Losing Yourself in Tai Chi

It’s been a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend for me. I feel I’ve had the best of both worlds this year: a healthy mix of socializing and enough time spent alone to recharge. One thing I picked up again in earnest during my moments of solitude this holiday is tai chi. If you are like me and want the benefits of yoga with a little more action involved, tai chi is a great alternative. You may also be surprised to learn that it is considered a martial art!

For me, however, it feels more like a very slow dance with oneself. You are not rushed, but you are not always completely still, either. Those who are really good at it seem to move fluidly, like a smooth ribbon dancing in the wind. Talk about an effective way to relax the body and mind! I often find myself lost in the movement of tai chi. My mind is completely relaxed, and yet, my body is constantly in motion.

Each morning during this long weekend, I have woken up to begin my day with a 20 minute tai chi routine. As a beginner, the exercises I do are simple, but even when done slowly and intentionally, I have managed to work up a light sweat, and the next day my muscles are stiff with that wonderful achy feeling that lets you know you’ve given yourself a good workout.

For anyone interested in trying tai chi, here is a great video that introduces you to 10 beginner moves. (And just to dispel some myths out there, no, this is not an exercise for older people. I’m under 40 and definitely find tai chi beneficial for my physical and mental health. And no, I do not wear the stereotypical loose Chinese-inspired garb you often see in tai chi videos—the practice really does need a visual facelift for modern-day society, in my opinion. Yoga pants and a tee-shirt work perfectly for me and sometimes I’ll practice in silence or to a relaxing soundtrack on Spotify. This morning, I found a Spotify playlist comprised of various nature sounds and did my exercises to that. It was completely relaxing and energizing at the same time.)

To learn more about the physical and mental benefits of tai chi, I recommend reading these links below:

It’s a crazy world out there, and if you were braver than I was and faced the chaos of Black Friday shopping this weekend, then you’ll really appreciate the exercises introduced in the video above. Treat yourself. It costs you nothing except for a few minutes of your time, and you’ll feel wonderful afterwards.

Advertisements

Reads to Get You Through the Week

Even if it is a short holiday week for most of us in the United States, it is still a “week to get through” in more than ways than one. Here are a few good reads to get you to the finish line (aka The Weekend) in a balanced state of mind. Read them all in one sitting with a cup of your favorite warm beverage, read one a day for a dose of daily mindfulness or pick and choose which articles speak to you. I found value in all of these, and I hope you do too:

And in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday this weekend, I am grateful for all the readers who take the time to visit this blog. Although in its infancy, this blog has become a refuge for me from the daily grind of life that tries its best to wear me down. Knowing others find some value in my thoughts makes the journey much less lonely. Thank you.

My Journey to Finding Real Happiness

fullsizerender

These past few years have been a struggle for me personally and professionally. I have endured incredible stresses, disappointments and challenges and throughout it all, I have tried to find that secret recipe toward achieving true happiness in my life.

While I have made advancements toward finding contentment, they have not been easy wins. Much of my journey has required making changes and some of them were really big, scary, drastic changes such as a starting a new job or moving to a new neighborhood and home, while others have been small but meaningful adjustments like altering my commute to work or changing my bedding so as to create a room more conducive to relaxation and sleep. No matter the degree of modifications I have had to make in my life, all of them have contributed to the bigger goal of creating more joy, less stress, fewer toxins and more peace and contentment.

Thankfully, for the first time ever in my adult life, I do believe I can finally say that I’ve figured it all out—at least for the time being. Happiness is not attained through one big, seismic change, but rather through many small, gradual ones, and it doesn’t happen over night, and the need to make these changes doesn’t ever really stop. Even now, during what I can say has been the happiest stretch of several months in my life, I am always finding ways to improve my lifestyle to ensure the happiness I have been feeling continues.

I really enjoyed this article on the 11 Habits of Truly Happy People. I have adopted many (although not all) of these behaviors and feel they really have made a difference in terms of improving the quality of my life. In particular, numbers 2, 3, 4 and 6 have been integral, life-changing habits for me.

But I’d like to add some of my own to the list in the hopes that others also on the journey to finding contentment may find my experience helpful:

Stop comparing your life to others’. In the age of social media, this is a very difficult thing to do, but it really is not a new challenge. Keeping up with the Jones’ has always been a vice within our society, but as soon as you find a way to release that need to compare, life becomes so much happier. It might be hard to do at first, but it is absolutely very possible to simply stop caring. I think it’s great that my friend has a bigger, newer home than me, but my smaller, older home fits my needs just fine. I have less cleaning to do, lower electricity bills and a cozier ambiance that comfortably houses two of us and a cat. It’s clean, it’s safe, it’s quiet, and I’ve made it into a place that I consider to be peaceful, beautiful and inviting. What more could I ask for?

Don’t beat yourself up. As someone who has an extreme Type A personality, this has been a life-long struggle for me. But I’m getting better at this, and my ability to do so has greatly improved not only my mental health but also the overall quality of my life. So I’m running 15 minutes late to my dentist appointment. Not a big deal. It’s not the end of the world, the universe will simply have to adjust to my tardiness. The worst that can happen is that I simply have to reschedule. Missed my bus transfer on the way to work? It’s okay. I’m not late to work everyday, people will have to be understanding and if they can’t be, then I need to re-evaluate the type of work environment I am operating in. Late responding to an email? The person expecting my immediate response will simply have to get over it. In my line of work, no lives will have been lost, thankfully. We all make mistakes, things happen that are out of our control and reality sometimes gets in the way. People might be upset with us, but all we can do is acknowledge the struggle, accept the outcome and move on. End of story.

