Presence & Breath

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PresenceSoul searching, spirituality, meditation, and all those good things are a big part of my life. Personal growth is a bit of an obsession of mine, and I love to learn new things and try new practices as part of my personal development. In the past, I’ve posted about meditation, which I practice daily, and today I want to write about two practices that are closely related to meditation: presence and breath.

As I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, last year I participated in this awesome group coaching program focusing on eating disorders and body image issues. The foundation for this work was very soul-centered, which is one of the reasons why I was drawn to it in the first place. Two of the first modules we worked on were about presence and breath, so I’ve been learning about and implementing these two practices for a while. Due to daily stress and anxiety (I’m an introvert who can get pretty bad social anxiety), I recently decided to revisit presence and breath with the intention of making them firm fixtures in my life.  

Being present on the daily is a challenging endeavor. I’m still at a place where it takes dedicated and constant observation of my thoughts and feelings to shift into presence. The cool thing about this practice though, is that you quickly discover that in those fleeting moments of full presence, it really is a rewarding and perspective-shifting experience. I find this especially true as someone who is trying to:

  • Connect with my body on a deeper level,
  • Be more aware of my life and how I show up day in and day out, and
  • Be more positive and optimistic in general.

Breath is a huge part of practicing presence. I don’t think you can have one without the other. Really think about it – breathing is this involuntary act that we do constantly to stay alive. But when you really hone in on it and focus on it with intent and curiosity, it can become a great tool that helps alleviate stress and promote wellness. Breathing can literally cause a state change in your body. I’ve found breathing to be really useful when it comes to:

  • Meditation: Focusing on my breath can help me drop into a meditative state quicker, and go deeper into my meditation.
  • Stress/Anxiety: I’ve started to use breath to help curb stress/anxiety. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I’ll stop and take a few deep breaths until I feel more centered and less anxious.
  • Disordered Eating: It’s impossible to binge if you’re present (and focusing on your breath). Most of the time, if I want junk or am heading toward binge autopilot, it’s because of stress or some other #donotwant emotion that I’m trying to suppress with a quick state change – hence the magic of breath.

So how do you start practicing presence and breath?

I started out by setting daily alarms on my phone, usually for 9AM, 1PM, and 7PM. When the alarm would go off, I’d take a moment to breathe and center myself and then check in with myself to see if I needed a shift or to do anything (drink water, walk away from my desk, cord cut, etc.). At first it was challenging, especially for the first two alarms that went off at work. I’d often be too busy to stop, so I’d just shut off the alarm and keep working. BUT when I actually started to commit to these practices and respected the alarms and daily check ins, I noticed such a difference in my mental and physical states that I now do presence/breathing check ins frequently throughout the day without using any alarms.

As for the literal practice I use, it goes something like this:

  1. I close my eyes and take three deep breaths. I favor 6-3 breathing (inhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 3, exhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 3, repeat).  Sidenote: If I’m at work when I do this, and people are around, I’ll head to the bathroom, otherwise if I’m by myself in the office, I’ll just stay at my desk.
  2. Take inventory. Mental inventory is when you check in with your mindset and emotions. Are you feeling sad? Anxious? Angry? Physical inventory focuses more on your body and visceral state: are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Sometimes I take inventory of my surroundings, just noticing what’s going on around me: the conversations, the colors, the furniture, the light, etc.

There are so many benefits when it comes to presence and breath. The biggest benefit of presence is also the meaning of it – to just be in the here and now, where everything is okay, the past is long gone, and the future hasn’t happened yet. The benefit of breath is that you can really hone it to become a tool for your health and wellness. It can up your meditation game and help you learn to alleviate stress and anxiety – those are some game changers right there.

I think there’s something magical in that such simple practices can have a truly profound impact on your overall health and happiness.

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Magic Like Whoa

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WordsMy day job has been completely insane the past two months, and I am SO RELIEVED that it has died down and I can finally take a breath and recalibrate. Starting to do just that made me realize that there has been some major magic at work in my life lately, but I’ve only just had time to realize it.

