Yesterday, Alexandra and I did an interview with a lovely journalist. When her article is done, we’ll share it, but in the meantime, I’ll share this: She remarked on Alexandra’s very brave and inspiring new year’s resolution post, which you should read and comment on if you have not already. Then she asked me what mine was. I actually shared some on Prevention.com, along with 19 other healthy-living types, just the other day. I’m sticking to those, but…
Over a glass of prosecco, I came up with some others.
I’ve just gotten back from a much-needed jaunt to Miami with our buddy Anna. On our first night, we wrote out our intentions for 2013 on a scrap of paper provided for us by the bartender. Our lists were long! Less filled with resolutions than intentions, I’d say. Mine were all over the map, but if I had to peg them all to a theme, I’d go with this: “Go big or go home.” Which is what tumbled out of my mouth when this woman asked me about my plans for 2013.
I was instantly embarrassed. Who, other than frat boys and rappers, uses that line unironically? And yet I stand by it. That’s because last year, while full of important lessons and countless blessings, kind of kicked my ass. After being sick for many years, my older brother passed away. It’s a loss I still don’t have words for, even as I take comfort in (and often laugh out loud about) his wily, clever spirit, his pranks, and how caring he was as a father and a husband and a friend. So even if the words don’t quite come, I can tell you this: When you lose a person you love deeply and you’re still standing, it emboldens you a little. You grow up. You change on the inside.
So this year, I’m feeling brave. For me, going big means that at 34, I will finally learn how to drive a car (I seriously don’t understand how you people do this, but I’m determined to find out). It also means I’ll work and love and live with more ferocity than ever. Ultimately, it probably also means I’ll change my life in ways that are uncomfortable for a moment—but uncomfortable in the way a hamstring stretch is uncomfortable. Which is to say very—for like five seconds. And then you’re more nimble and pliable and relaxed than you were before. Fact is, no matter what part of you is changing, the letting go can hurt a little at first. But if you think about it, and if you’ll allow me to be incredibly corny for a second, I think we can all agree that letting go is actually the bravest thing you can do in almost every situation.
So… That’s me. Say what you want about resolutions, but I think it helps to think of them, as I said, as intentions rather than rules. So what spirit and focus do you want to bring to your life this year? We’d love to know. Really.
Inspiring and pretty photo via
Oh man! Let’s get corny.
Alexandra and I are big fans of gratitude exercises, so let’s take this opportunity to have one together, shall we?
I spend a decent amount of time thinking about what I’m grateful for; I do it almost every day. There are countless documented benefits of such practices, from reducing depression and anxiety to lowering blood pressure and improving your social bonds, according to brand new research. Also, it just feels good.
For this go-round, instead of thinking big-picture, I’m going to share 5 things I’m grateful for right this moment.
Please, when you’re done at the dinner table with your family or friends, share yours, too!
1. The “good morning” email I woke up to. It didn’t say much else, but it made me smile in my half-sleep. That’s a lovely way to wake up, and I’m grateful for that.
2. The guy who kept landing on my mat at yoga. You know those days when every stranger seems to have been placed in your path with the express purpose of irritating you? And yet you know (or at least I hope you know) that it’s really all about you, and that with a slight shift in perspective, these annoyances will dissolve? Anyway, that happened to me today at yoga. The class was jammed, and the guy next to me kept downward-dogging his gigantic left foot onto my mat. The first time it kind of bothered me. For some reason, though, I decided it was funny—and then the next dozen or so times he landed on my mat, it actually made me laugh to myself, bringing levity and humor to an otherwise challenging class. So I’m grateful to wayward-foot dude, and everyone else in the room, for an amusing two hours. Strangers are our teachers!*
3. The peanut butter cookie I just ate instead of lunch. Vegan, gluten-free and utterly, insanely delicious. I’ll share the recipe in an upcoming Meatless Monday Inspiration post, promise.
