Practicing Contentment

I am no stranger to the workings of a worried mind. Regrets from the past and anxieties about the future constricted my thoughts for years and left me unable to admire the beauty of the present moment. Suffering from depression and anxiety, my words and actions reflected the negativity and pain I felt inside. As a result, I struggled to maintain healthy relationships, including my relationship with myself. I was never content with where I was, constantly trapped in the mindset of wanting and needing more. It didn’t matter what grades I received, how much money I made, who I was dating or what clothes I was wearing. I had unintentionally trained my mind to see only what was lacking or wrong in my life and to fear losing the progress and possessions I felt I had worked so hard for, the things I felt belonged to me. I always had such high expectations of myself and of others, and as a result, I was constantly disappointed.

Through reading, practicing yoga and self-inquiry I have learned how to become aware of and to separate myself from these types of thought patterns. I am still learning, but now I consciously and consistently work towards being aware of the present moment and embracing all that beauty that surrounds me. I make time for self-care and activities that create space for gratitude in my life. As time goes on, this practice feels more and more natural, and I am able to look back on how far I have come and how much more abundant and joyful my life has become as a result.

My outlook on life has shifted from worrisome to hopeful, from frantic to peaceful. My priorities in life have changed as well. Rather than desiring material items I am drawn towards authentic experiences, connections and travel. Instead of wanting a bigger, nicer home and buying more and more clothes, my heart and mind gravitate towards simplicity. In terms of material items, I own less than ever, but I can say one thing now honestly that I never could have before...I am happy.

The five Niyamas (observances) that are a part of the eight-limbed yogic path guide us towards living in a liberated state of existence. The second Niyama is Santosa, which means contentment. Santosa is complete acceptance of ourselves, our circumstances and of others. Rather than expecting more or being disappointed over what we think we lack, we instead focus on finding contentment in the here and now. Surely this is easier said than done, but with consistent practice we can re-train our minds and cultivate more stillness and joy in our daily lives.

You can get started right now! Take a deep breath, and ask yourself how you are feeling at this moment. If it happens to be a feeling that you want to change, ask yourself what it is that you need in order to feel at peace. Is there a conversation that needs to be had? Do you just need to vent? Do you need to say no more often? Maybe you just need a hug! Pay attention to your breath as you do this, and you’ll notice that it automatically slows down. The mind and body follow the breath; relaxed breath encourages a relaxed physical and mental state. It creates space for gratitude to enter into your life. As often as you can, take a deep breath and check in with how you’re feeling. You will immediately be drawn into the present moment, the only moment that actually exists.  Trust that everything you are feeling and experiencing is temporary and always believe that good things are coming. I promise you they are. I promise you that good things are already here. 

 

 

Size Doesn't Matter, Loving Yourself Does

You are born inside of a body that, depending on your genetic makeup and environment,  has a particular shape, color and size. This body works around the clock to provide oxygen to each and every cell, while performing many other specialized functions simultaneously in order to keep you alive. Your organs (including your skin) maintain and repair themselves without any voluntary effort on your part. Your body is extremely intelligent and is constantly working towards balance and optimal health. Its natural state, which it always wants to return to, is health.

Why then do we spend so much time trying to change the perfect body that we already have? Why do we intentionally and knowingly consume products and take on behaviors that work against our body’s normal functions? Why do we belittle ourselves by equating beauty with weight-loss, toned muscles and tight skin? Why do we spend so much of our precious time focusing on and criticizing the areas that we have been made to believe are imperfections in need of change? Why do so many of us hide our bodies out of fear of being judged?

