Why I Do Bizarre Things (Why Not)

snow feetI know I have already written about why I like to spend my life barefoot, but running around barefoot is only one of many things I do that the general public seems to find strange, closely followed by prolific tree-climbing and excessive marmite consumption.

It has never occurred to me not to do exactly what I want to.  I don’t ignore my responsibilities or run around pillaging – I just mean that if I think something looks fun or seems like a good idea, I do it.  Being barefoot is a good example because it’s something largely frowned upon by society.  As I’ve said before – I get mixed reactions including anything from thumbs-up to weird looks and occasional rudeness.  But that never really made me want to put on a pair of shoes.  I don’t like shoes, so I don’t wear them.  Fin.  Another example is my penchant for travel.  Most people I encounter in the US find me to be extraordinarily well-travelled, but to be honest I never really put much thought into it.  Really, what usually happens is a thought like “Wow, I would love to go to an awesome new place” closely followed by a visit to kayak.com and a few weeks later, another stamp on my passport.  Assuming you have some sort of income, don’t have to lug a bunch of kids with you, and aren’t trying to go somewhere with strict visa procedures, yes, travelling really is that easy.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why I don’t often find people who choose to live life in a similar fashion.  Sure, I meet those who have similar interests or don’t mind being a bit outlandish – but it’s extremely rare to come across someone who will randomly do anything just because why not.  

But Fiona,” they all say, “Why not is not a reason to do something.”

And then I ask, “Why not?”

And there’s no answer.

Because “Why not” is not a question.  It is the answer.

Could you imagine if we only did things for which there is a specific reason?  We would eat when we were hungry, sleep when we were tired, and do nothing else.  If we assumed some sort of sentience, then perhaps we would also procreate when the need struck and occasionally seek out human companionship.  Now I know we all have jobs and occasional doctor’s appointments, but think- when was the last time you did something that did not fall into one of those categories?   Does it ever seem like you do other things like watch TV and go on the Internet just to waste time between doing those four things?  That’s called complacency.  And it’s killing us.

Look, I’m not some crazy hippie living in a tree with no job or cares in the world.  I have a demanding full-time job and lots of little things going wrong in my life, just like we all do.  I’m not saying we should all shirk our responsibilities and dance around in the meadows making daisy chains (but that is an open invitation, good for anyone who shows up on my doorstep).  I’m just pointing out that we, as a human race, are pretty boring.

People often make pop culture references and upon seeing my blank stare, accuse me of living in a cave.  But did you know there are flying machines that can take you to faraway places in just a few hours?  Did you know that on the Internet, there are things to read and learn about in addition to cat videos and photos of your exes?  Did you know that if you just go outside for a walk, you’ll learn something new about yourself?  People seem so shocked to hear little things like “Oh, I went and got lost in the woods this weekend”  or, “Yeah, I’ve been to India” that I definitely don’t think I am the one living in a cave.  

So if there’s something you want to do, that you think will make you happy even just for an instant, why aren’t you doing it?   You don’t have to take off for Mongolia – just do something that never occurred to you before.  Jump in a puddle.  Read a book that looks way too long.  Try belly dancing.  Fly by the seat of your pants; be spontaneous; do something just because you can’t think of a reason not to, and find energy in it.  Don’t live outside your comfort zone – expand your comfort zone to include things that are exciting and unusual.  Get out of your cave and interact with the world.  You don’t need a reason.

Yoga in the News

Yoga’s been growing in popularity in the western world for awhile now, but it’s been a particularly hot topic lately with practitioners being accused of involvement in sex scandals and Wiccan cults, the New York Times writing about yoga wrecking the body, and now talks of it being an Olympic sport.

