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Go on, make a date with yourself

1 Jul

“Curving back within myself I create again and again.” ~ The Bhagavad Gita

“Sometimes you gotta have a conversation with yourself.”  Or, so a co-worker told  me the other day.  Actually, it was her grandmother who first gave her this advice.  Although I’ve never actually called it that, I probably couldn’t agree with grandma more. In almost everything we do in life, we often don’t have sufficient time to pause and reflect on our choices, our desires or our dreams.  Sometimes we find that we are simply “doing” things and we don’t even know why.

While I think it’s generally unhealthy to believe that we can turn infinitely inward to find answers, there is certainly power derived from being with oneself.  I love running and yoga so dearly because they bring me great pause.  As my joint passions, they are both activities that remind me that I frequently have more answers and more strength than I think.

When we build connections within ourselves, we can find the strength to create, to hope, to accept and to push harder in all things, whether they be physical or mental.

Sometimes our usual routine to workout or unwind ceases to be sufficient and stops providing us with the solace we need for thought and introspection. I’ve been feeling that way recently.  It’s like I haven’t been able to connect with what’s really going on…with me.

Given the fact my sick days are limited, I was able to get away for some quality “me” time this Saturday when I  headed to the Hudson for a kayaking trip. A few hours on the cool waters did the trick.  Kayaking is something I don’t get to do all that often, so it really broke down the doldrums of my usual weekend workout routine. While physically strenuous, it’s not murderously hard (as is something like crossfit) thus paving the perfect path for some steady contemplation. And, I’ve got to tell you, it was amazing.

The glorious Hudson River Valley. The perfect remedy for my rut.

A view of the glorious Hudson River Valley as seen from my kayak. The perfect remedy for my rut.

Something about the magic of the Hudson brings out the poet in me. As the waters churned beneath my oars, I couldn’t help but feel the words of Walt Whitman come to mind:

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”

So now, I challenge each of you, to take time, as my co-worker mentioned, to simply be.  To exist with yourself. To be alone with your inner voice. To come to complete stillness, like a compass settling on a smooth surface, and find your inner north. While others are inevitably a part of our daily lives, being alone is often equally as important. Do whatever moves you to happiness, to thought, to purpose.

I promise, you will not let yourself down.

Finding Hope in Hotel Rooms and Other Unfortunate Places

24 May

I believe in my previous post I mentioned that Whole Foods is the place where my money goes to die.  Well, in a more intangible sense, business conventions are, in my opinion, the place where hope goes to expire.  As much as conference organizers try to jazz up that fact their event will be held in a lovely place, they will always find a way to sequester you in some room where the air conditioner blows too much, the lights dim too low and your internal clock goes slightly bonkers as it loses track of time. The business conference is a place where one can only dream of finding sustenance beyond coffee and cocktails. It is the place where disorientation and dehydration prevail. It is not a runner’s paradise.

Last week, I had the privilege, or, perhaps the misfortune of driving down to the ends of earth (also known as Atlantic City) for a conference. While this may excite some, I instantly began to plot my escape in the form of a morning run. As I don’t like to run alone in new or potentially unsafe places, I began hitting up fellow convention-goers to see if anyone out there wanted to team up for a run in the morning….Alas, I found no takers.

The lecture days proved long and the breaks were short. After each session finished, I’d aimlessly find my way to the casino/conference area exit, desperately searching for indications as to the time of day. Like Robinson Crusoe heading toward the promised land, I pushed past the automatic glass doors, escaping into sunlight with dribs of cigar smoke still emanating from my suit.

