Pro-Aging

Hi Tuesday, here we are! I’ve probably told you a bunch of times by now, but the way I learned meditation and started a consistent practice was by using the 21-Day Meditation Experience with Oprah and Deepak. I love it and continue to use it because each session offers a brief opening talk, followed by 10-12 minutes of silent meditation. This month the talks discuss the secrets to maintaining a youthful spirit as we age. The topic seems unnecessary for me since dozens of people in the past week have said that I look 19 or younger. Great! I do think it is slightly rude of them to always be commenting on my young and innocent appearance because I would never tell anyone else how old I think they look. But I’m out here, still getting carded at the bar and for R-rated movies.

Nonetheless, I have been learning a lot from Deepak’s opening lectures about cultivating abundant energy and lifelong youth. I do believe it’s within all of our grasps. Here are seven tools that Deepak says are helping people age with grace:

  1. Meditation

  2. Social Support System

  3. Close Emotional Ties with Family & Friends

  4. Multivitamins & Minerals

  5. Good Sleep & Daily Activity

  6. Lifelong Curiosity

  7. Willingness to Undertake New Challenges

Manifested Month

I'm happy to tell you that over the past year, basically since going on Echo's yoga retreat in Thailand, I have been able to stick to a daily meditation practice. I've found that it has been immensely helpful in staying connected to my spirit and my intentions and being more mindful throughout the day. Every morning, I wake up and sit for 10-15 minutes as I focus on my breath or a mantra. Sometimes my mind wanders, but lately it's gotten much easier to keep my head clear. 

I've probably told you before, but one of my favorite meditation tools has been the 21-Day Meditation Experience with Oprah and Deepak. I think it's helpful for anyone who is new to mediation, and I love the balance of Oprah's personal stories and Deepak's spiritual wisdom. Even if it's hard for you to stay focused during the ~12 minute mediation section, there are usually 10 minutes in the beginning where you'll learn something important. 

This month's theme focused on the Law of Attraction and what it takes to turn our desires into reality. It felt aligned to my own purpose, because this year I've been seeing more and more of my visions come into being. I remember one of Oprah's stories about growing up in poverty, but choosing to spend her time walking around well-off neighborhoods. She dreamed of living in a house with trees in the backyard, and later as an adult she realized that her own backyard matched what she'd once envisioned.

I particularly noticed happenings like this in my own life when I spent last month living a mile from the beach in Santa Monica. Here are my best tips (really Oprah's best tips) for creating a life that aligns with your dreams:

1. Get clear about what you want: This one is hard for me! I wasn't so sure about exactly what I wanted. I only knew more yoga and more ocean time would be nice. I'm not a great example of this, but bring some clarity to your goals.

2. Visualize yourself where you want to be: When we're manifesting, setting goals, or whatever you want to call it, it's important to really believe that it could happen for you. No problem; imagining life as a yoga beach babe is easy for me! I added some extra oomf with pictures on my vision board: the ocean and a bungalow near the beach.

3. Act as if you've already obtained your desires: Get as close to living out your desires as you can. My first months in LA, I spent a ton of time in Santa Monica. Most of the time, it wasn't intentional. I'd just take a yoga class there and spend the evening waiting out traffic. I have a feeling that spending so much time there made it easy to end up back again. 

4. Don't give up: Sometimes it can take years for our deepest desires to pan out. Sometimes it takes a lot of shaking up to make space for them. Sometimes they show up differently than we ever expected. In June, I had basically given up hope on subletting a place for the next month-- I resigned myself to the ~3 hours of driving back and forth from yoga training. Then I decided to check Craigslist "one last time" and found exactly what I was looking for.

 Santa Monica beach

Even if you don't believe in magical manifestations or think the law of attraction is a whole bunch of nonsense, it can be exciting and empowering to set goals (small or large!) for yourself and work your way there. Hope your life is growing closer and closer to all that you've dreamed!

 

*If you're feeling the call towards a Thai yoga retreat this year, Echo & Cole are going back so check it out!

Right Places, Right Times

Sometimes circumstances come together in such a way that it makes it impossible for you to doubt any of the steps you've taken to get to the point upon which you're standing in that exact moment. That's how I felt a couple weeks ago when I drove up into the mountains of Malibu for an Earth Day yoga weekend with my friend/teacher/mentor/inspirational goddess, La Mer.