4. My meditation practice. I’m back on the wagon, y’all. Are you? If you still don’t have a daily practice, no big deal. We have 11 easy ways to meditate over here—they’re worth your time and effort, especially around the holidays, when most of us get a little emotional about something or other: That story your sister decided to tell (again) about the time you did something really dumb when you were 13; the fact that you’re missing people who aren’t around, at least in a physical form, anymore; the offhand comment about your love life that throws you for a loop. Put simply, meditation helps you react less. This is a very useful tool to have at your disposal when you need it.
5. My body. Sometimes, you feel like your feet have been cemented to cinderblocks. Other times, you feel like a cute little frog hopping around weightlessly. The former makes the latter all the more special, right? Today, I’m thankful I feel froggy.
All right! What about you? What are you grateful for?
* That might take the cake for “corniest thing Siobhan has ever said.” I mean it, though.
The other night over dinner with friends, I invented a new game.
As we tore into our appetizers of fennel salad, roasted cauliflower and Cabernet (yes, wine counts), we played a round of something I’ll call Wish for Five Nice Things.
Our friends are good sports, and they know me well enough to just roll with this kind of cheesy forced-participation dinnertime activity when inspiration strikes. The three of us have played Say Five Nice Things together several times over shared meals. On another occasion, we decided that everyone at the table should say something nice to the person to our right, then we switched and did the person to our left. So corny, I know.
This one’s a little different. Instead of pointing out things that you like, focus on what you’d like to have. In your life. Now or later.
Examples: Maybe you’d like that weird-in-a-bad-way recurring dream to stop happening. Maybe you find yourself stuck in a pattern you’d like to break, or you wish you could actually try crow pose instead of running to the bathroom every time it comes up at yoga. Or maybe you’ve got your eye on a new job, or a cute guy or girl or…a killer pair of pumps? This game, like Say Five Nice Things, doesn’t have to be heavy.
So why bother? First, remember, this isn’t about finding a thing outside of yourself that will fix all your problems. Instead, it’s about setting an intention, saying it out loud so you kind of own the thing, and then risking wishing for what you secretly know you want but for which you are maybe a little scared to ask from universe/yourself/your partner/your body etc. So maybe “wish” is the wrong word, but we’ll work with that for now.
Still need convincing? Here are four reasons to play Wish For Five Nice Things:
1. We’re a goal-oriented species. My acupuncturist is good at reminding me that life goes by in a snap if you don’t actively participate in it. Actually, it goes by in a snap no matter how you live, so it’s a nice idea to try to be present, see what’s in front of you, and create the life you want. I find setting intentions—out loud, or out loud in my head—to be useful day-to-day, and in a big-picture kind of way.
2. It helps you identify what it is you really want. This is not easy! I will go on the record and say that this year has totally kicked my ass. But it’s also taught me a great deal about the preciousness of life and how much it matters where you put your energy. A lot of folks are take-what-comes kind of people in some area of their life. There is nothing wrong with living that way. In fact, it’s the goal of many spiritual practices. But there’s a difference between rolling with the punches, because the punches will always roll, and not actually thinking about—and risking going after—what it is you really want. Even if that thing happens to be shoes.
3. It puts you in the driver’s seat. Again, this is why “wish” isn’t quite right, but life has taught me that when you vocalize what you want, as opposed to just taking whatever it throws at you, you are primed to risk getting it—by actually doing something. At the very least, it can help you set in action a course you could follow to get that thing. Or so goes my logic.
4. It’s nice to wish for things for other people. So we played this game at dinner, and then at the bar across the street with different friends after, and guess what happened? Everyone just totally came alive, excited by their own wishes, but especially about everyone else’s. It gives you something to wish for on behalf of your loved ones (or, if you’re stuck, you can always just steal their good ones). But it’s nice to wish for things for other people, especially when it’s not the thing you think they need, or the thing you think they should want, but what they picked themselves.
So! We’d love you to list five nice things YOU want for yourself in the comments. If you’re feeling shy, grab a piece of paper and write it down. We’d also encourage you to try it with your friends or your lover. And if you’re up for a bonus round (I always am), play Say Five Nice Things, too.
