To the Girl Who Didn’t Know then What I Do Know Now

Something I never imagined I would write. Here goes nothing…

This is an open letter to myself.

To the 21-year-old me who lost a piece of her spirit four years ago in a suburban hotel room where she didn’t belong.

It’s to all the women who relate, who’ve been there, who prefer not to remember but can never forget.

And to you. This is a letter to you.

The bedsheets were crisp, white and freshly cleaned—a stark irony considering the events that unfolded just 10 minutes later. That sense of instinctive dread, of violation, of wanting to be anywhere else—it was truer than she realized. I wish she had listened. But I would forgive her for staying. Even with the benefit of hindsight, who can guarantee that she’d react different now if given the chance?

So, I wouldn’t blame her. I wouldn’t demand she bear the weight of a consequence or expectation she was never meant to shoulder. I wouldn’t tattoo her scars with ink stains of guilt. I would expose them to light where she isn’t forced to hide the evidence.

I would grip her fragile hands in mine—strengthened from perspective, weathered from experience—until the trembling subsides. I would tilt her chin and urge those hollow, haunted eyes to meet my older gaze. Then I’d communicate our sameness, our solidarity—a message needing no words. I would silently perch beside her as time becomes irrelevant, and minutes fade to hours. However long it takes.

I would reach her in the stillness that’s often trampled in the chaos. We’d reclaim it together. And those emotions coursing through her—shock, anger, disbelief, regret—I’d whisper: Feel them all. There’s closure and cleansing on the other side.

I would remember she is young, impressionable, naive. She is prone to wander from her own best judgment. Her mistakes will cost us dearly. But we are still human, wired to endure. So, I would extend compassion to drown out the shame and connection to soothe the numbness, penetrate the solitude, nudge her onto higher ground.

And when the earth feels safe, secure, stable again, I would utter four words that she doesn’t want to hear, can’t seem to admit, but needs to understand: It’s not your fault. It never was. I hope she would believe me, that she can finally accept the truth. Because this girl—whether dazed, detached and desensitized in a hotel room, or here in this moment reliving the memories, undressing the wounds—she’s not just a survivor.

She is a warrior. We all are.

…I can promise you that.

 

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Rawness Is My Jam.

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I can’t resist a person who exposes the jagged edges, broken fragments, delicate trimmings and fiery sparks of their own chaotic soul.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m drawn to the eight-year-old who’s emotive eyes aren’t afraid to shed tears, who’s expressive smile is on the constant verge of laughter.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m enchanted by the teenager in monochromatic clothing and a mane of wild dreadlocks who’s razor blade scars are inked over in art.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m enamored with the girl persisting under the weight of social stigmas, feminine ideals and media labels, who’s inner voice refuses to accept that she’s other…unequal…subpar.

Rawness is my jam.

I’m wonderstruck from the coffee shop romantic who’s suffocated words become poetry, who’s suppressed pain is funneled into creativity.

Rawness is my jam.

I notice them. I stare. They are fearlessly authentic. I watch them reclaim the windswept debris of their spirits. Undaunted. Unshaken. Making sense of the rubble, affirming beauty in the fallout.

Rawness is my jam.

I hear them testing out their vocal chords, tuning up their heartstrings, rehearsing for the anthem to rouse our weary culture.

Rawness is my jam.

I feel them pressing into the secret, sacred fissures they’ve been warned to squelch inside, peeling off the artifice to reveal a human underneath.

Rawness is my jam.

I observe. I listen. I fall true…mad…deep in love with the quiet strength, fierce honesty, unabashed resolve and soft intensity mirrored on their faces, etched upon their hearts.

Rawness is my jam.

I learn from the example and derive meaning from the narrative. I muse over the artless candor, the radical abandon. And feel my own sidelined passion stir within.

Rawness is my jam.

I abruptly grasp the message now. In a sudden burst, I know. It’s more real than anything I’ve touched before. It’s bold and loud and new. I sense their heads all nodding. There is no place for shame. Together, we march forward into truth…and mess…and free.

