serenelysarah

Musings on healthy living


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A Very Merry Introverted Birthday (or, A Room of One’s Own)

My birthday was a week ago, firmly entrenching me in my late 30s, and while I am constantly battling a low-grade panic at how very, very quickly life seems to be passing by, the upside is that I am finally figuring out how to live on my own terms.

A year ago I had a colleague happily report to me that she would spend her birthday away from everyone else, with a great book, a hammock, and nature all around her.  For some reason, this idea of retreat-as-celebration had never occurred to me.

As with most things, society dictates a very extroverted portrait of a perfect birthday:  success as determined by sheer number of well wishes, gifts, exclamations, and attendees of some grand fete.  If I were to judge my birthday by this framework, and I certainly have in the past, I would be unsettled and sad.

However, with this lovely counterpoint modeled by my friend last year, I have embraced my solitude instead of warring against my self.  So, this year, I retreated.  Yesterday I semi-spontaneously drove to Eureka Springs, about 90 minutes from home.  I enjoyed interesting podcasts en route as well as the beautiful hills of the Ozarks; windows down on a gorgeous day.  I checked into a local bed and breakfast which was within walking distance of downtown.  I walked and stopped wherever I desired:  the library, gourmet food and kitchen shops, home decor stores, and finally a small cafe for dinner.  Then I wound my way back to my room, drew a bath and read a book.  This morning I ate my breakfast, chatted amiably with the innkeeper and other guests, and then quickly bid adieu in order to make it to work by 12:30.

It was delightful in all the right ways: it felt rather illicit, as no one save my husband knew where I was (and even he was informed rather last minute), and fulfilled that fantasy we all have from time to time to just…drive…away.  The luxury wasn’t in the amenities of the lodging, but in simply and purely following the prompts of my own heart.

 

 

 

 


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Beating the January Blues

January used to really bum me out.  I don’t like the cold; the short, dark days; or driving in snow and ice.  Now, while I can’t say I have worked up to celebrating or delighting in January, I have achieved a very satisfying tolerance.

I get pretty zealous with my self-care in trying times and that can be a supremely rewarding thing if one gives oneself over to it.  I know, objectively, what has been proven to make people happy and January is all about hunting down my happy.

  1.  I socialize.  I may be an introvert, but being home all day without structure or interaction does not make me a happy person.  This month I have made sure to have at least one get-together with a friend planned every week, and often more than that.  I hosted a game night with friends, I invited my husband on a date, have arranged multiple lunches and brunches, and I made plans to meet up with my sister to cap off the month.
  2. I exercise.  I know a lot of people made resolutions to lose weight or reach other physical goals.  My primary motivation to work out is what it does for me emotionally.  It also helps that my exercise of choice these days is Zumba…I “shake it off” with a fantastic tribe of women ….2 or 3 times a week.
  3. I practice gratitude.  This one kind of snuck up on me but I’m starting to become aware of the difference it makes.  When it’s bitterly cold, I say “at least it’s dry”.  When it’s raining, I say “at least it’s not ice”.  When it’s snowing, I say “at least it’s only 2 inches”….and so on.   Deliberately focusing on the positive has been hugely beneficial.
  4. I let go.  There’s simply no reason to angst about the weather.  If the roads aren’t safe, I stay home (or leave work early to get home).  If the roads are okay, life goes on as normal.  I realize that not everyone is in this position, but my industry is massage therapy and the world will not end if I can’t make it to the clinic.  I say, embrace the snow day.
  5. I focus on domestic pleasures.  January is the perfect time to feather one’s nest…or just enjoy said nest.  I got a super-soft new blanket and some holiday candles which I have been lighting frequently.  I’m trying new recipes in the kitchen like a rustic cassoulet and chicken cacciatore – total comfort food.
  6. I plan and anticipate.  While living in the now is important, anticipation can be positively delicious.  I’m not rushing winter along (I like to feel like I’ve “earned” the spring when it arrives, and delight in it all the more) but it’s nice to take sporadic mental breaks and start looking ahead to a summer vacation…or even the film festival weekend slated for March.

 

Here’s hoping you can find the light in every day….even if the sun sets at 5 p.m.

