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Friday, June 22, 2012

Simple Pleasures

I smiled as I slipped on a new pair of cotton, moisture wicking, cushioned soled socks; they felt like clean, silky clouds, hugging my feet, putting a bouncy freshness to my step. I grasped the moment and held on to it as long as I could, forgetting about the day’s annoyances, the difficult situations I had been in and the stressful decisions I had to make. All negativity dissolved as I was completely in the moment, basking in the simple pleasure of a brand new pair of socks.
Stress, sadness, anger, difficulty… these are part of what it means to be human. After all, the wonderful moments would not seem as great without the comparisons. The hope is that life is lived primarily happily with the occasional negative moment. There are some days, however, in which the bad seems to overshadow the majority of the 24 hours, sucking smiles and crushing laughter. It is these days that the smallest of joys must be captured, hung on to and fully experienced. Even on the hardest of days, life always offers simple pleasures that are easier to find when not searched for- it is then left to choice whether to acknowledge or breeze by them.
I’m not talking about moments of grandeur; I’m not alluding to the joy of a winning lottery ticket. Think small, every day happenings-
Kicking off shoes at the end of a long day or tough work out.
The instant relaxation from fresh bed sheets and the cool side of the pillow.
Catching a refreshing blast of air from an oscillating fan in a stuffy room.
The first sip of ice cold water, quenching a thirst that had been building for hours.
Relief for an overly hydrated bladder from getting to use the bathroom.
Happiness comes in many forms. At just about any given moment, no matter how terrible the situation, there is always a positive spin that can be spun. The brain appreciates when a smile is worn, treating it as an instant upper. There are little things in life that have the potential to be the big things that create happiness, if even just for a moment. Yes, tragedy, tears and aggravation all come along with what it means to be an emotion-feeling human, but with that same ability, happiness, joy and elation are also there for the taking. We should all try to exaggerate the positive moments, no matter how menial they may seem, so much so that the overshadowing gloom of negativity pales away from their brightness!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Learning from Injury

Last summer, I cried when the persistent pain in my shoulder was diagnosed as “long thoracic nerve palsy.” Hearing the clinical terms scared me as I associated “palsy” with “something really, really bad.” The nerve damage greatly reduced my range of motion of my dominant arm and made lifting anything over three pounds impossible. I felt defeated on the weight room floor as even the lightest dumbell was too heavy; just a week ago, I had been able to press 20 pound dumbells over-head with ease. Even with the reassurance of  my physical therapist, I worried that I would never regain the strength that I had worked so hard to build.
After the initial mental/emotional sting of being injured subsided and after doing research on my condition, I was able to see the shades in between the black and white. Since I had always been active, my body would theoretically respond and repair quicker than if I had led a sedentary lifestyle. Looking for the universe’s message in the situation, I realized I had not given my muscles a prolonged break from constant weight lifting in years. So, I resolved to take a one-month weight lifting hiatus, as much as it pained me to do so, sticking only to cardiovascular training. In the mean time, I would experiment with different forms of cardio while I attended physical therapy.
Performing my exercises in therapy, I felt embarrassed that my shoulder blade winged out under the slightest pressure of lifting a three-pound handweight. When I reached for something above my head, my right arm laid limp and useless beside me. Even the weight of my own arm was too much for my shoulder to handle as I had to assist it upwards with the help of my uninjured arm. The frustration was endless, but I kept telling myself to trust in my body’s ability to heal and to be kind to it in its weakened state.
Over months of work, I slowly climbed the weight stack. I learned to recognize the smallest of signs of progression; Reaching for a bowl without having to assist with my good arm or bringing my hands to touch overhead during yoga were celebratory feats. The gratitude I had for the human body’s musculo-skeletal system grew with every menial task I was able to accomplish.
Almost a year later, I still catch myself babying my shoulder, afraid to undo any prograss I had made or, worse, reinjure it. With kindness and trust in my body’s abilities to heal and grow stronger, I am back on the weight room floor, setting personal records and attacking new highs with more intesity than every before. I relish in my abilities to do an unassisted pull up and hold a flexed arm hang for moments at a time. Just months ago, asking my shoulder to support such movements was laughable. I am not at 100% recovery, but I am very close. The progress is still slow, but that is okay.The lessons I’ve learned along this path have been worth the frustration. I’ve learned to be patient with as my muscles would only let me inch forward no matter how badly I wanted to leap. My ability to let go has been tested as I never discovered where the nerve damage came from, and I probably never will. I embrace that my body is the only one I will ever live in and I must treat is with love, compassion and care in order for it to bring me through a (hopefully) long, strong and healthy life!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Day I Realized My Hair Was Not Straight