I find this incredibly disheartening.  First of all, these news items do not take into account the other five branches of yoga.  Yoga is not simply physical exercise; it’s not just contorting yourself into strange shapes.  While exercise and physical health is a large part of yoga for many people (myself included), it’s really more of a guide for living a meaningful life.  The branch of yoga that most think of when hearing the term is Hatha yoga- asanas, or postures, that are intended to clarify the body in order to calm the mind.  This is definitely important, but there are also Bhatki (yoga of devotion, love and acceptance), Raja (yoga of self control), Jnana (yoga of the mind, intended to unify wisdom and intellect), Karma (yoga of selflessness), and Tantra (using rituals to experience the sacred).  The idea is that a person can use a combination of any of these paths to travel towards enlightenment.  Each branch is important in its own way, and the most optimal way to approach nirvana is to integrate all of them into your life.

I love that more people are integrating yoga into their lives.  I truly believe that everyone can benefit from following any one of its branches, even just a little bit.  Yoga is an ancient set of methods designed to try to help citizens of the world heal physically and mentally to reach a state of peace.  Yoga as an art should not be judged because a few people abuse its ideals for personal gain, and it should not be judged because those who are inexperienced and lack a proper teacher injure themselves.

Yes, Hatha yoga started as a branch of Tantra- but even Tantra isn’t exclusively about sex.  It’s about experiencing the sacred, and while union between man and woman is part of it, it also includes many other aspects such as dedication, purity, and truthfulness.

You can injure yourself in any physical activity if you don’t know what you’re doing.  Would you try pole vaulting without someone carefully explaining it to you and taking you through small steps to get there?  Of course not.  Just like you shouldn’t immediately try balancing on your head without a careful teacher guiding you through the steps preceding it.  Yoga is entirely safe if you know your body’s limits and take it slowly.

This brings me to my last point: Yoga in the Olympics.  As I mentioned before, yoga is not just postures.  It’s a lifestyle.  If you can do the most advanced and complicated postures, that’s great- but that doesn’t necessarily make you a better yogi than someone who can barely manage a down dog.  Yoga is in the mind just as much as it is the body, and bring a competitive aspect to it is borderline sacrilegious.  I absolutely appreciate watching graceful yogis move through asanas, but I would never consider judging them.  There is no way to tell what a person is thinking, assess the flow of his prana, see how focused he is while he is practicing- and that is what yoga is about.  Bringing yoga to the olympics cheapens the yogic experience to merely contortion and physical strength.  I love the idea of accomplished yogis getting the attention and reverence that they deserve, but it shouldn’t be competitive and it shouldn’t be based solely upon asanas.  All yogis and yoginis should be honored for their yogic accomplishments in life so far and their progress on their spiritual journeys.

Shanti, friends. Namaste!

Leaving Negativity Behind

I used to have quite a nasty temper.  I just wrote it off as part of being a passionate, temperamental artist type with strong convictions. My dad always used to ask me “Why are you angry?  Anger is a pointless emotion.”  Of course, this just made me more angry- everyone knows not to tell a really pissed off person to “just calm down-” it feels very belittling.  I, like so many others, did not think that I had control of my emotions.

Recently, though, I’ve been realising more and more how right he was.  Directing negative energy at someone is a whole lot worse for you than it is for the recipient of your energy.  Stewing anger for someone does not magically cause that person to feel upset or have an anvil fall on his head; all it does it brew negativity inside of you.  Even expressing negative emotions towards someone is a waste of time, because it is still energy.  Think about it- isn’t it far worse to be ignored than to have someone scream at you?  Just to clarify, I do not advocate the silent treatment- if there is something that needs to be solved, you have to solve it.  But if there are people that you just don’t jive with, don’t dwell on it and don’t be unkind to them.  Just stay out of their way as much as you can- eventually, I bet you’ll find them less irritating and you may even become friends.  When you don’t waste energy thinking negative thoughts and bearing grudges, eventually they will start to wane and you might just forget them entirely.

This positive thinking also carries through to your inner feelings: you absolutely can control them.  The mindpower to do so comes from two things: knowing yourself very well and being logical.  This goes both ways- you can control how angry you are, and you can also control how happy you are.  It is definitely not an easy thing to do, but I guarantee you that no matter the situation, if you know yourself and you have developed a strong sense of logical thinking, you can tell yourself how to interpret and react to life events.

