Radical Self-Care, Laughter

My 2.5 year old nephew is a great role model. This kid knows how to have a good time! He will put anything on his head (a shoe, macaroni, the inflatable raft for the pool) and announce “HAT!”. He thinks he’s hilarious. Another favorite game is to hide behind a curtain or under a towel, waiting not-so-patiently for you to say, “Where’s Max?” at which point he appears giggling.

notice he’s wearing just one shoe, on the wrong foot and the book is upside down ūüôā

Watching this adorable kid reminds me to laugh loud and laugh often. Research is showing that even false laughter can alter brain chemistry, releasing feel-good endorphins and lightening our moods; I know I feel infinitely better after spending time with friends who enjoy a good chuckle. In this day and age with virtually limitless video available instantly, there is ample opportunity to LOL.

While I may not play silly “hat” games or always have company available to entertain me, I’m often able to pull myself out of a slump by recalling a funny incident or plugging into YouTube. Here’s a short video of a classic Tim Conway dentist skit. It cracks me up every time. Or better yet, spend time with small kids. They can be relied on for a constant stream of humorous material. 

It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine. I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree! What’s really great is that hysterical comes in many flavors- silly, dry, witty, sarcastic. It doesn’t really matter which you choose; only that you do make that choice. Did you hear the one about the gorilla who walked into a bar? ūüėČ 

Radical Self-Care, Forgiveness

As I was sitting in meditation this morning, I had yet another epiphany. I realized that many of the areas in my body where I felt pain were actually holding old resentment, anger, fear, or some form of unexpressed emotion. As I became willing to release the emotion, the tension softened, and the discomfort evaporated. I physically felt how the act of forgiveness restored my energetic flow and relieved unpleasant symptoms.

Of course it is always¬†my choice to hold onto resentment and keep the pain. It may very well be true that this friend did behave like a jerk and that friend didn’t keep her promise. Letting go of my reaction to these events doesn’t condone their behavior, but it does¬†release me from my role as judge, jury, and executioner. As long as I’m pointing the finger at someone, the need to punish arises. While I’m neither cruel nor vindictive, I am well practiced at withholding love and acceptance¬†as a form of silent punishment.

The problem with this system is that I am only punishing myself. My true nature is to be in the flow of love, and judgement separates me from that truth. My desire to practice forgiveness has been reinforced; not as a spiritual practice, but as a practical one. I long to be set free from the weight of judgement and the burden of pain. I already feel lighter and more resilient. I have complete faith that with diligence I can experience major liberation and the joy that comes with integration.

Let me be clear that while I believe harboring grudges and ill wishes always produces pain of some sort, I do not wish to suggest that all pain is the result of bearing un-forgiveness.¬†Also, some wounds may take professional guidance to heal. I do not wish to belittle anyone’s experiences.¬†However, I think we can all benefit rather quickly¬†from letting go of the smaller stuff; such as being cut off in traffic or stood up for lunch. Given the choice of¬†righteous indignation or comfort and freedom in my body, I’m opting for the latter. Every single time.

Radical Self-Care, Hydrate

I’m an overachiever when it comes to hydration. I enjoy¬†a drink a big glass of filtered water first thing every morning and rarely leave the house without my reusable bottle. Most days I put down close to a gallon of quality fluids.¬†Living in the high dessert of New Mexico really established this good habit decades ago.

Then last week I went to an art opening and decided to dress up. The ridiculously small purse that matched my dress was barely big enough for my wallet and keys, let alone a liter of water. I chose not to bring my backpack or canteen and convinced myself it would be fine.

I was wrong. By the time I got to the gallery I was already thirsty. The only drinking water available was from a fountain and it just wasn’t easy to stock up. Of course there was plenty of wine, which further added to my dehydration. This was also the night when I epically failed as public transportation guide and spent an extra two hours navigating my friends and myself home. Parched doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. A headache arrived and I just couldn’t get satiated at that point.

It took me the entire next day to recalibrate. I easily recognized how I betrayed good self-care for fashion and payed the price of feeling crummy for a full 24 hours. I don’t think I can change the styles of the times to make a stainless steel water bottle an acceptable accessory. But I am willing to let my needs supersede fashion and am prepared to carry it anyway; maybe even dress it up with some sequins or glitter.

