I’m back!

Hello!  First of all, my apologies for just taking off.  I do that sometimes, particularly when faced with major life changes like finishing university. Perhaps my last post about travelling foreshadowed that it was about to happen again, but it was a fairly spur of the moment decision.  Anyway, I am back now.  In case anyone is interested, I thought I’d include a brief update on my life before I resume my usual blogging habits.

Graduation photo

Yes, I graduated barefoot.

First, I finished up my last coursework and graduated from Syracuse!  I now have a music degree with focus on voice and piano, a minor in marketing, and a minor in IT.  Managed to scrape by Magna cum Laude as well!

Right after graduating I moved out of my place, donated about half of my belongings to charity, and send the rest back to New Jersey with my family.  Two days later, I got on a plane to England.  I stayed with some family before taking off for Prague, Croatia, Switzerland, and making another stop in England, and then I made it back stateside.

Twelve hours after landing in Newark, I began my full time position at Marketsmith.  I was there last summer and they offered me a full-time position- having a job waiting for me was a major factor in my decision to finish school a year early.  I manage social media for the company as well as the charity we sponsor, help out with creative and web design, and write many a blog post.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, to say the least.  I will write more about my travels once things have settled down-this is the first time I’ve been home for longer than two weeks since last summer, so it’s a bit of an adjustment!  I still haven’t quite unpacked…might just give the rest of my things away and call it a day.  We have too many objects anyway.

Other than that, I’m just trying to keep up my music (anyone need a cocktail pianist or jazz singer?), getting started on some reading for yoga teacher training, enjoying time with my family, and trying to spend some time in the sunshine.  Decompressing after a long few years, deciding where I want my life to go.

Namaste, friends!

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Being Barefoot

In addition to my bizarre scheduling and sleeping habits, many people question my footwear preferences.  Today’s topic: deciding to give up shoes!

I had never liked wearing shoes, but I didn’t really have the freedom to choose not to while I was in high school.  During the summer and then at university, I was free to be basically as eccentric and strange as I wanted.  I started being barefoot at home, in class, walking around campus, performing, frolicking, pretty much always.  I would estimate that I spend about 98% of my time barefoot, since some restaurants give me a hard time and there’s one specific bus driver who seems to be out to get me and my poor bare feet.

Why be barefoot?  I’m a dirty hippie.  No but really- it’s more natural, it’s healthy, it’s more comfortable, it’s more relaxing, and most importantly it just makes me happy (fun fact: dirt has lecithin, a mood lifting chemical also found in chocolate- and it can be absorbed through your feet!).  I’m not the only one, either- there are lots of us out there!  One group is the Primal Foot Alliance– they are barefoot advocates who work hard to prove to the public that there’s nothing gross and unhealthy about feet.  Their website has resources explaining why being barefoot is awesome and there’s a great community there and on their Facebook page.  Barefooters.org is another great place to meet people close to your home who also choose not to wear shoes.

There are many stereotypes about people who are barefoot- that we’re dirty, poor, sick, unhygienic, socially handicapped, unprofessional- the list goes on.  I get all kinds of reactions to my bare feet- in the morning sometimes people think I’m doing the “walk of shame,”  sometimes people look at me like I walked out of a sewer, some find it amusing, and others are simply curious and strike up a conversation-usually they’re totally on board and on a few occasions, I got people to join me!

First of all, being barefoot is totally safe.  After being barefoot for awhile, you can step on glass without getting hurt- this took me a month or so of being entirely barefoot (some people wean themselves off of shoes gradually, but I never  do anything halfway so I just jumped right in).  Really, just look where you’re going.

Being barefoot is also far healthier and cleaner than shoes- foot fungus and other unsavory ailments come from sweat trapped around your feet by socks and shoes; they’re not inherently found on feet.  Wiggling your toes in the fresh air will eliminate smelliness and unwelcome bacteria!  Sure, occasionally you step on something gross- but it’s far easier to flick gum off of a bare foot than scrub if out of a pair of shoes.  Not to mention, all of the extra germs you expose your feet to boost your immune system- I haven’t been sick in years.

Humans are just animals- our bodies are engineered to work optimally without extra appendages like clothing and accessories (Coming up next week: why we should stop wearing pants…Just kidding).  Your feet will be stronger and more effective without footwear- why do you think people are inventing Barefoot shoes?

