Heads Up, Phones Down: A Rule for Life in the 21st Century

When we took our eldest son to college this weekend, I noticed something new in the heart of campus, painted on the sidewalk at each roadway intersection:

Heads Up

Phones Down

In other words, kids, pay attention to the here and now. (And don't get run over.)

Students entranced by their devices apparently have had some close calls, necessitating the stenciled letters on the sidewalks. From my experience living and driving in another college town, I can say that all universities should consider adding these sidewalk warnings. Like, yesterday.

But these words serve as an important reminder for us, too, not just for our kids.

Smartphones and other portable electronic devices have become ubiquitous. They give us needed information at the touch of a fingertip to a screen. But if we lose or leave them behind, we feel like we're missing a part of us.

They also allow us to be miles away mentally while we are walking into a street, driving a car, sharing a meal, and spending (face to face) time with people.

We let a ring or a buzz or a screen prioritize who and what gets our attention.

This weekend, on our way to and from the college move-in, we had a layover at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. On almost every table in the terminal sat an iPad, where travelers could order food, browse the news, play games, and check their flight status. When we first arrived in the terminal, the iPad perk seemed so upscale, so 21st century, so nice.

And if I had been traveling alone, it might have been.

This novel approach to ordering, though, resulted in very little interaction with the server who, aside from greeting us, skipped the chit-chat and merely brought us our food and refilled our water glasses. Even more disappointing, it resulted in very little interaction between us. The iPad had gotten in the way.

Shouldn't mealtimes ideally provide us not only food for our bodies, but also food for our souls, through conversation, laughter, and shared experience? I found no opportunity for soul feeding there, in the glitzy Terminal G.

The siren call of the internet and technology lures most of us day by day, and moment by moment. But what are we missing by not putting the phones down and our heads up?

The siren call of the internet and technology lures most of us day by day, and moment by moment. But what are we missing by not putting the phones down and our heads up?

Maybe the words from the sidewalk need to be taped to the restaurant table, or the kitchen table, as a reminder. When a phone rings during dinner or beeps at the arrival of a text, what if we ignore it, and continue the conversation we're having with the person facing us, instead of heeding the intrusion?

Heads Up

Phones Down

Maybe the words from the sidewalk need to go on the car dashboard, so that when I notice my phone buzzing, I'm not tempted to glance over at it while driving down the road or cut off the conversation with my passengers to answer it when it rings.

Heads Up

Phones Down

Maybe the words from the sidewalk can help us find freedom from the addiction to our devices.

My son the college student spent his summer working at a scout centre in Europe, leading hiking and climbing trips in the Alps. It was a dream come true, the opportunity of a lifetime, and he formed quick, close connections with the other young adults who came from around the world to volunteer there too.

He attributed much of that connection to the lack of technology in their midst.

His phone only worked on Wi-Fi when he was at the centre, and even then internet reception was extremely spotty. On the trail or in the overnight huts, the guides and hikers had time and space to relate to each other as people from different nations and backgrounds, with different personalities, interests and skills. Smartphones were used as cameras to capture memories of mountain peaks and glacial lakes, not to text people a world away.

They found people interesting, not electronics.

They were living in the moment. Living a dream.

Heads Up

Phones Down

I hope my son finds those connections, those heads-up, phones-down moments, on his campus, too, and not just on the sidewalk. I hope he uses that technology to stay in touch with us and his friends in the rest of the world, but not if it means ignoring someone sitting right next to him. With the intention of a few, the dining hall, the student lounge, the residence hall and the sports arena all could become heads-up, phones-down spaces too.

Can we adults remember to find heads-up, phones-down moments in our lives as well?

Question: What makes it difficult for you to step away from your smartphone and other devices? Could you give them up for a weekend, a day, or even an hour? How would you spend that new-found time? How would it benefit your life? Comment below, or join the "Faith and Sweat" Facebook group by clicking HERE, and we can continue the conversation.

Worn Down and Out? On the Importance of the Sabbath

In my youth, Sabbath meant attending church in the morning, sharing a meal with extended family later in the day, and not having a to-do list otherwise.

Sometimes, my grandfather would take us to G.C. Murphy's, the five-and-dime down the road, since the mall was further away and many stores there were shut on Sundays. I would pick out a new book or Barbie doll clothes. After working all week at his country store and on the farm, my grandfather enjoyed this adventure. So did my sister and I. 

We valued and measured Sunday time differently then.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
— Exodus 20: 8-11 (NRSV)

Today, my Sundays often include church, but the rest of the day can be a blur. A son's hockey game, a restaurant meal, a luxurious afternoon nap on occasion, and an assortment of tasks that still "need" to get done. While not a full day of work, the rhythm of my Sabbath still is not one of full rest.

I apparently am not alone.

Dr. Matthew Sleeth says that it's only taken one generation for most of us to forget the Sabbath and no longer observe the fourth commandment.

Technology has created in us the yearning to be connected to work and the rest of the world twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he explains. What we don't finish in six days spills over to the seventh. Youth sports and activities take place seven days a week. It's go-go-go all the time, for many of us.

But in the absence of stillness and rest, Sleeth adds, what suffers is our own personal health and our relationship with God.

And it's a choice.

Sleeth is a former emergency-room physician and the founder of Blessed Earth, a nonprofit focused on creation care. He is the author of 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life.  He spoke last weekend at the church I grew up attending, advocating for a return to making one day a week a holy day of rest. 

 

"The ideal is praying and playing, not working," he says.

Sleeth says that today we might define rest and work differently than previous generations. For those who farmed the land, rest meant not working in the garden. Today, one for whom work constitutes pressing computer keys and working indoors, spending time in the garden might be restful.

But what hasn't changed through the generations, he says, is our definition of commerce, earning money and spending money. Above all, he tries to keep his Sabbath commerce-free. If he and his wife Nancy go out to lunch on Sundays, they tip 100 percent of the bill and include a note on the check: "God bless you. Sorry to make you work on Sunday."

Sleeth also notes that Sabbath doesn't have to be on Sunday. Because of his travel and speaking schedule, often they begin their Sabbath at sundown Friday with a meal, and then spend Saturday doing those things that bring rest, renewal and reverence.

He says he bases his decisions of what to do on the Sabbath on Philippians 4:8:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

His website, sabbathliving.org, offers resources for starting and continuing a Sabbath practice. Here are a few tips, taken from that website:

  • Talk with your family and decide how you want to celebrate the Sabbath.
  • Take off your watch and remove all reminders of work during the Sabbath day.
  • Take a media fast.
  • Avoid eating out, buying things, and driving (except to church).
  • Spend at least ten minutes completely surrounded by nature.

The Sleeths began keeping Sabbath when their children were young teenagers, and they said it made them "odd" to their friends at first. But, Nancy Sleeth says, it was a great way for them to practice being odd and counter-cultural with lower stakes, before facing some other pressures in their later teens. Their now-grown children still keep Sabbath.

"In adopting a 24/6 life, we put God back into the equation," writes Matthew Sleeth in his book, 24/6. "We leave some of the figuring out to him. We recharge our batteries with the energy that comes only through stopping, and we become more generous with the gifts God has given us."

Question: Do you observe a Sabbath? What does that look like? If not, what prevents you from doing so? Is it something you can start? I welcome your comments here, or in our Faith and Sweat Facebook community, which you can access by clicking HERE.

Faith & Sweat: Battling Addiction, Moment by Moment, Day by Day

The lightning illuminates the sky with a frequency that rivals paparazzi flash bulbs firing. Torrential rains fall, and angry thunder rumbles.

I think of a Mom and her young son, snuggling together in front of the television in a clean motel room in a safe part of town, seeking normal in a world that's been turned upside down, over and over and over again.

The mother, feeling guilty and remorseful, leans on her faith and her hope. She knows that the choices she’s made in the past caused this uncertainty. She vows to make new, better choices for her child and for herself, even if the path ahead feels overwhelming.

"TWELVE DAYS AND NIGHTS CLEAN," she shares with her friends on Facebook, in a status update that's both an offering of and a request for accountability.