Radical Self-Care, Adapt

I am finally willing to admit that my VitaMix needs to go in for repairs. It’s leaving bigger and bigger puddles as it drips from the base. The good news is that when you spend a fortune on a blender, it comes with an extended warranty. So when I called customer service, things went smoothly until she said it would be returned to me in 8-10 days. <GASP!> Then she said, “Pamela, don’t panic.” Clearly she could tell by my stunned silence that I was ready to panic!

OK, so it probably won’t take as long as that, but holy cow, I use this machine A LOT! Like every day, a lot. Yesterday I used it three times! I made cashew butter (well worth the effort for an organic version with only raw cashews and pink Himalayan salt), smoothies for the rest of the week (which I froze for super-convenience during my busy stretch), and roasted potato and curry soup (which btw is the bomb!). Clearly I have an affinity for smooth and creamy meals.

currysoup1

As far as life problems go, being without my super-duper blender for over a week is pretty low on the list; most definitely what is called a “first world problem.” I get that, I really do. But I rely on this machine to create spectacular delicious and nutritious meals. Most of you would likely agree that this combination is not all that common. However, it has become apparent that I am overly dependent on a gadget.

So I have switched gears and am preparing to welcome a short break from blending. For the first 40 years of my life I didn’t even know what a VitaMix was, so obviously I am able to survive without one! I will get creative in the kitchen and maybe even find some new recipes for fabulous meals I never would have explored because I was too busy blending. I might get adventurous and try a new restaurant. I might even do the unthinkable and order a smoothie from the juice bar!

While this might seem like a trivial matter, the lesson of resilience is one that runs deep. It’s a good reminder to practice being more flexible with simple matters so that when something profound comes up, we’ve practiced letting go and adapting to changes. Bumps in the road keep us alert, and thinking outside the box stimulates neuroplasticity. I’ve come to see this leaky blender incident as a blessing in disguise and am looking forward to the creativity it inspires.

 

Radical Self-Care, Gimme a Break!

Last night I was in charge of navigating my girlfriends and myself to an art opening in center city. I have the most experience with public transit, so I was happy to accept this role. We arrived smoothly, although we did walk farther than anticipated. That was the end of my leadership success. 

From the gallery I schlepped us to another neighborhood only to discover that our destination was closed and the alternate shop was a block away from the gallery. Then due to traffic slowing our bus, we missed our train home. I suggested a nearby pub where the slow service caused us to miss the next train and my misreading the schedule caused us to miss the last train of the night. Epic navigation fail!

My friends graciously rolled with the continuously changing plan, and we eventually arrived home, two hours later than expected. Somewhere along the line I noticed myself slipping into self-criticism that easily could have led to a shame spiral. I also noticed my frustration was not mirrored back by my friends. They were just hanging out. Not in the environment we had planned, but not letting that disrupt the opportunity to have an animated conversation. 

I grasped this cue and realized that while my plan had indeed failed, that didn’t make me a failure. I got to choose if I would sulk on the extended journey home or to embrace the chance to rally and enjoy the good company available to me. I remembered Louise Hay’s words that to be truly loving, we should never, ever criticize ourselves. And just like that I dropped the self-blame and joined in the laughter. 

Radical Self-Care, Nature Rules!

Businessman meditating in a parkThe weather, my schedule, and my energy level all lined up in a magnificently cooperative way which allowed me to go for a hike in the woods this morning. Nature is my happy place. Living in Philadelphia, I no longer have daily access to the ocean as I did when I lived on the coast of California.¬†However, we do have an amazing urban park that has the magical quality of making me feel like I’m on vacation.

Being outside and breathing fresh air, surrounded by the lush beauty of Mother Nature feeds my soul deeply. After a few minutes I begin to feel more alive, more myself, more radiant. It seems as though the greenery is scrubbing my aura clean; like a car wash but for the energy field. Trees embody the energy of earth and water from below and fire and air from above, providing a tangible balance of  the elements. I can easily understand why Druids believed the forests to be sacred.

