Friday, January 25, 2013

Easy Ways to Help Simplify Your Life

I’m still working on finding ways to simplify my life. That original list of 72 things that I posted a couple of weeks ago can seem so daunting. I started off by picking the 5 things that I would focus on in the short-term. Now I decided to make a short list of the things that I’m already doing. It made me feel good to be able to check some things off the list as “accomplished.”

Establish routines. I am a creature of habit. That is for sure. And I guess it is easier to have established patterns because there is no guessing, or wasting time, deciding what you should be doing when.

Consider a smaller home. I am in the process of doing more than considering a smaller home. I’m actually designing one. Although this consideration process has not helped to simplify my life in the here and now (in fact, it’s creating more work), but I can see how a smaller house would greatly simply several aspects of my life.  I’m ready to get there.

Consider a smaller car. This has been accomplished in a big way. I just traded my MINI Cooper 4-seater for a MINI Cooper 2-seater! A simpler life because of it? Probably not, but it sure is a fun car, bringing me much joy.

Eat healthy. I have to say, after changing my diet recently my trips to the grocery store have been much quicker and easier. I only shop the perimeter of the store (fruits/veggies, meats, and dairy) and I always buy the exact same thing. No more lists, no more aimlessly wondering the isles. Fast and easy.

Create a simple dinner menu.  This picks up where the above item leaves off. Having low carb dinners has greatly reduced the variety of meals we have, which has made dinner prep that much easier.

Exercise. This has been a constant my whole life. Not sure how it’s simplifying my life, but I’m definitely doing it.

Find a creative outlet for self-expression. I’ve always excelled at this one. As a photographer, graphic designer and jewelry maker, I’m constantly using my creative outlets.

Create a morning writing ritual. I just started an evening writing ritual where I spend 5 minutes a day reflecting back on the days events and making a simple list of 5 things that I did. The best 5 minutes of the day!

Carry less stuff. My chronic neck and shoulder problems have forced me to trade in my big purse for a wristlet. Now that my neck problems are fixed, I’m hooked on carrying a tiny purse. Will never go back.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Yoga Challenge on Hold

Well, so much for my 108-day yoga challenge. I got two days into it and I already need to halt. Not sure what I was thinking when I decided to take on this challenge as my first post-surgery exercise, but I certainly wasn't thinking very clearly. I got a little too wrapped up in all the excitement surrounding stepping foot back onto a yoga mat.

The first day of the challenge called for the DVD named "Cross - Train" and I was able to do as many modifications as needed to get through it. I woke up the next morning sore, but it was a good sore - a muscle soreness that reminded me I worked out the day before. I love that sore. The second day, however, called for the DVD entitled "Cardio" and I wondered how they would pull off cardio in a yoga program. I was very much looking forward to getting my cardio back, but in my mind that involved rigorous hiking, running, or even some biking (if the New England weather cooperated). What I entered into with this video was not at all what I had in mind.

Looking back to the torture known as P90X Yoga, it seemed not-so-bad after seeing this program. I managed to muddle my way through about half of it before I had to call it quits. There was simply no way of modifying 20 high speed repetitious vinyasas and I just don't have the upper body strength for that right now. I thought I was being smart and I thought I stopped early enough to avoid any risk of doing stupid things, but after a sleepless night of shooting pains in the back of my neck and more bad (bone) pains this morning I decide that enough was enough. My head was filled visions of the possibility of wrecking my fragile vertebrae and ruining whatever bone fusion has already started. That fear is what kept me awake all night and I couldn't believe that I took that risk so soon.

So I'm sorry to say that I'll need a little more time before getting back to this Ultimate Yogi Challenge. I am so far from being an Ulimate Yogi right now that I had no right thinking I could do it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Yoga is Like Riding a Bicycle

Yesterday was Day 1 of my Ultimate Yogi 108 Day Yoga Challenge and I'm happy to report that I survived! Of course, this morning it might have felt like I crashed my bike and fell down a ditch, but I'm still proud and excited by the fact that I got through my first class (with lots of modifications, of course). My first thoughts and impressions were as follows . . .

First, yoga is similar to riding a bicycle. You really don't forget how to do it and it comes back pretty quickly. It's been nearly one year since I did any real yoga. My neck was in terrible shape for most of last year and not only did that cause me to get very weak, but my flexibility also went down the tubes. Most of my yoga session last night was a bit of a roller coaster, going from, "Oh my goodness, I can't even touch my toes" to "Hey, this isn't so bad. It's coming back quickly (as my fingers were wrapped under my feet in standing bend). There were times when I felt good, like I knew the strength was still there, just maybe dormant and needing to be awaken. That excited me. Then 5 minutes later my arms and/or legs were shaking so bad I thought I would collapse. I constantly bounced back and fourth between feeling good and feeling bad, but I'm well accustomed to riding a bike and I know that you have to be strong, more mentally than physically, to go the distance.

