While I am traveling, I am reflecting on wellness practices that I use during my trips (anything lasting longer than about 3 days). In situations where you will be navigating time changes, or spending time on trains, where there is some schedule uncertainty, it may be wise to pack some snacks.
I am not opposed to some “trip fasting” when you don’t get to eat a meal at the usual time. We all carry more than adequate stores of fat on our bodies (at least most of the Western World) that we can survive many days (indeed weeks) without food.
However, given the uncertainty of meals and the fact that many train stations and cafes are stocked with carbs and sugar or foods likely fried in trans fats, I like to have healthy alternatives stashed in my backpack. I like mixed nuts because they pack a lot of nutritional value in a fairly small space. I am not a perfect minimalist when it comes to travel, but they take very little space. A small handful of nuts can go a long way when you’ve missed lunch and are on a delayed train. My hubby notices that I can get a little “hangry” when it has been 5+ hours since I’ve had a good meal.
This is less urgent in recent years since I’ve typically fasted overnight for 12-14 hours, and one day a week I fast for 16-18 hours by skipping breakfast on Saturdays when I attend morning yoga. My body has become sufficiently “keto adapted” that I do not typically have any problems with low blood sugar. However, it is the mental game sometimes, not the physical one, that can get us into trouble.
When traveling, your mind can be taxed to capacity, particularly if you are unfamiliar with an area. You have been calculating currency conversions in your head. Your train is late, so you missed the connection. Your wi-fi isn’t working on the train and you are running out of clean laundry.
Any of these circumstances are fairly benign. But added up, they can make you feel fatigued and cranky. So you do not need to add to the problem by yelling at your spouse or allowing your tension to boil over. Even if I never access my snacks on a typical travel day, just knowing they are there helps me avoid “famine brain,” which can stress me out unnecessarily.
Sometimes hunger is true and physical. It is best to wait for this physical signal in order to eat, if we do not want to add extra weight. Sometimes our hunger is actually more of a emotional issue. We may hunger for rest, or connection with our partners. Eating is the solution in these cases. However, for me, my primitive brain seems to do better when it does not have to work overtime to solve any scarcities.
Do you pack food for travel? What are your favorite trip snacks?
Happy Wednesday! It is time to focus on wellness and I shall return to a topic near and dear to my heart – sleep!
I started listening to a course recently on Insight Timer by Jennifer Piercy called “Your Guide to Deeper Sleep.” I really like how she describes sleep as a “cooling” of the inflammation in our body and brain. Getting good sleep is fundamental to healing and vitality in our lives. More research is being published all the time showing lack of sleep is connected to conditions such as diabetes.
I have struggled with insomnia in the past periodically. I am getting better in that regard but every now and then, typically in response to stress, I do struggle to get my zz’s. When that happens I know I need to cut back on my caffeine and/or cut back on my media consumption, which tends to churn the brain. I also find that I need to avoid any “weighty” topics of discussion just before bed.
Sleep amounts can vary naturally based on the season, and we typically expect to get slightly less during months where we have more sunlight. I have embraced the idea of early sleep on winter nights, snuggling with a book before bedtime and making sure my devices are powered down at least an hour before lights out. I actually have an alarm that goes off before bedtime to remind me to wind down, in case I am too absorbed in an activity to realize it is time.
Yoga nidra is a practice I have recently discovered which can help me drop off into deeper sleep. I have used some guided meditations in order to let go of tension in the body and allow for mindful relaxation.
On the days after I sleep a nice, juicy 8-9 hours I notice that I have more consistent energy all day. I make decisions faster and with less agonizing. It also has an added benefit of allowing for greater weight loss as it reduces cortisol levels int he body. Who knew you could rest more AND take off extra weight?!?
The most important factor in getting restful sleep seems to be a good wind-down routine at night. Ariana Huffington explains her book The Sleep Revolution that she has a ritual of taking a bath or shower, escorting her devices outside the bedroom, and perhaps using lavender to create an atmosphere of relaxation.
