“If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”
~~ Regina Brett

Today was a momentous day for me. As many of you who have been following my blog may know, I’ve been making my way through the Toastmasters program, working on both the Competent Communicator (CC) and the Competent Leader (CL) certifications.

I completed my CL earlier this month, which felt great. I mean, now I can actually say I am a competent leader…the certificate says so! See? Here I am, super happy after opening my big envelope from Toastmasters International when it came in the mail.

Toastmasters_CL

Well, today I completed my final speech for my CC certification. This was a tough one for me, because it’s the “Inspire Your Audience” speech and has to be 8-10 minutes in length. All my speeches up to this point have revolved around some aspect of happiness, so I decided that with this one, I was going to put it all out there and share MY story. My story of how yoga came into my life, and how it helped me to deal with some pretty heavy stuff.

I was so nervous! The Toastmasters club I’m part of is held at my company, so everyone who is a member is someone I work with. And today, we decided as a club to use this as a demo meeting, in hopes of attracting some new members. So now, not only would I be sharing my story — my very PERSONAL story — with the people I’ve gotten to know rather well since joining the club, but I was also having to share it with anyone who happened to stop by to check things out.

Yesterday afternoon, I started to realize that I was getting sick. I had a fever, sore throat, headache and aches/pains. Oh no! Talk about pressure! I woke up this  morning not feeling any better, but at least not feeling any worse. I figured, “Well, I know this stuff. After all, it is MY story. So I just need to give it up to God and do my best.”

We were fortunate at today’s meeting to have our speeches video taped, which is great! I really wanted to see how I came across, to see if I relayed the message I really wanted to. Usually I post the text of my speeches here for you all, but since I have a video to share, I figured maybe you might want to see how it really came off.

Now, I will admit that I forgot a couple of things, but I don’t feel that them missing detracted at all from my message. And I was SUPER  happy that I didn’t get too emotional and cry. :)

So without further ado, here is the link to my final Toastmasters speech, titled “Take My Breath Away.” I’d love to know your thoughts!

Namaste,

Melanie

 

“Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.” ~~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

As many of you know, I’ve been on hiatus since August from all my yoga and indoor cycling teaching. I needed to do that for a variety of reasons, and I am so happy I did. It allowed me to take the time to be there for my daughter as she made her way through her first year of middle school cheerleading, and it allowed me to help her more with her homework.

It also allowed me to have some time for ME. And believe me, I took advantage of that! I read a lot of good books, got a chance to watch some shows I’ve never had the time to watch before (OMG, I simply am addicted to Grey’s Anatomy! How did I end up waiting until this summer to finally decide I needed to watch this show??? I am currently in the middle of season 10 and still loving it!), and have been able to get back into a nice exercise routine. Mostly, though, I’ve learned how to pare back and relax a little.

That being said, I’ve MISSED teaching. I actually didn’t think I missed it, to be fair. I was dead set on never teaching again because I felt like it took time away from so many things I love. But over the holidays, my husband and I had some really great conversation about “life”. And he so eloquently pointed out that I’d been acting pretty depressed over the past two months. Don’t get me wrong…I’ve been happy about SO MANY THINGS, as my posts have indicated. But he could see what I couldn’t. That something was missing. Something that is part of who I am.

That something is teaching. SOOOO…he encouraged me to step back in to the world I’ve been missing. And thankfully, the places I was teaching have been very agreeable about bringing me back into to the fold as they can.

Let me preface with making it clear that I won’t be teaching as much as I used to. I worked very hard these past few months to establish balance, so I need to make sure I continue to do that. For now, I’ll just be jumping in on a couple of weekend rotations, to get myself back into the groove.

If you’re interested in yoga, I’ll be on the Deep Stretch rotation at Synergy Yoga’s Rock Hill location on Sundays from 4:30-5:30 p.m., followed by a 15-minute free guided meditation. I’ll actually be teaching next Sunday (1/17), so join me if you’d like to end your weekend with a super relaxing class.

If you’re interested in indoor cycling, I am on the 8:00 a.m. Saturday rotation at the YMCA located in the Baxter neighborhood of Fort Mill. I’ve actually already filled in a couple of times for this class, and have really loved getting back in the saddle. This month, I’ll be teaching on 1/23, so if you’ve got some time, come join me on the bike for a high-energy class!

So. There you go. I’m starting over. I’m scared and excited all at the same time. Scared, because what if this doesn’t work? What if I get back into the stressful patterns I did before? But excited. Excited because I think I’ve got this! I’ve worked really hard these past few months, and I truly feel I’ve gotten to know myself pretty well. I think I just need to trust that I can do this.

Say a little prayer for me that I am making the right decision. I am so excited to get back to students I’ve missed seeing, and I also look forward to meeting new students and sharing my experiences with them.

Namaste y’all!

Melanie

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Each and every day, I drive the same route to work. I’m lucky, in my opinion, that it’s a short drive (about 15-20 minutes), and I never even have to get on a highway. It’s a nice, little backroads route that takes me by a couple of farms and a few really nice houses. There are so many things to notice along the way, but I must admit that when I first started using this route, I didn’t notice them. For probably the first year I drove it, I don’t think I noticed that one of the farms had both horses AND goats, and even a donkey. Or that one of the houses I passed looked eerily like the South Fork house from the TV show “Dallas”. This is because on most days back then, I drove to work on autopilot.

