Finding beauty and pleasure

the slow down diet by marc david

I am very grateful for my childhood. Due to circumstances I won’t be getting into, we were raised by my grandparents. They were both medical doctors, and they were very old-fashioned.
My grandfather came from an aristocratic family, one of the richest families at the time in Constanta (the seaside in Romania). He had it all. They had one of the very first cars in the region, knew some of the most influential people at the time, they had philosophers and famous pianists come over for tea and big, fancy dinners. It was a life like you see in the movies. My Grandfather had a great education and became a doctor and surgeon. And then, when Romania became communist, he had everything taken away from him. He was almost arrested and his clinic was taken away from him. All his belongings, his home that he inherited from his family…everything was taken away. He always told us that clothes and material possessions don’t make the man; it is knowledge, kindness and forgiveness that give you power, that give you strength. Those are the things that matter most. It’s about finding beauty in the every day, living like a king no matter what your means are, being grateful for the here and now….being grateful for the people in your life, who have shaped you into who you have become. It is about letting go of grudges. He was a very calm and collected man. The communists may have taken all his material possessions, but his spirit, his joy for life, his kindness, his thirst for knowledge remained intact. People loved him! I remember people stopping him on the street, on the way to the market, to thank him for how he helped someone in their family. He was the first person the neighbours called when they were ill. He was retired, but he always helped and never asked for anything in return.
My Grandma was a doctor as well. Unlike my grandfather, she was very outspoken, very fiery in nature. She was very quick, smart, beautiful, adventurous, and LOVED life. She would take us hiking in the mountains (that is where I got my love of hiking from), while my grandpa would relax at home with a book… We would have have picnics in the forest, get caught in the pouring rain and use gigantic leaves we would find on the trails as umbrellas. We would sing and laugh and climb all day. We would pick raspberries and roll down grassy hills till we got dizzy.
We lived in a condo….definitely not a mansion, but we had everything we needed. We listened to classical music and studied art books from famous painters. We went to museums, we went to the opera, theater and ballet. I actually went to the cinema for the first time when I was 14. We walked to the market every few days to get fresh, local, in season produce. I watched my grandma make the most amazing meals from scratch. She would put on a pretty apron, play some music and dance around the kitchen while she prepared the meals. My grandpa would buy fresh flowers that we would put in beautiful crystals vases all around the house. We would help set the table and we always used beautiful china. We would drink tea in pretty tea cups. My grandpa went to the bakery across the street every single morning to buy freshly baked bread and yogurt that came in pretty glass jars. We always sat together at the beautifully set table to eat.
I know all this may sound very old-fashioned for some, and I know times have changed, and we do have to keep changing as well, and adapt. I know times are different, and technology plays a huge part in our lives nowadays. My message I guess is that there is some beauty in the old ways of living as well…living more mindfully. Making life feel beautiful and indulgent every day, no matter what your income may be.

Here are a few things I think more of us could be doing once in a while to add more beauty and pleasure to our every day:

  • Add some elegance and grace in your home, or maybe an activity you may find has some sense of grace and elegance to it? Something that inspires you, that gives you pleasure…maybe a bouquet of fresh flowers on your dinner table or night stand, maybe a candlelit dinner for no special occasion, or a quiet evening walk through your neighborhood, after dinner.
  • Live more spontaneously. Invite a friend over for tea, close your laptop and go for a short stroll in the sunshine, move your work station on your balcony or garden if it’s possible once in a while. Pause what you are doing and dance around your livingroom with your children to your favorite song.
  • Walk to the local market and buy fresh ingredients whenever possible. Learn new recipes. Share your meals with loved ones.
  • Wear things that make you feel beautiful, pamper and treat yourself once in a while with things that bring you joy…a massage, a bubble bath, a nice perfume or even some much needed “me-time” where you can just sink lazily and pleasurably into a great book…or let yourself be carried away by the relaxing sounds of soothing music
  • Don’t wait for a special occasion that may never come to use your beautiful china or tea sets. I use mine every single day. Set the table, cover it with beautiful linens and fresh flowers.
  • Always be learning. Try new things. Read books. Watch documentaries. Listen to podcasts. Learn new recipes. Learn a new language. (My friend introduced me to Duolingo, which is completely free and has many languages available. It’s very easy to use and I highly recommend it:) ). Go to museums, or the theater or an art gallery…Try a night at the ballet. You never know how much you might love something if you don’t ever even once expose yourself to it.
  • Get off the computer and go play some board games or card games with your family or friends. Spend some real time with loved ones. Be fully present. Listen mindfully.
  • And last but not least…Assume the best of others instead of the worst. Be kind and forgive…others and yourself!

