Friday, October 21, 2016

Capable of More

Last week I was in my gym, ready to work on my arms. I always write down my workouts so I can see my progress, change things up and improve something about my previous workout. So I glanced back at my previous week and noticed I had curled a specific weight for 8 reps. My goal these days is to stay in the 8 rep range so I decided to keep that weight for this workout. I began to lift, noticing how heavy the weights felt. After 6 reps my muscles weren't capable of lifting anymore, I had reached my max. Disappointed with myself, I wondered why I fell 2 reps short of my last workout. I glanced back again and realized I had written down the wrong weight! In fact, this day I was lifting heavier than I ever had in my entire life and I still managed 6 reps! I felt proud and at the same time, shook my head at myself because I should know better.

One thing I adore about running fitness classes for women and working with them one-on-one is the evolution I witness daily. In the beginning I hear and see:

"I'm not enough"
"I can't do that"
"I'm not capable"
"I'll never be able.."
"That's impossible"
"There's no way!"

After working together for a period of time and with some pushing, encouraging, cutting through excuses and nonchalantly counteracting all their rebuttals, I then begin to see and hear:

"I can't believe I did that!"
"I never would have imagined.."
"I've noticed how much stronger I feel"
"I could never do that before"

We work together to cut through all the crap that's been in their psyche from childhood; their deep seated (false) belief that they aren't capable. So much of what I do has to do with holding space, words and tools for allowing these women to heal, find confidence, and grow at their own pace. I believe in them more than they believe in themselves. It is in this space I witness both breakdowns and breakthroughs.

Magic happens when a woman starts to see (and own) her power in this world. In the field of my work, it often begins through the gains she develops physically, but those lessons she learns in the gym undoubtedly carry into other areas of her life.
It is then I begin hearing and seeing:

"I'm strong"
"I've got this"
"I could do that"
"I have a goal.."

And in those positive affirmations what I also hear is:
"I love myself"
"I appreciate my body"
"I am worthy"

Women transform from not believing to strongly believing.
From afraid to empowered.
From hesitant to ready for action.

And it all has to do with witnessing and understanding that they are capable of more than they had originally believed themselves to be. I am constantly pushing them outside of their comfort zone, and while sometimes they curse me for it, I know the benefits long term that this practice will have. We are always capable of so much more than we believe we are. Sometimes we need a little push or accidental discovery as I had last week to recognize that fact.

So last week when I unknowingly curled my heaviest weight yet and felt shocked by that fact, I realized I still have my own roadblocks to success and freedom that were put there by none other than ....... ME! I still have preconceived notions of what I am capable of, which is not something that should ever carry a ceiling. I had my mind made up that I could lift xx number of pounds when in reality....I can lift more! I wonder when I would have made this discovery had it not been an accidental one. Months? Years? Never? Because lifting this amount would mean something new for me...a new possibility. And if I can curl this weight when I hadn't believed myself capable....well what else in this world can I do?

I finished a workout earlier today and I lifted those super heavy weights and smiled through the grimace.
"Hell yeah I got this."
"I am capable of more than I give myself credit for."

It was a gentle reminder that I need to believe in myself and stop setting those limits that prevent me from evolving.

Let me ask you this: What limits have you set in your own life? And are you willing to test them?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Dear Grief

Dear Grief,

I know we haven't really been friends in the past. When I saw you coming I would avoid you as though my life depended on it. Because I believed it did. I met you a few times in my childhood and you weren't pleasant to deal with, so I learned how to avoid you in whatever way I could - hardening, disconnecting, closing, avoiding and denying. I wanted nothing to do with you and anytime I felt your touch I would recoil from you and run away. I couldn't look you in the eye. I hated you to be honest and blamed you for many things - my inability to feel like I was thriving in life, my need for security and validation, and my hesitation to love completely.

For years I thought you were gone. I had this false belief that because I had met your acquaintance so many times before that you would spend the rest of my life visiting others and harassing them. I thought I had put in my time with you, that somehow I had earned a life without your presence. I was wrong. Somehow, despite still feeling your touch from the last visit, you showed up again, unexpectedly, and slammed me to the ground. I wish I could put a bell on your ankle so that I could sense you coming and somehow prepare my mind, body and soul for your visit. Though I suppose then I wouldn't feel the full effect of your assault. And I can find gratitude in that because every time you snuck into my world and shattered me to pieces I failed to see why you did so. I hadn't realized you were there to show me things I couldn't see. After the shattering I would pick up the pieces of my previous self and put them together again. In a new way. Always a new way that was stronger, lighter and more compassionate. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to transform myself.

