Monday, April 9, 2018

Self-Care When You Don't Have Time

The April snowfall has caught me completely off-guard, and because I'm inside, I'm dressed for spring weather and have to keep reminding myself that if I go outside my legs will turn blue. Oops.

Getting ready for school and work this morning, I watched my mum rush to get out the door, off to help young children readjust to being in school after Spring Break. Because she's a teacher, her Spring Break wasn't as much of a holiday as it was a time to do all her work at home. Teachers don't get as much time off as people tend to assume they do. I'm in college studying to become a speech therapist, and I'm working as a substitute teacher in the meantime, so I get a lot of exposure to #teacherlife. Teachers are loving and dedicated, but their days are stressful. For teachers and nurses and doctors and etc, etc, etc, everyday life can be hectic and crazy, and when you're a person who cares a lot about other people and making them happy, life can get even crazier. What's really ironic is that, with the rise of the self-care industry, a lot of the people who have the easiest time incorporating self-care are the ones who might not need self-care as much as the people spending all their time serving others. I'm not at all saying that self-care is selfish--it's actually quite necessary. But it hasn't really reached the audience that I think it would be the most beneficial for because that audience is too busy sacrificing themselves for the well-being of their kids/jobs/parents/pets/etc.

Teachers will understand this question. (From Giphy)

When we try to figure out how to make "self-care" work, we hear a lot about super-complicated morning routines, cleanses, and retreats. It's easy to say, "Oh, self-care works for me!" when you've been on a one-week yoga and meditation retreat and start every morning with breathwork, self-massage, and crystal cleansing. There's nothing wrong with any of these things--they're awesome and can be very helpful--but I think that we need to figure out how people who work twelve-hour shifts and have endless homework can incorporate self-care into their lives easily and affordably.

Self-Care Ideas for Busy People (from Other Busy People):
  • Try to go to bed 30 minutes earlier. Or even 15 minutes earlier. IT MAKES SUCH A BIG DIFFERENCE SOMETIMES.
  • Find some sort of fun activity that helps you feel relaxed and centered and try to do it whenever you feel overwhelmed, even if it's just for 15 minutes. I love yoga and dancing. There are some great short yoga videos on YouTube, and all you need for dancing is music (and you).
  • Breathe. Just in, and out. Focus on it. Relax. You can do this anywhere, anytime.
  • Wear colors that make you happy. Seriously. Pink perks me up.
  • Find a power song. It can be anything. My brother loves Arcade Fire.
  • Add some fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. They're nature's happy treats, and there are so many to choose from. Avocados! Bananas! Apples! Cucumbers!
  • Plan a fun event you can do easily every week, like at-home Go Fish with your family or Netflix-ing with your cat.
  • Find a book. Don't put pressure on yourself to finish it quickly. Just read a few pages whenever you get a chance. It'll be like exercise for your brain and for your feelings.
  • Give yourself a hug. Then hug a friend. Hugs. Hugs. Hugs.
  • Pick a desktop background that includes a cute baby animal or a wildlife scene.

<3 Frances






Friday, April 6, 2018

Spring Cleaning, Bunny Yoga, and Meditating with a Cat

It actually feels like springtime today, and snow is in the forecast, so I've sort of given up on trying to figure out what's going on with the weather. I feel like Mother Nature is screaming at us that global warming is a serious issue. I mean, it's snowing in April. For this part of the world, that just isn't normal. It's a major warning sign that we need to start taking the environment seriously before the earth starts looking like it does in Bladerunner. (Speaking of which, we saw Bladerunner 2049 recently, and it was really good. So plan a movie night. And remember to recycle.)

We're cat-sitting right now, and one of the fuzzballs we're taking care of is an incredibly chill, relaxed little fellow who I'm looking to for zen-spiration. When I feel myself getting stressed out or needing to "control" everything, I try to remind myself of what this cat would do in my situation, and, even if I can't roll around on the floor, I can at least take a deep breath and center myself. Yoga has been helping with this, too. If you're anything like I am (Type A, worrier, etc.), chances are that your first attempts at yoga might leave you feeling a bit frustrated and seeking the immediate release of hardcore cardio, but for some of us, focusing on stillness, flexibility, and breathwork is way more beneficial than pushing through 100 burpees. Trust me. I've been the 100 burpees girl, and I'm still recovering from the long-term effects of overexertion. It's not worth it, friends!


