Monday, February 20, 2017

Coffee: Friend or Foe?

How I Quit the Brown Juice
by CSOY Alum Gabriella Cascone
Just over two years ago, I made the leap, delved into the unknown – the world of life without coffee. The decision at the time seemed common sense, yet radical: Give up coffee for the duration a one-month intensive yoga teacher training, while living on a ranch in the mountains just north of Napa Valley with thirty-five like-minded human beings from all over the world. Easy.
The part that scared me was that I had just finished a temporary job on a political campaign, working more hours in an eight-month period than I had ever worked before. I was exhausted. With only a three-day break from one intense experience to another, giving up coffee was never the plan. Turns out I learned more about myself during this month of extraordinary consciousness than I had bargained for. What surprised me from the month-long “experiment” is how I was able to challenge my long-held belief that coffee is not only a prerequisite, but a necessity, to sustain a high-output lifestyle.  

But why quit coffee altogether? The choice was motivated by our teachers, Gina Caputo and Kathryn Budig, who encouraged us to think about quitting the brown juice, at least for this one month, for the sake of our learning experience while in an intense immersive environment and our ability to meditate. As it turns out, caffeine has an effect on your natural energy levels. Go figure.
During the training, I was surrounded by a group of individuals who are deeply invested in self-care and the quality of their energetic output into the world. I noticed at least half of them were not hooked up to a coffee IV, unlike most of my usual high energy, extroverted colleagues. Instead, the most popular beverage at our "yoga camp" was kombucha - the poster child for mason jar-carrying, yoga mat-toting modern yogis - a fermented tea made with probiotics that tastes like tangy club soda spiked with ginger or berries. If all of these amazingly upbeat, healthy, and happy people were getting along just fine without coffee they must be doing something right. Right? OK – all of that sounds nice, but how am I seriously supposed to keep my eyes open every morning for a two hour long, 8am lecture without my morning jolt?
Honesty hour: the first month wasn’t all rose petals and unicorns.  I definitely had a rocky ride during this adjustment period. What I found – and continue to find true since switching to hot tea – is that quitting coffee actually helped me feel MORE energized, especially in the long term. No longer am I beholden to a relationship of pick me ups and let downs, riding my personal rollercoaster wave of energy highs and lows. Rather, I find that I am much more capable of sustaining a relatively consistent level of high energy throughout the day, taking the rest I need when necessary. With tea, my energy levels are more like a bell curve than a stock chart. 

So, how do you make the plunge? Here are five easy tips for making the dive:
1: Start small. Cold turkey works for some, but not others. If you’re on three cups per day right now, make a plan to wean yourself down to one per day over the course of a month (or however long you deem necessary) then eventually a handful of times per week, and eventually a couple of cups per month, etc.
2: Consider timing. I’ve found that when I start my day with coffee, I’m likely to continue. As an alternate morning pick-me-up, I recommend any variation of black tea or my new favorite ritual – rubbing 2-3 drops of peppermint essential oil into your palms and taking three deep breaths, then blending with carrier oil and dabbing the remaining oil onto any muscles that need an icy hot treatment.
3: Break complacency, try something new. Steering away from coffee opened my mind up to a wide array of tea varieties I previously didn’t realize existed. I have a lot of respect for the diversity of coffee culture and those who take the time to study the nuances in taste and texture of these oh so magical beans based on their terroir and origin, but have you had a turmeric almond milk latte lately? They’re dope. The world is your oyster.
4: Know WHY. They say habits take at least three or more weeks to build or break – that takes a lot of commitment. Make sure you’re in tune with your intentions and be clear on them being your own, then own it.
5: Lastly - be kind to yourself. All lifestyle changes take time. The benefits are usually worth the journey.
I still drink coffee or espresso occasionally because I genuinely enjoy it as a drink (cappuccinos please!), especially on particularly long and grueling days. Added perk: long road trips only require one cup of coffee because I am now so sensitive to it.