More recently you have entered my life again in a new form, so new I almost didn't recognize you. When I first understood it was you in the corner of my heart, my immediate response was to kick you out and tell you to never come back. I wanted to rip your fingernails off one by one, because of the absolute terror your presence stirred in me. I was all too familiar with the discomfort you bring to my life and I was desperate to step out of that. You stir up things in my soul that would rather stay dormant. Yet through this recent experience you have drawn attention to my white knuckled grip on people and things around me, and in stomping on my fingertips grasping the edge of the cliff, you have reminded me that the grip isn't really mine to take on anyway. You have not so subtley reminded me that I am not in control, and in order to survive with you I needed to be willing to let go and allow. Because I can never control you, I can only learn to live with you in a space of growth and love.

I was happily moving along with the motions in my life, comfortable with the pacing and unfolding that was happening. Until you showed up again. "Fuck" I said to myself as I felt the blood drain from my face. You showed up through a trusted face and made your presence known through a few simple words. My world exploded as all I had come to know and be comfortable with dissipated through a single email. I grasped. I pleaded. I sobbed. You wouldn't go away and there was nothing I could do. My world no longer looked or felt familiar to me and I struggled to see my worth in this space. Who was I? What did I care about? What is most important to me? What brings me joy? I hated that you took all my answers with you and left me fighting to find the right ones. I created a "what the fuck makes me happy" list, which never would have happened without you. So thank you. Thank you for opening my eyes to what my soul really craves, not the every day tasks that had been taking up my time through routine and comfort. Thank you for forcing me to answer these difficult but vital questions of myself, for they have led me onto a path that's much more meaningful to me.

Thank you also for forcing me to cut through the shit when it comes to love. When you are really close to me all I am aware of is love. Love without the ego driven qualities such as jealousy or insecurity. You make me see love for all it is - vulnerability, depth, softness and compassion. Without your recent visit I might still be seeing the doubt, anger, resentment and fear. Thank you for allowing me the ability to see the commonality between all living beings through the threads of love and pain that connect us all together regardless of appearances. Without you I would still be seeing the masks of others through my own.

There have been times in my life when you sat too close to me. So close that you began to consume me and I couldn't tell where you ended and I began. I associated myself with you and you became my entire entity. Back then I didn't know that you are very much like quicksand - the more I fought you, the quicker I sunk. I have learned to sit with you, listen to what you are telling me and hold you, knowing that we are not the same entity, that you are just here with me for a period of time when you will leave as sneakily as you came, and I will remain, different from all the wisdom you left behind.

So thank you grief. I know we are still getting to know one other but from now on I promise to sit with you and allow your presence in my life, because after you, I am never the same again. And how lucky am I that I get to choose whether that transformation is a positive or a negative one? How lucky am I that you keep choosing me because you know I am ready for the lessons? How lucky am I to know you so intimately?

Friday, October 7, 2016

When You Need to Cocoon

I have this tendency when I'm feeling vulnerable to hide inside my comfortable little shell I've created for myself to feel safe and secure. To others it often looks like anger, sounds like silence and feels like indifference. To me, it feels like the times when I was a child and a thunderstorm rolled in. I would quickly grab all the pillows, blankets and stuffed animals I could and created a shelter in my closet, behind closed doors, feeling untouchable. Even back then I hesitated to lean into others for support and comfort. I kind of grew up learning to rely on myself.

I'll put a hooded sweater on so I can cover up as much of myself as possible. I'll pull the strings of my hood to shield my face from the world and pull my sleeves long so my hands are tucked away. I'll cancel plans and stop interacting with people as much as I can. I'll appear subdued as I quietly process my emotions and attempt to figure out the root cause to my funk. One of my best friends once referred to this as "cocooning." And the metaphor is perfect.

Do you ever feel this way? Like you just want to hide away? Like you need a break from the world and all that overwhelm that comes with life? Like you just need to retreat into yourself and no matter how good the company is from others, you just can't tolerate it? Like you just need to numb and stop giving, being and doing so much every single day?

