Enough Mental “MUST”erbation!

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That’s it, you are cut off. You will go blind, grow hair on your hands, or go to hell, if you continue to mentally musterbate. It is getting out of control – even ruining your life. Your relationships, friendships, and career are being effected by your inability to stop obsessively musterbating. You need a support group for other musterbates because you are obsessed! “Hi, my name is Stacey, and I am a Musterbator”. “Hi Stacey.”

You are missing out on the life you have because you are ruminating about the life you should be having. The life you could have…would have…should have been having. That life. Not the actual life you have. You know the one that is messy, imperfect, stressful and often dire. No, not that life. The other life that was supposed to be your life if only you had: made better choices/lost weight/got your MBA/married your childhood sweetheart…blah, blah, blah. It is the life that would have been different if you were more disciplined, smarter, less impulsive, more fit, and frankly much less human than you turned out to be.

I call this irrational driving stressor to be perfect while holding yourself to an unobtainable ideal, “Mental Musterbation”. I call it this because you are wasting your life filling your days with all of the things you MUST do. The things you aren’t really wanting to do, but you feel you are called to do because everyone YOU know seems to be better at everything than you are and you MUST do more. I must be super-mom, career woman, awesome housekeeper, dinner party creator, family therapist, sexual dynamo and multi-tasker. I must be a sensitive, manly, masculine, ripped, strong, handy, romantically gifted husband/father/man.

Who can do it all? No one. I know this because I work with people in their deepest most sensitive private areas of their mind and I know this is a common misconception that we all share. The more we fixate on burdening ourselves about all the “musts” in the world, the more we push ourselves further away from the reality of our own best lives: these lives that are wonderful, disappointing, and sloppy all at once. We can learn how to accept “what is” and not put pressure on ourselves to overachieve in all areas of our lives by comparing ourselves to some imaginary “other” who does not even exist.

I encourage you to let go of trying to reach some idyllic version of yourself and start celebrating all of the idiosyncratic traits you already have. I read women’s magazines so I know what women are “supposed to be like”. I know that I am not able to practice the habits that many of the perfect/beautiful/thin/photoshopped magazine women do such as being able to turn down a delicious desert, not over pluck my eyebrows, walk around confidently in a bikini, wear sexy pajamas to bed every night, or shave the upper part of my thighs everyday. These are just a small sampling of things I believe I must do better to be more confident, attractive, or smooth – but I don’t. I used to think I was not very feminine as a result of all my laziness but actually that just makes me me. The truth is, no one pulls it all off perfectly and I shouldn’t worry about anyone else’s version of what I must be doing anyway.

It’s true, I am a musterbator. Thankfully through a lot of personal work and growth, I have been able to teach myself what the focus of my musts should be. These have become my truths. I must learn to surrender to my own limitations. I must love myself unconditionally. I must be my own best friend. I must learn to forgive myself. I must let go of any idea of controlling my life or others in it. Most importantly, I must celebrate my very own life just as it presents in this very moment because in the end it is all I have. What must you do?

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There’s a Fly in My Bikram: The Struggle for a Clear Mind

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Imagine the scene: it’s 105 degrees with relative humidity of 40% and you are wearing the absolute minimum clothes you can personally tolerate without feeling naked. You are barefoot because shoes are NOT allowed in the studio past the door. Also not allowed are cell phones, car keys, purses, talking, fidgeting, eating, or most importantly leaving the room once the 90 minute class has begun, which is important to note because there will be times in Bikram’s Hot Yoga class that you will want to flee with an undeniable urge that you can barely contain. This feeling increases exponentially when it is also hot outside as it has been here in California where I go to class. I’m not sure why this phenomena exists as the temperature inside the room is consistent whatever the outside temp is – but let me assure you it is absolutely game changing to take an afternoon Bikram class when the temperature is over 80 degrees. You need to be a certain kind of crazy.

