Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Things to do when you’re feeling down

You have probably seen some sort of TV or cartoon depiction of a little angel sitting on a person’s shoulder, and a tiny devil with pitchfork on the opposite shoulder. They are both whispering advice as the person tries to make a decision. Usually it’s about whether to get the fries or a salad. I don’t think that angels and devils interact with us quite like that, but we all do have some internal conversations going on throughout the day. I have noticed in myself that sometimes the loudest and most insistent voice is absolutely the wrong one.

Bad ideas from the loud voice:

  •     Take another shot of tequila!
  •      Eat all the chocolate!
  •      Ask him out for drinks!
  •      Avoid people today!

Okay, there are times and places where all these things are fine, but in the particular situations I’m thinking of in my life, each of these loud-voice-influenced decisions began a series of unfortunate events.

Sometimes, when we’re feeling depressed, the absolutely last thing we want to do is crawl out of bed. If we make it to the bathroom, we think we’ve made some great progress. The idea of being around other people at times like that is nearly impossible to imagine. All we want to do is curl up in bed, maybe sit in the dark and ruminate about the unfortunate circumstance that is life. If there is chocolate (or whatever binge food you prefer) in the house, so much the better. The loud voice tells you to eat it. Eat it all. Stay in bed.  Drink the booze. Take the pills. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t call your friends.

Somewhere inside, there is a quiet voice telling us this course of action will only make things worse, but the idea of going outside and taking a walk or calling friends to come over is just too much. So I have put together a list of achievable goals for days when we’re feeling really down. If you can accomplish some of the things, you might be able to feel a little better tomorrow, instead of making the situation worse.

Things to Do:

  •      Take a bath. Put your body in the tub. Run some hot water. Bath salts and bubble bath are awesome, but if you don’t have that, at least your body will be clean, and this is something relaxing and restorative to do for about 20 minutes.
  •     Lay on the floor with your feet up on a wall for 5-10 minutes. This is very low effort. It’s more comfortable on a carpeted floor, but if you don’t have carpet, you can put a blanket under yourself.
  •      Listen to some classical music. You’re probably online: you can go on YouTube and find whole channels of free music that will play for extended periods of time. You can look up “music for depression” or “uplifting music.” Try to avoid any music that makes you depressed or anxious.
  •       Eat something that grew out of the earth. Whatever you like: banana, apple, nuts, oranges. These items take zero work to prepare, and will help your body repair itself. Find a simple thing in your kitchen. If you don’t have a fruit or a vegetable in the kitchen, this is a great time to call up a friend and say, “I am feeling down. Could you bring me a banana?” The banana will be nicer to you than the quart of ice cream.
o   On a side note, if you really don’t have any plant-based foods in your kitchen, the next time you feel well enough to get to the store, buy a stash of healthy things that last a while, like frozen fruits. You can make them into a smoothie or just take them out, let them thaw, and eat them.

  •       Call a nice friend. You don’t have to tell them you’re feeling down. Just tell them you called to check on them and ask them how their day is going. Maybe their talk will distract you for a while. At times like this, be sure to think about who you are calling—someone who is interested in your well-being and who doesn’t make you feel worse. You might want to call your ex or that frenemy who always puts you down—instead, call someone kind and upbeat who generally makes you feel better.

The goal here is to avoid making things worse by drinking, overeating, or talking to people who affect you negatively. As you start to feel a little more together, maybe in a day or two, take stronger actions, like taking a walk outside. Go in person to a restorative/gentle yoga class. Take any exercise class, or go to a gym with people in it. By moving, we get ourselves out of our heads and into our bodies. If we can find a place with people, it also helps alleviate that sense of isolation that compounds depression.

Once you’re really feeling energetic, plan out a week’s worth of healthy meals and go shopping.

Find a group or organization that needs your help, like a homeless shelter or animal shelter. Volunteer your time to take some of your focus away from your internal dialogue.