After you get used to it, being barefoot is far more comfortable than being shod.  Ladies in particular (or gentlemen, no judgment here) will appreciate the lack of pinching around the toes from cute flats and the searing knee pain brought on by dancing around in tall spikes.  Walking on gravel and rough surfaces hurts at first but once you get used to it, wandering barefoot through cool grass and on smooth warm dirt makes it worth it.  Being barefoot changes your entire mentality- I feel far more relaxed and connected with the world.  It’s like I can feel the earth spinning, vibrating, and breathing beneath my feet.

Would you ever go barefoot?  Maybe not in a professional environment, but at the park or around your own garden perhaps?  Maybe just for a little while?

Atmosphere and Ayurveda

It’s strange how the weather has such a powerful effect on our moods.  As much as I truly believe that we are in control of how we feel, sometimes it is a battle with external elements like deadlines, relationships, how comfortable we feel where we are, who we are with, and just the general atmosphere.  It’s hard to stay positive when you’re swamped at work, surrounded by negative people, or  in a place with toxic energy (library during finals week, anyone?), but I find it even more difficult to fight the weather.

Of course there are diagnoses like Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I think it goes deeper than that.  I was reading this article about how different people are affected by the weather, and it classifies people into four types- those people who are unaffected by the weather or seasons, people who love summer, people who hate summer and people who love rain.  I think this is a bit of an oversimplification, but I do agree that different types of people react differently to different types of weather.  Obviously it has something to do with personality, but I also think it has to do with prakruti and vikruti.  Prakruti and vikruti are Ayurvedic terms for your body’s constitution (long term and short term, respectively), or doshas (The Ayurvedic Institute has some great resources if you’re interested in learning more).

I am vata-pitta, slightly more pitta in the summer and more vata in the winter.  I find that the wind (air, an element of vata) energizes me in the winter but makes me a bit dozy in the summer.  Warmth and fire (pitta) give me energy in the summer but make me want curl up in bed when it’s cold outside.

It can be difficult to pick yourself up when it’s clammy and cold, but if you know your body type and personality, it can be done.  Ayurvedic teachings tell us which flavors will complement our prakruti and vikruti (basically which foods suit your body type), and I think that on days when you may not be feeling your best it’s particularly important to eat well.  When I’m tending towards pitta in the summer, I do sometimes crave ice cream despite being nearly entirely vegan.  When it’s cold and I’m feeling more vata I go for cooked vegetables and beans.  This is also true on a day-to-day basis- knowing your body type and which foods complement it can make a huge difference in your mood- sort of like eating comfort food, but in a healthy way.

Of course, simply realising that the weather is causing you to feel a certain way is often a good first step.  It can be very easy to focus on negative thoughts while you’re sitting watching raindrops trickle down the window, or to forget about all of your problems while you’re laying in the sunshine.  If you acknowledge that you’re in a certain mindset largely because of the weather, it becomes a lot easier to change your perspective.

A Technological Diet

On a note not entirely unrelated to my recent hiatus from all things internet, today’s post is about the damaging effect of excessive technology.  I haven’t been on the internet much for the last two weeks- the first was because the week before spring break is always hectic at school, and the second was because I took a spur of the moment trip to the Dominican Republic and there wasn’t much internet access.

Since essentially my entire job is based on the internet, I spent lots of time on my computer reading articles, tweeting, blogging, facebooking, and interacting with other organisations.  I obsessively read newsletters, try to keep up with all of the blogs that I follow, and bookmark interesting things to research and write about.  These aren’t the healthiest of things, but I still manage to set myself a limit (albeit a high one) of how much time I spend online.  I noticed a huge shift in my general well-being when I resolved to spend more time not staring at a computer screen.

I also noticed, however, that the amount of time spent around technology isn’t my only problem.  One effect of my self-imposed technology limit was that I was trying to cram everything I usually do into less time.  I was trying to rush through everything and absorb it all in far too little time.  I can control the quantity of my internet usage, but how efficiently I was using it proved much more difficult.  I think that technology itself isn’t what’s really to blame, but how we utilise it.  Instant communication and nearly unlimited information- how could it be a bad thing?  In reality, the availability of information is something that we don’t know how to deal with.  As humans, we just aren’t capable of processing all of the information we throw at ourselves.  Trying to keep track of hundreds of Facebook friends, reading cluttered Twitter feeds, watching viral videos and giggling at memes- though it all seems like mindless procrastination, it still takes brainpower.  Even right now you are processing information as you read this post about how damaging excessive information is.  Ironic.

