15 June 2014

body love

Today’s post is a little different from the usual. In honor of this year’s “Spirit Season,” Get On the Floor Dance Co. (where Anthony and I take ballroom lessons) has challenged its students to write their most creative and inspiring essays on how ballroom has changed their lives. I’m sitting at an airport in Denver after an intensive women’s retreat, and I felt it appropriate to post my entry on the blog. (Warning -- it is lengthy.) The idea is to make my story as “interactive” as possible through multimedia through the Web. Enjoy!

#NoApologies: My Journey into the Feminine Through Loving My Body & Getting On the Floor

When I was 19, I had a stroke.

I was helicoptered in to the hospital, where a neurosurgery team would open up my skull to relieve the pressure building up on my brain. The stroke had been caused by a massive bleed from an arteriovenous malformation, a tangled mass of artery and veins -- something I’d never known I’d had until it nearly killed me that day.

When I awoke from the coma after surgery, perhaps two weeks later, half of my body was completely paralyzed. It was as though someone had drawn a perfect line down from head to toe, declaring the right side normal and the left side utterly useless. It was just dead weight for about a month, when I started getting movement back.

This story could go on for pages, so for brevity’s sake (and levity’s), we’ll skip to the part where I was able to finally go home after two and a half months of living in the bubble of the hospital, where everyone understood what I’d gone through and would do anything to help me.

After two brain surgeries and tons of physical rehab, I was able to go home with a quad cane, a custom-made ankle brace, and a pair of gym shoes. Recovery was slow, and I felt isolated -- thanks to the loving care of my parents, I wasn’t completely alone, but suddenly, I found myself at not even 20 and having to learn how to do everything -- and I really mean everything, because so much of what we do involves both sides of the body -- and accepting that my relationship to my body was forever changed.

Had you asked me at age 18 how it might feel to suddenly lose function of half my body, I wouldn’t have given it much thought. I’d have said, “I donno, it would kind of suck to have to use a wheelchair.”

I would later find myself envying a girl I met who used a wheelchair because she was able to wear heels.

But it wasn’t just that it “kind of sucked” to go from bedridden to sitting in a wheelchair with a helmet because I was missing a part of my skull, and then upgrade to using a quad cane, then a normal cane. It was that my body, the one I had used all my life to run, climb the walls, and dance, had betrayed me.
When I was 23, I had the most devastating heartbreak of my life -- a betrayal of the faith I had had in my relationship with a guy who I realized only years later was emotionally abusive to me because I had not set the right boundaries that would tell him a) it was not okay to make me feel inconvenient because of my disability and b) that he was not entitled to try to change who I was.

To better illustrate the extent of the latter issue, there was a day that I had a seizure in his arms because he had made me stop taking my medication due to it “giving me bad breath.”

Setting the right boundaries is a skill mastered only by those who love themselves enough to do so. My self-image by this time was not recovered enough -- plus, I had the immature, needy quality many young girls approach boys with -- and together, this created a poison that would erode the relationship. We were only together for a little over six months, but the story continued for another two and a half years. It never would have lasted so long if I hadn’t insisted that he was my soulmate, that he was all I needed to be happy. (The lesson here was that as long as I tried to pull him towards me, the farther he would run away.)

I finally made the life-saving choice to let him go on a fateful day where I realized I couldn’t spend the rest of my life toiling over someone who didn’t appreciate or honor me and forced me to apologize for my conditions. (Not only the physical one, but the fundamental condition of being myself, as well.) It was a completely one-sided abomination of a “relationship,” and after three years of thinking of nothing but him, I made the shift.

I was free.

The Universe, in its perfect wisdom, had handed me on a silver plate another person, the one you all know as Anthony, not too long before I liberated myself . . . It whispered to me gently, “When you’re ready.”

We were friends first because I had been so entangled in my ex’s energy, but soon after I made the shift, our love story began -- slowly but surely, as I opened up to the possibility of letting another man into my heart.
When I was five, all I wanted to do was take ballet. My father wouldn’t let me, claiming that if I did, I would build “muscular thighs.” (Joke’s on him!)

Instead, my mom signed me up for Chinese cultural dance, which I did for several years. I relished being on stage and in my body.

In later years, I made the spirit squad at school, which was a combination of cheerleading and dance. My favorite part was always the halftime dances.

In high school, I was also involved in our drama club, where I was invariably cast as a dancer for the musicals I was in: a tornado and Jitterbug dancer in The Wizard of Oz and an Indian dancer for Peter Pan

As a freshman at U of I, I took my friends dancing at the High Dive virtually every week, as I loved to dance, even if I had barely had any formal training. When music played, it moved me, and I was confident in my body. I was never sick growing up, and I had tons of energy -- my body was something I could always trust.
Before I worked at Art of Seduction, I was a client there first. I’d won the door prize at one of her open houses and scored a free boudoir session out of it!

