Monday, July 29, 2013

My "vision board" refrigerator

Mmm, I'm guilty: today I decided to sleep in.  Monday is proving to be the hardest day to get out of bed at 6:30, following a weekend of sleeping late.  I didn't sleep well last night and opted for a couple more hours, resulting in no morning workout and no meditation.  Wamp wamp.  I knew I'd have time to do both later today, so I lost the snooze button battle and headed straight into the office after breakfast.  I'm determined to get back to my early morning routine tomorrow.

I'm glad that I have my prominently-posted workout check-off calendar right on the fridge.  It would disappointment me not to be able to check off today's workout, which is part of what motivates me to get it done later today, even though I missed the morning.  I also wrote myself a little motivational poem, which I read while making breakfast.  It reminds me that my goal is to be in the moment, and show strong determination to be active in the morning, instead of letting all my mornings pass me by.

In this way, my freezer door serves as a kind of vision board.  A vision board is a place for words and objects that represent your goal.  Mine has images that make me smile and is geared toward optimism and happiness. The little tags from my tea bags, when they're meaningful to me, such as, "When you know that all is light, you are enlightened." My favorite fortune cookie fortunes; #1 favorite: "Fate loves the fearless."  A newspaper clipping with the headline "pair of signs speaks volumes," above a photograph of two signs at an intersection; one reads "dead end" and the other reads "hope."  It's fun to see little encouraging words and images when I'm trying to wake up in the morning. It's one easy way to increase your happiness.  :)

The T25 workout calendar, Alpha cycle.
After the first 5 weeks, the workout program switches to the Beta cycle, calendar for which is on the other side.
Do you have a vision board?  A blog?  A journal?  A workout calendar, or a workout group?  How about a community of people, centered around your goal, that helps keep you accountable to the goals you've set for yourself?  These tools or friends can help you keep your goal at the forefront of your mind at times when it might not otherwise be.  Do what it takes to create an atmosphere -- including in your home, and among the company you keep -- that is both supportive of, and a reflection of, the life you envision for yourself.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Listen to your body! Plus, how to stop a panic attack.

I'm in the home stretch of my second week of the Total Body Happiness project, and I feel:
  • A sense of pride and accomplishment
  • Muscle soreness
  • Super tired by 10pm (this is new)
  • Calmer already!
Three days ago, I had to make a tough choice.  My wrist (injured around New Year's) had been aching all day.  I hadn't been using modifications for any of the burpees, mountain climbers, and other on-wrist exercises in the T25 workouts, assuming my wrist should be healed by now, but the pain came rushing back.  On Tuesday morning, I elected to switch Total Body Circuit (perhaps the most intensive routine of the bunch) with Stretch, which is T25's yoga-based stretching routine.  

Stretch felt awesome.  My whole body needed it, and my wrist needed a break from the speed.  I still did planks and other poses on my wrist, but not jumping down onto it quickly did help.

I felt bad not being able to check off the box for Total Body Circuit on my workout calendar, but I'm sure I did the right thing.  Sometimes it's more important to see the big picture.  I still woke up early and was active that day, and that aspect of consistency can be one of the most important components of creating successful new habits. Committing to a routine improves things like sleep quality and digestion.  And exercising for a half hour, 5 days a week, seems to be the standard advice of medical professionals for weight loss, maintenance, and just better overall health. That advice applies whether you do strenuous aerobic exercises every day, or switch up some days with stretching, yoga, tai chi, or other non-aerobic workouts.  

Tuesday is also a 17 hour day for me, so it's a definite challenge to do an exhausting workout early in the morning. My 6:30 wake-up; work in the office (a 45 commute); then, I kill time in the city (often meeting my boyfriend for a healthy favorite dinner at Shabu Zen); and then, my band practices from 8pm til 10 or 10:30, after which I make that commute back home again, and try to wind down and get to sleep as fast as possible. (Valerian root capsules help; you can buy 'em at Whole Foods.)