Feelings are instinctual, so you will always have an emotion that naturally happens.  The trick is to recognise it and change how you think about it.  Then, you have the choice whether or not to express it.  For example- someone being consistently unkind to you.  Your first feeling will probably be anger or sadness- if you recognise that, you can logically tell yourself “lashing out will solve nothing” and just walk away.  You can go have a nice cup of tea and think about something more pleasant, and then just avoid interacting with that person more than you have to.  It really is that easy.  Same thing with grief, like losing someone close to you.  Obviously you are going to be distraught, but that won’t really solve anything.  Some people think that they need to be miserable, and that’s okay for a little while- but if for some reason you need to jump back into the real world before you are ready, it’s entirely possible.  Just to be clear, I am not saying that we should all turn ourselves into emotionless robots.  But often, outside events and our subsequent emotions can affect our inner peace and our enjoyment of the world.  All I’m trying to do is show that you have the power to choose which emotions to feel a lot more than you think.  Sometimes you do absolutely need to feel a bit melancholy for awhile, but you can keep it under control.

Here are some steps you can take to better control your emotions and perception of the world:

  • Know yourself. If you know watching “The Notebook” makes you bawl, don’t watch it unless you want to cry your eyes out.  This also goes the other way- don’t watch a hilarious episode of “It’s Always Sunny” if you are about to go to a wake.
  • Be logical. This is very difficult.  Before you begin expressing anything, take a moment to think about what happened and how you can interpret it.  If someone lashes out at you, maybe he was just having a bad day; let it go.
  • Distract yourself.  It can be a lot easier to control your thoughts when you are busy- distract yourself completely with a good book, or just keep your hands busy with knitting.
  • Set aside time to emote.  If you are going something really tough, it can be hard to focus on being happy all the time and you run the risk of one day exploding into a huge gory mess.  If you give yourself a set ten or twenty minutes to vent and process whatever it is you’re coping with, it can really help during the other 23 hours and 40 minutes of the day.
  • Just let it go.  Honestly, the biggest trick is not to dwell on anything negative.  Like the previous idea- give yourself a few minutes to process, and move on.
  • Keep moving.  Life won’t stop for you, and that’s a good thing!  Let it sweep you up and leave negativity behind.  Say “yes” to opportunities you might come by, or “no” if you’re being overwhelmed.
  • Let it out.  Not in a venting session with some poor friend or even necessarily a therapist- but channel your negative energy into something positive.  I hit the gym for about two hours every single day without exception, and it’s not because I love the elliptical.
  • Find the positive.  Yeah, sometimes it really does seem like there’s no “silver lining.”  But I guarantee that if you look hard enough, you’ll find something to smile about.
Keep on keeping on, friends!

Coffee: let’s settle this once and for all.

I used to be pretty addicted to coffee.  We’re talking 20-25 cups each day.  Within the last few years I’ve been a lot better, only having 2 cups before hitting the gym every morning and maybe one more during the day every so often.  This week, I totally slipped back into old habits.  Not terribly, but yesterday I drank about seven cups, the day before I had four, and the beginning of the week was rough too.  I didn’t feel jittery or any extremely negative effects, but it did make me wonder about caffeine.  There have been so many studies done that seem to contradict each other, but here’s a roundup of what I’ve found so you can decide for yourself.  These are mostly about coffee, but in many cases are applicable to any naturally occurring caffeine.

