Banning the Booze.

Now before you assume anything, I did not choose February because it’s the shortest month of the year! But when everyone was declaring their intention to have a dry January I just wasn’t ready. I was still on “vacation” or as much of a break as I’m ever willing to take. Once we got into the full swing of training in late January I was super fired up and ready to dial in all the different variables in order to get competition ready ASAP. Cutting out alcohol (for me it’s a few glasses of wine a week) in my experience, is where you get the biggest bang for your buck across all wellness categories.

You don’t have to abuse alcohol for it to be unhealthy for you. I think it’s a truth that’s often glossed over or swept under the rug or covered up by a study that’s paid for to find any obscure possibility of benefit to assuage our fears. It’s often argued that having a glass of wine or whiskey or whatever at the end of the day is a good way to destress, and in the moment it might feel like that, but the effects of that cocktail (especially when it turns into two and occasionally three) actually end up causing us more stress, exhaustion, and anxiety than it’s helping us alleviate. For one, it conclusively impairs sleep, which I will one hundred percent attest to. Even if you feel like it knocks you out your heart rate will remain elevated as you sleep, inhibiting the amount of restorative z’s you achieve. Less restorative sleep means being more tired the next day than if you had just forgone the alcohol. Being tired leads to cognitive errors which can lead to stressful and chaotic situations that you may have otherwise avoided. Not to mention simply starting tired will lead to becoming even more tired while going about the tasks of your day lowering your tolerance for adversity, increasing frustration, and as a result heightening stress levels.

Since going a month without drinking I’ve noticed several concrete benefits. The biggest one for me is that I can refuel and recover better- read: eat more!! When trying to maximize my training and increase my fitness levels a few hundred calories one way or another can be a huge difference maker over the course of months, and what I choose to consume for those calories matters as well. Wine or any other alcohol does nothing for you in the name of recovery and just gets turned into sugar and then stored as fat, and being that I am a “recovery enthusiast” this goes against everything I believe in! It has also helped me achieve better sleep. Falling asleep isn’t usually the problem, but when I’ve had a glass or two of wine in the evening I find it’s harder for me to fall back asleep when I inevitably wake up at some point during the night. Without it I’m also achieving that restorative sleep which I touched upon earlier.

Another huge benefit I’ve noticed is mental clarity. Stacking weeks upon weeks of abstaining from these mind altering substances has afforded me a greater ability to multitask, I am much less forgetful throughout the day, and simply feel sharper on and off the court. I’ve noticed a marked increase in my energy as well, all while cutting my normal twice-daily sixteen ounce americano habit in half (well, I do one half caff and one decaf a day now). This could also be attributed to getting better sleep, but whatever the reason, the cause is directly related to cutting out the booze and I am here for it! 

I believe, and it has been studied and concluded, (though, I’ll readily admit I’m not sure how scientifically) that drinking alcohol lowers your vibration and spirit. I feel this, but I also think this is directly correlated to lowering anxiety levels. Alcohol increases serotonin levels while imbibing, but as the alcohol wears off so does the serotonin causing a crash like effect, which can induce feelings of anxiety or depression, and over time the effects can become longer and longer lasting. I’ve definitely felt way more calm and grounded towards the end of this month, something that I highly value and believe positively effects my performance on the court as well.

The last consequence I want to touch on is probably the biggest in my opinion, especially for athletes. INFLAMMATION. Inflammation is arguably our biggest enemy when it comes to our health and alcohol causes a lot of it. It can wreak havoc on everything in our bodies and lead to multiple diseases, and specifically in regard to sports and athletes- injury! If you have a nagging injury, pain in your joints, and/or muscle tightness alcohol is only going to make healing from these things that much harder. It can also make sudden, unpredictable injuries more likely. Anything in our body experiencing inflammation is more susceptible to trauma. Every time I’ve experienced an injury, or even when my knees become a little achy, the first thing I think to do is cut out the booze. Not that I abuse it in any way, but just cutting out the little bit that I do enjoy facilitates quicker healing to get back to a state of painlessness as fast as possible. I wish I had realized this link earlier in my career, I feel like I could have saved myself a lot of unnecessary aches and pains.

It’s true it can be challenging to abstain in social situations, especially when everyone else is partaking. However, I find it’s an opportunity for growth and I enjoy connecting and bonding with people without the inhibition lowering aid of alcohol. It’s almost as if the childlike part of me that found genuine joy in playing with other kids, creating our own fun, and just not caring about other’s potential judgments has been traumatized into hiding or just straight up died (lol) and now I’m reviving it. It forces me out of my comfort zone and if you know me, you know it’s one of my favorite places to be because I know it’s where I learn the most and grow the most as a person.

Giving up alcohol, even though we have all this compelling evidence that it can be really good for us, is easier said than done. Most of us get lost in the marketing of alcohol as a normal component of our daily lives and something that’s necessary for every social occasion. But the first step is awareness, awareness that some company, or ALL booze companies, are spending a ton of money to make you believe that you need their products in your life. They want you to think you need wine to wind down, you need to bring booze to a dinner party, you need to drink to have fun. It has worked amazingly well judging by how ingrained it is in our culture, all the more reason to be on guard and aware of what external forces are influencing you. I’m not trying to convince you to give it up forever and/or all together, I’m only hoping to convince you to think a little bit more about how something you might have believed was inconsequential might be affecting your life in a negative way. I am a huge believer in everything in moderation, and also in experimenting in ways that can improve your health and quality of life and this is just one idea of how to do this and something that has helped me, so I wanted to share, as always. Hopefully, it encourages you to at least give it more thought, if not a try at a dry month, or five 🙂

Pro tip: a really great mocktail is Bolt24 mixed with sparkling water and some citrus, it’s been my go-to this month, is so yummy and when you put it in a wine glass it even looks like Rose!

