The Unexpected Health Benefits of Travel

One of the most exciting places in the world is the Atlanta airport. Sounds a little strange right? Not if you saw it like I do: a place of endless possibilities and a gateway to the rest of the world. Travel is something so dear to my heart, I consider it a friend. It’s a concept that has allowed me to eat strange foods, witness incredible sights firsthand, both ancient and new, and meet people with completely different cultural and social paradigms that have changed and shaped me for the better. I’ve learned more about history through my travels than I ever did in school, and have felt energy in places that produced a profound impact on how I understand that part of the world and how it relates to everything else. When I was visiting Normandy, our guide took us into one of the German bunkers on the beach and at once I was transported to D-Day. I felt an eerie, unsettling energy that I would have never experienced through films or reading. Travel did that, and it’s why I advocate for it so strongly–not as a future event to be undertaken after much planning and saving, but now, right now while you’re still hungrily curious about the world and physically able to meet the demands in fully seeing it.

I don’t think my affinity for travel is unique, but I have witnessed so many friends and family members postponing that next trip for various reasons, thereby missing out on so much that life and the often not talked about health benefits it has to offer. And while the reasons they proffer are absolutely logical and valid, I can’t help feeling sad about the missed opportunity of discovery, connection to others, and personal growth by foregoing the trip. So my humble advice is to go, just go. There is no better time than now to explore this amazing planet and get out of the ordinary flow of everyday life. Your bank account might take a temporary hit, but the law of reciprocity dictates that the little you give will produce so much richness of experience in return. There is never a time in traveling where you wont learn something from getting out of your routine and embarking on a journey. What you also will find, is that beyond all of the clichés of travel expanding your horizons, there are unexpected health benefits that make it imperative that you take that next trip sooner rather than later.

First, your build a better brain. Psychologists found that when you step outside of your comfort zone, you literally stretch and grow your brain. Learning anything new challenges and activates your brain in a way that following a routine simply cannot. When you travel you may not know the language,  how to navigate a new transit system, or how to order a coffee just the way you like it–you are forced to learn, and by doing so you become smarter. When the brain is on autopilot too often, it actually becomes weaker and less efficient. The novelty brought on by travel zaps your brain into active learning mode, and the amazing memories generated are just the icing on the cake to a fitter, younger brain.

Second, travel deepens your empathy for others. Empathy grows best under specific conditions often correlated with travel: being in the present moment, listening, speaking to and relying on strangers, recognizing commonality in others, and cultivating an interest in others.  Empathy, like anything, takes work, but its a skill that is beneficial to all parties. The more empathetic you are, the more you are able to prevent and resolve conflicts, be understood yourself, and promote healthy relationships. Travel is a powerful tool in strengthening your empathetic muscles, and often it doesn’t even feel like work.

Third, travel makes you happier. A 2016 study by the U.S. Travel Association and Project found that the more time taken off for travel correlated to more happiness at home. The more vacation days used, the lower the stress. The study also showed that over the past 15 years, Americans are taking nearly a week less of vacation. The case for travel could never be more important, especially when your well-being is at stake.

Life-changing travel doesn’t mean taking a trip thousands of miles away: simply going outside of your usual track of work, life, and play can have an impact. Not far from our house is a magical place called the Atlanta Chinatown Mall. Inside you will find a cornucopia of Asian food from different regions in China. When you first approach you’re greeted by a calming zen garden and a crimson bridge crossing a koi pond. The food court is definitely not fancy, but the food is unlike anything I have ever seen or tasted. I have never sampled more authentic Chinese food anywhere else–I generally point to what looks good as everything is written in Chinese, and try something new every time. Recently, my husband and I took our two young boys there, and our four-year old made fast friends with a Chinese boy around his same age. The boys were from very different backgrounds, but bonded over an iPad game and a love for fried rice. It was so interesting to watch them connect, and when the boys parents–who didn’t speak English, came over to retrieve him, there was that mutual understanding that all parents share when it comes to raising kids. We were able to communicate though our facial expressions and share an authentic moment together despite the cultural and language barrier. It made the experience of going out for good food so much richer. 

The Chinatown Mall experience reminded me of one of my first travel memories: running through the San Diego airport away from my screaming mother. Our family of six was on its way to Okinawa, Japan for a two-year stint courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. I didn’t really understand where we were going or why, but I knew it was going to be completely different from anything I had experienced before, and I was excited. When we finally arrived after an uneventful 18 hour flight, I was introduced to an unfamiliar landscape, heavy humid air, and the smell of sea and salt from the ocean. My mother was understandably unnerved when a crowd of other passengers gathered around us while we waited in Customs, and started touching our hair. We were oddities with our bleach blond hair and pale blue eyes and they investigated us with open curiosity–looking back now, it was a fantastic introduction to Japan. The Customs clerk was equally as curious about this strange ragtag group of six, and made each of the kids a different origami figure to take with us, just because he was kind and knew we would like it.