Apparently, I am just the right kind of crazy to take this on whether or not it is hot outside. I’m am not even clear on whether or not I enjoy taking hot yoga. I literally debate this with myself each time I shed off all of the above mentioned items and step into the warm, clammy, often odoriferous, climate of the studio before class starts. After I enter the room I will share a little secret with you: I am obsessed with the bottoms of all of the other participants feet and find myself measuring the level of peeling, or shedding they are, or are not, doing. I am interested in this skin sloughing for no reason that I can ascertain, but I AM interested. It concerns me that there may be a reason for the shedding that partners well with the inability to wear shoes in the room and I am constantly checking out the heels of my feet for any evidence that there may be a potential problem. So far, I have been lucky in this regard. But I digress.

The truth is that I put myself through the rigors of hot yoga 2-3 times per week because it keeps me feeling stretched out and injury free in a way that I cannot duplicate in my hiking, strength training, running and doing interval training. The other incredible benefit for me is that it pushes you to entirely clear your mind and let go. “Clear your mind, let go of everything you have done before”, “Focus on your breath”, “Quiet your thoughts”. Hot yoga is as much about mindfulness as it is about your physical body. It is the integration of both your body and mind into an intense art that requires years to master, at least for me. I think I will be working on this “practice” of hot yoga for many years as my progress is slow and often frustrating.

What is the most frustrating for me is that I struggle with being able to clear my mind pose by pose, minute by minute, and second by second. I anticipate the next pose and often dread it. I cannot stay present in my body. I cannot often breathe at all as I am curled into a sushi roll type object. I can find my mind wandering at the littlest thing such as someone off to the right of the class falling out of a pose and having it throw me off balance. I begin to think about a meeting later in the day and forget to breathe. I find myself “squirreling” all the time and losing my focus on what I am supposed to be doing. Today in class I had an especially challenging experience that I had not encountered before. There was a fly in my Hot Yoga class that proved to be the biggest challenge to my monkey mind that I had yet to face.

One cannot underestimate the horror of a fly in Bikram class unless you have taken a class with the strictest yoga teacher there is who demands that you do not move in between the poses. You learn in hot yoga to surrender to the heat, the sweat rolling into your eyes, the inability to flee the room – all of it. You do not, however, learn how to tolerate the irritation of a fly who continues to land on different parts of your body to stick out it’s proboscis to lap up the droplets of dewey sweat that are there. Just think for a moment about the word proboscis and try to tell me that you want something named that licking stuff on your body while you are supposed to have an uncluttered mindful thought process. It is impossible. So I fell out of my pose after a 7 minute battle of me vs. the fly and began to look like I was having a small seizure in class while everyone else tried to stare into their own eyes in the mirror and pretend they didn’t see me twitching and jumping in the corner.

I lost. The fly was a masterful opponent and I decided instead of ruining my class, I was going to challenge myself to be able to test my ability to stay calm, focus on my breath and surrender to the stimulus of not only all of the dripping sweat, but also the prickly legs of the landing fly. (Thankfully, I could not actually feel the proboscis when it stretched out to lap).

I would like to share that I was successful and able to overcome this human being’s desire to kill all irritations in class, but I failed. I used all of my mindfulness skills to slowly, with ninja like skill, attack that little black annoyance and smash it across the flooring where it curled up in a ball after a brief last buzz and shiver of its wing. I felt amazing. It was one of the best triumphs I’ve had in hot yoga class to date. I made it for the next 70 minutes of class until the final shavasana (dead body pose) where you lay flat and soak in all the benefits of the class. It was then that I looked over about 8 inches to the right of my face and noticed movement out of the fly body. It started to twitch and clean off its wings before it stood fully up and began to fly into the air. I could not believe it had come back to life until it flew up to my hot/sweaty/salty face and landed back on my cheek. It had been reborn. My newfound triumph had been lost.

I took the fly rebirth as my clue to leave class before the recommended 5 minute final resting pose. I realized that as much as we try to practice mindfulness skills and fight to clear our heads (or work to improve upon our ability to stay present in the moment and with the breath) that there will always be external forces that we are not prepared for that throw us a curve ball. As much as we practice doing everything in the moment with the best of intentions the reality is we really have very little control of the outside forces that will present themselves to us in our day to day. We just have to try and do our best while being patient as our best is different from day to day. This is the all we can do and is likely a skill to practice for the rest of your journey in this life.

