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!

Get Out of the Zone!

We MUST get comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s easy to understand why we are all so tempted to park it in our comfort zones; it’s safe there, it’s cozy, our brains don’t have to work very hard, we never fail in our comfort zones.  But here’s the thing, we don’t grow in our comfort zones, we don’t learn new things, we don’t become better people, and we’re not going to achieve our goals and reach our potential by hanging out there.  

What do you really want to do? I guarantee that it requires stepping into discomfort, being willing to change, and not just for a minute, not to just try something new that feels uncomfortable, but to stick with it for an extended amount of time simply because you know it’s what you need to do to be your best self. Even if you aren’t seeing results, but you know you’re on the right path, it’s important to employ will power and discipline to stick with it. That’s hard. That’s uncomfortable. It’s way easier to just give up. But how will you do anything beneficial for yourself if you aren’t willing to get dirty and sweaty??

I have done this a lot throughout my life and career.  When I was younger I fought it. I grew up playing soccer, I LOVED it, it’s what I wanted to do forever, but one day suddenly  it wasn’t an option anymore. It was then my dad suggested I go to volleyball tryouts.  I wanted no part of it, because after all: I wasn’t good at volleyball, I barely knew how to play it! What if I got embarrassed??!! *insert eye roll here* (This might be a good time to mention that I don’t believe in being embarrassed, accepting that it’s part of getting outside of your comfort zone is essential to buying in wholeheartedly to your growth in any area. Tell me what you’re embarrassed about and I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t be.) Back to the story about volleyball tryouts… I think you know how it generally goes…. I wasn’t very good, but I fell in love with the sport so I worked really hard at practice, I focused relentlessly on rep after rep and eventually made the top team in my age group by the end of the year and we ended up winning the national tournament to top it off.

That was my first lesson on how beneficial it can be to try new things, even if they scare you, ESPECIALLY if they scare you. What are you truly afraid of? I can answer that for everyone: failure.  But what is failure except a lesson on the path to ultimate success? Failures show us the pathway to achieve our ultimate goals, they are nothing to be afraid of! 

After my second year of club I was offered the opportunity to play on a team above my age group, the top team in the club.  I would be the youngest and most inexperienced, by far. I told the club director I didn’t want to be on that team, I wanted to stay in my comfort zone with my friends on the team in my age group, DESPITE what an honor it was to make that top team at my club.  It was the ultimate attempt to stay in my comfort zone! The director put me on that team anyway, against my wishes, and it actually ended up being really uncomfortable.  I didn’t get along that well with the older girls, everyone else was better than me, the training was really really hard and the coach was extremely mean. I can’t say that I enjoyed it at all. But again, GUESS WHAT?! I can point to that year, on that team, in that discomfort, as one of the most important factors in my success as a volleyball player.  Going through that tough year catapulted me to greater success, it made me a much better player and a standout on my high school team and future club teams. It is why I got recruited to all the best colleges.  And ALL because someone made me get out of my comfort zone. To this day, one of the best pieces of advice I can give junior players is to play with and against people better than you. Yeah you might lose or feel subpar for awhile, but it is the FASTEST way to get better. 

I slowly began to catch on to this concept. In college I struggled academically the first year, so in an effort to improve my grades I committed to attending EVERY single class AND to sit in the front row. It’s UNCOMFORTABLE to sit in the front row right in front of the professor, but it MADE me pay attention. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t be on my phone because I was too visible. The two semesters after I started doing this I got a 3.9 and then a 4.0 gpa. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone WORKS!!

I have done this over and over again in my life and now I crave it.  Anything that makes me scared or challenged or unsure, I encourage myself to head straight in.  Do I feel awkward sometimes? Definitely. Does it always pay off? Not always. Would I be where I am without committing to it? No way.

Another HUGE benefit of getting out of your comfort zone is learning to accept yourself unconditionally. If I take on something challenging and I “make a fool of myself”, part of the process is learning to be my best friend in those instances. To understand that it doesn’t make me any less of a person, on the contrary it just proves I am brave enough to try something I wasn’t sure I could do. The tough times should teach you unconditional love for yourself. Be gentle throughout the process, and positive in your self talk. Always reframe shortcomings as lessons and work to use them towards your future improvement and success.

