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.

snack-apple-with-almond-butter
(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

Minions_FriendsQuote
(Photo courtesy of QuotesNHumor.com)

Have you ever stopped to consider how important it is to have friends? Or how much of an influence friends have in who you are and how happy you are? I think many of us take friends for granted and probably don’t think too much about what life would be like if we were suddenly friendless.

For the past 6 weeks or so, that’s exactly what my life has been like. Friendless. I didn’t realize it, of course. I talked in my last post about how busy I’ve been. So busy that I’d been neglecting the things I need to do for myself, so I re-committed to getting back on track with working on my happiness. And since my last post, I have definitely gotten better about doing the things I said I was going to. But guess what? I was doing them BY MYSELF.

To be fair, I wasn’t LITERALLY by myself. At golf lessons, I had my teacher there with me. At work, I had co-workers there. At home, my husband and I were able to spend more time together, and we had some family come visit us for the July 4th holiday. And don’t get me wrong…I enjoyed spending time with ALL of these people. But they weren’t my “friends”, if you know what I mean (sorry if you fit into one of these categories, but hang with me here…I promise I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings).

My friends…my TRUE friends…are the ones I can unabashedly be myself around. You may think I should be able to be that way around my family and my husband, right? Well, not really…not for me, anyway. Sometimes I have to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself to avoid hurting them or making them worry about me. Sometimes I feel like if I tell them exactly what I am thinking and feeling, they’ll think I’ve lost my ever-loving mind! Please tell me some of you know what I’m talking about on this one!

William Shakespeare said, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” If you ask some people who know me, they’d say I have a lot of friends. But I don’t. Not really. I can count on one hand (OK, maybe 1.5 hands) the number of people who meet this definition of friend. People I can truly let down my guard with. People I can admit my deepest thoughts and secrets to. People who will tell me the God’s honest truth, no matter what I may WANT to hear.

The past two weeks, I noticed I was really “off”. I was sullen, didn’t want to do anything, had no energy…basically, I was miserable. I first attributed it to the long hours I’d been spending with my full-time job, including a couple of business trips. But last week, I had a normal work week, and some down time, but was still miserable. And I had re-committed to the things I talked about in my last blog, so I was frustrated with why I was not happy.

My gut told me to reach out to my friends. Those people I consider to meet Shakespeare’s definition. Two of them were available to get together with me this weekend…one yesterday and one today. Wow! All I can say is W.O.W.!

Until I got together with the two of them, I didn’t realize how much I’d been starving for some good ol’ quality time with a FRIEND.

When my one friend saw me yesterday, the very first thing she said to me was, “What’s up? Something’s not right with you…what’s going on?” Throughout the course of our conversation, we came to realize that what was wrong with me was that I’d relegated myself to being friendless for at least the past 6 weeks. I was so busy with work and family obligations that I let my friendships fall by the wayside. I realized something was off, and I thought it was with my slacking on the meditation and the other things I mentioned in my last post, so I’d put forth the effort into those things. But I let go of my friends in the process.

I guess I subconsciously realized it, because like I said, I reached out this past week to my friends. During the time with my friend yesterday, she exclaimed at one point that she could already see a difference in my whole demeanor. That I looked so much happier. All from just some good, quality conversation with someone I truly love having as part of my life. Someone who I can be myself around and not feel like I am “less than” when I admit to not being perfect.

This morning, I connected with another friend. One that I haven’t seen in person in quite some time. Yeah, we’ve connected through e-mails and social media, but let’s face it, social media just isn’t the same. Nothing takes the place of that live, in-person time with a true friend. The cool thing was that even though I hadn’t seen her in person in a couple of YEARS (yes, you read that correctly…YEARS), we picked up as if we hadn’t missed a beat. And that’s another sign of a true friend. No blame going on, no guilt trip…just genuine delight in spending some quality time with each other after so much time apart.

I gotta say, I feel so refreshed right now. And I realize, now more than ever, that having friends is part of finding your happiness. So I promised my friend yesterday that I wouldn’t let myself get into this situation ever again. No matter what, no matter how busy I may be, I will make more time for my friends. This past 6 weeks of being friendless has been so incredibly lonely. At least I had my family around, and I know that helped to a degree…I can’t even imagine how strong that feeling of loneliness would have been if I had NO ONE. No one should ever have NO ONE to confide in and talk to.

Ever since yesterday, I’ve had “You’ve Got a Friend”, by James Taylor, in my head. I love this verse:

“If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow,
keep your head together and call my name out loud.
Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.”

That’s how it is with a true friend. When you need them, they are there for you. No matter what. All you have to do is ask them to be there for you. I love that I have a few people in my life that I can count in that category.

