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

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T is for Thinking (That’s Good Enough for Me)

Do you ever think about how you think?

This is the topic explored by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in his New York Times Bestseller Thinking Fast and Slow. In it, Kahneman illustrates that we have two distinct systems responsible for the way we think: System 1 is quick, intuitive, and often emotional; System 2 moves more slowly – it requires deliberate effort and is more logical.

When a drug addled homeless guy bum rushes you out of nowhere with hands outstretched towards your boobs and in a split second you somehow dart out of the way just in time without getting hit by a yellow cab – that’s System 1 in action. When I ask you to multiply 137 and 14 right now in your head – that’s System 2. Got it?

Encre L. Marquet Ad by Eugène Grasset

Encre L. Marquet Ad by Eugène Grasset

The answer’s 1,918, if you’re interested.

So it turns out that when the deliberative System 2 is busy, the impulsive System 1 has more of an influence on behavior than it might otherwise. In fact, a slew of psychological studies illustrate that when people are preoccupied with a “demanding cognitive task” they become more susceptible to temptation. Kahneman explains,

“Imagine that you are asked to retain a list of seven digits for a minute or two. You are told that remembering the digits is your top priority. While your attention is focused on the digits, you are offered a choice between two desserts: a sinful chocolate cake and a virtuous fruit salad. The evidence suggests that you would be more likely to select the tempting chocolate cake when your mind is loaded with digits. System 1 has more influence on behavior when System 2 is busy, and it has a sweet tooth.”

So why is this important?

Because it illustrates precisely why we tend to make poor food choices when we’re overtaxed and why relaxed mindfulness can help us make better choices in order to maintain a healthy weight.

Making positive choices for your body and mind requires mental effort, and those efforts can be easily thwarted when your brain is preoccupied with other demanding cognitive tasks. One of the ways we can override that tendency is by pausing to take stock of our present reality. When we do, we make sure that our impulsive System 1 doesn’t run off to the races (with an entire cookie jar).

columboSo how about a real life scenario: here I am sitting at my desk trying to finish this blog post. I’m struggling a bit, because now I’m at the part in the blog where I have to make a cogent point and wrap it up nicely. I can tell that it’s asking a lot of my System 2, the part of my brain that requires deliberate effort. Not coincidentally, I can’t stop thinking about the Kale Oatmeal Raisin Cookie in my purse across the room (you guys, it’s actually sinfully good). See, while System 2 is preoccupied with this damn post, my instinctual lizard-brain (System 1) is like, “I’m sooooo tired and annoyed at all of this thinking. I need some quick energy. Yeah, something sweet would be just purrrfect. K thx.” And I’m not gonna lie: that voice is making a TON of sense right now.

But if I push back from the computer screen for a moment, if I set up my meditation bench and come back to myself, if I just breathe and take stock of my present reality and needs… I may give my System 2 a chance to speak up and offer its two cents. And it may say something like this:

“Hey SKF, I know that cookie sounds really good right now, but you just finished a big lunch of red quinoa, braised purple cabbage, garlic roasted tomatoes, hard boiled egg, and pumpkin seeds. It was such a delicious meal, and it was really filling! Actually, you don’t feel all that hungry right now. But you probably will in 3 hours or so! And won’t that be a lovely time to enjoy your cookie?”

OMG you’re totally right, System 2! I’m not even that hungry, not really. But I was getting kind of overstimulated finishing that blog. I’m so glad I took some time to relax and recharge!

What a paradox that mental health involves so much talking to yourself like a crazy person.

The takeaway, I think, is that this ‘two systems’ knowledge can help us identify why we’re having certain cravings at certain times. And the more we understand our cravings, the more agency we wield in our food choices.

talking to yourself like a crazy person | MindBodyPlateAnd guys, I’m literally only 10% done with this book. Hopefully, there will be some more MBP-worthy gems to share in the future. Yay!

Whatever you do, don’t try to meditate

Have you ever taken time to meditate or sit quietly in the hopes that it would help you through a stressful time, only to find yourself even more wound up afterword? What went wrong?

Or how about this: have you ever said something along the lines of, “I’d love to meditate more often, but I’m just so bad at it. I can’t get my mind to stop thinking about things!”?

buddha statue - MindBodyPlate

Well, I’ve been reading an excellent translation the Yoga Sutra of Patañjali by Chip Hartranft, and he has something to say about the process of stilling the mind that I think addresses some of these meditation issues pretty well.

Hartranft tells us that, “as we sit in stillness – meditation – we inevitably find ourselves struggling to acquire more power over some aspect of our lives. Without necessarily knowing it, we are trying to feel happy or to conquer a physical or emotional problem or to become more attractive to others or simply to do a better job of meditating than we did last time. Each of these types of effort arises from attachment to previous thoughts or actions. Even our desire to let go of all this is mired in concepts about what letting go should feel like or what it might bring us.”

In other words, it’s natural for us to get somewhat tangled when we attempt to still our mind, because the very act of trying to still the mind is – paradoxically – the opposite of stilling the mind.

So what the heck are you supposed to do when you meditate, then? I mean, if you can’t try to still the mind and the mind is going crazy, with thoughts zigzagging across your consciousness like a bad laser show, what then?

Luckily, Hartranft doesn’t leave us hanging.

He explains that “exerting the will to arrest or blockade thought… [is] unlikely to succeed though certain to perpetuate suffering.” Instead, he says, one should try “repeatedly relaxing back to the ever present object. Concentration (dhāraṇā) builds spontaneously as the yogi softens and opens to experience, not through steely attempts at mind control.”

