Clothing clutter is a silent thief.
It steals your time, when you have to root through piles of clothes to find something when you're late for work. It steals your money, when you buy a shirt that you don't need just because it's on sale.
It steals space from your life that could be put to such better use.
When your days are filled with energy being spent on trying to find clothes or deciding what to wear when you don't even like any of your clothes, it's easy to get tired. Being tired is a strain on your health and ultimately your happiness. To choose to own less and give yourself precious time and valuable space in your life, in my opinion, you've beaten the system.
The system tries to convince you that buying more clothes will make you happier. That having more choices is a desirable thing. I call BS. Simplify your life and limit the amount of brain power you need to expend on even the smallest choices and activities. This is a powerful choice, and one that will benefit you every day by lowering stress and wasted time.
So who is this message for? Who could benefit wildly from this?
I'm talking to you, the reader who has an endless supply of clothing stuffed into every dresser, closet and corner of your bedroom.
I'm talking to you, who tries on four different mismatched trendy outfits before settling on the same trusty blue t shirt and cute black jeans you always seem to end up wearing.
For anyone who simply owns more clothes than they need.
I've been there, I've done that, and I've been you... but no more.
What's the solution?
Own. Less. Clothes.
I haven't invented this ingenious idea, but I do highly recommend it from personal experience.
There are lots of blogs out there with extremely detailed and supportive ideas to help you lighten your clothing load. My favourite read for inspiration is the Project 333 Challenge, where you choose 33 items of clothing (and accessories) and mix and match and only wear from that small capsule for 3 months.
While I haven't taken part in this exact challenge, if you need really tight rules and guidelines, it could be just the trick.
If that seems like a bit much for you to start with (and remember, you can have the benefits of minimalism without the label and hardcore rules) below I offer some simple approaches for you to get started.
Check your closet for doubles
Sometimes, we purchase more than one of the same clothing items because we LOVE them and will use both without fail. Other times, there are two identical or almost identical items in your closet that serve no purpose and just take up extra space. Get them outta there!
Face the clothes that you always try to wear, but end up changing out of.
Seriously, why do we do this?? I used to keep clothing items for years that I never wore outside of my apartment, because of some strange attachment to them. There was some sort of hope linked to them, perhaps hope of me looking or being perceived in a certain manner. Who knows. Donate that sh*t, it detracts from your happiness.
Think of your clothing as a whole, as a collection even.
Take every piece of clothing you own (seriously, every single piece) and lay them out on your bed or floor. Does anything jump out at you?
Maybe you have a favourite colour to wear and you never even realized. Maybe there are three items that absolutely don't go with anything else, and those are the items you always try to wear but give up on.
Maybe (like me) you'll come to the realization that you look and feel best in a simple outfit like a cute t shirt and jeans, and you've been buying clothes for years trying to look a certain way instead of wearing what you love and feel confident in.
Wear what makes you happy. No exceptions.
Clothes that don't fit make you miserable. Be bold, donate anything in your wardrobe that doesn't feel and look good and make you want to shimmy your hips from side to side. Life's too short to keep clothes that bring you down.
Remember that trends are designed to keep you chasing.
Did you know that the fashion industry has moved from having four seasons to fifty-two? Fast fashion is designed to keep consumers wanting a new and different look as often as possible to spend more money. Often, the clothes that are bought on a whim because of their low price, come at the cost of another human's safety, living and dignity. Chasing trends allows someone else to define your happiness and confidence, unless you stand against the norm and choose for yourself.
Don't shop as a hobby or because you're bored.
Shopping has become a favourite pastime, something that is done for fun instead of necessity. But once you get used to only shopping when you legit need to purchase an item, you'll wonder how you ever wasted so much time before. Save your money and fill your days with activities that fill your soul, rather than drain your wallet. Remember, you already have too many clothes at home in the first place!
When you clear space in your closet, you make space for more time, money and joy in your life.
What's that one piece of clothing hiding out in your closet you can't seem to part with? Share in the comments below!
Oh, and if this article spoke to you, don't forget to like and share <3
Many people don’t have self-care practices simply because their expectations are too high in the beginning, so they never get started.
Do you ever find that because you’re not a perfect yogi or a serene mountain top meditator that it’s not good enough so you practice even less? This goes for decluttering your home and making space as well. You’re not a perfect minimalist, so why even bother trying?
My yoga practice has suffered for great lengths of time in the past because I didn’t meet myself where I was in that moment. Instead I shamed myself for not going to hour long yoga classes multiple times a week at a studio, so I never got on my mat at all.
