I believe in this simple equation: You + (trusting) your body’s deepest wisdom = self-health

Watch What You Make It Mean

Several weeks ago, after two cancelled dates with a fella I very much wanted to see, I had a very rare sleepless night. I found my mind doing battle with some very old voices – gremlins who were trying to convince me that I am “not enough” to sustain this new relationship. The night was unsettling and it caught me by surprise because I have worked hard to fight those gremlins of insecurity and they had all but disappeared from view.

I had forgotten to watch what I make things mean.

The title of this post is a phrase I picked up at a workshop and it has become a mantra that grounds me. It is a reminder that the meaning I assign to every single event in my life is an individual choice that I make. Meaning lies in that intersection between “truth” and “story” and once chosen is filed away as a memory. I often joke that I have the memory of a gnat. I readily admit that I really am not good at remembering the details of events, the punch lines to jokes, the plots to books I have read or movies I have seen or who said what to whom. What I do remember are impressions and feelings for all of those things. I store in my body the way that I feel when I meet someone rather than the specifics of what they said that they did for a living.

I was at a dinner party recently where the conversation turned to this idea that someday, we may be able to record and replay all of the moments of our life. We could always go back and use those recordings as evidence of what “really” happened.

Most would probably assume that I would be all on board for a technology that would allow me to remember everything in high definition but instead I was disturbed by the idea. I don’t believe that we are built for that level of total recall. Memory’s edges are soft and imperfect. There are studies that show that different people who witness the exact same event will each recall it differently. Siblings who grow up in the same house can have vastly different memories of childhood. The events are seen through their particular lens of history. Memories become the stories that we tell ourselves about life and about love and about our very existence.

We often unconsciously project on to others a “story” that is filtered through our lens of history, through our past heartaches and let downs.

We manage to miss seeing the present for what it is, the opportunity to tell new tales.

When something or someone joyful comes into our life how often do we miss that things are good because we become trapped in, what Dr. Brene Brown refers to as, a perpetual state of disappointment – that place where our gremlins gain a foothold as we jump to the bleakest worst-case scenario? This can often happen when a moment is so overflowing with joy that the vulnerability that is required to embrace it scares us.

Fear actually tries to convince us that it is easier to live waiting for disappointment, to live waiting for the other shoe to drop than it is to live the joy of the moment.

Since my long night of battling gremlins, I am back to the idea of watching what I make things mean.

I have gotten myself back to the idea that I am the author and I can choose to write my story as seen through fresh eyes rather than the lens of my past relationship history.

Those two missed connections were about bad timing and understandable circumstances and they were not a covert sign telling me that I am not enough.  I am choosing to tell myself the version of my story that empowers and uplifts me and that leaves plenty of room for being happy. I am choosing to see the joy and to sit in it as my tender heart continues to open and my arms widen to actively embrace my life.

Sleepy Time

Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.  ~Thomas Dekker

We live in a go, go, go society. Everything has sped up and the options of things to do has really exploded since I was a kid, yet the number of hours in a day remains the same. So it makes sense that we often don’t sleep long enough or soundly enough most nights but

did you realize that getting too little sleep can actually cause major health issues?

Recently, I read an article about how getting too little sleep can cause significant issues in your body. The line that got my full attention talked about how a recent study found that four nights of sleep deprivation was “the equivalent of metabolically aging someone 10 to 20 years.” It went on to say “fat cells need sleep, and when they don’t get enough sleep, they become metabolically groggy,” meaning that the cells do their job much more sluggishly, leading to obesity and an increased risk of type II diabetes.

Now, I suspect that not many of us really need a scientific study to tell us that sleep is important to overall health and well-being yet how often do we skimp on the amount sleep we give our bodies each night? As a health coach, I am often asked about how someone begins to reverse this chronic lack of sleep pattern.

One place to begin is by keeping a regular sleep/wake up schedule (yes, including the weekend). Your body loves predictability and she can easily adapt to any schedule if it can be applied consistently seven days a week. Decide on a regular bed time (about eight hours before you would like to get up) and go to bed at that same time each night. In the beginning, it will be a challenge so try to go to bed a bit earlier every night for certain period until your reach your new “bed time.” This will ease you into the new schedule and help ensure that you’re getting enough sleep on a nightly basis. In the morning, get yourself out of bed at the same time each day. This will help to reset your body’s internal clock and will allow a new pattern to be created.