Jennifer Piercy challenges the notion that when we nap, we compromise the quality of our sleep at night. Sleep has been domesticated in the service of “industrial life” and policed with an alarm clock (summary of quote). Dr. Sarah Mednick’s book Take a Nap! Change Your Life helps us understand that our state of being overtired can make us to wired to fall asleep effectively. So napping can be almost a “dress rehearsal” for sleep.
So, if you have the flexibility in your schedule to take a rest in the afternoon, consider a nap rather than fighting your post-lunch sleepiness. This multi-phasic sleep is actually quite natural, so embrace your body’s call to rest when you feel tired, especially between 1-3 p.m, when it could be especially nourishing.
When we treat sleep as a treasured event rather than a drag, we are more likely to enjoy the process and settle in a little deeper. We dream more when we sleep deeply, as it happens, and that can be an adventure as well.
What are your favorite sleep rituals? Do you make sure to get adequate rest every night? How often do you nap?
Today I want to focus on a practice that has been immensely helpful to me, especially in the midst of the chaos that surrounds us these days.
This is the process of centering in my body, feeling my whole self grounded on the earth physically. I experience this practice of centering through yoga and meditation. I start by closing my eyes and focusing for a minute or two on the breath. I just observe and notice the breath for a bit, the length of the inhales and exhales. I begin to feel it as it travels into the abdomen and chest and as it flows out of the nostrils.
My mind calms down a bit, and then I focus on my feet to begin. I notice what my feet are connected to: the floor, my legs, possibly clothing or a blanket. I move up to the calves, noticing everything they are in contact with, and then move up to the knees, thighs.
I notice the torso, the center of the body, work my way through my chest, down each of my arms, my hands. I move upward through the shoulders and neck and finally through the center of the head, the space behind the eyes and the crown of the head.
The process can take as little as 6-7 minutes, or I can prolong it a bit and focus for longer in each area. While sitting in yin yoga I am able to do this while in a long hold for a pose, noticing some slight discomfort if there is some fascia that is tight. I am able to “zoom in” on a sensation and then possibly “zoom out” to the whole body. I might do this zoom in and zoom out a couple of times during a hold.
All the while I take note of what is happening in my mind. It’s not as though the mind stays quiet during this process. People sometimes think meditation is about clearing the mind. Really it can be about noticing what is going on there. Thoughts arise, and with them, feelings vibrate through the body. There is no shame or judgment toward these thoughts, just a mild curiosity.
By repeatedly coming back to the body, feeling where we are, centering our awareness on what is within, we gain stability and wisdom. It can be a miraculous sort of discovery, this centering practice. I find that, now that I have practiced in silence and stillness, I can also find my center when the environment is a bit more chaotic.
I have learned to find my center in airports, during stressful meetings, and in conversations when I notice that I am holding my breath rather than breathing fully. I bring my awareness into my center and might notice I am holding tightness in my shoulders or in my gut. I breathe more deeply a couple of times, and try to relax those tight areas, becoming conscious of what thoughts are running through my head.
By centering my body, I access wisdom that typically used to be “walled off” from my mind. I bring my heart in line with my brain, and with my gut. I access intuitive abilities that once were more elusive to me. I make decisions from a place of greater ease. I know to ask certain questions in conversations.
People sometimes look at me with surprise, wondering how I have “guessed” their intentions, even though they may be different from the words they use. Truly it feels like a super-power, when used with love and compassion. When I stay aligned with my center, everything flows better. I am able to pay close attention to what my body needs, and adjust accordingly.
While I am no expert, I encourage you to try this out, whether through a guided meditation on Insight Timer, or in a hatha or yin yoga class. If you have experience with this, I would love to hear more about it as well.
I have recently taken on some new challenges, started learning some new things.
Dance! – I made a pledge to myself back in January, took a foundations class, and then I also followed on with another Zumba class. I will do more of this, especially now that my schedule will be more flexible for the next couple of months.
