Same Yoga Story Different Year.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

I myself find comfort in the title “Same Yoga Story Different Year” knowing some things that are working do not need to be changed. Taking off some of the New Year resolution pressure and freeing up more space for gratitude.

As we approach the end of this year (2019) I am already hearing folks talking about their New Year’s resolution. I find the patterns always seem to remain the same in regard to the fitness New Year’s resolution. January comes in with high levels of new beginnings and fresh starts. Only to be followed by the distant reminder of what was to be.

A New Year’s resolution is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise improve their life. (Wikipedia)

I am not here to judge or saying we should not take opportunities to set goals to improve ourselves or our health. I know for myself I have made many a New Year resolutions in the past. Some stuck and some did not I would say that the majority did not. One thing that has remained the same is my dedication and commitment to my YogAlign practice. Why? Because I continue to feel the positive physical benefits, mental clarity and ease of life it provides me with daily.

Like many others interested in health and fitness I have tried and stuck with mostly things I have enjoyed or made me feel good. I firmly believe when it all comes down to it we all just want to feel good and be happy. That is why my yoga story will remain the same as we enter into this new year. Although, you might be thinking that sounds uneventful in regard to the possibilities of a New Year’s resolution or maybe even boring? I agree however, YogAlign is a yoga practice based on health sustainability thus constantly supporting me in possible new physical endeavors daily. As I continue to practice a method of Yoga that supports real life movements it keeps me unconsciously setting new goals and smashing them.

I find for myself with age I have a better sense of what is working for me and what is not and in a more timely manner. The years continue to roll by and few things do remain the same. Especially in the neck breaking speed the world is currently moving in. Change is good an inevitable and yet I find it ironic by keeping my yoga story the same it allows me to keep up and sometimes ahead of the game.

I like you, as well look, forward to the new year and all the opportunities just waiting to unfold and yes, I can imagine the possibilities in a body I can trust I hope you can to!

To that I end this blog by saying Happy New Year to you!

I wish you and your beloveds health and happiness ~ sending love and aloha

Yoga Milestones

By Renee’ Fulkerson

We are fast approaching the end of 2019 and this has me thinking about milestones: an action or event marking a significant change or stage in development. Which then got me thinking about my personal yoga practice and yoga in general.

I consider my yoga practice alive and connected meaning it has the ability to change from day to day in regard to what is going on in my life. Everyday is a different day full of various challenges, victories and levels of flow.

Yes, in a general sense I practice certain YogAlign postures in every practice however, I may add or take away postures depending on what I have going on that day. When I teach a YogAlign class I teach to the students needs and again that may vary from day to day.

Does this mean that you cannot have milestones in yoga if you do not practice the same set of postures everytime you hit the yoga mat? I guess this would depend on how you interpret your development in regard to your personal yoga practice. One way I can see an action or event marking a significant change is through sustainability in my everyday life.

What I mean by that is If I can walk (hike) longer without my feet or back aching and needing a weeks recovery. I am able to keep up with housework, yardword and my 16 year old son without exhaustion. Participate in all the physical activities I enjoy in a comfortable, strong and stabe manner. When I see that I am performing beyond my previous physical abilities during and after a long trek I consider this event a milestone a YogAlign milestone.

Another way I can see an action or event marking a significant change is when I have a YogAlign Aha moment. This could be finally feeling that core connection engagment during a posture that I had practiced many times. Building from that Aha moment that allows me to dive a bit deeper into my practice enhancing the benefits.

As for my students I see them transform, develope and become more sustainable on a regular bases. One student enjoys golfing and wants to be strong and in proper form while playing to avoid injury as well as enjoy her activity. Another student has had full back surgery, cares about her bone density and enjoys taking long walks on a daily basis with a proper stride and no aches and pains. Yet another student before a regular YogAlign practice was needing a chiropractic adjustment on a weekly (monthly) basis and has recently been suffering from mild headaches. She is now at a place were Chiropractic visits are far and few (YogAlign milestone) and is getting the headache relief she desires through her YogAlign practice.

One of the many results my students and myself share is we desire to see these milestone during real life events. Some may want to track their development by practicing to acheive a head stand and I say to each his own. That headstand milestone may allow them to build on a particular set of postures they desire. Milestones may also develop during ones meditation practice. For us to sit quietly for any lenght of time can be challenging not ot mention clearing our mind and experiencing pleasure while doing so. But in my experience I see it happen all the time in savasana (resting pose) a fidgeter becomes still and peaceful. Building from that milestone they are able to dive deeper into the practice and enjoy the effects.

