Yoga Lessons from Minneapolis

Yoga is tricky to pinpoint in one word because it is so all-encompassing. It is a teacher. A storyteller. A mirror. A tool for strengthening your body as well as what’s within. A catalyst for change. A source of laughter but also of tears. A provider of balance but also frustration.

If you had told me over two years ago when I started yoga that it would change my life, I would have looked at you rather ridiculously. I mean, yes there are physical benefits and maybe that’s why I started it, or perhaps because I was living in a new city and needed something to make sense of it all. I can’t remember precisely why, but I do know it has been a game-changer in the uncertainty of life. Because even when I fall away from it for longer than I wish, I always come back to it, and sometimes, in unexpected ways.

img_20160822_150108.jpg

When I was in Minneapolis this past weekend, I had the chance to visit not one, but two, of my friends from college. One was for a bachelorette party and the other was a chance to catch up. Both experiences were fantastic in their own way and I’m thankful for what both of these women bring to my life. Needless to say, one of my favorite things I did this past weekend was attend my first ever CorePower Yoga class. My friend, Katy, invited me to the candlelight class and I agreed that it sounded fun. She said it would be heated and I assured her I could handle it. Well, that was an understatement. I’m quite certain I was setting records with how much sweat was dripping off my body. Yeah, it sounds gross, but it also felt great. I left feeling incredibly grateful and with a renewed sense of direction.

img_1313.jpg

There is a time at the end of class where you are in Shavasana, also called Corpse Pose, in order to relax the body and mind. When I first began practicing, I would fall asleep more than I wanted to say. As I practiced more, it became a time for stillness. In that stillness is often where I find what I am looking for. My body has just gone through not only a physical but mental exercise and it is there, after setting the intention at the beginning for my practice, that I come to terms with what my body and soul already knew. It is not uncommon to be so overcome with a variety of feelings so strong that you start crying. It’s happened to me more than once. The following is a list of changes I’m going to be making moving forward.

What I Need Right Now:

More confidence. Less doubt.

More compassion. Less judgment.

More of what makes me feel good. Less of what doesn’t.

More belief in my dreams. Less second-guessing what I want.

More spending money on experiences that help me grow. Less money on what I don’t need or enjoy.

More being present. Less anxiety over the future.

More chasing what I feel called to do, even with the risk of failure. Less living in my comfort zone.

More writing. Less Facebooking.

More love. For self and for others. Always.

img_1309.jpg

 

Wishing you all a beautiful weekend and may you find what you need, wherever you’re at in this journey of life.

How I Found Peace in Being Alone…While Dating

I have been dating for the past 3 years. I mean, actual dating, not that college/Ross & Rachel from Friends on-again and off-again thing. Since the summer of 2012, I have usually had a serious boyfriend, with the occasional downtime in between break-ups. This was usually a 4 or 5 month period of time where I would put myself together and then somehow end up dating again. Granted, counting my current relationship, I have had 3 relationships all lasting a year or more. I generally (thought I) knew when I was ready to get back into the dating game again, or in the last instance, move half-way across the country for somebody. (No it didn’t work out and no I don’t regret moving to Washington. More about that here—> When I Made Room for Love (Again)) Life always redirects us in some way or another.

So, when I started dating my wonderful boyfriend last September, I struggled with being alone. I am so thankful for this man that came into my life because he has been an incredible guiding soul throughout this journey. I was alone quite often because my roommate at the time left and moved in with her boyfriend. Much of it stemmed from the fact that I had lived with guys I had previously dated, as well as the fact that I wasn’t sure I felt comfortable being alone so much. I knew I would eventually have to come to terms with the fact that solitude wasn’t a punishment, despite the fact that in those moments of loneliness, my thoughts could get me into trouble. They would consume me to the point that I sometimes didn’t know what I had gotten so upset about in the first place.

I found, in time, that solitude could be filled with moments I enjoyed. I dedicated more time to yoga and eventually, to running too. I was reading more than I had before. I found time to spend with my friends. I started making plans for my career and my future, with goals of becoming more serious about my writing. Sure, I’m not precisely where I want to be in all categories but the point is, I made myself a priority. Because, who is going to want to make you a priority if you can’t even do that for yourself? Probably not anybody you want to date.

16504529308_fbc9fba71f

Photo Credit: latestthoughts via Compfight cc

So, I survived the loneliness I had so severely dreaded. In fact, I began finding comfort in it over time and made sure to let my friends know how important it was to have that time to myself. It was not easy to come to terms with how I used to appoach even the thought of being alone. None of us likes admitting our weaknesses or finding fault within ourselves. It’s a daunting task but also one that is required for growth and independence.