Rawness is our jam.

Everyday Advice for the Working Millennial {Guest Post}

The professional lifestyles of today are more different and unconventional than ever before. Especially among millennials, career paths often involve non-traditional working environments and responsibilities, compared to the older, more established generations.

But while most millennials understand the importance of a work-life balance, that temptation to become consumed with our careers often takes priority over well-being. We tend to stick our own health on the backburner—not realizing the immense value of staying both physically and mentally fit in the long-term.

If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. Fortunately, there are numerous strategies for balancing work and wellness, so here are some easy-to-implement solutions to keep that mind and body going strong!

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Exercise Your Way to Happiness.

After a tiring workday, the first instinct is often to turn on Netflix rather than hitting the gym, but making time for exercise is a habit anyone can develop with conscious effort and persistence—even with a hectic schedule. If you’re not sure how to begin a workout regimen, just aim for completing 10,000 steps on a daily basis which promotes cardio strength and stamina. In addition to the physical benefits, exercise releases endorphins that alleviate stress or burnout too.

Meditate for Inner Peace.

Engaging in a mindfulness practice is among the most effective tools for stabilizing your emotions. Ancient forms of meditation, like pranayama or SuperBrain yoga (Thoppukaranam), keep the mind both alert and active. Not to mention, this deep conscious breathing ritual promotes balanced hormone levels and gives you an outlet for much-needed “me time.”

Eat Well and Eat Often.

Long work hours often lead to grabbing a quick bite at random intervals, choosing the convenient “fast food” option or skipping meals altogether. While a nutritious lunch might require more time and effort, consuming small portions of healthy foods on a frequent basis keeps the body satiated and the mind focused—without hunger pangs distracting you or processed ingredients draining your energy.

Don’t Be Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish.

Poor money management is a leading cause of stress, so it’s vital to maintain “financial health.” Spend at least 5 minutes each day tracking your expenses to make sure the bills are paid on time, the savings account is secure, the budget is still intact, and there’s enough cashflow remaining for an emergency fund too. When you aren’t worried about living paycheck to paycheck, that sense of freedom translates into a less anxious, more productive mind.

Do What Your Love.

Ultimately, it’s important to evaluate if your chosen career path brings happiness. You’ll spend about three-fourths of each day working, so you might as well pursue a job that gives you satisfaction. While it’s unrealistic to assume that professional success can guarantee 100% contentment, make sure you’re self-aware enough to recognize when a job starts compromising your quality of life. Offset this “occupational hazard” by dedicating time each week to non-work related passions and hobbies that create a sense of purpose you just won’t find in punching a clock.

Implementing these habits into your routine can dramatically enhance that work-life balance we should all be striving for. It’s a common pitfall to focus just on career ambitions—especially if you’re new to the workforce—but don’t allow this to become a long-term trend. Give yourself the time, space and permission to manage other aspects of life too. Your physical, mental and emotional wellness depends on it, after all.


Akshata Mehta has a passion for traveling and exploring the world. She loves to write, and is especially interested in sustainability for everyday life. Being a foodie, she also enjoys cooking up healthy concoctions in her kitchen, recording these recipes and more on her blog With Love From Akshata.

 

 

6 Uplifting Activities to Boost Your Mood Naturally {Guest Post}

Ever experienced one of those days where you just feel crappy for no apparent reason? Yep, we’ve all been there. And if this mood describes your current situation, then read on because the following activities are proven to turn that frown upside down!

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1.   Dance To the Groove.

Crank some upbeat music, sing those lungs out and dance around your bedroom. Even if this seems ridiculous, loosening up that body and embracing the freedom of movement can dissipate physical, mental or emotional tension. So, express yourself without inhibitions and reduce underlying stress in the process.