Yoga milestones to me are like a gift you receive without expectation. You just keep showing up and participating in the practice and then some unexpected goodness comes your way. The tangible results of pure hearted effort. Unlike goal setting where levels of expectations can play against you. In regard to levels of commitment and follow through.

Like you I too look forward to the coming year and the next Aha moment. That moment where everything seems to make complete sense. When You feel as though you have gained some much needed confidence. You have accomplished another level of insight which can allow for a deeper yoga practice. To all of this I say cheers to this years unexpected goodness.

The struggle is real.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

What does the struggle is real mean?
The struggle is real:
A phrase used to emphasize that a particular situation (or life in general) is difficult. It is often used humorously and/or ironically when one is having difficulty doing something that should not be difficult or complaining about something that is not particularly problematic.

When we were children growing up we moved our bodies though life with great ease. There might have been times we felt awkward in our bodies as they were growing and changing but still felt an ease in our movements. As young children turning into young adults we probably did not give much thought to the way our bodies carried us in our day to day lives. With the exception of the way we danced or if our parents told us to stand up straight because we were slouching. Fast forward to becoming an adult/ middle aged and beyond and suddenly what was not difficult or even obvious to us is now right in our face and possibly affecting our daily lives.

Why does our body begin to react in ways we are maybe not used to when we become an adult/ middle aged and beyond? There are many factors to consider however, I would consider stress, responsibility, finances and relationships in early adulthood could surely draw your shoulders up to your ears from time to time as the bodies way of reacting to the stressors. A job being stationary sitting at a desk all day could also contribute to the body talking to you through aches and pains. Starting a family, marriage and simply setting up a household are all heavy transitions from a single carefree life. Not to say these changes are not wanted and don’t bring much joy however, on the flip side take up a great deal of time, attention and energy. So do we blame our aches and pains and movement struggles on getting married? To this I say no that would be silly.

What once was a non issue in regard to our youthful body movements and stamina comes down to re-wiring the motherboard or simply creating new movement habits.

What do I mean by this? Our brain is wired to make things happen without much or any thought for example when we get out of bed in the morning we do not think to ourselves I am going to hobble to the bathroom or I am going to hunch over with my shoulders drawn to my ears it just happens. Why? Because these are are current movement habits. When we were kids we just jumped out of bed, wiggled and squiggled are way to the start of the day because those were are movement habits at that moment. Some days maybe we even dread that first step out of bed because we know it is going to be a struggle for various reasons. The struggle is real – having difficulty doing something that should not be difficult or complaining about something that is not particularly problematic.

The good news is you can rewire the motherboard and create new movement habits that will leave your body feeling pliable, happy and healthy once again. In YogAlign we refer to these changes as getting your kid body back. We let go of the regular tendency or practice of drawing our shoulders to our ears by becoming conscious with new positive habits. Example every time you get in your car when you sit (driver or passenger) draw your shoulder blades down underneath you and then simply rest and gently press the back of your head into the headrest. Yes, at first it may feel awkward and every other minute you may need to remind yourself to just relax – shoulders blades underneath me  and back of the head gently pressed into the headrest. As this posture becomes more comfortable and familiar the rewiring will begin and this posture que and comfort will follow through to other opportunities for your shoulders to relax such as in your office chair.

In regard to YogAlign it is a practice that is pain free from your inner core utilizing the SIP Breath giving us the gift of lift. I see new students as well as some long time students struggle with push ups due to the lack of connection to the core and trying to lift the weight of the body simply with their arms and old and not useful habit. I then gently remind long time practicing students and sometimes myself to remember to use the SIP breath and core engagement to float their/ my pushup up. I also reassure new students once they utilize their core (powerhouse and not their shoulders) with the SIP Breath it will become a habit and so much easier. They will no longer be shaking in their arms and possibly causing an injury to their unstable arm/ shoulder joints and can relax their neck and shoulders by pulling shoulder blades down.

Of course we all know ageing, injury and ailments also plays a factor in our body talking back to us however, we must not get in the habit of blaming the above mentioned for all of our poor movement habits. After all we do not want our fondest memory of childhood to be that our back did not hurt.

