Over against the world with all its turbulence, distraction and worry,
one should cultivate a style of mind that can reach through to an inner
stillness and calm.  The world cannot ruffle the dignity of a soul that dwells
in its own tranquility.  Gradually, this serenity will begin to pervade our
seeing and change the way we look at things.

John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace


Yoga, a journey within

It is the aim of all spiritual seeking to bring us home, home to the understanding that we already have everything we need.

~Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison, Meditations From the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga

“Contentment” has been in my vocabulary a lot lately.  Perhaps, the life-changing diet and my new yoga practice has opened my eyes and my spirit to the peace within.  Maybe, it’s just my time, finally, to accept the fact that “more” is not “better” or “richer.”

I look within and I see a person who has spent much of his life in competition with himself and others.  I see ambition, drama, contests, places and positions that have been my dreams and hopes.

Always being taught that ambition and drive are very good things, I recognize now that they have always had a narcotic effect on me.  They have deadened moments that should have been celebrated, dulled the joy that would have come naturally otherwise.

But, regretting the loss of those moments of joy only perpetuates it.  Finding acceptance of who we have been is just as important to happiness as becoming who can can be.

Coming home is not a long journey.

Yoga by the garden

With warmth returning to the Dallas area this weekend, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful afternoon and do my yoga outside by my vegetable garden.  What an awesome experience it was!

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe it is much better to go to the classes with an instructor, especially for newbies like me.  At our Bikram Yoga studio however, the weekend classes are packed full, and I get distracted because I am so tall and take up so much space.  I’m always aware of bumping into someone, and it’s not good for my focus, or the other person’s either, for that matter

I found myself with an incredible ability to concentrate out by my garden.  All of the instructor’s comments were in my mind, and because I was not distracted, I could really hear them and apply them.

I also witnessed some things I had not experienced before, like the importance of breathing properly.  Breathing is an important part of yoga, and I just figured I would worry about that later.  For me, it was about the postures since that is what is so visible to everyone else in the room.  Hmmm…a little self-conscious, I suppose,

It was a good discovery about myself, and I believe it will help me be more focused when I return to the studio tomorrow for the group class.  It will be nice to return to the hot room and enjoy the greater benefits of the heat.

One habit to relieve stress

In the past few weeks I’ve been so focused on living a healthy life by eating a nutrient-rich diet and beginning a yoga practice at Bikram Yoga that the new regimen itself can, at times, threaten to encroach upon the peace and happiness of any success that I might enjoy.  How does one relieve the stress of a health transformation?

The Key Questions

Here are the questions that run through my mind when dealing with this kind of stress:

Should I cheat on my diet?

Rationalization: “I can get right back on track tomorrow, and, surely, one meal won’t make much difference.”

The problem with cheating on a nutrient-dense diet, or most any diet, I presume, is that we give up way too much real estate in our advance against bad health habits.  Unhealthy eating habits are so difficult to break that the risks of losing a lot of ground in one’s dietary journey very quickly are way, way too high when cheating is a planned dietary excursion.  It’s not worth it.

Diets fail in the mind more than in the body.  What I mean is that the rationalization may seem…well…entirely rational — that’s why they call it “rationalization.”  Recognizing that the power of the mind to influence our dietary behavior is greater than we are aware can bolster us to resist the risky behaviors that can ultimately defeat us.  This is no way to reduce stress; indeed, it multiplies it.  Surrendering to a temptation may relieve stress momentarily, but when it leads one back to the old ways of thinking and eating, stress is heaped up higher and higher.  Also, see my blog entry, “Cheat Meals Work Against Us“, for some more thoughts on this.

Should I take a day off from my workouts?

Rationalization: “I’m tired and really need to chill for a day.”

There are certainly some physiological reasons that give weight to this rationalization.  Fitness trainers will tell you that the body needs time to repair itself, and I would not dispute this.  It makes sense.