PS: The image is a screen-capture from the kindle edition of “The Slow Down Diet” by Marc David.

Acupressure for relieving stress

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I am a huge fan of acupuncture. I find that it really helps me, it relaxes me and it is extremely healing. Now to be completely honest, the first time I tried acupuncture, I had an awful experience (I won’t bother going into details), and I didn’t go back for a few years. One day, I decided to give it another try, and just looked for a different acupuncturist. I am so glad I did that! I found the most amazing doctor, and I found how truly healing acupuncture can be!

I am always so amazed at how my doctor can tell so much about me, without me saying a word. How could she tell I woke up in the middle of the night at around 3am? How could she tell I have trouble eating VERY specific foods? How could she tell when I ate cold or raw food? How could she tell I slept with the window open?  It is amazing how much our bodies can tell about us!

We really are a mirror reflection of our actions, our emotions and our thoughts. The body responds to life, and when something is non-nourishing, it usually lets us know. Sometimes, the signals we get are faint…like a soft whisper…and we don’t listen until these whispers become loud screams…screams that we’ve abused our bodies too much….that we tried to silence it when it is always speaking to us. When we are mindful and paying attention to our bodies and to our thoughts, we can usually tell a lot easier if something is out of balance.

I am definitely not trained in acupuncture, but a few years ago, I took a 3 month course on reflexology and Gua-Sha . Reflexology works with pressure points, and it can be very relaxing. Here are a few things you can do at home when you need (Please note: if you have any medical conditions or are pregnant, consult with your doctor before trying these):

  • to get calm: Find the pressure point in the web between the thumb and index finger. (looking at the top of your hand, holding your hand flat and thumb in, there is a bump where your thumb meets the rest of your hand) Spread and relax your fingers, and then apply pressure to this point. Take deep breaths while you do this. It can be quite sore. Just breathe through it.
  • to relieve stress and tension: The point on the wrist in the area on the little finger side. Apply pressure and breathe.
  • to let go of negative emotions: About three fingers down from the outer edge of your collarbone, moving in from the armpit. This area is usually tender. Breathe deeply and exhale through your mouth. Imagine with every exhale you are letting go of whatever it is that is bothering you.
  • to reduce anxiety, headaches and mental strain, or insomnia: Massage the point between the eyebrows, in light, slow, circular motions.
  • for overall wellbeing: Massaging the feet before bed can be really beneficial. We have a lot of nerve endings on our feet (hands and head), and even if you don’t actually know reflexology, giving your feet a good rub can be very relaxing at the end of the day. Use oil like coconut with a few drops of peppermint or lavender, and start massaging your toes, between each toe, the top of the foot, the sole of the foot, the arch, the heel, the ankle (both sides and top). Use firm, slow, circular movements. Breathe deeply and focus on areas where you feel you are holding a lot of tension.

I hope these little tips can bring a little bit more wellbeing into your life!:)

 

 

The Power of Intention

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This photo is a page from my Daily Greatness Journal.

Today’s meditation is on intentions.
If you read my previous post, or were already familiar with Yoga Nidra, you will know that it begins with an affirmation, an intention…what you want to see unfold in your life. So what do you want?
This is a very simple meditation…on intention and attention. Set the timer for 10 minutes, and begin by sitting quietly, just observing your breath. Take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose, and get centered. Next, begin to ask yourself the question “What do I want? “. Just keep asking that question…over and over. Answers will start pouring in…and if you don’t get any answers, then just keep asking the question. Eventually, the answers will come.
After the timer goes off, sit quietly for a few moments, and then set a timer again for 20 minutes, and begin writing in your journal. Write whatever came to you in your meditation. Don’t stop writing until the timer goes off. If you feel blocked, just ask the question again…”What do I want?”. At the end of your 20 minutes, put the pen down, and read back what you wrote. Are there any words or phrases that stand out? Any insights on where you should place your attention in your life right now?
Once you get clarity on what you truly want, it is time to make it happen. The thing is that just knowing what you want won’t really get you far unless you begin to lean, little by little, in the direction of your dreams. Take small steps, set small, achievable goals for the near future and more distant future… things you can do daily, weekly and monthly, that can bring you closer and closer to where you want to be.