2.   Enjoy a Massage.

This healing modality dates back to prehistoric times as a method for relaxation and rejuvenation. In fact, the earliest text on massage Cong-Fu of the Toa-Tse was written in China around 3000 BC. Since then, massage has been used to soothe muscle discomfort, combat mental strain, and even relieve symptoms of arthritis or Parkinson’s disease. Not to mention, the calming atmosphere and invigorating smells awaken your senses for whole-body rejuvenation.

3.   Read In the Sun.

The benefits of Vitamin D are manifold, but did you know that frequent exposure can actually increase your serotonin levels? This chemical is the body’s “feel good” hormone, and spending time in the sunshine can trigger a serotonin release to make you feel both happier and healthier—with no extra effort on your part. Combine that with an enticing book, and you’ve got a recipe for optimism.

4.   Take Yourself On a Date.

Quality time with just “number one” might sound awkward or foreign, but it can work wonders for your mood. So, treat yourself to a lavish meal at a restaurant you’ve been wanting to check out, and maybe even purchase an outfit for the occasion. If the prospect of  new clothes, a gourmet dinner and free-flowing wine doesn’t make you smile, then bigger issues might need some addressing!

5.   Learn to Meditate.

This mindfulness practice is ideal for refocusing on the present and calming your distracted thoughts. The purpose of meditation is to direct your attention on deep, conscious breathing which generates inner peace. Numerous studies show that meditating for at least 20 minutes each day can reduce blood pressure, anxiety and depression. If you’ve never tried meditation, this guide covers all the basics.

6.   Get Your Body Moving.

Although exercise might be your least concern in stressful situations, physical activity is a surefire mood booster. Movement releases endorphins which most people credit for that post-workout energy and gratification. In fact, endorphins create the same “high” experienced by certain drugs—but in a more natural and healthier way, of course! Plus, consistent exercise helps that body function at peak level.

Hopefully, these suggestions are just what you need to shake off the funk and get back to your own life. Because a positive mindset can make ALL the difference!


Akshata Mehta has a passion for traveling and exploring the world. She loves to write, and is especially interested in sustainability for everyday life. Being a foodie, she also enjoys cooking up healthy concoctions in her kitchen, recording these recipes and more on her blog With Love From Akshata.

Thirty Things to Do Before I Turn Thirty (Well…Here’s Hoping, Anyway!)

Two weeks ago, I turned 25. Cue the quarter life crisis. I’m supposed to be adulting now, but instead I’m just over here binging Netflix.

Turns out, “halfway to 30” doesn’t mean “existential questions answered.” Shocker. Guess I’m still the clueless human I was at 24.

Alright…so, my twenty-something years are numbered. So, I’m nowhere close to nailing down my purpose—outside of moscato and HIMYM. So, life hasn’t taken the course I once assumed it would. So what?

Age doesn’t have an expiration date, and 30 isn’t even that old. Besides, five whole years stand between me and the Big Three-0. Five years of adventures, opportunities, aspirations and undertakings. Five years to define (and re-define) my goals. Five years to make. it. happen. 

On that note, you obviously know what’s coming:

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Drumroll, please…

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Phew…that was one monster post. If you stuck it out, thanks for being a trooper! Now, what’s on your “30 Before 30” bucket list? Promise I won’t steal your brilliant ideas—unless I need more inspiration when I turn 40!

Breaking Vegan: a Relatable Read for Real Life

First things first: gonna start this post with a disclaimer—I’m not vegan. Aside from a vegetarian experiment back in college, I’ve always felt comfortable eating fish, poultry and certain animal by-products.

This is worth mentioning because I know several members of the vegan community have reacted forcefully to the memoir I’m about to discuss. So, for the record, my thoughts on Breaking Vegan are less concerned with this titular label and geared instead toward the author’s portrayal of disordered eating.

Alrighty. We’ve established I don’t follow the diet in question (although my love for fruits, veggies and plant-based proteins is real!), so why have I dedicated an entire post to this book?

Breaking Vegan book cover

Well…because it’s not just about veganism. It’s about being human.

