Last summer, I had the opportunity to travel cross country with my family. We camped, toured, hiked, swam and laughed a ton. It was amazing time and it showed me how disconnected I had become from the things I loved. Sure, I love yoga. But it isn’t who I am to the core. I use yoga to find that.
I came back from that trip different. Ready to heal from a tumultuous year. Ready for the rebirth of something new. I couldn’t put my finger on what I was craving but it was something simpler, something slower.
Those things were hard to carve out in our life. We returned home to a business that was still in it’s infancy of expansion. It needed our tending and care. My mom’s health had been deteriorating and I had a family and household to manage. So, I started with small and manageable things that would lead me on the path to what I was calling conscious living.
I focused short bit of times on “leaning” into the things I loved the most. In his research in 2009, Marcus Buckingham calls it tilting. His study focused on the 40 year downward trend of women’s happiness — opposite of their male counterparts. He found women who let go of the need for perfection, leaned into the things they loved more often, let go of the idea of work-life balance, and instead stacked their favorites in their favor, were the happiest woman on Earth.
I realized that I would need a plan to get me to the place where I was stacking in my favor. And I would get there using all the tools that I had trained others with — understanding my intention in this life, minimalizing clutter and distractions, disconnecting and reconnecting, and mindfulness.
As behavioral consultant Nicholas Bate calls heavy “M.E.D.S. = mindfulness, exercise, diet, and sleep” were going to be my healing path to creating the life I was craving.
So that fall, on a long road trip north, I wrote out my priorities. It is different and unique for each person, but for me it was family, travel, gardening and downtime/home. I wrote, rather drew it out — a beautiful creative spread with me braindumping the things that felt right and that spoke from my soul.
At the end of the process, I identified the unifying theme that tied the list together. At the end of the day, all these things resulted in three core feelings — security, freedom and love. Identifying this gave me a sense of where to lean. I began to build my “no” muscles ever so slightly and got used to saying “yes” to the things that mattered.
What’s funny is that in the same breath Buckingham writes that woman should learn to say “yes” but here is where I somewhat disagree. Maybe he means to say more ‘YES’ to your intentions and truth. But I was saying “yes” to everyone and I rarely said “no.” Today, I take a “yes” sabbatical — checking in on my intentional barometer to see if I am still heading in the right direction with projects and people. It’s okay to say “no” and even better, take some time to answer.
Set on intention, I spent time all fall rifling through books to find inspiration. The ones that stood out were focused on minimalism. Wait! Before you roll your eyes, the definition of minimalism is not sterilism. It simply means getting down to the basics. So I started there. Joshua Becker and the Minimalists, Francine Jay. All these writers really resonated with me.
I’d take an hour out of my week and work one drawer at a time. I let go of the extra utensils, ridiculous amounts of office products, cables, cords, files and thinned out the stuff. I unsubscribed and unfollowed. I cancelled magazines. And a funny thing happened, I felt lighter.
I was still balancing at this point. It wasn’t a fast acceleration to the life I wanted. It was going to take time. I had my current teaching schedule, my work load and management of our studio and staff, plus three busy kids with their commitments. I wasn’t going to drop it all but rather slowly release myself. OURSELVES. My whole family.
Around Christmas, I found Courtney Carver of “Be More With Less” and her “Project 333” challenge to whittle your seasonal wardrobe capsule to 33 items. I was intrigued. I didn’t think I had a ridiculous closet but still the challenge seemed daunting and a little bit scary. I counted what I had —80 items to start. Words echoed in my mind “you only wear 20% of your closet.” And I took the leap.
I began with my winter wardrobe. What I didn’t see coming was how hard it was to let go of things that I termed “maybes” — to me the money had already been spent, why not save it for a day when I might need it. What I started to learn was there was a crutch in the maybe. If I wasn’t using it, I wasn’t going to. And if I needed a replacement, research shows it would only cost less to replace than to hold on to it. I was doing this EVERYWHERE. Not just in my closet. In my drawers. In my friendships. In my work. I wasn’t willing to drop the stuff that was zapping energy from me, just in case. But back to the clothes…
I decided to meet myself halfway. I moved the “maybes” into a separate room. If I went back for them within the month, they were to be reconsidered. If I could live without them, they would move on to donation, or to sell on Poshmark or ThredUP.
The first early morning of my new closet, I walked in to get dressed and I couldn’t not believe the relief that I felt. It was something I couldn’t have expected. My closet wasn’t terrible before, but my after closet made me feel lighter. No wonder Steve Jobs and Einstein wore the same thing day in and day out. It was so easy to let go of this ONE choice and keep it simple.
One of my favorite students always said “Spaghetti in. Spaghetti out.” Meaning, the chaos that you surround yourself in becomes the chaos in your mind. Organization is helpful and a huge part of slow and conscious living, but rigidity is not. Everything has a place in our home. We are still letting go of things and evaluating every day, what we need or don’t need. It just helps us focus what’s most important.
