How NOT To Do Self Care

How NOT To Do Self Care

When self care feels like work, it isn't working. This post is all about how NOT to do self care. Sharing a bit about why I stopped doing yoga and meditation for a period of time, because it had become another item to check off my to do list, rather than a nourishing way to take care of my physical and mental health. 

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The Healing Power of Yoga: Nourish Your Namaste

Curious about yoga? Learn about the healing power of yoga and how integrating yoga and nutrition can take your practice to a new level. 

Yoga came to me at a time when I needed it most.

While I had taken a few classes in college and practiced with episodes of Yoga with a View in my living room occasionally, at that time, I had approached it as a workout. A thing to do when I didn't quite feel like going to the gym or more likely, didn't feel like getting my freshly blow dried hair sweaty.

Flash forward to 2011-ish. I was planning a wedding. We just bought a house, a ring and my dog needed two major surgeries in one month, neither of which were covered by insurance. After bouncing from three cities over the span of four years, I was feeling lonely and out of place without a tight knit group of friends. And I was slowly realizing the job that I had referred to as "my dream job" only a year earlier was kind of of sucking my soul away.

My anxiety was totally and completely out of control.

I'm not sure what spurred me to go to that first yoga class all by myself. I do remember feeling terrified! What if I didn't know what they're talking about? What if basic yoga is actually code for handstands and backflips? What if I fart? What if someone next to me farts and people think it's me? What if I fall forward in wide-legged forward bend and break my neck? All totally rational fears.

No, I didn't leave that first class as a zen yogi. But I felt better, and better was enough to get me to go back. My yoga practice grew to a few times a week and then expanded to meditation. It became my "me time," a time to reset and focus on myself and my needs. A time to set aside the days worries and focus on two simple things - breath and movement. Yoga was one of the few things that kept me sane (errr...mostly sane) through that difficult time. It was actually a quote shared in the beginning of a yoga class that I viewed as a sign that gave me the strength and courage to quit my job and start my private practice.

Any form of movement you love has it's benefits, but yoga is special. With a history that dates back over 5,000 years, yoga integrates mental and spiritual practice with movement. From a fitness perspective, yoga is especially beneficial for improving flexibility, muscle strength and bone health, all of which help prevent injury. Like all forms of movement, yoga is helpful for heart health, not only by working your cardiovascular system but by lowering blood pressurereducing inflammation and decreasing stress. It has benefits for immunity as all the twisting and stretching helps drain lymph, which helps fight infection. Yoga is beneficial for sleep, a frequently overlooked facet of health. Practicing yoga also helps you feel better about your body not necessarily by changing it but by helping you be present in your body. And most importantly (for me at least), yoga is hugely beneficial for stress and anxiety.

I'm guessing if you've read this far, then you already have a yoga practice or are at the very least curious about it. If that's the case, I'm excited to introduce you to a incredible new resource created by my dear friend, fellow dietitian and yoga instructor, Kara Lydon aka The Foodie Dietitian. Part cookbook, part yoga manual, and part holistic living guide, Nourish Your Namaste is an 80+ page ebook that integrates yoga and nutrition to help you get the most out of your practice.  In the Nutrition for Yoga 101 section, Kara delves into the basics of nutrition for yoga, like when and what to eat before practice. She also discusses more advanced topics, like how facets of yogic philosophy relate to what and how we eat, and an introduction to ayurveda, all in a user friendly way. Personally, I was really interested in reading about ayurveda, the world's oldest holistic health care system and sister practice to yoga. If you see a lot of bitter and astringent foods and cooling herbs on the blog in the next few weeks, it's only because I think my pitta is imbalanced after reading her book ;)

The next sections are devoted to nutrition and yoga for relaxation, digestion, energy, and immunity. Each part includes a list of functional foods and yoga poses to nourish each area and incredible recipes using the functional foods. So if you're feeling low on energy or your digestion is a bit wonky, you can turn to that section, practice a few yoga poses and whip up something delicious and nourishing! I can't wait to make her sweet potato ginger smoothie and immunity boosting Buddha bowl with turmeric-tahini dressing!

One of the things I appreciate most about this book is it's non-diet approach. It's not about how to become a perfect vegan clean eater or what foods not to eat because they'll mess with your zen. Kara presents these concepts in a totally realistic way, focusing on nourishment, not deprivation.