So far I'm impressed with the overall "program" that the Ultimate Yogi offers. Now granted, I only completed one day, but yesterday was the first day that I opened the package. The included DVDs have me intrigued and excited to try all of them. Each DVD is labeled with things like: Cross-Train, Cardio, Vitality, Flexibility, Hard Core, etc. It reminds me so much of P90X in that every day concentrates on a different aspect of fitness. And it's set up similarly in that it calls for the Ab work (Hard Core) 3 times per week, in addition to the yoga class. It's also reminiscent of P90X because I'm curious and eager to see what tomorrow will bring. That is the best part of it - the newness of it all. I love not knowing what to expect during each class and that is also just like riding a bike. Every time I ride a brand new route I find the entire trip to be easy and enjoyable. But, as soon as that same route becomes routine and I start to know every pothole, every hill, every gear I should be in, what time it should take, etc. it suddenly loses its enjoyment. It suddenly becomes a difficult chore. I have a feeling that it's going to take months for this Ultimate Yogi to become routine.

I'm excited to get home to begin my Day 2 challenge.

Creating a Lifetime of Wellness

I recently signed up for unlimited online classes at a web site called Universal Class. I was about to purchase one class through a local university when I stumbled upon a great Groupon offering one year of unlimited classes for just about the same price as my one class. The offer was too good to pass up. This place offers a ton of classes and it was hard to decide what class to take first. After much deliberation I finally settled on a "Lifetime Wellness" course. There seems to be no end to my desire to learn as much about wellness as possible.

The course description intrigued me and so far I like it a lot. The first lesson was to point out the importance of trying to simplify our lives. That is something that I've been struggling with forever. I just loved one of the reference links in the course materials: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life.

I was very proud of the fact that I'm already doing many of those things. In fact, I need to make note of all the ones that I am already in the process of doing, but part of our assignment was to pick the 5 goals that we want to focus on. I thought it would be good for me to document what I picked here on my blog so I can hold myself accountable later.

My top 5 goals for simplifying my life:

  • Simplifying my online life. Between my personal social sites, and those same social sites managed for my business, it gets out of control. There seems to be no end to the amount of things you "can" and "should" be doing in social media for business and I have to learn where the limits are and figure out a way to streamline and automate some of this.

  • Clearing my desk.  Both of them home and work. There is no doubt that working in a messy cluttered environment is stressful. I know this, but yet I never seem to make the time to clear my work areas. By the time this class is done, my desks will be cleared!

  • Purging my stuff. I go through my closets twice a year, collecting things to donate to Goodwill, but I need to extend this to the rest of my house, starting with my office and my bookshelves. Having excess stuff helps nobody.

  • Simplify my goals. I always take on too much. Always. I need to be more reasonable with my time and really determine the best ways to spend it. Part of this goal includes learning to say "no" once in a while. That has historically been a problem for me.

  • Live life more deliberately. I rush through just about everything I do without really enjoying it. I exercise like a nut, but rarely enjoy my runs, hikes, or bike rides because I'm trying to go as fast as I can . . . so I can get back home and start the next one. I even approach my yoga practice like a task on my To Do list. Throughout the practice my mind is already on my next task and my eye is on the clock wishing time went faster. That has GOT to stop. I need to work, eat, exercise, drive . . . do everything more slowly.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Five Steps to Quieting the Mind with Sound

 The following article was borrowed (with permission of course) from Conni Kunzler of I found it interesting and wanted to share. Thanks Conni.

In Ayurveda, simple daily practices, called dinacharya, attend to the five sense organs—eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin—the way we take in the world. Just as the foods we eat, the air we breathe, and our visual stimuli impact our mental and physical health, so do the sounds we hear—in our environment as well as the chatter inside our heads.

Sounds We Take In Matter

Sound has the power to change our mood, create or relieve stress, affect our blood pressure, produce endorphins, and build proteins in the body that nourish the immune system. There is a decided physical and emotional response to sound. Think of the unrelenting noise of a jackhammer—or one too many ads on television. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the gentle pulse of ocean waves or the coo of your child.

