5 Hacks for Staying Fit While Traveling

As I write this, I’m sitting in a vegan coffee shop in Cork, Ireland. The walls are mostly glass, and as I sip my Americano, I watch tourists and locals, burrowed in their jackets and scarves, walk past. It’s still cold here in April, but it clearly hasn’t slowed the city of 200,000 people down. Watching them all walk by has me thinking about travel and how most people don’t even want to think about working out while they are away from home. Either they’re on vacation or they’re working and under a great deal of stress. Well, I’m here to tell you that designating time to move and challenge your body is the best way to fully enjoy a vacation or process work stress in a healthy way.

I travel so much for work and for fun, I’m often asked how I maintain my fitness routine (aka sanity) while on the road. The answer is surprisingly simple: if you make the effort to exercise at home, you can just as easily make time while traveling even with a packed schedule and unfamiliar terrain. The key is to have a few tricks up your sleeve to make it easily achievable.

Below I lay out five of my top travel hacks for maintaining a certain level of fitness while traveling, and I can honestly say these have saved me from jet lag, constipation (sorry not sorry), stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness brought on by being in a new place. Feel free to try all of these techniques, or simply choose the ones that work best for you. I guarantee you, the amount of pleasure and relaxation from your vacation will increase exponentially, and if it’s a work trip you will be better rested, and have more clarity and focus so that you perform at your absolute best when when required.

Hack No. 1: Book a Hotel with a Fitness Center.

If given the option between hotels, opt for one that has a gym. Even if it’s tiny, it can make all the difference between your energy flowing for the day, or you feeling stagnant because you slept in. Small gyms usually have dumbbells and some form of cardio machine. Do 10 mins of hard cardio and then weight train.  If there are no weights, use your body weight as resistance in your workout. There are plenty of videos on YouTube  that show how to make the most of a small hotel gym. If your hotel has a huge gym even better. Just knowing that you have amazing resources minutes away, can help in getting you dressed and out the door ready to move your body.

Hack No. 2: Trick Yourself by Downplaying How Long You Will Workout.

There have been plenty of times that I’ve been tired and unmotivated to workout. The key is to bargain with the voice that says “No, I’m not feeling up for it today”, by telling yourself you’ll just go for 10-15 mins. Anyone can workout for 10 minutes right? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this to myself, and then once I start, I feel amazing and don’t want to stop. The hardest part in accomplishing anything we don’t really want to do is usually by just getting started. Once that hurdle is overcome, the rest is just momentum and by then you really do start feeling good.  Mood boosting hormones like serotonin and dopamine are released during exercise, and the effects can last all day long. If I can convince myself to just get to the gym or out the door for a run, it’s only a matter of minutes before I’m thanking myself that I did. Never once have I regretted a workout, whether it was for only 10 minutes, or the more typical 45-60.

Hack No. 3: Focus on How You Will Feel After.

Visualization is a powerful tool. When I travel there are so many things I want to see, taste, and do, and spending time in hotel gym isn’t always the most exciting option. What I use to get over that thinking and get my workout in is to imagine how vitalized I will feel afterwards. I also notice that my skin is more vibrant and I think more clearly with less negative internal dialogue. By moving my body I absolutely impact how I feel and think, and that carries over into my experience for the rest of the day, whether I’m sightseeing or attending a training conference. Try imagining how wonderful you’ll feel and how much sharper you’ll be if you workout, and it will be a lot easier to convince yourself to get it in.

Hack No. 4: Don’t Be Afraid to Explore.

If you couldn’t choose which hotel you booked or a gym wasn’t an option anywhere, your next option is to get outside and get steps in. If you’re not a runner, it doesn’t mean you have to suddenly pick it up. Just walking has tremendous health benefits, and will leave you feeling energized and ready to start your day. Plus, getting out and moving is a great way to explore a new city and see where you might want to return later. When I studied abroad in France, I traveled to different countries every other weekend. I would always wake early and go running as a way to orient myself in a new city and scope out fun places to visit later in the day. The same applies today. This cute little coffee shop I’m in is one that I saw with the backdrop of the rising sun as I ran past. I never would have known it was here otherwise, and now I’m enjoying an Americano listening to Shakira circa 2002. Life is interesting and you’ll be surprised how much you miss when you stay in your comfort zone (or hotel room).