When you’re feeling good, try spending a few minutes a day in meditation. I didn’t recommend this at the beginning because, at least in my own head, my meditation gets very melancholy when I’m feeling down, so that’s not really the place I want to start. But when you are feeling well, you can try setting aside a few minutes of quiet time a day to take a mental inventory of your life. Focus, one-by-one, on things for which you are thankful. Mentally reach out to people you care about, sending positive thoughts their way for a moment or two. Try to cultivate a sense of gratitude. If you start the practice when you are feeling well, it can become a healthy and grounding practice even when you’re feeling down. The next time you feel depressed, you might even be able to think of a few things you are grateful for. Some days, that list might be very short. For example, “I am thankful I am not on fire.” However short the list, it is a place to start.

Remember, no matter how bad you feel, tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

DanceFXBG and LindyintheBurg: Updates and Changes

Lots of things have changed in our dance world over the past few months.

First off, we are now the proud parents of a bouncing baby dance studio! We have signed the lease on 1145 Jefferson Davis Hwy, the spot that used to be DanceTrance, and where we have had our dances and lessons for most of 2016. Our new business name is DanceFXBG.

We are using a spot that was once a DanceTrance studio, and their old sign is still there. But our new DanceFXBG sign was just approved by the city, so it will be installed soon. In the meantime, if you are trying to find us, that's where we'll be. Right across from the Hyatt hotel in Eagle Village, conveniently located walking distance from the University of Mary Washington and Blackstone Coffee.

Our class offerings are in the process of a major overhaul. You can check the calendar on DanceFXBG.com to see what we have in October, but we are looking to expand the course offerings in November and in the new year, bringing lots of fun dance styles and dance-related fitness classes to the studio. Right now, in addition to our swing dance classes and Saturday dance parties, I teach BarreBody (a fusion of Ballet, Yoga and Pilates) and Yoga a few times a week.

We have subcontractors using the space who teach square dance, line dancing and hip-hop. On Wednesday nights, we have a ballroom dance instructor doing drop-in lessons. Later in October, we will start offering belly dance. In November, jazz fusion for kids.

We are actively seeking new dance forms and instructors for the studio, so if you have any ideas or know of a group that needs a place to dance in Fredericksburg, please send them our way!

In the coming weeks, our social media and messaging will be changing over to DanceFXBG, but it's still the same super-fun, family-oriented, socially engaging thing it's always been.

Thanks for all your awesome support over the years, and I hope to see you at a dance or class some time soon!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Be Good, Do Good

I have been prepping for my YogaFit Level 4 training by doing the required reading ahead of time. In the course of the reading, I have come across many concepts that make me stop and think. And I am working the thoughts out in this blog.

The thought of the day is the concept of "Be Good, Do Good," which is a very simple and basic guideline that is excellent advice for anyone's life. However, the real trick for us humans is understanding what is good. Sure, there are obvious answers. Like if we see a starving man on the street, it would be good to go buy him a sandwich. But what if that man isn't really starving? What if he's just really skinny and very tired, and is sitting on the curb waiting for a taxi, and then by giving him the sandwich, we've made him realize that he's looking like a beggar. He might feel really offended by our action and get depressed because we thought he was a starving man.

I think most of us would say that, in this case, we really are trying to do good, so the intention is there. You might think this would never happen, but I've run across a few similar instances. I once belonged to a group that took dinner to people who were sick or who had new babies. Most of the recipients were very appreciative, but I ran into two people who seemed almost annoyed that I had intruded on them. (This was all organized through a church, so they always knew we were coming, it's not like we just popped in with an armload of KFC).

I once showed up at the door of an older woman who had fallen and broken her foot, and had to have foot surgery, and was wearing a boot. When I arrived at her door, she opened it and led me back to the kitchen so I could put away the homemade soup and yes, home-baked bread that I had made for her. She did not seem in any way happy to receive me or the food, and on the walk down the hallway she said, "So, you like to cook. Is that your problem?"

