Staying Strong in Your (Dis)Comfort Zone

Have you ever found yourself in a situation so new, unusual or outside of your comfort zone that you immediately wanted to retreat?

The feeling that you just associated with the above situation – chest tightening, hand sweating, fight or flight – has been on my mind recently. In the past few months, I have found myself in a position, time and time again, where I’ve been challenged with a new task or emotion that makes me want to turn tail or make an excuse for not trying.

I went to my best advisor, my mom, and told her about my fear of the unknown. Most of my slight distress comes from not wanting to be told “no” about something I really want. I think we’ve all been there. Whether it’s a new responsibility at work, requesting 15 minutes of a potential mentor’s time or even telling your partner what you really want, it can be daunting to put yourself out there, only to hear “no.”

She gave me the sage advice of learning to “stand in my discomfort.” That’s right: stand in it. Not run through it, like you’d do over hot coals. Stay on top of it, make friends with it. Explore it and ask questions. Make friends with your discomfort.

I told her I’d consider it and hung up. Maybe she had lost her mojo or was pulling my leg. Who actually wants to stay uncomfortable? Isn’t that why specialty stores sold so many $50 pillows? We love comfort, pay top money for it, seek out specialists to build ergonomic playpens for the purpose of achieving a zen-like state. So why should I befriend discomfort and ask it to sit down for a cuppa?

Then I thought about what would happen if I ran away. I’d never know what was not only on the other side of the coal bed. Nor would I learn something new about myself on the way there, walking leisurely and embracing all the lessons. I’d forever be on the other side, safe and S.A.F.E. (a bit NSFW but look up what that acronym means and you’ll get it).

Inspired by this way of thinking, I have since adopted 2016 as my year of “Shoot the shot.” This was a brief trending topic on social media around New Year’s, in which folks decided they didn’t want to end 2015 without telling someone they liked them (or some other hidden revelation). For some it worked and they were able to make a love connection. Others got curved. But at least they knew where they stood.

Since I’m married now, my shot shooting is professional only. In my year of “Shoot the shot,” I’ve expressed more openly my professional goals to my boss and sought out mentors and peers for help in what I am trying to achieve. I have made requests of brands, even though I immediately tried to talk myself out of it. I had to tell myself “Worst thing they can say is ‘No, thank you.’ And then you’re right back where you started, but at least you asked.”

I will say, most of my shots right now are from the free throw line. They’re not super challenging or greatly out of my range. They only send a slight tremor down my spine. As the year progresses, I’ll be taking steps back to get to the three-point line. That’s stretch goals, bigger asks and greater challenges of myself if the answer is “Yes.”

Before the year is over, I want to do a half-court, all-or-nothing kind of shot.

Because, yes, I hate feeling awkward and vulnerable just as much as the next person. I don’t want to feel my heart in my chest as I watch the three dots bubble, awaiting a reply, or check my email nearly obsessively.

But the feeling you get when you hear or read “Yes” sure beats standing on the other side of the coals, doesn’t it? Get comfy in that discomfort zone. You may be there for a while.

How are you shooting your shot this year? What’s your free throw, three-point and half-court ask?

(photo courtesy of Mark Moss, flickr)

Confession Time: Social Media Fitness Stars Do Nothing For Me

Recently, while reading Greatist’s list of the 100 most influential people in health and fitness, I realized that I recognized next to none of the men and women who were known primarily for their social media presence.

Influencers 2015 Banner

As much as people look to social media for fitspo photos, my ignorance doesn’t surprise me.  I’ve never looked to individuals, wanting to emulate them, not even from my formative pre-teen and teenage years. While some girls wanted to be Britney Spears or Beyoncé, I simply enjoyed their music and stage performances. You won’t find me riding for the Rihanna Navy or shouting from the rooftops for any other legion of superfans. The only people I stan for are family and some exceptional friends, and, of course, my husband.

Looking to what other people are doing also translates to personal relationships, romantic and platonic. The #squadgoals and #relationshipgoals movement mostly amuses me me. I see the excitement, the posts and comments, and I think “When we spend so much time looking to others for how we want to conduct our lives, how do we determine accurately what works for us?”