Yeah. I cocoon. I probably cocoon a lot. It comes with the territory of being a very introspective person who lives by her emotions.

I'm learning to ride the waves when this happens. Instead of judging myself and pushing myself to do the things I think I should be doing, I'm learning to sit back and allow, process, feel, explore and let go.

Because this has been a hot topic of conversation these days with one of my BFFs, I wanted to bring this up in case any of you are feeling this shift as well. What's a girl to do when she just wants to cocoon?

1. Honour your Needs

If I've learned anything in my life it's that the more you repress your emotional needs, the greater the breeding ground for resentment, anxiety & fear. Through yoga and meditation, one of the biggest things I have learned is to just sit with whatever I'm going through. Rather than trying to change it, expedite it or erase it...I sit with it and observe. I observe what childhood trauma is triggered. I notice how my body and mind react. I listen to the symptoms my body is sharing with me. I honour my need to cocoon because it's in the cocoon that transformation and growth take place.

2. Keep your Heart Open

This is about the most unnatural and uncomfortable response in the world for me. I learned from a young age to build up body armour quick as a wink when I needed it. Vulnerability couldn't touch me I believed (inaccurately). It became second nature to feel a bit hurt by someone and immediately turn off my emotions and harden myself. I would go numb and didn't get an eff about anything or anyone. I now refer to this as my "bitch face." I notice even now I pull it out at times. When I'm feeling vulnerable, there it is, and I throw vibes out that scream "don't talk to me!" to anyone within a 79870 mile radius. I've learned to recognize it though, and am faster at removing it and allowing people in. But it took me a very long time to see it and understand its purpose in my life. It served me well in my childhood. A few months ago I was in one of the most vulnerable places of my life and I was desperate to harden. It's my safe place, it's my go-to when I'm feeling unsafe. But I knew those defenses were destructive to myself and others so I forbid it from happening. Which meant opening the door to vulnerability and holding its hand. Yikes. Not a comfortable place to sit yet it's what will grow you the fastest. In Yoga, poses can be more or less classified in two categories - expansion or contraction. Even now, I force myself into expansion poses that allow opening, despite my sometimes desperate need to curl up into child's pose, safe in my little shell.

3. Ramp up your self-care practice

When you're sitting with vulnerability and leaning into it for growth, it's a good idea to increase the amount of time you spend in your self-care practice. When you're already feeling exposed and uncertain, the last thing you need is to be belittled and yourself especially. Take extra care in being gentle with you, in speaking kinder to yourself and in indulging in things that bring you joy. Epsom salt baths, facial masks, a walk through the woods, reading a good book...whatever speaks to your heart, do more of that. Always...but certainly in times of cocooning. Hold space for yourself. In love.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Unexpected Lessons From Grief Counseling

When my Mom died I went to see a grief counselor. It was a few months after her death and I just needed professional thoughts and opinion on what I was going through. So I made an appointment and showed up to an older looking home and followed the counselor up creaky wooden stairs to her office. We got through the preliminary information and awkwardness - small talk on the weather, followed by my name and my brief reason for being there. She probed for more information. As I stammered about for a few minutes, tears freely flowed down my face and I didn't have the energy to wipe them away. After I paused from my story detailing my Mom's death and what I had gone through emotionally since, I glanced up at her blurry face.

"So why are you here? What do you need from me?" she calmly asked.

I hesitated because I thought the answer was obvious. I was a mess. A complete and utter mess. I needed to be okay again. I needed her to fix me.

I answered with "I want to know if I'm crying too much. I feel like I shouldn't be crying this much anymore and I'm wondering if it's normal."

When you break down my need to the bare bones, I needed validation. Someone to let me know I was, and would be, okay. And space. I needed space to grieve, cry and yell. Permission if you will.

She questioned me on how long I was crying for at any given moment and how many times per day. She asked about my deepest feelings and how heavy they felt to me, as though trying to fit me onto a mental scale, 1 being a griever who is stuck and 10 being a griever who deserves an award for best ability to get over a loss. I felt like a 1. Her furrowed brows at my answers made me believe the same.

I remember nothing else from that hour long appointment. After I left her office, I knew I would never be back. She didn't give me what I had come for, which was permission to grieve. Instead, she gave me the laundry list of emotions that one processes during a loss which typically show up in some sort of neat, linear fashion. As if I hadn't read all of that stock pile bullshit already.

