the fridge

 Enjoy! 

 

The Power of Pull-Ups

The pull-up is an important addition to any exercise regime, so why aren’t more women (and men) doing it? The pull-up has long been propagated as a male dominated exercise and that women simply don’t have the strength to accomplish even a single one. In fact, the Marine Corps still does not require female recruits to do pull-ups, opting instead for a timed flex arm hang. As you can probably infer already, I do not agree with this thinking.

The benefits of doing pull-ups far outweigh any preconceived notions of female physical prowess and stamina. Pull-ups efficiently strengthen multiple muscle groups comprising the back, shoulders, chest and arms. They also increase grip strength which is helpful for a variety of uses-in my case holding onto a wild two year old and approximately twenty-five grocery laden bags.

Understandably, as a system of levers, people with higher fat percentages and longer limbs have a harder time than smaller, more compact individuals, but that should not negate the engagement of the practice entirely. This is a case wherein the benefits outweigh the costs.

I first started doing pull-ups about two months ago, and I could do one-it wasn’t pretty. Undeterred, however, I came back to the bar everyday, and slowly my strength increased. I start by doing overhand pull-ups first and then switch immediately to underhand. I use a bench to position myself, then come to a complete dead hang. Next I bring my attention to my back muscles, not my arms, and pull myself up. I treat pull-ups like any other exercise, typically doing three sets of overhand and underhand, separated by short active recovery breaks. As seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsO9ApY63-E&feature=share

I am always amazed at how fast I progress when it comes to weight training. In this case I started with only being able to do one pull-up, and now within a session I can easily do thirty. So do not be afraid to start doing pull-ups everyday, you will feel stronger in a surprisingly short amount of time, and all other areas of your strength training will benefit as well.