Hack No. 5: Get Your Partner or Co-Workers on Board.

Humans are hardwired for connection. We are pack animals essentially, and sometimes the best way to stay motivated to workout is by getting our friends to go with us. Working out is a great way to bond with your partner or co-workers, and often you end up learning something new about them that you never would have otherwise. And again when you engage in an endorphin boosting activity with another person, you can’t help but feel closer and more bonded to that person. Trust builds, and you feel supported and safe. This is an incredible tool for personal and professional life: don’t let it slip away.

I hope you enjoyed these tips, I absolutely love sharing my life experience in order to help others live their best lives. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or have additional tips you’d like to add that you’ve used in your life to stay fit while on travel!

How Adaptogens Have Revolutionized My Wellbeing

For most people, life can get pretty stressful. Whether you’re a mom or not, there are plenty of demands put on us on a daily basis. How we deal with the reality of stress determines how healthy we feel and thus our quality of life. When we’re able to roll with the proverbial punches and keep moving, we are in the best position to make better decisions, and create the kind of life we want. My story is not unique by any means, I definitely deal with stress (some days better than others) but over time I’ve developed some serious non-negotiable self-care habits that have served me incredibly well. One of my favorites is the incorporation of adaptogens into my daily coffee routine.

Before I delve into the benefits of adaptogens, I’ll explain what they are.

The term “adaptogen” comes from Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, a Russian scientist) who first coined in 1947, but Isreal Brekham, PhD and Dr. I. V. Darymovhe created the formal definition in 1968. The formal definitely includes the following criteria:

1. An adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient.
2. An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response in the body—an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.
3. An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor. (Source)

In other words, adaptogens must:

  1. Be safe
  2. Work by reducing your body’s stress response
  3. Support overall health by helping the body achieve balance known as homeostasis

The adaptogens I consume in my morning coffee and evening tea have prevented countless colds (reishi, chaga, pollen powder, he shou wu), given me more energy and athletic stamina during my workouts (cordyceps),  lightened sun spots (maitiake), improved my skin’s suppleness (tremella) and increased my sense of calm (reishi and ashwagandha). I began taking them in November 2017, and have not been sick once despite living in a veritable petri dish with two young children. I also travel a ton for work and life, and my immune system has held strong through long flights and late nights.

I am all for trying new things, and in the case of adaptogens, I am so glad I did. My health, both mental and physical, has benefited so much from the exploration of this ancient form of plant medicine. One remaining note, make sure that the adaptogens you buy are from reliable sources. My favorite providers are Root and Bones, Four Sigmatic, or Real Mushrooms. These companies care about the extraction process, and the quality of their products. Like anything, its helpful to do your homework before jumping in. And if you are on any kind of medication, check with your doctor to make sure there wont be any unsavory drug interactions.

At the end of the day, life is meant to be lived fully, and we do that by being in vibrant health. When you’re sick or stressed out, you know you aren’t really living. It’s taken me years to find balance, and the journey is happily ongoing, but when I find something I know in my gut works, I have to talk about it. In the case of adaptogens, there is no doubt that they help provide the building blocks for an incredibly happy, healthy, and less stressful life experience.

Moms, Let’s Help Ourselves

We often forget that moms are individuals with a past and identity before having children. That moment when she finds out she’s pregnant, the focus immediately shifts from “me” to “we”, and that feeling only intensifies the older the child becomes. Therefore, in order to truly give something back to the moms in our lives, one must simply let her figure out how best she can renew herself. Everyone is different, the needs of one mom vary from one to another. One mom might need a night out with girlfriends, another a long hot bath and a good novel. The cure for what ails is bio-individual, but the need is undeniably there.

When I first became a mother, I was overwhelmed by the realization of that responsibility. Breastfeeding, tummy time, around the clock feedings and diaper changes all contributed to a culture shock I had mentally prepared for but not emotionally connected to yet. I felt extremely tired and the weight of responsibility was leveling. I had always been strong, but this new life as a mom required a higher, more intense level of resiliency I hadn’t acquired yet. I had to adapt, and I wasn’t sure how to do it. I was a fighting a losing battle against the tide, and I felt myself being pulled under.