Is it just me, or does spring make anyone else feel weirdly optimistic?  I put on a spring-y blouse and shorts today to do homework, prep for the class I'm going to start teaching soon, and clean the living room, and the thought of warm breezes and flowers has me all excited even though I've got a bit of a pollen allergy and really am not looking forward to the summertime humidity. I'm sending out positive wishes to everybody and hoping that everyone is having a loving Friday <3. Because of all the sadness and tragedy in the world, I want to share some more inspirational/happy thoughts today:

  • This is the story of Ziki, a little boy in the DRC who was rescued from a life as a cobalt miner and now gets to go to school.
From CBS News
  • This is a video about Heifer International, which helps farmers in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the U.S. I listened to a podcast (link here) about Heifer and was inspired to find a video about it :).

  • This is a song that we've had on repeat recently. I hope you like it, too! :) 

<3 
Frances

Monday, March 19, 2018

Yummy Sweet Beet and Cocoa Milk

If you're looking for a quick, fun pick-me-up, extra snack, or treat, one of my new most favorite beverages is sweet beet and cocoa milk. It's easy to make, full of vitamins, frothy, and (best of all) pink! Yay!


Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons of beet powder 
  • 1 scoop of cocoa powder
  • 1 cup of hemp milk (or substitute)
  • Honey (as much as needed)
Blend all the ingredients together and you've got your drink :). It's fun and refreshing, and beets are excellent for anyone looking to give their liver or gallbladder a boost. Cocoa and honey are great for energy and for your skin, and hemp is a great source of plant protein.

<3 Frances

Thursday, March 8, 2018

March Musings: Mindfulness, Amelie, and Romanticism

We learned about the Romantic Period in my Humanities class yesterday, and I left filled with the words of John Keats and the art of Caspar David Friedrich. The Romantic perspective on life and emotion and creativity is (needless to say) quite inspiring, especially with its emphasis on the uncontrollable, terrifying, beautiful nature of the natural world, and when I got home, I took a little bit more time to really pay attention to what was going on around me. 
The birds. 
The flower leaning delicately against the edge of a vase on the kitchen counter. 
We don't notice these things as much as we should, and, while this is partly due to a lack of time (bills, work, etc.), it's also partly because we've become accustomed to the fast pace of life. I wrote about this a bit in my last post, and it's on my mind again because I was at work (substitute teaching for the win) the other day and noticed that, as soon as one activity came to an end, my students immediately needed to know what was coming next. Next. Next. Next. They were so anxious for the future that they completely missed the present, and what's sad is that one day they'll be grown up and look back on their lives and realize just how quickly time slipped away. But we've become dangerously comfortable with speed and stimulation. It bothers me how often my heart rate quickens and my jaw clenches when I'm waiting longer than I thought I'd be for something or when I'm uncertain about the future. I'm a worrier. I angst about whether or not I'll be able to control what's going to happen in my life, and little schedule changes can throw me for a loop. But I wasn't always like this. I was once much more flexible, patient, and calm, and I'm realizing that the constant bombardment of information and stimuli that we're all exposed to nowadays has a scary effect on our brains. Our attention spans are getting shorter, and today it's harder for us to focus on and appreciate things than it was forty years ago. 
The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but according to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain. (Kevin McSpadden, TIME Magazine)
I keep thinking of Amelie Poulain in the movie Amelie. (You know, the beautiful Jean-Pierre Jeunet film about the quirky girl with the cute haircut and infectious optimism?) Amelie is genuinely fascinated by the simple things in life. She lives each day with love and enthusiasm and adorable uniqueness, and she's never scrolling mindlessly on the Internet searching for things to compare herself to. If she were, she wouldn't be Amelie, and the world would be such a sad place without Amelie in it! 

From http://quoteideas.com/amelie-movie-quotes/
Lately, I've been reading some books on yoga and mindfulness, and a theme I've come across is that mindfulness practitioners maintain their childlike fascination. Note that "childlike" doesn't mean immature or unworldly; it simply implies that one is open and receptive and interested. Instead of beginning each day with baited breath and angst, we could "inhale lots of love in" (as Adriene Mishler would say) and "Carpe Diem" (thank you, Mr. Keating of Dead Poets Society). By living with compassion for ourselves and what's around us, we could help make the world a better place. I'm not trying to get all cliched here, but wouldn't it be nice if we all felt love for one another? Change starts from within.
One of my best tips on going "within" (from someone who's still trying to get there, LOL) is to think about the things that make your spirit happy and that make you feel connected to the world around you on a deep level. My brother, for instance, is genuinely enthusiastic about insects. He's even got a blog about it (fortheloveofinsects.blogspot.com), and his love for the environment motivates him to do his best in school and be the best version of himself because he believes that, if he tries hard enough, he can help the planet heal. So far, he's managed to convince many of his classmates not to step on stink bugs, and that's a big accomplishment for insect-lovers everywhere ;).
So what is it that inspires you to be the best version of yourself? Know that it's totally okay not to have a single defined passion! You don't have to be a die-hard super-fan of any single thing . . . just look out at the world with compassion and interest like Amelie does. Cracking creme brulee can be an amazing experience in and of itself, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a culinary aficionado.