Here’s to squashing the struggle by creating new effective and efficient movement habits on the mat and in daily life.

Do the teachings translate?

This is a question I not only ask new YogAlign students but also long time practitioners do you understand what I am asking / does the information translate?

It can be intimidating to walk into your first yoga class with or without previous experience but then not to understand what the teacher is asking of you is not only confusing but also frustrating. It takes courage and confidence to let an instructor of any sort know that you do not understand or to ask why I am doing this posture? How is this benefiting me? So much so students will continue to try to do what is being asked of them even if it hurts or is very uncomfortable. I do not recommend continuing to move in a way that is hurting your body, mind or spirit so please stop and ask the question if not to the instructor to yourself:

  • does this posture allow my spine to maintain its natural curves (shock absorbers)?
  • in this posture do I have the ability to do deep, full, rib-cage breathing?
  • does this posture serve my human design and create functional movement positions?
  • is this posture causing me pain?

YogAlign translates to pain free yoga from your inner core it is a practice I am confident to teach a mixed class of beginners and longtime practitioners side by side. Aside from having severe health concerns and needing a one on one session the above mentioned seems to sync beautifully. I also find YogAlign is a yoga practice that is experiential. Meaning I like to keep the verbal cues limited and relatable as we move through the practice. Thus allowing the student the experience as well as building the trust and confidence of the practice. In a short time my words, the posture and feeling that comes with it will all connect like an aha moment.

Starting with breath is a for sure way to change your perspective from the outside world and transition into your yoga practice. I find most folks breathing habits have them breathing through their shoulders with the muscles around the neck and shoulders lifted and contracted. The easiest and most relatable way to shift the breath from the shoulders to the diaphragm is simply to let your shoulders relax away from your ears and let your shoulder blades relax down your back as you draw them slightly together. This allows the chest/ frontline to open up and draw the breath deeper from the diaphragm also known as our primary breathing muscle a muscle that also needs to be exercised.

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Then some self massage to not only allow you to relax into your practice but also allows a connection to the nooks and crannies of the body that do not get much thought or exploration. For example (have two yoga blocks or two small rolled up towels available to you) starting on your back, shoulder blades underneath you supporting your bodies natural curves. Start by bending your knees and placing a yoga block under your right foot and drawing your left ankle on top of your right knee. Next begin to press on each toe nail bed on the left foot for a few seconds and then gently roll down the toe joint (drawing circulation down into the toes and feet). Continue massaging the arch, heel and top of foot as well as below the ankle on the inside of the left foot. Work your way up the left leg between the ankle and knee, around the knee cap and into the large muscles of the upper left leg not forgetting the entire inner thigh. Interesting thoughts about the inner thigh I find many folks to contract and hold their inner thigh muscles much like the above mentioned neck and shoulder muscles (tight and short) which after long periods of time is exhausting to the muscle and to the body. Finally straighten the left leg, push the block from under the right foot out to the side, point the toes of the left leg to activate the left leg muscle (keeping the hip joint stable) and begin to do leg circles in towards the body. We do not want to hear or feel grinding (bone on bone) if so point toe more and make circles larger or smaller or stop altogether. Let your hips move as well as your right knee – your not glued to the floor. You will then hook that left leg over the right knee and roll onto your right side. Bottom right leg is straight (not locked out at the knee) the yoga block you pushed to the side earlier will now support your slightly bent left leg/knee and grab another yoga block to support your head as you are on your side. Important habit changer here do not bring the left bent knee in to close to your stomach and do not bring your chin to your chest. Why? Because this puts you in a fetal or C posture  and collapses the whole frontline, squishing your organs, inhibits the ability for full diaphragm breathing and does not support the bodies natural curves. From here the body is relaxed and then begin by massaging your behind (gluteal muscles), outside of leg (IT band), hip (iliac crest), up your side into the chest (pecs), arm pit (arm flexors), side of the neck (levator scapulae), the ear lobe and the side of the head. Massage all the way back down the sideline all the while thinking and feeling the body as a continuum not as separate pieces. As a student moves through this massage sequence I can name some of the muscles etc. while the students touches, connects to them and feels less intimated in the possibility of not knowing it all. Meanwhile the longtime practitioners are getting a little deeper with their massage and maybe covering more ground it’s a win win. Then we repeat massage sequence on the right side of the body, finish by laying on our backs with shoulder blades underneath us and prepare for three full body stretches.