When you feel exhausted after a long day of running around from the early morning til the late, late night, it's likely because you've burned plenty of calories!  So, I don't take small actions for granted.  Mindfulness is teaching me to appreciate the nature of what I'm doing at all times, instead of taking all those movements for granted. This involves listening to my body, tweaking and modifying for it as needed -- as long as those needs are weighed with some discipline.  Wrist injury: modification okay.  Clinging to bed when you've already had 8 hours: get your ass up!

Notes on Challenges, and anxiety: After dinner at Shabu on Tuesday evening, we went for a walk over to the Asian market, Super 88.  This is an interesting place that makes you feel like you've entered China (or LA's Chinatown) just by walking through the door.  In the front, food court style dining; the food counters hang whole cooked ducks by their necks, along with other things you don't see every day in Allston. In the back, a full market features, what is to me, a very peculiar and not very pleasant smell.  Rows of unfamiliar packaged items, meat counters in the back. Hog's feet. Cow hooves. A fish counter with whole fish staring up at you from ice and tanks, and all the sounds and smells that accompany said fishmongering. I eat meat but as a semi-sensitive former vegetarian, these things can get to me sometimes.

Although I find this place interesting to explore, it's also dirty, dingy, and drab.  I saw someone behind the counter drop a fish on the floor; it flopped and slid, and he picked it up and kept going like it was nothing. Somewhere between the packaged quail eggs and the bags of wasabi peas, my pulse started to quicken a bit and my breathing got shallow.  These are things I'm learning to sense much sooner to when they first start.  I thought about telling my boyfriend that I was feeling anxious, or even that I wanted to leave but I chose not to.  I have to be responsible for my own mood-management. Part of me even got a little excited for an opportunity to practice my skills.  This was my first freak-out in a while.  I immediately went into "counteracting panic" mode.  "Don't run from this," I said to myself.  "Don't run from anything."

How to STOP a panic attack dead in its tracks:
  1. Do a quick body scan to assess where you feel the unease or tension.  I've noticed that I immediately clench my stomach and other muscles when I start to feel uneasy.  
  2. Release the tension in those areas.  Roll the shoulders, let your belly stick out, alternate kicking each foot out to release tension in the legs or sit down if you have to.  Turn your head from side to side and touch your ears to each shoulder.  Shake your hands out.  Yawn.  
  3. Remember: nobody around you is going to mind what you're doing; just listen to your body and move in whatever way feels better to you.  Your number one goal in this moment is to do whatever it takes regain a sense of calm.  The calm is patiently waiting for you beneath this anxiety, which will pass.
  4. Take a full, deep breath, expanding the lungs and the belly to capacity.  This releases endorphins.
  5. Slowly exhale, at half the speed with which you inhaled.  Controlling and slowing the exhale of breath slows your heart rate.
  6. Stay engaged with whatever activity or conversation is going on, to the best of your ability.  Even if you can't speak, listen and focus on what you're hearing.  This distances you from those pervasive things your mind is saying about how you're not going to be okay, and you need to run away.  You are okay.  "You don't need to run away.  You just need to calm down." -- my constantly cool and collected boyfriend.  :)
  7. Are you scowling?  Stop that!  Smile and laugh if possible.  Laughter releases tension.  And, when you smile, people smile back at you.  When you scowl, people scowl back at you, which is unnerving.  This is one of the subtle ways in which freaking out actually contributes to creating a hostile atmosphere.  You can influence your environment either negatively, or positively.  
"Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change."

The good news is, this isn't a comprehensive list of tips and tricks; there are tons and tons of solutions out there, including EFT tapping and other work with pressure points, breathing, and redirection of awareness. But these 7 steps happen to be the ones I did at the market on Tuesday to stop my anxiety level around 4 or 5, and bring it back down to 0.  Success.  :)

Did you smile back at this zebra?  Bet you did!

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Total Body Happiness food shopping list!

Here's a common sense shopping list that's easy to stick to.  Garlic, mustard, herbs, spices, salsa, and lemon juice are awesome ways to add versatility to your meals without adding calories, even when you're sticking to the same basic ingredients week to week.  

I've been eating in a healthy, whole way for a while now, but tonight I shopped with extra diligence (excluding things like cheese, sweetened almond milk in favor of unsweetened, plain Greek yogurt instead of fruit flavor to cut out some sugar). Nutrition plays such a big role in your body's composition.  As they say, "abs are made in the kitchen."  I'm using a combination of concepts and principles, primarily from the T25 nutrition guide (which includes easy recipes), The 4-Hour Body, and The New Abs Diet for Women.  

