Treat Yo Self

There’s a phrase I’ve been really digging lately, and it goes a little something like this:

Treat yo self.

(Thank you, Parks & Rec.)

A few months ago, I got the opportunity to take advantage of a incredibly generous gift. In a completely surprising turn of events, I found myself unexpectedly being rewarded for a year of hard work with a gift certificate to Sycamore Mineral Springs, a local gem of a resort and spa located in the hills that serve as the gateway to Avila Beach. This particular gift certificate was intended for the Day Away Package, which includes a 60-minute soak in a mineral springs hot tub, 60-minute massage or facial, 60-minute yoga class (or Pilates or Tai Chi, depending on the offering on your chosen day), and brunch at the Gardens of Avila Restaurant. Now, I had been to Sycamore before: once for a massage (heaven) and a few times just for the hot springs, which can be rented by the hour. But I have never, and I mean NEVER, been pampered to this degree. It took me around five months to get a free day to go – what with grad school commencements, weddings, honeymoons, surgeries, and new jobs all happening in that span, NBD –  but let me tell you… After all THAT, this present was that much sweeter. When the first Monday campus holiday hit, I took full advantage and booked that baby.

My first event of the day was Hatha Yoga in the Healing Arts Dome. Not knowing what the heck that meant, I followed the attendant’s vague directions up a winding hill and eventually to the entrance to a… well, Healing Arts Dome. What followed was a relaxing hour of breathing and bending and being, generally. Not your typical challenging class, but then again, I was here to treat myself. I namasted my little heart out and floated down the hill to the spa to check in. Even the locker rooms are meant to facilitate pure bliss with their pristine white tile, gorgeous turquoise glass, and exotic purple orchids. 20140122-083819.jpg

I could have hung out there for hours, basking in the aesthetic of it, had I not had such important places to be like outdoor baths and massage tables. So it was white robe on, book in hand, hot tub time!

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Sycamore has an incredible amount of tubs, all a-steam with natural mineral spring water and littering the side of a wooded hill. Each tub is private, what with their fences and swinging saloon-style doors, but there is no arguing that both beyond the gate and in the vertical direction, you truly feel surrounded by nature. A great book and some deep breaths kept me company through the 60 minutes that followed.

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I headed back down to the spa warmed and loose and ready for a 60-minute deep tissue massage with a wondrously attentive blonde woman who was not shy about working her essential oils into any and all of my tensions. We flitted out way through the gorgeous maze of architecture to a private and secluded room.

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I swear every inch of the place is surreal, laced with the incredible feeling of deep breathing and tension-release usually reserved for fictional fields of poppies in fables of country bumpkins walking yellow brick roads. 

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Thoroughly worked over, the only thing I could ever have needed was, of course, food, and wouldn’t you know it, the package included brunch at the Gardens of Avila Restaurant.

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One rolled omelet with ham, garden greens, parmesan and shaved radish floated down from heaven (the kitchen) to be enjoyed basking in the glow of a nearby wood-burning fireplace.

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Satiated, relaxed, and sleepy, I left the premises five hours later a very happy girl.

Needless to say, I was pampered. Spoiled even. I felt rejuvenated and invigorated and like I needed a nap and just all-around GREAT. But it was such a special occasion that I find myself thinking of it longingly from time to time.  It was also one of those things that happens so infrequently that it makes you simultaneously so excited that it happened and a bit sad when it is over and all you want is to hold on to the feelings that you felt, because you never know when you will feel so taken care of again. It was indulgent, it  was decadent, and it seemed that I wouldn’t be enjoying anything nearly that much ANYTIME soon.

But I did. Just the other day and in a very unexpected way. How you ask? A turkey sandwich.

I kid you not.

I’ve been realizing lately that I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I’m coming the conclusion that it’s unnecessary. Just SO incredibly unnecessary. This pressure usually comes in the form of preconceived notions and external ideas of what it takes to be perfect, to be happy, to be healthy. I do not skip workouts. I do not eat crap food.  Clutter and disorganization at home is unacceptable. Bank accounts should be full. I have to fulfill any proposal for social interaction. I do not half-ass anything. Mediocrity in any form is weakness. Relaxing is wasted potential for productivity and should be reserved for special occasions. Just typing out all these thoughts has increased my blood pressure to sky-high levels, to the point where I need a… spa day.

