Mindful Mornings Atlanta: Resilience

Ever since we moved to Atlanta, I had been hibernating, not wanting to go out and meet people or do things.  I think I just needed some time to get used to my new surroundings.  It’s only been in the last week or so that I feel ready to step out of my cocoon and engage in the world again.

I came across an event series called “Mindful Mornings: Atlanta” and I was intrigued.  In Raleigh, there was a monthly speaker series called “Creative Mornings,” where artists and other creatives would come speak about their work, and the creation process.  I had always meant to get to a Creative Mornings, but I could never seem to make it work.  When I saw that there was a “Mindful Mornings,” I couldn’t say no.  A speaker series where wellness and mindfulness is the main topic?  I am so in!

So I went! I finally left the nest and explored our new home.  The event took place at a restaurant called Sama, and I have definitely found my new favorite place.  It’s a fast-casual/coffee shop type of place where you order at the bar and they bring it to you. The menu was amazing, and right up my alley:  they had mushroom mylk lattes with chaga and reishi, and superfood smoothies with maca and ashwaganda.  The space itself is totally instagrammable, with white and light and millennial pink.  Like I said, my new favorite : )

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Mindful Mornings: Atlanta was definitely unlike what I was expecting.  Based on my experience with Creative Mornings, I thought it would be a speaker series mixed with socialization.  What we actually ended up doing was a guided mediation on resilience, and then a roundtable discussion of our understanding and experience of resilience.  I felt like I was one of the few people in the room who didn’t have a daily meditation practice, and it took a lot of strength not to giggle due to nerves.

The meditation itself (15 minutes) was interesting, and went by quicker than I expected, and felt faster than when I’ve tried to meditate by myself just sitting quietly.  Being guided in how to access your emotions and feelings is really helpful, and if you are new to meditation like I am, I think starting with guided meditation is the way to go.

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The part I really enjoyed was the discussion about resilience afterward. There were four major themes that came up in the discussion as to what comprises resilience, and I thought it was worth reflecting on here:

Resilience is trust.

  • Resilience, at its core, is the ability to come back from difficulties or troubles. But what makes us able to bounce back?  One of the things that give us resilience is trust.  Our ability to trust God, trust ourselves, trust others, and trust the universe helps us keep going.  Trust requires relying on something we are not even sure about in the first place, but when you trust your well-being increases.

Resilience is faith

  • Faith is another component of what makes up resilience. Faith and trust are deeply intertwined, because both rely on you giving up power, letting go, and not trying to control every aspect.  Trust and faith require a willingness to accept vulnerability.

Resilience is perseverance

  • Resilience is really a retrospective description. You don’t know if someone is resilient until after the trauma, after the hurt, after the bad thing that happened. When you are in the middle of it all, perseverance is what gets you to the other side.  Just keeping on, even in the midst of sadness or chaos, is critical for resilience.

But resilience does not mean that someone is happy all the time, nor does resilience mean that a person does not have or recognize any distress in their lives.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  Turning towards negative emotions, and not being judgmental or fearful of negative emotions, but being able to quietly observe and acknowledge negative emotions is key in resilience.  One of the women at Mindful Mornings taught resilience, and she always went back to a quote from Buddha in her lessons.  The story goes that he said, “Resilience is inviting your suffering in for tea.” That image truly encompasses being at ease with negative emotions.  You are not inviting your hurt to move in, set up camp, and take over the grocery shopping, but you are acknowledging the presence of your pain and not simply ignoring it.

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Turning towards negative emotions is something I have always struggled with.  I hate fighting, and my natural inclination is to avoid confrontation, pretty much at all costs.  I can barely let a negative thought be expressed before trying to come up with an action plan to resolve it. But recently I’ve been trying to work on turning towards negative emotions, and not immediately trying to change them or silence them, or even fix them, but just observing.  It’s something that requires conscious effort for me.  I read an article that talked about asking “what” instead of “why” when dealing with negative emotions, to be more observant.  So instead of saying something like “why am I so irritated today?” you ask “what has happened today that has irritated me?” so you can start the process reflecting rather than trying to diagnose or problem solve.

I really appreciated my experience at Mindful Mornings, because it gave me the opportunity to reflect on something I tend to avoid.  What do you think are the keys to resilience?

Sit Yourself Sick

I bet I can guess what you are doing at this very moment.  And it may be hurting your heart.

