intuition

world gone wellness

Are we still spending all our money to fill a void?

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Let me begin by saying I am totally of this world; totally of the world of ancient ayurvedic adaptogenic herbs and the food-as-medicine / listen-to-your-body mantra-touting alternative subculture.  I drink the koolaid just to see if it will have a positive effect.  But I’m also totally relieved by articles like this one in Man Repeller, and this one in the New York Times.  They bring the “spiritually transcendent” and “pure” wellness initiatives under the microscope, much like I’ve always done with religious tradition and what I call “old school-ism” (i.e. doing something just because it’s always been done).  I’m in a stage of my life where I am nothing if not searching searching searching; for the right career, for the right city, for the best fuel for my body, for happiness and adventure.  Part of that searching includes health and wellness, and as I’ve always tapped into the new and up-and-coming and trending health scene in the way that some people know what’s coming down the runway before NYFW.  It’s classic VATA nature to always be searching, going where the wind blows, evaluating and re-evaluating and moving on to the next thing.  I like it; it’s fun and ever-new and matches my eternal desire to not be bored.  But it’s totally possible to be unhealthy in it.  Unhealthy in health?  Yes ma’am.

While it’s true that foods / herbs have qualities in their own respects that affect us in some way, the aspiration towards elite foods and lifestyles can be more damaging than not eating organic.

If we’re breaking the bank for seven jars of powdered mushrooms to make a morning herbal latte, there’s less money for spinach and avocados and pastured eggs to really fill us up.  If we’re untouchable because we can’t go out for brunch with friends, does it really matter how pure our systems are?  Summer at SheLivesWholly.com talks about how soul food is more important than actual food, and I totally agree with her.  I mean, I’d rather eat vegetables at brunch than chicken & waffles, but I’d rather eat meat and pastries with friends than eat vegetables at home alone.

The health scene has been blamed for being another eating disorder in disguise.  We are totally capable of using wellness regimes and a desperate search for self to control or numb out, much like we might use partying to escape our woes.  But more than anything, I can’t get beyond the use of healing and powerful plants in pure capitalism schemes.  It’s one thing to deal herbs in a small shop stall, or hawk vegetables at the farmers market.  But paying for your mansion by selling juices and magic potions with daring promises?  Seems a little fish-hooky to me.  But then I’ve always had a particular hostility toward consumerism.

I have fallen in love with wellness and living a lifestyle that suits me best many times over in my life.  And some of those times have been to numb out or try to grasp at any last tempting branches as I tumbled over the edge of the cliff of my life.  Most of all, it fit my budget and priorities: I didn’t want to have to buy and keep buying cleaning products, clothes, body care, and expensive specialty foods to have the life of my dreams.  Freedom meant being able to come up with something entirely homemade at a fraction of the cost, flexing my creative fingers and being able to stand back and be proud of what I accomplished.  I love to support someone else’s craft if it’s entirely evident they’re sharing their love and superpowers in a product (like a handmade card or cutting board at a craft fair).  I’m still drawn into minimalist product labeling and things that offer to change my life, but every time I spot something on the Chalkboard Mag, Well + Good, GOOP or MindBodyGreen, I immediately examine the basis of my infatuation.  Those platforms SELL a lifestyle that costs money I don’t have for rewards I’ll likely only see by squinting through deeply tinted designer glasses and reciting a mantra in an effort to convince myself everything is perfect.  I’m over it.

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EIGHT WAYS TO RESIST:
Fight back against wellness-shaming and lifestyle consumerism,
for your health!