In the long run your willingness to step out of your comfort zone is absolutely crucial to getting where you want to go, to achieving your goals, and to succeeding in your endeavors, relationships, and personal growth. It is one of the most important concepts I have adopted in my life and I am beyond thankful for those who pushed me before I knew the benefits of pushing myself. What will you do to get you outside of your comfort zone?

Looking for the Easy Way?

I think it’s human nature to search for the path of least resistance. Sometimes, and only after we do the hard work, we can call it listening to the Universe, going with the flow, but most of the time it’s simply mental laziness and a lack of awareness. When you allow yourself to skip the gym, when you shut down and walk away from an argument or run away from a problem, if you depend on luck, or a good draw or easy travel, all of this and more is wanting “it” to be easy. 

And if you get too used to this way of thinking you might begin needing life to be easy and even expecting it to be easy, and if it’s not then you’re at risk of adopting a “victim mindset”. Nothing is your fault, the situation was too hard, the obstacle too big to overcome, you aren’t used to doing hard things, so you fold.  That’s worst case scenario, but it’s a very real risk and one that many people fall in to, don’t let yourself be one of those people.

On top of the consequences you may experience as a result of wanting things to be easy, you then also miss out on the positive effects of persevering through trials and tribulation. This is such an important concept to buy into, I can’t emphasize it enough. We all want to be successful, but in our society today, with social media to put a sheen on everything, it is easy to believe the image that a lot of people come into their success breezily, without much effort; however that polished, curated image is very misleading. NO ONE succeeds without experiencing obstacles and pushing themselves through tough situations. 

It’s really easy to quit, and a lot of people do when faced with adversity, so if you can just get through the adversity whatever it is, you will have found a certain amount of success in simply surviving. Tough times are teachers, in every trial there are numerous lessons we can learn from and take forward with us on the rest of our journey to our ultimate success. Lessons are one of the biggest gifts we can receive in this life.  If we heed them they can inform the rest of our lives and enable us to sail calmer seas on our way to wherever we want to go.  

We don’t get these lessons if we avoid challenges.  Challenges can be scary, because the bigger the opportunity, the tougher the expectations, the higher the chance of failure becomes.  No one wants to fail, our culture abhors failure, but there is always the chance of success with perseverance and hard work. Then if you don’t succeed you will learn and have another chance to do what it is you really want to do, but this time with more knowledge and experience and therefore a greater likelihood of success.

You don’t become successful by taking the easy way, you must either accept challenge that comes your way or create challenge for yourself. If you aren’t being challenged, you aren’t growing and you aren’t developing your best self. How do you challenge yourself? You say yes to big opportunities, even if you don’t think you are ready for them.  You enroll in classes to gain a better education in the area in which you want to succeed. You make the first move towards someone you have feelings for. Ask the hard questions, have the hard conversations.  Almost everything is made better by ACCEPTING and EMBRACING the hard way, the challenges, the adversity, like you asked for it, like you wanted it. 

Nothing worthwhile in this life is earned through easy endeavors. When it IS easy, ride that wave for all it’s worth, but when it gets hard approach it with enthusiasm, positivity, and belief that you WILL get through it and know that it will make you better, more knowledgable, and more experienced.  Keep your mind open and soak up every lesson like a sponge, write it down so you don’t forget it. Invite the challenges and embrace them.  And if you find yourself hoping for the easy way, check yourself and your perspective, because in the end the hard way serves us much better. 

“I am willing to take life as a game of chess in which the first rules are not open to discussion. No one asks why the knight is allowed his eccentric hop, why the castle may only go straight, and the bishop obliquely. These things are to be accepted, and with these rules the game must be played: it is foolish to complain of them.” -W. Somerset Muagham

Live with Heart, 

April

Prepare to Self-Care!

Listening to my body and making self-care a priority is a theme that constantly runs through my life. My default is to always be on the go. If I find myself with some free time my inclination is to think about how I can use that time productively, which sometimes is great, but not all the time. I don’t see watching TV as decompression, I see it as a waste of time. Even right now I could be relaxing getting ready for the week, since it’s 8 p.m. on Sunday night, but I made a resolution to post one blog a week and I’m sticking to it! And because it’s a goal and a resolution I believe it’s worthwhile to stick with it, but there are definitely other areas where I need to be a little more cognizant of what I’m sacrificing. 