Our technology is evolving faster than we are.  We’re a species with increasing health problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, twitching eyelids, and rapidly increasing ADD diagnoses.  We think this “progress” is helping us, but we’re not really sure how to deal with the information overload.  We’re losing analytical skills because we can look anything up instantly, our conversational abilities are diminishing with each tweet that we send, our memories are disintegrating, and interacting face-to-face is getting more and more difficult.

It’s a losing battle, and not one that we can just walk away from.  After my four days with basically no internet, I came back to 297 emails.  Nothing catastrophic had happened while I was gone, but there were also dozens of things that required immediate attention and that I couldn’t just ignore.  We are all involved in the technological world and there’s really no way to avoid it entirely.

I’ve been mostly successful in preventing a complete media overload by avoiding live television and trying to stay away from overly commercial locations like shopping malls.  Keeping myself sane while working on my own computer has proven to be a lot more difficult though, especially given my current job as a content and social media manager.  I still feel the need to read everything that could possibly be relevant to my life or job and stay somewhat involved with online communities, and I do check Facebook more than I would care to admit.

I’m pretty good at problem-solving, but this one continues to confound me.  How do you avoid a technology overload?  Do you just learn to cope?

The Perfect Performance

In the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time surfing YouTube trying to find videos of pieces that I was going to perform on my recital.  This is a usual practice for any musician, to see how other artists interpret music, use the stage, and so on.  I had chosen a few pieces that had some tricky counting between the piano and the vocalist, and I could not for the life of me find a perfect performance to listen to to get the interaction between the vocalist and pianist into my head.  I would find something that sounded good, and then realise that the pianist skipped a triplet or the vocalist came in half a beat late; think that this recording of Nocturne in C# minor was great until he slipped over the run near the end.  Eventually, I realised that had I not been studying the music myself, I never would have known.  Furthermore, I realised that even though I knew the music and knew that the performer made a minor error, often I still enjoyed the performance.  Sure, the girl who sang Telephone messed up the bizarre triplets in the second half, but her staging and interaction with the pianist was so hysterical that I didn’t even mind.  The lady I watched performing a Ned Rorem piece switched the words around, but the performance was so gripping that it didn’t really detract from it.

I’m not by any means saying that you shouldn’t strive for perfection.  I think if you strive for something unattainable you may not achieve it, but you’ll be better off than if you do meet goals that aren’t high anyway.  At a certain point after two or three hours too many in a practice room, I realised that the successfulness of art isn’t really about perfection.  I know that this sounds sort of obvious, but I think that as classical musicians we often spend far too much time trying to flawlessly reproduce Bach’s exact counterpoint or perfectly execute a two octave run and not enough time focusing on what exactly our music means to us.  Technique is a valuable skill and obviously quite imperative to being a successful musician, but at a certain point it becomes entirely secondary to expression.

So anyway, my quest for the perfect performance was sort of in vain, but I did find something arguably better- I was able to be at peace with the fact that I wasn’t going to be perfect either, but at least I could have a really great time sharing music with everyone who heard.

Thanks so much to everyone who came out to support me!  Here are some selections from my recital in case you would like to hear. The first two pieces are in German, but everything else is in English.

How to Be Alone

One of my close friends shared this video on Facebook recently, and I thought it was a beautiful and poignant expression of the human condition.  Allowing yourself to be alone is sort of like allowing yourself to be quiet and keep excess noise from your life.

Being alone is definitely something that scares a lot of people, because it really does force you to be yourself- you have no one left to impress, you have no need for conscience, and it is really the only time when you are free to be yourself in your purest form.  I would venture to say that a lot of people don’t really know themselves because they do not spend time alone.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course- human beings are adaptable by nature.  It’s no secret that people act differently depending on their surroundings- I can be irritatingly cheerful if it’s sunny outside and I’m enjoying a nice walk, but catch me off guard in a practice room and I will most likely be nearly unapproachable.  This applies to the people you’re with as well- when I’m around my brother, we’re probably planning mischief or perhaps already in the midst of blowing something up, but when I’m at work I am (believe it or not) entirely capable of being serious.