Pressure to meditate perfectly can have the same effect, the inner shame and comparison game can have you believe that you’re not doing enough. This can be fueled by the ever present barrage of magazine worthy perfection we are fed on our social media feeds.
We see perfection, we shame ourselves for not being good enough, and we continue without growing on our path.
There’s got to be a better way.
If you’ve read through any of my past posts (such as this one and this one) you know that I believe perfection should never be the end goal.
Giving up on perfectionism means you don’t have to be a hardcore yogi or minimalist to learn from these practices and apply them in your own life. You can be you, learning and growing, slowly incorporating life improving practices into your life, at your own pace, in your own time.
When you let go of perfectionism, you make way for a supportive, healthy and ever-changing practice. This is where real growth can happen.
Below I share some practical ideas for you to get started with three of my favourite healthy practices.
Meditation is such an amazing practice. There’s science to back up how good it is for your brain, it can be a completely free practice to take up (you literally only need yourself to do it). There is a huge amount of different ways to practice, and yet so many people that know of its benefits struggle to maintain a practice. Why?
Meditation can feel hard, and it can bring up lots of self judgement. Here’s where the perfection thing comes into play. You wouldn’t expect to run a marathon the day after you started jogging would you? Same goes for meditation. Let go of how long you think you “should” be able to meditate for.
Try this instead:
If you really want to develop a meditation practice for yourself, you have to start somewhere. So start simply.
Start with one minute a day.
Find somewhere comfortable and quiet, turn the ringer off of your phone and set an alarm for one minute. Close your eyes and breathe. When the alarm goes off, slowly open your eyes, take one more breath and move on with your day with purpose.
Try and do this for a month. At the end of the month, you will have meditated for 30 minutes! That might be longer than some will ever have meditated in their entire lives.
During this month, notice how your mind reacts to its one minute rest a day. Do you feel any different? This will be supremely personal, and you’ll only know if you try it.
At the end of the month, see where your meditation path takes you.
Yoga will look different in your body compared to anyone else’s, but we get scared we aren't "doing the poses good enough". While the poses in your typical yoga class give a framework for the shapes you take on, they are that way to offer healing benefits, not to look an exact certain way.
Often fear of not looking good enough or being flexible enough while practising keeps too many yogi hopefuls from spending time on their mat.
Try this instead:
Practice at home, for 5 minutes a day.
Start with any simple poses you know. Peaceful cat cows, stress releasing forward folds, even powerful warriors.
To turn yoga into a practice, you have to let go of expecting yourself to look a certain way. Be brave and practice at home instead of the studio.
Get to know yourself through your yoga practice. This is magic. This is the power of yoga.
It seems scary to develop a home practice, but you can start with simple, safe movements that will allow you to get in touch with how your body is really feeling every day.
Minimalism (or Simple Intentional Living) can easily become a comparison game. If you think you have to own under a certain amount of possessions or live in an empty, lifeless home to be a minimalist, you’re missing out on the multitude of benefits this way of thinking can bring you.
Try this instead:
Focus on your own life, your own space and look for an item that you truly have no need for. You don’t use it, you don’t plan on using it. It’s just … there. Then donate it.
Do this every day for a week. One item a day for week.
Remove seven unneeded and unused items from your home in a week.
Reflect on the fact that another human may come along, purchase one of these items and get great joy from it. Isn’t that better than it lying around your house?
At the end of the week, how do you feel? Do you notice that you or your home feel any different? Do you want to keep going?
Small, actionable steps in your path to more intentional and healthy living will serve you more than unattainable perfection.
Through our smallest actions, we build confidence, we make progress, and we grow.
Leave a comment below if you give any of these achievable actions a try :)
Enter your email below to join the Simply Grateful Life. Learn fun & accessible ways to bring self care into your every day!
Busy is the new fine.
What does that mean? Imagine a typical conversation…
“Hi Charlotte, how’re you?”
“Hey Saavon, I’m fine. I’ve been sooooo busy lately!”
Agh! These words have become placeholders that block us from a more intentional way of living. Life can be hectic at times, I get it. If you answer “busy” to the question “how’re you?” on a daily basis, take a deep breath, step back from the busy-ness and reassess.
You don’t have to be busy. Seriously. There are subtle signs around us that tell us we have to push, hustle and cram as much into our lives as possible in order to be happy and productive, but often the opposite is true.
More work, more money, more stuff and more social commitments to keep up with everyone else’s pace. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
It’s ok to say no or turn down a social invitation. It may feel like the scariest thing in the world, but do you know what lies on the other side of saying no when you need to? Freedom. Freedom to choose activities and moments that fill you up and make you happy, rather than committing to things to stay busy for fear of letting people down or looking lazy.