Chicken breast
Grass-fed beef
Nitrate-free deli turkey (Boar's Head is good)
Beans (black, pinto, kidney)
Unsalted roasted almonds
Whey protein powder and/or Shakeology

Spinach and baby spinach
Sweet potatoes
Bell peppers

Avocados (are they a fruit?)
Tomatoes (I know that one!)

Whole grains and seeds
Pumpkin seeds
Brown rice
Sprouted grain pasta

Almond milk
Greek yogurt

There are lots of other awesome foods in all of these categories, but this is good to keep it simple and start with!  I had to do my workout after work tonight, and food shop, so it got a little late for dinner.  I ended up having a light meal with a couple of ingredients that aren't on this list, but it was so unexpectedly good that I have to share!
  • 2 Quaker lightly salted rice cakes (made of brown rice!)
  • 2 tbs Tribe Everything Hummus (I love this)
  • 4 slices Boar's Head Oven Gold turkey breast
  • Cucumber
Smear hummus on rice cakes, top with thin-sliced cucumber, and turkey breast.  Super yummy -- savory and salty with a satisfying crunch and delightful cucumber refreshment!  :)  

I'm having a cup of Yogi Kava Stress Relief tea now and winding down for bedtime.  Other teas I love that are always on my shopping list: peppermint, chamomile, Yogi's St. John's Wort Blues Away, and fennel when I can find it.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

T25 Alpha Cycle: Week One (and thensome)

It's my first "STATurday" of T25 and the results are good.  I've lost 2 pounds, and half an inch off my hips. Here's what I've been doing this week, exercise-wise.  Again, all workouts are 25 minutes, and Friday is "double day" meaning you do two workouts.

Monday: Cardio, a progressive cardio workout. 
High knees, heart pumping, sweat dripping.

Tuesday: Speed 1.0, fast-paced cardio featuring stretching, stability, and some fancy feet.
This one's my favorite!  It's reminiscent of hip hop!

Wednesday: Total Body Circuit, killer cardio-based strength workout. 
You lunge, you squat, and you sweat (duh).

Thursday: Ab Intervals, an interval-based fat-burning routine.
Works the core both on and off the floor.

Friday: Lower focus, strengthening and sculpting of the legs.  
And the Cardio workout again, as on Monday.

I barely made it though 4 out of 6 of these workouts.  Took a sip of water, or followed the modifier for few minutes.  I still felt my heart racing through the mini breaks I took, so I don't feel like I sacrificed too much by going at my own pace a bit this first week.  It's amazing how the first 5 or 10 minutes feel so long when you're doing it, but at the end of the workout (even though they're really hard) you feel like, hey, 25 minutes, I got that done pretty fast.  I started to feel muscle soreness (in a good way) after the second day, and my whole body seems firmer to me, so I'm feeling good overall and happy with the 2 pound weight loss toward my (approx) 10 pound goal.

One challenge: my wrist has been hurting.  Some teen thug ice skated backwards into me at Frog Pond last December (8 months ago).  I had a cast on my wrist briefly, which may or may not have come off too soon.  I dunno.  But it had only been hurting very occasionally before this week.  Burpees, pushups, planks, and other moves where you get down onto the hands seem to be aggravating my wrist, but I intend to keep pushing.  In the end, my wrist injury was diagnosed as deep bone bruising, which hurt a whole lot, but I don't think these activities should re-injure it.  I would think only smacking it against something and re-bruising it would do that.  Just the same, I should probably call the good doctor and see what he thinks.  

Maybe this is a good time to talk about why I'm doing this.  I don't think anyone would necessarily prioritize a Total Body Happiness initiative without having any unhappiness within the mind or body. (Although maybe there isn't anyone without some level of unhappiness within the mind or body!!)  I have some perfectionist-type tendencies, and want to be my best self, yes.  But I'm also sick of feeling like my emotions control me.  I don't want my emotions to be the primary lens through which I evaluate my life experience anymore.  