Fighting addiction is moment-by-moment combat. 

Each 24 hours, the combat culminates in a battle won or lost. For Cee (not her real name), it's now been nearly two weeks of recognizing and avoiding her triggers, assembling pieces for a new life, and making choices that add up to winning daily battles.

It's far from the end of the war.

This is not a happy ending story.

Not yet.

But it can be. 

Earlier this year, on the first of each month, I started sharing others' stories of Faith and Sweat. I have featured the overcomers – someone who overcame domestic abuse to help others, someone who fought her own suicidal urges and started painting unicycles to benefit suicide-prevention efforts.

I've debated sharing this story, of someone so squarely and actively in the midst of an arduous journey.

The reality, though, is this: We’re each a work in progress. We’re each in the midst of our own journey of joy, and pain, and beauty, and suffering, and celebration, and struggle.

It's called life.

The extremes are greater for some of us than others. The pressures are greater some times more than others. Most people hide their reality from everyone else. But then someone makes a move to be vulnerable and open. And another move. And another. That's what caught my attention with Cee, someone I've known a long time, but not well.

For her, years of addiction have resulted in lost jobs, missed opportunities, dangerous living conditions, and now, perhaps, rock bottom. She's desperate to get herself and her son - a kind, loving 7-year-old with good manners and a dream to one day become a police officer - out of that cycle.

The wall next to their sofa is marred with a bullet hole. When they left their apartment to stay with a friend for several nights, so Cee could leave behind her triggers and try to stop using drugs, teenagers broke in and trashed the place. She returned to pack her belongings and found previously packed boxes, furniture, and entire rooms ransacked. Someone had been eating off her dishes and sleeping in her son's bed.

Now with no home, no job, and no money, they're staying mostly with friends. Courtesy of someone's generosity, they spent one night at a motel, where it was rainy and stormy outside and restful inside. She's applying to long-term recovery centers, listening to her mentor, repacking and shedding her belongings, and reaching out to friends.

One friend has encouraged her to read about Job's suffering in the Bible. Others offer prayers, encouraging words, inspirational pictures, and whatever support they can. Cee responds, reaffirming her intentions for recovery, her faith, and her gratitude that she is not making this journey alone.

Daily to her Facebook friends, she reports the results of the battle. Now, she's at 13 days and nights clean.

It's far from the end of the war.

This is not a happy ending story.

Not yet.

But it can be.

Do you personally know someone struggling with an addiction, or have you walked alongside someone through that challenge? What has been your experience? Comment below, or join our "Faith and Sweat" community, where we can continue the discussion.

How to Make a Simple Sugar Scrub for a Spa Experience

Create a sugar scrub from simple ingredients and turn your bath into a spa

Create a sugar scrub from simple ingredients and turn your bath into a spa

Sometimes, we need a break.

Imagine retreating to a spa, spending the whole day breathing deeply, taking care of yourself, and rejuvenating your body and spirit.

Time and money often can get in the way of that reverie, though, so we also need quick and inexpensive ways to create our own mini-spa experiences.

One of my favorites is to combine simple ingredients into a sugar scrub that can be rubbed on hands, elbows, knees and/or feet to smooth and soften. An essential oil added to the ingredients can either help calm or enliven your mind.

I've become cautious about what I put on my skin since chemicals can circulate throughout the bloodstream within 30 seconds of application, so these natural ingredients work well. (A sugar scrub will not elevate the blood sugar of diabetics.)

You can make a batch for yourself, to give away to a friend, even to give as a party favor for a baby or bridal shower. It keeps for weeks in the refrigerator and can be used as needed.

Assemble these ingredients:

This recipe can easily be doubled.

Add the sugar to a mixing bowl, and break up any clumps before adding in the coconut oil. Add the coconut oil, which should be softened but not liquid, and mix well. Add 15-20 drops of essential oil, and combine with a spoon or handheld electric mixer.

A word about essential oils and safety: It's best to dilute them with a carrier oil such as the coconut oil in this recipe, instead of applying directly to the skin. Lavender is excellent for supporting respiratory, skin, immune, muscular, and glandular systems. Do not use it with any medications containing iodine or iron. Lemon is uplifting and purifying, and both lavender and lemon are safe for adults and children. Do not get the oils in the eyes or ears.  Lemon is photo-toxic, so avoid exposure to the sun for a few hours after using it on your skin. You can purchase Youngevity essential oils HERE (and read my full disclosure statement HERE.)

The scrub can be stored in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator for several weeks. This batch became single servings for a take-home party favor at a baby shower. I used a melon-ball scoop to divide the scrub out into 2-ounce cups with lids.

The scrub can be stored in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator for several weeks. This batch became single servings for a take-home party favor at a baby shower. I used a melon-ball scoop to divide the scrub out into 2-ounce cups with lids.

To make the scrub as a party favor, I doubled the recipe and was able to make 36 individual servings. To help you plan your shopping trip, typically I use one 4-pound bag of granulated sugar for every two 14-ounce jars of coconut oil. That would create about four batches of sugar scrub. Youngevity essential oils contain about 200 drops of oil.

One of my favorite collections of Youngevity essential oils is the Basic Oils First Aid Kit, which includes lavender and peppermint oils that make great sugar scrubs, as well as tea tree oil and a blend called To Be Well. It's a great starter pack for those new to essential oils, because it also includes grapeseed carrier oil and a booklet for further information.

You can add other ingredients to your sugar scrub, if you choose. For example, if making a lemon sugar scrub, adding the zest of a real lemon and a tablespoon of real lemon juice to the scrub adds a nice touch.

Are you going to give it a try, or have you created sugar scrubs in the past? Share your favorite recipes here if so, or in my "Faith and Sweat community" on Facebook. Ready to relax?

woman-relaxation-pexels

And Two Shall Become One (An Excerpt)

This article appeared this week at FaithCollective.com, where we are "ordinary people who find ourselves in an extraordinary story" and believe that our stories should be told.

Tent and towels flap in the warm, steady, ocean breeze. Waves crash ashore and seagulls hover.

I mindlessly drag my feet through the sand in front of my chair, making valleys and hills and then flattening them out as I watch our son skim-boarding in the shallow water of low tide.

I taste the salt on my lips, and breathe in the warm air, relaxed.

I could sit here all day.

As my husband leaves the ocean, crossing the sand back to the tent, sweat beads on his face. He exhales and sits down next to me silently, looking straight ahead.

“Are you done?” I gently ask, curious if we’ve crossed his threshold.

“I’m done-done,” he responds, with an authenticity that I now appreciate.

He cannot sit here all day.

A day at the beach is not how my husband would choose to spend his time. He prefers to wake up on his vacation to a cool morning breeze and the sight of majestic mountains and lush valleys. Or to the sounds of a European city awakening – on this we both could agree.

It didn’t take long to learn this about him, but in our early days as a couple, I secretly hoped he would begin to enjoy the beach as much as I did. I grew up going to the South Carolina coast with my family, slathering Coppertone lotion all over my arms and legs, and swimming all day in the ocean or pool with my sister. I wanted that experience with my husband and our children.

But particularly when our children were little, it annoyed me that he didn’t want to go out and play with us, or to stay very long when he did.

Thoughts on Social Media, Soul Care, and Silence

I almost quit Facebook this week.

I was ready to disappear, with no warning to friends or family, those who "like" my professional page, the women in my "Faith and Sweat" Facebook group, or any of my business associates who communicate through a network of Facebook groups.

The political vitriol, the snarky and hateful comments responding to news accounts, the agendas, the noise - I was done with it all.

I closed the computer and put down the smartphone. I shifted into extreme self-care mode, which meant intentionally focusing only on what brings me joy.

I sat in silence. I got my hands dirty working in the yard. I listened to a couple of podcasts that inspired and redirected my energy. I focused on a project that needed attention and didn't involve a computer. I read. I prayed. I picked up the phone, connecting in real time with real people. I ate a healthy lunch. I sat in silence.

We must develop some skill around this very thing, self-care, if we are going to survive the days and weeks ahead with our hearts and minds intact. 