We lived in an area called “The Ville” off base. My younger sister and I had a Japanese nanny, and she would sing us songs that I still remember today and sing to my boys. Because our nanny was Okinawan, we ate how the locals did, and our seemingly mundane errands turned quickly into an education on Japanese, and more specifically, Okinawan culture. We’d walk with our nanny or our mother to the Oki-Mart grocery store down the street and pass the different shops with various goods hanging in the window, usually some kind of poultry in its full form. The air in Okinawa was thick with the tantalizing smells of strange foods, the ocean, and mildew, creating a strange, yet comforting aroma unique to that part of the world. It seemed so stifling at first, but we all quickly adjusted and by the time we left, we didn’t even notice it. We didn’t speak the language of our neighbors, yet there was a bounty of learning and communication happening–as children this was invaluable to our development and growth in understanding, connecting, and empathizing with others.

I have no intention of bringing my boys on an 18 hour flight anywhere, at least not yet, but I know the extraordinary impact that travel had on me at an early age, and I want the same for them. I want them to converse with different kinds of kids like the boy at the Chinatown Mall, to taste food local to our destination, and to see landscapes they’ve never seen before. I look at it as my duty to show them the world, and spark the same curiosity about places and people who I still have today, so that they develop into smarter, more empathetic, and happier adults.

Whenever I travel, I am more awake, present, and alive then any other time. On my deathbed, I’m not going to remember those cool shoes I bought, or the purse I just had to have. Instead, I will remember that amazing meal I had in Nashville with my sister and brother-in-law, or the funny conversation I had with a Moroccan boy in a laundromat in Montpellier, or how unsettled I felt standing in a German bunker looking out on the beaches of Normandy. Travel offers you the unique opportunity to experience new places, food, and people firsthand, but its true gift is discovering who you really are and how truly connected we all are on this beautiful planet.

 

 

 

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.

Love in Marriage When You Have Littles

Update: Red Tricycle published this post! You can find the article and more awesome momlife related content here: http://redtri.com/love-in-marriage-when-you-have-littles/


When my husband, Sam, and I first got together our love was easy. We’d go to dinner, get drinks, or jump in the car on a whim and go camping for the weekend. We knew that when we had kids, things would change, but didn’t really dwell on it. I had co-workers tell me to wait at least five years after we married before having kids, so that we’d have our own time to enjoy each other and our freedom. Of course, me being me, I did the exact opposite and we became parents as soon as possible. If it weren’t for conception issues, I’m sure I would have been pregnant within months of our wedding.

What I learned soon after having Nash, was that love in a marriage is an organic, ever-changing animal. During those early days and weeks, I knew I loved my husband, but when I was the only one getting up every night to change and feed the baby, the only one struggling with Nash all day while Sam went off to work where he had long lunches and happy hours, our love began to deteriorate.

I realized I didn’t need or want a romantic partner, I wanted a partner that could work and relieve me from some of the drudgery of parenting. My husband hadn’t had to go through 10 months of pregnancy like I had, and wasn’t yet mentally prepared for taking care of another life. I understand this now, but at three in the morning after being around a crying baby all afternoon, that logic didn’t translate. We went through a period of struggle those first several months, and there were times I wondered if our marriage would ever feel like it used to—happy and free, not an endless debate of who changed the last diaper, or whose turn it was to wash the bottles for the next day. I wanted to love and be loved, and not feel forced to make it work because we had decided to have a baby.

To give you some background, I grew up in a home where my mom did everything. My dad worked 18 hour days as a Marine, and was often deployed for months on end, so my mom had no choice but to rise up and take care of everything. I am still amazed at her strength and selflessness. I know myself and my weaknesses well enough to know that I would not have been able to do it with such grace and love. I’m still amicably called a shark in our family, and for good reason. But I never had the impression that mom resented the fact that dad was gone so much working, in fact she carried on like it was normal. If she ever felt like things were unfair, I still don’t know it. Growing up that way didn’t make me want to be like mom, however, I resented the idea and fought it every day which didn’t make things easy at home.

Our marriage, after surviving the first real rough patch following Nash’s birth, began to get better once he was older and began to form a true bond with Sam. It was then that our love changed again. I saw Sam as someone who loved Nash as much as I did, and would spend hours with him after work playing, reading, and goofing off. Then after Nash went to bed happy and tired, Sam would cook dinner and we’d drink wine and talk. As rough as the beginning had been, this new stage of intimacy was so unexpected and fortifying. I looked at Sam with new eyes, or maybe I just saw who he had become through the transformative power that becoming a parent has on someone. I was smitten all over again, and with someone familiar but also completely new.

If there are any take-aways from this, is that in any relationship, there are highs and lows, but that if you can hold on to each other and push through the tough times, you will be so rewarded in the end. I’d never dreamed that I’d feel as close to another person as I do to Sam—in fact as much as I moved around growing up, I never really felt that I belonged to any place or person. Sam has been the avenue to finding myself and a home, and all the hard times and arguments were the resistance needed to realize that and find true peace and happiness.