Being and/or becoming an elite level athlete, be it in high school, college, or beyond, takes a huge toll on our bodies.  And even if it doesn’t feel like it, recovery plays a big part in enabling us to maximize our potential on the road to accomplishment. Recovery means discipline, sacrifice, and learning to listen to our bodies. This past week of training involved a decent increase in volume and I was exhausted by the end of it, but I had a big weekend planned and I was determined to make the most of it… wrong choice. I ended up going home early Saturday afternoon before the festivities were over to curl up in the fetal position, order in food and watch a movie. My body had had enough and told me NO! I didn’t listen the first time it said no, but I heard it loud and clear that second time. Still trying to catch up before the clock strikes midnight and it’s officially a new week requiring fully replenished energy.

So how do you make sure you’re spending ample enough time taking care of yourself? I mean where’s the line between hermit and party animal that’s right for you? That’s the hard part and we’re always going to be guessing a little bit.  In my experience it really depends on what your goals are in the immediate future and where you are in your life. Trying to qualify for the Olympics? Err on the side of shuttin’er down. And I find that there are many more instances where erring on the conservative side serves us better than letting it all hang loose. Even though letting loose is important as well.

One of the best ways to become, or stay, in-tune with our bodies and minds is to find time to sit and just be. Lots of people call this meditation, but it can be whatever works for you. Find some time, even just five or ten minutes; if you can get out in nature I believe that works best, or throw some headphones on with some classical music and transport yourself somewhere peaceful. Take the time to feel what’s going on in your body. Notice where you’re holding tension, where you feel stiff, if there are any noticeable imbalances where one side feels different than the other.  Try and release any tension that you’re feeling, pay special attention to your jaw. 

Any stressful thoughts you’ve been suppressing or trying to mask with distraction will pop up during this time too. This is helpful, because carrying those thoughts around can be a detriment to our physical health and this is a chance to face them head on, to simply sit and get comfortable with them. I find it helpful to take myself outside of the thought and just observe it, like it’s not happening to me, a lot of times this allows me to find perspective and realize it’s not as big of a deal as I’ve been making it in my head. I also believe it’s really important to withhold judgement about the thought. Try to accept it and make peace with the thought, the more you can do this the less it will bother you. After you’ve worked on getting more comfortable with the thought and have diffused it of some meaning then let it go and focus on your breath. If it comes back, don’t judge it, just see it as if in third person, and let it float out into oblivion again and go back to your breath. 

If too many thoughts come up at once during meditation I like to write down a list of things I need to go back to. Then I can call those thoughts back to the forefront of my mind and deal with them one by one until I’m done.  In many instances the thoughts that arise will be things that I need to get done in the 3D world so they don’t take up mental space that can be used for other more important endeavors, endeavors that will get me closer to my goals and dreams. So I write those things down in a to-do list and get them done after my mediation. This is one of the best self-care practices there is, make time for it. (I’m telling myself this as much as I’m telling you.)

Another part of the self-care/recovery spectrum is what has newly become known as JOMO. Embrace JOMO. JOMO is awesome.  It’s the opposite of FOMO and stand for the “joy of missing out”. Sometimes you just need to say no to social plans and sometimes you just have to straight bail on your friends. Will they be mad? Sure. Will they get over it? Yes. (Or else you’ve just been given the gift of discovering who your fair-weather friends are.) Skipping social plans, as emotionally painful as it can be, can be huge for recovery and self-care. If you’re constantly out with your friends, when are you doing the extras that are going to get you that competitive advantage? Are you going to be more or less energetic at practice the next day? Are those days going to add up over time and cause you to be less masterful at your craft than the person next to you who does say no in some of those same situations? It is a clear sacrifice and there is no shame in picking your social life over your other goals, but don’t claim you want ‘such and such’ more than anything if you’re not willing to take care of yourself the way you need to in order to accomplish said goal. Get ready to have JOMO!

The other practice I consistently use in this vein is yoga.  I used to hate yoga, now I don’t go a week without it! Especially bikram yoga, specifically designed for your health and recovery. During yoga I can pay attention to my mind and body while it’s being pushed through something strenuous that IS NOT volleyball. Because I’m not outcome oriented in yoga, I am better able to notice what thoughts pop up when it gets hard, when I want to quit.  How am I talking to myself? Is it positive and uplifting or frustrated and critical? I can also practice perseverance. Do I want to quit when it gets so hot I can barely see through the sweat blurring my vision? Of course! Am I going to let myself quit?? No. Way. 

