Mindfulness

This month I’m attending The Mindfulness Summit, a free daily electronic series on mindfulness which features the most prominent figures in the study and practice of western meditation. These are mainly doctors or clinicians affiliated with major universities who have been committed to integrating eastern principles into western lifestyles for decades. I’m very excited to resubscribe to my own practice, and am so happy for the opportunity to share my mindfulness journey here.

I am certainly someone who has had highs and lows, most of them internal. At my lowest,  I have been capable of extremes of self abasement. At the recommendation of a university counselor, I joined a Loving Kindness Meditation group for students in the Fall of 2011. The group met once a week for 8 weeks, focusing on the principles of mediation, attentive breathing, and self kindness. It was a very raw experience for me. I can remember feeling overwhelmed by the silence of our group meditations, often fighting back tears. It can be very uncomfortable to sit alone with yourself and your thoughts in silence, fighting for acceptance. I can easily point to it as one of the most significant experiences I’ve ever had, and although I didn’t speak to the other group members, I always felt a tremendous affection for them when we would pass each other on campus.

The next semester, I was eager to further my involvement with meditation and signed up for a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy group. This treatment is intended for people in a depressive remission– people who have a history of depression but who are not currently experiencing a depressive episode. For 8 more weeks, I learned to greatly reduce labelling and judging my thoughts and experiences. I did not have as profound of a response to my time in the group, but I think that shows progress. I also learned that some of what I previously considered to be strengths in dealing with depression were actually avoidant and maladaptive behaviors, which were weakening my ability to manage negative thoughts.

At the end of both courses, we were asked to choose a stone and write a message on it to remind our future selves of the experience. I’ve always really loved these stones, but feel ashamed at the corniness of what I was inspired to write, so I pack them away in boxes. The idea of having to explain my experiences to guests in my home who might stumble upon them is very uncomfortable for me, and I regret feeling that way.

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After these two experiences with meditation, I began to pursue mindfulness with an academic curiosity. At the time I was an aspiring clinical psychologist, and saw amazing potential to enable others to experience the same level of change that I had. The structure and ease of accessibility of these programs create an ideal solution for chronic issues of generalized anxiety and recurrent depressive episodes.

I can honestly say that mindfulness helped reduce my recurrence of depression for several years. However, I didn’t continue the practice and, predictably, my problems returned. I have often gone back to mindfulness practice and literature when I feel like I’m losing control, but haven’t kept to the structure provided in the classes. Additionally, I think there’s a vital component that comes from doing the practice communally. Even if you aren’t open to sharing your experience with the group, the vulnerability of silence and breath shared with strangers heightens the spirituality of the experience.

I’m at a place now where I don’t know what I will be doing with my life professionally, but I’m hoping that this summit helps me return to mindfulness just as a meditating mind returns to the breath, with a gentle push and warm acceptance for the thoughts that distracted us from our path. The path does not have to be straight, mindfulness teaches us, so long as we are attentive to it and follow along with kindness and curiosity.

Avalon

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A Month with Cassey Ho

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Our move to the West Coast was incredibly stressful for me, and came after a year and a half of bumps in the road. No part of me felt like it was the wrong decision to move to Oregon, despite never having visited, but I was not in a strong place to handle the transition. I quit my job a whole month before we departed partially to have the free time to say an adequate farewell to the East Coast, but mostly because I was eager to leave such a stressful position.

My depression worsened during that month. While my lows are never as low as they were when I was younger, a thick layer of negativity settled on everything around me. It was difficult to deny my irritability, nearly constant and irrational, towards everyone close to me. Sometimes when you’re low enough, even the happiness of others makes you resentful. Predictably I wasn’t taking care of myself. I hadn’t for a while, but that month really was a plunge.

Enter That Thing I Did, Francis’s video blog. Let me tell you, having rock bottom self-worth does not prepare you to see yourself from every angle, with a fish eye lens, unshowered.  I don’t know if my weight gain was gradual, sudden, or some combination, but it apparent and it was devastating.

When we arrived in bicycle-friendly Eugene, I felt the frustration and embarrassment of feeling winded after riding just a few blocks with Francis. Those feelings made me so hostile. I remember finding 100 reasons to be shitty to Francis during our first day as we pedaled around exploring our new home.

Looming over me was my appointment as Maid of Honor in my friend’s approaching wedding. In one short month I would be photographed from countless angles. Worse, it was the wedding of a friend from High School, so our mutual acquaintances who would see the photos were people I associate with the most insecure time in my life.

Honestly, thank God for that wedding. I don’t think anything less would have motivated me to make such an extreme change.

The next day I started Cassey Ho’s bikini contest meal plan and the Blogilates Beginner’s Calendar. I had minimal faith in my self-discipline, but from the beginning I never missed a day and only had two (intended) cheat meals. I can’t tell you how many pounds of steamed broccoli I ate or how many pounds I lost but I was really amazed by how much my body changed in a month. I had muscle definition I’ve never had and felt a lot less frustrated by my endorance while we peddled around town. Most importantly, I really worked for it so I felt like it was earned!