When you do go to bed, allow your bedroom to be the place where you sleep. That means eliminating distractions that stimulate your mind like watching television or surfing the web. Read a book, listen to soothing music or jot down what you are grateful for as a way to signal to your body and your mind that you are winding down and preparing for sleep. Also, minimize the noise, light and excessive hot and cold temperatures where you sleep and keep any other stimulus in that space to a bare minimum.

Another thing that you can do to prepare you body to get a good night’s sleep is to not drink or eat caffeine four to six hours before bed and minimize daytime intake. Did you know that the half-life of caffeine in your body is about six hours? That means that if you have a big cup of coffee around 3:00pm, at 9:00pm half of the caffeine from that coffee is still coursing though your body. You may be able to get to sleep but that remaining caffeine in your system will keep your body from dropping into the deeper levels of sleep, missing out on some of the benefits of deep sleep. Then you wake up not feeling alert and alive but groggy and tired… which leads to the “need” for caffeine throughout the day and the cycle continues day after day after day.

Yes, there is lots to do, to watch, to read, to consume in this go, go, go world but you have only one beautiful body and she needs you to help her get the rest she needs to live your very best life.

Why not love yourself that well and become protective of the amount of sleep that you get?

More than anyone, you are worth it.

 

Befriend Your Cravings

Your body is simply amazing. She is an amazing source of intelligence, always there for you, pumping blood, never skipping a heartbeat, breathing in and out without thought, digesting whatever food you put in her and maintaining balance as best as she can.

But why then, you may ask, do you crave certain things? Are cravings due to your lack of will-power or discipline? Is this reliable, beautiful, intelligent bio-computer making a mistake by craving ice cream or a hamburger or cupcakes?

No actually she isn’t and I’d like to suggest that cravings are not a problem. They are instead key pieces of information that tell you what your body needs in any given moment.

We have all been there, our minds whispering, and then pushing and finally shouting for that thing, perhaps something sweet or salty and usually not terribly healthy. The dictionary defines a craving as an intense, urgent, or abnormal desire or longing. I agree that it can be intense and feel urgent but isn’t abnormal. It is natural, it is normal and it doesn’t mean anything is “wrong” with you because you have a craving.

The important thing is to understand why you crave what you crave.

Perhaps your diet is too restrictive or devoid of essential nutrients. Perhaps you are living a lifestyle that is too boring or stressful.

Your body tries to correct the imbalance by sending you a message in the form of a craving. It’s your her way of getting your attention.

For example, a craving for something sweet could mean you need more protein, or more exercise, or more water or more “sweetness” in the form of love in your life. Craving sugar is as natural as our desire for air. Long before the readily available processed forms of sweets, our bodies had been programmed, though evolution, to long for sweet-tasting food. Back then the only source of sweet tastes came from plant foods like fruit, squash, root vegetables and grains and it was no coincidence because these foods are great sources of nutrients, energy and fiber, the things that your body needs.

The key to stopping the sugar craving, or any craving, is to take the time to be curious about it and then give your body what she really needs.

There are tons of books and theories that can tell you what to eat but none can give you the awareness of your body and her needs. Of all the relationships in your life, the one with your body is the most essential. It takes patience, communication, love and time to cultivate and build that relationship with your body. As you learn to decipher and respond to your body’s cravings, you will create a deeper and lasting level of health, balance and well being.

So, the next time you have a craving, treat it as a loving message from your body instead of as a weakness. Before you reach for what you think she wants, try one of these first:

  • Ask yourself, what is out of balance in your life? Is there something you need to express, or is something being repressed? What happened in your life just before you had this craving?
  • Have a glass of water and wait 10 minutes.
  • Eat a healthier version of what you crave. For example, if you crave sweets, try eating more fruit and sweet or root vegetables.
  • If you find that you still want that thing that you want, when you eat the food you are craving, slow down and enjoy it, taste it, savor it; notice its effect on your body and on your mood. With this slowing down you will become more aware and free to decide if you really want it next time.

Shame? On Me?

A couple of week ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Brene Brown, the shame and vulnerability researcher, give a brief talk on the tour for her New York Times bestselling book, Daring Greatly. She is a dynamic and soulful speaker that is completely accessible both as a speaker and as a writer. I believe in the universality of her work so much that I gift her last book, The Gifts of Imperfection, to all of my health coaching clients.

(In case you have never heard Brene Brown speak, start with her TED talks here and here.)