Spend time outdoors. Depending on where you live, this can be difficult. There was a summer not too long ago when all it did was rain. Who wants to be outdoors in that kind of mess? I had many canceled tennis games and consequently, fewer opportunities to be outdoors. Then there was this most recent summer when we had multiple 90 plus degree days in a row, topped off with incredibly high humidity rates. No thank you, I’d rather stay indoors. During both periods of prolonged, extreme weather, I could literally feel the energy drain from my body. And when that happened, my motivation, good mood and happiness also faded away. But when the stars aligned and beautiful weather graced itself upon me once again, much like it has done lately, I’ve taken every chance I’ve had to spend some time outdoors. Whether it’s taking a 30-minute walk during my lunch break or a two-hour hike on the weekend, I will literally pencil in time during my packed schedule to rendezvous with the sun. And what an incredible difference it makes!

Read a book. TV, Netflix, movies and computer games—they are all entertaining but also very stimulating. To truly unwind from the stresses in my life, I have found reading a book the perfect escape from my worries. And whenever I read before going to bed, I find that I have a much more restful night’s sleep than if I don’t.

Do something creative. One of the most frustrating periods of my life has been the time when I could not do something creative. Part of my struggle was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was bored with adult coloring books. I enjoyed painting but felt it was too high-maintenance for my busy life and small home. But then I discovered jewelry making and design, and it has once again allowed me use that part of my brain that I tend to ignore during the work week. I get a very wholesome sense of satisfaction creating something from scratch. It definitely fills a hole within me and fills it up with something rewarding and energizing.

Be kind and generous. It’s amazing how difficult this can sometimes be. But it doesn’t have to be a Nobel Peace Prize gesture. It can be a simple “good morning,” to someone on the street or remembering to say “thank you” to the bus driver or parking attendant you see every day on the way to work. It could be giving to charity, buying a friend a cup of coffee or giving your seat up on the subway to someone who needs it more than you. Mostly this means doing little things that can make a big, positive difference.

Prayer and reflection. If you are a spiritual person, or someone open to experimenting with spirituality, prayer is a wonderful way to bring joy into your life. I spend each night reflecting on all that I am thankful for, and when I realize how very fortunate I am, I immediately feel happy. And when I go to bed feeling happy, I sleep much more soundly. And when I sleep much more soundly, I have a better start to my mornings. It’s cyclical, but it’s effective, and in a world that is not becoming any kinder, slower-paced or forgiving, I’ll take whatever breaks I can get.

Hiking through the woods on a November morning

As busy as our lives are in the DC area, today was one of those days where it would have been a sin to stay at home and rest. It would have been a crime to sleep in, and it would have been a waste to not be outdoors. The air was cool and crisp (it even had a bite to it early in the morning), the sky was big and brilliant and blue, the autumn sun was bright and generous, and the fall leaves were an explosion of reds, yellows and oranges. We could not have asked for a better day.

And so it was that J. Miguel and I woke up early and drove to Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, not far from Camp David. We got there before the crowds came, before the sun warmed the mountainside and before the day was half over. And as soon as we got out of the car, we just walked, and climbed and marveled at the views around us, the leaves above us, and the hard, solid mountain below our feet. And as we hiked, something inside both of us changed. J. Miguel called it the “energy of the nature around us.”

I’m not a mystical person. I don’t believe in things like energy or spiritual vortexes. But I do believe that when the planets align, they can create a positive transformation in people with the right combination of beautiful weather, clean air, breath-taking scenery, and silence. And that’s exactly how things fell into place for us today on that mountain. We both felt…happier, lighter, energetic.

15000146_10211181949451622_5010358221193085177_o

During the occasional moments that we did pass other hikers along the Charcoal Trail or at Wolf Rock, I noticed something strange. Everyone greeted us with a “hello” or “good morning.” That’s unusual in the DC area. This is a part of the country where you can be walking in the street, crossing in a crosswalk with a green light and get hit by a car, and people will just walk around you as if you weren’t there. No one says “hello” muchless “good morning,” here (not counting the mentally ill, but very friendly man who yells “Good morning!” at the top of his lungs to passersby each day near my office). Generally speaking, people don’t smile here, and they don’t make eye contact. Instead, they flip you the bird if they don’t like how you drive or they intentionally key your car if they feel it looks too nice. In short, people are pretty mean here. But not today on the Charcoal Trail.

“It’s because people are exiting their cars and are climbing up the mountain,” J. Miguel said to me when I commented on the unusual friendliness of those we were encountering. “We are crossing paths with them at the point where they have been hiking for a while, and the higher they climb, the more their minds and bodies are cleansed of all the demons they have brought with them to this place. That is why they smile and greet us on the mountain, but not anywhere else,” he acknowledged. Spoken like the partial Incan he is.

I think there is something to be said of that. I can’t say the earth has ever “spoken” to me, but I also can’t deny that nature has a calming effect on people. It was having an effect on me, right there in Catoctin Mountain Park. I was unusually care-free. I was curiously happy. The hike was physically testing for me at times, but I didn’t care. Something about that place and the experience of walking in the woods with fall colors around me recharged me more than any nap, energy drink or gym work-out could.

I now realize that as an urban dweller, I have to make an effort to find nature. But I also realized that I need more of it in my life. I am starving myself in the concrete jungle and florescent light maze I battle five days a week. My skin needs vitamin D. My body needs to move. My soul needs to be refreshed.