The Sweet Spot.

Longevity in the world of elite sports requires a delicate dance. You can’t grip your dreams and aspirations so tightly that you strangle them and give yourself an aneurysm at the same time. The fastest way to full on burnout is wanting something too badly. It also leads to some not so great mental habits, like severe self-criticism, perfection seeking, and just an overall lack of joy in your journey (because all you can focus on is getting to your goal/destination). I don’t believe very many things are worth giving up all joy in the present moment to achieve. After all, what is life if it’s not the present moment? Sit with that one for awhile. What you’re doing RIGHT NOW, that IS your life.

Success, however, requires sacrifice. Sometimes that sacrifice IS joy, sometimes it’s a good friend’s wedding (I’m sorry Whit!), and oftentimes it’s social engagements and activities that the rest of your friends get to engage in.  But like I said, it’s a dance.  Not all of it can be sacrifice, you need to be able to enjoy what you’re doing most of the time. And let me just add here that if you don’t enjoy working your ass off don’t even think about giving professional beach volleyball a shot.

If you can’t find that balance between hard work, sacrifice, and challenge; and enjoyment, pride, and detachment, it’s going to be a tough go. You’re either going to not put in enough work, not be emotionally invested enough, and not achieve the success you’re after, or you’re going to beat yourself up for not being perfect, make everything a struggle and just hate what you’re doing a majority of the time even if you do experience success. In the middle is the sweetest of sweet spots, and admittedly it’s different for everyone, so there’s no exact equation. I think it takes a lot of self assessment to find where that spot is for you. And to do that you can’t just be process oriented, you also have to pay attention to outcomes, because let me be clear, the goal of all of this is to be successful in the end. You (and I) don’t put all of this work in to find this balance only to have it not be effective.

In other words you have to work really hard at finding enjoyment in what you’re doing, and I’ve believed this in one way or another for my entire career. For example, I learned early on that the most fun experiences on the court come from moments where extreme effort was required, we were willing to buy all in emotionally, and it paid ff- our bronze medal match in Rio is one that comes to mind. 

This dance is cyclical and takes a lot of tending. I have often found myself holding on too tight, squeezing all of the joy out of the journey, and being a stressed out perfectionist. How do you get out of that mode? For me it requires a recalibration of perspective.  It helps when I keep my entire life in context, what does my life look like after volleyball? What else in life is really important to me? It helps even more when I imagine the entire galaxy, infinity, and how unimportant I am, how short my life is, and how absolutely inconsequential a beach volleyball match is in the scheme of eternity. You have to make time for this recalibration as well, it’s not easy and takes awareness, self-reflection and mindfulness. To take some time each day to be thoughtful about all these things allows me to realize when I might be veering off one way or another and then to take actions to again find that healthy balance. 

I find it also helps to accept that losing isn’t something to fear, and that making a mistake is human, it doesn’t mean you are bad at what you do. If you can embrace these ideas it gives you the freedom to go all out on the court fearlessly, and as a result play confidently and aggressively. Detachment. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, you just care soooo much you have to put tools in place to make that caring beneficial and not consequential. 

The Girls In Ipanema.

If you’ve never been to Brazil, I am here to tell you to GO! It’s a land of incredible beauty, passionate people, and delicious food. This has never more apparent to me than it was on our trip to Rio over the last two weeks. All but one of my trips to Brazil previously have been for tournaments which mandated all of my focus and required such rest and recovery that I opted to stay in rather than go out and explore in between trainings and matches.  I will say I believe this was the right thing to do and wouldn’t change it, but I feel so lucky that we were able to make this training trip happen that allowed me to see so much more than I had before. 

Brazil was actually the first country I ever got to visit. In high school I joined my church group for a trip down to Sao Paulo to help build a seminary building, which would also be used for a school. It was a life changing experience and sowed the need to see the world deep within me. While we were down there our group took a few days to visit a secluded hidden beach a few hours away in the town of Ubatuba. We literally had to hike through the jungle to find the beach, and it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had to date. I can still vividly picture the beach and how it opened up in front of us after climbing though the trees. We also walked the street fairs perusing the local art and street performers, it just felt so alive. It’s also the first time I tasted heart of palm, which is still one of my favorite foods!

So here I am twenty years later, so grateful to still be traveling the world and finding new things places like Brazil have to offer. This last trip was for training which we made the priority, but there’s just a different level of freedom when you’re not there to compete. My favorite experience this time around was, not surprisingly, the same as my first time- finding a secret beach only known to the locals. It also took some climbing and traversing rugged rock to get to the beach, but once we made it the beauty blew us away. The water was a perfect dark turquoise color, surrounded by gorgeous red rock cliffs topped with palm trees, and the cool temp of the ocean saved us from the unrelenting sun beating down on the sand that day. We alternated between hanging out on the beach and taking dips in the ocean until the tide threatened to flood our path home so we reluctantly left in order to not get trapped in.