125 Km

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So far this month, we hiked 125 km. (I know this, because everytime my husband and I go on hikes, with both our daughters, we run our pedometer/Fitbit.) Rain, snow, wind, sunshine, dark, light, we are out there, somewhere in nature, every day. We are fortunate to live close to the ocean and to the mountains, rivers and lakes. On the weekends we usually go in the mountains, and spend the whole days hiking and having picnics. During the week we stick to local trails, and some lead to the beach, which we also walk on quite a bit.

Everytime we go out, we pass by a gym, and I always think …HOW BORING! How boring it looks to run on that treadmill like some sort of lab rat…when there is a beach just 10 minutes away…when there are beautiful forests, steep hills, nature trails…..5-10 minutes away…and Whistler is 2 hours drive away….There is night skiing on Mt Seymour and Mt Cypress, that are just an hour drive from us. On the weekends we have bigger hikes that lead to beautiful lakes and secluded beaches, suspension bridges, waterfalls, tree-trekking… These are such beautiful moments, adventures spent together, as a family. These are times when we can be fully present with eachother. There are no distractions. We explore together, we laugh, we play, we climb, we have picnics… There is so much joy, so much freedom, so much room to breathe!

I could not even imagine spending this precious time, by myself, in a gym… to waste my precious time in an artificially neon-lit room, recirculated air, awful smelling, weird music running in the background, a million TV screens playing all sorts of things above… Earphones in…running and getting nowhere….counting calories burnt…counting squats and lunges….I can put my muscles to much better use by climbing rocks and balancing on logs, jumping through puddles with my daughters, climbing up steep mountains and carrying my 3-year old, and then resting on top of a cliff, looking down, above the clouds.

There is just so much to see and so much to do outdoors! So much to learn! It is such a great way to bond with others… Such a great way to get more in touch with your own self. …and with nature ❤ Best gym I could ever ask for!:)

 

 