Emotions are so constantly fluctuating, even when life stays roughly the same.  I want to feel a greater sense of that stability day to day, so that I don't have as many stressful episodes where I lose track of the big picture.  I want to appreciate my good fortune and know that everything is okay no matter what happens, as frequently as I possibly can.  I've also been having chronic stomach pain since I was 20, so there's that.  I've been tested for everything that could cause it, and there's nothing physically wrong, so I guess I have to deduce that it's caused by stress.  I do not want to carry that into my 30s if at all possible. I've tried many solutions for it, but perhaps not everything at once.  Now I'm pulling out the big guns.

I can be healthier, and more comfortable in my body.  I can be calmer, less reactive, and more flexible toward other people, as well as my own emotions.  I want to feel many more moments of calm and serenity in each and every day.  I want to be the kind of person who can identify a problem in myself, and put my mind to improving it.  I'm not stuck with my problems: I won't defensively excuse them, or self-identify with them.  (Ex. "I'm just an anxious person."  No, I reject that, because that's not who I want to be.)  I don't have to bring my problems with me into each new chapter of my life.  I'm done with this decade's problems. I've carried them for long enough and I want to release them. So, the experiment in learning how to do that continues.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Free your mind, and the rest will follow.

For the first morning since dedicating myself to this initiative, I sat for 12 minutes of formal meditation. Today I used Jon Kabat-Zinn's guided meditation, "Whole Body Mindfulness" from his book, Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment -- and Your LifeReading the book itself feels like a meditation, but the book also comes with an audio CD of 5 guided meditation tracks:

  1. Eating Meditation
  2. Mindfulness of Breathing
  3. Whole Body Mindfulness
  4. Mindfulness of Thinking
  5. Pure Awareness Practice

Today's meditation spot.  :)
My goal, and the goal that Kabat-Zinn recommends to the reader, is to do one meditation every day.  Last night I did "Mindfulness of Breathing" and this morning, I thought it would be nice to think about mindfulness within the whole body, to get ready for my workout.  (T25 Ab Intervals was hard!)

I love so many of the ideas that Kabat-Zinn describes, and how he describes them, but my favorite might be his explanation of how the mind works.  The mind is preoccupied with the future, the past, ideas, emotions, judgments, all kinds of things -- and there's nothing wrong with that; that's just the nature of the mind.  But when we become preoccupied with our thoughts, it's important to recognize that we are no longer present in the moment.  We're no longer paying attention.  We even forget we're breathing and just let the body take that over for us.

In my life, I've noticed that the more out of sync I am with the present moment, and the deeper I'm tunneling into my own thoughts, the more susceptible I am to feelings of anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction.  I'm even more susceptible to stubbing my toe, or slamming my elbow against the door frame, because I'm moving too fast and I'm not aware of my body or even really looking where I'm going.  Just lost in thoughts.

So, should I attempt to focus on every breath I take and nothing else, in all my waking moments?  No, that is impossible because it defies the mind's very nature.  Thoughts will come, and that's great.  Many positive and productive thoughts deserve our attention.  It's the strengthening of our ability to release them that frees us from not feeling ABLE to release them.  We can free ourselves from unhappy thoughts and emotions, which anyone who's ever been plagued by negative thinking knows is a beautiful skill.  We can also be free from feeling that we exist solely within the chatter of our own minds.  Our thoughts do not define us.  We don't have to indulge, believe, and pay so much attention to everything the mind says.  Notice thoughts for what they are: transient, and discursive.  We can consider, examine, and build upon the thoughts that are worthy, and then we can:
  1. Release the thought.  Just say, "okay, that's nice. Thank you. I'm done now."
  2. Return to feeling the energy that hums within body. You are alive, and that's even more interesting.
  3. Smell the air, feel the ground. There is a living world around you, worthy of your attention. 
  4. Listen, to whatever there is to hear, instead of listening to thoughts alone, or verbalizing them.
If we believed that our entire existence was encapsulated within our own heads, that would separate us from everyone and everything else.  Our mind seeks to define us, holding desperately to the ego's opinion of who we are, who we're not, and whether we're right or wrong.  That can be released, like the flowing energy that it is. We can step out of our own thoughts at any time -- even in the middle of an argument, or a panic attack, or hopefully, way before one starts. Thoughts are not the enemy. Nor are they the spokesperson for everything we feel and everything we are.  Thoughts are only one part of us.

