Sunday, August 26, 2018

Yes, You Can Do Yoga, Too: Tips to Help You Start Your Beginner Yoga Practice

Attending your first yoga class can feel intimidating. 

Even trying yoga out at home, shielded from judging eyes, can feel scary. I understand. 

You may have an image in mind of what the ideal yogi looks like and you don’t think your body fits the bill. Perhaps, as my mother did, someone in your life caused you to perceive yoga as a religious activity devoted to elephant-headed gods that will cause a rift between you and Jesus. Maybe you think you can’t afford to take a yoga class. Or maybe you just don’t think you’re physically capable. And so, even though you think yoga looks fun or like something you’d like to try, you let fear and insecurity stop you.

It’s okay that you feel that way. I understand. Before I first began yoga many, many moons ago – and even when I came back to my practice last year after a long hiatus – I shared many of those limiting beliefs. Now, I want to share with you why you need to change how you see yoga and yourself. Then, I’d like to offer some tips to help you launch your own beginner yoga practice.  

Around a year ago, I pulled my yoga mat out of the closet and eased my way through a series of sun salutations to calm my mind and work my body. It was too hot to run that day and I had used up my introductory membership at Pure Barre. And honestly, I was getting a little bored with that anyway. So, I returned to the one workout I have kept coming back to over and over again for 20 years. A workout I could do in the privacy of my home, without expensive shoes, workout gear or special clothes, or a gym membership. 

I'm not even embarrassed by the mistake in my tree
pose from September 2017. We all must learn.

I came late to the fitness game and was in my 30s before I fully discovered that physical exercise calmed my mind and made me feel happier.

I started yoga in my early 20s, but just to get the kinks out. I never let myself dive fully in to learn about the spiritual properties of yoga or to see what it could do for my always-busy mind until after having kids. Even as I tried various fitness activities including running, weight-training, interval training, and Zumba, I intuitively felt yoga’s draw and continued to come back to my yoga mat. Yoga didn’t simply give me a workout, though. When I practiced yoga, it slowed my racing mind and connected me to my body in ways I simply didn’t get through other physical practices. When I pulled my mat out that day in 2017, I needed that reconnection. Fighting the depression and malaise that set in following my family’s move to a new place where I hadn’t found a job and was having a hard time finding my center, committing to a yoga practice seemed like a safe way to ground myself and give my wounded heart space to heal.  

As I explored and expanded my home yoga practice, I found myself wanting to document the journey and to share it with others. Instagram offered a way to both track my progress as I posted photos of specific asanas or poses and a way to connect with others who shared my growing passion for yoga and self-care. Sharing my efforts so publicly was also an exercise in letting go of my fear of being judged because of how my body looks. I spent a lifetime feeling ashamed of my body because it was too fat, too squishy, too thin, too much this or that for my mother or kids at school or men. I felt like the only way to learn to love my body was to stop hiding it and to start celebrating how it serves me and how it changes from day to day. I also felt like doing this, even though it scared me, I could serve as an example that you don’t have to look like Gwyneth or a Lululemon model to practice yoga. What I discovered, by and large, was a loving, supportive community of yogis guided by an ethos of non-judgment.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to find a way to help women rediscover their passions and identities that get lost to life’s disappointments, sacrificing their own wants and needs to raise families, the lies others and our own insecurities feed us. As I felt happier, healthier, and more confident myself, I realized yoga could help other women learn to love or appreciate their bodies and find their own path to health and self-worth. Of course, I also thought why would anyone care what I think since I”m not a professional.

As I shared my experiences, though, I began to have friends tell me that because I shared my joy and enthusiasm for yoga, they had decided to get back on their mats. Many other friends reached out to ask for advice on getting started as a beginner. So, finally, after many months of sending out individual messages to friends, I’ve decided to compile my favorite books, videos, websites, and professional yoga teachers to help anyone start their home yoga practice. I’ve also included a couple of my favorite studios for anyone living in Atlanta or Chattanooga. As much as I love my home practice and it allowed me to grow and dive in at my own pace, stepping into a yoga class with a compassionate and knowledgeable teacher can allow you to deepen your practice and check in  to ensure proper alignment and hear cues that remind you to adjust your form in order to avoid injuries. 

For those of you who battle a self-conscious nature like me, here are some great ways to start practicing yoga at home, on your own or with friends. Always remember to listen to your body. If something feels like it’s straining, burning, or hurting, back off and look for a modification to the pose (If the source you’re using doesn’t already offer one, Google can lead you to many great resources if you simply search the name of the pose with modification.). There’s no shame in using a modification and experienced yogis use them due to existing injuries or chronic pain or a lack of flexibility in a specific area. Oh! And I’d be remiss not to mention props! Props like blocks, bolsters, blankets, straps, and even walls can be of great aid in helping you practice various asanas (poses). If you don’t want to break the bank, many of these props and affordable workout clothing can be found at TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Target or even Wal-Mart. (Don’t feel like you need special workout clothes. A few of my favorite Instagram Yogis even practice in their PJs.)

Okay. Here are some of my favorite resources for learning yoga as a beginner:

Yoga with Adrienne: Foundations of Yoga - If you’ve never done yoga, start here for a primer of all the basic poses and yoga nomenclature to get off on the right foot (so to speak).