If you’re having trouble making time for your friends, take a look at what you’ve got going on and figure out where you can fit them in. Don’t feel like you’ve got to go through everything alone. Don’t assume you’re friends are too busy for you. If you haven’t heard from them in awhile, then YOU be the one to reach out…don’t wait for them to come to you, as that may very well be what THEY are doing…waiting for YOU. Sometimes we think we’re bothering people, when in reality, they are craving time with us just as much as we are craving it with them.

So put yourself out there. A true friend will answer the call.

Namaste,

Melanie

It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. ~~ Attributed to Hanoch McCarty

Several posts ago, I wrote about how I’ve dubbed myself the Happiness Advocate. I truly feel it’s my mission to help everyone, including myself, find happiness. We all deserve happiness, in my opinion. It’s our God-given right. He didn’t create us in His image with the intention for us to be miserable all the time, after all.

In my last post, I admitted I’ve been struggling with my own journey. I’ve gotten a lot better when I do the mirror exercise, though, and I am finding it easier not to pick myself apart in terms of what I see from a physical aspect.

But there is another area in my life where the struggle is worse than it’s been in a LONG time…my insecurity with being “good enough” in the things I do. Constantly feeling like I’m “less than” everyone else and feeling like I don’t measure up. I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with this…am I?

NotGoodEnough
(My daughter, Morgan, graciously helping me out for this post)

Being noticed for what we do or make is something we all crave. It helps us feel affirmed, to know that we are of value and that we are significant. It’s not wrong to want this, but it can certainly make us feel very vulnerable at times…sometimes to the point of detriment. When we aren’t noticed, then sometimes we resort to comparing ourselves to others.

It’s not uncommon to compare ourselves to others…this is also part of human nature. The unhealthy part about it is when we start to talk ourselves into the notion that the people we are comparing ourselves to are better than us.

    She’s beautiful.
    He’s so amazing with calculations.
    She has a successful career.
    She’s a kick-ass yoga instructor.
    They have more money.
    She gets to stay at home with her kids.
Her house is so pristine…it’s like a museum!

If you’ve been following me for a bit, you know that low self-esteem is something I struggle with, and I thought I’d been very diligent as of late to address it in order to find my happiness. So why has the past month been so hard for me in this area? I seem to constantly be comparing myself to everyone around me, and I come away most of the time feeling like I am just not good enough at the things I do.

Last week, I really started to get frustrated with myself for doing this. I wondered, “WHY? Why have I been beating myself up these past few weeks? Why do I feel “less than” in every aspect of my life…as a professional, as a yoga teacher, as a wife, as a mother, and as a friend? WHY?”

So I took a self-imposed time out and meditated on it a bit. It didn’t take long for me to figure out the source of the problem.

I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t done the things I need to do for myself. When I get super busy, I tend to just PUSH PUSH PUSH, like a well-oiled machine, focusing on the task at hand until it’s done. I’m such a perfectionist that I can’t stop comparing myself to how others are doing “it” better than I am, so then I get paranoid and start over, trying to be better than before. I drive myself crazy when I do this, but this is how I roll, apparently.

When I get this way, I forget to stop and take some “me” time. As I thought about it, I realized I didn’t remember the last time I’d meditated. And that I’d been very sporadic with my exercise habits. I’d been missing more yoga sessions than I cared to admit. No WONDER I’d been such a wreck and was acting really horrible to myself…again!

During my “time out”, I came to realize two things:

  1. I create these comparisons to others all by myself. No one told me I needed to be better at anything…I did that to myself. It’s ME who subscribes to the “he/she is better than me” mindset.
  2. I have the power to do something about it. It is MY reaction, MY brain…which means I control how I react.

As I meditated some more on it, I knew that I needed to get better at changing my thought patterns and habits. It’s not an overnight change, though. It takes a lot of hard work and practice, and self-forgiveness, to teach yourself to realize how awesome you truly are. So here’s how I plan to tackle this and get my life to a point where I can be happy with exactly who I am, and be comfortable that I am exactly who God intended me to be:

  1. Try new things. A change in routine can be a great way to give yourself a boost. For me, I decided to take golf lessons. My husband found me a nice set of used clubs for a great deal, and then I saw a Groupon ad for lessons at a good deal, so I figured this was a sign from above. I’ve had two lessons now, and I am really loving it. By no means am I the female version of Tiger Woods, but I am loving the way the club feels when it makes contact with the ball and goes (generally) in the direction I want it to. I love the way it feels to be outside on the green, soaking up the sun and feeling the nice breeze. And I like my teacher. He is kind and patient, and he tells me stories that make me laugh when he sees me getting frustrated…when I start laughing, he says, “Now that you’re loosened up from all the stress, try hitting the ball again…Even Tiger doesn’t hit a good shot every time.” And I usually find that I do much better once I let go of having to be perfect and just have fun with it.
  2. Take care of yourself. This means, for me, making sure I exercise regularly, meditate, get enough sleep and eat right. I’ve been doing really well lately with eating the right things and not letting my cravings win. I’ve also recently gotten back into my strength training…I’d forgotten how good it makes me feel to lift heavy things! And I have also picked back up with my yoga practice, as I had let my busy schedule get in the way too many times to count. Now I need to get dialed back in to my meditation practice and getting my sleep back on track. Baby steps and patience will get me there. I deserve to give myself the gift of health.
  3. Be honest. Know your triggers so that you can be aware. When they hit, you’ll be better able to figure out how to take yourself out of the situation before it becomes a problem. Be open with others and tell them how you feel…it’s so therapeutic to share with others. If you keep everything to yourself, it’ll eventually drive you mad. Many times, when you share your feelings with others, you find they totally get it…most of the time, people tell me, “OMG! I feel the same way sometimes! I am glad I’m not alone!” That makes me feel better instantly…to know I’m not all by myself when the poop hits the fan.
  4. Know your strengths. We all have them. Every. Single. One of us. For example, I have a good sense of humor and love making people laugh, and I also love to build people up. I also have a knack for making up silly lyrics to the tune of popular songs, which always makes my older daughter cringe a bit in embarrassment (tee hee hee)! When you can recognize your strengths — and embrace them and be proud of them — you’re less likely to pick yourself apart.
  5. Practice, practice, practice! Life happens and things won’t always be sunshine and roses, so don’t be so hard on yourself when you slip now and then. Practice not criticizing yourself at every opportunity by taking a deep breath and taking a moment to reflect before beating yourself up. Remind yourself of your strengths, that you are loved, that you are beautiful, there is no one else like you, and that you deserve happiness. The more you practice, the more you will be able to resist the urge to compare yourself to others.

At the end of the day, we need to remember that we are all different and we are all beautiful. I need to remember this and believe it for myself. I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I know I can do it. Another strength of mine just so happens to be that I am stubborn! And right now, that is a very good thing!

Namaste,

Melanie

“Mirror, mirror on the wall…who is the fairest of them all?” ~~ Snow White’s evil stepmother

queen(Photo courtesy of Doug Craig)

If you’ve ever read Snow White or seen one of the big screen adaptations, you probably recognize the quote above. Snow White’s evil stepmother utters this quote over and over to her magic mirror throughout her time as queen, and it always told her that SHE was the fairest of them all…until Snow White came along. And then all of a sudden, the queen went to great lengths to destroy Snow White, so that she could once again be the most beautiful in all the land.

Now I know this is just a fairy tale, but think about something for a minute. The queen was just trying to get a little boost to her ego. She had no self-esteem and no self-love, so she was dependent on this mirror to tell her how beautiful and wonderful she was. The thing is, she never believed it herself, and her soul was dark because of it. Snow White, on the other hand, was not only beautiful, but she had a heart and soul that was pure love. Snow White believed she was the best she could be and she was happy with who she was, no matter what her circumstances were.

Sound familiar? I know many people with the “wicked queen complex”, as I like to call it. People who are constantly looking for recognition and praise from others. People who never seem to be happy because they’re always looking for the next round of praise. When I look at these people, I notice they surround themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear, who feed their ego. But when I look at them, I also notice that no matter how much they are told how wonderful they are, they still don’t seem to be happy.

Truth be told, I used to be one of those kinds of people. Heck, I still am a lot of the time. I am working on it, but it is HARD for me. So hard!

For many months now, I’ve been working on improving my health and wellness. I’ve incorporated meditation, I’ve pared back on my commitments, and I am spending more time with my family and friends.

About two months ago, I started working with a friend of mine who is an amazing energy healer. I was having a lot of pain in my legs and in my back and shoulders, and she offered to see if she could help. When she started working on my back and shoulders, she immediately noted that this pain was due to something emotional rather than physical. As she continued to work on me, she said I needed to work on loving myself and trusting myself, and on speaking my truth.

I was floored, because when I thought about it, I realized she was right. I am great at building others up, but I am always beating MYSELF up, always thinking I could be doing something better, always apologizing for everything.

She gave me some mantras and meditations to do, and I eagerly started working on them. I am a very task-driven, Type A personality, so I love it when I get “assignments”. I also ordered an amazing workbook by Louse Hay, “Love Yourself, Heal Your Life”. This book was recommended as a great one to help with developing self-love, and the thought of having a multitude of “assignments” to do sounded like just what I needed.