All our thoughts are transient, like writing on water, or clouds in the wind. But even in the absence of thought, conversation, and dialogue, we still exist, as do others and as does the living world around us.  When negative thoughts take a strong hold, and challenge you when you try to let go, remember that thoughts have no substance.  They're just static frequency.  When negative thinking plagues you, tell yourself, "This is just a thought.  I'm okay.  Let it go."  And breathe.

Learning how to identify and stop an emotional freak-out in its tracks is one of my primary motivators for meditating.  I also don't care to believe everything my mind says.  As I get older, I realize more and more that everyone's perspective is valid and different.  Just because my mind is telling me something, it doesn't make it true or set in stone.  Suspend your belief.

Breathe in.  "You are."  Breathe out.  "Here now."  Each breath is new and unique, like an ocean wave; no two are the same.  But even though that breath is a lovely, vital, enjoyable thing, with every exhale you always release it. Thoughts can be like that.  No matter whether the thought is good or bad.  The mind can be open, flexible, and free.

I love this advice for how to feel about the mind's inevitable wandering:

When you notice that your mind is not on your breath anymore, in the body,
well, you're already back!
Because some part of your awareness has actually let it register
that your mind wandered away.
So, notice what's on your mind in that moment
 and just let it be.
And then gently, and lovingly, and caringly,
and firmly,
reestablish your primary focus once again,
on the breath.
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn, from "Mindfulness of Breathing"

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Itty bitty bedtime tantrum

Well, now it's 10:20.  But I don't wanna go to bed!  Feeling a little annoyed in anticipation of the 4th morning, because I'd rather watch a movie and drink a beer than go to sleep right now.  Ah, well.  I must admit I'm tired.

I've scoped out the perfect meditation spot for tomorrow: there's a window in the guest room, outside of which is a beautiful tree.  The small guest room used to be my bedroom when I rented out half my place to roommates.  For some of that time, I meditated in the evenings in front of that window.  The pretty tree outside was much smaller then.  It's grown since that time when I'd look upon it often.  I realize I've changed and gotten older since that time, too.

Ab Interval workout after that!  Ugh.  I need that, but I don't want that. Flat stomachs are fun, flat stomachs are fun, flat stomachs are fun...

Fine! I'll go to bed.  :)  Over and out.

How to be a morning person

If you're like me, you love bed.  Man, do I love it!  I have a Sears-O-Pedic with memory foam topper, Tempurpedic pillows for neck support, and dark gray, light-blocker drapes.  I dream like a pro, and I love all dreams, including nightmares.  I just find it so cool that my brain conjures up elaborate stories while I'm asleep.  Why does that happen?  Because the unconscious mind never shuts off.  It's always working. So, I suspect that deciding to wake up early is about tapping into that.  If you want to wake up earlier, and you love bed like I do, then some serious mental determination must be required.

I'm starting to figure out some practical steps that I'd like to share.  Step 1, figure out what time you're going to start waking up.  To begin my new workout-and-be-mindful morning regimen, I need to get up at 6:30. This is 2 hours earlier than I've been able to get up in a long while.  I've been staying up too late, because I'm also a night owl, and because I can work from home and wake up at 8:30 some days, so why not stay up til 12:30am?  Well, not no more!  I want to get in tune with my circadian rhythm and benefit from more hours of endorphin-inducing daylight.

"Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. They are found in most living things, including animals, plants and many tiny microbes."
-- National Institute of General Medical Sciences

Last night, I was having all together too much fun. I remembered to set my alarm before I went to sleep at 11, but somehow I did not actually set it to ON.  So, of course, it did not go off.  Yet, amazingly, my eyes opened at 6:30am and I felt fairly awake!  Again, because my unconscious mind knew the plan, and because our biological clocks drive our circadian rhythms.