But who am I when I am alone?  I’ve never had to explain it, really.  And why would I?  As long as who you are when you are alone is somebody that you are comfortable with, that’s what matters.  It’s really helpful in the process of finding out who you are to spend time alone, free from distractions and ego, because when you know who you are everything else really becomes a lot easier.  Decisions, enjoying life, knowing what you like and don’t like- even being far more confident.  When you’re alone enough to stop worrying about others judging you, then eventually you’ll stop worrying about it even when you’re not alone.

I’m not saying to be a hermit by any means.  But I feel that humans in general get so caught up in specific relationships and people and connections that we lose sight of the individual.  We all need to learn to be at peace with ourselves before we can be at peace with others.

Anyway, I hope you all find some time in your hectic lives to get to know yourselves a bit more.  You deserve it!

Capabilities

You are capable of about a hundred times more than you think you are.  This is sort of related to my post about Body Clocks– I promise, you seriously underestimate yourself.  There’s a conception about what’s a “normal” amount of things to do and how busy people are these days.  That may be true, but our bodies are built to handle stress!  I’m not saying that we don’t all deserve downtime- hey, I make sure I have time for a nice cup of tea at night and a pretty substantial amount of nice, restorative yoga a couple times a week.  But if you do have to go on a seriously intense spree of work, I promise you will survive.

This is a thought that I have periodically around certain times- mid-semester projects, juries, finals, deadlines at work.  Today I was wigging out a bit about my impending recital and the other two concerts in which I am performing in the three days immediately preceding it (not to mention all of the schoolwork and job stuff as well).  I haven’t come that close to a genuine freakout in quite awhile, and it was not something pleasant to experience.  I just had to keep reminding myself that it is not the end of the world, and that I can still balance my life.  Just make some time and take a few extra minutes to breathe.  And on Sunday after my recital, I am going to do nothing for the entire day.  Being busy is just another cyclical part of life, as is making some time to relax afterwards.

In case you need some perspective about what you and your body are actually capable of, here’s a list of awesome facts (I love lists):

  • Your stomach acid can dissolve metals.
  • Human bone is stronger than concrete- it can hold as much weight as granite!
  • Your brain can hold between 3 and 1,000 terabytes of information (makes midterms sound easy)
  • Your brain is immune to pain (think harder)!
  • Your heart can squirt blood 30 feet (don’t try this at home)
  • One human hair can hold 3.5 ounces
  • Your hair is basically indestructible, other than by fire.
  • If it really came down to it, you could still be alive without your spleen, 75% of your liver, 80% of your intestines, a kidney, a lung, and nearly all of the stuff in your pelvic area.
  • Your nose can remember over 50,000 scents (can someone harness this power to memorise other stuff?)
  • You can go for ten days without sleeping.
  • You can go for a month or two without food.
Trust me, whatever you’re going through?  You’ll survive =)
Sources: 1 2

Noise

A few days ago, I got this email from WWF about noise pollution destroying natural habitats in the Arctic.  Though this particular issue is that drilling for oil creates noise that is harmful to animals, it made me think about how it’s also an increasing problem for humans.

We all know that noise is bad for us- loud rock concerts, screaming children, a particularly loud brass player in the next practice room-whatever.  Blaring advertisements and overstimulation are part of our everyday life.  But there’s a far more innocuous type of noise that’s just as negative- background noise.  It’s something that we all think we tune out, but it still takes a toll on our bodies.  According to this article from Women’s Health, excessive noise doesn’t allow our bodies time to recover, so they produce negative stress hormones, causing weakened immune systems, excessive nervousness, and even heart disease.  Small noises even affect your concentration.  What I found interesting to read about wasn’t just the obvious idea that noise is negative, but that the reason why we tolerate it is out of a sort of unwillingness to be introspective: we are too afraid of our own thoughts, so we drown them out.  This article even suggestions mindful meditation to get used to hearing your own thoughts so that silence is no longer frightening.