On that same fall road trip north, we listened to a life changing podcast with Wil.I.Am. In it he talked about how as a society, we are inundated by messages, emails, communication, visuals and it leads to our disconnection with our God-given technology —our intuition.
It got me thinking. Our bodies on a cellular level detest space. In fact, if there is space, it will be filled. So what if those cells were also having a dialogue with our brain. What if that message was pervading our mental state. “FILL IT UP,” the voice says. “Leave no space.”
Don’t we all find at some point that we feel this way? I mentioned that I had started to declutter my mailbox and inbox. But I also started creating boundaries. I put an away message on my email and started only answering emails on certain days. I restricted my in-studio appointment days. In January, I took the whole month off social media in what I call my “airplane mode” so that I could continue to lean into the things that were calling me.
And now. I actually have days now where I turn off my phone. Well, entire mornings. And I have left it at home when I go out — especially when I know that one of us has a phone for emergencies.
This created so much space — for creativity, for connectivity and for leaning into my God-given technology. While I have been practicing mindfulness for years, the informal practice got significantly stronger. The down days seemed slower. More conscious. More responsive and less reactive. I wanted more of THAT. I craved it.
As as meditation and yoga teacher, sitting on a cushion or finding a quiet place to create stillness and observe my thoughts was easy. I could carve that out. It was the informal practice that I was building. I started noticing that things were doing in our daily life had gone missing and helped make time feel slower. Meditation, walking, meal preparation, ecotherapy, gratitude and finding your rhythm.
We got back to making our dinners together. We even recently assigned all three kids to their own night. We all join in the kitchen for prep, with the head chef guiding us. Music and laughing as we prepare our meals. Other nights it is just a quiet focus on our job at hand. The time together is priceless and makes for more enjoyable mealtime.
As a couple, we take daily walks with our dogs. Sometimes they are silent. Sometimes we talk about our day. Just the act of being outside and walking is a reconnect with our inner nature. Many times, our kids will come with us.
FAMILY NIGHTS + MEETINGS
One of our non-negotiables is family night. We play together — volleyball, basketball, swimming, or board games. We just spent the night doing something together and most of the time it is physical. A good friend and family therapist suggested we institute a marriage meeting and a family meeting too. Our meetings have time limits, we come to the table with things to discuss, we plan our schedule for the week, we talk about chores and house projects. It keeps us all on the same page and the same team.
Every morning, before I even get out of bed, I fold my hands and say a quick list of things for which I am grateful. And every Friday, Kevin and I both spend time sharing our “Five Things Friday” online to help encourage others to outline their “best of” from the week. It’s a practice of reframing and helping everyone focus on what we have that is going well, even if things are hard.
Last year, I had the intention to grow things. I had never learned though my grandparents were excellent gardeners. They managed a massive garden and small fruit orchard that my parents had built. As a kid, some of my favorite memories were of eating food right off the vine, bush or tree.
I wanted to connect to that again. So I started with simple plants in the house. Giving my attention to them and listening to their needs — more light, less water, fertilizer? Once we got comfortable there, I adopted my mother’s plants. Living? Check. Then we went bigger, and recently turned our attention outside. What is so thrilling to me is that my kids have been so involved. My daughter has been instrumental in helping bring songbirds to our back yard and it is beautiful to watch and listen to them. We are in the process of building a raised bed for our regular veggies. It’s felt good to sit outside. To have a space and sanctuary that we created that is really starting to fill in. And to be a part of something.
All of this sounds good I am sure, but I still have to work. Giving myself space meant I could figure out my most productive times. I have always woke early enough for my “non-negotiables” — tea, meditation, news. Somedays I have to be at work at 8:30A and somedays 6:30A. My schedule isn’t conventional but finding a rhythm means that I go with the flow more. I don’t feel rushed. And yes, organization comes in to play here but so does consistency. Less time in the closet, in the bathroom and on the phone. It will leave you with more time over all.
Most mornings, I’ll start a load of laundry while we prep the kids for school. I do a “braindump” on my current situation between 9-11A that helps me figure out what’s important for the day. I might prep for a class, practice yoga, meet with a client or business partner. But my fluid day is structured to end right at 330P when I pickup my first kid from school.
And we finish our last walk around 9P and unwind for bed on most nights. Sleep in our house, is also a non-negotiable.
Everyone’s rhythm will be different and it changes like the seasons. I truly believe that when we connect to nature, we find our natural living rhythm and it can be slow and conscious.
HOME CAN BE SLOW
We cannot control the pace around us, but we can control our response to it. Our life is still a work in progress, it’s still busy and our work can be demanding outside of the house, and all of this will forever be changing but I find so much space at home in leaning into the things I love and am meant to do. May this inspire you to let go of the notion of balance, having it all, and life in the fast lane. Here’s to slow.
PS- Let me know if you are interested in more. I can show you how I organized areas, weeded down my wardrobe, my meditation space and more.