What a Difference a Day Makes!

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.” Ovid

I recently stayed overnight at a yoga and meditation retreat. It’s the second time I’ve done this, and it amazed me (again!) what a difference just 24 hours away can make. The center I went to is little more than an hour’s drive from my home, in a remote area in the mountains, without cell service or internet. If you struggle with being unplugged for any length of time, it may not be the place for you. (Then again, it might be just the place for you!) In addition to being a yoga and retreat center, it’s a working ashram and spiritual community for those who live there and operate it. That particular concept might be off-putting to some, conveying some type of mysticism, but the fact is I have never felt anything but a warm welcome and invitation to partake as I choose to, or not, of the various offerings throughout the day. The teachers and staff are wonderful, and seem about as mystical as my next-door neighbors, albeit a bit more unhurried and centered, as far as I can tell.

The center offers what they call “anytime retreats,” which basically means you check in and stay for as long as you like – a day or a week – and a variety of yoga and meditation classes to choose from, starting at 5:00 am. (I have yet to appear before 7:00 am breakfast…..) From there, you have free time to hike the surrounding trails, take a private yoga class, schedule a massage, or relax and read – your choice. There are morning and late afternoon yoga classes, followed by meditation if you wish (I did.) Meals are vegetarian and served community style. Everything is fresh and organic, much of it grown on premises. Not to mention plentiful and delicious!

The idea of a retreat from daily life isn’t new. Throughout the ages, men and women have sought to take time out for renewal and inspiration. These days, a retreat can be a breath of fresh air in the busyness of modern living. The concept is simple – taking time away from your daily life and circumstances. It’s a time apart from our usual pace of routine and responsibilities, time for some quiet and peace. Given the way our lives are usually structured, with work, family and other responsibilities, having a day of quiet can almost seem like an impossibility. That’s why I liked the idea of an overnight – a day – something I can easily schedule, with a little planning.

It worked! In just a little over 24 hours (2 yoga classes, two meditation practices, a hike and some lovely meals later) I felt great – restored and energized.
The retreat schedule closes with saying: “We hope your stay at our ashram has left you relaxed, refreshed, and ready to face the world again.” It sure did.

Resources: There are lots of centers around the country and abroad offering facilities for structured and unstructured retreats for individuals. Some cater to a particular denomination, and many do not. A good place to check out what might be near you is: http://www.retreatfinder.com/

Summer Checklist

I received an email recently with an apology for a late reply, saying “Summer should NOT be so busy.”   Wow, I agree!  Summer is traditionally a time to slow down, and let go of some of the busyness that occupies us at other times of the year.  The idea of “The Pleasant Life,” a term coined by psychologist, Martin Seligman, is that of taking time to savor and appreciate life’s basic pleasures – family and friends, a sunrise or a summer breeze, a good meal, wonderful music.  Summer is the perfect time to do that.  So, instead of my usual to-do list, I came up with a summer checklist.  I’ve written about the value of being intentional, setting an intention for the day or a specific situation, and letting it guide us.  Here’s my intention for this Summer of 2014.  I’m creating it now so that I don’t find myself, come Labor Day, wondering:  “What happened?  Summer should NOT be so busy!”

  • Take more photos – of whatever, just for fun.
  • Eat outside more often – whether out or at home on our deck.
  • Canoeing or kayaking on Evergreen Lake.  (My teenager is renting boats there this summer, so I have no excuses….)
  • Hang with my family.
  • Appreciate spending time with my wonderful friends.
  • Slow way down – (on it.)
  • Walks and hikes in nature.
  • Salads and fruit salads.
  • Almost anything tastes better grilled.
  • Always a good book (or two!)
  • Sunscreen (ok, I tend to be on the practical side.)
  • Biking!
  • Giving myself time to daydream  or do nothing.
  • Writing – whatever – in my journal.
  • Summer movies.
  • Did I mention practically anything outdoors?
  • Keep it simple – Ask myself the question:  What brings me joy?  Do that!

Coach’s Action step:  What’s on your summer checklist? What would you like more of? Slow down and take a few minutes today to set your intention – there’s lot of summer left!

Mindfulness for Health AND Happiness!