Every morning before kindergarten, my mom would take a blow-dryer and a round bristled brush to my hair, grooming every last strand until I was perfectly coiffed. I left the house with my locks straight and smooth, my dresses wrinkle free, my patent-leather Mary Janes shined and proper and my tights without a snag. Each morning I started the day off looking every bit the perfect, polished lady.
As hours passed, my hair would slowly lose its luster and rumple out of shape, much like my dresses. Scuff marks would appear on my previously shiny shoes and guaranteed, my tights would sport a fresh tear or, at least, a new run that stretched no less than knee to toe. As soon as my nanny got me home, I would change in to fresh clothes and attack my hair with a comb, trying my best to remove the knots and return it to the neat state my mother had sent me off to school with.
For years, I wondered why my hair was always unruly. No matter what my level of activity was during the day, it never stayed neat and straight. It became a quiet source of frustration as every Saturday at Korean school, I would see every other Korean girl’s hair reflect the light like a mirror, effortlessly hanging perfectly pin straight. What was I doing wrong?
As I entered my pre-teen years, I added magazines like Seventeen and J-14to my reading repertoire, taking high interest in the tween beauty sections. I will never forget one hair-care article featuring a picture of Mandy Moore that explained how to determine the natural texture of one’s hair. The instructions were simple: Shampoo and condition, scrunch dry with a towel, detangle with a wide-toothed comb, smooth a golf-ball sized amount of styling mousse throughout the length of the hair and let air dry, untouched-This was the first night I realized I had natural curls.
In my youth, I was only able to grasp a minute piece of the lesson held in that moment. At the time, I understood only that I no longer had to fight with the texture of my hair. It finally made sense as to why I could never keep my hair straight like the other girls could. It also became the beginning of my extensive collection of curly-hair-specific gels, sprays and styling lotions.
Today, I look back on that discovery and take a much deeper message from it all. For years prior to that moment, I had thought there was something innately unladylike about me. I thought that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be dainty like my mother. I harbored a twinge of shame within me as I felt like I was failing to be a perfectly primped daughter. Finally realizing that my hair was naturally not straight was the beginning of my drawn out development of sense of self. It was a literal portrayal of the uselessness of trying to be something I was not and the start of embracing and loving myself as I am.
To this day, I cannot keep a manicure chip-free for more than 48 hours and pantyhose is not even an option in my wardrobe. With the slightest bit of moisture in the air, my hair, despite the fact that I am genetically 100% Korean and the dominant hair-texture gene is pin straight, blows out in to a full-bodied wavy lion’s mane. Today, though, I embrace that against-the-grain-ness part of myself and wouldn’t dare fight the humidity by going at my coif with a straightening iron. I spend far less time and effort enhancing the things that I naturally am instead of trying hard to be or look like something that I am not. We hang on to memories that old certain significance to us. To me, the importance of the moment I discovered my hair to be naturally not-straight resonates throughout my daily life as I embrace my differences and create my image according to my own standards, not that of anyone else.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Silent Language of Runners

The warmth from the sun being tempered by a slightly cooler breeze coaxed a pair of running sneakers on to my feet, sending me on an outdoors jog, despite the fact I had deemed it a “rest day” for my muscles to recover. Taking it at an easy pace, I paid no mind to the time or my miles-per-hour. This run wasn’t about athleticism or personal records- it was about feeling the earthbeneath my feet and enjoying nature’s gift of a perfect summer day.
There is an unspoken set of mannerisms among the running community. A slight nod of the head or wave of the hand is normal as paths are crossed. It’s a polite, subtle recognition of a mutual love for pavement pounding. Sometimes, it serves as a nonverbal “hey, I feel your pain” if the weather is challengingly extreme or a hill seems to be at a 180 degree angle. It’s like being in a club with a secret handshake and all it takes to become a member is to place one foot in front of the other and repeat.
I rounded the second to last turn on my usual route and saw a man with grayed hair, wearing multicolored spandex running gear and a dark pair of athletic sunglasses in the distance, running towards me. He seemed to be in his late fifties or early sixties, but in great physical condition, nonetheless. I gave him a quick wave of acknowledgement.
As I came around the final half-mile marker bend, trudging along at my casual pace, I saw the same man out of the corner of my eye, gradually gaining headway on me. Out of admiration of his conditioning (and partially due to my competitive nature), I picked up my pace, just enough to steadily keep a few feet behind him. I remained on the uneven sidewalk as he opted for the flat roadway’s shoulder.
There are two baby hills within the last quarter mile that I usually sprint, fueled by a runner’s high that never fails to push me through. As I revved myself in to full speed, I passed my unofficial running partner, ending my run at the top of the driveway accross the street, panting for air, feeling accomplished. Turning my gaze towards the man, we caught eachother’s attention as he gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up and I smiled through my gasps, shouting “thank you!” knowing that he knew I was grateful for the extra motivational mental push he provided me.
As I crossed the street, I realized that the man was actually my neighbor. I watched him turn in to the driveway that I had used as my finish line for years. All this time, I lived across the way from a fellow runner that ended up being a source of motivation for the end of my run. On any other day, that man would just be a fellow road-runner that understood the unspoken runners’ launguage.  I smiled to myself as I realized that motivation and inspiration can come from anywhere- even from the neighbor accross the way that I had never once introduced myself to.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