This is a topic that hits close to home for me, especially at this time of the year when I see so many advertisements for weight loss programs and supplements to help you achieve your “perfect bikini body”. A while ago I shared my weight loss story. In it, I discuss my struggles with weight gain and poor self-esteem that lasted throughout my childhood and into my early 20’s.  Over the past five years I have experimented with my diet, exercise routine and mental focus in attempt to discover for myself what truly mattered to me and made me feel truly happy and fulfilled. As a result, I’ve been to and have experienced both sides of the spectrum, from being considered overweight to borderline underweight, and through it I’ve found the weight and composition that my body naturally gravitates towards when it is nourished and healthy. I feel balanced here, although I am by no means sculpted or “toned”. I definitely do not have a six-pack. However, I feel feminine and strong and HAPPY in my body for the first time in my life. Most importantly, I feel healthier than ever, and I am able to maintain this state without much effort at all! My stress levels dropped significantly when I was able to let go of the idea that I had to control my diet and exercise to look a specific way. I finally arrived at a place where everything I was doing was coming from a place of self-love rather than self-criticism.

By sharing my journey and the measures I took to achieve my “ideal” body I hope to bring to light what it actually takes to get there and the physical and mental efforts that it requires in order to maintain. I found that there was a point at which my so-called “healthy lifestyle” was actually becoming the opposite.

I am writing this in an attempt to hopefully inspire others to change the way they see their bodies, their weight and their daily habits and to challenge whoever reads this to re-evaluate their current goals and definitions of what a “perfect” body and “perfect” health mean to them. I am speaking purely from personal experience as a woman who has struggled with weight gain, but truly believe that my experiences are relatable and therefore useful to many women who have struggled or are currently struggling with body image and self-acceptance.

Before I begin, let me ask you this: If you could choose to spend your time exactly the way you wanted doing only things that brought you joy, would counting calories and picking yourself apart in the mirror be included? What activities WOULD you include?

I clearly remember the day in elementary school when a classmate bumped into me and then yelled out loud, “I just ran into your FAT ELBOW!” The humiliation that immediately followed was enough to send me straight to the nurse’s office begging to go home.  Middle school was the most difficult for me. I had no self-esteem, and my wardrobe consisted of baggy sweatshirts because I was ashamed of the fat I carried around my abdomen. Having long legs, a short torso and a genetic disposition towards weight gain, I have always battled with my belly fat. I always achieved the highest grades possible in an attempt to feel “worthy” and compensate for own lack of self-worth. High school was easier for me because I had a close group of friends who I knew accepted and liked me for who I was and didn’t care about my size. Still, I was always shy and quiet because I felt bigger than everyone else and didn’t want to stand out. I was beyond self-conscious. During my sophomore year I joined the cross country team in hopes the accountability and daily exercise would help me lose weight. It worked! However, I didn’t enjoy running AT ALL, and after a year and a half on the team I just couldn’t force myself to do it anymore. College came and went, and I only got heavier. My eating habits were poor, living off of mainly processed and fast foods. I was drinking more coffee than ever, and I had discovered alcohol. The only exercise I was getting were my daily walks around campus and my weekly triathlon swim workouts at the pool I was working for.

After graduating college and securing my first full-time, salary paying job I began doing some soul searching. I had been really good at distracting myself from how unhappy I was in college by studying intensely and working two jobs while being a full-time student. I kept myself so busy and used it as an excuse as to why I didn’t exercise or take care of myself. Once life slowed down and my schedule took on a consistent Monday through Friday work week, the unhappiness I had hidden for so long started showing itself more and more. Only this time, there was no hiding from it. This coincided with other difficulties I was suddenly being faced with in life, and the combination of these pushed me at full force out of my comfort zone. Suddenly, I found myself feeling lost, doubtful and more vulnerable than ever. It was at this time that my life starting transforming for the better. I changed my diet by replacing my usual processed foods with fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. I hired a personal trainer and was working out 4-5 times a week. I discovered that I loved the combination of weight training a couple days a week and doing swim workouts the other days. I also had found yoga, which helped me connect with and develop a better relationship with myself. Watching my body transform was incredible, and I was so proud of myself! As my physical strength increased, so did my mental strength. I was more confident, independent and was flooded with bursts of inspiration. I even made the decision to quit my job and change careers. Within a couple years I went from a working chemist, to a nanny, to a student (again) and finally to a certified Health Coach and Yoga Instructor.