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Full body stretch may sound like we are pulling the body apart however, it is the exact opposite. Everything about YogAlign is to empower the body, allow it to feel whole and put together versus in pieces. We begin lying on our backs, shoulder blades underneath us and down towards the floor now see if you can place your hand in the small of your back and feel the space between your body and the floor these are your natural curves or springs/ shock absorbers as we like to call them in YogAlign. Next reach your arms overhead, hip distance apart (shoulders relaxed do not squeeze your head), fingers spread and palms facing each other. Point your toes away from you inhale through the diaphragm (SIP breath if you have learned it) now tighten the entire body like you are laughing so hard you cannot breath. Fist your hands and pull down like you are pulling ropes towards you this will engage your core and them exhale or lion breath with tongue out (ssshale if you learned it) and completely relax the body. (2 more) Why do we do this full body stretch? To reset the tension in the body, make tighter what is already tight in the body and then let it all go – resetting the resting length of the muscles. We can now come up to standing (slowly do not get a head rush), have a drink of water and begin our standing YogAlign practice with hopefully some confidence and better understanding of our body and the practice.

Starting something new with a negative outcome due to not knowing or continuing with something that may hurt or you do not understand is a dis-service we have all made to ourselves at one time or another. Your personal yoga practice or self study is that time to ask questions, know why you are doing what you are doing to better yourself and most of all feel good before, during and after your class. After all looking forward to your yoga class and  feeling better when you walk out of class then before you arrived is the whole point of the practice isn’t it? To this I say YES!

See you on the mat.

What is the importance of breathing? Maybe your quality of life.

By Renee’ Fulkerson

What is the importance of breathing?

Every system of the body relies on oxygen. From cognitive to digestion, effective breathing cannot only provide you with a great sense of mental clarity, it can also help you sleep better, digest food more efficiently, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels.

Let us sink a bit deeper into what is the importance of breathing and I would like to share with you the moments that provided the evidence that made the above statement true for me.

In the year 2010 I received a phone call from my uncle that my dad had been hospitalized, he was unconscious, and unstable. At the time of admitting my dad the doctors had no idea what was going on with him. Later that same day when I arrived to see him he was still in what they now were calling a coma and a machine was breathing for him.

Flash forward to days which turned into weeks of endless testing and near death moments the diagnosis was my dad had the West Nile Virus. About 1 in 5 people who are infected develop a fever and other symptoms. About 1 in 150 people who are infected develop a severe illness affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) unfortunately my dad ended up being 1 of those 150 people. His symptoms included:

  • high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis and being over 60 years of age put him at a greater risk for complications and death.

After several months of laying in a hospital bed, paralyzed and unable to talk or breath on his own he was stable enough to be moved to a rehabilitation facility. This marked the beginning of what the rest of his quality of life would look like. To the naked eye the scene appeared bleak when a machine was breathing for him.

A reminder – what is the importance of breathing? Every system of the body relies on oxygen. From cognitive to digestion, effective breathing cannot only provide you with a great sense of mental clarity, it can also help you sleep better, digest food more efficiently, improve your body’s immune response, and reduce stress levels and my dad struggled daily with all of this.

Fast forward – after many months of rehabilitation my dad was finally able to breath on his own. It felt like from the first breath he took on his own it jump started his body. With the tube out of his throat and vigorous breath he was eating and digesting food which in turn gave him sustenance and strength. The ability for him to breath on his own relieved a great deal of stress for him and allowed him to get the healing rest/ sleep the body needs for recovery of any sort of trauma. Every time I came to visit him his mental clarity was sharper and his ability to talk, communicate and laugh yes laugh was amazing.

The biggest gift he received after literally getting his breath back was his immune system. When the machine was breathing for him he constantly had pneumonia and was always coughing and fighting for breath it was like he was in a never ending loop of despair. However, once his own breath kicked on the immune system his cough ended and he never again got pneumonia in the rehabilitation facility.

With his own breath flowing freely through his body the next step was getting him out of bed and walking on his own again and over time this too happened. Standing in front of my dad cheering him on when he took his first steps I thought my heart would burst with pride and joy for him. With the sweat on his brow and the racing beat of his heart I knew the ability for him to breathe on his own was his turning point to a quality life. The moment that happened all systems were ago and he had everything he needed on his side to succeed with his OWN breath.