Massage – My massage therapist gave me a 90-minute lesson on how to give a massage to my hubby. I’ve been wanting to learn, and to have a non-sexual way to connect through physical touch. I wanted to learn how to properly do this without giving myself carpal tunnel or hurting my back over the massage table.
Motorcycling – I took an intro class to ‘Cycling and Scootering. I did a lot better than I thought for only a 4-hour class. I am now more motivated to study for my permit and take the longer “Basic Rider Course” sometime in August or September.
What do these three activities have in common? All of the teachers spoke of the practices as building up “muscle memory” over time in order to make certain parts automatic. While learning new skills, we often have to think and focus intensely. This is all new and our minds and bodies need to make the connections necessary to master the skills. Then they take practice, repetition and time in order to build up the muscle memory that allows for less conscious effort, a more fluid and easy feel.
I started considering the muscle memory that drives many of our daily habits. Have you ever gone out to do an errand and ended up driving somewhere automatically even though you did not consciously want to go there? Your mind was somewhere else, but your body knew where you usually go (work, the grocery store, etc).
I thought about the muscle memory of playing the flute (started in middle school) or the saxophone (started in high school). My teacher told me that it was a good thing I started on the flute and then moved to saxophone because the movements are more precise and delicate. Apparently it is more difficult to go the other way. Hours and hours of practice on the flute helped me “convert” the muscle memory of the similar fingerings on the saxophone.
When we embark on a new chapter in our lives, there is no muscle memory yet for how to do our daily work. We need to suspend judgement and be kind to ourselves while we are learning. All of our efforts are part of the feedback loop of mastery, even if they fail, even if we shift too quickly and cut the engine while not allowing enough throttle to create momentum.
There are ways to visualize and help to create muscle memory even more quickly. One motorcycle instructor told us that even practicing our hand and foot motions in the evening for 10 minutes while sitting in a chair watching t.v. could help us master the skill more quickly. The memory is formed not just in our muscles, but with the help of our brain, and this is what world-class athletes do before their routines.
As I visualize my next chapter, I associate feelings of ease and excitement. I see myself learning new things, and having my back, giving myself encouragement if I make mistakes. I build up these muscle memories and know that in time, the practice pays off, and the learning accumulates. Confidence increases, and satisfaction as well.
What kinds of muscle memory do you access regularly?
This post is a re-blog of an original I wrote in December, 2017, with some editing. On Thursdays I aim to review and edit some previously shared content to give myself more practice on the editing side. Thanks for your patience as I build my skills and allow myself to re-examine some favorite themes.
After my peaceful and grateful post yesterday, I dove into a few blogs based on some recommendations by WordPress. I read about women as superheroes, and encountered some powerful writing about racism and privilege in America. It hit me pretty hard, but the point landed, this idea that white people of this country built their foundation on treating black people as sub-human.
It is difficult to talk about this, to acknowledge it and to understand what it is like to be cast as the “other” when we are part of the dominant culture. As a pale Latina, I pass as white every day. And yet, part of me strongly identifies with this Otherness. When Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in July 2016, I was in shock. This is not supposed to happen here, I thought.
But it happens everywhere. People are mistreated merely because of their darker skin or for their gender. Assumptions are made, and are reinforced. Political campaigns barely veil their “dog whistles” that appeal to the base, racist beliefs of their base.
There is a powerful dialogue from On Being with Krista Tippet, with Junot Diaz that keeps coming back to me on Radical Hope. One passage that keeps coming back to me as an empowering framework for re-considering how we view the body.
“I would remind us that, coming from a reality where our oppression was ineluctably linked to our bodies — that we had, for centuries, no rights to our bodies and that all of the traditional pleasures and all of the traditional freedoms of human agency were forbidden to those of us of African descent in the New World, for a long period of time — the body, in such a murderous regime, under such nightmarish conditions, becomes chapel, cathedral, dogma. It becomes nearly everything…
…for people like us, for people who come out of the African Diaspora in the New World, simply to fall in love, when you have historically been denied love, the right to just connect to the body which you have chosen and that has chosen you, means that an act of love is not only revolutionary, it’s not only transcendent, but it is the deific. It is Godlike. It is a taste of the omnipotent.”