 

 


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The Miracle Morning

I checked out a book from the library called “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod, despite being dissuaded by its claim that I would “transform my life before 8 a.m.”  That sounded a touch ambitious given my penchant for sleeping until 9.   I gave the very small book a healthy skim and was relieved to determine that the miracle was not time-sensitive.

So, here’s the secret:  you meditate, affirm, visualize, exercise, read, and journal.  This can be compressed to 6 minutes or expanded to an hour.  Here’s what I’ve been doing:

I get out of bed and sit on my meditation cushion for 3-5 minutes.  Then I read a few affirmations aloud….I figured out what I wanted to work on and found some good ones online.  I currently say things like, “Positivity is a choice”, “I am prepared to succeed”, and “I choose contentment”.  Then I visualize for about a minute, and just think about concrete items that could unfold in my day related to my affirmations/goals.

Most mornings for exercise I do a 10-15 minute yoga routine which fits with this whole endeavor nicely…but sometimes I walk, and if I’m pressed for time, I might just do a minute of push-ups, planking, or jumping jacks.  Then I read from my intellectual devotional and do some gratitude journaling.

http://www.amazon.com/Intellectual-Devotional-Complete-Education-Confidently/dp/1594865132/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434913444&sr=8-1&keywords=the+intellectual+devotional&pebp=1434913459055&perid=0DA0YAX7G725XBKGW6BD

http://www.amazon.com/Gratitude-Journal-Catherine-Price/dp/081186720X/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1434913476&sr=8-8&keywords=gratitude+journal&pebp=1434913483053&perid=08T6EWM8DRJ1XGJ3D360

I don’t know that this is the stuff of miracles; I don’t have any anecdotal evidence to give you goosebumps.  I like that it forces me to specify my goals and gives me a clearer understanding of what I want to achieve and how I wish to comport myself every day.  My muscles are less sore, I’m more flexible, and I’m giving more at work.  I feel a little happier, a little more grateful, and a bit smarter.

Nurture yourself so that you can nurture others – in whatever form that may take for you.

Be well!


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The Middle Way

After more than a year of following a Paleo diet pretty strictly, a few things happened.  One, I suddenly felt so deprived I could scream.   I looked at everyone else who was enjoying whatever treats they wanted and felt resentment and envy.  I started keeping a short list on my phone of restaurants I wanted to try and foods I was craving.  Two, I started hearing about orthorexia online.  Orthorexia is an obsession with a perfect diet and the disorder is characterized by eliminating food groups entirely, worry over the relationship between food choices and health concerns, feelings of guilt when deviating from food plan, increase in amount of time spent thinking about food, thinking critical thoughts about others who do not adhere to rigorous diets, and avoiding eating food prepared by others.

I mean, what is the internet but a tool for self-diagnosis?  Ha.  Once I recognized some (okay most all) of those unpleasant characteristics in myself, I knew I needed to make some changes.  I also knew when we went to my in-laws’ to celebrate their birthdays in March and I started to pass on birthday cake and ice cream when Chris overrode me and requested small portions of each.  Eating the desserts with his parents was perhaps not nutritionally sound but it was absolutely emotionally right.

I now eat rice, corn and beans without a second thought.  I also eat bread in moderation.  I still generally avoid dairy and sugar but know I CAN eat them and the sky will not come falling down.  I will meet my friends at whatever restaurants they choose without a peep of disagreement, and I will eat birthday cake.  Lo and behold, I don’t think about food all the time anymore.  I’m not unhappy.  And because I was so strict for a year, the healthy habits and routines are still there for me as second nature.  I’m thankful I learned to cook, learned to enjoy cooking, and tried and enjoyed new (to me) foods like beets and okra.

I appreciate everyone who put up with me when I was insufferably zealous. This blog will still be focused on health.  A life of moderation and taking the path of “the middle way” is a healthy and happy life, and I’m glad to have found my way.

Thanks for listening, and be well.


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a (meditation) room of my own

In early January, I excitedly asked friends, family, clients, and colleagues about their New Year resolutions, and soon learned that no one makes resolutions anymore.  Needless to say, as a Virgo who is relentless in my quest for self-improvement, I was quite disappointed.  While everyone else enjoyed what I can only imagine is a relaxing and enjoyable sense of self-acceptance, I rigorously applied myself to my goal for 2015:  to meditate for 15 minutes every day.

