Stories from the City

Musings about life, living, Paris & other places

Going back to zen

Life sometimes just flies by me without me even noticing that I am on the bandwagon. You know that feeling? Your automatic pilot is on and you realize a little less what is happening all around you, losing perspective on what matters (thinking career over social life), failing to see the beauty in life (yes, that is possible in Paris) and basically living in metro-boulot-dodo mode as they say in France. Which translates into your days consisting of nothing more than traveling, working, and sleeping. Fun, anyone?

Time to revive my spirits and awake that sleeping  soul in me. I’ve had periods of slumberness before in my life, but somehow they sometimes pop back up again and take control. Mostly because we let work control our lives more than it should, don’t exercise (enough), and put a little too much fat and sugar in our mouths. Or at least, this is what most often puts in a meh state of mind and living. But I’ve found the magic combination that brings me right back on track and leaves me feeling better, being kinder, and looking better too (which is an added bonus). That combination is not truly magic actually, but it definitely works for me. It’s all about going back to Zen, the yin and yang, the balance in, well, everything. The tricks of the treat?

I used to think that changing my eating habits by ditching the sugar (I am such a candy lover!) would instantly make me feel great, and put me back into exercise mood too. Well, I learned that this is a lie. It actually works the other way around. Start your favorite work-out (or pick one you don’t dislike too much), and your thoughts will re-focus on taking better care of yourself. For me, it’s yoga that brings me to a better place. It relaxes my body while strengthening it (I prefer a challenging type of yoga like the Detox or Abs Yoga classes at the Yoga Factory), re-energizes me and brings me back to more peaceful positive, instead of stressful, thoughts. While running can make me feel pretty great afterwards (the well-known runner’s rush), I don’t always feel like putting on my running gear and hit a few miles. Yoga is the sporty way to go for me, and honestly, nothing makes me feel us good or gives me such a happy glow, as yoga does. After not practicing for a few weeks (or was that months?), I rolled out my mat for a refreshing and very active Detox class Tuesday evening. And boy, I missed the triangles, deep inhales, planks, balance poses and headstands (the latter I def s*ck at). I got a great kick out of those 60 minutes of sweating and left the studio feeling so much better.

And this almost naturally results in paying more attention to what I fill my stomach with. My consciousness of what gives me the right and wrong energy grows when I work-out. Maybe because I feel healthier when sporting, I actually want to be more healthy too. Whatever it is, it has a positive impact on my menu. Potato chips and peanut butter cups are replaced by fresh fruits (raspberries, bananas and clementines are my favorites now), and coffee is ditched for rooibos (red bush) or white tea. My fresh organic vegetables are being washed, rasped, cut, baked and cooked instead of ending in the trash bin (such a shame, I know), and my time spend in the kitchen is increasing rapidly. Good and tasteful cooking takes some time, but the result is worth it: healthy, home-made soups, salads with artichokes on the side, vegan granola bars, and no added sugars or any industrially produced additives or processed foods. I also cut down on my bread consumption (the influence of the Wheat Belly, a book I am currently reading on the effects of gluten on your health) as well as diary. Why? Well, the fuel you feed your body, is what keeps your motor (body) going. All you eat has an impact on your skin, your organs, in short: your health. Science tells us so, but you are your own best proof. When eating cleaner and greener, my belly is less bloated, my skin smoother (my eczema has nearly disappeared, and I think my healthier food choices definitely contributed to this), I have more energy (for more fun stuff, who doesn’t want that?), I sleep better and longer (uninterrupted sleeps is what we should all go for), and most importantly: I feel great. A more rested and less stressful version of me. Beauty does come from within!

I also like to feed my mind by reading. Books are a great source of food for thought. I particularly like (auto)biographies (there is so much to learn from other people’s experiences and their views on life) and I enjoy reading scientific books about brain development and the latest health research. Besides the Wheat Belly, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals is a highly interesting read about the meat and fish industry and opened my eyes and mind on the world-wide food consumption (antibiotics, chemicals, hormones and all that and more in your foods, as well as more animal cruelty than I was aware of). While I am not a strict vegetarian, neither vegan, I think it is important to know what we eat, where our food comes from, and what effects they (can) have on you, me, society and Mother Earth. A little more awareness on these matters hasn’t hurt anyone, and if it will influence your eating manners – well, that is super. But no pressure here folks, I think the key word for a healthy diet is all about balance: not too much sugar or salt, never too much saturated and trans fats, locally or (better yet) organically grown seasonal veggies and fruits, and don’t overdo the (red) meat and fish. Other good or fun reads about this matter are Death by Food Pyramid, Crazy Sexy Kitchen, and the Kind Diet (both full of yummy recipes).

What I love about biographies are the life lessons I get to take out of reading them, as well as a little more knowledge on certain topics (mostly politics and history). I adored Nelson Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom. This man, and his admirable wisdom and patience, had so many qualities, human insights, and intelligence we can all learn from. And The Lady and the Peacock about Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s freedom fighter, can only inspire and teach you about the values of democracy and freedom of speech. Such meaningful reads spark my intellect and critical thinking and open my mind to new thoughts and ideas, while reading itself gives me immense pleasure, calms and puts me in total relax mode (and not only intellectual reads do, I enjoy novels too and devour anything by Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, or Philip Roth). So, I picked up a new book by Maya Angelou (such an inspiration! She is so full of wit and beauty) and added a few more reads from my wishlist to my e-reader. Starting my new and fascinating read (I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings) has already had a zen effect on me with less irritation in the metro (caused by others, but mainly by me b/c I just pay too much attention to strangers) and letting go of work-related matters by escaping into a paper dimension.

And then there is actually taking a step back, slowing life down. Meaning: trying to fit less in a day, and just do… well…nothing. Not really nothing. I mean to take a side road from running along the rat race and take it all really easy. Not every day of course, but I found it does me good to switch off my mind for a little while and let life just be. Strolling through the pretty streets of Paris, a great juice in one hand, possibly an ice cream in the other. Just lingering through the City of Love and Lights without having to do something, no errands to run, tops to return, groceries to be bought, just plain wandering in your own town and observing the prettiness of Paris and its people. And maybe meet up with a friend or my beau for some eggs on toast or a good glass of wine. Because there is a lot of peace to be found in no have to’s, must-haves, or obligations. You don’t find peace in what you have, must have, or in others, it is all in your mind. Peace comes from within.

And so, I found my way back to being more zen. It’s not by not working or truly doing nothing at all that I find more inner peace. Going back to zen actually requires some work, exercise, thinking, and time. And also a little failure. I tried several things to find my balance back, from reading self-help guide books to ‘copycatting’ more zennily friends, but you gotta find your own route. You might fall off the inner balance carrousel a few times (like I did), but we can only learn from our mistakes. There are no lost lessons in finding your own zen. It’s a journey to be enjoyed, so have fun while you’re on it!

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Categories: Fun, Happiness, Health, Life, Reads

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