And it’s awesome.

Last year I did this amazing 6-month group coaching program, The Society, with Samantha Skelly. She founded Hungry for Happiness, a movement of women dedicated to ending the fight with food and their bodies by addressing the underlying causes of emotional eating. The mission behind HFH and Sam is one that I love:

We envision a world in which women no longer feel compelled to diet. In which they have a strong connection to their body and its intuitive powers, and give themselves permission to feel pain, secure in the knowledge that our bodies don’t throw anything at us that we can’t handle. We’ve set a lofty goal of helping one million women end dieting by 2020. Will you join us?

Now my close peeps know that I’ve struggled with these issues for a long time, but it’s not something I really publicize, especially on social media. However, I learned that these types of issues reside in the dark corners of fear and shame, and when you yank them out into the light, they lose their power over you. If my time in The Society taught me anything, it’s to speak my truth and that when you allow yourself to be vulnerable with others, instead of ridicule and judgement, you’re often met with love and compassion.

Through Sam’s coaching, I was able to reconnect with my body, discover the underlying emotional issues behind my eating disorder, and connect with an amazing group of women who showed me more love and support than I ever experienced before in my life. It truly was a life changing and transformational experience.

When the program came to an end in late May, I was at a point where I realized how much I wanted to use my writing to help others, just like Sam helped me. Of course I want to be an awesomely successful screenwriter (and novelist!) too, but I also love connecting with others through writing and in a way that is beneficial and inspiring (and fulfilling to me personally). I just wasn’t sure how I wanted to or could execute that desire.

Fast forward to today, and I’m a writer and Community Manager for Hungry for Happiness. It all fell into place quickly, unexpectedly, and like, well, magic. My role as HFH Community Manager provides exactly what I wanted. Every day, I get to connect with women all over the world through my writing. I’m able to offer support, guidance, and encouragement to beautiful souls who are experiencing the same struggles I’ve encountered.

There’s also a layer of continued personal growth and development that I get to experience through my HFH work. Overcoming an eating disorder and body image issues is an ever-evolving journey. There is no finish line. You have wins, and you have losses. Sometimes it’s easy, and sometime’s it’s really, really difficult. But with coaching from Sam, I’ve cultivated a ridiculous amount of self-love that’s allowed me to connect with my body and my soul on a higher level and surrender to life’s lessons, miracles, and magic. I never thought that I would be genuinely grateful for issues that have caused me so much pain and suffering, but I am. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I wouldn’t be in a position to help others.

Go with the Friendship Flow

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friends-1272735_640It’s been about five years or so since I started to dabble in the realm of personal growth, and within the past year I’ve really leveled up my commitment to my own journey of self-discovery. The concept of connection has been on my radar more and more, and I’m beginning to realize not only the importance of connection and our relationship with others, but also how it can spawn revelations when it comes to personal growth and authenticity.

Over the years, like everyone, I’ve experienced an ebb and flow with my friendships. None of my current friends are people I knew before college, and I’ve shed two of my longest tenured (think at least 10 years) and deepest friendships over the past two years alone. Losing those two friendships was really painful, but it also made me realize how important it is to let go of relationships that no longer serve you, especially if they’re toxic. Each of us deserves to be treated with love and respect, and if that isn’t something that you are receiving in your relationships, then it’s time to let them go. It’s also important to realize that sometimes you just outgrow people. I know for me, once I opened myself to authenticity and personal integrity and really took inventory of my personal values and beliefs, it was extremely difficult for me to settle for friendships that were unbalanced or shallow.

Looking past the pain of those lost friendships, I realized that the connections that I still maintain are bonds that truly light me up. I have quality friends. I am surrounded by people who genuinely love me and care about me and my life. They want what’s best for me. They encourage me to chase my dreams and explore my potential. They support me in good times and bad, and they love me for me. Really, at the end of the day, that is all any of us want, right?