What brings you joy? What renews you? What feeds your soul?

This is not a call to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the suffering of the world. It's not a call to give up all social media, cable TV and talk radio. I believe we must inform ourselves, and then we must be willing to walk away when necessary. And more often that means walking away and creating space even sooner than we think we should.

To turn off the TV.

To drive home without listening to the radio. 

To fast from social media or perhaps unfollow a few friends.

To think.

To pray.

To ask, what is the change that WE can bring about in the world, for good?

To sit in silence.

And then, when we've restored our souls, to re-engage in the world - in person and perhaps online - with a fresh voice and new spirit.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right sprit within me.
— Psalm 51:10

What's your relationship like with social media? Does it consume more of your life than you'd like? If so, today, what about scheduling a time with yourself to intentionally fast from it? Can you do it for a few hours, a day, or even a weekend, if you think it's a problem for you too? Share here your thoughts and experiences in the comments below or in our "Faith and Sweat" community.

Faith and Sweat: Healing After Domestic Violence

On the 1st of each month, we feature a story of someone putting their "Faith & Sweat" into action. This month, meet Dr. Angelia Riggsbee, a domestic violence survivor and advocate. If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233).

Dr. Angelia Riggsbee, founder of Healing After Domestic Violence (HAD). Photo by Kafi Robinson, used by permission.

Dr. Angelia Riggsbee, founder of Healing After Domestic Violence (HAD). Photo by Kafi Robinson, used by permission.

In the time it takes you to read this article, an estimated 96 people in the United States will be physically assaulted, raped, or stalked by an intimate partner.

That's an average of 24 people per minute, over the next four minutes.

Keep reading, though, because ignoring that statistic, or the stories behind it, won't make the problem go away.

And that's exactly why Dr. Angelia Riggsbee keeps telling her own story and educating others.

She's been pushed. She's been threatened. She says she's even been left for dead on the side of the road.

Angered over seeing her talking to someone else even though they already were separated, her ex wanted to argue. Angelia says he stopped his car near where she was standing and called out to her. When she walked over, he pressed the gas, knocking her into the windshield and onto the ground.

He drove off. Someone called 911.

The next afternoon she left the hospital, but not before making a vow to herself and to God that she would find her way out of the cycle of domestic abuse and become a voice for its victims.

"I felt alone," she remembers. "I felt isolated. I felt trapped. I felt unworthy."

She recognized that she didn't have to stay that way. It took time and effort, but she made her way out of that relationship and out of another one involving emotional abuse. "I had to break the cycle," she says.

Domestic violence, also known as intimate-partner violence (IPV) can affect anyone. Women between ages 18-34 generally experience the highest rates of IPV, but victims also can be male, young or old, straight or gay. It affects all races and cultures.

"That's why it's so important to educate across the board," says Angelia, a native of Durham, NC, who now lives in Charlotte.

In addition to helping domestic-violence victims 1-on-1 through counseling and court advocacy, she also teaches and consults with businesses, schools, and other groups about the effects of domestic violence.  They don't have to become experts, she says, but because violence affects not only the victims but those around them, everyone needs some basic knowledge. She's spoken to military leaders, educators, sororities and fraternities, and medical students.

Domestic violence is about power and control, she says. The abuser typically wants to isolate the victim from others and control every aspect of their lives. This behavior often isn't apparent at first, or the woman rationalizes it with thoughts that he loves her and is trying to take care of her.

This is why telling a victim of domestic violence to "just leave" is unrealistic, Angelia says, noting that on average, a woman leaves a relationship and goes back 7 times before leaving for good.

"The best thing to do is be supportive and let them know WHEN they are ready, they will be there to walk with them through the process," Angelia says. "Offer resources such as money, a place to stay, help with the children ... be a non-judgmental listening ear."

If a victim is planning to leave the relationship, it takes time to gather important documents such as birth certificates or passports, bank account information, and clothing and personal property. Even offering to store some of those items can be a help, as the woman creates a safety plan for herself and her children or pets. When a woman leaves, the abuser often becomes enraged, because he has lost all control. It can be a dangerous time, so planning is critical, Angelia says.

She also encourages family and friends to take care of themselves during such an emotional time, but to keep working through the situation, too.

"What keeps me going is the success stories, the women who have come out of abusive situations," she says. "I look at them and say, 'If I hadn't had a good support system, where would I have been?'"

 

If you or someone you know needs immediate assistance, contact the national hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or a local hotline in your area. Dr. Angelia Riggsbee can be reached for help, resources, or to schedule a speaking appearance through her website, healingafterdv.com.

12 Ways to Meet Your Fitness Goals this Summer

Kayaking combines aerobic exercise and strength building - and mindfully floating around on water can be a new way to relax. Have you tried it?

Kayaking combines aerobic exercise and strength building - and mindfully floating around on water can be a new way to relax. Have you tried it?

Summer can be a difficult time to prioritize our own health. 

Our routines change, with children out of school and involved in different activities, and our family perhaps traveling for vacation. Sleeping, eating and exercising patterns can get disrupted, and as women already we're prone to put everyone else ahead of ourselves.

We don't, however, have to give up on taking care of ourselves and being fit and healthy. We can make summer work for us. 

Think about exercise and fitness differently

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 80 percent of American adults don't get the recommended amounts of exercise each week, setting themselves up for health problems such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

The recommendations are for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (brisk walking, swimming, mowing the lawn) per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (running, dancing). That's 30 minutes, five times a week, and also strength training twice a week - using weights, doing heavy gardening, or even lifting and organizing around the home.

Summer can be a great time to try new forms of fitness, and to shake up our routine. Exercise doesn't have to be miserable, time-consuming and impossible. Maybe going to an exercise class, with travel to and from, takes more time than you have in the summer. Even stretching and moving for 10 minutes at a time, a few times a day, can add up to a great daily workout.

Which of these suggestions might work for you?

Boost that Heart Rate

  • Take a walk or go for a bike ride early in the morning or after dinner, and make it a family activity or one you use to catch up with a neighbor or friend.
  • Rent a kayak or paddle boat, if you live near a lake or vacation near water.
  • Walk (hike) in a state or national park.
  • Wade through a swimming pool or in a lake.
  • Have a dance party. Children need to be moving, too, and this is a fun activity with them, particularly on rainy or very hot days.
  • Do your chores! Household chores can count as aerobic activity, provided you increase your heart rate for at least 10 minutes at a time - painting, moving furniture, vacuuming and mopping, anyone?
  • Find nooks and crannies of time throughout the day to do jumping jacks, to jump rope, or to do a few pushups or situps

Regular aerobic activity has proven to reduce body fat, lower cholesterol, lower resting heart rate and improve heart and lung function. If you don't do any right now, set a mini-goal for this week.

Strength training also is important, and if you're trying to lose weight, it's one of the best ways to burn calories and replace fat with lean muscle tissue. You will not bulk up, so do not worry about that. Body weight workouts, using little to no equipment, help maintain flexibility and strength and can be done most any where, at any time. For resistance, common household objects (even canned goods!) or light hand weights are helpful.

Body Weight Exercises for Strength

  • Do 10 pushups when you first wake up in the morning, and another 10 before bed. Can't do a full one? Do them from your hands and knees. Just keep your back strong and straight.
  • Bear Crawl your way around the house. Start on your hands and knees, inch up to your toes, and crawl by moving your right arm and leg forward at the same time, then your left arm and leg forward.
  • Use an unopened 1-gallon milk or water jug to do bicep curls. Holding the jug in one hand at your side, keep your upper arm straight and bend at the elbow to raise the jug up. Do 10 per side. A gallon of milk or water weighs about 8 pounds.
  • Wall-sit. Slide your back down a wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Knees should be above the ankles and your back straight. Hold for 30 or 60 seconds, or until your legs are jelly.
  • Plank. Lie on your stomach on the floor. Prop up on your forearms and clasp your hands together in front of you. Rise up on your toes, keeping your back straight and tighten your midsection (core). Hold as long as you can.

