But here’s the most important question: Who cares? Seriously, who are you working out for? If the answer is anyone other than yourself, we need to have a little chat.
Full disclosure: I’ve had some nasty body dysmorphia in my life. When I first started out acting in New York and L.A., I thought having a killer body was everything, and I had no idea when enough was enough. I was nailing magazine covers and product endorsements, but even with a gorgeous boyfriend who told me I was beautiful every day, I never felt like I was good enough when I looked in the mirror. It took a lot of growing up and letting go, casting off the people who brought me down and made me doubt myself. It finally got better when I began surrounding myself with love and support from friends who cared about the real me.
For the first time, the body on the outside was as strong as the heart on the inside.
Ask a guy why he joined a gym, and the answer will often be, “I want to get hot!” Well, friends, it’s my pleasure to break it to you: You already are! If there is one thing I learned in the long journey to being happy with my looks, it’s that the outside should always be the physical manifestation of how you feel inside.
I’ve been asked repeatedly to write about fitness and why it means so much to me, but I really had no idea where to begin. Do I tell you about which weights are best? What you should be eating? The yummiest protein? No, none of that matters until you look at yourself in the mirror and realize that the only person you need to worry about impressing with your body is yourself. Don’t worry, there are plenty of websites with lots of tips and videos about getting that beach body you’re looking for, but first things first: Let’s figure out why we’re going to sweat.
Each week RuPaul tells her ladies on Drag Race that they’d better remember who really comes first, because “if you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Amen, Ru. Amen.
Listen, body image, like that gorgeous muscle boy you stare at each time you go to the bar, is nothing but a mess of confusion. Every ad in every magazine shows us glistening pecs and rippling six-packs that lead us to believe that we’re not worth squat unless we can grate cheese on our stomachs. We are being told that if we don’t match this prepackaged ideal, we’re something “less-than.”
What you are is a gorgeous man who is already sexy just because you’ve embraced who you are. Working out, eating right, and keeping your body and brain healthy make the wrapping on the present firm and desirable, but it’s the man inside that matters.
Just remember that there will always be some guy younger and fitter than you, but he doesn’t have your heart. That’s the sexiest muscle you’ve got!
Back then I lived a vastly different life brimming with stress: ever-looming deadlines, uncomfortable shoes, the constant ringing of the telephone (cell phone and fax machine, too), stacks of papers, a lack of sleep, a pen in one hand and a paddle in the other (a paddle I was using to ferociously row up a dimly-lit creek — we all know the name of that creek). Despite this, when I asked the aforementioned question above in said paragraph one (yes, I am a lawyer), I answered with an out-of-breath yet enthusiastic, “I want to be happy!”
As I spent years chasing the elusive and fleeting feeling of happiness, I came to realize that I was in need of a new GPS, so to speak. At this brilliant pause (admittedly, I sometimes used to do a “slow-down-rolling-semi-stop” when driving) I realized the true answer to the question was that I desired peace.
Why peace? Peace is truly what we yearn for, because without it, real happiness is simply not possible. Peace is foundational to happiness. Peace, I have discovered, is foundational to everything!
Back to my stress-filled life… As I took that pause, the thought that peace was indeed what I longed for was an intriguing proposition and so as a lawyer, I set out to prove it. To reroute my GPS from seeking happiness to peace, I started with a simple question. Where in the H-E-double hockey sticks does one find peace? I came up with four simple steps:
Step 1: Think of a time I felt peace.
Step 2: Replicate.
Step 3: Rinse.
Step 4: Repeat.
Step 1 was easy to recall, and I am sure many women can relate — maternity leave! Well, what I am actually referring to is breastfeeding. Breastfeeding my three children was always an ultra-peaceful experience for me. So, as for Step 1: Check!
Step 2: Replicate. Easy. Start breastfeeding again. Wait! No! That would be rather difficult unless I was to become a wet nurse (doubt anyone was hiring). Thus, an analysis began and I surfed my way through research that led me to the interesting subject of hormones.
The oxytocin hormone is a powerful hormone, often referred to as the “love hormone,” but I refer to it as the hormone of “peace and calm.” Both sexes produce oxytocin but women, in larger amounts and in a uniquely robust way. (You go, girls!)
Oxytocin is best known by mothers — it is released when a woman nurses her baby. Nature created it this way to help form an emotional bond between her and the little one. In other words, it helps bring us back to a place of peace and love, while intermittently dealing with poopie diapers and nighttime cry fests. Ah, now it makes sense why I loved breastfeeding.
Humans release oxytocin not only when breastfeeding, but at many other times as well. For example, oxytocin is released when people hug, make love, laugh, and gather with friends to name just a few. Cool beans for all mankind, but even cooler beans for women and here is why. 2006 research at UCLA demonstrated that women release oxytocin as part of their stress response. This research shows that in stressful situations, women have an innate tendency to desire peaceful interaction because when stress hits, our bodies immediately produce oxytocin. What’s more is as we engage peacefully in a situation, it causes us to release yet greater doses of oxytocin resulting in further calm and providing us with a secret weapon: inner peace.