Yoga with Adrienne: 30 Days of Yoga - Another great series for the beginning student. Adrienne Mishler breaks down the poses, gives excellent cues, and her cheery attitude keeps you motivated. 

Ali McGraw Mind and Body - available on DVD. Taught by Eric Schiffman with lots of supportive cues and encouragement.

Venice Beach Yoga: Balance & Flow 1 - Available on Amazon Prime video. A great, easy flow.

Kurt Johnsen American Power Yoga on YogaVibes  - A more intense vinyasa-style power yoga practice but with great modifications for beginners. Kurt is my all-time favorite. I love is no-nonsense, everything is good, be where you are now attitude.

In the app realm, there are dozens if not hundreds of great apps that provide clear instructions, soothing music, and easy-to-follow images or videos.

My favorite thing about apps – duh – is how easy it makes it to take your yoga practice on the road. I’ve only used a few but of those here are the ones I loved that would work well for a beginner. Keep in mind, most fitness apps operate on a paid subscription or offer short workouts that may be great for beginners or as a warm-up, but require, in-app purchases for complete workouts. You still may find it worth it to subscribe since that typically costs less than attending classes at a studio. 

Aaptiv - This is actually a comprehensive fitness app with all types of workouts. Aaptiv streams audio-based fitness classes giving you a more convenient way to stay on top of your fitness game. I’ve actually only tried the yoga sessions, but they have all been phenomenal! 

YogaStudio - YogaStudio offers hundreds of workouts including a beginners’ series with world-renowned yogi Rodney Yee. They also include chair yoga for those who might struggle with balance, suffer chronic limb injuries, or be unable to do floor exercises. 

DownDog - I like DownDog, but I’m not ready to say I love it yet. After going through a couple of beginner workouts and an intermediate workout, there were not a whole lot of differences. And I felt like they went too fast in describing the movement of each pose. I was also put off by the fact the app only used still photos to illustrate each asana. That issue has been fixed in a recent update and now video is also an option. All that said, there’s a generous amount of free content so I cannot completely write off this app. 

If you use Instagram, you can explore endless posts on yoga.

While I have made many wonderful friends and acquaintances who post beautiful poses and provide lots of inspiration, I’m going to leave it to you to discover your favorites to follow. But here, I want to share some of my favorite Instagram accounts that offer tutorials to help you better understand poses and correct alignments. Enjoy exploring these:

And for those looking for a studio to help you get started in Atlanta:

Vista Yoga

Kashi Atlanta

Sacred Chill West

For Chattanooga yogis and soon-to-become yogis:

Southern Soul Yoga

Toes Yoga

This woman feels thrilled by the progress she made in 
her bow pose from a year ago when she couldn't reach her feet.

Lastly, I will leave you with this tip. Yoga is not about strengthening or tightening your body, although that can come as a delicious side-effect. Yoga is about calming and strengthening your mind. The Sanskrit word for breath, “prana,” also means life and ancient yoga masters viewed breath as the connection between body and mind. By controlling your breath as you work through postures, you begin to have amazing effects on your nervous system and brain. So, don’t forget to tap into and regulate the rhythm of your breath as you flow through your yoga routine.

Every breath can be a practice. With the inhalation, imagine drawing in pure, cleansing, relaxing energies. And with each exhalation, imagine expelling all obstacles, stress, and negative emotions. This is not something that req.ires a particular place in which to sit. It can be done with in the car on the way to work, waiting for a stop light, sitting in front of the computer, preparing a meal, cleaning the house, or walking. 

- Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

If you have questions or want to know more, please send me a message or leave a comment and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. And if you're a yogi yourself and have more information to share or want to add your thoughts, I'd love to hear your comments, too. Namaste, sweet peas!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

How Yoga Helped Me Discover the Truth of Who I Am and How I Want to Feel

Danielle LaPorte's Desire Map Planner lay on the table beside me as I sat down to start this blog post. I've had the idea for the post stirring around in my head for over a month but every time I've tried to write I find myself tangled in details that don't matter and I struggle to get to the heart of what I need to say. When I looked at the cover and saw the question suggested by the planner – What Will You Do to Feel the Way You Want to Feel – I realized I'm already doing one thing that brings me closer to feeling a few of the feels I most desire and it's exactly that thing I want to write about. Maybe I've found my way through the thicket of ideas.

See...I wanted to share with you how yoga saved my life, which I realize sounds utterly over dramatic. 

And perhaps even a bit foolish after I pulled my hamstring by pushing myself deeper into a challenging pose four weeks ago (I'm still recovering, by the way.)

Honestly though, when I revisited yoga this summer after a year long hiatus, I did it because I needed something to quiet the broken-hearted, angry voice in my head that kept telling me that no one loved me, no one would ever love me. That voice had become so loud in the months since moving to Chattanooga that it paralyzed me. To be fair, I already knew physical activity worked better than anything else to quiet my inner critic. Yet, for months I had felt so anchored by the weight of believing the things she said, the things other people said that made me feel worthless, that breaking free of that inertia felt impossible. But I tried. After months of hating myself and my life here, and one especially dark and painful night, I decided I had to find my thing that would allow me to pour all the energy spent feeling miserable into healing. I realized I hated the gyms in Chattanooga. Zumba classes seemed sparse. Pure Barre felt incredible and challenging, but dear Lord, the cost! I enjoy running, but not when it turns hot and humid or too cold. And while I discovered that I love hiking and water sports, you can't really pursue those alone.