For a while it seemed that life was just getting better and better, but eventually I felt like I had hit a plateau. I had lost 30 pounds but was slowly gaining a little bit of it back. The fact that my 30 pound weight loss had now become only 20 was worrying me. At that time, I was eating a clean diet made up of fresh, whole foods. I was not counting calories and ate when I was hungry. I was eating foods that I enjoyed and that made me feel my best. However, even after all of the positive changes I had made I STILL wasn’t happy with the way body looked. I wanted to lose more weight and see more muscle definition. I (incorrectly) assumed that if I dedicated myself to a more structured fitness and diet plan I would achieve my dream body and FINALLY love myself. This is where my healthy lifestyle took an unhealthy turn, although it wasn’t until I encountered health issues that I realized this.

I hired another personal trainer with the goal of decreasing my body fat and building more muscle. I dedicated myself to 5-6 days of working out with a structured weight training program. At one point I was consistently deadlifting 175lb! I was following a specific diet plan that required me to plan out my meals and count my daily intake of carbohydrates, fat and protein. When I was hungry but didn’t have extra calories to spare I would chug water and distract myself. There were times when all I wanted was another banana, but I had already hit my carb count for the day and so I wouldn’t allow myself to have it. I spent up to an hour every single day planning out the next day’s meals. Cooking from scratch became tedious and time-consuming because it involved me having to measure and weigh out ingredients. I was turning down invitations to go out to eat with friends, and my only focus was the number on the scale. Finally, I hit my lowest weight ever, but as I continued to decrease my body fat, my strength started to decline. Every time we reduced my carb intake we also had to lower the amount of weight I was lifting. In my eyes I looked better than ever, but physically and mentally I was drained and felt weak.

After about eight months of this diet and exercise regimen my menstrual cycle suddenly stopped, and my face started breaking out with acne that I never even had as a teenager. Everything I had learned as a health coach was telling me that I had reached a point where my obsession with my appearance and weight was doing me more harm than good. The worst part was I was still not happy with my body. I could see my abs for the first time in my life, and I still all I wanted was more. I thought I could look even better, even though I definitely wasn't feeling better. The stress that came with my restrictive eating habits was beginning to take its toll, and there were times that I only exercised for the sake of burning off the calories I had eaten earlier. I was no longer eating to nourish my body, but rather only allowing myself to eat what I thought I should be eating. Exercise was becoming a form of punishment rather than an activity that helped me connect with and invigorate my body. In fact, I was no longer listening to my body’s cues at all, and I was always hungry. This all happened because of I was unhappy with the way I looked in the first place.

Around that same time I had decided to travel to Thailand to attend a yoga teacher training and become a yoga instructor. It took me some time to accept that fact that my routine was going to completely change. I was about trade my heavy weight training for yoga and yoga only. My meals were going to be freshly prepared for me each day, and there would be no way for me to accurately track my calorie intake, nor would I even have the time to do so. I started easing off of my calorie counting and weight training a few weeks before I left. It is hard to admit sometimes, but doing so gave me considerable anxiety. I was worried that all of my hard work would be erased and that all of the weight I had lost would come rushing back.

However, going to Thailand ended up becoming my saving grace. Spending two hours every day for thirty days practicing breathing techniques and meditation connected me to my body in a completely different way. I began to realize and accept that my weight and the shape of my body were not the issues. My biggest challenge was learning how to love myself completely and unconditionally. At my core, I didn’t accept myself, and watching the number on the scale go down was never going to change that. It didn’t matter what I looked like because I only ever saw what was “wrong”.