The awesome–and unexpected–result of shedding toxic relationships is that it made me really invest in my relationship with myself. I began to realize that I deserve better. I deserve to receive the same quality of love and support that I so freely offer to others. Self-love was a big theme for me this year (in case you couldn’t tell ;), and it’s the reason I decided to dive into the amazing group coaching program that I’ve mentioned before.

And you know what happened once I did that?

friends_handsI received an influx of new and beautiful people in my life. These amazing earth angels share so many of the struggles and aspirations that I experience, and it has allowed us to bond quickly and on a much deeper level than I was used to. Bonds like that, particularly ones that accompany hardcore soul-searching, force you to be better. It’s because of that program, those ladies, and these new connections that I continue to dig deep and explore who I am and all of the things of which I’m capable.

When you live your life constantly inspired and excited for what could be, it’s like you’re living on a magical plane of infinite possibilities. And yes, that is probably too froo froo and woo woo for lots of people, but for me – it’s epic. It makes me smile. It makes my heart beat faster in anticipation. I know that I am aligned and being authentic to who I am, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m here – to shine my light and give others permission to do the same. That revelation and the feeling that goes along with it would never be possible if it wasn’t for the amazing, beautiful, soul tribe worthy friends who are part of my life. So thank you. All of you. I love you more than words are capable of expressing, and you know that from me, Little Miss Writer, that says a lot 🙂 ❤

Remember to Play

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Play QuoteLast week, the topic of my group coaching work was self-expression and communication. I’ve always considered myself a pretty expressive and creative person, but when I actually stopped to take inventory of how I’ve honored these traits recently, I realized that I haven’t. It was a sad development for me, because in addition to being expressive and creative, I’ve always considered myself fun. Further reflection on all of this–as well as experimentation over the following days–solidified the fact that I (and everyone, in my opinion) need to remember to play, and play often.

Really, think about that.

All of us are so focused on and committed to various responsibilities – working to make ends meet, having and caring for a family, climbing the professional ladder, being disciplined to achieve our goals and dreams. The laundry list of to dos is endless. I know that’s how I live my life. I took the thing I love and consider my passion, the thing that brings me the most joy – writing, and turned it into a chore that just wasn’t paying off in my eyes. So what happened? I avoided it and completely zapped all of the fun out of something I used to love unequivocally.

No wonder why I was so depressed!

I may often have my head in the clouds, so to speak, but I’m also a realist when it comes to paying the bills and having a good work ethic, so I get that we can’t just shun all of our responsibilities and replace them with video games and wild parties (although I do miss the Metal Gear summers of my teenage years). But we can invoke more play and fun in our daily lives. How? Allow me to *~list~* some suggestions:

  • Write for fun! Sure, it’s awesome to have a project to focus on with an end goal of pitching, getting an agent, getting published (or movie-fied) and raking in the big bucks and glory, but remember to take time out to just play with your craft. Find a prompt and just go for it, with no goal in sight. Just write for the sake of writing. To create. To weave together words. To play. You know I am taking this advice, right?! I may even post some of my prompted drabbles in this blog. (And if writing isn’t your thing, do the thing that is your thing for fun.)
  • Get out in nature. Personally, I’m more of a homebody, but when I do actually go out in nature, I wonder why I don’t do it more often. Plants, flowers, water, all those naturey things are high vibing sources of energy and that’s why they make us feel so good. Plus, if you’re walking or running (from zombies?!) or hiking etc., extra yay for getting in your steps and getting your blood pumping.
  • Color! Adult coloring books are awesome. So are high quality markers and colored pencils, and–dare I say it–crayons. I have an entire stack of coloring books that I pull out every once in awhile. I plant myself on my couch, fill my ears with awesome instrumental music (The Dark Knight! Game of Thrones!), and color until my heart’s content. Talk about a great way to unwind after a stressful work day.
  • Cook. As long as you’re not me. ‘Cause cooking ain’t my thang, but I know that’s not the case for a lot of people. So, if cooking is your thang – then werk that kitchen. Also, invite me over so that I can indulge in a home cooked meal or two. I’ll bring alcohol (or store bought dessert). And tupperware.
  • Board games! Get a group of friendly peeps together and bust out those board games. Or Cards Against Humanity. Actually, that would probably be number one on my list. And if you haven’t played CAH yet, do yourself a favor and buy a deck. It’s hilarious. It’s become a family tradition in my neck of the woods – our preferred way to end the holidays. But, ya know, my assholeness is hereditary sooo 😉  
  • Take breaks at work. Yes, being an adult and responsible and able to pay off your student loans is important, but so is taking breathers throughout the day to rest your brain and refuel your energy levels. Get away from your desk. Go chat with a work BFF. Take a walk outside. Hide in the bathroom and take a break from human interaction (or is that just me?). Whatever helps you take a moment to realign with your zen and happiness – do that. 