  • Studies suggest that it reduces risks of certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, liver disease, gout, diabetes, some cancers, gallstones, and Parkinson’s.
  • It dulls pain (hence my pre-workout coffee chugging)
  • Improved endurance for long-term activities (again, a great pre-gym beverage!)
  • Boosts energy and productivity (but you do usually “crash.”  This Harvard study recommends drinking small amounts of coffee during the day to avoid this.)
  • Can reduce risk of heart attacks
  • Laxative- this can be good or bad, I suppose.  This is specific to coffee, not necessarily other caffeine sources.
  • Diuretic- some say that in moderation, it doesn’t dry you out but personally I think I still get a bit drier.  Also specific to coffee.
  • Dependency- caffeine is pretty addictive.
  • Stomach problems- coffee is very acidic so upset stomachs are not uncommon and can lead to damaging of the stomach’s lining
  • Jitters
  • Sleep patterns change- this is pretty easy to control, though.  Often not drinking coffee in the afternoon is all it takes.
  • High cholesterol- Coffee increases LDL levels.  Paper filters can help reduce this effect, but using more eco-friendly French Presses do not.
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease- perhaps the raised cholesterol effect is slight so this outweighs it?
  • Can slow cognitive effects of aging- similar to how it slows Alzheimer’s, perhaps?
  • Increased metabolism
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent urination (yeah, this is unfortunate)
  • Can increase cortisol, though you can build a tolerance
  • Can reduce harmful effects of alcohol, according to this MSNBC article– does only mention the damage to the liver though, not any terrible decisions you might have made as a result of being inebriated (sorry)
Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means and not all of what I read was particularly scholarly- if you have more information, please let me know!  I realise that relying on a substance is a terrible, terrible thing.  But the way I see it, as long as I don’t wake up craving a cup and as long as I’m not dozy and useless without it, it’s a pretty innocuous indulgence.  I really do notice a big difference when I drink some before hitting the gym, as well.  My stamina is far better and I also feel that I get a more efficient workout.  Once in awhile needing a cup mid-day isn’t great since it means I didn’t sleep well the night before, but as long as I know I can crash later it’s not a huge issue.  Its effects like higher cholesterol, cortisol, and blood pressure can all be counteracted by exercise and maintaining low stress levels, so as far as I’m concerned we are in the clear, fellow coffee-drinkers!

Body Clocks

When my mum used to tell me about why it was important to sleep (even at a young age I didn’t want to waste the time when there was adventure to be found), she used the words “body clock.”  I used to think that we literally had a Dali-esque squishy clock organ inside of our bodies that told us when things needed to be done.  I don’t think I was really that far from the truth, though.  Time is sort of a fallacy created by humans as an attempt to find order in the universe, but at the same time it is entirely authentic.  We just all have our own perception of it through that mythical part of our body: the clock.

Some people like to stay up late, and find themselves most productive in the wee hours of the morning.  Others get up with the sun and find that to be the best.  Some need 9 hours of sleep every night, others only 5 or 6.  I can’t sleep if I eat just before bed, but my brother can devour six pounds of curly fries and sleep like a baby.  Everyone is different, however, everyone is adaptable.

At my worst, I stayed up until 2 or 3 each morning, downed about twelve cups of coffee at 630 each morning to get through the day (not exaggerating), and then caught up with 12-14 hours of sleep each night over the weekend.  I was also sedentary and had terrible eating habits as a vegetarian who had never even met tofu.  I was overweight and miserable.

Then university happened, and there was so much to be done!  I trained myself to be a polyphasic sleeper: I took 4 hour-long naps during the day so I could be awake for 20 hours of the day.  This was miserable for the first two weeks, and then it was awesome.  It was like being high all the time, but with amazing productivity.  I think I accomplished more in a day than some of the other kids on my floor did in a week.  I got a lot thinner and happier.  This pattern didn’t last though, because when you sleep so little you have to be incredibly precise, and having to take a nap every day at dinner time killed my social life.

Now, I’ve reached a happy medium.  I sleep for a solid 6 hours just about every night.  This works because I exercise every day and eat a lot better, so that little bit of sleep is high quality.  In fact, this semester I’m only taking 21 credits and I only have two real jobs so I decided to try sleeping more- but I just can’t do it!  I can get 7 hours if I really wipe myself out, but that’s about it.  Apparently, my window of opportunity is between 3 and 7 hours- but that’s still a lot of flexibility!  Now I’m in great shape and I barely need any coffee- usually just a bit before the gym in the morning.