If you haven’t tried a hot yoga class it’s worth a try. I doubt you will have a fly in your class as typically there are usually only spiders that hide in the floor mat and those you can just tuck under your towel.

Food Logging: A Necessary Evil

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There are few things that strike fear, and cause a client to physically flinch, like the dreaded words, “Do you keep a food log?”. This term doesn’t discriminate and could care less what your age, gender, weight, or goal is – I know of no one who loves to food log. I myself hate food logging. It doesn’t matter if I go to the high quality paper store and treat myself to a brand spanking new journal covered in powerful self affirmations in hopes of motivating myself. Buying myself the special colored pen I see next to the register upon check out doesn’t inspire me. It doesn’t matter if I use a free on-line phone app (Lose It), a computer based weight loss tool, or a white board on the refrigerator. There is truly no way I have learned to improve upon my distaste for and utter dread of food logging.

Don’t get me wrong. If you are my client and have ever mentioned wanting to lose weight, eat healthier, improve upon your energy, or balance your mood – it is a certainty that I have discussed and encouraged (maybe a bit aggressively at times) that you MUST keep a food log of everything single thing you put in your mouth. Every tiny little morsel. The creamer in your coffee? Yep. The cinnamon Altoids that you keep in your car to get rid of the coffee breath? Still yep. How about the almond slivers in your salad? Yep, those too. It’s interesting how the words every single thing you put in your mouth can cause some room for discussion or confusion, but they do. They do because we are generally not fond of feeling like 5 year old little children who have to act like we can’t freely eat what we want to when we want to. We are biased about being watched – it goes against the very freedoms that this country holds dear, right?

So then why do it? I’ll tell you why it is THE necessary evil and is mandatory for any of the above stated goals. I will even go so far as to claim it is the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do if you have any of the above mentioned goals….why you ask? It’s the dreaded “A” word that makes it matter so much. ACCOUNTABILITY. There, I said it. It’s out in front of you in black and white. We do not like to be held accountable to what we chose to do all of the time in regards to how we want to feed ourselves; because we eat for a variety of reasons each and everyday and often it has nothing to do with hunger but more to do with being lonely, unhappy, happy, celebratory, empty, or bored.

Why is there so much resistance? We do not want to have to be held accountable and thus conscious of every single thing we put in our mouth because we are afraid of what we will learn. Most of us do not really want to know how much, or how bad, our food choices are everyday; however, I suggest to you that this is critical to begin to understand how to make smarter food choices whatever your goals. If you want to improve your mood as you are suffering from a bout of depression it is incredibly important how well you balance your protein/carb combinations and how often you eat. If you are hoping to lose weight, you must first understand a true picture of what you are actually ingesting on a daily basis that is maintaing or increasing your current weight. Food logging is the background information that can point your trainer, wellness coach, or intuitive self, right to the underlying culprit of what is really going on with you when you can’t reach your goals. It is invaluable information and creates a road map to break you out of your habits and into a healthier lifestyle.

Here’s a challenge. If you have never food logged, or it’s been awhile, start today. Write down everything you put in your mouth for 3 days. Don’t lie. You would think I wouldn’t have to mention such a simple agreement with you, but for those of you who have food logged before, you might have a small smile on your face right now because you know who you are and just what I’m talking about. I bet if you begin to log today, you will notice something really cool. Just the act of food logging often will cause you to pause for a split second before you mindlessly put something in your mouth and ask yourself if it’s worth it because you’re going to have to write it down afterwards. Sometimes, this alone will help you to make smarter choices all on your own.