It wasn’t until I had healed enough from giving birth and could workout, that I saw my first respite from the pull of the metaphorical undertow. The road became a lifeline to my former self to pull out of the constant drudgery of mundane daily tasks that motherhood requires. In the 30-60 minutes I was out on the pavement I felt lighter and lighter. Each step was a reclamation of my former self, and I breathed in the freedom I felt had escaped me. When I returned home, tired and exhilarated at the same time, I was at peace with my life again, and happy to dive into diaper changes, cuddling and even teething meltdowns.

Running and eventually yoga, weight lifting, and meditation, were the outlets I needed to be whole again–another mother may have a completely different set of requirements. I use myself as an example because it’s what I know for sure. What I also know without doubt is that as women, we are intrinsically selfless creatures. Sometimes we give so much of ourselves that the cup becomes empty, and that is where it becomes a matter of health.

Health is more than what is on our plates. It’s found in our relationships, our career, our connection with a higher power, and of course nutrition and exercise. It takes going inward to find out how we as mothers are doing in each of these categories, and then making the appropriate changes to make ourselves healthy and happy.

It may sound extreme at first for her to take 30-60 minutes for herself every single day, but if you think of the mother as the center of the home, it makes perfect sense to nurture her. The health and happiness of a home is almost always directly related to the sense of wellbeing of the mother. But no one can help a mother, she has to do the work and find what she needs to help herself. So mothers, do the internal work, and families support her. The result is a scenario where everyone wins, and the potential of every family member can be fully realized

A Month of Total Body Workouts

As part of my passion for holistic health and living a balanced life, I have unintentionally over the years, developed a sustainable workout routine that safely challenges and trains the entire body. My routine incorporates elements of weight-lifting, running, yoga, swimming, and HIIT (high intensity interval training) and the result is a strong and capable body that will serve you well into old age.

Below is my recipe for success for those of you who need some extra guidance and support, or others who are simply bored with their current routine and looking to add some fun dimension.

Please Note:

  • If you have health concerns, do not start this program before consulting a doctor.
  • Push through discomfort, but listen to your body to avoid injury.
  • 5×5 translates to 5 repetitions of 5.
  • Donkey Kicks and Fire Hydrants should be performed with a dumbbell tucked behind the knee.

The Breakdown

Every morning I wake before everyone else in my house, quietly sneak downstairs and complete 15-30 minutes of yoga and 5-10 minutes of meditation. I finish my practice with a few minutes of intention setting– focusing on how I want the day to flow, what I am grateful for, and what I’d like to manifest. This simple morning routine has drastically improved every aspect of my life.

Week 1:

Monday:  Run or Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Mountain Climbers, 60 Russian Twists, 100 Crunches, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run; Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Bicycles, 30 Elbow to Knee Crunches, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Dumbbell Curls (5×5); Tricep Dips (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Kettlebell workout (30-60 mins–YouTube) or Run; Abs (30 V-Ups, 30 Bicycles, 30 Russian Twists, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Week 2:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (30 High Crunches, 30 Reverse Crunches, 30 Flutter Kicks, Planks), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Weighted Squats (5×5), 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (5 min Plank–broken up)

Thursday: Weighted squats (5×5); Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: HIIT Class or Run; Pull-Ups (3 sets); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Abs (100 crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 V-Ups)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Week 3:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (30 High Crunches, 30 Reverse Crunches, 50 Flutter Kicks, Plank), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Abs (30 Plank dips, 100 Mountain Climbers, 30 Bicycles), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press; Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets); Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs: (100 crunches, V-Up w/ Rotation, 30 Russian Twists, Plank)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Circuit Training Class or Run, Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (5 min Plank–broken up)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour)

Week 4:

Monday:  Run or Lap Swim; Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 Flutter Kicks, Plank); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Tuesday: Weighted Squats (5×5); Leg Extensions (5×5); Hamstring Curls (5×5); Weight Press (5×5); 30 Fire Hydrants; 30 Donkey Kicks; Pistol Squats (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Wednesday: Spin Class or Run, Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Bicycles, 30 Elbow to Knee Crunches, Plank), Pull-Ups (3 sets)

Thursday: Bench Press (5×5); Overhead Press (5×5); Landmine Press (5×5); Bent-over Row (5×5); Pull-Ups (3 sets); Weighted Squats (5×5); Abs: (100 Mountain Climbers, 30 Side Plank Dips, 30 Russian Twists, Plank)

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: Kickboxing Class or Run, Pull-Ups (3 sets), Abs (100 Crunches, 30 Russian Twists, 30 V-Ups, Plank)

Sunday: Restorative Yoga (1 Hour)
Lastly, remember to have fun with your workouts–don’t view it as a punishment for what you ate the night before, rather as a celebration of what your body can do!