Of course there are tons of other ways that you can play and have fun. Whatever they are, whatever it is that makes you smile and feel good – do it. Do it often. It doesn’t matter how old you may be, or what line of work you’re in. Play is important for all of us. Smiling, feeling good, vibing high, and being happy – all of it is so important. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I Lost Faith in My Writing

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Be You BeachConfession time: I’ve been super depressed lately. As in considering medication because I’ve been vibing so low, feeling terrible, and couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I put a lot of the blame on my job, because it’s been a really tough year at my workplace, and although I’m great at what I do, I don’t love it. It doesn’t light me up. It’s unfulfilling. And that’s a hard pill to swallow every day. I’ve even blamed some of my depression on the amazing group coaching program that I’ve been in since November (which sadly ends in a few weeks). Although I love it, have made amazing friends, and had some transformational breakthroughs, much of the work has been really deep, painful, and hard to face (Sidenote: Still, this program and work has still been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. Period.). Naturally, with all of this going on in my life, I blamed my depression and never-ending misery on those things. But–and here’s the kicker of a realization that I just had a few minutes ago–it’s not work or personal growth that have fueled my depression.

It’s me.

Over the last few months, somewhere along the line, I completely lost faith in the one thing that I hold most dear.

I lost faith in my writing.

At first, I made excuse after excuse on why I couldn’t write: I’m too tired after working all day. I’ll write on the weekend. And then the weekend would come, and I’d fill my days in other non-writing ways. The work week would start all over again, and while I’d hide away on a lunch break here and there to write a scene in my current novel-in-progress, anything I produced just seemed lackluster and like utter shit. Not exactly how you want to feel about your own work. So I blamed perfectionism, and although there is some truth to that, I knew that it wasn’t the entire story. 

Earlier today, I felt like I needed to journal. And not just normal journaling, but soul journaling (or channeling), because yes that’s a thing that I do. It may be too woo woo for some folks, but I consider myself a pretty intuitive person, and I’ve done a lot of work and experimentation over the past five years to really build a bond with my intuition and soul. Lately, however, as my depression has seeped in, I was beginning to get resentful toward spirit. All the time and prayer I put into begging for some sort of light at the end of the tunnel or clear-cut steps to take to improve my situation resulted in nothing. I just kept getting the same generic wisdom: my purpose revolves around writing and connecting with others through my words, but how I decided to actually execute that was my choice. Divine guidance, yet completely useless.

Or so I thought.

After today’s soul journaling session, I had yet another page of the aforementioned type of guidance. At first I was annoyed and disappointed, but then I set my notebook aside and really began to think about it and everything really. Me. Life. Purpose. Depression. Direction. My dreams and aspirations. All of those big questions that are at once empowering and absolutely terrifying.

What do I really want to do? If I could wake up tomorrow and my life and my career revolved around my work–work that made me happy and comfortably self-sufficient–what would that work be?

“Creative writing,” flooded my mind. It gave me chills and made all my hair stand on end. Because duh, I’ve wanted that since I was a kid. And when I started to think back on all of the things and moments and habits and stuff that people noticed about me or commented on or led me to experience really awesome soul-shaking moments throughout my life, all of it–literally all of it–related to some form of creative writing. 