I was nervous about whether I’d be able to pose properly for my photoshoot because I knew the posing was difficult for everyone. Let alone me, with half a weakened body -- and throwing in a pair of stilettos? Fuggedaboudit!

Thanks to Argentina’s patience and help, though, the shoot was a success. I felt so excited about the experience and what it did for me, a young stroke survivor, that she pretty much hired me on the spot. Together, we created the concept of the Women of Strength series for her blog, and I of course featured myself as the first story.

So I had experienced firsthand the empowerment that was celebrating my body in a feminine way. At the beginning of 2014, I decided to explore this concept deeper and started my journey into the “Red Tent,” a revolutionary movement into understanding and implementing femininity, which involves channeling all the energy we cultivate every day in a hypermasculine world down into our body and making it a celebration of our birthright as women.

Feminine movement is about curves and undulations, about the senses. It’s about being, about surrender -- things many women today have forgotten or lost touch with.
Without going into too much detail, the Red Tent and its partner program, the Pleasure Tribe, deeply explores the nuances of reclaiming feminine energy and self-love. Rather than concentrate on getting things done, staying in our heads, or stagnation, feminine energy is about movement and just “being.” It’s also about connecting to the masculine in a synergistic way, partnering with it so that the doing masculine can lead -- and the feminine can surrender, and follow.

It’s also about reclaiming an ancient lost power -- well explained by Sheila Kelley (who is incidentally one of the Pleasure Tribe teachers):

If her claim that the new wave of feminism can be found on a stripper pole shocks and disturbs you, that is exactly the point. In ancient times, fertility dances performed by groups of only women were a celebration of what fed the community -- and it eventually evolved into what is striptease today.

It is only in an energetically imbalanced society that the celebration of the nurturing force that gives life to the people themselves is warped into a highly stigmatized, condemned thing. It’s a damn shame, and leaders like Sheila Kelley, who brings the art of sensual dance and femininity into everyday women, piss a lot of people off. Because what they don’t get is that the feminine is as important as the masculine, and because they think if it seems a bit sexy, it can’t possibly be empowering.

This is SO far from the truth.
Remember when I said my body was something I could always trust? After the stroke, I shut it down and told it I couldn’t dance in public.

Because my left side was always still so weak, I was rarely ever moved by music anymore. Dance disappeared from my life because I was filled with a sense of shame. Though the stroke had not been my fault, I responded to my body’s betrayal by disconnecting from it. My mind was still intact and sharp as it once was, which only gave me more reason to stay safe inside of it. Like, all the time.

I didn’t realize at the time that anything was missing, but my life without dance is an inauthentic one. It was a lifestyle of fear and self-judgment, as though I had snatched back a gift I’d had to offer the world and buried it deep for none to see. It was an apology for something I could not have been to blame for.

I disconnected from dance for about eight years. Finally, a friend of mine who’s also a dancer invited me to go to a Zumba class with her.

Resistance flared. I couldn’t go to a dance class -- in public! What if I couldn’t keep up? What if my ankle gave out?

But then these questions which stemmed from fear gave way to slightly more empowering ones: What if I simply let the instructor know that I had special needs and asked her to modify?

I felt a little excited, yet nervous, to go to class with her. But if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that the little steps just outside my comfort zone are the only ones that will grow me, so I sucked it up, put on my dance pants and my old jazz sneakers and went to Zumba.

It liberated me.

I’d locked up a sleeping goddess inside me for eight years and she’d finally woken up! I realized quickly that no one in the class was watching me; they were too busy worrying about themselves. And, in a slightly self-satisfied way, I also noticed I still had a better sense of rhythm than a lot of the other students.

It was a challenge, to be sure. I really had to work to keep up, and in the end I never spoke a word to the instructor. Even though my dancing was no doubt strange, I still did it as though no one was watching -- because it wasn’t about external feedback. It was about what I felt in my body. About not apologizing for it not being pretty, but enjoying the experience regardless.

I became quickly addicted, and then added hip hop classes, which greatly reminded me of old spirit squad days (without the pom-pons.)
At 18, my friend Kevin and I decided to take some group salsa classes. We started out in Grant Park in a massive, sweaty Chicago SummerDance setting. We then upgraded to group lessons at a restaurant every week for the rest of the season -- but we never became actually good, because we merely learned steps, and not the actual nuances of ballroom. I didn’t take anything away from the lessons besides the basic step, and I only ever would use it today in Zumba where a partner doesn’t exist.
Now that it’s been over 10 years since the stroke, I’m pretty functional. I still can’t run or do many things with both hands, but on a good day, I can usually fool the layman into thinking I’m a perfectly able-bodied woman. But I work with a personal trainer, do yoga, and gym it up often to build up strength in my body (Zumba and hip hop included). It’s continual rehab because the brain needs constant stimulation in order to rewire itself, and as certain movements get easier, I have to challenge myself some more.