Yoga Nidra

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Yoga Nidra is a beautiful, profound practice that completely relaxes the body while awakening deeper layers of  consciousness. Practicing 30 minutes of Yoga Nidra is said to be the equivalent of 3-4 hours of deep sleep. It is actually my all-time favorite practice that I have been doing at least weekly, and many times daily, for the last 9 years.
I have very fond memories of the time when I discovered this practice. It was when I just had my first daughter (in 2007). I was a new mom, and I was tired… I came across Shiva Rea’s Yoga Nidra practice from her Drops of Nectar CD. It changed my life! It was the only thing that kept me going through the day. I would practice it while my daughter napped, and after 20 minutes of practice, I would feel awake and alert and fully rested. I kept up with it and practiced with many yoga teachers throughout the years. I still practice it to this day, and in fact I just did 30 minutes of it this afternoon.
If you find yourself in need of some deep relaxation, or haven’t had a good night’s sleep, or feel tired, or have a hard time falling asleep, or are in need of some healing, I STRONGLY recommend it. It is easy to do, and OH, SO POWERFUL!
I will write out the basics of a Yoga Nidra Practice, but I recommend, if you are new to the practice, you should get a guided practice. There are many available. My personal favorites are Shiva Rea – Drops of Nectar (MY FAVORITE- it also has a few other beautiful, simple meditations and a tennis ball shiatsu self-massage/meditation practice that is amazing!), Rod Stryker (an amazing teacher as well, he has a Yoga Nidra practice for free on https://yogainternational.com/article/view/yoga-nidra-practice ) and Anandi, aka “The Sleep Guru” (she has a beautiful and VERY VERY relaxing Yoga Nidra Practice CD). These are my favorite for guided Yoga Nidra practices, but there are many others out there as well. There are other great written guides online as well, but I personally prefer listening to someone guiding me through the practice.
Here are the basic steps of a Yoga Nidra practice (I put this together from all the practices I have done, from Shiva Rea, Rod Stryker, Anandi).
The goal is to remain alert and awake while your body deeply relaxes. Falling asleep or drifting off is natural in the beginning. I still fall asleep during Yoga Nidra if I practice it in bed before I go to sleep. Eventually, you will develop your capacity to stay conscious during the practice of Yoga Nidra. I find it is easier to manage this if I practice in the afternoon, on the floor (not in bed). After my practice, I feel like I just had a very restful nap!:)
To begin the practice of Yoga Nidra, you should be lying on your back. Make sure you are completely comfortable, as it important to remain completely still during your practice. Use pillows under your neck and knees for support if you need to, as well as a blanket to keep you warm. I also like a silk eye pillow on my eyes.
Close your eyes.
Become aware of your surroundings. Any sounds you hear in the distance. Just observe.Try not to concentrate. Move your awareness to the sounds in the building. Again, just notice. Move your attention to the sounds in the room you are in. Now try to visualize the room you are in. Keep your eyes closed. Visualize the walls, the floor, the ceiling, etc. Visualize your body lying on the floor (or bed), visualize yourself like a mirror reflection… the clothes you are wearing, the position your body is in, the blanket that is covering you… Completely relax into the floor.
Become aware of your breath. Don’t concentrate on it, just observe your breath…the effortless, coolness of your inhale, the effortless, warmth of your exhale, soft, gentle…no strain, nothing forced. Calm, long, slow breathing.
Next part is your resolve (SANKALPA). This is a short, positive statement that you would like to achieve or see take place in the next 6-8 months. Repeat it to yourself 3 times. Visualize this as it has already happened.
Next, comes a rotation of consciousness. This is where you begin to move your awareness around different parts of your body. Feel each of these parts, but do not move. Remain still and alert. The practice begins on the right side.
Right hand thumb … 2nd finger … 3rd finger … 4th finger … 5th finger … palm of the hand … back of the hand …wrist … forearm … elbow … upper arm … shoulder … armpit … waist … hip … thigh … knee … calf … ankle … heel …sole of the foot … top of the foot … right big toe … 2nd toe … 3rd toe … 4th toe … 5th toe.
Left hand thumb … 2nd finger … 3rd finger … 4th finger … 5th finger … palm of the hand … back of the hand … wrist… forearm … elbow … upper arm … shoulder … armpit … waist … hip … thigh … knee … calf … ankle … heel … sole of the foot … top of the foot … left big toe … 2nd toe … 3rd toe … 4th toe … 5th toe.
Next, the back of the body … right heel … left heel … right calf … left calf … right thigh … left thigh … right buttock … left buttock … lower back … middle back … upper back … right shoulder blade … left shoulder blade … back of the neck … back of the head.
Top of the head … forehead … right temple … left temple … right ear … left ear … right eyebrow … left eyebrow …middle of the eyebrows … right eye … left eye … right nostril … left nostril … right cheek … left cheek … upper lip …lower lip … both lip together … chin … jaw … throat … right collarbone … left collarbone … right side of the chest …left side of the chest … upper abdomen … navel … lower abdomen … right groin … left groin … the pelvis
The whole right leg (from hip to toes) … whole left leg (hip to toes) … whole right arm (shoulder to fingers) … whole left arm(shoulder to fingers) … the whole face … the whole head … the whole torso … the whole body.
Now go back to your breath. Visualize the breath moving through you, through your whole body. Don’t strain.
Next, move your awareness to opposite sensations:
Imagine your body feels extremely light, like a balloon, Feel like you are floating, like your whole body is empty, light
Next, imagine your body is really heavy. Feel it sinking into the floor.
Invoke the sensation of extremely cold. Think back of a time when you were really cold. Feel it in your body.
Now think of a time when you felt extremely hot. Experience that sensation.
Next comes visualization.  Visualize yourself in nature. Think mountains, ocean, moon, sun…any place that is relaxing to you. Visualize it in detail, the scenery, the smells, the physical sensations,what emotions they brings up (comfort, peace, relaxation, love, happiness, freedom, joy, confidence, safety etc. ) Stay here for a little while.
Next, it is the time to repeat your resolve (sankalpa). Only once this time.
Now  come back to the to your breath, bring back your awareness to your physical body, to the floor, to the room you are in. Start to wiggle your fingers, your toes, wake your body up. Do it slowly.
Get up slowly and open your eyes. Sit for a few moments in stillness.
I hope you give Yoga Nidra a try (if you don’t practice it already) and find more calm and relaxation into your lives!:)