The New York Times recently wrote about a new study that was published in the journal Circulation that found that sitting for extended periods of time straight up damages your heart, as evidenced by chronically elevated levels of a certain protein called troponin.  Apparently, these proteins are produced by cardiac muscle cells (the cells your heart is comprised of)  when the cells are hurt or dying.  A heart attack, for example, releases a wave of these proteins.

The study looked at the troponin levels of participants, and after controlling for all other variables, found that those who remained sedentary (the report talked about 10+ hours per day) had higher levels of troponin that those who exercised or were more active, even with low key activities like walking.  The levels of troponin in the sedentary folks were high enough to indicate a “subclinical” cardiac injury.  Think not quite a heart attack, but enough injury to be worrisome.

The thing I think I love the most about a lot of these health and physiologic studies is that they use #science to confirm what most of us understand on an internal level.  In this case- sitting and remaining sedentary for long periods of time is not good for you, and is likely to be damaging your heart.

I think the thing that is interesting about these results is that it takes being sedentary out of the realm of benign, and shows that being sedentary is actually actively damaging your heart.  They say sitting is the new smoking, and it actually makes sense when you look at this study.  You can’t deny that one cigarette does damage to your lungs, and now, you can’t deny that sitting does damage damaging your heart.

But what is a chair-bound office worker to do?  I don’t think hope is lost, even for those of us glued to a computer for 8 hours a day.  Here are a couple tricks and tips to keep yourself moving, even at the office:

  1. Be Cognizant of Your Movement

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I have an Apple Watch that keeps track of the time, and dings me if I haven’t moved enough during any one hour.  When I’m in the throes of work, it can be annoying, but I usually like the notification, because so much time can slip away without realizing it.  Keep track of what time it is, and aim to get up and walk around a little bit each hour.  It doesn’t sound like much, but just the simple act of moving keeps your blood flowing.

  1. Exercise on days when you know you will be sedentary

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My takeaway from the study was not that you are doomed if you work in an office, but that if you do work in an office, it is even that much more important to exercise with intention on a regular basis, especially when you know your day will be sedentary.  If you don’t have a job that is naturally active, it is even more important for you to get exercise in on work days.  If you have a long flight, you can prepare yourself for the journey by getting some fitness in.  According to this study, even walking is helpful in terms of lowering troponin levels, so any way you can fit in exercise helps. I like to exercise first thing in the morning before work, because that’s when I have the time and wherewithall to do it, rather than after work.  If I was queen of the world I would go back to exercising about 3 or 4 pm like I did when I was in school, because I think that’s when my energy levels are the highest.  But for right now, morning works best for me. On weekends, I am more flexible with my workouts because I am usually more active. Experiment to see what works for you.

  1. Embrace activity as an aspect of everyday life

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This is how you can really combat a sedentary job- by embracing movement and activity as a part of the fabric of your life.  It’s been said before but I’ll say it again- you don’t need to park in the very closest parking space.  You don’t need a van door that will shut itself.  You can walk to the restaurant, even though you think it’s too far.  Rake instead of blowing leaves.  Use a push mower instead of a riding mower. If you look at every moment as an opportunity to move, it gradually becomes easier and easier, and you will be way more active without even realizing it.

When we moved to Atlanta, I was lucky enough to get a job a little over a mile from the house.  At first I thought, “oh what a bummer! So close but it’s just a little too far to walk!”  But then, there was a beautiful day and I wanted to enjoy the weather.  I realized how pleasant the walk was, versus sitting in Atlanta traffic.  Then, I made a challenge for myself- try to walk to work two times per week.  Eventually, I built up, and I felt antsy when I didn’t walk to work, like I had this extra energy with nowhere to go.  Just stretch a little bit every day, and it will become more natural as time goes on.  The more you can weave activity into the fabric of your every day life, the easier it will be to continue moving, and the healthier your heart will be because of it.

I am grateful for studies like this one because they provide us with an impetus to make a change.  Happy moving!

 

#snacks

I live for snacks. I know I should be saying I eat balanced meals and am satiated until my next meal, but that’s just not how I operate.  I’m like a baby- I need to eat every three hours or so or I get real, real hangry.  Ask my husband, he’s seen it.  My aspirational self can ignore hunger pangs for what they really are (temporary drops in blood sugar, not a reason to panic)  but I’ve learned I need to just work with myself.  You can’t force a square peg into a round hole, and you (I) can only ignore hunger pangs for so many days before I crater and eat whatever is nearby.