Since that summer with Kevin, I hadn’t given ballroom dance another thought -- until fate moved its hand yet again and I won another door prize: an intro lesson with Get On the Floor!
“It’s weird staring into your eyes,” I told Anthony at the intro lesson. It was the first time I’d held eye contact with him for such a loooong time. It felt awkward. And since Anthony had had zero experience with ballroom dance prior to this point, and I’d had virtually none in the realm of partnering with someone in dance, our movements were stiff and contrived. I also found it impossible to dance and talk at the same time -- it required too much concentration.

Anthony and I had been together for three years at that point, and I was eager to create a “thing.” Something that was uniquely ours that we could practice together and maybe even become known for among our friends and family. He was a little less excited about it than I was, but that was typical. (He is the pragmatic one of the two of us, anyway.)

Not to mention, I had learned that ballroom dance could be a really effective way to train the brain in a physical therapy aspect -- because it requires responding to a lead or anticipating your partner’s next move, it stimulates those neuro-pathways in a way unlike much else. Not surprisingly, months of lessons later, I found my ability to walk backwards to be drastically improved -- all that backward reaching in the follow had trained me!

We opted to sign on for a bronze program of lessons; we’d chosen to learn the art of swing, tango, foxtrot (Anthony’s favorite), salsa, and rhumba. I’d particularly wanted to try rhumba because I had learned about the flirtatious “conversation” in the dance from Chen Lizra:

As we journeyed on with our ballroom practice, Anthony and I really jumped in headfirst.  Our goal, besides deepening our connection and trying something new, was to become proficient at social dancing. We began setting out on nights on the town with the sole purpose of dancing. These events began with shy, clumsy series of basic steps and a lot of lurking around the refreshment table, but now, we “get on the floor” with eagerness -- even if we don’t remember some of our latest moves. 

I hadn’t gone out in the pursuit of dancing the night away since my freshman year of university, back in 2002!

Slowly, slowly, I began to feel what it meant to follow Anthony’s lead. On occasion, I would be invited to dance with Get On the Floor’s Steve and find that he could somewhat smoothly lead me to do steps I hadn’t yet learned!

This, my friends, is feminine energy. I am finally able to surrender enough and allow my masculine lead to guide, protect (against others, poles, walls, etc.), and inspire movement in me.

Not to mention, I have an extensive collection of high heels I still can’t wear -- my ankle strength is still questionable at best, and I really felt like that extension of my feminine style expression had been cut off from me. The moment I found out there was a pair of (ugly, but functional) Latin heeled practice shoes that I could actually dance in was a proud one. Seriously! I even considered buying a second pair just for the everyday.

Our lessons really hit a turning point when Anthony and I decided to move in together in March of this year. Our relationship had truly become one based in trust, safety, and growth together, much the opposite of any other romance I’ve ever had, and it was a huge milestone for both of us. 

I really felt compelled to share the experience of dance with our loved ones, and I proposed that Get On the Floor lead a group lesson at our housewarming. As a little treat and challenge for ourselves, I also suggested we put together a short, intermediate salsa routine to perform for our guests. (I will post the recording of us from the party as soon as his mother gives us the file.)

As Anthony held me in frame the day of our party, I could sense that he was really nervous.

Rather than letting the pressure of all the attention affect my energy, though, I was surprisingly able to just look straight into his eyes and anchor myself there. I remained present as I followed his lead -- which, due to nerves, wasn’t completely true to the choreographed routine we’d practiced. But it was okay.

Do you know what this meant? I had grounded into my own body, surrendered control, and allowed my man to take me on a little journey. It was such a unique and symbolic way for us to start our new life together in our new home; at the moment of our performance, as far as I was concerned, it was just Anthony and me. I had grown into the surrender, too, of holding eye contact without discomfort. I was home in more ways than one.

I gave in to the moment and set an example for our friends and family. If I, with my broken body, could use ballroom dance to channel my energy from headspace to core and feet, and connect through eye contact and touch, then so could they. It didn’t have to be pretty, and I’m sure it was far from it, but the fact that we did it was a huge thing in itself. Remember when I wouldn’t even dance for myself? Let alone in public? What a long way I’d come.

The next step -- quite the challenge -- will be for me to learn to style the way we dance and give our dance partnership (and probably also our real life one) the juiciness that draws all the attention to what I’m doing. The female half of the ballroom is meant to sparkle, to command the attention in the same way that the male counterpart commands the direction of the dance.

Draw attention?! The idea terrifies me. But bring it on.

09 May 2014

forgiveness friday: energy in motion, part 1

Mark Twain forgiveness quote
I had a profound discovery last Friday. While journaling that morning, I realized that I often have a tangle of thoughts in my head jumbling me up for what feels like hours, days -- even turning me into the kind of person that just obsesses over philosophizing or whatever is bothering her. “I’m too in my head,” I’d tell people. “I need to somehow channel that energy in my head down into my body.”