Although I was unsuccessful in finding a running mate. I decided not to languish in a caffeine and cocktail induced stupor and neither should any of you when confronted with your next job-related travel venture.  If anyone out there has a busy business trip coming up, here’s a plan for working in a little extra exercise:

1.   PLANK it up…seriously, who doesn’t love dropping just for a little while. Hold it up for about a minute with your hips lifting and arms strong. For a little extra variation if you’re not feeling tired, alternate between the hands and the elbows. I have yet to develop the courage to be video-taped while doing any of these exercises but until I do, you can view a great demo of what I’m talking about here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5JUPHxHXhA

2. Hindu Squats: Yes, I said it and it sounds totally silly, but in my humble opinion these are more fun than regular squats and seem to give you a quicker burn in a shorter period of time. Once again, I am not yet prepared to be the demo queen, but I did scour youtube for a worthwhile video. Basically, there is a lot of crap out there when it comes to Hindu squats. Most people on the internet are not doing them correctly. This video is great because the guy actually knows what’s up. Please, don’t mind the dog that crosses the screen at one point : ) You can see this work of cinematographic genius here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2O4MwQBZ-DY

Do several reps, or whatever your time permits.

3.  Side plank! Hang out on each side for a few. Or, if this is too easy for you and you’d like to kick it up a notch, then opt for side plank push ups. Again, here is a video with a quick demo (I love her accent and crazy scary tight abs). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wa5Li3edwl4&feature=player_detailpage

4. Chair pose and/or twisted chair pose.  Ahhh, utkatasana!

5. I recommend coming through a vinyasa (dog to plank to ground to cobra then back to dog) then lunging into Warrior II and then, from there, folding into revolved triangle.

6. If this still hasn’t done it for you and you either have more time or energy, I recommend some yogi windmills and yoga jacks. Try a set of 25 then see how you feel! (p.s. if you watch this video, I am sure it will make you laugh…further, I am not sure if the user who posed it just thought it was too ridiculous to be true and posted it for a larf or shared it in the hope that others would truly like it. Either way, I am sure it will serve one of these purposes for you).

If you aren’t feeling a workout and instead just feel stressed out by all the extra socialization that goes on during large gatherings, I recommend sneaking off for a break and taking advantage of that big hotel bed (which is usually up against a nice big wall) and doing some good old feet up the wall.

Also, if you know that these trips drain you, plan to bring your own hydration and aromatherapy (I recommend pure lavender oil from aura cacia).  Although I’ll admit the carrying of all these liquids is much easier if you aren’t flying, of course. On this trip, since I drove, I came all stocked up with homemade coconut water chia drink (a great recipe recommended by the author of another great blog), some GT’s Kombucha (I am obsessed) and this f***ing awesome tumeric drink I just discovered. It’s expensive but it was spicy, delicious and I felt like it was giving my liver a bath after a night of wine.  I was so fascinated by this seasoned elixi that I am sharing the company story here: http://vimeo.com/laurabrooks/tumericalive

Above all else on a business trip, take time at the end to enjoy and explore something new and off the reservation so-to-speak. On this trip, my fiancé and I escaped the conference center for a visit to New Jersey’s tallest standing lighthouse. Complete with over 200 stairs!

Inside the lighthouse, preparing for the ascent.

Inside the lighthouse, preparing for the ascent.

Even if you can’t break away for an excursion or even a workout, certainly there may be at least one morning sunrise or one evening sunset worth your time. Regardless of how much of a spirit sapping vacuum conferences can be, stick it to ’em and prove that you’ve got to play a little even if you’re supposed to be doing work.

Sunrise over the strip (the Atlantic City Strip, that is). Time: about 5:15AM.

Sunrise over the strip (the Atlantic City Strip, that is). Time: about 5:15AM.

Until next time, namaste.

Spring into Change and Challenge Your Perspective

3 Apr

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Hello and please allow me to reintroduce myself. I feel I’ve failed you in not delivering a more constant stream of posts. Now I am back and hopefully, it’s for good. It’s officially springtime…actually, spring began on March 20, 2013, the date of the vernal equinox. I’m going to get a little philosophical here before I get down to business, but even when it doesn’t feel like it outside, springtime has always been an important state of mind. Ever since I was a little kid, the disintegration of winter served as such a powerful sign of hope. In the Judeo-Christian faiths, we celebrate important miracles and remember that as humans we are deeply connected not only to the earth but, possibly, to something beyond it.