After a month of Blogilates, picking out a dress for the wedding
All of this is an endorsement for a healthy lifestyle, but I drank the Blogilates Kool-Aid so now I’m going to tell you why it was the best program for me (and probably everyone.)

1. It’s free. All of the videos are well-organized and accessible on YouTube. Cassey keeps content fresh and consistently adds new material. Only a yoga mat is required for all workouts, and most of the videos are between 5-15 minutes. There are absolutely no excuses to be made.

2. It sets realistic goals. I started out with the beginner’s calendar, and while I was often VERY sore the next day, I never felt like I was pushing myself to the point of potential injury, which has been the case with other things I’ve tried. You are responsible for doing your own stretches, but I think (and hope) that’s common sense for most people.

3. It’s challenging. Did the previous point make is sound easy? It isn’t. You are definitely responsible for pushing yourself since no one is there to call you out in the privacy of your own living room, but if you give it your all you will absolutely feel it. The principles of pilates are grounded in core strength and using your own body weight as resistance, and Cassey is very creative when it comes to finding ways to keep pushing past the plateau.

4. It’s Cassey.

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Cassey Ho, the founder of Pop Pilates, clearly works her ass off. The amount of content that she produces, her availability to those enrolled in her plan, and, let’s be honest, her physique are so impressive to me. Her personality makes the program what it is. Everything is colorful, cheerful, fun, and encouraging. The small talk during reps showcases how authentic she is. It’s funny, because I am NOT any of those things. I would be the Wednesday Adams of  personal trainers. But it’s INFECTIOUS. When I do the program regularly, I am so much nicer and more optimistic throughout the entire day. Certainly part of that is endorphins, but I know for a fact that most of it is how pleasant and smiling Cassey is while I workout. I kind of actually feel like she’s my friend! (I’ll stop here because I’m feeling like a huge dweeb… I’m just so lonely in Oregon!)

5. The community. And now I get even more uncharacteristically extroverted. The Popster community on instagram is amazing. It’s almost like you can suspend disbelief that the internet is a warm and welcoming place where people support and encourage eachother instead of, you know… a monster pit. I LOVE seeing people posting their progress honestly and humbly. Making a second account just for my fitness journey has been so liberating. I don’t feel fat or whiny to admit when I’ve had a bad day, and I don’t worry about being judged or thought less of. I wish I could feel that way on my main accounts, but that’s alright. I’m happy to have the Popster community as an outlet and for the accountability it has provided.


I have to be honest: After all of that hard work, I came home from the wedding and stopped making clean eating choices. I also lost workout momentum when my job search became more dire. Without the wedding photographer as my motivation, I fell off the wagon. I wish I could say that all of the great results and feelings were more important to me than looking good in photos, but it seems insecurity was the greater motivator.

The good news is, I just finished day 3 and can already feel myself getting hooked again. The program focuses on monthly calendars, so I’m really excited to leave an iffy September behind and have an October even more awesome than August! I plan to post on the first of the month with my goals so as not to inundate the blog with fitness updates. If you’d like, you can follow my fitness instagram @catfit_foxfit .

Avalon

52 Worlds Visited this Year

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I’ve been having a slightly-harder-than-expected time finding employment since my Partner and I relocated to Oregon in August. Being that I’m prone to some deps now and then, I’ve really been striving to set personal goals for myself.

In August I started really kicking ass with the Poppilates/Blogilates (I never know which to call it) calendar and lost a ton of weight for my friend’s wedding Labor Day weekend. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen fully off the wagon since then, but plan on getting back to it any day now. Maybe today! Who know. I’ll post more on that later.

Also in August, I set out to get back in touch with my reading roots. I’m one of those people who, when asked about high school, stares blankly. 4 years of my life with almost no strong memories. Much like my adult romantic life, my adolescent platonic life was a string of serial monogomy best friends, who I remember with the same aching fondness as failed relationships. Frustratingly unrevisitable. Here are the things that are pointedly missing from that time in my life:
Parties, mischief, sports, clubs, dating, self-realization

Here are the things that I do remember:
Goofiness, brooding, incomplete assignments, music, and reading.

What I wanted to believe was the insomnia of a creative soul was actually a deep love of the suspension of reality keeping me awake every night, and exhaustedly inattentive each day.

Entering higher education, academia infiltrated, occupied, and destroyed my desire to read. You have my utmost respect if you actually slogged through all of your required reading and binge drinking and still wanted to fit in a few chapters before bed. I was lucky if I made it through the required reading part.

And so now, some-odd years out from my degree, I am determined to fall back in love with worlds that are not my own. The challenge I’ve set for myself is a book a week for a year (52/52.) And while I don’t plan to do book reports, I will jot down a few thoughts as they relate to each book and post it here in addition to my Goodreads account. As I write this, I have just completed Book/Week 7 and therefore have a bit of backtracking to do.

Avalon


Edit: I’ve added a Goodreads widget to the blog so that you can keep up with my book of the week. If you are a Goodreads member, give me an add!