Seriously, I learned so much reading this book, both about nutrition and yoga. In fact, it really reignited my passion for yoga, as recently my practice fell to the wayside when I was training for my half marathon. I love running outdoors - it's a great way for me to catch up on my podcasts. And Pure Barre makes me feel super strong and graceful. But I realized yoga has been missing for my life, and I think my body is giving me signs that I need it back. So I'm happy to report that after reading Nourish Your Namaste I immediately scheduled a yoga class I haven't been to in months!

If you'd like to strengthen your yoga practice with Nourish Your Namaste, click here to learn more about the book and to purchase. Disclosure: the link is an affiliate link, meaning I earn a portion of the profits at no additional expense to you. I only recommend products and brands (and in this case, people!) I love and trust for my own personal use.

Do you practice yoga? If so, how has it benefitted you? What would you like to learn about nutrition and yoga? 

Wellness Wednesday: What Daily Mindfulness Can Do For Your Brain

We all know mindfulness is helpful for destressing, but did you know it can change your brain? Learn what daily mindfulness can do for your brain in today's Wellness Wednesday post. 

What Daily Mindfulness Can Do For Your Brain

Hi all! Last week for Wellness Wednesday, I did a guest post over on my pal Emily's blog, Zen & Spice. This week, she's dropping by my little spot on the web to talk mindfulness. Let's take it over to her! 

Hi everyone! I’m Emily Hein, a private practice dietitian and food/wellness blogger based out of Dallas, Texas.

On my blog, Zen & Spice, you’ll find easy recipes using natural ingredients, a glimpse into my lifestyle, and meditation & mindfulness tips. I aim to inspire my clients and readers to fuel their body with real, unprocessed food and live for mindfully and in the present moment. I truly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t finding joy in health, nutrition and food!

Today I am so excited to be sharing a post on Avocado a Day Nutrition! I admire Rachael’s blog and especially her intuitive eating articles. As a fellow dietitian, I have gained great insight from reading her posts! The community of dietitian bloggers is amazing. Everyone is so helpful and supportive of one another.

Rachael wrote a fantastic guest post for my blog last week: 3 Ways You Can Start Intuitively Eating Today. As you readers probably know, Rachael blogs often about Intuitive Eating—the principle that becoming attuned to your body’s needs is the best way to achieve and sustain a happy, healthy weight that’s right for you. Another way to achieve and sustain a happy, healthy body (and mind) is to practice daily mindfulness and meditation.

I recently read an article in the Washington Post about meditation’s effect on the brain. A Harvard neuroscientist was one of the first to study the claimed benefits of mediation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans.

And guess what? Meditation actually changes your brain. The study showed that regular meditation is associated with decreased stress, depression, anxiety, pain, and insomnia. In long term meditators, the study showed an increased gray matter in the several areas of the brain associated with working memory and executive decision making. A 50-year old meditator had the same amount of gray matter as a 25 year old.

Another study showed that in people who have never meditated before, that in just 8 weeks of regular meditation, for about half an hour per day, their gray matter thickened in four regions that are associated with mind wandering, self-relevance, learning, cognition, memory, emotional regulation, perspective taking, empathy and compassion. The grey matter in the amygdala, associated with anxiety, fear and stress, got smaller.

Meditation teachers say even just ten minutes per day could have huge benefits. Mindfulness is a form of exercise for the brain. Just as exercise is good for physical health, meditation can do the same for mental health. Mental health is just as important, if not more so, than physical health.

What some people may not know about me is that I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. I have always been an anxious person, and it runs in my family. My biggest struggle was medical anxiety—fear of getting sick or something being wrong with me. It was at its worst during college and my dietetic internship—working in a hospital every day with extremely sick patients didn’t help. I knew I needed to change something, so I started reading about meditation and mindfulness and working them into my daily life.

Over time I have noticed the default reactions of my mind changing. Instead of defaulting to anxiety, fear or anger, I default to peace and understanding. Practicing reacting peacefully over time overwrites the default anger reaction.

