Nesting & Investing in the New Year

It’s true what they say about pregnancy and nesting, but the New Year actually brings an even better excuse to clear out the old and make room for the new. Just like we cleanse our bodies of toxins, we can all benefit from cleansing our living space, workspace, and head space of clutter. We’re already spending the majority of the winter months inside, we might as well clean up a little, right?! Nesting is about simplifying and making space for what’s to come, investing in a new year of new possibilities. Whether you’re welcoming a baby into your household, just having house guests, or you have the desire to declutter your life, these tips are for you!

Let go of extra “stuff.” Sometimes we hold on to stuff that we may not even use because we have this fear of not having enough. Having “stuff” can make us feel secure in a way, but do you know what feels so, so much better? Getting rid of the extra stuff and making space – clarifying and simplifying things. That “stuff” can actually weigh us down and hold us back; after all, you know what they say: less is more. Once you clean out the stuff you don’t need, you’ll get it.

Where to start? Choose one small space at a time to make it manageable – your desk, the kitchen pantry, or a closet. Clean out everything you no longer need and organize the rest. Complete each space before moving on to the next.

When we declutter the space around us, we make space both mentally and physically for clarity and new opportunities. Use this open head space to visualize your goals for the New Year. Replace your resolutions with concrete goals and inspiration. Center your focus around inspiring words, mantras, and measurable tasks to ensure that you make progress. You may be inclined to change the decor of a room for a fresh start as well; try painting the walls, rearranging the furniture, or getting a new tool to help organize (anything from a file cabinet to a new mug for your pens.) This physical change may help instigate psychological change as well.

One Healthy Breakdown: get nesting, get focused, and get happy. Do it!

Deepening Your Meditation Practice

Meditation can be a tricky business. You sit down, get situated, scratch your nose…now what? On the one hand you feel like you should be putting in some effort in order to get something out of it in return, and on the other hand, we expect to sit there and let the wisdom of the ages flood into our being and bring us to enlightenment. When in reality it’s not that simple.

meditation

Many of us enter into a meditation practice with expectations like “I want to increase my happiness” or “I’m going to reduce my anxiety” or “I will quiet my anger and jealousy.” While these are all great intentions, they’re more like happy bi-products from your meditation practice.

Without having a clear understanding of what you’re doing you may end up day dreaming, kicking yourself every time a thought pops into your head, or becoming disappointed when you don’t feel anything happening.

So, the most important thing is that you understand the ultimate goal of meditation.

The ultimate goal of meditation is to immerse yourself in, and fully experience your own consciousness and awareness, or your True Self.

Say what now?

I believe that your True Self, is who you are without the labels of time and space (gender, weight, occupation, race, social status). Ask yourself who you are at your core, without the stuff that can be written down on paper. Your unique you-ness. The part of you that doesn’t change or grow like age, intellect, and height. That is your awareness.

It’s the same right now as it was when you were three years old, and the same as when you’re 90.

It’s the constant backdrop on which the moments of your life are experienced. Like beads on a string. So really, the Self is not some far deep down place we need to journey to, requiring hours of meditation. It’s always there, and all we need to do is recognize it.

As Sally Kempton says in her book Meditation for the Love of It, “The work of meditation is to coax the mind into letting go of the perceptions and ideas that keep it stuck, so it can expand and reveal itself as it really is.”

Here are some tips to deepen your meditation practice without feeling confused or discouraged:

  • Do not freak out when you have a thought, try to push away thoughts, judge yourself as a failure for having thoughts, or get fixed on the contents of a thought.
  • Perceive with loving tenderness the energy that comes up for you during meditation.  Notice each thought or feeling, say hi to it, and let it keep on going. When you find yourself getting too caught up in thoughts, come back to your breath and start again. The practice is really about learning how to starting again when you drift off, not staying fully centered.
  • Don’t challenge your “Self” to show up in a big way. “Ok, I’m meditating now, show me what ya got!” You’ll ultimately be let down. Instead, just sit and observe with no expectations.
  • Bring forth an attitude of love, gentleness, and trust. The Self is love, and it will draw closer to an attitude of love.
  • Don’t force yourself into meditation with a feeling of strict inflexibility. “UGH, I don’t have time for this but I know I HAVE to meditate.” Nope. Not happening.
  • Treat your practice as sacred. Create a beautiful space that invites you in. Set it up in a way that makes you yearn for the time you spend in meditation. Many people like to set up an altar, but I find that word can be a bit religious and scare people off. Use another word or phrase if it feels better, like “my happy corner.” See it as a gift from yourself, to yourself so you’ll want to say “Thanks, me!” In time, the good energy you bring to this place will come to evoke feelings of relaxation, happiness, stillness and clarity, every time you go to it.
  • Don’t feel Isolated or alone. Cuz you’re not.
  • Trust that there is a greater power beyond you that connects all things. I know, just go there with me. There is a grace, a spirit that you connect with during meditation, that will support and guide you. If you prefer to connect to something tangible, go right ahead. Some people like to evoke the energy of a religious figure or maybe an ancient master. You may even want to call forth something more personal like your inner-guide or guardian angels if you so choose.
  • Don’t try to stifle your emotions that are going on for you in that moment.
  • Ask for help. If you are feeling restless, anxious, skeptical, bored, or anything that is going to take away from your stillness, offer it up to the universe, or your chosen inner guide, and ask for help. If you are struggling with a problem, offer it up at the beginning of your practice: “I offer these feelings so they can be transformed, and I may see this situation differently.”

You may find that when learning to trust your inner experiences you may be guided by your intuition toward a clearer course of action in your outer life. When gaining a deeper understanding of the true self, the fears, negative thoughts and suffering (which are merely products of our own misunderstanding of our ego) may be released. Happy happy, joy joy!

One Healthy Breakdown: meditation is a gift accessible to all, take advantage!

*Caroline O’Neill is a year round Hamptons resident and health and wellness lifestyle blogger of Bloom & Spark with a passion for nutrition, yoga, food, spirituality and personal development.

March’s Tiny Change: Notice Your Subconscious Thoughts About Food

*This post is part of Kale and Chocolate’s year-long #12tinychanges challenge. Each month, we’re implementing one small, super doable change-over a year it really adds up! Read about all changes here and share your progress on Instagram with the hashtag #12tinychanges. (Did I mention that there are lots of theme-related GIVEAWAYS each month?! Read on!)

march-tiny-change-1-r2

For the last six months, we’ve been making teeny, tiny, totally doable changes in the direction of creating and sustaining healthier lives. So far, we’ve talked about how we fuel our bodies (eating breakfast every day, trying plant-based foods, cooking at home, and moving and resting our bodies.) But a perfectly fueled, well-rested body won’t do us any good if it’s home to a negative, pessimistic, self-critical mind.

Have you ever found yourself having unkind thoughts like these?

“I can’t believe I ate all that pasta. Gross. I’m so weak.”

“How do I keep screwing this up? I told myself I wasn’t going to overeat and here I am, stuffed, unhappy, and guilty. I should be better than this.”

“I know that dairy upsets my stomach, but I just ate half a pint of ice cream. I’m so bad.”

I recognize them myself because this is something that I struggled with for ages. If I ate too much, I’d say mean things to myself. If I didn’t eat enough vegetables, ate mindlessly, or if told myself that I wasn’t going to finish the rest of the hummus and then when I did—I’d berate myself.

This food-related stress and anxiety isn’t just emotionally unhealthy: it’s physically unhealthy. Marc David, my mentor and founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, explains that our thoughts quite literally affect how our bodies function. Guilt and other negative, stress-related emotions trigger the release of cortisol, which can cause us to store more calories as body fat.

Thinking negative, stress-inducing thoughts after a meal impacts our digestion and nutrient assimilation and removes any pleasure we might have experienced while eating the food. To put it simply: the thoughts we think about the food we eat instantly become the reality in our bodies via the central nervous system.