Going back to fitness: if I’m so busy being obsessed about this woman’s abs or another personality’s arms, am I starting from a healthy point? While inspiration can help kickstart the process, it’s also important to accurately assess what is viable based on the time and effort we’re willing to put in. If you’re working 70+ hours a week at work, you might not be able to take that romantic Italian vacation with your super-hot, 6’3” boyfriend like you saw some social media celebrity do. Similarly, if you’re on a first-name basis with the 7-11 clerk due to your need to get Blue Bell at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday after the club, you’re not on track to get six-pack abs. This is not to say it’s unachievable. It’s just improbable based on the level of dedication that these things take.

The only thing that’s going to help you hit those fitness goals.

The moment I gave up on absurdist goals like six-pack abs or a butt you could bounce a quarter off of, I gained clarity about what I could actually achieve. I could definitely feel stronger. I could definitely lift heavier, week by week. I could definitely see the progress in a yoga posture, in the number of burpees I can do, in the way I feel about sprinting on the track. Achievements happen outside of the social media bubble. They happen when you put social media down and actually get up and out, challenging your best efforts. So sure, scroll through those top 100 fitness personalities. But when you put down your phone or tablet, be sure you’re picking up the kettle bell!

Are you affected or inspired by fitness personalities on social media? What extra element do they bring to your exercise program?

Does Your Keeping It Real Go Wrong?

When I recently had two people tell me that I was “blunt” and “told it straight,” I had to make sure that they meant it in a good way. As a terribly blunt person during my late teens and early 20s, I used to wield the “truth” like a bludgeon. It was a defense mechanism left over from middle and high school, when I relied on an oversized personality to help me stand out. As I grew older, I started to recognize that what I might see as keeping it real and hard-core honesty, others just see as an attitude problem. (But also, totally agree with Amandla Stenberg’s assertion that I’m not an “angry black woman” – sometimes you’re just annoying and you should know that.)

keep it real

With age comes wisdom (or so they say), causing me to reevaluate how I approached situations that needed a healthy dose of criticism with a side of sensitivity.

One of the best stances I’ve learned to take started as a pact between me and my sister. With the distance of the Atlantic Ocean between us, she became my ear when I needed to talk things through, be it work or personal. Wonderfully, she always understood that not all people need your opinion. Sometimes, just hush up and listen.

Novel concept, right? Let someone talk, get the words out…and you just nod. That terrible boyfriend your cousin keeps going back to? She knows, somewhere inside, that it’s a bad decision. You don’t have to be the truth-teller and drop the Flex bomb of knowledge; she gets it. Let her talk it through. Your coworker who insists on taking two-hour lunches and then mysteriously needs to leave early? Other people see it; no need to be the office bullhorn and prognosticate about what he or she does on their super-sized break.

And for goodness sake, do not take it upon yourself to comment on people’s weight gain or loss. Seriously, don’t.

The second way I learned to navigate away blunt and rude to pragmatic: ask yourself “will this comment add to the conversation/situation?” 

To me, the true measure of a good conversation is succinctness and lack of filler. If you have to resort to being mean-spirited to contribute to a discussion, you should take a deeper look at what motivates you.

If you embrace being straightforward to the point of being blunt, don’t pussyfoot around it. Beat around the bush and you run the risk of just appearing passive-aggressive. You think your opinions must be stated? Then be bold, speak loudly and say it with your chest (Thanks, Kevin Hart). Just don’t be surprised if you get swatted down.

Don’t get me wrong now. I encounter at least one-two situations per week in which my internal reaction is clapback, pure and simple. The impulse to jump quick is brief, and likely shows itself as a slight squinting of the eyes, or a tilt of the head similar to the confused RCA dog, as I try to make sense of what just happened. However, my self-control instinct and a desire to put out and/or receives the least amount of negative energy usually is enough to help me keep my lips sealed, pressed together in a semblance of a smile, as I give a noncommittal “Mm hmm.”

Are you considered a blunt person, and if so, has it impacted your personal or professional relationships? Are you a reformed “tell it like it is” kind of friend?