So snacks it is.  But with snacks, comes a conundrum.  I know I need to be eating more vegetables. Everything I’ve read, all the credible resources that are out there, whether its paleo or vegan or gluten free or whathaveyou, say that eating more vegetables is better for your health.  And that’s real tough in the snack world! I feel like all the easy, go-to snacks are grains, dairy, or nuts.  Think about it- granola bars, oatmeal, yogurt, almonds, crackers, popcorn, chips- while very portable, there’s not a green thing in sight! I try to start off most mornings with a green smoothie so I get a good dose of greens first thing in the morning, but the rest of the day I’m eating basically a bunch of brown stuff.

Recently I’ve been trying to get creative with snacks in incorporate more vegetables.  And while my suggestions may be obvious to you, it’s just not imprinted into my brain yet, and it may not be imprinted in yours either.

Non-grain, non-dairy, non-nut snacks:

  1. Good old fashioned baby carrots. The OG of portable veggie snacks, the baby carrot has been a staple since grade school.  A nice crunch, a great source of vitamins and fiber, and low caloric volume.  But I gotta be honest.  I’ve been eating carrots for so long that I am definitely needing a change. Which leads me to my next snack…
  2. Cucumber slices. Love love love me some cucumber.  I don’t know about you, but the smell, the taste, the crunch, everything about a cucumber is satisfying to me.  Sprinkled with a little salt and pepper, it has enough flavor to feel satisfying and less like eating air. For snack purposes (or crudité trays) I like English cucumbers, which have a thinner skin and less seeds.
  3. Bell Pepper Slices. Green for a good crunch, red for a touch of sweetness.  I love bell pepper slices, especially a combo of red, orange, and yellow, which is so pretty and have more delicate flavors than green.  Bell peppers have high Vitamin A and Vitamin C content, and only 35 calories in a cup. They are tasty enough to eat on their own, which is exactly what I look for in a veggie snack.
  4. Edamame. This is a new thing for me! I like getting frozen edamame and bringing it to the office and keeping the whole bag in the freezer.  Then, when I need a more filling snack, I can pop as much as I want in the microwave. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and you have a great treat.  Edamame is a great source of iron and magnesium, and has 17g of protein in one serving!
  5. Grape tomatoes. This one I haven’t tried yet, but I’ve heard good things.  I’m hit or miss on raw tomatoes- nothing is better than a ripe tomato straight from the garden with some salt and pepper, but ice cold tomatoes on a weak winter salad gives me the heebie jeebies.

All of these veggies are tasty enough on their own, without the need for half a cup of ranch.  They play well with hummus and other spreads, but to get the most nutritional bang for your buck, stay away from salad dressings.  If you are like me, you get plenty of fat in your diet from other sources (ie anything cooked with oil, nuts, etc).

Next time you are at the grocery store, instead of reaching for the granola bars, reach for something green. Here’s to happy snacking!

Reflections and Resolutions

I could never wait for New Year’s Day to start thinking about resolutions.  I know some people hate resolutions, but I love them.  I loved thinking about where I was and what my goals were and how I was going to get there.  So usually, when the chaos of Christmas had settled, usually in the wee hours of the 26th or 27th, I would look back on my journaling or memories and reflect on what the year had been, where it had taken me, and where I wanted it to go.

Some years, the reflection was hard.  It would include incidents or comments or outfits that just embarrassed me and shamed me to my core.  But other times, just by reflecting, I could see the growth that I had made, sometimes unintentionally, and that would help cement the direction I wanted to go in for the following year.

I love taking the time to reflect and ask questions that we usually don’t have time to sit and think about.  Big picture questions, direction questions, why questions.  And for me, I think the best way to do it is to write it down.  Sure, you can just talk out loud, or talk to someone else, but the beauty of writing is that you have to complete just one sentence at a time.  Your mind has to slow down long enough to capture that one thought you had three thoughts ago.  And when you are done writing that one sentence, it centers you back and you can keep going.  Also, I feel like writing really allows your mind to unfold naturally, like a flower blooming.  Sometimes I am surprised by what comes out of me.  It’s always a treat to take the time to journal!

