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

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.

 

The Unexpected Brain 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.

 

 

 

How I Reset My Brain by Floating

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. Find it here.

 

Mindfulness Matters

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. ❤️