Unplug and Ashtanga

Self-Help

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About a year ago I started taking an Ashtanga yoga class at Flagler College, taught by an amazing teacher with years of experience. It started out as a random class that I took for fun. It was only one credit and for a few hours every week I was able to relax and enjoy myself. Lucky for me, it ended up being so more than some random elective.

I used to practice yoga every once and a while, and although I liked yoga I didn’t really believe all the hype. I didn’t understand how this one particular form of exercise was raved about as if was life transforming. It seemed that it was more of a fad than anything, just like kale or green smoothies. But over the past year, I’ve been practicing at least twice a week, and I can finally say that I understand why people love it so much.

The Physical Changes 

It didn’t happen immediately. I didn’t reap the benefits of yoga in one week, in the same way, you don’t lose ten pounds your first week at the gym. It was slow and subtle, but eventually, I had realized how much those few hours a week was benefiting my mental and physical health. It started out small and was mostly physical in the beginning. Each week I became a little stronger and more flexible. I was able to get deeper into postures and hold them for a few moments longer. I remember the first physical difference that I noticed was that I was able to hold down dog for longer each time, and it became more and more comfortable.

The Mental Changes 

Once I started to notice the physical changes, that’s when my I began to have the unexpected mental and emotional benefits from practice. I’ve found that through regular practice I’m able to shut my mind off during class. I’m able to get rid of that voice in my head that always going, and always criticizing me. I completely relax and focus on nothing but my movement and breathe. The inner critic, the stress of deadlines, finances, the future, and personal dramas all melt away. Once I step onto the mat, it’s like flipping a mental switch. This was the first time in years that I was able to completely disconnect from my stressors.

Most of the time, even if we’re doing something fun or relaxing at home, those unwanted thoughts still creep up to disturb you. But during yoga, none of that happens. The mental chatter stops altogether. This was the most beneficial aspect of yoga, because once you have that one hour to yourself where none of your stressors or worries can get to you. You leave feeling refreshed and recharged, the same way you would after a vacation.

Disconnecting From My Devices

Aside from disconnecting from any negative thoughts, it also allowed me to disconnect from my phone and computer. With other exercises I’ve done, like running or weightlifting, I still use my phone throughout the exercise. But with yoga, no one has a phone next to them in class. I don’t check my notifications and emails, or scroll through social media the way that I do when I go to the gym. It gives me an hour a day just for myself where I’m free from the distractions of my devices. I get to completely unplug.

The Emotional Changes

The last change that I noticed through regular yoga practice was the emotional changes that came with it. These changes were the most unexpected, but my absolute favorite. All of that newfound strength and flexibility that I found in yoga was melting into other aspects of my life once I’d left the mat. I began to feel stronger and more flexible in my personal and work life. I noticed that I became more self-confident and less worried or anxious whenever I encountered a new challenge. I was willing to try new things that I normally wouldn’t let myself do because I was afraid I would fail. I even began to feel more inspired and creative than usual which lead me to start painting again, writing blog posts, pressing flowers, and even doing videography.

Through my yoga practice, I started to understand why yoga is loved by so many. It’s not just a form of exercise or some fad. With regular practice, it can transform the mind and the body in a way that weightlifting, running, dancing, rowing, and other forms of exercise just can’t do. Once you start regularly doing yoga, it’s amazing to be able to look back and see how far you’ve come in so many different areas.

So if you’re like me and you feel like you need a change in your life – you’re looking to put down the iPhone and do something to better yourself, I strongly recommend trying yoga. To end, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes that my yoga teacher reads at the end of our practice. I hope it inspires you to begin practicing too.

“The yoga pose is not the goal. Becoming flexible or standing on your hands is not the goal. The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noises it creates. To make peace with who you are.”

Tell me what you think about yoga! Have you practiced yoga before and seen these changes as well? How long did it take to start noticing them?

Photographer: Allen Fajardo

Practicing Self-Love (No Lush Bath Bombs Needed)

Self-Help

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I thought that I would be the very last person in the world to write about self-love, it seemed like such a cheesy concept. I had it on a list of my blog post ideas that I brainstormed, but would always ignore it. Recently though, I had an unexpected life-changing moment where I was able to get to the root of why I treat myself the way that I do. It was similar to a breakthrough that someone would have during therapy, and it made me realize why I have that voice inside my head that’s always criticizing me and pointing out my flaws. I’ll spare you the details of what happened, but I realized was what lead me to somehow believe that I am an awful person who is unworthy of love, friends, happiness, and success.

Once I realized this, I became aware of how insane it was to measure my self-worth and my right to live a happy and fulfilled life off of what a few people had thought of me. With that realization came an overwhelming feeling of self-confidence and happiness that I had never felt before. For once I felt that I was finally worth it, and my place in the world was just as important as anyone else. Unfortunately, old habits die hard and I have to continue to remind myself every morning to stop criticizing and intentionally practice self-love.

Why is self-love so important?

Loving yourself and treating yourself with respect makes every day easier. Life is more peaceful when you’re not constantly feeding yourself negative thoughts. Practicing self-love has made me feel happy, healthy, confident, and strong. I don’t hold myself back anymore because I don’t think I’m smart enough, pretty enough, popular enough, strong enough etc. to do whatever it is that I want to. I can now do things that I normally wouldn’t because I was holding myself back.