 

Floating Piece Published by elephant journal

The rapid pace of life we live today is not normal. My latest piece, published by mindfulness magazine elephant journal, describes a way to rest the brain and start anew from a place of clarity and calm. Thank you for reading and sharing!!!

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/02/how-floating-helped-me-reset-my-brain/

I Reset My Brain by Floating

When was the last time you actively chose to remove yourself from every possible distraction? No phone, no tv, no external stimuli of any kind? Never? Aside from sleep, we just don’t ever unplug. From the time we wake to the time we set the phone on the nightstand, we are constantly under siege from outside opinions and activity. I had heard about floating from friends and Netflix’s Stranger Things, but never considered trying it until recently. I felt it might be helpful in my journey of self-awareness, so I did a little research, and found a place nearby.

Tucked away on Moreland Avenue in the Atlanta neighborhood known as Little Five Points, is an unassuming building that you would hardly notice if you weren’t looking for it. It was here at Flo2s that I experienced my first sensory deprivation float and unplugged from everything for a blissful 90 unobstructed minutes. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I booked the appointment, I just knew that I wanted to experience something new and possibly expand the boundaries of my mind to new depths. I wasn’t disappointed.

When I arrived at Flo2s I was greeted by a bright-eyed, diminutive receptionist by the name of Evelyn. She had a large Om neck tattoo and several piercings, and exuded a genuine feeling of warmth and kindness. I felt comfortable at once. She checked me in, confirmed that I had signed the health waiver, and brought me back to one of the tiled chamber rooms. It was actually two rooms, one room had a shower and changing area, and the other was the isolation chamber filled with water. She told me the owner had hand-built all the chamber rooms, and it had a certain artistic feel to it. Not perfect, but real. The first thing I noticed when I was being led back were the giant epsom salt bags outside of my room. Evelyn told me that they put 22 bags into every tank of 10-12 inches of water. Aside from the tea tree oil perfuming the salon, I could smell the neutral fragrance of the salt, not quite unlike seawater.

Before I showered, I put in red, puddy-like ear plugs that would create a seal strong enough to block any water from entering my ear canals for the duration of the float. The chamber room felt warm, but Evelyn told me the water was heated only to 96 degrees, close to human body temperature, so as not to distract from feeling like you are floating in space. Once showered, I climbed into the watery chamber and closed the door.

It was completely dark and silent. I thought it would be like getting into a bath, but instead of sinking down to the bottom, I floated immediately, and the sensation was one I’d never experienced before. I was like a cork bobbing on the surface of the water. but once settled I hardly moved at all.

It took a while to truly relax, my mind raced and I kept having random aches in my shoulders and neck. I couldn’t believe I was going to have to be there for a full hour and a half, the time ahead seemed daunting and I was apprehensive. After about 30 minutes though, I stopped fighting, focused on the inhalations and exhalations of my breath, and let my mind wander as it wished. I was fully awake, but it also felt like I was in a dream. Because there was no light or sound, my mind could completely take over and the visualizations I experienced were as rich and vivid as though I were dreaming.

The second half of the float was where I really started to relax. My mind was still very active, but now it was running at a much softer rhythm. Like watching a movie, I witnessed the thoughts come and go but felt no attachment to them. There were times when I was completely unconnected to my body, and felt like I was out in the ether, but then I would feel a ripple of water or I would touch the edge of the chamber wall and be brought back to earth. The physical experience of the float was always changing. When I heard the music come through the speakers signaling the end of the float, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it had ended so quickly. I was a little disappointed, for I felt that I was at the edge of a great precipice of realization and it had suddenly been pulled away.

I got up slowly, found my bearings, and opened the door to the shower room. The motion light came on and was so bright–I felt a little unsteady. The shower after the float,however, was amazing. My skin felt baby soft from the salt and the hot water was incredibly luxurious after sitting in room temperature water for so long. I got dressed and left my room feeling still oddly out-of-body. I thanked Evelyn, and exited the building to a luminous warm sun shining down on me. I felt an elevated sense of calm, and everything felt like it was moving in slow motion. I had just hit reset. For the first time in my entire life, I had given my mind the opportunity to expand into nothingness with no agenda, no guided meditation, only focusing on my breath, and the thoughts that came and went. It was as if I had given myself a precious gift, and felt completely reborn.

Will I do it again? Absolutely. I feel as if I washed away years of stress and attachment. My mind feels pliable and alert. I also have a new perspective on myself and an awareness of the potential to go even deeper into my mind and achieve higher levels of consciousness. The experience was like taking a peek into an ocean ravine, and seeing even more depths below. It’s an exciting reminder of how alive and limitless we truly are if given the chance to explore. 

Published!!!

Guys, I am so excited to share that my blog post on the importance of meditation was published by Elephant Journal!! It was a goal of mine to be published this year, and I’m so thrilled that it came to fruition. Here’s to hitting more goals in 2017! Please click the link to check it out on Elephant and share it if it speaks to you. ❤️

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/02/mindfulness-matters-heres-how-to-get-started/