Attitude of Gratitude

leaves that look like heartsHappy Thanksgiving to you!

I have chosen to stay away from social media today as a way to enhance my mindfulness practice and focus on gratitude. But I wanted to say a quick hello.

There’s so much to talk about at Thanksgiving time: food, eating habits, family, and even politics (I urge you to check out this thoughtful post from Desire Yoga that manages to tie in the troubling events in Ferguson, MO with the themes of Thanksgiving and yoga).

However, all I want to do today is to repeat to you what my favorite doorman, Carlos, shared with me last night, after I asked what he’d be doing for Thanksgiving.

Carlos smiled and said, “Every day is Thanksgiving.”

Rock on, Carlos.

May you all have a mindful evening filled with gratitude. And may you continue to live in this rich spirit of thanks tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that…

 

 

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Why not make a pilgrimage today?

“Yo, body, I’m really feeling you, I’mma let you finish, but…”

(I’m too busy / there are more important things / I’ve just got to get to these other things first / etc.)

Sound familiar?

As the winter closes in, be sure you’re really taking the time to listen to your body. What does it need from you? An extra rest? Some quiet time reading a book? A good laugh with friends? More dark leafy greens? A brisk walk around the block?

It’s telling you in its own way. Be sure to pay attention.

Go within.

within my own body

The Tender Heart or: Sociopaths Aren’t All That

2006 was kind of a rock bottom year for me. Or the year that everything started to turn around, depending on how you look at it. I was in college, feeling helpless against my eating disorder, and lost in a pretty deep, dark depression.

One of the things I remember most from that period was what my paternal grandmother told me when she found out I had been struggling. Holding me in her arms and shaking me a little for emphasis, she said, “We’re survivors.

She said, “Every facet of your being, and of your hurt and pain, make you who you are.

She said, “Russians — we just feel, emote, to such a great extent; we’re very emotional people. Very happy or very sad; laughing one moment, crying the next.

She was half Russian. Me? Only an eighth. But I guess a little goes a long way.

A hug from Grandma on my wedding day | Credit: Briana Cichuniec

That was eight years ago, and she’s been gone for two summers. But I remember the things she said because I copied them into my diary right away. I knew then that they were important, that they held some very simple but very profound answers for me.

See, Grandma was what some people would call a sensitive person. I guess I am too.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m a textbook Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). I just mean that I really internalize whatever’s being dished out around me, you know?

When someone else in my general vicinity is not right, I definitely do not feel right. Just a whiff of conflict and my body goes into full fight or flight. I get anxious — a lot. A gruff interaction with a stranger on the subway will stay with me for hours. If one of my mistakes adversely affects another, I can assure you that I’ll have sleepless nights over it for years. And yes, I can go from laughing to crying at the drop of a hat.

All too often, my first instinct is to assume that any unpleasantness is my fault. I’ve done something wrong. They’re mad at me. I need to fix this.

Which of course is rarely the case! First of all, not everything is about me (thank the universe). And second, everything can’t be perfect all the time (thank the universe).

Still, it’s overwhelming to feel this much, and it can’t just be turned off, however hard I try.

I’ve known a person or two whose dispositions trend towards sociopathy, and I’d be lying if I said I’d never once wished that I were more like them. I mean, it must feel pretty freeing, in a way, to have no concept of other people’s feelings whatsoever. But who would really want that?

I was talking about all of this with the incredible soul that is my aunt. See, my grandma is her mother, and she too knows something about being a sensitive person. Then she said this:

high cost for a tender heart | MindBodyPlateThere’s a high cost for a tender heart; but it’s worth it.

And you guys, she’s totally right. I may struggle sometimes with the kind of pain that tends to seep through thin skin, but I’ll be damned if I’m not squeezing every inch of feeling out of this one life I have to live.

And let’s not forget that the sensitivity causing me trouble is the very same sensitivity that makes me an empathetic listener; a helpful coach; an intuitive yoga teacher; a kind leader, and a caring and thoughtful friend to those I love.

Every piece of art I’ve ever created, on stage or on paper, has been informed by my ability to feel things deeply — to feel sad like I never thought I could feel sad; to feel joy like I never thought was possible.

And for that I am grateful. Even for the pain.

What about you guys: Do you sometimes wish that you had a thicker skin? Has anyone ever told you that you were being “too sensitive”? What are the overlooked benefits of being you, exactly as you are, tender heart and all?

Why I’m Giving Up On My Dreams

A stage; a.k.a. "home"

A stage; a.k.a. “home”

When I moved from San Francisco to New York City, I definitely imagined myself on a stage in front of hundreds of people. After all, I had been doing it my whole life. I was the lead in an opera before I was ten years old. In 2010, just before leaving the Bay Area, SF Weekly readers generously voted me San Francisco’s Best Stage Actor. So I knew I’d make my way to a New York City stage eventually.