With the right mindset and a little thinking outside the box, this summer can be one in which you focus on your fitness, take care of yourself, and have fun. If you'd like to try some other exercises, this article features 50 bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere, and from Nerd Fitness, here is a beginner bodyweight workout circuit with video

Just Keep Moving!

What's a new-to-you form of movement that you plan to try this summer? Do you struggle with fitting in exercise or eating right or getting enough sleep this time of year? What works for you in combating this? Share your tips below in the comments, or join my free "Faith and Sweat" Facebook group, where we can have an ongoing conversation about this and many other wellness and self-care topics.

What Happens If You Look Beyond the Weeds?

Each time I pass our kitchen window, or sit at the table nearby, I cringe and berate myself a little. I immediately want to stop whatever I'm doing, grab work gloves, go outside, and start digging.  

The mulched, natural area in the furthest point of our yard once beautifully held a few bushes and flowers, crepe myrtles and a dwarf magnolia, two filled bird feeders, and a small mobile fire pit over which we occasionally roasted marshmallows. The purple irises bloomed this spring.

I used to appreciate the view from my window.

Today,  the bird feeders hang empty, the fire pit is rusting, and the trees have become overgrown. A carpet of weeds has overtaken the mulch in what seems like only a matter of weeks. Once, by working with purpose and planning, weed pulling would have been a relatively easy task.

Now it will take hours, and/or several gallons of Roundup. (The experts say it's too far gone for my natural salt-and-vinegar weed killing solution)

weeds

I sigh, leave the window and, feeling defeated, return to what I'm doing.

Life feels weedy this week, too.

In one city alone, a young musician dies after being shot following her concert, a madman wielding an assault rifle slaughters 49 people at a night club, an alligator snatches and drowns a toddler playing in a resort lagoon. Political rhetoric arouses our emotions and divides us. Access to 24-hour news and information fuels our anger and our sense of helplessness.

So many weeds.

And then we confront the weeds closer to home, as we adjust to our life's ups and downs, maneuver through change, fight our own personal battles. Close friends grieve as they watch loved ones fade and die. Others battle fear and uncertainty in relationships, jobs, finances.

We sigh, walk away from the window, and feel defeated. Again.

Pondering all of this, I took my dog out into the backyard yesterday afternoon. While he explored and worked through his plan, I surveyed our weeds a little more closely. Where to start?  How to start? When to start?

And then I noticed a pop of color, begging for attention amid a forest of green. It surprised and delighted me.

Black-Eyed Susans.

black-eyed susan

At the same time that the annoying weeds grew, the wildflower sprouted and now offered the world three yellow and dark-brown blooms. I had been so focused on the weeds from my kitchen window that I hadn't noticed the beauty. 

Can you relate?

First responders and emergency teams save lives in Orlando.  Communities rally around those who mourn. Friends reach out to check on each other and spend time together. We focus on our common humanity.

In a week full of pain and suffering, a million different kindnesses have sprouted. Even in suffering, even in pain, the beauty is there.

In every circumstance, if we adjust our focus, we can look beyond the weeds.

Can you see the beauty?

What weeds and what beauty have you experienced this week? How have you been able to see past the weeds? I'd love to hear your stories. Comment below, or join our free Faith and Sweat community on Facebook, where we continue the conversation. 

A Place to Breathe

space to breathe

We need moments of silence, of space, of reflection, both routinely and in response to tragedy.

If we are not intentional about claiming this space for ourselves, the noise of the world can overwhelm us.

I offer to you these thoughts, these prayers, these resources that I've found. May the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe work through each of us in these days to bring healing, hope and peace to our lives and our world.

Peace Which the World Cannot Give

O Lord,
you love justice
and you establish peace on earth.
We bring before you
the disunity of today’s world;
the absurd violence, and the many wars,
which are breaking the courage
of the peoples of the world;
human greed and injustice,
which breed hatred and strife.
Send your spirit
and renew the face of the earth;
teach us to be compassionate
towards the whole human family;
strengthen the will of all those
who fight for justice and for peace,
and give us that peace
which the world cannot give.
Amen
— World Council of Churches

The night before 49 people were slaughtered in Orlando, another young woman was shot to death in the same city. Christina Grimmie, a talented singer who competed on season 6 of the TV show "The Voice," was killed Friday night at a "meet and greet" after her concert.

I was not familiar with Christina's music before her death, but this video from four years ago really touched me when I saw it over the weekend.

If you would like to learn more about her or her music, here is Christina Grimmie's website.

I also am reminded of a song that our youth choir performed a couple of weeks ago, “I Believe” by Mark A. Miller. The words were found scratched on the walls of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, by a Jew hiding from Nazi persecution:

I believe in the sun even when it's not shining. I believe in love even when I don't feel it. I believe in God even when God is silent.

 

What else have you found in recent days that's given you space to reflect and breathe? Share your ideas in the comments here, or join my free "Faith and Sweat" Facebook group, a place to explore what it means to show up to life, and to watch what happens when we do.

Why 'Thoughts and Prayers' are Not Enough - and What Is

child praying

This time around, I didn’t offer my thoughts and prayers publicly. It wouldn’t be enough.

It’s not enough for me to spout pious sentiments on social media, so I mostly stayed silent.

For nearly 48 hours, I’ve let most of my words come from others. I offered a few tweets, one Facebook status update. 

It wasn’t enough.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love … where there is despair, hope.

I wasn’t even sure how to do that, to become an instrument of peace, to sow love and hope. I’ve been reflecting on it for most of two days.

Forty-nine people slaughtered; 53 injured. How do we fathom such evil?

 “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims,” the politicians tweet.

What are your prayers, politicians? What are your thoughts? Or are you just giving a cursory nod to your voters, hoping they’ll stay off your back? It’s hollow. It’s what we say when we don’t know what to say. It’s what we say when we’re trying to tolerate and not engage fully with others, when we don’t really want to get our hands dirty.

Be free, my thoughts for others. Now I can go back to all my other thoughts.

Be free, my prayers to God. I’m letting God handle it now; it’s not my responsibility.

No. No.

NO.

How about instead of simply offering our “thoughts and prayers,” we go beyond? How about we stand up for the worth and dignity of all people - Black and white, gay and straight, Christian and Muslim, child and adult, gun-toter and gun-hater?

How about we simplify it to just one label - child of God?

What could our world become if we each saw God and our common humanity in the face of every person that we encountered – whether they believe like we believe, look like we look, or dress like we dress? Would we choose love, or would we choose hate? Would we choose to continue the violence, or would we choose to turn the other cheek and end the cycle?

How would that change things?

If we saw God in the face of every human being, would we still choose to stand by and simply offer our thoughts and prayers – no attempts at transformation – then move on to the next task, while watching even one human be rejected, mocked, abused, killed? 

Or would we simply say, “This is wrong.”

Instead of only sending thoughts and prayers aloft and absolving ourselves of responsibility, would we say, “What can I do?” and then sit with that question? 

Instead of clinging to our labels with one hand and our arrows (or guns) with the other, would we offer to get to know someone different from us and understand their point of view?

Instead of staying riveted to cable news and trolling the Internet, would we stop the noise and chaos, take a breath and look for a fresh perspective?

Would we say, I may not agree with you, but you too are a child of God, deserving of respect; can we talk about it?

Yesterday, today, and in the days to come, these are my thoughts.

These are my prayers.

Oh Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer.

Lord in your mercy hear our prayer
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
— Often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, this prayer was written by an unknown author

My Birthday Gifts - To You

birthday candles and cake

Today is my birthday - woo hoo!

I like to be remembered and celebrated, a little. I also like to celebrate others, and I believe in celebrating every single day.

When's your birthday? Can we celebrate it today, with mine? Awesome. Happy Birthday, and Happy Un-Birthday.

Yes, we will sing songs.

Yes, we will enjoy cake.

Yes, we will give gifts.

Yes, we will show up with all of our goodness and messiness, to celebrate life as it is right now. I have friends who are dealing with some overwhelming stuff at the moment; it almost seems ludicrous for me to celebrate anything.

BUT.