LouiseHayBookCover

When the workbook arrived in the mail, I was SO excited! I started reading it right away. In it, the author says that you should do each exercise until you’ve got it down and feel like you’ve truly accomplished it before moving on to the next one. OK. Easy enough.

Or so I thought. The first exercise I did is the Mirror Exercise. What you’re supposed to do is stop and look at yourself in a mirror as often as you can, and every time you do, you’re supposed to say something nice to yourself. That didn’t sound so bad.

The first time I tried it, though, was so UNCOMFORTABLE! I looked at myself and immediately wanted to pick apart what I saw.

  •  “My face looks fat.”
  • “My skin looks blotchy.”
  • “Look at those wrinkles on my forehead and around my eyes.”
  • “Is that a double-chin?”

You get the idea. So I closed my eyes, opened them, and tried again. This time, I really looked and STRUGGLED to find something nice to say. So I said something cheesy like, “You have pretty hair” and then walked away, emotionally exhausted from the attempt.

Wow! This was going to be harder than I thought. But I don’t back away from a challenge, so I vowed to keep at it. I thought I was making some progress until I went to my chiropractor this week. He looked at me after the adjustment and said, “You really need to start believing in yourself. You don’t trust yourself at all. You need to trust that you’re worth standing up for.”

Hmm…OK.

Then today, I saw my friend who’s been working with me. I told her I was experiencing some pain again in my back and right shoulder, and she went back to what she told me the first time I worked with her. I told her I’d been working on it but that it was not going so well. She gave me some more mantras, ones I can use with my mirror exercise, so that maybe it will be less difficult for me.

When I got home, I took this pic of myself:

Melanie_05172015

After I took it, I started analyzing it. I started to do what I usually do, which is to pick myself apart. But then I said, “No! Enough! I am worthy. I honor myself and I respect myself too much to continue to treat myself this way.” Then I looked again…not at my blotchy, post-yoga skin, but in my eyes. To me, my eyes look like they truly believe I am worthy, don’t you think? I think my head knows, but it’s my heart I need to work on. I need to believe it to my very core.

Yoga has been wonderful to me throughout the years in helping me believe in myself, but somehow, I’ve lost my way a bit. I think I’ve spent so much time working on my students that I forgot about ME. I definitely have not been very good at practicing what I preach.

Well, that’s going to change. I want to be happy from the inside out. I am willing to do the hard work, even if it means dealing with uncomfortable feelings as they rise to the top. I am worth it. I know that now.

If you’ve never done the mirror exercise, I encourage you to try it. It might be uncomfortable. VERY uncomfortable. And it might feel silly or awkward. But that just means you need to do it all the more. I never realized how hard it can be to say something nice to yourself. But if you can’t love yourself and say kind things to yourself, you can’t expect others to love you and be kind to you. You’ll never be happy…truly happy…until you can look yourself in the eyes and say, “I love you.”

I want to be Snow White, not the evil queen. How about you?

Namaste,

Melanie

A few posts back, I talked about how I gave my first speech in Toastmasters back in December. This month, I completed my 4th speech! I’ve decided to focus each of my speeches on something that helps people find happiness in their lives, as I truly do feel like it’s my mission in life to help others find happiness. Maybe at the end of my 10 speeches (that’s how many you have to do in order to complete the Competent Communicator series), I’ll have my material all set for my first book. Wouldn’t that be cool?!

This latest speech was titled, “Don’t Be So Serious!” It focused on getting across the message that when embarrassing things happen to you, or you make a mistake, do what you can to roll with it and not dwell on it. Because if you dwell on things, you’ll be miserable. Look for the lesson in the situation, and learn from it…and you’re on your way to finding your happiness.

I started off my speech with a clip from the movie Sixteen Candles. If you’ve seen the movie (from WAY back in 1984), you probably remember the scene where Sam’s grandparents see her for the first time in awhile and notice she’s “gotten her boobies” (tee hee hee!). Here’s the clip in case you don’t remember, or haven’t seen the movie…you only need to watch the first 1:10 of the clip.

After watching the clip, I launched into my OWN embarrassing story, which had the room cracking up (which was EXACTLY what I was hoping they’d do, by the way). Here’s the story I shared:

It was about 10 years ago. My husband, daughters and I were at the grocery store to get some items we needed for a party we were hosting the next night. We had a lot of things to get, so I gave half the list to my husband and older daughter, while my younger daughter and I took the other half of the list.

We were zipping through the aisles, putting the necessary items into the cart, checking off the list…things were going SPLENDIDLY! And then…I turned down the pasta aisle.