So, one day this summer, I pulled out my yoga mat and I haven't looked back. I love power yoga and especially the style of Kurt Johnsen from American Power Yoga. His videos are hard to find online, so I ended up discovering an app called Asana Rebel that has become a big part of my practice.

Before long, that sad and broken voice in my head quieted down. 

Another voice started coming who said things like, "Wow! You just held a plank for two minutes!" One who, rather than telling me I shouldn't bother getting out of bed because my life had no meaning, told me to get my ass on the yoga mat and make that inner critic STFU. I felt better. Actually, not just better, but at peace. For the first time in a long time, I chose joy and the things that made me feel happy over wallowing in my pain. Each day as I continued working toward a daily yoga practice, I not only felt more peaceful and calmer, I began to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in my effort. Not feelings I had felt a lot since giving up my marketing job to move to a city where I hadn't found work.

And...for the first time ever – or at least since my 20s – I realized I didn't hate my body. Well, at least not quite as much. In fact, I began to see and appreciate both my body's strength and its beauty as yoga transformed both my body and the way I saw myself. Ive spent most of my lifetime hating my body. Even as a 113-lb. bikini-clad 22-year old. I feel sad that I couldn't love myself then or see how I really looked to others. Even now as I've progressed I still struggle with that, but I know I'm getting better. Finally, at 47, I can accept my body, appreciate its ability to change and grow stronger and see its beauty, even as I recognize its flaws.

Most remarkably, I've stopped comparing myself to other women. 

Yoga philosophy consistently stresses the idea that competition and comparison have no place in our yoga practice. Rather, yoga provides the opportunity to advance at your own pace, build your physical and inner strength as you discover resources within yourself you did not previously recognize, and to go deep within yourself to awaken parts of your being you tried to tame or repress. Yoga allows you put aside any comparison to others, any fear of being judged, so that you can connect with your true self and rediscover the joy of loving your self and living authentically.

So, when I say yoga saved my life, I'm not exaggerating. Yoga helped me, still helps me, accept myself, love myself, and live fully as myself, whether anyone else likes me or not. In fact, as I began this journey I realized that if I wanted to accept myself, I had to be okay with letting people see the real me. I began posting selfies that I knew might look unflattering. No makeup. Sweaty. In poses that revealed the things I felt most ashamed of like tummy rolls or chubby arms. I had to let myself sit with that shame and fear that the Queen Bees I once compared myself to would see that and laugh. Or my husband would see it and cringe. Sometimes the only way past a feeling is to feel it. And I did. As I exposed myself I realized that some people saw more than my flaws. My fellow yogis saw commitment, effort, a desire to grow and learn and connect and live fully. They cheered me on with support and advice. Friends told me they saw something in me they hadn't before. Some reached out to tell me that my yoga posts inspired them to try it themselves. Now, I feel a part of a tribe of people around the world who see truth and light and wonder and humanity in one another.

And, for the first time in a long time, I feel how I want to feel – loved, at peace, joyful, and like I'm living authentically for me and not in service of trying to emulate someone I've deemed more perfect than myself. 

At least most of the time, anyway. My journey goes much remains to learn and to do and I find that incredibly thrilling and hope-inspiring. Every day does not feel perfect, yet every day offers the opportunity to breathe and feel my way through the darkness and into the asana at a time.

Now, my sweet loves, decide what to be
and go be it. 

P.S. To celebrate the upcoming new year and the fact that I am very close to having my first 1,000 Instagram followers, I want to give away a gift. First, I have been so happy to be asked to become an ambassador for, purveyors of activewear that does good in the world. Feel Good Movement sells inspiring activewear made from recylcled materials and for every item of clothing they sell, they donate one to groups that provide clothing for those in need. They have given me a discount code good for 30% off your order at so you can start tackling your fitness goals while doing good. Just enter belleoftheblog30 at checkout.

Next, I want to give one lucky reader or follower the gift of my favorite uplifting essential oil, Young Living Joy. A beautiful blend of jasmine, rose, citrus, and other oils designed to raise your vibration, Joy smells amazing and does a wonderful job lifting your spirit. For your chance to win, leave a comment, follow me on Instagram, leave me a comment on IG telling me why you do yoga or what you do to quiet your inner critic, and tag a friend on Instagram who needs to read this post.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Now, Weary Traveler, Rest Your Head

Last March I set out to change my life and to regain the joy I had lost over time. It felt like everything had fallen apart. I had long ago abandoned who I was to try and be the woman I thought I was supposed to be for my husband and children, friends, community. I wouldn't say I wasn't “me,” but I toned down who I was, subdued my enthusiasm for life somewhat. I gave up pursuing a career I loved to stay at home and raise kids, which I wish I could say I didn’t regret, but I do, more and more, as I see how hard it is to get back into the workforce. 