But clearly, waking up and feeling fairly awake does not always lead to getting out of bed. Sometimes I roll over and see my snuggly cat, Moose, and then I hit Snooze and say, "10 more minutes."  And then, usually once I fall back asleep, the next time I wake up I don't feel ready to get up in the slightest.  This behavior can initiate an hour of Snoozing until I have to rush once I finally do get up.  This is what I've been doing lately, so my mornings have felt grumpy and groggy, definitely not empowered, energized, or thoughtful.

This morning was so different!  Here's what I did once my eyes opened:
  1. I said, "Self, c'mon, stick to the plan.  Get up."  And I pulled back the covers, put my feet on the floor, and opened the drapes.  That hit of sun, and seeing that it was a beautiful morning, energized me just a little.  (By the way, I think rainy mornings are a cruel joke made by God to test the resolve of wannabe morning people.)
  2. I drank all of the 8oz glass of water I had placed on my nightstand the night before.  Just Google "drink water wake up" and you'll see countless articles on this being a healthful practice, for hydration, digestion, and making you feel energized.  Here's what has to say about it.  (I always trust them as a resource for health questions.)  
  3. I washed my face, circulating blood in my hands and face and washing off the sleepies.  
  4. I made the bed.  No option of getting back in at that point.
  5. I left the room.  On to bigger and better things and away from the temptation of lying back down.
  6. I made breakfast, which lately has been a smoothie.
Vanilla Almond Smoothie
  • Ice
  • Almond milk
  • 1 tbs almond butter
  • 1 tsp flax seeds
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Handful of berries, fresh or frozen (I used raspberries today)
  • 1 scoop Vanilla Shakeology* (or protein and probiotic/fiber supplement)
Blended with the glorious Magic Bullet. *Shakeology is a nutritional supplement sold by Beachbody, the people behind the workout program I'm doing, T25.  I'm trying a one-month supply of Shakeology because I'm in a Team Beachbdoy T25 challenge group.  (More on that in another post.)  Shakeology contains a balanced amount of protein and carbohydrates, plus a lot of vitamins and so-called super food ingredients, all mixed together in what is called a "proprietary blend."  A proprietary blend means that they won't tell you exactly how this stuff is made or what amounts of each ingredient goes into the final product.  Beachbody makes a lot of claims about the power of this powder, but I do not think it's worth the ridiculously high cost of $130 for a one-month supply.  I will be trying Green Vibrance when I'm done with this bag of Shakeology, sold at Whole Foods for a third of the price (and no shipping).

Once you've hydrated with water, washed with water, and are sipping on an ice cold smoothie, you'll start to feel pretty awake!  Keep doing this and your rhythm will change... or so I'm hoping.  :)

And of course, becoming a morning person starts with getting enough sleep, and sleeping well.  Check out this article entitled, Sleeping beauty: How to sleep better and awaken your beauty.  It has some tips on preparing your body and your sleep environment for good sleep!

Notes on challenges: Despite my epic win at waking up this morning, I haven't really sat and meditated in the morning yet.  The problem is, I'm trying so hard to get myself to feel awake that sitting down and focusing on my breathing seems like a guaranteed way to accidentally nod off and wake up 3 hours later, late for work.  One idea I have for lessening this risk is to plan to meditate in another room of the house (not the bedroom, as planned).  I think designating some nice spot in another room will help me feel more like my day has started.  I also plan to put on my workout clothes before I meditate so that I feel dressed, and hopefully more awake.  Trying again tomorrow!

Today's workout went well: Total Body Circuit, a whole body calorie burn with push-ups, burpees, lunges, squats and more!  I'm a little sore today after 3 consecutive morning workouts, and I'm looking forward to writing about the T25 schedule and regimen once I've completed the first week.  In T25, Saturday is "STAT"urday: you take new measurements and weight, so I'll be updating the blog with those numbers then, too.  Hopefully, my next entry will be about having nailed some morning meditation sessions in addition to nailing these sweat-inducing, challenging 25 minute workouts!

Red and sweaty?  Job well done.

Final thoughts: Win, or fail, fat, strong, or frail; it's what's in your heart that matters.  You can be happy or unhappy no matter what time of day you wake up.  Do your best, and aim for success.  If you welcome the challenge, then you've passed the test.  Love, for yourself and for others.  That's all you really need.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Life's a journey, not a destination.