Do any of you know what I’m talking about? It’s when you drive somewhere, and when you finally get to the destination, you have no recollection about the actual trip. You know you got there, but you can’t recall anything that happened on the way.

That’s kind of scary, don’t you think? Basically, it means that you were so distracted with other “stuff” — stuff that’s in your mind from either the past or the future — that you are unable to see what’s going on right in front of you at this very moment.

I can’t tell you how many days I got to work and as I was pulling in to the parking garage, I wondered how I got there. I’d ask myself things like, “Did I have a lot of traffic?”, or “What did I hear on the radio?”, and I couldn’t answer. I had no idea because I wasn’t paying attention! Then I’d get scared because, if I was THAT distracted by other things, then I could’ve gotten into a serious accident if something out of the ordinary happened that I didn’t notice because I wasn’t paying attention. And then I’d pray to God, thanking him for keeping me safe.

When I first started practicing and teaching yoga, I was much the same way. I practiced the SAME style of yoga every time, and I did the SAME Sun Salutations (either A or B), every time. Because of that, I became in my yoga practice — and in my yoga teaching — the same as I was in my car. I was practicing and teaching on autopilot, not noticing how my body felt or what my mind was thinking. And before I knew it, I felt so uninspired because I wasn’t getting anything out of it. Do any of you know what I am talking about here? Am I the only one who has had time on the mat where I felt like I was getting NOTHING out of it?

Well, I started getting more serious about changing things in my life back in late 2011, when all my health issues started. Something innate within me told me that I need to make a big change in my life. And when I found out a year later that I had Lyme Disease, and my doctor told me I’d have to be on antibiotics for the rest of my life because of how many years it had gone undiagnosed, I got scared. I didn’t want to be on antibiotics for the rest of my life! So I started doing some research, and some serious soul-searching, and decided to make some serious changes to my lifestyle.

Those of you who have talked to me over the past 4 years, since this new journey began for me, probably won’t be surprised to know how grateful I am for everything I’ve been through.

You might be thinking I’m crazy right about now. I mean, how can I be grateful for having a disease I’ll have the rest of my life? One that has caused me to have to give up so many things that I loved. I get it. But hear me out.

When I decided on a more natural route, I more fully explored other styles of yoga, styles that my body could actually do without causing more pain. I discovered a variety of ways to meditate and found several which actually worked for me. I discovered how to be more mindful. I discovered how to be happier.

I recently finished a #100HappyDays challenge, and that was the best thing I’ve ever done. There were so many days during that challenge where I had a lot going on in all areas of my life, and I was worried about so many things. And if I hadn’t been forced to find ONE THING each day to be happy about, I think I would’ve gone on autopilot more than I’d like to admit. But I was holding myself accountable on Facebook, so darn it! I just HAD to pay ATTENTION so I had something good to post for that day.

During that challenge, I really learned a lot about what makes ME happy. I wrote a post about the first part of the challenge, so feel free to check that out here.

I had the opportunity to finish up the last week of my challenge while on vacation with my husband in Aruba. That was awesome, because I had NOTHING to distract me while there, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, spending time relaxing and reconnecting with my husband. It was much needed, and I came back so refreshed! Here we are on day #96 of my challenge:

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Doing things like this are so critical for all of us, I think. Because if we don’t, we’re more likely to find ourselves on autopilot. There are a few people out there who are able to easily stay focused on the present, but I would venture to guess that most of you are like me.

So take a look at your life and ask yourself, honestly, how in tune you are with yourself. What is it that makes you happy? Do you feel like you’re growing, or are you just floating through each day, doing the same old thing? If you can’t answer these questions, then you need to commit to taking some time to figure things out. There are so many ways to find out who you are and what makes you tick, so figure out what works for you.

I’m happy to help if you aren’t sure where to start. I’ve got SO many resources, so please don’t hesitate to ask.

Sometimes, I do still find myself reverting to autopilot mode. I am human, and sometimes I let my worries get the better of me. But it’s easier for me to snap out of it, now that I’ve learned so much. I love the quote by Thich Nhat Hanh above, especially the last part: “live the actual moment. Only this moment in life.” After all, that’s all there is.

Namaste,

Melanie

 

“We often believe we have to live and work at high-intensity or in a frantic state of mind. This is ‘prey mentality’…Instead of acting like you’re going to be eaten, slow down. The peace of mind and relief you’re seeking is in the present moment — not at the end of a to-do list or arbitrary finish line. If you really care about your quality of life, slow down. Then slow down some more.” ~~ Tripp Lanier in the Jul/Aug 2015 issue of Experience Life magazine

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(Photo Courtesy of The Wellness Mantra)

Happy October, everyone! I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by so far, can you? It’s officially starting to feel like fall here in South Carolina…FINALLY! This is my favorite time of year, hands down!

In Ayurveda, autumn is the season of Vata, in which the predominant elements are air and space. This season is distinguished by excess movement, dryness, lightness and cold (air and space). If you have too much vata, this can manifest itself in your body by causing such symptoms as restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, constipation and dry skin. It can make you feel pretty scattered and unstable.

