Refresh and Reframe

April 20, 2015

Refresh and Reframe

How are you feeling this month?  It’s the middle of March and we’ve got one foot in winter and one foot in spring and if you’re feeling like me, then your energy is being pulled in two opposite directions.

Today I am writing from the front room of my flat where I can see treetops out the window.  I’m wrapped up in the cozy seventies Scandinavian cardigan I happened upon in a vintage shop on my stroll home yesterday from teaching.  The view is absolutely grey and it looks as if it’s about to snow any second despite the pink cherry blossoms across the street rejoicing spring.  Today it’s definitely winter and, as I sip my home-made healthy hot chocolate, I’m loving it rather than resisting it.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been casually tracking my energy shifts according to the season and lunar calendar as a constant reminder of how the macrocosm parallels the microcosm.  The patterns of my moods never cease to amaze me.  Beginning to understand the effects that grand seasonal and lunar changes have on little old me and how I feel has helped me to honour my body and tune into my instinctive needs, as well as predict how changes in the weather and light up ahead will make me feel so I know better what to put into place to transition with ease and grace.

Honouring my body in the winter months often means surrendering to quieter, introspective moods and resting and staying in rather than committing to lots of social engagements.  As I showed in my last newsletter, it means slow starts in the morning with warm beverages, restorative yoga and preparing bone broths to accompany lunch and dinner and keep my immune system strong.  It means cozy jumpers and warm meals and taking every opportunity to read and hibernate in my flat.  I appreciate that, with children, carving out downtime can be more of a challenge.  It’s not every morning that I can keep that routine either, but when I can I do, and I don’t allow myself to feel guilty for not doing something more ‘productive.’ I love winter for this – I really enjoy the opportunity to do less and stay in (which is important for someone naturally prone to writing unattainable to-do lists and squeezing too many events/chores/actions into one day).

Honouring my body in the spring means cleansing and eating light, moving more and getting out in the sun.  It means less meat, more greens, and taking every opportunity to walk outside and observe the blossoms and crocuses (the birds beckon me to do so every morning).  At the moment, there are signs of spring everywhere (image above from a recent walk by the river), reminding me what’s just around the corner.  But before we ‘spring ahead’ and come out of that darkness and into the light, I am focusing on planning ahead for the transition and adjusting my eating, exercising and general lifestyle habits accordingly.

If you read my last post, you’re aware that I’ve been in the process of de-cluttering my living space. Again.  Big time.  And for the final time, I hope, ever in my life.  Yes – I did just buy a new cardigan.  BUT, I have brought bags full of clothing, books, and other paraphernalia to friends and the many local charity shops around me that I simply wasn’t wearing, reading, or sharing with others, so what was the point of holding on?  I mentioned a de-cluttering book my Marie Kondo that is all about this.  Since then I’ve read a few critiques and some mockery of her work and I’m not surprised.  It feels extreme to effortlessly let go of things you once cherished, things that helped to make your home and your current you, and not look back simply because they no longer bring you joy (her main criteria).  For me the hardest thing to get rid of was all my photocopies and notes from my last degree before training to teach yoga.  I hadn’t touched them for nearly 10 years but thought I needed them to prove those hours of studying and achieving my degree with visual evidence.  Silly.  But they’re gone now because those papers were a burden to store and making me unhappy.  It feels GREAT to be free of them! They weren’t proving a thing other than that we have nothing to prove at all – we are not what we own. What Marie doesn’t tell you is that de-cluttering is slightly addictive.  The more I get rid of, the more I find to get rid of so that now there is really space to breathe in my storage-less flat.   This was a necessary first step to making springtime 2015 one of true, focused action and CLEARING (my word for the year) out.  So far I do not miss a thing.

But then there’s that space within me too.  I’m talking about my tummy and my brain.

Like unwanted pieces of clothing, there are some less than ideal habits I may have accumulated over the winter. Let’s not call them bad habits, because one thing I don’t like to do is feel guilty when I don’t do the things I know I should do or eat the way I know I should eat or think the way I know I should think (and there are a lot of shoulds in there because I have studied a lot about nutrition and psychology to know what is conducive to optimum physical and mental health). Feeling guilty wouldn’t be helpful, but neutrally observing my pitfalls and reflecting upon them might help me find creative ways of working around them and preventing them in the future.  Constantly monitoring myself and over-thinking my choices (especially food choices) with my brain rather than my gut has not helped me in the past. Being aware of the effects certain foods or habits have on me (too much refined carbohydrate makes me feel tired/staying up too late makes me feel groggy the next morning and crave sweet foods), making informed choices and sometimes loosening the reins and reminding myself why I avoid those foods is something I can maintain without stress and trains me to think with my belly brain instead.

Because winter gives me stronger digestion and thus a stronger appetite, I let myself enjoy stodgier meals, more healthy fats, even more carbohydrates in the form of sourdough bread and whole grains, and my body loves this.  I gain a couple of pounds and stay fit, but I know that this kind of eating in excess throughout the year could lead to too much sluggishness so I am starting to think of ways I will cleanse and lighten things up when the weather gets warmer and I can enjoy raw foods again.  This is why cleansing is particularly good around the spring equinox (and not January).  My organic food delivery box starts surprising me with less root vegetables and more greens so everything lends itself to eating greener and leaner.