Those were all statements with no room for flexibility. All of these restrictions and obligations on a daily basis were originally well-intentioned, but as of late have taken on a new level of deprivation. It has gotten to the point where so many things were off-limits and off the table that I was suffering physically, emotionally, and mentally. If I wanted a bite of chocolate, it came in two flavors: deprivation and guilt. In the name of reaching happiness and health, I was miserable and killing myself. With the physical side effects stress has been causing, I’m pretty sure I’m serious about that. I have a feeling I’m not alone.

So the other day, Bill picked me up for lunch. The first thing I tried out was I actually telling him where I wanted to eat, and with confidence nonetheless. We rolled into Lincoln Market & Deli, and this was when the magic happened. I was THIS close to ordering my health-conscious go-to turkey+veggies+only mustard+100% whole wheat bread (an absolute shame in a city with the most incredible sandwich culture, with the likes of High Street, Gus’s and Sally Loo’s) when something stopped me. That was sort of what I wanted. But not totally.

So I ordered the goddamn baguette and the avocado, even though the former is full of empty carbs and the latter was an extra buck-fifty.

And when the guilt started to creep in, I told it to shut the hell up.

That was THE best sandwich of my life. Real talk.

My guess is that you were probably expecting a little more of a climax to that story. Sorry, but that’s it, and that’s exactly why I wanted to bring it up. Why do we insist on putting crazy rules and self-imposed restrictions on ourselves? Why is it that regulation is such a presence in our lives? I get that there are some great reasons for having some boundaries in place and that they serve practical purposes of, say, reaching goals. But it’s a slippery slope down that rabbit hole to perfectionism, and if we never give ourselves room to breathe, the cycle can become vicious. There is a whole world out there, and by narrowing our options and reducing our flexibility, who knows what we might be missing. I mean honestly, either we don’t ever give in or we beat ourselves up so much for giving in that it ruins the experience. Neither of those sounds like living to me.

You know what I think? I think it’s time to live a little. Give yourself some wiggle room. You’re important enough to like what you like and want what you want and have what you have and be happy about it. When you’re happy first, I bet you’ll find that your bank account is actually sufficient, your body is actually slammin’ (it is by the way), and you’re already killing it at work. So take care of yourself, and be okay with taking care of yourself. It wasn’t the spa or the massage or the yoga or the gourmet breakfast that were the source of my happiness on that trip to Sycamore, but the fact that I gave myself permission to enjoy everything that came at me that day. And really, shouldn’t that be every day? Why shouldn’t we live life like the beautiful messy disaster that it is meant to be? It sounds so weird to say this, but that spontaneous lunch date on an ordinary Thursday was a turning point for me. A moment of self-love. A strengthening of my well-being. And that sandwich was actually less of a sandwich and more of a reminder that there are so many wonderful things to be eaten, enjoyed and experienced, and honestly, I loved that stupid thing so much that I won’t need another indulgence for awhile. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy every day for the gift that it is? Because that’s exactly what each of those tiny moments is: a gift in the form of a chance for happiness now, not in some distant future. Honor the little things already, okay? And maybe – just maybe – health, happiness, wealth and love won’t need to be saved for those special occasions.

Although I would never turn down a trip to the spa. Just sayin’.

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Get Your Cute Butt Out the Door: A Working Girl’s Musings on Exercise

There is a question that I get asked often, and that is how I manage to motivate myself to go to the gym after a long day at work. It’s a topic that comes up frequently in the following forms:

  • Friend: I was going to go to the gym tonight, and then I decided not to… Now you’re making me feel bad.
  • Coworker: You’re so good.
  • Husband: I can’t imagine having to go to the gym after work. I don’t know how you can do that.
  • Friend: YOU’RE GOING TO THE GYM TONIGHT?!?!
  • Another friend: I’m going home to sit on my couch and watch TV. I’m exhausted, and I don’t know how you do it.

