Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday Blues...and We're Not Talking Jeans

As the Holiday season approaches, it seems that our feelings, good and bad, are magnified. Hallmark commercials bring two tears instead of the usual one (come on, admit it...). Faith in goodness, humanity, perhaps even God come easier this time of year for some. Generosity of spirit and pocketbook abounds. Yet at the same time, regrets present themselves. Roads not taken, lost loves, family members who will not be at the table, even the daily news seems deeper, more heart-wrenching.

Break-ups, suicides, and accidents grow around the Holiday season. Some people just try to trudge through the cocktail parties, shopping, and family gatherings. Some people stuff their feelings with greasy cocktail party food, Venti Peppermint Mochas (with Whip of course), and boozy cocktail after boozy cocktail. Some shut down completely.

I believe that this season of sensitivity is a gift. Life is more palpable, and after all the numbing that happens in this society, we can all use a little tangible feeling. I had a great teacher, Craig MacDonald, in acting school at Syracuse University. We had to do a Meisner exercise where you create an impossible task (like making a log cabin out of toothpicks with no glue or something equally absurd) under dire circumstances (if I don't make this log cabin out of toothpicks with no glue, my boyfriend will dump me). The exercise was difficult for most of us because it's hard to experience those huge, uncomfortable feelings when they're not really necessary. But something that Craig told us made a huge difference to me and my understanding of emotionality. He said, "They're just feelings."

They're just feelings. They won't kill us. And perhaps, they'll even heal us if we allow them to come through. This kind of work is often done in meditation. Instead of avoiding feelings, one sits with them, breathes into them, and literally observes them pass through, diminish, release.

If a meditation practice is not something that you feel that you can add to your To-Do List this crazy time of year, I totally understand and have another suggestion...

I have a theory of why so many people's favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. I believe that it's not the turkey, the stuffing, or the pumpkin pie. I believe that it is because we all take time leading up to that day and on that day to think of what we are thankful for. I believe that nothing makes one feel better than to express gratitude.

I encourage you to do what I have been doing as an assignment from my mentor and yoga therapist, Robert Birnberg (who can be found here.) In the morning, you write down (or at least think about) all the things you are looking forward to that day. Try to make them positive (this is going to happen rather than this isn't going to happen), concrete (make them real. Rather than, I will feel 'balanced' (which means nothing), try 'I will get everything in my inbox done today and then I will go to the gym for my favorite yoga class'), and specific (I will check Facebook 2 times today and will stay on Facebook for five minutes each time). In Sanskrit, this practice is called bhavanization. A bhavana is a visualization. Then, at the end of the day, write down all the things that you are grateful for. Do this for one solid week and see if it does not brighten your Holiday.

Seriously. If you want to be happier this Holdiay Season, do this 'work.' (It's actually quite fun).

Commit to doing it and do it.

I promise you it will help you. Pass it on to people you think could use a lift this time of year. Please let me know how it works for you. I think you'll be pleased and so much happier!



Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Practicing Discipline--Your Next Hobby!?

I read a quote recently by Natalia Rose, which basically said that discipline must be practiced like anything else. Try to sing a Mozart aria, win an Ironman triathalon, or speak another language in a day. For 99.99% of us, that's impossible. They take practice--and with practice, we improve day by day, week by week, year by year until they seem easy...or at least possible. According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of a task to really master it. It might be worth considering to apply this type of commitment and forward-thinking to the practice of discipline. That each time you make a disciplined choice toward a goal you have set for yourself, you get better at being disciplined. And maybe, eventually, it won't actually be so hard to refuse the third glass of wine or the brownie when you are already full. Worth thinking about...perhaps you can start practicing today.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My Rant Against 100-Calorie Packs