By now, we’ve heard “you are what you eat,” but you are also what you think! This month, let’s commit to stopping unkind thoughts before they even start. We can rewire our mind to be more positive. Here are three steps to help you release negative food and body chatter, once and for all:

1. Take note of when and how you say these things to yourself.
For many of us, these unkind thoughts are mental background noise. We’ve heard them so many times, playing on repeat in our heads, that we don’t even notice them anymore. Whether we are aware of them or not, they affect our self-esteem, our choices, and the chemicals in our bodies. Noticing these thoughts is the first step to healing our relationships with food and our bodies.

march-tiny-change-2-r2
2. Speak to yourself the way you’d speak to a young child or a dear friend.
We would never, ever tell a friend that she was “weak” for having a second serving of brownies, but for years I’d say things like this—and worse!—to myself. When I finally realized that my negative self-talk was a problem, I struggled to find positive, supportive things to say to myself. If you’re in the same boat, talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a dear friend or a young child.

“You’re doing your best.”

“You made the most of a tough situation.”

“You’re doing a great job—keep it up!”

“I’m proud of you.”

When we give ourselves the same amount of love and attention that we give other people, our internal dialogue begins to shift. This can feel a little awkward at first, but keep the conversation going! Training a new behavior takes time, and once it’s ingrained, you’ll have swapped a harmful, unhealthy, and counter-productive habit for a positive, uplifting, healthy one. Using kind, supportive language in your conversations with yourself will help ease the food stress—and more!

3. Remember that you are the creator of your thoughts, so you can change them.
When we tune into our inner dialogue, it’s easy to feel out of control. It can seem as though we’re being forced to listen to a radio station where a mean (or even spiteful!) DJ isn’t taking requests.

But it’s important to remember that our thoughts—both good and bad—originate from us. We are the creators of our thoughts, so we are capable of changing them. I can say to myself, “That’s how I was for the last XX years, but I don’t want to be like that any more. This changes now.”

Your mind is a one-person radio station—and you are the only one who gets to choose the playlist. Believe it or not, it’s all up to you! You can even try this trick for re-routing your internal monologue: The next time you start to hear the same unkind chatter that plays on repeat, I want you to actually think (or say!) the words: “Stop. Change the station.”

Imagine reaching out toward the knob on your car radio and turning the dial. Or imagine pulling the headphones out of your iPhone and being greeted with glorious (and peaceful!) silence. Try it. You won’t believe how effective this can be!

Changing the way you think is a journey that requires a lot of focus and effort. Be gentle with yourself during this process and try not to get down on yourself when and if you have those negative thoughts again. They’re bound to resurface occasionally. Awareness is the first step here!

To help you have kinder & more loving thoughts, I’ve teamed up with some incredible partners to give you awesome and supportive tools for this month’s challenge. Simply join the conversation #12tinychanges on instragam and tag @kaleandchocolate and @hamptonskiley.

One Healthy Breakdown: What you think is just as important as what you eat. And the only person who can change your mind is YOU.

Word of the Year

What if planning for the new year felt thrilling? Exciting? Fun and invigorating? I don’t know about you, but when I was in the habit of making yearly resolutions, they most certainly did not feel like that.  Coming up with a New Year’s promises to myself was more like an exercise in shame and disappointment; it seemed to highlight all the ways my previous year hadn’t quite measured up.

Add to that the stress of planning goals and changes for the next year, and it became a recipe for disaster! At the end of 2013, I changed the way I thought about my coming year and instantly, everything felt lighter, easier, and more loving.

What did I do? I chose a word of the year. In 2015, I picked the word trust. In 2014, my word was simplify. My “word of the year” anchors my daily life. It helps me focus. It guides the work I do, the choices I make, and the way I navigate my everyday. When I feel adrift, I remember my word of the year and come back to myself & my goals for 2016.

word-of-the-year-2015-bMy word for 2016? Spaciousness. Sounds nice & relaxing, doesn’t it?

This means making space in my day for a spontaneous game of fetch with my dogs or a leisurely stroll through the farmers’ market. It means finally making space for the book I’ve always wanted to write. It means prepping food on Sunday in a non-stressful manner… and then having space to kick back and enjoy my evenings without worrying about what’s for dinner during the week.

