Monday, August 30, 2010

The art of relaxation - animal style

You may have noticed from my last few blogs that I’m searching for balance, seeking a way to streamline my life, trying to turn negative into positive, and find a way to savor those wonderful moments of freedom.

So, I went to my parents who live by the Jersey shore for the weekend. I was there for family reasons, but also to unwind, relax, and do nothing. De-stress. I spent the weekend going for walks on the boardwalk, reading on the couch for hours, taking naps, and sitting around and talking with family.

I had a relaxing weekend. But I was already feeling down again this morning. So what did a relaxing weekend fix?

Just in the nick of time, I bought Oprah magazine this month, in which life coach Martha Beck approaches the topic in a new way in The Secret to Surviving Life's Low Points.

We all go through ups and downs, she says, the ebbs and flows of life.

Humans are not alone in this adventure though; animals go through ebbs and flows too. The difference between them and us (well besides the obvious) is that when an animal goes through an ebb, they stretch out their paws and rest. Have you ever watched a lion, a cat, or a dog when they are resting? They literally do nothing, all while being present. Examining and listening to their surroundings, stretching their bodies like a good yoga work-out, and napping in between.

They’re meditating.

And then when they wake up out of their funk, they’re ready to play, eat, go for a walk, and have a jolly good time until the next ebb comes again.

We humans feel the need to fix our ebbs, make them better, turn them into something positive, pushing away and suppressing our downs and forcing them to be something they’re not. We tend not to stretch out our paws. Instead, we do other things – positive things that will uplift our spirits, “fix” the problem, make lemonade out of lemons.

Martha Beck advises us to just accept that lemons are a part of life just as lemonade is. The ebbs – just as the flows - are natural. And they’re telling us something.

The issue is that many of us are afraid of the ebbs, Beck points out. A downturn in our lives may be the precursor to impending doom. Facing the fear is the next step, she advises. Turn the fear into appreciation. It is scientifically impossible for fear and appreciation to exist at the same time.

But the real lesson in all of this, after accepting that downs happen and appreciating our lives is to hear the message. Ebbs are telling us loud and clear to REST.

She means really rest. Do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Like a lion or a bear. Meditate. Just be. Observe your surroundings without judgment. Listen to the sounds. Focus on your breath. Your heart beat. Get in touch with your inner feelings, the sensations in your body, and find the places in your body where rest and relaxation reside. Become attuned to them. Empty your head.

Watching TV, reading a book, and hanging out with friends is not doing nothing. It may seem like nothing because you are not “getting things done”. Those kinds of activities, although may be fun, are really a camouflage. Suppressing whatever is really going on, and perpetuating the ebb so that it resurfaces in another form later.

After a great weekend, I had a mini-ebb this morning. The problems that caused the initial big ebb hadn’t gone away. They were merely suppressed for a few hours.

So I listened to Martha, and I meditated outside. I listened to my breath, to the birds chirping, and looked at the most incredible view of a white moon sitting in the midst of a bright blue sky. I stretched my arms and rolled my shoulders.

I wasn’t seeking to “fix the problem” or get things done or even turn my frown upside down. And what I wound up feeling was pure bliss. I also discovered the root of what’s been eating at me.

Next time I feel down, the first thing I’m going to do – is nothing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

In search of balance

I’ve been feeling stretched too thin lately, overcommitted, in need of balance and rest. Errands, the house, work, freelance projects, finances. And as diabetics know, health is a full-time job. Doctors, diabetic rituals, record keeping. And when I’m zonked from a full day, I top it off with a few hours of television. I don’t consider this to be a good remedy. And so I’ve been wondering: Is this really what life is all about?

I just want to rest and when I’m not doing that, I want to have some fun. I want life to be about living it to the fullest – not tracking my carbohydrates and basal rates. Be with friends and family. Discover new places. Learn new things.

So yesterday, I took a break. I went with a friend to see Eat Pray Love, the movie based on the book by Elizabeth Gilbert where she goes for a yearlong journey in search of herself. She spends the first four months of her year in Italy indulging in pasta and pizza. She simply wants to enjoy life’s pleasures. Then, she spends the next four months in an ashram in India praying, living an austere life, meditating every morning, and dealing emotionally and spiritually with the hardships she had faced in the past. She wraps up her year in Bali. This is where she learns how to balance spirit and pleasure through the teachings of Ketut, the medicine man, and falls in love with a Brazilian ex-pat living in Bali.

She finds herself at the end of the year - through balancing her spiritual self with her life in the outside world.

My friend and I just had to sit afterwards to discuss. We were disappointed in the Hollywood-ness of the movie itself, but the story of Eat Pray Love, no matter how it’s told, drives home the point. Living a life from your true essence and finding balance. How can I translate it into my everyday life?

I told my friend about how I’d been feeling overwhelmed lately, like I don’t have time for myself. I have been feeling stuck in a rut, as though I’m chained to my mortgage, my to-do lists – my life.