We’ve long known for a long time that our thoughts, feelings and behavior are inter-connected. The science of positive psychology also tells us that positive emotions are related to better health, longer life, stronger relationships, and greater success. Negative emotions – anger, worry, and the like – can actually increase our risk of developing health issues, such as heart disease. When one is upset or agitated, for example, blood pressure rises, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol are elevated in the brain, which can result in lower immune function, and impairment of other functions such as learning and memory. In addition, numerous studies have shown that emotional intelligence is just as important a component in success as intellectual ability and, in some cases, even more.

It’s clear that being able to manage our emotions is beneficial on numerous fronts, but it’s not always simple to do. Learning to respond from a balanced perspective, instead of simply reacting to a stressful situation, can make all the difference when it comes to having constructive outcomes.

One of the best ways to learn to gain control over your mind and emotions is through the practice of mindfulness, which is a form of meditative practice used in parts of the world for thousands of years. The practice of mindfulness has been shown to positively influence both physical and emotional health, reducing anxiety, stress, depression, and improving sleep and the immune system. (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2004). Practicing mindfulness also increases self-awareness, a quality which can help us learn to manage our emotions more effectively in the moment.

Mindfulness practices can also, over time, improve our memories and ability to concentrate. Because mindfulness involves returning our attention to what we are doing in the present moment, concentration is enhanced. Likewise, being very focused on an activity increases our chances of remembering the experience in more detail later. Finally, mindfulness practice activates the part of our brain that is connected to positivity and good feeling, the left prefrontal cortex. (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2004).

Practicing mindfulness can be structured or informal. The key is this: focusing your full attention on one thing, without judgment, in the present moment. To put it another way, when you are being mindful, you are in the moment, not worrying about what happened yesterday or what you have to do later today. It’s doing one thing at a time and being fully absorbed in that – no multi-tasking here!

You can easily begin to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, by bringing your full attention to the things you are already doing. An example would be your morning walk. If you have gotten into the habit of walking along, thinking about a problem at work or the conversation you had with your spouse last night, you are likely missing most of what is going on right in front of you. Try bringing your attention back to the moment – how green the trees are after the rain, the sun just beginning to come up, the quiet before the start of the day. It’s easier said than done, but if you can accomplish this even for a few moments, you are being mindful. And if you can only accomplish it for a few moments, there is no need to judge yourself harshly. When you find your attention straying back to the rest of your life – and it will – just quietly come back to being in the moment right where you are.

Formal mindfulness practice involves setting aside a specific time, apart from your usual activities. This time can be structured so that you focus mindfully on one thing, perhaps something as simple as your breathing. Both formal and informal practices are important, and will help you to live your life more mindfully, instead of simply operating on automatic as most of us do. And, like anything, the more you practice, the easier it becomes!

This article is a simple overview of what mindfulness can do for you. There are lots of resources for mindfulness practice these days – a good one is the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School; http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/index.aspx.

In our often hectic, multi-tasking world, it’s easy to miss the simplest of experiences in our haste to get to the next thing. Mindfulness can bring you back to savoring those simpler experiences that are the essence of what life is often really about – and help you to be and feel healthier in the process.

Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners – Announcing an exciting class you can’t afford to miss! Start date extended!

I am teaching this class along with co-instructor, Amy Tardio. We are both ICF accredited coaches with backgrounds in positive psychology and additional certifications in Wellness Coaching. This class will provide coaching for entrepreneurs in a confidential, supportive environment. We are experienced group facilitators and lead a number of success groups for professionals in small business and entrepreneurial endeavors.

The class begins on Monday, June 30, 2014, 2:00 p.m. EST. One of its many unique features is that it is delivered completely over the telephone. Class meets for 8, one-hour sessions via teleconference call. Note: All classes will be recorded so you don’t have to miss a class if you can’t be on the call “live.” For complete information and registration information, go to: http://evergreenlifeandwellness.com/small-business-development/

Balance and Personal Boundaries

More often than not, when I ask others what they struggle with the most, the topic of work-life balance comes up.   Work vs. personal time, family time, the to-do list, errands,  maintaining friendships, time to exercise and for self-care, downtime – the list seems endless. How to make time for it all?  And what the heck is work-life balance, anyway?