Ideally your answer is something like…. “My partner who thinks I’m awesome no matter how ridiculous I am at times.” Or maybe it’s “My sense of my own natural beauty, radiating from within.” (But seriously, if you’re going with number 2 and that’s your default feeling, maybe you can explain us your secret over wine and macarons some time?)
For me, it depends on the day. One of the cool and completely frustrating things about being a woman is that these things can vary depending on your mood, on the weather, on the state of your skin, on where you are in your cycle, on how things are going at work and at home, on how nice you’re being to yourself.
Because these things can fluctuate quite a bit, I’ve always thought it important to have certain emergency procedures in place for the days when you want to bring your A game but you woke up feeling like a giant bag of trash.
When that happens, you have to, in the words of Rachael Ray, take a little help from the store. The help I’ve been taking lately is my fancy Vered body oil.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the ayurvedic ritual called abhyanga, a form of daily self massage that involves oils, starting at your feet and ending at your crown. When you consider all the crazy stuff I’ve done over the years—shall we revisit the time I had soup spoons scraped over my back to release blocked energy? Or the astrologers I’ve paid many hundreds of dollars to help me with various peccadilloes?—it seems amazing that I’ve never done tried this simple, soothing technique. Inspired by Alexandra, who has raved about it, and Dr. Claudia Welch, who swears by it, I tried it last night before bed. And I used this incredible body oil by Vered.
Here’s what makes the oil special. The one I have is for achey bodies. As such, it contains the homeopathic standby arnica, as well as calendula, oregano, lavender, eucalyptus, and chamomile in an organic jojoba and sweet almond oil base. As you can imagine, it smells unreal. And like no other oil I’ve used—including pure coconut oil, which I still adore—this stuff absorbs readily into the skin, moisturizes so thoroughly, and leaves behind a kind of touch-my-skin-no-really-touch-it softness that looks and feels amazing.
This is not an ordinary body oil. And at $74 a bottle, it also costs a small fortune, so there’s that. Will I buy more when I run out? Probably not, but that’s why I’m not recommending you buy it for yourself: This is, I’ve decided, the absolute perfect gift. I received mine as a gift—from the lovely Spirit Demerson, no less—and it was the perfect thing because it’s not something I would ever buy myself. But having it around makes me happy, it feels super-luxurious, and after I’ve applied it—either through elaborate self-massage or just with a quick and dirty rub onto my legs before work in the morning—I feel completely amazing in my own skin.
Oh, and yes: As the name suggests, it works wonders on sore muscles.
So we want to know: Have you ever done abhyanga? And what makes you feel amazing in your own skin? Have at it, folks.
As promised here is the second half of my interview with the wise and wonderful Claudia Welch—along with a great video interview I found online. Loved reading everyone’s comments in Part 1, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you guys think of the book!
Since reading it I’ve been practicing many of the recommendations, and I honestly see a difference in how I feel. I don’t expect overnight miracles, but I’m hopeful that these practices are going to help regulate my periods and hormonal fluctuations. If anyone is interested in going deeper Dr. Welch is offering a live phone and online course in this stuff (that’s a link to sign up for a free call)—I’m going to try to sit in on a few if I can.
We’re curious: For those of you who have experienced imbalances, what—if anything—have you noticed affects this most? Is it stress, or food choices, or have you not made the connection? It’s so great to hear all your stories, and as Dr. Welch pointed out, we have such an intelligent and thoughtful community of readers here. The best!
Onto the interview…
Your prescriptions for rebalancing seem so simple, but they’re also quite specific. Tell us about a few that you’ve found very effective.
It is true that some of the prescriptions are simple. But simple can still be hard. If the prescription, for example, is: slow down, and we have been driving ourselves forward for too long, we may not know what “slow down” looks like, or how to get there from here. Sometimes “slow down” is the main prescription and it is often the most effective. But there are other, easier short term remedies that can be very effective.
When we have excess stress in our lives, our nervous systems become hyper sensitive. When they become hypersensitive, we are more likely to translate benign events as threatening ones. When we do that, more stress hormones are secreted, making our nervous systems even more hypersensitive. It is a downward cycle. If we could but calm down the nervous system, we could help break that cycle. And lo, there are ways and means to accomplish that very thing. And, behold, they are simple. Or can be.