I just couldn’t have guessed what kind of stage.

Last Sunday morning I took the subway down to New York City’s Foley Square, right across from City Hall. The fountain had been turned into a stage, and I waited on it as hundreds of people crowded around to listen to an opening ceremony. It was the day of the annual New York City NEDA Walk, raising money and awareness for the mission of the National Eating Disorders Association, and after raising nearly $150,000.00, this huge group was about to walk the Brooklyn Bridge.

Then I heard my name:

Sarah Kit Farrell is a yoga teacher and health coach who recently celebrated 6 years of recovery. She is a program facilitator for mentalfitness, inc., an organization that builds mental fitness in all youth through arts-based awareness and prevention programs…

It was time for me to take the mic, though I wouldn’t be singing. Instead, I spent the next several moments leading all those hundreds of people in a yoga-inspired warm-up.

Just a slice of the immense crowd in Foley Square

Just a slice of the immense crowd in Foley Square

Lemmie tell ya – I wish I had been asked to sing, ’cause I wouldn’t have been nearly as nervous. Singing I know how to do. But playing the part of an inspirational yoga teacher? Now that made me shake in my running shoes.

Performing is in my heart and it always will be, but a few years back I stopped spending the bulk of my free time on preparing for auditions and memorizing monologues. I basically stopped living the “actor’s life”. It just sort of happened. And when I realized that it was happening, I used every weapon I could think of to punish myself for my transgression.

How could you? I thought to myself, everyone will think you’re giving up — you ARE giving up! Have you wasted your entire life trying to perform only to find that you’re not good enough? That you don’t have what it takes? Or maybe you are good enough and you’re just too lazy to make it. If that’s the case, then you deserve to fail. You’re worthless, in fact. You’re a goddamn disgrace. Get it together, SKF!

Wow, right? Um, self-abuse, party of two?

But no matter how many times I told myself to get back on track, how I should be doing this and that, I just didn’t. The truth was, I didn’t want to. It wasn’t enjoyable to me. That lifestyle wasn’t making me happy.

All the while, little by little, I was giving in to these interests and activities that have fascinated me all along: nutrition, mindfulness, yoga, eating disorders… and I felt awful about it. Each time I gave attention to one of these alternative areas, a little gremlin in my head told me I was betraying my destiny, betraying my true “purpose” in coming to NYC, betraying the goals set out for me by my younger self.

For a while now, I’ve made an effort not to “should” on myself (I should do this and I should have done that). But if I’m honest with myself, for the last few years, my life has essentially been one big SHOULD. I’ve been clinging to this idea that my life was supposed to go one way, and refusing to accept that it might go somewhere else.

This all reminds me of a metaphor used by author Esther Hicks, who says that life is a swift-moving river and we’re all conditioned to think that we’ll be rewarded by fighting to get upstream. But in all actuality, nothing that you want is upstream. In fact, the stream itself is a stream of well-being, and the second you accept the current of your life and learn to move with it, to sway with it, to go with the flow, joyful things begin to happen — and they happen fast.

With my amazingly supportive friends at the 2014 NEDA Walk

With my amazingly supportive friends at the 2014 NEDA Walk

So on the one hand, I’m flabbergasted that I, of all people, would end up leading stretches for this year’s NEDA Walk, but on the other hand, I’m not surprised at all. It’s the same reason that I was hired at the very first yoga studio I applied to, the same reason my coaching practice took off the moment I decided take it seriously.

Because the current of my life is headed that way. The more I trust that current, and the more I can let go of my preconceptions about how my life in NYC should turn out, the farther I’ll be able to go.

Of course I’ll never stop performing, don’t be silly; it’s in my bones. In fact, I’m planning a New York City debut of my one woman show about food, body image, and appetites unchecked. But it may not be the most important thing. As far as those earlier dreams go, the ones in part constructed by a thirteen year old Sarah, consumed by her eating disorder, rigid in her perfectionism, and desperate for approval, well… maybe I don’t need those specific dreams anymore.

I think I passed that fork in the stream a long time ago. And thank goodness.

So what about you? Are you swimming upstream against the dominant current of well-being in your life? What do you think would happen if you stopped fighting in order to go with the flow?

Get Grounded

Stand up and energetically plant your feet down into the floor beneath you. Close your eyes and try to feel all “four corners” of each foot: the ball of the foot on the big toe side and the pinky toe side, the inner and outer edges of the back heel. Now take a step — very slowly — while keeping your attention on the soles of your feet. Now take another. And another. Very slowly and deliberately, feel each foot planting into the earth.

Maybe speed it up. Can you maintain your focus even at a quick clip?