All things have their own vibrating energy, from trees to stars, and of course our own bodies. And all vibrations have a sound, although some not as audible as others. Within our body, each component, such as the liver or heart, emits a sound creating a small symphony that is you.

Long-term exposure to any particular internal or external vibratory patterns—positive or negative—can alter our own vibrations to the new pattern (called “entrainment”). This is why it’s best to be intentional about the sounds we take in or feed ourselves with our thinking.

The Right Sounds Can Heal

Part of attending to the body’s delicate sound system (ears) in yoga and Ayurveda includes the practice of chanting. The accumulated knowledge of the sciences of yoga and Ayurveda are recorded in Sanskrit and for hundreds of years chanting or vocalizing Sanskrit words or mantras has been part of these healing and spiritual practices.

According to Sanskrit teacher Nicolai Bachman, “For millennia the profound teachings of India have been chanted over and over, preserving the essence of their meaning…. [and] forms a direct link to the vibrations of ancient India through sound.”

The human ear and the palate within the mouth hold connections to the body’s nervous system. This includes 82 reflex points located on the hard and soft palates which are awakened by speech and vocalizations. Vocal sound production is also known to affect the vagus nerve, which is key to switching on the parasympathetic (or rest and digest) systems in the body.

The Sanskrit alphabet happens to be perfectly designed for the human vocal apparatus and employs all five mouth positions, activating the nervous system of the body. So chanting a Sanskrit mantra of any length can be especially healing, opening the mind to new energy and grace as well as creating a sense of calm.

A Simple Five-Step Chanting Practice

Recently I’ve attended a yoga class where the teacher incorporates simple one-syllable chanting. Hearing the vibration of several voices repeating the same sound, and my own voice resonating in my body is surprisingly comforting and stabilizing. As a result, I’ve slowly added simple chanting to my personal practice.

According to Ayurvedic doctor David Frawley, much like a yoga posture (asana) brings a certain kind of energy to the body, so do certain Sanskrit sounds or mantras. Mantras are like a pose for the mind.

Here's a simple chant if you want to give it a try:

1. Find a comfortable seated position, such as sukasana (easy cross legged position), or another position that is comfortable either on your yoga mat or a chair. Consider finding a spot outdoors to mingle with the sounds of nature.

2. Start with the Sanskrit long vowel “ā” आ (pronounced ah as in “father”). Basically all you need to do is open your mouth and make a sound. It stimulates the first position in the mouth which is toward the back of the throat.

3. Place your hands over your heart if you’d like to remind yourself to keep an open heart and better feel the vibration of the sound in your body. Or, on the inhale reach your arms up toward the sky and on the exhale bring them to your heart.

4. Begin to repeat “ā” with your breath in whatever pitch or volume you choose (or happens). Complete as few or as many rounds as you want. This practice encourages lengthening the exhale, so it should feel calming and quiet the mind.

5. Follow this with a long bout of silence. That is golden.

Friday, January 11, 2013

108 Day Yoga Challenge

I think I found my answer to getting back into yoga shape. It's been a very long time since I've taught or even practiced yoga. For the past several months I haven't been able to do any upper body conditioning at all and it's completely destroyed all the strength that I've worked so hard to build over the years. So here I am, in the weakest condition I've ever been in and I've been looking for a place to start. I think I found something to get me back to my old yogi self.

The Ultimate Yoga Challenge promises to be the most comprehensive yoga DVD set on the market. It was created and is led by Travis Eliot, a yoga instructor that says he will push your physical limits and beyond during the 108-Day Journey. The program consists of 14 thematic classes and they say that the sequences that will challenge the expert yogi, as well as encourage the beginner. I think at this point I fall back into the beginner category. This will my first time reviewing an exercise program from the perspective of a beginner and I look forward to the new experience.

According to the propaganda, The Ultimate Yogi is more than just a fitness program. They claim it to be a transformational experience guaranteed to improve your quality of life with the addition of meditation and diet instruction. Just like P90X, this is not a quick-fix easy solution to whipping yourself back into shape. I would never believe any program that claims that. Instead this program requires a 108 day commitment and I am very excited about making that commitment. I have spent this first week of my "post surgery recovery period" just trying to get my body moving – simple stretching and light resistance. I am almost afraid to attempt my first down dog, side plank, or even to lift some real dumbbells so I need to be cautious and take this slowly. With any luck I'll be taking this Ultimate Yogi for a test drive next week and I plan to share my experiences with you. Please stay tuned.