Yoga and Social Media: Doing it for the ‘Gram or For the Growth

While scrolling through my Instagram timeline last week, I came across a post that both raised an eyebrow and a question. The woman, who is about my age and regularly posts inspiring and useful information about her practice, upcoming workshops and beautiful shots of her asanas, shared a straight-up thirst trap photo.

the thirst

I stopped for a second, feeling a combination of disappointment and a lack of surprise. Though I’m far from someone to lament the decline of society due to the amount of time we spend on our smart phones, sharing inane photos of our food, our kids (two and four-legged varieties)  and other details we feel are important, it’s true that some things can be left to the imagination.

I recognize that this feeling comes from the path that I took to yoga: one of physical and mental wellness. My goal was not to demonstrate how awesome yoga has made my body but to share how beneficial it’s been for my mind. Separating the physical from the philosophical reduces yoga to its parts, and significantly decreases the impact that the practice can have on your life.

Interestingly enough, a writer with explored similar thoughts on the increase in “yoga porn” and retaliatory “yoga shaming.” However, her solution was telling readers that, despite the clear prominence of images of thin, cisgender, able-bodied white women in difficult and intricate postures in social and mainstream media, “what you see is what you choose to see.” I find this a convenient position for a woman who self-identifies with many of the characteristics that help the “pornographers” gain prominence.

While I respect and support her decision to embrace rather than castigate the mainstream yogis who enjoy taking photos and videos of their practices in far-flung locations while seeming to not have a care (or bill or responsibility) in the world, I’m perhaps a bit more cynical. With a large audience comes more responsibility to be more than a model for the ‘Gram who happens to practice yoga.

If you insist on posting photos of yourself in boy shorts and crop top that barely contain your goodies, at least make good use the attention you’re garnering. Include a message about the doshas, explain how postures intertwine with chakras or share a quote from a leading philosopher to help spread knowledge, rather than reaching for the likes, exclamations of “#bodygoals” and “OMG, I could never do that,” and googly-eye emojis that the thirsty will leave in your comments.

So tell me: am I doing too much with my slight admonishment of the men and women of Instagram? Is this the new norm as yoga becomes more prominent in mainstream and African-American culture, or should there be an effort to educate as we entertain?

When Going Vegan, Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I’ve written before about my struggle in going from vegetarian to vegan, and I recently got a reality check in the form of Brown Vegan, aka Monique. In an episode on going from vegetarian to vegan, Monique spoke with her fellow blogger, Naturalee Happee, about the transition. Naturalee shared that her journey from omnivore to vegetarian took three years, as she slowly eliminated meat from her diet (first red meat, then pork and finally chicken). Because she’d set herself up with a “slow and steady” mindset, the elimination of eggs, milk, honey and leather wasn’t a shock to her system. I really needed to hear that go slow mindset.

After struggling the last two weeks to avoid dairy, I realized I was putting far too much emphasis on immediately eliminating dairy and not enough time into preparing my meals to avoid that late-afternoon Starbucks run. Yesterday, when I had my food laid out, packed and planned, I managed to get through the day with a steady blood sugar level, avoiding the afternoon energy dip, and I was able to teach an hour-long Sculpt class without faltering.

Now, don’t go full hog on veganism, just because it’s what Beyonce woke y’all up at 8 a.m. to talk about. Instead, adopt the “slow and steady” approach to achieve long-term success.