I gave up the first full-time job I had had in 12 years to move to a new, smaller, ultra-conservative city, where everyone knows everyone else and it felt as if I’d never meet anyone. Of course, my husband had the advantage of moving here 7 months before the rest of us to start his new job. Living a bachelor lifestyle free of kids, he had the luxury of exploring on his own and the freedom to make friends with no constraints. 

By January, after the whirlwind of getting settled here subsided, I felt miserable. I’ve never liked lingering in misery or sorrow. But I just couldn’t seem to escape it. And I've written about this before, but it bears repeating that reading this blog post by James Altucher was the light I needed during my dark night of the soul. In fact, I just re-read it and plan to revisit his process again. But not today. Or tomorrow.

Now, I rest.

For months, I’ve been reinventing myself. Rediscovering who I really am. What I love. Thinking about where I want to be and who I want to be. 

I’ve worked hard to make new friends and I’ve found some wonderful, smart, courageous, strong and inspiring women here that I’m connecting with. And I feel blessed.

I’ve deepened relationships with my tribe from Atlanta (with apologies to Anne who hates that term, but likes squad even less, I think). After joining them for three girls’ trips in the last year – a gift I had never given myself – and communicating almost daily now, I feel a unique and truly beautiful bond to these women that I love deeply.

I found an outlet for writing by becoming a contributor to the Chattanooga Moms Blog. I felt nervous and inadequate at first, despite having blogged on my own for years, but four or five months in now and many of my fellow contributors have become part of my Chattanooga squad (ha!) and I feel validated as a writer after having several of my posts in the top 10 most read posts. 

I took on the role of Home & School President at my younger son’s school and helped plan a pretty kick-ass fall festival despite my fears it would be a disaster. And I’ve made some very dear friends in the process who stepped up and helped out when I really needed it!

I’ve tried new things and discovered that I love them, hiking and stand-up paddle boarding among them. I will definitely continue to pursue both activities as much as time and resources allow.

And maybe my favorite thing that I’ve done is to re-engage with yoga. I’ve done yoga since I was in college, but never allowed myself to build a consistent practice. This summer, after it got too hot and humid to enjoy running (a sport I’ve never loved anyway), and after my trial membership at Pure Barre ran out, I decided to take up yoga again. And as I committed to working out daily, I realized I was falling in love, not only with building a yoga practice, but with myself. I’ve never been a big fan of Dawn. I know her faults too well. And I was never comfortable appreciating her strengths. And don’t get me started on my body. I’ve been fat since day 1. Literally. Six weeks premature and I weighed 8 lbs, thanks to my mom’s diabetes.

Over the last several months, as I’ve committed to doing yoga every day that I can, I’ve discovered some cool things about my body and my spirit. Two important things I’ve learned through all the physical activity I’ve engaged in the last few months is how much I love it and that I’m capable of it. That in turn has made me appreciate my body and see its beauty for the first time ever. 

So, what’s my point?  The point is, I’m tired. I’ve been working really hard to build a new life for myself. To maintain a baseline level of joy and to rise above that as often as I can. I’m working toward some specific goals – I want to help other women who are experiencing transitions in life do so with grace and joy and to avoid the pitfalls of self-pity and bitterness I fell into. And I’d like to figure out how to make a living doing that. And I know I’ll get there, but today I need to rest.

A big part of my transition has been finding like-minded people, both in my real world community and in the virtual yoga and spiritual/mindfulness world I’ve been delighted to become a part of. I have found so much support and encouragement there. But twice in the last week, two critical messages have popped up multiple times for me. 

The first is that it really is okay not to be okay. I can be a happy person and a person who doesn’t wallow in misery and still have days when I don’t feel happy. I can allow myself to feel sad that I didn’t get a particular job or that something I need is out of my reach. I can feel that and still know that the feeling is temporary and that I can do the work I need to do to achieve my goal or reach my desire. I needed to hear that and just when I did, one of the inspiring people I follow on Instagram shared this image:

And the other message, similar in spirit, is that it’s okay to hit the pause button and give yourself rest. I don’t want to lose momentum and it’s really hard for me to know that I am not where I want to be. But I am gaining and growing so much from the process and I’m so much further along the path than I was this time last year when my world began to unravel…. I’m stopping to catch my breath and realize I’ve had a pretty amazing and intense year of growth that even included a surprise trip to New Orleans last week for my best friend's elopement. Life doesn’t get much better than that. 

Having both my kids get sick this week along with a rejection for what seemed like a cool writing job definitely slowed my roll. Then, I saw this image from another Instagram inspiration and got the same message the same day in a horoscope reading from Kelly Lunt, a local spiritual and abundant living guru. 

So, I’ve decided to listen. If I truly love myself, I need to be okay loving myself even when it feels like I’m not hitting the mark. Hell…especially then. So, I’m giving myself a few days to rest. I’ll do a Full Moon ritual to release my negativity tonight. I’m going to take bubble baths and read and sleep. I’ve already cried it out and vented to my girlfriends this morning. I’m putting aside some tasks I’m not into and I’m going to lay around and watch Stranger Things with my kiddos. And, in a few days I’ll know it’s time to pick up and get on with it. But for now…rest. 