This is a thought that really rang true for me.  I remember a time when I used to blast really loud music so I couldn’t hear my thoughts, and in fact I still do it sometimes.  When I’m at the gym, I pump my music up loud so I can’t hear myself getting tired (I really do have a lot of terrible gym habits that I am not proud of…).  It wasn’t until I really started to engage in yoga and meditation that I began to appreciate quiet.  I can understand that meditation really is difficult at first, though- and it doesn’t get easier overnight.  It’s also hard for us with our Western way of thinking to believe that it’s productive to sit and literally do nothing even for 20 minutes.  It really is, though- if you can channel your thoughts and learn to tune out the noise- not just audible noise, but also unimportant thoughts, pains, and pollution from the media- your mind will become much sharper and more efficient.  You can train your mind to do anything, with enough time- to feel physical pain less, to react differently to negativity, to focus on one task to get it done.  If you can train yourself to enjoy listening to your mind, I guarantee that you will feel better for it.  It sounds cheesy, but you really will get to know yourself better and that’s an integral part of the journey towards finding peace.  It’s worth struggling through 10 or 20 minutes of spending time with only your mind for company, no distractions.  Perhaps a mantra will help you as well.

Anyway, I know that this isn’t quite in the spirit of Fat Tuesday celebrations, but I’m sure that tomorrow everyone will appreciate a bit of quiet 😉  Namaste!

Yes and No

I have always taken every opportunity that life has thrown at me.  This has led to some awesome experiences (getting great gigs, learning to ride a motorcycle through the Himalayas) and some less awesome experiences (not having time to sleep, being unprepared).  There is a delicate line between taking on too little and trying to do too much, and I have definitely spent most of my more recent years jumping back and forth over it.  I’m not afraid of much, but I am terrified of missed opportunities so I often say yes to things that I perhaps shouldn’t.  I’ve found myself taking 27 credits (more than twice a normal courseload) while working three jobs, holding e-board positions in organisations, and finding time to exercise and practice my instruments while still coping, but there have also been times when I’ve taken on a lot less and still felt overwhelmed.

At the same time, it is always important to seize new opportunities when appropriate.  Many people want things but don’t think that they deserve them or are qualified, and they really miss out.  My rule is that you are always capable of more than you think.  I have tried so many different things that I would never have thought myself able to do or enjoy, and I have very rarely regretted it.  As a freshman, I took on the task of accompanying an entire choir (usually a graduate piano major’s job) despite not having had a piano lesson in over six years.  It kicked my ass, but I learned so much from the experience and I’ve been working with the choir since.  This past summer I took a job at a marketing firm as an intern just to make some money.  I said “yes” to any task they asked me to do even if I had no clue how to do it, so I sometimes had to teach myself random things-like designing, slicing and coding an email blast or writing a press release-in an hour.  It was stressful, but I realised that I actually liked working there and had a knack for it, so now I’m graduating school a year early with a job already lined up.  In both of these cases, I was grossly underqualified for the positions, but simply because I took the opportunities that arose, I benefitted immensely.  I often accept opportunities before thinking about whether or not I am capable of them, and even if it blows up in my face (like one time when I offered to fill in for a gig despite having a 104 degree fever) I end up learning a lot more from it.

It’s really difficult to know when it’s a good idea to take something on and when it’s not, not only for time reasons but also just for general wellbeing.  All it is is another way of prioritising, though.  Is the opportunity something you want to do?  Is it something only you can do, or can someone else do it better or enjoy it more than you?  Will this opportunity come by again?  How much of a time commitment is it really, and are you willing to make other sacrifices?  Is it something you will enjoy, or will it stress you out?  Will you be able to make this commitment, or are you spreading yourself too thin?  Will this experience set you apart in terms of your career or other life goals?  Thinking about things like this before you decide whether or not to take a chance or opportunity can be very clarifying, because when you know what your motivation is for making a decision, you will be far more at peace with it and probably also more organised in how you approach it.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Making time

One balance that I find particularly difficult in life is that of time.  I’m always running around trying to get stuff done and I very rarely have time to relax.  I know the importance of just mellowing out every so often, but life is so short and there is so much to do that I often take the “sleep is for the dead” approach.  Many people prefer to take life more slowly and take on less obligations, and that’s fine- but they can benefit from stretching their perception of time too.