As I look over what I, personally, have been experiencing these last few weeks, I can attest to the fact that I definitely am feeling the effects of vata. I am predominantly vata, so when fall hits, I experience many of the things listed above. I’ve been more restless, and have experienced many instances of anxiety. My skin is also paying the price, feeling tight and dry most days.

Thankfully, I know what to do. When this season hits — this time when there is more air and space swirling around, causing excessive movement and potential chaos — I turn to the tried and true recommendations of ayurveda.

When we experience the excess vata symptoms I mentioned above, the best thing you can do is to SLOW DOWN. Try your best to follow a regular routine in your life, making sure you schedule in “self-care” time. This means making sure you get plenty of downtime, adequate sleep, and healthy meals.

In terms of exercise, if you have excess vata, then you may need to switch up what you’re doing. Going all out at a high intensity will only make things worse for you. Switch things up by going for walks in nature (this is my favorite thing to do at this time of year, especially since the colors are so pretty). Or maybe something like gardening or canoeing are more your style. The point is to be in a quieter environment and to move more mindfully when vata is in excess. If you are into yoga, like me, then this may mean slowing down your yoga practice as well…your practice should move at a more slow and steady pace, with a focus on grounding, so that your energy can be restored. This is also a great time to incorporate more breath work and meditation.

Some other things I do at this time of year to help manage the ill effects of too much vata are as follows;

  • In the mornings, I use sesame oil on my skin. It’s got a naturally warming and moisturizing quality to it which make my skin feel much more supple.
  • I drink more hot teas with honey during this season. My favorites are the spicier varieties, like ginger, because they warm me up.
  • Crock pot meals are a staple in our house during this season. It’s super easy to throw everything into the pot and go, and then voila! It’s ready several hours later with very little effort from me. I focus on spicier crock pot meals, like chilis or curries, as the spices are great when vata is in excess.

As always, though, there is room for improvement for me. My biggest issue is making my eating environment more relaxed. I usually eat at my desk while working, and I’m usually in a rush. When I eat this way, I don’t feel very good afterwards…I eat too much and too fast, so it affects my digestion in a negative way. It is a great idea, as much as possible, to eat in a quiet space where you’re focusing on nothing but the food you are eating.

Recently, I took a Happiness class at my company. One of the things we did was to practice mindfulness by using our five senses. My favorite part was when we focused on eating mindfully. We got to choose between a slice of apple or a strawberry…I chose the strawberry. We had to take the first bite the way we normally would and note down anything we noticed about it. The second time, we were told to chew for 30 seconds and then make a note of that. Wow! It was amazing how I picked up on the way the seeds of the strawberry felt in my mouth, how juicy that strawberry was, the fuzziness on the outside of the strawberry, the tartness of it, and how refreshing it tasted. The first bite…all I could note down was that “it tasted good.” Sad, isn’t it?

So, if you are experiencing any of the signs of excess vata, I challenge you to take some steps during this season to slow down. See what you see. Feel what you feel. Taste what you taste. Hear what you hear. Smell what you smell.

Do this in all aspects of your life. For example, what do you notice when you slow down the way you exercise and really focus on what you’re doing? For me, when I do this, I feel each and every muscle doing its thing, and I am also able to better notice when I am pushing too far. What things do you notice when you eat mindfully and when you address the other needs of your body? What happens when you enjoy the silence?

Happiness abounds when we can do these things. I love the last part of the quote by Tripp Lanier above: If you really care about your quality of life, slow down. Then slow down some more.

Namaste,

Melanie

happiness-quotes
(Photo courtesy of Top 25 Happiness Quotes)

It’s been about a month since I last posted. Which means it’s been just over a month since I last taught a yoga class. If I’m to be honest, then I have to admit those first two weeks were TOUGH.

Knowing that I was going to go through a period of potential depression over giving up something that’s been such a defining part of who I am for the last 13 years, I took steps to mitigate. (For those of you who know me, you know that my full-time job requires me to do a lot of “project management” sorts of things, so me preparing for disaster ahead of time is just another part of who I am.)

About 2 or 3 weeks before my “retirement” from teaching, I joined a challenge I came across called 100 Happy Days. It intrigued me…all you have to do is post on some sort of social media one thing each day that made you happy…preferably a picture, but that wasn’t mandatory. You just add the hashtag #100HappyDays and voila! And it’s completely free. I noticed when reading about it that most people (over 70%, I believe) don’t complete the challenge.

Well, I love challenges and I’m not a quitter, so I signed up and chose Facebook as my social media outlet. I decided I will NOT be one of those who fall into that 70% category.

At the time of writing this post, I am on day 51. Over halfway through and still going strong. It’s actually become quite vital for me, because not only is it helping ME be happier, but it seems to be affecting others in more ways than I could have dreamed. What started off as being something I felt I needed to do for myself is encouraging others to do the same. It’s so humbling! So many people have told me that they look forward to my posts each day, that I’ve prompted them to look for things in their own lives that make them happy, that I am inspiring them to be happier. Me…INSPIRING others…wow!

As I look back over the past 51 days of my #100HappyDays Facebook posts, I picked up on something. There’s a definite pattern in the things that make me happy. It’s kind of cool to see that pattern because it lets me know there are definite REGULAR things in my life that make me happy. That tells me that I need to make sure I am doing those things as much as I possibly can. The things that I’m talking about are:

  • My daughters. I don’t get nearly as much time with them as I’d like, as they are busy with their social lives and all that jazz. Especially my oldest, since she’s off at college. But any time I got to spend with them, it seems like it made it to one of my happiness posts. Here they are on the day we moved my oldest into her college apartment…this was day #10.