The people that are meant to be in our lives will support us when we say no because it’s best for ourselves and our health. It can be a true test of friendships and relationships, but your best people should never guilt or shame you for doing what’s best for you.
You have every right to make time for what lights you up and makes you happy!
Try committing to a bit less on your official calendar and leave some space for rest and activities that you can never quite seem to get to. It’s amazing how so many people know how beneficial meditation or exercise is, yet they can’t find time in their schedules for 5-10 minutes to practice.
I realized after writing that last sentence that it may come across as judgemental or rude. I promise you, that is not the intention behind it. I really believe every freakin’ person in the world should meditate, but I’m not here to shame anybody into it!
Think of it more as a gentle challenge. A small nudge for you to take a few minutes, step back from your life, take stock of what’s going on and then take action. Busy is a choice, but you can choose differently.
Often we get busy, head down in the grind and forget how powerful our choices are in our own lives. Life is not merely happening to us, we have a hand in crafting it.
Is there anything you wish you could do, but can’t find the time because you’re always so busy? How much of your life/calendar is filled with things that you do because you think you “should” be doing? Are you worried if you’re not busy all the time people will think you’re lazy or selfish? You can break this cycle. It’s your choice.
Not being busy does not make you lazy or selfish. Nope, not one bit!
Rest is important. Quiet, reflective time is important. Silly, fun and indulgent times are important. We need it. When we don’t make time for ourselves our bodies let us know by sending signals. What kind of signals? Aches, pains, dis-ease. When we ignore these signals? We get sicker. It’s a vicious cycle.
When we get busy and fill our lives with things that we don’t even care that much about, we’re wasting valuable time.
Here's a great journal exercise:
Write a list of anything that makes you happy. People you love being around, activities that bring you joy, health and vibrancy. Next write down a list of what fills your days, what you spend the most time doing in a week.
Then reflect on the two sets of answers. Is there any overlap? If not, can you make room by minimizing the “should do” list with the “makes me feel like yaaaaas!” list?
This exercise is simple, but powerful. It can help take you out of auto-pilot and reinforce the fact your life is a set of choices that you ultimately get to decide on. When you take ownership of your choices, you can craft your ideal life
Did you try this quick exercise? If you did, share in the comments below one person or activity you’re going to make more time for, I’m excited to hear about all the great stuff you’re going to choose to do!
Minimalism! Scared yet? Wait don’t go! Don’t let this word evoke pictures of lonely blank white walls, and frugal, no-fun-allowed deprived living. Cast the ol' stereotypes aside and let's delve deeper into the ideals behind the movement and how it can support you living a simpler, happier life.
Sometimes I wonder if more people would tune into minimalism if it didn't come with the label...
Labels and titles are everywhere. They make it easier for people describe and connect to a certain group, or a certain way of thinking or living. There’s a name for everything and everyone but I’ve always been the kinda girl that loved not falling into one category. I loved competitive dance and competitive sports, and 90’s alternative rock music AND 90’s dance music. (Technotronic anyone!?)
This is why I love what minimalism stands for but think you can live the principles without label. Minimalism describes a way of living I’ve been slowly and consistently working on over the past ten years before I even heard the term. Now it's everywhere!
If the term minimalism puts you off, then let’s chuck it right out the back door and try a more gentle description. How about simple, intentional living? A way of living where you’re deliberate in your choices and where you don’t accept what society or advertising agencies tell you. Instead, you craft a beautiful life by living within your financial means, not hoarding stuff, and choosing people and experiences over things.
You can just make smart choices with your money.
Our society lives on credit. Our homes, cars and most large purchases are not really ours and it’s 100% socially acceptable. It’s actually how the majority of people live now. With the ease of using credit, rarely do we stop, pause and save up for something before a purchase. This is an old habit I still work so hard to give up. It’s just so damn easy to charge something and deal with it later!
One decision I am proud of was the choice of my first home. My husband and I chose a small house with a mortgage that was less than half of what we were approved for. Let me repeat: less than HALF. This was an intentional decision to ensure we never had to think twice about our monthly bills and still had the financial bandwidth to continue to travel.
I will live completely debt free someday soon. It's a possibility for anybody, maybe you should try it too! Just because lenders make it easy to borrow money doesn’t mean it’s something we should accept as the norm.
You can just get rid of excess crap.
Don’t think for one second that you need to empty out your house and get rid of things that you love or that add value to your life. I’m talking about the extra crap here- the doubles of items, the clothes you haven’t worn for months or years and papers and knick knacks that fill up nooks and crannies in your home that you just never do anything with.