After a year in the rehabilitation facility my dad was ready to go home to a quality of life he could be happy with. He started out in a wheel chair, could not feed himself as his whole right arm was still paralyzed and needed help with bed and bath. Over time with breath and movement he fully walks on his own, has learned to do most everything with his left arm/ hand and gets out as much as he can. Although his left arm does remain paralyzed to this day, he is unable to drive and does get frustrated and down sometimes he is a beautiful alive human being with a heart of gold. Getting his own breath his life force back gave him the ability to beat the odds.

See you on the mat

Advice from a Doctor/ Advice from a Yoga Teacher?

By Renee’ Fulkerson

In my humble opinion I feel there is value in having both and I find in many ways their advice can and does go hand and hand. I myself thankfully have not had many reasons to visit the doctor except for mainly routine visits however, I know that is not always the case for everybody. There are also those times when we should go to the doctor but never do. That goes for yoga practice as well.

I have found in regard to any and all of my physical conditions thus far my YogAlign practice has cured all that ails me. My YogAlign practice has a domino effect when I feel good physically I feel good mentally and I have a positive outlook on life. When I feel positive and inspired I then naturally look at my food choices and daily habits in general leaning into what is best for me. Isn’t that usually what the doctor / yoga teacher would suggest and hope for you?

As many of you know or may not know my soon to be sixteen year old son has some postural challenges. His postural challenges have led us on this journey we are still currently on which has us as a family speaking with many doctors. What I have noticed is I have created this automatic habit of checking in with my Yoga Teacher Michaelle Edwards after every doctor appointment. I realize I value Michaelle’s verbal input as equally as the doctors in regard to my son’s postural challenges.
We tend to believe every word, thought or idea that comes out of our doctors mouth and of course there is good reason to and many yoga students feel that way about their yoga teachers. Most of the time I am sure all goes well however, there are those many stories of circumstances that did not go well. I am finding that talking with both my son’s doctor and also having him spend time with Michaelle Edwards the creator of The YogAlign Method is priceless on so many levels.
It is not so much an east meets west connection as both are basing their recommendations on facts and outcomes and not on faith or opinion. Surgery or body braces being the doctors line of defense as long as the procedure would benefit the postural challenges and re-wiring of the brain from negative posture habits to positive posture habits with a committed YogAlign practice is my yoga teachers first line of defense. Both equally have the best of intentions and are there for my son’s best interest however, we always feel empowered when we finish a YogAlign practice and not so much after a doctor appointment. My yoga teacher gives my son back the power to move and breath in his body in a way that allows him to heal his own body. The idea of placing a body brace on and waiting for the body to benefit does not compute. That being said my son opted for the YogAlign practice and yes we have seen some major shifts. We also continue to see his doctor and his postural challenges have not progressed.
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Just as I believe in finding a doctor who is qualified, you trust and connect with I also think it is important to seek these qualifications and qualities in a yoga teacher. I myself have changed doctors as well as yoga teachers if I felt I was not benefiting from their practice or my needs had changed.  On the flip side of that I know folks who have stayed with a doctor or yoga teacher that they were not happy with and were getting negative results (or even an injury from the later mentioned). I believe in the medical community as well as the yoga community and feel we are uniting in ways we have not seen in the past. Some doctors getting away from only external fixes and looking internal to the diet, meditation and our connection with nature. Some yoga teachers getting away from selfies and glamour poses and guiding their students into functional movement and proper posture habits. These are all positive signs of change and benefit us all for the greater good. Maybe next time you see your doctor or yoga teacher let them know how much you appreciate their contribution in your and others lives.
See you on the mat.

Re Blog from Outside – NOTECARD GUIDE TO FITNESS We’ve Reached Peak Wellness. Most of It Is Nonsense. Here’s what actually works

In Silicon Valley, techies are swooning over tarot-card readers. In New York, you can hook up to a “detox” IV at a lounge. In the Midwest, the Neurocore Brain Performance Center markets brain training for everything from ADHD, anxiety, and depression to migraines, stress, autism-spectrum disorder, athletic performance, memory, and cognition. And online, companies like Goop promote “8 Crystals For Better Energy” and a detox-delivery meal kit, complete with “nutritional supplements, probiotics, detox and beauty tinctures, and beauty and detox teas.” Across the country, everyone is looking for a cure for what ails them, which has led to a booming billion-dollar industry—what I’ve come to call the Wellness Industrial Complex.