This response is unique to women, and unfortunately, does not occur in men. Because men also tend to release testosterone when under stress, it cancels out much of the peaceful effect of oxytocin. By contrast, the estrogen present in females, serves to enhance the oxytocin effects.
Knowing this, we, as women, can harness the power of our hormones in remarkably productive ways. We are living in times where women have more opportunities to bring about change and utilizing this knowledge can help create more peace for ourselves, our families and our communities. Now ladies, I must ask, are you feeling empowered yet?
Step 3: Rinse. The rinse step is when we purposefully call upon our peace hormone, oxytocin, during stressful situations and allow it to fill our systems. Just as when we rinse away shampoo from our hair, leaving it freshly clean, the “rinse” step allows the peace innately produced in our female bodies, to cleanse negativity and chaos from our beings. When we get in touch with this naturally occurring internal peace, we can share it with those around us through our love and encouragement. “The rinse” is how I personally created calm in my world. Back then, I appealed to my oxytocin to toss my paddle into the creek, jump ship and swim ashore to a more peaceful and secure place. Nowadays, I appeal to my oxytocin to remain safely ashore, even when life becomes hectic.
Step 4: Repeat. Carrying this on as a central theme in our everyday lives is crucial. Daily, I call upon my desire for peace, as well as my almost magical intrinsic ability, as a woman, to create peace. When I shifted from living in a manner where I seek peace (instead of happiness), my life changed in simple, yet exceptional ways. I became empowered.
Lastly and interestingly enough, I have found happiness to be a fantastic byproduct of my peaceful life.
For more by Fiona Childs, click here.
For more on happiness, click here.
Be creative and find new and interesting things to do together. Though it takes a little energy, the rewards are worth it. Preferably choose something that neither of you have ever tried. This adds to the relationship, the fun of exploring new things together.
These are the things we do when we first begin to date, the fun things that keep us in a state of anticipation and relaxation. This is something that one can do to keep that sense of excitement and expectation alive.
2. Remember to laugh.
Humor is a cure for almost everything. Even in our darkest moments of despair, we can smile and laugh at some quirky or funny event, or some memory. Be playful, watch comedies, go to comedy clubs, etc. Fill your relationship with laughter.
3. Become a foodie.
When we are new to a relationship, food can become an aspiring component. The old adage, that “the way to a man’s heart, is through his stomach,” has a grain of truth to it.
We must all eat to survive, and our culture has made eating, cooking, and kitchen comfort a part of our everyday lives. So be creative, ham it up. Take cooking lessons, cook together, and cook for one another. It’s all part of the grooming, caring, taking care of, that is so essential to the relationship.
4. Make life an adventure.
Go to new and different physical locations. It does not have to be a grand trip. It can simply be a weekend road trip. When you move your head to a different pillow in a different place, your defenses drop away and you become more open to one another.
5. Always keep each other’s confidences.
Never, ever share with friends the intimate experiences and conversations that arise in relationship. Trust is based on experience, and if either partner hears their conversations and experiences casually bantered about in the public domain, trust can be easily broken and hard to re-establish.
6. Be honest.
Integrity is essential to relationships. That means to be honest about everything, including money. In my experience as a parenting and family expert, money is one of the most common reasons for fighting.
7. The Empathic Process
When a relationship is in trouble, it is important to communicate in an empathic way. Empathy helps to put things in perspective. This means to dialogue without defense, to listen to each other in an intimate way, by holding hands or touching, in a neutral environment, without accusation or blame.
Take turns dialoguing and then dialogue together, to try to come to a compromise or solution. The most important part of the empathic process is to listen without defense. This creates a safe space in which to return again and again, and work out problems.
For more by Dr. Gail Gross, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.
I was automatically drawn to her. Maybe it a was knowing that at times in my life, I was not too far off from being in her position. Maybe it was the kindness she held in her eyes. Or maybe it was the simplicity in her message. Just need a little help. Who hasn’t needed a little help now and then?
I had no cash in my wallet. Instead, I gathered all the change I had in my car. I rolled my window down.
“Hi. What’s your name?” I asked.
“Joyce,” she responded with wariness in her voice.
“Hi Joyce, I’m Kelley.” I put out my arm to shake her hand. She reluctantly shook my hand. “It’s nice to meet you. I wish I had more to help you with but this is all I have right now.”
She graciously cupped her hands and accepted the coins. She then told me that things were beginning to look up for her and her husband. She started telling me how their house burned down last year and they lost everything. With no insurance and both loosing their jobs they were starting over.
Completely engrossed in conversation I was startled back into reality when a loud horn honked behind me. The light had turned green.
“Guess I have to go now. Will you be here later this week?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m usually at this intersection every night,” she answered.
“Then I’ll see ya ’round. Bye Joyce.” And I drove off.
It rained that night and I stayed up half the night thinking about Joyce and her husband. Where did they sleep? Did they get wet in the rain? Were they cold? Would I see her again?
3 a.m. Still up. I remembered the first time I was ever aware of helping a fellow human being and complete stranger.