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  • My dogs. They always seem to lift me up when I’m feeling down, they love me unconditionally, and they are the best napping buddies. Here we are together on day #5.

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  • My husband. Many of my posts revolve around the alone time we get to spend with each other, and it seems like we are getting a little more of that kind of time together lately. Whether it be working out together, hanging out and chillaxin’, or hiking at the Riverwalk or lake. Here we are on day #17, enjoying a pre-season Panthers game.

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  • The water. I couldn’t believe, as I looked through my posts, how many of them revolved around my time at the Riverwalk or the lake. Water just seems to calm me down and bring me such happiness. Every time I’m around it, I notice the animals, the waves, the rocks, the trees. I love ocean time as well, but haven’t had a chance to get there during this challenge yet…but water is water, and I’ll take it! Here is a great shot of me and my hubby at Lake Lanier in Georgia on day #31.

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  • My family. I have had an opportunity over these past 51 days to spend some quality time with my parents, my in-laws, my brother-in-law and niece, and one of my cousins. Each time, it’s made it as my happiness post for whatever day it happened to be on. My family is my rock, and they support me in everything that I do. How could I be anything BUT happy, right? Here I am with my parents and my cousin, along with my hubby and daughters, on day #4.

family

Now don’t get me wrong. There have been many days during this journey so far where I’ve gotten almost to the end of the day and wondered what in the world I was going to post for the day that made me happy. In other words, I’ve had some bad days. We all do. We can’t have utopia 24/7, now can we? But each time I had one of those days, I was able to scan through my day and find at least one thing. Sometimes it was something small, like on day #7, where all I could think to post about was that the weather was good on that day.

But you know what? Making myself find that ONE thing made such a difference in my attitude. Every. Single. Time.

So I am looking forward to seeing what else I learn as I complete the last half of this journey. What new things will pop up that bring me happiness that I was not expecting? Will I be able to find more ways to include all the things above into my life more frequently, so that I am happier more often? Can I learn to find that one small thing more easily on the days when it seems like everything is hopeless?

Are you brave enough to do your own #100HappyDays challenge? If so, go to their site and sign up! I’d love to know if you decide to join in, so let me know which social media outlet you choose, so I can check in with you. I love seeing what others are posting, as it gives me all kinds of ideas for myself. And if you don’t already, follow me on Facebook so you can join me on my journey to happiness.

Namaste,

Melanie

For those of you who paid attention to the title, you may be wondering why in the world I am writing about post-workout snacks. Most of my posts are about yoga, right? Well, yes…but yoga can be quite a workout, depending on the style you practice, wouldn’t you agree? Also, I do other types of exercise besides yoga, and much of it can be quite strenuous.

For example, I weight train 3X per week. I approach my weight training from a “lift heavy things” perspective, so my goal is to lift to failure. This means I am tired when I finish, and my muscles need good fuel to repair and recover.

I also do a lot of walking/hiking, I attend indoor cycling classes, and I love to do HIIT workouts. All of these types of workouts, just like strength training, require fueling up properly afterwards without undoing all the hard work I just did.

No matter what kind of workout you do, it’s important to eat something pretty soon after the workout is complete – ideally, within an hour of finishing your workout. Because your muscles need to repair and recover, it’s important that what you eat be a nice mix of protein and carbohydrates. Add in some good fat if you can. It’s not necessary to eat a full meal, as many of us can’t handle that after we’ve just exhausted ourselves physically. A decent snack will do the trick!

Many of you know I am gluten-free, and as much as possible, I also try to be dairy-free. So after I’ve completed a workout, I try to reach for a snack that contains a nice mix of protein, carbohydrates and good fat. AND it should be REAL food…not processed! Here are some of my favorites:

Apples w/Almond Butter

An apple with almond butter is an amazing post-workout snack! Coming in at just under 150 calories (if the apple is small, and you limit yourself to 1 tbsp. of almond butter), you’ll get enough fuel to help those muscles repair and recover. I prefer almond butter over peanut butter, but you could use peanut butter for sure.

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(Photo Courtesy of Food Lover’s Cleanse 2015)

Trail Mix

This is a tough one, as there are SO many varieties of trail mix you can buy. Some are perfectly healthy, but many are laden with sugar you don’t need and a TON of calories! You could make your own by mixing in a variety of things you like. For example, granola, raisins, chocolate chips, your favorite nuts, maybe some coconut flakes. I do this sometimes, but I just don’t have the time anymore like I used to. So, I highly recommend this Organic Trail Mix from nuts.com. It’s a great mix of nuts, seeds and fruits AND it’s not that expensive. You can’t lose with this one!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Photo Courtesy of Nuts.com)

Greek Yogurt with Fruit

I don’t do a lot of dairy, but I do like greek yogurt. Greek yogurt has TONS of protein, which I mentioned is important to helping those muscles repair and recover. Add in some fresh fruit, and you’ve got a great blend of proteins and carbs with this healthy snack! I recommend buying plain greek yogurt (don’t get any added flavoring or fruit…it’s not the healthiest!), and then I would add fresh fruit. My favorite is to add fresh blueberries and strawberries to plain greek yogurt. Yum!

greek-yogurt

(Photo courtesy of Go for Greek Yogurt)

Other Healthy Snacks

If none of the snacks I’ve listed here appeal to you, I encourage you to check out Nuts.com’s Healthy Snacks page. They truly have something for everyone on this site, and I think they are very reasonably priced. If you check them out, let me know if you love them as much as I do!