It’s true. I go to the gym a lot, and it’s often after a full(+) workday. But don’t get me wrong: this is not something that has come easy. I used to go months without working out. In fact, if you had conducted a close study of my health and self-care habits in college, you might be utterly disgusted. After class and work and meetings and rehearsal and dates and friend time and on and on and on, the last thing that I wanted to do was stand up, change and exercise. No thanks. But now that I’m older and much more educated, I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much time.

Now there are definitely some life circumstances that contribute to making it to the gym so often, but I want to make a huge disclaimer. This is not your out. Yes, I do have a husband who works most nights, leaving me at home to do as I please. Yes, I don’t have to cook a dinner for a family of four. I am able to put off chores until the weekend if I so choose. If you have those things, I genuinely congratulate you, but they are not to be used as excuses. Dictionary.com offers the definition of an excuse as “a plea offered in extenuation of a fault or forrelease from an obligation, promise, etc.”, and in this case, that obligation or promise is to take care of yourself. Excuses are for someone else. Working out is for yourself. If you are legitimately too busy, or have a family, or can’t physically get there today, fine. But take a minute to think about how taking care of yourself actually benefits your mind, your family, and your relationships, and I think you’ll realize that excuses are not accepted here. Sorry.

I used to be captive to my excuses. I would tell whoever would listen and hope that it would make me feel better, that this little feeling in my stomach that felt like I was doing something wrong would go away. Want to know how I made it go away? I started doing what I was supposed to, but all the reasons I was telling myself were bullshit. True, honest-to-God bullshit. I was the only thing holding myself back, and it turns out that the real trick to exercising on the regular was to change my MINDSET, not my circumstances, This took a lot of initiative and a swift kick in the proverbial pants to start educating myself and becoming aware of my body, my thoughts, and my self-talk. And then on top of that, I had to change it. Like I said, not an easy task.

But here I am today, hoping to make it a little easier for you to get your cute butt out the door and in shape by giving you some of the tips that have helped me get to the amazing place where I have (shockingly) found myself, Getting out the door is no longer as hard as it used to be, and the payoff is incredible. Here is what personally changed my mind, my body, and my life.

1) I’ve fallen in love with my gym.

Notice I didn’t write “I’ve fallen in love with THE gym”. That’s because I have tried a few in my area, and they never quite fit. All throughout college, I had access to a huge recreation center right on campus, and I hardly ever went (except for hip-hop class – that was great) because despite strict dress code rules of no tank tops or super short shorts, it was an absolute meat market. I went to a huge state-of the art gym in the community for two years, but I had to wait in line for cardio machines, for weight machines, for classes, for everything. I spent $50 a month to stand around. Oh, and it was a meat market. After all that, I finally settled on the one that was right for ME. I go to Equilibrium Fitness for Women, an all-women’s gym less than a mile from my house. Everyone here is supportive, welcoming, stoked on life, and okay – yes, female. I never wait in line, the girls at the front desk no my name, and I’m surrounded by badass empowered women every time I walk through the door. I found where I wanted to work out, and now it feels like my other home.

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2) I turn my excuses to skip my workouts into reasons to exercise.

It is so easy to make excuses to skip workouts, and one of the best things I’ve done is commit to getting honest with myself. For example, I HATE getting ready (i.e. showering, blow drying my hair, doing my makeup) more than once in a day OR any time other than in the morning. Lunchtime workouts just do not work for me. I can’t do it. Therefore, since I’m going to get a workout in, I know I have to plan my them as either my first or last public outing of the day. That way I can make myself presentable for the rest of the day after getting sweaty, or I can shower right before I hibernate for the night. I also hate washing my hair every day, and the truth is, I don’t need to so I tend to go the every other day route. But when I work out, I SWEAT. So how do you get to the gym a majority of your days when it would just be so easy to say, “I don’t want to have to do my hair” tomorrow? Well, I do my hardcore workouts on hair-washing days and then plan a yoga class and light cardio on the others. Easy-peasy. Maybe this sounds ridiculous to you, but we all have those excuses we are secretly ashamed of. You know, those ones we rationalize in our heads, but know that if we said out loud we’d get an eye roll to put us in our place from the nearest person, no matter stranger or closest friend. But who cares?!?! OWN YOUR EXCUSES. Once you do, you can turn them into reasons. Now I always try to workout on hair-washing days, because that to me is a reason to get a weight lifting session in, not skip it.