Through my yoga practice, I feel my beliefs in this life force have strengthened and, although sometimes it’s a great struggle, have helped to open my mind and body to change. For me, the month of March marked a time period during which I took time off from work to reconnect to the things I love, to travel and reflect. During these last few months, I’ve been consumed with one professional endeavor after another. It gets to be really draining. Which is why, when I was presented with the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia, I jumped on it. The trip was a drain on my savings, but it was well worth every cent. Traveling, especially to far off places is a challenge as much as it is a blessing. But challenges are good, right? I want to avoid sounding terribly cliché, but I truly believe that taking time away from anything in your life that has become easy or part of a routine is a good thing.

In yoga we always talk about inversions about being a physical way to change your perspective. I don’t have the sources for you right now, but studies have been done (or so asserts my favorite yoga teacher) that holding a head or handstand can actually lift your mood because it changes your perspective. Handstands are challenging. But why? Because they demand all your focus and energy. When you travel or embark on a new activity you are challenged. The doldrums of your routine evaporate and the brain is totally transfixed and consumed. You are transported to a new place and time where everything feels…and, is, possible.

In celebration of spring, I invite all of my readers to try something challenging. You will likely find that a good challenge will get you going in the gym and may provide fire to improve your performance during your regular workout routine. If you’re stuck, here are some ways I’ve thought of recommending challenges for people in my life who seem very afraid to take them (p.s. I don’t give out larger life advice here, I just try to inspire you physically and boost your sense of adventure… don’t expect any business tips from me):

  • Sign up for a race – so many people I know seem to be terrified of participating in a competitive running or other athletic event and I have no idea why. When you have a goal in mind, you’ll be tempted to push yourself harder in anticipation of the big event and the payoff will seem even sweeter.
  • Get outside – check out Map My Hike and hit the trials. Do I even need to enumerate the benefits of getting some sunlight?  http://www.mapmyhike.com/
  • Stop saying you don’t have the skills – one friend I have finds a reason not to attend any new fitness classes ever because she insists she is simply “not good at (insert activity name here)”
  • Take a class – after sitting for the bar exam, I felt totally bereft and couldn’t quite figure out what to do with my aching mind. I skimmed my town’s community school catalogue and found an amazingly cheap bi-weekly Chinese class was being offered for three months…sure, I still can’t speak lick of Mandarin but it was…you guessed it…a challenge.
  • Volunteer – seriously, you must have some skill you could teach a child at your local Boys and Girls club. Or, maybe you could sort cans once a weekend at a food pantry. I hate the word charity as it implies an activity that is only done by the most benevolent people. Volunteering is something I believe we all have a civic duty to undertake. Humans helping other humans is empowering. After all we are all inexorably linked to one another and it’s important to remember.
  • Start planning your next escape – even if you don’t have the cash to get away this minute, making a plan to do so can give you something to look forward to. If you’ve got the time and resources, why not get out of your comfort zone (within reason) and see a part of the world you’ve never seen before.

So, what are you waiting for? What will you do this spring?

I hope it’s something you enjoy.

I leave you with a photograph from my trip to Lalibela, an ancient site of Christian pilgrimage and a place that moved me deeply…both spiritually and physically as I scaled the rocky climb down into its churches and up again into the mountains above.

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: )

No Rest for the Weary

19 Mar

Of the many things I’d like to add to my repertoire, “failed blogger” is not one of them. Having said this, I know it’s been radio silence from me for about three weeks…eek! My excuse for falling off the face of the earth: an amazing trip to Ethiopia.

Okay, so I know, you’re out there going: this is a workout blog and now you’re going to tell be about your silly trip. What about all those fun fitness tips you promised? In answer to that, at present, I have none. For starters, I’m just getting back into the swing of things now as a result of the worst possible case of jet lag I’ve ever experienced. After traveling from Ethiopia, to Germany, to Newark all in the span of a 30 hour window (and then went to work the following day), let’s just say I had one of those weeks where I couldn’t decide if my alarm clock was ringing to wake me up or was a ringing sound in my dream. I partially blame this sense of confusion on having watched Cloud Atlas at varied intervals during one of my 8 hour flights.