The average person walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day. That’s three to four thousand opportunities to mindfully connect your body to the earth and get grounded, every single day.

Check out this affirmation by JoyThruYoga.com about planting down, getting grounded, and feeling all the good stuff:

I am grounded | MIndBodyPlate

My Lips are Sealed

my lips are sealed | MindBodyPlateI’ve been running in the mornings with my husband, and I’m trying something new. I’m trying not to breathe through my mouth.

Come again?

I’m trying not to breathe through my mouth. In fact, I’m attempting to sustain my morning runs breathing in and out through my nose and my nose alone.

Specifically, I’m utilizing a style of nasal breathing called ujjayi pranayama or ‘victorious breathing’, a slow and controlled style of yogic breathing which produces oceanic (or Darth Vader-like) sounds due to a slight constriction of the throat. Why? Well, it’s an experiment.

It’s based on some research I heard about, research conducted by Ayurvedic physician Dr. John Douillard in his book Body, Mind & Sport: the Mind Body Guide to Lifelong Fitness and Your Personal Best.

Basically, when you participate in strenuous exercise and start huffing and puffing through your mouth, your brain recognizes it as the same kind of breathing you do when you get surprised, or stressed… or scared. And it registers that you might just have a reason to be stressed or scared.

running huffing and puffing | MindBodyPlateNasal breathing, on the other hand, allows for deeper diaphragmatic breathing, which stimulates the vagus nerve, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — in other words, breathing through your nose makes you feel less stressed. It lowers cortisol levels. It sets you up for ‘rest and digest’.

And I want the very act of running to feel relaxing to me. I never want running to feel any more strenuous than a few sun salutations. I don’t want any small part of my subconscious to think that there’s something wrong when I hit the pavement at 6:45 AM every morning, that I’m running from something, that there’s an emergency. Because ultimately I think that will sabotage my goals. In some small way, I think it will set my mind against doing it.

When I was a kid, and let’s face it, pretty much up until the age of 25 or so, I hated running. And it wasn’t just because my cheeks turned a particularly Irish shade of beet red when I exerted myself. It was because it felt awful.

And I think it felt awful because it was something I just didn’t do on a regular basis. I rarely ran for fun, let alone for relaxation, and then all of a sudden, my PE teacher would bark out orders to run a mile, and my body was like, exsqueeze me? So infrequently was I asked to run, that whenever I did it felt like torture. My body wasn’t prepared for it, so it felt like death.

And the more I came to associate running with, you know, feeling like death, the more my distaste for it grew.

I’m trying to rewire that distaste. I won’t settle for just feeling proud because I pushed myself to run and I did — I want to want to run, because it feels good. I want every cell of my body to feel joyous when I run, so for now I’m breathing through my nose.

Now I can’t run as far or as fast when I keep my lips sealed, but I know that’s not permanent. My endurance will get stronger and stronger. Two years ago I ran a 10k, achieving something I never thought I would or could do, and it was a very proud moment for me. My next goal is to run a 10k while breathing through my nose.

breathe deeply kitty | MindBodyPlate

So if you’re not a runner, or even an aspiring runner (which is okay, by the way), how does this all apply to you?

Start paying attention to the way you’re breathing when you engage in any kind of activity. Even just walking to the car or the subway. If you find that you’re taking shallow, non-diaphragmatic breaths, or even holding your breath, you’re not alone; it’s pretty common. Spend some time thinking about the subconscious messages that kind of breath could be sending to your brain.

Imagine the deep, slow, relaxed and luxurious breaths you take when you’re, I dunno… getting a massage. What would it be like to breathe like that throughout the day? Or while you were exercising?

I’m interested to hear from my more experienced runner friends. Do you have a pattern of breathing or an approach to breathing that makes your experience more enjoyable or otherwise fruitful? Can’t wait to hear about what works for you!

6 Years Recovered

Practice self-care, loves; this post may be triggering to some.

six candles recovery anniversary | MindBodyPlate

Today is a special day for me – one of my favorite days of the year. September 3rd is my recovery anniversary, and today marks 6 years since the last time I binged and purged.

I blogged about my recovery anniversary last year, but a lot has changed since then. Last year I started the day by taking my favorite yoga class; this year I woke up at 5:30 AM to teach a yoga class.

Last year I thought that self-care was something extra you made time for every day; this year I’ve learned that every facet of life and every choice you make is an opportunity for self-care (self-care isn’t the frosting on the cake, it’s the cake itself).

Last year my ideas about what I should be doing with my life were getting in the way of the actual doing; this year I have a private practice which offers nutritional coaching, private yoga sessions, and peer coaching for those in recovery from eating disorders, and I’m in the early stages of planning the New York City debut of my one woman show about food and body image.