Through yoga I can also pay close attention to my body.  Not only do I notice where the tight spots and imbalances are, but I find my weakness as well, which is such an ASSET! Once I know what and where my weaknesses are I can get to work strengthening them. This will strengthen my whole and make me less prone to injury.  And obviously this can be applied in all areas of life- on the court, in our relationships, in our academics, and everything else.  Finding our weaknesses is a blessing. 

Now all of this is a practice. Doing it once or twice isn’t going to do much.  Finding a way to incorporate it consistently in our lives can pay huge dividends, but like every practice it takes a lot of discipline and commitment.  And those are both muscles that get stronger with use, so take a step today by doing one of these things and get to work strengthening those muscles that will help you turn this practice into a lifestyle! 

Beach or Indoor, how to choose.

It’s time to commit full time to one discipline, how do you choose between beach and indoor??

I didn’t have the opportunity to make that choice since there was only indoor when I played club and in college, so I can only tell you how I would go about making that decision if I had to make it now.  Both disciplines are really fun with lots of opportunity, it’s simply a matter of which path is best for you personally. 

I believe the number one deciding factor should be- does one or the other get you into the college of your choice? Or get you a scholarship to a college that offers you a degree you would otherwise not be able to afford? If you don’t hate the discipline that would allow you one of these options, do that.

College is a great opportunity to gain a competitive advantage when going into the work force, but you really want to balance that with how much student debt it might take to get that degree. You don’t want to carry around a bunch of student debt when you graduate, so shoot for the most quality degree you can get for the least amount of student debt it would require of you to graduate. There’s a happy intersection of the two somewhere in there that’s right for you. This is not a fun thing to think about and can be awkward to talk to parents and guidance counselors about, but it’s a reality and I firmly believe it should be a focus when choosing a college. If volleyball, one way or another, can help you offset costs of getting a college education, that has to factor in heavily when deciding which to play full time.

Now, say you feel like you’ll have similar opportunities in both disciplines, the next factor I would take into consideration is the amount of potential you believe you have in each.  Is your skill set and physicality more suited for the indoor game or the beach game? If you’re of an average height and competent in all skill areas maybe beach is a better path, whereas if you’re height is an asset and you feel more skilled in a certain position indoor, or specialize in a certain position like libero or setter, maybe indoor is the right decision. Mentally, are you resistant to authority and extremely self-motivated? That’s a little more suited towards the beach game.  Or are you better with a very structured environment and value outside encouragement? Maybe indoor is better in that case. 

If you aren’t sure which kind of player you are, I would suggest asking a trusted coach and/or parent for some honest feedback, but be prepared to think objectively about what they say.  If their answer comes back different than you were hoping, remember it’s not personal and it’s just their opinion. No matter what anyone says you can do whatever you put your mind to.  And sometimes, simply asking someone what they think can clarify your decision because you realize their answer is not what you wanted to hear. You don’t have to do what they think is best for you, it’s only to get a better idea of what YOU want to do.

If you STILL don’t have a clear answer, the last (and, still, really important) factor I think you should consider is which makes you happier? Which culture do you enjoy more? To figure this out you need to know what makes you happy.  Sometimes figuring out what brings you joy is a lot deeper than it seems on the surface and can take some effort.  When I’m faced with questions like this I prefer to sit with my own thoughts, some pen and paper, and journal what comes to mind when I mull it over. Does being on one big team make you happy? Or does being out there with one other person allow for deeper bonds? Are you happier outside? Or in a gym? Do you have better relationships with your indoor or beach coaches? These are just some ideas for you to build on. Hopefully this exercise will give you a little clarity and direction when making this decision.

And try to remember that most decisions aren’t final.  If you decide you want to focus on beach and then later think you made the wrong choice you can always switch back.  There are many different pathways to success and happiness, don’t pressure yourself to make a perfect decision.  Take all of this into consideration and just make the best decision you can right now. I hope this helps, and good luck!

When on a Rollercoaster, Throw Your Hands in the Air.

Wow what a week. I was searching for a topic to write about that rang true and was having a hard time landing on one, but after all the ups and downs this week brought I think I finally have it. It’s a bit of a journal entry, however.

I attacked this preseason HARD. I was ready to take all of my experience and funnel it into scheduling the most awesome of awesome preseasons. My plan was to get after it in the weight room, be disciplined in the “kitchen”, give up alcohol, minimize social engagements, film every practice, watch video every night, keep notes on what I was working on and what was working, schedule with the best teams we could get for practice, and implement some double days which I’ve never really done before. Well, I did all that. But then life happened. I didn’t plan for that.