Once you have your log you can begin to use the data to see if there are opportunities for improvement. You can always talk to a Wellness Coach, Personal Trainer, or medical professional who can help you modify your food for the specific goals you may have, but the crucial first step is to begin the process on your own. I food log everyday…well okay, most days…and sometimes I completely quit doing it. I’ll admit it, I get resistant, I fight it and I decide I don’t need to do it anymore because I already know what I am doing… Um no. Every time I fall off the food logging path, I veer over towards mindless eating. I do this slowly, over time. For the first week, I notice no changes in my eating and weight. Then it never fails that a after a few more weeks I am again grabbing handfuls of yummy (unhealthy) snacks out of my pantry without even considering them. It’s a slow digression, but it happens over and over and get’s me back on the wagon.

I would love to hear your comments on your own challenges of food logging.

Log On!

Shift Your Mindset to Live Life On Eternal Vacation

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I like myself better when I am on vacation. I am even more pleasant leading up to vacation in anticipation of the big day. I often count down the days and consider the amount of remaining “wake-ups” I must do before I get to go away. When I go away somewhere, I literally let go of all of the constant conversation in my head and bring myself entirely in the moment. I have worked on this mindful presence for years and it is the goal of every yoga class I take, to quiet the “monkey mind” (as it’s called by my Bikram yoghini) but it continues to be a lifelong challenge for me. My mother in law recently shared that I should set up a career that I could always do while on vacation of some sort. She lives her life this way and travels all over the world as a speaker, educator and expert in her field. She is still going strong well into her 70’s and I have been thinking about her words as it seems to create such vitality and joy for her. As I need to work in one place in my private practice I thought I would try a different approach. Maybe I could just imagine I was always on vacation instead.

Perhaps there is a way to take on the mindset of vacation while living in your daily life, with your daily routine, in your own home. Why wait for the one or two weeks a year you are not “working” to bring yourself into your own calmest personal space – your clearest mindset? I decided to do a personal experiment and give this thinking a try. Right after I took this on I had the perfect chance to try it out when I had a car cut me off on the freeway in their mad rush to some unknown crisis destination that was definitely worth risking their life and mine for on the freeway. I practiced smiling to myself and letting it go because, “Hey, I’m on vacation“, and frankly he must be really stressed out. As when I am in a foreign land exploring new territory I don’t sweat the small stuff and let things “ruin” my vacation, so I know how to prioritize what matters to me. This freed me up to be able to not care whatsoever about this freeway situation. It’s almost like we have the internal power to let things go for the greater good of enjoying our vacations that allowed me to let it go. I know when I have been laying on a beach in Hawaii, I could care less about anything. Nothing bothers me because I am calm, happy, and relaxed. I have decided that this is the place I always want to live my life from and that I should empower myself to be able to harness this feeling whenever I want too. Would it be good for you too?

Some of us don’t even allow ourselves to take vacation at all anymore. We falsely believe that we are invaluable to our jobs and things would get out of hand, too backed up, or destroyed, without our invaluable presence. Do you know of anyone who believes like this? Maybe it’s you? How about anyone in your life that works 10-12 hours a day giving the best parts of themselves to their employers while chained to a desk all day? I do. The stress level and amount of discontentment in their lives bleed into their personal relationships, energy levels and physical health. Sometimes they are waiting to retire to begin to take real care of themselves and “live their life”. The stress levels that they are immersed in are completely stifling, and yet millions of us do this everyday. If we allow ourselves to actually take vacation, we struggle to relax and know how to be present, let the work go and not check our emails. I feel like we are living our lives in reverse. Instead of working to live, we are living to work – and it’s killing us.

So I challenge you to give it a try. Imagine yourself on vacation as you go about your day. As you grocery shop, take your kids to school, and even go to work, imagine that you are exactly where you want to be. Be in the exact moment you are in as if you’d not rather be anywhere else. That is the place to live our life in calm, joyful presence. You don’t need to be sitting under a palm tree sipping a drink to allow yourself to realize this is exactly your life, set up by you. You can fight it, or you can shift your mindset to appreciating and acknowledging that in each and every moment this is as good as it gets.

Hey, It’s okay by me if you try it or not, because I’m on vacation.

Yours in Health,

Stacey Neil