Spaciousness1-editedIt’s resisting the desire to schedule, map out, and micro-manage every single last detail. It’s saying “no” comfortably to make room to say “YES!” It’s greeting life and opportunities with open arms.

But the word that works for me is not necessarily the word that works for you. Maybe you’d like 2016 to feel focused or connected or inspired. Or perhaps you want ease or to be more playful.

Choosing a word of the year has grounded me and changed the course of my next trip around the sun—and I want that for you, too! Here are three steps that will get you started:

1. Think about how you want your life to look and feel
In order to keep traditional resolutions, we usually end up counting calories, dollars, or social media followers. We track numbers and assess our success based on said numbers.

But when you navigate your new year with a single word as your beacon, the new year slowly shifts into something easier and sweeter. A “successful” year is a year that looks and feels the way we want it to look and feel.

Peer through the window of your Future Dream Life and really imagine the specifics. Would it look like Fridays off, getting a manicure with your best friend? Would it look like more quality time with your kids? How would you spend that time with them? What would you talk about? Would your Future Dream Life look like a night out in the city? Who would you be with? What would you be wearing?

And how do you want it to feel? Do you want to feel free? Supported? Seen? Imagine the way you want your heart and mind to feel every day and then choose a word accordingly.

2. Trust your intuition
Choosing your word of the year is a lot easier than you’d expect. You don’t necessarily have to labor over this decision; you likely don’t need to turn this over in your mind a thousand times.

Really think about the past year. What worked? What didn’t? If you’re honest with yourself, you probably already know how you’d like next year to be different. If a word immediately springs to mind and it feels right in your gut, you’ve found your word. Congratulations!

3. Now consider how you can apply this word to your whole life
“Supported”’ at home means something different than “supported” in your professional life. And “connected” to your body is different than being “connected” to your partner.

How does your word apply in the context of work? At home? Does it affect the way you move your body or the choices you make around food? Will it change the way you use technology?

When you take the time to imagine the way your word applies to all the areas of your life, you’re ready to make that word happen—everywhere.

Now it’s your turn to identify your word for the new year. Good luck!

One Healthy Breakdown: Wishing you a year filled with health, happiness, and finding just the right word!

Food Guilt Be Gone!

Kiley’s Intro: Eating my way through Italy has me thinking a lot about food guilt and lack thereof. Everything tastes better here (of course it does, it’s all fresher than fresh, drizzled with olive oil, accompanied by wine, and followed by gelato!) Italy is pretty much foodie heaven and the focus seems to be on taste, pleasure, and indulgence instead of calories, weight-loss, and diet. What a refreshing change of pace.

FullSizeRenderAs a culture, we tend to infuse shame into indulging in culinary delicacies. We’re taught that sweets, carbs, and alcohol are “bad.” Therefore, instead of feeling happy after a pleasurable meal, we resort to guilt. Shame on us!

Fueling our bodies with nutrients is essential, but eating mindfully and satisfying cravings are also crucial for overall good health. So, how do we make this transformation and rid the guilt? Elise Museles’ (of Kale & Chocolate) provides us with some insightful tips on slowing down, eating mindfully, and replacing food shame with enjoyment…a concept the Italians have down pat!

Does this sound familiar…

I feel GUILTY when:

Indulging in unhealthy foods
Eating when I’m not really hungry
Making poor food choices
Indulging in comfort foods
Munching on sweets
Looking in the mirror

MP900182704And that guilt you feel? It puts your entire life on hold. Not to mention that it serves no useful or forward moving purpose.

Guilt zaps every ounce of energy you have. It drops you into an endless array of stress and pressure. It forces you into a constant battle between your body and your mind.

The minute you introduce guilt into your world, your inner critic becomes the loudest voice in the room. Suddenly, your mind turns into an evil villain – spouting harsh judgments that you instantly start to believe.

Here’s what I know:

Paying attention to your inner critic won’t help you lose weight.
Hating your body isn’t going to get you any closer to looking like a million bucks.
Always thinking “I should” do something will lead to nothing but stress and disappointment.