Last year I led a workshop called the Spring Clean Kick-start to help give people a deeper understanding of cleansing rituals and practices beyond the most marketed kind like juicing and ‘detox diets’ and simpler ways to cleanse to renew energy.  In the past I’ve done pretty intense (well-researched and sometimes monitored) juice cleanses for periods of 3-7 days, which I wrote about here in my blog. They have taught me a lot and always leave me feeling great.  This year I may skip or shorten the juice cleanse and opt to focus on increasing more sustainable ways to cleanse that we can even work into our routines easily throughout the year.  Here are a few things I’ll be doing that you can try and that don’t require a juicer or taking time off work:

  • Aim to finish eating before 8PM every night (ideally 6PM if you can) to leave time for a proper 12-hour over-night fast so your digestive system can start the day strong!
  • Eliminate snacking between meals so there are at least 4 hours between each meal to allow your digestive system to properly do its thing before taking on more (if you’re prone to blood-sugar crashes, this may take some practice and perhaps light, healthy snacks to get you from one meal to the next)
  • Focus on eating more alkaline rather than acidic foods (think more fruit and veg and less dairy, meat, and alcohol for starters) and keep your meals simple in ingredients
  • Make every meal a mindful meal.  Eat slowly.  Don’t multitask.  Chew carefully.  Use chopsticks (with a special thank you to friend Niki here for reminding me that I have chopsticks and love how eating with them makes me slow down!)
  • Incorporate skin brushing and epsom balts into your weekly beauty routine and avoid products with lots of chemicals in them (get a big old tub of coconut oil and use that for multiple things…like deodorant)
  • Focus on how much water versus coffee/alcohol/juice/soda you drink per day.  Try to drink only water and herbal teas for a week if you have a strong addiction to caffeine and observe how different levels of hydration/stimulants make you feel

The first thing I’ve done is freeze my gym membership for April, which may seem odd since I’ll have more energy to exercise.  I started going to the gym because I wanted a little extra cardio to add to my weekly routine and I love spinning/cycling classes, but boy oh boy, the toxic products the other girls use in the changing room – I need a break!  With all the hairspray and Aerosol deodorant, I don’t know how these girls breathe!  It also never ceases to amaze me how much time we girls spend on primping and how very little moisturizing.  It really makes me appreciate the numerous yoga studios where I have taught and attended classes who usually have signs up asking for people NOT to use harsh smelling products.   Think about what you’re putting on your body (yes, even perfume) as well as in your body, because it all gets absorbed through our biggest organ – the skin!

And then finally how do I clear out some of that gunk in my mind?  Well, this is an ongoing project, good for any time of year really, but I think spring gives us a great opportunity to focus on the bright side of things – the sun is shining and my thoughts turn lighter and naturally more optimistic. Just because I’m a yoga teacher, doesn’t mean I have a pure and blissed-out mind all the time.  Far from it.  I still have moments, although much less than before, when I struggle with over-thinking, anxiety, all those things that brought me to yoga in the first place.  Over the winter I’ve been contemplating the concept of ‘reframing’ (as opposed to ‘awfulizing’) and how helpful that has been in the past when unexpected change happens and I start to freak out.  We tend to focus on what we’ll lose, how we’ll suffer and all the negative stuff that could happen to us if something changes, if we make a wrong choice.  We can add stress to a situation that doesn’t need to be that stressful.  So I am practicing letting go, accepting, and framing things in a positive light to suffer less. Here’s an example:

The other weekend my beloved boyfriend decided to move the furniture around in our flat. He completely changed the arrangement of the entire front room.  My first reaction was – eek!  It’s different!!!  And then I saw all the things that wouldn’t work with the new set-up. But then I took a few breaths, looked around and saw lots of benefits to the new layout.  I made a few tweaks and improved the ‘feng shui’ (to the best of my very little knowledge) and it works.  It really works.  And best of all?  It helped me get rid of more stuff (including the cobwebs that had been hiding behind the couch).  That’s a soft example and bigger changes are harder, but try it.  Try to focus on the gain, not the loss.

So all in all, I’m glad it’s still winter because I have a few more things to shed, a few more chickens to roast, a few more movies to watch and the need for more cozy evenings in my new jumper before I start to prolong my evenings, stay out late, travel and take on new projects.  It’s about truly enjoying the present whilst gently thinking and dreaming of what’s ahead, and doing a little planning. To quote Liz Gilbert’s Mom (from Elizabeth’s FB page), I really like doing things now to make life easier for ‘my future self.’ And that’s what the rest of this month is all about: clearing out my kitchen for some light, healthy cooking and juicing, giving away more stuff, gradually eliminating acidic foods, going to bed earlier, getting ready to launch my new website (ooh can’t wait!), etc.

Reflect: what can you do for yourself that will help you refresh and start anew in April? What situation could you reframe to see the positive?  Have a think, write down some objectives and then enjoy some warm stew and curl up on the sofa while you’ve got a bit more winter left!

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