 

 

How to Transition Away from Processed Foods and Regain Alignment with a Weekend Juice Cleanse

It’s no secret that addiction to processed foods is a reality in this country. Unfortunately, that means skyrocketing rates of obesity and inflammation in children and adults, and all the heath problems that accompany those maladies. No one wants to feel sick and out of control, but so many simply don’t know how to combat it. It’s a systemic problem, but happily, it is also one that can be remedied with intentional action.

Though I don’t suffer from any health problems, I am acutely aware when my poor food choices negatively affect the way my body and mind feel. When I start feeling lethargic and unmotivated, and I know that my diet of processed foods is to blame. I follow a vegan diet, but even with that, there are still plenty of opportunities to eat poorly and feel unwell. Faced with this realization, I know the best way to regain mental, physical, and spiritual alignment is to eliminate food altogether and engage in the age-old process of a fast. Fasts are great for jump starting weight loss, healing the liver and gut, skyrocketing energy levels, and focusing the mind.

Rather than engage in a super strict water-only regime, I typically choose to do a simple weekend juice cleanse–sticking to mainly raw organic fruits and veggies. It’s incredibly important to drink copious amounts of water while fasting. I start each morning with a liter of filtered water, and this practice is especially important during a fast when you are cleansing out your system. It also helps subdue hunger pangs. I also don’t abstain from drinking black organic coffee. Fasting purists would say that one must forego all caffeine during a cleanse, but there is so much evidence showing the benefits of coffee on the liver and gut, so I choose to consume in moderation. Lastly, exercise and meditation are two crucial components of a fast. Without them, the effects are not as formative, and the results don’t last as long. Fasting, gentle exercise, and meditation is the trifecta of actions that create a substative shift and bring one back into alignment and true health.

Before I begin a fast, I make sure to stock my fridge with plenty of organic fruit and veggies. If you’re going to be consuming only liquid nutrients, you don’t want them to be sprayed with pesticides. Also, you are more likely to stick with the cleanse if you have everything you need, and don’t have to run to the store. Each day will consist of three to six 8oz juices, depending on how much you need and want, so stocking up beforehand is paramount. Lastly, I ensure that my family is aware I intend to fast so that everyone knows to be supportive.

I have found that as early as the first day with the first juice I feel a surge of energy, my mind is sharp and my mood is euphoric. I typically make extra so that I have the next batch ready and I limit the amount of times I have to clean the juicer. In addition to nutrition, gentle exercise is highly recommended to aid in the cleansing process. A 15 minute HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout and some gentle yoga is a great way to eliminate toxins and purge the digestive system. I typically don’t feel any different during the HIIT portion than I normally would while not fasting, and my yoga practice always feels great and restorative. I concentrate on moves that focus on my back and abdomen (spinal twists, bridge pose, cat/cow, etc.) to encourage the cleansing process along even more.

It’s after working out, that I’m usually greeted by my first real hunger pangs. I reconcile this discomfort with remembering why I chose to cleanse in the first place and taking some deep meditative breathes. Studies show that cravings tend to last around 30 seconds, so if I make it past that point, I know I will survive–resolve intact. A meditation practice that focuses on cleansing, refocusing, and realignment is the perfect accompaniment to a fast, and makes a longer lasting impact after completion.

As the hours pass I notice how sharp I feel–sounds and smells are heightened and yet my mind is relaxed. I can see why so many people from around the world use fasts as religious and spiritual aides: it doesn’t just clarify the body, but the mind as well.