The long view almost always highlights growth — I think that’s why I like anniversaries. Because, individually, most of the last 365 days felt like nothing was happening, like I was getting nowhere. But the sum is greater than its parts, as they say.

peanut loves maple syrup | MindBodyPlate

I want you to know that ‘6 years recovered’ does not mean I have a perfect relationship with food. Just yesterday, for example, I was so frustrated with the logistics of setting up my new laptop that I ended up eating a ramekin full of peanut butter mixed with maple syrup… with a spoon.

…and then I went back for seconds.

Emotional eating at its finest, folks. Were there elements of a binge there, where I felt out of control? Sure. The difference is that after it was done I didn’t throw up my hands and say, “Well, now that I’ve totally blown it, I better eat everything else in the kitchen.” The difference is that I didn’t want to purge or punish myself at the gym. The difference is that I knew a little bit too much peanut butter would not send my weight or my body image spiraling out of control. The difference is that I didn’t beat myself up.

Sarah Kit Farrell laughing | MindBodyPlate

Squished on the subway and loving it!

Actually, I had a bit of a chuckle. I mean, we all get frustrated sometimes — let’s be real, especially when setting up new electronics. Of course I lost a bit of control as my brain became overwhelmed. Of course my body tried to comfort itself. And of course it chose the path of least resistance (dietary fat and sugar!!!).

That I can hold yesterday’s mini-binge with empathy, love, and a bit of humor is the real sign that I am recovered.

Just as all of the changes in one year may not be apparent until the year is over, the hundreds and thousands of mini-steps towards recovery may not be apparent day-to-day. That’s how it is with overcoming anything, I think. We relish when we can look back and feel pride in our accomplishment, now abundantly clear. But the good stuff is happening with every mini-step, every choice to incorporate self-care, every day, every moment, every bite.

MBP VIP: Renee Engeln on Beauty Sickness

Hey, are you feeling okay? Are you struggling to engage with the rest of the world? Feeling tired and defeated? Unable to direct your energy toward the things that really matter?

Do you have Beauty Sickness?

For most of my life, particularly when I was struggling with my eating disorder, I found social situations unbearable – though you may never have noticed. I liked people, and I knew that I was good at talking to them. I had a talent for engaging groups and entertaining crowds. By all accounts, I was the consummate extrovert.

But somehow, such activities always left me feeling drained, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes they made me feel downright miserable. I could never seem to let go and enjoy myself the way other people did. I knew objectively if I was “having fun”, but I didn’t necessarily feel it. Much of the time it felt forced, and all I really wanted was to be alone.

So when Renee Engeln started talking about Objectification Theory around the 9:30 minute mark, I felt like she was describing my experience exactly. Renee explained, “You cannot chronically monitor your body’s appearance and be engaged with the world. When you are Beauty Sick, you cannot engage with the world, because between you and the world is a mirror, and it’s a mirror that travels with you everywhere. You cannot seem to put it down.”

Yeah, that would pretty much explain why I was so exhausted after socializing. I was so preoccupied with how any person might be perceiving me at any moment that it was nearly impossible for me to do anything but go through the motions. I was on guard at each and every moment, hyper-aware of my body in space, constantly searching the reactions of those around me for signs that I was either succeeding or failing.

This also explains why it’s become more and more enjoyable for me to spend time with friends as I’ve gotten older. The more secure I feel in my own body, my own person, the more I’ve been able to fall in love with myself, the more I can relax into social situations. As that hyper-vigilance has faded away, I’ve found more energy to be present in the exciting and inspiring conversations of those around me. As I’ve let go of the fear that I’m being constantly judged, I’ve been able to taste the fruits of companionship and loyalty in a whole new way. And yes, I’ve felt what it’s like to have fun.

More of that, please.

Imagine the power we women could yield were we to be relieved of this ailment, this Beauty Sickness. Imagine all of that energy, all of that focus, being directed toward something more lasting, more loving. The thought gives me goosebumps.

What’s the simplest way to start? I for one will take Renee’s advice: I’m a new “Auntie” to a beautiful baby girl.  And yes, she is a thing of beauty. But whenever I get the impulse to tell her so, I’ll instead tell her she’s smart / strong / active / capable / friendly / happy / curious / courageous / persistant / generous / kind…

What do you think? Do you have the sickness? How will you work towards getting better?

B.K.S. Iyengar

B.K.S. Iyengar passed away today. His influence on the practice of yoga, especially as we know it in the West, is truly immeasurable. If you don’t know him too well and you have the time, I highly recommend Google searching his most memorable quotes to get a feel for his immense wisdom. There’s also a mini documentary about him here.

A great teacher has departed, but he hasn’t truly left us. As Iyengar himself said, “Life moves. There’s no death. There’s no birth. Life is like a river… moving without any stop.”

BKS Iyengar on yoga | MindBodyPlate