Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Again.

Several weeks ago, I blogged about a weekend I spent mostly solo. I honored the power it had at the time, but I could have never imagined the impact it would have from that point on. But last weekend while talking with a friend, I heard words spill out of my mouth that only a few months ago I would have never expected to hear. “I really enjoy my own company.” It completely took me by surprise, but the truth had been brewing for a while.

Over the past three and a half years, I found myself living in some really interesting places (Utah and Vermont). The downside to choosing to move to places where I knew few, if any, people was that I often found myself alone and it was rarely by choice. I couldn’t call someone at a moment’s notice and see if they wanted to grab a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a few ski runs, a movie, or dinner. Sometimes, but not always. Instead of being comforted by my own company I was often annoyed. I'd think, You again?

It was largely for this reason that I chose to move to Chicago earlier this year. Although my job allows me to live pretty much anywhere with cell phone reception and an Internet connection (which, these days, is pretty much anywhere) I chose to move where my friends were. At the time, I barely considered all of the great things I’d get to enjoy by living in Chicago. I would have moved to the North Pole if that were where my friends were. (Visit in January and you may think that’s exactly what I did.)

Without an ounce of hesitation, I can say that I made the best move of my life. I know that I can pick up the phone or shuttle off an e-mail and within moments have plans to eat sushi or go for a walk or even take a yoga class with some of my favorite people on the planet. But what has surprised me most is that sometimes I decide not to. Sometimes, all I want to do is cook a nice meal, snuggle into my couch, and read a book or watch a DVD. Alone. Although the order of events would have been identical in any of those other places, I actually enjoy it now. Because if I don't want to do it, I don't have to do it. Because it’s a choice. Because I have options.

Now it’s, You again!

I write a lot here about finding balance on my plate and in my body. But the reality is that there’s balance to be found in every corner of my life. Even my social one.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

You’re Not Going To Find Coupons For Kale

My idea of heaven

I spent a good portion of last week researching and conducting interviews for an article I’m writing about—to put it vaguely—using coupons for groceries. Some time around Tuesday or Wednesday I started feeling a sense of guilt. Not only have I never clipped a coupon in my life or checked a store’s circular before, I buy about 95 percent of my groceries at Whole Foods. Was I being irresponsible with my money? Was I willingly getting ripped off on a weekly basis? Are you nodding your head?

Slave to research that I am, I carved out a chunk of time on Thursday to put some skills I had learned into action. First, I made a list of items I needed. Then, I set out to find a coupon for as many items on my list as possible. First stop: Next, I checked the grocery store's website to see if they had any coupons. Finally, for any remaining items, I did a Google search. “Fage yogurt coupon” scored me a $0.50 coupon and I got another for the bread I love (Earth Grains Wheat Berry bread) just by “liking” their Facebook page. From this experience alone, I’ll say this: It doesn’t take an enormous amount of time to track down coupons for items you need. According to one expert, a smart coupon shopper can do so in about 10 to 15 minutes per week and save as much as $200 per month.

Did the coupons help me save? Well, no. (Clearly I’m not one of those smart shoppers yet.) I made several rookie errors. While on, I got really excited about coupons for items I thought I might want, but don't usually buy such as canned soup. I can’t remember the last time I ate soup out of a can. Plus, I have serious concerns about the chemical, bisphenol-A (BPA), in the linings of cans that studies have found is associated with breast cancer, heart disease, and a slew of other health issues. I’m not being an alarmist—two weeks ago, Canada declared the chemical toxic. There are four cans of Progresso soup sitting in my pantry right now. Because I had a coupon for them.

But I digress.

Let me get to the whole point of this post: While I believe that, when used wisely, coupons are a very smart way to save cash, you’re more likely to find them for packaged, processed goods than for whole foods, no matter where you buy those whole foods. Shopping with a different mindset and in a different location also meant that I was checking out lots of new foods. Which brings me to my second point: If you’re not careful, it’s easy to swipe up things you think are healthy, but are really questionable.