The second day of the fast is usually harder than the first. The excitement has diminished slightly, hunger is ever-present, but you will wake feeling lighter, more rested, and assuredly alive. Typically by day two there is a weight loss of 1-4 pounds. Seeing this quantifiable change is often the motivation I need to reach the finish line.

Day two’s workout should consist of some gentle walking and/or yoga and meditation. These types of activities will help curb hunger tremendously, create a sense of well-being, and restore focus for the week ahead.

By the end of the fast, ( I usually eat a light dinner Sunday night) I have increased my energy levels, gained a stronger sense of self-control and focus, crushed prior addictions to processed foods (i.e. sugar and salt), and feel completely at peace. Fasting is truly an amazing tool for encouraging self-discipline and eliminating spiritual, mental, and physical misalignment.

 

Four Unexpected Effects of a Plant-Based Diet

Update: My article was published in elephant journal! You can find the latest version here: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/05/four-unexpected-effects-of-a-plant-based-diet/

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What if I told you that you could do something today that would make you look and feel amazing, save lives and the earth? I think without knowing what that action was, most if not all people would agree to trying it. Unfortunately, when that action involves breaking with societal norms and traditions, the decision to change is harder fought. My only viable option then, is to share my own experience of how going vegan and relinquishing all meat and dairy from my plate, drastically changed my life in unexpected and beautiful ways. My ultimate purpose is that someone reading this will be curious enough to try the experiment out for themselves, and watch their own life transform for the better. 

Common sense dictates that when you eat more fruits and vegetables, while simultaneously eating less sugar, processed foods, and fat, you will feel better. A diet consisting mainly of meat, eggs, and dairy has been proven to sink the body into a state of inflammation which leads to disease and a poor quality of life riddled with medication and corrective surgeries. But what I found surprising is that in the past few months while I slowly eliminated meat, then eggs and dairy in favor of a plant-based diet, I experienced a myriad of benefits that I never anticipated. Aside from feeling happy about my choice to live an environmentally friendly existence, I experienced perks that I had not even considered when making my initial decision to become vegan. I knew I would feel clearer and have more energy, but I never expected these next four items to happen, and certainly not so suddenly.

Sleep: Within days of eating a diet free of meat, eggs, and dairy, I started needing less sleep. Typically I would feel exhausted by 9:00 pm. Right after putting my two young boys to sleep, I would want to crash too, and often did much to my husband’s dismay. Our time to talk and bond as friends and a couple was truncated because all I wanted to do was clean up the dinner dishes and get to bed. This shifted almost immediately when I began consuming more dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, fruit and grains. And aside from having more energy at night, my quality of sleep improved. I fell asleep fast, and slept soundly all night, which was not typical for me.

Before the switch, I would toss and turn to get to sleep (despite being overly tired) and would wake frequently throughout the night. The result was that I was groggy and reluctant to get out of bed in the morning. I set the alarm for 5:00 am so I can practice yoga and mediation, and usually it’s a battle for my feet to hit the floor. Not so under this new diet, and that’s with receiving even less sleep that I was used to getting. Now when the alarm sounds, I am alert and ready to start my day from a place of mindfulness and strength while the rest of my house soundly sleeps.

Athletic Endurance: I love to workout, it’s something that has been a constant companion my entire life. It’s rarely a chore, and something I honestly enjoy. Through working out I connect with my body and reach meditative states I can’t by simply sitting still on the floor. That’s why I was intrigued when I went completely plant-based, and my running felt different. I felt as though I could run forever, there was no resistance in my lungs, heart, or legs. My body moved in synchronicity, perfectly free and full of life. The amount of energy I source from nutrient dense foods has changed that way my blood flows when taxed, and I sensed it immediately. It has been shown that patients with high cholesterol and arterial blockages can improve their vascular health by switching to a plant-based diet. The body wants to heal itself, and it will if you only let it. It takes about three hours for the arteries to de-harden after the consumption of food high in salt and fat, which is usually when they are hit again with another damaging meal. Imagine what happens when you let the body go into a state of healing instead of destruction, and imagine what happens if you don’t.