My malaise culminated last Thursday when I discovered it is, in fact, possible to fall asleep while standing up and talking to someone…even when that person is your boss. I was so ridiculously tired that not even through vigorously pinching myself could I keep my eyeballs from rolling back into their sockets during an office meeting.

Even on Friday, when I thought I’d surpassed invalid status, I made the mistake of taking one of my malaria pills on an empty stomach (washed down with some coffee) and found myself heading for the hills (if you catch my drift) within 10 minutes of a casual jog.

So, in essence I have failed at working out or trying any new athletic feats of any kind since my return from the African continent…until today when, at around 9PM I cranked out the most pathetic tread mill-based 5k ever. Successfully in line with my PR as a 10 year old who was disinterested in sports, I barely slipped below a 9 minute 30 second mile. I was really hoofing it on the tread mill, too. Or, at least it felt that way. Miserable in theory but at least I enjoyed zoning out to some good tunes (cue clichéd conversation about endorphins here).

But I guess the point here, and perhaps the larger lesson for everyone out there is that impossibility is just a state of mind. You need not have just returned from an exhausting trans-Atlantic journey. Exhaustion, boredom and the feeling that it doesn’t make a difference if you never do anything active again is a sensation that can set in at any time. The important thing is what you do with those feelings and whether you push yourself to get beyond it that matters. Once you take the first step to overcome a personal hurdle, you pave the way for yourself mentally so that your brain is able to tell your body you’ve done it before and can do it again.

Okay, so I’ll get off my soapbox now. If you’re on the East Coast and are snowed in tonight or have a delayed start tomorrow morning and are looking for something fun to do while housebound, here’s a great way to spice up your yoga routine with some weight training. This actually looks like fun. I’ll be trying it out…if I get up in time tomorrow!

http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/2837

 

Trying to Work-Out/Pre-Flight Freak Out

27 Feb

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Today’s post will be quick, I promise. Staying true my adventurous spirit and complete inability to sign up for any activity that resembles relaxation, I’ve decided to spend my spring vacation in Africa…and I take-off on Friday. The scene depicted above is just a fraction of what my bedroom floor looked like moments ago as I am scrambling to make an assessment of my American-made pharmaceuticals pre-departure.  I leave for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in just about two days. Ahhh! (more reflections on this tomorrow, when presumably, I may, or may not have more time).

While in Addis and other parts of Ethiopia, I hope to keep a travel diary of everything I see and the people I meet. I’ll be traveling with a group from my undergraduate program. I’ll have the chance to visit beautiful Gondar, Axum and Lalibella.  In addition, we’ll be meeting with local government officials, NGOs and delegates to the African Union which sits in Ethiopia’s capital. Last summer I had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Region which was an amazing experience…and I should really know by know that preparing for a trip like this requires more than a hot second of packing…but alas, I was too BUSY to do so sooner.

While I am really excited about this new adventure, I am always stricken with a little pre-departure anxiety. To beat the heat, I decided to walk away from my litter-strewn room, busted out some free weights and engaged in the following:

1.) one set of 15 squats while holding 10 lb. free weights

2.) one set of mountain-climbers (about 20 foot shifts)

3.) another set of 15 squats

4.) another set of mountain climbers

5.) 2 minutes of crunches

6.) another set of 15 squats

7.) another set of mountain climbers

8.) 2 minutes of crunches

9.) forearm plank pose held until I felt a burn and then thirty seconds thereafter

10.) a set of 10 push-ups

11.)  a down dog vinyasa (through to plank, chaturanga-which I held for 10), then to cobra and folded to child’s pose

To calm my nerves before I returned to packing, I engaged some alternate nostril breathing. Much like the magic hand rub (which I featured yesterday) this breathing technique works like a charm to center and cool your nerves. If you’re interested in reading about alternate nostril breathing, I’ve got a great link. If you’d rather just see it in action, I liked this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxEqooqgCEs 

Ahhh! Okay, now back to my giant pre-trip mess.