Every time I’ve visited Rio, including for the 2016 Olympics I’ve stayed in Copacabana. This time we rented a place in Ipanema and it was a game changer.  We were walking distance to a super fun beach where everyone played foot volley or relaxed under their colorful umbrellas drinking beer or coconut water on the weekends. We could also walk to multiple great restaurants, there were actually too many of them for us to get to on this trip.  And there was the shopping, so many cute boutiques in the area as well. Not to mention simply walking around the city is an experience with huge trees exploding out of the sidewalk every twenty feet, it really feels like the jungle could completely overtake the the city in no time at all if left untended. I couldn’t stop thinking of it as the literal urban jungle. On top of all of that I couldn’t get enough of the fresh papaya and mango, the best I’ve ever had.  Add in the acai shops and cafes serving pao de queijo and cappuccinos around every corner and it comes pretty close to paradise in my opinion. 

And oh yeah, the training was great as well 😉 I’m so glad we went, if only for that reason.  With no competitions on the schedule in the near future we knew we needed a way to keep us fully engaged in training. Practicing with some of the best teams in the world was a great way to narrow our focus, the warm weather and gorgeous beaches was a huge bonus.  We got some good sessions with Agatha and Duda, Carol and Talita, Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, and some other local teams. It was also a great opportunity to fast forward our learning curve with our new coach Angie Akers.  I really feel like we were able to iron out some kinks, explore some new aspects of our operating system we are working to integrate, and test what we’ve been working on the last few months against some top tier teams.  To say it was beneficial is an understatement. We also spent a lot of time reviewing video which led to some great discussions around techniques and strategies which further accelerated our cohesiveness as a team. The ability to singularly focus on volleyball, especially during this time was a blessing.

And as far as the Covid situation down there goes, everyone was taking it really seriously. I would say if anything the mask wearing policies were more stringent down there than even in California and social distancing was equally encouraged. Our temperatures were taken frequently and everyone wore masks everywhere, even when jogging along the beach or walking their dogs. It felt like we were able to take every precaution we would have at home, or more, while we were there.

This was my first training trip ever, which I can and can’t believe. I’ve been blessed to have very full seasons between the AVP and FIVB for the duration of my career which has never left much time or energy to take an additional trip. Time at home has always felt too precious to sacrifice in the offseason, especially considering I live in one of the best places to train for beach volleyball on the planet, so never much need to leave. This year obviously has been much different. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at home, and honestly, in ways it’s been really nice, but it’s also left me with a craving for travel again. And I think I’ve taken for granted the opportunity to play against the best teams in the world over and over again during a normal season. This time away has shown me how much I value it. Alix and I have had a blast competing against our compatriots all year, but it was nice and necessary to find some competition outside our borders. Not to mention, different countries play different styles of beach volleyball, so it’s important to not get too used to the American way and forget how to play against different styles. So needless to say at this point, I’d really look forward to another training trip down to Brazil, but even more than that I would love a schedule that doesn’t allow time to squeeze in another one, i.e. a full AVP and FIVB schedule starting in the early Spring of 2021. Here’s hoping for the best, but in any case making the most of it!

Uncertainty is life.

We’ve all been dealing with so much uncertainty this year, from not knowing much about the coronavirus, to how long the lockdown was going to be, to our seasons, jobs, and ability to see loved ones taken away, to now the presidential election. Having the gyms where I workout close indefinitely, the beaches off limits (all the volleyball net poles were taken off the beaches), and event after event getting canceled (my version of getting furloughed) and then the Olympic postponement was more than a little unnerving. Add to that the fact that we had to find a new coach shortly after the lockdown began because our coach at the time decided to continue her plan of moving to Maine with her family in August, and that’s quite a bit of uncertainty created in a few short months.

I’ve learned there are two ways to look at uncertainty. The most natural and biologically ingrained way is to dread it and allow it to stress us out (my initial reaction). Uncertainty, prehistorically, means we are in danger of some predator jumping out of a bush and mauling us, or that we don’t know where our next water source will be, etc. and that SHOULD cause a lot of stress, but these threats are virtually non-existent today. However, the way we respond to any kind of uncertainty is still influenced by how our responses were developed in the past. The GOOD news is once we recognize where this response comes from we can see the lack of logic in it and choose a different way. A mind untended runs amok and will definitely default to stress and despair in the face of uncertainty. We need to be aware of our thoughts, know why we think those thoughts (especially if they’re unhealthy), and start to reprogram our responses and get better at processing our emotions and anxiety in the face of all things.

Like right now, I’m sitting in my car outside the passport agency in Los Angeles because I somehow lost my passport for the first time in my life and we are supposed to leave for Brazil TOMORROW. The passport office is essentially closed to the public because of Covid, but I have a contact inside and she’s my only hope. However, I’ve been texting her for the last hour and she isn’t responding and there’s far from any guarantee I can get in today. I have no idea what’s going to happen or how I’m going to get down to Brazil… I AM stressing, but I’m also trying to recognize that stressing isn’t going to help and it’s just an illogical response my brain/body is having. 