Which sometimes means taking our passions to harmful extremes. Ignoring any smidgeon of logic that might contradict our single-minded intent. Forcing ourselves to believe whatever dogma, justification or outright lie supports our lifestyle choices. Rolling our eyes at those who voice concern. And disregarding our basic need to feel.

But this book is also about redemption. Healing both physical weakness and emotional wounds. Surrendering that insatiable urge for control. Embracing life’s hairpin turns, breakneck speeds and unpredictable thrills. Filling those empty spaces with a mindful center. Swapping out numbness for self-awareness. Affirming—even [gasp!] loving—every little quirk. And choosing balance over reckless abandon.

Basically, this book is about me.

Well…if you wanna get technical, it’s about Jordan Younger (a.k.a. The Balanced Blonde) and her relatably raw transition from orthorexia to personal acceptance.

But yeah, also me. And anyone else who’s lost their identity through the pursuit of perfection. That’s why Breaking Vegan is an important read. Not because Jordan bashes veganism (FYI: she doesn’t), but because she validates our right as individuals to live without labels.

While entrenched in my eating disorder, I used the “wellness” facade to rationalize my irrational behavior. I tossed that buzzword around like a humble brag and considered it my benchmark for success. Yet relentlessly pining after “health” made me unhealthier than I’d ever been. Gotta love irony, right?

Like Jordan points out from her own experience, I couldn’t even contemplate—let alone, begin—the recovery process until those identifiers no longer defined me.

I’ll always gravitate toward “wellness,” but there’s more to life than caloric counts, ingredient lists or sugar grams.

Passion often turns into obsession. I know this firsthand. The challenge, therefore, lies in restoring equilibrium—an elusive concept yet vital component. Sometimes my grasp on this feels superficial, but here’s one takeaway from Jordan’s story: healing can happen. Her message of sustainable, centered and [of course!] balanced health is exactly how I wanna approach this thing we call living.

So…Challenge. Accepted.

And since some messages are most impactful straight from their source, I’ll leave you with an excerpt of my favorite Breaking Vegan quotes:

Word.

The Mindfulness Model: Why Listening to Your Body Trumps any Diet

Ever collapse on the couch with that “emergency” Doritos stash after a chaotic week, then proceed to finish every single crumb without noticing?

Yeaaaah…We’ve all been there. Once or twice.

In fact, the average person spends approximately 38,003 hours eating over the course of their lifetime. Talk about a feeding frenzy! So, give your choppers a break and practice the art of mindful eating instead. 

Because, let’s be honest, our “instant gratification” culture has reduced this to a lost art.

By deliberately pacing yourself and savoring each bite throughout a meal, you’ll become more aware of your body’s internal cues which send the brain “hunger” and “fullness” messages. If you tune into these signals, they’ll take the guesswork out of knowing when to drop that fork.

Anyone can cultivate mindfulness — just slow down and listen. After all, the human body is constantly communicating, even when we’re too hurried or preoccupied to get the memo.

The infographic below explains how replacing those absent-minded munchies with mindful eating habits will help you make permanent strides toward a healthier, balanced and physically empowered lifestyle.

How to Master Mindful Eating


Shout-out to Health Perch for providing the featured research and  infographic.

Wanna Avoid Over-“Stuffing” Yourself this Season? Let’s Talk Turkey!

The countdown for Thanksgiving is on, and chances are, we’ve all got food on the brain. After all, baked goodies and comfort carbs are hallmark holiday traditions, but they often come at the expense of our waistlines.

So, in response to Turkey Day’s delectable yet potentially “diet derailing” fare, follow these pointers for mindful — and enjoyable! — eating:

Avoid Thanksgiving Overeating

1.   Don’t deprive yourself by skipping the pre-Thanksgiving meals.

Count on this rookie mistake to backfire when you face a smorgasbord of tempting morsels, while that empty stomach begs for relief. Hunger pangs increase the appetite, inevitably causing overindulgence. So, rather than restricting your intake altogether, choose light yet satisfying options for breakfast and lunch. For example, oatmeal topped with fresh fruit is both a hearty and healthy start to the morning, and a green salad loaded with colorful vegetables is an ideal afternoon pick-me-up.