<3 Frances 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Stepping Out of the Spiral

I watch the empty boxes in my calendar fill up more and more every day, and I have a new appreciation for the quiet moments in between this and that. I know I still resist pause and stillness, but I'm realizing more now just how important it is to step back and take a deep breath and then act form a place of intention instead of just dropping into the spiral and letting it take you away. Move with life, not against it, and draw your energy from compassion and gratitude and thoughtfulness, not stress and anxiety. This is a practice I am definitely a beginner in. 


My grandmum's Pema Chodron and Louise Hay books seem particularly relevant now, and I keep wishing that my grandmum hadn't died so young. I thought fifty-eight was old when I was little, but now I realize that she should've been around longer than that. Ghosting immunological diseases and a heart that felt too deeply pushed her too far, too fast, and I'm grateful for every day she woke up and hid arthritis and inflammation behind a smile and pretended she was okay. I have to think of her every time I feel scared or uncertain or resistant and remind myself that there is so much to be grateful for and that, if I really want to do something good in the world, I need to step out of my spiral.  
It's very easy to get caught in the drama and energy and push of the moment. We spend so much time staring into the addictive blue light of our screens that the world can at time seem to be made up entirely of what's online and what's glorified by our society as "admirable" and "worthy." Just this morning I read Zan Romanoff's article on the culture of fitness:
The deification of “better, harder, faster, more” can also be damaging to so-called “healthy” bodies, ones which are relatively fit and free of injury. The fetishization of never-ending accomplishment, which thrives by one-upping itself, can create a perpetually striving mindset that’s very good for selling class packages, but very bad for finding any kind of actual mental peace. And so the same drive that brings someone into an exercise class, and keeps them attending even when they’re tired and it’s tough, can become a liability when the challenge facing them is that they need to take a week off. 
It's great to appreciate your physical self and want to take care of it, but Romanoff's article brings up a good point: our modern, Western culture has developed a fitness class obsession. SoulCycle. Barry's Bootcamp. CrossFit. When taken too far, fitness can become dogmatic. Doctrinal. 

If you're not pushing yourself, you're not trying hard enough. 
If you don't hurt, it doesn't count. 
If you're not ___, you're nothing.

But why do we think this way? Movement is part of a healthy lifestyle, sure, but it's not the be-all, end-all, and it's not as complicated as we make it out to be. Fitness classes are a luxury, and everyone's "healthiest version of themself" is different. Some people are sick. Some people are in pain. Some people have dealt with an unhealthy relationship with exertion. The bottom line is that movement should be for mental health and physical refreshment, not to achieve some sort of media-hyped body goal or to fuel an obsession. Prioritize compassion, love, and a positive mindset. Let the rest unfold.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Daydreams, Music, and the Olympics

Songs are like books. They keep us company. I've been listening to a lot of Florence + the Machine lately (and Kate Bush and the Smashing Pumpkins and Lykke Li, lol), and I found a quote by Florence Welch that I think is a good reminder to all of us to embrace our inner children every now and then:

From EnglHub

Did anyone get a chance to see the opening ceremony for the Olympics last night?  I was really excited to get to see some of it with my younger (but much taller) brother. He and I spend a lot of time together . . . we used to eat lunch together every day in high school, which people thought was bizarre because teenage siblings usually aren't best friends.  But there's nothing quite like getting to be fully and unapologetically yourself with someone who knows the extent of your introverted, ridiculous awkwardness! Anyway, the opening ceremony was really beautiful. It captured so much of Korean culture in such a magical fairy tale way--complete with phoenixes and giant white tigers--and at the end, there was a performance of John Lennon's "Imagine" that almost made me cry.  Here it is, in case you missed it:


Beautiful, isn't it? I'm very excited for the figure skating portions of the Olympics. It's like seeing a ballet performance, and the flexibility, strength, and grace of the skaters are amazing.  They can spin and leap and jump while on ice. Meanwhile, I'm over here trying to sort of/almost do a semi-decent Natarajasana (Lord of the Dancer) in yoga. (And now I feel all yoga-y because I just used the official Sanskrit term for a pose for the first time.)