The alternative and more productive way to deal with uncertainty is to recalibrate our perspective over and over and over again, and fight as hard as it takes to maintain a healthy perspective about said situation. It’s admittedly really tough to see things through a healthy lens all the time, so don’t give up because you think it should be easy and it’s not (talking to myself here as well).  Sometimes I forget that certain things by nature are just HARD and are never going to be easy and take constant work, and perspective is definitely one of those things.  Once we recognize our perspective has become a little bleak we need to course correct and the work is unfortunately never done. 

Yes, there are some life or death situations which really do call for a drastic response, and of course Covid-19 can be life or death (so it’s important to follow all guidelines and take action immediately if you experience any symptoms), but many things that are uncertain right now are not. This situation I’m in right now is not life or death. Most things are not, and if we can shift our perspective from dread to curiosity and amusement we decrease the stress we experience exponentially.

In tandem with constantly recalibrating our perspective, we must further combat uncertainty by training our optimism muscle. Being optimistic has been shown to have immeasurable health benefits both mentally and physically. If you watch your thoughts you can see when they begin to slip from a positive outlook to a negative outlook. Once you see that happening you must re-select an optimistic thought. As time continues to slip by as I write this and I still don’t have an appointment to get my passport, I can allow myself to feel defeated or I can chose to hang on to hope and believe that everything will work out.

I listened to a podcast the other day called House of Greatness (it’s amazing, highly recommend it). The guest was Rob Bell and he told the listeners about a mantra he now uses daily that I have found very soothing and helpful in the face of all this uncertainty around us. The mantra is this: 

“Everything you need today, you will have.” 

It asks us to believe in ourselves and know that we can and will handle anything thrown our way and are more than equipped to deal with it. We don’t need to worry about the future or constantly contemplate different outcomes or what could happen, but KNOW and trust that we will have what we need to deal with anything we face. It also asks us to trust that even if we don’t feel like we have what we will need, the Universe will provide it in time and to know that whatever happens is meant to be, whether to support us or teach us a lesson, or any other positive reframe. 

And lastly, but far from least, is the practice of staying firmly rooted in the present moment. The only thing that is certain and constant is the now. If we can handle the present moment we can handle the future. If we don’t maximize and find joy in the present, it is unlikely we will be able to do so in the future. Essentially the future is a figment of our imagination, all the future is is the present moment later on. If we do what we can from present moment to present moment anything we feel uncertain about will work out in the best way it possibly can. No stress or fretting or dread about how it *might* or *might not* work out will benefit us in the face of uncertainty. 

Holding on to perspective, maintaining an optimistic lens, and dedication to the now are the best ways to combat, deal with, and transform uncertainty into opportunity, and it can even lead us to see uncertainty as an exciting adventure in some cases.  Even if it comes with challenges, we know it will provide us with the chance to further forge ourselves in the fire, grow, transform, and become better because of it. Keep the faith, believe in yourself, and find joy in the now.

Life is a ride.

P.S. I DID end up getting an appointment and a new passport and am currently on my way to Brazil! Beyond grateful for everyone who helped me pull this off, and I am feeling very blessed to be able to take this trip as planned!

Tokyo 2021

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will take place July 23rd to August 8th, 2021!

My first reaction is- thank goodness for some certainty amongst all this uncertainty! It’s comforting to have a solidified date to plan around. My team and I have been communicating consistently throughout this quarantine period and doing our best to put together some semblance of a plan going forward, but it was near impossible without anything to plan around. I was doing my best to keep an open mind about the rescheduling, I didn’t want to hope for one scenario over another, but in my opinion, one year later makes it easier on everyone. Now that we have this date we can essentially push everything back 365 days.

I’m also relieved that it extends the time in which we as a world can work on getting this corona virus pandemic under control. Worst case scenario would be canceling the Games, but second to that would be scheduling it too soon and having to potentially postpone it again, which I know would essentially be canceling it anyway. So I really hope that we as a community can come together to beat this thing, number one for the health and safety of the patients and healthcare workers on the front lines. Secondly, for those going to work everyday in the essential jobs that keep us functioning on a basic level while we all quarantine. And last, but definitely not least, so that we can get EVERYONE back to work, I know that quarantining is crushing for a lot of families around our country. For the Olympics to be able to commence as planned on their new date is really important to me and all the other athletes who’ve worked so hard their whole lives to go and whose dream it is to compete on that stage for their country, but it is more important that we all practice social responsibility for the good of ALL first.

What’s next for Alix and I? We are both self-quarantining hard, doing workouts at home and taking this time to rest our bodies, it’s kind of like off-season for us. We are constantly brainstorming with our coaches and our resources at USA Volleyball about how to continue to grow while not being able to train. We’re also trying to get creative through social media and with our sponsors to provide some entertainment for the sports world and hopefully beyond while we can’t be spiking on TV. When we are able to start training again we want to know we put this down time to the best use possible.

A lot of the World Tour events for this year have been canceled or postponed with dates TBD, so we haven’t been able to plan on anything around the FIVB yet. The AVP, however, is working extremely hard to hold the events they’ve rescheduled according to the virus outbreak. I really appreciate the how much they’re grinding to make a season happen and how flexible they’ve been. I’m holding on to hope and faith that we can accomplish the AVPs schedule even if the dates for one or two need to be finagled along the way.

