Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Smartphone Mindfulness Challenge: What Will You Really Miss in 48 Hours?

I originally purchased a smartphone years ago because my boss at the time would always be one step ahead of me when we were traveling. She wanted to discuss things with me that she had just seen on email. Not having a smartphone made me feel like I wasn’t on top of my game.
When I finally bought the smartphone she said, “Be careful what you wish for.”
I knew what she meant, but she also created an environment where you felt the need to have email on your phone or be left behind. I’m an overachiever by nature, so of course I was going to now have email at my fingertips and stay in the game.
There is no denying, I just love how I can manage email and many social media accounts for the two businesses I run, the consultant account I’m working on, and the nonprofit I help lead. My smartphone allowed me to stay on top of things when I was traveling, or between meetings while I was settling into a new career. However, I found that it was just too easy to check my emails whenever I had a spare minute. And one email would sometimes create a chain reaction into more work, cause undue stress, or send me in another direction entirely than I was planning… There went my productivity.
So, when I found out earlier this month about the National Day of Unplugging, I vowed to actually abide by it. And at sun down on Friday night, I turned off my computer, shut off email on my phone and deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps. I didn’t plug back in until Sunday afternoon.
The experience was incredible.
  • I had more time with my pups, Ellie.
  • Everyone got my full attention.
  • I cut out at least 75% of daily stress.
  • It gave me the mental space I so greatly need and want.
We all know that we should unplug from time to time. We should stop wasting countless hours scrolling through Facebook feeds and watching videos, yet we still do it. Consuming all this electronic media starts consuming us.
We get less accomplished, both personally and professionally. During my unplugging experience, I had to ask myself:
  • What am I really going to miss on email?
  • Do I really need to post my life on the internet all the time?
  • Why am I doing that anyway? Is it ego driven?
Since I had such an enlightening experience unplugging, I decided that I would practice mindful usage of my smartphone every weekend from now on. I only check in if I have a Saturday client, a meeting scheduled, or if I was taking some time to write and publish a blog post. I challenge you to do the same. You will not regret it.
Here are some guidelines for taking this “smartphone mindfulness” challenge each weekend:
Turn off email. You don’t have to completely disconnect your emails from your smart phone. Just go to settings and turn off the email so that you can easily turn it back on Monday morning. Leave the calendar, contacts and notes on if you’d like. I live and die by my calendar, so I still needed to see it. If someone has an emergency, they should be calling or texting anyway. Emails do not constitute emergencies even if some people think they should get a response in less than 24 hours. That’s their problem, not yours.
Use the phone. It’s okay to keep your phone on and text so you can communicate with your friends and family. But be mindful. I don’t talk on the phone or text a lot on the weekends, so it’s really easy for me. If you find yourself texting more because you’re bored, find something else to do and leave your phone in another room. If you have a job where your phone rings off the hook, put the ringer on silent and return the calls at a more appropriate time. And if someone is texting you about work stuff, just respond and tell them it’s inappropriate and to email you and you will respond on Monday. People shouldn’t be texting you about work anyway, so nip that in the bud and create that boundary now.
Delete social apps. Yes, that’s right. Delete all the social apps on your phone. Although you could be more mindful and just try to only browse Facebook on your phone one time per day, it’s a slippery slope if you don’t just delete the apps. Soon, you’re standing in line and it’s just too difficult to be without some distraction while waiting for that coffee, and boom…you’re commenting on the cute baby photo that your friend just posted. So delete the apps and only check Facebook and all your other social media when you get online Monday morning. You’re not missing anything. The only exception is if social media is part of your job description and there is a clear expectation that you are supposed to post on the weekends. If that’s the case, consider looking into products that allow you to schedule posts in advance, like TweetDeck, Hubspot, HootSuite, or their many others. Don’t kid yourself. Take some time to ponder if you are expected to be on all the time, or if you are doing it for other reasons.
This entire unplugging experience also made me think about how so many people are addicted to technology these days. Depression is on the rise, and this is especially true for teens, because we have created this world of “hyperconnectivity.” This is generating more anxiety and poor self-esteem. So set a healthy example for your children. Set boundaries and unplug completely from time to time. When you’re enticed to turn that smartphone email back on, or download Facebook from the app store once again, remember this mantra:
What will I really miss in 48 hours? The truth is…nothing.
Originally published on Indy Yogi on March 16, 2015

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Is Sitting Killing You? Two Things to Do Right Now

Do you have lower back pain? Neck muscles feel stiff? Too often we just deal with the pain and blame it on something else. But repetitive stress injury (RSI) is real and sitting too long tightens the front side of the body in the hips, shoulders and throat. And then the backside of the body suffers too. Tom Myers calls what is happening to the back side of the body the "long lock." The neck and back muscles are in a constant state of contraction trying to bring your body back to center. It's no wonder that you have a tight upper- and mid-back and your lower back is giving you angst. 