3) Do what you FEEL like doing.

The key here is not to ask yourself whether you feel like going to the gym. By then you’ve already given yourself “NO” as an option. But if you ask yourself instead, “What kind of workout do I feel like doing?” then you’ve eliminated the possibility before you even realize it. Too tired for cardio? Yoga or Pilates. Want to get outside? Go for a run, or if that sounds like it sucks, walk your dog. Have a bad day? Take a combat class, and get out your anger. Feeling like turning your brain off? Find a magazine and park yourself on an elliptical. Hate even the thought of working out? Go dance your ass off, for God’s sake. The truth is that ANY workout is a workout, not just the hardcore ones. If you don’t feel like leaving your house, give yourself permission to do push-ups on the stairs or pop in a Jillian Michaels DVD. It doesn’t matter how long or short your workout is. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing right now. Comparison will do nothing for you. Check in with your bad self and do what you feel like, because as long as you’re moving, I’ll count it. So move!

4) Find what gets you pumped.

ONE new song on my iPod = Instant change in my mood about working out. The new issue of Women’s Health magazine in my mailbox = Four to seven days of inspiration, depending on how fast I devour it. But the thing that really gets me excited? (And disclaimer, I am totally unashamed for what I am about to reveal.) NEW WORKOUT CLOTHES!!!! I love the way I feel in brand new exercise gear. And yes, I am that girl rocking neon in the worst way in the corner of the gym. I don’t care if it’s obnoxious! I LOVE it. My highlighter yellow Nikes got me through my first half marathon. I feel like a boss in the purple UnderArmor tee my sister-in-law got my for Christmas. I kick ass when I wear all black in my combat class. Once I figured this out, I started to spread out my purchases. New yoga pants here, new sports bra there. It keeps me excited, no matter how weird it sounds. My newest obsession? THESE BABIES.

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I can’t wait to put them on! So find your song, your subscription, your hot pink leopard print kicks, and rock them. Whatever gets YOU out the door.

5) Most importantly, make your working out about getting, being, and staying HEALTHY, and nothing else.

This one takes work, and the effort is two-fold. First, you have to start educating yourself on health and wellness. For instance, you know that the sticky stuff you lick on an envelope to seal it? Well, that’s called gum arabic, and they put it in M&M’s and marshmallows. Gross right? I don’t want to put stuff like that in my body, but I would have kept doing it had I not just chosen to read about it. There is so much information out there, and it’s just waiting for you. Whether you prefer blogs and websites or magazines and good old-fashioned books, it’s there, and it will change your life. The second part of this is you need to decide what being healthy means to you. To me, it’s not just a state of being, it’s a lifestyle. It means exercising and eating right, yes. But to me, it also means getting 8 hours of sleep, reducing my stress level as much as possible, having supportive relationships in my life, maintaining a healthy weight, going to all of my doctors regularly, and generally living clean. So why do we each have to define “healthy” when we could just look up the definition the easy way? Because once you take the initiative and define it yourself, you’ve just found your ultimate motivation. You will not get off the couch unless you feel compelled to, and once you attach real meaning behind your action, you will do just that. Promise.

There is a quote from Dr. Wayne W. Dyer that goes as follows: “Don’t die with your music still inside you.” Well, there is a whole lot of potential living inside your kick-butt self right now, just waiting to be set free. Don’t just let it sit there! Go out there and release your energy into the world. I’ll meet you at the finish line.

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P.S. Check out my sick new Lorna Jane jacket. That puppy has already gone on a run, on a hike, AND to yoga class since I got it with my step-sister a week ago. No shame.