I’m excited that Alix and I have another year to train and compete together before going to the Games. I really believe we have a lot of potential still to realize and with another year we can continue to develop as individual players and as a team. Alix has come so far in just a few short years on the beach, I can’t wait to see what she can do in an entire extra year. I was working on some really exciting stuff this preseason in my own game and I’m grateful to have more time to devote to those developments.

Throughout my career I’ve learned that as much as I want to control things or work so hard that sometimes I believe I deserve to have complete control over everything in my life, a certain amount of detachment and go-with-the-flow attitude is absolutely necessary. The more you can adapt to situations and embrace adversity for it’s silver linings or what it has to teach you the better off you’re going to be. Being proactive in an attempt to put yourself in the best jumping off point possible is important, but so is accepting where you are and what is happening in the present moment. It’s ok if it’s hard, it’s okay if you don’t feel okay all the time, but keep that vision and faith, and continue to put one foot in front of the other in an attempt to do what you can now, for your future self, as always.

 

The Resolution of Resolutions.

Wow, a new decade, how exciting! There aren’t too many opportunities in our life to start a new decade, the possibilities are endless! It is now that we can begin shaping these next ten years of our lives into whatever we want, steering it in the direction that deep down in our soul we want to go. No matter what has happened in the past, this is a blessing of a brand new beginning and, if you look at the next decade as a whole, you can really picture what you and your life might look like at the turn of the next decade if you begin to work on yourself right now! No transformation is impossible in that amount of time. 

The key to taking advantage of this opportunity is the same as always though. Discipline. Will power. Awareness of ego. Intrinsic motivation. Consistency. There are so many tools to help you stay on your newly declared path to whatever it is you decide you want to accomplish with your life, but the one thing you can’t change is the driver of it all, which is you. It all comes down to you, regardless of the tools you use, regardless of the people you tell your ideas and goals to, the only one who will make it happen is you. 

Because of this, the first step to any change and the pursuit of any dream has to be self-love and self-respect. Self-acceptance is good and necessary, but I also believe in a little self-tough love. If you don’t believe you deserve the life of your dreams you’re never going to get it. And positive self talk is important for this, but nothing is more effective than action. Action proves that you love yourself. Action helps rectify situations that are emotionally dragging you down and stifling your motivation and creativity. I’ve been there. You can talk to yourself all you want, but if you don’t back it up with action, it comes across as a little superficial. 

What do I mean? Well first, if you love yourself you take care of yourself. If you value your body you do what’s good for it. This means eating your veggies, getting your protein, refueling with carbs, committing to a sleep routine, and everyone’s favorite- sweating! It might seem like the last thing you want to do in the moment, you might feel tired or unmotivated, but trust me- this is when you need it most!! Just getting your blood going, taking in and pumping oxygen to your cells, releasing feel-good hormones in your brain, feeling good about yourself for treating your body well, these will literally cause you to do a 180. Not much is more beneficial to the human body than moderate and consistent exercise.

If you rely on your mind (we all do), you take time to nurture it. Step away from the chaos and recenter. Say no to things that induce anxiety or create stress, even if others don’t understand, it will be worth it. Sit with your thoughts, to me this is one of the most undervalued practices. If you aren’t familiar with your thoughts, do you really even know yourself? Figure out what causes them and how they affect you, and how often they impede flow throughout your day. Otherwise you’re going to feel a little out of control and probably reliant on external distractions and relationships to provide you with a false sense of stability. I find it so empowering to explore my mind and work on anything creating entropy. 

We can’t neglect our emotions either, they are the cause of so much. I often try to keep in mind the serenity prayer when it comes to dealing with hard situations, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to the know the difference.” If I can change something that is causing me to feel a negative emotion I have to face it no matter how difficult. I have learned that it is much more beneficial to muster the courage to say the hard things, put my trust in a friend, be the first to reach out, whatever it is. As awkward as it can be, confronting and showing up fully to emotional situations and dealing with them is by far the best thing we can do for ourselves and for others, it’s a double win. And if it’s something that can’t be changed, we do the work within- journaling, meditating, or reach out to professionals. 

If we do these things for ourselves we essentially prove to our deepest self that we are loved, truly. It is so much more powerful than just telling ourselves we are loved. This has to be the precursor to following through with resolutions and reaching mini goals along the way to creating our ideal lives, because if we don’t trust or think ourselves worthy we won’t do all the other hard work required, much less be committed to it consistently. It’ll be a long road this next decade, there is plenty of time to create new habits and practices that will serve us and as a result allow us to fully go after our dreams, but it all starts with YOU. 

Meditation Station

Thank you for clicking through to my meditation blog! Especially if you are someone who doesn’t think they can do it, which is so not true! If meditation seems like it’s not meant for you it probably means you could benefit from it the most.

If you have a lot of chatter in your head when you sit down and turn your focus inward it is so important that you learn how to channel that chatter, listen to it yet not let it distract you, decipher important thoughts from thoughts that don’t serve you, and cultivate the ability to shut it all out when you want to.  This is a LEARNED skill, even those with A.D.D. can improve their focus and control over their consciousness. And there’s no substitution for consistent practice. As with everything good for you in this life, it all comes down to how disciplined you are willing to be, and the best news- this is a self sustaining cycle! The more you meditate the more disciplined you will become, the more easily it will be to maintain a practice, etc, etc. 