 Malibu Mountains

I met Meredith three years ago in Austin through a web of mutual friends and wild women who were drawn to yoga and healing. My friend Beth had asked if I would like to come to a ladies' day of yoga, meditation, and honoring the divine feminine. I was practicing physical yoga regularly; I hadn't gotten into teaching or much of the spiritual side yet, but, yes, of course I would like to participate in a day of ritual practice with flowy women like me. We went to Lauren's house, which was still under construction at the time, but already filling up with cozy magic (and bulldogs). We spent the day moving mindfully, exploring our inner selves, and listening to the rhythm of the rain on the roof. It was one of my first experiences with any type of yoga retreat, sound baths, energy healing, and bringing women together to talk about our femininity in a spiritually attuned way.

 sound bath altar

Mer came back to Austin seasonally over the next few years. I got a taste of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter practices and rituals to follow the cycle of a year. I experienced different cycles within myself, too. On that first rainy afternoon in the attic, I asked for guidance growing up. I wanted to step into my role as a woman, but still maintain the childish playfulness that feels like a big part of who I am. In the following sessions, I alternated between feeling enchanted, collapsing into tears about loss and uncertainty, and slowly gaining the confidence to share my voice. I became a teacher and began attempting (I'm still attempting...) to create the safe, open spaces for growth that Mer and all my teachers have provided for me.

In April, Lauren sent out her usual invite that Mer would be coming back to Austin for a Spring women's workshop. I replied that I was disappointed to miss this round, but I knew that Mer lived in LA so I could find her at one of her weekly classes. To my delight, Mer wrote back to me that she would be offering her first retreat in nearby Malibu later that month. I immediately signed up.

 Malibu Airbnb

The weekend started with a crawl up into the mountains of Malibu-- I hadn't even known you could go up there!-- to a hillside chateau with the most gorgeous view. I tried not to think of leaving on Sunday and imagined that it would be my home for now and forever. That night, we claimed the space and set our intentions for the weekend. We drew from a deck of goddess cards. I was lead to choose the Mother of Seas, a symbol that offered to help me trust my innate knowledge and claim my role as a healer. I was surprised that Mer remembered my request from our session years ago. I had knelt in the attic in Texas asking to grow up while staying in touch with my inner child, and now in California, in full view of the sea, I drew the mother, a nurturing guide with the wisdom to protect and to teach.

 Yoga deck

We spent the rest of the weekend exploring deeper meditation practices and bowing in reverence to our Mother Earth. The six of us formed an intimate group. We were all different-- single ladies charting their paths, mothers reclaiming their bodies, divorcees finding their way back to themselves-- and we were all the same-- lovers of the planet we inhabit and women on a mission to hear our voices ring pure in the world. I had something to learn from all these ladies and the experiences they brought to our altar. I was especially grateful to meet an assortment of ages; most of us were in our 20's-30's, but one older yogini shared the irreplaceable wisdom and humor of her years.

 Malibu sunset

We hiked around the property, sang and danced harmoniously (debatable) with hand-painted squash shakers, and capped off each evening with a restful meditation to the sounds of crystal bowls. Our weekend culminated on Sunday when we kayaked out to sea. I'd never been ocean kayaking before, and I am pretty remedial with still-water kayaking, so getting the boat out past the break proved challenging for me. We toppled over a few times and scratched up our legs a bit, but eventually I was able to push our boat onto a more stable surface and flounder aboard. It was such a relief to glide gracefully over the the waves. I worried about making it back to shore, but, when the time was right, the sea guided us gently back in.

What a weekend. I am learning to trust the flow within me and all around me. I know that with all these strong women to guide and support me, I'll always end up in the right place.

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On the Zipline

During this trip to Central America, I made the tough and boring decision not to go ziplining. For me, it was one of the more expensive activities, and I had already done it a couple of times before in Mexico and Costa Rica. We took a day tour on Ometepe Island, where our hostel owner drove us around to stop at different sights to see, one of which was a ziplining course because Andrea, my newfound travel companion, had her heart set on soaring through the canopies.

It was hard to resist saddling into the harness once we were at the sign-in booth, but the guides told us we could all hike up to the first platform together to check out the views from the top. Even though we were walking up the steep sides of a volcano, hiking felt so refreshing after a few days of traveling and typical holiday overindulgence. As we climbed higher, I could feel the crisp air invigorating my lungs as my body worked toward a physical goal.

 Ometepe zipline

Once we slowed to a stop at the lookout point, my racing heart and the awesome view reminded me that I could enjoy hiking just as much as ziplining. I could find these same sensations while kayaking, jumping off a rope swing at a swimming pool, or simply on a brisk walk through the woods. Our bodies crave movement, and almost any activity can provide an adrenaline rush if your brain is fully attuned to what you're doing. You can even find a sense of awe in the changes of your heartbeat and the rhythm of your breath. Of course, there are some adventure sports that seem unmatched in their sense of excitement, but a lot of the time, our level of attention is what makes the difference.

A Silent Stay

While in Bali, I had the chance to fulfill an interest that has been sparking my curiosity for a long time by spending a night at a silent retreat. While I don't think I stayed quite long enough to fully experience the plentiful benefits of time spent in silence, the retreat center provided a brief glimpse of all that can be gained from being alone with yourself in such a peaceful place.