I was 8 years old. I had gone to the grocery store with my dad. We were next in line to check out. A boy not much older than me stood before us. He was buying bubblegum baseball cards. He handed the cashier handfuls of change and after she counted it, she coldly announced, “You’re 67 cents short.”
The boy turned red and began digging in his pockets but came up with nothing. He didn’t speak. He was beyond embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. Without hesitation, my dad reached in his pocket and handed the cashier a dollar.
The young boy looked up at my dad with big astonished eyes, and in the quietest, tiny voice said, “Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome, son. We all just need a little help every now and then, don’t we?” Dad answered back.
The boy nodded then took his cards and left.
As we left the grocery I was in shock. I thought to myself wow we must be so rich! My dad is just giving away money to people he doesn’t even know. And he called that kid son, like he was his own child.
What I didn’t know was that we were not rich. We were nowhere near rich.
What my dad did was recognize the oneness in us all. We are each other. And if we cannot help out our fellow humans when they need it most what does that say about us?
All week I drove by that intersection hoping to see Joyce and give her more. One week later, once again I was the first in line at the red light and as I neared the light I smiled. There was Joyce. I rolled my window down.
“Hi Joyce,” I said with the same excitement I would have had of running into a friend.
“Hi Kelley,” she responded. Wow. She remembered my name!
This time I asked her what her plans were. Was she looking for a job? A house? Would she go to temporary emergency shelter?
She responded that her mother-in-law lives in Texas and they are saving for two plane tickets to go there. The mother-in-law owns a few rental houses and has agreed to let them stay in one until they get jobs.
“I have a little something to help you get there,” and I gave her a 20-dollar bill.
Joyce beamed a smile and offered up a thank you.
“We all need a little help every now and then, don’t we?” We both smiled and nodded in agreement.
Who knows if I’ll ever see her again. But I know in that instant she smiled and she knew that things really are going to get better for her. And maybe that’s just the boost she needed to get her through to the next day. And seeing her smile and the glimmer of hope in her eyes is what I needed to get me through the problems I had been facing.
The feeling I have for helping Joyce, even in such a tiny manner, is one of overwhelming gratitude — gratitude for all the people in my life who have helped me when I needed it most. Because without them, and without my dad first showing my how to help others, I would not be in the position I am in now.
Who in your life needs a little help? Who can you offer a smile to? Some encouraging words? A random gift? A little understanding? More patience and less nagging? I challenge you to do one random act of courage and kindness today to help someone and see how it affects both their life and yours.
For more by Kelley Whitis, click here.
For more on conscious relationships, click here.
No GPS allowed. Lose the compass. Try finding different ways to get home from work… even if it takes a little longer. Or try a new route for weekend chores. Once for a soccer carpool, the kids and I had a fun time finding 18 different ways to do our route. You never know what you might see when you turn off your autopilot. Or just take a turn down a different road and see where it goes. This is not recommended in Los Angeles, perhaps, or when you have to be somewhere on time, but you might enjoy some new scenery now and then.
Give It Up
Do without something you use on a regular basis for a week or a month or whatever feels interesting. Try living without something that is normally a staple in your life — like plastic or bread. In addition to practicing new ways to do things, you may find a way to rid yourself of a cumbersome habit or process.
Have an Opposite Day
Did you ever play opposite day as a kid? If you mean no, you say yes; you write with the opposite hand; wear your shirt inside out? Make a day where you try a few things in an “opposite” way, like brushing your teeth with the other hand or walking on a different side of the street. You’ll experience a different perspective and practice flexibility at the same time.
Take a Kid’s Approach
Kids’ wide-eyed approach to life is contagious. Most of them have not yet learned fear of failure and are not afraid to look silly. Be like them. Just go for it. Try a new dance move. Play a sport you aren’t good at. Take a class to learn a new skill. If you need help, go find a kid to encourage you. Get out of your comfort zone.
Have Some Wordplay
I dare you. Switch the language to an unfamiliar one at the ATM! It is good for an adult brain to be stretched to learn a new language, but if you aren’t in for that big of a challenge, just practice other languages here and there. When visiting an ethnic restaurant ask the hostess how to say “thank you” or “hello” in her language. (This is especially fun with kids.) On an airplane test yourself with the safety instructions. It is a harmless way to step out of your comfort zone and see the world from a different perspective.
Mix It Up
If your morning routine is predictable as instant oatmeal, then mix it up. It may be cozy in that routine, but this is just practice. You can go back to it tomorrow. Add a few extras that can even be treats (like five minutes for just listening to music, or speaking of oatmeal, a delicious bowl of organic oatmeal with fruit instead of your usual egg). Just make it different — walk the dog before breakfast instead of after breakfast. Your dog will be confused, but you’ll all be okay and you will have kicked your flexibility ability up a notch.
Hang Out With Strangers
If you only spend time with people just like you, you deny yourself a way to see life from different perspectives. Sure, those people like you are a comfortable bunch. But you know what I’m going to say about that! Stretch a little. Do something your friends think you would never do! Join a Sierra Club hike. Go to a book reading on something you know nothing about. Take in a Poetry Slam. Participate in SantaCon.
For more by Jennifer Maffett, click here.
For more on happiness, click here.