Since the next free Red Tent Revival event is around the corner (and I recommend all women participate), long story short, part of what I’ve been doing in this extended absence -- huge apologies for abandoning you!! -- is plugging into the Pleasure Tribe, which is an online community of enlightened women banding together to learn about multiple facets of womanhood. The leader of our tribe is a woman named Kristin Sweeting Morelli, who established her multi-million-dollar brand on the principle that “everything is energy.” (Her iTunes Podcast of the same name was second only to Oprah’s back in the day.)

Part of the reason why I signed up to join the Pleasure Tribe is because I was interested in reclaiming by body and reconnecting my mind with it. I was feeling too “heady,” which I recognized as a very masculine energy, and I wanted to shift my focus back into my body.

But the huge realization I made last week was this: The tangled mass of thoughts I constantly had in my head reminded me, energetically, of the tangled mass that once was my AVM, which used to reside in my brain!

Could it have been that I’d been holding on to that energy all this time? This July, it will be 11 years -- that’s quite a while to cling on to something that no longer serves me, don’t you think?
Even to this day, it almost makes me sick to look at my old arteriovenous malformation.
I had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around this. I didn’t even know the AVM existed until it caused my stroke -- how could I be so attached to it?

When I began writing this post, I realized it would go on for far longer than should be contained in one single blog post, so I’m breaking it up into different parts. For now, I’d like you to ponder these questions and ask yourself whether you’ve been somehow hanging on to the memory of what happened to you -- when you or your loved one had a stroke -- and whether this energetic attachment serves you anymore.
Steve Maraboli forgiveness quote
I call this Forgiveness Friday for a couple reasons. When I realized I was holding on to the energy of my AVM, it occurred to me that perhaps in order to truly let go of it, I needed to acknowledge it and forgive it. Sounds crazy, but this led me to a pretty profound evening that day (more on that next week -- promise).

Second, a lot of us see Fridays as the end of the week. The end of the week is a great time to reflect back on how far we’ve come and what we’ve gone through. It’s an excellent point to reflect on what’s brought us here. Many times, when I think about what I’ve done, I can get tripped up on my mistakes or things I should have done differently. To me, this signals it’s time for me to forgive myself of my own stumbles, and begin to move forward with the lessons they taught me.

Share your thoughts in the comments below, and never fear -- last Friday was too monumentous for me to be a flight risk again. (I have plenty to share with you tomorrow about the #loveyourbody #6whealthy challenge I started this week, as well.)

Have a great weekend!

To our healing,

25 October 2013

food for thought

Red quinoa salad -- yum!

I’ve had requests for articles on food, but I’ve put off writing them because over the years, I’ve realized some truths among all the confusion. Not only this, but I wasn’t really ready to tackle it until recently, as I’ve made some major lifestyle changes (thanks to Tony Robbins, of course).

Without further ado -- here are five discoveries I’ve made about food, nutrition, and the industry.

1. There’s a lot of controversy and contradiction even among experts. Do you eat meat? Drink milk? Like peanut butter? Want to snack? Drink coffee? I’ve heard opposing stances from food/nutrition authorities coming from every angle for each of these things. Which brings me to . . .

2. Every body is different. Ultimately, what works for one body may not work for another. We all have varying sensitivities, from what we like to what we’re allergic to or what weaknesses we have built into our bodies. I know a guy who swears by eating identical meals every single day, and another who essentially fasts all day until dinner, at which point he practically binge-eats. I disagree with both these approaches, but at the same time, I do think a large part of what eating habits work for us is the result of trial and error. Not everyone benefits from cutting out certain types of food from their lifestyles, but for one reason or another, others will swear by it.

3. There are multiple dimensions to every claim you’ll find. In keeping with number one, sometimes you kind of have to weigh the pros and cons to any food choice you make. For instance, there are some authorities who tout coffee in moderation as good for you (because of the antioxidants), and others who shun it as detrimental (for its acidity or for its caffeine). When it comes to these things, I think it’s really up to you and your particular strengths and weaknesses to decide what’s more important.

4. A lot of experts place too much emphasis on weightloss. While most of us would probably love to release a few pounds (I certainly am not immune), unless you are actually obese and it is truly an issue that is hindering your well being -- and thus, is a health issue -- the reason why this bothers me is because calorie counting culture promotes more what you look like than what’s going inside your body and feeding your organs and bloodstream. This is like promoting Oreos because they are vegan. No matter how you look at it (or how the cookie crumbles, if you’re so inclined!), an Oreo is not a health food. I much prefer looking at food from a health perspective as opposed to aiming to have a slimmer physique. Look, eat healthy and exercise, and the excess weight will naturally come off. I speak from very recent experience!

5. You have to do your research on most things. Question EVERYTHING. I’ve found, annoyingly, that the United States food industry has among the most corrupt business practices I’ve ever seen, and you can’t just take someone’s word for it. There are hidden, potentially harmful ingredients in most processed foods, and often even things we’ve been raised to believe are really good for us have skeletons in their closets. So just because it’s organic or “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely risk-free. I’ve built up pretty good intuition on this type of thing over time, and you will too. A good resource I’ve found is Foodbabe’s blog. A word of warning, though, doing research on what you’ve been eating can be very disconcerting. Better to know than not, though, as eating what’s easy comes with a hidden, VERY expensive price tag that usually sneaks up on you after years’ worth of accumulation.