Since I’ve committed to practicing twice a day I’ve really seen the benefits. I’ve had more energy and it’s been consistent throughout the day, I don’t feel the relentless pull of my pillow from 1-3pm anymore. My sleep has been more sound, which adds to my energy throughout the day, another self sustaining cycle (love those!). I was getting a little anxious about certain things, which is actually what led me to double down on my mindfulness practice, and I have noticed a marked difference. I feel so much calmer and able to stay focused on the present or whichever thoughts serve me and are in line with what I’m trying to accomplish at the moment. It has lent me so much perspective as well. Being fully present in the moment creates a natural gratitude for all the little things (which are actually the big things) that I’ve been blessed with, but maybe had gotten to a point where I was taking them for granted. 

I mainly credit this current enhanced benefit from meditation to the type of mediation I’ve been doing. In the past I either used professionally guided meditation or self-guided meditation where I would focus on different words, body parts, or mantras, shifting them kind of naturally throughout the time period. I think that was better than not meditating and definitely led me inward to deal with everything that lies between my ears, being self-aware is step number one, but I believe I wasn’t getting all that I could from my practice. 

Now, however, I’ve been using a more traditional version. I sit comfortably with a strong spine and simply focus on my breath. Nothing else. If my attention wanders I take note and bring it right back to my breath.  If disturbing or needless thoughts come into my consciousness I accept them or mark them as pointless and let them drift on and bring my focus right back to my breath. It is truly the hardest form of meditation. Hard both because it’s tough to maintain focus on something you do as naturally as breathe, you know you’ll keep on doing it whether you think about it or not, AND because it’s tedious and can feel pointless, like- I’m not even thinking about anything, how can this help?!!

But what I’ve learned is it’s about being able to direct your attention at will and keep it there for longer and longer periods of time. This helps us in every life endeavor.  It’s brain training at it’s finest. By picking one of the toughest things to stay focused on we are really challenging ourselves the most. If we can practice and increase our ability to meditate on our breath, all aspects of our mental life will benefit. 

I do it for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the late afternoon/evening. Sometimes I have to do it in my car in a parking lot before walking in somewhere or in the chair at the hair salon, but I get it done and I haven’t regretted it yet. I hope you’ll give it a try and just know that if it’s hard, it’s working. You have to persevere at something like this just like you would with a physical challenge.  If you stick with it you WILL get better at it and WILL see the benefits like I have. There are scientific studies that prove meditation actually changes your brain for the better. So start small and keep increasing the challenge. If things distract you, practice acceptance; notice, don’t judge the break in your focus or your thoughts, and keep bringing it back to your breath. You can do it!

My Take on Mental Health.

I am not a mental health expert, I have not studied it in an official capacity, but I have read a good deal about it and worked on it pretty tirelessly the last few years. I do know that it is an issue that is starting to seem much more prevalent and possibly stole the life of a young volleyball player earlier this week (still under investigation). Needless to say, I was devastated to hear the news of Eric Zaun’s sudden passing. I didn’t know him that well, but he was such a warm person, funny, curious, and loved by many. He seemed to be shucking off a conventional life path, immune from external pressures of society, by pursuing beach volley and going on adventures far and wide. He said all the right things, I even watched a podcast clip of him explaining his life philosophy and it all came across as so grounded and down to earth, I thought he had a great perspective. I am so sad that he may have felt the need to end his life, that he couldn’t think of any reason not to or didn’t think it was good enough. I can’t imagine how alone he must have felt at the end despite having such a caring network of friends and family, and I just wished he had reached out to someone, I know so many would have helped him if given the chance. I can’t imagine what goes through someone’s mind when they are contemplating suicide, I just wish they could know that their friends and family are better off with them here, no matter what they might be dealing with. 

Chemical imbalances are real and convincing manipulators of our minds. If this is going on inside someone’s brain, logic and reason and willpower are often no match. It doesn’t matter how great your life might be or how many people love and value you, your brain can convince you otherwise. I know that finding a treatment for these issues is complicated and different for everyone, and maybe denial plays a large part in refusing treatment, but we must try to de stigmatize getting help. If you think you could possibly be dealing with something more serious please call a hotline, schedule an appointment, or just ask someone to do it for you. Getting help is only to be applauded and respected.

But even in the absence of physiological imbalances, this age of social media, materialism, and superficiality can cause us to attach our self-worth to things that don’t actually matter. I’m not sure how we combat this. I just know that it doesn’t matter how many followers you have, how many likes you get, how many random people tell you you’re amazing, it’s how you genuinely feel about yourself that matters. So how can we create a more genuine well-being within ourselves? I think our number one priority has to be connecting with the people in our lives (not online), forming and cultivating positive relationships with friends we can trust, and being one of those friends ourselves. I too need to be much better at this. And it’s a two way street, if you can tell someone is reaching out we need to be accepting of that person, resist rejecting, and take them in, you never know what battles are being fought behind closed doors and how you could positively affect their life by being welcoming.