This week (and last actually) was a rollercoaster due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s important for us to be discreet so I can’t go into detail here, but we ended up having to cancel or modify a good amount of practices I had set up with international teams that had come over for training camps. I understand how much that sucks when you come all the way to California and don’t get the training you are counting on, and we feel really terrible about it, but at the same time we had no other option. Then there was some miscommunication and things got even worse, people got mad, and we felt even worse. It’s not a fun position to be in and I’ve never experienced it before, so I’m trying to figure out how to handle it. 

There’s a fine line between self-care, looking out for your best interests, and being considerate of other people who are affected by your decisions. Or not even decisions, but circumstances, even if you have no control over them. I feel like you still need to do your best to keep other people in mind, while not budging on what you MUST do for yourself, or your team.  There’s no way to be perfect at it. Most of the time someone is going to feel slighted, that’s just life. All we can do is learn from these situations and work to prevent them in the future, if possible. And we have to be ok with it at the end of the day. It’s really hard to avoid taking on responsibility for someone else’s feelings even after everything is said and done. Acceptance of ourselves is crucial in these situations, and we must understand that other people are responsible for their own reactions and feelings. The only thing we can really make sure of is that our intent is good, and if that’s the case we have to let circumstances outside of control go, send it with the wind on your exhale. 

It’s also really tempting to get mad and start pointing the finger at everyone else. But taking accountability for everything is a really key tenant in life and we can’t fall into that trap no matter how tempting. We focus on controlling everything we can control, view things objectively, don’t take criticism personally, simply look for the lesson, there’s always something you can take from a situation to make yourself better. 

We also had to pull out of a tournament we were really excited to go to in Brazil, which also means losing out on the $1,500 plane tickets. There were some overlaying emotional things going on for me personally this week that just exacerbated the ups and downs of the rollercoaster. I got mad, at really little things. I got really mad at the big things. I felt frustrated, annoyed, distressed at some points, I yelled at people who didn’t deserve it or have anything to do with what was going on, it was rough. The worst part was how out of character all of that felt, I didn’t like that version of myself at all. I’m glad I have a weekend ahead of me as I write this. To reflect and recover. 

Finally, the conclusion I came to while pushing the sled around the weight room for conditioning this afternoon (nothing like some leg crushing conditioning to get the brain going) is that I have been holding on way too tightly. I’ve touched on this concept before, and believe in it wholeheartedly, but it’s easy to forget and lose sight of when you want something so badly you’re willing to sacrifice so much and work harder than ever for it. That’s exactly what happened. 

I got too zealous, got way ahead of myself and my team, putting together such an ambitious schedule. I didn’t have my finger on the pulse of things that matter just as much or more than working hard. I forget that that’s a thing sometimes, lots of times actually.  I’ve lost balance in my personal life, which is by choice, but not smart. I need to work on getting that back. I haven’t allowed any room for flexibility or fun, I was becoming too serious. I firmly believe you can be too serious. I was pushing us too hard. The Universe, as it so often does, has stepped in and is making me take a step back, so that I can reevaluate and reassess and just take a breath. Time to put some joy back in the process and lighten things up a little. That doesn’t mean slack off, I don’t think that’s possible for me or Alix, but to realize that this is our life and we need to not kill ourselves in the process of chasing down this dream. So cheers to that this weekend! I hope you have a good one and thanks for reading!

Feeling the Burn(out)?

It’s becoming apparent it’s that time of year where our resolutions start to wane, even for the most fervent of self-motivators. I noticed last week that my yoga class wasn’t as jam-packed as it was at the beginning of the year (thankfully, to be honest) and I considered not going today until I thought better of it. I even considered not writing this blog, but here we are. 

Especially as things around us start to change, our commitments and responsibilities are not fixed and they will invariably change as life goes on and make it harder for us to keep those more daunting, yet good for us, healthy habits we all set on January 1st. Our interests change too and we can become bored with what was once novel ways to stay in shape or become healthier or increase our brain power. Regardless of how our mind or obligations wander and morph we need to stick true to what we committed ourselves to when we had our best selves in mind.