Personally, I think it’s irrational and unrealistic to eat perfectly. There probably is no such thing, so generally speaking I aim for an 80/20 ratio. This way, I never feel deprived of little indulgences, but on the whole, I feel great and I’m nourishing myself properly most of the time.

Some people recommend having “cheat days,” but I dislike this approach for myself because it creates a sort of worshippy mentality when it comes to crappy food. Plus, if you do eat clean regularly, the idea of an entire day of cheating sounds like a nightmare. (Take it from me -- the stomachaches, bloating, feeling like you’re going to vomit is so not worth it.)

All this said, I’m wary of labeling myself any kind of authority on food. There is so much opposing information out there, so much confusion, that a lot of the time I’m not even sure where I stand. (This is very uncomfortable for me, as I usually have very strong stances on any belief I hold.) I’m happy to share what it is I eat in the form of recipes or Instagram (#rehabrevolution) photos, and I’m down with writing some content that I feel will be helpful in educating you on little-known facts about foods a lot of us eat, but I want you to take it with a grain of salt.

Please be the pioneer of your own body’s health. I can’t possibly know what’s best for your body, so take my words as a guide, not as law.

To our healing,

15 October 2013

[repost] rethink pink

I decided to repost this article, originally published on Refinery29, with Felicitys permission. With October now in full swing, I felt called to help her truly spread awareness of the reality of breast cancer rather than just following a trendy and charismatic marketing movement that sweeps the nation once a year. 

It especially resonated with me because I am all too familiar with the alienating nature of surviving what is often considered an older persons malady. . . .

As teenagers, we considered ourselves immortal. This idea carried over into our 20s, and we imagine it will linger the first few years of our 30s. We have genuinely lived as if nothing bad could ever happen to us, because our lives were too great, too important to be interrupted. Though this devil-may-care attitude has been responsible for some of the greatest memories of our lives, it's easy to forget that we are not immune to danger, that we have reached an age where we must learn to take care of ourselves and be mindful of the future of our health. Case in point? Felicity Palma is a 29-year-old woman living with breast cancer.

As a gut reaction, youre pr
obably thinking that Palma is way too young for cancer. After all, havent we assumed that the big C is something that could happen, but only later in life, after we have kids, or become aunts, possibly grandmothers? Certainly not to young, talented photographers living in Brooklyn at the prime of their lives. But sure enough, this unlikelihood is exactly what Palma faced. The problem with being so young and uninsured, is that it takes quite a bit of effort to get any attention. My doctor at the breast center felt the lump, shrugged, and said it was probably a cyst. Even after multiple inconclusive (and mind you, expensive-as-hell) tests, my doctor was still convinced that because I was young, that it just could not possibly have been something to worry about. Though the process was more drawn out than Palma would have hoped, she is still grateful she pushed her doctor for testing until they had answers.

But she certainly wasn
t expecting the diagnosis she received. The doctor came in, sat down, took his glasses off, looked me in the eye, looked back down at his chart, and awkwardly said, So, it's cancer.  We imagine this sort of news isnt something you can really prepare for, and so Palma's reaction seems on point: I just sat there. Numb. Totally unable to react. It took me a couple hours to really absorb it and start crying. In some ways it felt like reality was ripped away from me, and I no longer was a part of the present. All I could think was, What? How? Why? Is it my fault? What did I do wrong? Am I going to lose my breasts? Am I going to lose my hair? Am I going to die? And all the doctor could say was that he couldnt tell me much more, nor do anything else for me. I had to find a surgeon, and I had to somehow get health insurance. Without any health insurance and now facing the burden of an indefinite amount of treatments (and bills), Palma had no choice but to adopt a take-charge attitude against the cancer.

s remarkable about Palmas life before her diagnosis is that, in comparison to other cancer stories shes heard, she considers it fairly unremarkable. I feel like all the stories about young adults with cancer are how they were just launching their careers, starting families, etc., whereas I got caught in the middle of an existential crisis. I graduated from NYU with an MA in International Studies about two years ago, and was amped to begin working in womens rights. Despite churning out hundreds of resumes, the best I could do was anything it took to survive — bartending, waiting tables, baby-sitting, tutoring, freelance photography . . . So I kept at it, hoping that somewhere down the line, things would fall into place for me. And then cancer hit, and stopped me in my tracks. Its crazy to think how hardly a year ago, I had a totally different concept of what it meant to survive. Indeed, young New Yorkers consider survival the ability to pay your rent and eat more than packaged noodles every day. Now, Palmas definition of survival consists of just one mission: to be well again.