2.   When the  feasting begins, allocate small amounts of each dish.

An average portion size equals the size of your fist, so apply this guideline when charging through the buffet line. Resist the urge to pile your plate with every delicacy within reach. Sure, you can’t wait to sample the entire spread, but a few bites of each tasty tidbit should suffice. View this meal as a marathon, — not a sprint — so pace that ravenous appetite. And, remember: dinner isn’t the only course.

3.   Fill the majority of your plate with veggies and eat them first.

Before digging into that fluffy cornbread, caramelized yams or quintessential butterball, consume those often overlooked side dishes — green beans, squash, beets and, of course, the relish tray. Starting your meal with nutrient-dense vegetables will curb initial cravings. So, rather than inhaling the carbs, sugars, fats and high-caloric items, you might just manage a few cursory nibbles.

4.   During the meal, chew slowly and pause between mouthfuls.

Don’t devour the deliciousness in such record time that you barely taste any flavor. Instead, savor these traditional comfort foods and allow the familiar aromas, seasonings and textures to fill you with nostalgia. Instead of letting the entire meal revolve around your taste buds, actively engage in table conversations and create memories with loved ones. Also, deliberately set your utensils down after swallowing each bite and take a break before resuming the graze-fest.

5.   Unless you’re still HUNGRY, avoid sneaking back for seconds.

Practice self-restraint by repeating the following mantra in your head: “I’m saving room for dessert. I’m saving room for dessert. I’m saving room for dessert…” This will motivate you to fight temptation until it subsides. Meanwhile, stay occupied between courses by leaving the table and participating in a physical activity to jumpstart digestion, prevent further pitfalls and burn post-dinner calories. Take a brisk nature walk, organize a touch football scrimmage, recruit some friends for an abridged Turkey Trot, or even volunteer to wash dishes.

6.   Don’t deny the dessert cravings, but limit yourself to a sliver.

Pumpkin, pecan, apple, sweet potato…Oh, the cruelty of choosing just one!  But, in the seasonal spirit of gratitude, give thanks for will-power. Here’s another instance where portion control becomes key. There’s no reason to dodge the dessert station altogether — just don’t reach a level of physical discomfort. Experience a few spoonfuls of your favorite treat, then back away once that sweet tooth is satisfied.

Finally, consider this promising prospect: food-centric holidays mean leftovers for the whole week ahead!

On Turning Your Body Image from Naughty to Nice

The holidays are a challenging time of year for me.

I won’t even bother pretending otherwise.

So, with Christmas just 2 days around the corner, that telltale anxiety has begun creeping up on me.

In T-48 hours, the festivities will commence. I’ll be plied with cut-out cookies, green bean casserole (whose appearance at the buffet table always makes me wonder: why is this even a thing???), and every sugary beverage imaginable. I’ll spend Christmas dinner inwardly squirming because there’s no socially acceptable reason to escape “family time” for a stress-relieving workout.

And — most cringe-worthy of all — I’ll nod and *fake* smile as the table conversation invariably shifts to, “I reeeeeeally shouldn’t eat this, but…”

Don’t give me wrong though, I still love the holidays.

No, seriously. I do.

I’m a sucker for seasonal traditions. I can flawlessly quote Elf, and I know the lyrics to every musical sequence in White Christmas (that’s right…not just the title song!). I’m always convinced reindeer can fly upon watching the “Santa Tracker” with my younger cousins. In fact, I’m even listening to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” while typing this post.

Yep. There’s no denying it. Christmas is magical.

Too bad the magic often takes a backseat to my “holiday weight”-centric neurosis.