So, what are YOUR favorite post-workout snacks? I am always looking for something new, especially if it’s something super easy to make and is easily transportable. Post a comment as to what works best for you…let’s all help each other choose the healthiest snacks possible!

Namaste,

Melanie

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” ~~ Carol Sobieski

This week has been bittersweet for me. On Wednesday, I taught my very last regular yoga class. I am “retired”, as they say. I’ve been teaching yoga regularly, each and every week, since November 2002. That’s almost 13 years!

My feelings about this are a mixed bag, if I am being completely honest. I think I’ve run the whole gamut of emotions over the past couple of weeks. I’ve experienced sadness, fear, anxiousness, relief and happiness over this decision. Yoga has been one of the biggest parts of my identity over these past 13 years…people call me the “yoga lady” at my full-time job and I constantly get people asking me for some sort of yoga-related help. Yoga is what I keep telling people I’m meant to do with my life, so how could I make this decision?

Well, to be perfectly frank, I’ve been thinking about this for MONTHS. Yes, you read that right. I don’t make rash decisions, especially not when it comes to something I feel is my path in life — and when I have become so attached to my students — so I thought long and hard about what to do. Some of my closest friends know about my struggles, and I am so very thankful for their many words of wisdom over these past months, as I’ve agonized over what to do.

My reasons for stepping away from teaching aren’t anything earth-shattering. But I can only ignore the signs from the Universe for so long before I finally have to listen, right?

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know I’ve been dealing with Lyme Disease for years. Stress causes flare-ups of my symptoms, and I am not a person who handles stress well. I’ve got a stressful, full-time job in the Healthcare IT arena, I’ve got a husband and two daughters, two dogs (one of which just got diagnosed with her second mast cell tumor that is most likely cancerous, since her first one was), I’m working through the Toastmasters program, AND trying to teach yoga in the spaces in between.

My doctors — all of them — have been telling me for what feels like forever that I can’t do it all. That I need to rest more. That I need to take care of ME. Someone with my health issues has GOT to back off and recover. My best friends tell me the same things. So does my family. So does my massage therapist.

Well I heard what they told me, but secretly, I just kept trucking along. I pared back as much as I could (or at least, I thought I had). I mean, I gave up ALL of my classes except for one. I even got better at not responding “Yes” to every sub request sent my way. Yoga is part of who I am, part of my soul, so how could I give it up totally? Right???

Well, things have gotten more stressful as of late, as my youngest daughter made the competitive Cheer squad at her middle school. She will be practicing 4 days per week, and will have competitions to compete in. It’s funny, but as soon as I found out she made the team, I instantly — FINALLY — knew. I knew I had to give up teaching altogether so I can get well and be there for my daughter.

The Universe finally hit me over the head, and everything became clear. All these years, I’ve looked at all the other women around me who seem to be able to “do it all”. The women who seem to be able to have a full-time job, a beautiful family, a spectacular house, can somehow manage to teach yoga (or whatever other side passion they have), and exercise whenever they need to in order to look perfect. All these years, I’ve felt that I must do the same. Otherwise, I don’t stack up, right? If they can do it, then I should be able to as well. Isn’t that how it works?

But the day my daughter made the cheer squad, suddenly I just knew that I am not one of those women. Melanie Deal cannot do it all. My health is constantly reminding me of that, and on that day, I knew I finally had to listen.

My daughter is only young once. My oldest is already out of the house, as she just started her Sophomore year of college. She doesn’t need me in the same ways as she did when she lived at home. But my youngest daughter is still here and she needs me. She’s in 7th grade, so before I know it, she will be in college and won’t need me like she does now.

So you see, the decision is clear. I think I need this anyway, as I have been feeling for quite some time that the type of teaching I’d been doing wasn’t where my heart was anymore. My health struggles, though challenging and frustrating, have been rewarding at the same time. I’ve had lots of people reach out to me who are also dealing with health issues, and I think I’ve helped them in some way with what I’ve learned on my own journey. I am strongly being pulled towards working with “special needs” people, but haven’t had the time to explore it in great detail.

Well, now I have time on my hands to do that. Time to come up with a plan and figure out how to use my yoga in a new way. Preparing for a regular class each week left me with no time to really explore how to branch out. But now, I will have more time for me, which will allow me to meditate on how to move forward in the future.

Believe me, I am not going to do anything drastic anytime soon. I truly am going to take this time and work on getting better. I am going to take this time to spend more quality time with the people I love. I am going to take this time to work on doing the things that I love.

And then, when the time is right, a new journey will begin.

Namaste,

Melanie

Yesterday, I gave my 6th Toastmasters speech. This one was to satisfy the requirements for Speech #5 in the Competent Communicator’s manual (I gave speech #8 already, so that’s why this one was my 6th speech). The purpose of this 5-7 minute speech was to work on the skill “How your body speaks”, which means making sure that you use your body in ways that come across naturally, using appropriate gestures and facial expressions, making appropriate use of the space you’re giving your speech in, and making appropriate and adequate eye contact. I do these kinds of things all the time in the yoga classes I teach, but doing them in a more “professional” setting was a little scary to me, I must admit.