We Are Walking Billboards of Ourselves

As I am in the midst of growing my business and developing my future as a wellness/nutrition/fitness/etc figure, I am always aware that I am a walking billboard for what I have to offer. In order to have clients to choose to work with me, I must demonstrate to them a desirable lifestyle that can be achieved under my guidance. The importance of fully practicing what I preach is tenfold- how could I expect someone else to respect my word if I show no respect to it in the first place?
Even as a non business owner, every person is a manifestation of his or her own beliefs, actions, morals and values. As much as we may try not to judge a book by its cover, first appearance, attitude and behavior is held highly accountable for forming an idea of who someone truly is at his or her core.We are all our own walking advertisements of what we have to offer to the world.
Not everyone is trying to sell a lifestyle or attempting to attract clients, but with Facebook, free blogging platforms and the like, every person, no matter what their celebrity or non-celebrity status, has the opportunity to present themselves to the world. Through photos we post of ourselves, “about me” sections we write and interests we list, we create a snapshot of who we are and invite others to perceive us accordingly. Even portraying an attitude of “I don’t give a **** what you think about me” speaks volumes as to who someone is and how he or she would like to be seen as.Having conclusions drawn upon us based on what we choose to show others is inevitable, unavoidable and inescapable. So what is the lesson?
Respect yourself and others will show you the same respect in return. Living life consciously makes time on Earth much more enjoyable; the alternative is to idly watch time pass, opting out of any enjoyment or any other emotional experience life has to offer. Choosing to be aware of what is important to us, how our actions may affect others and valuing ourselves through self-respect creates an accurate picture of who we really are. We get what we give, in this world. With that being understood, why not give the best that we have so that only the best can come back to us?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Benefit of the Doubt

As I held a door open for a lady, she whizzed by as if the door were automatic, paying no mind to the fact that I was just another customer like her. As a knee jerk response, I felt the need to curse her rudeness and edged on sarcastically shouting “you’re welcome!” at her back, but what good would that do? Would that really satisfy me?
Every person has a back story. Every moment is preceded by a series of other moments before it. All I knew of that woman was in that solitary moment that she breezed by me with nary a thank-you nod- it was my choice to take it personally or not.
Always one to give someone the benefit of the doubt, I took a moment to pull back my defense mechanisms, take a breath, and realize she meant absolutely no personal harm towards me. Who knows what had been on her mind? Who knows where she was rushing to or where her focus was? What I do know is that she, just like I, is human with emotions and busy-ness in her life.
I’m certain that at one point during a particularly stressful day, I quite possibly could have offended someone or accidentally neglected to use my manners. Unfortunately, to whomever the victims of my acts of accidental unkindness, those may have been the only impressions of me they will ever receive. All I can do is hope they give me the same benefit of the doubt and realize it was not at all intentional and that, had I taken a moment to pay more attention, I would have absolutely chosen to act more respectfully.
This is a lesson slowly started to form over the years working in the food service industry. Anyone that has every waited tables, served beverages, rung up orders or the like has a story of a guests’ rudeness or a personal encounter with a customer’s projection of negativity. I admit that it was definitely difficult to continuously award the benefit of the doubt when I seemingly had to bite my tongue on a daily basis, but now that I have strengthened my patience-muscle, I am able to step back, exhale and think instead of react.
Everyone has a bad day. Even I, someone with a perma-smile and a continuous laugh, have my moments. I try never to step on toes or offend, but I’m sure it has and will happen unconsciously. In keeping with the old adage, I give kindness and compassion unto others as I would hope they would give unto me. After all, life is more beautiful if we can see people as innately good-intentioned with the occasional off-day.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tail Wagging Persistence