Believing that good is in or can come out of every moment, we'll celebrate when and what we can. Are you ready to party?

Crank up the music. First, click this and let's hear from the Beatles.

That's the way to get a party started! One of my childhood friends wants to say something, too, before we cut to the cake. Have you met Mr. Rogers? 

 

Now, let's have some cake! One of my family favorites is a pineapple upside down cake. It can be made completely from scratch, or you can take some shortcuts and start with a mix. I found a gluten-free Pillsbury "classic yellow" cake box mix (Whaaaat? After breaking up with the Doughboy!) and I am using that to save time, for starters. Since I'm trying to eliminate my use of cooking oils, I am substituting applesauce for the vegetable oil called for in the recipe.

After you bake your cake, here's the Pineapple Glaze to put on it while it's warm:

1/2 stick of butter
1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
1 cup of crushed pineapple, drained
Combine the above and pour over the baked cake while it's still warm. Double this recipe for a two-layer cake. (Note: This is not a healthy recipe. Carry on.)

Now, it's time for the gifts!

It's been an amazing gift to me to interact with you through the comments on my blog, on my social media accounts, and in my free "Faith and Sweat" Facebook group the past several months. Thank you for reading and connecting.

Now I have some gifts for YOU! These involve some of my favorite things: chasing shiny objects (i.e., learning new things), taking and enjoying photos, and drinking COFFEE!

Learning something new

I love books, and in the past year I've utilized audiobooks and podcasts so I can learn on the go. Some of my favorite books that I could re-read and glean nuggets from several times include "Essentialism" by Greg McKeown; "Gift from the Sea," by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and "Younger Next Year for Women," by Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge, MD. (There's a men's version, too.)

Here's your first gift, a pdf I found that gives you an overview of "Essentialism," so you can try on some of the ideas in the book for yourself. Get it at this link HERE.

"Gift from the Sea" is a journey of self-discovery. Here's a quotable image you can download and use on social media. I created it just for you and hope it resonates.

"Younger Next Year for Women" was life-changing for me. I read it in early 2009 when I was beginning to focus on taking care of myself, after putting others first for so long. If you're on Facebook, connect here to their resources and information. And GET THE BOOK. Read the book. I have it linked on my "Products I Love" page HERE. 

A Word About Podcasts

Mindset is at the core of our attempts to be healthy, learn new things, grow, and become our best selves.  I try to start each day with a quiet devotional time and try to spend each day learning a little something new.

In the past year, a quick way I've done this is by listening to podcasts while I exercise or drive. I could give you a long list of those worth checking out, but let me just introduce you to two for now - The RobCast, by Rob Bell, which centers on spirituality and life, and On Air With Ella, which is for "anyone who wants to feel better, look better, live better and have some fun along the way." 

I'm happy to delve deeper into podcasts I find helpful, or other resources, in a future article. Would that be of interest? Let me know!

Now, back to the party.

Celebrating with Photos

Did you bring the camera? We need pics of our party, of course! In 1999, I started a direct-sales business in memory-keeping/scrapbooking and remember telling the person who introduced me to that company, "I don't want this to interfere with my writing." A couple of years later, writing took a backseat to helping people preserve their memories through photos and stories. Now, I seek to do both - write for myself and the world, and help others tell their stories through photos and words.

If the idea of organizing and doing something with your photos overwhelms you, go ahead and get plugged into SaveYourPhotos.org. September is International Save Your Photos month, and this website will have many tips leading up to and during that month to help you. Also, I invite you to visit my other website, PhotoOrganize.Me, to see if what I offer there would be of interest to you. I will be blogging for both PhotoOrganize.Me and SaveYourPhotos.org, to encourage people to do more with their photos than share them on social media or store them on their smartphone.

NOW. COFFEE.

We have our cake. We have our reading and listening material. We have our intention to do something with our photos.

Would you like some coffee?

(If you give a birthday girl a piece of cake and some books and websites, she's going to want some coffee to go with it.) 

I have a Keurig single-cup coffee maker, which I've had for about 9 years. The "care for creation" Christian in me gets agitated when throwing away those little cups, and I've composted and recycled some of them. The health-conscious woman in me likes that she doesn't make AND drink 6+ cups of coffee each morning. Balance.

So here's my final gift to you during our Birthday Bash: The next 16 people to subscribe to my updates at amyhoogervorst.com each will receive a free single-serve "Y-cup" of coffee from me. The coffee is from CLR Roasters, a division of Youngevity, a company for which I am a distributor. It's fair-trade and organic. Great coffee. And the sales go to support our Be the Change Foundation, which helps a lot of other charitable organizations, so it's a win-win-win.

To be eligible for a free Y-cup, Sign up here to receive my updates. You will need to enter your information into the "Get Updates" section of the right sidebar. If you're one of the first 16 to do this, I will contact you to get your mailing address and mail you a "Y-cup" of coffee for your Keurig single-serve coffee maker.

AND, all of my subscribers as of Monday morning, June 13, will be entered into a drawing for a free bag of whole-bean or ground organic, fair trade coffee from Youngevity. So please share this article with anyone you think will be interested. If someone you know is interested in health, wellness, mindset, story, faith and sweat, I would love to hear from them and have them get my updates, too. I will contact the winner of my drawing after June 13, when all entries are due, to see which type of coffee he/she prefers.

So, to recap: Visit amyhoogervorst.com. Scroll down until you see "Get Updates" along the right-hand side of the page. Enter your information. There! You're subscribed. (If you get a popup offer to get subscribed, you can click that instead.)

It's time for some coffee to go with that cake, and those other gifts, and those songs. 

Happy birthday to you, and to me, on today and all the days in between.

Celebrate today!

Connect with me by commenting below, or joining my free Faith & Sweat Facebook group, where we continue the conversation. Thanks for being part of this community, and sharing in the journey with us.

Want a Sports Drink that Works as Hard as You Do?

refuel with rebound sports drink

When we exercise, or work in the yard, or just spend a lot of time outside in the summer, we're going to sweat. But that sweat isn't just water and salt.

It's a mix of vital nutrients that our bodies need. If not replenished, our systems can become unbalanced, and our health can be compromised. The effects may be sudden, in the case of dehydration or heat stroke, or they may be gradual, in the case of deficiencies that lead to chronic illness or a heart attack.

We all know to stay hydrated. How we do it makes a difference, too.

Many athletes, weekend warriors, and Little Leaguers reach for sports drinks that are easy to come by at the grocery or convenience store, but those can be high in sodium and carbohydrates. A better choice than a soda, those sugary sports drinks still aren't perfect. They lack vitamins and minerals. Some are made with artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup, or sucralose. Their labels - and that freaky blue color - concerned me as a mom and as someone on her own health journey.

How could something that's supposed to be good for me, after I've been doing exercise that's supposed to be good for me, be filled with less-than-good-for-me ingredients?

I'm a proponent of consuming natural foods to refuel during and after exercise. I've tried the gels and energy chews during endurance events, but I prefer bananas and trail mix to their sweeter, gooier counterparts.

I used to carry water in one bottle on my bicycle, and a lower calorie Gatorade in the other bottle - because it was what I knew and what we had. At that time, I hadn't studied about the nutrients we lose when we sweat, or of the importance of giving our bodies the essential vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids that we need for optimal health. Powerade would have given me B6, B12, niacin and  a trace of magnesium. Vitaminwater, well, sounds healthy, but read the label - six vitamins and a highly processed sugar.

Rebound instead

As I trained for a 100-mile charity bike ride in 2014, I also started learning about nutritional deficiencies and the availability of a sports drink, Rebound fx, that had no artificial colors and flavors. The company I recently had partnered with to help my photo and memory-keeping customers now was owned by a health and wellness company, Youngevity. They had formulated Rebound for an NBA All Star who had used their products to regain his health. He wanted a better sports drink to use during and after his games.

I tried Rebound, and it's been our go-to since. I drink it almost daily, during and after workouts, and my son uses it during his sports seasons and sometimes takes it to school. It's helped him replace sodas and many juices that he was consuming. I still cringe when he wants a neon-blue Powerade, but we parents pick our battles. At least it's not soda.