Negative body image seems grossly intensified during this time of year, and I sure wish Santa would fill my stocking with manuals on getting through the season, unscathed by those pesky insecurities. All gift-wrapped and foolproof because I am on the Nice List, don’tcha know.

Right. If only.

Instead, I’m left to my own devices when faced with excessive eating, thoughtless comments, and degrading voices inside my head. And — if you’re anything like me — you’ve likely experienced the exact same struggle.

But, since we’ve established the Big Guy won’t be bringing any “Body Image Survival Guides” on his sleigh anytime soon, I’ll leave you with this:

3 strategies, which have empowered me to sidestep feelings of inadequacy, so I can actually enjoy the festivities. Maybe you’ll find them helpful, as well. Just sayin’…

  1. If you want a cookie, have a cookie! Depriving yourself  is counterproductive and will frequently lead to a binge. Instead of suppressing a sweet tooth or restricting your regular intake to compensate for said sweet tooth, only to lose control and devour the whole damn cookie jar when nobody’s looking, allow yourself some wiggle room. Don’t overindulge, but listen to those internal hunger cues. If your body is craving chocolate chip goodness, for instance, feed the urge.  Eat 1 cookie. Taste it. Savor it. Then, walk away from the remaining dozen. Sweet tooth satisfied. Anxiety alleviated.
  2. Enough already with “good” vs. “bad” foods! There are no bad foods (unless they’re loaded with artificial preservatives…then, they can’t really be considered food). Only bad eating habits. Example: I might avoid green bean casserole, but my sister loves that shit. Therefore, green bean casserole is neither “good” nor “bad.” Regardless of our individual taste buds, it’s still just food. How food is consumed, though, can be detrimental. Whether you’re obsessively counting calories or mindlessly munching until nausea ensues, you fall into the disordered eating category.  So, eliminate those labels. If you like something, just eat it.
  3. You can be social while staying in shape! Rather than sneaking away from the crowd to sweat off Christmas dinner, turn exercise into a family bonding activity. Take a brisk walk around the neighborhood together, while enjoying holiday lights. Organize a backyard touch football scrimmage. Even play Wii Sports with your cousins (that’s what I do!). By all means, get moving! Just don’t let fitness take precedence over relationships. Strike a healthy balance. Instead of turning your desire for physical exertion into a covert mission, invite others to join in the action.

Oh, and (because…randomness) here’s a picture of some cookies.

Christmas cookies Yes, I baked them. I also — gasp! — ate them.

Guiltlessly.

If I can, anyone can.

You’re welcome (and Merry Christmas!).

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Yoga Week 3: a “Mindful Core”

…As described by Adriene Mishler of Yoga With Adriene, a YouTube channel I recently discovered while combing through “yoga workout video” Google results.

I was initially looking for Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown Level 2 since I’d completed Level 1 last week, but my search hit a snag – Level 2 is nowhere to be found on the world wide (waste of a) web. It’s available for purchase on Amazon, but – being the cheapo that I am – paying for the second installment when the first installment was free…yeah, not gonna happen!

So, that’s when I stumbled upon “Yoga With Adriene.” I tried her 40 Minute Fat Burn for starters, and – with over 90 other videos on this channel – I’ll be in for the long-haul.

Although this particular yoga session was more calming and free-flowing than the high-intensity workout you can expect from Jillian, my core “hurt so good” by the end of those 40 minutes.  Every posture was designed to subtly engage the abdominals in such a way that, at first, I didn’t even realize how much emphasis was being placed on those muscle groups.

Between the warm-up, actual flow and final cool-down, my body felt invigoratingly loose and my abs powerfully tight. It was a delicious combination! I wouldn’t call these poses difficult by any means (even for a beginner), but they put an unmistakable fire in my belly.

And in my book, that’s mission accomplished.

Below is a link to the video and – as with Yoga Meltdown – some screenshots for your perusal:

(I’d also highly recommend subscribing to Yoga With Adriene. I did!)

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*Disclaimer: I DO NOT own the rights to these images or video*