I left the talk completely inspired, literally buzzing from the insights that she was sharing, thrilled to have some idea on what was in store for me as I continued to dive in to her new book. I was so caught up in the moment that I did not realize that diving into her work is just like diving into the deep end of the pool.

Two weeks later, I find myself only about half of the way in because I have to take it slowly and come up for air when I need. I have found my breath short and ragged after consuming passages that resonate so deeply that they touch the vein of shame long since buried and forgotten inside me.

She writes “the primary trigger for women, in terms of its power and universality, is the first one, how we look. Still. After all of the consciousness-raising, and critical awareness, we still feel the most shame about not being thin, young and beautiful enough.”

She goes on to say “… motherhood is a close second. And (bonus) you don’t have to be a mother to experience mother shame. Society views womanhood and motherhood as inextricably bound: therefore our value as women is often determined by where we are in relation to our roles as mothers or potential mothers.”

Oh sh*t!

She talks about these competing and conflicting expectations that I have carried with me for as long as I can remember.

“Be perfect, but don’t make a fuss about it.”

“If you’re really good, perfection should be easy.”

“Just be yourself, but not if it means being shy or unsure.”

“Don’t get too emotional, but don’t be too detached either.”

As I am reading I am reminded over and over again that to be human is such a tender thing. Even though it is something that we are all experiencing, this humanness, it is something that we use to separate from one another. We forget that we are not alone in our most tender feelings and the key to combating the shame and alone-ness is to be open and be vulnerable.

Last week, one of the most creative people I know, Vivienne, opened her arms widely and shared her truth about the evolution of her relationship with her body using her camera lens. She wrote about the bullying that we do of ourselves. My last post, was about a heart breaking moment of self-bully that I witnessed and it asked you to begin to notice how you speak to and about yourself. So much of the work that I do with my clients is around changing the conversation that we are having with our bodies. You can lose weight on the latest diet and you can push yourselves but if the words that you are saying when you catch an unguarded glimpse of yourself don’t change, eventually you will find yourself right back where you started.

So I invite you to become curious about how you treat you. I invite you to reach out for support in changing the most important relationship you will ever have, the one you have with your body.

Whether it is reading the work of Brene Brown, or taking a self-portrait class with Vivienne, or working with me as your health coach and companion on the road toward health and wellness, begin your work, dive in only as deeply as feels right in the moment but do it, do it now because you are worth it.

 

Like an Elephant

A few mornings ago I was in my yoga class. The same yoga class that I have taken twice a week for over 10 years. I was standing next to one of my yoga friends, a woman that I have sat next to in this class, twice a week, for as long as I can remember.  She often volunteers to get you a strap or block if she see you (or anyone else) is in need, and she is the one who most likely will cover you with a blanket during savasana. She is the one who invites others to have breakfast after class and who asks about vacation induced absences and who lends you tons of material on Italy because she knows that is where you are headed next. She is simply lovely.

So she and I were standing side by side during class last week. Everyone was lined up on one side of the room to use the ballet bar as a prop. We had been there most of class, working up to doing this pose that asked us to be in this upside down L position, palms planted on the ground and the balls of our feet pressed against the ballet bar. We did this pose three times and after each time we would gingerly place one foot and then the other back upon the earth, staying in a forward bend to avoid a head rush. After the first or second time, my lovely  yoga friend said that she felt like a cat coming out of the pose. As I eagerly agreed, (it did remind me of the careful and measured steps that cats do when they are feeling unsure) she then said, as opposed to how I feel like an elephant most of the time.

Upside down, palms flat, blood pooled in my brain, my heart broke a bit.

In the moment, in that awkward position, I wanted to wrap my arms around her and tell her all of the ways that she is a radiant being and as the moment passed and as we slipped into savasana, her off the cuff words just reverberated in my being. It was one of those self deprecating jokes made in passing and in all honesty, I don’t know if that is genuinely how she feels in her body. What I do know, and what really resonates with me, is the way that we can use bad mouthing our bodies as a way to connect with each other.  Strangely, it can serve as some sort of badge of honor to berate and belittle our imperfect and beautiful bodies, to preemptively insult the very home we were born into.

So for today, notice how you speak to and about yourself while you are alone or in the company of others.

If the words that you hear are not words that you would say about a cherished friend, why say them about yourself? Of course this habit won’t change after just one day but it will begin to shift with gentle awareness, so for today try celebrating your imperfections and if celebrating your flaws feels too hard, why not at least acknowledge them as a completely unique (and dare I say beautiful) part of who you are.