Rebound powder, in the single-serve stick pack or 30-serving canister, has only 8.5 grams of sugars and 10 grams of sodium, along with dozens of vitamins and plant-derived mineral elements that are responsible for a wealth of bodily functions. See the ingredients here. It also comes in a can, but the grams of sugar double to 17. 

Some of what Rebound contains, and why it's important:

Potassium and sodium - Most Americans get excessive amounts of sodium in their diets, from processed foods including table salt, and not enough potassium. The right balance is critical for heart health. Potassium plays an important role in muscle and nerve function, electrolyte regulation, water balance, and blood pressure control. 

Biotin - One of the 8 vitamins in the B-complex, biotin promotes healthy nerves, skin, eyes, hair, liver and mouth. It's important in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. As a co-enzyme, it's involved with energy production and converts food to energy by facilitating the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates into glucose and breaks down proteins into amino acids.

Inositol - It helps control fatty buildup in the liver and heart, and it aids in the metabolism of nutrients into energy.

Amino acid complex - They help build and repair tissue in the body, which can help performance and stamina, and aid in recovery time.

Folic acid - This nutrient helps the body make healthy new cells.

Plant-derived mineral elements - Minerals have a role in nearly every bodily function, but our bodies cannot make them. Minerals have to come through the foods we eat. Most of today's foods, however, are grown from mineral-deficient topsoil and crops, so we're not getting all of the minerals we need. Colloidal minerals from plant matter are the easiest to absorb. These can include naturally occurring heavy metals. High concentrations of these metals (copper, selenium and zinc, for example) are harmful, but trace amounts are essential to human health.

Taurine - An amino acid that supports neurological development and helps regulate the level of water and minerals in the blood, some studies suggest that taurine may improve athletic performance.

Ginseng - It is a herbal root thought to boost the immune system, concentration, and endurance.

Green tea - With antioxidants and caffeine (though less than coffee), green tea increases physical performance and endurance.

If you're interested in trying Rebound for yourself or your family, you can click here to purchase, or contact me for personal help. As a reminder, I only promote products that I use and find beneficial. Here is my full disclosure policy.

For a word about our supplements and third-party independent testing, click HERE.

 

Faith & Sweat: 100 Unicycles for Suicide Prevention

On the 1st of each month, we feature a story of someone putting their "Faith & Sweat" into action. This month I profile Jackie Lea Shelley, whose work I discovered through an online blogging challenge earlier this year. Her story inspired me, and I loved her fun, colorful designs. I have unicycle #29 hanging in my office.

Jackie Lea Shelley has painted 45 unicycles so far, on her way to 100 and a sizable donation to San Francisco Suicide Prevention. All photos with this article are hers and are used by permission.

Jackie Lea Shelley has painted 45 unicycles so far, on her way to 100 and a sizable donation to San Francisco Suicide Prevention. All photos with this article are hers and are used by permission.

 

Some people see a unicycle as a symbol of balance, agility, and fun. To Jackie Lea Shelley it became a reason to live – and then a way to give others hope.

Jackie suffers from major depressive disorder, typically which has shown up in the winter, and she says she’s come close to committing suicide at least twice. In one of her darkest times, between the onset of an episode and her ability to start medication, she determined she needed a reason to stay alive - a reason that didn’t involve guilt, responsibility, or shame.

Learning to ride a unicycle became her reason.

Then the unicycle became even more.

In January, Jackie - a portrait artist living in the San Francisco area – decided she would paint 100 unicycles to raise awareness of and money for suicide prevention.

The response has been phenomenal, she says. At first she had trouble keeping up with the demand for the paintings, and the effort also has touched people in ways she never imagined.

“Many friends have come forward to share that they, too, struggle with depression, anxiety, or hidden grief,” she says. “The more I talk openly and without shame about having experienced mental illness firsthand, I feel like the more it gives others freedom to speak openly and maybe seek treatment, which is my real goal.”

One friend posted a picture of his unicycle painting on Twitter, and a woman asked about it. He told her the story behind it, and she went to the 100unicycles.com site and bought one right away. The woman’s sister had committed suicide.

“Another time I was at a social event and I told a woman about my project, and it turned out that she had lost both of her children to suicide,” Jackie says. “I hear these stories every day now, but instead of being depressing it's actually been quite moving. The need to tell these stories and be able to share our pain and heal is very overwhelming.”

When Jackie first came up with the idea to paint 100 unicycles, she excitedly told her mother, who at first questioned who would buy them. Then Jackie shared her excitement with a close friend, who had connected her to San Francisco Suicide Prevention, where he had volunteered on the phone hotline for more than a year. He suggested painting just ONE really good unicycle and making prints of it.

“So at that point I got mad, and stubborn, because here I’d run this cool idea by two of my most trusted people and they both were skeptical, and so I was like ‘I'm going to do this,’” Jackie recalls, with a laugh.

“So I sat down right then - past midnight in a motel room in Corpus Christi, TX, and I painted the first two. And I decided to donate the money to SF Suicide, in part to show my friend that I could do it my way!”

Jackie’s mother tried to purchase the first painting that went up for sale at 100unicycles.com, but she wasn’t fast enough and had to settle for #4. Jackie has painted 45 of the intended 100 so far, and with each donation, she sends a screenshot to her friend Mike to celebrate the sale of an original, not a reprint. “He puts up with me with grace,” she says.

 Jackie says she didn’t expect it to be so challenging to paint the unicycles, which are fairly simple and take only a couple of hours from start to finish. But she developed shoulder pain last year that sometimes keeps her from being able to work, and she experienced another mini-depression in early March. “Usually I only struggle with depression in the winter, but every year is different,” she says.

She also launched a second project, 100 Cupcakes, which raises money to end hunger, and she says she doesn’t think she was ready yet to handle so much work in addition to her regular responsibilities as a single mom and portrait artist.

 “Even so, I feel enormous pride that I've come this far," she says, having painted 45 in less than six months, not counting extras that were unnumbered. If it takes until December to do the rest, that's OK too.

 As for learning to ride the unicycle, that’s not going very well, she says. “The tire keeps deflating and I still haven't bought a helmet or shin guards, and now the guy I borrowed it from wants it back. So I think I need to get my own, and maybe lessons!”

The unicycle project is dedicated “to all of those who, right now, can’t see how loved, needed, and worthy they truly are,” and Jackie says she hopes it will encourage people to get the help that they need.

That’s why the charity donations are so important,” she says, noting that anyone purchasing a unicycle receives a confirmation letter of the donation from SF Suicide Prevention. “Real people are being touched and saved every day because of these paintings.”

To learn more about the project or view the available unicycle paintings, visit 100unicycles.com. For suicide prevention resources in your area or immediate help for you or a loved one, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The hotline number is 1-800-273-8255, and it's available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to connect individuals with trained counselors at a crisis center near them.

Would you like to share a story with me of someone putting their "Faith and Sweat" into action? Head over to my free Facebook group, where you call tell me more and we can continue this conversation. Alternatively, you can comment below or send me a note through my contact page. I look forward to hearing from you.

Stressed? An Introduction to Mindfulness

Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

My introduction to mindfulness practices came during a time of personal upheaval. I was anxious and fearful, critical of others and myself, and able to turn most any negative thought into something bigger than it truly was.

On the outside, I looked fine. Inside was turmoil.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction was a specialty of the counselor I had begun meeting with regularly. She told me about mindful breathing and offered to talk me through my first "body scan" to see if I found it beneficial.

I sat in a rocking chair, closed my eyes, and followed her prompts. If my mind started to wander, she instructed me, I was to gently and without judgment guide it back to her words.

We started with an instruction to find my breath. For perhaps a minute, I concentrated on breathing in, and breathing out, simply noticing how I breathed. I noticed my body's ability to regulate its breathing. Then, I moved my attention from my breath through my body, starting with my forehead, face and jaw - did I feel tension there? If so, I brought my attention to that area, breathing in new energy and breathing out the tension. I stayed in each area where I found tension for as many seconds and breaths as I needed.