I was in a new position and like anyone else, I got whatever chair and office setup from the person prior to me. A few weeks in I started having headaches and then later on my lower back felt so jammed up that I could not longer do backbends in my yoga practice. I was lucky. The university had a dedicated ergonomics office and I called them. Turns out that my entire office setup was completely wrong as I had absolutely no lumbar support in my chair, the edge of the seat pan dug right into my hamstrings and my keyboard was up too high for my wrists. She recommended a new chair, floating keyboard tray, keyboard and document holder...would only run us about $1,000. I knew our organization's finances, but I also knew that I was 33, never had back problems and this was bullshit, so I presented the proposal to my boss. After some hemming and hawing, I got a new $800 chair, keyboard tray and document holder. And you know what, my back and wrists are fine now and I can drop back into urdhva dhanurasana (aka wheel or upward bow) with no problem. 

1 | If you suffer from any pain at all, don't just wave it off. Pain is the body's way of telling you that something is wrong. If you ignore it, the body is going to smack you in the face with something major and you will wind up in the hospital. Then, an $800 chair isn't going to seem like such a big deal compared to a $10,000 per day hospital stay. 

2 | Let go of your fear of reprimand and just ask already. Here's my only have one body and suffering from lower back pain or any other ailment due to your workplace setup or office environment is not okay. I can't tell you how exactly to let go of the fear of asking your boss for an ergonomic assessment, or asking for a new ergonomic chair it's a very personal thing. But I encourage you to find a way to let go and empower yourself to ask. Bring in a doctor's note if needed or research options to present to management. I suggest even going so far as to outline the cost of an assessment and new furniture versus how much insurance rates will rise for the company with an increase in're actually saving them money in the long run. The worst thing that will happen is they will say no. 

The bottom line...your well-being is of utmost importance. If you don't protect your body, no one else will...yet you will be the one to suffer. Save yourself first. And if you don't believe me, check out the latest article in Time about the new research surrounding the effects of sitting too much.

Monday, July 7, 2014

4 Ayurvedic Tips to Beat the Heat

I was chatting with my intern last week about her plan to head home to India for a month. She shared with me how excited she was to be home during mango season. She also shared that often she and her family indulges and she ends up with a zit on her face, explaining further that while a mango may seem like a cooling fruit, it's heavy and sweet and too much causes too much heat in the digestive system. So, they try not to overindulge or add some yogurt to the mango to help calm the digestive system when eating. I found it so interesting how in tune she and her family is with what they eat, especially compared to our Western society.

And of course the zits on my face are popping up like crazy because of the shift to the hot summer season where the fire element and Pitta dosha rule the roost. During the summer not only do I have to change what I eat, I have to move to a lighter facial moisturizer as well. It's not a's just that our bodies change with the seasons and the more we're in tune, the more we can live in harmony with those changes. Here are some easy guidelines to follow this summer:

Bitter Baby! Most leafy greens and vegetables in season and locally grown will do. But in particular incorporate those with bitter tastes such as kale, dandelion, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cucumbers and collard greens as they have a more cooling effect on the digestive system. Other summer tastes are sweet, cooling and astringent. So, eat some fresh watermelon and strawberries, replace your typical grains with millet, buckwheat, quinoa and rice and cut back on spicy, sour and salty foods.

Stay Cool. Avoid exercising in the middle of the day, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. I know you want to be outside in this beautiful weather, but switch up your routine to jog in the morning or take your dog for a walk in the late evening just before sunrise. Especially if your predominant dosha is already Pitta, getting too hot outside will not make you fun to be around. Find a shady spot and read a book during the hottest time of day instead. Your spouse will thank me for this recommendation.

Think Coconut. Add this delicious food to your summer diet, use it to cool your skin and condition your hair. Coconut oil is fantastic to cook with in the summer, too. It's a great staple to have around the house when you get jalapeno juice got all over your lips making dinner. Yes, this happened. I also give my dog a little tablespoon full a couple of times per week to keep her coat nice.

Fire Up. Summer wasn't designated the season of love by accident. When your fire element is in harmony, your heart will burst forth with joy and love. If your fire is burnt out, you may experience a weak spirit and depression. Increase your fire by wearing bright colors of orange, red, hot pink and dark purple or get your nails painted in these colors. Go dancing, listen to music at an outdoor festival and just let loose and feel sexy.

Lastly, try this recipe for watermelon juice to cool you down on a hot summer day. Use agave nectar or minimal raw sugar (not the white stuff!) and avoid using honey right now as it is heating. Have a fantastic summer and enjoy!