We need to pour more energy into the present moment and being with the people in it, for the actual experience, not for how we can make it look on social media. I see so many high school kids (and younger) at the beach these days spending the whole time posing for pictures, like models, trying to capture the perfect insta pic, or snap chat, or whatever. Adults do this in their own way (sometimes the same way). Then there’s FaceTune where you can literally and convincingly alter your body, your skin, the whiteness of your teeth. Why? Because our culture fosters competition, it tells us to feel worthy we have to be superior, prettier, wealthier, more successful than other people. We need to lose this not-so-subliminal mentality as a society.  We need to learn to be secure in ourselves, as we are, so we don’t need to climb over other people to feel good about ourselves. We need to pay attention to ourselves and work on our inner state, be with our thoughts and channel our energy towards our own positive self-image so we don’t need to compare ourselves to others and as a result won’t need to feel superior or inferior, we can just be, happily, as part of the whole.

We also need to collectively find some perspective. I know first hand that our views of success are extremely skewed. After winning a silver and bronze medal at the OLYMPICS, I received a ton of support, but also the messaging that somehow I had kind of failed. That sentiment blows my mind. That some people believe if you don’t win a GOLD medal you are somehow not good enough. I want to be clear, I DO NOT feel this way, and I know how hard it was to win those medals and I am EXTREMELY grateful and proud of them, but the messaging I have received and that permeates our culture is that if you are not THE BEST you have fallen short, and that is bullshit. That is a lack of perspective. That shows me how much pressure our culture and society must be putting on young people to succeed. We need to REDEFINE success. 

Success to me is having people in your life who you love and who love you back. Success is having financial DISCIPLINE, living within your means, not getting caught up in what car you drive, what version of the iPhone you have, or what kind of shoes you wear or purse you carry. It’s contributing religiously to your retirement fund, saving as much as you can until you have an emergency fund, and only using the left over to splurge on fun stuff. We all need to take more responsibility for de-valuing perceived “status”. We need to stop putting pressure on everyone- individuals and corporations alike- to earn more to validate success and worthiness. Success is having the courage to follow your passions, to indulge your heart and what it truly wants, regardless of what our world might have to say about it. This goes for sexual and gender identity, career path, bodily autonomy, religion or lack there of, lifestyle choices, etc. And it falls on all of us to learn acceptance of these choices. We need to find enough security in ourselves, through receiving it from our community, family, and friends, so that we can pass it on to others and resist the urge to judge based on our personal beliefs, but realize that everyone is different and that is ok. They deserve our support and acceptance just as much as we deserve it from them and others. 

Our goal should be to live as peacefully as possible, in harmony with each other, creating lines of community as we go along.  We need to lose the ego, lose the doubt, lose the insecurity that makes us compare and compete with each other. It is NOT IMPORTANT. What IS important is helping others feel good about themselves and feeling good about yourself in the process. There is no right way to do life, no right way to live, no right thing to believe.  We all have light and darkness inside of us and that’s ok, it’s human and it’s beyond forgivable. We will hurt others, we will hurt ourselves, that’s just the straight probability of life, but if our intent is good and we attempt to act in that goodness consistently then we are a success. 

Life is messy, but when things get hard it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, we all go through those times, it is more than acceptable to ask for help, people WANT to help you, vulnerability makes people love you even more, others want to feel useful and everyone would rather you be apart of their life than the alternative. 

And it is ALWAYS OK to seek professional help! I’ve done it, and I know SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE in my life that have gotten professional help at one time or another. It’s just like getting a check up at the doctors office, but even easier. If you feel like you need some extra help please check in with a professional or someone you consider a friend, anyone really, I’m sure they are ready to help! But please KNOW that you ARE loved and you ARE valued, no matter what it feels like. We DO NOT have to believe our thoughts, our mind can play tricks on us, and we need to learn to see through those messages that have been subliminally taught to us by a faulty society.

The Blinding Present.

I’m often asked if I always wanted to be an Olympian, if that was my childhood dream, and at first I tried to give the answer I thought everyone wanted to hear, that yes, of course I wanted to be an Olympian since the day I got here! It took me awhile to realize I didn’t have to tell that lie, that there were plenty of athletes who would tell that story as their truth and I needed to tell mine in case it resonated with people who think like I do, to let them know that the way we think is okay too. I didn’t dream of being an Olympian. Instead I just LOVED playing sports, at recess, in P.E., on my cul-de-sac with my neighbors, roller hockey and basketball on all boy teams, gymnastics, soccer, even running track in junior high! You could say I lived for it. 

Regarding myself, all I was concerned about during my childhood was that I was finding a way to get better, that I was contributing to my teams, and that I was giving my all in an effort to win. Winning was important to me, and it’s not because my parents cared, or I got external validation from it, it was just this innate desire to be the best. I know my parents sensed this intensity in me and if anything attempted to temper it. However, going back to the point I’m trying to make, I didn’t play sports for any kind of future reward. I was consumed by the moment, the play, the match, trying to win each point. In practices, I was hyper focused on each rep, trying to make it the best it could be. I strived for perfection while knowing that perfection is impossible. I remember always being completely in the moment, before I even knew of that philosophy.

I firmly believe that the reason I have gotten so far in sports, is because I was never consumed with what was next, making this or that team, getting a scholarship, playing pro, or going to the Olympics. I just loved my teams, the experiences I was having with them, and the journey of trying to become my best. Doing my best in each moment, or “dancing in earnest” (as the book I just read, ‘The Courage to be Disliked’ calls it) is what created each opportunity to take the next step at every juncture in my career. 