  • Start by cutting out specific foods. I started off by doing away with chicken, since red meat and pork were never high on my list of must-eat foods. If you’re already vegetarian and moving toward vegan, that may mean cutting back on your favorite bakeries to avoid the eggs, milk and buttercream that give your beloved baked goods their textures and taste.
  • Proper planning prevents poor performance. I know the band geeks in life know that phrase well, and it’s because it’s true! Meal prep and planning means you are less likely find yourself alone and hungry next to the closest Popeye’s or [insert the name of your favorite fast-food place]. That means making time to find recipes, cook, organize and store staples like rice, quinoa and chopped veggies, and recognizing your eating schedule so you’re prepared with snacks and meals to keep your hunger beast at bay.
via Tracy Benjamin on Flickr
via Tracy Benjamin on Flickr
  • Explore the range of foods, but try to avoid becoming carb-itarian. If you’re like me, some foods you never knew you liked simply because you never tried them. Or you had them boiled to death as a kid, scarring you from trying the same food as an adult. Consider revisiting the least scary of the foods you may have written off as a youth, like Brussel sprouts or eggplant. Avoid loading up on carbs like pastas as a filler for more healthful foods. Pasta has its place in a balanced diet. It just isn’t an every day item.
  • Be forgiving of yourself. Maybe it was a stressful day, and you found comfort in a Snicker’s bar. Or you attended a family cookout and the smell of your aunt’s potato salad took hold of your senses. Resolve at the beginning of your vegetarian or vegan journey that you will not be perfect, and that’s okay. When you do go off track, don’t throw the towel in and return to your old ways. Start the next day like it’s the first and be even better at improving your diet.

Are you in the middle of a transition? If so, what’s helped you? Do you have a specific cookbook, author, recipe or resource that you want to share? Leave a comment!

*featured image via thegrocer*

Living as an Act of Necessity or Awareness

This post came to me when I was fighting a cold, wrapped up in two layers of blanket, tissue by my side and ready to share.

I shuffled into a yoga class, hoping the heat and movement would strike the ick from my system. In soothing dulcet tones, the teacher led us through a brief meditation on breathing, how to hone into our breathing.

“Inhale and exhale as an aware act. We breathe to survive, out of necessity. Instead of just taking the breath, make every breath an act of awareness.”

Such a simple idea, with life-changing effects. Today, on a beautiful Sunday, and as spring brings warm temperatures and blooms on the trees, the idea of living as an act of awareness echos in my spirit. Sunday is the day of the week that people begin to post memes about how “scared” they are that Monday is tomorrow, and with it the return to work. They joke that going to work will bring tears, stress, unhappiness, and they’re only living for the weekend. They are living their Monday through Friday as an act of necessity.

When you approach life with a spirit of gratefulness, you no longer see work or other obligations as a downer. I began taking yoga when I realized that this fear of an essential part of my life – my job – was taking over. The sense of dread that loomed over my spirit in the morning as I drove in and the sadness I felt on the way home after a mental beatdown became to much. My life was being lived out of necessity, not awareness.

In yoga teacher training, we started the day by stating our intention for the day. By focusing on how we felt, negative or positive, we named and claimed our disposition for the day. More often than not, we ended the day in a more positive headspace than in which we started.

In addition to setting an intention for the day, I recommend the following to start living your life as an act of awareness:

  • Gratitude jounaling
  • Move – I use the word move over exercise because whether it’s for the purpose of wellness or not, regular movement of your body makes you more creative and can be a building block to being more fit. Stuck in meetings all day? Make it a walking meeting.
  • Find hobbies and interests that give you release.
  • Spend time with friends and loved ones.

Purposeful living is an every day effort, and some days are easier than others. By taking an active role in your own life, you make the difference between deciding whether you dread every day or if you see every sunrise and sunset as an opportunity to feel awesome.

Inspiration for Creating Your Community: From Running to Yoga

The majority of my career has been spent in fields where diversity is lacking: travel/tourism, public relations/marketing and yoga. Despite the limited number of professionals who look like me, I’ve managed to create a network of contacts, associates and friends who understand the unique challenges people of color face in our shared industry.

Yoga, both as a community of practitioners and as a career, is facing a critical review. Many students feel a sense of otherness while in studio. And while you can find many photogenic yogis on Twitter and Instagram, it’s not likely that you will find a brown or black face among the well-known teachers and leaders at yoga conferences and events. Yoga may bring to mind peace, love and good feelings, but it’s also a business and a billion dollar industry. It’s hard to get excited about investing in an fitness environment that prices you out and doesn’t embrace you when you do venture into a class.