I haven’t maintained a steady journaling habit since I was single, but I still love the year end reflection that the holiday season brings us.  So the questions I will be asking myself this year (and my husband, if he’ll play along) are as follows:

  1. What do I want to do/be/accomplish in this year?

This is the easy question.  I want to do a million and one things that I have pushed from one year to the next- I want to develop a more consistent exercise routine, I want to start meditating, I want to start a consistent gratitude journal, I want to stop spending so much time on social media, I want to stop trying to increase my self-esteem by buying another pair of leggings.  Like I said, it’s easy to list out what you want.

  1. What am I doing right now that I am already proud of?

When you are making an aspirational self list, it helps to remind yourself what you already do! You can think generally (I floss every day) or compare it to the past (I exercise two times a week when last year it was once every other week).

  1. What am I doing right now that I am not proud of?

In case you skipped something from #1 😉  Not meant for self-flagellation, but if you ask the same question in different ways, you may get different answers.

  1. How do I want to live my life in the coming year?

This question seems a little odd, but it helps to make your plan to accomplish your goals more actionable.  How many hours a day do you want to work? What do you want to spend your time thinking about? How do you want to spend your time? What does your day to day look like?

  1. How can I meld my goals and how I want to live my life?

This is where the rubber meets the road- where you get into the nitty gritty of how you will accomplish your goals.  Does your desired day next year include waking up slowly and drinking coffee in bed? You’re probably not going to exercise five times a week if you are planning on 6 am boot camp. The point of this question is to realistically look at your goals and your desired lifestyle, because to accomplish your goals, they need to be realistic, and not aspirational.  The hard part with this question is being HONEST with yourself about what you can do or not do.  It has taken me several years, but I have had to learn that I cannot go from zero to sixty.  I have written an “aspirational daily schedule” several times over, and whenever I find them stuffed in some long forgotten drawer, even looking at the schedule freaks me out.  If I have every minute of the day scheduled down with something productive, where is my moment to breathe?  And when I freak out, I shut down and do nothing.  So I learned to be gentle with myself, and listen to myself, but keep pushing in the right direction without going too far.

Remember, the best goals are SMART- Specific, Measurable, Achievable (that’s a big one), Realistic (another biggie), and Timely.

The last tidbit I have for you is the most important – do not see a stumble as a failure.  If you set a goal to work out three times a week, and you miss one week totally, that is ok! Do not get distracted by the one stumble and fail to recognize the thousands of other accomplishments you did achieve! Be patient with yourself.  Improvement is not an overnight process, at least not for me.  If you approach yourself with love, you will be amazed to find that your self has been longing for love the whole time.  ♥

Welcome!

Welcome to Road to Ridges!

Thank you for joining me.  I have wanted a space to talk about nutrition, health, and wellness, and I decided to create my own.  My dream is to have this be an open exchange of ideas and thoughts, so if there is ever a topic on your mind that you want to discuss, please send me a message!

First, a little about me.  I am not a nutritionist.  I am not a physical therapist.  I am not a personal trainer.  I am, however, interested in all things wellness, and I have been since I was young.

My mom read a book called “Sugar Busters” back in early Aughts (can you believe that was nearly 20 years ago?!?), and that opened the door to the world of nutrition.  The book was focused on cutting white sugar in all forms, and was a lone wolf in that Atkins-focused era.  It made logical sense to me, rather than the “eat bacon for breakfast and you’ll lose weight” movement, so I started reading more.  Sugar Busters introduced me to Kashi before it was a household brand (and before Kashi introduced all the yummy/sugar-laden recipes that are now the primary products), and it gave me a foundation to explore further.

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Cut to 2008, when I stumbled upon a podcast from a woman in California named Gina Cloud. Her now-defunct podcast (miss you Gina!) opened my eyes to a whole world of new age-y wellness that has now become mainstream.  In 2008, Gina was interviewing doctors who discussed the potential dangers of hormonal birth control and whistleblowers in the cosmetics industry.  Now, green beauty has exploded and mindfulness is the theme of the month.

Even though I sought information on health and wellness on a daily basis, I didn’t pursue it as a career, but as a hobby.  Six years out of law school, I realize that I need to give voice to this side of me and start pursuing it in earnest. I’ve watched with excitement as my friends and family have discovered information on nutrition and wellness on their own, and I want to be a resource to spark additional thought. So let’s go on this journey together.

Love and Gratitude,

Lucy