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 a Vegan Diet Can Help Save the Planet

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Accord. Fifty-five United Nation countries collectively signed the agreement in November 2016 in an effort to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. When the news broke that Trump was out, I honestly wasn’t surprised. I felt that familiar sinking feeling when yet another act of progress championed by the Obama administration has been intentionally unraveled by the new president.

Trump explained that he did it because he valued American manufacturing jobs over everything else, to include the health and future of the planet. This message comes from someone who’s administration has not actually acknowledged climate change as a reality, and frequently used the term “hoax” to describe EPA data on its own government website. Not to mention that the biggest threat to traditional manufacturing jobs is automation, not climate change regulation. So what does this mean for those of us who do believe in climate change and understand what a huge disappointment this was in the battle for fighting global warming?

When president Trump withdrew US involvement in the accord, he made a statement to the rest of the world, that barring some sort of financial benefit, the US does not care to engage in collective movements for the good of others–i.e. non-Americans. As the unmatched leader in terms of wealth and military prowess, the US stands as an example of what other countries aspire to become. By opting out of an agreement promoting clear and defined goals of a cleaner earth, it shows a lack of concern and will no doubt encourage other nations to take on the same isolationist mindset. Those in leadership set the tone for everyone else, whether it’s a corporation, a field office, a soccer team, or a nation. It’s the same everywhere. Trump’s selfish and short-sighted withdrawal is a huge step backward for positive relations around the world, and for our planet.

For those of us at home who understand this and were disappointed–Elon Musk announced he was leaving Trump’s advisory council, there is still something we can do. By talking about climate change, and the effect that this withdrawal will have on the US and the world, we bring attention to it. When you bring light to anything, it has an impact. Additionally, Trump’s withdrawal was so shocking that it has sparked more debate and focus onto combating climate change at home. Individuals who may not have spent much time thinking about global warming, or from where the majority of it is generated, are now researching and talking with friends and co-workers about it and what can be done despite disastrous governmental actions. That’s progress.

What people discover when conducting research on climate change, is that the majority of the greenhouse gases are not from cars or factories, but from animal agriculture. The fastest route therefore to fighting back, is to stop buying meat and animal products. By one person going vegan for a year, hundreds of animal’s lives and over 400,000 gallons of water are saved. Additionally, the methane gas produced by cows and pigs–which is 23 times more damaging than CO2 and the biggest threat to the ozone layer, is seriously reduced. So now equipped with the data, what can we do?

Even if you’re not currently vegan, there are still small manageable steps you can take today that will create a real impact.

  1. Try eliminating meat from one meal a day. Since my transition to becoming vegan last year, my husband and kids have greatly reduced their meat and dairy intake, most notably from breakfast.  We were a household that would eat bacon and eggs regularly, now my family sticks to oatmeal, grits, peanut butter toast, and fruit in the morning–it was a simple change that my family could easily accept. And according to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week, the CO2 emission reduction would be the same as taking half a million cars off the road. It just shows how simple changes in our everyday lives can and do make a huge impact. We are not helpless observers to the wrongs of those in power.
  2. Incorporate an entire day without consuming meat, more commonly known as “Meatless Mondays”. If everyone in the US engaged in Meatless Monday for one day, it would equal a reduction of 1.2 million tons of CO2, 3 million tons of soil erosion, 4.5 million tons of animal excrement, and 7 tons of ammonia emissions. This was great way to encourage my husband to try new dishes and reinvent his old trusted recipes in new and interesting ways. Additionally, our grocery bill was greatly reduced. I was amazed at how far our money went after we eliminated beef, chicken, pork, and eggs from the cart. It took actually going to the store and seeing it in real life to fully appreciate how much further our dollar was going while simultaneously eating significantly healthier.
  3. Lastly, as humans it’s a well-known fact that we’re wired to connect. Seek out a community that supports your desire to learn more about plant-based diets and connect with them online. Facebook has a myriad of groups like “Vegans United” and “My Vegucation” that offer support and information from real people who have felt a similar call to make a change in support of the environment despite heavy cultural and traditional opposition. On Instagram, search hashtags like #meatlessmondays, #veganbreakfast, or #veganrecipes, for more inspiration and motivation. The vegan community is growing everyday, and it is one of the most welcoming, passionate, and intelligent groups I’ve ever encountered.

Currently the US is responsible for over 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If our president refuses to participate in a global effort to ensure that our children and grandchildren have a sustainable planet, and enough food and water to exist when they grow up, we as citizens have to take responsibility for the future onto ourselves. The truth is that we cannot change his mind or his administration’s agenda, but we can make small changes in our own lives, like the ones detailed above, that taken together as a country, can and will change the fate of the world and the future health of the planet.

 

 

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.

 

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. 

“Breathing Dreams Like Air”

I love this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald. It reminds me that today is another chance to make little moves towards whatever goals and dreams are whispering to me when things get quiet. 

My dream is to have a beautiful life. For me that means a healthy and happy family, financial security, good food, travel, art, lots of books, a peaceful mind, and love. 

I’m reading an amazing book right now, “The Four Agreements” by Miguel Ruiz. The main premise is that true peace and freedom from suffering is found when we do the following: 

 1) Be impeccable with your words (No gossiping or beating yourself up. Instead, use positive words towards yourself and others);

2) Don’t take anything personally (Nothing others do or say to you has anything to do with you, they are fighting their own demons);

3) Don’t make assumptions (Ask questions and establish clear communication with your partner and everyone else about what you want); and 

4) Always do your best. 

I am guilty of being extremely hard on myself, and have been on a long journey of self-love and acceptance. This book is another tool I will use to help create and nurture the beautiful life we all want and deserve. 


Dress: Leota

Boots: Nine West 

Bar Pendant: Nordstrom