The problem is that so much of what’s sold in the name of modern-day wellness has little to no evidence of working. Which doesn’t mean that wellness isn’t a real thing. According to decades of research, wellness is a lifestyle or state of being that goes beyond merely the absence of disease and into the realm of maximizing human potential. Once someone’s basic needs are met (e.g.food and shelter), scientists say that wellness emerges from nourishing six dimensions of your health: physical, emotional, cognitive, social, spiritual, and environmental. According to research published in 1997 in The American Journal of Health Promotion, these dimensions are closely intertwined. Evidence suggests that they work together to create a sum that is greater than its parts.

Nourishing these interrelated dimensions of health, however, does not require that you buy any lotions, potions, or pills. Wellness—the kind that actually works—is simple: it’s about committing to basic practices, day in and day out, as individuals and communities.

Unfortunately, these basics tend to get overlooked in favor of easy-to-market nonsense. That’s because, as many marketers (including in the self-help space) are fond of saying, “You can’t sell the basics.” I think that’s naive. We’d be much better off if we stopped obsessing over hacks and instead focused on evidence-based stuff that works. Here’s how to get started.

Physical: Move Your Body and Don’t Eat Crap—but Don’t Diet Either

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(Photo: Marta Pantaleo)

Decades of research shows that just 30 minutes of moderate to intense daily physical activity lowers your risk for heart diseaseAlzheimer’smental illness, and many types of cancer. While this can certainly mean training for a marathon or setting CrossFit records, it doesn’t have to. Hiking, gardening, and even fast-paced walking can potentially provide all the same benefits. Basically, anything that makes your breathing labored for a sustained period does the trick.

Another simple way to think about physical activity comes from physician and physiologist Michael Joyner. “Move your body every day,” he says. “Sometimes very hard.” Based on a new study published in the online journal Scientific Reports, I’d add: try to do at least some of it outside. Researchers have found that people who spend at least two hours outdoors in green spaces every week have better mental and physical health than those who don’t.

The other aspect of physical health is nutrition. Here again, the best advice is the simplest: ignore diets and supplements and, instead, just aim to cut out junk like processed and fried foods. A study that was just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reviewed data from hundreds of clinical trials involving nearly a million people and found that 16 of the most popular supplements and eight of the most popular diets have virtually no benefit—and some cause harm.

Emotional: Don’t Hide Your Feelings, Get Help When You Need It

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(Photo: Marta Pantaleo)

Another big issue with what passes for modern-day wellness is that it creates the impression that everyone is happy all the time and that you should be, too. But like selective sharing on social media, this is not the reality of being human.

People get sad. Psychologists tell us that hiding and repressing that only makes it worse. Studies show that the more you hold something back or try to force it away, the stronger it becomes. On the contrary, the more vulnerable you are—both with yourself and others—the better. Researchers at the University of Mannheim, in Germany, call this the “beautiful mess effect.” Through multiple experiments, they’ve found that even though sharing your feelings may seem like a weakness to you, to others it seems courageous and builds trust and connection. In other words: stop trying so damn hard to be invincible, and just be yourself. Most people will be receptive and caring. And those who aren’t? Screw ’em.

If something feels way off, don’t be scared to get help. Mental illness can happen to anyone, at any stage of life, and in any context. I know firsthand that this is terrifying, but with professional assistance, rates of recovery are actually quite high.

Social: It’s Not All About Productivity; Relationships Matter, Too

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(Photo: Marta Pantaleo)

The roots of a redwood tree only run six to twelve feet deep. Instead of growing downward, they grow out, extending hundreds of feet laterally and wrapping themselves around the roots of other trees. When rough weather comes, it’s the network of closely intertwined roots that allows the trees to stand strong. We are the same.

In 2010, researchers from Brigham Young University completed a comprehensive study that followed more than 300,000 people for an average of 7.5 years and learned that the mortality risks associated with loneliness exceeded those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and were comparable to the risks of smoking. More recent research shows that digital connections can be beneficial in certain circumstances (e.g.to stay in touch with geographically distant friends and family), but they cannot replace in-person ones and the value of physical presence and touch.