So you want to get started with meditation and mindfulness—how long should you do it? The study I mentioned above says thirty minutes reaps the most benefits—but I think ten minutes is good for starters. Find a quiet, clean space in your home where you can sit comfortably (but not so comfortable that you fall asleep). A sturdy chair or a small cushion on the floor will work. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes lightly. Inhale deeply and exhale. There are several types of sitting meditations you can do: sensory awareness (What do you hear? Feel? Smell? Focus on these things.), breath awareness (if you feel sleepy, focus on breaths through your nostril. If you feel distracted, focus on your abdomen), breath counting (count from 1-10, keeping your mind clear), or breathing with a mantra (“I am home”, or “Here, now”).

As good as I think a ten or twenty minute meditation is, it’s also helpful to try being mindful moment to moment throughout the whole day. That’s where the challenge is anyway—trying to be mindful during those stressful daily moments.

Here are a few simple mindfulness concepts you can incorporate into your day that won’t take too much time at all.

  • Ground yourself. Stay at full attention in the present moment. Whatever you’re doing, give it your full attention.
  • Listen intently to who you’re talking to. Give them your full attention. No phones, laptops, TVs, no distractions.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings—whether you’re inside out outside! Notice the trees, grass, the wind, details on buildings. You may see things you haven’t before, because you’ve been so distracted.
  • React with peace. Anger, sadness and anxiety are all natural human emotions—what matters is how we choose to react to these emotions. React with peace and know that these feelings will pass on their own time.

Practicing meditation and mindfulness for mental health is just as important as maintaining your physical health. When your mood and spirit are in the dumps, it’s very difficult to eat right and stay active. Consider incorporating a few daily mindfulness concepts to help relieve stress and help you achieve your health and wellness goals!

[Tweet "The powerful effect daily #mindfulness has on your brain by @zenandspice @RHartleyRD"]

Do you meditate? What mindfulness practices have you incorporated into your day?

Wellness Wednesday: How to Start a Meditation Practice

Meditation can be intimidating, especially for newbies. Before jumping in, read this and learn how to start a beginners meditation practice. 

I hope last week's post about the benefits of meditation got you excited to start a practice...but hopefully not so excited that you jumped right in without doing any research. Trust me, I know from experience that doesn't go so well.

When I first started practicing yoga, I was instantly smitten. Meditation didn't seem like a huge leap. I mean, it was basically built into the end of each yoga practice with shavasana.

So, I found a nice, comfy pillow, sat down cross legged and closed my eyes. Instantly, my mind jumped to my to-do list and I started worrying about what I should be doing instead of meditating. I noticed my heart rate jump - isn't meditation supposed to be calming? Then I felt an itch on my back, like, an intense one. The kind you want to take care of, Baloo the Bear-style. I decided scratching yourself while meditating is probably not allowed, so I concentrated intensely on it, willing it to go away.  Not only did it not work, but my foot started to itch. "Screw it," I said. I scratched, relieving my itch, but intensifying a sense of failure. About five minutes in, I opened my eyes, grabbed my cell phone to turned off the alarm I had ambitiously set for 30 minutes, and immediately checked facebook.

Clearly, I had no idea what I was doing.

It took me a few months to try again, but when I did, I studied first. As you can imagine, it went much better (although how could it go worse?). I've been practicing a couple years now, but by no means am I an expert. Frankly, I think I still qualify as a beginner and it's only now that I've been trying to build the habit of a consistent morning meditation practice. Still, I think I've learned enough to help a true newbie start. So alas, here's how to start beginners meditation, and what I wish I knew before I attempted!

PICK A TIME AND PLACE

Meditation is more effective if you practice at the same time of day and in the same location. For most, morning meditation is best. It starts the day on a good foot, and you'll be less likely to procrastinate as your to-do list grows. However, if there is another time that works better for you, go for it. Some people like to meditate in the middle of the day or during lunch break as a pick me up. Others prefer it at night, as a way to destress at the end of the day and promote a restful night of sleep. You can meditate any time you like - just make sure it works with your schedule and lifestyle, and that you won't be interrupted.