After giving up coffee and then spending another year and a half on the campaign trail I’m still surprised I have been able to defy my own expectations and live relatively coffee-free. Sometimes what once seemed necessary turns out to be more of an illusion we’ve convinced ourselves to be true than anything else. If you’re ready to come over to the dark side, you don’t have to go cold turkey, but you do have to be patient with yourself. Isn’t that what change is all about anyway?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Yoga of Love In A Bipartisan Household

The Yoga of Love In A Bipartisan Household
by Mollie McDonald, CSOY Alumna

There are myriad reasons why one might be outraged and confused over our new president. Many of us believed he'd never have a chance and that his campaign was a joke. But it was during his campaign that I realized he actually had a following.  A following of Americans who saw him as fit to lead this country.  I thought to myself, well, all of my friends are like-minded and intelligent and could never vote for someone so unfit for office.  WRONG (said in Donald Trump voice). 

"I was so devastated that someone so close to me had done something I found to be so….IGNORANT."

And not only did I have friends who voted for him, MY BOYFRIEND DID. The person I live with and love and spend most of my time with.  Not only did he vote for him, but he didn't tell me what he'd done until after he mailed his ballot in.  This resulted in a month long meltdown and arguments consisting of “How could you?!” and “You're part of the problem!!” and every other variation of the same.  I was so devastated that someone so close to me had done something I found to be so….IGNORANT. I was so angry at him that there were days I'd come home from work and couldn't even look at him.  How could I be expected to just go on like this? Feeling like there's a dark cloud following us around for at least the next four years? I knew something had to change and one day it hit me.  I simply could not continue to sustain that level of anger with my boyfriend or anyone else who voted for him and I could not continue to let Trump ruin my everyday or send me into a dizzying frenzy of hot boiling emotion at the sight of my beloved. As a yoga teacher and practitioner, I know the effects of stress and such intense negativity are simply not something I want to live with and propagate for the next four years.     
I ran across an article where the Dalai Lama shared his thoughts on the election.  He said “This is life, there are the good things and the bad things.  Our minds should maintain better calmness.”  My mindfulness practice had practically vanished after the election.  I was 100% reactive and had no interest in even listening to arguments made from the other side or opinions differing from my own. My relationship was on thin ice and we spent many evenings arguing about policy and coming to the realization that we would just never agree on some things. Ok, so how do I make peace with this? How do I make peace with something that angers me which I cannot change? I took the Dalai Lama's simple and wise words of wisdom and sat with them. I made the decision to work in earnest on calming my mind and decreasing my reactivity while simultaneously increasing my peace of mind. I had to sit. I had to up the ante on my meditation and asana game knowing that I needed a double dose of the medicine to get my mind right.  So I committed.  I committed to a regular routine of meditation followed by journaling in the morning and a five-day a week asana practice.  
Why sit? Why practice asana? I think first and foremost to manage stress and reactivity.  Through meditation, you develop the ability to observe the chatter which gives you the opportunity to either feed it or not and also gives space to the calmer side of your mind. When you begin to meditate, whether you are sitting alone for the first time or have been doing it for years, you are making the powerful decision to gain some distance from your thoughts and emotions by clearly noticing and witnessing whatever it is that prevents you from being happy, present or productive.  You will continue to evolve and grow in meditation by developing an unshakeable center that keeps your grounded in all sorts of different life situations. 
The effects of doing this and focusing on my self-work (especially during this tumultuous time) have not gone unnoticed.  I am able to scroll through Facebook without compulsively clicking on the emotional language written by left or right wing media.  I am able to accept the decision of others who voted for him, even though I disagree.  I have come to accept the fact that my boyfriend is a Trump supporter and I accept the fact that he is our president.  I do not agree with many things he has done in office but I must continue to hold on to hope that we will grow stronger together.  Meditation is what I credit for allowing me to remember that there is more to life than the angry headlines blaring through the car speakers or viral videos.  I have even come to see some benefit to this presidency - it has catalyzed many of us who may have been relaxing back in apathy and disbelief.  
If you too don’t want to live in anger or fear any longer, I encourage you to have a sit.  As often as possible and take an inside look at what is going on in detail.  Focus on what is most important to you.  The next four years are sure to be a bumpy ride and we don’t have to sit aside and take the punches without fighting back but we do have to find some internal peace so that our thoughts, words and actions are intentional, effective and beneficial.  After all, do you really want the President to have such power over your mental health and emotions? I certainly do not.  There are numerous approaches one could take to cope with the next four years but I choose to remain HEAVILY MEDITATED.