At the end of this encounter, I really questioned whether I was doing good for this person by bringing her food. She didn't seem to want it at all. My presence seemed to be an intrusion. I actually cooled a little bit on the idea of the meal delivery program, and I think this was one of the last times I did it for that group. So how do we know when we're really doing good and being good?

There are much bigger issues in front of us than delivering soup to injured seniors. And our powerful brains are so clever at rationalizing whatever our physical bodies want to do. I have heard people make very well-structured arguments about why they are right in doing things that are obviously illegal, immoral or just plain mean. How do we know if we're really doing good, or if our clever brains are lying to us?

Well, I found something that made me think a little more about this today. What I found in the Yoga Sutras: "Blessed are the pure; they shall see God." And as Swami Satchidananda goes  on to explain,
That does not mean the impure cannot see God. If they work for it, they can, but their God will appear as a demon to them because of their impurity. Their vision is colored; they can't see God's our nature. They see God from the wrong angle...
But if you are really serious about this business and really want to go deep into meditation, take care to have a clean mind. Otherwise, you are not going to get it.
Which kind of put these things into perspective for me. To know if we're really doing good, and to know that our decisions are based on real right-and-wrong as opposed to our clever brains' ability to rationalize anything, we have to have a purified mind. How do we get that? Well, that's the whole struggle. I think that right there is the life journey. We work at it by spending time in meditation, by being unflinchingly honest with ourselves, by asking the opinion of people whose character we trust, and by critically examining ourselves. It isn't going to happen overnight. But we keep trying. We may keep seeing God from the wrong angle, but at least we are seeing him, and hopefully with time, he'll help guide us into a purer consciousness. But that can only come if we keep working at it.


Friday, September 30, 2016

My deep thought of the day, from the Yoga Sutras.

I am reading the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for my Level 4 Yogafit training next week. I happened to buy the books for this training very early on, so I have had lots of time to read and digest, for once. And I am really glad. I feel like all the Level 4 books should be required for life. It would be a lot more useful than reading "The Last of the Mohicans" in high school.

It's a lot like reading the Bible in that pretty much every day, I see something that totally applies to my life and I have to stop and think about it for a while. For example, yesterday's sutra of note was, "By cultivating attitude of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness."

What this means, the swami explains, is that we should be friendly when we run into happy people (not jealous). We should be compassionate when we find unhappy people (not thinking they must deserve their suffering), we should admire virtuous people (not try to tear them down) and we should just ignore the wicked.

He goes on to tell a story about a bird who built a marvelous nest, with just his beak and feet. The bird is nice and dry and toasty during a pouring rain, and then he sees a monkey sitting in the tree, without any shelter. The bird tries to tell the monkey that he has great faculties and potential, a marvelous brain, strong muscles and able limbs--he ought to go build himself a shelter. The monkey is offended, thinking the bird is trying to tell him how to run his business, so he goes and destroys the birds nest in a fit of rage.

As a business owner, I have run into a few of these monkeys. The swami says to just ignore them. When you first run across them, if you have any inkling they are the kind of person who will bristle and tear down your nest any time you offer a bit of advice, just get away. Unfortunately, we don't always get away before the monkeys destroy our nests. I've had a few relationships of this sort, both personal and professional, where the monkey did his best to destroy my reputation or business because he felt slighted in some way. Once or twice, I have probably been someone else's monkey.

All you can do is move on. Practice indifference. Let the monkey have his fit. As a bird, you can fly anywhere. Having built a beautiful nest once, you always know that you have the capacity to build another just as wonderful. Only this time, you will know to keep away from the monkey.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How the University of Virginia helped make me a competent, if somewhat judgmental, human.

I graduated from the University of Virginia many years ago. I went on to get my Master's from George Mason. Because I have the contrast of the two schools, there are certain personality traits I identify as characteristic of UVA. As a disclaimer, I know lots of people who didn't go there who also have these traits, and a few who went there who don't, but for the most part, certain traits are sort of typically Hoo-vian.