Slowly but surely, you can rid yourself of the extras that are weighing you down and getting in the way.
What about when it's special crap!?
Gifts and sentimental items that you keep because you think you should. Ooooh, those are the toughies! You can do it. Take your time, remember why you’re making this physical space in your life. Remember what good it can bring you and that in the end we can't keep all this stuff anyways. If you love it, keep it! If you don’t, what’s holding you back?
I've decluttered gifts from loved ones in the past year that literally had me in tears right after they were gone. It only lasted a few minutes, but it felt so hard and I felt like a bad person. Yet, hooray! Here I am, friendships and relationships still intact and I don’t miss those items at all. It was the emotional guilt of letting them go that was holding me back.
Avoid letting new crap back in.
After you declutter and make space in your life, you have to be intentional about what you let back in. Think long and hard before purchases. Don’t accept freebies if it’s just some junk you don’t need. Leave the goodie bag from the dentist at the dentist if you’re fully stocked at home and it’s just going to live under your sink never to be seen again. Politely decline printouts or business cards that you have no use for.
Once you become aware of how easily unnecessary items can make their way into your life, you can stop the relentless flow.
You can even let go of crap that aren't physical things!
Maybe you have old beliefs that don’t serve you anymore, or a relationship that doesn’t fill you up, one that you keep alive because you’re too scared to let it go. Been there, done that. It’s scary, and it can feel awful, but ultimately
when you let go of relationships that don't serve you anymore you will be free.
With beliefs, it’s important to stop and take note of what’s going on in that melon of yours. It might be negative self talk ("I’m not smart, I’m not good enough") When you get really quiet and listen to the thoughts running through your mind, do you like what you hear? This is another tough one for me, something I continue to work on after years of self-work. We all probably have a version of this deep down inside, so listen closely, be brave and work to let it go.
Choose people and experiences over things.
What do you cherish most in your life, people or things? I’m guessing the answer is people. Now take a second and reflect- do your daily habits support this?
Without being intentional it’s easy to take our relationships for granted. Instead we place attention on the next shiny object we want to purchase. After all, we think once we have it we will finally be happy. It just doesn’t work that way.
Keep relationships your number one priority. People win, every time. We yearn for connection and community and when we prioritize our relationships we live a better life.
Remember, you don’t have to call yourself a minimalist to live your life on purpose. It’s all about making intentional decisions to benefit your life and ultimately the life of those around you.
Is the term minimalism less intimidating now? Lemme know what you think in the comments :)
Keeping a gratitude journal can transform your life.
Do you think it's possible to shift a negative outlook on life to a positive one? Do you ever notice how negative people attract negativity and positive people naturally attract good into their lives?
I recently spent a morning reading through ten years of my journals in chronological order. What a trip! I watched myself grow up on those pages, saw my own path to positivity. What stood out was the first journal. In it I complained non-stop, and expressed great dissatisfaction and frustration with my life. There was no mention of gratitude.
Bad things will always happen, but before I started a gratitude practice, I failed to see the lessons in the bad things. I was always quick to place blame on someone or something else for my unhappiness. What I complained about in that first journal, the Universe sent back my way over and over again... the more I complained, the more life sucked.
Eventually I learned about gratitude and started writing pages with this header: "I am so happy and grateful because". Then I would list anything and everything I could think of. Spoiler alert: Magic ensued!
Since discovering the power of gratitude, I actively craft my ideal life with support from my journal practice, and I think you can too.
When you feel gratitude for the little things, life gets sweeter and sweeter.
Identify and write down what you're grateful for, it will lift your mood and remind you of what makes your life pretty darn good. Gratitude teaches you to be thankful for what you already have, which will in turn attract more of the good stuff.
When you feel you have little, gratitude reminds you that you have a quite a bit. When you number your reasons to be grateful, you realize you could continue adding to the list for every day for the rest of your life. I once added up my gratitude lists and counted over 600 reasons I was grateful. How could I not feel brighter after a adding up all of those entries?
Being grateful will help you help others.
When you treat yourself well and commit to a gratitude practice, you can be of more service to others. Maybe your new found sense of gratitude will encourage a co-worker to spread some kindness out into the world. You could hold doors open for strangers, or let someone in front of you during the morning commute. You might smile while staring out the bus window and completely change a passerby's day.
By centering in gratitude you stop being a victim of your life, and choose a lighter path instead.
The real trick is feeling grateful even when life is challenging.