I decided to tackle the topic of prayer for this speech. Why? I am not sure, to be honest. Talking about praying in a setting like the one I was planning on can be considered tricky and taboo.

But, just as it happened when I was preparing for my last speech, a song popped into my head that I could not seem to get rid of. There must be something about songs from the early 1990s that resonate with me, because I kept hearing “Pray”, by MC Hammer, over and over in my head. In the chorus of that song, he says, “We got to pray just to make it today.” When he says those words, he’s talking about how we’ve got to include prayer in our lives if we’re going to make it in this tough world we live in.

So, I took it as a sign that I needed to tackle this one. I wrote my first draft and ran it by my mom, my most trusted advisor when it comes to writing…plus, she’s pretty damn knowledgeable about this topic, so I wanted her to help me ensure that I didn’t offend anyone.

The end result? It went better than I hoped, so I was ecstatic! I was able to creatively use my body language to talk about the topic of prayer, and was able to inject a bit of humor into it, which is kind of my signature in my speeches. My evaluator said I inspired her to start praying regularly…that’s exactly what I needed to hear! Some of you mentioned you wanted to be at the speech but couldn’t, so here’s the gist of what I did and said.

I started off by asking everyone to fold their hands in front of them, close their eyes, take a deep breath and relax their bodies. Then I told them to think about something they need in order to be happy.

If it’s something you already have, then think about how grateful you are for that thing. If you don’t already have it, then ask for it. Take in another deep breath, and as you let it out, seal in these words you just spoke to yourself. Now, open your eyes.

Madame Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and most awesome guests,

Believe it or not, you just said a prayer. How did it feel? Comfortable? Weird? Scary? Prayer doesn’t come easy to all of us, and it may be because we don’t truly understand what it is.

Today, we will cover what prayer is, different ways a person can pray, and how you can use prayer to help you live a happy life.

What is prayer, exactly?

A prayer is a solemn request for help, or an expression of thanks, addressed to a higher power. In other words, it’s a communication process. It may seem a little weird to think of it that way, since you’re not physically seeing or hearing anyone when you pray.

Many people think prayer is complicated, but I assure you it is not. It is simply an expression of faith that comes from the heart.  When I pray, I like to think of it as my “direct line to the Divine”.

Think of praying like having a conversation with your best friend. Your best friend loves you unconditionally, right? Well, so does the Divine! When you can talk to the Divine like you would your best friend, you’re better able to talk about your needs and what you are thankful for with joy, with confidence and with conviction. These are things that will help your life be a better one.

Time for a pop quiz. Following are three examples of what people might consider to be prayer. One is NOT an authentic prayer. Can you guess which one it is?

  1. “Today, I am thankful for the gift of wonderful friends and family.”
  2. “I just had some medical tests and I’m scared. Please help me get through this, no matter what the results are.”
  3. “PLEASE, let that shirt I saw last week be on sale when I get to the store!”

Got it figured out yet? If you answered #3, you get the gold star! While choice #3 is a request for something, it’s not something that will truly make your life better.

Ways to Pray

Now that you understand what prayer is, you may wonder how to do it. As I mentioned above, prayer is an expression of faith, which makes it universal and part of every religion. Different religions may approach prayer in different ways, but they all have the same purpose when it comes to praying: bringing you closer to the Divine.

Take a look at these images:

PrayingCollage

These are just a few of the many examples I came across when I was searching for images of people from different religions praying. These images show Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and Hindus all praying. Notice the variety of postures being used. But also notice the similarities…folded hands, bowed heads and closed eyes seem to be commonplace, wouldn’t you agree?

Personally, I pray in different ways, depending on the occasion. Sometimes, I simply sit cross-legged with my eyes closed and my head bowed, and I run through a list of things silently that I need to pray about. Sometimes, I sing my prayers…certain songs just seem to strike a chord with me sometimes, if the lyrics are about something I am feeling the need to pray about. And sometimes, I pray on a verse or quote that speaks to me.

As you can probably tell, I don’t believe there is a “right” way to pray. As long as it is done earnestly and from the heart, I think it counts!

Conclusion: How to Find Happiness with Prayer

I encourage you to find a form of prayer that resonates with you and incorporate it into your life on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be every day, but try to establish a regular cadence. When you do this, you may notice you are happier. Why is that?

For one thing, remember that you’re communicating one-on-one with the Divine…how can doing that regularly not be wonderful?

Secondly, as you pray more regularly, your prayers will come more and more from the heart, giving them a whole new level of meaning. You find more and more things in your life to be grateful for, you start praying for your true needs (rather than that shirt you really want to buy), and you may also find you start praying fervently for those you love and care for, which gives your prayers a more selfless quality. More meaningful prayers provide you with a sense of security.

Finally, having a heartfelt conversation with the Divine helps you realize you are not alone. Modern life is stressful, after all, and we will have hard times during our lives. But knowing that we don’t have to go through those hard times on our own gives us the courage to be strong and to say “No” to the behaviors that may bring us down.

Remember this guy?