The change I felt in running carried over to the weight room too. The weights felt lighter, and my recovery time was shorter between repetitions. Usually, the day following a tough weight session, I am sore, but I felt very little of that. At first I thought I was just having a good day, then a good week, but I saw the same encouraging results each time I went to the gym. My performance had definitely improved, and the only variation was the quality and make-up of my diet. After my workout, I typically drink a protein shake or eat an apple and it carries me through until dinner, no 2:30 pm sugary snack needed.

Sugar Addiction: Sugar is one of the most damaging ingredients in the human diet, and one of the most addicting. I certainly was not immune to its pull, however with an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies in my diet, my urge for soda, candy, and yes even Nutella has subsided substantially. Its been theorized that sugar cravings are actually caused by a depletion of nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, and chromium. Because I was getting plenty of the core nutrients my body needed, my usual sugar cravings evaporated. And as a result of consuming less sugar, I noticed my skin, hair, and nails looked better. I was healing my body from the inside on a cellular level, and it was showing on the outside.

Relationships: Truly happy people have a good relationship with themselves first, and feeding yourself well and with care, is the ultimate act of love to your body, mind, and spirit. By choosing to eat nutritiously and mindfully, I show myself love everyday, and that impacts how I interact with my sons, husband, family, co-workers, and friends. My improved levels of energy, athletic performance, and general sense of well-being made me happier and more excited about life and my relationships. It’s a scenario where everyone wins. Plus the more I talk about how great I feel, the more questions I receive about it. At first there is always a joke, usually accompanied with an eye-roll, but then more often than not, the conversation transforms to honest curiosity and openness about how a plant-based diet changed my life for the better, and how it could change theirs too.

The list above details just a few examples of how going vegan has had an enormous impact on my quality of life, and I am looking forward to discovering more as time goes on and I get more creative with my recipes. For those individuals who inexplicably deride a vegan lifestyle because it opposes cultural norms, I just want to convey that we have one life and one body, and to truly honor yours and live your best life, you need to actively take control of what you put in your body. And who knows what exciting ways your life might improve if you are curious enough to try a plant-based diet out for yourself.

Chocolate Strawberry Banana Protein Smoothies

One of my favorite shows, Chopped, challenges competitors to make delicious meals out of seemingly random ingredients. I am no chef, but I enjoy pretending I’m on the show when faced with a surplus of leftovers or fruit that’s a tad too ripe. 

Such is the case today when I opened the fridge and found a full container of strawberries that were not long for this world. I decided to whip up healthy protein smoothies for me and the boys and they turned out delicious!

Ingredients:

2 cups of strawberries 

1 banana 

1 package of GoGo Squeeze Organic Strawberry Banana Applesauce 

1 scoop of chocolate protein powder

1/2 cup of chocolate milk

Ice (optional) 

To Be Happy Means to Be Creative

Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Since starting a blog I have been asked countless times why I was doing it, and the question honestly caught me off-guard. For me, writing is a facet of expression, a way I can share who I am with those who know me, or think they do. Most people have an idea of who they think someone is, I’m equally as guilty–but unless you spend substantial time with a person, you never really know who they are, what they have experienced, or what they might be going through. When we leave the house we are ever ready with a smiling face and shiny exterior, even though it is not always the case.

Through writing, I am able to share an honest picture of who I am, and perhaps inspire someone else in the process to take down the mask and revel in the freedom that an authentic existence can bring. What could be more fulfilling? I have always loved and admired artists- they are fearless, and they unabashedly share their souls with the world through their chosen art form. Though writing, I wanted to embody that freedom and truth too.

And it’s not just me who senses the benefits of living a more creative life. A recent psych study showed that daily engagement in creative activities (i.e. journaling, painting, doodling, cooking, etc) positively activated emotional states and lowered stress and anxiety. Participants in the study reported an immediate increase of feelings of well-being, and “an upward spiral” of positive emotions.