Upon returning home and in the months following my menstrual cycle was still irregular. Intuitively I knew something wasn’t right. I saw my doctor and requested a full blood panel, including tests to check my thyroid and hormones. To my surprise, everything came back completely normal! Frustrated, I scheduled an appointment with an Ayurvedic practitioner in hope of getting some answers. After describing my symptoms and without her knowing anything about my diet and exercise routine, the practitioner hit me with the truth that I had needed to hear for so long but was so reluctant to accept. She told me that I needed to step away from all vigorous exercise and focus only on walking, swimming and yoga. She also told me that I needed to eat MORE carbohydrates, specifically fresh fruits and oatmeal. In her opinion, my body was out of balance and needed time to recover and heal. I cried the whole way home. It was a combination of relief and dread. On one hand, I was SO relieved and comforted to hear that intense workouts were not always the best thing for me and that it was PERFECTLY OKAY (and actually necessary) for me to slow down. On  the other hand though, I knew that taking a break and increasing my carb intake meant certain weight gain.

I did the only thing I could do at that point. I surrendered. I dived into my yoga and meditation practice. I walked in the forest preserves near my house. Instead of putting effort into intense gym sessions I directed my energy and focus on understanding and working through the mental beliefs that seemed to be influencing the way I perceived my body and image. In many ways, this inner work was much more difficult than the physical workouts ever were. I faced my insecurities and judgments about myself head on. I re-visited my past in order to forgive, let go and move forward. I remained physically active, just in a completely different way.

Slowly but surely, I gained about ten pounds back. However, this time it didn’t bother me. My cycle and my body felt normal again. My diet remained as healthy as ever, but I was no longer focusing on calories. In that time I had learned and had come to accept few very important things about myself:

  • My happiness is not dependent on the way my body looks.

  • Improving my health is not synonymous with losing weight.

  • More isn’t always better when it comes to exercise.

  • I am a woman whose body naturally stores fat on my belly and legs.

  • I do not need to be “toned” or have a six pack to feel confident in a bikini.

  • I deserve to take care of myself mentally, spiritually and physically

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This is where I am today. I feel balanced, strong, healthy and happy. My stress levels are low. I eat foods that I enjoy and that nourish my body and mind. I don’t have cheat meals because there is no such thing unless I am restricting myself in the first place. My schedule no longer revolves on getting to the gym every day or planning out exactly what I am going to eat. I trust that my intuition and my body know exactly what is best for me. Some days I crave lots of movement and a sweaty yoga practice, and some days I sleep in and go for a walk with the dogs. I let my body take the lead. After all, it is more intelligent than my mind will ever be. My body is a miracle, and it isn’t mine to keep. The best I can do is to enjoy every second of this human experience in the time I have been given.

The mind likes to feel like it is in control. Our egos are very persuasive. On a daily basis we are exposed to unrealistic images of what we think beauty is supposed to be. We see fitness models that inspire us to be work harder, but it isn’t often enough that we stop to think what it really takes to achieve a specific body composition. In the photos it looks effortless, but I know from experience that it is anything but. It requires daily dedication, focus and discipline. It also requires TIME. Any weight loss program or product that promises you will lose X amount of pounds in X amount of days is ultimately a gimmick. For certain body types (like mine) achieving a low body fat percentage and having a six pack takes a LOT of work and isn’t easy to maintain. We have to start by accepting and loving ourselves for who we are, not who we think we want to be.

If you are unhappy with how you look, please ask yourself the following:

  • What exactly are you unhappy about and WHY? Is it because of societal beliefs of what is considered beautiful? If these beliefs and images didn’t exist, would you still be unhappy with your body?

  • Are you trying to live up to someone else’s expectations?

  • Do you feel healthy and strong? If not, do you think weight loss will aid in improving your overall health?

  • What types of exercise do you truly ENJOY doing?

  • Would committing to a structured exercise routine increase or decrease your current stress level?

  • What are your specific goals? Is weight loss or building muscle mass required for you to reach those goals? For example, are you training for a marathon or body building competition? Are you trying to improve your stamina so that you can hike that trail you always wanted to hike? Are you trying to strengthen your body to support your health so that you can do the activities you love to do for as many years as you possibly can? Simply put, are your goals coming from a place of self-love or self-judgment?