And, if you yourself have ever tried this program, please leave me a comment to let me know what you think of it. Or better yet, let me know if you don't think I should be attempting it as my first workout after neck surgery!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Working Out Doesn't Make You Skinny

I really do believe that working out doesn't make you skinny – eating right does! I'm basing this belief on my experiences over the past 8 months. It all started last Spring when my pinched nerve pain got to the point where it stopped me in my tracks. No more yoga. No more biking. No more lifting. No more most other forms of exercise. Dreadful.

I limped by all Summer with very limited exercise, but that was right around the same time that I changed my diet. I began to reduce my carb intake and tried my very best to stop eating processed foods. It only took two weeks of tracking my daily nutrition using "The Daily Burn" for me to quickly learn where the limits were. I knew what I should and should not be eating to stay within the healthy range of carbs, fat, and protein. This food tracking exercise wasn't easy, but it was educating, and a little hard word is always necessary to get the payoff.

My neck got progressively worse until it finally resulted in surgery. There went two more months of zero exercise. I literally lounged on the couch every day in place of working out and yet I didn't gain a pound. I continued on my reduced carb and very limited process food diet and was able to maintain my weight with positively no exercise at all. In fact, I think I lost a couple of pounds!

I am very thankful that I started this new diet before going through this recovery period and at least now I know for sure . . . I work out to stay healthy and strong. I eat (always making good choices) to stay thin.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Memoir of Love, Yoga and Changing My Mind

Now that it’s 2013, many of us are making resolutions to become the best versions of ourselves in the coming year. In her new memoir MAY I BE HAPPY: A Memoir of Love, Yoga and Changing My Mind, renowned yoga teacher and founder of OM yoga, Cyndi Lee suggests that instead of resolutions, all we need to do is be more compassionate…to ourselves.

MAY I BE HAPPY captures one woman’s remarkable journey from the sacred sites of the Indian countryside, to the center of the 2011 earthquake in Japan, to the living room of Jamie Lee Curtis (one of many wise women Cyndi seeks for advice). Though her mission is met with roadblocks, including the challenges of caring for a parent with dementia and dealing with an unexpected deception in her marriage, Cyndi applies the ancient Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation to learn that compassion is the only antidote to hate. By being open and genuine about the insecurities all women deal with, it feels as if Cyndi herself is whispering in your ear, “It’s okay to admit this.”

If you would like to read this book before it's even available in stores, please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page for a chance to win a FREE copy. One winner will be selected on Friday, January 14th. (If you comment on this blog, please be sure we have a means of contacting you in case you win.)

About the Author: Cyndi Lee founded the internationally renowned OM yoga center in New York City in 1998. She is the author of several books on yoga, including Yoga Body, Buddha Mind and is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal. Lee and OM yoga have been featured on national television and in print. She teaches OM yoga teacher trainings worldwide.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Make a Fresh New Start for the New Year

New Years is really a great time to take advantage of the fresh clean start. It's your chance to reinvent yourself, make some new healthy habits, and/or start a new routine. It's the perfect time to forget about all the things that have held you back in the past or all the reasons why you've been putting off doing the things you want to do. There's no better time like the present to take action and there's no better time than now to start something new.

This year I am taking full advantage of this new start. It just so happens that it coincides nicely with my recovery. I haven't blogged about the details of my recent neck surgery, but at the end of October I had a couple of vertebrae in my neck fused and a metal plate inserted. Oh yes, that was a fun experience! But it was worth all the pain and discomfort because the terrible chronic neck, shoulder, and back pains that have been plaguing me and preventing me from practicing yoga and working out are now gone. I have rid myself of that torture, hopefully for good, and I'm so ready to get back on the yoga mat.

The bad news is that this whole surgery and recovery process has completely erased the great shape that I was in - that I have always been in. Now I'm in a foreign place. I'm weak and fragile and I don't know what to do with that. Where do I even begin to get back to my normal strong and healthy self? This will be a challenge to say the least, but I'm excited to take this journey. I am going to experience an unusual perspective of just how hard it is to "get into shape." Every winter I started my training program with P90X and I fell into it quite easily. I guess it's easy to get into better shape when you're already in good shape, but what is it going to be like to get back into good shape when I've been reduced to weak and fragile? This should be interesting.

I am going to share my journey via this blog. I will document my work-out program and all the steps I'm going to take to gain my strength and endurance back. I would imagine that this won't be overly easy at 44 years old, but I hope that my experience will inspire somebody out there.

Please stay tuned. With any luck I will be slipping off the neck brace and into some workout clothes next week for my maiden voyage. Wish me luck!