I see parallels here in how slave ownership reflects a framework in which ownership of the body is central. It is a means of control and it is a means of denying basic humanity to people based on color.
I also see the ownership of body as a tool from a woman’s perspective and a feminist one. From our cultural lens, we have transcended a period when it was legal to own the bodies of African Americans. I also recently learned that early in our history, the practice of enslaving Native Americans occurred though was not explicitly legalized in the same way. (Listen to Hidden Brain’s “An American Secret” to learn more.)
Conceptually, I believe our patriarchy claims “ownership” of women’s bodies in a similar but more subtle way. Through creating laws to regulate women’s health, and their choices and ownership over their decisions about their bodies, we legalize yet another form of slavery. By judging appearance and “scoring” women on a scales of beauty or attractiveness, our media participate in this denigration of women’s bodies.
Recent disclosures of male authority figures using coercion and manipulation of women’s bodies against their will has shown the pervasiveness of this idea: women are routinely denied full access and ownership to their bodies. Women are “owned” and traded, consumed and marketed as commodities, products, objects that can be served up at will.
As I have come to a better relationship with my own body in my yoga and meditation practices, I now see how “radical” it is to reclaim our bodies. For those women (or men) who have endured assault or other violations of the body, there can be a numbness or a disassociation with parts of ourselves. Even for those of us who have not endured physical violence, the objectification of women’s bodies in so much of our daily media have taken their toll.
We disown parts of ourselves, perhaps our hunger, or our sexuality, as an attempt to distance ourselves from what is portrayed as dirty or distasteful. This is not a coincidence, nor is it a benign reality. Listening and attending to our bodies is a powerful tool. Disconnecting from the body separates us from our truth.
Churches that advise us to transcend the “carnal” and embrace the spiritual do us a disservice. For when we separate the body from the spirit or the soul, we disconnect what makes us whole as people. Sadly, this is more of a lived reality for women than for men in our current ethos.
What I would like to suggest is a radical and necessary step is for women to reclaim ownership of our bodies, in both real and symbolic ways. I see this not only as a personal and a wellness imperative, but as a political act. This is certainly not a new idea. Back in the 60’s and 70’s when the women’s liberation movement was at its height, this was certainly one of the goals.
Even my own personal weight struggle has been a process of coming to terms with loving and appreciating my own body. I recognize the ways in which I appropriated the body hatred that was rampant around me. It is a bad habit, this criticism of our body, diminishing the instrument of joy we have been given. But it is a habit that can be changed. Accepting and embracing our bodies and our feelings is a tool for empowerment. It is the place we must begin for full political and personal agency.
Yesterday I got the news that the Senior Program Manager job I interviewed for was offered to another person. I was initially disappointed, since I saw it as an escape from the present role, which I will leave by August, regardless of what is next.
But then my body started feeling light, buoyant and happy at the thought of NOT taking on a super heavy commitment to learn a new job over the summer. I started realizing I can fully enjoy my vacation in June knowing that I will not be trying to prepare for a new job or transitioning out of the previous role. Tension leaving the shoulders and stomach…
Ah, pay attention to your body when it gives you these signals, my friends. It will tell you what you need to know.
We are not going to solve a broken health care system with a food system that is poisoning our population. Until we begin to understand that sugar, flour and other processed and “powdered” foods are killing us, and that we are addicted to them, both systems will remain broken.
When I began to understand the role that food was playing in my life as a comfort mechanism and a way to “medicate” my emotions, I started waking up to what I needed to do in order to promote vitality and health in my life.
What I see in our national discourse is a lack of understanding of how privilege and knowledge function in keeping some people focused on their next meal, rather than on the future they can build.
I love personal empowerment literature and believe many of us can control our destinies because of the choices we can make. But there are systemic problems in our schools, communities, cities, states and the world that do not allow every person with high potential to thrive.