  • Are there other areas of your life, unrelated to your weight that are negatively affecting your health and happiness?

In my opinion, weight loss should not be our main focus or goal unless we are experiencing health concerns that are directly related to our weight and lifestyle, such as heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, shortness of breath, etc. If we are physically healthy but have not yet learned to love and appreciate our bodies at this moment then we must come to terms with the fact that losing weight will not guarantee us anything. I am not saying weight loss won't help increase your happiness and sense of self-worth, but it certainly won’t for everyone. For me, and I suspect many others, there are underlying and deeply rooted emotional issues that need to be addressed first. You are the only one who knows what it is like to be you and to live your life. I encourage you to reflect on what it is in your life that you actually want to focus on. If you feel healthy and are taking care of yourself by engaging in recreational activities you enjoy, eating nutritious foods and moving your body in some way every day then that’s all you truly NEED. The rest is just extra.

What if instead of obsessing over a six pack we focused on working towards a strong, healthy body? What if instead of assuming beauty comes in only one shape and size we supported each other in finding the weight and shape that sustains a healthy, balanced life? What if instead of worrying about what we look like we reflected on how we feel and how we treat others?

Your body keeps you alive and works around the clock so that you are able to open your eyes to the wonder and beauty of each new day and experience all of the blessings that life has to offer. We have so much to be grateful for, and life can be complicated enough without us worrying about every line and wrinkle on these fleshy vessels that we reside in.

You look perfect in whatever clothes or swimsuits you choose to wear.

You are beautiful inside and out.

Please, please believe that.

 

Transcending Negativity

We all have those days where we feel like we’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed. We all have those moments when we’re frustrated and are convinced that the world is out to get us. For some of us, however, this becomes a daily struggle. We wake up dreading work or wishing we could fast-forward to the weekend. We complain about small, trivial upsets. We feel surrounded by drama. When plans get canceled or someone backs out on us we perceive it as a personal attack, and we succumb to feelings of anger and disappointment. Some of us cannot get our minds to stop racing before bed and are unable to sleep soundly. We live with fatigue and lack motivation. We gossip, judge, compare and create a world of separateness, “us” versus “them”, which only serves to strengthen our negative thought patterns.

Trapped in the cage of negativity, our pain becomes too great for us to face directly. We feel hopeless and without purpose. We look for distractions, ways to numb our pain. For some of us we turn to alcohol or other substances, while some spend hours in front of a TV or cell phone, seeking reassurance and attention from others, exercising excessively, counting calories, compulsive eating, etc. Our happiness becomes dependent on external factors, and when the things and people we rely on inevitably change we are immediately faced with anxiety and despair. Often times, we don’t even realize that we are living in a clouded reality.

These destructive thought patterns ultimately ended up coloring our world. When we perceive other people as enemies, we will surely encounter enemies. When we worry about failure, we will experience situations in which we believe we have failed. When we believe we aren’t able to move forward, we invite stagnancy into our lives. Our level of doubt and sense of self-worth influence how we make decisions and how confident we feel in making changes in our lives. Negative thoughts become habits, and we all know habits can be difficult to break.

However, you CAN transcend your negative thought patterns and develop a sense of empowerment and flexibility. Once you break free you will see life in a completely different way. You learn to accept that the present moment is all that truly exists, and therefore is the only thing that truly matters. You will live feeling inspired and grateful. Your physical health will re-balance and begin to reflect your new positive mindset.

 
Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we’re peaceful, life will be peaceful. And so our goal in any situation becomes inner peace.
— Marianne Williamson
 

Drawing from my own personal experience, I have identified the 10 most effective changes I have made that helped me to break my negative thought patterns and live life more passionately. Read through them, and pick what resonates with you. Start to incorporate them into your daily life.