Are you ready to take the power away from the voices in your head and put it back in your body? Here’s how: you need to show your body some respect by learning to listen to it. Your body is smart. It has a lot to tell you … if you really tune in.

Going through life at warp speed and focusing on your never-ending to-do list, pushing and pushing to get everything done…will never rid you of guilt. Why? Because you’re too busy being a human doing rather than a human being, which prevents you from tuning in…and keeps you from making choices that are in alignment with what your body really needs.

Think about it. If you’re in go-go-go mode:

How can you really know if you’re hungry?
How do you notice the signals that you’re full or satiated?
How do you understand what your cravings really mean?
How do you experience a pleasurable meal and savor all the goodness?
How do you take in all the sensations when you barely have time to chew?

What’s the result of not listening to your body? Oftentimes, a big old serving of guilt.

Your ultimate goal is to find ways to slow down so that you can be more intentional and mindful to create the space to listen to your body. Instead of eating your meal mindlessly while standing up, try sitting down and noticing the smells, the flavors, the tastes and textures. Instead of beating yourself up for wanting the chocolate chip cookie, try paying attention to why you might be having cravings.
Instead of assuming that you need to finish your plate and then feeling uncomfortably full, try putting down your fork and checking in with yourself mid-meal.

guiltOne Healthy Breakdown: When you tune into the wisdom of your body and allow your actions to follow suit, you’re much more likely to make guilt-free choices with food… and beyond.

*Elise Museles is an attorney turned Certified Eating Psychology & Nutrition Expert. She helps women stuck in a motivation-to-frustration cycle adopt a more joyful & positive approach to nourishment that starts with the food on the plate, but ultimately extends to all areas of life. Enter a delicious world full of freedom, ease, and fun at Kale & Chocolate. For daily inspiration, join Elise on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kaleandchocolate.

Your Natural State is Mindfulness

The benefits of mindfulness meditation have dated back to the earliest human life. Today, mindfulness has become a common term in our language, thanks primarily to yoga studios, wellness centers, and even mass media. So, what is mindfulness really about?MP900387543(1)

The term mindfulness can is actually easily misunderstood. Despite its name, mindfulness has nothing to do with the use of the mind in the usual sense. It’s not about thinking thoughts or being cautious, it’s simply a matter of being present and paying attention to what’s happening right now.

For this reason, I actually prefer to use the phrase “present moment awareness,” because it takes away any connotation of labor or effort. Being aware is the easiest thing in the world. In fact, I strongly suggest that it’s our natural state, prior to all the conditioning we’ve accumulated over a lifetime. When you were born and opened your eyes to the world for the first time, simple, unadulterated awareness, curiosity, and alertness spilled out. When you wake up each morning and open your eyes, the very same unconditioned, unfiltered awareness greets the day, before concerns, worries, plans, and schedules rush to set it. We may think of these activities as “mindful” because they require tremendous effort and extract a stressful toll, but, by contrast, “present moment awareness” is actually effortless and automatic.

Even though we may have forgotten how to be aware, it’s as natural to us as breathing. The practice of mindfulness is less about learning a new skill than about rediscovering a skill we already have. We have to uncover the skill that has fallen into disuse and been obscured by distractions, acquired beliefs, and habitual negative patterns of thinking and feeling. When you sit quietly with awareness of your breathing, bodily sensations, sounds, thoughts, and feelings, you’re lending energy to the awareness that’s always already there. No need for extra effort, no need to tense up, concentrate, or focus. Just relax and allow your awareness to open to what’s happening right now.

If you engage in the practice of mindfulness with the understanding that you already know how to do it, you’ll save yourself time and struggle. Instead of a journey to a faraway, unfamiliar, place, consider it a homecoming. We may have scattered our awareness on so many distractions, worries, and concerns, but as soon as we turn back to find it, our natural, inherent state of awareness welcomes us home without reservation. Mindfulness is your birthright and meditation is an opportunity to reclaim it. So, do it.