Having started my day filling up with bliss from being outside, moving my body, and quieting my mind has set me up with an amazing mood. There aren’t many activities I know of that provide physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual regeneration all at once. Having easy access to the woods (complete with gorgeous creek nonetheless!) is truly a blessing and I cherish it every time I visit.

Radical Self-Care, Happy Massage Day!

I try to get a massage twice per month. My muscles really need the therapy because giving bodywork is so physically demanding. And my psyche needs the nurturing and soothing release that results from relaxation and touch. I also learn new techniques and have “stolen” some of my best moves from other therapists. Finally, I am reminded of what it’s like to be a client, to¬†anticipate a session, and to be cared for. This inspires me to bring my best to each and every session.

While it may just be another day at work for me, often it is the highpoint of a client’s week. I’m incorporating an attitude of celebration into my work. A friend and coworker offers a cheerful “Happy massage day” as a greeting to clients when they arrive.¬†While I may not use these words, I intend to embody the feeling behind them, and to appreciate the efforts required for people to actually show up for themselves and receive a session.

In addition to aspiring to be the most caring and compassionate self at work, I’m upping my earlier statement.¬†Forget about¬†“trying” to get two massages each month: I schedule a massage at least every other week. This is my new statement of intent. As Yoda, the beloved Star Wars guru, said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Radical Self-Care, Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini is a unique form of yoga that has deeply transformed my life. I don’t intend to tackle the gigantic topic of how it works because¬†I actually don’t understand this mystery myself! What I do know is that is does work; I feel peaceful, radiant, and energized each and every time I practice. I am content to follow along and do what the teacher tells me to do without an intellectual understanding.

What I can say is that the practices use the ancient technologies of sound, breath, and body postures and movements to stimulate chakras, organs, and glands in order¬†to create specific effects. There’s usually chanting, sometimes a gong, and mudras (hand positions). The goal is to draw kundalini, a powerful yet dormant energy, up the spine to awaken the chakras, and ultimately experience enlightenment.

While I can’t claim to yet be an enlightened being, I have experienced deep states of bliss and the amazing sensation of oneness; being at home with the divine and completely comfortable within my own body. Creating health by energizing organs and glands¬†seems to be¬†just a side affect, but an enjoyable and vitalizing one at that. Sometimes the exercises are difficult, often they seem weird, but that is a price I’m willing to pay to feel the glow.

I highly recommend seeking out a teacher to guide you along this mystical and magnificent path. If there’s not one available to you, I did find this book to be helpful. It speaks about the importance of the gentle awakening of kundalini¬†because an abrupt forcing of the energy can be uncomfortable, even dangerous. Taking the gentle route is not exactly the American way, but really a must in this field of study.

kundalini

Radical Self-Care, Brain Power

Experts are suggesting that we keep our brains active in order to keep them healthy. It’s the “use it or lose it” theory of mental functioning. There are numerous ways to go about this; crossword and Sudoku puzzles¬†are perhaps the most popular. I find crosswords to be terribly frustrating and number puzzles somewhat addictive, so I take a different route.

Learning a new language is said to be great for the brain. I would love to take a class to refresh the German that I studied in school decades ago. Yet there is no room in my schedule for that. A friend introduced me to Duolingo, a free app that I use on my smartphone. Every day I spend five minutes firing off neurons and spreche deutsch, often while waiting for or riding on public transit.

Just as convenient is a Scrabble-like game called Words with Friends that I play on my phone. It gets me thinking in new ways, and while I can’t say it’s really affected my vocabulary, I’m all about remembering two letter words like za, xi, and qi that make it easy to rack up big points. The neat thing about this app is that you can play against a stranger, a friend, or even the system, and you can play at your own pace.

These are things that are fun and fit easily into the organic gaps that occur throughout my day. Because, let’s face it, if it isn’t easy and fun, it’s just not going to happen. It doesn’t really matter what you choose to learn or if it’s a useful skill. All that matters is that you give your brain a challenge on a regular basis. Mental exercise to stimulate the gray matter doesn’t need to be a tedious chore. But it does need to happen if we wish to improve memory and cognitive functioning as we age. It might not seem like a priority now, but it will be someday and I have no intention on waiting for a diagnosis to urge me on.