No. I didn't get what I needed. But on my way out the door to my car, I was struck with a realization that stirred my soul and I knew it to be my truth:

I could grieve however the fuck I wanted.

There isn't a researcher, educator or therapist in the world who was the same as me or who had a clue what I was going through. Because it was my experience from my perspective, built upon the ideas, thoughts and beliefs that have shaped me throughout my life. That cannot be replicated. While I get that us, as humans, like to label and pigeon hole everything under the sun...grief is different. I didn't want to hear that I would suffer from denial after the shock wore off. Nor did I want to be told that anger would come up next. I wanted someone to hold space for me, and let me know that whatever I felt was acceptable. But because I didn't follow this linear path that was laid out in clear steps, I felt like I was failing at the process altogether. When I was told from someone close to me that I needed to stop crying and move on, I knew that space was no longer available to me from others. I had to create my own space and hold myself there when I needed to.

I learned a lot through that experience, lessons that would grow over time. And I am grateful for the counselor's responses to my grief, because it has allowed me to shape not only my perspective but also the way I interact with my own clients.
Here's what I learned:

1. Toss the pigeon hole concept
I hate, hate, hate the "one solution for all" approach to ANYTHING in life. Ask my clients. The nutrition plans and fitness plans I create are all based on their own specific needs and desires and only after me asking a zillion probing questions. I will never create a diet plan and toss it out to a large population of people with the expectation that it is the best plan for all of them. We are all vastly different and I never assume one person's needs, challenges, beliefs, emotions, thoughts, ideas, goals, anatomy (etc. etc. etc) are the same as anyone elses. While I understand the grieving process model, I don't agree with it being used as a tool to determine if someone is falling outside of the norm to then require intervention. Just as even though I was a vegetarian for over 10 years, I would never push that type of diet onto all of my clients. They all have individual needs that require flexibility and space for growth and change.

2. Trust Yourself
I find there is a tendency to look outside of yourself to find validation and/or permission far more often than looking inwards. We want people to applaud us, compliment us, be proud of us, and tell us if what we're doing is right. Clients want me to tell them how to eat. They want to know how to move their body. They want me to tell them how they should or should not be feeling during and after a workout. They want me to tell them they're doing awesome. Just like me seeing this therapist. I wanted her to tell me how I should be grieving (or so I thought) and from that, I wanted the permission to do what I was already doing. I wanted her to tell me it was okay.

What if we just said "fuck this?" What if we stopped giving a shit what Tom, Dick and Harry were doing and instead, looked toward our own needs/wants/desires to figure it out? What if we could tune into our bodies, hearts and spirits so that we KNEW what was right for US. This is what I teach when I run my "Intuitive Eating" workshops - how to tune into what your own body needs at any given moment (because it changes constantly!). Instead of asking "what should I be doing?" we could trying asking "what would be best for me right now?" Wow, what a shift there would be. In relationships, in fitness, in nutrition, in social circles and career decisions. What if we stopped giving a shit what we think is expected of us and just did what felt is right for us?

3. Hold Space
This is a term I have become familiar with somewhat recently and I adore it. Ultimately what we desire in our relationships and in life in general is to have space held for us. Space to be who we are, to create what is in our hearts, to make mistakes, fall down, succeed, fall apart in....whatever. We all desire that space that is without help, judgement, question, anxiety, just IS. Within that space we are able to move and breathe in a way that feels like freedom. And it is in that space we are able to grow, learn, thrive and find joy and peace. I have learned (slowly as a recovering perfectionist) that what my clients want isn't for me to hover over everything they do or say, they want me to provide some tools and guidelines and allow them space to try. A space where they're allowed to make mistakes, fall off their plan or quit working out while they're in a slump and still know that I'm cheering them on without judgement. Holding space means walking alongside and allowing emotions, thoughts and feelings to come about without denying or changing them.

And do you know the best way to learn how to hold space for another? That's right - holding space for yourself first.

How are you doing on that one?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Perspective Changes Everything

I met with one of my closest friends Saturday morning for a tea. As always we talked for hours, about everything and nothing. About big things and little things. Goals, dreams, ideas, plans and updates. We talked about the little mundane things in our lives and the big conversations that can only happen in a space of love and trust. And as always, I walked away a more enriched human being from her company and wisdom.