 

10 Simple Ways to Transcend Negativity

1. Acceptance + Non-judgment

 
See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always non-acceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.
— Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
 

Accept every situation as if you had chosen it, and begin observe your reactions in every situation. Practice non-judgment by seeing each experience as neither “good” or “bad”. With practice, this awareness will start to re-shape how you perceive your reality. Catch yourself when you are feeling angry, hurt or sad and observe how your vocabulary and tone of voice changes. Rather than reacting from these temporary emotions, choose instead to accept and move forward. Awareness alone can be enough to initiate changes in the way we think and behave.

Acceptance also involves letting go of expectations and being adaptable to the ebb and flow of life. If you expected your drive to work to take 20 minutes, but it ends up taking 40 minutes due to traffic, how would you feel? Would you complain and begin to feel anxious, even angry? Remember that you can CHOOSE to accept that traffic varies and is something we all will deal with at some time during our commutes. Just as much as you expect it to take you a certain amount of time to get somewhere, you should equally expect the opposite. Plan accordingly, and remind yourself to accept whatever comes your way.

 

2. Practice Gratitude

Take a few minutes each day to sit or lay quietly with your eyes closed and reflect on the things in life you are grateful for. Rather than focusing on what about yourself or your life you dislike or you’d like to change, this practice shifts your focus towards being content with the way things already are, bringing with it a sense of peace and calm. The more consistently you practice gratitude, the more profound the effects will be and the more easily you will be able to find acceptance when challenging situations present themselves.

 

3. Get in Touch With Nature

Nature has a way of reminding us of our connection to each other and to other living beings. Taking a minute to appreciate a sunrise or the movement tree branches in the breeze can help us dissolve feelings of separation or isolation. Natural environments have a calming effect on our minds and bodies, so take advantage whenever you can! If you are unable to get outside for a significant amount of time each day, see if you can take a few minutes to sit next to a window or even just watch a video with nature scenes. Connecting with nature in some way each day helps us learn to appreciate the beauty that we often take for granted.

 

4. Hydrate!

Hydration, in my opinion, should be included in every post related to health and well-being. Too many of us are unaware of the fact that we are chronically dehydrated. We all know the common suggestion of 8 glasses of water per day, but I encourage you to try for even more, especially if you are a coffee or soda drinker. Caffeine is dehydrating; the more we consume the more water we need to take in. I find it easiest to drink two big glasses first thing in the morning. That way, if my day gets hectic I will have at least started my day hydrated!  

If we are frequently feeling tired throughout the day, have dry skin, poor digestion, food cravings, headaches or muscle cramps we definitely need to up our water intake. These symptoms can also contribute to negative thoughts about our health and well-being. It is hard to feel vibrant and driven when we are lacking energy due to dehydration. When you are hydrated your mind will feel clear and sharp, and your body will be able to keep itself healthy and balanced. This is the foundation for living a passionate, healthy life.

 

5. Take a Break from TV + Mass Media

It may not seem like TV and the media have that big of an impact, but if you are someone who leaves the news on while you are eating or doing things around the house I encourage you to experiment with leaving it off. Much of the information being broadcast is inherently negative and violent. Gossip and political slander are prevalent. Commercials are designed to make you feel a sense of lack and therefore, a sense of need. Be conscious of what you are listening to on the TV, radio and elsewhere. Likewise, be aware of what you are reading and seeing through social media. When what you see and hear on a daily basis is negative, angry and violent the overall tone of your thoughts and feelings will be influenced.

Try a short media “detox” by choosing to keep the TV off for a week and limiting your time on social media. Take note of how you feel afterwards. Having canceled my TV service over two years ago, I can say for me personally that I feel I have much more control over what I choose to see and listen to. Even if you aren’t ready to give up TV altogether, at least start to develop awareness around the overall message of the material you spend the most time watching or listening to.

 

6. Ditch the Phone Before Bed

This is especially important for those who have trouble falling and staying asleep. A good rule of thumb is to put the phone away at least one hour before bed. The light from our screens stimulates the brain and can affect normal sleep patterns. I also recommend installing an app that filters out the blue light from the phone, as the blue light is what is most harmful. Turn the blue light filter on early in the evening, and keep it on until you put your phone away for the night. It may take some time to get used to, but sleeping without your phone (and preferably having it in a separate room) can help you begin to feel less anxious, stressed and restless. Give it a try!