Watermelon Juice
4 cups of watermelon
2 cups of water
1 cup of ice
1 cup of lime, juiced
1 tbsp agave nectar
mint to garnish

In a blender, add all ingredients and blend until smooth. Garnish with a few sprigs of mint. Yummy!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

It's All in Your Head

It's all in your head. That's what my grandfather would always tell me when I complained about an ailment. The more I've studied Eastern practices like yoga, meditation and Ayurveda, the more I've realized his words actually had some truth rather than being completely dismissive. While my grandfather isn't necessarily up on Eastern practices, he is wise. And it's true that many things that ail us are related to the thoughts in our's just that what happens up there eventually shows up in our body as illness.

During the work day, it's our mind that keeps us from taking a real lunch break or a short walk. It's our mind that leads us to procrastinate. It's our mind that doesn't let us get up from our chair to get a little movement. We've trained ourselves this way, creating habit after habit. But the good news is that you can retrain your mind through mindfulness and create positive practices that will lead you to a healthier body and mind.
Image courtesy of Ambro /

First things first. Not only are your habits ingrained in your mind, they could be impacted by your office environment. Do you work in a place where face time is the parameter in which work is measured? Absurd. Yet, it's still the leading factor in perceived productivity and organizational commitment. If you do work in a face time environment, accept it. Work your required hours each day, but take your lunch or an afternoon break to get away for periods of time and keep your sanity. But don't work over unless you're up on a deadline (this means once in a while!). Don't work weekends. If you're focused, you're productive, and you can get your work completed in your 40 hours each week. And just because you're salary doesn't mean you should work more hours. If that expectation is there, then it's a larger issue than just face time. Remember, procrastinating or working over or weekends is actually a habit you've created at some point during your career. You have the power to make changes. 

Secondly, pay attention to your daily calendar. Do you fill it with meetings just to fill it or seem important? Are those meetings productive? Do you need to be involved, or could small working groups be formed? Janice Marturano, author of Finding the Space to Lead, shares some mindful practices to try when reviewing your calendar and thinking about meetings. You might think it's crazy to decline a meeting...but you know have the power to do that too.

So, over the next three weeks, make a pact with yourself and set an intention to create one new habit by making a change in your daily routine. Research has shown that it takes 21 days to change a habit, so that's the time frame for your challenge. What habit you try to change is up to you, but here are some ideas:

  • Take a lunch every day. 
  • Do a five-minute yoga session in your office or cube each day. 
  • Be mindful of your caffeine intake and begin to cut down by 1/3 each week. 
  • Be mindful of your sugar cravings in the afternoon and replace with fresh fruit. 
  • Review your calendar and cut out one meeting each week that just wastes what could be productive time. 

Don't overwhelm yourself. Just choose one and then in three weeks you can start another one. Any change you make will have a positive effect on your mental state and also in your body. By continuing to practice mindfulness in your professional and personal life, you will begin to realize how your thoughts resonate in your body, which is why stress is a leader in causing illness. Awareness is always the key to change. And if awareness of a habit is all you figure out over the next three weeks, that's a step in the right direction.

Monday, May 12, 2014

3 Ways to Be a More Mindful Leader (and Just a Better Boss)

Have you ever noticed that most managers have no training in how to actually manage and work with people? Oftentimes people become managers or move up the career ladder because they have increased sales or performed well on projects. However, what's lacking is training and insight on how to better lead the people working with you. When I first became a manager, I just went with instinct and what I had seen other managers around me do. I even asked my boss one day if there was some management training I could do or steps she would recommend. She said you just go with it and that's probably how she learned as well. What happens is we manage from a place where we have no insight, personally or professionally. And not knowing how to lead and work with others results in being a bad boss. And we all know that people leave bosses, not jobs. So, here are three things to implement to help you be more mindful when you lead others:

Define roles. If you define roles from the outset, you can empower staff to take ownership of their projects and other duties. Otherwise, staff is left confused and feeling frustrated. Here's an example: Staff has been restructured and someone is transferring into a newly created position, but the transition period is still in effect until a replacement is hired. This staffer isn't sure what to focus on first and having a hard time juggling both roles. After another coworker mentions to this staff member that the CEO said a certain project should be done by this particular staff member, feelings of frustration emerge. If you don't define roles, you set up your staff to fail, or at least for them to feel like failures.

Set expectations. Same thing goes here. Set expectations and create accountability. Not setting expectations in the beginning also leads to staff feeling like failures or failing in their roles. Creating accountability ultimately leads to your staff fully engaging in their work and taking ownership. This will take things off of your plate so you can focus on the bigger picture or your own projects and provides you with more time for those lunch breaks and downtime that you need to be a successful leader.