And maybe you need that, too, Sister. 

If you do, don’t be ashamed or afraid to take it. The work will be there. Give yourself the tender loving care you need to restore the energy that will carry you forward. You've got this. And so do I. 

With much love, 


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Choose Yourself: An Introduction to Self-Care

If you move in certain circles, you may already be familiar with the term self-care. You've seen the #selfcaresunday hashtags and you may even have a balanced routine that includes taking time out to meet more than your own basic needs.

If you're where I was – oh let's say 10 or 11 years ago – you're thinking you can barely take care of all the people who depend on you. Yourself? You're the afterthought and you're probably poised somewhere between locking yourself in the bathroom for a good cry and having a full-on nervous breakdown. You're doing it all...maybe you're stuck at home with your kids all day. You're cleaning house. You're shopping and running errands, and changing diapers and washing clothes and kissing boo-boos and listening to endless stories about Pok√©mon and hearing about the lovely lunch and adult conversation your partner had with co-workers while you were stuck at home feeling your brain dissolve. Maybe you get out of the house for an hour or two to take the kids to a playgroup where you gorge on Goldfish and apologize to your friends for your unwashed hair and stained t-shirt, but you never really get the interaction you want with your new mom friends because you're all constantly interrupted. Maybe your story is a little different...throw in a career, rushing to pick kids up from aftercare, make dinner or grab fast food, get everyone to practice or help with homework, then crash into bed after one too many glasses of wine. The end result is the same.

You feel broken and depleted and sometimes you don't remember who you are anymore. You feel as if the essence of the woman you were before you had kids has vanished. And you feel like maybe that's how it's supposed to be. You've bought into the myth that the only way to be a good mother is to sublimate your needs for those of your child. 

I am here to tell you that this is absolutely not true. And if someone had told me this, I might not have wasted a decade or more hating myself, hating my life, falling into depression and letting the wounds in my marriage fester into wounds that could only scar over rather than being fully-healed.

September is National Self-Care Month, so this seemed like the perfect time to introduce those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept to the idea that you matter.! And if you're not already, it's time you started devoting a little bit of time each week to yourself. (I was going to say every day, but I know some of y'all aren't ready for that.)

The first thing I want you to do is find a quiet place where you can be alone without kids or your partner for 5 or 10 minutes. In fact, here's a trick my friend K just taught me if you want to steal 20 and go get into a bubble bath while we do this exercise.... Tell your husband and kids you're having tummy troubles and you'll be in the bathroom. Lock the door, run a bubble bath, light some candles, put on some soft music, and ignore them when they inevitably come knocking. I'm not even kidding about ignoring them. If you're a single mom, you may have to wait until they're in bed, but do take a few minutes to do this exercise.

Now...close your eyes and think about the days before you were partnered up or had kids. Who were you? What did you love doing that you don't do anymore? And don't be ashamed of what you find there...we all...okay a lot of us...loved drinking and partying and having a wild time. That doesn't mean you have to do it now, but let yourself remember what it felt like to be purely yourself without worrying about what anyone else thought. Are you running a 5K or marathon? Reading a book in a quiet room while sipping tea? Did you feel most alive while hiking in Colorado or the Smoky Mountains and sleeping under the stars? Do you miss loving your body and the way you looked in certain clothes? Or having highlights in your hair? Do you see yourself sitting on the porch of a beach house laughing with your girlfriends until your snort or cry? Is there something you love doing that you quit because your partner doesn't enjoy it? Or something you love but you're worried your friends or your partner will mock you for? What makes you feel like the happiest version of yourself?

Okay...once you've got that image, the next step is to figure out the steps it takes to get you there. It won't happen overnight. Trust me.

It took me years to work up the courage to reclaim myself. In fact, I'm still discovering parts of myself that I buried. But, we're all always works in progress. the important thing is to start where you are and figure out what self-care looks like for your personally. For me, it meant taking care of my physical well-being which is closely tied to my mental health.

I was never very body confident. But after having kids it was even less so. I was ashamed and embarrassed and hurt every time my husband averted his eyes from me. But finding time to exercise felt impossible if I was going to be a "good mom" and on all the time. Part of my definition of being a good mom meant keeping a pristine house and while it wasn't June Cleaver perfect, I did okay. And honestly, while I did a yoga class once a week and occasionally walked, I was never an athlete. But there were two things I craved after having my first son: adult conversation and to feel attractive again. Through playgroups, I was able to cobble together some human interaction and eventually I met women who became life-long friends. Figuring out that I loved physical activity and where my passions lie took a lot longer. And some trial and error. But, what I was able to do, was to express to my partner the deep sadness and longing for the parts of me that were missing. And while it was difficult to ask for help, I did eventually let him know that I needed him to take care of his own kids one night a month so I could meet up with my girlfriends for a girls' night out free of children. And I made the decision to invest in myself by joining a gym and working with a trainer. My kids were in school and preschool by this point so that helped. But, I'm telling you, Mama, make time while they're little if fitness is something that matters to you or if you're struggling with your body image. I was amazed how wonderful I felt after each workout. Tapped out for sure, but stronger, healthier, and over time far more confident than I had ever been. And I wish I hadn't waited so long to care for myself.