While hardly necessary, I thought some tangibles would nicely underscore my commitment, so I ordered a zafu cushion from Amazon and assembled some peaceful items of decor and artwork.

x 002 x 004

I am set up for success!  Yet 9 1/2 hours of meditation later, I have not had Kundalini energy shoot up my spine and I have not dropped through a portal in the universe to the center of God’s palm a la Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love.  Nothing mystical has occurred.  This might be directly related to the fact that I cannot empty my mind for more than about 8 seconds at a stretch.  I think the favored grooves in my brain are “things to do”:  chores, recipes, notes I meant to jot down. Then I get frustrated with myself, and say, “Sarah, you’re going to sit here regardless for 15 minutes, so you can either focus and make this time meaningful or you can waste it.”  It is not lost on me that this is a truth that can be extended to virtually all experiences in my life.  I hope meditation will teach me to be present.  It’s certainly illuminating how mundane, repetitive, and unproductive my thought processes are.

When I’m not unsuccessfully trying to clear my mind 2/3 of the time, I spend the remaining 1/3 of the time in meditation practicing metta, or loving-kindness.  I was thinking “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be free from suffering” and then extending those wishes to my family and good friends.  I thought the words, but I never resonated with suffering, because in my mind I don’t suffer:  I have all my basic needs met, food, shelter, etc.  Then I read a book that said a more appropriate translation of the Pali word would be “discontentment” instead of “suffering” and that was a light bulb moment for me.  Discontentment?  Oh, how I suffer!     So now I think “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be free from discontentment” and it’s been much more beneficial to my perspective.

I’ll keep practicing to be present and content, 15 minutes a day on my cushion, in the hopes that this practice eventually becomes my life.


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Book recommendations!

Some of you may have extra time off over the holidays, and surely some “snow days” are in our not-so-distant future, so I thought it was the right time to share some of my favorite books from the past year or two.  So grab your favorite hot drink, a soft blanket, and one of the following books and enjoy!

(I’m linking to amazon for efficiency but feel free to support your local bookseller or library instead!)

1.  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  This was a special read for me during and following my own visit to Charleston, South Carolina this September.  It is historical fiction and traces the journeys of two young women with very different circumstances (slave and slave owner) as they seek their own personal freedoms.

http://www.amazon.com/Invention-Wings-Sue-Monk-Kidd/dp/0670024783/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419284576&sr=8-1&keywords=the+invention+of+wings

2.  Tell the Wolves I’m home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  The narrator is an awkward girl growing up in the 80s so I could easily relate to her!   This novel deals with love, loss, and family relationships during the AIDS epidemic.  It’s been awhile since I read it but I am pretty sure I cried a lot….possibly in public, on an airplane.

http://www.amazon.com/Tell-Wolves-Im-Home-Novel/dp/0812982851/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419284713&sr=8-1&keywords=Tell+the+wolves+I%27m+home

3.  Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.  Probably my favorite book I have read in the last few years.  Wickedly funny and smart, she satirizes Seattle, Microsoft, and private school mommies.  There’s a lot of heart here too though.  She wrote for Arrested Development…enough said.  If you haven’t read this yet, I’m jealous of you for getting to experience it for the first time.

http://www.amazon.com/Whered-You-Go-Bernadette-Novel/dp/0316204269/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419285074&sr=8-1&keywords=where%27d+you+go+bernadette

4.  Wild:  From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.  No lie:  I swear I “discovered” this book before Oprah!  I don’t just read what Oprah tells me to!  And now of course it’s a big movie starring Reese Witherspoon that is hitting theaters maybe this week.  I’m sure the movie will be fantastic, but the book is well worth reading.  Cheryl writes beautifully about her journey and grief.  I will always remember when she encounters the fox in the snow.  Possible trigger alert:  this story deals with the loss of a mother.

http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Found-Pacific-Crest-Trail/dp/0307476073/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419285308&sr=8-1&keywords=Wild