So, what
s her treatment exactly? On April 22, Palma underwent a lumpectomy, which removed the lump from her breast. On June 5, she froze her eggs. Later that month, Palma began taking Tamoxifen, a synthetic drug used to treat breast cancer, and one that she will have to take for the next 10 years. She also began radiation therapy on July 10, which she is set to complete by August 20. But, with her sessions running five days a week, thats a whopping total of 30 sessions. After her radiation treatment, Palma will begin ovarian suppression (a method of slowing the growth of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer), which will last two to three years. Then shell be kept under close watch for the next 10 years, which means regular check ups every three months, and regular screenings such as mammograms and MRIs. In short, her life has changed entirely. All of a sudden, your days are consumed with constant doctors appointments, procedures, treatments. And when you're not at the hospital, all you can do is think about it. Who wouldnt feel isolated and scared? Positive and inspiring thoughts can certainly be hard to come by. But Ive also found that by allowing myself to feel scared, to feel sad, to feel angry — to just feel whatever it is I need to feel — that I come out of each downward spiral feeling stronger and more inspired.

Because she is so young, its easy for Palma to feel alienated when it comes to finding a community of women in treatment to whom she can entirely relate. Though she is grateful for the positive attitudes and support of her tech team and the staff who delivers her treatments, Palma faces a different battle than her fellow patients. I am by far the youngest person in the radiation waiting room. Every time I walk in, I look around to see if maybe theres someone else around my age. This has been such an isolating experience, that I feel like I'm constantly seeking some sense of camaraderie and community. But it's always just me, so I try and make the best of it. 

Though she may be the only person in the treatment rooms under the age of 40, she certainly isn't facing her experience alone. Palma
s boyfriend, Spencer, has not only been her means of support, both emotionally and financially, but he, too, must take on a role that is normally reserved for older people — that of a primary caregiver. He has been my rock throughout all of this. Since my family and many of my closest friends live in California, Spencer has taken on much more than I think many caregivers in our age group do. He came with me to every single doctors appointment, helped me through every difficult decision Ive had to make, and hes now working two jobs, just to keep us afloat. This whole experience has been extremely difficult on us as a couple, and there are times when we both break down and arent sure how the hell we got here, nor where the hell were going. But hes been by my side since the beginning, and has been just so unbelievably selfless, kind, and loving. I feel so lucky to have him.

Unsurprisingly, cancer tends to take a toll on Palma
s stay-positive spirit, so we had to wonder: How do you get to a happy place? What's the silver-linings playbook, if you will? Sometimes what can be positive and inspiring one day doesnt always have the same effect another day. The most important thing for me has been feeling supported and loved by my family, community, and medical team. Gardening on my rooftop, yoga, and going to therapy where we practice meditation have all also been super necessary to keeping myself calm and collected. Educating myself on the topic of breast cancer has also been incredibly helpful in feeling confident and empowered. That quote from Sun Tzu has so much meaning to me right now: 'If you know your enemy and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. 

Though Palma may feel her plans for working in womens rights have been put on hold, her experience is an opportunity to educate young women on breast cancer, and how to keep an eye out. Shes also seeking to debunk naive notions about cancer that likely exist among 20-somethings. "Lots of people seem to think that just because active treatment is over, that cancer is over. It doesn't work that way. Once diagnosed, you are always at risk for recurrence. Cancer is a lifelong fight, no matter how bad you got it, and the physical and emotional rollercoaster that it puts you on doesnt just go away in the blink of an eye. We imagine this is especially difficult for younger patients who have to cope with the idea of returning to a normal way of life post-treatment. 

Palma also hopes her story helps to amplify the resources made available to women with breast cancer, both in education and support. 
It's straight-up bull shit that the number of young women being diagnosed has tripled in the last 10 years. Yet, since we are still such a minority of diagnoses (two to three percent of all breast cancer diagnoses are under 30), there are so few resources for us out there. I would go onto blogs or community boards or whatever, and I just couldnt connect to the language that a lot of people use. So much of whats out there is fear-based and can seriously make you go crazy. Im not into that. If all we do is talk about the scary shit, how the hell are we, as a community of breast cancer warriors/survivors/thrivers/whateveryouwannacallus, supposed to get through this? Of course, Palma defaults to the perfect attitude here: humor. Cancer f---ing sucks. But we also want to be able to laugh, and to believe that we can pull through this. Thats where the humor comes in. Youve got to be able to laugh at cancer in its face.