MCHammer

This guy, MC Hammer, had a popular song in 1990 called “Pray”. Listen to the lyrics if you don’t know the song…they really do a great job at expressing why it’s important to pray, in my opinion. In the chorus, he says, “we got to pray just to make it today.” Even 25 years later, these words still hold true.

Find a way to make prayer a part of your regular life, and discover the inner peace and joy that come with it. Then…you’ll find your happiness.

Thank you for listening and have a sparkling day!

Melanie

“This is a marathon in life. You can’t be sprinting all the time or else you wear yourself out. You have to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, keeping yourself grounded and not letting every little thing get you worked up.” ~~ Brian Moynihan

Settling down. Feeling grounded. Establishing roots. These are phrases I use a lot in the yoga classes I teach and as I was preparing to write this post about being grounded, I decided to search all my posts to see how many times I’ve written about the topic. Holy wow! This must be one important topic to me because I have written about it a LOT. Which only means to me that I need to work harder at it. I tend to write about the things I need to focus on, and apparently, I am not very good at settling down and feeling grounded. Or at least, I am not very good at it being permanent.

Right now, things have been feeling a bit scattered for me. My oldest daughter is about to begin her Sophomore year in college and is moving back next weekend. My youngest daughter is starting 7th grade and just found out she made the competition Cheer squad, so we’re getting ready for all the practices and games and competitions we’ll be dealing with this fall. At work, things are C.R.A.Z.Y.!!! In both good and bad ways, but crazy nonetheless, which always throws me for a loop, as I am a very structured and scheduled person by nature.

Because things have been so different, I’ve seen a resurgence of some of my Lyme symptoms over the past month. Nowhere near as horrible as they once were, but a regression is a regression and it SUCKS. Luckily, my doc is really good about nudging me and reminding me that I need to stick to the lifestyle changes in addition to the meds and supplements I take. In an attempt to focus on the ability to feel grounded during this hectic time for me, I came up with the following yoga sequence…if you need to feel a bit more grounded, try it out for yourself and see if it helps (you can go to http://www.yogajournal.com to see pics if you need them):

  1. Child’s Pose. Be here for at least 10 breaths, and focus on closing your eyes, so you can shut out all the “noise” around you. Make sure your breaths are as deep as possible, and with every exhale, imagine yourself releasing just a bit more into the earth.
  2. Cat/Cow. While moving through these two poses, focus on rooting down into your hands and knees. Flow with your breath between each pose, but don’t move too fast. Do 5-10 rounds.
  3. Spinal Balance. As you lift alternate arm and leg, make sure your abdominals are engaged, which will help you feel a bit more grounded. Like cat/cow, flow with your breath between each pose, but go SLOW! Do 5-10 rounds.
  4. Vinyasa. Move through a slow vinyasa, focusing on feeling grounded. Think about your hands and feet in plank and chaturanga, focus on rooting your hip points and your feet during cobra, and again on your hands and feet once you reach Down Dog. If you have time, do 5 rounds.
  5. Forward Fold. As you hang in forward fold, focus on balancing between all four corners of each foot. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  6. Mountain. This is perhaps the best pose, in my opinion, at helping a person feel grounded. I encourage you to close your eyes here and focus on your feet, just like you did in Forward Fold. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  7. Warrior 1. Keep your torso stacked over your hips, and focus on keeping the balance even between both feet. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  8. Warrior 2. Same focus as Warrior 1. Don’t let your upper torso lean forward. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  9. Triangle. As you tip forward, don’t lose that balance between both feet. Keeping shoulders and hips stacked should help. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  10. Balancing Half Moon. Use a block if you need to, or even a wall, to help you feel grounded and balanced. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  11. Repeat poses 5-10 on the other side.
  12. From Balancing Half Moon, come into a Yogi Squat. Focus on feeling settled in this pose. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
  13. Seated Forward Fold. Focus on rooting down between both sitting bones and the legs as you reach forward for the toes. Use a strap or blocks, as needed. Hold for 10-15 breaths.
  14. Reclined Bound Angle. As you lie back, if you notice your knees are way up off the ground, you can use blocks underneath them to help with feeling more grounded. Hold for 10-15 breaths.
  15. Savasana. Like Mountain pose, this could also be considered the best pose in helping a person feel grounded. Feel the earth underneath your whole body, supporting you. Allow your bones to completely relax and feel as heavy as possible while here. Stay here for at least 5 minutes.

If you end up trying out this sequence, I’d love to know what you think of it.

Have a sparkling day and Namaste,

Melanie

Yesterday, I gave my 5th Toastmasters speech. This one was to satisfy the requirements for Speech #4 in the Competent Communicator’s manual (I gave speech #8 already, so that’s why this one was my 5th speech). The purpose of the speech was to work on the skill “How you say it”, and I already knew I wanted to talk about the topic of stress. I struggled for awhile, trying to figure out how I could be creative with this one to satisfy the requirements of the project, and I had only 5-7 minutes for the speech. While preparing, I kept getting that song from Salt N’ Pepa stuck in my head…you know the one from 1991, called “Let’s Talk About Sex”? Well, I kept singing it in my head while thinking about this speech, but kept replacing the word “sex” with the word “stress”. Then it hit me…rewrite the chorus to be about stress and start off my speech with it.