If you start a gratitude journal, it can be easy to think of what you're grateful for when life is all unicorns and rainbows. (disclaimer: I still love rainbows and unicorns, just sayin)
What about when you're on your lunch break and spill a plate of salsa drenched nachos all over your freshly laundered jeans? Or when your phone is at 7% battery life and you realize you've left your charger at home. These little things add up. Negativity sweeps over you, and you can't help but think life is sh*t.
Once you finally go home and take your nacho pants off or plug your phone into an outlet, you may still be simmering and fed up with your crappy day. A quick scan of your pages and pages of gratitude lists can bring you back down to earth, you had a bad day... but it's not all bad. Once this shift in thinking takes place, it will even start to spread to the really tough stuff in your life.
I realized my complete mindset shift the first time I got legit sick in my adult life. I was in horrible pain all day and night for months, I couldn't eat (and I LOVE to eat and cook) and I had no energy. I was scared and full of fear, but I kept writing my gratitude lists. Because even in that brutal time of my life, my cat kept cuddling with me, my husband, family and close friends provided support, and the sun still shone through my window every morning. I never ran out of things to be grateful for.
Once I was on the mend, I actively sought out the lessons that sickness was meant to teach me, and I felt some gratitude for them too. Choose to learn from life's challenges instead of having a "why me" attitude, and you can be stronger and get through life's challenges more skillfully than ever.
So! Perhaps I've convinced you of the magical powers of a written daily gratitude practice. Want to know exactly how to start today? Follow my super simple 2-step process:
1. Choose a journal.
Dollar store notebook, fancy hard covered journal from the specialty book store, it's all good! Consider the size and whether or not you would enjoy a lined or blank page. Small journals travel well but can mean a tight squeeze if you have loose, large penmanship. Larger journals take longer to fill and may be heavy if you ever want to travel with them, but they give you more space to unleash your creativity.
Whatever you do, don't stress over choosing a journal- just buy one...
2. Then write in it.
Keep your journal somewhere you won't forget about it! I always keep mine out at the breakfast table and then it goes back on my pillow to greet me at night. If I'm feeling rushed, I will still try my darnedest to write even ONE thing I am grateful for each day. Before bed I'll read over old entries to feel grounded and proud of my path. Make it easy on yourself by always keeping a pen with your journal.
Like all good things on your path to a happier, more mindful and less stressed out you, don't put pressure on yourself to perform to a certain level or think it's not good enough. Spending one minute OR LESS a day writing a line about gratitude will deeply impact your life. If you find more time to write, super! If you don't, ain't no thang!
So, wanna practice? Leave a comment below and let me know something you're grateful for...
Why the spices? It occurred to me that there is a running theme in things that make my heart happy:
Small, confidence-building moments in life are everything. Picking a small, achievable task and completing it. Tonight I pulled out my spices, checked for anything unusable or expired , consolidated items and reduced the number of jars in my cupboard. Fifteen easy minutes later and I'm so proud and happy that my cupboard and bottles are decluttered and clean.
Check out these two bottles. If I hadn't completed this small task, I wouldn't have noticed that I had these both on the go. Big deal I hear you say! But think about being mindful of even the small details in life. Recycling one is going to feel so GOOD because I know it's about more than just tossing a bottle, it's about creating space in my life. You can create space in your physical environment which frees up your time and attention. When you create space, you spend less time searching for that $@%ing cinnamon when you're elbow deep in banana muffin batter. When you create space, your frustration is reduced and you don't waste six minutes looking for your car keys. When you create space, you invite in only what you love, only what you need and want around. So if you're thinking about letting go of some needless items or want to try your hand at decluttering, step away from the sentimental items you can't bear to part with. Seriously, drop your great grandma's antique doily collection! Go to your kitchen and attack your spice rack or your utensil drawer instead. I've spent the last decade of my life slowly simplifying and making room for only what I truly love and little exercises like this have always built my confidence. Instead of thinking about decluttering your whole home and feel overwhelmed and exasperated in the process, find a little spot that you can handle in 10-15 minutes and take pride in what you accomplish! When you take it in baby steps, you will accomplish so much more. Don't treat it as a giant looming project on your never-ending to-do list.
After you finish with your spice rack, try searching your kitchen for unneeded doubles (or triples) of utensils or small appliances. How many wooden spoons do you actually need to survive? Maybe one of them is all gunked up and not even worth keeping - so toss it. Same advice with ladles, coffee mugs, under used knives (we tend to have our favourites, don't we?) It's remarkably easy to have extras or just too much of everyday items that slow us down and get in the way. My friends and family joke that I am brutal when it comes to decluttering, but I know it helps. So start with easy choices. Toss, donate or sell your extras and notice the space that you create. Do you really need two toasters?! (my household had two toasters after we moved in together) No. You don't need two toasters. Let someone else have some toast. Give yourself some space instead!