I moved from my head and face to my shoulders, stomach, lower back, feet, repeating the process of bringing attention to the area, breathing in new energy and breathing out tension. Finally expanding my awareness to my entire body, I felt the breath as a whole moving into and out of my body from head to toe.

The whole process took anywhere from five to 15 minutes; I lost track of time. Immediately I felt the benefits. I could breathe more deeply. I felt relaxed, lighter. Wow, I thought. There's something here.

God speaks in the stillness. I didn't remember the last time I had been still and taken control of my thoughts.

I could do a body scan on my own anytime I felt anxious or tense, for just a few moments or for much longer. I prefer to be lying down in a quiet room without distractions, but sitting or standing works as well. Sometimes I wake up feeling anxious about my day, and a quick body scan helps me restart.

A more thorough explanation and walk-through of a body scan can be found in A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein. I will list other resources at the end of this article.

As my counselor guided me through other mindfulness practices during our sessions, I began to awaken more fully to the world around me. It didn't happen overnight, but the practices helped me find presence, stillness, compassion, gratitude, and ultimately connection.

The health benefits of mindfulness - improvements in levels of anxiety, panic, and general mood disturbance - have been documented clinically for more than 35 years. Researchers have studied its effects on people with cancer and major depressive illness, as well as those in high stress work environments, and found significant benefits. Other reports support its use in cases of chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and binge eating.

"There is still much to be understood about how practicing mindfulness actually helps in these various conditions. That it helps seems clear," writes Jeffrey Brantley, MD, in his book Calming Your Anxious Mind: how mindfulness and compassion can free you from anxiety, fear & panic.

Brantley is founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at Duke University's Center for Integrative Medicine. He has written several books. Calming Your Anxious Mind examines the role of thoughts and attitudes in health, while acknowledging that medical science hasn't concluded why anxiety and panic happen or how to best treat them.

"By learning to be present and to stay connected with your body and mind and what is happening in the present moment, you have your best chance of understanding your own experiences of fear, anxiety, and panic," Brantley writes. "Out of that understanding, you will make the most effective response for healing."

Have you used any mindfulness practices? If so, I would love to hear your experience and what you learned. Comment below, or join our free Faith and Sweat community on Facebook, where we continue the conversation. 

Books I own and recommend for further reading:

 

From Dry Bones to Temple of the Spirit (An Excerpt)

I wrote this article for Faith Collective, where "we are ordinary people who find ourselves in an extraordinary story." Thank you to Chelsea, who allowed me to publish it there. This story is a big part of my journey to a healthier lifestyle.

For a time, I went about my days with anger and frustration simmering just below the surface. I tried to push through and dismiss my feelings, but too often they spilled over and landed on the people I cared about most.

The move to a new state that we’d made just a few months prior felt like it had been the wrong decision. My son’s new school wasn’t the right fit. My passion for my nearly decade-old business had disappeared. I felt unfulfilled, anxious, and sad. Nothing met my expectations. Nothing felt like it fit.

Then the figurative wheels fell off the Amy Cruiser, and I crashed emotionally. Suddenly though, I realized that I DID know what fit. The people that I loved so much, they still fit.  The God that I always had believed in and tried to follow, He still fit, although He’d been having some trouble getting my attention.

Was this Him getting my attention now?

To continue reading, click HERE   

 

What's in Your Shopping Basket? (An Excerpt)

When the FDA announced last week that it would be reconsidering a 22-year-old definition of "healthy," blogger Nicole Akers and I jumped at the chance to comment. She and I have exchanged blog posts a couple of times recently. Nicole's take on the FDA's news appears here, and the following is an excerpt of my article on her site.

redefining healthy with the FDA

What does “healthy” mean to you?

Or to your neighbor with a nut allergy? Or to your son’s baseball coach who drinks sports drinks like water? Or to the manufacturers of those snacks that beckon in the checkout line?

Exactly.

The FDA is about to undertake the process of updating the definition of “healthy” as it relates to nutrient content claims, so that foods can be labeled appropriately based on updated science and understanding. Under current guidelines, established in 1994, an avocado isn’t healthy because of its fat content. A low-fat Pop Tart is.

Everyone will be able to offer input in the re-defining process, but it could take some time. It took six years for the agency to agree on a definition for gluten-free foods, and the FDA never has defined the term “natural.”

Why not just keep it simple to help us know what is best to put in our shopping basket? (Except that simple is never simple for the government.

(CLICK HERE to read the full article)

Pop Tarts Better than Avocados? FDA to Redefine "Healthy"

Blogger Nicole Akers has written several times for the "Faith and Sweat" blog. When the FDA announced last week that it would be redefining 22-year-old definitions of "healthy," we both jumped at the chance to comment. Here is Nicole's take on the FDA's news. My version is at her website, and I will post an excerpt here later today.

Remember the This is Your Brain on Drugs commercial series? Here’s a 30 second reminder: This is your brain on drugs. Any Questions?. The FDA has taken one too many of its own approved drugs. Maybe it has eaten too much of its own approved food. Have you read The FDA is Killing Us? The FDA is about to change the menu again. It has scrambled eggs for brains, but it wants to be “healthy.” Has it gone Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and mixed up the labels again, or is it about to sort it all out?

It won’t end before “healthy” has a new definition, which could take a really long time, after all this is an arm of the government we’re talking about. The FDA’s final rule on gluten free labeling took more than 6 years to complete.

We define health every day with the choices we make. The fuel we put in our cars matters. We put diesel in a diesel engine. Unleaded goes in just about everything else. Going on a trip, or want a better performing engine? Go for premium. The fuel we put in our bodies is no different. If we want our bodies to perform we have to feed them good food. Good food is better fuel for optimal performance. And, if you don’t want optimal performance now, that might be okay when youth is on your side, but when your body starts to breakdown earlier than it should because you haven’t made good food choices you will wish to reconsider those decisions.

What food is healthy? Sometimes it is hard to tell, especially if you’re reading the packaging labels instead of the ingredient labels.

The FDA’s definition of “healthy” is under scrutiny and about to change, so let’s look to Merriam-Webster’s for something more sound.  

Health means: enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit : well

And, there’s a whole conversation on the matter:

Healthy implies full strength and vigor as well as freedom from signs of disease <a healthy family>. Sound emphasizes the absence of disease, weakness, or malfunction <a sound heart>. Wholesome implies appearance and behavior indicating soundness and balance <a face with a wholesome glow>. robust implies the opposite of all that is delicate or sickly <a lively, robust little boy>. Hale applies particularly to robustness in old age <still hale at the age of eighty>. well implies merely freedom from disease or illness <she has never been a well person>.

The FDA definition might be about to include foods like avocados and salmon, Read more here: WSJ article.

Let me make sure I have that right.

Almonds have not been healthy, but they could be. Kind LLC cannot have “healthy” on its packaging. Now Pop-Tarts and fat free pudding cups can be “healthy,” but avocados are not because they have too much fat. Dieticians suggest a whole avocado is too much in a serving. A fifth of an avocado will do, and it supplies good fat, but Pop-Tarts have an overabundance of sugar, and can be healthy. Have you witnessed a child’s energy level after eating a Pop-Tart? They have to be on a teacher’s worst nightmare list for breakfast before school.

Confusing!

Even my husband is confused. He needed a snack to have during the day while at work.

“I almost bought Pop-Tarts instead of granola bars yesterday because Pop Tarts are both delicious and healthy.”

I am positive he was trying to get my goat, but the confusion is understandable.

The old “healthy” considers.

  1. Fat

  2. Saturated fat

  3. Sodium

  4. Cholesterol

  5. Beneficial nutrients, like Vitamin C or calcium.

The FDA is smart to designate varying levels for different food categories. Whew! At least that is good news.  

“Healthy” was first defined in 1994, and you can read all the legalese about the Dietary Health and Education Act. Sugar wasn’t a big concern then, but the act still has good points worth keeping.

I get it. After more than 20 years the definition is too antiquated. Maybe the FDA should consult the urban dictionary for an update because by the time a finding is reached it could be outdated again.