Because here's the secret no one tells you.... When your spirit is depleted and you feel like you're nurturing everyone around you but you're not taking care of your own needs, you have less to give. It weighs on you and you get short and angry and frustrated and feel put upon. You start to resent the people you love who depend on you. And eventually, you will end up physically and emotionally wiped out.

So, if it's physical activity you crave, find a gym with childcare or sign-up with a Beachbody coach and access their online workouts and do one every day while the baby sleeps. Laundry and dust bunnies will be there later. Your sanity might not. If you want to get outdoors, ask your partner to commit to watching the kids one Saturday or Sunday a month while you go for a hike or go kayaking or whatever it is that makes your heart sing. Join a book club or Bunco group or the choir at church. Take a cooking class or pretend you're not feeling well and hide in your room reading a book. If you're single or you have a partner who refuses to help out because he works, find a girlfriend in a similar situation and trade childcare. If your parents or sister lives nearby, ask them for help. Or save $10 of grocery money a week and hire a sitter once a month so you can get out of the house and do something for yourself. Recognizing that you are a human being with needs of your own is nothing to be ashamed of.

Looking for smaller ways to start? What's your favorite type of music? Do you listen to it every day? Or do you only listen to crappy children's music? Next time you're in the car, crank up that Led Zeppelin or John Mayer or Ludacris or Sam Hunt or Miley. A bad word in a song isn't going to scar your kids and you'll have a chance to influence their future musical tastes.

Or maybe you feel more like yourself when your hair is washed and you have on makeup but you never find time to do it. This is a case where you may need to rob Peter to pay Paul by sacrificing 30 minutes of sleep in the morning. But whatever it takes, if being clean and having a little color on your face makes you feel good, then get up and do it. Shower and throw a little BB cream or tinted moisturizer on, put on a coat of mascara, and a tinted lip gloss and you're good to go. And don't let anyone make you feel ashamed for taking care of yourself. You'll be a better, happier mama for it and your kids will see that and, in turn, they will be happier.

So...what does self-care look like to you? I'd love to help you map out your path to a happier, healthier you. 

Post your answers in the comments below. Then, like Belle of the Blog on Facebook and follow @belleoftheblog on Instagram and you will be entered to win a free bottle of Young Living Stress Away essential oil. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Back Where I Come From: Thoughts on Moving One Year Later

I took the photo to the left in March of last year. It was the first picture I took of this view. Now, a year and four months later I must have taken hundreds of this same view. Every day, every hour it changes, but each time I look out off my deck, looking to the southwest, my heart fills with joy.

When I stood here on that brisk March evening watching the sunset, I was filled with hope, excitement, and anticipation for the move that was coming.

If only I had known how challenging the next several months would be. It's probably a very good thing I didn't.

Today marks one year since we moved in to this sweet house. I really do love it. And finally, after 12 long months, a few too many of them lonely, I am starting to love this little city of Chattanooga. I certainly know that I am loving many of its people...from the ones I know strictly via social media who have answered questions and made me laugh through my frustrations, to the bright and beautiful friends I made in the women's collective I joined. There are the basketball moms, and 4th-grade moms, and 8th-grade parents from my boys' school who have been kind and gracious and loving...especially the one who always makes me laugh and reminds me of my Atlanta bestie.

In hindsight, I needed to have my rock-bottom moment where the loneliness, emptiness, and sense of being lost threatened to consume me. Despair allowed me to dig my way down and acknowledge the root of my loneliness and gave me a place to anchor a foundation so I could start building myself again – body, mind, and spirit.

It hasn't been easy. And Sister, let me tell you...there are days when I want to pack it all in. I still haven't landed a writing job although I did, briefly, have one freelance client. And there are still days when I feel sad and lonely and wonder how did I get here? But those days come less frequently. And if I'm practicing the art of self-care they are few and far between. For me, that means getting exercise – running, yoga, Pure Barre, kayaking, or my new obsessions of hiking and paddle boarding; spending time with friends; sleeping well; writing; and using a varied regimen of essential oils.

There's still so much more to do to have a complete life here. I'm still a newcomer and don't yet feel entirely like I belong. I'm starting to know my way around without Maps, though. And after spending a wonderful weekend in Atlanta with my kids and husband so we could visit old friends, I know I can always feel at home wherever there are people who love me and whom I love; and I know, that for now anyway, Chattanooga is home and I will continue to joyfully make the most of it.

So...Happy One-Year Anniversary, Chattanooga. Here's to us!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

How to Save a Life: Get Out of Your Head and Start Living

A little over a month ago, I wanted to die.

Now granted, I had those feelings at peak PMS when estrogen was soaring and progesterone plummeting. But the root feelings were real, just amplified by a hormonal tornado.

No joke. I felt so lonely, so empty, and so hopeless that I stood in my bathroom staring in the mirror and thought I'd be better off dead than living my pointless, lonely life. As I mentioned in a previous post, I wound up crying myself to sleep that night. My despair over not having found a job, having been rejected before I even had a chance to interview, coupled with my lack of solid new friendships in my new town had pulled me down into the depths of sorrow I hadn't felt since I had post-partum depression 10 years earlier. And oh yeah...I hated my body and the extra 10 lbs. it had accumulated since my move.