Morning pages

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In her very popular book “The Artist’s Way”, Julia Cameron talks about “Morning Pages”. These are 3 pages you are supposed to write in your journal, pretty much right after you wake up. You are supposed to just write whatever comes to you in that very moment…the stream of thoughts…things you are excited about, anxieties, worries, shopping lists, what you will make for dinner…whatever your thoughts may be in those moments, you just write them all down. There is no censorship. You don’t have to read back any of these pages and nobody else gets to read them either. You are supposed to do this every single morning.

I gave this a try, and although it may sound like such a simple thing to do, it really is quite powerful. Firstly,writing down in the journal first thing in the morning felt like downloading all these thoughts on paper, and out of my mind. My mind felt clearer. Some days, when I would be dealing with more stress, I got quite emotional by the end. It felt like venting to someone, without any interruption, any judgement. It was sort of a release of all this negative energy I was holding onto. I’d find myself crying at the end, but it wasn’t sadness, it was just a sense of relief. Again, ready for the day ahead with a sense of clarity, free of all these clouds of negativity that would have otherwise been on my mind all day.

The more you do this exercise, the more you can realize your patterns. You are not supposed to read anything back, but the more you do it, you realize the tone of your thoughts. For me, they used to be worry. Planning ahead for the worst case scenario, and most of those things never even happened. I was able to slowly shift these patterns by introducing different mindfulness practices, like appreciation, gratitude, breathing mindfully, meditation…

The more I learn about mindful practices, the more balanced I feel in body, mind and soul. There is just so much to learn and experience!

The Rhythm of Life

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When I went for acupuncture last week, I told my doctor I would like to start a detox. She told me I can’t do that yet. It is still winter. In the winter, you build and restore, nourish and reflect. I can start a detox in February she said, after February 4th to be specific.

This got me thinking. In most ancient traditions, they are very in tune with the rhythms of nature. If you have ever studied Ayurveda, you will know that there are specific rituals (in diet, lifestyle, daily activities, yoga practice, etc) that are followed depending on what time of the year it is.

And it really does make sense. Just like nature, our internal rhythm also fluctuates. Our moods, our energy, our vitality…they go up and down, in and out. We are affected by nature, we are affected by the seasons, we are affected by the solar and lunar flows… This makes me think of what Dr. Vasant Lad said:

“To say ‘yes’ means to allow a thought or circumstance to flower, to let go and expand. […] The trees say ‘yes’ to every season. When spring comes, they say ‘yes’ and they flower. When summer comes, they say ‘yes’ and become dry and thirsty. When fall comes, they say ‘yes’, change color and are ready to drop their leaves. To say ‘yes’ means to surrender – to every thought, feeling and emotion. It means to let go, and letting go is a journey towards the heart.”

To surrender, to stay in harmony and balance with the natural rhythms plays such a huge part in our wellbeing…inner and outer.

So until February, like my acupuncturist suggested, I will still continue to follow winter’s rhythm…a time to go inward, to reflect, a time to build, to nourish, to strengthen. In Ayurveda, they recommend daily warm oil self-massage to nourish, sipping on warming teas, eating warming, in season foods. This is not a time to lose weight. It is a time of building strength and stamina without depleting yourself of energy or nourishment. It is a time to go inward, to reflect. Winter is all about nourishment of all your senses: sight (walking in nature, natural sunlight), hearing (healing music), touch (warm oil self-massage, warm baths), smell (woody trails after the rain, fresh air, grounding essential oils in your baths, massage oils, candles), taste (warming teas and nourishing, warm foods).

My doctor suggested I practice meditation daily. Go for early morning walks, preferably in nature, and try to soak up some sunshine. Practice deep, slow, grounding breathing. Have warms baths with grounding essential oils like sandalwood. Listen to healing music. Sip on ginger tea with honey. Go to bed earlier.

In February, I will write up some tips for Spring, but until February 4th, I will be sticking to my hot teas and warm baths, my ginger broccoli soup and delicious stews, daily self massage and daily family walks on the beach and gentle hikes on local trails:D