The idea of work-life balance probably means different things to different people.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s think of it as how we spend our time and what that looks like.  Unless we are full-time moms (or dads) or retired, most of us spend a certain amount of time at “work,” be that at a workplace or on our businesses and careers.  The additional time that we devote to family, household responsibilities, pleasurable activities, fitness, hobbies or community/spiritual activities makes up the rest.  Fortunately, the notion that we can have/do it all seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years.  The reality is that most of us have to prioritize what is most important to us, and that is where the topic of personal boundaries comes in.

A personal boundary is, simply, what you choose to allow into your life, or not.  If you say yes to one thing, generally you will have to say no to something else. For example, if you choose to work late two nights in a row, you end up missing dinner with your family.  If you choose to sleep that extra-half hour in the morning, you won’t have time for your morning run.  It’s all about choices, and the reality is that most of us don’t do it perfectly or even close to that.  Here are some ideas on finding what works for you when it comes to making those choices.

  • There are lots of things we can’t control in life – the weather, occasional work pressures, other people.   Knowing that, focus your time and attention on things you can control.  You may not be able to extend that project deadline for Friday at 5:00 pm, but you can wake up 30 minutes earlier to make sure you get your morning run in or plan a relaxing dinner out with your spouse to unwind for the weekend.  Plus, you’ll have something to look forward to beyond that deadline, and that’s a mood booster.
  • See the big picture.  When we are in the middle of a busy day or week, it’s easy to get caught up in what is going on in the moment, and lose sight of our bigger aims.  When you’re asked to contribute your time or energy to an activity, train yourself to pause before responding automatically.  If you agree to put in time at work on Saturday, is there something important that you will have to give up?  Are you willing to do that?  Is there another option?  Think of it this way – whenever you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.  Is what you are saying yes to worth the cost of what you are saying no to? 
  • Take stock of how you are currently spending your time.  Are there activities or people that continually feel draining to you?  Are you wasting time on the internet or social media?  That’s a common occurrence these days but is it really how you want to spend your time?  Make a conscious effort to become more aware of how you spend your day, and limit or drop those activities that don’t enhance the quality of your life.
  • What about those things that we all have to do– grocery shopping, laundry, errands and the like?  Are there more efficient ways to use your time, such as ordering online?  One person I know utilizes drugstore.com for ordering miscellaneous household necessities, and saves herself an extra trip to the store every week or two.

    Many grocery stores now deliver, and there are dry cleaners that pickup and deliver, too.  If you work full-time, having someone to clean your house a couple times a month can free you up to do what you love on the weekend, or create a space for much-needed downtime.  Hire a handyman for a day to come in and take care of all those nagging chores you never seem to get to.  The price you pay for the additional help can be worth its weight in gold in terms of the time you save.
  • Little things can mean a lot.   Research on happiness shows that the most contented among us share common characteristics.  They have close connections with family and friends, tend to savor life’s pleasures, exercise regularly, enjoy helping others, and exhibit gratitude for what they have.  Taking even 10 minutes out of your day to connect with a friend, extend a hand, or enjoy some time outside in the sunshine, can contribute enormously to your sense of balance and wellbeing.

Creating boundaries around your time and how you spend it doesn’t have to be complicated.  It’s more about awareness and making choices.  Think about what you value most, and begin to operate from that, even in small ways.  That’s the first step, because once you know what’s most important to you, making those choices gets a lot easier.

Coach’s action step:    Pick any one of the above ideas and try it for a week.  Notice if it makes any difference in your sense of well-being.  If it does, keep doing it. 

Breakfast & My Go-To Smoothie Recipe

This week, I want to share my go-to smoothie recipe, along with thoughts on having a good breakfast. Why is breakfast important? What makes for a good breakfast, and how do we find time for it in the rush of busy mornings?

Research shows that a good breakfast positively impacts both overall health and maintaining a healthy weight. Adults and children who eat breakfast regularly are more likely to meet their daily nutrition requirements and be at a healthy body weight than those who don’t. Having the proper fuel in our bodies to start the day also impacts performance, at work or at school. The right breakfast is one that provides a combination of complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and a small amount of fat. This combination will give you the advantage of having better concentration, being more alert, and having more endurance.

Taking time to start the day with a nutritious breakfast might seem like a tall order some mornings, but it’s really not. Here’s my weekday go-to smoothie recipe. It’s my family favorite, and combines all the essential nutrients to help us start the day and stay energized for hours. Best of all it’s ready in just a few minutes!