 

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
M. Scott Peck

Despite the fact that nothing turned out how I planned upon my move here, I am glad life took the twists and turns it did. For the heartbreak that caused me to seek my inner strength that was there all along. For my decision to step up and say that I deserve more. For every broken piece of me that pushed me down, only for me to find humility in rising again. I found that others can push us to take responsibility for our own happiness but it ultimately comes down to whether we choose to make forward progress or to remain stuck. Solitude doesn’t need to be correlated with being lonely, but rather, as an opportunity for renewal. It is in our lonelinest and darkest hours where we can ask ourselves the toughest questions, begin to make changes, and set ourselves on the path towards becoming our truest self.


14695616213_baf745f6f9

Photo Credit: HurtQuotes via Compfight cc

 

 

The Woman Beyond “Mom”

My second Mother’s Day without my stepmom is here. It is one of the busiest days of the year at the restaurant I work at and after losing Lou to ovarian cancer last year, it is one of the hardest days to get through personally. I found myself recently telling friends that it hurts but I think I’ll be OK. As it drew nearer, however, I found myself feeling differently. I found myself missing her and tears filling my eyes. I found myself restless and searching for distractions. I won’t be OK. And, I don’t have to be. Grief is a turbulent, reoccurring storm that leaves damage in its wake. But, over time, you learn to protect yourself in little ways. You put up safeguards in order to prepare for when the storm actually arrives. It still hurts, maybe less or maybe more, but you ride it out.

I was rather young when we moved out to Montana. At the age of 6, I was starting over in a new town, new state, and new school. I loved my stepmom dearly and am filled with beautiful memories of camping trips, car rides, and just moments of togetherness. Approaching junior high and high school though, there was a shift. I felt myself withdrawing. After I left for college, we went through a rough patch for a couple of years. Of course, I will always wish for it to have gone differently. Looking back, I was yearning for some different version of my stepmom, instead of seeing everything she already was. It took quite some time to realize that a mom can be many things and you can even have more than one. A mother is simply one who takes it upon themselves to raise a child. A mother is somebody who carries children for somebody who may be unable to. A mother may even have to give their child up in order to give them the best life possible. The definition of a mother is difficult to pinpoint because it covers so much, more than I had ever thought about before.

As I was reflecting on the past with both my stepmom and birth mom, I began to notice that I had placed my moms on pedestals. They were untouchable and unreachable, bound by terms and conditions of what I believed a mother should be. Until, one day, I made the choice to accept them both as they were and for all they had given me. Our relationships weren’t perfect but each was unique and I knew that the path of gratitude was the one I would follow. A heart of love and acceptance allowed me to see my mothers as they really are, instead of what I had envisioned they should be.

A mother is not perfect, nor would you want her to be. Her madness in the mess makes life so much more fun and magical.

A mother is not superwoman, though she makes it look like it right? She has her doubts, fears, and insecurities just like the rest of us.

A mother is not indestructible. She will break and falter at times. Words can do so much, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

And yet, she is still perfect and indestructible.  And yes, she’s even superwoman. Because for everything that she isn’t, she is still more. I wish that I had realized all of this sooner, before it was too late. That I hadn’t missed out on a couple years with her because of my pride. I’m not a mom, but I’ve been lucky enough to have two moms in this life. One of which brought me into this world, and the other whom I watched depart from here too soon.

Some of the greatest gifts, personality traits, and memories are because of my mothers. For that I will be eternally grateful. I’m blessed to have known my mothers beyond the “mom” that I know them as. To have learned their stories and absorbed their wisdom. The biggest takeaway I can offer in all of this is: Give your mom credit. Not just today but everyday. She’s done more for you in this life than you’ll ever know. Never take this time for granted that you have with her because you can’t get it back. Listen to what she teaches you. Care for her when she’s in need. And never take that love for granted, even if it isn’t how you had pictured it.

Happy Mother’s Day friends.

Allowing Space for Creativity

I hadn’t posted anything since the beginning of February. It had been an entire month and I was letting it get to me. I expressed my frustration to my boyfriend, saying how I really needed to get something written. His honest and innocent response of, “Why?” really threw me for a loop.

