Friday, October 23, 2009


Sometimes, I forget to breathe. It happens when I get stressed out, my whole chest tightens up and I start to take short rapid breaths. Which in turn makes me even more stressed out. I try to notice when this is happening. If I notice in time, I will "hit the pause button" and do a breathing exercise. So naturally, this means that I end up doing breathing exercises at least 5 times a day...

Now usually I just do these exercises on my own. They're really simple, they don't take much time, and I don't tell anyone that I'm doing them. It never occurred to me to share my breathing exercises with others. And frankly, the idea of telling other people how to do these exercises really frightened me. I'm not the kind of person that likes to stand up in front of a group of stressed out people and try to get them to calm down. All of that changed on Tuesday night.

Tuesday night was stressful. I was giving a talk about breast cancer prevention to a group of women. But in the half hour before I started my talk, two men at the gym where I work got into a really ugly fight that ended with one of them being taken away in a police car. So I didn't have time to set up properly (on account of being too scared to go into the gym.)

Then of course, having a group of women come together to discuss breast cancer (no one wants to get breast cancer) was really increasing my anxiety level. As the talk got underway, and I discussed risk factors, and ways to prevent breast cancer...I could sense the energy in the room getting more and more stressed out. Because really, who wants to think about the many ways to get cancer...yuck!

So I led everyone in a simple breathing exercise, which I'd never done before. All you do is breathe in slowly for five seconds, then hold your breath for 5-7 seconds, and exhale as slowly as you can (about 7 seconds or more.) Then repeat it a few times.

Well, you wouldn't believe how everyone calmed down after that, myself included. The talk went great, and everyone learned a lot. We shared a healthy meal of cancer preventing foods like salmon, kale, and beets.

Because I'm a nutritionist, I like being able to incorporate mindfulness and nourishing food into everything I do. Tuesday night really brought both of these things together. I hope everyone enjoyed the talk as much I I enjoyed giving it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Making the Time

"Notice how if you can make some time early in the day for being, with no agenda, it can change the quality of the rest of your day."

--Jon Kabat Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are

As I wake up in the morning, I always try to make time to eat breakfast. This is trickier than it seems. Some people need a "grab-and go" type of breakfast. My boyfriend cooks 2 eggs on the stove and makes some toast and then takes it on the bus while he commutes, all before 6 am. He gets his protein and sets up his day right (although I'd like to see a few more fruits and veggies with his meal.) But I don't think that he gets the full benefits from a mindfully eaten breakfast.

On the other hand, I have no need to commute anywhere before the sun comes up. This allows me to make a choice. I can choose to stay in bed and get some extra sleep or I can get up early to cook some healthy breakfast, and spend the time to eat it mindfully. I'll admit it: there are a lot of days where I sleep later than I'd like. But then again, there are some days where I get up early.

Yesterday I got up early and reheated some soup in the fridge, by eating leftovers I could allow myself the time to sit and eat it without rushing. My intention was to get to the gym before my 8 am class, but that didn't happen (maybe I was a little too unhurried with my breakfast). Instead, I took a quick walk around the neighborhood and enjoyed the cool fall morning sunrise. I set my day up right. My relaxed and prepared mental state came in handy when I got a phone call from a friend who needed a ride unexpectedly. So l ended up leaving the house earlier than I had planned. I was able to be flexible and accommodate my friend's request because I had already set my day up in such a way that I didn't need to be in a rush. I got a great feeling from being able to help my friend get to school and still be on time, with a full stomach and a little fresh air and exercise already done.

Sometimes taking a few minutes at the beginning of the day can really make the difference between a truly "frazzled" day and a calm one. Even on days that I feel as though "there isn't time for breakfast" I try to make time. Its important. Its just as important to be ready and calm for your day as it is to be on time, or to make sure you pack a lunch. Even if you can't find the time to eat breakfast, take an extra minute to enjoy your coffee and just breathe until you feel ready to give the day your best effort.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Today is an adventure

Try seeing your life this very day as a journey and as an adventure.

Where are you going?
What are you seeking?
Where are you now?
What stage of the journey have you come to?
If your life were a book, what would you call it today?
What would you entitle the chapter you are in right now?
Are you stuck here in certain ways?
Can you be fully open to all of the energies at your disposal at this point?
Note that this journey is uniquely yours. No one else's.
So the path has to be your own.

--Exerpt from Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Developing awareness is one of the most challenging aspects of mindfulness. We are always aware of people that we perceive as "better" than ourselves. People with nicer cars, people with better organizational skills and matching accessories. It's so easy to feel jealousy for the things that we don't have. We constantly judge ourselves as unworthy. Visions of good and bad, better and best haunt our daily lives. We pay attention to the needs of others. We pay attention to the silent needs of daily living: the need to wash the dishes and take out the trash. We pay attention to the speed limit, the parking time limits, the traffic lights, the memos, the emails, and the unwritten rules. And we ignore ourselves. We ignore the inner fires that drive us as they burn down into ashes. We ignore the internal alarm clock telling us to wake up and enjoy this moment.

So, how can we re-develop our awareness, motivation, and our internal fires? It's not easy. I'm struggling to answer the questions posed above. In fact, it would be easier to have someone else answer them for me. Then I could judge their answers as right or wrong. Close or far away. But that would defeat the purpose of the exercise--there is no internal growth our nourishment when you let other people do what is rightfully your own task. You could say that I'm going down the line but I'm sitting on the sidelines today--I'm resting and thinking, storing up some strength. You could say that I'm seeking trust and intimacy. But right now, I feel stuck and I feel afraid of the unknowns. What if my plans don't work out? What if I run out of money and end up living in a van down by the river? What if everything works out how I want it to, but I'm still unhappy with the outcome?

I'm in the chaotic state of my journey. This is the place where I want deny the powerful forces that threw me into chaos in the first place. Unfortunately, denial is not an option, and there is no turning around. I do feel stuck in it, and I know for certain that I'm not using all the energies at my disposal. I guess my challenge is to make peace with the way my adventure is unfolding right now.

That's where I am. I'm still having trouble seeing my current situation as an adventure. I feel like the adventure is out there, but its not in me right now.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Early Morning

In contrast to the usual morning rush, I found myself with some extra time this morning. So when I have an extra hour, I immediately think about cooking a big breakfast. Initially I thought that I wasn't very hungry, just tired and groggy. I thought about skipping breakfast and doing something else with my free time. But I managed to make myself some tea, 2 eggs and sauteed Chines spinach. Guess what...I was hungry! My hungriness was just manifesting itself as a tired brain fog at such an early hour. Now I'm energized and ready to begin a day of challenges (like biking 10.5 miles to school!)

It can be difficult and confusing to interpret your level of hunger when you are busy working or just plain tired. But now I realize that it is still important to nourish yourself, even if you aren't sure that you need it at the time. The bottom line: you always need to be generous to yourself, even when you're feeling pretty good. That means eating well and taking a few minutes to appreciate the food and the sunrise and the stillness of the morning. Growth and transformation is a continuous process that requires fuel all the time, not just on weekends, or days when you're starting to feel sick or tired. It's always better to err on the side of giving yourself more, so that you'll have the power to get through the times when you can't be as generous to yourself.