Look through my old notebooks; you'll find a lot of Day 1s.  I've been dreaming up grand new goals and setting milestones for completing them for literally as long as I can remember.  Diary entry, age 8: "I'm going to the dentist on Friday!!!"  (I loved the dentist.)  Entry continues: "Floss!  Brush teeth for half an hour on Thursday."  [Insert drawing of smiling mouth next to toothbrush here.]  Um, a half hour?  Yikes. What the hell?

I'm willing to bet that I did not follow through with that particular, inadvisable and OCD-esque goal, since I don't remember ever having brushed until my gums bled.  But the spirit behind that 8-year-old's writing is what interests me.  Specific goal-setting behavior, always in the realm of self-improvement, is something I've continued to do throughout my life.  And as far as I can remember, nobody ever taught me to do that; it seems to be inherent in me.

What I realize now at age 29, 3 months shy of 30, is that setting short, mid-length, and long-term goals can be a powerful tool for tracking your progress toward creating the life, and the bright shining smiling self that you want.  I've totally achieved some of the goals that I've put in print and declared I'll achieve.  Lose five pounds for Rachael's wedding!  Redecorate the guest room before Mom arrives!  And etc.  But since there have been a lot of false starts, too... I've had to ask myself, wherein lies the difference between the goals that I successfully achieve and the goals that I think I want to achieve, but never do?

Well, I think I've figured it out.  The entries that are destined to fail usually come from a negative place.  Right goal, wrong inspiration.  I've stepped on the scale, noticed a weight gain, and in shock and horror I've grabbed a notebook and written out a plan: "Flab to Fit February!  Lose 8lbs in 30 days!"  I myself tend to write these things; other people tend to impulsively grab magazines with similar slogans printed across them when they're feeling the same way.  The point is, you can't just open a page and declare, "today I'll change!"  Not from a place of self-punishment, and not hastily.  That approach is backwards, because it looks at a goal from the outside in, rather than the inside out.  

The only goals that are destined to succeed are the ones that reflect our true desire.  If you're feeling hateful toward your body, if you're punishing yourself for past mistakes, then you'll just get more of that: hateful and guilty emotions don't lead us to make self-empowered, healthy choices, because hate and guilt aren't healthy emotions.  A shift must occur.  You must release those emotions and gain acceptance of this moment, just as it is.  Suddenly, you can acknowledge that improvement is possible, with a spirit of calm and clarity.  You can see a path toward a worthy goal, and the journey toward it excites you, instead of condemns you.  

I believe the truth is that the lives we lead are in every way a reflection of what's in our hearts.  All you need to do is observe your life in order to see a visualization of what you've prioritized, up to this moment.  Each choice we make is a demonstration -- actual proof of our mindset.  "In this moment, I place a higher value on the instant gratification of this piece of cake than I do on eating healthily and losing weight."  Or, maybe it's not about instant gratification -- maybe we want to participate in a celebration by eating the cake, or sample an amazing chef's new recipe.  No choice is wrong, is just depends on what the heart says about why you're making that choice.  When you observe your choices, in relation to your goals, you will find examples that resonate with you.  Think about it.  Are the choices you make falling in line with what you think of as your personal goals?  If not, then perhaps your goals are not in line with what's really in your heart.  

What does your heart say?  What are your goals?

My heart says, I have a huge and worthy goal that excites me.  My goal is to be content, at peace, kind toward myself and others, non-judgmental toward myself and others -- in a word, HAPPY -- in every moment, for the rest of my life.  "What the hell," you say?  "Life is long, and shit will inevitably go wrong; that's an unattainable goal!"  Well, I don't think so.  Because nobody promised me a tomorrow, perhaps this is only a goal for today.  Hell, nobody has promised me that this evening will come, or that I will still be alive and reveling in the luxury of my dissatisfactions, even half an hour from now, so perhaps it's only this minute's goal!  This second's goal!  You've heard it before, haven't you?  NOW.  And NOW.  And NOW is all there is.  Each moment can be a Day 1, a fresh opportunity for a fresh start.  How you experience each moment of your life is up to you, and no single piece of cake or act of deviation from your goal can utterly derail you.  If you keep checking in with your heart, and letting it lead you, your mind will stay in line with your goal.