The point is, everyone has some sort of flexibility with their body clocks.  Anyone who says “I need eleven hours of sleep every night” simply does not know how to optimise his or her life.  Here are some tips to get started:

  • Be strict!  At first, you won’t feel great when adjusting your habits but you have to stick to it.  Research shows that new habits take up to three weeks to form.
  • But be forgiving– if you fall off one day, don’t just give up.  Nobody is judging you- just pick yourself back up and try again.
  • Be careful when you eat– if you know you don’t sleep well after eating a lot, don’t down a bag of chips just before bed!  It takes self control, but try a nice cup of tea instead.  Or at least something light like soup if you’re seriously famished.
  • Set alarms– plural!  I have three alarms every morning set at 15-minute intervals.  Now I wake up before they go off, but when you first start shifting your body clock you need lots of reminders.  Sleeping an extra 15 minutes at one time is better than hitting the snooze button seven times!
  • Exercise!  It will boost your energy during the day and you will sleep so much better at night.  Just know how it affects you personally- are you wired after your workout or do you need to pass out?  Figure out which is best for you, and time your workouts accordingly.
  • Make plans- You’re much more likely to get up if you know you have plans to grab breakfast with your friends.
  • Be productive- You’ll sleep a lot better if you have crossed at least one thing off your to-do list for the day.
  • Follow a circadian rhythm- Sure, some people are night owls.  But I guarantee you that if you can shift yourself to spending more of your waking hours with the sun, your health will improve.  Our bodies are optimised for natural light, not this electrical nonsense.  If at all possible, try to get up earlier in the day!
  • Honor your body- as always.  Sometimes you might find it difficult to stick to schedule.  Once in awhile, it’s totally fine to stay in your bed all day reading or watching trashy TV.  Everyone needs a guilty-pleasure binge once in awhile.  Just make sure you get up on time the next day and greet the world!

The Big Bang

So, this is my first foray into the blogging world since the explosion (and nearly immediate demise) of Xanga in middle school.  I was never one for blogging or keeping journals because it seems self-absorbed to assume that anyone would be interested in reading about my thoughts.  It turns out, my life is a lot more interesting than I give myself credit for because so many people that I know have requested that I write about what I am good at.  Question is, what on earth are they talking about?

I used to be fairly miserable- pretty overweight and suffering from a host of psychological issues.  Near the end of high school, something exploded. I dumped my negative boyfriend (sorry, I’m not sorry), joined a gym, and found ways of interacting positively with the world around me.  I had been trying yoga since middle school, but I really threw myself into it.  I kickboxed until my biceps felt like they would explode.  I read about how to be a healthy vegetarian rather than subsist on carb-heavy side dishes.  I stopped listening to depressing goth-rock and directed my taste towards mellow indie music and mentally stimulating psychedelic tunes from the 60s.  I slowly ditched my all-black wardrobe in favor of grungy neutrals (hey, it’s an improvement) and spent as much time as possible hanging out with friends rather than sitting in my room sketching and writing moody song lyrics.

Now, I am in my third year at Syracuse University.  I’m a music major (voice and piano) with minors in Business Administration and Information Technology and an awesome job lined up for me as soon as I graduate- a year early.  I’ve taken between 19 and 27 credits each semester while working between 2 and 6 jobs at any time.  My friends think I’m crazy and my family knows I am, but really I’m not particularly special.  I just know how to manage my time, what’s negotiable (that extra hour of sleep), and what’s not (hitting the gym).  If you can benefit from my experience, then I’m more than happy to share!

So, what am I good at?  That varies on a day to day basis, but one thing that I am always good at is finding a way of being content, come hell or high water.  This is a blog about how best to navigate this tumultuous world that we inhabit through positivity, a healthy yogic lifestyle, exercise, and efficiency so that you too can always find a way of being at peace.