For one, we have a strong trait of precision that tends to drive others crazy. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and "my way' is of course, the right way. This is a habit born of having to get your citations 100% correct, and also needing to have your facts straight, because professors would absolutely call you out for errors. But in post-educational life, it extends to various trivial facets of being. For example, there is a right way to put the plastic lid on a disposable coffee cup so the cup doesn't drip. And if the barista doesn't put it on that way, you have to fix it. (The drinking hole must be 180 degrees across from the cup seam, in case you wondered).

Words must be used correctly. Even if I intuitively know what a person is trying to say, I will challenge them if they use the wrong word. I recognize this is highly irritating when people are trying to talk about something like social media. Even though I know what people are trying to say, I can't stop myself from pressing them on which item they actually mean. I do recognize that is not a fantastic trait to have, but it stems from that love of precision.

People who thrived at UVA also had to have a strong respect for deadlines. Papers were due when they were due. The professors (back in the old days) would set a turn-in box outside their office doors. If the deadline was 5pm on Thursday the 5th, they would pick up that box at precisely 5. If you arrived at 5:05, the box was gone. Slipping it under the professor's door at that time with a very sad note about your sinus infection, your 105-degree fever, and explaining how your boyfriend broke up with you earlier in the week and left you crushed and destroyed would do nothing. Your paper was late. Maybe the professor had a policy in which they would take only 30% off your paper grade for lateness, or maybe they would refuse to accept it at all. We all knew that the professors would adhere to whatever policy they set out in their syllabi. No exceptions.

We were also rather competitive. To be accepted there, you had to excel among your high school classmates, so you sort of developed a taste for standing out academically. Then you got to UVA and everyone else was just like you: smart, precise, dedicated. So you had to work a whole lot harder to excel. And we liked that. We liked digging deep, finding more inside of us, working harder, and doing more than we thought we could.

Because I spent some critical formative years in this environment, I sometimes assume these qualities come standard with all humans, and I'm frankly pretty surprised when I run into people who don't have them. Because I value these traits, a lot of my friends also tend to be precise, dedicated, intense and focused. The very idea of not turning in your work (in real life, things like paying bills and showing up for work) surprise me.

So I'm always surprised when I encounter people of the opposite personality type. Don't get me wrong, there's a real place in the world for folks who are relaxed, happy-go-lucky and free form. I just don't understand them. How do you function when you enter into obligations you know you can't fulfill? How do you take on enterprises you'll never be able to manage, and then just shrug when it all falls apart around you, over and over again? 

I have no answers. But in my personal journey, I am really working on a couple of things. First off, understanding that I make mistakes myself, just different types. I need to do a better job of NOT expecting everyone to be intense and over-scheduled. I'd like to find a beauty in the laissez-faire attitude, but it is hard when those attitudes hurt people around them over and over again. I also need to get a better radar for detecting that devil-may-care personality type. It would probably be easier to get along with these folks if I could see them coming. So I might say, hey, that's a great person to go drinking with, but I don't really want to be their roommate or business partner. 

We all are who we are. We have our inborn natures. We can work toward personal growth or accept ourselves as we are. I am trying to grow, trying not to judge others so harshly, but also working on putting my trust in the right people and becoming better at understanding my fellow humans' strengths and weaknesses, whatever they may be. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sweet Zucchini Bread (Gluten-Free Option)

This is the recipe I use for the zucchini bread I've been making for the dances ever since our vegetable CSA started delivering massive amounts of squash. This is adapted from the Joy of Cooking, which is absolutely my favorite cookbook ever. If you don't have one, you should go buy one right now, like even before you finish reading this article. I have modified it to be gluten-free, and I also like to use Craisins, which were not in the original recipe.

Sweet Zucchini Bread

Prepare the zucchini:

  • Layer 3 sheets of paper towels on a plate. 
  • Using a food processor grating disk or a hand-grater, shred a zucchini. 
  • Put the shredded zucchini on the paper towels, and flatten the shreds. Then place 3 more layered paper towels on top of the zucchini. Set a dinner plate or something flat and moderately heavy on top of the zucchini to help drain the excess moisture. Go away and do something fun for about an hour or so while it's drying out. This is a good time exercise, go take a shower, do your hair, or listen to some really awesome music. Don't get on social media. The election coverage will just depress you.