Why did I need to get something out there? Aside from the fact that I: a) was of course wanting to grow my blog and b) really needed to put in that writing time; was I really doing this for me? I have always been a big supporter of approaching tasks, goals, and dreams when the timing is right. You have to put in the work along the way, but by no means should you feel bad about where you’re at right now. And then I realized, that’s precisely what it was. I have been feeling stuck, lost and frazzled, simply moving from one task to the next. I was placing so much emphasis on my job title that I felt as if I wasn’t contributing according to some so-called standards. When in all honesty, I’m calling bull on that one because I know in my heart that I am doing great things every day, even if I can’t see it. I am a nanny to 2 amazing boys, whom I adore and care for with my whole heart. I am a server at a family-owned restaurant, where I have met some of the sweetest guests and co-workers. I am a mentor to a remarkable young lady. I am a volunteer in my community and church. I am also a writer.

wpid-0823131223.jpg

I’ve also been healing this year, taking the time to come back from the loss of my mother, as well as other cards I’ve been dealt in this hand. I take it day by day. Through this I found that for every tide that has washed away pieces of me or my story, it simply has been rewritten and I have gained tenfold during the course of it. My faith has strengthened, I’ve regained my confidence, new and wonderful people have appeared in my life, and though the loss of my mom will always hurt in some way, I have found thankfulness for the time we had and peace in knowing her suffering came to an end.

For the creative type, this all matters. We can be people-pleasing perfectionists (say that 3 times), always wanting to put out something great. But, what if we’re just doing it to go through the motions, instead of when it’s the right time? Can we really create greatness in those moments? When you’ve pushed yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally to the brink of exhaustion, how can you want to create?

I came up with a mantra to remind myself of this:

MAKE SPACE FOR CREATIVITY.

I don’t mean an actual space consisting of the perfect desk and chair.  Rather, the space inside of you. Allow for failures and mistakes. Call security on that inner critic when he gets too rowdy. Make sure you are in a healthy mindset, as well as physically nurturing yourself. You wouldn’t go to work in rough shape, so why insist on settling when your creative work is just as important?

24677200335_8053b16c01

Photo Credit: catkinswillow via Compfight cc

If we, the creators, are so striving to make something of lasting value, then we owe it to ourselves to nurture that part of us. We can still create in those moments of extreme emotion such as anger, sadness, or guilt. In fact, those times where we are just putting it all out there are often jumping points for future great works. But, don’t sell yourself short in terms of creativity. You are a beacon of light in what can sometimes be a seemingly endless, dark horizon. The sun beam that comes through your window just right. The first firefly, beckoning the beginning of summer.

You owe it to yourself to bring something of lasting value into this magnificent world. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or even the next, but I promise you that it will happen, perhaps when you are least expecting it to. Don’t box yourself in and most importantly, do not rush the process. I know that can often go against what is instilled in us but creativity should be about slowing down, not speeding forward. Make that space. Be that light. And always, always keep creating.

 

 

A Year in Your Light: Life Without My Mom

March 8th marked a year since my mom passed away from ovarian cancer. (You can read more about it here.)  

I’ve loved you fiercely. I’ve wished for more time. I’ve had breakdowns in places I would never have imagined and been brought to my knees in grief. One of the hardest parts was not knowing what would trigger it or when it would happen. Whether I was reading a book or in the middle of the grocery store, emotions of this intensity don’t allow for any sort of logic.

My memories of you in your final moments have yet to escape me. There’s something about seeing those whom we would do anything for, especially you with your limitless strength, in such a fragile state. You were a wisp, so thin and so frail. I don’t know if that goes away. I just keep holding on, day by day.

I know now how hard it must have been for you to have me see you like that. You were so stubborn while raising us and you held on to that stubbornness, even while you were sick. I loved that fight in you because looking back on my childhood as an adult, I am thankful for all you gave. How badly I wanted to take away your pain when you were sick paralleled how strongly you had loved us our whole lives. No distance was too great and no battle too difficult. You were our rock. The keeper of our secrets from dad. The glue that held our family together. The woman who could do it all and then some. You amazed the hell out of me.

I wanted you to be old and gray with dad. To meet the newest addition we welcomed to the family 2 months ago, who would have been your first grandchild. To share in the memories we continue to make together. I wished and wanted and then….nothing happened. I came to the realization that all the wishing and wanting in the world could not bring you back. You were gone.

This has been, by far, the toughest loss I have had to come back from. I almost feel OK again, finding your strength in me when it seems unbearable. I could have turned away. I could have settled in the darkness and made myself content. I could have lost my faith and blamed it on God. For awhile, I did all of that. Yet, for every loss there is something to be found again, whether that is in ourselves or in the acceptance of both the fragility and beauty of life.

The process of grieving is unlike any other, looking different for each of us, yet still so the same. That’s why we can recognize it in others. Until you have walked through that isolated hopelessness and found peace somehow, even your closest friends and family can seem incredibly far away. I counted the tiniest milestones such as surviving the holidays, your birthday and not completely losing myself on the 8th of every month. The first 6 months were the most painful and while it didn’t seem like I was making any sort of progress, in some way I did. The darkest days, weeks, and months have allowed me to appreciate what time I did have with you. You physically left us, but my love for you continues to thrive.