Right now, I feel like sharing these thoughts with you in the form of this blog, and I feel like calling this blog, "Total Body Happiness."  And now, I'd like to explain my title.  :)

Total Body Happiness, Defined!

Where does the body come into the picture of total happiness?  What does it mean to be happy in the body? Well, without your body -- intricate, amazing, phenomenal organism that it is -- you wouldn't have this life experience.  The body encapsulates the mind, as far as I can tell, and we have two distinct working systems at play.  The body operates without your input: breathing for you when you're focusing on other things, beating your heart to pump your blood, digesting your food to fuel your muscles, and doing a whole host of other things that I don't have the doctorate to even summarily describe!  What a luxury!  Study is required to begin to understand what the body's born doing!  Impressive stuff.  Yet, if you wanted to study it, you could, because the mind is equally vast!  Storing all your memories, your learned skills, all the associations that it constantly calls upon in order for you to assess your surroundings in a mere blink of your amazing eyes!  

By Total Body Happiness, I'm trying to convey a sense of fusing your body's "happiness" (which is equal to physical health and vitality) with peaceful contentment of the mind, and the inspired creativity that is able to arise when you're not bogged down in negative or stressful emotions.  This union of body and mind is where successful goals are born, and thus, the union of body and mind seems to me to be the only Goal #1 that is truly worth setting.  

Here are the specifics of how I plan to modify my daily behavior in order to be happier and healthier in body and mind:
  • Go to sleep by 10:30 so I can wake up by 6:30, and not be too grouchy about it
  • Follow a morning schedule that includes breakfast, formal mindfulness meditation*, and exercise*
  • Sustain a spirit of mindfulness at all times to the best of my ability
  • Continue to eat nourishing, healthful foods and not overeat, or booze (as a verb) to excess.  (I'm setting these booze rules specifically: thumbs up to a lovely glass of red wine on weeknights if desired; thumbs up to delicious, beloved craft beers on weekends only.)
That's it.  A simple experiment, right?  My hypothesis is that my results will be tangible, so I must be able to gauge them.  To track the mind: I intend to use this blog to share reviews of the texts I'm studying, as well as struggles, triumphs, and experiences along the way.  Or, maybe this is a great idea, and yet I'm full of shit and will never log into this blog again.  Time will tell, but right now, I have the best intention to document my idea.  And I still have it now.  And now.  And now...  :)

To track my physical results, I've recorded my current statistics and taken before photos.  Even though I find the photos a little gruesome, I'm not beating myself up about them emotionally.  I'm not in the best shape of my life, but why would I be?  I haven't been exercising regularly and I've been drinking a lot of beer.  But, I'll share these photos because after I saw them, I gained more inspiration to make my body an extension of my happy mind.  I think it's important to remember that the only sane starting point is self-effacing honesty.  Plus, if you've actually read this many of my thoughts, I guess you deserve to see a little skin!

If you want to follow along with me, take your weight, the following measurements, and multiple before pictures.

Weight: 139.4 lbs
Chest: 36"
Waist: 27"
Bicep: 11"
Thigh: 24"
Hips: 40"

And this is what that looks like on me:

Sweaty exercise pic from today's Day 1 of workout!
Full frontal workout-wear.  I'm sportin' some pudge, but I'm diggin' my tan!

Frankly, this photo disturbed and thus motivated me.  I look forward to seeing improvement in the back of my legs!

Empowered to begin, again, and again, and again!

*Here's the book and guided meditation program I'm starting with, as well as the exercise program I'm starting with:

Book and audio program: Mindfulness for Beginners, by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  Here it is on Amazon.
Exercise program: T25 by Shaun T, distributed by Beachbody.  More info about that here

Thank you for reading and for joining me in, or supporting me on, this journey of being alive in the best way possible!  Just by being in my circle, our lives overlap; you impact me and I impact you!  Let's make that impact positive.  Three cheers to what I hope will be the first of many blog entries.

<3 Angela