Hidden Brain replayed an episode on the scarcity trap a few weeks ago, on the problem we have of the “tunnel vision” that develops when we are desperate for something. We spend our time and mental energy focusing on the scarce item item (whether it is food, or time, or health) so obsessively that there is little time for anything else.
But really then we have a scarcity of insight, because we focus so strongly on the current problem that we are unable to see the bigger picture. We are unable to make good decisions for the long-term because all we see is the lack, the need. We may sacrifice long-term rewards because we are stuck in that cycle of lack.
When people feel they lack power over their own lives, they make decisions that may not be in their own best interest. They fall back on “what they know” rather than trying something that may feel risky to them, or that could jeopardize what they do have.
Taking good care of our health and well-being is not something we see modeled for us in this culture of “busy-ness as a status symbol” (thank you Brene, Brown). It is indeed a radical act of self-love and self-compassion to attend to our wellness regularly and without apology.
Taking in only what nourishes us and rejecting or minimizing anything that depletes us is the way to true health and lasting joy. For those of us with enough privilege to know where our next meals are coming from, and who have decent health care and a good support system, we have amazing power to choose in our lives.
Let us now empower those around us to get what they need as well. In a country of plenty, what if nobody lacked basic necessities such as food and health care? Imagine the explosion of creativity and innovation that could exist if we could empower every person to live up to their full potential.
On Thursday this week I opted to sleep in instead of blogging. Since I’d had some insomnia on Sunday (slept 2 hours) and Tuesday (slept 4 hours) it felt really good to get 10.5 hours of sleep. It was really good, juicy sleep. I know that I dreamed, but I did not write down my dreams right away, so they faded quickly. But the sleep felt cleansing and nourishing, so I know my psyche was working out whatever needed processing.
I was fortunate to be able to work at home so I had some “think time” in between my conference calls. I took a little extra time to meditate, and to work on planning during my quiet time. I wrote in my journal. It is a handwritten, old-fashioned sort of practice for me. It is a way I slow down my brain long enough to process thoughts and feelings, to pay attention to what is going on in my body.
Our bodies can provide a necessary “compass” for the messages in our soul, but so often we forget to observe our reactions as a visceral process. We are in go-go-go mode, always trying to learn something new, read another book, listen to another podcast or audio book. I certainly love to indulge in all of these “treats” as I think of them. But then I need to allow for it all to settle, and for my personal truths to emerge.
As I tuned into my body’s messages today, I discovered I do not want to go to Boston in May for a trip to a conference that is typically an annual event for managers on my clinical research team. The week after that trip I am scheduled to travel to Belgium for another meeting. Then I am planning a trip the week after that to Mexico, to work with a colleague to help orient and train a new team member.
First off: three trips in 3 weeks is an easy NO for my body. More like a “shit NO!” if you pardon my French… Is it that Boston trip itself causing the objection, or just the idea of traveling 3 weeks in a row?
I’m not wild about the Belgium trip honestly (even though I have enjoyed past work trips to Europe). But since I am on a “farewell tour” of sorts in my current role, that trip is part of my closure process in orienting a team member who may be taking on some parts of my role after I leave.
I am breathing through this decision and validating it by noticing the lightness I feel when I imagine skipping that trip. While I enjoy travel, I have come to appreciate sleep and a certain “life rhythm” in living well throughout my days and weeks. To be my most energetic and authentic self, I must respect that rhythm and notice when my body sends me these signals. When I ignore them, and press on, things tend not to go well.
In all honesty, there is no real reason I need to go to Boston for that conference. I have been to Boston before, and I enjoyed it, but I have no desire to go this time. My boss knows my career path is leading me to a new role. I have been upfront with him about that. He may not understand that my personal deadline of August is regardless of whether I have a job lined up specifically, or if I will simply take a break before my next gig.
I will honor that amazing compass of internal wisdom. It never leads me astray. Time to write the email to let him know my decision on this one…