Before an update we might want to look around to see how health in America affects other countries. In doing so China might have something to say.

China blames our gotta have it now and quick fast food lifestyle as part of its obesity problem. American restaurants like KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut thrive. Parent company Yum is opening fast food restaurants at a rapid pace. McDonald’s restaurants are on the rise too.

Fast food is high in saturated fat, simple carbohydrates, and sugar without a lot of nutrition. This sharply contrasts with traditional plant based protein, low cholesterol Chinese diets. Chinese youth are plagued with weight gain and chronic problems from fast food. China doesn’t want to cut corners on “healthy.” Droves of Chinese children flock to fast food restaurants and it doesn’t like how Western fast food affects its health. Twelve percent of children between the ages of 7 and 18 are overweight and 1.7 million children have diabetes.

A German study doesn’t like it much better. It blames Western food consumed more than twice a week for higher risks of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.In America 68.8% of adults are overweight. And, 35.7% of those are obese adults according to statistics. Should Americans be redefining “healthy?” The rest of the world may want to pass on the Western fast food lifestyle and the new “healthy.” They may want to see Westerners becoming “healthy” to match the definition the FDA hopes to embody.

Do you think the FDA is capable of getting it right? Want to place bets on how long it will take to bring a finding? Please do so in the comments.

Nicole is a healthy blogger who enjoys studying food. She welcomes followers of her blog @nicoleakers.com, on LinkedIn Nicole Akers, Twitter@Nicole Akers10, or on Medium.

Is Your Load Too Heavy? Consider the Seashells

collecting seashells

Have you ever walked on a beach, picking up seashells as you go, discerning the most beautiful among them to add to your collection?

The larger ones stand out as you approach, begging further investigation. The unusual ones beckon. The little ones are so numerous. They may be smooth, they may be colorful, they may be a little broken. No doubt each shell is unique. 

You keep your favorites. How many are there - hundreds, thousands, millions - that you don't pick up, that don't make it into your pocket?

What if we considered our opportunities as intentionally as we consider each seashell? What if we filled our calendar the same way we fill our pocket - thoughtfully, one item a time, focusing only on the ones that fit us best. And what if we were willing to hold one for a bit and then put it back down if it weren't exactly the right one for us?

With shell collecting, we're not looking for perfection, but we are looking for progress. Is that what we're looking for in our calendars, in our lives? Perfection in shell searching would lead us to spend some money at the beachwear store, where in addition to our perfect $10 conch shell we could also pick up taffy and a $5 T-shirt. Perfection in our scheduling leads us to fill our calendar, but is it with the important only, or a bunch of the unimportant, too?

We want the shells that we take home to fit us, to feel right. We can't pick up and take home every shell. Our pockets would bulge. A bucket full would be too heavy to carry.

Is your bucket heavy? Have you taken on every opportunity that's come your way, feeling as if you must carry every one of them?

Each day, we are surrounded by dozens, maybe hundreds, of options for how to spend our time and resources. We can get swept away by all of these choices, carried along by our fascinations, adding commitments, so that it's difficult to shut out the noise and focus on the important.

Today, think of the seashells, and think of your commitments. Which ones are essential? Which fit you best? Which ones do you really want to carry?

Is it time for some of them to be left on the sand?

How do you filter out the noise and choose what commitments to accept and carry? What tips do you have to focus on what's essential in your life, and then do that? Comment below, or join our free Faith and Sweat community on Facebook, where we continue the conversation. 

Why Your M.D. is Not Your Best Health Advocate

M.D. is not best health advocate

If I've learned anything about my health the past few years, it's this: medical doctors don't know everything, and it is up to us to be our own best advocate.

Present yourself with a lingering cough to your MD, and you will leave with a prescription. Complain about a stomach ache after you always eat, and you will leave with a prescription.

Now if that's just what you came for, then go home happy. It may take a few tries to get the right prescription in you, and you might need another one to treat new side effects from the first, but you'll get your symptoms treated.

But if you're wondering why your cough is lingering in the first place, or why acid reflux has started to plague you suddenly, your typical MD is not your go-to guy. An MD practices allopathy.

Allopathy - a system of medical practice that aims to combat disease by use of remedies (as drugs or surgery) producing effects different from or incompatible with those produced by the disease being treated.
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

If you need brain surgery or a broken arm set, the M.D. is your guy. But An M.D. is not trained to look at the body holistically or get to the root of most chronic illness. They address and suppress the symptoms, or aim to cut out the disease. Most get little training in medical school on the importance of nutrition or physical activity to health (though thankfully that's starting to change at a few medical schools).

The allopathic medical model is the one with which I grew up and utilized exclusively until a couple of years ago. Have a problem? Call the doctor. It's the natural, reflexive thing to do for most of us. I respect my primary care doctor, and I like her personally. She's the one I credit for helping me manage my symptoms when I needed help with allergies, asthma, sinus infections, and depression. She wrote the prescriptions, she talked me through safely taking them, and she kept making me come in for visits so she could check on me.

But she's not the one responsible for getting me off of those drugs, which I decided I didn't want to take for forever if I didn't have to, and she's not the one responsible for getting me in the shape I'm in now. She's not the reason I haven't had a sinus infection in two years or have survived two spring allergy seasons without medications.

All of those improvements took a village of people who have coached me, taught me, and helped me become a better version of myself - with me leading and saying, I'm in charge of my body, and we're going to keep looking for a superior way.

The others in my village include three naturopathic doctors, one of whom is a digestion expert that I worked with one-on-one a few weeks ago.

Naturopathy - a system of treatment of disease that avoids drugs and surgery and emphasizes the use of natural agents (as air, water, and herbs) and physical means (as tissue manipulation and electrotherapy).
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Then there's homeopathy, which I've only looked briefly into thus far.

Homeopathy - a system of medical practice that treats a disease especially by the administration of minute doses of a remedy that would in larger amounts produce symptoms in healthy persons similar to those of the disease.
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

What's been amazing to me is that these naturopaths from whom I've learned dispense a good amount of information to me and to others, virtually for free through their podcasts, lectures, audio recordings and writing. No office visit required. No co-pay. I only have to come to them with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a willingness to try something different. As with the MD, I can take or leave the advice that they give me, and that is another revelation I've had: I can take their advice or leave it. It's up to ME. 

I used to think that the MD was the only one who had the answers, and that I had to follow their advice explicitly. Given my background only going to allopathic medical doctors, I wondered when I met my first naturopath, Dr. Joel Wallach, if he were a quack. I know now that he has been called worse than a quack, because he goes against the grain of most allopathic MD philosophy. But a lot of what he says makes sense to me, and my health has improved since I've followed his teaching.

Our body responds to the nutrition that we do - and don't - give it. Feed your body a bunch of fast food, problems will develop. I started paying closer attention to Dr. Wallach, avoiding items on his list of Bad Foods, and taking supplements that he helped devise based on his 40+ years of research. No longer am I on prescription or over-the-counter medications.

(Disclosure: I am now a distributor for the company that Dr. Wallach founded and for his products. I would not promote them if I did not use and believe in them. See my full disclosure policy. Also, we do not treat, cure or heal disease. We advocate giving the body all of the essential nutrients that it needs, so it can heal and repair itself.)

My MD doesn't have all the answers, and what the NDs suggest may not always work for everyone. Though there are basic starting points for supporting various bodily systems, such as the circulatory or digestive system, some experimentation occasionally is required because we each are unique. (Researching WebMD is not the only - nor best - way to conduct this research. How many times have you gone there, typed in your symptom such as twitching eyelid, and left certain that you have a terminal illness?)

It all starts with an open mind and an awareness that we must create our own village, even if others think that makes us the village idiot.

You are your own best health advocate.

Question: Who's in your health village? Where do you struggle with this? Do you only rely on allopathic medical doctors, or have you branched out to other methods, or even left the allopathic doctors altogether? I'd love to hear what your experience has been. Leave your comments or questions below, or join us for a conversation in the free Faith & Sweat Facebook group.