  • When I was in first grade, the kids in my class called me “the dictionary” because I always knew what the hard words meant and could easily help others with spelling and writing assignments.
  • In middle school, I became notorious for having a new book to read every few days. Literally. I’d be excused at the beginning of Sustained Silent Reading a few days a week to go to the library to pick out a new book. In fact, the school librarian was one of my favorite people all throughout elementary and middle school.
  • My favorite book, to this day, remains the only book that I remember my parents reading and talking about and then later recommending to me. When I tweeted to the author last year to rave about said book, he responded, and I died (in a good way). 
  • When I was younger, think single digits, I used to write to my gram, because I dubbed us pen pals. And once I hit about 11-years-old, I began to keep daily journals. I still keep daily journals, and I still have all of the journals and notebooks from over the years.
  • My favorite college class was a Lord of the Rings independent study that I took with the head of the English department. I needed to keep asking for an extension on the detailed journal of analysis I was assigned to keep, because I didn’t realize that reading one of my favorite series would go so much slower when I was reading critically instead of for fun. I got an A in that class, by the way 🙂
  • It was around my college years that I started to write fanfiction. And I know that fanfiction gets a bad rap and elicits a lot of eye rolls, but speaking from experience – fanfiction was the thing that first gave me the confidence to share my stories with other people.
  • I’ve been a “nerd” slash “fangirl” my entire life. But what this really translates to is that I’ve been obsessed with stories–in the form of movies, TV shows, and books–since I was a kid. And when I say obsessed, I mean it, because these stories touched me, impacted me, left an impression, and inspired me to try my own hand at storytelling so that I could make others feel the way that I felt when I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and read the Harry Potter series. (Sidenote: I’m not just a pop culture addict, I also love the classics, like Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and Edgar Allan Poe. I have layers.)
  • Teaming up with my friend Jess five years ago to try this writing thing as a duo remains one of the best experiences of my life. We wrote a book! We eventually realized that our true niche lies in screenwriting and have since completed two screenplays. The ideas just keep coming, and working together feels like literal magic.

Still, for some reason, I lost my faith in my writing. And it’s sucked. It completely zapped me of all happiness and energy over the past few months. Which makes total sense, because I was hiding from the one thing that truly lights me up and makes me feel vibrant. And you know why? Fear. The hiding and the suppression and the faithlessness – it’s all fear-based.

What if I’m not good enough? But what if I am?

What if nothing ever comes of this? I’ll never know until I actually, genuinely 100% try.

If it was meant to be, wouldn’t it have happened by now? I haven’t actually completed enough projects to pull the trigger on legit pitching to make anything happen.

It’s too hard. All of the best journeys are – that’s what makes a good story.

So, in this moment, I now dub my faith all sorts of restored. No more hiding. I’m going to temper my fear. I’m going to stop running from the unknown and my potential. I’m going to stop making excuses. I’m going to really, truly pour all of my heart and soul into my writing and stop phoning it in just so I can just check “writing” off of my to do list.

TLDR: I’m going to write until the day I die, and even then, you’ll need to pry my words from my cold, dead hands.

Soul Searching Rec: Mindbodygreen

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mbgYou may have caught on to this by now: I am a personal growth junkie. I love learning and exploring new things, particularly resources that are informative, inspirational, and fun. And if said resources just so happen to improve happiness and well-being, all the better!

So, in the spirit of promoting such resources, I’d like to recommend one of my favorite daily e-newsletters (stemming from a great website): Mindbodygreen. I look forward to this gem in my inbox every single day. Here’s a blurb from the Mindbodygreen website about the mission behind the brand:

mindbodygreen is a lifestyle media brand dedicated to inspiring you to live your best life.

To that end, we want to give you everything that’s great for you: mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and environmentally — because we believe these pillars of wellness are vital and interconnected. Hence mindbodygreen (one word, not three).

Mindbodygreen splits their content into these categories: eat, move, live, breathe, and love. Revitalize is another subcategory that is based off of an annual event hosted by Mindbodygreen that gathers wellness leaders and other inspirational individuals who shape the world.