In their book The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the 21st Century, Harvard psychiatry professors Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz write that an increased focus on “productivity” and the “cult of busyness” is crowding out time for developing meaningful relationships. This may be especially true among millennials. A recent poll from the market research company YouGov found that 30 percent of millennials say they feel lonely and 22 percent said they have zero friends. This is hugely problematic, and a trend we all, together, must work to reverse

Cognitive: Follow Your Interests, Do Deep-Focused Work

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(Photo: Marta Pantaleo)

“Find your passion” is one of the most popular self-help phrases, but it’s quite misleading and sometimes even harmful. Researchers call this a fit mindset of passion, or the belief that you’ll find an activity or pursuit about which you are immediately passionate from the get-go. Although over 75 percent of people hold this mindset, it rarely leads to lasting passion. People with fit mindsets tend to overemphasize their initial feelings, search for perfection, and quit when the going gets tough. Better than a fit mindset is a development mindset, in which you understand that passion takes time to emerge, thus lowering the bar for further engagement in something from “this is perfect” to “this is interesting.” Studies show that those who have development mindsets are more likely to end up with sustainable and energizing passions.

And when you are working on something, regardless of what it is, eliminate distractions so you can give it your full attention. An app called Track Your Happiness has allowed thousands of people to report their feelings in real time. The main finding: the more present and fully engaged you are with what’s in front of you, the happier you’ll be. It’s amazing how much just one or two blocks of undistracted work per day can do to improve your mood.

Spiritual: Cultivate Purpose, Be Open to Awe

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(Photo: Marta Pantaleo)

Organized religion is on the decline in America, especially for younger people. The 2018 American Family Survey, conducted by Deseret News in Utah, found that “for millennials and GenXers, the most common religion is no religion at all.” This may not be problematic in itself, but for centuries, religion served as a driving purpose for many people. When nothing fills this vacuum, the effect can be a negative one. A study published earlier this year in JAMA Network Open found that people without a strong life purpose—defined as a sense of feeling rooted in your life and taking actions toward meaningful goals—were more than twice as likely to die between the years of the study (2006 to 2010) compared with people who had one, even after controlling for things like gender, race, wealth, and education level. Speaking to NPR, Celeste Leigh Pearce, one of the authors of the study, said, “I approached this [study] with a very skeptical eye, [but] I just find it so convincing that I’m developing a whole research program around it.” Alan Rozanski, a cardiology professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City, says that purpose is “the deepest driver of well-being there is.”

Though purpose need not be based on organized religion, cultivating a cohesive sense of direction, core values, and connection with something beyond yourself is important. For some this takes the form of going to church, synagogue, mosque, or sangha. For others it’s about feeling connected to evolution, being a part of nature. (Of course, these two don’t need to be exclusive.) The work of Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, has shown time and time again that experiencing awe—watching a beautiful sunset, listening to moving music, witnessing a master at their craft—leads to self-transcendence and feelings of spiritual connection.

What won’t lead to spirituality and true well-being? Trying to find meaning in all the stuff that modern-day wellness implicitly and explicitly promotes, such as beauty, wealth, antiaging, and sex appeal. As David Foster Wallace said in his famous 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College:

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship … is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already—it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Environmental: Care for Your Space

wellness
(Photo: Marta Pantaleo)

Our surroundings shape us in so many ways. Yet we’re rarely intentional about them.

On a micro level, think about your acute environment daily. Is your phone always on? Are you constantly being interrupted by notifications? Are you in a space conducive to the goal you want to accomplish? Do you keep lots of junk food in the house? Do you surround yourself with junk content? The goal is to design your environment to support the behaviors you desire.

On a macro level, ask yourself these questions: Do I live in a place that feels unlivable? Does my commute totally suck my soul? I’m aware that I’ve got a lot of privilege to suggest moving geographically, but the kind of move I’m suggesting is one away from crazily expensive, competitive, and congested cities. I can’t tell you how many people I know who feel “trapped” in big cities like New York or San Francisco. Move! There are plenty of places with lower costs of living, more access to nature, and good jobs. And wherever you are, take care of the planet. If we don’t, everything else in this article will eventually be moot.


This is what you need if you really want to be well. You have to cut out the crap and focus on the basics. This stuff is simple—and though it’s not always easy, it’s not always so hard either.

Brad Stulberg (@Bstulberg) is a performance coach and writes Outside’s Do It Better column. He is also bestselling author of the books The Passion Paradox and Peak Performance. Subscribe to his newsletter here

Filed To: WellnessNatureFamilyEnvironmentNew YorkRelationships

Lead Photo: Marta Pantaleo