I believe I also mentioned a moment of serendipity that occurred that night that I believe may have saved my life. Or at the very least, started me on the path of rebuilding my life and becoming the person I want to be.

Sometime around 2:00 a.m., I awoke and turned, as I often do when awake at that hour, to Twitter, looking for something to read that would help me fall back to sleep. Or maybe this time I was perusing Instagram. At any rate, I landed on reading this post. It didn't exactly make me sleepy.

It did give me a spark of hope as I lay in bed mentally listing friends, people I know, people I've worked with, tiny steps I could take to regain my fitness. And it made me laugh. Something I thought I'd never do again a few hours earlier.

More than that, it made me stop and just be present. I was able to accept that where I was sucked, but it was okay. I could rest there for a minute, but I didn't have to stay. With that knowledge, I fell back asleep dreaming of my alternate futures...

The next morning, I got up and the fear and angst rose up again. Instead of giving in to them, I decided to do one small thing. In a reading shared in the women's collective I joined after moving to Chattanooga, there was an exercise that required asking 5 people what they admire about you and what your unique gift is...I messaged 4 people I loved and asked them if they would mind answering those questions. I chose to do that because I was so terrified of doing it and I instinctively knew that I had to do it because it scared me so much. I feared they would come up with nothing nice to say about me or they'd think my asking was needy or narcissistic. Instead, the people I loved took their time and sent me kind, thoughtful, reflective answers that have ultimately guided me to a decision about what I can do with my life, how I can create and follow my own path while being authentically myself.

The lesson in that exercise for me – and one you might benefit from as well, Seeker – is to trust your friends and those whom you love to nurture and support you. Fear of looking stupid may be the number one obstacle any of us face in being open to and receiving the love and guidance we deserve.

Not only did I put myself out on an imaginary limb by asking for support from my friends, I had a heart to heart with my husband who is being totally supportive of my journey to figure all this shit out. In fact, he actually redirected me from trying to keep pushing to find a full-time job and encouraged me to dig deeper in figuring out what I can offer the world by reading James Altucher's book Reinvent Yourself.

Reading this book and the original Altucher post I linked above were incredibly helpful. If you don't know James Altucher, I encourage you to read his blog, listen to his podcast, check out his books, and learn from his hard-won wisdom. With one simple sentence, he moved me out of my stasis. "The past is dead." And indeed, it is. I cannot go back to the life I had in Atlanta. And yearning for yard, my friendships, my job, my position (as little as it was) in our school community...was never going to bring it back or let me move forward.

I was stuck and maybe you are, too. Having someone else help me see that was the smack in the face I needed. I can't hold on to that past life and I can't – nor should I – recreate it. Seeing that gave me the freedom to be right there, hurting and letting go, mourning what I lost, but also, making room for what is coming.

I did have to sit with some seriously uncomfortable thoughts and think about how I ended up here. Thoughts about purpose and career; friendships; my parenting style; my body image insecurities that affect my relationship with my husband...every part of my life was up for examination and reinvention. So, here I am, learning to live again by taking small daily actions to get unstuck from the self-pity, sadness, and self-defeat I fell into.

I don't know where you are on your path...maybe you're loving life and right where you want to be. If so, I am so happy for you! Genuinely happy because you can share that joy with the world and help it thrive. If you're not happy, if you feel like you're at the bottom like I did a few weeks ago, know that you are right where you are supposed to be right now. Yes, it totally sucks and I hate it for you. But sometimes we need a catalyst to launch us into what comes next. The key is to not get stuck where you are. Trust yourself to feel all the feels and know that it can and will get better. But you'll have to do the work. Also, consider this the outstretched hand of a friend, offering to help you stand up.  So, here are five things I recommend (and am finding helpful in my own journey) to pull yourself out of the muck and mire of depression and create the life you want. And while I'm not all the way to where I want to be, I'm making a start.

In the last few weeks, I've landed my first Chattanooga freelance client, started running again, joined Pure Barre, been nominated President of the Home & School Association at my kids' school, discovered that I really want to help other women live their best lives and to that end recommitted myself to writing this blog, and reinvested myself in growing a home-based business that also has the power to change lives. Here are five things that are working for me:

1. Let Go 
Let go of fear and worry. Let go of negative thoughts that tell you you can't. Trust me, you can. Align your thoughts with love for yourself and whenever a negative thought creeps in, let it go. Just remind yourself over and over and over again that the negative voice you hear is your false self and let it go. And let's kiss fear goodbye, too. Fear is also your false self, trying to hold the real you back. Every day try to do something that scares you. I'm doing that right now and I'll be doing it tonight, too, when I go have drinks with people I didn't even know four weeks ago when this process started for me.