09 September 2013

[spiritseptember] repost: keeping it clean

Image courtesy of justraisethebar.com
Greetings from Texas! I'm in the middle of some really powerful and inspiring leadership training here, so as I mentioned previously, I don't have the time to write. However, this morning when I discovered an oil stain on my Lululemon hot yoga sticky mat (had a bit of a toiletry spill in my luggage), I found this article and thought it could be helpful to any of you out there who also practice yoga. I found this article on myyogalife.com, and it was written by a yoga instructor named Lauren Rudick.
Lauren Rudick is an international yoga instructor based out of Montreal, Canada. She teaches Hatha, Vinyasa, Power flow and yoga for hockey players at workshops and retreats both at home and abroad. Her classes are infused with humor and positivity, helping students build confidence on and off the mat. In her downtime, she enjoys hiking, snowboarding, beaching, arts n’ crafting, eating and snuggling her puppy Julius.
My yoga mat is like my second home. I’ve slept on it, cried on it, learned and loved on it. It has been with me in parks, decks, on concrete, to studios, and has even traveled cross-continent with me.  
Just like our homes, keeping your yoga mat pristine for the long haul takes a bit of maintenance and effort. So here’s the big question: How do you clean your yoga mat and how often should you do it?
For hot yoga practitioners, it is a good idea to give your mat a misting with a tea tree oil solution or an organic mat spray after each use, especially if the mat itself doesn’t have built in anti-microbial properties. [Note: Lululemon's The Mat does, in fact, have them. I found this out via this article.]
If your mat has dirty spots on it or an odor, a more thorough cleaning is necessary. For pesky spots, you can use lemon juice and baking soda diluted in water with a terrycloth towel to rub out the stains. Most mats are machine washable, so you can throw it in a cycle by itself with a tad of mild detergent. When my yoga mat gets really dirty, I lay it on the floor of my bathtub, rub it down with a washcloth, and some gentle soap. Then I turn on the showerhead and watch brown water wash down the drain. It always surprises me just how much sludge comes off!
Remember, your bare skin and face are touching your mat during your practice, so it is best to use eco-friendly, skin-friendly, and non-abrasive cleaners. Also of note, is that the soles of your feet and cheeks (both posterior and facial) touch your mat as well. Don’t just keep your mat clean; keep your body clean before stepping even into Tadasana. I always wash my hands and often my feet before practice. I keep baby wipes with me in my mat bag so that I can give my feet a good wipe down when I am on the go. The ritual of cleansing ensures not only that my mat stays cleaner but also that I am not picking up any unwanted germs I’ve collected along the way to my yoga space. 
Having a clean mat makes a yoga practice all the more inviting. Wipe down, wash up, spray on, scrub off and keep bending!

05 September 2013

[spiritseptember] good morning

I wasn’t necessarily planning on posting today, but after such an amazing morning, I just have to.
Image from seekthingsabove.wordpress.com
Yesterday was a lower-energy day. It felt like everyone I knew was particularly struggling by last night, and though I released a number of prayers into the Universe yesterday, I really needed some rest overnight. Slept in till 11am, and while that usually frustrates me because it makes me feel like I’ve robbed myself of my morning (mornings have become sacred for me and I’ll tell you why in a moment), today I awoke with a sense of peace. “Oh well,” I said to myself. “I must have needed the sleep.” (I did.)

So rather than rushing to the bathroom to wash up and start my day, I felt called to take it easy and devote some time to nurture my soul today. I began with my Morning Pages, which is a concept I am eternally grateful to have learned from business mentor Kris Britton: Every day since she coached me over the phone (she lives in Vancouver) in the beginning of August, I get up earlier than usual to devote 15 minutes purely to journaling. 
This is actually my journal, after I had done a goals exercise by Tony Robbins. :)
I LOVE these handmade journals by Poetic Earth!
I get one every summer at Printer's Row Lit Fest.
Rather than this journaling be like what I used to do when I was a teen or young adult rambling on about whatever (and sure, there’s some of that too), I have tweaked the practice to become a spiritual habit, writing a sort of ongoing conversation with God, or the Universe (whatever you want to call it). Every day, I begin this way, and it’s become indispensible to my daily life. It’s different from journaling at night, because at nighttime you become so focused on going to bed that it becomes sort of a chore and so easy to just brush off for “later.”

But to begin the day with a conversation with the divine, I find that I can get off my chest any troubles I have on my mind, set my intentions and goals, and I can ask the Universe for help. I feel like this practice has changed the way I live my life because not only does it set the tone for my day with humility, faith, and honesty, but it has brought in so many blessings. “Ask and you shall receive,” indeed! I’ve become so hooked on the journaling that even in times of stress during the day or afternoon, I’ll add Evening Pages. It helps me release whatever is blocking me, and it’s fascinating to watch anger and frustration turn into a gentler, loving progression. 

Anyway, rather than stopping at the Morning Pages today, I finished my 15 minutes, and played some relaxing music so I could give meditation a try. Meditation has always been one of those “should dos” in my life, but because of my active monkey mind (not a good thing), I’ve always found it nearly impossible. I’ve gotten a lot of advice regarding meditation in the past and I plan to write a post devoted strictly to the practice, but later -- because I only started with five minutes today. (Hey, I was being realistic.)
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After the meditation, I played different relaxing music so I could go back to my bed, get comfortable (not too comfortable), and read Om for the Mom for 30 minutes. The experience of reading this book is interesting because I actually know the author and co-author (officially, editor). As I said previously, the author is the big sister of my best friend Sarah, so reading this book is like getting to know them better. It’s pretty cool.

Anyway, I concluded my reading with one of the breathing exercises included in the book, to take 40 slow, intentional, and deep breaths in and out of my nose.