Knowing the challenge of representation in the yoga community, the growth of running clubs started and run by African American men and women has given me hope for what could happen to yoga. Groups like Black Girls RUN!, Black Men Run and Run2Live created multi-city communities from people who felt unwelcome in mainstream running clubs but still wanted to participate in the sport. Black Girls RUN! has been on my radar for about a year now. While they’re runs are far too early for my blood (seriously, what does 4:45 a.m. look like?), I have friends who swear by the camaraderie of the group, clocking multiple-mile runs two to three times per week.  The same high they get, heels pounding the pavement and sweat flying while they surpass personal records and create memories, is what I’d like to see created for men and women of color in yoga.

Now that I’ve made the comparison, I will point out that yoga is a different beast. For starters, most people practice yoga in a studio, which can be a restrictive cost. Running starts at walking, which requires minimal equipment (shoes, hat, iPod for music). Issues about costs can be addressed by offering classes at a reasonable rate in the communities that aren’t being exposed to yoga. Additionally, the running groups participate in races, which is another layer of satisfaction – who doesn’t love the thrill of a race and getting a medal? Yoga typically isn’t associated with competition or awards. By setting and achieving individual and group goals, yoga can create that feeling of accomplishment that some derive from running.

I was lucky enough to be in a certification course with two other Black women. I’ve kept in touch to learn more about their experiences of being a student and in finding a place to be a leader. The USA Today article and the founders of the running groups have inspired me to create a network of independent and in-studio teachers of color. Though Dallas is not considered a major hub like an Atlanta, NY or DC, the city is fitness-focused and greater visibility of black and brown yogis can bring additional people into the fold.

What is the multicultural yoga community like in your city? Do you see a unity like the running groups, or is it more disjointed? What are you doing to create a more inclusive community?

Message for “Busy” Folks: Taking Time Off Doesn’t Make You a Bum

If this isn’t the truth. (photo via EvelynGiggles on Flickr)

Recently, someone made a statement that changed my perspective on what I’ve been doing (or more importantly, not doing) since finishing yoga teaching certification a month ago.

We are often so busy either doing things, or making plans to do things, that we often don’t take the time to enjoy the fact that we’ve done them. Take time to just be.”


Much has been made of our culture of busyness, in which everyone is constantly on the “go,” on their “grind” and in no-sleep mode (which never made sense to me because good lord I am cranky without rest). If your social media timeline isn’t filled with mentions of the flights you’re taking, the meetings you’re having with the folks just like you and the after-hours networking over dark liquor and Cuban cigars, then what are you even here for?

I say to those folks “Mannn, hush!” If you build your self-worth on the highly curated and specially-selected experiences of others, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I admit, I wanted to be in the studio, teaching others and being a boss at it, immediately after finishing the program. I feel the desire to become one of those extra-flexible yogis from Instagram on a regular basis, even though my hips and back clearly haven’t gotten the memo to let go of that stiffness (working on it).

And then it hit me: in the last year, I’ve completed a Master’s degree, started a new job and kicked butt at it AND completed a 200-hour certification for yoga. I deserve to take a moment, even a month or two, to just sit in the cut and enjoy. So what if I don’t wake up until 11 a.m. on Saturday. I earned it. So what if I decide that sweatpants on the sofa night trumps working out. A practice of wellness and fitness allows for a day off. Unlike the folks who just have to let you know every time they and their smart phone cross the threshold of the gym, I live low key. No selfies from the mat or while holding a dumbbell. My focus is me, gaining energy and strength and peace of mind or whatever it is that I need during that session or class.

The past month has been restful and rejuvenating in many ways. I missed the time with the BF and my family. I missed books. And I needed time to plan and determine what I truly wanted to do with the achievement of being a certified teacher and how I want to impact those around me. I think I’m in the groove now, which means ramping up my personal practice, getting out to new studios and connecting with more like-minded people.

Do you feel a similar pressure to always be in “beast mode”? How do you overcome the “Fear of Not Doing Enough” brought on by social media?

Why My Mental Health Days Always Include Yoga

The straw had been laid to the camel’s back, and that back was broken. The emails kept rolling in, alerts had my cell phone vibrating back-to-back and the to-do list was growing. Finally, I threw up my hands. The stressed feeling was familiar and there was no way to alleviate it while remaining in the situation causing it. Finally, I told myself: “I’m taking a mental health day.”