And that’s when she gave me the best piece of advice I’ve heard in a long time. We all have little moments of freedom in our lives. Bring attention to those moments of freedom, she said, and savor them.

Since her words of advice, I have noticed that I do have quite a lot of freedom in my life. I noticed the peace and quiet I was feeling this morning as I drank a cup of tea. I didn’t turn on the TV as I normally do. I sat and ate breakfast in complete silence. I also savored the walk and pilates work-out I did this morning – just for me. And then, when I moved onto a freelance project - aka work - I found myself in the zone, totally flowing. I felt free.

I believe life flows better when we don’t feel trapped. This week’s conscious thought: Trapped, overwhelmed, and stuck are all feelings we choose.

Today, I chose freedom. I took the time to savor those moments of freedom, and then I found that the rest just fell into place.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Short and sweet

Not much time for blogging today. Had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, spent the afternoon writing an article for a print newspaper as a freelancer, and meeting an old friend in an hour at her hotel thirty minutes from here. And I can hear thunderstorms off in the distance as I write.

Okay, so why should you care about my to-do list? I’ll tell you.

I set my intentions for the day early this morning: I can do it. I can get done everything I need/want to get done. And blogging is a part of that list.

And so here I am, fulfilling my wish to write.

When you set your mind to it, with positive intentions, believing in yourself, you can achieve just about anything.

Now off to the Courtyard Marriott!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Releasing the trigger finger

A special thanks to my husband Lior for helping me with typing this entry.

I read a book called The Secret not long ago in which author Rhonda Byrne describes the law of attraction. To summarize, the law of attraction tells us that whatever thoughts, feelings or statements we put into the universe come back to us, almost like placing an order with the big catalog in the sky.

While I was reading the book, I encountered little bouts with the law of attraction everywhere I went – at the supermarket, in the car and even in relationships with others. If I was thinking positive thoughts, those thoughts would return to me. And negative thoughts, brought on more negativity.

Of course as time has gone by, the lessons of the law of attraction went back into the cobwebs of my mind. And I’ve been feeling like I’m in a bit of a funky, slumpy place lately. Stuck in a swamp.

Metaphorically, I’ve also been suffering from trigger finger in my right hand up until a few days ago when I had surgery to release the trigger. In layman’s terms, trigger finger is caused by inflammation near the finger’s tendon, making it almost impossible to bend the affected finger. It’s also painful. Basically, you fingers get stuck, and you can’t bend them. I’ve had the surgery five times before. An orthopedist cuts the tendon, releasing the trigger, and fingers return to normal after about two months of physical therapy.

I know the routine and I also know how my hand surgeon Dr. S operates – both literally and figuratively. Everything was going to be pretty much the same except for one thing: This time, I was getting local anesthesia instead of general.

A few days before the surgery, I told Dr. S during an appointment that despite knowing the routine, he can feel rest assured that I would be freaking out.

Dr. S consoled me, “We’ll talk you through it. We’ll even let you choose which radio station you want to listen to.”

I made a mental note, but was still nervous of course.

The surgery was three days later. Lior drove. On the way, I began to think about which radio station I would choose.

“It’s between 95.7 and 106.1,” both are pop rock and dance hit stations, “Well, I am okay with anything but country.”

I made it to the surgery. Waited my turn. The nurses prepped me. After taking my vitals, the OR nurses escorted me to the surgery room. I got up on the table and as I lay down ready to stretch out my arms, I heard it – COUNTRY.

The doctor came in. The nurses were busy placing an incredibly tight tourniquet on my right arm, which is supposed to stop the flow of blood to the arm. And then Dr. S shot my hand with Novocain. Boy did it hurt.

And as I lay there wincing from the pain, feeling the pressure of their surgical movements on my right hand, Dr. S turned to me and said, “Are you a country music fan?”

“Absolutely not, no way,” I exclaimed, “Is someone here a fan?”

“Actually, none of us are. We’d been listening to classical all day. And I don’t know why, but we switched it not too long ago.” Dr. S sounded amazed, as though they had been possessed to change the station by some supernatural power.

Dr. S kept chatting, calming me down, segueing to country line dancing and how he was sure I’d come from Texas and wore a belt buckle. Mind you, this is funny as my name is so Middle Eastern (Israeli actually), and I live in New Jersey.

He did all this while he released the trigger, checked to see if my hand was working, and sewed me up. The nurses removed the tourniquet. With bandage and pain prescriptions in hand, Lior drove us home for a long weekend of my arm propped up on a pillow. No complaints, I’m feeling fine.

The law of attraction ah ha moment came that evening as I told Lior the story of the surgery. Country music. The one genre I had mentioned in the car ride down. The one I didn’t want. And the Universe delivered.

You see, according to The Secret, the Universe doesn’t understand the words: don’t, doesn’t, or didn’t. The Universe understands the vibration of the energy you put out. For example, if you say, “I don’t want a million dollars,” The Universe hears, “I want a million dollars.” (Yes, I’m sending positive energy even as I write.)