Did you catch that? When we meditate, our aim isn’t to do anything at all; our aim is to relax into the present moment, to stay soft, and to open to experience

That means just noticing those thoughts as they ping pong inside your head – just noticing them: hm, isn’t that interesting. That means giving yourself space to be “not good” at meditating. That means accepting that there is nothing wrong with whatever you are experiencing at this very moment.  And again in this new moment. And again in this one. And again and again.

Not so intimidating after all, when you break it down like that.

So, whaddya say? You up for 5 minutes? xo

Happy & Free

As this weekend comes to a close, I hope you feel happy, free, and full of love. The following image features a mantra I’ve become rather fond of over the last few months. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu – may all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all. It’s big translation for just four words, right? But that’s the richness of Sanskrit for you.

And remember – “all beings everywhere” includes yourself. So as you head into next week, check in to make sure that your thoughts, words, and actions are in line with creating happiness and freedom for yourself. If you’d like to get a sense of what it sounds like when it’s being chanted, check it out here. I dare you to sit and focus on your breath with your eyes closed while you listen to it – dare you!

lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu - MindBodyPlate

Be Close to Yourself

Happy Monday! I hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend. This quote was brought to my attention by my teacher over at Living Now Yoga, and I liked it so much that I decided to give it the MindBodyPlate treatment. Let us remember that yoga is so much more than a physical practice. What would it mean to be close to yourself today?

Yoga is the practice of being close to yourself

 

The Disco Ball Reality Check

Okay, are you guys ready? ‘Cause I’m about to get a little philosophical. You see, sometimes, when I sit for a formal meditation practice, certain visuals help me to center down, so I thought I’d share one with you today.

David Life Quote

Step outside of yourself for a moment and think about the fact that, to a certain extent, “Reality” is what we make of it. Neurologically speaking, the human brain is notoriously fallible when it comes to processing stimuli (just think of your favorite optical illusion). But this is also true on a more subtle, emotional level. The way you perceive a certain event or interaction is bound to be different than the way I perceive it.

Since what you know to be Reality is very much a reflection of you, imagine for a moment that you are some kind of reflective surface. What kind of reflective surface are you? What version of Reality do you reflect back?

source: jasmology.com

source: jasmology.com

When I’m feeling high strung, anxious, agitated, distracted, or overworked, my reflective surface feels like a highly faceted prism, or a broken mirror, or… a disco ball. In those moments, my perception of Reality is rigid, complex, ornate, confusing, and overwhelming. It often feels like there is too much going on: too many thoughts, too many images, and too much to deal with.

So when it’s time for me to slow down and turn off the monkey mind, I like to visualize my reflective surface as a single drop of water. When I do, my perception of Reality becomes far more fluid, simpler. Anxieties seem to wash away, and I begin to feel as though I can see more clearly. Things that were eating me up inside don’t seem to matter so much anymore; in fact, they’re no longer reflected in the big picture.

Dew Drop on Leaf

We cannot change the true nature of things, but we can control our perception of them. Like a multi-faceted mirror distorts the reflection of everything it captures, the ego has a way of making things much more complicated than they need to be. Choosing simplicity and acceptance may not come easily, but things get much easier when you do.

MBP Daily Three

MBP3 is a series dedicated to walking the walk. What are 3 things you’ve done today to nourish your mind, your body, & your plate?

MBP Daily Three

Welcome to the inaugural post for MindBodyPlate’s new weekly series: the MBP Daily Three! The MBP Daily Three strategy is simple: do at least one thing every day to nourish your mental health, physical health, and nutritional health. I’ll be using these posts as way to ensure that I’m not just talking the talk (blogging the blog?), but also walking the walk.

Once a week I’ll let you in on an example of my attempts to integrate the MBP Daily Three, shedding light on my successes, challenges, and the surprising interplay between these three aspects of health. I hope to inspire you to do the same for yourself and to share your creative approaches in the comment sections below each post. Let’s start a revolution of self-care!

MBP Daily Three

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Body: I started the day off with my favorite Thursday morning yoga class. What I love about Marko’s 90 minute Vinyasa flow is that I’m guaranteed an intense workout, but he also incorporates yoga philosophy, stories from the Bhagavad Gita, and chanting accompanied by his beautiful harmonium. I always leave feeling exhausted yet uplifted. Already, we’re seeing that one act (yoga, for instance) can benefit more than one aspect of the MBP Daily Three (in this case, body AND mind).

Plate: For lunch, I was inspired by one of my favorite blogs, Oh She Glows, to create my own ultimate vegan sandwich. My version was unique to what I had around the house, and I decided to do something special for my body by making my own hummus. Oftentimes, store bought hummus contains preservatives or oils that don’t really jive with me. When you make it at home, you know just exactly what went into it – and it’s super easy!

Pickled Jalapeno Hummus

Pickled Jalapeño Hummus

Vegan / Gluten Free / Soy Free

For my homemade hummus, I just tossed the following into my Vitamix:

    • 1 can garbanzo beans
    • 1/4 c tahini
    • 1/4 c – 3/4 c water*
    • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
    • 15 pieces of pickled jalapeño**
    • Juice of 1 small lemon
    • salt and pepper to taste

*I used 3/4 c water so it would blend smoothly in my Vitamix, which made it pretty thin. I’d go with less water if you’re making it in your food processor and/or you want it on the thick side. Either way, it’s delicious.

**You could use anything here in place of the pickled jalapeños. Experiment with whatever flavors float your boat: roasted garlic, chives, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, or roasted red peppers…

Mind: By 11 PM my head was still buzzing, so I set my iPhone Insight Timer for 15 minutes and sat down for a formal meditation practice. Afterward, I decided to refrain from checking my email or Facebook before bed. It helped me center down and set me up for a great night of sleep.

What do you think – are you up for the MBP Daily Three challenge? Let me know in the comments below!