*Stephan Bodian is a world-renowned meditation teacher, psychotherapist, and consultant specializing in stress management and positive psychology. He is the author of the Mental Workout programs, Mindfulness Meditation and Freedom from Stress, available inside the Mental Workout app on www.mentalworkout.com, among others.

Yoga’s Gift to Me

Young Woman Meditating on the FloorMoms have the hardest job! With five kids of my own, I’m guilty of bellowing “I can’t take another minute of this!” Not so positive, I know… But I have to be honest, I meant it! I meant this and…many other negative, self-defeating thoughts and statements through the years. General stress topped with ‘end-of-day-mommy-exhaustion’ can do that to a person. Am I right or am I right?

Then one day, I heard my daughter shout in an awful, guttural, honestly horrifying way, “I can’t TAKE another MINUTE of THIS!” I couldn’t even try to deny where she got it from, everyone in the house looked right at me. It really is something when we face ourselves in our children isn’t it? The good, the bad and the ugly. Ugh.

In my highly-energized (some may say ‘wound-up,’ I prefer ‘highly energized’) way, I shared this latest exclamation with one of my serene, calm, always-balanced friends (we differ in some ways…) She suggested I join her for a yoga class. Yoga? Not fast enough for me. I spin, I run, I lift, I swim, and I do triathlons. I am fit. Yoga? I don’t think so. Truly the teacher would not want me there. I will squirm, mentally go thru my grocery list, watch everyone else, count how many ladies are wearing LuLu…nah, it won’t be good, it’s not for me.

My friend persisted….she spoke of things like breathing, (duh, I do that!) listening, slowing down, (slow is not usually my style) and sweating (now that’s what I like to hear!) So I went to yoga. And to this day, I have a dysfunctional relationship with yoga, but I did I get one of the biggest life-changing gifts during that yoga class.

My mother always said: “f you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.” In life, that saying has always stayed with me, but there’s more to it. What I learned in that yoga class was the power of positive thoughts. Pay attention, this is actually life-altering. Take it from me, the skeptical mom of five who will try anything to make life flow a teeny, tiny bit smoother.

At the end of class, the teacher had us close our eyes and lay on our backs. She continued to quietly talk about self-kindness and the power of positive thoughts. (I should probably mention the fact that she was going from person to person massaging each of our feet – THAT may have helped!) Anyway, she suggested, when we go home, to hear our negative thoughts and try to replace every negative thought with a positive thought, recite the positive thought aloud, take 3 big inhales and exhales, and then recite the positive thought again.

The payoff? That yoga teacher claimed many; serenity, calm, happiness, hope, gratitude, improved immune system, improved overall mental health, improved concentration, and more! What mom isn’t looking for a little of that? So I tried it. And it worked. Not overnight, it takes time, but it helps. A lot. It’s something I am mindful of everyday, and it works.

While I can become a bit discouraged about the number of times a negative thought still floats through my mind, I’m in awe of my ability to press ‘rewind’ and turn a negative into a positive. I’ve discovered positive behavior follows positive thinking! You know what else? Positive energy attracts positive energy! I’m constantly amazed at how greatly this one exercise has empowered me. Finally, I live a life full of positivity. And the change is actually doable. It’s free, it’s personal, and it’s mind-blowing.

The best part? The other day…my daughter was running across the playground and a little boy bumped into her. She took quite a spill. As I approached her, I braced myself for her response. Perhaps she would cry, want to go home, or even lash out at the other child. Guess what? She slowly got up and while wiping all the sand off her knees, I heard her mumbling “It’s ok, little boy. We are fine. We are strong kids! We are positive! Want to play?” And off they went!

I am inspired by that yoga teacher. She taught me that being fit is about more than just my body. It’s about being strong enough to listen to my thoughts, breath thru them, make a choice to change them, and believe in the power of positivity. It’s a great gift we can give ourselves and our children. Try it for yourself…if I can do it, you can do it!

*Norah Benincasa is the owner of Pedal and Pose Fitness Studio in Concord, MA. She is a certified personal trainer, spin instructor, TRX trainer, Body Pump trainer, more…and mom of five! Norah holds a masters degree in social work and is an expert in all things fitness!