Next, choose a comfortable location. Meditating in the same spot will condition your mind to more quickly go into a meditative state. Sometimes I meditate in bed, because our mattress is just so darn comfortable and it's really warm and cozy in the morning, but I wouldn't recommend it. Find a corner in a quiet room where you can place a comfortable pillow or yoga mat. Keep your meditation spot simple, or bling it out with a fancy meditation pillow (<--- I want!), candles and music. I usually use the comfy papasan chair in the corner of the bedroom, or when it's covered in dirty clothes (which is frequently), my yoga mat and a fleece blanket to keep me warm.

START SMALL

Bless my heart for thinking I could meditate for thirty minutes on my first try. Just like with dieting, people often want to start off big, but usually, that leaves you frustrated and feeling like a failure. You'll be more successful, at both meditation and at building the actual habit, if you start out small and build from there.

I recommend starting with 2-3 minutes, and certainly no longer than 5. Even on days you have zero willpower, it's hard to skip out or procrastinate on something that takes only a couple minutes. And even that little bit of time is enough to have a powerful impact on your day.

FOSTER A BEGINNERS MINDSET

There's a reason it's called a meditation practice. The first time you meditate, you won't have a deep aha moment or profound metaphysical experience. Stress won't disappear into thin air. You might even feel worse after meditating, especially if something negative pops up or if you went in with high expectations of the results. Let go of expectations and focus on the experience.

MEDITATE

Before meditating, stretch for a minute to release any tension, which can be distracting when you're laying down still for a period of time. Set an alarm with a pleasant ring. I use the chimes ringtone on my iphone. Sit or lay down in a comfortable position in your designated meditation area. If it's cold, wrap yourself in a blanket. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, slowly breathing in and out. Concentrate on your breath. Don't try to change your breathing - just breathe naturally and observe. A mental image can be helpful. I like to imagine the oxygen flowing into my lungs, through my blood vessels and into my body as I breathe in, and then leaving my body as I exhale. You could also visualize waves rising and falling or flower petals opening and closing.

Guided meditations are also helpful, especially for beginners. UCLA offers free guided meditations, many that are five minutes or less. Depak Chopra also offers meditations on his site, although some are oddly specific (awaken your summer love?).

Your mind will wander. That's okay and 100% normal.  Simply notice that your mind is wandering, without judgement or feeling bad about it, and direct your attention back to your breath. The more you practice, the quicker you'll notice when your mind begins to wander, and the easier it'll be to stay focused.

Once you get in the habit of meditating at a regular time, start to increase the duration of your meditation or start meditating multiple times during the day. Figure out a pattern that works for you.

INCORPORATE MINDFULNESS THROUGHOUT THE DAY

Deepen your meditation practice by incorporating mindfulness in to your daily activities. Think about the little things you do every day that don't require much attention, like doing the dishes, getting dressed, or driving to work. These are often the times we focus on our to-do lists or negative thoughts and can most benefit from mindfulness. Mindful eating is a great example, but also think of mindful runs, mindful cooking, or mindful cleaning.

For me, I realized walking the dogs in the morning was oddly one of the more stressful times of my day. My mind would fixate on my to do list or other negative thoughts. So, I started taking mindful walks. To do this, I imagined my eyes as a video camera. Sounds odd, but then again this is an article on meditation, so you had to expect some weirdness. Because a video camera captures everything without judging, it's the perfect metaphor. Now, instead of cruising on autopilot, I notice the flowers blooming in a neighbors yard, the historic details on the houses and the gnarled branches of an old oak tree.

EXPERIMENT

There is no right or wrong way to meditate, just what works for you. Experiment with different methods, like body scan (my personal favorite), keeping your eyes open and focusing on one point, or focusing on sounds instead of your breath. There's other methods like kundalini yoga or transcendental meditation you could try (I haven't, but let me know if you have!). Try changing positions from sitting to laying down or visa versa. You might find a mantra is helpful. It's common to use Sanskrit sayings, but why not come up with something meaningful to you. Since "live joy, give joy" is my 2015 theme, it felt natural to use it as a mantra. As I take a breath in, I imagine breathing in joy, and as I breathe out, I imagine sending joy out into the world. Again, it's odd, but it deepens my practice. And it's hard not to end with a big smile.

I think the hardest thing about meditation for many people is that there are no rules. But that's the beauty of it. Don't be afraid to discover what works for you. This is your practice.

Have you ever meditated? If so, what helped you start a practice? If not, what intimidates you about starting a practice?