Breath, by the way, is quite literally a vital component to our bodies and our lives. I’m going to write on that in more depth, again, later.

After this slow morning of just “me time,” I feel SO serene and wonderful. So much so that I rushed over to my laptop as soon as the practice concluded, and began to share this with you.

As much as any or all of this can sound kind of hokey, I want this post to give you permission to try out any spiritual practices and/or morning rituals for yourself. Try it on, reflect, see how it fits. No one has to know, anyway -- what you do during your “me time” and while getting in touch with the divine is only between you and God. I’m only sharing with you because it’s Spirit September and I feel so amazing.

What do you do to start your day? Have you ever tried journaling first thing? Or meditation? Share in the comments below!

To our healing,

04 September 2013

[spirit september] repost: works like a charm

I came across this article in Mind Body Green, and it was so lovely I just had to repost it to share with you.
A bit about the author: Shelly Bullard is a student and teacher of Love. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (CA#51081) turned Love Coach. She believes romantic relationships are the way in which we spiritually transform. Our most profound growth comes from evolving through issues that arise in relationships, leading us to a deeper sense of joy, connection, and fulfillment in love. Shelly's purpose in life is to guide people through this process.
There are some people who just have it. You know, that thing . . .
They illuminate a room. Eyes follow them. The spotlight naturally and effortlessly is drawn to them.  
What’s their secret? I know, and I’m going to tell you.  
It’s called soul. 
People who embody soul are irresistible. Seriously irresistible. Like, I-can’t-take-my-eyes-off-you irresistible. Uh-huh, it’s that good. 
Soulful individuals are always being pursued. People flock to them. They look good, they feel good; they’ve got that thing
Guess what? You can have that thing, too. In fact, you already have it. You just have to tap in and let it shine. That’s what this article is going to teach you to do. 
Here are four easy steps to embody your soul and light up a room. Get ready to turn some heads. 
1. Center.
The quality of being centered is strong and peaceful, assured and graceful, aligned and free. 
It feels heavenly to be around centered people because these qualities are so desirable to us. They also aren’t the norm. 
We live in a fast-paced, frazzled world, so being a pillar of peace is an oasis in a very dry desert. If you flow with grace and ease, no doubt people will be drawn to flow with you.
So how do you do it? 
Easy. You practice. 
Whether it’s meditation (focus on your breath), mindfulness (focus on the now), or just paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, these practices will lead you to embody a sense of calm and ease. 
People will take note. It’s a slight shift with a big impact. Train yourself to be here now and watch how others respond to your aura of grace.
2. Be grateful. 
The reason gratitude is paramount in attracting others is because it aligns you with a state of abundance. Abundance overflows -- it wants to share. When you’re overflowing with good vibes, others will flock by your side. 
Think about it. How does it feel to be around people who are grateful, people who are happy, free-spirited, and gracious? Pretty nice, right? 
Gratitude overflows. It’s light, joyful, and yummy. When you feel grateful, you become one with this delectable energy; it’s an absolute people magnet! 
Embody your soul by getting your gratitude on. Relish all the beautiful things you encounter during your day, feel it before you go to sleep, and be thankful whenever possible. This practice will greatly increase your personal magnetism, guaranteed. 
3. Live your truth. 
People with that thing have confidence. Not inflated confidence; not narcissism. It’s a deep confidence. Faith.
They know what they want, and they know that they’re going to get it. This type of unwavering conviction is extremely attractive to us because it’s what we all want, too.
We all want to know. We all want to be certain. We all want to believe. Therefore, those who live in this manner are utterly irresistible to us. 
When someone speaks with conviction, we listen. We may not like what they're saying, but we'll listen. Conviction draws a crowd. 
Guess what? You have conviction, too. You may not be aware of it, but you do. It comes in the form of your intuition, your higher self, your truth. 
There's a voice that lives inside you; it’s not in your head, it’s in your heart. When you listen to this voice you'll be guided in the direction you’re supposed to go. And as life unfolds the way you want as a result of listening to this voice, you'll have found your truth. 
There’s nothing more captivating than a person on their path. Listen to what the real you has to say, then follow through. People will always be drawn to you as a result to being true to yourself.
4. LOVE.   
Love. Just love
Love your city. Love your home. Love your food. Love your dreams. Love your people. Love. 
Love the things that are easy to love, and stretch to love the things that aren’t. 
When you love fearlessly, you beam. You’re a light in the storm. You’re a smile in the crowd. You’re a breath of fresh air.
Love is that thing
Involve your heart in all that you do and people won’t be able to take their eyes off you.  
Make a commitment right now to embody your soul -- to be the most irresistible version of you. Center, feel grateful, live your truth and love your heart out, and you will, without a shadow of a doubt, become a magnet to everyone who has the privilege of basking in your light. 
Please leave a comment below to tell us how you plan on embodying your soul today. Remember, we all benefit from your shine.
Great article, right?!
To our healing,