My dog has never harmed a living creature.. Not to say she hasn’t tried. She’s chased rabbits, sprinted after the elusive chipmunk and squirrel, pursued our backyard groundhog and even attempted to catch a bird in flight. I really don’t think her instinct is to kill- even when she had captured a grasshopper that had lost use of two of its legs, she only toyed with it between her front paws, never actually doing any fatal harm. To her it’s a game and the prey she sets her eyes on are just toys in perpetual motion.
At eleven years and seven months old, she still pounces after scurrying animals as we go on morning walks. Sometimes her attempts seem so feeble that I wonder if she’s acting more on instinct than intention. She will lift her rear towards the sky and ready her now-shaky legs to spring in to forward movement, her play-thing in the cross-hairs. Lurching towards the doubtlessly-faster-and-more-nimble-than-her creature, she excitedly goes in for the non-kill, relentlessly returning to me with tail in a high-wag. No matter how many times she’s failed, she never gets discouraged and never loses her willingness to try again.
I thought back to all the things in my life I’ve vehemently pursued and dropped when success hadn’t come after the first few attempts. I thought of the frustration I’ve felt when I didn’t catch what I had thrown myself after. I thought of the immense sense of discouragement that ominously grew darker whenever I let an opportunity slip away. All these negative feelings, brewing within me. All those missed chances that just might have gone right had I tried just one more time. Had I kept my proverbial tail wagging, regardless of a win or fail or had I not let one negative outcome effect my expectation of the next attempt… what could I have accomplished by now? How much frustration, anger and disappointment could I have avoided?
Understandably, my dog’s mental capacity is a bit different than mine. Blessed and cursed by a higher level of brain function than that of a house pet, it’s harder for me to hold no attachment to a past failure in order to try again with an equal amount of gusto, but there is always a line that can be towed between being logical fact-sorting realist and a hopeful life-of-a-dog-inspired dreamer.
Cognitively, I can change my method of attack in order to increase my chances of success on the next attempt, but I don’t have to feel so dejected with each unsuccessful try. Learning from my furry companion, I can be happy that I even went for it at all, wasting not even a passing moment on the negative feeling of having failed. Not once had I seen Biscuit drag her tail between her hind legs, even though her rate of success remains at a whopping 0%. Not once have I seen her stress out over letting the bird fly away or the squirrel scurry up a tree.
Perhaps she knows that there will be other opportunities, or maybe she understands that there is more to life than a failed moment (or fifty!). It’s possible she knows that regardless of if she catches the chipmunk or not, I will hug, love and kiss her, free of judgment of her poor hunting skills. Could it be that this dog with the simple mind knows secrets to life happiness that I do have yet to learn? In this case, it seems to be that way. She seems to have figured out how to remain enthusiastic about pursuing goals and chasing targets. She may never catch her prey in the span of her hopefully-long lifetime, but one thing is for certain: with a smile across her face and a nonstop wag in her tail, she will never, ever give up.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pint Sized Buddhas

The love from a toddler is much the same as that of a puppy- unadulterated, uncalculated, in its purest pristine form. Their hugs and smiles have yet to be corrupted and (hopefully) come with no ulterior motives (minus the occasional affection-for-a-cookie barter). When a child says “I love you,” it is honest. It is said with no holds barred, worry-free of your choice to repeat those the three words in return (but, how could you not?!).
Children are pint sized Buddhas housing the keys to happiness; each offers a world of simple lessons that we all at one point knew ourselves, but had slowly let go of as life grew less simple with every passing year. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a close friend’s five year old daughter who has taught me a lesson more important than any I could have ever learned in a classroom.
Her laugh is happiness personified and the broadness of her smile trumps that of the Cheshire cat. I envy that her bouncy up and down jumping that never fails to accompany her excitement is socially acceptable, as I would probably attract some odd glances if I did the same. She is a human exclamation point, having yet to learn to hold back her emotions or scale back her level of energy and her aura glows with radiant positivity. She wants for nothing except the occasional toy to add to a never-ending collection and the pureness of her heart automatically attracts love from every life she touches. If only the essence of this five year old could be bottled and mass distributed, world peace could finally be achieved.
When is it that the amount of laughter and smiles in our day becomes overshadowed by stressful brow-furrowing and concerned frowns? When in our lives do tears stream down our faces only from sadness and no longer from uncontainable joy? How sad it is that we must stifle our emotions in favor or socially acceptable behavior!
I am not suggesting that adults behave exactly like toddlers- unfortunately, that may land one in an asylum of some sort. What I do suggest is that we all reignite that dying flame of pure happiness and love within usthat had shone so brightly when we were children, but had been slowly burning out over the years. It may not be appropriate to physically jump up and down for joy over every last thing, but we can allow ourselves to feel the same happiness and express it in a tamer way. Letting someone that is truly dear to us know we love them should never be a point of hesitation because, honestly, who doesn’t have room for just a little more love?
Even though life does get more complicated by responsibilities and hardship,the simplicities of life still remain. The fountain of youth IS the essence of our own youths we’ve suppressed as time has passed. The child within is the love, happiness, excitement, and exuberance within us all. The most valuable lessons are often not found in textbooks or lectures. Recently, my most cherished lesson has come from a bright-eyed, highly-animated, curly blonde haired five year old that melted my heart to a puddle on the floor as she threw her arms around me and said “I love you.” 