I printed a coupon for Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers. “Green,” “fresh,” and “steam” screamed good-for-you to me, no? A package of frozen veggies (which often contain as many nutrients as their fresh counterparts) that I could toss in the microwave sounded like a convenient way to get my fill when I don’t have time to restock fresh ones. I nearly took home a few bags of a sugar snap pea, potato, and red pepper veggie medley (hey, I had a coupon), but caught a glimpse of the ingredients as they tumbled into my cart. And by ingredients, I mean dozens of them. What are dozens of ingredients doing in an item that contains three vegetables? On closer examination I saw words like “modified corn starch,” “gelatin,” “maltodextrin,” “xanthan gum,” “autolyzed yeast extract,” “natural and artificial flavor,” “sodium lactylate,” and others. Whaaaaaaaaat? Frankly, I don’t really know what sort of impact these chemicals have on our health. But shouldn’t vegetables just contain, well, vegetables? Some olive oil and herbs might kick things up a notch when you’re cooking them, but I’ve never tasted a green bean and thought it needed a dash of xanthan gum before. Ew. Back in the freezer they went. Next to the broccoli with cheese sauce. Double ew.

For better or for worse, when I walk into a grocery store, my number one priority is buying the very best foods for me. Taste and quality aren’t far behind. Whether this is the smartest financial decision I will ever make, I’m not so sure. But when it comes to health, I don’t think I can put a price tag on it. And you know that thrill some people get when they hear the ding of savings stacking up on their bill? I get that very same rush when my cart is overflowing with plants, born from the earth, that have met neither pesticide nor autolyzed yeast extract before. To me, that's worth every penny.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What Does Your Body Need?

That's me on the green mat in Wild Thing : )

Your body is one smart cookie. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget that. We always want to do more, push harder, and exceed our own expectations. But when you give your body what it’s asking for (check in—there’s usually a message in your inbox), that’s when great stuff happens.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that I was talking myself into going to yoga almost on a daily basis. Some days I was flat out skipping it. Something was wrong. Normally, the moment the clock on the upper right hand corner of my computer monitor strikes 5 p.m., I toss on my Lululemons and head to class. It’s automatic--like going to the bathroom when I need to pee. I don’t contemplate the pros or cons or think about what else I’d like to be doing—I just go. Because I need to. Because it’s part of who I am and what I do (the yoga, not the peeing).

Instead, I was still sitting at my desk at 5:15 pm, contemplating whether I wanted a snack. Indeed, when I tuned in, I found that there was some interesting stuff going on (besides Greek yogurt).

When I first moved to Chicago, it took me a while to find the right yoga classes for me. At first I found the classes that I was taking way too slow. I didn’t want to sit or lie down for the first 10 minutes of class. My mind would wander in a million different directions. I wanted to move! And soon, I found classes that gave me exactly that. I was ecstatic. I loved flying through vinyasas, feeling my body pulse with the rhythm of the music. I could feel my heart beating against my chest. Sweat dripped from every pore. I felt alive! At the end of class I felt wrung out and satisfied. I settled into savasana, exhausted and elated.

But something had shifted. When I checked in with myself a few weeks ago, the message I received was this: Slow down. My body was craving classes that allowed me to move mindfully and methodically through my poses. I wanted to focus on and refine my alignment, which is difficult to do when you’re blasting through Sun Salutations, as fun as that is.

I was shocked to discover this. Slow down? Me? I spend all day planted at my computer, how could I possibly want to go slow? Was I sure that’s what my body wanted? (It's easy to second guess your body when it speaks to you.) Only a few months earlier, taking those kinds of classes made me feel agitated. What had changed?

Frankly, I’m still not sure what changed—maybe it’s the changing of the seasons, maybe it’s just time, maybe my body or mind is working on something that I’m still unaware of—but I heeded my body’s directions, and have been giving it exactly what it asked for.

And I can’t begin to describe the shift that I have felt. Just like before, at 5 p.m. I’m slipping into my Wunder Under crops and racing out the door without a moment of hesitation. I'm getting so much better at sitting still during meditation at the beginning and end of class. I can almost say that I look forward to that peace now. I’ve learned that I can stay in Triangle pose for a dozen breaths, and still find things to work on (is my back leg inner spiraling enough? Are my kidney’s inflated? Is the tailbone on the front leg side tucking under? Is my top shoulder moving back faster than my heart? Are the fingers of my top hand spreading energetically enough? I could go on…) Before, these details felt like a nuisance (just let me move!) but lately they’ve puzzled and challenged me in new ways. My hope is that, in time, I can assimilate these principles into my body enough so that I can maintain them even when powering through poses—no matter the pace. I’ve found that beginner and level 1 classes can actually be more difficult than advanced ones. (After all, when it comes to yoga, aren’t we always beginners?)

It’s easy to forget how wise our bodies are. Sometimes the real lesson is in slowing down and doing less—if that’s what your body needs. Other times, there’s plenty to be gained from exploring your boundaries—if that’s what your body needs. As long as your actions honor your body’s requests, you’re going to reap the benefits.