Favorite Smoothie

Start with 1 scoop protein powder of your choice (I use a vanilla, vegan based protein powder. You may wish to choose vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free depending on your preference.)
Add fresh frozen fruit – I freeze sliced bananas and blueberries to use ahead of time. You can also use sliced strawberries, peaches, raspberries, mango – whatever you like.
4 oz soy or rice milk
4 oz organic juice – My favorites are pineapple coconut and blueberry, but here again you get to choose!
1-2 tablespoons raw wheat germ (a powerhouse of nutrition)

Add everything to blender and process until smooth. Serves 1, simply double or triple the recipe for additional servings.

This smoothie is filling and easily keeps me going until lunchtime. It’s got the right combination of protein, good carbohydrates and fiber. Having a well-rounded breakfast sets you up for a great day and this smoothie makes it easy. Enjoy!

Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners – Announcing an exciting class you can’t afford to miss!

I am teaching this class along with co-instructor, Amy Tardio. We are both ICF accredited coaches with backgrounds in positive psychology and additional certifications in Wellness Coaching. This class will provide coaching for entrepreneurs in a confidential, supportive environment. We are experienced group facilitators and lead a number of success groups for professionals in small business and entrepreneurial endeavors.

The class begins on Monday, June 16, 2014, 2:00 p.m. EST. One of its many unique features is that it is delivered completely over the telephone. Class meets for 8, one-hour sessions via teleconference call. Note: All classes will be recorded so you don’t have to miss a class if you can’t be on the call “live.” For complete information and registration information, go to: http://evergreenlifeandwellness.com/small-business-development/

Things I’ve Learned: Part II

You can’t build a house without a solid foundation. A proper house foundation does more than just hold the house above ground. It keeps out the elements, and keeps the entire structure strong against whatever might come its way.  It’s built to last.  I’ve found the same to be true for just about anything in life.  A child raised without a solid foundation of support early in life will likely struggle later.  Same goes for a career or business, a marriage, a weight-loss plan – most endeavors we consider worthwhile.

What makes for a solid foundation may look different, depending on the individual, but it has to be there.  Some people find their foundation in their faith or spirituality, others in strong family support, or education.  Values such as honesty, integrity, loyalty and compassion can all be part of a personal foundation.  Businesses thrive on having a clear objective, a mission, with the appropriate training, systems and management in place to support continued growth.  Without these, the business is in danger of collapsing.

From time to time, I have found it helpful to pause and reflect:   Am I keeping my foundation strong?  My foundation includes my spirituality, my personal values, my family, close friends, my health and wellness, including exercise, sleep and fun, my work and my continued learning.  When any of those are out of sync, I feel it and that’s when cracks in my foundation can start to appear.  By keeping my foundation relatively strong on an ongoing basis, I’m prepared to weather what might come my way.  What do you need to keep your foundation strong?

A commitment to yourself is a commitment.  Most of us are pretty good at keeping commitments to those around us that we care about. What about those commitments you make to yourself?   Do you place the same importance on them, or do you tend to blow them off, make them less significant?

A dear friend said those words to me once, and I’ve never forgotten them.  I was in the middle of a particularly busy time, and feeling more than a little overwhelmed.  She asked me where I could have some breathing room and I’m sure I must have stared at her blankly.  She then said those words to me, and suggested it might help to take a look at what was essential for me to be at my best and function effectively, and make those things just as important.  I’ve tried to keep this in mind ever since and take my personal commitments (exercise, downtime, and the like) just as seriously as I do the commitments I make in other areas of my life.  If I need a quiet night at home, that’s what I do.  If I have time set aside for a workout, that’s my commitment.  I’ve learned that if I’m not taking care of myself, I can’t be at my best for anyone and the commitments I have to my wellbeing are every bit as important as the ones I make to others.

Doing nothing can be as important as doing something.  I used to think if a problem occurred, I had to do something, take some action or steps toward fixing it. Sometimes that’s true.  There are problems that absolutely require immediate attention, or steps toward a solution.  Over time, though, I’ve found out that there can be another way, and it can be just as effective: doing nothing.