However, if one is coming out of a sedentary life, or even the life of a slug (as I have), taking a day off poses some of the same dangers of cheating on a diet.  If it means you are going to lie down on the couch all day and watch the television, avoiding any physical strain whatsoever, it won’t take long before you think being a slug sounds like a good plan, especially because you’ve worked so hard to get there, and you “deserve” it.

This kind of thought process is poison to one who is still in the process of transformation.

Since I’ve reached my goals, can I just call the whole thing off now — I mean, I never intended it to be a life sentence!

Rationalization: “I’m healthy, happy, and looking good.  I’m calling it a success and moving on with my life.”

Yikes!  How many times has this tape played in my mind the past few weeks!

The biggest problem with this rationalization is that it denies the tremendous and healthful paradigm shift in one’s thinking about the purpose of the diet and exercise program.  When we started it, we knew we were trying to make a life change — it’s what it was all about!  We changed our diet, our activity, our whole way of thinking about health!  To engage in a recessive paradigm shift in which we think of life change as a temporary means to accomplish a short term goal — weight loss — is to say the whole journey was based on false premises and is a farce!  If it is indeed a life change, then it’s not temporary — it’s a complete and permanent transformation.

Oh, how the mind is tricky!  Rationalizations are super strong.  And, they are killers…literally!  Don’t use them!

How does one relieve stress from the process of transformation?

Stress is caused by repetition and getting caught up in the whirlwind of demands that mount up over time, with no end in sight.

Knowing this, we can disrupt the repetition in other ways besides the unhealthy ones.  Instead of doing the same kind of workout every day, take a day off from it, and do something different.  Instead of going to the gym, take an hour-long walk with the dog…be active in a different way.

Instead of preparing the safe foods the same way over and over again, prepare the safe foods a different way.  I never use recipes word for word, for instance.  I usually change them to the way they sound good to me.  But, on occasion I will relieve the ordinariness of my diet by getting a really fancy recipe that calls for ingredients I do not have.  I make my shopping list, go to my favorite grocery store, and come home and prepare the food exactly the way the recipe calls for.  It’s a lot of fun, especially if you’re stuck in a rut.  It also contributes to your own creativity and imagination about the foods you prepare and eat.

Choose one or two things you can do to get out of the ordinary, repetitive mindset, and stress relief will come.  We can’t let ourselves be distracted by the chirping of others around us or the thrill of our own successes that we would risk cashing it all in for a temporary payday of bad health habits.

My sanctuary amid the throng

innerpeaceMy wife and I normally have quiet weekends with lots of time to relax, read, do some projects around the house, or watch a little television.  This past weekend was an exception.

We live in a small, two bedroom house in suburban Dallas.  It’s just the right amount of space for us and our dogs and cat.  Over the past weekend, however, we had my sister-in-law and two of her grandchildren, both of whom are teenagers, accustomed to a much busier life.  We enjoyed having them here, and we miss them a lot.

I normally have a lot of quiet time at home, so my tendency is to get a little flustered when I can’t find some quiet, peaceful place to get away.  But, I wanted to make sure our guests knew how happy I was that they were here.  It was an honor to share our home with them.  I know, however, that my need for privacy sometimes gets me a little edgy and impatient, so I was on guard with my attitude all weekend.

My job was to manage the grocery shopping and meals…and to wear a smile as much as possible.

I spent some time with my great-nephew on Friday night and had a great time.  He wanted me to know about his five tattoos and how he had found this perfect tattoo artist, until suddenly the guy started charging him more, so my great-nephew was going to change to another artist.  Of course, my thoughts were, “you mean, five isn’t enough?…is it essential to have another one already lined up for the next tattoo you want?…do you conduct interviews with tattoo artists and rank them in order of preference before making a decision?”  I’m really not knocking the idea…I grew up in the 60’s, and we were a tad on the odd side according to most of our parents and relatives, too.  It’s just that when I think of professional services that I would want on a retainer, of sorts, I would think of things like “my accountant”, “my doctor”, “my lawyer”, “my contractor”.  I just never thought about “my tattoo artist.”  But, I’m good with that…it’s just new, that’s all.