I’ve got some things for you to keep in mind as you navigate this worldly obsession, because a) I think it is entirely okay for the world to want to be well, and I don’t think it should be cast as hippie-dippy, and b) I think it can be really easy for us to shell out all our money to companies claiming to help us do just that, when in fact we’re still just trying to fill a void.
  1. DO YOU and hold fast your non-negotiables: first and foremost, trust your gut.  If you want a matcha latte, by god, have one.  If you don’t want to make space on your supplements shelf for any supplements, totally fine.  Unless you have something in hand that totally works for you and you know it, you’ll likely just find yourself in another battle of will – wondering why you’re trying to be so pure anyway… You also (hopefully) know yourself best; you know if you’re willing to pay for water, if you eat animal products, if you are capable of skipping a workout without getting off track, if you want to suffer through food intolerance.  Babe, it all matters.
  2. Don’t get sucked into fear-based wellness regimes: you are not mentally unwell because you do not meditate.  You are not unhealthy because you do not “hit the gym.”  You are not too poor to be healthy because you cannot afford a juicer.  You do not need Beauty Dust to be radiant.  You do not need visible abdominal muscles to be attractive.  When you learn about what worked for someone else, take it with a grain of salt.  If you want to try it, by all means…give it a go.  But this idea that we have to be all things all the time is impractical at best, and senseless beyond that.  I’m constantly telling myself, Pick one: Go for a walk, play with the dog, have a bowspring session, call a friend, cook an elaborate meal, read a book.  I cannot possibly – nor do I care to try to – fit it all in one day.
  3. Consider your budget, honestly: societies lived for centuries without juicers and Vitamixes.  I could stop there, because you probably get my point.  Basically, my fear is that many of us resign to unhealthy habits because we think we can’t afford to be healthy, because much of the media world is telling us that we can’t be healthy without fancy tools and ingredients.  The honest truth is that in our modern world of e-commerce and having our wants and needs met instantly, we are grossly unhealthy and unhappy.  If you didn’t have it when you were a kid and you got along just fine, you’ll probably be okay without it now.  iPhone included.
  4. Examine your WHY: No, self-care in and of itself is not self-indulgent.  But it’s important to check in on what self-care is really about for you.  If you require a weekly massage or an hour-long soak in an epsom salt bath every night to cope with the stress of your life, maybe you’re still not getting to the root of the issue.  Maybe it’s not that you don’t allow yourself enough personal time; maybe you hate your job or aren’t being honest about toxic relationships in your life.  Personal experience: yoga and nutrition helped sustain me during a particularly hard time, but they didn’t cure me of my woes.  I still had to make huge life changes to find some semblance of happiness and positive cell vibration.
  5. Don’t give up!  We hurt ourselves the most when we believe we are not worthy of true health.  We hurt others when we are not our best selves for them.  And being our best selves does not mean always oozing sunshine and pooping rainbows.  PLEASE.  Our best selves are loving and inspiring and supportive, and we can do all those things even if we have a bad day once in awhile, or if our sense of humor errs on the side of cynical.  We are totally worthy of love, including self-love.
  6. Adapt adapt adapt.  Life is so ungodly messy.  If it’s not you, it’s someone close to you.  Then it’s you again.  Then it’s your pet.  We’re constantly bowled over by forseen and unforseen events and research shows that the key to winning life is RESILIENCE.  This is also something I love about the teachings of Ayurveda – that where we are today is not likely where we’ll be tomorrow, and there’s always an opportunity to come back from that or to move in a different direction.  We’re never too far gone and we won’t always be in the exact right place.  We can use what we know about ourselves and a willingness to break out of any sense of rigidity in order to claw our way back.
  7. Don’t eat the same thing every day: this is a recipe for food intolerances, boredom, settling for mediocrity, OR overindulging.  No need for ice cream every day.  No need for bananas every day.  Your body wants so many things, and personally I find it hard to eat 30 different vegetables in a day, so I spread it out 🙂
  8. Do the thing that gives you warm fuzzies: this is a mental health thing, and it’s totally important.  Many health gurus eschew watching TV, but I grew up watching FRIENDS and it holds more meaning to me than a way to disengage with my current situation.  I also love to talk to my mom.  You know what your thing is.  Call upon it when you need it.
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monthly challenge iii: yoga is my boring place

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Twice in my life, yoga has made an outstanding impact.  I’m not a fitness geek; I’m not competitive and sometimes I’m not even sure if I’m goal-oriented.  I just mosey along and do what I like and move on when it satisfies me.  Or, more likely, when it doesn’t.  I first found yoga in college: in the free fitness center that was always under construction.  You had to walk down to the basement and through all the dudes bulking up in front of the mirror walls to get to the back corner, windowless room where you could finally – finally – get away from it all.  The instructors were fellow students, none of whom I was familiar with, so it was accessible and private.  I went to yoga every day.  I would get up in the early mornings before class to make a session that had fewer than five people.  The sequences were almost always the same, so I could simultaneously anticipate and let go.  Sometimes my best friend and roommate would be on the mat next to me.  Sometimes I’d convince a fella or two to try it out.  Mostly I just went there to be anonymous and stretch my body.

It was challenging.  I was constantly trying to contort my limbs into shapes I’d never seen before, use muscles I never felt before, sink my heart like I’d never before been asked to do.  I thought I knew what yoga was.

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My second year in Denver, a sweet coworker invited me to try out her yoga studio.  She warned me it was a little different, but I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about.  That first day in a sunny studio in Golden, CO, I found myself.  I mean, I found my body.  I’d been practicing yoga for maybe five years by then, and the minute I followed the carefully articulated instructions for alignment, it was like the moment you slip on the perfect pair of pants; the moment you taste that sweet potato white bean soup and think you’ve never had something so precisely delicious before.  I parallel parked my hips and pressed my head back into my hand and something clicked within me that had never been sparked before.  It was the Bowspring.