2. Find Your Gurus
Whether in your community of friends or in the realm of books, podcasts, audiobooks, or documentaries, seek out the wisdom and positivity of people who can inspire you, motivate you, and help you make the changes you want to see in your life. Listen and re-listen to the things that uplift and motivate you. And on the other side of the coin, try to limit your intake of negativity. Limit the amount of news you consume and the sources you get it from. And yes, limit exposure to friends and family members who question you or challenge you on the changes you are making. You only get one life and you might as well go for it and make it the best life you can imagine. Is your broke, lazy friend going to tell you anything that will help you get ahead or is s/he going to try and hold you down where they are? Okay, right.... So here are some of the things I'm listening to or reading in addition to James Altucher's books and podcast (which I highly recommend): Anything by Dr. Wayne Dyer, but especially How to Be a No-Limit Person. Tony Robbins's Awaken the Giant Within. You are a Badass by Jen Sincero. Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It by Kamal Ravikant. Ask and It is Given by Abraham Hicks (or really any of the Abraham books). Oh! Also, watch the documentary Happy! It's a life changer!  But, if none of these resonate with you, go to your library or online and explore books on positive psychology. And seriously, check out James Altucher's podcast. There's always a different guest with a different perspective, and even the ones I don't necessarily like can still teach me a thing or two about success and pursuing a goal. The important thing is to learn that you can choose your thoughts and the best way to have happier more positive thoughts from which to choose is to feed your brain a steady diet of positivity, inspiration, and encouragement.

3. Nurture Your Physical Health
Eat well. Stay Hydrated. Sleep. Get some exercise. These things are easy to neglect, especially if you're down in the dumps or working two jobs or living a life you don't love. But, to change any of those things you have to love yourself and one of the simplest ways to love yourself, is to start nurturing your body. Try to limit processed foods. Maybe just start by adding one fresh fruit or vegetable to your diet each day. Cut back on caffeine after noon. Drink more water. I start each day with a glass of water with a drop of lemon oil. It starts flushing out toxins that my body was processing overnight and gets my hydration off to a good start. If you work in an office, maybe take the stairs instead of the elevator or at least take them up to the second floor to catch the elevator to start with. When the weather is nice, go out for a walk at lunchtime. Sunshine is a great mood-lifter and gives you a dose of Vitamin D, which is actually a mild antidepressant. If you're really motivated in the exercise department, try a class. I've tried Zumba, Pilates, and Pure Barre and have loved them all. For me, physical exercise is the best thing I can do to keep all the clutter in my mind from taking over. I feel so alive and happy after a good workout! Even if you don't make it all the way through the first time, it will be easier the second and you can feel proud that you made the effort! Change is not easy and it does not happen overnight. However, the sooner you start making changes, the sooner you can feel and see their benefits.

4. Feed Your Spirit (Even if You're Not Religious)
There are benefits to stillness and quieting the monkey-mind that go beyond any religious implications. And don't get turned off here if you are religious. Meditation can become whatever you want it to be: a powerful tool to calm your mind and increase your connection to Source energy (God, if you prefer), or it can simply provide a space of stillness to clear out the clutter and calm your mind so that you can free yourself from daily stress and open your mind to receive ideas and inspiration. Whether you take a formal Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class or start with guided meditation videos on YouTube, giving your essence some quiet time to unpack and release the accumulated detritus in your mind frees you to simply be. It is restful and restorative and it is a gift you can give to yourself each and every day. I think you'll be surprised and delighted at how this simple change can open you up to the possibilities that await you.

5. Make Lists
Okay. Some people would tell you to set goals, make a five-year plan, write affirmations. And those things are all great. But they can be daunting. So, if you prefer to think about it that way, go for it. For me, I needed to start more simply. So, I made lists of the things I'm good at. And lists of the things I enjoy doing. A list of people I admire. Start where you are...If you're trying to figure out how to get happy, make a list of things that make you laugh. Watch a few videos related to the list. Make a list of books you want to read (maybe add one from my list above). Make a list of friends who seem happy in their careers and interview them to see what they like about their jobs. Make a list of places you want to visit. Maybe make a list of things you want to accomplish, but when you write them, write them as "I am" statements and as you write, try to imagine how you would feel if you were already in that place. Make a list of all the things you love about yourself. Just getting these kinds of thoughts and ideas out of your head and onto paper (or the glowing screen in front of you) can help you start to formulate a vision of the person you want to be. It's like creating a road map to help you reach your destination.

I know a lot of this may sound corny and maybe you've always cast a scornful eye on the idea of "self-help," but seriously...Who else is going to help you make a personal transformation if not your Self? And that's where we are right now. You can change or you can stay where you are. In order to change, you have to tell your Ego to sit down, shut the fuck up, and let you get on with it. But you have to decide that you are worth it. Trust are. I am reminded of and want to share with you this final thought which author and one of my chosen mentors Kamal Ravikant shared in a podcast. He mentioned that when he struggles he returns to a line by the Persian mystic and poet Hafiz. I leave you with this: "I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being."

Be well loves. And please, please, share your thoughts in the comments. I love hearing from you and as always, please share this with anyone who needs it.

Love to all.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Terra Heck, thank you for visiting Belle of the Blog and sharing your thoughts on the trailer for The Zookeeper's Wife! You have won a $25 Fandango gift certificate!

Ashley Stein also won a $25 Fandango gift certificate for liking the Belle of the Blog Facebook page and commenting on the post over there!

I am so grateful to all my readers and hope you'll keep coming back!

And for anyone who is interested in reading The Zookeeper's Wife prior to seeing the movie, you can get the book here