Anyway, by Saturday morning, I was glad to get away for a couple of hours for my yoga class.  When I got home, it was time to get serious about meals.  I love the kitchen, and unfortunately, I’ve become quite possessive about it being “mine.”  My wife and sister were playing some card games in the kitchen, so I was getting regular advice on how to do things, though my wife doesn’t cook (she can, but she doesn’t enjoy it like I do).  I thanked them profusely for all their help, but I went ahead and added as much turmeric and other spices as I wanted…things they had never heard of.  They were exuberant in their accolades about the meals, and of course, this brought a smile to my face.  Even the tatted one said he had especially enjoyed the healthy food.  Music to my ears!

Later, on Sunday, my sister-in-law and I were at a table eating alone.  She said she had watched me in the kitchen and realized how much I enjoyed what I was doing, and that I had gone through all the meal preps, the serving, the dishwashing and cleanup, without ever becoming frustrated or stressed over it.  She reminded me that stress had always been their family’s way of getting through family gatherings…multiple trips to the grocery store to pick up last minute items, two hours late serving, etc….  She was right!  I had enjoyed myself very much, and here’s why.

Sometime before I came home from work on Friday night, I decided I was not going to get stressed.  I was going to enjoy the family time, and I was going to take on all the responsibilities of the food so that my wife and sister could spend some quality time together.  During my shift from early morning yoga on Saturday to food prep later on Saturday morning, I found my peaceful place in my mind.  It was a place of health, service, food, laughter, pleasure, and immense peace.  It was quiet in my mind, though there was noise all around, loud and relentless.  It was a refuge.

After they packed their bags on Sunday afternoon, I was really a little sad that they were leaving because we had had such a great time, and they had enjoyed their time with us.

This was a great lesson for me.  Peace comes from within, from mindfulness about what I am doing.  It is intentional, volitional.  It is contentment with the circumstances, knowing that there are challenges all the time, but that the essential refuge is a quiet mind, not the quiet household.

Follow me on Twitter, too, @toddwrite.

Busy weeknight routine

Since adopting my new lifestyle of eating healthily and doing Bikram yoga, I have had some adjustments to make in my weeknight schedule.  I was having to choose between a 6:30 class and an 8:15 class at Bikram.  Since I’m not supposed to eat anything about 8 or 8:30 p.m., and I need to eat about two hours ahead of yoga, I was trying to see which way would work best, 6:30 or 8:15.

I’ve been doing the 8:30 for the last week, getting home by 5:45, in time to fix a big salad and some veggies.  I eat my grains and legumes at lunch on these days.  It’s working great, with enough time to rest, do some kitchen work for next day prep, or just sit down and empty my mind from the very demanding work of the day.

Tonight’s fare was the best yet.  I had two collard green wraps, with a stick of celery and fresh guacamole, lemon juice, and my fave condiment, Louisiana Hot Sauce.  I ate this with a large leaf salad, cherry tomatoes, and ping-pong size radishes, sliced thin.  I topped it off with a handful of fresh blackberries and walnut halves.  Time to spare: 1 hr, 45 minutes until mat time.

Lovin’ it.

I’m not just waiting to die any more

I’ve been a purist so far with my cooking since going on the Eat to Live program.  I’ve been eating only fresh greens, not even frozen ones.  The plan has worked so successfully that I don’t want to tinker with it much, but I finally decided that I’m okay with eating frozen vegetables during the work week to decrease my prep time a little, and to make lunch-packing go well for the next day.  That little bit of time, about 30 minutes difference, is a lifesaver since I’m also going to yoga almost every night.

So…I’m about 52 pounds lighter today than I was on January 12, and finally, even the people who don’t have much to say to me at work are starting to ask A LOT of questions.  It reminds me of the Simpsons episode.  I feel like Lisa.

On the upside…

I’m damned happy to be in the middle of the best life change, healthwise, I’ve ever seen.  It was very hard to get rid of all the inertia that had built up over the years…just waiting to die, as I have referred to it, jokingly, before…and really do something about it.  The weight loss continues to motivate, but feeling the energy when combined with my new yoga practice, is the best motivation of all.