It's safe to say that yoga has become widely accepted in our Western society in the past decades. Perhaps for those who might not otherwise partake in an ancient Eastern practice, taking a yoga class is like taking an exercise class. Yoga will keep you fit, and we all know that physical movement is good to keep the body healthy but we need to show our minds the same love that we have for our bodies. Developing a daily practice can seem daunting at first. I love to share my personal journey to help people understand that developing supportive practices does not happen overnight or only to people who have been immersed in deep self care their whole lives. I was raised not knowing a thing about any of this and I spent a good amount of my youth not taking good care of my body or my mind. Yet we all have to start somewhere. We can all look at others and think "easy for them" or "it's not even worth it, I'll never be that disciplined". Truth is, no matter where you are at this exact moment in your life, you deserve to develop a meditation practice that will support you throughout your days. I've put together some tips and insights I've learned along the way in my years of building a steady, supportive meditation practice. Enjoy!
It's not about clearing your mind or stopping all thoughts
There is a common myth that holds us back from meditating that in order to do it "right" you must clear your mind of all thoughts. Try something for me right now, close your eyes, take a slow deep breath, and clear your mind of all thoughts. Done? Cool. How did that work out for you? My guess is that the instant your eyes closed and put effort into clearing your mind, your mind reacted with roughly 100 thoughts, memories, ruminations and song lyrics all at once. The mind doesn't like to be told what to do and it will never be clear of all thoughts. The trick instead is to sit back and let the thoughts come and go without grabbing hold of them in any way. That's it. When we learn to allow the thoughts to just be, they lose their control over us. We can start to notice when we are being swept away in the river of thoughts and we can come back to the only thing we ever really have- the present moment.
Find what works best for you
There are many different methods of meditation out there, so feel free to try out different ones until something clicks. And for some, even after that click, you may want to continue trying out different methods and practices. I never stick with one lineage of meditation or yoga and I used to think that made me flighty or undisciplined. Turns out I am just a Gemini and I've decided to embrace it instead, and accept that I love trying new things. But back to you- here are a few different schools of meditation with free guided practices, maybe one of them will work for you. 10% Happier and Headspace are two cool, modern and simple apps with guided meditations. You may want to check out Metta Loving Kindness Meditation which is a Buddhist practice (I will save a whole post to write about this amazing practice in the future). There is also TM Transcendental Meditation which is a mantra based meditation I have yet to try - but this is what the Beatles were learning while they were in India.
You don't have to sit on the floor
You know all of those poses from yoga class? Turns out they had a very specific purpose behind them. The ancient yogis kept their bodies strong and limber so they could sit in a cross legged or lotus position to meditate for long periods of time. However, if you've taken my yoga classes or read up on my blog, you will know that I never ever want someone to not reap the benefits of yoga and meditations due to inflexibility. So, if sitting cross legged is too much for you, sit your butt down on a chair and get meditating. There! A big scary excuse solved! You're welcome.
5-10 minutes a day can have a huge impact
We tend to be all or nothing don't we? Because we can't find 45 minutes to sit and meditate in a day, we do nothing at all. The biggest gift I gave myself in my meditation journey was permission to do as much or as little as I could squeeze into my morning. Some days that meant setting a timer for 5 minutes. We all have 5 minutes if we choose. Five minutes could just as easily be spent scrolling Instagram or deciding what to watch on Netflix. Five minutes. Start there. Once you start feeling good and noticing the effects those five minutes are having, you may even try ten minutes. It could grow from there, or maybe it won't. And that's okay! Any time you spend on cultivating yourself through meditation will do wonders.
It's not about achieving anything
This can be a hard one to wrap the mind around. In our society, goals and achievement are what tend to drive us. When this way of thinking crosses over into our self care routines, we can set ourselves up for disappointment. I used to think that I had to practice yoga and meditate for at least an hour every morning or it wasn't good enough. After sitting through a meditation session in which my mind was racing, I would think I had failed. On the flip side, when my mind quieted during a session I would think that I had done it right. When we approach our practices as a goal to achieve it sends the message that we are searching for something outside of ourselves to get better. But yoga and meditation share the same beautiful truth - that they are practices that help us peel away the layers to get to the wise, knowing and peaceful version of ourselves that is always within.