Since I was a teenager, mental health days have been essential to establishing a balance between the go-go mentality and just taking a day off to do nothing. All my sister and I had to do was simply ask and, if the wind was blowing the right way (and we’d been keeping up with other duties), my mom would nod and the PJs would stay on. Mental health days mostly consisted of watching junk daytime TV and eating three sandwiches in one sitting. Now, my mental health days are dedicated to yoga.

When I was at my most down, I was on the mat about five days a week. I’d come into the studio with my shoulders up to my ears, breathing shallowly. Each class left me exhilarated and exhausted, sweating through every pore in my body – I’d seen drops materialize on my shin in front of my eyes – and working muscles that hadn’t been used in hours. Yoga became a place where I could disconnect from all requests, notifications and expectations except my own. The same feeling from earlier iterations of mental health days mainfested itself as a reaction to my practice.

September is National Yoga Month, which means so much more to me as I go through teacher training. I write this post because yoga matters so much to me and as part of the #YogaMatters blogging contest put on by the Master of Public Health program at George Washington University. I couldn’t imagine going through life as a super-stressed, unhappy person, and yoga helped me find my center. This is not to say that I don’t still get stressed; I’m human. Yoga helps me find coping mechanisms so the stress doesn’t take over my life. Deep breathing, inversions, meditation, silence, creating intentions for my behavior – all of these form my practice. Practice is the right word because yoga is never perfected. Yoga is an ongoing journey that depends on my mental and physical well-being, and that changes from day to day.

Check out the #YogaMatters contest, and write about how yoga has affected your health.



Sponsored by MPH@GW Public Health

Random Selection of Thoughts: Welcome to September!

So I haven’t forgotten about blogging about my yoga training. Suffice it to say: it’s intense. I’m in a group of 21 students, from all walks of life, different ages and professions and reasons for being there. The days are long and there is a lot to learn. But I’ll get into that in a different post.

Today’s post is about the random thoughts I have floating around that I want to share with the lovely people who happened to click on this link.

  • How is it September already? Though this year is flying by, I’m pleased about September for the following reasons: FOOTBALL and cooler temperatures (though not in Texas yet, sadly).
  • This has been the summer of reading. My recommendation for anyone looking to add to their Amazon Wish list: anything by Roxane Gay. Seriously, her book “An Untamed State” has been in my thoughts for over a week. I ignored social obligations, lunch time limits and loved ones to get through the book. And now I have to re-read it for the details I missed in my effort to reach the epic climax of the novel. Honorable “must-read” mentions:
    • “Where the Line Bleeds” and “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward. As a Southerner, especially being from Houston, the way that Ward describes her characters, families from the hardscrabble Gulf coast dealing with the choices of life (both legal and illegal) rang quite true. You’ll get caught up in the story line and start to identify with each character.
    • “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the prison of belief” by Lawrence Wright. One of those books where you find yourself yelping “That didn’t really happen.” and “Are these people serious?” after nearly every page. I sometimes forget that in a pre-Internet day, folks got away with making claims that today could easily be disputed. And boy did the founder of Scientology tell some whoppers!
    • “How to Be Black” by Baratunde Thurston. I’ve been picking up and putting down this book for a while. Unsure why I haven’t finished it, because it’s consistently hilarious and I find myself nodding along with the stories of Black childhood in America.
    • “Redefining Realness: my path to womanhood, identity, love & so much more” by Janet Mock. Though I’ve always been pretty liberal, this book opened my eyes. Mock’s journey tells the challenges she faced as a mixed-race youth in Hawaii, navigating the space between presenting male, which was expected by society, and presenting female, which was in her spirit. I have a six-degrees-of-separation connection through a friend of a friend, and the visibility of these stories matter.
  • Yoga is such a blessing. September is National Yoga Month, so grab a 10-day or one week pass if you can. My mom shared this great infographic about how yoga affects your body. I could easily add about 10 more.
  • If you’re like me, and you struggle with content scheduling, here is an excellent list of 30 content creation tips. I already hit you with #17 (book reviews) above and this whole post is #13 (list posts). See, it works!

Alright, off to prepare for this excellent four-day work week. Oh, and plot for my world take over. As always, I love your comments so please leave one.