If you think thoughts of frustration, anger, loneliness, or fear, then your life will be guided by those principles. But if you think thoughts of abundance, peace, confidence, and love, then that’s the life you will be living.

My trigger finger is released, and I believe that the Universe was also sending a message, telling me how to get unstuck. Through country music, no less. A reminder that what we put out into the Universe is what we receive in return.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Forbidden fruit

When I first learned that I have celiac, an allergy to wheat, rye, and barley, all I could think about were all of the croissants that I would never have again.

In all honesty, I hadn’t even eaten croissants all that often. So it’s not like I was really missing something that I was accustomed to eating all the time. I wasn’t upset about bread or pasta or even cookies for that matter, which I would eat much more often. I was upset about croissants.

Why? The croissant, for me, is really more about a memory. Croissants remind me of the days when I traveled around Europe and lived abroad, back in my 20s and early 30s. I would stop each morning in unique, little coffee shops, filled with lots of character, and have a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, an aromatic café au lait, and a luscious, buttery croissant.

Croissants take me back to the days when I allowed myself to do whatever and whenever I wanted. I felt free and adventurous, avant-garde and oh so European.

The croissant was more about the feeling it inspired in me, the person I wanted to be.

I may very well have enjoyed those moments tremendously. But I can almost guarantee you, without documented proof, that afterward, my sugars either soared or went low or a combination of both. I’m pretty sure that an hour later, knowing what I know now, I must have stopped on some park or art museum bench and shoveled down sugar packets.

Back in the days of croissant eating, I can also almost guarantee you, without documented proof, that I was actually stressed out about something – whether work, relationships, money, or health. I knew that croissants were going to wreak havoc on my blood sugars, and I ate them anyway. And when I ate that croissant, it symbolized a moment of pure pleasure, an escape from what was really getting me down.

I used the croissant to suppress feelings. Instead of allowing my feelings to be, I stuffed them with sugary, high fat carbohydrates.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac, the thought of a buttery croissant was the first thing that came to mind, what I would miss, what I longed for. But the croissant was really a longing for what I deemed as carefree days.

The croissant became, yet again, a way to suppress what was really going on.

And in the days of celiac, the croissant began to symbolize something new. The memory of my croissant became yet another thing restricting my life. Another thing to analyze, weigh, and dissect. Another thing that I can’t have. I wanted to taste the forbidden fruit. Because doesn’t life seem so much better on the other side?

Not eating the croissant became about control. Restriction.

When you truly allow yourself to have whatever you want, you find that you may not even necessarily want it, Geneen Roth says in Women, Food, and God, the book I’m still currently engrossed in.

Geneen Roth uses the example of chocolate cake, rather than croissants, to explain her reasoning.

She says that it’s like when you really want a piece of chocolate cake, and all you can think about is that piece of chocolate cake. And then you get yourself a piece. And you have a bite. That first bite tastes so good. The soft, moist, chocolaty flavor. Even the second bite tastes good, but a little less. And then, by the third bite, the chocolate cake kind of loses its excitement, and by the fourth, you’ve forgotten about it entirely and your mind drifts off to something else entirely. And by the time you're done, you've eaten an entire cake, while only really enjoying one or two bites of it.

Geneen advises people – who are seeking a healthy relationship with food, and therefore with themselves – to give in to their cravings. BUT with a few caveats which she calls her seven eating guidelines; to summarize, eat only when your body is hungry, and stop when you are satisfied. So basically what she is saying is that if that chocolate cake isn’t satisfying by the third or fourth bite, then stop eating it.

Okay, that’s great, Geneen, but I can’t allow myself to have what I really want. High fat, high carb, glutinous foods wreak havoc on my body. So what do you say to a person like me?

Geneen says that whenever you eat, and you aren’t really hungry, the food is really about something else. Which I have demonstrated through my own relationship with my lovely croissants.

Here’s what’s totally amazing: Once I became aware of what a croissant really means for me, and since I have learned to accept that I have celiac, my palate has changed. I’ve become a more creative eater. I’ve discovered new foods. I’ve become more of that adventurous, avant-garde person I was searching for back in my 20s than I ever was when I was eating a croissant. And I’ve actually stopped craving croissants entirely. I’ve stopped craving a whole lot of foods that were never that good for me.

And since I’ve begun paying attention to my body's real cravings, and eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m satisfied, I have also found that I crave foods like salad with lemon juice and olive oil, dates, quinoa, grilled fish, and nuts. My body naturally craves healthy foods most of the time. And yes, sometimes my body craves chocolate. But when I'm eating it, I usually find that one bite is more than enough to satisfy the craving.

Our bodies are seriously smart. And once you take the forbidden out of the fruit, accept what you have, and practice awareness, you find that your body craves what’s good for you and what your body needs.

So now I ask: What are you really hungry for?