5.  The Vacationers by Emma Straub.  This one is sort of similar to “Bernadette”.  A dramedy about an imperfect family traveling together to Spain on vacation.  It’s very accessible and easy to enjoy.

http://www.amazon.com/Vacationers-Novel-Emma-Straub/dp/1594631573/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419285510&sr=8-1&keywords=the+vacationers

6.  Hyperbole and a Half:  Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh.  This is not a traditional novel; it’s a comic.  Again, this one had me crying on a plane…but I was crying from laughing so hard.  Very funny although she uses her comic strip in surprising ways and touches on subjects such as her depression too.

http://www.amazon.com/Hyperbole-Half-Unfortunate-Situations-Mechanisms/dp/1451666179/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419285610&sr=8-1&keywords=hyperbole+and+a+half

7.  The Good House by Ann Leary.  This is just a really well-written book and, again, it’s very easy to get into.  It’s probably a pretty realistic portrayal of a high-functioning alcoholic who is, as one might anticipate, a bit of an unreliable narrator.  Great characters and sense of community.

http://www.amazon.com/Good-House-Novel-Ann-Leary/dp/1250043034/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419285863&sr=8-1&keywords=the+good+house

8.  Me Before You by JoJo Moyes.  This is an English book that concerns the relationship between a wealthy young man who is paralyzed from an accident and his female caregiver; it’s a love story and sad but also satisfying.

http://www.amazon.com/Me-Before-You-Jojo-Moyes/dp/0143124544/ref=pd_sim_b_3?ie=UTF8&refRID=1A3FHKBYHS44WGXV3SQ2

Happy reading!


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What’s your motivation?

Has anyone heard of the new(ish) app TwoGrand?  It’s free and a tool to visually document everything you eat, your exercise, and how much water you drink…it also links you with other people who are following similar diets or have similar goals.  I am enjoying it because I love the visual inspiration of what other people are eating/drinking and it gives me some new ideas; also, it is weirdly effective for me as an accountability measure…I’m not going to eat that free pumpkin pie at work because then I would have to document it!!  Finally, the ability to track how much water I am drinking (with an established goal amount) is huge for me and I think it’s altogether possible I am not dehydrated for the first time ever.  As fun as it is to stalk and be stalked by strangers, if anyone I know wants to join this community, I’m sdclmt417 🙂

Everyone says in order to succeed with health related goals, you have to be really clear and specific with your motivation.  I rarely hear people talk about this, but my motivation with my diet and exercise is to be a kind and engaged person.  I have been noticing when I drink a lot of water, do some yoga, and eat “clean” that I am more patient and even-keeled; I am “serenely Sarah”!

I recently had an incident in which I had a snappish exchange with someone in a time pressure situation.  These things happen, right?  I assumed the next day it would be forgotten….but then that person seemed to not be speaking to me.  So (naturally!) I didn’t speak to her either.  In my head, I had a self-justifying narrative stream and worked myself into quite the righteous indignation.  I festered.  I stewed.  I let it spill over and breed discontent in my life.

A truly regretful and embarrassing amount of time passed.  Over a month!   Finally my thoughts shifted from my perspective to empathizing with hers.  My heart softened.  I wasn’t worried about whether I was “right” or not, because ultimately I wasn’t right in the way I was conducting myself every single day since the conflict had occurred.  So I reached out and expressed my regret and she immediately and graciously responded and the weight lifted from my shoulders was immense.

I don’t want to say this is a pattern for me, but it might be fair to say.  Except in the past sometimes I haven’t had that final conversation.  I haven’t put aside my fear or pride or self-righteousness and I’ve let relationships deteriorate and cease to be.  It’s still taking me waaay longer than I would like to process difficult situations, move past the ego, and respond in the way I want to, but I am making progress.

I’m sure my advancing age and the experience and maturity that comes with it plays a role, but again, I feel strongly that my mood and mental processes are supported and strengthened by basic lifestyle choices like getting enough sleep, regularly doing yoga, drinking lots of water, and eating unprocessed food.  My motivation isn’t to look good in a swimsuit or be a size 0.  My motivation is to treat all the people with whom I interact with the respect, kindness, and dignity that they deserve.

May we let go of resentments, and release our fear and sorrow in so doing.

Be well,

Sarah