The trick in finding your balance is knowing what’s negotiable and what’s not in order to alter your perception of time.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that my only real “pet peeve” is hearing someone say “I don’t have time.”  Nobody magically “has” time.  Successful people create time, because if something is important you must find the time for it.  End of story.  I find it incredibly important to go to the gym every day, so I make time for it no matter what.  I’ll sleep less, I’ll scarf a meal faster than I should (I’m the master of the four-minute lunch), I’ll be a few minutes late to the practice room- I even schedule my classes and rehearsals around gym time.  I’m not joking.  To me, it is a major priority (possibly a major addiction but hey, it’s better than crack).

When you grasp the idea of priorities, your day will magically start to get longer.  Seriously- you will begin to do things more efficiently because you have incentive, and your perception of time will just expand to fill it.  It’s proven:  Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time you have to do them.  Well, Fiona’s Law states that tasks also shrink to fill the time you have to do them.  Haven’t you ever noticed that the busiest people have the most time?

It’s all about priorities and give and take.  If it is a priority for you to go for a run before breakfast twice a week, make it happen no matter what.  Go to bed earlier the night before, arrange your schedule at work a bit differently, stash breakfast at your office- whatever it takes.  When you start to sort out one priority at a time, soon you won’t even think about scheduling anymore.  It becomes second nature to figure out what’s the most efficient way of getting things done so that you can make more time for your priorities.  Here are a few quick tips to help you start prioritising and finding more time:

  • Start small.  Suddenly trying to find four hours every day to practice painting will not happen.  Start with an extra half an hour, and slowly find more when the opportunities arise.
  • Small bits of time add up.  Say you have six classes in a day.  If you wait around for fifteen minutes before each of those classes, that’s 90 minutes right there.  Do something small during those 90 minutes that you would usually have to do at another time, like reading or checking emails.
  • Move quickly.  Seriously, people waste so much time walking slowly.  Get some exercise and get places faster- two birds with one stone!  Also, walking quickly alters your entire mindset- you’ll be much more productive.
  • Multitask.  Research shows that those who multitask don’t do as well with each task.  That may be true, but now much effort does it really take to do the dishes while the water is boiling for dinner?  Or to stop at the post office on the way to the bank instead of making two trips?  Pay bills online while you’re on hold with customer service?
  • Sort your tasks.  Sort of like multitasking: check your emails, facebook, twitter, pay online bills, do anything that needs your computer- at the same time.  If you do similar tasks at the same time, you can move from one to the next much faster than if you were running back and forth all over the place.
  • Say no.  I’m all for taking awesome opportunities and saying “yes” all the time.  But if you’re really in a time crunch and someone asks you to do something that you know someone else is available to do, don’t feel pressured to say yes.
  • Schedule.  I’m a very spontaneous person, but I do keep a schedule.  If you have a schedule of what you need to do in some sort of chronological order (nothing formal, just something loose like “go to the gym for 2 hours in the morning, lunch, go to the bank, then practice for 3 hours, etc.) then you can know exactly how much flexibility you have when something inevitably gets thrown off, you know when you can take a 20-minute coffee break, and you won’t get stressed if you fall a wee bit behind.
  • Organised to-do lists.  Sort of like a schedule, but more long-term.  I keep a list of all my assignments with things that need to get done ASAP and things that have dates way off in the future.  Prioritise things that are due soon, but let yourself slack a little bit with things that are further off in the future.
  • Manage your media.  We live in such a cluttered world.  Facebook, Twitter, blogs, commercials, TV…these things are all huge time sucks.  How easy is it to creep on your friends for an hour when you just meant to shoot a quick message, or watch four episodes of Modern Family because they’re all on Hulu?  I’m not saying to go crazy and delete all your accounts, but at be conscious of how much time you spend “plugged in.”  Not only does it physically take time, but it also adds stress and overstimulation to your life.
  • Sleep less.  In a healthy way, not in a miserable caffeine-dependent way.
  • Don’t be a slave.  The idea isn’t the whip yourself to misery.  The point is, by slowly making adjustments to how you perceive time you will naturally become a more efficient person.  Sometimes you just need to park it on the sofa and sit still for awhile, and that’s totally fine.
May you all bask in more free time!