What that looks like can be different depending on the circumstance.  Sometimes it means pausing, taking a breath, a step back, and waiting.  I’ve sometimes found that problems resolve themselves this way, without my having had to take any action.  For example, I get a phone call later in the day that the issue was solved.  Even if it becomes clear that I need to step in, taking some time to think about the best course enables me to come up with a more effective solution than if I had acted right away. I save myself time and energy.  Next time a dilemma presents itself and you’re not sure what to do, wait and see what develops before acting.  You may find the problem disappears all by itself, or a better solution occurs to you after taking time to respond.

Sleep is just as important as any component of a wellness plan.  It’s no secret that Americans are sleep-deprived.  Sleep is as vital to health as proper nutrition and exercise.  While you sleep, damaged cells are repaired, the immune system is revitalized, and your energy and brain power are recharged.  Sleep encourages glowing skin, a sunnier mood, and stable weight.  Lack of sleep over time has been linked to depression, anxiety, Type II diabetes, even stroke.  Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.

The general recommendation for adequate sleep is 7 to 8 hours for adults, but the need for sleep is highly individual.  How you feel the next day is the best indicator; you may need more or less.  The bottom line for me is that I try not to skimp on sleep – being rested makes a huge difference in how much I enjoy my day.

From time to time, I may share other thoughts on what has contributed to my living more fully, more healthfully, and happily.   In the meantime, if there are life lessons that have been helpful to you on your own path, please share them with me.  I’m learning all the time!

Coach’s action step:  What is an important lesson you have learned over the course of your life?  How has this lesson impacted you?  How does it benefit you today?  Is it something you might pass on for others’ benefit?

5 Tips for Your Best Life Today

There is new research coming out all the time on what makes for a healthy life, as well as more information on what constitutes a wellness lifestyle. Here are five ideas that you can implement today that will make a difference in your overall health and happiness. Experiment by trying one a day for the next five days and notice the difference it makes for you. I guarantee that incorporating even one of these will benefit you – your energy, wellbeing and mood!

1. Get outside. We all know that regular exercise can help you live longer, look better and have more energy. It will help you manage your weight, increase your stamina, and keep you happier and smarter. It will lower your risk of disease, keep you strong and help you sleep better. A growing body of research also shows that outdoor activity can benefit you both physically and psychologically. Studies show that working out in nature — removed from the typical stressors of daily life — boosts mood and lowers tension, anxiety and stress levels. Spring is here, so take advantage of the change in weather – take your workouts outside to enjoy these benefits.

2. Meditate. Science is zeroing in on what eastern philosophies such as yoga have known for centuries – meditation can provide physical and biological benefits that can stave off stress and disease. Stress-induced conditions such as hypertension, infertility, depression, anxiety, even the aging process – all can benefit. Far from being a mysterious or esoteric practice, the kinds of things that occur during meditation produce beneficial effects throughout the body, not just in the brain. Even a short period of meditation combined with breathing techniques can be beneficial. There are lots of good basic books on beginning a meditation practice, as well as introductory classes in most communities. It can help you to be happier and healthier. Why not give it a go?

3. Eat clean. This isn’t about a diet; it’s about how you eat. What does eating clean mean? For starters, it’s about eating food in its most natural state, or as close to it as one can. Think fresh or steamed vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains. If your budget allows, choose organic when possible. It’s also about avoiding processed and refined foods such as white flour, sugar, and breads. Anything high in saturated and trans fats, anything fried, high in sugar, or highly processed is not a clean food. Lots of water. Easy-peasy.

4. Sleep. In today’s fast-paced world, getting a good night’s sleep sometimes falls by the wayside in favor of keeping up with all the to-do’s on our list. Yet, getting a good night’s sleep is critical to health and well-being. Lack of sleep can impact our metabolism function, in turn contributing to weight gain, as well as our immune systems, mood, memory, learning, and other vital functions. Studies show that getting inadequate sleep puts us at greater risk for a variety of diseases and health problems. We usually know what we need to feel at our best – the recommended range is 7 to 9 hours per night, and can vary from one person to the next. The bottom line – sleep matters and needs to be as much of a priority as nutrition and exercise if we want to function at our best.

5. Connect. Studies show that people with a healthy social community have nearly a 50 percent greater likelihood of survival than people without. Having a healthy community of support in family, friends and peers helps foster a sense of belonging, helps in coping with stress, increases your sense of self-worth, and an increased feeling of security. One of my favorite quotes is by the late Chris Peterson, a renowned psychologist and leader in the positive psychology movement: “Other people matter. Period.”