One thing we talked about was perspective and how powerful it is and can be for changing relationships, shifting your direction in life or even just in contribution to your overall happiness.

What you focus on is what grows in your life. If you focus on the negative more often than not, then what you'll end up doing is not only seeing the negative around you but only opening yourself up to those experiences. You will look at things around you and find the downside of all of them to reinforce your belief that misery prevails.

On the other hand, if you are able to find the positive in everything (or at least willing to try really hard), you will be open to that energy, allowing in more opportunities for learning and joy. You will feel happier and lighter, not so weighed down in dissatisfaction. You will notice more and more positive things, events and people being drawn into your life.

In the field of Psychology, this is known as a "self fulfilling prophecy," or the "Pygmalion Effect." We set up an expectation, whether intentional or not. Then we align our behaviour, beliefs and attitudes with that expectation and continue doing so until we've found that expectation filled.
What I mean by this is that if you begin your day deciding it's going to suck, chances are it WILL suck.

For example, you wake up in the morning at your regular time but had gone to bed with the intention of waking earlier to get some me-time in. You wake up already annoyed that you failed Day 1 into your intention and decide you blew it. Your day is going to suck, you're such a failure, you just aren't a motivated enough person and now the whole day is ruined because you didn't get an hour of quality alone time under your belt. You fly out of bed, hit your knee on your side table, reach for a towel to find the cupboard empty of clean towels, and hop into a shower that lacks hot water. You curse as you dry off with a smelly towel from the dirty laundry pile and scowl at the piles of clothes that need to be washed. You curse your spouse for not helping out with the laundry, and in the process, step on a hard toy that causes you to curse your children for being slobs. You make a mental note to yell at them when they wake up and wonder why you even buy toys for them in the first place, when all they do is leave them lying around, waiting to be broken. Your daughter enters the room during this thought, and you bark at her for the toy, and rant for a whole minute about her inability to clean up after herself. Tears form in her eyes as she hasn't even opened her mouth before being reprimanded.

You can probably play in your head how the rest of the day goes. Much the same stuff shrouded in different forms.

Let's take the same example.

You wake up in the morning at your regular time but had gone to bed with the intention of waking earlier to get some me-time in. You open your eyes and think to yourself that your body must have needed extra sleep. You stretch out in bed as you find gratitude for a day full of possibility. You climb out of bed slowly, pulling the blankets back over on your way out, smiling at how quickly you can make your bed look neat and tidy. You wander to the bathroom and, upon noticing the lack of clean towels, throw a load in the laundry down the hall to get it started. You decide you don't have the time to get a shower in without racing frantically so you throw some dry shampoo in your hair and call it a day. As you wander down the hall toward the kitchen, your daughter finds you, and you greet her with a smile and a "good morning." She smiles and embraces you as you head to the kitchen together.

What's different between these two scenarios?

1. Victim versus Empowered
Typically when people see the downside of everything, and choose only to focus on the negative, they often play the victim role in life. They blame others for what's going on in their life. They are drawn to complaining and blaming, without any intention of learning, growing or fixing the situation. Rather than feeling empowered that they have choices in their life, they hold on to the belief that bad things just happen to them and there's no way out (as they point their finger at anyone in sight, finding a reason to blame him or her)

2. Finding fault verses finding lessons
In any situation that causes discomfort, there is always at least one lesson to be learned, though typically many once you begin peeling back the layers of discomfort. In the first scenario, it is clear that blame and fault are found. In the second scenario there are lessons to be learned, such as not racing when you know it's going to just cause anxiety and frustration. When you go through your day, are you looking for lessons or fault?

3. Focus on negative versus focus on positive
In scenario 1, there is a clear focus on the negative. And once you zone in on one negative aspect of anything, other negative ideas and thoughts take the forefront of your vision. A dirty towel leads to frustrations with laundry, which leads to anger with the spouse. The negative thoughts continue to breed and expand, and at some point, they engross you. The only way to break free of that spell is to begin seeing the positive. In anything. In everything.

That sums up our chat from Saturday. Or, at least, 10 minutes of our 3 hour conversation.
Don't you love friends who continually inspire, grow and build you? Those conversations that keep you up at night, excited with ideas and new paradigms that will inevitably create shifts in your life?

Yep, those are the type of people I roll with. And I can find gratitude and positivity within those relationships without effort.