What self-love isn’t…

For the longest time, I thought that self-love meant using Lush Bath Bombs, putting on face masks, doing my nails, binge-watching re-runs, shopping, etc. I got this idea from the media that I was consuming throughout my teen years. I can’t even begin to count how many tweets, Instagram posts, and pins that had a picture of a gorgeous girl using lavish toiletries or bath bombs with a caption said “self-love.” (Edit: I just saw another one today!) So during my free time, I would practice “self-love,” but it wasn’t real. Buying expensive products and constant pampering isn’t self-love. It’s not something that you can buy or do to make yourself prettier. It’s not Yankee Candles and online shopping. It’s something that you regularly practice for your mental health.

How to practice self-love:

Step One: Stop Criticizing. Every time you catch yourself thinking of something that you don’t like about yourself or comparing yourself to someone, stop. Make a conscious effort to stop the negative thoughts in their tracks and think of something that you appreciate about yourself instead. This will take time, but with regular practice, it will get easier.

Step Two: Do What Makes You Happy. I don’t mean watching Netflix, online shopping, or playing video games. Do something that makes you feel so happy and fulfilled without spending any money or staring at a screen. Something like hiking, painting, and writing. One of the best ways to practice self-love is by doing things that fill yourself with happiness and gratitude.

Step Three: Come Up With A Mantra. This is another thing that I used to think was cheesy and clique, but coming up with a mantra that you tell yourself throughout the day actually helps keep you on track. You’re less likely to slip-up and revert back to old ways when you repeat a self-love mantra. It doesn’t have to be anything special, just a quick sentence that you can repeat to yourself when you need it.

Step Four: Take Breaks. When you notice that you’ve spent hours working and you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, step away. The truth is that no matter how hard or long you work, there will always be something else that has to get done. There will always be another email that needs to be answered, another meeting to set up, another homework assignment, another shirt to be sewed, a lightbulb that needs to be changed, something to be cleaned, more laundry to be done, etc. There will never be a moment where every single little task that you need to accomplish is all done, so there’s no point in getting mad at yourself about it. Remember that you don’t have to be on top of everything all the time, and it’s ok to step away and take a break.

Step Five: Exercise. Any self-help blog or book that could be found will tell you that one of the best ways to better yourself is by exercising. I had to mention it because the physical changes that are made through exercise bleed into other areas of your life. When you’ve been exercising consistently and suddenly you notice that your stronger and faster, that feeling gives you the confidence and reassurance that you can accomplish other things in your personal and professional life.

I hope this inspires you to begin practicing self-love too. What are your suggestions for practicing self-love? Happy Valentine’s Day!

“and i said to my body. softly. ‘i want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath. and replied ‘i have been waiting my whole life for this.”
-Nayyirah Waheed

Photographer: Kendid Visuals

Embracing Wabi-Sabi: The Art of Imperfection

Self-Help

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In one of the Ted Talks I listened to recently, I learned of a Japanese concept and aesthetic known as Wabi-Sabi. It’s the idea that beauty can be found in the imperfections of life and by accepting the natural life cycle. It’s not about seeking perfection, possessions, or popularity. It’s about appreciating everything the way that it is. It’s the idea that less is more… It’s choosing wildflowers over a dozen roses… It’s going to the Sunday farmer’s markets over expensive trips to Whole Foods… And it’s thrift store finds over shopping sprees at the mall.

The most perfect description of Wabi-Sabi that I’ve read is: “It’s the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It’s the beauty of things modest and humble. It’s the beauty of things unconventional.” This concept of Wabi-Sabi stuck out to me because I believe that this is a philosophy that needs to shared during the digital age. Humans have always attempted perfection in everything from our clothing to architecture. We try to create and surround ourselves with objects that are brand new and flawless. But now we live in a time where our lives are documented on social media, and people can even manipulate their content to make their entire life appear perfect too! Of course, with the use of social media comes the inevitable social media envy.

The unfortunate part of social media is that people then view another’s post and compare themselves and their lifestyle to what they see online. The pressure to be and look perfect has never been so difficult. I don’t know anyone my age that has said they don’t compare themselves to someone that they follow.

I think that we can learn something about the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi that could help us tremendously during the digital age. It’s by remembering that no matter how hard we fight for perfection, it’s impossible for anyone to achieve… no matter how great their Instagram photos look. What you see online, is not reality. No one has the ability to make their entire life flawless. In reality, people take dozens of shots to get that perfect picture, they plan out the outfit and setting beforehand, and then edit the photo ruthlessly before sharing it. What we don’t see in photos anymore are signs of individuality, brokenness, flaws, and blemishes. The idea of Wabi-Sabi is that wisdom comes from accepting and making peace with our imperfect nature.

I really wish that Wabi-Sabi would become popular online. I think it would be cool to create a social media movement we people embraced what makes them unique instead of trying to mimic another’s lifestyle. The movement would revolve around people being authentic and would celebrate everyone’s individuality. Of course, that would be in an ideal world where I have to power to create a social media movement that would remind people to be real online and eliminate some degree of social envy.

But maybe it could start small. More and more people slowly come forward to talk about who they really are as a person, what their flaws are, what they’re passionate about, and they want to be known for. I don’t know when something like this will happen, but I’m sure in the near future we will see some kind of change in the content that people share. At least I hope so because it’s exhausting trying to create a life of endless perfection.

Wabi-Sabi: “The Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered – and it reveres authenticity above all. It celebrates crack and crevices and all other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet – that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of retiring to the dust from which we came.” (author unknown)

Photographer: Allen Fajardo