If any of this has piqued your interest but using an app or following along with a class seems like too much, try this out. Simply find a quiet space, sit comfortably in a chair or cross legged on the floor, turn off your phone ringer and set a timer for 1-5 minutes. Then breathe. Allow the breath to come and go through your nose and keep your mouth closed and gently smile. Bring your attention to the tip of your nostrils and notice how the breath is cooler on each inhale and warmer on each exhale. Every time you notice your mind has been wandering (which it will), bring your attention back to your inhales and exhales. That's it! Keep this up until your timer goes off and take a second to notice your state. After even a few minutes you may feel calmer and refreshed.
Give it a try and leave a comment letting me know how it went!
Ah, what a trip! While India is a country full of bucket list travel/tourist destinations, time spent in the sparsely populated mountain villages north of Delhi had a huge impact on me. Our guide and wonderful friend Mukesh took us to places in and around the Chopta Valley that are not found on any tour bus itinerary, and I am so grateful for the experience. Everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles from kind souls. Eight days in the mountains without WI-fi was a mental reset that I welcomed, as well as a lesson in living mindfully. Meeting villagers and farmers who live happily without smart phones, TV and all of the things we depend on for entertainment and happiness was eye-opening. While some travelers might feel sorry for people who live without the these luxury items, I often found myself jealous. Everyone we met had what they needed for a happy life- safe shelter, clean drinking water and good food. Somewhere along the lines we as a society were sold the idea that we needed much more than this to be happy. But are we happy? Being stressed out and distracted seems more common than true contentment lately.
When I guide students through a yoga class I encourage a mindful practice, where the focus is on here and the now. What I found on this trip was that village life is a mindful life. Although we visited some homes with electricity and some without, most villagers still owned cell phones, real cell PHONES- not mini pocket sized computers. This meant they could keep in touch with anyone or call for help in an emergency, but phones were not their number one priority. What were the priorities? Hands on work (hard work!) that needed daily upkeep. Plowing wheat and barley fields and gathering the harvest, milking the family buffalo to make buttermilk and butter and cooking meals from scratch (sometimes on an open fire). Some children hiked long distances to get to school. Everything they did had purpose, and to me it was a beautiful life. It made me wonder if everything we have in our lives to make it easier actually detracts from our happiness levels.
Watching the villagers made me reflect on the pace of life at home. Technology has developed at a whirlwind pace in my lifetime. It has added an insane amount of value and I LOVE being able to look up a recipe, fact or person within seconds. However, if left unchecked, we can easily live our lives in a mode of constant distraction, missing the simple beautiful moments that take place everyday. We check our phones within minutes of waking, we bring them into the bathroom to keep ourselves entertained (admit it, you've done it). We take ourselves out of the present moment in order to capture it for our social media feeds. I'm not saying anything here that hasn't been said before - nor do I suggest that we throw away our access to Internet/technology. What we need to do is be intentional with our use of it so that it doesn't consume us. How? See below for some ideas inspired by my recent culture trip.
Roughly four years ago, I was lying on a bed in a small air conditioned hotel room in Mumbai. The Food Network was playing on television, and I refused to go anywhere or leave the room. I was off work, thousands of kilometers away from home, in one of the coolest cities in the world, and all I wanted to do was watch TV. India can have that effect. Mumbai was the last stop of a three month trip that reached from the northern tea fields of Darjeeling all the way down to the palm treed, sandy beached paradise of Southern Kerala. The woman who would not venture out of that Mumbai hotel room had had enough. Enough of the noise, pollution, staring men and personal energy it took to explore the city, even for a few hours. She was tired of traveling and tired of India. She swore she would never return.
Yet here I am today, flight booked, bags almost packed. In three days I will be returning to the very same country I had never, ever wanted to go back to. It's almost as if India is daring me to return, and I can't help but go and get even deeper. It's the kind of place that no matter how many pictures you see or how many articles you read, nothing can truly prepare you for the culture shock that lies in store. My husband and I generally pride ourselves on not returning and repeating destinations in our travels. This is just a personal preference, with so many amazing places in the world, why go back to the same one more than once? Well, that's just what India does. It makes you question yourself and everything you think you know. Going back I will have an open mind and an open heart, ready to learn any lessons that are meant to be. There is a certain charm of India, it can be infuriating one moment and incredibly beautiful and captivating the next. I've heard it described as a roller coaster ride, where you scream and go crazy during the ups and downs, but once it's over look back and think "hey that was fun, let's do it again!"