10414455_10155931802955377_6081234040648550489_n156066_10152698436495377_306418084_n

There is no way anybody is ever prepared for loss, even those that are imminent. If I could offer up anything in this, it’s that there is no quick-fix for the pain. No manual for how to heal. No words of encouragement, no matter how uplifting or inspirational, will make it right. And finally, time doesn’t make it better. It only lessens it, until the next holiday/photograph/pretty much anything brings memories flooding back. As I shaped my life around how I could best carry on, the loss became a part of me.

But, what also became a part of me was every good and wonderful feature you brought to this life. Every laugh. Every car ride where we listened to Elton John. Every moment you fought for us. Every single sacrifice. Life after loss relies not upon residing in that space of sadness, but in living out what you gave me. The greatest way I can honor you is by living my very best life. I will hope I do right by you in loving deeply and being kind. You will forever be one of the most important women in my life and I am eternally grateful for your unbounded love.

When Little or No Progress is Perfectly (More Than) OK

Friends, I’ve imported all posts from my wine blog, Graperiot, into Exhale Gratitude because I will be shutting down my other site. Feel free to check them out by selecting Wine from the drop-down menu!

It’s impossible to strive for greatness every single day. Life, jobs, and relationships all demand different parts of us. I know that I can put an immense amount of pressure on myself. To write more. To be the perfect girlfriend. To be the best sister and daughter. To find a fulfilling career. To make an impact in my community. To create something of value in this lifetime. To settle down one day and start a family. I feel the stress of all of that each and every day. I have yearned to find a balance and have found that semi-achievable through yoga, writing and reminding myself to not miss present moments by stressing over future anxieties.

I recently returned from visiting my nephew and sister in Georgia. The week leading up to my trip was crazy busy. Work, social engagements, and plans to maintain my sanity filled up my schedule. I had no time to pack for my trip and wound up doing it the night before I left, after working a 14 hour day between jobs. Finding time just to breathe seemed almost out of the question.

The weekend before I left, I was cleaning my apartment and internally reprimanding myself for not doing MORE writing. Not having MORE time. Not having MORE money to achieve financial freedom. More, more, more. Finally, I stopped to take a moment and look around the adorable space I call home. It wasn’t incredibly spacious but it was cozy. It wasn’t filled with the fanciest of things but it was filled with memories. Of friends, relationships, and a chance to start over. Yes, I didn’t have it all figured out but I could see that tiny changes had happened over time, igniting a movement within me to seek out what sets my heart on fire.  I didn’t quite understand how it all fit together but, somehow, I knew that it did.

20160203_065244.jpg

“Let her sleep for when she wakes, she will move mountains.”                 -Napoleon Bonaparte

I read Unglued by Lysa Terkeurst while traveling to Georgia. She is one of my favorite authors and I love her insight. One of the most uplifting takeaways from the book for me was, “A soul who believes she can’t leave….doesn’t.” When we give in to self-defeating labels or unrealistic expectations, we become prisoner to them. Ultimately, progress achieved in times of stress or uncertainty will not allow us to reach our full potential. It’s important to create time for you so your best self will do creating. Fueling failures and negative self-talk arises in those moments where we don’t take time to reset. Slowing down doesn’t mean stopping forward motion by any means.

So, I didn’t accomplish anything astounding that week but I did have small victories. Conquering my battles with technology (which excited me more than I’d like to say) and enjoying coming home to a sparkling, clean apartment, just to name a few. I didn’t write the next best-selling novel or put myself out there in the writing world as much as I would like. However, I know that when I do accomplish those things, it will be because it’s in the right time and because I am in the best position possible to achieve those tasks.

 In the moments of stillness, I am able to gain the greatest clarity. When I took this time to heal, this year to find the woman I had lost, I really had no idea where it would lead me.  As it became more apparent that what I desired most was to create while also having a positive impact in my community, I realized that I had been doing just that all along. I didn’t need to rush around. I didn’t need to long for more. I didn’t need to push myself to the brink of exhaustion. What I needed was to slow down and remind myself that healing doesn’t happen overnight, in a few weeks, or even in a few months. This was a time for discovery, but also a time for renewal. Right where I was at was exactly where I should have been. I know, doing dishes, laundry, or taking time to unwind might not make you feel like you’re accomplishing something worthwhile. But, in the small, everyday tasks, we can hit the reset button in order to eventually set ourselves up for greatness.