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If you’ve heard me talk about yoga in the last few years, you undoubtedly know about the Bowspring.  I’m obsessed.  It contradicts some of the most widely taught concepts in modern yoga and, for those who have tried the technique around die hard yogis, you know it’s sort of scandalous.  Anyway, it changed my body and my life.  During one of the most grueling times of my adult life (see previous post), it provided a grounding experience and allowed me to focus on something other than the desperate girl inside of me trying to understand her life.  Everything around me was mental and driving me crazy, but Bowspring was something tangible; I could control it, I could invite it in, and it felt damn good.  Leaving my studio, which is the flagship studio for the Bowspring technique (and I do not take it lightly that I was able to study under the founders of the alignment), was one of the hardest things about leaving Denver.  I knew my relationship to Bowspring as I had come to know it was over.

The Bowspring alignment has colored nearly every other physical aspect of my life — from sitting in a chair to riding a bike to playing with the dog.  That’s what it’s meant for; to put us back into our ancient animal shape to promote lightness of being and boundless energy.  But my home practice was lacking, because it is challenging work and my self-discipline is challenged by everything I let myself get distracted by at home.  I never have enough time, I tell myself.  And then, when the postures themselves get tough, I miss having someone encourage me on.  There’s nothing like the Bowspring out West.  In fact, because people out here are so serious about their yoga, alignment is really rather strict and particular.  I found one lovely teacher in San Diego who was familiar with the Bowspring.  I was able to chat with her after taking a class and at her encouragement I decided to try a local studio in town just to get back on the mat.  Thus, the monthly challenge of yoga every damn day (or most days, at least).

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It was going okay at first.  I definitely needed a place to go in the evenings when some things were stirring up personally.  Everyone at the studio was nice and I was able to tell them I do my own thing.  They were interested in hearing more, but the minute I started explaining it their faces would fall; they were an “alignment-based” studio and I quickly felt that there was no place for “doing my own thing.”  Then I thought, Maybe I’ll try their alignment and get back to the yoga I knew before Bowspring.  I was so tight in my hamstrings, because Bowspring doesn’t to forward folds and straight knees in order to keep the desired curve in the lower back.  I didn’t particularly enjoy doing the moves or even my modifications and I didn’t find it very challenging, other than fighting the pain – yes, pain – trying to stretch out my hamstrings.  The physical practice wasn’t shaping up to be something I wanted to spend my time doing.

Then I zeroed in on something else yoga teachers are prone to do: speak very spiritually and very heady.  To push my discomfort into the background, I tried to focus on what they were offering.  During one particularly taxing yin class, I found everything that came out of the instructor’s mouth to be completely … trite.  I think there’s an important truth to be heard when we’re in that bitter space in our own minds.  When Judgmental Bre turns up the volume, I’ve been trying not to stuff her down.  I don’t enjoy being a negative person and if I share these thoughts it’s almost exclusively with my mother, who is like talking to an older, wiser version of myself in the mirror.  But I learn a lot about myself by tuning into those sour thoughts.  Particularly, I have learned some of my triggers (so they can be dealt with) and exposed things that really don’t feed my soul (so that I can move on).  This is incredibly important for me because by now we know I stayed in a job that made me incredibly unhappy for six months too long and for very few reasons that could hardly be interpreted as well-thought-out.

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So, I’m standing on my yoga mat after a sequence of sun salutations instructed entirely by the corresponding sanskrit names for each of the poses and the teacher attempts to connect with each one of us as she says something she hopes we’ll find moving.  My affect is flat, heart sunk, mind blank of all thoughts except one: This is so boring.

In that moment, I knew I didn’t have to do this.  I didn’t have to come to California for sun and fun and waste my time in a mental state like this.  They didn’t deserve that poor energy, either.  I started to wonder when yoga stopped being “my thing,” and I realized it didn’t matter.  We are constantly changing and evolving and we know this, and yet we still try to stuff ourselves into pristine little shapes.  I definitely always thought yoga was in line with my lifestyle, and who is a mindful, fit woman these days if she is not a yogi?

In a spare moment, I googled “yoga is boring” just to see what would come up.  I found tons of click bait articles about how to make yoga not boring, or how to push past the boredom into enlightenment.  Really?  If you don’t like a thing, don’t do it!  Why do we need to convince ourselves it’s worth doing?  The thing that annoys me about the wellness industry these days is that they forget that everyone is an individual collection of energy and cellular activity.  Meditation is not for everyone, although it brings satisfying results to many.  Giant green smoothies, magic elixir dusts, warm lemon water in the morning, raw food, whatever this week’s trend is DOESN’T HAVE TO BE FOR YOU.  I like to try a thing, evaluate it, decide whether or not it’s worth my time, and either explore it some more or ditch it outright.  I don’t love meditation, and I don’t love yoga.  There; I’ve come clean.

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I still love the Bowspring, though, and if I truly desire to have it and all it’s personal benefits in my life, I’ll find a way to make it work.  I also love walking, and riding my bike, and crawling around on the floor with the pup.  I like going upside down and doing back bends and, most of all, eating food that makes me feel good.  Somewhere out there, yoga is someone’s self-care.  It’s okay that I’d rather talk to the dog, or my mom, or myself.