Do you remember the fat-free craze? In college, I used to eat two bagels every day, thinking that I was being super healthy because they were fat-free or low-fat! And what occurred during the fat-free phenom? Everyone got fatter. Now, of course, we know that sugar converts to fat in the body if it is not used as energy. Then we had the carb-free phase. Those diets are effective but have their own set of problems, like causing the liver to go into a state of ketosis, plummeting energy, losing brain power and focus, and the fact that when you start going on carbs again (which you will...), you gain all the weight back plus some. Thankfully, those diet crazes have died down and most nutrition experts are promoting healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, and walnuts....and healthy carbs like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Even if you go by instinct alone, you know that this is better for your health because it just makes sense. Bottom line, it's the law of thermodynamics. If you burn more energy than you ingest, you will lose fat. So now people are watching their calories--a great idea for someone who wants to lose or maintain weight. But the big food companies are capitalizing on this new healthy approach to diet and exercise by advertising 100-calorie packs of cookies, chips, and other snacks as healthy options. Nabisco's new campaign, "Diet like a Diva" is downright hilarious. Here are the ingredients in their newest product, yogurt-covered pretzels:






You tell me--would any "diva" eat this? It is NOT FOOD. It may contain 100 calories, but it also contains 4 grams of fat, 3.5 of which are saturated, 16 grams of carbohydrates, none of the fiber, and 7 grams of sugar. You will have eaten all kinds of synthetic chemicals and unhealthy fats and oils...and it will have done nothing for you nutritionally. Chances are it won't fill you up, either. But it will spike your insulin, leaving you searching for another couple 100-calorie packs or some other carb-y sugary snack.

For about 100 calories, you could have:

1 medium apple with a teaspoon of peanut butter
1/2 cup quinoa with lemon juice
1 cup celery, 1 cup carrots, 1 cup cherry tomatoes, AND a cup of cucumber
3 slices turkey lunch meat wrapped around red pepper slices
3/4 cup lowfat cottage cheese
1/2 oz dark chocolate and 7 almonds
1 cup blueberries

These--and many more--snacks will leave you satisfied for a longer time, have great nutritional value, and are real foods.

So throw out your 100-calorie packs today, and reach for something nutritionally sound.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book Recommendation

I just finished a fascinating book called The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doige, M.D. This book explains that the brain is plastic, which means that it changes. Formerly, the brain was thought of as fixed (this part of the brain does this, this part of the brain does that), but what they have discovered in the past few decades is how plastic, pliable, resourceful, and adaptable the brain can be. The book explains (in greater detail than this...) how the brain makes connections. It forms what they call 'brain maps.' These brain maps are different for every person because they are made from every experience we have. We all have similar brain maps (the brain map for the thumb is next to the pinky because that is how most of us grip something...followed by the other fingers)...but we all have different experiences/interests/hobbies, etc that individualize the mapping of our brains. It goes on to explain that 'neurons that fire together, wire together.' To explain this concept, they used the example of a sled. On first route down the hill, you can take whatever path you want. On the second route, you can choose a different route because the grooves made from the first route aren't very deep. But if you keep going down one route, it becomes very difficult to change courses. It is so with our brains. The reason I write about it in this blog, and recommend it for you, is that this book really made me change my mind about how I am treating my own brain. What routes am I taking time and again? We can literally change our brains both positively and negatively by what we are exposing ourselves to day after day. A positive mantra in the morning...a yoga practice....meditation...etc....will actually change the way our brains our mapped. On the flip side, negative thoughts....laziness...bad behavior will also re-map our brains. So this very esoteric-seeming non-fiction book takes on very real, personal implications for each of us. And that is only the tip of the iceberg of what I have learned and am thinking about after reading it. Pick yours up here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Great Quote

"We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces where regret weighs tons."

-Jim Rohn

Which one will you choose today?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


I was on the tennis team in high school and we had a wonderful coach named Mr. Ellis. He said that when you begin to lose focus on the court or you feel yourself getting down, pick a calming powerful mantra like “Water” or “Yes” and just repeat it to yourself in your head. I have found this technique extremely helpful in challenging physical activity. I most recently am using it in spin class. I have added “I can and I will” to the list. This technique can also be used in life. If you are feeling overwhelmed at work or need to calm yourself with a loved one, try it. It works.