Don't micromanage. And don't say that you're not trying to micromanage when you really are. Staff can see through the bullshit. So, pay attention to your habits. If you delegate a task and want it completed a certain way, set the expectations at the beginning. Notice if you have knee-jerk reactions when a staff member carries out the task differently than you would or when you start to get frustrated and want to tell that staff member how to do it (or even worse, how you would do it). Instead of reacting, sit with that feeling of wanting to react. Ask yourself why you want to react that way? Think about why that staff member did the task differently. Remember, they probably think very differently than you think. As long as the outcome is positive for the organization, then it's good work, no matter if it was completed your way or not. Practice noticing your reaction and instead of reacting right away, sit with the feeling. Remember, it takes practice and effort to change an instinctive behavior such as micromanaging. Just keep trying.

Taking up an insightful practice for yourself will really help you redefine your leadership style. Simply start by beginning a meditation practice, take up a gentle style of yoga a few times per week and talk to a mentor who can be objective when it comes to you and your organization. Simple steps can lead to much greater things. Your management style is deeply rooted in your being and habits and the first step is becoming aware of what you do. Once you learn how to break through those habits and lead with mindfulness and compassion you'll also find your organization and daily life runs much smoother.

Monday, May 5, 2014

In Need of Some Rejuvenation?

It's spring and naturally you're drawn by the warmer weather and sunshine to play outside. Most likely you're planting and cultivating your garden, riding your bike along the trails and cleaning out the old junk in your garage. The force of nature compels you to shake the winter blues and begin anew. I've been taking Ellie for walks around Fountain Square and we stop each time (well, I do!) to inhale the fragrance of the lilac bush next to our house. I feel like this year I really have taken the time to open my eyes to all of the beautiful magnolia, flowering crabapple and other trees throughout my neighborhood. Every nice day I've thrown open the windows and doors and relaxed on my front porch to read. And it's finally nice enough to ride my bike up the Monon to teach classes at Cityoga on Sunday evening. It's all so refreshing!

Did you know that spring is also a time to offer our systems a little extra support and rejuvenate? You may be compelled to do a spring cleanse, which is a natural craving of our bodies during the spring season. But be sure you are still nourishing and not starving your body during this time. There is an Ayurvedic tradition of rejuvenation that helps you revitalize according to your constitution. The latest cleanse fad or even juice fast may not be right for you. Check out this guide to spring rejuvenation to find ways to nourish your body according to its needs.

So, even though you want to be out every moment doing something in the sunshine, remember to take some time for yourself this spring. Your body needs you. After all that walking, biking and gardening, try this rejuvenating self-foot massage before you go to sleep each night to help soothe the nervous system, quiet the mind and promote deep sleep. And this month, take 20% off Ayurvedic massage oils with promotional code AFRJV20.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Awaken to New Life this Spring with Ayurveda

Today is the first day of spring! This winter has been especially harsh and you've probably already noticed a little pep in your step and the insatiable urge to be outside as much as possible. I know I have! It's been exciting to take my dog, Ellie, for long walks on the Cultural Trail in Fountain Square and sit out in the backyard reading with the sun shining down on my face. And I'm thrilled to welcome the season of love by participating in a gong meditation tomorrow evening.

Spring is a time of growth and renewal, awakening and celebration. And according to ayurvedic medicine, the sister science of yoga, it's also the season when the kapha dosha is at its strongest. So, if you're feeling congested or the pollen count is bothering your allergies, these are related to excess kapha in your system and a normal effect of the transition into spring.

I personally am experiencing major congestion and take an Immune Support herbal formula to help me through. I'm also completely cutting out dairy products as they contribute to excess mucous and congestion and incorporating more principles of a kapha-pacifying diet by cooking with more greens like kale and spinach, which are also in season this time of year. Although I enjoy coffee, I believe it adds to my congestion and have reduced my intake to one cup max per day with a goal of cutting it out completely, and began drinking more tea with a dab of local honey to help me deal with all the pollen. To help ensure I'm getting some form of exercise at least five days a week, I record each time I do something and the duration on a calendar. Just taking hour-long walks with Ellie has helped me both pacify kapha and enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather. I'm also doing more invigorating yoga practices that incorporate sun salutations, backbends and inversions, including increasing my days of practicing Mysore Ashtanga in the morning.

There is a great article in Yoga International by Dr. Vasant Lad, a world-renowned ayurvedic physician, with tips on how to pacify kapha this season and live in harmony. He notes, "accumulated kapha (the mind-body force responsible for lubrication and sustained energy) in the body starts liquefying and running. That is why so many of us get spring colds." In the article, he suggests you:
  1. Do a Spring Detox
  2. Take Energizing Herbs
  3. Stay Active
  4. Adapt Your Diet
You can find out more on how to manage spring allergies using ayurvedic methods and herbs with this in-depth guide.