This trip was planned around an eight day trek into the Himalayan hillsides with a wonderful Rishikesh native we met in 2013. Mukesh Joshi loves his hometown dearly and is the most professional, kind and talented business owner we came into contact with throughout all of India. He runs Paddle India and Nanda Outdoor Retreats, two adventure outfitters that offer exceptional experiences with well trained, passionate and amazing staff. His companies are locally run and ensure adventures are safe and professionally managed. This will be a cool new experience, meeting up with someone from a past trip. It will be incredibly fun to return and see him after a few years! Being on a trek for that long will also be a much needed escape from technology (there's no WiFi on trails in the Himalayas is there?!) At home my phone stays on 24/7 for emergency calls from work, unplugging completely will be a recharge on my system on many levels.
This return trip is exactly four years after the first, and I am excited to delve into the country as the woman I am today. I wonder if having experienced the initial culture shock last time around, I will be more present and able to retain more. World travel has opened my eyes to be more empathetic, compassionate and interested in the world outside of what I have known growing up in Canada. I want to see more deeply into Indian culture, and I am excited to have another go at meditating and practicing yoga in its birthplace. I will use my daily practice as support, to stay in the present moment and not get overwhelmed in, well, the numerous overwhelming moments surely to come. I would like to think this trip holds the promise of being a spiritual journey. Even writing this I don't know exactly what that means, but I am leaving some space between myself and my expectations to just let it unfold and see what the country has in store this time around. India, are you ready for me again?
Ten years ago, I had never meditated. I had recently moved to Ottawa and was in search of some new, healthy habits. I dreamed of practicing yoga more, learning how to meditate, becoming a vegetarian and many other things that compared to my youth, were way outside of my way of living. I remember the first free meditation workshop I attended, the sheer thrill of even following through and showing up for it on my own. During the workshop I mingled with a lovely woman, she was so calm and spoke so thoughtfully. After trying out a few simple guided meditations in the class, I mentioned to her that I really loved being in nature and that I would have these brief moments of just feeling really good and so calm, and that being in a busy city I couldn't seem to replicate that feeling. She replied that the feeling I was describing was always available and within us, and that my journey would be to find that feeling I had in nature no matter where I physically was. Mind = Blown.
After that course, I dabbled with sitting meditation, counting my breath 1-2-3 and coming back to the count anytime I noticed my mind wandered. I read books on meditation and at a certain point was learning more about it than practicing it. It just was not sticking as a daily habit. It became one of those items on my life list that remained just out of reach for many years. In 2013 during a three week stay in a small ashram in the Indian Himalayas, we would wake and begin each morning with 20 minutes of mantra meditation, and end each day with the same. I traveled so far for that experience, and it turned out to feel like a mild form of torture. In those three weeks, I sat through exactly one meditation session without fidgeting, opening my eyes, becoming irritable, restless and insanely jealous of the other students who looked so blissful. I knew it was going to be challenging, but come on! I was not a happy woman facing myself in those moments. I did not return home with a daily meditation practice. I had traveled to India for traditional yoga philosophy, but a mantra given by a guru in the mountains just wasn't for me, it didn't bring me back to that peaceful place I always seemed to find while in nature.
About a year after my ashram stay, I was given a book called 10% Happier by a ABC news anchor Dan Harris. If you haven't heard, he's the guy who had a panic attack on national television and now practices non-secular Buddhist meditation on the regular. He is out to prove that even "fidgety skeptics" and a-holes can be better versions of themselves through developing a sitting practice. He likens meditation to exercise for your brain, just as we should work out our muscles, our brains also need to be trained. It was sometime after reading that book that I realized even if I sat for 5 or 10 minutes a day (even 1 minute!), I could do it. I always thought that to meditate, I needed to sit and clear my mind of all my thoughts. Whoa! Not even close. Turns out it can be as simple as sitting and noticing the thoughts as they come and go, floating in and out with no effect on me. With my practice, my daily reactions have become more skillful. I am developing that split second pause between how I've always reacted and how I choose to best react in that moment. I still have my moments (goodness don't we all?) but I truly love my practice and all the good it has brought me.
I suppose I share this story in the hopes that even one person may read it and decide to try meditation for the first time or return to a practice they have strayed from. It's important to remember that it doesn't have to be, look or feel perfect. If your schedule is thrown off or something comes up, you can still make time (seriously, even one timed minute of silence and listening to the breath can do wonders) Just accept and acknowledge that your practice might look a little bit different depending on the day, week and year, and that's okay. There are also so many different varieties of meditation and it may take a few tries for what works best for you. The greatest lesson out of all of this is that mediation, like yoga, is not a goal to strive and achieve for, but rather a practice to support coming back to the truth of oneself, to the goodness that always has been and always will be tucked down deep inside each and every one of us.