From an early age, even outside of sports I’ve adhered naturally to living in the present. I find I have a hard time remembering details from my past and have shied away from rigidly planning my future. I think I’ve always had a feeling that everything happens for a reason and if you do your best, really YOUR BEST which requires an immense amount of effort, you will end up where you are meant to be. I can only assume that this is a result of what my parents taught me and I am grateful. To shine a light so brightly on your present that the past and future are dimmed is the most effective way to live. 

The present moment is really the only thing you have any control over. You can control your attitude, you effort, your actions, your thoughts, etc. which can be a complete change from the past and if done earnestly will have a positive effect on your future. You cannot control what happened in your past, only the story you choose to tell yourself about it in the present moment. And to a large extent you cannot control your future, other than taking responsible steps in the present to set yourself up for success in the future, i.e. contributing to your retirement fund, eating a healthy diet and exercising, studying in the area in which you want to succeed, etc.

I resist the urge to map out a concrete plan for my future, but I am predisposed to worrying about it from time to time. However, I have found if you follow the logical train of thought it will lead you right back to the idea that if you take care of business in the here and now the future will be as good as it can possibly be. It is still prudent to set objectives for yourself, and mini-goals to encourage attainment of those objectives, but equally important is that you apply flexibility in your mindset, methods, and possible roads you may be asked to take. If at some point in the future you find your life is not how you want it, not up to your standards, you almost always have the power to change it. Change your thoughts, change your actions, your attitude, your situation. Rest easy in this knowledge and the knowledge that with every challenge you face down in the present it will make you more formidable in the future, able to deal with whatever might come your way.

As I get older, and continue to chase this volleyball venture, I’m trying to not be too attached, but of course I am all in through Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But I have other passions and I don’t want to stifle them because I feel boxed in as a volleyball player. Living in earnest in the moment means following your heart and pursuing the things that mean the most to you, and if that changes for me, as it is changing for me, that’s actually amazing. It is only by diving into our authentic passions without fear of judgement and giving them our all that we can live our lives to the fullest and create opportunities for ourselves. If that means I keep playing volleyball then that’s what I’ll do, but I’m just as open to pursuing other paths in life as well. There are many roads we can take through this life, but we are poor navigators compared to the Universe.

My New Favorite Pastime.

You guys, I’ve fallen in love. With Yoga. I used to HATE it. I’m officially a convert.

When I first started dabbling in yoga it really bothered me. I would think, “am I working out or am I stretching? What is the point of this??” I didn’t understand what the benefit was, it was just really uncomfortable and hard to stay engaged in mentally. What I realize now, is that IS THE WHOLE POINT.

Yoga looked easy to me. No one’s lifting any weight, no one’s running or climbing stairs, how hard could it really be? Yet, when I would take a class or be forced to do yoga with my volleyball team, it was difficult. It frustrated me because I thought it should be easy and other people made it look easy, but for me it definitely wasn’t, and therefore, I didn’t like it. 

After I was first introduced to yoga and gave it that good old college try, I went a long time without practicing. Then I made a friend a few years ago who was an instructor at a studio near my house. I started going to a few of her classes. These were similar yoga classes to the ones I took before, but they were practiced in warm rooms.  So warm I would be pouring sweat by the end of it. I was still fighting through it and not quite sold, but I kept going when she invited me and I was beginning to see it’s more redeeming qualities. 

THEN the switch really happened when I found what the studio calls “hot ra”.  It’s one of their classes modeled after the bikram version of yoga.  It’s practiced in a super hot room and follows the same sequence of poses each time. (What can I say, I love routine!) We hold the poses from thirty seconds to a minute and do each pose one or two times. It’s meant to improve spine health and massage your internal organs in a way that helps you eliminate toxins through your sweat.  I FEEL IT. There is nothing I feel better after than hot yoga. I’m actually still in disbelief about it because I was such a skeptic for so long. 

And it absolutely qualifies as a workout. I have never sweat more in my life and I’m usually shaking by the end of our holds. My heart rate is elevated and I’ve even had to tap out once or twice and catch my breath in child’s pose. 

I believe, along with many many others, that yoga is equally beneficial to the mind as it is to the body. It requires all the same things competition and training does, as well as life. First, you anticipate it being hard and uncomfortably hot, but you need to muster up the courage to get yourself to class anyways. Once you’re in it (it’s usually not as bad as you dreaded, or if it is you’re still doing it!) During some of the tougher poses you really start to feel the burn towards the end of your hold. It requires patience, perseverance, and belief in yourself that you can make it. You must remain calm; just because it’s hard does not mean you need to panic, it actually means the opposite. What a great thing to get to practice! 

At the very core of bikram/hot yoga is noticing and learning the tight connection between mind and body. Becoming in-tune with that interconnectedness and understanding how peace and steadfastness of your mind will influence your body.  Your body is capable of so so much, but it is all up to your mind. Hot yoga is what helps me bring mind and body into harmony better than anything else I’ve tried and I believe it’s such an important part of our overall health. If you haven’t given it a try I really encourage you to, but remember: your yoga mat is a judgement free zone! If you need to take a break, take a break, if you fall over, just get right back into your pose, that is part of the practice as well and maybe the part I love most. Happy yoga-ing! Or as they say, namaste!