One simple remedy is warm oil self-massage–called “Abhyanga” in Ayurveda. There are loads of nerve endings that enervate our skin–the largest organ of our bodies. In essence, we can calm the nervous system through the skin. It works. It is a bit too much to explain here, but it is described in an Appendix in Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life.
I also love 15 minutes of gentle Alternate Nostril Breathing practice, daily. I find it to be one of the most powerful remedies for hot flashes and hormonal imbalance in general.
High-intensity workouts are all the rage right now, but you warn that this type of exercise can be detrimental to some women—when do you recommend against it?
Eastern medicine recognizes that different constitutions require different amounts and types of exercise to maintain optimal health. Stronger, sturdier constitutions do well to engage in longer, harder workouts, while women with slight or delicate frames, do better with slower, er, less sweaty workouts.
There can be many signs that a woman is over exercising. When a woman, for example, is underweight or her periods are scanty, absent or irregular, these are some signs she is either under-nourished, over-exercising or simply outspending her resources in other arenas. In other words, even if she is consuming a healthy diet and getting regular and good sleep–both activities that serve to nourish yin in her body–her output may be exceeding her input. The energy she commits to exercise, work, run errands, etc. may be greater than energy she receives from food, sleep, sweet relationships and down time. In these situations, it would be much better for a woman to engage in gentle yoga, walking, tai qi or qi gong, than weight lifting, running, vigorous yoga or rigorous workouts.
Our bodies prioritize survival over reproduction so they will–100% of the time–allocate whatever nourishment we are receiving, first to our survival and to the organs and tissues that are crucial to survival. If there are resources left over, then they can go to nourish a healthy reproductive system.
Many of us in our forties and older, will remember Jane Fonda’s “make it burn” video workouts and feel like we are being lazy if we do anything less, but there are entire exercise forms in the East that focus more on moving qi or prana–our life force–internally, with gentle, minimal or even no physical movement. When we look at masters of those forms, they may barely move and never break a sweat, but are in incredible shape. These masters understand the value of irrigating our internal organs with energy, rather than simply our muscles, and we can see the results.
You devote a chapter in the book to endocrine disruptors in our environment, including the presence of pthalates in personal care products. When you were researching this topic, what surprised you the most?
That every single person–including infants– tested now hosts an impressive profile of synthetic chemical pollutants.
And that it can take very small amounts of this stuff to do significant damage.
It is also surprising to me how many women are slow—or even unwilling—to give up personal care or household products that contain these chemicals. Honestly, I don’t see how the risk could be worth it.
Paying a little extra sometimes for products that have ingredients that we recognize—or can at least pronounce… isn’t that worth it for the health of ourselves and our families? And our planet? This stuff is getting into our water supplies and polluting our land, air, fish, and animals.
With that in mind, what does your beauty routine look like?
I wash my hair a couple times a week and shake my head. I like Weleda Rosemary shampoo the most, but it’s hard to find. Shikai Gold will do. I use Sarada Ayurvedic Remedies Clarifying Masque overnight if I feel a pimple coming on. Amazing. I use Four Elements Rose Comfrey moisture cream, when I need it, on my face, neck and hands. It has such a wonderful fragrance. And seven decent ingredients. Only. I use unscented Crystalux crystal deoderant body powder, which consists of two safe ingredients: natural mineral salts and corn starch. I love Floracopeia’s essential oils, as perfumes or oils that simply have a good effect on me. Which ones I use varies with the weather, season, and my mood. These days, when it is hot out I like their Rose-Vetiver Attar, but the second it becomes cooler, I prefer Neroli.
This is one of our favorite questions: When do you feel most beautiful?
I feel most physically beautiful when I get to have simple, nourishing, whole food, and regular exercise—either brisk walks or hikes—in beautiful places with clean air. I feel more vibrant, my skin is softer and rosier and I smell better. No kidding.
Amen! And happy Friday everyone. We hope you can get into a little bit of nourishment this weekend, whatever that looks like for you.