This applies to playing volleyball as well. We lose a match and come back to practice with renewed vigor and dedication to our improvement and determination to learn from our mistakes. But how long does that last? How far will that motivation carry before it starts to burn off and you resort to your old habits and mentality once again? It is cyclical and happens to everyone, however, I do believe that even through these natural cycles, if we get back on the wagon again and again and continue to strive for more knowledge and discipline in these areas we will get better at persevering through the lulls and distractions and boredom. 

The easiest way to stick to your guns when it comes to being your best self is to keep your priorities front and center and remind yourself of them often. I have a chalk board wall in my dining room where I often write motivational quotes to remind me of how I should be living and that help keep me on track. You can write messages on your bathroom mirror, put sticky notes on your fridge, or even set daily alarms on your phone to remind you during important times of why you believe it’s so important to take care of yourself or work towards accomplishing your goals. The more often you remind yourself of your true priorities the more natural it will become to simply defer to them when faced with tough choices and situations. I find a good tool to use to improve our choices when tasked with challenges in discipline is to image beforehand all the ways in which we will be tempted to fall off the wagon and constructive ways to get through these situations with success. Honoring our priorities will undoubtedly require sacrifice and we need to come to terms with those sacrifices before we are forced to make them. THIS will carry us FAR in keeping our commitments to ourselves and our dreams. 

Another huge tool to stay on track is to physically write things down. If you lose a match and are usually extremely motivated afterwards, take some time to write down how you feel in that moment. Or when you have any kind of “come to Jesus” moment and decided to make resolutions, record exactly what you’re feeling and why you are doing it so you can revisit it when your ambition starts to fade. I’m also a fan of checklists. Keep a checklist of things you need to do to be your best self as envisioned when you made these resolutions. Is it going to the gym three times a week? Is it reading one book a month? Is it meditating daily? Is it meal prepping every Sunday? Write them down.

Now, after you’ve done the aforementioned, the most impactful thing you can do for yourself is to buy a PAPER planner and physically write down your schedule for each day. Plan out everyday, down to the minute if necessary. Find time, beforehand, where you can squeeze in your workouts, mediation, or reading so that you can stay on track. I even schedule my showers and bed time.  Make sure you get your daily schedule down on paper and then plan your weeks and months in advance as well to best set yourself up for success. I swear my life took a sharp turn for the better once I discovered the power of the physical planner in college my junior year. I still depend on the one I use today and carry it with me EVERYWHERE, because plans always change and I know I need to work around the things that are really important and those are all written down in my planner. 

When we consistently schedule time for the activities and practices that are going to keep us on track we not only set ourselves up for success, but we also start creating a routine. ROUTINE is our best friend! Sometimes routine gets a bad wrap, as if it’s boring, but it is SO crucial to forming good habits! For me yoga has become my Sunday evening routine. I’ve wanted to consistently practice Bikram Yoga for it’s multitudes of health benefits, but I had a hard time carving out time consistently. I found a class I like on Sunday night and have scheduled it weekly. Everything else has to bend for this class. I make sure I’m ready mentally and physically to attend that class and it feels MUCH worse if I have to miss it because it’s something I do religiously now. Creating a routine frees up our mental space to take care of other things in life without burning out mentally on the things that are most important and that we really want to keep in our lives. Take out the discipline drain by making these things as routine as possible. The goal should to get to a point where we don’t have to think about doing what we know we should do to be our best selves and pursue our goals and dreams, we just do it.

If you have done all of the above and you still are feeling burnt out and have more excuses than reasons to get it done, I have one last resort.  When I KNOW what I need to do, I have previously made the decision to consistently do something for the betterment of myself, but it just seems too hard to make it happen, I use this trick that seems ridiculously simple, which is actually the key. If that couch is too comfy or you have the option to do something more enticing what you do is just MAKE THE DECISION according to your highest values. You’re supposed to go to the gym, but your friends are going out for happy hour ( and this next part is key-) WITHOUT THINKING, politely say no to your friends and go to the gym.  Don’t give yourself any other option. The more you think about it, the more you allow your inner selves to debate what you should do the more enticing the “fun” plans will become. Stop debating and go to the gym. It’s akin to ripping off a band-aid. There will be other opportunities to do fun things with your friends. It’s something that has served me well in my most unmotivated moments and, as with everything, the more I use it the more effective it gets. Give it a shot and let me know if it works as well for you!

Now go out there, revisit your resolutions, check in with your progress, and double down on your commitments to make yourself better, healthier, smarter, and achieve those goals!