I spoke with my Toastmasters mentor to see what she thought, and she loved it. But she also gave me the wonderful idea to have a few other Toastmasters join in with me on the singing. So I hit up three of my fellow Toastmasters that I felt would be game for something like this, and they willingly agreed to help a sista out!

The end result? I think it went really well, and I accomplished my purpose. I was able to creatively talk about the topic of stress, and was able to inject a bit of humor into it, which is kind of my signature in my speeches. Ultimately, I want people to walk away from my speeches happier and motivated to do something to make their lives better. Some of you mentioned you wanted to be at the speech but couldn’t, so here’s the gist of what I said. I wish I would have recorded it, but I completely forgot…maybe I will just have to give it again someday!

I started off by asking everyone to clap along with me, and once everyone got going on that, I launched into singing the first line of my rewritten chorus…the three people I had doing this with me then each sang a line, and I wrapped up by singing the last two lines. Here’s the rewritten chorus:

Let’s talk about stress baby,
Let’s talk about you and me,
Let’s talk about all the good kinds and the bad kinds,
there may be,
Let’s talk about stress,
Let’s talk about stress,

Madame Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Let’s talk about stress!

We’ve all heard of stress. Throughout childhood and adulthood, the word stress is thrown around quite a lot. You may have said or heard such phrases as:

“My job causes me so much stress!”

“Studying for exams is so stressful!”

Or, if you’re where I was just a few years ago:

“O.M.G.!!! My daughter just got her learner’s permit, and just thinking about her driving STRESSES ME OUT!”

Sound familiar? Merriam-Webster defines stress as a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc., OR something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety. When you’re under stress of any kind, you undergo a multitude of physical and emotional symptoms that, if left unchecked, can be detrimental to your health. So what do you do?

Let’s talk about…the types of stress. There are two types of stress a person can experience: acute stress and chronic stress.

Acute stress, also known as the “fight or flight response”, is the most common form of stress. It is your body’s immediate reaction to a perceived threat, scare or challenge. Acute stress can be quite thrilling and exciting in small doses, but too much is exhausting. Because it is short term, it doesn’t do extensive damage, and is highly manageable.

A single episode generally doesn’t cause problems for healthy people. However, severe acute stress can cause mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and even physical difficulties such as a heart attack.

Some examples of acute stress would be getting a promotion, getting a speeding ticket…or giving a Toastmasters speech!

AcuteStress

Chronic stress is the grinding stress that wears away at you day after day, year after year. Chronic stress comes when a person never sees a way out of a miserable situation. Some examples of stressors that could cause chronic stress for a person are an unhappy marriage, traumatic experiences, unwanted career or job, poverty, chronic illnesses, relationship conflicts, and dysfunctional families.

chronicstress

Sometimes, it’s difficult to know when you’re experiencing stress. So what are the signs?

Let’s talk about…the symptoms of stress. According to Web MD, common symptoms of stress include:

  • A fast heartbeat.
  • A headache.
  • A stiff neck and/or tight shoulders.
  • Back pain.
  • Fast breathing.
  • Sweating, and sweaty palms.
  • An upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea.

These symptoms can occur whether the stress you’re experiencing is good or bad, and there are a myriad of other symptoms that can crop up as well.

Take a look at the following clip from Kindergarten Cop, which shows Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character experiencing acute stress:

Recognize any of the symptoms we just covered?

Let symptoms like this go on for too long, and it can cause permanent damage to your entire body. So how do you deal with stress and its effects?

Let’s talk about…how to manage stress. Stress is a part of life that can’t be eliminated. Even the positive changes in our lives, like buying a new house or getting that job promotion, can cause all the unpleasant symptoms we just covered. Therefore, it’s in our best interest to learn how to manage stress in our lives before it gets out of control. There are many things a person can do to manage stress, so it’s important to find what works best for you. The American Psychological Association provides the following tips to help ease stress in your life, which I’ll be giving you more info about after the presentation (here’s the link to the handout I had for everyone):

  1. Take a break from the stressor
  2. Exercise
  3. Smile and laugh
  4. Get social support
  5. Meditate

Personally, I’ve used all five of these tips for myself when experiencing stress, in various combinations, depending on what the stressor is. So now what?

Let’s talk about…next steps. Now that we’ve discussed what stress is, what the symptoms are and how to manage it, you need to do a little homework. First of all, if you suffer from any of the symptoms we covered and suspect they may be due to the effects of stress, then you need to determine exactly what the stressors in your life are. Remember, even “good” stress can wreak havoc on your health, so you really need to figure this one out.

Once you’ve identified the stressors in your life, you’ll need to come up with an action plan for how to manage them. Remember, you have to implement things that resonate with YOU, so don’t sign up for a Zumba class if dancing in front of large groups would cause you MORE stress.

Finally, remember that stress will always be part of your life. But if you can learn to identify when you’re experiencing it and find the techniques that work to help you manage it, you should notice your health doesn’t suffer. And you’ll need to revisit things from time to time, as our stressors won’t always be the same, and the management techniques that work today may not be effective tomorrow. Eventually, Arnold figured out how to deal with his stressors (the kids he was teaching)…take a look at how things changed for him once he did:

See, with a little dedication, stress can most definitely be managed and controlled so that you can lead your happiest life possible.

Thank you for listening and have a sparkling day!

Melanie

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