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Day I Went Postal on the Scale

The first installment in a series unraveling “my story…”  This process’ purpose is for reflection on past experiences in order to dig out the positive messages and lessons from the negative rubble…
Most 13 year old girls obsess about 13 year old boys, dreamy tweeny-bopper stars, the latest school bus gossip and what flavor Lip Smackers they bought at the store. As trivial as these fixations were, I would have given anything to have been stuck on the Justin Biebers of my day rather than what plagued me for years to come…
Wake up… get on the scale
Use the bathroom… get on the scale
Eat breakfast… get on the scale
Come home from school… get on the scale
Use the bathroom… get on the scale
Abstain from food and drink for hours… get on the scale…
An estimated 2.7% of girls between 13 and 18 years old suffer from eating disorders. -National Institude of Mental Health (NIMH)
From the age of 13, I became a statistic. How much I weighed and how little I ate were of utmost importance; I subconsciously grasped for a semblance of control somewhere… anywhere in my life.
My body image issues began early on and, although the core issues surpassed the superficiality of looks, I became obsessed with the number on the scale. I allowed a primitive piece of equipment rule my emotions and bar me from happiness, as the number never seemed to satisfy. If the number was too high, I failed; if it stayed the same, my efforts to bring the number down were useless; if it were lower than expected, it fed into the weight loss obsession- there was no winning situation. By day’s end, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to have stepped on and off of that device of personal torture upwards towards twenty times. I was no longer a person- I was an object.
Fast forward to today…
I look back at the days where a literal tenth of a pound reduced me to tears.  Bringing home an A+ on a paper or receiving first chair as a 7th grade flutist in the 8th grade band held no importance;no matter what I had managed to accomplish in my day, nothing could define me more than that plastic measuring device.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment that it happened, but a switch flipped within me, shedding light on the hopelessness of my attempts to let a needle on a wheel of numbers define my “goodness.” Although I still fought a long path to recovery after this moment, I thank my lucky stars to have relinquished the obsession with the scale when I had.
I don’t remember the last time I stepped on a scale. When I go to to the doctors’ for a checkup, I insist on facing away from the display and request the number not be shared with me. I don’t remember what the last reading said, nor do I remember the exact moment when I decided “never again!” I do, however, remember the ceremonial moment in which I took a hammer to the cheap “Health-o-Meter” scale, channeling every last frustration it has ever given as I bludgeoned it to smithereens. 
Now, as a personal trainer and a holistic health coach, I preach against the use of numbers to show progress. I favor measurements in terms of energy levels, mood stability and the fit of clothing (not the actual size). Due to erratic changes in water weight, the heaviness of muscle trumping that of fat, hormonal levels in the body, etc, I don’t see such a volatile number as a fair way to determine body composition or, on a deeper level, self-worth, at all. Scales are for fish, not for humans.
Constantly a work in progress, I have morphed my sense of self far away from what my weight is. The people I affect, the changes I create, the smiles I cause are all much more indicative of self-worth than any number would ever be able to tell. The day I destroyed my scale was not the day my battle ended, but it was absolutely a landmark moment in my life in which I refused to be defined by such a worthless measurement. Even though the illness falsely made me believe I had everything in perfect order, going ape on the rectangular white scale with the bold black and red numberswas the moment I reclaimed some actual control over my out-of-control, food/image/perfection driven life.