The "ShibSibs" (from NBC)

I'm sending sweet thoughts for everyone on this second Saturday in February.  The time around Valentine's can be difficult sometimes, but please remember that you are loved <3, and please take some time to show yourself some loving-kindness, too. In my research on movement and creativity therapy right now, I've found that cultivating compassion for ourselves and others is just as important for well-being as movement (I hesitate to use the word "exercise" because it can be anxiety-provoking) and wholesome nourishment (not dieting!) are. I've been feeling stressed out lately because of some personal stuff and because of some new jobs that I'm excited about but also nervous about, and taking time to breathe and ground myself has been very helpful. So is this video here by Michelle Elman:


If you haven't watched Michelle's TEDX Talk, you definitely should. It's incredibly moving and beautiful.

That's all for this morning. Now back to my essays :).  Big hugs for everybody!

<3 Frances


Friday, February 2, 2018

Starting a Home Yoga Practice: Calm Over Chaotic

Between yesterday's Super Blue Blood Moon and the start of a new month, it's a perfect time to embrace change and work on cultivating more compassion. Yay! Here's an adorable little picture to get you psyched for warm fuzzies:

From We Love Cats and Kittens 

I've been doing a lot of research lately into the science of empathy, compassion, and overall wellness, and something I've found mentioned over and over again is mindfulness. Yes, the whole "mindfulness" thing is definitely trending right now, but it's so much more than a fad. In its sincerest, most basic form, mindfulness is a mind-body healing practice that has roots in almost all traditions and philosophies.  Prayer, meditation, contemplation . . . they're all forms of mindfulness practice, and they have profound mental and physical health benefits.  Some of the biggest of these benefits can be boiled down to the simple phenomenon of stress reduction. Mindfulness practices help you breathe and decrease your cortisol levels. Less cortisol means better sleep, better skin, and a happy tummy.  It can also help you interact with others more positively.  If you're not freaked out all the time, then you can engage with the world in a more open, optimistic way. (See picture of Amelie Poulain below for inspiration.)

From tumblr
One of the most fun ways you can practice mindfulness at home is by finding hobbies and activities that activate your parasympathetic nervous system (the one that calms you down) and give you an outlet for expressing yourself.  Yoga and dancing are two of my favorites. I remember a few years ago, back when I was running running running all the time, a friend who I admired as being very compassionate and Amelie-like told me that she felt "so calm" because she'd done yoga, and I had this mini-paradigm shift. I think that intense exercise can be wonderful for many people, and I adore 1980's aerobics videos, but for personal health reasons, I've recently had to shift to more traditionally "relaxing" forms of movement.  Like increases like, and because my stress hormones tend to run very high, I need to focus on slowing myself down more than I need to focus on speeding myself up.  I resisted yoga for a very long time because staying still and breathing deeply don't come naturally to me.  Every time I saw a magazine cover or a TV advertisement, there was an image of a sweaty girl in Lulu Lemon doing pushups and panting, and I felt drawn to that sort of intense movement. I felt that I needed to push myself as hard as I could, but the harder I pushed, the higher my standard became.  Soon, nothing felt "challenging" enough, and I couldn't get the endorphin rush needed to reduce my cortisol levels until I'd "hit the wall." 
Note to self: hitting the wall isn't always a good thing!
A few weeks ago, I started doing yoga at home with my mum. The only sort of "cardio" I do comes from cleaning, teaching, the occasional impromptu dance practice, and walking around campus. At first, the shift from cardio junkie to wannabe yogi was challenging because my body was so used to pumping itself up on energizing cortisol hormones every time I went to "exercise," but I'm starting to embrace relaxation and restoration over pushing myself.  And I can actually almost get my heels on the floor in downward dog. OMG.
The reason I'm sharing this isn't to give a big long post about my life and what I'm doing for movement because I know that stuff isn't important. There are WAY more important things going on in the world right now, and I spend 99% of my time thinking about school, the news, writing, library books, my job, my pets, my family, and getting into a speech & communication disorders program at university.  But because yoga has been so helpful for my mental and physical health, I wanted to write about it here just in case anyone out there is resisting mindfulness practices the way that I once did.  The media makes it look like we have to push ourselves hard all the time, but we don't. Move like you love yourself, and if that movement doesn't look like what you see in Nike ads, don't sweat it.
Anyway, if you're looking to start a yoga practice, here are some links that will help you out :). Adriene Mishler's YouTube videos are warm and inviting and encouraging, and she has something for everyone. I strongly recommend her 30 Day "True" program, which ran throughout January but is still available as playlist on her channel.  I also love Lesley Fightmaster's videos.  She has several beginners' playlists, and I enjoy her meditation videos, too.  SarahBeth Yoga is another good channel. The video for IBS and colitis is very helpful.

Yoga With Adriene: www.youtube.com/yogawithadriene
Lesley Fightmaster: www.youtube.com/fightmasteryoga
SarahBeth: www.youtube.com/sarahbethyoga

Love and light!
<3 Frances