The content on the website and in the e-newsletters is truly inspirational. Each e-newsletter issue is filled with a number of articles and recommendations that are impactful and thought provoking. Topics range from astrology and clean eating to fitness and relationships. Even the articles I wouldn’t necessarily seek out have often been enjoyable and enlightening.

If you’re looking for a daily dose of inspiration, I highly recommend subscribing to the Mindbodygreen newsletter!

Meditation

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meditateI’ve been meditating for about five years, and although I’ve gone through periods where it was a devout daily practice of mine, I’ve not been very good at making it stick lately. The annoying thing is that I know how much it improves my life – it gives me clarity, a way to relieve stress, and it lends to a marked and overall improvement to my mental health. I thought that perhaps by blogging about meditation, it would inspire me to make it a daily habit once more.

I’m rather flexible when it comes to my meditation practices, because I like to learn about and experience new things. I’ve tried many different types of meditation: guided meditation, meditation accompanied by sound (my preference is ocean waves), binaural beats, breath-focused meditation, and just plain old silent meditation. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite type, but I tend to practice silent meditation or guided meditation the most. My favorite guided meditation is Blissful Deep Relaxation. The first time I used this meditation, I fell into the deepest meditation I’ve achieved to date. It was trance-like, and once I finished, I wasn’t even aware of my body. It was awesome.

I also have some meditation apps that I like to use:

  • Brainwave: The Brainwave app is a good option if you’re into binaural beats. Brainwave has a handy timer feature, ranging from five minutes to eight hours (if you use one of the sleep beats), and it also has background sound options (like “Beach Surf”). The actual binaural beats options include programs such as “Power Nap,” “Morning Coffee,” “Critical Thinking,” and “Creativity Boost.” I definitely like all of the options, but I’m not sure binaural beats are for me. I never seem to get anything out of this app, try as I might.
  • Breathe: Breathe is one of my favorite meditation apps. It provides a meditation guide for newbies, a list of meditations–some of which are free, and some that you must purchase–and it even tracks your meditation progress. My favorite Breathe meditations include “Mindful Meditation,” “Gratitude,” and “Great Compassion.”
  • Calm: Calm may be tied with Insight Timer as my favorite meditation app. The interface is super nice, and there are a ton of options. Calm offers daily meditations and various meditation programs, such as “7 Days of Calm,” “7 Days of Sleep,” and “7 Days of Self-Esteem.” Both unguided (timed vs. open-ended meditations) and guided (“Body Scan,” “Calming Anxiety,” etc.) meditations are available, although many of the latter need to be purchased. Calm also has a scenes feature, which allows you to choose from an array of moving images to focus on while you meditate, if you so choose. They have everything from a beach sunset to a horizon scene.
  • Headspace: Headspace is perhaps one of the most popular meditation apps. It’s a really great resource for newbies and promises to teach and promote daily meditation in just 10 minutes a day. Like Calm, it has a really nice interface, although as someone who has meditated for years,  I found Headspace to be a bit too meditation for dummies.
  • Insight Timer: This one is my most recent find, and it has quickly climbed to the top of my list. It’s free, and it’s basically an online database of meditations for all different purposes: sleep, relaxation, reducing anxiety, balancing your chakras, etc. You can search for whatever you want, and they also keep lists of the current top 20 meditations, newest meditations, etc. I really like that there’s a bookmark feature, so you can keep track of your favorites, and there’s also a rating feature, which always helps me decide which meditation to choose.
  • Simply Being:  Simply Being is a guided meditation app, but you can mute the voice so you can focus on your chosen sound instead. I favor “Moderate Surf,” (with the voice muted) but there are other options, such as various music, “Light Rain” and “Evening Lake Birds.” I also like the timer option on this app – you can set your meditation for 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes.

If you’re interested in meditation, you should definitely try one (or some!) of the apps listed above. Of course now that I’ve published this post, I’ll be sure to take my own advice and get back into the habit of meditating 😉 I find that for me meditating at night just before I go to bed is a great way to unwind after a long day and fall asleep faster, which is always appreciated.