Make the bread:

  • Preheat the oven to 350*F. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.
  • Whisk together:
    • 1 1/2 C gluten-free baking flour (I usually use Bob's Red Mill all-purpose GF flour.)
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Blend well in a large bowl:
    • 3/4 C sugar (or brown sugar)
    • 2 large eggs, beaten
    • 1/2 C light olive oil
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Stir in the dry ingredients. Blend with a few swift strokes:
    • 2 C grated zucchini (I have never once actually measured the following)
    • 3/4 C walnuts
    • 3/4 C Craisins 
  • Scrape the batter into the greased pan. Bake until the bread pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 45 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before unmolding completely on the rack. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Dance and Travel: Atlantic City edition

My husband and I love to vacation, and on every trip, we seek out places to dance. It is actually one of the things we look for when planning vacations: where is there a vibrant dancing scene? Some of the best spots we've found are Las Vegas, NV and also Denver, Co. We think we have the best dancing scene in the world in the DC metro area, but that's just because we live there and we know all the good venues!

Right now, I am writing this from Atlantic City, NJ, where we have spent the past few days. Here are some dancing suggestions for this city:

  • Boogie Nights. Inside the Tropicana Casino. We went Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday was definitely the better party night. This was also the first time the club was trying to do a dance lesson from 9-10, which worked out great! Saturday, no lesson, and the night got off to a much slower start. 
    • Pros: Fun decor, 1970s-80s throwback music. The go-go girls are adorable and not offensively dressed. Think "cute." Security makes sure people don't take drinks on the dance floor. Lots of people in costume.
    • Cons: Cover charge. It's free for hotel guests on Thursday (90s night), but there's a cover other weekend nights. It was a $10 cover on Saturday, which was kind of a boring night there. The lit-up plastic floor is rather sticky, so it's hard on your joints if you want to do any serious dancing. You'll need to bring your own partner or be ok with dancing by yourself, as this is not really the kind of place where people dance with others. Small dance floor.
  • Tango lounge, inside the Tropicana Casino. They had a band Thursday and Friday night, and there was a halfway-decent dance space up near the band. Further back, the floor got sticky and it was hard to move. No cover charge. 
  • Clancy's by the Bay, 101 E. Maryland Ave, Somers Point, NJ. This was actually about a 20-minute drive from Atlantic City, and we only heard about it because the guy who taught the hustle dance lesson at Boogie Nights told us about it. Here, on Sunday night, there was ample space to dance, a DJ, a nice wood floor and no cover. The restaurant had really good food, so we went early and ate. The dancers there do mostly hustle, and the music was a little slow for our taste--we love the classic disco, but we weren't familiar with many of the songs. Nevertheless, there were many skilled dancers there and the floor stayed busy, but not overcrowded. As outsiders, no one really talked to us or interacted with us (except the one guy who had taught the hustle lesson at Boogie Nights and invited us), so I can't say it was the friendlies scene I've ever been to, but it was all right. While there, I saw that Clancy's also has live bands on the weekends, so if I come back again, I would like to check that out. One disadvantage is that this event is kind of like one of those places you can't find unless you've already been there. I had the name of the restaurant, and I was able to find it through Google maps, but I could find absolutely nothing about dancing on Sunday nights. I went to the website and the Facebook page, and absolutely no mention of this dance. I also googled "Hustle dancing New Jersey" and found only listings for ballroom studios. So, I think a lot of less-determined people might have felt like they had the wrong information and would not have ventured 20 minutes from their hotel on the off chance that there might be dancing in Somers Point. But we did get a lot of good dancing in, we definitely got some exercise, and we'd probably check it out again on another visit, but I would feel better if I could confirm online that the event was still going on!