I can attest to the truth of this study. Since starting the blog a short while ago, I have experienced an overwhelming response from friends and strangers on how they have been inspired by what I’ve written, and that confirmation means everything. Each time someone reached out, that ephemeral connection we are all constantly searching for was there, and I was grateful in that moment with that person.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Choose an art form that interests you. It could be anything from cooking, to drawing, or even creating boards on Pinterest with images that spark your imagination. The point is that you are engaging in an activity where your mind is activated in creative way.
  2. Try to do at least 10 minutes of your chosen art form a day. Start small, and then go from there. If you can incorporate at least 10 minutes every single day, you will start to receive the brain benefits, and it’s a goal that is small enough that you minimize the probability of failure.
  3. Ritualize your art by making this activity a regular part of your day. Pick a time of day that works best for your schedule, thereby increasing the chance that you’ll actually do it. I know that I have a half hour when I get home to cook, it’s scheduled.
  4. Track your progress. How did you mentally feel week 1? Week 2? How have you improved, and what have you learned? Write down wins so you can remember them. A great journal might work for you.
  5. Continue your practice each day. Make it a habit until it becomes second nature, the reward is a better brain and genuine happiness.

Moms, Stop the Self-Shaming and Be Selfish.

How does a parent (especially a mother) justify taking time away from their family to do something completely indulgent and self-aggrandizing like working out, reading a book in one sitting, or just being alone? Why is taking space for oneself considered abhorrent and selfish in this society? It may be due to unattainable expectations put on parents-both moms and dads, and the shame that goes along with failing to live up to what we erroneously think is the standard. Author Brene Brown described this situation perfectly when she said, “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”

This is how I lived for a long time when I first became a mother. I remember feeling this overwhelming weight of responsibility and it terrified me. How would I ever be enough for this little person? How could I show him the way when I barely knew what I was doing? These feelings of shame came to a head one night as I was giving my son a bath, and I just started to cry. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, or being enough for him. I couldn’t understand why he had cried for four hours that day, or refused to eat everything I offered him. I was failing. It was a false story playing over and over in my head, brought on by fear and shame.

Fortunately, the best way to break the perpetual cycle of outlandish expectations and subsequent self-shaming is to bring it into the light. I started talking to my husband, fellow moms, and co-workers about how I was feeling. I hated being vulnerable and showing weakness, but I couldn’t carry the burden of my critical thoughts alone anymore. It was a sink or swim moment, and I had to survive. I was amazed at the response I received. More often than not, the moms mirrored exactly how I was feeling. They told me about situations where they had felt “less than” or had messed up, and it enabled us to laugh and revel in the mutual suffering of early motherhood. In hearing their stories and sharing my experience, I realized I wasn’t alone. Everyone had these feelings, especially the new mothers. Through those simple, albeit vulnerable, conversations, I had been thrown a lifeline and I realized I had been thinking about my role and responsibility as a mother all wrong.

Once I realized that my experience wasn’t unique, I could relax. I started to make self-care a priority in my life. I realized how damaging my casual relationship with exercise and healthy food had been since having my son, and I made a conscious decision to make health and self-respect the priority. Now I tell all my friends who are expecting, and even those who aren’t, that when you have children it is even more important to take care of yourself. The emphasis you place on your own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being directly impacts your children. As parents we are the first example of how a healthy, happy, human being should exist in the world, and owe it to them and ourselves, to be an example of self-love so that they can embody that mindset too.

Five years after that first tearful session with my son looking up at me from the bath, healthy habits have developed into a mindset and way of being. I realized how important my health and sanity was for my family, and I was never going back to that role of martyr and self-doubter. I was going to be selfish and carve out time for myself to workout, read, meditate, and just be without feeling guilty or shameful about it. Then I would return to the fold, rejuvenated, reenergized, and truly present. I brought the breath of fresh air I had just received into every action and conversation with the boys, and my happiness was contagious. They benefited directly from the space I had taken for myself, and learned that it was normal for mom to not always be immediately available for every need they had. My relationship with my husband has grown even stronger too, as I rely on him to help provide me the ability to take care of myself, while not having to worry about the boys. And I do the same for him when he needs space. His choices for self-care include ice hockey, cooking unobstructed, or sometimes just listening to music.

It may seem like a tall order at first to make the switch, but I have found that if you are consistent in your healthy habits, you really will become what you practice. My husband loves to say that personal growth is the hardest things anyone can do–and I agree. To truly change and elevate yourself to a higher level, it takes a breach from hardwired, second-nature tendencies and such a deviation takes serious dedication. But if you see, as I did, that your selfishness is for the good of the entire family, and you are consistent in your efforts of self-care–positive life changes can and will happen, and your family will thank you.

 

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.