 

7. Create a Morning Ritual

Set your alarm for the same time every morning as often as possible, and leave yourself some extra time for self-care before heading off to work. A ritual can be anything you want it to be and could be anywhere from five minutes up to an hour. Rather than waking up as late as possible and rushing off to work, take some time to yourself to do something you enjoy. Whether it’s a hot shower, yoga, a workout, sippin’ some coffee, reading or focusing on gratitude, having a morning routine is a great way to center yourself and set an intention for the day. It can also help you to feel a sense of accomplishment if your routine involves exercising or working on self-development in the morning.

 

8. Uplift your Home Environment

Fostering a more positive approach to life involves creating an inviting and comfortable atmosphere at home. For me, the biggest factor at home that was affecting my stress levels was clutter. I really do believe that a tidy home helps to calm the mind. Take a walk around your house and see if there are items that can be thrown out, donated or simply stored away. Creating space in your living environment can help you feel more at ease.

I also like to have plants around the house to cleanse the air and to bring a little bit of nature indoors. My favorite plant is the heart leaf Philodendron because it doesn’t require a lot of light or water, it easily adapts to most indoor settings and it grows quickly. The best part is, you only need to buy one of them because clipping off any of the stems and placing them in fresh water will sprout roots for a new plant! How cool is that?

Some other ways you can uplift your home environment include Himalayan salt lamps, photos of loved ones and artwork. You could even create an altar or other space where you can keep special items and sit near to reflect or pray.

 

9. Evaluate Personal Relationships + Interactions

We have all people in our lives who drain our energy or who create stress in our lives. Begin to identify who these people are, and be kind enough to yourself to respectfully create some distance. If we associate with people who constantly complain, gossip or who are generally pessimistic we too will start to take on those mental patterns. When we get to the point where day-to-day life seems like a chore, and we no longer enjoy what we are doing or just simply feel stuck it could be time for to step back and evaluate who we are spending time with. If you are looking to develop a healthier relationship with yourself and cultivate more joy and inspiration in your life, you must surround yourself with others who share those same values.

 

10. Begin a Meditation Practice

If none of the other tips resonated with you, I hope this one will. Meditation is your most valuable tool. Not only does it help steady and calm the mind, it also affects the body on the physical level. With consistent practice you will notice that my first tip (acceptance & non-judgment) come about naturally. Over time, you will develop a better understanding of and control over your emotions. Spending time to reflect and focus inward reminds you that your happiness exists within. When you can find contentment right now, under your current circumstances you will notice a sense ease and effortlessness infusing themselves into your life.

Meditation can be done most simply in one of two ways, guided or silent. There are several apps that provide audio recorded meditations ranging anywhere from two minutes, up to an hour. These can be useful if you are new to meditation and are having trouble focusing. However, you should eventually move away from guided meditations and practice sitting in silence with a soft focus on the breath or a mantra. Again, be kind with yourself. The mind will NOT be quiet and still at first, and you may only ever experience complete stillness for a few brief moments. You will struggle with keeping a steady focus, which is exactly why it is called a practice. Start with a few minutes each day (morning ritual?) and then increase over time as you become more comfortable. You will notice the most change if you dedicate yourself to a consistent, daily practice, even if it is short!

 

Negative thoughts, words and behaviors create physiological reactions in the body. Our immune systems become compromised, our digestion slows, and we may experience other symptoms such as inflammation, cravings, headaches and fatigue. Over time, high levels of stress cause the body to become unbalanced, opening the door for disease. It is easy to fall into the cycle of negative thinking, where worries, stress and the incessant need for more reign supreme. These steps have become a part of my every day routine, and I am a completely different and much healthier person because of the changes I have made. I hope that these tips can help you in a similar way.