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Before my arrival, I was nervous. I had received recommendations, but I didn't think I would have enough time to go since I was (very sadly) only in Bali for four days and the retreat center is about an hour and a half outside of Ubud. Then it just so happened that I ended up with a free night and didn't have anywhere else scheduled to stay so I checked for openings and, after finding a few, made a reservation.

I wasn't sure when the silence would start. Would the van driver talk to me after picking me up? Would reception just hand me a bag and a list of instructions? How would I make travel arrangements to come back to the next day? All my concerns abated when I arrived to find the most cheerful and talkative Balinese woman waiting to check me in and show me around. The reception hut was an open talking zone, and she still toured me around the grounds in whispers after we had passed the white flags that started the zone of silence on the property.

My first surprise was at how much there was to do. There were five hours of guided yoga and meditation classes offered each day-- 2.5 in the morning and another 2.5 at night. Around the retreat center there were also many opportunities for more solitary mediation which could take place under a waterfall, in a labyrinth walking maze, or on a jungle trek through the woods. There was full library in the lounge and three mealtimes provided tasty, vegetarian, and organic buffets. There were lectures on green living, and frequent field trips where you could talk to the other guests. It was a light and delicious introduction to the more serious vipassana or ashram experience.

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The second surprise was that dinner was set out between 4:30 and 6pm, right after the afternoon round of yoga and meditation. On the first day, I had to do some extra fast-paced jungle trekking to be ready for a meal at that time, but it helped to get into the habit of eating less and resisting the urge to try everything on the table... for the most part. It was a little uncomfortable to be around the other visitors without greeting anyone, but most people shared smiles and held doors for each other. Some even broke the rules a bit to mouth a "thank you".

The final surprise helped make sense of why dinner was so early. Since the retreat center runs efficiently on solar power, the lights in the main buildings turn off around 7, and most of my dorm mates were turning off their bed lamps to go to sleep at 8. It's a wonder how quickly our bodies adapt to the rhythm of nature when we don't have electronics to disrupt or entertain. I lay awake that night for a while listening to all the sounds outside, but eventually fell asleep feeling blessed to be in such a beautiful place.

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Why I Came to Thailand, Pt. 2

Before embarking on this trip, it was hard for me to answer when my friends and family asked why I was coming to Thailand for a yoga retreat. There were many reasons that I was unable to briefly summarize into a single response. I'd never been to Asia before. I felt called here because of my prior connection with Echo. I had seen friends traveling to Thailand and Bali (and posting photos of jungles and monkeys), and I was envious of their escapades. I wanted to be around people who were living creative, non-conventional lives and learn from them. But mostly, I thought, I liked practicing yoga, and Thailand seemed like an interesting location in which to do it.

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On the first night of the retreat, we meditated together, and then took a moment to write down our intentions for the remainder of our time together. Why did I come here? What was I hoping to get out of this? I thought my answer would be a little more hands-off. Yoga and Thailand. Yoga in Thailand. Did I really need to say more? Throughout my journey, I've done this kind of thing many times—set intentions for the practice, notice how my body folds into various shapes, share meditative experiences with strangers and see how in a day they become close friends. Even when people cry or reveal hopelessly frustrated dark nights of the soul, I'm not surprised because my mind has been there, too. When it comes to journaling and holding hands in circles, I'm an old pro.

But on that first night of focus, preparing for a week of what I hoped would provide clarity and a light on the path to bliss, my mind's eye revealed something more. I always like to pretend that I'm an expert at things, exceedingly nervous to show flaws in whatever I'm meant to be knowledgable about. Yoga, meditation, travel—no big deal for me! I'm a teacher! I've been to 30 countries! However, during meditation that night, after a week of flying over countries and oceans, carrying heavy backpacks, and taking in so much of the external world, it felt so welcoming to return to my mat. Even though I was a full twelve hours time difference from where I normally live, I was grounded. I was home.

As I sat there trying to settle on an intention or a reason to write on my little slip of paper, I could finally see the childlike part of me that was kneeling in the presence of these timeless teachings, patiently and earnestly hoping to see and learn. I didn't need to try to sound cool, experienced, or knowledgeable with a load of classes, workshops, and explorations under my belt. I'm here because there's so much that I haven't seen and so much that I don't know. I saw clearly the innocence in me of someone who never feels like an expert, who has found that the road to self-discovery is as challenging as it is rewarding. My intention in that moment, which remains with me as I write this now, is to hold onto that vision of myself, and to recognize it in everyone around me. I want to realize the unblemished wonder with which we are all encountering this world, and look past any disguises, fancy language, or walls that get in the way. And then, of course, to see some monkeys, too.

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Namaste.