As I was strolling along, I saw my husband up ahead, so I figured I’d catch up to him and see where he was on his half of the list. As I got up behind him, I “passed gas”. It was SUPER loud and quite stinky. My husband HATES when I do stuff like that (it happens more often than I’d care to admit), so I figured I’d make light of the situation by saying, “That was a good one, wasn’t it?”

He turned around and said, “It sure was lady!”

O.M.G.!!! This wasn’t my husband! It was some random guy with a similar build in a similar outfit, but he was not MY husband!

Yes, I think you could say I was embarrassed. But, in true “Melanie” fashion, I decided to laugh it off. I looked at the man, smiled, and said, “Looks like my job here is done!” Then I kept strolling down the aisle in search of my REAL husband, so we could skidaddle!

William Arthur Ward said, “To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity.” After that incident in the store, I’d like to think I am a bit more mature now! :)

If you have a hard time laughing things up…if you constantly dwell on the mistakes you think you’ve made…then now is the time to make a change.

Yesterday, I came across the following article. I am always in search of exercises that can help people tap into their happiness, and I absolutely think this article is a must read for anyone who wants to be happier in their life.

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/6-exercises-positive-psychology-boost-happiness/

The article contains 6 different exercises that can help you in finding happiness, but the first exercise is one that really jumped out at me, because it totally validated everything I said in my speech. Here’s the exercise:

Exercise #1: Three funny things

Write down three funny things you experienced in a given day, and why those things happened. For example, was this something you were directly involved in, something you observed, or something spontaneous?

When you can laugh at yourself and your circumstances, it means that you don’t take life too seriously. Best of all, laughing is contagious!

So…what are you waiting for? Invest some time in yourself because guess what? You deserve happiness! We all do, so don’t let it pass you by.

And, if you feel so inspired, I’d love for you to share the things you came up with in the exercise above. You never know how sharing your experiences might end up helping someone else.

Namaste,

Melanie

You can ask yourself, “What’s it like to be me?” You know, the only way we’ll ever know what it’s like to be you is if you work your best at being you as often as you can, and keep reminding yourself: That’s where home is. — Bill Murray

The above quote is Bill Murray’s response to the question “How does it feel to be you?”, which he fielded during a press conference at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival after the screening of his film St. Vincent. The resulting speech he gave has been dubbed the “Bill Murray Dharma Talk”, and I really enjoyed listening to it. You can listen to it yourself by clicking here, and it also has the speech typed out if you don’t want to watch the video.

I happened to come across this “dharma talk” right at the end of March, and I thought it was such perfect timing, as my focus in my yoga classes for March was dharma. I’d felt like it was challenging for me throughout the month to really get across the message that I wanted to my students…and then I happened across this wonderful little speech by Bill Murray and I felt it really helped tie things up rather nicely.

Dharma can mean many different things, depending on the religion or philosophy you subscribe to. Check out Wikipedia for an example of what I mean. But to me, the way dharma is described in the Bhagavad Gita is the one that has always resonated with me the most. In chapter 18.47, it says, “It’s better to do your own dharma imperfectly than another’s perfectly.” Dharma here means “life purpose”. If you’re truly doing what you’re meant to be doing, then everything else in life falls into place naturally. If you’re doing things that are helping you work toward meeting your dharma, then it’s all good, no matter the outcome!

I definitely feel like I am working towards my own dharma…FINALLY! I’ve tried lots of different things in an attempt to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing and what makes me tick. These last couple of years have definitely brought me a long way. And I think it’s because I finally stopped to listen to my own heart, rather than trying to copy what others are doing. Also, I figured out that a person’s dharma changes along their life’s journey. We have stages in our lives, after all, so it’s only fitting that our dharma may need to change in order to meet us where we are at that particular stage in our lives.

It’s been hard for me in many ways. I’m typically a Type A “have to have a plan” kind of person. But that way of thinking was totally stressing me out and making me miserable. Now, I still have a plan, but it’s just not so rigid. If something doesn’t feel right, I try and figure out why and make the necessary changes. This means I have to be a bit more of a “go with the flow” kind of person, and that was an uncomfortable feeling for me at first. But it’s getting easier every day, because I can see a difference in myself. I feel happier. I feel more sure of  myself. I feel more at peace. And I definitely feel like I am more “at home” with myself now, more confident.

So. What’s it like to be YOU? Do you know what your life purpose is? If you’re not sure, I urge you to take the steps to figure it out. You won’t be sorry, because once you figure it out, there will be no stopping you. And once you’re able to truly be YOU, you’ll finally be home.

Namaste,

Melanie

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